Music in our Gatherings: Who Is it For?
Everyone has an opinion on music in the church, and I’ve heard many of them: it is not upbeat enough. It’s not relevant. It’s too hipster. It’s too old. It’s not loud enough. It’s too loud. It doesn’t fit my style. It’s not on the radio. I could keep going, and I’m sure you have some opinions as well—we all do.
These opinions aren’t necessarily wrong; they are, after all, opinions. But is there a way to ground our opinions in Scripture? I would say there is, and in corporate worship there is one question that helps us understand a biblical view of our singing: “who is it for?”
If you pose this question to Christians, 99.99% of them will answer, “well, obviously our singing is for the Lord,” and they would be correct. Our worship is indeed for the Lord. In fact, our entire life ought to be devoted to the Lord. Colossians 3:17 makes this plain: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Ephesians 5:20 also makes this point, commanding us to “always [give] thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”
Interestingly, the context of both above references is corporate worship. Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 are parallel verses regarding how we should encourage one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. When we gather to worship God with all the saints, our singing (and our entire gathering for that matter) is for the Lord.
But there is another answer to the question, “who is it for?” Notice again what Colossians 3:16 says, and I will add some emphasis: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with gratefulness in your hearts to God.” Now look at Ephesians 5:19: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” When it comes to music in the church, it’s not just for the Lord, although He is the primary subject of our singing. It’s also for one another.
I have a rather unique perspective on Sunday mornings. Since I stand up front, I get to see the congregation singing, and there is so much encouragement that comes from seeing believers singing biblical truth. To look out and see someone rejoicing in the Lord, singing “I will not boast in anything; no gifts, no power, no wisdom; but I will boast in Jesus Christ; His death and resurrection!” brings such joy to my soul. It’s an encouragement to me. When we sing together on Sunday mornings, we are, of course, praising the Lord, but we are also encouraging one another with what we are singing.
There is, then, a conclusion that comes from this. We ask the question, “who is it for?” and Scripture makes it clear: it’s for the Lord and for one another. This means that the focus of our singing is NOT ourselves. Sure, there is an aspect where we are beneficiaries, such as the encouragement to our souls that comes from worship, but the direction and end-goal of our singing is not ourselves.
This can be a hard pill to swallow. We all have our preferences and opinions, but ultimately worship through song is not about either of them; it’s about Christ and one another. We are not about our own glory, but we are to regard one another as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). I may like a certain style over another, but that’s not our focus.
So when we gather to worship and sing, don’t see it as an exercise of your abilities or your desires; understand that we are praising God and encouraging one another. If the music does not fit your opinion of what music in the church should be, ask yourself who you are singing for. I close with a quote from Matt Merker, a music pastor on the east coast (brace yourself): “If we refuse to sing because the music is not up to our standards, we rob God of the glory he deserves.” Who are you singing for? Is it for your own joy, or is it for Christ and the church?