I’m in the middle of series on the role of a congregational worship leader, and I’ve been camping out on how music works in worshipping God. Yesterday I addressed how one of the primary functions of music is to help us remember God’s Word. Today, I’d like to share another way music serves us in worshipping God. We sing to respond to God’s grace.
Colossians 3:16 tells us that we’re to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God. God is not interested in mere lip service. It dishonors him. But he’s not looking for raw emotionalism either, that is, seeking emotion for its own sake. We sing to express thankfulness FOR something. That “something” is the word of Christ, which dwells in us richly as we sing. In a sermon on Singing and Making Melody to the Lord, John Piper commented:
“Music and singing are necessary to Christian faith and worship for the simple reason that the realities of God and Christ, creation and salvation, heaven and hell are so great that when they are known truly and felt duly, they demand more than discussion and analysis and description; they demand poetry and song and music. Singing is the Christian’s way of saying: God is so great that thinking will not suffice, there must be deep feeling; and talking will not suffice, there must be singing.”
I’ve known people who have been taught to repress their emotions as they sing. They fear feeling anything too strongly, and believe that maturity is evidenced in restraint. But that seems to fly in the face of why God gave us the gift of singing in the first place. Jonathan Edwards responded to similar concerns in his own day with these words:
“The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and with music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections p. 44)
Worship leaders must teach their people the difference between being moved by music and being moved by the beauty of God’s glory in Christ. “I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.” (John Piper, quoting Jonathan Edwards in Desiring God, pg. 91) That is to say, singing is an ideal way, a God-ordained way of combining objective truth with thankfulness, theology with doxology, intellect with emotion.
Commentators acknowledge that no one can say for certain what Paul meant by “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” At the very least, it implies some kind of musical and lyrical variety. However, I’ll save those thoughts for a later series. Next Tuesday, I’ll share thoughts on how singing helps us reflect God’s glory.
Thanks for this series…was able to read several of these posts to the Sunday team here…also…thanks again for the Live CD…its been an invaluable resource of new songs.
I know other churches are benefiting as well… God is multiplying your efforts.
Worship leaders must teach their people the difference between being moved by music and being moved by the beauty of God’s glory in Christ.
So aptly put. I really appreciate that comment. It will help my focus in leading worship.
I agree with all of the insights you’ve shared here, but these two Edwards quotes lead me to a question: Why does he say the value of music and verse is that “these things have a tendency to move our affections,” and then also that his goal is “to raise the affections of [his] hearers as high as [he] possibly can, provided they are affected with nothing but truth”? Which is it? Should music and verse move our affections, or should truth? I think this is what you’re getting at in saying, “Worship leaders must teach their people the difference between being moved by music and being moved by the beauty of God’s glory in Christ.” I often find myself heavy with that burden. I want people to respond to a great God, not to great music. Maybe I’m missing something in Edwards’ explanation, or might it be that sometimes the truth of God by itself moves us to heartfelt worship of Him, while at other times music first focuses and aligns our hearts on truth so that it can have its effect? In the first scenario, which seems to be more what Piper is describing in the quote here, singing is the necessary expression of true affections. In the second scenario, singing is the aid that helps transform head-knowledge into heart-response.
Great question. Keep in mind the two quotes I referenced were from two different sources, however, both by Edwards.
I think the point is this. God designed music to affect our emotions. However, music can contradict or overshadow what the truth is meant to do, or complement or support it. We should seek to use music that does the latter. Obviously, that’s a fairly subjective standard. Practically I try to avoid songs where I think the music is stronger than the lyrical content. I’d rather sing great lyrics to poor music than weak lyrics to a great tune. Actually, I’d rather sing great music with even stronger lyrics. Is that helpful?