The question I want to ask today is: why sing?
The fact is that we do sing. If you go to any church you can think of, you're going to find some sort of singing.
Not only that, but the Bible is all about singing. The largest book in the Bible is a book of songs. We're commanded to sing some 50 times in the book of psalms. "The Bible is filled with references to music, from the dawn of creation to the final scenes in Revelation (Job 38:7; Revelation 15:3)" (Bob Kauflin).
Let me give you just one example of a command to sing:
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
Let's take a few minutes and try to come up with some answers to the question: why do we sing? [write answers on flip chart]
Those are excellent.
For a few minutes, I want to suggest two of the biggest reasons from Scripture that we sing. Here's the first one:
1. We sing because it's fitting
When we were kids, we used to watch a show The Price is Right. One of the fun parts was when the host said, "Joe Schmo, you're the next contestant on The Price is Right. Come on down!" Even before they won something, the level of excitement for some of them was over the top.
We always had fun imagining how a proper British woman – I think we imagined someone almost like the Queen – would react. It just seemed that if you were chosen for a game show, or especially if you won a new set of pots for the kitchen or whatever, a bit of emotion was in order.
Psalm 33:1 talks about two things about God: his word and his work. And as it begins it says:
Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
See that phrase: "it is fitting for the upright to praise him." It's the right thing to do. As we get a sense of God's saving activity – that he is present and active within creation- and as we think about the great theological truths, it should do more than just fill our heads with knowledge. It should also move our hearts to praise. And when our hearts our moved with praise, then it is fitting and upright to praise God. We praise God as a celebration for who he is and what he has done, because it's fitting that it move our hearts and come out in music.
You see this over and over. In Ephesians 5, which we just read, singing is a result of being filled or controlled by the Spirit. It lists four results of being filled with the Spirit; two of them are signing.
Over and over in Scripture you see that when we have a fresh experience of God's grace, and when it moves both our heads and our hearts, it overflows in singing praises to God.
Bob Kauflin writes:
The emotions that singing is meant to evoke are a response to who God is and what he's done. Vibrant singing enables us to combine truth about God seamlessly with passion for God. Doctrine and devotion. Mind and heart.
All of this reflects the reality of heaven, where Jesus Christ is being worshiped because he is worthy, and has triumphed, and has saved us.
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people. And they sang a new song, saying:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
members of every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:8-10)
Worship is fitting. It's a response of worship from the heart for what God has done.
There's another reason why we sing though:
2. We sing because it's powerful
We don't just sing to express our hearts; we sing as well to change our hearts. Read Ephesians 5 again with me:
Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)
We actually learn a lot through singing. Colossians 3:16 says, "teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."
N.T. Wright says that hymns and songs "are not just entertainment; they are instruction, consolation, warning and hope." They're powerful. Verse 14 of Ephesians 5 is probably part of a song that Paul used to teach the Ephesians. You see this all over the place. Songs and music teach us about God.
Songs and music shape who we are. Igor Stravinsky, one of the most influential composers of the last century, gave some lectures at Harvard in the 1940s. Stravinsky, a Russian, said in those lectures that the Soviets had to get control of the music in order to get control of the culture and society, because nothing is more powerful than music.
In the music Cabaret, in prewar Germany, people are skeptical that Nazis will ever get power. But then a Nazi begins to sing, and everyone was captivated by it and stood. Music is powerful and changes us, for good or for evil.
When God was about to send Israel into the promised land, he knew they would forget how to live. So God didn't give them just a lecture; God gave them a song. In Deuteronomy 31:19, God says, "Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it…" He wanted to implant his word in their hearts through music.
A church recorded some songs of Scripture from Galatians. A year later, a man in that church lost his memory due to a stroke. The wife emailed the pastor to say that although he could not remember a single sermon on Galatians that he had heard from his pastor, he could remember every single song. Songs teach us.
A few more stories. A pastor's daughter was murdered in Alberta a couple of months ago. It was a horrible and senseless tragedy. Just the month before, though, they had purchased a CD of Christian music. One of the songs really grabbed them, called It is Not Death to Die. The song begins:
It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who've found their home with God
Looking back, they believe that God was preparing them. In the day following Emily's death, that song strengthened them.
Music teaches us and encourages us, but it can even evangelize us. Bono wrote in an introduction he wrote to a book on the Psalms:
Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do, they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. Over art, literature, reason, the way into my spirit was a combination of words and music.
A man was on his way to take his own life in the Thames River one night. On the way he heard singing from a church, Westminster Chapel in London. The music was so lovely that it gave him hope. He went in, gave him hope, and he went inside and eventually became a Christian.
One last story. Anne Lamott is someone who used to be very opposed to Christianity. But she was longing for something. One day she went to church hungover. She couldn't stand for the songs. She usually left when the sermon started, but this time she stayed, and thought it was ridiculous. But then:
The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.
And that was the day that she became a Christian.
Why do we sing? Lots of reasons, but today we've said there are two big ones. One: it's fitting and it's right. It's absolutely necessary as a response to all that God has done. Two: because music teaches us and it changes us. That's why we sing week after week after week.
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)