Singing Our Sadness

A wise elder in a congregation I once served told me that I should select the first song in worship to be a joyful song of praise. His concern was that I, having chosen a sadder song to begin our Sunday worship, would bring to mind and heart the feeling of a funeral service rather than the glad celebration it was meant to be. Thus the tone of the entire service would be ‘off’ from the very beginning. I appreciated his point and, to this day, have striven to follow this ‘rule’ for the order of worship. And clearly there are many  appropriate songs to choose that have aided me in doing so.

Since that time I have grown in my appreciation and reverence specifically for the biblical Psalms. One of the reasons for my attraction to them is their capacity to express a wide range of emotions that God has given us.(1) I was struck by the importance of this as I read a blog post entitled “Not Learning to Lament: Comparing the Psalms to Songbooks.” This entry highlights one of the chapters in a book entitled “Hurting With God: Learning to Lament With The Psalms” by Glenn Pemberton. In chapter 2, the author compares the content of the biblical Psalms with three modern hymnals. As as you can see in the graph below (taken from the blog post), the Psalms far outweigh the hymnals in terms of expressing lament:

Psalm compared to Songbooks

The author of the post states: “Note that 40% of the Psalms can be classified as lament. The three songbooks don’t even crack 20%. And two of them don’t crack 15%.”

Now, why should we care about this? Why should this be of interest to congregations who regularly sing from hymnals? One way to answer these questions is to reflect on life itself: are we always happy? Are we always cheerful? Is there a biblical command that we always have a smile on our face and possess “joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart”?

Now it is true that many professing Christians would have us believe these things. Some have even built their ministry on insisting that every Christian always be happy, healthy and successful. To be anything less, in their mind, is to not be living the blessed life that God wants for us. But this is not the biblical teaching, nor is it the Christian experience. Rather, as we have sadly discovered, much of our lives is an experience of suffering, sadness and sorrow. Sometimes it seems to be nothing but trial and difficulty. And if we are to walk, with these troubles, into the sanctuary and be told in sermon and song that being a Christian means always being happy, well what would or should we do? It seems to me that the only options would be: 1) to leave for one would take from this that they must not be a Christian as their emotions and experience do not match with what they are being told they should feel) 2) to stay and hope against hope that I can get that happiness eventually or 3) to conclude that what I being sold is truly poor comfort in light of my pain and suffering.

And so this leads us back to the biblical Psalms, for as the graph above indicates, God, in His infinite wisdom, has given us a song book that perfectly reflects, in so many ways, the trouble in our hearts and lives. And not only does it reflect our true experience in this sin and death cursed world, it also gives us the appropriate words and feelings in order to express these troubles in a godly fashion. For, after all, it is possible to express our lament in an ungodly fashion. The scriptures warn us, for example, about bitterness, which often comes out of a heart that is suffering some trial or difficulty (consider Naomi in Ruth 1:20). And clearly our sadness or disappointment in God must not to come out in anger and hostility against Him (as was Israel’s complaint in Exodus 16:2-3).

So instead of singing our lament out of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12), we may sing in faith about whatever troubles or trials the Lord, in His wisdom, has sent our way, by singing the divinely approved songs for that purpose. Yes, we may lament and cry out to the Lord knowing that He hears us (Psalm 86:5-7).

And let no one conclude that this is only for Old Testament Christians, as if the New Testament did not reveal that Christians suffer just as the saints of old did (1 Peter 4:12ff.; Hebrews 10:32-35; 12:5-11). For did not our Lord Himself give approval of this ancient practice, when He cried out, in the midst of His intense suffering and pain on the cross, the very words of David from Psalm 22:1? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

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1. I cannot improve on John Calvin’s words about this matter so I will simply quote them here (from his preface to his commentary on the Psalms): “I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated” (emphasis mine).

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Liturgy: Assurance of Pardon

It has been awhile since I last wrote on the subject of liturgy so let us review what we are trying to accomplish in these series of posts. We are following the outline of our worship services[1] and establishing the biblical nature and evidence for these elements of worship. As we explain and describe each element we want to keep in mind that we are not doing so merely to present worship as a cerebral experience. That is as long as you know what you are doing and why you are doing you and others have succeeded in worshipping God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Rather we believe that our worship ought to be done in an “understandable”way (1 Corinthians 14:15) so that we might rightly commune with God. 

And we examine the next portion of our liturgy we see that we are called to understand or comprehend the magnitude of our sins as well the greatness of God’s forgiveness. The law, which was just read, has demonstrated that we are guilty of transgressing it and are worthy of punishment and divine wrath. (Romans 3:19-20; Ephesians 2:3). We should be delighted to hear the assurance of pardon for our sins which is freely given in Christ. However it is appropriate first and indeed a necessity to make a confession of sins (1 John 1:9). But it is not sufficient to merely proclaim a general inclination to sin or a worldwide fall into sin but rather when God’s people hear the law they confess their sins. 

And it is particularly instructive that we are confessing our (plural) sins and not just my (singular) sins. Certainly we must do the latter (Psalm 32:5) but we follow the ebb and flow of the biblical pattern when we also do so as a body in our public worship. Aaron was commanded to lay his hands on the head of the goat, and confess “over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness “ (Leviticus 16:21 -emphasis’ mine). In the dedication of the temple, Solomon envisioned a time when Israel, repenting of their sins and failures, would confess God’s name pray for the forgiveness of the “sin of your people” (1 Kings 8:34). Daniel prayed by himself and yet said “we have sinned and committed iniquity” (Daniel 9:5). And our Lord Himself taught us to pray “Forgive us our debts”. (Matthew 6:12)

But what practical significance does this hold or have? First of all, it reminds me that these people who I worship with and fellowship and commune with are (surprise!) just like me. It is not just I who is a sinner, nor is it only that publican over there (Luke 18:11ff.) but we all have fallen short of the glory of God. It reminds me that I ought to treat my brother and sister with compassion because, without Christ, we are all condemned and without hope (1 Corinthians 15:14-17). Rather, since I am forgiven and you are forgiven we can forgive one another and willingly so (Ephesians 4:32). So then I may not think of myself as outside the fellowship for my sins, but included as “first among equals” (as Paul would say – see 1 Timothy 1:15).[2]

Second, it tells a listening world that these Christians, amongst whom they may find themselves one day, are not so hypocritical as they thought and maybe more humble than they give them credit. For sin is a universal problem with a particular solution; the Christian has no monopoly on sin but has or knows the only way for its removal: in Jesus. To confess our sins in light of our witness to the world, then, is to say: yes, you need Christ because you are condemned without Him (John 3:18) but without Him so are we! So our corporate confession of sins gives ‘traction’ to the Gospel by proclaiming the Saviour instead of the self. For there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). The biggest hypocrites of all are not the Christians who call sin ‘sin” but those who have no need for forgiveness and (thus) have no antidote to sin. 

But what then of the assurance of pardon? Like the confession of sins, it is corporate since Christ died for His people (Matthew 1:21).  We have a common Saviour and we are called to serve Him. No one person in the body of Christ is to be abandoned or left behind by the Lord’s servants because Christ Himself never abandons His sheep (John 10:28). Our mutual pardon in Christ’s sacrifice is a mutual calling or reminder to our sacrifice for one another (Romans 12:1-3). 

Furthermore the law should never be proclaimed without the gospel (Romans 3:21ff.). The assurance of pardon is a rich promise that all who come to Christ in true repentance and faith are truly forgiven in Him. And everyone of the pages of the God’s Word brim with this wonderful announcement or good news. Thus we should never be tired of hearing it though is repeated from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. It is a celebration and it should be received as such (Revelation 5:9ff.).  

Finally, we might ask, how does this assurance to ‘work’? When the pastor reads the text or summary of scripture pronouncing our forgiveness, must we understand that to mean that God is forgiving us through him? We see in John 20:23, for example, that our Lord tells His disciples “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” These are strong words and, in the opinion of some, they teach that pastors and priests have power and influence over our ‘forgiven state’. Let me say first of all that the Jesus’ opponents were correct: only God can forgive our sins (Mark 2:7) and He has done so in His Son (vs. 10). Indeed Paul and the other apostles never make the forgiveness of their readers dependent upon their intercession or help. Quite the contrary Paul, like David, ‘conditions’ forgiveness on faith in God’s mercy (Romans 4:5ff.). 

Rather our Lord Himself commanded that we disciple the nations thus presenting the understanding that we may call all people to forgiveness in Him regardless of what they have done. Indeed, as John Calvin notes, Jesus sent His disciples (John 20:21) for this purpose: that all who preach God’s Word forgive in the sense of proclaiming forgiveness. For we have to understand that a proclamation of forgiveness is, in a sense, as good as the act of forgiveness. Though we were not present at the cross or doing any of Jesus’ suffering and did not witness His love for us or His righteous works in our stead we do have the scriptures and we do have the gospel. And when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed we can be assured that we are truly forgiven by God Himself as we trust in His Son for that forgiveness. That is why Paul says Jesus has given him and other gospel preachers “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18) which grants them the authority as ambassadors of Christ to call others to “be reconciled to God” though they themselves, do not reconcile anyone (1 Corinthians 1:12ff.). Thus, like Paul, the pastor or minister has an official calling to bring that gospel message of the forgiveness of sins (Romans 1:1,5; Galatians 1:1,11-12). When we believe in the assurance of pardon as brought to us by the minister we are forgiven; if we do not believe we are condemned.

“‘Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:38-39)

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[1] For an outline of our worship services I invite you to visit our “Bulletin” page. There you may download a bulletin to see the order of worship.
[2] Please note that this principle does not ignore or do away with church discipline. Rather it underscores its necessity for sin in the body does not just corrupt one but all (1 Corinthians 5:6ff.). Also because sin is no respecter of persons we judge the public and scandalous transgression being worthy of church discipline on the basis of the act not the person we think they should be. (James 2:1ff.). 

Next post: Liturgy – Prayer

Liturgy: God’s Law

Not that long ago I listened to a minister on television explain that Christians do not need to follow or know the Ten Commandments. The reason is that if we strive to love, then we have done all that God requires and then we don’t need to be concerned about following a list of ‘dos’ and don’ts’.

I suppose this sounds great at first. Indeed, wouldn’t we be free from legalism and strife in the church if we follow the command to love? And isn’t this what Paul says in Romans 13:10? “Love is the fulfillment of the law”?

Note that, if this is true, the implication for our Reformed churches would be that the the reading of the Law would be an addition to, if not a blatant violation of, Christian worship. Thus instead of reciting the Ten Commandments (as we do at Grace in our morning service) maybe we would be better off simply saying “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

However this would be an ignorant notion. The Reformed tradition of reading the law in worship has its roots in biblical practice and theology. What follows, then, is a defense of that tradition. What we will see from scripture is that a philosophy of ‘love’ replacing the commandments of God is misguided at best.

First of all, it ignores the very meaning of Paul’s words in Romans 13:10. He says in the proceeding verse that the commandments [1], are summed up by love but Paul does not indicate that they are replaced by love.

Second of all, this perspective is naive for it tends to exalt our fallen hearts as a guide to morality. Our hearts are darkened (Romans 1:21), evil from youth (Genesis 8:21) and deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). Indeed we would be fools to trust them (Proverbs 28:26). Thus we tend to ignore what God has explicitly commanded in favor of what we feel. Indeed, this generation has largely turned God’s commands into observations or options for our own selfish benefit. To simply advocate ‘love’ to the exclusion of express commands is to feed the impulse that what feels right must be right.[2]

And even the Christian can’t simply love without guidance. If that were not true, why do the scriptures spend so much time exhorting us to do good and then define what that good is? Thus the commandments of God give structure to love, showing us that God wants tangible obedience from us, not some heartfelt desire that we think is love.

Third of all, it ignores the use of the commandments in the conversion of man. After all, we need the law to direct us to Christ; the law helps us see our need for Jesus. “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). The law shows us our unworthy state; it exposes our sins and misery. Martin Luther rightly said (concerning the law) that “this plane is necessary for tough and knotted logs”. For we tend towards works-righteousness. We think we are good but the law makes it plain that we are not. (Mark 10:18; Romans 3:12) It strips us bare of all pretension and causes us to cry out in fear when it reveals to us a holy God (cf. Isaiah 6:5).

Thus no one will be justified by keeping it. Paul makes it clear that this is not just in reference to the so-called outward ceremonies (such as circumcision) but everything that the law commands: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them”. Galatians 3:10 This law, then, humbles us, showing us that our justification [3] is in Christ alone. That is why Paul says “we establish the law” (Romans 3:31) as opposed to making it void. Without the law we endanger the doctrine of justification and free grace itself.

Fourth of all, it ignores the use of the commandments in the New Testament writings to explain the duty of the Christian in thankfulness to God’s love and mercy. We see this in the fact that Jesus teaching about love as a summary of the law is not a new or ‘replacement’ doctrine. When Jesus said that the greatest commandment was that we ought to love God with our whole being and love our neighbour as ourselves, He was repeating what Deuteronomy 6:5 & Leviticus 19:18 explicitly teach. In other words, love is not a new concept, but an old concept which is, and always has been, faithfully explained in the law. Furthermore, Jesus taught  that those who love Him would keep His commandments (plural – John 14:15), not just a broad commandment to love.

We also see that Jesus defends and promotes moral truth through His exposition or citation of the Ten Commandments in His public ministry:

  • First commandment: “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'” Luke 4:8
  • Second commandment: “‘And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” Mark 7:7
  • Third commandment: he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” Mark 3:29
  • Fourth commandment: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
  • Fifth commandment: “For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’.”  Matthew 15:4
  • Sixth commandment: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders…” Matthew 15:19
  • Seventh commandment:  “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery”Luke 16:18
  • Eighth commandment: “You know the commandments: … ‘You shall not steal'” Luke 18:20
  • Ninth commandment: “You are of your father, the devil… he is a liar and the father of it.” John 8:44
  • Tenth commandment: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Luke 12:15

Likewise, the apostles follow the pathway established by their Lord. For John, sin is “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). James says that if we but fail at keeping one law, we fail to keep them all. (James 2:10) Paul confesses to “delight in the law of God according to the inward man.” (Romans 7:22) Perhaps most significantly, the author of Hebrews claims (quoting from Jeremiah 33) that, in the new covenant, God has put His laws [4] in our minds and written them on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10). The examples could be multiplied, but what is clear from just these citations is that the moral law is not replaced with just one command to love but that love is demonstrated through a keeping of the moral law of God.

Finally, I wish to say that none of what I argue for above removes the necessityof keeping the law out of love. We can’t nor do we wish to, do any good apart from God’s love. (1 John 4:10 & 19) God wants our entire being, indeed He is remaking our entire being. Those who wish to serve God in this life, do so from their new heart.(Ezekiel 36:26)

And yet the new heart cannot want that which takes away from God’s Word: it seeks to fulfill it in every aspect of life by looking to what God has said He wants from us. Thus we conclude that the reading of God’s law must continue to be part of our liturgy as we seek to worship God as He desires.

Psalm 119:34 “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.”

Footnotes:

[1] Note that the 6th, 7th, 8th & 9th laws of the Ten Commandments are listed here.
[2] Of course this is not the fault of the scripture’s advocacy of love. But it does mean that we are obligated to explain the term and unpack its meaning from the breadth and depth of the scripture’s usage of it. Like most biblical words, the term ‘love’ cannot be defined with one meaning, and certainly does not mean whatever we are led to do at that particular moment.
[3] Our verdict of ‘righteous’ by and before God in Christ by faith alone.
[4] Note the plural ending. In other words, we ought not to look for a ‘law of love’ to replace God’s commandments.

Liturgy: Singing the Psalms

In our last post on liturgy we explored some scripture principles about singing in worship with God’s people. In this post we wish to focus on the type of songs we song, specifically the singing of Psalms.

One might ask: why should the New Testament church sing these Psalms? Aren’t their more modern songs we can write that reflect more truth, more revelation, more Christ-like words than those of the Psalms of the Old Testament? To this we answer:

First of all we see from scripture that there is a command to sing Psalms. That is, there is not only a broad imperative to sing but one that includes the songs of scripture themselves. Twice the apostle Paul instructs believers:

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 5:19-20)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16)

From these words we see rather clearly that the songs of the Old covenant are still for God’s people today.

Secondly, the Psalms also have a place of prominence within the scriptures themselves. With the exception of Genesis, the Psalms are more often quoted in the New Testament than any other Old Testament book. In particular, the Psalms are full of revelations and prophesy about Christ, His work, and His life. After His resurrection, our Lord instructed His disciples in the following manner:

“This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.(Luke 24:44) The truth of this statement is born out in the many prophecies in the New Testament that are lifted from the Psalms.

  • Psalm 2:7 (cf. Hebrews 1:5)
  • Psalm 8:4-6 (cf. Hebrews 2:5-8)
  • Psalm 16:8-11 (cf. Acts 2:27, Acts 13:35)
  • Psalm 22:22 (cf. Hebrews 2:12)
  • Psalm 23:1-3 (cf. John 10:11,14).
  • Psalm 31:5 (cf. Luke 23:26)
  • Psalm 34:20 (cf. John 19:36)
  • Psalm 40:6-8 (cf. Hebrews 10:5-12)

  • Psalm 45:6,7 (cf. Hebrews 1:8,9)
  • Psalm 69: 9 (cf. John 2:17)
  • Psalm 69:25 (cf. Acts 1:20)
  • Psalm 102: 25-27 (cf. Hebrews 1:10-12)
  • Psalm 109: 8 (cf. Acts 1:20)
  • Psalm 110 (cf. Hebrews 1:13; 5:6 10; 7:17, 21)

In short, when we sing the Psalms, we are singing about our Lord and Saviour. It is incumbent upon the church to do so with an eye to what God has revealed and instructed so that we may know the Messianic hope that is rooted in the past. Thus one of the great advantages and the wonderful blessing of singing the Psalms is that it connects us to our past: our redemptive history as sons of Abraham – children of Israel. (Ephesians 2:12-13; Hebrews 8:10-13) We are not just a forward looking people but a backward looking people. Though the author of Hebrews warns us from looking back with the intention of being saved by the ceremonies of the past, we nevertheless are richly reminded of the common faith heritage we possess, which the Old Testament saints loved and treasured. The singing of the Psalms helps us to remember where we came from and where we are going.

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

The final question we wish to answer pertains the rule of singing Psalms. Our URCNA Church Order puts it in this way:

The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches. Hymns which faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity may be sung, provided they are approved by the Consistory. (Article 40)

What accounts for the italicized statement above? There are several reasons why the Psalms should “have the principal place in the singing of the churches”.

First, the Psalms are an inspired hymnbook. There are no errors in God’s Word (Proverbs 30:5; John 10:35) so there can be no errors in the Psalms. Our hymns may be biblical & correct or not but the Psalms are never in error.

Second, the Psalms are comprehensive in their teaching and instruction. Martin Luther called the Psalms a “little Bible.” If we want to sing the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:27) then we would do well to sing the Psalms more and most often as faithful reflections of all the truths of God’s Word, not just the ones we want to hear about or sing. Yes, hymns can often wonderfully teach the rich and deep doctrines of scripture, but the Psalms do it best. Just read through them and you we will see that they express a wide range of faith, teaching and emotions as true and right expressions of the saints. Therefore they also act as a guide for any hymn or song of praise we might sing or write today.

Third, the churches of history have always sang the Psalms in predominance; this practice has always been followed by the strong and faithful churches of old. The early church sang many of the Psalms from scripture, focusing on their ability to express the hope of all of God’s people, in all time and places. We would do well to heed the words of the Church Father Augustine (354-430) who wrote in his Confessions:

What utterances sent I up unto You, my God, when I read the Psalms of David, those faithful songs and sounds of devotion which exclude all swelling of spirit [ed. pride]…they are sung throughout the whole world. (IX,4)

Certainly the Reformation carried on this tradition for when we explore the liturgies from that time we see Psalms that also held “the principle place in the singing of the churches”. The original Reformed Church Order from Dordt, drawn up at the well-known Synod of 1618-1619, states:

In the Churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Song of Mary, that of Zacharias, and that of Simon shall be sung. All other hymns are to be excluded from the Churches, and in those places where some have already been introduced they are to be removed by the most suitable means.

From this statement it is very clear that our Reformed fathers only allowed a few hymns to be sung from the beginning and that the Psalms were at the ‘top of the list’ amongst all the songs that were being sung.

When it comes down to it, is there any objection that can be brought against the singing of Psalms in the church that is scripturally justified? I think not. Instead let us continue to use them in our churches, to the praise and glory of our great God and Saviour.

If you would like to explore this issue in more depth, my colleague, Rev. Brian Cochran (pastor of the Redeemer Reformation Church in Regina, SK) is writing a series of posts on the singing of Psalms in worship. You can follow along by clicking here.

Next post: Liturgy – God’s Law



Liturgy: Songs of Praise

Following the Salutation we sing what we call an “Opening Song of Praise”. Our liturgy at Grace contains no less than 5 songs sung by the congregation. In this post we will consider the why and what of these songs in our worship.

The first principle of song in our worship is its dialogic nature. For we see that three of the songs in our liturgy are a response to something that God has spoken to us: 1) God calls us to worship and we respond in a song of praise 2) God assures of His salvation promises and we respond in a song of dedication 3) God speaks to us through the preached word and we sing a song of application. We see this principle in Ezra 3. There we read that the foundation of the temple has been rebuilt; God had fulfilled His promise to return His exiled people to the land of their forefathers. And at that  moment the priests

“sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD: ‘For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.” (emphasis mine)

Similar occurrences in redemptive history demonstrate that this is a regular or established pattern in biblical worship. Consider these examples: 1) Miriam and Israel responding to the LORD’s deliverance from Pharaoh and his hosts (Exodus 15:21ff.) 2) Deborah and Barak responding to the LORD’s deliverance from their Canaanite oppressors (Judges 5) 3) Mary’s response to being chosen by God to bear His Son (Luke 1:46ff.).

This means that when we sing we ought to do so intelligently and thoughtfully or, as Paul says, “with understanding”. (1 Corinthians 14:15) This does not reduce our singing to a mere cerebral gesture for, after all, we are commanded to love God with our heart as well as our mind. (Matthew 22:37) But it does mean that we are required to sing with intent and reason because the very nature of song in worship is directed by the work and purpose of God in history. In other words we should not get so carried away in the moment of song (whether it is because we are focusing on the accompaniment or the sounds of the congregational voices) that we forget the One whom we are praising. Paul assumes this ‘instructing’ character of our songs when he tells the Colossae Christians to:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (C0lossians 3:16)

We should also note here that this would require that the words of our songs be written intelligently and thoughtfully. What songs faithfully describe God according to how He reveals Himself in His Word? What songs faithfully represent our sin, our dire need for divine grace and reconciliation to God? What songs faithfully speak of the good news of Christ’s salvation to us apart from works? What songs faithfully represent God’s His will for our lives? In other words we should not be haphazard in our selection of music and be satisfied with anything but only be satisfied with the best.

The second principle of song is its sacrificial or priestly character. In Hebrews 7-10 the author labours to prove that Christ is the only sacrifice we need in this age for the blood of bulls and goats of the previous era could never take away sins. Believers need not trust in anyone else for forgiveness, atonement, reconciliation, intercession or mediation.

However our high priest has also grafted us in Himself, so that we can take up our calling as priests “by Him [to] offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15 -emphasis mine) We should note here that our singing to God is not sacrificial in the sense of completing our salvation but a matter of “praise” as the author points out.

This is demonstrated in our worship when we sing the ‘doxology’ which functions as a final word or song of praise at the end of our service. We do not come to God to hear from Him and then to sing praises only at that time, but we also praise Him as His people freely i.e. even when He has not spoken.

In this we see the obligation to praise our God. Indeed our songs are kind of sacrificial giving, just as the faithful in Israel would bring their animals to the altar for God long ago. They are a witness to the world of our calling and service in this life as those who are set apart to glorify God (1 Peter 2:4-10) And we are called to do this often, or “continually”, (Hebrews 13:15) because we will never stop doing so. After all we seek the city to come for here we have no continuing one. (vs. 14) The saints of God love to sing the praises of the Lord because they are citizens of a kingdom that is coming, one whose builder and maker is God. For one day they shall sing

“a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.'” (Revelation 5:9-10)

Amen.

Next post: Liturgy – Singing the Psalms