Music and True Worship
True worship is declaring God’s worth and giving Him glory through words, attitudes, and actions as a way of life. Most people don’t do that. They have no desire to do that. They’re preoccupied with making a name for themselves and pursuing personal glory.
The church worship service isn’t worship’s only home. Singing during the service is often called worship, but worship is far bigger than that. If worship doesn’t continue outside the church sanctuary, it’s very suspect inside it.
We build the superstructures of worship on the foundation stones of Scripture. Only those who by grace through faith have become God’s children can truly worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks (John 4:23 NIV). Singing is a vital part of such worship.
Singing is an exalted form of human communication. We highly value skilled singers. They powerfully move us emotionally.
God also values human singing, skilled or not. Music and true worship are closely connected. God created us with the ability to sing so we could praise and honor Him. Tragically, most humans rarely or never do.
In America, we make idols of excellent singers. Most of them use God’s gift to glorify themselves. We pay outlandish fees for tickets to attend their live performances. Many of us long to be like them far more than we long to be like Jesus.
Music is closely associated with worship in the Old and New Testaments. Moses and the people of Israel sang to God after he delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 15). Worship in both the Tabernacle and the Temple included singing. The Psalms were worship songs for all circumstances.
Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after celebrating the Passover and before they went to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). Paul and Silas sang hymns to God when they were imprisoned (Acts 16:25). Paul said he would sing with understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15).
We read about singing praises to God in Ephesians 5:19 and James 5:13. Paul told the Colossians to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Colossians 3:16 NLT). In heaven every creature will sing: “Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13 NLT).
Music has been part of worshipping God for more than 3,000 years. The congregation is the most important choir in the sanctuary, and God is the audience. Their singing expresses the beautiful unity of Christ’s church.
Music can hinder our worship. Music must remain the servant of Scriptural words and ideas. The music is secondary, the words are primary.
Music that draws attention to itself tickles the ears but distracts the focus from the all-important words of praise, thanksgiving, devotion, and commitment to God. It becomes another golden calf (Exodus 32) that takes God’s place.
Furthermore, mindlessly singing a “worship song” is not automatically worship. The energizing beat might lift our spirits and make us feel better. The words we’re singing might be Scriptural and true. But it's superficial worship if we aren’t truly thinking about and singing to God (Psalm 96:1).
I have a lot of room for improvement there, focusing too often on how well others and I are singing. Heartfelt, out-of-tune singing to God is worship. A self-focused, professional-quality performance is not.
The words we sing to God are important. The congregation remembers the words of songs better than the words of sermons. Therefore, congregational songs should teach about God and His ways and reflect the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).1
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