For a while I have thought it strange that Paul tells us to speak to one another in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). What does he mean by this? I have visions of me stopping another brother in the hall at church to “bless” him with a rendition of Great is Thy Faithfulness and having him respond by belting out a verse from Be Thou My Vision. As funny as this would be to witness, I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind. If not this, then what?
Thabiti Anyabwile gives us some help here in his study guide to Ephesians when he writes, “Surely this is congregational singing- singing together as a church… As we do this, we speak to each other the truths expressed in the song. We teach, instruct, admonish and encourage one another as we sing.” Is Thabiti saying that there is more than just a vertical (unto God) aspect to our singing at church on a Sunday morning? Yes, we sing to God in worship, but why do we have to be with other Christians to do that? I can sing to God in worship by myself in the car or while I’m washing dishes.
Thabiti is correct, Paul is saying that when a church gathers for worship, there is both a vertical and horizontal (for the benefit of other Christians) aspect to our singing. When we sing at church we are saying to each other, “These lyrics are true! These lyrics are wonderful! Let us remember these lyrics together and live our lives out of a belief in the truth they are expressing!” Church, we have much more responsibility in our church singing than we think.
On Sunday mornings, occasionally, I love to stop singing for a few moments and listen to our congregation lifting their voices to God, telling him in song of his greatness and the wonders he has done. I know that the songs are, first and foremost, for God, but as I listen I am inspired by what I hear. I am inspired to join this community of Christians in believing what is written in the hymnal and change my life in the areas where it is inconsistent with what is being sung.
If there is also a horizontal aspect to our church singing, then what does that mean for how you sing at church? You may say that you do not need to sing loudly for God to hear you because God sees your heart, but you do need to sing loudly for the other believers at your church to hear. We need to hear you so we can be taught, instructed, admonished, and encouraged by these songs, so sing out, Church! Let us remember that singing is not just worship; it’s also ministry.