2) We Need to Sing Corporately
Colossians 3:16 also encourages us to sing corporately – “Let the Word of Christ dwell in y’all richly, in all wisdom as you teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Singing can be a private activity and a private means of grace. But Colossians 3:16 emphasizes singing as a public activity and a corporate means of grace, a corporate means of ministering the Word to “one another”. Singing is an outflow of the grace of the Word in the lives of God’s people and particularly to one another.
As Richard Lovelace notes,
“Protestant doctrine defined the ‘means of grace’ as the Word, prayer and the sacraments, and these were usually understood as channels leading directly to the individual Christian, not as streams of grace which necessarily linked him to others. But every one of us can remember times when other believers served as essential channels of grace in delivering us from some agonizing spiritual problem which would never have been handled by our individual use of Scripture and prayer… [The Bible asserts] that grace is conveyed through the body of Christ along horizontal channels as well as through the vertical relationship of each believer to God.”
Singing then is one aspect of this corporate ministry of grace. In a Sunday service, you could be tempted to think that the singing is about ‘you and God’. It’s not just about ‘you and God’. It’s about ‘you and God and one another’. The reason you should sing – is not just to stir your own heart to God, but to stir other people’s hearts to God.
Mike Cosper writes, One “way the Word dwells richly among us is by our teaching and admonishing one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Again, “Singing itself is creational gift with formational effects. When people sing together, they literally unite their breath. They unite their words. In certain situations, they’ll unite their physical gestures too—clapping and raising hands.”
You come to corporate worship on Sundays ‘to be sung to’. But you come ‘to sing to others’ as well.
That freaks some people out – the thought that they are ‘singing to others’. People who are self-conscious about their singing can think – that’s not a good thing; people don’t want to hear that from me! But the Bible implies – people do want to hear that!
I had a friend years ago who literally was tone deaf – couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But he didn’t care. I remember I used to hear him go and sit on the front step and have private devotion time and he would sing…and it was awful! But he was making a joyful noise and it ministered to my heart. No matter how bad it was, it was beautiful. His heart was full and it ministered to me.
The collective corporate singing of the congregation is a powerful ministry to one another. Alternatively, it is discouraging to be in corporate worship and people around you aren’t singing. Corporate singing is not a time to ‘hear the band’. It’s not a time to only listen to the good singers. It’s time to join your voices and your hearts together in singing truth to one another for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 14:24-25 talks about an unbeliever entering the corporate worship of the church, where “he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” That’s what we want in our corporate worship – for people to be struck with the presence and reality of God. When does this happen? One of the things Paul goes on to talk about in the very next verse is the church coming together and people having “a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation” (14:26). Singing is one of the corporate activities of the church where people can be exposed to God! The corporate singing of the church is one of the ways people can be ‘convicted, called to account, having the secrets of their hearts exposed, and sense that God is really present in the worship of the people.’ That happened to me!
So it’s crucial for Christians to sing. “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings. It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings. When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again a season of pure shining to cheer it after rain.”
As a side note: it’s important to teach and model spiritual singing to our children. If singing is a powerful means of grace, a way to hide the word in the heart, and a way to minister to one another – our children need to be taught to sing. In fact, even children can minister corporately in song. There is nothing more encouraging than hearing children singing in the worship service. Isn’t that a beautiful thing, when you sing a song in worship that the children know – to see them and hear them singing at the top of their little voices? When my son was in pre-school, he had certain favorite hymns. I remember one time in particular, we sang one of his favorite songs on a Sunday morning, and he began to belt it out at the top of his lungs (he didn’t have a very good indoor voice). You could actually hear him above the whole congregation. It gave everyone a good laugh, but it was also a joy and ministry to the congregation.
We need to make a joyful noise and sing corporately to one another.