Why Do We Sing? Class 1, with Malcolm Cox


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Class 1: Why do we sing?
Do you like to sing?
Singing is universal across cultures
But we all sing - even if only when no one can hear!
We sing when we gather for congregational worship. Why?
There is not a great deal of instruction in the New Testament about church singing. But
what the Scriptures lack in volume they make up for in depth. These two classes will
take a look at the three key passages about congregational singing. This week - why we
sing Eph 5 & Col 3.
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make
music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything,
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Ephesians 5:18-21
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one
another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to
God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16
A Casual Comment?
At first glance these instructions to sing seem almost like a throw-away comment. It is as
if Paul has heard that the churches don't like singing and decides to add an instruction to
sing because it's a good thing to do. But, are these instructions connected with a bigger
picture? I believe they are. Much bigger, much more profound.
The Spirit and the Temple
What connection do you think exists between the Spirit and singing? Let’s explore the
connection between Spirit, Temple, the Body of Christ and singing. Paul wants the
Ephesians to understand the significance of their calling to be a temple, Ephesians 2:21-
22. The physical temple was where God revealed his glory on Earth. Jesus re-identifies
the temple as his body, John 2:19–21. His body is the place on Earth where God’s glory
was manifested. That was an extraordinary statement which shocked his hearers.
Perhaps even more shockingly the glory of God which was in Jerusalem, then in Jesus
(or more accurately manifested in that building, then in that body), is now in the church.
Specifically, it is the church made up of both Jew and Gentile. The two groups together
(which encompasses all of humanity) have been made one by Christ, Ephesians 2:14–
16, and are now joined together as a temple, Ephesians 2:19-22. That temple deserves
to be honoured and kept pure. Hence his commands to avoid drunkenness and the like,
and instead to be filled with the Spirit. The Spirit of God filled the temple, was fully in
Jesus, and now wishes to fill the entirety of God’s people both Jew and Gentile. God
makes the ‘two’ into one. When we sing we manifest this - a spirit-unity made audible
and visible.

Four instructions
"be filled" (plerousthe) is the command which is expressed in the following ways:
* Speaking (lalountes) to one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs
* Singing (adontes) and making music (psallontes) in your hearts
* Giving thanks (eucharistountes) to the Lord
* Submitting (hypotassomenoi) to one another
How are we to obey the command to be filled with the Spirit? By speaking to one another
in song, singing, giving thanks and submitting to one another.
Why the connection with singing? Does it have something to do with engendering unity
between the disparate Jews and Gentiles? We bond together by singing and we sing
because we are bonded together in Christ. How will our two congregations be bonded in
the Spirit? By obeying the command that to be filled with God’s Spirit - and part of that is
singing together. That’s not too onerous a command, is it!?
Many ‘gods’ were worshipped in this part of Asia Minor and the Apostle Paul is
concerned about syncretism (in this context the blending together of Christian and
Pagan worship). Therefore he centres the letter on the sufficiency of Christ and his
unique nature. Read the chapters that come before this one to get a feel for that. The
context is the “therefore” of v12 where he is addressing the Colossians as a body. The
list of positive exhortations is to the congregational community rather than the solo
Dwell richly
What is the ‘message of Christ’? It is the message that centres on Christ. In other words
their fellowship must derive its purpose and strength from him. The Scriptures help the
community to centre themselves on Christ. For the message to “dwell richly” means it is
‘in their midst’. It is not a ‘thing’ to be dissected, grasped, conceptualised, taught or
simply understood, but to be a dynamic experience. See use of same word for ‘richly’ in
1 Tim 6:17; Titus 3:6; 2 Peter 1:11.
Paul is urging them to let Christ be centred among them so that he makes a difference to
the way they live - vv12-15: compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, bearing,
forgiving, loving to unity, peaceable, thankful.
The command is to dwell richly (in Christ), so how does singing fit? It is not that we dwell
by teaching, admonishing and singing. It is that we decide to dwell with Christ as central,
and then we will sing as a result. The “as you” in the NIV is not the best translation. A
more accurate reading is to see the singing as the channel through which the
centralising of Christ could be expressed.
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing
one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in
your hearts to God.” NASB

Psalm - psalmos
NT: Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33; 1 Cor 14:26; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16. It looks like
Paul was not talking about Psalms in a technical sense.
Philo & Josephus (first century Jewish writers) saw Psalms in the category of ‘religious
As a noun this is found only in Ephesians & Colossians. As a verb it is in Matt 26:30 (ref
to Psalm); Mk 14:26; Act 16:25; Heb 2:12 (Ps 22:22). Jesus and his disciples were
This word appears with the qualifier ‘spiritual’ each time (Rev 5:9; Rev 14:3; 15:3).
Perhaps these songs were written by the congregation, or made up on the spot. All the
terms above are not sealed categories, but may express emphases.
Singing in your hearts to God
Singing directly to God is added to the previous instruction to teach one another through
music. We worship God and we instruct one another.
With gratitude
This Greek word would normally be translated ‘grace’. Thus the phrase could be "in the
grace [of God]” or perhaps, “by the grace [of God]. In that case it would be reminding the
Colossians of the grace in which they stand and which inspires the singing to come from
the heart.
1. Vertical and horizontal directions: Singing is for one another and for God
2. Teaching the faith to one another can and must be done through music
3. Church music should be primarily verbal: The message is more important than the
4. Christological focus: How much of Christ is in view in our songs?
5. Active participation: Worship is something we do, not something done to us or for us.
6. Rich variety of songs: We need a variety of the old, the new and, especially, the local.
7. Sincerity and devotion: We worship because of who I am, because of who God is, and
because of what's in my heart as a result.
8. Understanding God's Grace: As much we teach about music and singing, we must not
neglect the teaching about the grace of God.
Ideas and Questions for Reflection
1. Read the books of Ephesians and Colossians and reflect on why Paul thinks singing is
so important for the Church.
2. What do you think it means for you to ‘teach and admonish’ in song?
3. How can you ‘centre’ your life on Christ in such a way that it inspires you to sing of
God’s grace?
4. Is there anything that inhibits you from singing with all your heart when we are
together? If so, what can you do about it?

5. What does it mean to you that the congregation is now the temple?
Next time, 1 Corinthians 14:26
God bless, Malcolm

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