Sing a New Song!
Within the federation of churches, one hears and reads more and more of special musical evenings. These events of both instrumental and vocal music are surely a wonderful additional feast for the ears and souls besides the much appreciated regular choir performances. Music, after all, is very important for the life of a Christian. Indeed, it is one of God’s most precious gifts. Music can help make the spirit soar in gratitude to God for his blessings. It can also convey the powerful lament of the burdened heart whose only hope is in the God of life.
According to Scripture, God expects us to praise Him with music. For example, Psalm 33:1-3 urges:
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the tenstringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.
The psalm goes on to note the reasons for the exhortations to music-making. It is because the Lord is right and true and faithful in all He does. He loves righteousness and justice and the earth is full of his unfailing love (vv 4-5).
Music, therefore, has an important place in our life of gratitude before God. Most importantly, the Lord delights in it. We can praise our God with all kinds of instruments and the Lord even urges us to “sing a new song.” What is the significance of that?
Our Personal Involvement in Singing
It is one thing to listen to music; it is another to actually be involved in making it yourself. Those who spend hours practising to play a musical instrument can eventually feel that the instrument is an extension as it were of themselves. Through their instrument they can express their feelings and emotions. The music produced speaks to them and can speak of them.
When it comes to singing, this is all the more true. In the human voice, the Lord our God has given us a most unique and versatile musical instrument, an instrument we all have! It is a remarkable fact that although the Old Testament is full of references to musical instruments, especially with respect to the temple liturgy (1 Chronicle 15:16; 23:5; 25:6-7; 2 Chronicle 5:12-13), the New Testament is for the most part silent about their use. The focus is on singing and the human voice. Indeed, God’s Word presents singing as an integral part of the Christian life. This is no wonder. Could it not be expected that those who are a new creation in Christ are themselves, by means of the human voice, to be the most telling instrument to the praise of his glory?
The Apostle Paul urges the Ephesians and us to be filled with the Spirit and then he continues:
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.Ephesians 5:19-20
The life of gratitude is to be a life full of music! For those filled with the Spirit, it is to be a music and song moulded by the Word of God. As the same apostle put it to the Colossians: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). When the Word of God shapes our thoughts and words, then surely God Himself gives to us the content of our singing. Then we sing in response to God’s work in our lives and even if a song be old already, it becomes new for us again and again.
When David experienced God’s forgiveness and deliverance, then he acknowledged in Psalm 40 that it was the Lord who “put a new song in my mouth” (v 3). A new song for each new deliverance that the Lord gave prompted another joyful response in song.
We today by God’s grace may be the beneficiaries of the songs of praise and thanksgiving that David composed and sang. What a privilege to have the complete Psalter in our Book of Praise with which to articulate our thanks to God. And not only that, but in the Psalms we may have a tremendous inventory for all kinds of occasions. As Calvin wrote in his preface to his commentary on the Psalms,
the Holy Spirit has here drawn to life all the grieves, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men want to be agitated.
While we should thankfully recognize the great God-given heritage in the Psalter, we also need to do justice to the fact that we are also exhorted to sing new songs to the Lord. The Psalms given to us leave no doubt about that. They command us: “Sing to the Lord a new song!” (Psalms 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1).
What is the significance of this exhortation? It underlines the fact that each generation needs to express anew the miracle of God’s great acts of salvation in their lives. Each generation needs to articulate their thanksgiving and praise for that. We can and should continue to use the Psalms for that purpose. They are our primary songbook. But the Lord also expects his church to move on and to express their gratitude anew in each generation with their own words, provided that these songs are moulded by the Word and Spirit (Colossians 3:16). It is for this reason that our Book of Praise not only has all the Psalms as well as other compositions from Scripture, but also hymns that were composed after God’s Word had been completed. We have hymns from the time of the early church, from the time of the Reformation, as well as from quite recent times. And this is how it should be. “Sing to the Lord a new song!” These are songs moulded by the Word of God and therefore focus on God and his glory.
Singing in Fellowship
One of the marvels of singing is that it intensifies our everyday language and brings it to new heights and ways of expression. Singing and music puts an added emphasis on what we say. It is therefore a powerful way of communicating our thanks to God, as well as our pleas and supplications. This is especially true when a group of people or an entire congregation sings the same song together. Indeed, it is a moving experience, for singing psalms and hymns is a form of praising God and praying to Him. When done in unison, it is most encouraging and we feel a fellowship with one another as believers who confess the same Saviour.
This fellowship can also be experienced with the saints of old. When we sing a psalm of David, like Psalm 51, recognizing our unworthiness and sin, then we experience fellowship with him. Or if we sing Psalm 90, we sense our kinship with Moses and his perception of the transitoriness of life. All of this is encouraging for the faith. After all, the psalms are a reminder that we are not the first to journey through this life with all its joys and sorrows. We can be strengthened by the knowledge that the Lord our God has been faithful to countless past generations, as articulated also in the psalms. These songs are also a reminder that He will continue to be faithful in the time to come.
Yes, He will! As a matter of fact the future will be better than we can ever imagine. One day there will be an innumerable multitude from all nations singing God’s praise in the presence of the Lamb. This large throng will be the complete number who have been claimed by God and have the name of the Father written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1).
They sing a new song before the throne.Revelation 14:3
When we reflect on all of this, we realize that when we sing God’s praise we are in fellowship with the church of all ages. In the delight of praising Him we may also have a foretaste of the joy to come when literally everyone on earth will be praising God in a new world. As Psalm 98 already exhorted: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” One day that worldwide song in fullness will be a complete reality! Praise the Lord!