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In previous articles we have seen that we teach the church as we sing, we lead the church as we sing, and we care for the church as we sing. In this final part, we consider how we can protect the church with our songs as well as set an example for the church as we sing.
And we can protect the flock from the errors of the world through singing in three ways. We protect the church from the errors of the world by singing songs with rich theological Christ-exalting truth. If the songs we sing are shallow, people are going to believe what the world is telling them. Because the world is shallow in reality, and the world is giving them lots of reasons why they should pursue what's in the world. The world has good arguments for being of the world, but the truth is that we have better arguments for being not of the world. And we have to sing about it.
Secondly, we protect the church from the vices of the world and the sins of the world by reminding them that God is holy. God is righteous, He is pure, and He is just. He visits his wrath on those who are opposed to him and don't find refuge in Christ. When you consider that the Psalms were often sung in groups where there were unbelieving Jews who didn't really believe God, those songs about God's wrath were meant to convict them. And if we never sing about God's wrath, sin, or judgement, we are not serving our people with the songs we're singing. Not that every song has to have that in it, but we need to sing the songs that let people know God is a holy God. And we should be consumed by His Holiness, we should be extinguished, we should be dead. The fact that we can gather and approach God and not be struck dead should amaze us every time we gather.
And thirdly, we protect our churches from the pleasures of the world by doing all we can to present Christ as dazzling and infinitely superior to worldly choices. So that's where our music does matter. The goal isn't to do music that sounds as horrible as we can make it. (I wouldn't use the situation that I experienced a number of years ago in India, where the synthesiser really wasn't having anything to do with the singing.) No, I want the music to be beautiful, it should be appealing. But the lyrics should be more beautiful and appealing. The lyrics should be telling people that Christ is satisfying. We're not just gathering to say, “Do better!” We're gathering to remind ourselves that Jesus is a great Saviour, he's a great king, he's a great artist, and you will never be satisfied outside of him. 1 Peter says that we rejoice in him with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory. Why is that? Well, he has forgiven all our sins and he really does satisfy.
Along with shepherding the church through choosing the songs, we can be examples for the flock through singing. That just means when we sing, we are showing the church, the rest of the church how to engage with the words that we are singing. Psalm 108 begins, “My heart is steadfast, oh, God, I will sing and make melody with all my being.” So if you're a pastor who only gets energised and active when you're preaching, but your singing is dull, and you just don't look engaged at all, you are teaching your church. You're also teaching your church by how you live your lives. You might be a great singer who is very passionate when you sing, but you might be living in ways that are dishonest, deceitful, deceptive, impure, and that bring dishonour to the Lord. So we have the opportunity to be an example to our flock when we're singing and when we're not singing.
Now, if we pursue singing in the manner that I've just described. If we use our singing to teach and to lead and to care for and to protect, and be an example to our flocks, it will have an effect. Listen to what Paul promises in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” That's what's meant to happen when we gather to behold the glory of the Lord as we sing. Evidence of people being pastored through song are going to include things like humility–people will be humbled by the fact that God saved them, holiness–they will want to avoid sin because they've just been singing about how holy and good and righteous God is. They will be more unified because they will recognize that it is not our musical preferences that join us together. It’s the fact that Jesus has saved us and made us one new man and our people will be filled with gratefulness. We will be amazed every time we sing. Just like the Psalms identify most often thankfulness with singing. We are to sing for joy. There are a lot of emotions that singing can express, but the predominant one is joy and gratefulness. So, Colossians 3 says, “We are singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God”. Why are we thankful? Because we should have been crushed by God as a result of the sins we have committed. But instead, he crushed his son, who is now risen from the dead and is reigning in glory until he returns and we get to be a part of that. Don’t you think that’s something to be grateful for?
This article is an excerpt of a transcript of a talk by Bob Kauflin called “Pastoring Through Song,” which he gave in June 2022. You can watch the whole talk here.