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On the Use of the Psalter

Alright, I know what you’re thinking: “Psalter? I hardly know her!” Or maybe you weren’t. In any case, it may be helpful to know that by Psalter, I mean the book of Psalms. This post, then, is on how Christians ought to use the book of Psalms.

For many Christians, Psalms is their favorite book of the Bible. There is good reason for that. There are a range of emotions expressed by the the Psalmists that are common—in at least some way—to all human experience. Many of our English idioms come from the book of Psalms because they are so fantastic at describing the things we go through as people in general and especially as Christians. Spending time in the Psalms is a very good thing for Christians to do. The Psalms often inspire hope in God and that is something that we are to strive toward as Christians.

Other Christians often look to the Psalms because of the Christological aspect of them. Many of the Psalms are explicitly Christological (like Psalm 22) and tell us about what Jesus went through in His earthly life. You can look to the Psalms as you read the gospels to understand what Christ might have been thinking and feeling at any given point. This is an encouragement to us, because we know He was tempted in all things even as we are. It also inspires worship as we see the great pain He endured for us and the joy He takes in His heavenly Father. The Christological understanding is another good way to use the Psalms.

There is another way, though, which I believe is tragically neglected in many churches. This is the way in which we as Christians are explicitly commanded to use the Psalms:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

– Colossians 3:16 (AV)

Actually, it’s commanded twice:

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

– Ephesians 5:18–19 (AV)

There are a few things worth mentioning here. First: the Psalms are arguably the only thing commanded here. The phrase “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are three terms used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (which was the Bible many Christians used at this time) to describe different kinds of Psalms. It’s not so much that Paul is saying, “Sing Psalms—along with other stuff like hymns and songs by Chris Tomlin.” He’s really saying, “Sing Psalms! Sing all kinds of Psalms!”

Second: these aren’t just to be sung to ourselves in our quiet time. We’re to sing them to and with each other. They aren’t just to encourage us in our prayer time. The book of Psalms was the hymnbook of the people of God in the Old Testament and we as God’s New Covenant people are to identify as God’s people by singing His people’s songs. They’re to encourage us and those around us.

Third: This isn’t a suggestion. In the context of Ephesians, it’s as much a command as is the command to not be drunk with wine. This isn’t a liturgical best practice. This is something God has commanded His people to do.

Fourth: for those who think that singing Psalms would get boring, two things. I’m not arguing for exclusive Psalmody (singing only Psalms) here. I’m arguing for the incorporation of the Psalter into worship on the Lord’s Day. But even if I were arguing for exclusive Psalmody, it’s worth mentioning that you could sing 2–3 Psalms a week and not run out of new ones to sing until the end of each year. Most churches are far more repetitive than that in their liturgy.

This is a very brief case for the usage of the Psalms in public worship. It’s a simple argument, but frankly, I find it convincing enough. Perhaps you’ll consider looking into the matter more and humbly bringing the topic up with your pastor or worship pastor as a subject for his consideration. If you do, you may find these resources helpful:

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This article was posted on 07/17/2014 . It relates to these topics:


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