The Lord's Day Evening
March 7, 2010
“Why We Sing and How it Helps Us”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
The apostle Paul, in Colossians chapter 3 verse 16, exhorts the Colossians and you and me as brothers and sister in Jesus Christ 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.” A quick glance at the concordance will supply you will well over one hundred passages in the Scripture that exhort us to and supply us reasons for singing and singing praise to God. And so in just a few moments I want to explore with you why we sing, and to answer that from Scripture, and then to ask — How does that help us? How does it help us to sing? Now I'm not going to look at the one hundred plus passages that the concordance will point you to but I do want to give you a taste of some of what the Bible says to us in answer to the question — Why sing?
Exodus 15:1 tells us that we are to sing because “God has triumphed gloriously. David, in 2 Samuel 22:15 says that we are to sing because of “God's great salvation and His steadfast love.” 1 Chronicles 16:9 tells us that we're to sing because of “all God's wondrous works.” And 1 Chronicles 16:23 tells us that we sing in order to “tell His salvation from day to day” while 1 Chronicles 16:33 tells us that we're to sing because “God is coming to judge the earth.” A quick glance at Job 29:13 and Psalm 5:11, just as examples, will tell us that we are to sing “for joy.” That is one of the two most commons reasons for singing given in the Bible. Sing for joy and sing for His name are perhaps the two reasons that are given more than any other reason to sing.
And there's an important theological reason for that that Jesus explains to us in His upper room words to the disciples and which Paul explains to us in the book of Philippians. God intends to give us joy in Christ and that joy is to be expressed in our singing. And so our singing, in that regard, is a testimony to the joy that God has given to us by His grace.
Psalm 7 verse 17 tells us that we're to sing to “the name of the Lord Most High.” That won't be the last time you’ll hear that exhortation to sing to the name of the Lord. That's one of the ways that the Bible tells you that we're to sing in order to glorify God. We’re to sing in order to give testimony to His name, His reputation, His greatness, His majesty, His grandeur, His glory. And again in Psalm 9:2 we read that we're to sing to “Your name, O Most High.” In that same psalm in the eleventh verse we're told that we sing in order to “tell among the peoples His deeds.” In Psalm 13:6 we're told to sing because “He has dealt bountifully with us.” In Psalm 21:13 we're to sing because of “God's power.” In Psalm 30 verse 4 we're to sing and give thanks to what? “To His holy name.” There's the theme of the name again.
In Psalm 47 verse 7 we're told to sing because “God is the King of all the earth.” In Psalm 51:14 David tells us to sing because of “God's righteousness.” In Psalm 57:5 we're told to sing in order to “give thanks to God” and in order to “give praises to Him among the nations.” In Psalm 59:16 we're told to sing because of “God's strength.” In Psalm 59 verse 17 we're told specifically to sing because “God is our fortress and the God who shows us steadfast love.” Psalm 63 verse 7 says we're to sing because “God has been our help.” And perhaps you remember that from the Isaac Watts hymn that we sing based on Psalm 90 — “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”
Then in Psalm 66:2 we're told again to sing because of “the glory of His name.” In Psalm 67 verse 4 we're told to “sing for joy because God judges the people with equity and guides the nations of the earth.” In Psalm 68:4 we're told to sing praise to God and exult before Him because “He rides through the deserts.” In Psalm 71 verse 22 we're told to sing because of “God's faithfulness.” In Psalm 84 verse 2 we're told not only to sing with a heart but with our flesh “for joy to the living God.” In Psalm 89 verse 1 we're told to sing because of “the steadfast love of the Lord” and “His faithfulness to all generations.” In Psalm 92 verse 4 we're told to sing because “God has made us glad because of His work.”
In Psalm 95 we're exhorted — “O come, let us sing unto the Lord and make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation” — why? Well the psalmist gives us the answer in verses 3 to 5 — “because the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods and He has made everything.” In Psalm 98 verse 1 we're told to sing not just a song, but a “new song because God has done marvelous things and His holy arm has worked salvation for us.” In Psalm 101 verse 1 we're told to sing because of “the steadfast love and justice of God.” In Psalm 105 verse 2 we're told to sing because of “all His wondrous works.” In Psalm 119 verse 172 we're told to sing because of “God's Word and His commandments.” In Psalm 135 verse 3 we're to sing to His name because “it's pleasing to God to do so.” In Psalm 138 verse 5 we're to sing of the “ways of the Lord.” In Psalm 145 verse 7 we're to sing because of “the fame of God's abundant goodness.”
In Isaiah 24:14 we're to sing because of “the majesty of the Lord.” In Jeremiah 20 verse 13 we're to sing because “God has delivered the light of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” In Hebrews 2:12 we're told to sing because Jesus is in the middle of His church leading the singing. The author of Hebrews tells us, “I will tell your name to my brothers. In the midst of my congregation I will sing your praise.” And that Old Testament quote is applied to the Lord Jesus who is the great congregational singing leader. In James 5:13 we're asked the question — “Is anyone cheerful?” and the response is — “Let him sing praise.” And so we're to sing because we're cheerful and that connects back to joy. And in Revelation 15:3 we're told to sing because “God's deeds are great and amazing and His ways are just and true and He is the King of the nations.” And that is just a tiny sampling of the reasons that the Word of God gives us to sing.
I. It helps us to praise God in all parts of our prayer.
So how does that help us? Very quickly, it helps us four ways. First of all, it helps us to praise God in all parts of our prayer. To sing helps us to praise God in all parts of our prayer. If you listen to the words closely that we have already sung tonight and that we're going to sing tonight you will discern four types of things that we're doing. We are praising God. We’re directing praises to Him. We are asking requests or petitions of God. We’re making requests of Him as we sing. We are giving testimony to God of who He is and what He has done. And we're exhorting one another to praise Him. We’re doing all four of those things in the songs that we're singing, but all of them are directed to God.
Now think about it my friends. Typically when we pray, what do we spend most of our time doing? We spend most of our time requesting things of God. Now that's good and that's Biblical, but it leaves out the other three things — praising God, giving testimony, and exhorting one another about who He is and what He has done. And what can that do? It can allow your prayers to become self centered. This is how singing helps us when we sing good, sound, Biblical truth it will make our singing and our praying to be God centered.
Listen to what Augustine says. He's meditating on Psalm 148 and he begins to ask himself the question — What's a hymn? And here's what Augustine says — “A hymn is a song of praise of God. If you praise God and sing not, then you utter no hymn. If you sing and praise not God, then you utter no hymn. A hymn that then contains three things — a song, praise, and that of God. Praise then, of God in song, is called a hymn.” So a hymn always directs us to God whether we're uttering a request, giving a testimony, exhorting one another, or directly worshipping and glorifying Him. It's all God-ward and our public singing on the Lord's Day in accordance with Scripture enables us to bring that God-ward balance to our life of prayer which we so desperately need.
II. Helps us magnify His name.
Secondly, and it's so clear from the passages we're read about singing, singing helps us to magnify His name and give Him the glory. The overwhelming dominant thrust of all of these passages that exhort us to sing is about glorifying God. And so our singing reminds us that we're made to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. And it insists us to do it with our voices.
III. Helps us give the whole of ourselves to God.
Third, singing weds what we know and believe to our affections so that we give the whole of ourselves to God — mind, desires, and our passion.
IV. Because it's biblical.
And fourth, we sing, and this is stunning but it's biblical. If I couldn't give you a verse for this you should accuse me of heresy, but here it is. Just listen closely. We sing because one day we will hear God sing to us. We sing because one day we will hear God sing to us. And do you know what He's going to be singing about? He's going to be singing about His love for us. You’re going to hear that with your own ears one day.
And you’re wondering, “Where does it say that Lig in the Bible?” Here it is — Zephaniah 3:17 — “The Lord your God is in your midst” and he's looking to the time when God is going to do this in the future in the great day of the Lord. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a Mighty One, who will save.
He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will quiet you by His love. He will exult over you with loud singing.” You are going to hear God exult over you one day. If you’re trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered in the Gospel, on the great day of the Lord your God will exult and sing over you. Don't you want to sing to Him in the meantime? Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, move our hearts to sing we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now will you take out your bulletins or your hymns and turn with me to 598 and let's sing to God's praise, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”
Amen. Would you receive the Lord's benediction this evening? Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forevermore. Go in peace.