Songs That Teach Us

by Daniel Rieke

I like to sing the swelling, explosively epic bridge where we repeat the same line 10 times in a row as much as the next guy. When it's a line with great richness and meaning, it can be a powerful tool to stimulate worship as we corporately meditate on the truth we're singing about God. Think of the bridge to "Jesus Paid It All":

 

O Praise the one who paid my debt
And raised this life up from the dead

It's an amazing experience to worship Jesus by singing lines like these repeatedly with our church on Sundays. I absolutely think it's appropriate to enjoy the experience of singing praises to the Lord in corporate worship (e.g. Psalm 71:23, 84:2, 95:1, 111:1, etc) and that it's okay to sing songs that repeat a phrase several times (e.g. Psalm 136). That's an amazing role that singing can play in corporate worship: enabling us to experience joy while singing a great song to the Lord.

That being said, according to the New Testament, singing is not only about the experience we have relating to God. Singing also has a teaching and instructing component for us in corporate worship.

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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16-17 ESV

This passage explicitly commands the church to teach one another through their corporate singing. So Paul clearly believes that songs teach us... that songs theologically instruct us and affect what we believe about God. When we sing the lyrics of a song together on Sundays, it is both an act of praise to God and an act of training the believers worshiping along with us.

Additionally from a practical standpoint, most people tend to have an easier time remembering song lyrics than quotes from sermons. That gives songs a profound power in the life of a believer to either renew and transform our minds or to lead us into wrong patterns of thinking about God...depending on how healthy or unhealthy the lyrics.

Song lyrics are an amazingly important tool for discipleship.

With that comes great weight and importance as we think about what kinds of songs we should sing when gathered together for corporate worship (or in our cars for that matter!). What our songs say matters far more than how our songs sound.

Now, this isn't to belittle musical quality or encourage people to write low quality worship songs. On the contrary, we do all for the glory of God – which would include writing the best songs we possibly can. 

It's just that if we want to be faithful to Scripture, writing a good song necessitates that the song have biblically faithful and helpful lyrics that give praise and glory to God. For a song to truly be “good,” everything said in it must be true. All the lyrics would need to espouse something the elders at the church would be willing to teach from the pulpit. We should take our songs that seriously and with that much weight.

Our songs should teach us (Colossians 3:16), even as they stir us emotionally to experience God together as a congregation, as our hearts "sing for joy to the living God" (Psalm 84:2).

So let this be an encouragement towards deeper discipleship in the area of music, as we seek to give glory to God with every area of our lives – individually and as a church.