Today’s message is an appendix, if you will, to the studies we have done during the month of October. Then Lord willing, we will be back in the gospel of John next Lord’s Day. I want to set forth today a positive view of what it means to sing in New Covenant worship. Our two main texts of Scripture today will be Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:15-21)
One of the great tragedies of the vast majority of American evangelical churches is that no one sings, and no one knows how to sing anymore. You will obviously have the performers on the stage singing with microphones, but if you look around at the crowd, you will find so many people just not singing, or just barely moving their lips. There are obviously many churches that do sing, but this is a very large phenomena. This is one of the great weaknesses of the American church – that their men don’t sing together. They’re embarrassed to sing in front of one another, they are embarrassed of the lyrics, the key is way out of their range, and singing has become weird and something the ladies do. It is seen as feminine and not manly among so many. One reason may be that in so many of these churches it’s women leading the singing. That’s just one of many factors. This lack of singing is one of many reasons why American evangelicalism is so weak. But if you show me a church culture where the men sing, and they sing loud, and they’re not afraid to sing together, then it is very likely that you have, by God’s grace, strong men. In fact, many times in the Bible and in history, it is dangerous and mighty men who sing together. Just think of King David, who is called the “Sweet Psalmist of Israel” was also a great warrior who killed scores of enemy foes. Jesus and His disciples before Jesus was arrested, they sang Psalms together. Paul and Silas in prison, sang Psalms together. But singing is not something that just strong men do, it is singing that makes you strong. Singing the right things makes you strong. Not only that but singing Psalms also bonds a people together, it makes us humble, it makes us thankful, it stirs our devotion to Christ, convicts us of sin, and many other benefits.
We are to sing
Having said all this and having read particularly Ephesians 5:19, I would just simply note the fact that we are to sing. Singing is an overflow of joy in the hearts of God’s people that spills out of them in praise. When we come to church, we are to sing. We are to participate. We are to lift our voices and join in the singing. It is worship to our Triune God, it is a blessing to our fellow believer present with us, and it does something to us. Singing is powerful. Proper singing is a means through which God changes us, and changes us together, as we sing together. Since we are to sing, and since it is important in the worship of God, that implies that there may be things we need to do to prepare to sing. Certainly, Christians homes ought to be characterized as singing homes, homes that are full of joyful sounds to the Lord. It is there that we may need to practice for ourselves and our children. We may need to spend more time practicing together.
What is singing?
What is singing? There’s some good stuff in the introduction to our Trinity Psalters as to what singing is. To sing is to give voice to the emotions. This is why it is important that what we are singing is God-ordained emotions. Singing contains words and words propose ideas, thus singing is an activity of both emotion and the mind. To sing is to extend the sound of our voice by elongating our vowels. The rise and fall of our voice, the rate at which we permit it to rise and fall, the volume with which we do so, at a certain rhythm, pitch, timbre, and volume, combines together to create singing. And singing in turn elicits and conveys emotions.
We are to make melody in our hearts (Eph. 5:19)
But when God tells us to sing He does not want it to be just a vocal expression of emotion. We are not simply to use our vocal cords and diaphragm and all of that to produce a certain sound, but we are to sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts. That’s what we read in Ephesians 5:19. “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
What does it mean to make melody in our hearts to the Lord? I mentioned this last week, but the Greek word behind “make melody” literally means to “pluck strings” or “play.” So we are to sing and pluck the strings of our heart to the Lord. We ourselves are an instrument being played to the Lord. We are offering ourselves to Him in worship. You see there in Ephesians five this is all in connection with the work of the Holy Spirit. We are not to be drunk with wine, but filled with the Spirit. So this is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to make us a melody to the Lord, to make us into living strings to the Lord. That is a work of the Holy Spirit.
When we sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord, it is a work of the Holy Spirit in taking what was dead and making it alive. Strings are dead, but if we are made into strings by the Holy Spirit, we are living strings unto God. 1 Corinthians 14:7 says that physical instruments are lifeless. Physical instruments are not living things. They have no heart, or emotions, or mind, or intelligence. Instruments cannot speak intelligible known languages, they cannot sing, they cannot have thankful hearts to God. They are lifeless. And worship in the New Covenant comes from the New Birth. Only those who have been born again can truly worship our Triune God, for we worship in spirit and in truth. Instruments have no spirit and they cannot speak intelligible words of truth. But the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts so that we may become living instruments to God, that may have thankful hearts to God and sing intelligible known words according to truth.
I love what John Chrysostom says, “He [David] had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody.”
How do we make melody in our hearts?
So how do we make melody in our hearts to the Lord? First of all, we need new hearts. Apart from Christ, in our sin, our hearts are dead. They are as stone. They do not beat for God. They are not capable of spiritual life. What we need is our heart of stone remove, taken out, and replaced with a heart of flesh. A beating, living heart that beats for God. A spiritual heart. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not something you can do. It is something God does to you. If we are fleshly, carnal people who are dead in our sins, we can come to church and sing as loud as we can, it is not making melody to the Lord with our hearts. But by God’s grace, as Christians, the trumpet blast of the gospel has reached our ears and raised us to new life in Christ, the Spirit of God has made us into New Creatures with living hearts of flesh, strings fitted for making melody to the Lord.
What does it mean to melody in our hearts to the Lord?
So what does it mean to make melody in our hearts to the Lord? Turn to Colossians 3. Colossians 3:16 is of course the parallel passage to Ephesians 5:19, but I want to read to you a larger portion of Colossians 3 so you can get the larger picture of the type of people that sing and make melody with their hearts to the Lord.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your[a] life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:[b] sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.[c] 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[d] with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,[e] free; but Christ is all, and in all.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
So the progression there was raised to new life in Christ in verse 1-4. Therefore, verses 5-11, put to death the sinful fleshly things in you. And verse 12-17, put on these good and spiritual things pertaining to your new life in Christ and the work of the Spirit. Part of that new Spiritual life that we are to put on is the task of singing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. For the Christian, in worship, singing is not just a physical thing, it is a spiritual thing. And what does verse 16 tell us? We are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts to God. Or the King James says sing with grace in our hearts.
To make melody in our hearts to the Lord is to sing with thankful hearts to God, or to sing with grace in our hearts. This is a work of the Holy Spirit in response to the mercy and grace that has been lavished on us in the Lord Jesus. Notice in Colossians 3 there are a couple other mentions of our hearts. Verse 12 tells us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Verse 15 tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
Church, the command is not merely to sing Psalms with our voices, but to do so with thanksgiving and grace in our hearts. It is not enough that we have outward conformity to God’s regulations for worship. We must also have conformity of heart to God. God does not only command outward regulations for worship, but He also commands thankfulness in our hearts.
A guy named Paul Barth says that, “We should not presume that our worship is pure before God merely by an outward conformity to the Regulative Principle of Worship.” We can sing Psalms till our faces turn blue, but if our hearts are filled with bitterness or ungratefulness and are absent of grace, then we have not obeyed God. If you enter worship and sing God’s praises with your mouth but you are unthankful and you sing with no grace in your heart then you might as well cut your tongue out. God is not pleased with it. He sees your heart.
If then you have been raised with Christ, how could it be that we have nothing to be thankful for in our hearts?? It could not be. If you have a spiritual heart it is because you have received immeasurable grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. You were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, but God, being rich in mercy, made you alive together with Christ and seated you with Him in the Heavenly places. The sin, which was a record of debt against you was nailed to the cross, and you have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer you who live, but Christ in you. Your sins are forgiven and there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. A thankful heart comes from what God has done for us in Christ. If you are in Christ you ought always to give thanks, and never have any reason to be unthankful.
Church, as we read in Colossians 3, this is not just a vertical reality between us and God. This is also about our relationship with one another. We cannot say we have thankfulness and grace in our hearts if we are unforgiving or slanderous toward one another. As new creatures we are given new life to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. These are things we exercise toward one another. These things help us to bear with one another and forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive, Col. 3:13. We are to put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony, verse 14. Is there disharmony? Then you need to love.
So not only are we to sing with thanksgiving to God in Christ, but we are also to have this compassion in our hearts, this grace and forgiveness in our hearts toward our brothers and sisters. Is there grace in your heart toward your brother or sister while you are addressing them with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? Are your lips singing Psalms to your brother or sister while inside you are thinking sinfully or uncharitably toward him or her? Or have you spoken gossip or unkind words about him or her behind their back, while now singing to and with them? If so, what hypocrisy we display! We have been forgiven of everything in Jesus Christ, we need to repent and be right with our brother and sister right away!
This thankfulness and grace in our hearts also works to banish any pride in our singing. What are your thoughts about those who are singing around you? Are you being critical toward your brethren’s ability or inability to sing compared to you? If there is grace in our heart we will be thankful they are participating to the best of their ability and addressing us with the Word of Christ
How can we sing with grace in the heart if we are only singing Psalms?
So we are to sing, making melody to the Lord with our hearts, which is to sing with thankful hearts to God, and with grace in our hearts. But as we are just beginning this journey, we may ask, “but how can we sing with grace in our hearts if we are only singing the Psalms? Don’t we need to sing about Christ?”
The Psalms are about Christ
First of all, whatever the New Testament instructs us to sing is what we are to sing and is sufficient to sing with grace and thankfulness in the heart. But secondly, the Psalms are about Christ and are songs that are precisely fit for New Covenant worship. Augustine said, ‘The voice of Christ and His Church is well-nigh the only voice to be heard in the Psalms.’
In Luke 24 Jesus meets with two men on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. These men do not recognize Him, and it says that Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” All of the Scriptures are about Christ and the Psalms are not exempt. We know this for one because Jesus Himself says later in Luke 24 to His disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Jesus says the Psalms are about Him.
So what I want to do is what through a handful of places in the New Testament where the Psalms are used and show you how the New Testament uses the Psalms, so that we can gain instruction for how we are to view the Psalms as the Word of Christ.
Matthew 13:35 tells us that Jesus fulfilled what is written in Psalm 78 when He spoke in parables. Psalm 78 tells us that the Messiah would teach with parables. Matthew recognized that and pointed it out for us.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 21:16 that Psalm 8 is about the children that sang praise to Jesus in the temple that the Pharisees were angry with. The Pharisees are angry that the children are praising Jesus and Jesus says “have you never read,” then he quotes from Psalm 8, saying, “out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise.”
In Matthew 21:42, after Jesus tells the parable of the tenants which is about Israel’s rejection of Him, quotes from Psalm 118 saying Psalm 118 is about your rejection of me.
In Matthew 22 the Pharisees are questioning whose son the Christ is. They say that the Christ is the Son of David. Then Jesus says, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying “the Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” So there Jesus quotes from Psalm 110 saying David wrote about Himself. And by the way, Psalm 110 is the most quoted Old Testament verse quoted in the New Testament.
On the cross, Jesus quotes from Psalm 22, “My God My God why have you forsaken me?” Not simply is Jesus quoting it, He is crying it out, actually praying it to the Father. He is using it in His own devotional life to sustain Him. Psalm 22 was sufficient to sustain Christ suffering on the cross. Indeed the whole Psalm contains the scene of the crucifixion, even speaking of the soldiers gambling for his clothes. Speaking of Psalm 22, the other thing we discover about the Psalms is that they show us more of the thought life, emotional life, devotional life, and prayer life of Jesus than the gospel accounts do. The Psalms pull back the curtain to the contents of Jesus’ prayers and praise and we see His suffering and righteousness more clearly than anywhere else.
Psalm 69 is also about the crucifixion of Christ as it is referenced in John 19, saying that it fulfilled the Scripture when they gave Jesus sour wine to drink on the cross.
John 2 also references Psalm 69 pertaining to Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, saying “zeal for your house will consume me.”
Psalm 69 is also about Judas who betrayed Jesus as Peter quotes from it in Acts 1, saying “the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David.” Peter also quotes from Psalm 109 in this same context.
In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, Peter is speaking about the resurrection of Christ, and says “For David says concerning Him [that is Christ],” and then he quotes directly from Psalm16. Then Peter continues and says, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” David foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ. That is what Psalm 16 is about. Peter also quotes from Psalm 110:1 in the same sermon.
In Acts 4, the believers are gathered together and the quote from Psalm 2 and say that it was about how Herod and Pilate and the people conspired together to put Christ to death, and they say that Psalm 2 was spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of their father David.
In Acts 13 Paul stands up in the synagogue and says that Psalm 2 was also about the resurrection of Christ when it says “you are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Continuing to prove the resurrection Paul quotes then from Psalm 16. Church, this is incredibly important. The apostles used the Psalms to prove the resurrection of Christ.
In Romans 15 Paul says that Psalm 117 is about the Gentiles coming to and praising Christ. Paul also uses the Psalms many times throughout Romans to prove many doctrines.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul quotes from Psalm 110 to talk about the resurrection and the reign of Christ, and the victory of Christ.
To prove the superiority of Christ over the angels the writer of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 2,Psalm 8, Psalm 104, Psalm 45, Psalm 102, and Psalm 110 with allusions to Psalm 89 and 97.
Speaking of Christ as the founder of Salvation, the Hebrew writer quotes Psalm 22 and Psalm 18.
In proving Jesus is greater than Moses, the Hebrew writer quotes from Psalm 95.
In speaking of Chris as the greater high priest Hebrews again quotes from Psalm 2, and Psalm 110. Psalm 110 is quoted multiple other times speaking of Christ in Hebrews.
In speaking of Christ being the once for all sacrifice, Hebrews quotes from Psalm 40.
The New Testament, including Paul in Corinthians, the Hebrew writer, and Peter and others, use the Psalms to instruct Christian living in the New Covenant, such as when Peter quotes Psalm 34 in 1 Peter 3. So not only are the Psalms about Christ, or useful for doctrinal instruction, but they are also instructive for New Covenant Christian living.
The Psalms contain the name of Christ
But what about singing the name of Jesus? The Psalms don’t contain the name of Jesus, write? Well no, the name spelled J-E-S-U-S is not in the Psalms, but the name of Jesus is everywhere in the Psalms. The Hebrew word for “salvation” is “yeshua.” “Yeshua” transliterated into Greek is “Jesus.” We sing about Salvation all the time in the Psalms. In so doing, we’re singing about Christ! Yeshua or Jesus, can also be transliterated to terms such as “deliverance,” “safety,” “victory,” “rescue,” or “welfare.” Thus we are singing the name of Christ all throughout the Psalms.
Furthermore the name Yeshua, or Joshua, or Jesus, means “Yahweh is Salvation.” Which we see all over the Psalms as “The LORD is my salvation.” We are saying “Jesus is my salvation!” This is why it says in Matthew 1:21 that Mary shall bring forth a son and you shall call His name “Jesus” for He will save His people from their sins.
Furthermore, in the Bible the Covenant name of God, Yahweh, is used to refer to all three persons of the trinity at various times. In Jude it says that Jesus saved a people out of Egypt, referring to the Exodus. But if you go read about the Exodus in the book of Exodus, it doesn’t say the word “Jesus,” it says LORD or Yahweh. Jesus is Yahweh.
Consider also that “Christ” is of course not Jesus’ last name, but the Greek term for the Messiah. Messiah literally meaning anointed one. You will see in various Psalms it speaking of God’s anointed. That is Christ.
Consider also what Philippians 2 tells us. It tells us that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and what is that name of Jesus? It is that every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is “Lord.” Lord.
Consider also that Jesus is “The Holy One” in the Psalms, He is the righteous man, He is our Prophet, Priest, and King, which we see in the Psalms. He is also our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, our Rock, our Counselor, our Teacher, our Judge, our Redeemer, our Strength, our Light, and our Glory, all spoken of in the Psalms.
If we are not happy with the names of Jesus that God has given us to sing, then we need to confess our sins. God has given us the name of Christ to sing and many different ways to sing it. God has given us these great New Testament realities to sing of, and He has given them to us, contained within the vessel of the Psalter. He has given us these things to sing, contained in the language of Israel. Whether we like it or not, this is how God chose to send us His Son. God chose to give Christ to the world through the vessel of Israel. Singing about Christ in this way, singing about other terms with greater New Testament fulfillment like the temple, tabernacle, Zion, Jerusalem, and all sorts of names and places, is the way that God has seen fit as good and wise and gracious to give us Christ. How can those who have received such mercy not be happy with how the mercy has been given to us?
We were lost and dead in our sins, most of our ancient ancestors were pagan worshippers worshipping false demon gods without hope in the world. But all that while God was preserving the line of Israel, the seed of the woman, the line of David, to bring about the Messiah who would be not just the Savior of Israelites, but also of the Gentiles, of the nations, of the heathens, of all the ends of the earth, and that includes you and I. God preserved His promises, prophets, law, Word, and songs all through the Israelite people, who gave birth to Christ to be the Savior of the World. Ironically the Jews have rejected Christ and Gentile Christians today understand their Scriptures more than they do, which we ought to handle with great humility. But that is the means and the vessel through which God has given us His Son, our only proper response is to give God thanks, to sing with grace in our hearts, and humbly learn more and more about How God brought His Son to us.
Not only do we sing about Christ, but we sing with Christ.
One final note here, Church. The New Testament applies Psalm 22:22 to Christ. Psalm 22:22 says this, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Church, Jesus Christ not only prayed and sang the Psalm during His earthly ministry, but Jesus Christ continues to sing the Psalms today in His Church. As the Church sings the Psalter, it is the voice of Christ singing the Psalms, as the voice of His body lifts up His praises. So not only are we singing about Christ, but we are also singing with Christ. He is singing with us.