Worship; Our Sacrifice of Praise.
The worship of God is the most important activity in which men can engage. God, our Creator, is worthy of the worship of His creatures, and calls upon all people to worship Him. Psalm 100:1.
In one sense everything we do can be described as worship – whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Cor 10:31. See also Romans 12:1. But the Bible also speaks of worship as a distinct and conscious act to which men and women are called.
As well as being a privilege for us to enjoy, worship is a delight to God. Indeed this is the chief purpose of our worship, and because this is so God is concerned about how He is worshipped.
This biblical teaching must govern everything we do in our worship. It may seem obvious, but it needs to be emphasised that we must worship God according to His wishes. This Regulative Principle of Worship is an application of the sovereignty of God to our worship. It insists that whatever is not commanded is forbidden.
Jesus taught His disciples that we are to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Nadab and Abihu found that God does not delight in aspects of worship (however sincerely offered) that He has not sought when they offered unauthorised fire in the Tabernacle, Leviticus 10:1-3. See also Deut 12:31-32; 2 Chron 26:16-19; Mark 7:6-8. In this pamphlet we are considering just one aspect of our worship – the singing of praise.
In singing praise to God we have not been left to ourselves to devise what we may regard as suitable or appealing songs. The songs that we are to use are the Psalms given to us in Scripture. We sing them in worship for several reasons.
1. God has given them
The Book of Psalms is part of the inspired word of God. That cannot be said about any other book of praise, no matter how true to Scripture its songs might be.
To introduce any other songs in place of those that God has given is to suggest, even if not deliberately, that the Psalms are not adequate for the purpose for which they were given.
2. Christ is proclaimed in them
Some may ask. Do you not find that in Christian worship you would like to sing songs that actually speak of Jesus? Yes, indeed! The Psalms do that. Jesus Himself says that the Psalms speak of Him, see Luke 24:44.
Throughout the New Testament there are numerous quotations from the Psalms referring to Jesus, His life and His work. Some speak about His suffering, betrayal and death. Others speak of His resurrection and His ascension. His title, Christ or the Anointed One is specifically mentioned in Psalm 2:2.
Jesus Himself, as a perfect man, of course sang the Psalms in worship. When we sing them today, we are singing the very songs which our Saviour used and loved.
3. Christians are taught by them
What we sing does have a real effect on us and our thinking. In Colossians 3:16 we are told that as we sing the Psalms the word of God dwells in us and we teach and admonish one another with wisdom.
A great benefit comes to us by this means of grace. The words of the Psalms instruct, warn and encourage all who sing them together in worship. They also unite all who love the truth of God, for no true believer should be offended by the word of God.
4. Scripture commands us to sing them
Many Christians would agree that we should sing Psalms. The question is not why sing Psalms? but why sing only Psalms?
In addition to the reasons already given, there is one other which is central. We sing only Psalms because the Psalms are the only songs which God has commanded us to use. Sing Psalms to Him! Psalm 95:1-2.
Some people take Paul’s command in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 as a command (or at the very least, permission) to sing hymns of merely human composition. A closer look at these verses shows that the exact opposite is true. Both verses speak of making melody or singing to the Lord with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
In Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us that in singing these songs we are letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. Only the inspired word of God can be described this way. In both Ephesians and Colossians these songs are described as spiritual – that is inspired by the Holy Spirit. See also the reference to the Spirit in Eph 5:18. No merely human hymns can be described in this way – only the songs that God has given us through the Psalmist. See 2 Samuel 23:1-2.
It is significant to note that in the version of the Old Testament used by Greek-speaking Gentile churches of Paul’s day (the Septuagint) the individual psalms were given titles as either psalms, hymns or songs. Indeed Psalm 76 is even described as a hymn and a psalm as well as a song! The same Greek translation also uses the word hymnos to describe the Psalms in various places in the Old Testament.
The all-important question remains. How does God want to be worshipped? In Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19 Paul the inspired theologian and preacher of the new covenant tells us – by the singing of the Psalms of Scripture! We must not introduce into His worship anything that God has not given or commanded us to use.
How must we sing the Psalms?
The principle that governs what we sing in worship also governs how we sing – and what accompanies our praise. Let us look first at the issue of musical accompaniment.
We sing without musical accompaniment.
The objection is sometimes heard that the use of instruments is recorded in the Bible. This is true, and we sing about them in the Psalms themselves! We also sing about the offering of incense and animal sacrifices and other Old Testament practices that are no longer appropriate since the cross of Christ has brought an end to the sacrificial system of worship. There are several things we ought to bear in mind when we refer to the use of musical instruments in the Old Testament.
• They were used only by the priests and Levites, and not by the people in general.
• They were used alongside the animal sacrifices. This limited use was clearly illustrated at the rededication of the Temple by King Hezekiah in 2 Chron 29:27-29. The playing of instrumental music continued only as long as the sacrifice was being offered. After that the singing continued, but without instrumental accompaniment.
• They were used in an age of spiritual incompleteness, being closely associated with the rituals accompanying the Old Testament sacrifices. As a result they are not required today. This is because we live in the full light of the cross. It is significant that the letter to the Hebrews which, most eloquently of all the New Testament Scriptures, tells us of the passing away of what was temporary in the Old Testament (see Hebrews 7:18; 8:13) also speaks of the unchanging requirement that the praise God requires from His believing people is “the fruit of lips that confess His name,” Hebrews, 13:15.
We sing from the heart
The singing of psalms in worship should not be simply a matter of formal correctness. Jesus warned against heartless worship. Paul urges us to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord, Colossians 3:16. We must use the right songs, but we must also sing them in the right way, sincerely, thoughtfully and giving thanks for the grace of God in Christ Jesus remembering that it is the Word of Christ we are singing.
With God’s Spirit in our hearts and His Word on our lips we can indeed worship God in Spirit and in truth.
For further reading:
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath-day. Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Chapter 6.
The Songs of Zion, 1993, by Michael Bushell.
The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God, 1972, by G.I. Williamson.
Old Light on New Worship, 2005, by John Price. Sing the Lord’s Song, 2003, by John W. Keddie.
The Psalms in Christian Worship, 1992, by Rowland S. Ward.