It’s hard to find things to be cheerful about nowadays, or at least it might seem that way. Of course, if you are looking hard enough and in the right places, there is much to be grateful for at every turn. In 2020, when I was able to find bread and chicken on store shelves again, I was overjoyed. Funny how a little difficulty and perspective can make even small things into big reasons to express thanks to God. But when times were really dark, people were able to make up for it in various ways. Even when you have nothing else, you can at least make a song.
Now you might not feel very musically inclined, but everyone has either sung in the shower, hummed a ditty, whistled a tune, lulled a baby to sleep, or at least been moved by a well-crafted piece of music. I believe that some of this can be explained by the fact that God made us to be musical worshippers. The whole Bible is full of music, both in and out of heaven, and the singing that is there described accomplishes several things. It communicates joy, grief, fear, or longing. It teaches truth or relays historical events. It is a very natural (in a divine way) response of humankind as created things in the presence of the Creator.
But, like many natural things, it can be abused. Therefore, Scripture shows us how to use music in worship for the glory of God. In Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, we are told that musical worship is “…singing, making melody in our hearts to the Lord” and “…singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” respectively. That these passages mean singing specifically and exclusively, and not the use of musical instruments is clear from several things. The grammar won’t allow any other conclusion, as well as 1500 years of practice starting from the New Testament Scriptures, all the way through the so-called “church fathers” up to the protestant reformers and beyond. Instruments in Christian worship are a relatively recent contrivance because instruments do not facilitate the Biblical purpose of singing: to communicate truth (Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:17-20; speaking/teaching).
In the Old Testament, worship in God’s presence, especially instrumental music, was heavily regulated (1 Chron. 6:31-48, 9:33-34, 15:16-22, 28:19-21). Not everybody could. Thankfully, an invitation has been extended to all disciples of Christ to come and sing before God. And we have been given
not just an invitation, but a command for our betterment! Therefore, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise with our lips (Heb. 13:15). Let’s use song to teach the words of Christ and show the Spirit at work in us (Eph. 5:18, Col. 3:16). Let’s build each other up with singing (1 Cor. 14:26), Let’s imitate the early church with purpose and solidarity (Acts 16:25, 1 Cor. 14:15). And if anyone is cheerful… “let him sing psalms.” (Jas. 5:13b)