There are lots of reasons to sing. Our culture has become so degenerate that there are very few places where people sing together anymore. I've heard it said that the only time men sing today is if they're trying to impress a girl or if they're drunk at a Karaoke bar.
It's been like that before. Paul says in Ephesians 5, "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God."
Paul's culture moved towards Christianity. Ours is moving away from it. We see Christian churches emulating the music of a culture which knows hardly anything of singing together. But the reason we Christians sing what we sing in Church is twofold, and the song of the Christmas angels teaches us this. "Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men." What gives God glory gives sinners peace." We sing to God, and we sing for our neighbor. Now we ourselves obviously benefit from our singing, but this doesn't mean that we sing for ourselves primarily. It is a joy to praise God and serve our neighbor.
The praise of God is a sacrifice (Hebrews 13:15). The sacrifices God commanded in the Old Testament never benefited God. They benefited people. The priests would get food from the sacrifice, friends would eat of the sacrifice, and the faithful were taught about the coming Christ from the sacrifice.
Our sacrifices of praise teach our neighbor. This is how Paul views singing. He says in Colossians 3 words similar to what he says in Ephesians 5, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
We teach when we sing! Our sacrifices are full of doctrine, instruction, teaching! Our singing isn't an elated experience to conjure up out of people. Our songs aren't sung to evince some euphoric ecstasy from those who hear them. Our hymns are teaching and they are a sacrifice given to God, for our neighbor. They are an act of love. God desires mercy, not sacrifice, and so he doesn't need to hear our praises. He loves to hear our praises when they benefit our neighbor, and when we, as Christ's holy people, are comforted and drawn closer together.
I remember once walking to the communion rail at St. John Lutheran Church in Topeka, KS. I was fretting over some individual sin and getting really confused about it as I approached the altar. But as I was standing in line I heard the congregation sing with clarity and beauty these stanzas from Paul Gerhardt's wonderful baptism hymn,
What a depressing verse! But it was an admonishment I needed. I needed to know that I was a sinner by nature, and that everybody else was here for the same reason as I was. It wasn't about me trying to get rid of one individual sin. It was about me being a sinner in need of a Savior of sinners. Then I remembered the words of the catechism, "He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, 'Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.'" And I went and received the sacrament worthily, believing that it was for me.
Never underestimate the power of song. We don't despair of God's blessings. Our culture despises children, but does that stop us from thanking God for them? So even though our culture despises the blessings of hymnody God gave to his church, God doesn't. He knows how precious it is. He gave it to help us, and it does. God grant that our sacrifices might be pleasing to God through faith working in love for our neighbor.
I like to encourage hymn-writing, and I enjoy it myself. If you're interested, here is a link to my most recent one: http://revivelutheranhymns.blogspot.com/2012/07/dont-worry-be-happy-trinity-5-luke-51.html
Associate Editor's Note: With this posting we welcome Pastor Mark Preus to the regular crew of contributors here at BJS. Pastor Preus is the son of Pastor Rolf Preus and Dort Preus and also the brother of Andrew who all write here as well. Pastor Preus will be writing in a category of "Steadfast in Song" and will contribute to our articles on worship, hymnody and all things liturgical. Here is some more about Pastor Mark Preus:
Mark Preus is pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Wylie, TX. He is a 2008 graduate of CTS in Ft. Wayne. He and his wife Becky have five children with another on the way. He learned to love hymns singing them with his mom and dad around the dinner table and before going to bed. He has been writing and translating hymns since his college days at University Lutheran Chapel at the University of MN. He sporadically maintains a blog called Lutheran Hymn Revival.