In this article, I examine what the Bible really says about the subject of singing and using musical instruments in worship.
This is an emotional topic for many people. To help ensure we consider the subject honestly and without predetermined conclusion, let’s pause and pray for GOD’s blessing.
What is worship, exactly?
Before we dive in, we need to briefly lay the foundation of the biblical concept of worship.
In modern times, when people use the word “worship,” they are often thinking specifically about church meetings.
But the biblical concept of worship is much broader in scope than church gatherings.
Our understanding and perspective of what it means to worship helps shape many of our views on spiritual matters, including singing (and arguments for or against the use musical instruments).
Therefore, it is critical that we properly grasp how the Bible defines worship.
Before continuing here, please pause and read my article entitled “What does it mean to worship?“
Approach to this Study
As I began this study on singing and instruments in Scripture, I wanted to examine every passage I could find regarding the subject in order to ensure a thorough and fair analysis, so I searched BibleGateway.com for “sing, song, instrument or musical”.
(There may well be additional verses that I have missed. Feel free to leave me a comment at the end of this article if you find one.)
I’m going to break this article down into Old Testament (OT), New Testament (NT), and Secular History sections and offer some concluding thoughts.
Let me stress up front that I’m offering you Scripture followed by my personal observations regarding key findings.
As always, study these things for yourself.
Singing in the Old Testament
In general, I found that verses dealing with singing in the OT can be categorized as:
- Rejoicing in GOD’s salvation, deliverance or provision,
- Expressions of happiness, and
- Expressions of sadness.
Interestingly, Cain’s descendant Jubal (Gen. 4:21) is described as the father of all who play the flute and harp.
- The first example we have of singing to GOD in our biblical arrangement is found in Ex. 15:1-19.
The Israelites had just crossed the Red Sea and seen the salvation of the LORD and they were moved to compile this song of praise.
Immediately following this, Moses’ sister Miriam took the timbrel (a tambourine or similar instrument) and she and “all the women” went out and played the timbrel and danced. Miriam said: Sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! (Ex. 15:21b)
Note: The clear indication is that this singing and dancing pleased the LORD.
- In Ex. 32, we find almost the same things being done (singing and dancing), but GOD is obviously displeased. Why? Because this time the singing and dancing of the people was directed toward the golden calf idol that Aaron had made—idolatry.
- In Num. 21:17, the Israelites sang praise to GOD for giving them water.
- In Deut. 31:19-32:47, GOD gave Moses a song as “a witness for Me against the children of Israel” because they would eventually rebel against GOD and commit adultery with the idols in the land.
- Judg. 5 contains the song of the judge Deborah and the Israelite army commander Barak. The song is a praise to GOD for delivering their enemy into their hands.
- 1 Sam. 10 records the events given by GOD to Saul that He was with him and that GOD had chosen him to be king over Israel.
5 After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. 6 Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. 7 And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.
(1 Sam. 10:5-7)
Note: This makes it quite clear that instruments were a part of the will of GOD during this time.
- In 1 Sam. 18:6-7, the women of Israel greeted King Saul’s return from the slaying of Goliath and routing the Philistines with joy, singing, dancing and musical instruments. They sang, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands.“
- In 2 Sam. 1:17-27, David wrote the Song of the Bow as a lament to King Saul and Jonathan’s deaths, and he gave a command to teach the song to the children of Judah.
- In 2 Sam. 6 and 1 Chron. 13, David led all of Israel as they brought the ark of GOD’s covenant to Jerusalem.
They “played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums [an ancient Egyptian percussion instrument], and on cymbals.“
David had the ark transported upon a cart rather than being carried by the priests and Uzzah touched it and the LORD struck him dead.
Note: GOD was angry because Uzzah failed to respect the LORD’s command that the ark was only to be touched by the priests. Though David had failed to carry it properly, it was Uzzah with whom the LORD was angry.
GOD had not commanded this singing nor the musical instruments which accompanied the transport of the ark, yet we read nothing of GOD being angry or displeased over this.
- In 1 Chron. 15 we read how David made the second attempt—this time with the priests carrying the ark—to bring the ark to Jerusalem.
1 Chron. 15:16-28 tells us that David appointed singers of the Levites as well as those to play musical instruments in celebration of the ark’s arrival in Jerusalem.
As they brought the ark to the tent David had set up, after sacrifices were offered, David had the Levites thank and praise GOD, including instruments (1 Chron. 16:4-6).
David then led by example, showing how to praise GOD in song:
8 Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! 9 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! 10 Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD!
23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
37 So [David] left [a list of people]
41 and with them Heman and Jeduthun and the rest who were chosen, who were designated by name, to give thanks to the LORD, because His mercy endures forever; 42 and with them Heman and Jeduthun, to sound aloud with trumpets and cymbals and the musical instruments of God
(1 Chron. 16:8-42)
Note: Here the musical instruments themselves are described as being “of God.”
- 2 Sam. 22 contains a song David wrote and spoke to praise GOD on the day in which He delivered David from Saul and his enemies.
- Praise, singing, and instruments associated with worship at the temple:
- With the tabernacle safely in Jerusalem, the Israelites’ traveling days over, and GOD having approved the plan for Solomon to build the temple, David changed the role of the Levites:
25 For David said, “The LORD God of Israel has given rest to His people, that they may dwell in Jerusalem forever”; 26 and also to the Levites, “They shall no longer carry the tabernacle, or any of the articles for its service.” 27 For by the last words of David the Levites were numbered from twenty years old and above; 28 because their duty was to help the sons of Aaron in the service of the house of the LORD, in the courts and in the chambers, in the purifying of all holy things and the work of the service of the house of God, 29 both with the showbread and the fine flour for the grain offering, with the unleavened cakes and what is baked in the pan, with what is mixed and with all kinds of measures and sizes; 30 to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD, and likewise at evening; 31 and at every presentation of a burnt offering to the LORD on the Sabbaths and on the New Moons and on the set feasts, by number according to the ordinance governing them, regularly before the LORD; 32 and that they should attend to the needs of the tabernacle of meeting, the needs of the holy place, and the needs of the sons of Aaron their brethren in the work of the house of the LORD.
(1 Chron. 23:25-32)
Note: There is no indication in this passage that David sought the LORD’s approval prior to restructuring the Levites’ responsibilities. However, 2 Chron. 29:25 indicates GOD gave instructions regarding this arrangement through David and the prophets.
- David appointed 4,000 singers (1 Chron. 23:5) from the tribe of Levi:
31 Now these are the men whom David appointed over the service of song in the house of the LORD, after the ark came to rest. 32 They were ministering with music before the dwelling place of the tabernacle of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they served in their office according to their order.
(1 Chron. 6:31-32)
These are the singers, heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and night.
(1 Chron. 9:33)
- David appointed men for prophesying with musical instruments (1 Chron. 25:1).
- The singers were instructed in the songs of the LORD as well as skillful musicians (1 Chron. 25:7).
- Solomon had harps and stringed instruments made for the singers (1 Kings 10:12; 2 Chron. 9:11).
- When the ark was first carried into the temple, the Levite musicians stood up, dressed in fine clothes and accompanied by musical instruments, they sang praise to the LORD (2 Chron. 5:7-14). GOD approved of their actions, descending upon the temple in a thick cloud, which forced the priests to stop carrying out their duties.
- At the dedication of the temple, the Levite musicians sang praises to GOD accompanied by instruments (2 Chron. 7:1-6).
- King Joash restored the temple worship including the singing David prescribed (2 Chron. 23:18).
- Hezekiah restored the temple worship including singing and use of musical instruments (2 Chron. 29:25-28).
- King Josiah placed the musicians at the recently-repaired temple as the people observed the Passover (2 Chron. 35:15).
- Ezra 2:65 reveals that there were women singers in addition to men.
- Musicians were appointed by Nehemiah after the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt (Neh. 7:1).
- In Neh. 12, the wall of Jerusalem was dedicated and the Levites were sought out from their homes and brought to Jerusalem to celebrate with joyful songs and musical instruments (Neh. 12:27-47).
- The musicians were prescribed a portion of the Jews’ tithes as were all the Levites (Neh. 13:4-5).
- With the tabernacle safely in Jerusalem, the Israelites’ traveling days over, and GOD having approved the plan for Solomon to build the temple, David changed the role of the Levites:
- Solomon acquired for himself male and female singers and all kinds of musical instruments (Eccl. 2:8).
- Solomon describes spring as “the time of singing” (Song 2:12).
- In 2 Chron. 20, King Jehoshaphat sought the LORD for help in defeating a mighty army of combined forces from Moab and Ammon.
GOD told Jehoshaphat that He would fight for Israel and they wouldn’t even have to fight in the battle. Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and praise Him for the splendor of His holiness.
As the people sang, GOD set ambushes among the Ammonites and Moabites and Mount Seir who had come against Judah, and they were defeated (2 Chron. 20:21-22). Upon seeing the victory GOD gave, they returned to the temple to rejoice along with musical instruments (2 Chron. 20:27-28).
- In 2 Chron. 23, Joash was pronounced king amid trumpets, rejoicing, instruments and singing praises (2 Chron. 23:12-13).
- In 2 Chron. 30, Hezekiah led the nation of Judah in observing the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was done with great rejoicing and musical instruments to GOD (2 Chron. 30:1-27).
Note: Interestingly, the Passover was observed during the second month of the year rather than the first because the priests hadn’t consecrated themselves nor did they have enough time to gather the people throughout the land to Jerusalem (2 Chron. 30:1-5).
The statement is made in v4, “The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly.” No indication is given that they sought the counsel of GOD on the matter.
Furthermore, v.17-20 shows that they ate the Passover even though they hadn’t consecrated themselves, violating GOD’s command. But Hezekiah prayed for the people and 2 Chron. 30:20 says, “the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.“
Then the people decided (on their own) to keep the festival for 14 days instead of 7, and there is no indication that GOD disapproved at all. Their hearts were right.
- Jeremiah composed laments (songs of sadness) for the death of King Josiah (2 Chron. 35:25), and they became a tradition in Israel.
- Job lamented in Job 21:12 that the wicked sing with instruments as they prosper yet reject GOD.
- Job said the young men mocked him in song (Job 30:9).
- Singing and instruments are mentioned repeatedly in the Psalms:
- Many of the Psalms specifically state to be accompanied by instruments (Psalm 4; 6; 8; 33:2-3; 54; 55; 61; 67; 75; 76; 81; 84).
- I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness, And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psalm 7:17)
- I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. … Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people. (Psalm 9:2, 11)
- I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:6)
- Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name. (Psalm 18:49)
- Be exalted, O LORD, in Your own strength! We will sing and praise Your power. (Psalm 21:13)
- And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD. (Psalm 27:6)
- The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him. (Psalm 28:7)
- Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. … To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever. (Psalm 30:4, 12)
- You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah (Psalm 32:7)
- Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. (Psalm 33:2-3)
- He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:3)
- The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall be with me—A prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)
- Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding. (Psalm 47:6-7)
- Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. (Psalm 51:14)
- My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise. Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations. (Psalm 57:7-9)
- But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense And refuge in the day of my trouble. To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; For God is my defense, My God of mercy. (Psalm 59:16-17)
- So I will sing praise to Your name forever, That I may daily perform my vows. (Psalm 61:8)
- Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. All the earth shall worship You And sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name.” (Psalm 66:1-4)
- Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, And govern the nations on earth. (Psalm 67:4)
- Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Extol Him who rides on the clouds, By His name YAH, And rejoice before Him. … They have seen Your procession, O God, The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; Among them were the maidens playing timbrels. … Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth; Oh, sing praises to the Lord, Selah (Psalm 68:4, 24-25, 32)
- I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving. (Psalm 69:30)
- Also with the lute I will praise You—And Your faithfulness, O my God! To You I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel. My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You, And my soul, which You have redeemed. (Psalm 71:22-23)
- But I will declare forever, I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. (Psalm 75:9)
- I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, And my spirit makes diligent search. (Psalm 77:6)
- Sing aloud to God our strength; Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, The pleasant harp with the lute. (Psalm 81:1-2)
- Both the singers and the players on instruments say, “All my springs are in you.” (Psalm 87:7)
- I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 89:1)
- It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night, On an instrument of ten strings, On the lute, And on the harp, With harmonious sound. (Psalm 92:1-3)
- Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. (Psalm 95:1-2)
- Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. (Psalm 96:1-2)
- Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. … Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. Sing to the LORD with the harp, With the harp and the sound of a psalm, With trumpets and the sound of a horn; Shout joyfully before the LORD, the King. (Psalm 98:1, 4-5)
- Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. (Psalm 100:1-2)
- I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. (Psalm 104:33)
- Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; (Psalm 105:1-2)
- O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise, even with my glory. Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise You, O LORD, among the peoples, And I will sing praises to You among the nations. (Psalm 108:1-3)
- The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. (Psalm 118:14)
- Your statutes have been my songs In the house of my pilgrimage. (Psalm 119:54)
- When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” (Psalm 126:1-2)
- Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; Sing praises to His name, for it is pleasant. (Psalm 135:3)
- By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion. We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the LORD’s song In a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4)
- I will praise You with my whole heart; Before the gods I will sing praises to You. … All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O LORD, When they hear the words of Your mouth. Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, For great is the glory of the LORD. (Psalm 138:1)
- I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, (Psalm 144:9)
- They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, And shall sing of Your righteousness. (Psalm 145:7)
- While I live I will praise the LORD; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Psalm 146:2)
- Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful. … Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; Sing praises on the harp to our God, (Psalm 147:1, 7)
- Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise in the assembly of saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp. Let the saints be joyful in glory; Let them sing aloud on their beds. (Psalm 149:1-3, 5)
Note: GOD takes pleasure in His children rejoicing in Him. This includes dancing. Obviously there is a difference in righteous dancing for GOD and sinful lasciviousness.
- Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! (Psalm 150:3-5)
- Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather, And like vinegar on soda, Is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. (Prov. 25:20)
- By transgression an evil man is snared, But the righteous sings and rejoices. (Prov. 29:6)
- It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise Than for a man to hear the song of fools. (Eccl. 7:5)
- Singing and instruments in the prophets:
- Isaiah sings a song to GOD regarding His vineyard Israel (Isa. 5:1-7).
- Isaiah sings a song of praise to GOD (Isa. 12).
- Prophecy: The earth would sing at Babylon’s fall (Isa. 14:7, 11).
- Prophecy: No singing in Moab as the LORD pronounces judgment upon them (Isa. 16:10).
- Prophecy: Now it shall come to pass in that day that Tyre will be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the harlot: “Take a harp, go about the city, You forgotten harlot; Make sweet melody, sing many songs, That you may be remembered.” (Isa. 23:15-16)
- Prophecy of judgment against the earth’s (i.e., the land’s) inhabitants (Isa. 24:9, 14, 16).
- Isaiah’s praise to GOD: You will reduce the noise of aliens, As heat in a dry place; As heat in the shadow of a cloud, The song of the terrible ones will be diminished. (Isa. 25:5)
- Isaiah prophesies the song of salvation which will be sung in Judah (Isa. 26).
- Isaiah records Israel’s song of restoration (Isa. 27).
- GOD promises: You shall have a song As in the night when a holy festival is kept, And gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute, To come into the mountain of the LORD, To the Mighty One of Israel. (Isa. 30:29)
- [The desert] shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. … Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isa. 35:2, 5-6, 10)
- When Hezekiah was sick and dying, he prayed and GOD responded, extending his life. Hezekiah said: “The LORD was ready to save me; Therefore we will sing my songs with stringed instruments All the days of our life, in the house of the LORD.” (Isa. 38:20)
- Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise from the ends of the earth, You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, You coastlands and you inhabitants of them! Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voice, The villages that Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing, Let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the LORD, And declare His praise in the coastlands. The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies. (Isa. 42:10-13)
- I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; Break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, And glorified Himself in Israel. (Isa. 44:22-23)
- Go forth from Babylon! Flee from the Chaldeans! With a voice of singing, Declare, proclaim this, Utter it to the end of the earth; Say, “The LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob!” (Isa. 48:20)
- Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted. (Isa. 49:13)
- So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isa. 51:11)
- Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, With their voices they shall sing together; For they shall see eye to eye When the LORD brings back Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, You waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. (Isa. 52:8-9)
- “Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, You who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate Than the children of the married woman,” says the LORD. (Isa. 54:1)
- Isa. 55 is an invitation from GOD to the life of abundance. Isa. 55:12 says: For you shall go out with joy, And be led out with peace; The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
- Behold, My servants shall sing for joy of heart, But you shall cry for sorrow of heart, And wail for grief of spirit. (Isa. 65:12)
- Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD! For He has delivered the life of the poor From the hand of evildoers. (Jer. 20:13)
- For thus says the LORD: “Sing with gladness for Jacob, And shout among the chief of the nations; Proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O LORD, save Your people, The remnant of Israel!’ … Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, Streaming to the goodness of the LORD—For wheat and new wine and oil, For the young of the flock and the herd; Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden, And they shall sorrow no more at all. (Jer. 31:7, 12)
- Then the heavens and the earth and all that is in them Shall sing joyously over Babylon; For the plunderers shall come to her from the north,” says the LORD. (Jer. 54:16)
- Jeremiah lamented in Lam. 3:14, 63: I have become the ridicule of all my people—Their taunting song all the day. … Look at their sitting down and their rising up; I am their taunting song.
- Ezekiel prophesied against Tyre: [GOD] will put an end to the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps shall be heard no more. (Eze. 26:13)
- GOD spoke these indictments against Judah: “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Eze. 33:30-33)
- In Eze. 40:44, Ezekiel records the vision of the new temple that the LORD gave him where there were singers in the inner courts.
- GOD speaks of Israel using the marriage analogy, where Israel has played the harlot: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, And speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; She shall sing there, As in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. “And it shall be, in that day,” Says the LORD, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ And no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, And they shall be remembered by their name no more. (Hos. 2:14-17)
- Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. (Amos 5:23)
- Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, And trust in Mount Samaria, Notable persons in the chief nation, To whom the house of Israel comes! … Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, And invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; (Amos 6:1, 5)
- Then the LORD said to me: “The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. And the songs of the temple Shall be wailing in that day,” Says the Lord GOD—“Many dead bodies everywhere, They shall be thrown out in silence.” … I will turn your feasts into mourning, And all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist, And baldness on every head; I will make it like mourning for an only son, And its end like a bitter day. (Amos 8:2b-3, 10)
- Hab. 3:17-19 is a song to be set to stringed instruments: Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls—Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills. To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments.
- GOD speaks the following in Zeph. 2:14 in judgment against the nations: The herds shall lie down in her midst, Every beast of the nation. Both the pelican and the bittern Shall lodge on the capitals of her pillars; Their voice shall sing in the windows; Desolation shall be at the threshold; For He will lay bare the cedar work. This is the rejoicing city That dwelt securely, That said in her heart, “I am it, and there is none besides me.” How has she become a desolation, A place for beasts to lie down! Everyone who passes by her Shall hiss and shake his fist.
- Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; You shall see disaster no more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph. 3:14-17)
Conclusions from the Old Testament
- Singing has been a significant part of human life and worship throughout GOD’s recorded history.
- Singing in the OT was a natural expression of emotions—both joy and sorrow.
- Singing was often accompanied by instruments as well as dancing, all of which the LORD found pleasing. It seems clear that what GOD is interested in is the expression of the heart and the resulting benefit which comes to the one(s) participating.
Singing in the New Testament
- Jesus and the apostles sang a hymn prior to going to the Mount of Olives before His betrayal (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26).
- Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns at midnight in prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25).
- Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.” (Rom. 15:7-9)
- Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. … How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Cor. 14:12-18, 26)
Note: The emphasis of Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 14 was on the importance that the church be edified by what occurred when the church met, including singing.
- See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.
- These commands in Eph. 5 were given to individuals (“See that YOU walk…”), forming a miniature pattern for Christian living. The text does not indicate that these instructions to sing were dealing specifically with church assemblies. Church meetings certainly provide a logical time for singing, but Paul’s instructions were most definitely not exclusive to congregational assemblies.
- Our [individual] singing should be a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
- Why does the Spirit use all three terms (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs)? Note the definitions of the Greek words, per Strong’s Concordance:
- Psalm—a set piece of music, i.e. A sacred ode (accompanied with the voice, harp or other instrument; a “psalm”); collectively, the book of the Psalms—psalm.
- Hymn—Apparently from a simpler (obsolete) form of hudeo (to celebrate; probably akin to aido; compare abowt); a “hymn” or religious ode (one of the Psalms)—hymn.
- Spiritual—From pneuma; non-carnal, i.e. (humanly) ethereal (as opposed to gross), or (daemoniacally) a spirit (concretely), or (divinely) supernatural, regenerate, religious—spiritual.
- Songs—From aido; a chant or “ode” (the general term for any words sung; while humnos denotes especially a religious metrical composition, and psalmos still more specially, a Hebrew cantillation)—song.
It is my conclusion that GOD chose to use the three types of songs (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) intentionally, that the definition of these words should carry as much weight as other definitions in Scripture, and that we should not seek to “explain away” GOD’s choice of words. Also, I conclude that by the Spirit using the word “psalms,” He is including the Jewish psalms, which were often accompanied by—even ordered (by inspiration) to be set to—instruments.
- The NKJV translates v19 as “speaking to one another…“, however, other translations (including KJV and YLT) read “speaking to yourselves.” Regarding this Greek word, Strong’s says it means, “alone, herself, himself, itself, own.”
Putting all of this together, I understand the Spirit to be saying that when we sing spiritually-focused songs we are teaching ourselves and thereby fulfilling this command whenever we sing or listen to spiritual music—whether with or without instruments.
- Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 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. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Note: Colossians parallels Ephesians closely, and as such, we see the same thing in Col. 3:12-17—these instructions (which include singing) are given in the context of individual Christians’ lives, not specifically dealing with congregational meetings.
- For it was fitting for [Jesus], for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ” I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”
- Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
- Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.”
Note: There are instruments in heaven.
- Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.
- Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete. And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested.”
Note: The harps in heaven are “of God.”
Conclusions from the New Testament
- Jesus thought singing was important. It’s one of the last things He did before being arrested and crucified.
- Singing is to be an important part of the Christian’s life. Singing expresses thanksgiving, joy, rejoicing, and it also teaches, corrects and instructs the participant(s) and listener(s). It is my strong belief that it is this result (i.e., the outcome of having learned something, been touched or reminded of a truth or the need for repentance, etc.) that GOD is looking for. I see no indication in the NT that GOD is concerned about whether the singing is accompanied by an instrument(s).
- It is important to note that, after Jesus’ singing with the apostles, we have no recorded example or details regarding the church singing collectively, with or without instruments (unless you count Paul and Silas singing in prison in Acts 16). 1 Cor. 14:26 says that each individual “has a Psalm” when they assembled, which, as noted previously is a Greek word that indicates the accompaniment of instruments. These songs could have been sung collectively or as solos by individuals, we aren’t told.
Though not inspired, we can obtain extremely helpful and insightful information by reading the writings of the Christians in the first couple of centuries—those taught by the apostles and by those who knew them.
While the Scriptures are sufficient for us to please GOD, we ought not undervalue the information we can gain from external sources which helps us piece together a more complete picture of history.
Quotes from Early Christians (100-325 A.D.)
The most interesting and detailed reference on the subject of singing and instruments that I could find was from Clement of Alexandria (c. 195). You can read it in its entirety here, but below is an excerpt. Admittedly difficult to ensure a proper understanding, Clement is contrasting worldly and righteous living using a musical analogy.
“Let revelry keep away from our rational entertainments, and foolish vigils, too, that revel in intemperance. For revelry is an inebriating pipe, the chain of an amatory bridge, that is, of sorrow. And let love, and intoxication, and senseless passions, be removed from our choir. Burlesque singing is the boon companion of drunkenness. A night spent over drink invites drunkenness, rouses lust, and is audacious in deeds of shame. For if people occupy their time with pipes, and psalteries, and choirs, and dances, and Egyptian clapping of hands, and such disorderly frivolities, they become quite immodest and intractable, beat on cymbals and drums, and make a noise on instruments of delusion; for plainly such a banquet, as seems to me, is a theatre of drunkenness. …
“The Spirit, distinguishing from such revelry the divine service, sings, “Praise Him with the sound of trumpet;” for with sound of trumpet He shall raise the dead. “Praise Him on the psaltery;” for the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. “And praise Him on the lyre.” By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit, as it were by a plectrum. “Praise with the timbrel and the dance,” refers to the Church meditating on the resurrection of the dead in the resounding skin. “Praise Him on the chords and organ.” Our body He calls an organ, and its nerves are the strings, by which it has received harmonious tension, and when struck by the Spirit, it gives forth human voices. “Praise Him on the clashing cymbals.” He calls the tongue the cymbal of the mouth, which resounds with the pulsation of the lips. Therefore He cried to humanity, “Let every breath praise the Lord,” because He cares for every breathing thing which He hath made. For man is truly a pacific instrument; while other instruments, if you investigate, you will find to be warlike, inflaming to lusts, or kindling up amours, or rousing wrath.
“In their wars, therefore, the Etruscans use the trumpet, the Arcadians the pipe, the Sicilians the pectides, the Cretans the lyre, the Lacedæmonians the flute, the Thracians the horn, the Egyptians the drum, and the Arabians the cymbal. The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honour God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute, which those expert in war and contemners of the fear of God were wont to make use of also in the choruses at their festive assemblies; that by such strains they might raise their dejected minds. But let our genial feeling in drinking be twofold, in accordance with the law. For “if thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” and then “thy neighbour,” let its first manifestation be towards God in thanksgiving and psalmody, and the second toward our neighbour in decorous fellowship. For says the apostle, “Let the Word of the Lord dwell in you richly.” And this Word suits and conforms Himself to seasons, to persons, to places.
“In the present instance He is a guest with us. For the apostle adds again, “Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to God.” And again, “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and His Father.” This is our thankful revelry. And even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame. Thou shalt imitate the righteous Hebrew king in his thanksgiving to God. “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; praise is comely to the upright,” says the prophecy. “Confess to the Lord on the harp; play to Him on the psaltery of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song.” And does not the ten-stringed psaltery indicate the Word Jesus, who is manifested by the element of the decad? And as it is befitting, before partaking of food, that we should bless the Creator of all; so also in drinking it is suitable to praise Him on partaking of His creatures. For the psalm is a melodious and sober blessing. The apostle calls the psalm “a spiritual song.”
Finally, before partaking of sleep, it is a sacred duty to give thanks to God, having enjoyed His grace and love, and so go straight to sleep. “And confess to Him in songs of the lips,” he says, “because in His command all His good pleasure is done, and there is no deficiency in His salvation.”
Further, among the ancient Greeks, in their banquets over the brimming cups, a song was sung called a skolion, after the manner of the Hebrew psalms, all together raising the pæan with the voice, and sometimes also taking turns in the song while they drank healths round; while those that were more musical than the rest sang to the lyre. But let amatory songs be banished far away, and let our songs be hymns to God. “Let them praise,” it is said, “His name in the dance, and let them play to Him on the timbrel and psaltery.” And what is the choir which plays? The Spirit will show thee: “Let His praise be in the congregation (church) of the saints; let them be joyful in their King.” And again he adds, “The Lord will take pleasure in His people.” For temperate harmonies are to be admitted; but we are to banish as far as possible from our robust mind those liquid harmonies, which, through pernicious arts in the modulations of tones, train to effeminacy and scurrility. But grave and modest strains say farewell to the turbulence of drunkenness. Chromatic harmonies are therefore to be abandoned to immodest revels, and to florid and meretricious music.
The following quotes are taken from A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, edited by David W. Bercot.
“By music, we harmoniously relax the excessive tension of seriousness.”
—Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.203
“Let love songs be banished far away. But let our songs by hymns to God.”
—Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.249
“As an example of music, let us produce David, both playing and prophesying, melodiously praising God. Now the Enarmonic suits best the Dorian harmony; and the Diatonic, the Phrygian…Music, then, is to be studied for the sake of the embellishment and composure of manners. For instance, at a banquet, we pledge each other while the music is playing. By song, we soothe the eagerness of our desires, and we glorify God for the copious gift of human enjoyments…However, we must reject frivolous music, which weakens men’s souls.”
—Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.500, 501
“We cultivate our fields, praising. We sail the sea, singing hymns.”
—Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.533
“His sacrifices are prayers, praises, and readings in the Scriptures before meals—and psalms and hymns during meals and before bed.”
—Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.537
“We offer thanks for our creation by invocation and hymns.”
—Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.166
“All our women are chaste. And the maidens at their work sing of divine things more nobly than that woman of yours.”
—Tatian (c. 160, E), 2.79
“Pliny [a Roman official] found in the religious services nothing but meetings at early morning for singing hymns to Christ and God, and sealing home their way of life by a united pledge to be faithful to their religion, forbidding murder, adultery, dishonesty, and other crimes.”
—Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.18
“After washing the hands and bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God—either one from the Holy Scriptures or one of his own composing.”
—Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.47
“Wisdom is praised in hymns, in the places of egress. For the death of martyrs is also praised in song.”
—Tertullian (c. 213, W), 3.639
“For who is ignorant of the books of Irenaeus and Melito, and the rest, which declare Christ to be God and man? All the psalms, too, and hymns of the brethren—which have been written from the beginning by the faithful—celebrate Christ as the Word of God, ascribing to Him divinity.”
—Eusebius, quoting Caius (c. 215, W), 5.601
“…both by day and by night the holy laws are declared and hymns, songs, and spiritual words are heard.”
—Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 238, E), 6.37, 38
“We sing hymns to the Most High alone and to his Only-Begotten, who is the Word and God.”
—Origen (c. 248, E), 4.665. [One of the earliest Christian hymns: ANF 2.295, 296]
Per Wikipedia.org: “The use of instruments in early Christian music seems to have been frowned upon. In the late fourth or early 5th century St. Jerome wrote that a Christian maiden ought not even to know what a lyre or flute is like, or to what use it is put. The introduction of church organ music is traditionally believed to date from the time of the papacy of Pope Vitalian in the 7th century.”
“In contrast to the Old Testament, there is little reference to music in the New Testament. Jewish practice of temple worship was adapted and reinvented into Christianity. For example, upon their conversion, those who led singing in the synagogue also led it in their new Christian faith. In other words, since ‘Christians saw their faith as a completion of Judaism, they were able to continue to use many parts of Jewish liturgy’ (Wilson-Dickson 1992). But there is little written evidence of the actual music used in worship by either the Christian or Jewish community from the time of Jesus Christ through the seventh century A.D. Since the two faiths share many common foundations, a look at highly orthodox Jewish worship of the present day when compared with ancient musical sources reveals some possibilities of what ancient Christian music was like. But those Eastern traditions that worshiped in the vernacular especially laid the foundations for traditions that are alive today, even as other strains of Christianity greatly evolved with time. Still, even as Christians were composing an array of new songs that celebrated the particulars of their own faith, the Old Testament continued to be the source of much of Christianity’s musical tradition. Perhaps most notable is the compilation of 150 psalms (traditionally attributed to David, who himself gleaned inspiration from ancient Biblical sources) which “have produced remarkably consistent patterns of musical setting” for some 3,000 years (Wilson-Dickson 1992).” —http://www.randomhistory.com/2008/06/10_christian.html
Conclusions from Secular History
- It is unclear whether the Christians of the first few centuries used instruments to accompany their singing of spiritual songs, particularly in church meetings. There seems to be general agreement among scholars that musical instruments weren’t used by early Christians, although I have not seen any substantive evidence to support these claims.
- It is dangerous to put too much stock in uninspired writers, including myself, regardless of when they lived. At the same time, it’s unwise to completely ignore the evidence they provide.
- Because many of the earliest Christians were Jews that had followed the Law of Moses, which included instrumental music associated with worship at the temple and perhaps the synagogues, it is likely that they continued in that practice, at least for some period afterward. It is important to note, however, that the Levites were the musicians and singers at the temple.
- Many of the early Christians faced life-threatening persecution and, as a result, it is logical to think that they may have avoided drawing the attention of outsiders or government officials. Therefore, it is likely that they would have avoided the use of musical instruments in many situations in an effort to keep the noise down.
GOD’s Purpose for Singing
It is important that we seek to understand the heart of GOD—the “why” behind His instructions to sing.
Singing has been a significant part of human life and worship of GOD for thousands of years, perhaps since the beginning.
GOD has given mankind the avenue of singing as a means of expressing our thoughts and emotions. He desires our complete devotion, and that we would rejoice in His salvation and provision. Singing is an excellent method of expressing these feelings.
GOD is unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6). He accepted worship by song with the accompaniment of instruments (including dancing) in the OT as well as in heaven. Since He does not change, and since there is no mention of instrumental singing in the NT, I find it a logical conclusion that GOD views singing with instruments the same today.
I believe that what GOD is interested in with regard to our singing is the benefit we gain from the teaching, admonition, encouragement and praise of Him! He doesn’t need our singing (Acts 17:25) and everything GOD gives us, including our worship of Him, is for our benefit, not His.
Old Covenant vs. New Covenant
Someone says, “What about the fact that all the passages regarding instrumental music in worship are in the Old Testament? We’re under the new covenant so those don’t apply to us.”
It is true that we are under the new covenant and therefore passages such as those dealing with temple worship don’t apply to us.
But what about those psalms, such as Psalm 92, Psalm 147, and Psalm 149, which clearly state that it is good to praise the LORD with singing and with instruments? This has nothing to do with the covenant.
We have to be careful to avoid inconsistently choosing certain OT verses to apply to us today and improperly excluding others based on prior convictions.
For example, have you ever heard a Christian argue that Prov. 22:6 (Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.) doesn’t apply to us today because it is in the OT? I certainly haven’t. Everybody recognizes this to be a universal parenting truth that spans covenants.
Yet, many would argue Psalm 149:1-3 doesn’t apply to us. That seems awfully inconsistent to me.
The Silence Argument
Someone says, “But we have no authority for singing with instruments because GOD didn’t say (in the NT) that we can use them.”
I already explained my thoughts on the Spirit’s use of the words “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Feelings about the word “psalms” aside, GOD is indeed otherwise silent about the earthly use of instruments in the NT. But when we examine Scripture (including several examples in this post), GOD’s silence isn’t necessarily restrictive. Rather, GOD’s silence means that we must individually make a judgment call—we must do our best to properly apply the principles taught in Scripture to make the best possible decision.
As much as we might like to pretend otherwise, you and I make decisions every day on things about which GOD is silent.
GOD is silent about attending college, playing tennis, and eating ice cream, just to pick a few random silly examples to illustrate.
And lest you think these things apply to only individual decisions, GOD is also silent about church buildings, church vans, church kitchens, church gyms, and church staffs.
Thus, people are left to make judgment calls about each of these issues. Some we accept or engage in; others we reject or abstain from.
Public vs. Private Worship
Really? On what Bible text do you base this conclusion?
We’ve already established that Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 are in the context of individual everyday Christian life. This includes, but is not limited to those times when the church meets.
Worship is not something we do only when we assemble as a congregation. Worship is as broad as our life. The NT does not distinguish between singing in private versus public worship. We need to be careful to avoid drawing lines where GOD hasn’t drawn them.
Christians certainly don’t require instrument-accompanied singing in order to please the LORD. Acapella singing fulfills the instruction and has the bonus of being quite beautiful. Our congregation chooses to sing without instruments when we meet.
At the End of All This…
The bottom line is that I have concluded that singing with or without instruments falls is a Rom. 14 issue:
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. … But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
One person concludes it would be wrong for them to sing spiritual songs accompanied by instruments, another concludes it is acceptable.
Regardless of your personal conviction, don’t judge those who conclude otherwise because GOD hasn’t spoken about it in the NT. Be convinced of your own belief, follow your belief on the subject, but don’t cause your brother to stumble because of your belief.