10 Key Bible Verses on Singing

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. Psalm 68:4–6

Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
      lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;
his name is the LORD;
      exult before him!
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
      is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
      he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
      but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. Read More

Exhortation to Sing to God. The faithful are to sing to God because he has shown himself kind, especially to helpless people (fatherless, or “orphans”; widows, cf. 146:9; Deut. 10:18; James 1:27; solitary; prisoners). The rebellious (i.e., those against God’s gracious covenant), however, he exiles to a parched land: they may not dwell among his people.

2. Ephesians 5:18–19

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. Read More

Being filled with the Spirit results in joyful praise through singing and making melody. This may refer to different kinds of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs found in the OT Psalter. It seems more likely, however, that Paul is referring both to the canonical psalms and to contemporary compositions of praise (see also Col. 3:16). “Spiritual” communicates the influence of the Holy Spirit’s filling (Eph. 5:18) in the believer’s acts of praise.

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3. Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Read More

The word of Christ probably refers to the teaching about Christ as well as the words of Christ himself, which were part of the oral traditions passed on to believers in the early years after Christ ascended to heaven, before the Gospels had been written. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is one means of teaching and admonishing. Corporate worship has a teaching function through the lyrics of its songs. This was particularly important in the oral culture of Paul’s day.

4. Psalm 105:1–2

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
      make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
      tell of all his wondrous works! Read More

Call to Give Thanks to the Lord. The opening section invites the congregation to celebrate what the Lord has done, setting a tone of gladness with terms such as give thanks, sing, sing praises, tell, glory, and rejoice. The foundation of gratitude is remembering the wondrous works that the Lord has done, particularly those on behalf of his people, the offspring of Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:5, 13, 18; 17:7).

call upon his name. An expression for seeking the Lord in public worship (cf. Gen. 4:26; Gen. 12:8). make known his deeds among the peoples. Cf. Ps. 9:11; Isa. 12:4.

5. Acts 16:23–25

And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Read More

praying and singing hymns to God. Amid their suffering Paul and Silas experienced the strong presence of the Holy Spirit, filling their hearts with joy and praise (cf. 1 Pet. 2:19–21; 4:12–14). Joy for the honor of suffering is a common theme in Acts (Acts 4:24–30).

6. Psalm 100:1–2

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
      Come into his presence with singing! Read More

Joyful noise. Cf. Psa. 95:1–2. Also rendered, “shout for joy” (Psa. 66:1). all the earth. The Lord is the Creator of all people, not just Israel; and Israel exists to bring light to the entire earth.

gladness. . . singing. Awareness of the goodness of God (Psa. 100:5) and of the great privilege of worshiping him produces joy in those who know they are welcome in his presence.

7. James 5:13–14

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. Read More

James begins with those suffering (A), then addresses the cheerful (B), and concludes with those who are sick (A). He alludes back to James 1:2, where the one under trial was to “count it all joy.” Though “sick” (Gk. astheneō) can also mean “to be weak” (even spiritually weak, as in Rom. 14:1), when used (as it is here) without any qualifiers, it usually refers to physical sickness. Elders were pastors and overseers (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Pet. 5:1–2), known for wisdom and maturity, who functioned as leaders in the churches. This provides evidence for a plurality of elders in all the churches to which James was writing, for he simply assumes a sick person could call for “the elders of the church.” Some think that anointing. . . with oil was medicinal or sacramental (as in Roman Catholic extreme unction at death), but it is best seen as a symbol representing the healing power of the Holy Spirit to come upon the sick person (cf. the use of “anointing” for symbolic consecration to God’s use and service, both in the OT [Ex. 28:41] and in the NT [Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; 2 Cor. 1:21; Heb. 1:9]). In the name of the Lord means it is God, not the oil, that heals.

8. Psalm 33:1–3

Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
      Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
      make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
      play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. Read More

Call to Sing Praise. The opening words of the psalm, shout for joy and righteous, echo Psa;. 32:11, which may be why this psalm is placed here. Here, the righteous and the upright are the people of God, who have received his covenant and his steadfast love. The stringed instruments named here accompany this exuberant song of praise. New song (cf. Psa. 40:3; Psa. 96:1; Psa. 98:1; Psa. 144:9; Psa. 149:1; Isa. 42:10; Rev. 5:9; 14:3) need not imply a freshly composed song; instead it may mean singing this song as a response to a fresh experience of God’s grace.

9. Zephaniah 3:17

The LORD your God is in your midst,
      a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
      he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. Read More

The previously weakened nation is in the presence of the mighty one (Deut. 10:17; Ps. 24:8; Isa. 10:21; Isa. 42:13), God himself, who, unlike human warriors and heroes (Zeph. 1:14), does not lose heart. Instead of fleeing in the face of danger, God can save his people from it (Ex. 14:30). This verse remarkably adds that God himself will rejoice over you with gladness, indicating that when God’s people seek him and follow him (Zeph. 3:12–13), and rejoice in him and trust him (Zeph. 3:14–16), then God personally delights in them. This is not an aloof, emotionless contentment, but it bursts forth in joyful divine celebration: he will exult over you with loud singing.

10. Revelation 5:8–10

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
      and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
      from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
      and they shall reign on the earth.” Read More

When the Lamb receives the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, who had praised God for his perfection and his creation, now sing a new song that celebrates the Lamb’s redemption. As they had previously fallen before God’s throne (Rev. 4:10), now they prostrate themselves in worship before the Lamb, an affirmation of his deity. Incense symbolizes the prayers of the saints and shows that their pleas for relief are heard and will be answered in God’s providential judgments (Rev. 8:3–5).

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