And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5.18-21
I’ve found myself singing a lot lately – hymns I thought I had long forgotten, phrases of Scripture put to a tune. It’s odd how these notes slip in from the closets of my memory. It started a few weeks ago on (another) solitary Friday night when I watched True Grit again. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” trickles through the whole movie.
What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms. What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms. What have I to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms? I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, leaning on the everlasting arms.
One of my textbooks in seminary finished each chapter on doctrine with a hymn or praise chorus that reflected that doctrine. I was so thankful for that book because it showed me the importance of turning knowledge about God into praise to God. So often we can sing along to every song in Sunday worship or on the radio or our ipods, but do the words sink in? Do we understand what we’re singing? Do we mean what we sing?
The Bible is chock full of singing. The longest book, Psalms, is a song book. In the Old Testament, God’s people sang in praise to God (Ps. 147.1), with joy and thanksgiving (Ps. 95.1-2). Worship in the temple involved singing, and when the Israelites built and then re-built the temple, an entire family of Levites was designated to lead the congregation in music (1 Chron. 15.16-22; Ezra 3.10-11). The prophet Zephaniah even describes God himself as singing over his people (Zeph. 3.17)!
I recently learned that singing is also useful in overcoming temptation and sin. When the truth of God’s Word richly dwells in us and we are walking in the Spirit, when we know who Christ is and who we are in him, the false gods of this world diminish and we can sing praises with genuine joy and thanksgiving. In the Old Testament, the Israelites sang after great victory in battle (Ex. 15.1-21). Singing when we face temptation and struggle with sin is a war song, a battle cry, a celebration of the victory that is already won for us in Christ.
In Ephesians 5.18-21, Paul teaches that the church sings! Singing to God and to one another is part of being filled with the Spirit, along with giving thanks and submitting to one another, as we put off the works of darkness and are filled with the Spirit. It’s a testimony of the gospel to a watching world. We should fill our minds with God’s Word and turn the truths we find there into song. Here are some examples. Belt them out!
We can sing when we are…
disappointed or suffering (Psalm 34.17-19; 46.1)I know my days are in your hands, though I draw near to dust. You are the God in whom I trust. You are my refuge.
or tempted (1 Corinthians 10.12-13)Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of his glory and grace.
or caught in sin (1 Timothy 1.15)Man of sorrows, what a name, For the Son of God who came Ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah! What a Savior! Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned he stood, Sealed my pardon with his blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
or worried that we don’t have what we need (Matthew 6.31-33)Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hands have provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
or doubting that the future will ever be bright (Romans 8.23-25; 15.13)And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight And the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend. Even so, it is well with my soul!
or reveling in the opportunities we have to serve God (2 Corinthians 9.6-12)Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
or overflowing with gratitude for the blessings he has given (Psalm 103.1-5)You’re rich in love, and you’re slow to anger. Your name is great, and your heart is kind. For all your goodness I will keep on singing, Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.