What We Mean…When We Sing

INTRODUCTION: Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16.
1) These verses were written instructing us to “Teach and admonish one another” as we “sing with thankfulness” and “grace” in our hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16 NASV).
2) Therefore, in this study I want us to notice three main points about singing:
1. Our assemblies are for “exhorting one another” as we worship God (Heb. 10:24-25).
2. One way we do that is by singing. We are encouraged to focus on Christ and His will for our lives when we sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
3. Everything we do in worship or service to God must be “in the name (power) of the Lord Jesus Christ” and thus, all we do is done “through Him.” (Col. 3:16).
4. Christianity is truly a Christ centered religion. For example:
(a) When I believe, I trust in HIM (Eph. 1:13).
(b) When I repent, I turn to HIM (Acts 20:31).
(c) When I confess, I tell of my faith in HIM (Rom. 10:9-10).
(d) When I am baptized, I demonstrate my trust in HIM (Rom. 6:3-6).
(e) When I observe the Lord’s Supper, I remember HIM (I Cor. 11:23-26).
(f) When I give, I give to HIM (Mal. 3:10).
(g) When I pray, I pray through HIM (Jn. 14:13-14).
(h) When I preach, I preach about HIM (I Cor. 1:23).
(i) And when I sing, I sing to and because of HIM (Col. 3:16-17).
5. Some of our songs were written specifically to magnify God and His goodness. Others were written primarily to edify one another. All written to glorifyGod in one way or another.
6. Remember, in our singing, we are teaching and admonishing one another and expressing our gratitude to God through the power of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:16).
7.  But all singing is not necessarily “making melody in our hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). In order to sing “to the Lord” we must concentrate on what we are doing.
8. And while none of us concentrate at all times as we should, or even as we would like to, that does need to be our goal, our aim, and our purpose.
1. I assume that we all believe that the songs we sing in worship or in our worship assemblies need to be scriptural – i.e. in harmony with the Bible.
2. I know that there are songs that would not be appropriate to sing as worship and edification. For example, “Dixie,” or Ole McDonald Had a Farm,” or “One Eyed, One Horned, Flying Purple People Eater” would not be songs to sing as worship or edification.
3. Even when it comes to religious songs we recognize that any congregation or individual has the right to choose not to sing any song that they decide they don’t want to sing. If they want to mark up the song books, tear the pages out, or even throw certain songs books away, that is fine. Personally, I only know of a very, very, very few (hardly enough to mention) who actually have a problem with this kind of thing, but I am sure that many have wondered about it at some point. This is one of the reasons for this study.
4. One thing we must all realize is that there must be lots of liberty, or freedom of expression, in the songs we sing.  Why? It is because there is symbolism and poetic phrases and exaggerated expressions in our songs that are not to be understood literally or in an absolute sense.
5. Our songs, like the Bible, have numerous phrases and statements that were never meant to be taken literally.
6. The Bible has numerous phrases. For example:
(a) Land flowing with milk and honey (Num. 13:27).
(b) Pluck out your eye or cut off your hand (Matt. 5:29-30).
(c) Beasts, birds, trees, and sea creatures praising God (Ps. 148).
(d) Entering your closet and shutting the door to pray (Matt. 6:6, KJV).
(e) Herod being a fox (Lk. 13:32).
(f) Jerusalem, all Judea and the entire region around the Jordan going out to John and being baptized (Matt. 3:5-6).
(g) Christians sitting under vines and fig trees (Micah 4:4).
(h) Christ as a vine and Christians as branches (Jn. 15:1-6).
(i) Serpents and brood of vipers (Matt. 23:33).
7. Our songs are the same. There are poetic and symbolic expressions that were never intended to be taken literally, or in an absolute sense.
8. For example: Sometimes we sing “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses and the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son  of God discloses. And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
9. When I sing that song I do not mean it literally, because:
(a)  I don’t have a rose garden.
(b)  I have never been in one alone, especially early in the morning while the dew is still on the roses.
(c)  I have never heard the voice of God audibly or out loud at anytime.
(d) And God has never manifested Himself to me in any visible form to walk with me anywhere.
10. But I do have the personal relationship with Him that is expressed in the song. I have walked with Him by faith, and talked with him, and thought about what He has said to me in His word.
11. In my mind, the song simply expresses in figurative or symbolic words, the intimate personal relationship I have with God. And this relationship is just as real as ifHe were to manifest Himself in some visible form and talk with me directly in an audible voice.
12. I do hear His voice in the “garden of my mind” as He speaks to Me in His word, in creation, in nature, and through Christ (Ps. 19; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 2:3).
13. I even sing about that too.  In the song “God Still Lives” the chorus says, “I hear His voice  ten thousand tongues.  The rock and hills, the birds that sing.  The rippling brook all nature tellsthat God still lives and all is well!
14. Think also about some of the other songs we sing that we do not necessarily mean literally.
(a) “I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice.
(b) “He whisperssweet peace to me.”
(c) “Kneelat the cross” (none of us have seen the literal cross much less kneeled at it).
(d) “Hand in hand with Jesus” or “Blessed Jesus, hold my and or “Take my hand precious Lord” all express our intimate and personal relationship with Jesus but none of us literally “hold hands” with Jesus.
(e) “Lord we come before Thee now at Thy feet we humbly bow.” (I’ve never seen His literal feet).
(f) “The Great Physician” has “He speaks the drooping heart to cheer, O hear the voiceof Jesus.”
(g) The “Ole Rugged Cross” has “I will cling to the old rugged Cross,” but there is no physical cross to cling to. And I personally don’t have any literal “trophies” to lay down.
15. There are numerous other songs we sing that have exaggerations and are not meant literally or in an absolute sense.  For example:
(a) “Each step I take” has a line that says “and with each breath I whisper I adore thee.”  But I don’t really whisper that with each breath and I don’t know anybody who does.
(b) “A Beautiful Life” has “each day I’ll do a golden deed by helping those who are in need.”  Yet, I don’t help someone in need each day.  Another phrase in that song says “and so I’ll do the best I can,” but I don’t believe that any of us do the best we can.
(c) “He’s my King” has “all day long of Jesus I am singing.” But I have never literally sung about Jesus all day long. And I don’t really think I have literal “heart-bells” that He keeps ringing.
(d) “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has “Here I raise my Ebenezer,” but I don’t have a literal Ebenezer. And some of us don’t even know what an Ebenezer is!
(e) “The New Song” has the statement “the greatest joy that I have ever known is praising Him in song.” But that is surely an exaggeration for emphasis. The greatest joy for most of us is when we were born again – not in singing songs.
(f) The song “Where Could I Go But To The Lord,” in the second stanza, has the words “Neighbors are kind, I love them even one. We get along in sweet accord…” Give me a break!!
1. The practice of symbolic, figurative, and exaggerated language to convey thoughts and ideas is not confined to the Bible, or to our songs.
2. We practice these methods of communication constantly. We use numerous phrases that we never mean literally or actually–some of which are “clichés.”  For example:
(a) “Jump in the shower.” What exactly does that mean? Are we going to go to the door of the shower and stop and “jump in?” Are does it mean that we are going to get in the shower and “jump up and down”? Of course, we all know that it means “We are going to take a shower.”
(b) “Rub elbows with the big dogs.” Now I have seen people do some strange things with littledogs.  I have seen them hug little dogs. I have seen them kiss little dogs. I have even seen them “let little dogs lick all over their faces.” (NOTE: If I was going to do that, I’d make sure that the little dog knew how to gargle. He would need some Listerine, Scope, or some other kind of strong mouthwash if he is going to lick me in the face.) But I have never in my “39 years” saw anyone “rub elbows with a big dog.” Have you?  Have you ever heard anyone say to a big dog, “Here Fido let’s rub elbows!” Of course, we all know that the phrase simply means “associate with famous or important people.
(c) “Shoot the bull.”  I have shot a lot of animals in my time. I have shot birds.  I have shot rabbits.  I have shot squirrels. And I’ve wanted to shoot some little dogs that wanted to lick me in the face. But I have never shot a bull. Of course, “shoot the bull” means “talk to some-one about unimportant subjects” and I have done that a lot of times.
3. And, of course, there are many, many others.  Here are a few:
(a) “Born with a silver spoon in his mouth”– usually means born into a wealthy family.
(b) “Behind the eight ball” – means being in a difficult situation.
(c) “All in the same boat” – means in the same circumstances.
(d) “Having his back to the wall” – means in a desperate position.
(e) “Barking up the wrong tree” – means to misdirect ones argument or efforts.
(f) Beating around the bush – means to approach indirectly.
(g)  Hunky Dory—means all right, safe, cozy.
(h) “Beat a dead horse” – means belabor an issue that is no longer of interest.
(i) “Bright eyed and bushy tailed” means alert and ready for action.
(j)  “Eat crow” – means to acknowledge a mistake.
(k) “Burning the candle at both ends” – means overworked.
(l)  “Can’t hit the broad side of a barn” – means aim is notoriously bad.
(m) “On cloud nine” – means extremely happy.
(n) “Too old to cut the mustard” – means too old to do something well.
(o) “One foot in the grave” – means seriously ill.
(p) “Raining cats and dogs” – means raining heavily or pouring down.
(q) “Pull my leg”– means fool or tease someone.
(r) “Pick his brain” – means get ideas from someone.
(s) “Keep the ball rolling” – means sustain an action.
(t) “Pain in the neck” – means a severe bother or annoyance.
(u) “Foot in the mouth” – means to say something inappropriate.
(v) “Flip your lid”– means to loose control.
(w) “Pay through the nose” – means to pay an extremely high price.
(x) “Out of the frying pan into the fire” – means moving from one difficult situation to another.
(y )“Egg on my face” – means embarrassed.
(z) “Chip off the old block” – means a son who is like his dad.
4. Thus, the practices of using clichés, figurative words, symbolic phrases, and exaggerated statements are a common practice in communication.
5. Therefore, it is scriptural and appropriate to use this common practice in our songs of worship, edification, and praise. Of course, if you don’t like what I’ve said in this article then it is probably because you have “itching ears” and I have stepped on your toes.” But on this subject I believe in calling“a spade a spade,” even if I don’t come out “smelling like a rose.” And you can “bet your boots on that!”
CONCLUSION:  The Bible makes it very clear that singing is very important in worship whether privately as individuals or collectively when we come together in our assemblies or at other times. God is a lover of music as is clearly revealed in the Old Testament as well as the New.  Singing is an expression of our gratitude and appreciation for all God has done, is doing, and will do for us. It is also an excellent way to encourage and edify one another. Hopefully, being reminded of the purpose, considering these points, and thinking about thepractice of symbolism in our communication will help us when we sing.  In other words, “What we mean when we sing is not always literally what we say but it does express what we mean!” Thank God for Jesus! (2 Cor. 9:15).
Wayne Dunaway                                 

3 thoughts on “What We Mean…When We Sing

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