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Singing: Response to Who God Is and What He Has Done

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series

"Sing to the Lord a New Song"

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We are studying Psalm 96 in an attempt to answer the question, Why sing? Last week we saw that the unique power of singing is that it helps us to express affections of the heart in ways that would not be possible if we didn’t have song. Song gives us a language for the expression of our hearts like nothing else.

But I want you to also notice that these expressions of our hearts through singing do not exist in a vacuum, nor are they for their own sake. Rather, singing to the Lord is a response—a response to who God is and what he has done.

We can see this just in the structure of Psalm 96. There is a call to express through singing, and then reasons for those expressions, a call to sing, followed by reasons for singing, call to sing, reasons for singing.

In fact, in two of the three stanzas, this is clearly seen with another grouping of three, similar to the grouping of three we saw last week. Look at verse 4: After the threefold call to sing and the threefold development of what that means, we find “For great is the Lord … [verse 5] for all the gods of the peoples are worthless…” and then implied also in verse 6, “for splendor and majesty are before him …” Three reasons we sing.

Look at verse 13; same thing. After the threefold call for the earth, the sea, and the field to sing, we find “for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth, [and again implied] for he will judge the world.”

And although we do not find this grouping of “for” in the second stanza (vv. 7-9), that stanza, too, is filled with reasons for the singing.

This is important to recognize, because this is a central mark of a good hymn. A good hymn is not simply an expression of emotion. It is not even simply expression of emotion directed toward God. Nor is a good hymn simply a recitation of facts about God. It is not simply a collection of correct theological statements.

A good hymn contains both expressions of appropriate affections directed toward the Lord and theological reasons for those expressions. A song that contains only descriptions of emotion can easily devolve into sentimentalism or emotionalism, and a song that contains only statements of theological facts defeats the whole purpose of singing and leads to dry intellectualism.

A good hymn avoids both extremes by expressing both the heart’s affection toward God and the reasons for those affections, as modeled in Psalm 96.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.