A Singing Church

by Brock Hartwigsen

The church was prophesied in the Old Testament as a singing church. In II Samuel 22:50 and repeated in Psalms 18:49, David stated: "Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name." Years later the apostle Paul by inspiration applied this passage to the church when he quoted it in Romans 15:9, "It is written, for this cause I will confess thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name."

The New Testament describes a singing church. In I Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 Paul addresses problems the Corinthian Christians had with miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this context, Paul revealed that the Corinthian church was a singing church when he wrote "I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also" (I Corinthians 14:15) and "How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm" (I Corinthians 14:26).

Two different congregations were given instruction concerning their singing. The church in Ephesus was told: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). The church in Colosse was told "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" (Colossians 3:16).

Why should the church be a singing church? That is easy enough to answer. God commands it, so we are to do it. When my children were young, they were taught to obey a command without question. But, after they obeyed, it was OK for them to ask why they were to do what they were told to do. God should be obeyed, but after he is obeyed, it is OK to ask Him "Why?" This is done by going to scripture and looking to see if he gave us a reason for His instruction. When it comes to singing, he did explain why he wants the church to be a singing church.

One reason is that singing can strengthen the spirit, it can lift it up. In Acts 27 Luke records the account of Paul's journey to Rome. Luke records how while at sea they ran into a massive storm and everyone thought they were going to die. Paul, however, assured them that no one was going to die and pleaded with them to eat something. Acts 27:35-36 reads: "And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broke it. He began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat." Luke said that they were "all of good cheer."

Singing can either express optimism and joy, or it can help produce it.

"Of good cheer" is translated from euthumos. This is the only place it is used in the Bible. Euthumos is the adjective form of the verb euthumeo. In Acts 27:22 Paul exhorts them "to be of good cheer" (euthumeo), in Acts 27:36 Luke tells us that they were "of good cheer" (euthumos). Euthumeo is used in one other passage. In James 5:13 Christians are told "is any merry (euthomeo)? Let him sing psalms." Christians should not only sing when they are "of good cheer" (euthomos), but also should sing when they want "to be of good cheer" (ephumeo).

What exactly does ephumeo imply? One writer explained that ephumeo "does not mean deliriously happy, just feeling good. No, it implies optimism in spite of danger, joy in spite of sorrow, positive thinking in place of negative thinking." Singing can either express optimism and joy or it can help produce it.

When Paul and Silas were in Philippi they were arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison where their feet were chained in stocks. We are told in Acts 16:25 that while chained in prison "at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God." Were they deliriously happy? No! Were they just feeling good? No! They were looking beyond this world. They were not seeing the glass half empty but half full. They were not walking by sight but by faith (II Corinthians 5:7).

In the upper room just before Jesus and the apostles went to the mount of Olives, Jesus sang a hymn with His apostles (Matthew 26:30). Was He deliriously happy or just plain feeling good? Neither! He was not looking at Calvary but at glory. He was walking by faith and not by sight.

Singing should be done when people are happy or to provide strength, courage, confidence and, yes, even happiness. In I Corinthians 14:26 we are told, "How is it then brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all thing be done unto edifying."

A second reason we are to sing is to edify. Edify means to lift up. The title and message of a popular song used today states exactly this message, "Sing and Be Happy."

A third reason for the church to sing is to teach and admonish. The church in Colosse was told to reach and admonish "one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Colossians 3:16).

Fourthly, the church also needs to sing because it is an acceptable way to worship God. As David said twice, "Therefore will I ... O Lord, ... sing praises unto thy name" (II Samuel 22:50; Psalms 18:49). Chained in stocks in prison in Philippi Paul and Silas "sang praises unto God" (Acts 16:25). The church in Ephesus was told to sing and make "melody in [their] hearts to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). The Christians in Colosse were instructed to sing "with grace in [their] hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16).

The singing portion of the worship of God should never be taken lightly. Songs should not be used as simple dividers between the "more important" parts of worship. Singing is just as important as any other part. The church should show responsibility in how she uses songs. As Christians we have a responsibility to understand what we sing; to teach and admonish according to truth when we sing; not to engage in unscriptural activities when we sing, and sing decently and in order.

In conclusion, let's remember what Isaac Watts challenged Christians to do in his beautiful hymn, "We're Marching to Zion."

Come we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne
And thus surround the throne.

Let those refuse to sing
Who never knew our God;
But children of the heavenly King,
But children of the heavenly King,
May speak their joys abroad,
May speak their joys abroad.

We're marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We're marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.

Amen