Why is it so important that we sing together on Sundays? Why can’t I just go out in the woods and sing or just light up a fire in my fireplace and sing to God by myself in the cozy comfort of my den?
Isn’t our Sunday worship just a warm up for the message? A way to gather everyone together for the preaching? Why can’t we just skip the singing together and get to the real meat?
Our times of worship together are critical. And unless we are unable to make it, we should not neglect to sing together with other believers. Not that God doesn’t love our songs to him at home. But something unique happens when we sing together. The word of Christ dwells in us richly.
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. (Colossians 3:16)
All of us need to regularly soak in “the word of Christ,” or the gospel. We need to be reminded of Christ and his work over and over again. We’re so prone to slipping into condemnation or a subtle works mentality. We need to be reminded again and again we’re justified by Jesus’ blood. Of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. We need fresh encouragement that though there is tribulation in the world, Christ has overcome the world. We need to turn the diamond of the gospel around and around and examine it from every angle.
The gospel dwells in us richly through teaching, preaching and admonishment. But Colossians tells us the word of Christ also dwells in us richly when we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness together. Our weekly times of corporate singing are times of steeping in the gospel. Times of meditating on all God has done for us through Jesus. Times to refocus our minds on Christ.
And music does this in a way that preaching can’t. In songs phrases are repeated and tied to music. This makes them more memorable. Singing is a way of meditating on God’s word. It’s mulling it over. It’s chewing on it, rolling it over, chewing some more. The word of Christ dwelling richly. Music is powerful in this way. I can still remember lyrics I sang in high school and college. Advertisers know the power of linking lyrics to music. A lyrical hook tied to a musical hook will have you singing about toothpaste or beer or home repairs when you’re walking down the street or cleaning your basement. I can still sing the jingle for Pepsodent Toothpaste I heard as a kid, and I don’t even know if that toothpaste exists any more.
Here’s the power of lyrics tied to music. Shortly after I was married I found myself singing Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” without even thinking about it. “You just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan, you don’t need to be coy, Roy, just get yourself free….must be 50 ways to leave your lover….” Suddenly I caught myself. “What the heck am I singing? I don’t want to be singing that. I just got married!”
Because our Sunday singing is an opportunity for the word of Christ, or gospel to dwell in us richly, we should always include songs about what Jesus has done for us on the cross. We should sing about God’s glorious attributes – his holiness, greatness, love, mercy, and faithfulness. But like Paul, we should root all in the gospel – the birth, life, substitutionary death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Sing of God’s holiness – but remember we can only come before a holy God because of the cross. Sing of God’s love – he loves us so much he sent Christ for us. Sing of God’s mercy – the supreme example: the cross. Sing of God’s generosity – he gave his Son. Not that every single song needs to be about the cross, but I tell our worship team to make sure we have at least one every Sunday.
Every word counts. We want “the word of Christ” to dwell in us richly. Make sure every song you sing on Sunday is full of sound doctrine. There have been times we haven’t done a song because of one line. Though I value creative song lyrics, sometimes in an effort to be creative, the meaning of a line may be vague or unclear. Don’t do those songs. There are plenty of creative, beautiful, clear songs.
Sing the gospel together. Let it ruminate and roll around in your heart and fill you with joy.