When Christians gather for corporate worship, we sing. The style of music, the use of instruments, the skill of the congregation may all differ, but the presence of singing in Christian worship is a constant. The Church Jesus rescued by His blood is a saved people and, therefore, a singing people.
As with all things, so it is with singing, increased familiarity leads to decreased attention. So, though we Christians do a lot of singing, we don’t always do a lot of thinking about our singing.
In an effort to remedy that, allow me to ask and answer the question, “To whom do Christians sing when they gather for worship?”
I’ll offer you three audiences.
We Sing to Ourselves
Christians have leaky memories and we’re in need of constant fill-ups of God’s Word through our pastors, our brothers and sisters, our Scripture reading, and our singing. Singing is a means of reminding ourselves of what is true.
The Psalms, the very songs of Scripture, are filled with examples of godly people singing the truth to themselves to remind and exhort themselves to live according not to their circumstances, people, or feelings, but according to God’s Word. One example, when the Psalmist found himself despairing in his suffering and persecution he sung these exact words to himself three different times, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5). He knew how he felt. He knew what was happening around him. But, most importantly, he knew that God’s Word was truer than his feelings and God’s promise was surer than his circumstances. In a time of great trouble, he ascended the pulpit of his own heart and sung truth down into his soul.
Every Sunday, we must follow his lead and sing God’s truth into our bones.
We Sing to Our Brothers & Sisters
Now, at any time, we can sing the truth of God’s Word to our own heart, but only when we are gathered with the church can we sing it into the ears and hearts of our brothers and sisters. And this, singing to our church family, is another essential recipient of our song. Notice Paul’s instructions to church in Ephesus: “(Address) one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). Not only were they to make melody to the Lord, but their singing was to also “address one another.” Their songs were not only for Christ, but also his bride. Paul offers the Colossian church the same counsel: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16
This means the pastor is not the only one preaching on Sunday, but the whole church is. One difference is the congregation’s sermon has a soundtrack. The pastor speaks the truth and the congregation sings it. He preaches from the pulpit and the congregation from the pew.
When you gather with the church, make sure you understand that God wants you to sing his Word into the ears and hearts of those around you. He wants to bless them through your singing. I’m sure you experienced the power of hearing ordinary, godly Christians singing the extraordinary gospel into your ears. God wants that gift for all his children. Not only do you need you to sing to you, but they – your brothers and sisters – need you to sing to them.
We must sing God’s truth into the church’s soul.
We Sing to God
Singing often reveals what we treasure most. Throughout the ages, young men have sung to their sweethearts. Soldiers and citizens proudly sing anthems to their country. Mothers tenderly and smilingly whisper lullabies to their newborns. We sing to the things we value, cherish, and love the most.
So it is with those saved by the Lord. “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96:1-2). So it is, even more, with those bought by the blood of the Lamb.
“And they sang 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, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10
Singing is an inevitable result of being overjoyed. When our souls and senses are so filled with the glory, delight, and goodness of something, song and music seem to become the only language adequate for expression. When Christians eyes are open to see the goodness of God, the trustworthiness of his word, and the beauty of his glory, they burst out in song to the one whose responsible for it all.
Even then, we find our own song inadequate and cannot help to invite everyone else to join us:
All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing