“My goal as a preacher is not to give people ideas and suggestions and resources for transforming themselves. My goal as a minister is to preach Christ into their hearts. We call this the sacramental Word, that is, the Word as a means of grace.”
Last month in this column we saw that there is nothing more important than God’s glory. Everything we do is to be done for His glory (I Corinthians 10:31). So if this is true, how should we think about our worship services, especially the songs that we sing? How should God’s glory affect our worship music?
First of all, we should note that, if the singing portion of our worship services (and we do much more in worship than just sing!) is for God’s glory, then that means it is not for us or about us (Psalm 115:1)! It’s about our Triune God! We come to “worship Him in the beauty of His holiness” (Psalm 29:2). So often, it easy to find ourselves thinking, “This song doesn’t speak to me,” or “I don’t care for the style of this song.” But the problem with both of those thoughts is that the subject is me and not God! Biblical worship is about pleasing the Lord of Hosts and doing His will, not about pleasing myself and having my way (Matthew 26:39; Romans 12:1-2). If you ever think to yourself that you simply cannot worship God because of a distaste for the music that is being sung, ask yourself this: am I here to worship God for His glory, or am I here for my personal preferences and my glory?
So if we recognize that God is supreme in worship and that we come to please Him, what does that tell us about the kinds of songs we ought to sing? A principle that all Christians must learn to become emphatic about is that our songs must have biblically faithful lyrics. Above all, we must be careful that what we say or sing in our worship services falls in line with God’s Word and brings glory to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It might seem like nearly all songs today – whether hymns or Christian pop played on the radio – are quite biblical or spiritual in their lyrics. But we must be cautious. Scripture warns us over and over again that simply using spiritual sounding language is no guarantee that it is pleasing to God (Jeremiah 6:14; Matthew 7:22-23). Jesus warned His disciples not to be like the hypocrites that offered pious sounding words in their worship (Matthew 6:5-7). Going through hymnals, it is often amazing to see what songs have been included, and yet – based on their words – these songs have no business being used in worship. The same can be said of some contemporary songs as well.
One sure fire way to make sure our lyrics are pleasing to God is by using words that the Holy Spirit inspired. We can sing the words of Scripture! The Apostle Paul encourages us to “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). When we sing “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or “All Creatures That On Earth Do Dwell,” we are singing Psalms 23 and 100 set to verse and music. Psalm singing has a long pedigree in Christian – and especially Reformed – churches and to the extent that we can sing God’s Word back to Him, it roots Christ in our hearts and glorifies Him. Even when we sing songs that are not direct quotations of Scripture, it is important that the lyrics, theme, and general message reflect biblical truth.
But what about the musical tune? Scripture may give guidelines on the what of our singing (the lyrics), but our Bibles don’t come with melodies or four part harmonies. What about the how of singing (the tune/arrangement)? Much could be said on this topic, but we can certainly all agree that the music should 1) correspond to and, 2) enhance the lyrics. Probably all of us can agree that Psalm 23 should not be accompanied by heavy metal rock ‘n’ roll, and that Psalm 2 should not be sung to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” When a melody and arrangement matches the energy and direction of the lyrics, even those of us who aren’t very musical recognize a happy harmony exists between tune and text. We will consider this concept further in future articles.
Praying with you for Christ to be glorified in our singing and in our lives,