For nearly a decade, I have owned an iPod. Rarely, do I go anywhere without it. I use it to push through tough workouts, to make long commutes more enjoyable, and to focus during study sessions. I've owned several different models, and I buy a replacement as soon as it breaks (or my child accidentally throws it away!). I love my iPod. It plays my music, at my preferred volume, in my selected order, according to my mood or desire. And I am not alone. Millions of people love their iPods as well. And there's nothing wrong with that.
There is a problem, however, when a Christian takes the conveniences of an iPod and applies it to Sunday morning worship. When this iPod mentality is adopted the usual response is for the person to withdraw from worship. For example, if a particular song isn’t one we know or in the mood for or at our preferred volume or style then, typically, we pass on participating (i.e. we don’t sing). One reason for this, I think, stems from a misunderstanding of whom the music is for. With an iPod the music is for you. But in worship the music is for someone other than yourself.
In order to remedy this, I want to answer the question, “Who do we sing for in worship?” I hope that in answering this question God’s people are encouraged to sing passionately on Sunday morning even if the song isn’t one found on their iPod.
1) We sing for God.
God is our primary audience when we sing during worship. He calls his people to worship and they respond by declaring his worth, value, and majesty. This means that God is the recipient and we are the participants.
The Psalms are replete with examples of this. “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1) and “Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!” (Psalm 147:7).
This idea of singing to the Lord is not limited to the Old Testament. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:19 that believers should sing and make “melody to the Lord.” So the next time you are reluctant to sing on Sunday remember this important truth: God is your audience. Sing for him. Sing as if he is present because he actually is.
2) We sing for fellow believers.
One of God’s means of encouragement in the Christian life is through hearing other redeemed sinners praise their Redeemer. When we sing quietly or not at all, we are not encouraging our brothers and sisters as we should.
This is clear from the same New Testament passage mentioned above. Paul told the Ephesian church to “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…”. Some versions translate the word “address” as “speak”. So, not only should we speak to one another before and after the service, but we should also speak to one another during the service by means of singing.
Paul gives similar counsel to the Colossian church, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” (Col. 3:16). Christians need to remind each one another about the gospel and teach one another spiritual truths; one avenue for doing this is through singing psalms, hymns, and songs to one another.
The Bible is replete with these examples, but one more will suffice. The author of Hebrews, quoting the Old Testament, writes, “I will tell of [God’s] name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing [his] praise.” (Heb. 2:12).
Here is the point I am trying to make: Not only should we sing to the Lord, but we should also to sing to our fellow church members about the Lord. This is a very simple and practical way to love, serve and encourage one another.
3) We sing for unbelievers.
Worship services are not primarily for the unbeliever. However, Christians must remember that unbelievers are often present during corporate worship. This reality should affect our participation.
Paul reminded the Corinthian church that it’s possible for an outsider to enter their place of worship, experience conviction, repent of his sins, and worship God (see 1 Cor. 14:20-25). In this context, Paul is talking about the proper use of tongues and prophecy. But an implication of this passage is that a worship service is a means of evangelism, and not just during the sermon. Unbelievers can be converted through the hearing of the gospel during congregational singing, which is an incentive for believers to fully participate.
Think for a moment about how you sang this past Sunday. If an unbeliever entered a church service and observed you worship the God you profess to love would he be convinced? I fear that often times we sing in such a way that shows we do not actually believe the words we proclaim. During corporate worship, we should sing in such a way that if an unbeliever were listening he would be convinced of the truth of the lyrics.
So the next time you find yourself reluctant to participate in worship recall who you are singing for and save your iPod preferences for after Sunday morning.