The history of the church could probably be sung through its thousands of songs and hymns. The beautiful hymn, “Sacred Head Now Wounded,” is nearly 1,000 years old. Martin Luther, the Reformation leader, wrote powerful hymns including “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Brothers John and Charles Wesley were instrumental in the major eighteenth-century English revival and founded the Methodist Church. Charles Wesley wrote nearly 6,500 hymns, including the Christmas favorite “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” But perhaps the most famous hymn writer was Fanny Crosby, who, although blind, wrote an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 hymns!
The early church was no less inclined to sing. It’s no coincidence that the first category of songs that Paul listed in Colossians 3:16 is psalms. This “songbook” formed the basis of Israel’s praise, just as it has for nearly two millennia for Christians. As we read through Psalm 150, we find ourselves wanting to burst out singing! Paul then mentioned hymns. We’re not exactly sure what these compositions were, but they may have echoed some of the beautiful language in John 1, Philippians 2, and Colossians 1. When New Testament writers, such as John and Paul, were describing the person and work of Christ, their style and language often resembled hymns from that time period. The final category is spiritual songs, possibly similar to modern choruses.
Even though we can’t be sure about precise historical distinctions between these types of songs, we can be very clear about their purpose. Paul links them first to Christ’s word, then to teaching and admonishing, and finally, to gratitude. These songs were meant to uplift as well as to instruct.
Music is a gift from God, so it’s understandable that God’s truth set to a beautiful melody should powerfully teach, exhort, encourage, and inspire! Clearly worship through singing isn’t something haphazardly added to a church service or Bible study. This is an important way that God has provided for us to praise Him and to be encouraged in His truth.