Why do Christians sing? It’s not a question we consider frequently enough. My five-year-old scrunched up his face as if I’d asked him the most preposterous question imaginable and retorted, “Because we do, Mom!” I laughed, but Gabe was onto something beyond what he could express. Benjamin, who is seven, barely looked up from his Legos and nonchalantly stated, “It’s good for us to praise God, so we should sing.” Out of the mouth of babes; little minds can often handle big ideas more simply than adults.
So why should Christians sing? What’s the point? Is it even necessary? The first, obvious answer is because the Bible commands us to. “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.” (Col. 3:16, ESV) And again, in Ephesians, Paul directs the congregation to “…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…” (Eph. 5:18b–20)
But as any parent can tell you, the “because I said so” approach never really spurs our children onto great and glorious acts of obedience. The Lord also knows this about his children, and he is such a good and patient Father to us. He knows our obedience is fickle and our hearts are brittle and resentful, so instead of bleak and sterile marching orders, he provides us with a vast many reasons to sing. God doesn’t just command our affections, he spurs us onto obedience through the work of the Holy Spirit to stir our fallen affections towards him. Not only does he help us to obey his statutes, but he enables us to delight in our obedience. If that doesn’t make you want to sing, I don’t know what will!
Secondly, Christians should sing because God’s people have always responded with songs of praise whenever there has been a significant salvific event in the history of God’s people. God saves, and his people rejoice in thankfulness and adoration through song. This is a biblical-theological pattern we see all throughout scripture. The Lord delivers the Israelites from the Egyptians, and Moses, along with the whole nation of Israel, sings in response (Exodus 15). Deborah and Barak rejoice and sing after the defeat of Sisera (Judges 5). Hannah sings with thankfulness for the gift of Samuel (I Samuel 2), David breaks into song after the Lord delivers him from Saul (II Samuel 22), Mary sings with sweet joy after Gabriel’s tidings (Luke 1:46-55), and the whole heavenly host trumpets into mighty song after the message of the birth of Christ is proclaimed to the shepherds (Luke 2:13-14). How much more should God’s people rejoice in song because of our salvation through Jesus! No other deliverance in the history of God’s people compares to Jesus’s dying work on the cross, and so the church has reason to sing like never before. “Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!” Samuel Bolton wisely observed, “The lack of mercy sends us to prayer; the enjoyment of mercy sends us to praises.” What great mercy we have received; revel in song!
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his
courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Ps. 100:1–5)
Thirdly, notice the command Paul gives us in the prequal to his instruction to sing: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Music is a wonderful pneumonic device; we all know that words put to a simple and singable tune are easy to recall. Our songs should be full to bursting with scripture. When I glance through my hymnal, I see verses that are paraphrases of scripture, summaries of biblical doctrines, and poetic phrasings of God’s promises. Setting these to beautiful and accessible tunes helps us to recall them with ease. For example, I remember one of many, many nights pacing up and down the hallway with my baby girl who would not sleep. Physically and mentally exhausted, I started singing a soft lullaby to soothe Ellie. The only words that would come to my weary mind were, “The Lord is good, his praise proclaim; since it is pleasant, praise his name.” I sang this over and over again until she mercifully drifted off to sleep, and as I laid her in her crib, I thought, The Lord is good, and it is pleasant to praise his name, even at 3a.m. Those lyrics which were cemented in my head enabled me to worship, to give thanks, to rest in my Savior during an otherwise stressful moment when I would not have been inclined to do anything other than curl up in a ball and cry. Nathaniel Holmes once beautifully remarked, “Singing is making, in a special manner, man's tongue to be God's glory.”
Finally, think back to what both of those verses in Colossians and Ephesians have in common: thankfulness! And complete and utter thankfulness is always the mood we’re in on Sunday mornings, right? Ha! If you’re at all like me, you’ve got a million things rushing through your brain: let the dog out, put up the trash can, the baby blew out her diaper, Dad’s shirt isn’t ironed, grab the casserole for church lunch, child needs to pee again, turn off the coffee pot, child just busted his brother’s lip, clean blood off the carpet, and where did the toddler hide my other shoe? By the time I get to church I’m somewhere between frazzled and murderous. The sheer act of singing, even before we consider lyrics, is a physical exercise which radically alters the state of our minds. Some days singing comes easily, and some days I have to will myself to join the congregation’s voices, but there is something inherent in the act of raising our voices in song which stills our minds and begs us to consider greater things than ourselves. Listen to St. Augustine’s recollections of congregational singing:
During those days I found an insatiable and amazing delight in considering the profundity of your purpose for the salvation of the human race. How I wept during your hymns and songs! I was deeply moved by the music of the sweet chants of your Church. The sounds flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart. This caused the feelings of devotion to overflow. Tears ran, and it was good for me to have that experience.
Part of teaching and admonishing each other in song is reminding each other of the great truths we have in Christ. Our Heavenly Father knows that our hearts are often more like that of stone than of flesh, and his commands to us to sing are for our eternal good. The music of the saints sustains our minds with truth, our hearts with thankfulness, our strength with that of Christ’s, and our souls with everlasting treasures. Jonathan Edwards noticed this phenomenon as well:
And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and
frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.
So sing. Raise a joyful noise to your Creator. Make melody with one another. Let the words of life dwell in you richly. Do not neglect such a great salvation, but rejoice! And rejoice with your brothers and sisters so that all the church is spurred on to extraordinary thankfulness. Don’t sing your heart out, sing your heart full.
This is an excerpt from the new Core Guide, “10 Songs to Sing as a Family.” See the full Core Guide and download a PDF here.
 All Scripture quotations are in the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.
 Charles Wesley, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” Trinity Hymnal (Rev. Ed.), 1990.
 Samuel Bolton, The Wonderful Workings of God for His Church and People, (Crossville, TN: Puritan Publications, 2022), 13.
 “Exalt The Lord, His Praise Proclaim,” paraphrase of Psalm 135, Trinity Hymnal (Rev. Ed.), 1990.
 Nathaniel Holmes, Gospel Music or the Singing of David’s Psalms, (Crossville, TN: Puritan Publications, 2012), 27.
 Saint Augustine, Confessions, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 164.
 Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, (Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada: Devoted Publishing, 2019), 23.