There is an amazing moment in Mark 14:26. We read about Jesus and the disciples singing a ‘hymn’ together. It says, ‘When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.’ The Greek word ‘Hymneo’ which is used here and at five other moments in the New Testament means to literally sing praise, and of course our English word ‘hymn’ comes directly from this Greek word. Jesus and his disciples sang out their praises to God.
Singing was a crucial part of the Jewish culture and was used regularly as a way of expressing worship to God. Jesus would have been very used to it. Tim Keller in his fantastic book ‘My Rock; My Refuge’ writes that, ‘The Psalms were the divinely inspired hymnbook for the public worship of God in ancient Israel’ (1 Chronicles 16:8-36). Many of the Psalms were used at festivals and sung during times of gathered worship. This scenario in Mark 14 is no exception. Music and singing were an important part of Jewish worship and early Christians included music and singing in their corporate gatherings too.
What amazes me is that Christ’s own relationship with God the Father involved singing out the Psalms. Jesus recognised the importance of singing as part of his daily devotion to his Father. Singing as an expression of worship is not a man-made modern invention in ‘contemporary’ churches. It is not simply some sort of modern alternative to the spoken liturgies of the past. The Bible instructs us to do it. Jesus himself did it too. We too should cherish this God-given practice and follow in his footsteps.
Therefore, do not despise singing. God does not want a church that gathers to watch someone else sing songs of worship while others nod along in dull appreciation. Singing in the Bible is not about passivity. Participation seems to be key. It is an expression of worship that finds its roots in community. What we are doing when we gather together with the people of God to sing is not only an invitation for good singers and skilled musicians. Singing is for all of us to take part in.
Participation in making music together is an expected occurrence when we gather to worship the God who gifted mankind with music. There is such joy to be found in joining with the saints to declare our love for God and proclaim the truth of his Word through the medium of song. Jonathan Edwards claimed that ‘the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections’.
Songs not only help us to express the deepest thoughts and feeling of our hearts in a way that prose can’t, but they also help us to memorise the truths we are singing. That’s why companies use songs as part of their advertising campaigns. You might not remember the product, but you certainly remember the jingle. In the same way, you might not remember the sermon, but you will remember the songs you sang.
So do not shy away from expressing your worship through singing. Do as Jesus did, and do it often. Let your affections be stirred and your mind be renewed as you sing the truth over yourself. It will do you good and it pleases God when you open your mouth to use the gift he has given us.
Some further reading…
2 Chronicles 29
2 Samuel 22:1-3