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Does God really command us to sing?

Singing is very personal. The voice is the only musical instrument physically connected to our body. Because of this, it’s only natural that our awareness is heightened when it comes to the quality of sound (or lack thereof) that we make when we sing. Perhaps we even become quite self-conscious.

Singing is also a skill and talent. While it can be learned and improved upon through instruction and practice, there’s a certain amount of giftedness involved when it comes to singing, and it cannot be debated that some are more gifted in this area than others. For some, singing is enjoyable and comes quite easy. For others, it can be an uncomfortable experience. As human beings, the reality is that we tend to approach the things that we do well with more energy and enthusiasm than the things that we don’t do as well. Again, this is natural.

Because singing is so personal, and because many don’t feel especially gifted in this area, it can be tough to hear that God has created us to sing (“Really? Have you heard me sing?”). To hear that He commands us to sing can be even tougher to swallow. Nevertheless, both things are true. He has created us to sing—to the extent that we are able and to the extent that He desires—and He also commands us to sing. This has been the case from the beginning, and is reinforced throughout Scripture.

Praise is God’s most righteous due. Every Christian, as recipients of God’s grace, is called to praise Him from day to day. God even mentions through the prophet Isaiah that we “were created for His glory” (Isaiah 43:7). One of the purposes of our having been created is to bring God the glory that He is due. David takes out all excuses when he says “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). If you are alive and breathing, then praise is not an option. In the 148th psalm, even the sun, moon, stars, waters, fire, hail, snow, clouds, wind, mountains, hills, and trees are instructed to praise God. Not a single living entity gets a pass when it comes to praise.

The creation needs to worship their Creator to express their praise and thanksgiving for having been created. This is something that is natural and fundamental. When a flower blooms, this is its response of praise and thanksgiving to the Creator. The same is the case when a bird sings, or when the stars shine. When the creation does what it was created to do, the Creator is glorified.

One of the ways that we are instructed to worship the Creator is through singing. There are at least fifty directives to sing in the Bible. Here are just a few:

  • Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints. (Psalm 149:1)
  • Sing to the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise! (Psalm 66:2)
  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
  • Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day. (Psalm 96:1-2)
  • Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. (Isaiah 42:10)

Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt sing,” or “Thou shalt worship.” It is true that there are no commandments that say that we must do either of these things. We could easily jump to the conclusion, then, that the directives outlined above don’t come from God, but rather from godly men. What’s important to remember, however, is that while the Bible has many writers, it has but one author—God, the Holy Spirit. Even though these instructions to sing come mainly from the Psalms and Gospels, and from writers such as David, Paul, and Isaiah, the Bible’s author is God. These are God’s instructions expressed through men, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Thankfully, God’s commands are never arbitrary—they are always for His people’s good. He doesn’t need us to worship Him or sing to Him; we are the ones who need worship and singing. Every instruction and command God gives serves to benefit our spiritual health, and to further our development into the nature of Jesus Christ. We can read that Christ Himself sang after celebrating the last supper with His disciples: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30). In the depths and heights of His passion, Christ sang. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned and thinking that they were about to meet their fate, what did they do? They sang.

Why was this? Why can we read over and over of God’s people lifting up their voices in song, even in the most desperate and suffering-filled times? Surely, they weren’t all professional singers. Nowhere in Scripture can we read of the quality of singing when it comes to any specific individual. Singing might not have been their favorite thing to do. Why were the people of God able to fulfill His command to sing time and time again, without complaint or restraint?

The answer is really quite simple—because they were compelled to do so. When, as Paul so powerfully put it, “the love of Christ compels us,” we can’t help but sing, regardless of skill, talent, or comfort level. The way that we feel about God can’t possibly be contained. We can read in Acts of an occasion where Peter and John were imprisoned for preaching the gospel and teaching in the name of Jesus. They were instructed by the rulers and elders of Israel to keep quiet. Peter responded quite boldly by saying: “We can’t help but speak of the things that we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:20). Why did Peter respond this way? Because he was compelled by the love of Christ to do so. The way that He felt about Jesus was not going to be kept quiet—it needed to be expressed. Whether we have been created and commanded to sing matters less when the love of the Savior compels us to sing.

If, at a fundamental level, even the flowers, stars, and birds of the air respond with expressions of praise to their Creator, how much more should we as His children respond with expressions of praise? The second verse of the hymn “Let All Things Now Living” speaks to this so nicely: We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing, with glad adoration a song let us raise. ’Til all things now living unite in thanksgiving to God in the highest, hosanna and praise. Even if we’re not a gifted singer, we sing to the extent that we are able. Even if we have physical issues that limit our ability to audibly sing, we sing with our soul. No matter what, we find creative ways to both inwardly and outwardly express our praise to the One who makes praise possible.

We may not be called to be a soloist. We may not even be called to sing in the choir. But the congregation, the “ultimate choir,” is for everyone. This choir is without auditions, and it’s the perfect place for us to show the Lord how much His love compels us to fulfill His calling and command to sing. It’s the perfect place, as Peter so beautifully expressed it, to “proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

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