Be Careful How You Sing
By: Brian Borgman
We love our hymns and songs of praise. Our worship songs communicate truth and stir the soul. I have argued in Feelings and Faith that one of the primary reasons we sing is to engage the affections with truth (171-178). Worship in song accompanied by music is glorious. However, I ran across another reason for songs today that is pretty convicting. God told Moses to write a song and teach it to the children of Israel. So far so good. But the stated purpose for the song, which is the Song of Moses in Deut. 32, is so that when they turn from the Lord, the song is a witness for God and against the sons of Israel.
“Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel. For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.” So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the sons of Israel. (Deut. 31:19-22)
Moses will teach them the song. They are to sing this song. Bob Kauflin notes, “We remember what we sing, and nothing is more important to remember than God’s Word. Music-produced feelings will fade, but God’s living and active Word will continue working in our hearts, renewing our minds and strengthening our faith” (Worship Matters, 99). Moses would add “and witnessing against you if you abandon the Lord.”
How does this witness work? In song we take words into our mouths and hopefully our hearts. Those words resonate with us. This week I have been thinking of the phrases “Oh death where is your sting” and “the Lamb has overcome.” Both phrases are from the Bible, but both are also put to music in powerful songs that we will sing this Lord’s Day. I confess these words when I sing them. They stick with me. Let’s hypothetically say that I abandon the Lord (God forbid), those words would stick in my conscience. In my sin those words would echo through my mind. Those words would testify against me. This last Lord’s Day Ariel texted a fallen member and said, “We sang your favorite hymn this morning.” As he read that, the words of “And Can it Be” would echo back in his heart and mind and hopefully testify to his conscience that these truths are still true and that he is living a lie.
I wonder how many unsaved church-goers, now in Hell, are haunted by the fact that they sang,
My sin, O this bliss of this glorious thought My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the Cross and I bear it no more Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord O my soul!
Let’s be less concerned about how we sound when we sing and pay more attention to the condition of our hearts when we sing. We make declarations of truth when we sing. Let’s make sure that when we sing the words can never be used to testify against us. Rather, let’s make sure that the songs of Zion are a goad to greater holiness and to greater mind and heart renewal. It is important that we sing, but we definitely need to be careful how we sing. We need to sing the truth from hearts of enduring faith.