Of all the things we do together as a church I think that from the perspective of an outsider, the strangest thing we do is to sing. Especially in our modern culture - it seems that unless you’re performing in front of a large audience, or perhaps a quick solo in the shower or car, singing has no place in our lives. So I can imagine that the sight of a bunch of people getting together and singing would strike most non-Christians as a trifle odd.
I was recently thinking about the story of Paul and Silas when they were jailed in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). After being arrested for doing nothing more than casting a demon out of a slave-girl, they were severely beaten and thrown into the deepest dungeon. Come midnight, what do you think they were doing? If it was me, I think I’d be getting some well-deserved shut-eye, some much needed rest to recuperate after a rough day. After all, it was probably pitch dark - what else was there to do?
Paul and Silas were not like me. They didn’t sleep, they sang. I wonder what they sang? The text says it was “hymns to God” but I wonder what the words were, what they were saying to God. I wonder what the tune was like. Do you think they sounded good? How much oomph do you think they could muster after all they had been through? But the other prisoners listened. It doesn’t just say they heard them, they were listening.
I find this interesting, not because it is a good example of how we can rejoice even in the worst circumstances, which it is, nor because it shows how their attitude helped to win over the jailer and his family, which it did. I find it interesting because it highlights the important place that singing had in the lives of Paul and Silas. They didn’t sing because everyone else was. They didn’t sing because they were commanded to. They sang because it meant something to them. The words they sang and the fact they could do it together was a great comfort to them. Perhaps they sang an old Psalm which connected them to all the Jews who had faithfully sung it for centuries. Perhaps they sang a favourite of the church at Philippi which reminded them of their brothers and sisters nearby. Their singing connected them to each other, to brethren past and present, and to God.
Is that why we sing?