“Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before his presence with singing” (Psalm 100:1-2 NKJV).
Many of the congregations of Churches of Christ in Asia use rented facilities (often in apartment buildings) in which to assemble for worship. Occasionally one of them is compelled to change meeting places because of complaints from neighbors against outsiders coming into their building and especially because of the noise of the singing in worship assemblies.
A frequent reaction from others is that we should just be more considerate and quiet in our meetings. After all Jesus taught us to “go into your room” to pray (Matthew 6:6); one can pray and worship silently in his heart so there is no need to bother others.
While it is true that God knows our hearts and minds, the fact is that we are frequently reminded that God desires our vocal praise and worship. This is taught in both the Old and New Testaments and was / is true of both Mosaic and Christian systems.
David stated: “I cry out to the Lord with my voice; with my voice to the Lord I make my supplication. I pour out my complaint before him; I declare before him my trouble” (Psalm 142:1-2). And again he wrote: “Lord, I cry out to you; make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry out to you. Let my prayer be set before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:1-2). Note his insistence upon voiced prayer and its significance both to himself and to God.
Peter gave as a purpose or task of the church “To offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” then added that Christians are “A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). To proclaim is not silent, or subdued. It is a public declaration of God’s glory and might.
The Hebrew writer commanded, “Therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15). This is not silent prayer within one’s heart. It is emphatic vocal thanksgiving.
Paul described one purpose of Christian assembly as edification which was accomplished by teaching (prophecy in the early church which still possessed miraculous gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues). “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. . . But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Corinthians 14:1, 3).
And of course we have the apostle’s emphasis on vocal singing among Christians. “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19; see also Colossians 3:16). Vocal music is to be addressed to other worshippers for their encouragement and edification and also to God as a spiritual sacrifice.
It is not to be missed that our voices render honor and glory to God and have the power to impress non-believers as well as to go up before him as a pleasant and desirable offering (Acts 10:4). That offering is to be joyful, freely given, and sincere. Yes, worship in our hearts may be acceptable in some circumstances, but it does not and must not replace “the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” In the words of the familiar song, let us “sing and be happy” knowing that God is listening with pleasure.