“What Does The Bible Say About Singing” Thoughts from Kevin Twit, Philip Percival, Mark Dever, Nathan Tasker, Vaughan Roberts, Alanna Glover, Mike Cosper and Bob Kauflin. Duration: 4:33
 We’re really sorry if this is now stuck in your head!
Can you imagine a world without music? Sure, there are plenty of annoying songs that get stuck in your head and drive you crazy (“This is the song that never ends, and it goes on and on my friend!”). But have you stopped to think about all the ways music enriches our lives? Throughout the ages and across cultures, music marks the momentous occasions in life: weddings, funerals, graduations, sporting events and elections – to name just a few. The context, the location, and the time determine the style of music used, but the effect is the same: music helps us to feel and express truth, emotion, and unity. There is nothing like the experience of your football team scoring the winning goal, followed by wild, anthemic singing. The music gives voice to the victory, uniting players and fans in the celebration. Or the music at a remembrance service; where the crowds stand solemnly as the trumpet plays the haunting melody of The Last Post out over the breaking dawn. The sense of sobriety, the moment of collective remembrance and thankfulness wouldn’t be the same without it. In each case, the music enables us to feel and express our emotions, longings and thoughts with deep satisfaction. This is not an accident! God made us to engage with music this way.
 In praise of God’s miraculous rescue: Exodus 15; to petition God for a need: Numbers 21:17; to instruct and admonish God’s people: Deuteronomy 31:30-32:44; to relieve and refresh the troubled spirit: 1 Samuel 16:16, 23; to celebrate victory and God’s presence among them: 1 Chronicles 13:7-8.
 2 Chronicles 29:30.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Bible encourages his people to sing in order to express the truth and emotions that flow from faith. For Christians, singing is not an optional add-on, but something fundamental to our identity as the church. In the Bible we are given a wonderful picture of God’s people engaging with him through music. We find examples of spontaneous singing: praising, praying and crying out to God .There are descriptions of gatherings, singing to celebrate the many blessings of God to his people . There are the Psalms, which express the whole range of emotions in responding to salvation and sin and God’s work of creation. In the New Testament, we find the command to “let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, as we teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Col 3:16). In short, the picture is that our singing is vitally important to God, and to us!
We are going to spend this first session looking at the Bible’s key teaching about Christian singing and how we then apply this to our church contexts. While it’s not always easy to draw a straight line from church in the 1st Century to Sunday morning in the 21st, we are given some key principles to work with. Without discussing the practical details, the apostle Paul, for example, makes a point of encouraging great singing in the church. He doesn’t ever speak about his favourite band line-up, or his prefered arrangement of a hymn. But he does focus on the ‘why’ of our congregational singing. In short, we see that it is all about the word of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, shaping the hearts and lives of God’s gathered people, the church – for his praise and service.
What is the church?
Since this course is all about singing in church it’s important that we understand exactly what the ‘church’ is. Most simply, the church is the gathering of those united by faith in Jesus. The word ‘church’ in the New Testament (ekklesia) literally means an assembly or a gathering – not a building, or a Sunday meeting, or an organisation or denomination. Many of the New Testament letters were written to these gatherings of Christians in specific places, sometimes to offer words of encouragement, and at other times to address big problems or wrong doctrine. Either way, it is through these letters that we learn about the nature and purpose of the church.
There are three key ideas to understand about the church in the New Testament. Firstly, and fundamentally, the church gathers around the person of Jesus Christ, as God ministers his word to us in the power of his Spirit. Secondly, the church is called to serve, by building up one another in love, knowledge and service of God. Thirdly, the church exists to offer God its prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. The diagram illustrates how these three ideas connect with each other.
2.a Gathered around Jesus; his word & Spirit
 [Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Pet 3:22) Similarly, Revelation 4-5 talks about Jesus, the Lamb, seated on the throne surrounded by the elders who fall before him and sing a new song saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev 5:9)
 John 3:34; Acts 4:31; 1 Cor 2:13; Eph 1:13, 6:17)
It is easy to think that church is something that we do – when we put up a building, create rosters, sing songs, prepare sermons and meet with others each week. But really, the church is the work of God! It is God who gathers a people to himself in Jesus. And it is God who feeds, builds and gives gifts to his people, growing them into the likeness of Christ. He does all this in the ministry of his word through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament sees the church gathered around Jesus in two places: in heaven and on earth. Right now, there is a heavenly assembly, where Jesus stands, worshipped by the elders and the angels gathered around him . When we are saved we are called into his family. We become members of this heavenly church and can even now join in with the praise of that joyous assembly. Hebrews 12:22 tells us that we have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. Similarly, in Ephesians 2:6 we have been saved and are raised up with Jesus Christ in heaven, seated with him in the heavenly places.
But clearly we are not yet physically part of the heavenly church; which is why Jesus makes himself present in our earthly assemblies – in his word (which we find in the Bible) and by his Spirit. Matthew 18:20 assures us that whenever we meet, no matter how small a gathering we might be, that Jesus is indeed present among us. He gives us the promise that in his absence he will send the Holy Spirit to actively work in us: to help us hear, understand and accept his word. In John 14:25-26, Jesus states,
These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
The Spirit’s primary role, therefore, is to point us to Jesus, so that we can know him intimately, by hearing and understanding his words . So when we open and read the Bible, our earthly assemblies are ‘church’ in every real sense, as we allow Jesus to speak to us.
2.b. Gathered to serve one another
Like pandas and polar bears, God could have designed humans to be independent, solitary creatures. But instead, we have been created to love, to connect and to interact with one another. We were designed to relate; and as a result we have societies, cultures, families and church. As God’s chosen people, we are united with Jesus, made one with him and given a new identity as ‘his body’. But this identity comes with certain expectations of how we should act towards one another. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes to a church that is not doing a great job at getting this right, where he reminds them that God has given them gifts, not for their own individual benefit and pride, but to be exercised in love and service towards each other. Likely, you’re familiar with the words of 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul famously details what love looks like in practice:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth”. (1 Cor 13:4-6)
“When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” 1 Cor. 14:26.
This is the kind of love God expects us to show one another as we strive to excel in building up the church (1 Cor 14:12). When we meet together, exercising our gifts, bringing our songs, sharing revelations etc., we share in God’s ministry of growing the church . In short, we live and speak and act and sing for the good of our brothers and sisters – before ourselves.
2.c. Gathered for prayer, praise & thanksgiving
So we’ve seen that, firstly, God ministers to us through the word of Jesus Christ and, secondly, with that same word we serve and build one another up in him. But thirdly, it is God’s word that brings him glory through our prayer, praise and thanksgiving. God longs that we would rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:16-18). And when we gather as the church we express this praise corporately; our ‘public worship’. What this looks like will vary, depending on your culture and context, but the goal is the same: to respond rightly to God for all he has done for us. The word and Spirit that fills us with Jesus, that builds us together in him, is the same word that directs our prayer, praise and thanksgiving towards God.
Fundamental to our identity as the church, therefore, is our praise; which is not just flattery or platitudes, but a powerful declaration of who God is and what he has done, as we advertise his name to each other and the world. The Bible gives us plenty of examples of how to do this:
Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Col 2:6-7)
Our meeting for corporate prayer and praise unites us with God’s people throughout history – from early Israel to the church of the new creation. We offer the adoration of our hearts in response to God’s salvation, filled and fuelled by gratitude . It is both our obedience and thankfulness that mark us as those who are ‘in Christ Jesus,’ and our praise, therefore, should permeate not just through our gatherings and songs, but into every part of our lives.
While all this is just a brief summary of ‘the church’, it none the less gives us a shape to which we can now peg an understanding of Christian singing. You might already be seeing how singing fits within God’s purposes for the church, in the way he speaks to us, as we encourage one another, and as we respond in prayer and praise with thanksgiving. But let’s now look at this ministry of the word – in song – in a bit more detail.