Singing That Glorifies God


Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious” (Psalm 66:1-2).

Singing is a way for us to praise and glorify God and is a regular practice in our assemblies. If we are going to glorify God through our singing, it is important that we do it in the right way. This requires certain things from the songs, the singers, and the song leaders. Let us consider some points that will help us sing in a way that glorifies God.

What the Songs Need to Do

Before considering what the songs need to do, let us first discuss what our songs should not do (at least primarily):

  • Entertain us – We can certainly enjoy singing, but this is secondary. When we sing, we are singing “to God” and to “one another” (Colossians 3:16). Therefore, we need to be singing songs with lyrics that honor God and help others spiritually.
  • Stir our emotions – Our emotions may be stirred when we sing spiritual songs; but this is a “side effect,” not the goal. Singing involves “teaching and admonishing” (Colossians 3:16). Therefore, we need to focus on articulating the thought of the song more than trying to stir up our emotions (or the emotions of others).

We can determine what our songs need to do by looking at the types of songs we are to sing. Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). In this verse, the apostle mentioned three different types of songs:

  1. Psalms – This can simply refer to the book of Psalms. The term also describes sacred songs that are directed to God. An example of this is the song, Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah. Incidentally, this song is based upon Psalm 148. The word translated psalm contains the idea of “striking the chords of a musical instrument” (Thayer). Many use this definition as a justification for instrumental music in worship. However, Paul specified the “instrument” that we use in the text – we sing these songs with the heart (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
  2. Hymns – These are simply songs of praise to God. An example of this is the song, Worthy Art Thou! As is the case with the previous example (Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah), there will sometimes be an overlap in psalms and hymns – they are directed to God and praise God.
  3. Spiritual songs – These are songs about spiritual topics (heaven, the Lord’s Supper, our duty as Christians, etc.). There are many examples of these in our song books.

Based upon the these definitions, what do our songs need to do? The songs that we sing as part of our worship need to (1) express praise and gratitude to God and (2) teach and admonish one another regarding spiritual matters.

What the Singers Need to Do

Notice again what Paul wrote to the church in Colossae: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). There are several points in this verse that explain the responsibilities of those who sing:

  • Have a heart that is open to the word of God – In order to sing acceptably, the word of the Lord must “richly dwell within” us. We are to serve the Lord wholeheartedly in all things (Matthew 22:37). Paul spoke of the fact that we are to be “obedient from the heart” (Romans 6:17). It is only possible to do this when His word is in our hearts (cf. Psalm 40:8; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10).
  • Sing out so that others can hear – In our singing, we are to be “teaching and admonishing one another.” If others are to be taught and admonished, that necessarily means we must sing loud enough for others to hear us. Of course, some voices are naturally louder than others. The fact that someone’s voice may get lost in the crowd does not mean that his singing is unacceptable. A simple question to ask ourselves in evaluating this aspect of our singing is this: “If everyone’s voice carried like mine, would others be taught and admonished?” If we are whispering or mumbling, the answer would be “no.” If we are singing out to the best of our ability, even if we are surrounded by others whose voices naturally carry better than ours, we will be fulfilling our responsibility.
  • Sing – Paul said we are to be “singing.” This is a simple point, but it should not be overlooked. Paul did not instruct the Colossians to sit silently, hum, clap, play musical instruments, or anything else. He instructed them to sing.
  • Give thanks in everything – Our singing must be done “with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God.” Paul wrote elsewhere, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Singing with thankfulness would obviously include songs that are directed to God – we are thanking Him for what He has done. However, even songs that are not directed to God (spiritual songs) are about things that are possible only because of God. Therefore, in every song that we sing, thankfulness is necessary.

In addition to what we find in the passage above, we can also infer from the Scriptures that singers are to follow the direction of the song leader [we will discuss the song leader’s responsibility in the next point]. In writing about the use of spiritual gifts in the assembly, Paul emphasized the principle of engaging in orderly worship without disruptive individual actions (1 Corinthians 14:30-33, 40). Since “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33), we should not add “confusion” to the worship. Therefore, we follow the direction of the one who is leading the singing so that our songs can be sung “properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

What the Song Leaders Need to Do

The New Testament does not specifically mention a “song leader” in the assemblies of the church; however, authority for one is implied. Again, in Paul’s message to Corinth regarding the assembly, he wrote, “Each one has a psalm” (1 Corinthians 14:26). This was stated in the context of a public role (he mentioned teaching, delivering a revelation, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues in the same verse). When he said that “each one has a psalm,” he was not talking about someone performing a solo in the assembly. Remember, in our singing we teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16), which implies that we are all singing together. Therefore, the one who “has a psalm” would be leading or directing the congregation in singing the song together. Paul concluded the discussion about the assembly by saying, “All things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40). To sing “properly and in an orderly manner” means that we must sing the same song and sing it together. How can we do this? Using a song leader is an expedient way to do this (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12).

While the New Testament implies the role of a song leader, it never implies that a song leader must be a formally-trained choral director. He simply needs to be able to lead the congregation in such a way that they can sing together. This is the most basic role of a song leader. In order to properly fulfill this role, there are certain things that a song leader ought to do:

  • Select songs that are “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16) – We might enjoy other types of songs for our own entertainment, but the songs we sing in our worship must fall into these categories.
  • Make sure the content of the songs are Scripturally accurate – This is based upon a principle found in Luke’s statement about the Bereans: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They were commended because they made sure that Paul’s message was true before accepting it. In the same way, we need to make sure that the songs that we sing are in harmony with the Scriptures before we sing them. Some songs may need to be avoided. Some verses may need to be skipped. Since we teach and admonish one another in our singing, we need to be careful not to teach something through our singing that is contrary to the word of God. This means a song leader should take time beforehand to review the words of the songs he intends to lead to make sure they teach the truth.
  • Select songs that are singable to the congregation – This does not mean that a congregation cannot learn new songs. What it does mean is that we should not allow the music to be a hindrance. Some songs are more difficult to sing and, therefore, require the singer to focus almost exclusively on the music instead of the words. These types of songs distract us from what we ought to be doing – praising God and teaching others.


It is good for Christians to enjoy singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” together, but the primary purpose is not our enjoyment. We need to be sure that we are singing in a way that glorifies God so that our worship will be acceptable to Him.

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  1. bARBARA lA lENA says