Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:16 – Scripture of the Day (March 25, 2014)
This verse gives us several reasons why we sing in worship to God:
- It’s a way the word of Christ dwells in us richly.
- It’s a way that we as Christians teach and admonish each other in all wisdom.
- It’s a way to show our heart-felt thankfulness to God.
I know it’s easy for me to forget this as I sing in worship. I think a lot of us forget this. I think that’s why musical worship has gotten so far removed from what God said in his Word that he would have it to be.
We tend to go to two extremes when it comes to music in worship. First, we might be so self-centered in our subconscious desire to be entertained that we either turn the worship service into a concert atmosphere with choirs, hand-clapping, pianos, guitars, drums, singing, and dancing in the aisles. Reverence to God and making God the focus goes flying out the window, as does any desire to simply give him what he asked as revealed in this verse. Even those who recognize the sinfulness of the instrumental additions to the music God prescribed in the New Testament and the error of the entertainment, concert-like so-called worship may still be guilty of focusing on self in our more reverent a cappella singing. We do this when we focus on whether the song chosen is a song we like, or putting undue emphasis on making sure that we get the altos and tenors to harmonize more.
When our focus is on what entertains and pleases us in the song, does the song really help the word of Christ to dwell in us richly? When we are focused on “rocking out” to the cool guitar accompaniment or making sure that we’re singing the bass part just right, how can we pay attention to any teaching or admonishment that we may need to hear in the lyrics of the song? When the choir does something really entertaining and it makes us laugh while they sing a lyric that talks about all that God has done for us, will we even think about being thankful to God?
The other extreme we tend to gravitate towards is the exact opposite of the concert atmosphere: somber, mournful ritualism. A song of thanksgiving such as Amazing Grace or Sing and Be Happy is sung with the sorrowful tones and mood that would be appropriate for Night With Ebon Pinion. Song leaders regularly report of seeing somber, moody, sorrowful faces in the pews as they lead singing, no matter how joyful the lyrics of the song may be. Many song leaders themselves look mournful as they lead singing, showing none of the enthusiasm or happiness which, if seen, might motivate those in the pews to feel likewise. I believe this approach to worship comes from not only a desire to avoid the concert/entertainment atmosphere, but also from a ritualistic approach to worship that is equally wrong. We tend to take for granted what we do with regularity for long periods of time. When we know that week after week, Sunday after Sunday, we will sing a song, then pray, then another song, then partake of communion and give of our means, then sing two more songs, after which comes the sermon, and then the invitation and closing song, followed by the closing prayer…well, it becomes easier for our minds to wander while we sing and pray.
Jesus condemned this kind of worship (Matt. 15:8), and rightfully so. When our hearts are far away because we’ve been lulled by how easy it is to think of other things during this familiar ritual in which we are participating, how can the word of Christ dwell in us richly in that moment? If we know the lyrics and melody of Angry Words by heart because we sing it all the time and so our mind wanders as we sing it, will we truly be taught and admonished to control our anger and watch what we say to others? How can we be filled with the gratitude that the lyrics of It Is Well With My Soul call for when we’re not even thinking about what we are singing?
I have found that true worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24) requires discipline and self-control (Gal. 5:23; 1 Cor. 9:27). I have to make the conscious decision to focus on each and every sentence of every song. I have to make the conscious decision that I’m going to ignore my own personal preferences about the choice of song, or how fast or slow the tempo is, or getting that tenor part exactly right. I have to make the conscious decision that my focus is going to be on giving God as much honor and reverence as I know how while I’m singing this song.
Guess what always happens as a result? I find myself being reminded of passages of Scripture as I sing certain lyrics. I find myself being taught and admonished to do better in certain aspects of my life as I sing a particular song. With other songs, I find myself filled with gratitude and thanksgiving for all that my Redeemer has done for me. Everything that God wants to happen as shown in today’s Scripture is taking place within me.
How about that?