Sunday, Singing, and Living Differently

Christians are to be different. Do any of us really think otherwise? Our lives are to be marked by morals, beliefs, ceremonies, and patterns that are simply not the same as the rest of the world. Christianity has never been a thing to simply add on to a normal and worldly life. Christianity brings a transformative salvation that changes us from our hearts outward.

We are going to be different in many ways. This has been true from Old to New Testament. And one of the clearest differences for the people of God was found in the Sabbath command. Unlike the nations around Israel, the people of God were to take Saturday off work. While neighboring nations pressed on, Israel would rest and honor the Lord. Israel would rest and lovingly allow her servants to rest. Israel would rest, and would depict the coming rest from man-centered attempts to earn our way to God that is fulfilled in the salvation completed for us in Christ.

I’m not a Sabbatarian. I do not believe that the Christian is required to fulfill a particular type of Sabbath regulation. Yet, I do understand that the Lord’s Day, that Sunday, is a day that is special in the Christian world. Our Sundays should make us look different from the world. This is not so much because we are required to follow a particular rule (though forsaking assembly is a sin), but because we love our Lord and center our lives around his glory.

Why the Sabbath talk? Interestingly, it hit me from the superscription of Psalm 92. Take a look at that and the first couple verses.

Psalm 92:1
A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath.
1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
3 to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.

This Psalm declares itself to be a psalm, a teaching and worshipful song or prayer, that is particularly appropriate for use on the Sabbath. And so we have to imagine the Hebrew family, on a Friday night or Saturday morning, after family work has shut down for the day, singing this psalm and learning from it what to do. No more work and no more worldly worries are allowed at this point. It is time to focus on the Lord. It is time to rest. It is time to sing.

Singing the praise of God is good. Remembering how the Lord has cared for his own and how he does justice in all things is important. Singing of the future promises of God matters. Singing of the perfections of God is right. Singing of the goodness of God is obvious. These are things that the Hebrews were to do on the Sabbath.

In the Christian world, the New Testament culture, these are good words for us too. There ought to be in our week a day that is different. There ought to be a time that is sacred. There ought to be an embrace of songs of truth and glory. There ought to be time set aside for us to stop chasing after money and fearing for provision. Instead, there ought to be a time when we gather together with the people of God, hear the word of God, participate in acts of worship like Lord’s Supper, and, yes, sing.

What does doing things like this do? When we take that time away to gather, pray, fellowship, worship, learn, and sing, when we stop everything and make worship a priority, we demonstrate a pattern in our lives that is focused on God and his glory. Yes, we pattern a life of six days at work and one day off just as God did in creation. Even more, we pattern a trust in the Lord that he will take care of us even if we do not force ourselves into the office for 7 days without rest. When we gather to sing, we look weird to the world. Nobody else other than the religious stop life to get together and have a sing-along every week. There is something different about who we are and what we do. There is something that ought to make our neighbors think our life choices are weird. When people get out of bed on their day off, dress their kids, and then take their families to a place where an hour or two are spent in contemplation of an ancient text, they look odd. When they stand side-by-side with people of different skin colors, different personalities, different economic levels, different ages, and somehow still all sing the same songs of the God who made us and whose Son rescued us by dying for our sins, we are doing something utterly radical.

Psalm 92 reminds us that it is good to stop life and sing of the glory of God. It reminds us that, when we stop life and worship, we can recall the faithfulness of God. It reminds us that we live for more than what the rest of the world lives for from Monday to Saturday. It reminds us that stopping life and praising God is good and a proper mark of the lives of all who truly know the Lord.

Worship is a Result of Forgiveness

Why do we sing? What makes us praise? As a people, the things that we do are strange. I am not sure that many in the world understand why we would do what we do, especially when it comes to getting together and singing on a Sunday morning.

Of course, there are multiple reasons that we sing. We sing because God commanded us to do so. We may sing because we genuinely enjoy singing with others. We sing, because it teaches us truth. We sing because, well, we have always sung.

Psalm 51:14

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.

Psalm 51 is one of those famous Psalms. It is the one where David is writing after a major sin. It has those popular lines that we know like, “Against you and you only have I sinned,” and “Create in me a clean heart.” But what got my attention as I recently read it was this little verse about singing.

What is David saying? Is David making a deal with God? If you’ll forgive me, I’ll sing you a song. No, that is not what is going on. God is not going to have us purchase his forgiveness with promises. We cannot pay him anything, including obedience, to earn grace.

I think something much better is going on here. David is making it clear that he knows that singing, true and joyful singing, is a proper human response to being forgiven. David knows that genuine joy is to be found in knowing that our sins are covered. We will sing as we realize that God has cleansed us from a genuine guilt.

Singing and other acts of worship, acts that confuse the world around us, are right responses to the grace of God. You see, unlike the rest of the world, we know ourselves to be guilty, really guilty, before the Lord. We know we have earned wrath from God. But, as believers, we also know that our sins have been covered by the astoundingly lovely sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. God chose to save us. God sent his Son who did the work to save us. The Son of God declares us to be his before his Father. And in doing so, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God. We are transitioned from being destined for hell to being eternally destined for heaven. We Move from being lost to forgiven.

What is the right response to all that? We should love the Lord. We should sing. We should praise. We should bow and pray and weep in gratitude. We should magnify the Lord, the Holy One, who loved us enough to make us his own.

Why do we sing? One reason is that we are forgiven. That is surely enough.

Singing of Wrath

When we sing as believers, we sing of happy things most often. At least that is true in our modern culture. We like to sing of God’s grace. We like to sing of his faithfulness to us and his comforting love. Songs on Christian radio like to sing of the way that the writers assume God views us and to claim victories over all sorts of issues.

But a look at Scripture tells us that the people of God often sin about things that might not make the pop station very popular. God’s word includes songs of sorrow and lament. God’s word includes songs of imprecation, of crying out for God to judge the wicked and oppressor. And God’s word includes many a song that declares that God is right in all his actions.

Revelation 15:1–4 – 15 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,

O Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways,

O King of the nations!

4 Who will not fear, O Lord,

and glorify your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

In Revelation 15, we see a gathering of the saints of God. This chapter opens by declaring to us that God is about to pour out his wrath on the world for its evil. And we see that the people of God, forgiven in Christ, are set apart from that fury of god. And as the people of God are set apart, witnessing what the Lord will do, they sing.

Note the point of the song. Without a full exposition, I think we can see the truth that feels so strange to our minds. They see the judgment of god coming, and they declare that God is absolutely good and right and holy in all his ways. These people are not giving themselves the right of judgment over God. They are not declaring that God owes them an explanation for his actions. They are not faulting God for not doing things in the way that they expect. They just see who God is, what God is doing, and they know that all that the Lord is and does is right.

I am surely not suggesting that Christians become morbidly obsessed with wrath, judgment, and death. We are a people called by God to communicate the good news of his grace and to make disciples of all nations. We do not find joy in the death of the wicked. But, we also must be a people who are not somehow different than the saints that we see in Revelation 15. We will pray God’s mercy over the lost world. But we will also sing of the holiness of God when his judgment comes. Our God is perfect and right. That must be our first assumption. The God who has revealed himself in Scripture is our Maker, our Master, and our Judge. May we worship him, singing of his grace and his judgment with equal awe.