In I Cor. 14:15 Paul wrote, “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit and I will sing with my understanding.” Over the years this particular verse has shaped my worship perhaps so more than any other verse in the bible. The easy application of this verse is seen in how the Corinthians were abusing the spiritual gifts that they had received from the Holy Spirit. They felt that the gift of tongue speaking made them more special than others. For instance, they might have felt that tongue speaking should be used often in the worship service, but the interpreting of tongues was not an important so that was refused as part of the worship service. In Corinth, that would have meant that someone could have been speaking ancient German (the language of the barbarians) and no one would have understood what he was saying. But, because it was a spiritual gift, the person speaking would have been doing it in his spirit and edified as a result. Paul was telling them this was wrong. This is not how it is supposed to work. Worship was to be done with everyone understanding so that everyone can understand. When this is done, everyone is worshipping in the spirit and God is glorified. Obviously the spiritual gifts seen in Corinth have passed as Paul explained would happen earlier in chapter 13 in this same letter. So, how does this help us in the 21st century?
I don’t think the application is really all that different. Sure, we might argue that we know what the words might mean. After all we all speak English and here in Grinnell we worship in English. However, that does not necessarily mean we understand. Many of our songs make references to either bible passages that we don’t know or references to words that are for the most part not used in the English language today. Let us look at a couple of examples.
Night with Ebon Pinion. “Night with ebon pinion brooded o’er the vale…” Right out of the gates I am flooded with language I don’t know. Three words jump off the page that I am unfamiliar with (or at least I used to be). Ebon is word that is infrequently used in the 21st century. It means to be black in color. It is not therefore just any night, but a night as dark as black. Pinion, as used here, refers to a binding or a shackling. Thus it was the night the Lord was bound. This binding of course could be seen in two different ways. It could refer to his arrest (a physical binding). It could also refer to an emotional binding. The Lord was therefore torn between his duty, his purpose and his want (to let this cup pass from him). A vale was a valley. In the immediate on context, Jesus was praying on the Mount of Olives overlooking the valley below. While this is not necessarily ground breaking information, I do believe it is important to help set the stage or the rest of the song. We are in the darkest of nights, the night the world turned its back upon the Savior.
O Thou Fount of Every Blessing. This is by far one of my favorite songs we sing. I love the melody. But, when I learned the meaning of the song, I loved it even more. The second verse reads, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” What is an Ebenezer? When did I raise it? How did I raise it? And most importantly, why should I raise it? The story of the Ebenezer is found in I Sam. 7. The Philistines gathered against Israel to destroy them, and God cause the Philistines to be smitten before the Israelites. Samuel then set up the Ebenezer. It was a memorial to remind Israel that God helped them that day. So, when we sing “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” What are we raising as a memorial? Christ. Christ is our Ebenezer. He is our stone of help. He is our reminder that God has not abandoned us.
Singing with understanding gives me a great insight into what I am saying and therefore enables me to put more of my spirit into my worship. WTK
Grinnell church of Christ
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Know What You're Singing
Volume 7 Issue 32