The Design of Worshiping in Song
In Isaiah 55:8-9 God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Many use this passage to speak of God’s ineffable and inscrutable attributes. There are other passages that teach such (e.g., Job 26:14, Romans 11:33), but this verse is not speaking of those things. Rather, these verses teach that it is God’s purposes that are so much higher than man’s, and with human wisdom alone it is impossible to know God’s purposes.
In contrast, the general trend of religious thought today is that man’s purposes are God’s purposes. And perhaps this is seen most clearly in contemporary “Christian” music, the primary design of which is to stir human emotion to such a fevered pitch that weeping, wailing, crying, caterwauling, and the so called ecstatic state are produced. These emotional outpourings satisfy human purposes because they are quintessentially human. Worship, however, must move beyond the human and into the divine in order to be true worship. “God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Turning our attention to God’s design for worship in song, we find that emotional fulfillment has little (if any) to do with New Testament teaching on the subject. First, all Christian music is music produced by the human voice alone. This in and of itself should rebuke the contemporary cacophony of choruses accompanied with the multitudinous mechanistically manufactured modulations. Such artificially produced reverberations doubtlessly bring praise to human prowess, but do not glorify God; indeed such exaltation of human righteousness is without submission to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:2-3).
The lips, mouth, tongue, and voice, however, are God’s design, and when accompanied by the melodic stirrings of the heart, another of God’s creation, they harmonize with resonance divine (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). We see, then, that one great purpose of worshipping God in song is to bring glory to Him by the instrument of His creation; it is God who gives us the songs in the night (Job 35:10). He is not worshipped by manmade things, but is the ever giving God who brings musical harmony to our whole being, heart, soul, and body (Acts 17:25).
Hebrews 13:15 reveals that by cultivating the “fruit of lips” we “offer the sacrifice of praise to God.” Such sacrifices cannot come forth from leathern tympanis, wooden organs, or brazen strings – only the “fruit of lips” will suffice. Praises to God must be sung, because praises to God can only be spoken in words, the “fruit of lips.” The principles of sacrifice found in the Old Covenant teach us that God deserves the best, that sacrifice must personally cost us something, and that one must be wholly devoted. Singing is the only musical act of worship that satisfies all of these principles. The “sacrifice of praise” is a purpose that must be honored in our singing.
Another great purpose of singing is found in Colossians 3:16: “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.” When we sing the words of Christ, we teach and admonish. So many contemporary lyrics fail to provide this needed aspect of Christian music. Songs of the New Testament period were originally composed to instruct, and even rebuke. Today we have few songs in our songbooks that employ these didactic tools. The contemporary “Christian” composers have left this purpose behind in their quest to glorify man.
What is the place of emotion in singing? Human emotions must flow out of the God given purposes that are fulfilled in song, and must never be the object of our worship. If the singing rebukes, we should feel ashamed. If the singing exhorts, we should feel edified. If the singing is glorifying God, we should feel humbled, awestruck even. Whatever the particular intent of the individual song, the goal is to empty ourselves unto God in fulfillment of His purposes first, and, like the obedient eunuch, the result will be that we will go on our way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). God’s design for worship in song is for His praise glory and honor, and our instruction and rebuke. May we ever seek to fulfill God’s design.