Fifteen years ago, I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in instrumental music education and went out to pursue a career as a music teacher. Part of the curriculum for my major involved us taking several methods classes that gave a basic introduction to the different types of musical instruments – brass, woodwinds, percussion, strings, voice, guitar – so we could then turn around and teach those instruments in an elementary, middle, or high school classroom (i.e., choir, band, orchestra, etc.). We didn’t have to be proficient at each instrument, just knowledgeable enough to teach it, so we could pass down the gift of music from one generation to the next. While my aspirations of being a music teacher have ended, I still retain my collegiate knowledge and try to use it today to edify Christ’s church through the different musical gifts I have been blessed with.
Similarly, in Colossians, Paul tells us to “teach and admonish” one another through the gift of music, specifically singing. This comes on the heels of having just said that the church in Colossae should let the Word of Christ dwell richly within them. A common phrase I grew up hearing was that many Christians learn more about God through their hymnals than they do their bibles. Regardless of how valid this statement is, it does not lessen its importance: good theology needs to be taught and admonished through song.
North Wake has a group of songwriters that have written many songs over the past 12-15 years attempting to teach and encourage the church with the unchanging message of God’s Word. The music is there to support the message. As songwriters, we must ask these types of questions:
What message are we trying to teach/convey to our listening audience through this song we’re trying to write?
How does it teach – is it a song we can sing with the congregation or only use it as a special?
I’ve sat through three North Wake records and multiple songwriting retreats watching how much these questions get debated, especially when it comes to the lyrics of the song. But the music is also important. Let’s be honest: if the words are awesome but the tune stinks, it’s not helping support the message; you need both to be in “harmony” with each other. Not all our songs will make it onto an album, but they can still be used on Sunday mornings to teach and admonish so that the word of Christ may dwell richly within you.
It seems obvious that God would want us to teach and instruct one another in His Word. It is the source of ultimate Truth! But of all the various mediums that could be used, why singing? Why does David make such a big deal of it in his Psalms and the Apostle Paul here in Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19? Why can’t it just be taught and admonished to us through sermons and reading God’s Word? To help answer that question, look at it this way: of all the different musical ways humanity can worship God (think of those methods courses I mentioned above), there is one and only one instrument that God alone gets credit for creating- the human body. Men have played an active role in creating all other instruments, from the shofars of the Old Testament to the lyres and cymbals David calls for in his Psalms to the mighty pipe organs we see in so many churches today! But not the human body. God alone formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life.
Therefore, if God created singing and commanded us to use it as a means of worshiping him, singing is not an option. “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Ps. 96:1). Harold Best in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith argues, “This commandment is not reserved just for professional musicians; it is for everybody everywhere.” When Paul tells us to teach and admonish one another by “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in v.16, he’s telling us that singing in corporate worship matters in the building up of Christ’s church, no matter how good or bad you sound. Listening to someone else sing is important too. It’s possible to worship God by listening to music as well. But to withhold your voice in the corporate setting for whatever reason is to deny Christ’s body something you were designed and commanded to do – sing. Some of the songs we sing in corporate worship are meant to be directed at each other as we are singing truths about God to one another as a form of worship to Him. Singing is also a way to preach the gospel to yourself daily as Paul mentions in Eph. 5:19. Would you deny yourself and Christ’s body these truths by withholding your voice?
I’ve heard y’all sing before, I mean really sing. There have been times when I’m in awe at the glorious sound attacking my ears coming from the throats of my brothers and sisters during worship services; times when I can feel the energy from the Holy Spirit in the room because of the passion with which you are singing your hearts out to God; times when I was running sound in the back and had to make the worship team louder to compensate for the volume the church was putting out. In those moments you make me want to love and follow Jesus better! I am utterly admonished.
But it’s not every time we gather. I must confess I sometimes walk away disappointed. Maybe the song was unfamiliar, or voices were being withheld that day. I don’t know the reason. But I do know you love to worship Jesus. We sing good theology to each other and to God every Sunday. So let the Word of Christ embedded in these songs dwell richly within you. Let’s teach and admonish one another by lifting our voices together and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Let’s sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts during our times of worship together. 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.”