I look down, and on the pages of my bulletin I see the words,
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.
I look up, and across the room I see Jeremy. He’s smiling with abandon. He’s belting out these words like he means them. And here’s the surprising thing: he’s looking right at me. It’s as if he’s willing the truths of this song into my soul by the sheer force of his contagious joy.
Do you love the members of your church enough to minister to them through song?
A few months ago, David Mathis argued that God intends our corporate worship to nurture love among the body of Christ. I want to apply his point to congregational singing in particular.
Why? Because if we’re not careful, the individualistic tendencies in our hearts can lead to a “me and God” approach to worship through song. We close our eyes, meditate on the words, and sing along softly with the band — all the while missing out on one of the hallmarks of congregational singing: the ministry of the family of God to one another.
You Are in the Choir
The New Testament describes singing as a corporate activity. A hallmark of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit is that they address “one another” in song (Ephesians 5:19). Why? Because singing is an avenue for Christian love. Consider Colossians 3:16, Paul’s famous teaching on singing, in its broader context:
Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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 3:14–16)
There are countless threats to the unity of the body (Colossians 3:6–9). Paul knows that brothers and sisters may have “complaints” against each other (Colossians 3:13). What does it look like to foster a community of forgiveness and love? One important part of the answer, according to verse 16, is the singing ministry of each member. In other words, Paul has just signed up every believer for the choir.
Remember, each week we gather as wounded people to have our spiritual sores treated by the Great Physician. In his mercy, he uses our songs to apply his sweet balm.
The Christian enduring persecution from his biological family needs to hear the dozens or hundreds in his spiritual family sing, “Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee.” The believer struggling hard against shame needs to watch you exult, “My sin, not in part, but the whole, has been nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more!” The saint overburdened by work, striving, and performance needs to listen as you affirm, “We rest on Thee, our shield and our defender.”
Of course, we don’t only address one another as we sing. Ephesians 5:20 and the psalms of praise teach that God is the primary audience of our songs and melodies. But raising your voice to edify others is, in fact, precisely one of the ways we exalt God’s worth. By singing, we beckon our brothers and sisters to delight in his beauty.
What Difference Does This Make?
If we see our singing as part of our personal ministry to others, it will shape how we approach music at church in practical ways. Here are four suggestions to help press the implications of Paul’s command into the corners of our worship.
1. Pray for members of your church prior to and during the gathering.
As part of your preparation for Sunday, consider their struggles, fears, and trials. Ask God to remind them of his kindness through the songs. If a line in a hymn brings someone’s situation to mind, pray that the words would minister to him or her in that particular moment.
2. Sing with conviction.
As I mentioned earlier, my friend Jeremy buoyed my faith simply by showing that he believed the words he was singing. One way to demonstrate conviction is to sing loudly. There are few things more spiritually invigorating than being surrounded by believers exalting Jesus at full volume.
3. Use body language.
This will vary according to your personality and culture, but even in the most subdued settings we can convey a lot by our body language during corporate singing. Smile during hymns of joy. Convey contrition during songs of confession. Perhaps most importantly, don’t always keep your eyes closed. Making occasional eye contact with others is a powerful way to show that you’re singing with them in mind.
4. Lay aside your stylistic preferences.
Since one of the main purposes of corporate singing is to build others up, music gives us a wonderful opportunity to “count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). If the words are true, excellent, and beautiful, try to engage with every song, even if it’s not your favorite genre. You might just find that the joy you see on others’ faces helps you appreciate the song for its ability to edify people who have different tastes than you.
We sing because Christ first loved us. We love because he first loved us. May we do both as we gather with his beloved bride this week.