Hymns like sugar in sweet tea

Sweet tea

by Stan Mitchell

“How many tears I shed at the sound of hymns … sung by impassioned voices of the church! Their voices poured into my ears, and dissolved into my heart” (Augustine).

Congregational singing is like that.

As brothers and sisters in Christ sing, the sweet sentiments and biblical teaching pours into our ears, and like sugar in sweet tea, these songs and their truths dissolve into our hearts.

Paul suggests that this is God’s word dwelling in us “richly” (Colossians 3:16, ESV). There is richness in the way that Scripture, when added to music, sinks into our hearts. The God who knows us so completely understood this fact.

This implies several things:

  1. That our songs teach. Paul declares that in song we “teach and admonish one another” (Ephesians 5:19).
  2. That they teach biblical content. Some songs are direct quotes from a Bible passage. Others draw from a rich collection of Bible passages. Songs that do not do so may not necessarily be evil, but they are not hymns, their singing would not be considered worship.
  3. That the song leader needs be thoughtful of the content of the hymns he chooses, just as the preacher is thoughtful about the content of his sermons.
  4. That the song leader, like the preacher, should choose songs that express “the whole council of God” (Acts 20:27). He cannot simply choose his ten favorites every week, nor can he remain merely with one genre.
  5. It means that, like a preacher, it is possible for the song leader to teach that which is false. We need to think about the words of the songs we sing. While Scripture is inspired by God, hymns are written by humans. We do not want error to lodge into the hearts of our children or brethren by way of our songs.
  6. Still, there is a powerful potential for good to be done by singing biblical, expressive, well-written hymns. God commands us to sing, it is true, but he also commands us to understand what we sing. That implies that the final effect of singing hymns would be their effect on our hearts.

“I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (1 Corinthians 14:15).

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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