What the Bible Has to Say About Singing, Part 6

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Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. - Colossians 3:16 (NASB)

Colossians 3:16 instructs us about congregational singing in at least 7 ways.

  1. The CAUSE and COROLLARY of our singing is God’s Word

  2. God’s Word should be the CONTENT of our singing

  3. Singing is a COMMUNITY activity

  4. Singing is a COMMAND

  5. There are a variety of CATEGORIES of congregational songs

  6. » The CORE of singing is the heart attitude behind it

  7. The CULMINATION of singing must be God’s glory

The core of singing is the heart attitude behind it

"singing with thankfulness in your hearts"

Now that we're at lesson six of seven, let's take a step back and remind ourselves of what God cares most about when it comes to our songs and congregational singing. It is all too easy for us to operate on the assumption that God is more pleased with us when we choose "good" songs, demonstrating our thoughtfulness and grasp of the theology of worship, and execute them with creativity and musicianship. "I know better than to believe that" you might say. But look to your inner sense of security and worth, or how you desire or respond to comments about the service – both good and bad. Do you feel defeated and insecure when you have a "bad" week musically? I've been sick numerous times in a particular way that made it very difficult to sing on key. On those Sundays I could hear how badly my voice sounded and really struggled to have joy and a sense of usefulness. On both the "good" days and "bad" days our attitudes often demonstrate the same heart problem: we think that something about our execution or performance is what makes God pleased with us or our worship.

God is faithful to remind us, over and over, that He is more interested in the disposition of our hearts than the accuracy of our tunes. Even here in Colossians 3:16 we are instructed to sing with thankfulness in our hearts. That can happen no matter how good or bad the music that we're making sounds. When God directed Samuel to choose the little shepherd boy David as Israel's next king rather than his strong older brothers, He reminded Samuel that God looks inwardly, at our hearts, as a measure of our devotion and usefulness for His kingdom.
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." – 1 Samuel 16:7

We even have an explicit rebuke from the Lord about heartless singing through the prophet Amos when God said to His people, "take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen." (Amos 5:23) Or, in the words of modern songwriter Matt Redman:
I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart – "The Heart of Worship"

So God cares more about what's in our hearts than our outward obedience, including praising Him in song. Two questions naturally follow: what is it about our hearts that pleases Him, and should we still seek musical excellence in our worship music. First, Colossians 3:16 tells us that God looks for thankfulness in our hearts. Thankfulness for what? In Colossians 3:1 Paul says "if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above" and then goes on in the rest of the chapter to explain what he means by "seeking the things that are above," including the command to sing in verse 16. Verse 12 gives a similar basis on which we are to grow in holiness: "Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…" The thankfulness that God requires is one that flows from understanding the gospel of grace – that God has called us his holy and beloved ones not on the basis of how well we can obey or please Him but on the basis of His grace alone. Thankfulness flows from trusting that we have been raised with and because of Christ, not as a result of our own efforts. Let's make Christ and His work on our behalf, as a manifestation of God's free and lavish grace, the centerpiece of our songs and services, that our hearts might be moved to thankfulness for the cross as we sing.

Second, does God care about excellence in our worship music? Yes! Just because He doesn't accept us on the basis of our excellence does not mean that we shouldn't strive to offer Him the best of our talents and music. We see several examples in the Old Testament of musicians being chosen for service in God's temple who were "skillful." A heart that has been gripped by grace and loves the Lord will move us to practice and work at our music, that we might do it to the best of our abilities. The same goes for earthly relationships. Let's say you wrote a poem for your fiancée. Would someone captivated by love for a fiancée and the anticipation of their marriage really write a poem or song and slap it together in a few minutes? Chances are that they would work hard at it as an expression of their love. The same should be true of our worship music. We should make good music to the Lord out of thankfulness that He has accepted us on the basis of grace. God is pleased when our attempts at excellence flow from the motive of gratefulness for His saving work in Christ.

Another thing that this passage reveals about the relationship of music, truth, and our hearts is that singing is one means God has designed to drive truth into our hearts. “The reason we sing is because there are depths and heights and intensities and kinds of emotions that will not be satisfactorily expressed by mere prosaic forms, or even poetic readings. There are realities that demand to break out of prose into poetry and some demand that poetry be stretched into song.” - John Piper, Singing And Making Melody To The Lord Singing also allows us to combine objective truth with our subjective response to that truth. This is the very definition of worship.

Next time we'll look at the ultimate purpose and goal of our singing – to bring attention to and demonstrate the worth of God, not man.


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