The New Testament clearly makes singing part of our worship. Let’s review the basics.
Singing, not making music, is what God commands. Jesus and the apostles sang (Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:35). They instructed us to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15, 26; James 5:13). Instrumental music was prominent in the Old Testament worship system, but it is conspicuously absent in the New Testament.
Why are we to sing? Certainly not for entertainment! That is opposite the purpose of worship. The Bible indicates four purposes of singing: 1) to praise God (Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9); 2) to teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16); 3) to give thanks (Ephesians 5:18-20); 4) to express joy (James 5:13).
Any of us, no matter our musical ability (or lack of it!), can sing and accomplish these purposes. We can all “make melody in our hearts” (Ephesians 5:19). On the other hand, I achieve none of these purposes by just sitting and listening to others. Designated singers, chosen because of their musical talent, is not the Bible pattern. The “one another” instruction in these passages is addressed to all of us. It requires all of us to actively participate.
Singing “to God” (Colossians 3:16) calls for humility and reverence, characteristic of all worship.
Singing “with the spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:15) or “with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19) emphasizes the place of all acceptable worship. It requires focus, not just going through the motions. It requires hearts (and lives) that are attuned to the sentiments of the song. You cannot honestly sing Jesus Is All the World To Me if He isn’t!
Singing “with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15) may point to understanding the words we are singing, which in some cases may take a little work. In context, however, it more likely refers to singing in a way that others can understand me. Sing out and sing clearly. Rounds or other songs in which the various parts are all singing different words at the same time are not conducive to singing “with the understanding.”
The New Testament says “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It may be difficult to precisely differentiate these three, yet clearly the focus is spiritual. Patriotic songs, happy birthday wishes, and similar selections do not belong in worship assemblies.
“Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises” (James 5:13b).