Singing Authorized By God
“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:17-21).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:16-17).
These two passages reveal God’s will regarding the kind of music He has authorized for saints in “teaching and admonishing one another.” We have noted in other studies that, according to these passages and others, God authorizes singing; there is no Scripture to be found in the New Testament that authorizes mechanical instrumental music in addition to singing.
The Types of Songs Authorized
The above passages also reveal the types of songs we are to be singing “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (i.e., by His authority). “Psalms” refers to songs of praise from the Old Testament Psalms. “Hymns” are defined as sacred (very holy, deserving of great reverence and respect) songs, songs of thanksgiving and songs of praise addressed to God. “Spiritual songs” are songs that are spiritual in nature rather than material or worldly in nature (country western, rock and roll, popular, etc. are examples of materialistic types of songs). “Spiritual” here is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, pg.523 as: “exhibiting it (the Divine Spirit’s effect-rsb) and so its character…divinely inspired, and so redolent (suggestive-rsb) of the Holy Spirit.” It should be evident that since we are to be “teaching and admonishing one another” in our singing that the songs must teach the truth revealed in God’s word rather than “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). Since we are to be “singing…to the Lord” and “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” as we sing, our songs should be designed to please and glorify God.
It is instructive to note that Paul connects the admonitions “do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” and “(l)et the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” with “speaking to one another” and “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” This indicates that God desires that we exercise “wisdom” in our teaching one another and worshipping God in song. “Wisdom” (“skill and discretion in imparting Christian truth”–Thayer, p. 581) is a matter of making practical application of the knowledge and understanding that we have of God’s word.
Principles Governing Singing Songs
In 1 Corinthians 14 the apostle Paul states several principles that the Corinthians were to apply to speaking in tongues and prophesying in their assemblies (i.e., when “the whole church comes together in one place”–vs. 23). If you will look closely, you will see that these timeless God-given principles also apply to teaching (vs. 6, 19), praying and singing (vs. 15) in the assemblies of the church. In order for us to “sing with the understanding” (vs. 15), Paul illustrates that there must be “a distinction in the sounds” (vs. 7) and “no uncertain sound(s)” (vs. 8) as we “utter…words easy to understand” (vs.9). It is essential that we follow these principles so all can “know the meaning” (vs. 11) and so “that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (vs. 31), fulfilling the over-all purpose for our assemblies: “that the church may receive edification” (vs. 5). If there is any element of “confusion” in our assemblies, “God is not the author of” it (vs. 33). As we maintain these principles for all of our worship activities in our assemblies we could cause even “those who are uninformed or unbelievers” (vs.23) to “worship God and report that God is truly among you” (vs. 25).
Pleasing God and Edifying One Another vs. Entertainment
During our vacation travels a few years ago we assembled with a church in a northeastern state. Before one of the songs, the song leader divided the assembly into four groups and told everyone that we were to sing the next song in “rounds;” like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with the first group starting the song at the beginning, then the second group chiming in from the beginning during mid stanza of the first group, then the third group, and the fourth group follow suit. My wife and I were not the only ones that were taken back by the “confusion” that occurred; hardly anyone knew where they were supposed to be in the song, and “sing(ing) with the understanding” of the message of the song was virtually impossible. Singing secular songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in “rounds” is entertaining, and the words are not meant to be all that instructive; but to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” that are supposed to be “teaching and admonishing one another” and glorifying God in such a fashion seems to violate the very meaning of “hymns and spiritual songs,” the God-given principles governing worship, and the proper purpose for singing.
A young couple told me what they experienced at a “Youth Rally” conducted by a local church some years ago: they sang several “spiritual songs” in “rounds” and “Amazing Grace” to tune of the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. I am educated enough about music to know that many songs are sung to the tune of other familiar songs, but what this couple said about this identified the motive behind singing in “rounds” and singing “Amazing Grace” in this manner. They said “it was fun, we wish we could do that here;” in response, I asked what is wrong with singing spiritual songs the way they appear in most song books. They responded: “our worship is boring.” Exercising the wisdom that we should have in “teaching and admonishing one another” and glorifying God as we sing, would singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” to the tune of popular songs that are designed to be frivolous, fun and entertaining, be pleasing to God? Paul affirmed his priority in teaching God’s will: “But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Keep in mind that we are to be teaching God’s will as we are “teaching and admonishing one another” in song.
Comments such as “our worship is boring” and desiring it to be “fun,” causes me to question a person’s motives: are they singing for their entertainment and the entertainment of others? Did Paul say “let it be for the entertainment of the church that you seek to excel?” Or, “let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (1 Corinthians 14:12). It takes “wisdom” (skill and discernment) to determine if some songs, and some styles of singing, are man-pleasing (entertaining) rather than God-pleasing. God authorizes “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…for the edification of the church,” but singing to please men in an entertaining fashion, is not authorized.