The title of this post comes from 1 Corinthians 14:26 – “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV)
In this part of his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul exhorts the believers to gather together in order to edify (build up) one another. While Paul mentions several different activities such as teaching, prophesying, praying, seeing, etc., he does not explain how to carry out those various activities. Instead, he focuses on the purpose of any activity that is done while gathered with other believers: edification. In fact, the entire chapter is focused on edification.
But, have you ever thought about how hymns and singing would edify others?
We know from other passages that singing can be directed only to God. For example, consider this statement (also from Paul) about singing:
[B]e filled with the Spirit…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart… (Ephesians 5:18b-19 ESV)
Notice that in the statement above, Paul says that singing is one result of being filled with the Spirit. But, he lists two different kinds of singing: 1) addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and 2) making melody to the Lord with your heart. So, there is a type of singing that is prompted by the Holy Spirit which is directed from the individual directly to God. But, there is another type of singing which is also prompted by the Holy Spirit which is addressed to one another.
This second type of singing is the kind that Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 14 and which Paul says should result in edification (building up). In fact, Paul specifically says in 1 Corinthians 14 that those activities that are specifically between the individual and God but which do not edify others should not take place when we are gathered with others.
For example, in the passages below, Paul says that we should not pray, sing, or speak in tongues (without interpretation) – among other activities – if others are not edified:
What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. (1 Corinthians 14:15-17 ESV)
If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Corinthians 14:27:28 ESV)
Paul never says that the prayer, singing, or tongue speaking are invalid or not in the Spirit. Instead, he says we should only pray, sing, or speak in tongues (among other activities) in ways that are both understandable and edifying when we are with other believers.
Thus, when we are gathered together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, our singing is to God, but it is also to one another (i.e., “addressing one another”). Similarly, our singing is for the purpose of building one another up as much as it is for the purpose of praising God.
So, when we come together with other believers and when we sing, how do we sing in a way that edifies one another?