Music in the New Testament Church


12. The singing of spiritual songs

Spiritual songs are defined as songs of praise that are unpremeditated, spontaneous, offerings sung under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Both hymns and psalm can be given as a spiritual song and being “new” by definition may be recorded and pass into the church’s’ collection of hymns and psalms. Spiritual songs may be grouped into two types.

A song of praise

The singing of a “new” Psalm (sung primarily to the Lord).

As one sings a song of praise given by of the Holy Spirit that has never been sung before, this spiritual song is a “new” psalm.

Eusebius, father of church history, wrote of the early church, “When some one had started to sing a psalm to a soft melody, the congregation, at first, would listen in silence, and only sing in chorus the last verses. . .” (Ekklesiastike historia, II, 19). Writing in the fourth century, Eusbeius goes on further to tell how there was often the attempt to preserve these “new songs” (v.28:5).

Such “new” psalms are not equated with the Scriptural Psalms. Yet being birthed by the Spirit, such psalms are exalting the Lord. These songs of praise are the love songs of the Bride, the church, to the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ.

A song of the Lord

The singing of a “new” Hymn (sung primarily to others under the direction of the Spirit)

A Song of the Lord is the voice of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, speaking a message in song through a human vessel unto His Bride, the church. As the song is quickened by the Spirit as a “new” song, it may become a “new” hymn.

Many of the well-known hymns were once birthed by the Spirit as “spiritual songs” in the hearts of those who composed them. Such “spiritual songs”, however, are more than the natural creative inspiration of a Christian musician. They are songs birthed spontaneously without premeditation under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

The term “spiritual” song

The distinction of this category is that these songs are “spiritual” songs, inspired on the spot by the Holy Spirit. The epithet “spiritual” (Gk., pneumatikos) confirms the Holy Spirit as the source of inspiration of the song.

The usage of this term “spiritual” (pneumatikos) in I Corinthians 12:1 is often understood as being synonymous with the charismatic gifts of the Spirit. Closer study of this word shows that it is not a term for the charismatic gifts in general but is used in the more limited sense of “speaking in (by) the Spirit”, i.e. the vocal gifts.

Paul in his discussion of “spiritual” (pneumatikos) in I Corinthians 12:1-3 does not at once speak of the charismatic gifts in general but of “speaking by the Spirit of God” (Gk., en pneumati theou lalon) in verse 3. Here the same word for “spiritual” is used. The main emphasis in
Chapters 12-14of I Corinthians is the function of the vocal gifts, tongues and prophesy. The Greek word in 12: 1 most likely has reference not to the gifts but to men who speak by the Spirit.

The Greek word in 1 Corinthians 12:1, ton pneumatikon, so often understood as a neuter gender, is also a masculine gender noun. Understood as a masculine, the reference would be to “spiritual men”

In I Corinthians 14:37 the same word “spiritual” is used, “If anyone considers himself to be a prophet or a pneumatikos . . . ” Here again the term is directly associated with the vocal gifts of the Spirit. The term is used in Galatians 6:1 and Corinthians 2:15 where Paul clearly employs the term with direct reference to what he has been saying in the context about the Holy Spirit.

It may be then that the term “spiritual” (pneumatikos) is used in the limited sense of the vocal charismatic gifts, of one who “speaks by the Spirit”. Spiritual songs are sung through a human vessel who is singing “by the Spirit”. As with the vocal, spiritual gifts the spiritual song is sung under the direct unction and anointing of the Holy Spirit The spontaneous song with its instant improvising is a Song of the Spirit and not the sole product of man’s composition.

The song of praise

The Nature of the song of praise

a. Adoration (Deut. 6:5; Luke 1 :46-55) as a love song offered to the Lord in an expression of adoration.
b. Acknowledges God as worthy of praise
c. Recognizes what He has done. (Pslm 150:2)
d. God centered.
e. Has deep reverence towards God.
f. Exaltation of God.
g. Seeking the Lord.
h. Thanksgiving

Exaltation of God (Psa. 99:5)

The Song of Praise serves to exalt the Lord. This involves what Scripture describes as “blessing” God. The early believers before Pentecost gathered together praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). This Greek word for “blessing” of God is “eulogeo“, which means literally, “speaking well of, extolling”. Not only do we come to God’s House to receive a blessing but also to give blessing to God. As we sing words which honor and “speak well” of our God, we are “blessing” Him.

In the royal courts of kings of the Eastern countries, one would express exaltation to a king by bowing down in his presence. In the Hebrew language three different words which are all translated “worship” in the Authorized Version all mean “to bow down, to incline” in the original Hebrew language. The concept of exalting the Lord as “bowing down” does not necessarily describe the physical position as the important manner, although this may be done as well.

The worshipper recognizes his lesser position in relation to the One who is being worshipped. There was no easy familiarity about coming into God’s presence. The worshippers in the Temple were aware of the greatness and majesty of God and expressed this in their attitude before God.

The bowing down before another showed was showing recognition of the other as one worthy of honor. A person would bow only to a superior. How far one would bow, whether slight or lying in the dust, portrayed the degree of how greatly the person was exalting the other.

Seeking the Lord (Psalms 105:2-4)

A Song of Praise involves seeking the Lord and expressing in song the desire to draw closer to Him. It is not only an expression but also a means by which we seek His face and establish a deeper fellowship with Him.

Thanksgiving (II Chron. 5:13)

The first Song of Praise ever sung in the Tabernacle of David was a psalm to thank the Lord” (I Chron. 16:7-8), “Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name. . .” (vs. 8). Also the first Songs of Praise which were sung by the Levitical Singers in the Temple were heard in praising and thanking the Lord.” (II Chron. 5:13).

In the New Testament, reference is made to the giving of thanksgiving a total of 38 times. One of these times was Colossians 3:17 where, after exhorting to sing spiritual songs, we are “giving thanks to God and the Father by Him”.

The makeup of a Song of Praise

i. From the heart (Ephes. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

The Song of Praise comes from the heart as a song birthed in the heart of the worshipper by the Holy Spirit. The words need not be eloquent, but are a simple expression of the heart to God. The spiritual condition of the heart is vital in birthing a Song of Praise to sing unto the Lord.

ii. A “New” Song (Psalms 33:3).

Scripture not only encourages and exhorts us but also commands us to sing “new” songs unto the Lord, which the New Testament defines as “spiritual songs”. Some of these passages are the following: Psalms 33.3; 40:3; 96: 1; 98: 1; 114:9; Isaish 42: 10; Revelation 5:9; 14:3. The Greek word used in the New Testament passages and also in the Septuagint Version (Greek) of the Old Testament for “new” is the Greek word “kainos”. This Greek word always means “new” in the sense of being as against that which has seen service. These are not “new” as to a specific congregation not having heard them, but “new” in that they have never been sung before or have never been heard in the House of the Lord.

iii. Praise to God (Psalms 149:1).

In the Old Testament the Hebrew language had a way of expressing special intense action, called the “intensive stems” The Hebrew word for “praise” (Heb. halal, from which we get the word, Hallelujah) in the intensive stems meant to express praise by singing or vocalization in song. Thus even in the Hebrew language the most intense manner of expressing praise was in “singing” Songs of Praise. In Hebrew the name for the Book of Psalms “Tehillim” comes from the same word, meaning “Songs of Praise”.

iv. Sung with Joy (Psalms 98:4).

In Psalm 100:1-2, the form in the Hebrew is that of a command. We are to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing”. Singing without joy was associated with death in Old Testament times. David, the sweet singer of Israel sang laments over Saul and Jonathan’s deaths (II SamueI1:19ff). Jeremiah called for women who were professional mourners to come to sing the song of Death the Reaper (Jeremiah 9:17ff).

The Results of the Song of Praise

i. Spiritual Release

The Song of Praise brings spiritual release for those who may be in spiritual bondage. In the time of the judges when every man did that which was right in his own eyes, the cry went forth, “Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive. . .” (Judges 5:12). By singing a song there would be spiritual release and captivity itself would be made captive. Singing a Song of Praise is able to bring spiritual release for the one who is singing as well as for others.

ii. Singing as a War Cry

The Hebrew word which is used to describe the singing of worship unto the Lord in the Book of Psalms is the same Hebrew word used elsewhere to describe the battle cry of the soldiers when they went into battle against the enemy.

The Hebrew word for sacrifices of “joy” is the Hebrew word “terou’a”. David, as a man of war, said that he had learned the “secret of His tabernacle” (Psa. 27:5). He learned that if he sang praises unto the Lord as an offering of “joy” (terou’a), so that he would be lifted above his enemies.

The same Hebrew word “terou’a” is used for the battle cry of the soldiers in time of war. Amos describes a “shouting (terou’a) in the day of battle” (Amos 1 : 14) and Jeremiah mentions “an alarm of war (terou’a) (Jeremiah 4:19). As soldiers go into battle, they would give a war cry which by its nature would be loud and intended to fill the enemy with terror.

The wall of God’s enemies will come down as we sing praise unto Him.

This same war cry against the enemy in music may be the anointed playing on an instrument, “‚Ķplay skillfully with a loud noise” (terou’a) (Psa. 33:3).

iii. Turns Others to God

“And He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God. Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” Psm 40:3.

David is witnessing that as we sing Songs of Praise some will respond and trust in the Lord. Many testimonies can be given of those that have turned to God as they heard an anointed Song of Praise.

iv. Pleases God

“I will praise the name of God with a song. . . This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock. . . Pslm 69:30-31

v. Edifies Others

“How is it then, brethren? When you come together, everyone of you has a psalm . . . Let all things be done unto edifying”. 1 Cor 14:26. As we sing a psalm or a Song of Praise in the midst of God’s people, the result is expected that the church will be edified and the Lord exalted.

The Song of the Lord

The Song of the Lord is a spiritual song directed primarily to God’s people, as the singer becomes a channel for the Lord to convey a message in song. As with a Song of Praise, the “new” Song of the Lord might be sung with a melody spontaneously composed or it may be non-melodic (chordal intervals); it may be with a rhythm or non-rhythmic. The style of the song is not the essential element but rather the message is the significant factor as Christ, sings to His bride, the church.

The Nature of the Song of the Lord

i. A Word of Prophecy

The Song of the Lord is often a prophetic song which may warn, instruct in the Spirit, or even sometimes give direction to the local body of Christ. As prophecy in song, the hearer bears the responsibility to heed the word of the Lord and be a doer of that word. It may foretell, but this would be infrequent and should come from mature prophetic ministry.

ii. A Word of Encouragement

There are times when we all need to be encouraged in the ways of God. Many times the Song of the Lord serves to lift our spirits and encourages us in Him.

iii. A Word of Exhortation

To exhort us in the area that God would have us to be stirred. It may be in specific areas of our Christian walk or response to Him in worship.

iv. A Word of Comfort

To bring comfort to those that are bereaved or in times of great troubling in their lives. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, stirs a Song of the Lord in a human vessel to sing the soothing, comforting words.

Ministering the Song of the Lord

Everyone may ask that the Lord will use him or her to bear a message in song to God’s people. Although not everyone will have a “ministry” in singing the Song of the Lord, yet everyone may minister such a song at different times. One who has never ministered in spiritual songs might first begin with singing a Song of Praise before attempting the Song of the Lord. It usually takes more faith to sing the Song of the Lord.

Preparing spiritually to minister in spiritual songs

i. Ask

If you ask in faith, the Lord will birth a “new” song in your heart under the unction of the Holy Spirit. It is wonderful to sing to God the songs that He has given to others, but there is a special thrill in singing the “new” song which He has put within your own heart.

ii. Practice

As you daily sing spontaneous “new” songs to the Lord in your devotions, there will be a greater flow of spiritual songs in your heart. Make it a regular practice to sing a Song of Praise to Him.

iii. With Joy

Spiritual songs spring from a spirit of joy and rejoicing. In the atmosphere of joy, “new” songs are birthed (Psalms 89:15).

iv. Study God’s Word with Diligence.

Scripture describes itself as inspired of God (II Timothy 3:16). The Greek word for “inspiration” is “theopneustos”, meaning literally “God-breathed”. As we study His Word, this same breath of God begins to quicken our spirits from its pages. As we store God’s Word in our hearts, the Holy Spirit will at times quicken things which we have studied from His Word to minister to the people.

v. Sing by Faith

When we sing the Song of Praise and the Song of the Lord by faith (Hebrews 11:6). the disciplined, mature Christian will not allow his feelings to control him, but will cause his spirit by faith to control his feelings.

vi. Be sensitive in the Spirit

As one is sensitive in the Spirit to other people’s needs and burdens, expect the Lord by faith to give a song to minister to that need.

vii. Be what you sing.

Although it is not necessary that we be a “perfect” example of all which we might minister in the Song of the Lord, yet we should strive to be already obeying the Lord in any area ministered to God’s people.