The Secret of Song

In the opening part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” we meet Bilbo Baggins.  He’s described as a little person who likes peace and quiet, laughter and food, as “all hobbits do.” Everything changed for him, however, when a wizard and a crowd of dwarfs showed up at his home. They took over his abode and he was compelled to feed them as they held a strategy meeting about a great adventure that involved a mountain, a dragon, goblins, and treasures.

Mr. Baggins was possessed of no interest in adventures and grumbled about his uninvited guests and their appetites. But then the dwarfs began to sing and Mr. Baggins’ heart was stirred. For a moment, something in him began to crave mystery and majesty and even excitement. He gazed through a window and thought of journeys and battles and discoveries. This feeling did not last for long, but it was a start. It was as if a door had been flung open inside him.

The music did it. The songs made Bilbo wonder. The lyrics carried him to places he had not been. He had been inspired.

The Nature of Worship

I think of this hobbit story and I consider Paul’s encouragement to believers. His instruction is that we learn how to speak to each other in songs and hymns and spiritual songs. This is the nature of worship and how it works the Word of God into us.

Paul wrote about this practical practice in two places, in his letters to the Ephesians and to the Colossians. Each reference has a unique context, and I think this is because his relationship to the cities and their congregations differed.

Paul spent a good season of three years in Ephesus, and his ministry there bore much fruit. This ancient Eurasian city eventually became a hub for the growing activity of the early Church. Timothy and John the Apostle would be among the men who would serve as leaders in Ephesus.

The reference to psalms, songs, and hymns comes in Ephesians 5, right in the midst of Paul’s exhortations that believers redeem the time and be filled with the Spirit. The practice, Paul wrote, helps to bring us to thanksgiving and encourages us in our submission to each other and our reverence of Christ. It seems that through the melodies of our hearts we are enabled to develop the fear of the Lord that leads to wisdom.

It seems that through the melodies of our hearts we are enabled to develop the fear of the Lord that leads to wisdom. Click To Tweet

What follows these words are passages directed to husbands and wives and the picture of God’s Church as the Body and Bride of Christ. The language and imagery used by Paul in his letter to Ephesus is so personal and intimate. He felt such liberty in his communication because of the love and time he invested in the believers there.

In Acts 20, Paul’s depth of care and concern for these followers of Jesus is best defined for us. There we read of how he gathered the Ephesian leaders to Miletus and issued something of a farewell address to them. He told them that they’d likely not see him again. He warned them of wolves who would prey on the flock and of twisted teachers who would deceive them.

What was one thing these believers could do to keep themselves faithful and true to the doctrines and traditions they had learned from Paul and others? Sing, to themselves and to each other and with each other. Paul had pointed them to the music from above. They would have to learn how to hear it and let it move their hearts and minds.

Teaching and Admonishment

Colossae was a congregation with a different relationship to Paul. We have no record of him ever visiting this city, located about 100 miles west of Ephesus. Its Christian community may have been established by ones who came from Ephesus. Though these were believers who did not sit under the direct ministry of Paul, he would not hesitate to give an answer when he learned that vain philosophies had gained an audience among them.

Paul’s writing almost reads like the book of James to me. He used a proverbial style; it is like a survey of the major truths he has preached throughout the Roman Empire. It’s compact and less personal in some ways, but powerful nonetheless.

The words of Colossians 3 form a tight collection of spiritual directives. Look at the things Paul tells us:

Set your affections on things above. Put off the old man and all his demands. Put on the New Man, the one who’s renewed in the knowledge of the One who made him. Let the peace of God rule your heart. Put on love and be thankful.

How best do we learn these things? By “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

There it is: the music of the Lord makes a difference. We see this through the Scriptures. David played his stringed instrument and the demon-affected mood of Saul was soothed and set free. The Israelites sang of victory after the Red Sea opened and closed in Exodus. Throughout Revelation, we read of songs and hymns lifted to the glory of God.

Maybe you feel small, almost like a hobbit today. You are strangely restless in the way that you are going and you’re not sure what to do about it.

What could change your outlook? A song, that’s what.

Come to Jesus. Sing to Jesus.

God can give you a song just now. Ask Him. He’s faithful, He’s true, He’s forever the same.

Bless His holy Name with all that is within you. Sing to Him for He will sing over you.