One of the spiritual errors that we American Christians can easily fall into is too much individualism. Ours is a culture that strongly promotes individual rights, personal independence, and self-fulfillment, and we can unwittingly bring these same values into Christianity. Now, the Bible does teach a richly personal aspect to our faith (e.g Ps 16; John 13:23; Rev 2:17), but the Bible also teaches an equally rich communal aspect. To become a Christian is not simply to gain an intimate, saving relationship with Jesus; it is to gain this relationship with all the saints. Together we believers are Christ’s bride (Rev 19:7-9; 21:9), body (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:27), and temple (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22).
There are many implications of this profound communal reality for the Christian life, but one implication has to do with our singing: when you come to church, to whom do you sing?
The answer may at first seem obvious: “I sing to God! I sing to Jesus!” And perhaps you’re remembering times of worship when you forgot or blocked out all others in the room from your mind and just focused on worshipping Christ. There is good truth in such an answer, but consider the poignancy of Colossians 3:16,
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.
Ephesians 5:18-19 gives a similar description of a well-functioning Christian church:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.
Notice how these verses emphasize a dual purpose in Christian singing: we sing to give praise and thanks to God but also to speak, instruct, and give exhortation to others in the church. In other words, we sing for both God and each other.
Truth-filled and Spirit-filled singing together is actually a key component of Christian edification. When we see and hear one another joyfully singing God’s Word—even amid difficult circumstances (cf. Acts 16:25), what we’re really seeing and hearing is communal affirmation of the worthiness of Christ: “I believe Christ’s word! He deserves all thanks and praise! Oh, come join me in loving and trusting him!” Many people have reported the deep encouragement of heart-felt Christian singing together, and we can see why: this is God’s design.
I sometimes wonder if our great dependence on reading song lyrics while we sing in church today isn’t a missed opportunity; so often, we must direct our eyes to a screen or to a book page to know what to sing next. But what if we already knew the lyrics? Where might we direct our faces instead? We, of course, could look up to God in heaven or simply close our eyes, but we could also look at the singers, musicians, and even one another. We could testify to all with both our faces and our voices: “God is great! Let’s celebrate him together!”
Even if we cannot be totally independent from provided lyrics, we can be more purposeful about how we sing in church. Singing is not just about you and God, it’s also about us and God. Therefore, let us sing to God and to one another.
Questions to Consider:
1. Do you need to sing well in order to fulfill God’s commands in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-19?
2. What do you communicate to others if you consistently sing half-heartedly in church or refrain from singing at all?
3. How can you protect a desire to sing and edify others from becoming a desire to sing from hypocrisy or for others’ approval?