Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Ephesians 5:18b-19 my emphasis)

Here Paul identifies two purposes, two things that are happening spiritually, in the act of singing. In the second half of this verse Paul describes the part of it that we acknowledge and do as Contemporary Praise and Worshipers: We sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts. When we throw the word "worship" around in our churches and conversations, this is what we mean. We are worshiping the Lord by singing to Him. This is good, especially on an individual level, but it is incomplete. The other component to the act of singing, or the other thing that is happening when we sing, is what Paul mentions in the first part of the verse. We address one another in song. What in the world does that mean, and what does that look like?

In one sense, we subconsciously "address" one another when we sing in church. It's sort of an automatic thing that when we all lift up one voice we are encouraged at the sound and feeling it invokes. I wonder, though, if that is what Paul means by his exhortation for us to "address" one another. Perhaps he means for us to be more intentional about "addressing" one another. It seems like it would be an uncomfortable thing for us to turn to one another, look each other in the eye and sing. In our current church settings, this might be too weird to do. It would almost be like we were living in a musical theater world, where we sing our thoughts to one another instead of speaking them.

I would submit that "addressing one another" in the biblical sense actually brings our singing to a whole new level of purpose, meaning, and reality. It brings our singing beyond individual edification and expression. Singing songs to one another unifies us as we sing. It is a form of communion. Think about it, singing is sort of an other-worldly thing to do. Normal conversation usually consists of one person talking while another person, or group, listens. And then a back and forth exchange. I suppose this could be done in the form of song, such as in musical theater, but that's not realistic. I can think of couple scenarios that are comparable to singing songs together in church, both involve sporting events.

The first is when we all rise, remove our caps, and sing "The Star Spangled Banner" together. There is a unification of voice and heart (if engaged) as we sing our allegiance to our country. The moment is set apart from everyday speech and communication. We sort of escape from normal life to a different world, at least for a moment. And there's more to it than just singing it to the flag, or about the flag, that we're looking at. We're standing together, hearing each other, united by a common purpose and freedom. If we're not engaged, sometimes simply hearing everyone around us engages us. Does anyone else have an emotional experience during this event?

The other scenario that is similar to singing in church is being a part of the crowd at a sports event, cheering when something good happens. We approve of the thing we just watched, jump to our feet, hoot and holler, and turn to one another with high fives and chest bumps.

How much greater is the act of singing in church! Not only do we see and hear the re-presentation of the Gospel, we participate in it by the Spirit, receiving the Word in our hearts, consuming the body and blood of Christ into our souls, approving of this infinitely greater event than any other, and responding with shouts of joy and songs of praise, encouraging one another with these songs, looking each other in the eyes as we sing, uplifting one another with our unified voices. Yet in so many churches we have such a hard time physically celebrating this event? Why aren't we giving each other high fives celebrating our forgiveness. Are we not more excited that we have access to God through Christ than we are that our favorite team just scored a touchdown? Are we too dignified with our Sunday clothes and presuppositions to be as excited about the Gospel?

Why have we neglected this part of singing? Clearly it's biblical. I would submit that in the name of "worship" we have overspiritualized the act of singing. It doesn't count unless it transcends normal life stuff. It's between me and God. For whatever reason, whether we've been culturally conditioned this way or whatever, we don't think we are "worshiping" unless we are singing to the Lord. Paul seems to say otherwise. And so does Isaiah:

Above him [the Lord] stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" (Isaiah 6:2-3 my emphasis).

Not only are the angels singing to the Lord, saying, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power" (Rev. 4:11), but the angels are singing about the Lord to each other, as we see in Isaiah. And heaven comes down when we gather to celebrate the Word and Sacrament. We join with the angels, singing both to one another and to the Lord. We address one another in song in order to remind each other of God's holiness, of His worth. This is a more complete view of why we sing in church. There is so much more joy when we use our songs to remind one another of the Gospel, when we exhort and encourage one another with our unified voices.

Not to mention, God's presence is so much more tangible and evident in the faces of His unified people, the Church, who are singing and exulting in the Gospel, than it is in the disjointed, existential experience of lonesome individuals, singing in the "presence of the Lord," with potentially different ideas of who God is, how is is acting, and what His "presence" is like. (I am speaking of those who seek God's revelation primarily in worship moments rather than in His Word.) Who knows whether these people are experiencing the true and living God or not? My assurance of effectiveness as a worship leader comes in knowing that I am not ultimately responsible for ensuring that each individual is singing and worshiping correctly and truly. My assurance rests in the fact that the Gospel is faithfully preached and re-enacted every week in our church, giving us a solid rock to stand upon as we lead and remind and encourage one another of its truth through teaching, fellowship, communion, prayer, and singing.

I guess my encouragement and challenge to us all is to think about these things and to take into account this uncomfortable part of Scripture. Have we neglected "addressing one another" in our singing?

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