Singing the Word | Marks of the Church

Someone has once said, “You are what you eat.” This, of course, indicates that when you eat nothing but junk food and grease, you gain weight. Yet, when you eat healthy foods and exercise a bit, you become physically fit. Let me ask this question: is there a correlation between this and the church? Is it possible that the church could become what they sing? Bob Kauflin thinks so. 

He writes, “Songs are de facto theology. They teach us who God is, what he’s like, and how to relate to him. ‘We are what we sing,’ one man said. That’s why we want to sing God’s Word.”[1]

So, what does it mean to sing God’s Word? How can we implement the Word of God into the songs we sing and the music we play? That’s going to be our journey today with 3 ways:

Form and Content

Form and content make a immense contribution to many things in this world where a Christian may have difficulty navigating their place in a certain situation. Ken Myers has a great way of describing how many Christians fail in this capacity. 

In his chapter titled, “Of the World, But Not In the World,” he writes, “This ‘Christian’ popular culture takes all its cues from its secular counterpart, but sanitizes and customizes it with ‘Jesus language.’ In its crassest forms, it has simply substituted ‘Christian’ language and imagery for elements in the original version: stealing the Coca-Cola theme, ‘It’s the real thing,’ and using it to mark Jesus (‘He’s the Real Thing’), for example.”[2]

What Myers is explains here is that it is not so appropriate for people to do things that mimic the world in every facet, yet slap the name of Jesus onto their actions. There must be more to the meaning for why we do the things we do as believers. In other words, Myers is claiming that both form and content matter. This simply means that lyric and music matter, when it pertains to music. 

Definition

So, what do we mean by mentioning form and content? Well, T. David Gordon has some great ways in which he explains the notion of form and content. Here is one way Gordon describes it: “Not every tune is a good vehicle for every set of lyrics; some are more fit than others. And in theory, some musical choices could virtually never ben an appropriate form for singing God’s praise (such as accompanying them on a kazoo).”[3]

I hope we understand what Gordon is saying here. He is not condemning someone for not knowing the difference without being taught the difference. Instead, Gordon posits that there are certain songs that are appropriate for God’s praise and some that are not so appropriate. Of course, we see this in the quote above in the illustration of the kazoo accompanying our congregational singing. 

So, essentially what we find in the definition of form and content is the combination of both lyric and music and the necessity for both to be appropriate when it comes to worshipping the Lord through our singing together as a church. 

Why It’s Necessary

So, then, why is anything like this necessary? What is the big deal about form and content? I’m glad you asked! 

Let’s break it down for just a short moment: the reason form and content is so important is because God wants us to minister to each other the way he desires. And when we do things, like sing or pray or preach, in ways that God does not dictate, we do it wrong and God is not pleased. This is the ultimate reason why form and content is so important. Remember, form and content essentially means that there is a certain way which God desires for his praises to be sung. It means that we do not sing Be Thou My Vision to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues. 

Of course, my metaphor is quite exaggerated, but I hope you understand what this means for singing in the church.

How Form and Content Relate to Singing

The reason form and content relate to singing is that God has specific barriers regarding the appropriateness of what is sung and how it is sung, and we must do this by his standards. Form and content relates to singing like a glove relates to a baseball. 

Here’s what I mean: you cannot separate music in the church from their form and content. God does not allow “anything and everything” when it comes to singing. He has prescriptive statements all over the Scriptures regarding how we should sing in the church that deal with what we sing (content) and how we sing it (form). 

So, what we’ve found when it comes to form and content – in our short, short analysis of it – is that the lyrics we sing matter to God and should matter to us. We should not be singing empty phrases that mean absolutely nothing. Instead, we should be singing the truth that comes straight from Scripture. And it also means that our music that accompanies the lyrics must be appropriately applied and thought out. Once again, I refer back to my terrible analogy: we should never sing Be Thou My Vision to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues – it just doesn’t fit. 

Language Barriers

I won’t take long on this point, because I do not want this to be a major focal point for this sermon. However, I do think it needs to be addressed to an extent, and this is the problem of language when it comes to singing in the church. 

Of course, I mean that there are certain things the American church has brought onto the scene regarding what we call certain things and it is completely contradictory to Scripture. For instance, the American church has separated the singing, praying, reading, and preaching from each other in the service so it seems as though they are all different aspects of the service

Yet, when we approach the biblical text on this matter, we find a much different approach. Instead of these elements being different aspects of the worship service, we find them all being elements of one event – the gathering of the believers. 

Does Language Matter?

This is exactly why language matters. It matters because when the correct terms are neglected, they eventually become irrelevant. Paul Jones writes, “One of the problems is that members and church leaders come to think of these musical elements of worship as ‘pre-sermon activities’ – making them peripheral.” [4]

We Must Get It Right

It is for this reason that we must get our language right, when it comes to the singing of God’s Word in our church. When we do not get the language right about what we are doing, eventually our actions will become merely instinctive and habitual. 

And this is exactly why Paul wrote these words to the Colossians and the Ephesians…

Colossians and Ephesians

Essentially, these passages – Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16 – both communicate the same idea: congregational singing is important for the health of the local church. 

Letting the Word Dwell Richly in Us

Listen to the Colossians passage: “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” (Col. 3:16). 

In Colossae, there were many false teachers going around and this specific church needed to be reminded of the authority of Jesus Christ as the Head of the church. So, Paul writes that this is Christ’s church and what he says goes. Yet, he also encourages the Colossian Christians here to allow God’s word to dwell in them richly. 

For something to “dwell in us richly,” it must do as the original language implies; it must live in large amounts in our hearts. So, you see, the Bible is for much more than simply guiding your decisions or being your “roadmap” for your life. Please understand me, the Bible can be all of those things at different points in life, but most importantly, the Bible is God’s revealed Word to us! It is his communication to us! Friends, we must not take it lightly! 

Singing (Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs)

And because we must not ignore it or take it lightly, we cannot ignore the fact that many things we sing now days has absolutely no Bible in it whatsoever. And once again, all of this returns to the first point: form and content. What we sing and how we sing it truly does matter, friends! This is why Paul encouraged the Ephesians and Colossians to sing to one another with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs. 

Essentially, Paul is saying that singing is so much more than just praising the Lord, and it is definitely this. But singing is also a teaching element, a memorizing element, an encouraging element, a calming element! It teaches us the things of God by the lyrics we sing. It calms our spirits of anger and malice toward others when we sing the Scriptures. It encourages us to press on while we face adversity and trials each day. All while praising the Lord for his goodness and mercy. 

What Does this Mean for Today?

So, the real question, then, is how do we take this and figure out how to apply this to our lives and to our church? Well, here are four ways:

The Bible is Necessary for Teaching in the Church

As we covered a couple of sermons ago, the Bible is the source of authority for the church. You cannot have a church without a Bible because without the Bible, you have no way of knowing what Jesus has said or what he has commanded for his church. So, the Bible is completely necessary for the church. 

God has revealed himself to human beings by his spoken Word. He spoke the world into existence and has also spoken for us to become his children. This should prompt us to turn our attention to the Word of God for direction and teaching. We do this by a second way:

The Bible Should Dwell in Us Richly

Ultimately, the way we teach others the Bible is through the overflow of what we are already learning. This really is the essence of discipleship, because ministry is done out of the overflow of our own spiritual lives. So, if we want to see change in people, we entrust the Scriptures to them. Kauflin, again, writes, “If the Word of Christ is going to ‘dwell in [us] richly’ (Colossians 3:16),  we need songs that explain, clarify, and expound on what God’s Word says.”[5]

Our Worship Reflects Our Hearts

Yet, the issue at hand today is singing. You see, there is a reason that our order of service correlates all singing as “congregational singing.” It is because our worship reflects our hearts. We simply cannot allow our flesh to take over and dictate our gatherings, as the local church. God has spoken to us, friends! Let us listen to what He has said and obey! 

Let us sing His Word back to him. Let us fill our songs with the theology in which we believe. Let us long for the time when our worship will be unending and uninterrupted to a point where Jesus is all we have for all eternity. 

Once again, let us listen to what God says and obey. 


[1]  Bob Kauflin. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 92.

[2] Ken Myers. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 18-19.

[3]  T. David Gordon. Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2010), 60.

[4]  Paul S. Jones. Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2006), 59.

[5]  Kauflin, Worship Matters, 92. 

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