Singing: Timing of Hymns

This is the third in the series dealing with singing and addresses the appropriateness of hymns at a given time in a meeting.

In Colossians 3:16, Paul exhorted the saints, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Hymn-singing is an essential element of every assembly gathering, the outward expression of “making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). To facilitate this exercise we have been blessed with an immense treasury of spiritual hymns written by godly men and women down through the centuries.

In the gatherings of the assembly, when a brother leads in prayer, heart exercise, care, and reverence are necessary in addressing God. The same care and exercise should be used in deciding the appropriate time to give out a hymn. Paul wrote, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15). Our praise and worship should not only delight the heart of God, but also touch the hearts of the saints and draw them to a closer appreciation of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have often heard the lament regarding a brother who very rarely takes public part, “If only he would just give out a hymn.” We appreciate the sentiment but “just giving out a hymn” might suggest a lack of appreciation for the blessing and impact an appropriate hymn, given out at the right time, can have on a gathering. The criterion for public participation is edification. Should not the selection and timing of hymns on these occasions be assessed by the same criterion?

To rightly understand which hymns are appropriate and when they should be given out, consider the purpose of hymn singing in the gatherings of the assembly.

Breaking of Bread

This meeting is the highest pinnacle of the gatherings of the Lord’s people on earth, and affords the highest privilege. A unique pattern is not laid down in the New Testament on how it should be conducted. We remind our hearts that the purpose for the gathering is to “remember Him.” As worshipers at the Lord’s Supper, we are not occupied with ourselves and our blessings from God. Our thoughts, exercise, and worship are occupied with the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ: His glories, majesty, worth, and work.

Our songs of worship should be centered upon the One in the midst. Considering that the Lord Himself is there, the meeting should begin on time, usually with a hymn directing our hearts to His Person and work. The first hymn is extremely important as it quite often sets the theme for the meeting. Commencing a meeting with two hymns is unusual and, while not unscriptural, may at times be a symptom of spiritual dearth. Exercise is just as necessary in giving out hymns as in leading the assembly in prayer.

The Breaking of Bread is for the public expression of our appreciation of the Lord Jesus. We present His glories and matchless worth, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, to the Father. The meeting should not be predominantly a singing of hymns. “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (Psalm 45:1). “By Him therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” (Hebrews 13:15).

We need to avoid the trap of a “hymn and a prayer.” We must also avoid giving out our favorites, beautiful though they are. We should not, however, be critical of a young brother, in the joy of his salvation giving out, “My hope is built on nothing less…” or a hymn of similar vein. Spiritual discernment will come with spiritual maturity.

Many hymns, containing verses which are appropriate for the Breaking of Bread, may also contain one or two verses which are of a more practical, personal, and prayerful nature. It may be appropriate to suggest omitting those particular verses in order that our attention may be focused upon the Lord Jesus and not on our needs or shortcomings.

Prayer Meeting

The prayer meeting is often referred to as the powerhouse of the assembly. An opening hymn directing our thoughts to the Lord’s intercessory work on our behalf, His care over us, and His limitless power to bless and keep, is most appropriate. Where there is a combined prayer meeting and Bible reading, one or two verses of a hymn provide a short break between.

Ministry Meeting

A ministry meeting is held so that saints will be edified, nourished, and built up in their most holy faith. The brother opening the meeting should use godly judgment in the selection, number, and length of the hymns to avoid using precious time set aside for ministry.

Gospel Meeting

The opening of a gospel meeting should include hymns which present the need of sinners and God’s way of salvation. Hearty singing can add greatly to a gospel meeting. A solemn hymn of entreaty at the close of a meeting has often touched and softened the heart of a sinner, leading to salvation.

In closing, it should be said that hymn-singing is a wonderful opportunity to exalt and extol the person of Christ, to rejoice in our blessings in Christ, and to sound out the gospel in song. In every instance, there should be godly exercise as to the words and the timing, that the Lord may be glorified and His people blessed.

“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).