Religion & Spirituality:Christianity
Singing With The Understanding
Singing With The Understanding
1 Corinthians 14:15
Good morning. This morning let us begin by reading a passage from the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 2:1-13 – “1. My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, 2. so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; 3. yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, 4. If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; 5. then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. 6. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; 8. He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. 9. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. 10. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, 11. discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you, 12. to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, 13. from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness;”
As we have studied in the past, our worship to God is actually a manifestation of our personal relationship with God that comes from our heart. Worship is an expression of what is in our heart. A part of this worship and our relationship with God is singing to Him. Our sermon this morning is going to be on the subject of the importance of singing with the understanding.
Let’s look at First Corinthians 14:15 where it says; “What is the result then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” We recognize that in our worship to God while we're singing praises to Him, He is looking into our hearts.
He wants it to be actual communication from our heart to His heart. It is not just making noise. Communication is expected to be with the understanding of what you say.
Would we feel that we were praised, honored or glorified if someone was saying something to us, and even though the words being said were kind, the person saying them didn't know what they were saying? In the same way, if we don't know what we're saying to someone is there really any meaning behind it? The Lord wants us to understand what we are saying and singing to Him because that is how we are involved. Can we really put our heart into singing something we do not understand?
In the letter to the Colossians 3:16 Paul says; “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” You will note there are two aspects of our singing mentioned here.
One part of it is from our heart to the Lord, but another part of our singing is teaching and admonishing one another. That means there's a lesson in the songs that we are singing and we're supposed to be receiving and understanding the lesson in the song.
Folks, there is a danger that I sincerely believe we face when it comes to our worshipping God in song. That is we do not always understand the message of the song. Sometimes we understand only a part of it. Sometimes even if we read the words we might not understand what is being said. In addition to the poetic writing, misunderstandings might come from a number of other factors, figures of speech, archaic terms, words very seldom used, and even ignorance of a Bible teaching that may be alluded to in the song.
What I would like to do today is look at four songs which have a great deal of what I call poetic license within them. When we sing these songs if we do not understand what these poetic terms are referring to, then we're just saying words. Even though we may be singing the words in the exact melody and tone they are supposed to be sung in, if we don't know what the message is we can not sing from the heart to please the Lord.
I. Our God wants us to sing to Him, praise Him and glorify Him because we love Him for loving us and we want to express to Him, to communicate to Him, our thanksgiving, our love and our devotion. God also wants us to listen to each other and learn from our worship to Him.
A. To do that we need to understand what we're singing. We are to be taught by the lesson and not just go through the motions of singing a song. I admit I’m not very good with songs and I do not mean just the tune but I have difficulty with some songs just recognizing and saying the words especially if it is one we do not sing often. I suppose for that reason I like very simple songs, or at least familiar ones.
B. There are many beautiful songs that we sing which were written a 100 or 200 years ago. They used a different style of writing during then. Song writers used a great deal of poetic license at that time in history. As a consequence, some songs that were written about 100 or so years ago require some effort, some thought, to understand.
1. Let me try to give an example of that sort of difficulty. It's somewhat similar to reading from the King James translation. Unless you were raised with the King James translation as I was, sometimes you read that language and it throws you off.
2. The King James Bible was written using what we now call Early Modern English. Early Modern English is the stage of the English language from the transition out of Middle English, in the late 15th century, to the transition into Modern English, in the mid-to-late 17th century. The grammatical and orthographical conventions of literary Early Modern English are still very influential on Modern Standard English and most modern readers of English can understand texts such as the King James Bible though sometimes care is needed to get the full meaning.
3. Some words which originated in Middle English, survived through Early Modern English in their meaning but lost their meaning in Modern Standard English. An example is the use of the verb "suffer" in the sense of "to allow". It survived into Early Modern English, as in the phrase "suffer the little children" of the King James Bible, but that use of the verb has been lost in Modern Standard English.
4. I read the King James and the New King James because I'm used to them. Not everyone is and since I am uncertain of everyone’s understanding, I find myself spending some time in lessons discussing the meaning of some of the words involved. This is why I often ask for people to comment with a different version during Bible study.
C. Poetry adds another dimension to the issue. Sometimes we have problems with the style of the writing of poetry from the last century and 200 years ago. If you find yourself singing a song and after you go home and you think to yourself; I really don't know what that song was about, get your song book and study that song.
1. Let me give you a quick example in part of a song we sing, “Give Me The Bible”. In this hymn, we sing of “the glory gilding Jordan’s wave”. Something which is “gilded” is overlaid with gold. “Jordan’s wave” is a figurative expression for death. As Israel of old had to literally cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, so all of God’s spiritual Israel (the church) must die to gain Heaven. Death generally holds men in fear, but the promises and comforts of God’s Word make even death attractive (as if it were gilded) for the faithful saint.
2. We need to find the message in the song so that we won't be just going through the motions of worship. If we just go through the motions of worship, if all it is, mouthing words, we need to recognize that is just as empty as not worshipping God according to truth.
II. Let’s look at some songs to gain an understanding of what lessons these songs provide. Probably the most commonly known song which is sung without understanding is Night with Ebon Pinion. It has an absolutely beautiful melody. Its use of poetic words, especially in the first stanza, makes it difficult to understand what it's talking about.
A. In our hymnal, Sacred Selections, this is number 293. This particular song is describing Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane on the night when He's praying to the Lord. You remember that text. I will quote from the Book of Mark 14:33-41. Jesus goes to the God three times and prays “"Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.''” [NKJV] The song is about Jesus before His crucifixion while He is praying in the garden of Gethsemane.
B. Look at the first stanza.
Night, with ebon pinion, brooded o’er the vale;
All around was silent, save the night wind’s wail,
When Christ, the Man of Sorrows,
In tears, and sweat, and blood,
Prostrate in the garden, raised His voice to God.
1. It says “Night with ebon pinion”. What is Ebon? Sometimes we use the word Ebony as in the keys of the piano, ebony and ivory and it means the color black. Night with black pinion. Blackness also imparts a feeling of doom, even death.
2. Then what is a pinion as used here? It is the outer part of a bird’s wing including the flight feathers. Poetically we are talking about night on black wings.
3. Brooding is a term used to describe what chickens and other birds to with their wings when they cover their young. The picture now includes dark wings completely covering and it says “o’er the vale”.
4. A veil is a poetic term for Valley a low lying tract of land. What is being described here in poetic terms is the darkness of night covering a valley like the dark wings a great black bird, bearing doom, and it casts its shadow over the Lord as He knelt to pray in the garden.
5. The second line tells that silence is all around save the night wind’s wail. The word wail is a mournful sound of the wind. This adds to the depiction of Jesus praying with great sorrow. The only thing you can hear in this dark night is the wind blowing because all His companions are sleeping.
6. The next line, “When Christ, the Man of Sorrows”, is quite easy for us to understand and connects back to prophesy of the messiah in Isaiah 53:3 – “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
7. The words “In tears, and sweat, and blood” in the next line is also easy to understand.
8. The word “Prostrate” in the last line is laying with the face to the ground. This is the position Christ prayed in and is a position of extreme honor to God. A person cannot lower their body anymore then this. When we pray quite often we bow our heads close our eyes, and sometime we stand in order to show respect. That's a common courtesy in our culture. “Prostrate in the garden, raised His voice to God.”
C. Now the second stanza.
Smitten for offenses which were not His own,
He, for our transgressions, had to weep alone;
No friend with words to comfort,
Nor hand to help was there,
When the Meek and Lowly humbly bowed in prayer.
1. This stanza is a clear reference to Isaiah 53. The word smitten means to strike with disaster. This is the idea of the disaster that's about to come upon Christ, but it's not because of anything that He's done wrong.
2. With His stripes we are healed. “He for our transgressions” that is right out of Isaiah 53. “Had to weep alone”. This is dealing with Christ weeping in the garden of Gethsemane, where His tears became as sweat and blood. He is weeping alone, “No friend with words to comfort”, everybody's asleep.
3. He was amazed that they couldn't even watch with him for one hour. “Nor hand to help was there, when the meek and lowly humbly bowed in prayer”.
4. This is beautiful poetry describing our Lord praying in the garden of Gethsemane.
D. Now look at the third stanza and we see the prayer;
“Abba, Father, Father, if indeed it may,
Let this cup of anguish pass from Me, I pray;
Yet, if it must be suffered, by Me, Thine only Son,
Abba, Father, Father, let Thy will be done.”
1. This is clearly from the record of the gospels.
2. I digress here to mention that many of these hymns being poetic in structure are written to bring to our minds a word picture. This one does it very well and we should be thinking on what it tells us, letting our hearts express to God our thoughts of what is shown to us. True we can take many of these poetic hymns to task on scriptural accuracy and some people do that. I’ll leave that with you to ponder.
III. Next I would like to look at number 545 in our hymnal, O’ Thou Font of Every Blessing. This song is again a song written in the same time period, uses terminology that you may not be familiar with, and is describing the blood of Christ.
A. Let's begin here in the first stanza seeing what God has done for us.
O, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me, ever to adore Thee
May I still Thy goodness prove
While the hope of endless glory
Fills my heart with joy and love
1. In the very beginning we’re singing about the grace of God, mercy of God, what God has done for us. We’re conscious and mindful of the mercy of God. Fount is descriptive of a fountain which in this case delivers every blessing to us. God is that fountain.
2. “Tune” means to adjust. It moves our hearts to sing praises to Him. We implore that we may reflect His glory and goodness, in the living of our lives, while we are looking forward to the endless glory of being with Him.
B. In the second stanza the song continues in describing the grace of God and what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy Good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed his precious blood
1. “Here I raise my Ebenezer” has to do with something Samuel did in First Samuel 7:12 – “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us.''” Breaking the word down, Eben is Hebrew for stone and Nezer is Hebrew for help. It's literally stone of help and Samuel set up a monument which means the Lord has helped us.
2. The idea of setting up this monument, this Ebenezer, is to recognize that God has helped us up to this point in time, “Hither by Thy help I’ve come”. Next it is looking forward, that through His help we're going to make it to heaven. “And I hope by Thy Good pleasure safely to arrive at home”. We have hope that God will lead us all the way.
3. The hymn tells us “Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God”. This is describing us as we were, strangers, enemies of God. We were separated from God wandering in the world—and in sin. In Christ we become the friends of God. We become the children of God.
4. Christ rescued us from the danger of this world by interposing His precious blood. Interposed is a word that’s not in our everyday vocabulary. It means to place or insert between one thing and another. It is the idea that the blood of Christ comes between, intervenes between us and the punishment we deserve.
C. Then the last stanza:
O, to Grace how great a debtor
Daily I am constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Never let me wander from Thee,
Never leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O, taken and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above."
1. We realize here again we're talking about the grace of God. Every day, being conscious of the grace of God, we recognize our debt to God.
2. Our desire is to be bound to Him through His grace. Unless you work with welding or animals the word “fetter” may be unfamiliar. A “fetter” is something used to restrain. Something which binds one thing to another. When we are conscious of the grace and the love of God, it draws us, binds us to Him and we will not leave Him.
3. “Here is my heart O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” The closing is talking about our hope in looking to heaven and being with God. This song is about the grace of God and how it moves us to sing praises to God and be aware of the mercy that God has shown to us through the shedding of the blood of His son so that our sins may be forgiven. It moves us to glorify God, to love God, to be drawn to God and not to want to leave God, realizing that we've come this far in our relationship with God by His grace and by that same grace eventually will we be allowed to be with Him in heaven.
IV. The next song I want to look at is There Stands A Rock, number 122 in our hymnal. It’s a wonderful song with a great message. It goes back to the Sermon on the Mount and the close of the seventh chapter where Jesus is talking about a wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. That's where this song is primarily coming from, yet it uses some words that I want to look at.
A. The first stanza:
There stands a Rock, on shores of time
That rears to heav'n its head sublime
That Rock is cleft, and they are blest
Who find within this cleft a rest
1. Let’s start with the second line, “That rears to heav'n its head sublime”. “Rear” as used here means to lift up, to elevate, like a horse when it rears up. In this case it is the idea of a rock elevating its head toward heaven. This also carries with it the aspect of not fully leaving one place and going to another.
2. Sublime is describing the highest degree, that is, majestic. Not hard to figure out that this is describing Christ as the Rock. Christ is depicted as the Rock that rears its majestic head to heaven. “On shores of time” indicates the border between time and eternity where the Rock stands.
3. “That Rock is cleft” – Cleft means to split, divide or to partially divide. A cleft is a narrow opening or crevice in rocks. We find this in the Old Testament in Exodus 33:21-23 – “And the Lord said, "Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. "So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. "Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.''” God is speaking with Moses telling him that God will show Moses His glory but Moses may not see His face and live. Therefore God will protect Moses in the cleft of a rock until He passes by. In this verse the idea being portrayed is that those protected in the cleft, protected by God, are blest.
4. I’ll put it this way. It's a firm rock, it's not going to move, but it's got a crevice in it. We get inside the crevice of this rock for protection. The idea is that Jesus Christ, the rock, is our protection from death. That's why it says that this rock is cleft and those are blessed who find within this cleft a rest. The aspect of a resting place from the storms of life. Christ is our strength (the rock) and shield (the cleft).
B. The second stanza makes it even clearer.
That Rock's a cross, its arms outspread
Celestial glory bathes its head
To its firm base my all I bring
And to the Cross of Ages cling
1. The idea of the cross with its arms outspread is a poetic description of Christ’s arms opening wide for you. It's an unusual picture. The description is that of a cross with arms outspread as though Christ arms are wide open waiting for you to come to Him.
2. Celestial glory is heavenly glory and this confirms we are talking about Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
3. The next two lines describe our actions. We come to the base of the cross bringing ourselves to the Lord realizing that it's through Christ crucified that we have any hope whatsoever of being with God. We bring all our sins to the cross. We bring all our problems to the cross. We bring everything to the Lord.
4. I like this idea—to the Cross of Ages cling. It is as if you can imagine you're out in the ocean and there's a life raft. You cling to that life raft because you know that without it you have no hope whatsoever.
5. The truth of the matter is, that is how a relationship with God is. We cling to the Lord in the storms of life. We cling to him because we realize without him we have no hope. It's a beautiful way to describe our relationship with God.
C. Stanza three says;
That Rock's a tow'r, whose lofty height
Illumed with heav'n's unclouded light
Opes wide its gates beneath the dome
Where saints find rest with Christ at home
1. Here the hymn writer uses another way to describe Christ as a tower, its lofty height is illuminated. Illuminated with heavenly, unclouded light.
2. Opes is an archaic or literary way of saying opening. Opening its gates beneath the dome. The descriptive picture that we go to Christ for refuge in a tower and ultimately where we will be at home with Christ.
3. In this hymn Christ is described as a rock that protects us in times of storm. He’s described as a cross with His arms out spread wanting us to come to Him in love. He’s described as a tower where we can go to gain comfort and for refuge.
4. That Rock stands for our foundation because there will be storms in life and the person who hears the word of God and does the word of God is the one who builds their house on the rock. They are the ones who go to Christ in times of storm, the ones who cling to Him because they are surrounded by the raging sea of this world. That's the lesson this song provides.
The hymns we sing talk about our total dependence upon God, His compassion for us and His grace toward us. We need to be conscious of our dependence upon His compassion and His grace. What we do in response – is to worship and praise God. It is this consciousness of what God has done for us, His love, His grace and His mercy, the fact that He is God, the fact that He hears our prayers, that He sent His Son to interpose His blood between us and our deserved fate, and that Jesus Christ stands as our help and our mediator – that moves us and motivates us to have a desire to worship and sing from our heart to the Lord.
That's what worship is all about folks. It is an expression of our personal relationship with God that comes from a consciousness of what God has done for us. Our hymns give us great teaching and edification. As we sing songs that we do not know as well and learn new ones, we should strive to learn from them. We need to know what they are saying to us so that we are not just mouthing words. When we understand the meaning we will be singing with the understanding from our heart to the Lord.
One more song I want us to consider and that is number 271, Wonderful Love of Jesus. This song starts out with the very poetic line;
“In Vain in High and Holy Lays”
The song goes on in verse 1 to talk about the Inexpressible love of Jesus. In verse 2 the Comforting love of Jesus and in verse 3 about the Forgiving love of Jesus. What about that first line?
The phrase “in vain” simply means worthless, such as “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). The word “lays” comes to us from the Germanic through middle English and means songs. The next line says; “My soul, her grateful voice would raise”. The grateful heart sings the most meaningful, heart-felt songs possible. The first line here describes our singing with our hearts, with truly grateful emotion, the most awe-inspiring melody and most honest and true words... and yet... there is that word “vain”.
The next line explains; “For who can sing the worthy praise of the wonderful love of Jesus?” Striving from our hearts to the utmost still wouldn’t come close to accurately describing the wonderful love of Jesus. It can’t come close to doing justice to the praise Christ deserves. Though we understand in part, there is no way for our human minds to fully express the love of Jesus Christ for us. Though we can try with all our might, there is no way we can adequately express our gratitude for the love of Jesus.
Yet, if we are His and if we love Him with every fiber of our being, we must try. Just know that the love of Jesus is so great, so wonderful, so overwhelming that we cannot ever adequately express it. Jesus loved us while we were yet sinners. He died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). We show that love for Him through praise, worship, and obedience (Hebrews 5:9, John 14:15). The full extent of that love Christ has for us is truly inexpressible. It is through Christ’s love that we are saved, that we have hope, that we have comfort, and that we have forgiveness.
There may be somebody here this morning who is not a member of the body of Christ. Do you know you can change? You can change that situation. You can be a member of the body of Christ today. You can be saved and leave this building as a child of God in the body of Christ. You are a free-willed being with the power of choice.
I would like to encourage you to choose to obey the gospel. If you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God openly confess that faith, repent of your sins, start living by faith and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as you put off the old man and put on the new.
We’ll be glad to assist you, baptizing you for the remission of your sins and God adds you to His Kingdom.
You will be a child of God. You will be a Christian in the body of Christ. What is expected of you then is to take up your cross daily, to follow Him and live by faith.
If you are child of God already and there's sin in your life and you recognize that sin is separating you from God, I would like to encourage you to deal with it. You can change, yes you can. You don't have to do it. You don't have to sin. You can change.
Change motivated by godly sorrow, turning from your sin and coming home to the Father. We will pray for you. We will pray with you and do the very best we can to encourage you. If you're subject to the Gospel call in any way let it be made known while we stand and sing the song that has been selected.
Invitation song: ???
Reference sermon: Wayne Fancher
It is Free