Addressing One Another in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

This past Sunday I had the privilege of speaking at Solid Rock Church, the Sovereign Grace church in Riverdale, Maryland, not far from where I live. I spoke on Eph. 5:15-21 and called the message, “Spirit-filled Singing.” I shared six characteristics of singing that are a result of being filled with the Spirit.

My first point was “Spirit-filled singing is to each other,” and based on Eph. 5:19 where Paul says we’re “addressing one another.” You’d think in a passage about singing praise to God that Paul would begin with God. He doesn’t. The first focus of our singing Paul mentions is not God, but one another. Col. 3:16 fills this idea out and says that we’re “teaching and admonishing one another.” This shows us that one of the primary aims of corporate worship is meant to be building each other up, not simply having our own personal encounter with God.

Ways We Can Address One Another When We Sing

How do we “address one another” when we sing? I can think of a number of ways. As we all sing at the same time, we’re hearing those around us proclaim biblical truth and our response to it. We’re being taught and admonished by our brothers and sisters to trust the God of Scripture and the only Savior.

Songs like “You are Holy” have the men alternating lines with the women. Other songs are in a call and response format, where the leader sings a line and the congregation responds.

Listening to a soloist is another way we can address one another as we sing. Solos don’t have to be “performances.” When the vocalist’s motives and gestures are Christ-exalting and natural, our hearts can be inspired and instructed as we listen to some else’s Spirit-filled singing.

Practices that Hinder Horizontal Awareness in Worship

Over the years, most of us have developed a few practices that can hinder any benefit we might receive from addressing one another as we sing.

1. Singing songs that lack biblical substance or doctrinal depth. If the songs we’re singing are primarily subjective, and focused on how we feel, what we’re doing, or some other subjective element, we’re not going to have much to say to each other.

2. Thinking that “worship” means closing my eyes, raising my hands, and blocking out everyone else around me. I’ve had many profound moments like that, as I’ve focused in an undistracted way on the words I’m singing and the Savior I’m singing to. But being Spirit-filled should actually make us more aware of others, not less. Many of the songs we sing aren’t even directed towards God. Crown Him with Many Crowns, Before the Throne of God Above, and Amazing Grace, are a few that come to mind. So when I lead I probably have my eyes open more than half the time. I’m looking around, addressing others, celebrating the fact that we can glory in Jesus Christ together. I do that even when I’m not leading, sometimes turning to someone beside me to rejoice in God’s grace. I want to benefit from the fact that I’m with the people of God.

3. Singing alone. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with praising God on my own. But in the age of iPods, earphones, and Internet downloads, it’s easy to lose our appreciation for singing with the church. The Spirit intends us to join our hearts to each other as well as to Christ when we sing.

After I preached the message this past Sunday, I wanted to apply the message in a memorable way. So I had everyone stand up and told them we were going to sing Amazing Grace a cappella. Only I didn’t want anyone closing their eyes. I wanted people to look around the room as they sang, rejoicing at God’s mercy in each other’s lives. It was a little awkward at first, but eventually we were singing with all our hearts, unashamedly “addressing one another” in song, reminding ourselves of how amazing God’s grace truly is, to save wretches like us.

So next time you lead or worship God with your church, don’t stop at asking the Lord to “open the eyes of your heart.” Ask him to open your eyes in your head, too.

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24 Responses to Addressing One Another in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

  1. west December 5, 2007 at 1:27 PM #

    Good word Bob. So much is packed into those parallel verses – being Spirit-filled, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, etc. It leads me to believe that Paul had a fairly robust vision for the role of singing in worship.

  2. Graeme December 5, 2007 at 2:07 PM #

    hey Bob

    thanks for this post. I am an “eye closer” when I lead and I have had a few people, loving encourage me to interact with them while we sing. It is hard to change sometimes the way we do things, but I think what is clear from Paul , throughout the Epistles, is that in our meetings we ought to be thinking of the body. I am encouraged to open my eyes this week a little more. Thanks

    Graeme – Okotoks, Canada

  3. Brandi Davis December 5, 2007 at 10:15 PM #

    I really appreciate your message about being Spirit-filled corporately. I think that sometimes I can be closed minded when I’m leading worship and looking at the people in the congregation. If they don’t “look” like they are worshipping intently, then they must not be! Well, obviously you can’t really judge how a person worships only God knows their sincerity in their worship. This approach of addressing one another in worship is just another way to worship our Lord! It is a great way to express to others and to the Lord how we can be unified as a Body. Being able to do this is a great gift. I love discovering new ways to worship! Thank-you for your insight.
    brandi shea

  4. Daryl December 6, 2007 at 5:41 AM #

    Hi Bob:

    Is your message available on mp3?

  5. Ken Shepherd December 6, 2007 at 11:48 AM #

    Loved the message. Thanks for sharing the Word with us on Sunday.

    A practical suggestion, though, for your blog: can you add a button for sharing things via Facebook?

  6. Daniel Newman December 7, 2007 at 7:27 PM #

    Thank you for this very clear post on the horizontal aspect of what happens when we gather together as church. This is something that we really need to be taught. Until a couple of years ago, this just wasn’t something I had even thought about, but my eyes were opened (so to speak) through some good Christian friends.

    It’s an incredibly encouraging thing if you catch the eye of a brother (or sister) and sing a verse to one another. I’ve resisted the urge to turn through one hundred and eighty degrees and address someone right behind me – I’m not sure how helpful that would be…

  7. Marisha December 8, 2007 at 10:32 AM #

    I especially appreciate your first point–singing songs lacking doctrinal meaning. I grew up singing mostly contemporary songs, which can be full of meaning, but after coming to college, I began attending a church singing mostly hymns. I fell in love with the spiritual richness of the lyrics. Some of the songs even require us to address one another in Christ rather than address Christ alone. I have never focused more on the body in congregational worship than I have in the past few months, and your post has encouraged me to continue to sing with one another, and not just out of my own heart. I have been moved to tears more times by the spirit-filled worship of those around me than my own worship, and it is a blessing to experience grace through others’ recognition, no matter how simple their expression. Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. Katie Snoddy December 8, 2007 at 3:43 PM #

    I really appreciate your thoughts on this, and especially the biblical reasoning behind what you’re proposing. I did not grow up in the church, and had a hard time as a non-Christian believing that there was anything valuable about the corporate worship of Christians. I have been a Christian now for about 6 years, and I appreciate so much learning about the things that used to hinder me. I am an “eye closer,” usually wanting to block out everyone and try to focus on God. Maybe I’m really focusing on me when I do that . . . I don’t know. Whatever I’m doing, I’m convinced that it’s not right. I see now the meaningfulness of sharing my experiences & my joy with the rest of the congregation. I anticipate some awkwardness, but I plan to start singing to others tomorrow in church. Ooh, I’m excited! The thought makes me feel as thought I’ll be living in a musical tomorrow! (Don’t worry, I realize that it’s much more than that.) Thank you!

  9. TiffanyN. December 8, 2007 at 4:17 PM #

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I actually stumbled upon Eph. 5:19 a couple of days ago and read over it a few times while I wondered exactly how to address my brothers and sisters with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Your post gives great examples of how to apply Paul’s advice to our lives. So often lately I’ve felt so discouraged in worship by the sense of disconnectedness and apathy among the Body. With the knowledge that a great majority of the lyrics of our hymns and spiritual songs are extracted straight from Scripture, we should indeed approach corporate worship as more of an outward, others-centered act. As is stated in 2 Timothy 3:16…All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.

  10. Nate Heavilin December 8, 2007 at 4:42 PM #

    I think you’re right on man. If all I had was alone worship time, I’d feel just a little crazy, I think. Just being with a big body of believers that are worshiping the one true God. It’s a big affirmation that I am a part of God’s kingdom. I imagine that corporate worship is really close to what the Kingdom will look like. Thanks for speaking out.

  11. Emily Davis December 8, 2007 at 10:05 PM #

    I have never thought of that part of worship being corporate before. I have wondered before if the singing portion of a service can end up being self serving because so often I have seen it as my time with my God rather than our time with our God. It does make me excited about heaven when we will all have the opportunity to praise our God corporately.

  12. Randy S December 9, 2007 at 8:32 PM #

    I never realized that in all the verses Paul addresses singing praises he never mentioned God first. I guess that I just assumed that he did. It is really cool now that I see that and realize the emphasis that Paul put on the congretion. Many churches that I have been to put focus on God but do little to provide interaction with others. It is neat to realize that is such an important part of worship that we miss out on and can do a better job of regardless of the style we worship in.

  13. Jenny Hejka December 10, 2007 at 11:10 AM #

    Thank you for your thoughts concerning corporate worship. I have to remind myself at times of how important it is to be celebrating with the church the message of Christ. I remember being little and wondering why people around me would close their eyes and raise their hands. I think that because i was exposed to that, i thought that that was the only way to “truly” worship God. I love to keep my eyes open though and to really pay attention to how people worship God; it actually helps my worship experience. Thank you for your reminder to be “Spirit-Filled” and to really appreciate corporate worship.

  14. Terry Foss December 11, 2007 at 11:48 AM #

    Hey Bob,
    Thanks for the post. Is it possible to get an MP3 of that message?

  15. Bob Kauflin December 11, 2007 at 5:37 PM #


    I’m working on getting the message to make it available for downloading. Thanks for asking.

  16. Tim December 12, 2007 at 3:01 PM #

    After some reading and some discussion on this topic, Dever concludes in his book “The Message of the NT: Promises Kept” from the book of Ephesians by saying this, “Our unity in God’s grace brings God glory, so that the very circumstances he has ordered for your life and mine, including suffering, are a special way he has given us to live a life of love and to display his character and glory. Whatever circumstances you face in your life today, God is calling you to reflect his glory by being united to Christ and to other Christians.” So, Bob, I’m not totally sure of where you are coming at, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you are trying to say that as Christians, we ought to lead one another on to love and good deeds and in our singing, we should have sound doctrinal songs in our diet to accomplish what Paul and the Lord are saying here. As I have read from other pastor’s blog sites, I have found this to be the saddest, “So if you wanna reach the tattooed I’d go through ever(y) worship song you have and take a good hard look at the lyrics. Would they make sense to who you’re trying to reach? If not, bag it. And not only the lyrics, it’s also what you say and how you say it during worship…We wanna be sure that the seekers never feel like they don’t know the language and are therefore not in the club.” I believe that is SO contrary to what the Scriptures say. I am open to clarity to my thinking on all of this. I look forward to your response to my posted comment/question.

  17. Bob Kauflin December 12, 2007 at 4:11 PM #


    Sorry I wasn’t clearer in my post, but you seem to understand what I’m saying. Mutual edification is a part of our corporate worship that is often minimalized or ignored altogether. I think there’s a healthy tension between building the church and being intelligible to outsiders, but my point here is simply to highlight the fact that singing is meant to be mutually edifying as well as glorifying to God. In fact, I think those are two sides of the same coin. Edifying one another brings glory to God. Praising God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength should build up those around me.

  18. Tim December 12, 2007 at 4:22 PM #

    Bob, thanks for your clarifying remarks. I see now where you were coming at and going to in your blog/sermon. I appreciate your kindness in taking the time to answer my question(s). BTW- I’ve also responded to your response to my question(s)/comments on the 9Marks blog site. Thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to clear up what we both understood is right and true, “Praising God with all my (our) heart, soul, mind, and strength should build up those around me.”


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