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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:16-17
In 2018, I attended the Together for the Gospel Conference for the first time. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but I was not at all prepared for the time of worship. At the beginning of the first main session, approximately 12,000 people gathered in the KFC Yum! Center arena in Louisville, Kentucky. Bob Kauflin, the director of Sovereign Grace Music, approached a lone Steinway concert grand piano on the stage and began to play. The musical introduction was short and simple, and just like that, 12,000 voices began to sing together. Until that moment, I had never heard so many people singing together at once. Overwhelmed by the experience, tears began to form in my eyes. I knew it was a moment I would never forget.
Or so I thought. There have been several times since then when I have stood in our church sanctuary with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and simply didn’t feel like singing. Some of those times were times of deep grief and sadness when I felt like I literally couldn’t open my mouth to sing. It seemed as though there was no song to sing. Other times, the weight of my own sin weighed heavy on me, and I was too ashamed to sing because I knew my sin was not hidden before God. And sometimes, I was simply too distracted by everything you can imagine: work, family issues, what I was having for lunch, etc.
Truly, I was missing out on a great gift God has given his people: singing. But what are we to do when we don’t feel like singing? What happens when you feel like you have no reason to sing? In other words, why should we sing?
Why do we sing?
One of the distinct marks of God’s people is that we are a singing people. Down through the centuries, Christians have expressed adoration, praise, confession, intercession, thanksgiving, and supplication in song. In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes: “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.” As people of God, we should desire to be people in whom the Word of Christ richly dwells. We should desire to teach and encourage and admonish one another—but why songs? How does singing accomplish these things in the life of a Christian?
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul is telling believers that when we gather together for corporate worship to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, our relationships with each other are mutually deepened and strengthened. Bob Kauflin posits there are three ways this happens: remembering, responding, and reflecting.
1. Singing helps us remember God’s Word.
Much research has been done in the study of the correlation between music and memory. Many of us have employed musical methods to remember certain things. When I was a kid, I memorized the books of the Bible in order by using a simple melody. Many of us have used music to aid in Scripture memorization. How many times has a silly melody been stuck in your head simply because you heard it on a commercial? For example, if I say, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,” chances are you “heard” it in your mind as a musical jingle. Music helps us remember. Conversely, if I hummed the tune, you would likely remember the words. It takes a thought—even abstract thoughts, sometimes—and helps get them down into our hearts where they are remembered and can be pondered for long periods of time.
God commanded the people of Israel to meditate on his law day and night (Joshua 1:8). The psalmist wrote that the blessed man is the one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on God’s law day and night. The Psalms are full of exhortation to think and meditate upon the Word of God. Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” The majority of the songs we sing in church ought to be about the person, work, and glory of Jesus Christ. We sing to magnify his name. We want to remember Christ as we leave the worship service and go about the week. We want to think about Christ and his gospel when we wake up on Monday morning. Singing helps us do that! Songs that underline and support the message of a sermon can stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the specific points of a sermon. Singing helps us remember.
2. Singing helps us respond to God’s grace.
When we sing songs about the person, work, and glory of Christ, we sing them with thankfulness to God in our hearts. Our songs are expressions of our gratitude and thankfulness for what God has done for us in Christ. We confess our sins with a contrite heart when we sing songs like “Lord Have Mercy (For What We Have Done)” or “All I Have is Christ.” We express our gratitude and thanks for his saving work on the cross through songs like “Jesus, Thank You” or “What He’s Done.” We praise and exalt his name when we sing “Psalm 150 (Praise the Lord)” and “Good and Gracious King.” God’s Word reveals what God has done for us in Christ, and songs help us respond—with a wide array of emotions—to that grace.
Singing engages both the heart and the mind. Singing without emotion displays a complete lack of understanding as to what you are singing about. How can one sing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” with a spirit of indifference? Bob Kauflin writes, “God gave us singing to combine objective truth with thankfulness, doctrine with devotion, and intellect with emotion.”1
3. Singing helps us reflect God’s glory.
In Colossians 3:17, Paul writes, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” This comes immediately after his admonishment that we are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts to God. This is especially important for us to remember when we sing. Music is a wonderful and gracious gift from God, but it has often been used in attempts to rob God of the glory due his name. Music can be wielded to seek glory for oneself, or it can be used to glorify God.
When we sing with Colossians 3:17 in mind, we remember we are to sing with all our might—not that we might be seen or heard by others—but for the glory of God alone, giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus. This is a great blessing because it means worshiping God in song is not only for the musically gifted—it is for the entire body of Christ!
Conclusion & Application
If you have believed the message of the gospel and are resting in Christ alone for your salvation, you have been given a song. David wrote in Psalm 40, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:2-3). What do we do when we feel like we don’t have a reason to sing? Sing! That’s the all-too-simple answer. When we don’t feel like singing, we starve ourselves of the benefits God intended for us to experience in singing. If singing is intended to help us remember God’s Word (and all its promises), then it follows that failing to sing will cause us to forget God’s Word. If singing is intended to help us respond to God’s grace, then failing to sing is a failure to respond with thankfulness in our hearts to God for what he has done for us. If singing is intended to help us reflect on the glory of Christ, then failing to sing means won’t behold the glory of Christ as God has so intended for us. We do a disservice to ourselves when we neglect to sing.
One day, we will shed these earthly bodies that are weighed down by sin and the pain of the broken world in which we live. On that day we will stand in glorified bodies, freed from the presence of sin, lifting up glorified voices to praise the Lamb who was slain for us. Every time we join the people of God in song, we anticipate and long for that day. I’ll leave you with three practical steps you can take to help prepare for corporate worship with your church family.
- Join a church. Let me begin with this: if you are a Christian who hasn’t yet “put down roots” in a church, please allow me to encourage you to do so. God has designed the church—imperfect as she is—to be where believers feed on his Word and flourish in faith. We cannot survive without the church. You were designed for community, and God has designed his body to depend on one another. You need the church and the church needs you.
- Learn the songs. If your church posts a set list or order of worship prior to Sunday, look the songs up on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube…wherever you listen to music. Make a playlist and learn the songs so you truly sing with the church. If your church doesn’t publish the songs beforehand, maybe you could reach out to the worship director or pastor and make the suggestion.
- Come prepared. Jesus said that his followers worship him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Learning the songs is an important part of preparation, but we must also prepare our hearts. We cannot worship in spirit when we are harboring unconfessed sin. We cannot worship in truth when we are putting on our “church face” while secretly hating our brother (1 John 4:20). Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Spend intentional time with God this week, and as you gather with God’s people to worship him, don’t simply read the words or mumble along half-heartedly—sing! Sing to remember his Word, to respond to the amazing grace he has lavished upon you, and to reflect on his glory.
1 Bob Kauflin, “The Three R’s: Why Christians Sing,” desiringGod.org, March 30, 2011, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-three-rs-why-christians-sing–2, accessed June 20, 2022.
Photo credit: Sarah Brossart
William Burrows is the marketing lead at Banner of Truth. He is passionate about biblical literacy, biblical theology, and loves teaching and preaching the Word. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and his five beautiful, handsome, striking sons. William occasionally blogs at williamburrows2.com and you can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.