“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Last time as I addressed “Of wisdom” we drew out two points from the larger context of chapter 3. We saw that the Christian Life is Relational – we are called into a Body (Col. 3:12 – 4:1; esp. verse 15). We are not meant to live out our new life in Christ by ourselves. Secondly, the Body of Christ is Diverse by design (Col. 3:11). The Church is drawn together around Christ and not around earthly distinctions. And so we should not be surprised when points of tension arise in the church. Instead, we ought to see those points of tension as designed by God. Diversity, tensions and even wrongs done to one another serve as opportunities to bear with and forgive as Christ forgave us.
Last time we also took up the beginning of verse 16 of chapter 3 and we saw that we are each called to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly and we saw that those in the Body of Christ are to be teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom. This means that the local church is to be a place where each member has two roles: giving and receiving.
We saw last time that the Word of Christ, the gospel, must be at the center of the church’s life. The gospel is what gathers in the bride of Christ from every nation and the gospel is what builds-up, strengthens, matures and sanctifies the bride of Christ.
If the Word about Christ has not captured our hearts in the church we will not be equipped to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. Instead, we will be quick to beat and berate or run and hide from one another.
We now continue on in verse 16, holding firmly to that absolutely central imperative of the Christian life. It is absolutely central to your life personally to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly and it is the absolutely central imperative in our life together that each one of us let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. I need you to know and love and speak the good news of great joy to me again and again and that is what you need as well. The central imperative of our lives must be to let the Word of Christ so live in our hearts that we are changed thereby.
With that in mind we are going to look at just one thing that Paul says should begin to define a people who have the Word of Christ dwelling richly in them. When the Word of Christ dwells richly among us we will be a singing people.
A Singing People
The end of verse 16 says that those who have the Word of Christ dwelling in them richly should be a singing people.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual song, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
We are going to try to answer three questions:
- Why is singing essential?
- Why is singing serious?
- Why is singing service?
1. Why Singing is Essential
It may be easy to think, “I am not a musical person. I am not a gifted musician. I can’t even hold a tune.” But the apostle tells us to sing. Why is singing an essential part of the life of the church?
There has been a lot written on this verse (and its parallel: Ephesians 5:19), but the first thing we need to understand is why singing is so important in the life of an individual Christian and the life of the Body of Christ together. Here we have the apostle Paul commanding the church to sing. Why?
Well, I found John Piper’s comment here incredibly helpful:
“The Christian Church was born in song.” Those are the words of Ralph Martin in his book called Worship in the Early Church. (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1964, p. 39). We are a singing people. And there is a reason for this. The reality of God and Christ and creation and salvation and heaven and hell are simply too great for mere speaking; they must also be sung. This means that the reality of God and his work is so great that we are not merely to think truly about it, but also feel duly about it… that is, feel with the kind and depth and intensity of emotion that is appropriate to the reality that is truly known… Jonathan Edwards, who knew God’s reality with his head and passionately felt God’s reality in the love of his heart, is right when he says, ‘God glorifies Himself toward the creatures … in two ways: 1. By appearing to . . . their understanding. 2. In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself. . . God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.’
Once you see this – that the work of the heart (the emotions) is as important for reflecting the glory of God as the work of the head (understanding) is, then you will begin to see why music and singing is so important for Christian worship. The reason we sing is because there are depths and heights and intensities and kinds of emotion that will not be satisfactorily expressed by mere prosaic forms, or even poetic readings. There are realities that demand to break out of prose into poetry and some demand that poetry be stretched into song.
So music and singing are necessary to Christian faith and worship for the simple reason that the realities of God and Christ, creation and salvation, heaven and hell are so great that when they are known truly and felt duly, they demand more than discussion and analysis and description; they demand poetry and song and music. Singing is the Christian’s way of saying: God is so great that thinking will not suffice, there must be deep feeling; and talking will not suffice, there must be singing.” – John Piper
God has designed human beings to worship Him, not just with accurate thoughts about Him (as absolutely central as that is), but also with hearts delighting in Him. Last time we spoke about the need to know the gospel. Do you understand, and can you explain the good news from the Scriptures? It is so important that we have right understanding. God has revealed Himself and His very great salvation, in His Word. We must learn about it in the Word.
But, God has not revealed Himself and His very great salvation in order to stock our minds with truth about which we do not care, but in order to fill our minds with glorious truth that our hearts love and delight in. And when the Word of Christ dwells in us that way we will want, not only to speak, but to sing of His glories.
And so the reason the people of God are a singing people is because the reality of God and His work in Christ is so glorious that merely speaking true things about Him and His work does not go far enough. It is when the glories of God and Him work move and warm our hearts that God is beginning to receive the glory due His name. And so singing is essential in the life of the church.
2. Why Singing is Serious.
Bob Kauflin, well known song writer, author, and worship leader, has written about on Colossians 3:16 as well. And he says that singing is a crucial part of the Body of Christ for three reasons. I found these reasons compelling and sobering.
The first reason singing is crucial in the Body of Christ is that it helps us Remember God’s Word.
God designed us in a way that we remember things that are set to song. I am sure some of you have pages of song lyrics filed in your memory – some of those lyrics you wish you could forget – but they are there. And it wasn’t hard work to learn them. You learned them as you listened to them and delighted in the music that carried them to you.
Singing is a wonderful gift to aid our memories. But singing is also a gift that must be stewarded. We can squander the gift of music and misuse it at well. The songs that fill the minds and hearts of Christians should be songs that help us remember the truth of God’s Word and work. The singing that we do together, as the people of God, is not secondary, it is serious. The songs of the church must be true through and through. The songs we sing together serve to unite us around the faith, to teach and reinforce and stamp in our minds and hearts the glories of God and His Gospel.
How important it is that we chose songs that will speak truth to us and to our children. What an opportunity we have as a body to search out good songs so that the Word of Christ can be made known and remembered among us.
So that is the first reason that the singing in serious in the Body of Christ: it helps us remember God’s Word
Second, singing helps us Respond to God’s grace.
As we considered above, the truths of our faith are so profound and so deep and so rich and so filled with glory that when they dwell in us richly they should overflow out of us in heart-felt response. Our singing should be the expression of our hearts response to God and His gospel of grace.
Singing is such a wonderful gift. It is given that the people of God may more fully respond to the grace of God with heart-felt emotion. And so, we must never think about our time of corporate singing simply in terms of a duty to be preformed or a ritual to be followed. It is to be an expression of our hearts response to Christ.
Do we sing as those responding to incredible life changing truth or as those who are merely going through the motions of the church.
Notice what I said. Singing should be the expression of our hearts response to Christ. Sometimes we misuse singing and music in order to whip up our emotions – music can do that, but that is not what we are trying to do as we sing together. The emotion that should be expressed in song should be a response to Christ.
There can be no true worship in song if we are not responding to truth. If we can stand and sing songs that we like and that make us feel good as a result, without knowing what we are singing about, we are not responding to truth and we are not worshipping God.
Our singing should help us respond to the glorious truths of the gospel of grace.
Singing is serious because it helps us respond to God’s grace.
Thirdly, singing is serious because it helps us Reflect God’s glory.
1. Our God is a singing God:
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”
2. Our God is also a God of unity and peace. Singing together is a reflection of the unity and peace that Christ made possible for us. When we join our voices together in unity and mutual delight in Christ we are trumpeting the work of Christ and the glory of God.
People who would not have any earthly reason to come together, testify to the power of the gospel when they come together in the church… and singing together is a wonderful display of that unity.
Again, there is a call here to take the singing of the body seriously. It is not some take-it-or-leave-it practice. We need to consider the gift of song and not take it for granted.
Why is singing serious? It is because it is a gift that helps us remember the Word of God, respond to the grace of God, and reflect the glory of God.
Singing is Essential and Singing is Serious.
3. Why Singing is Service
Notice that there are three types of songs here: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
Some have tried to dig out the precise categories that Paul had in mind here. Some have come down pretty strongly that these terms refer to only certain types of music that Paul would permit in the church.
This is not my view. That does not seem to be Paul’s point here. In fact, these terms were used in different ways in different contexts and it does not appear that Paul had strict and precise categories in mind. Rather he seems simply to be suggesting a variety of musical forms. His point is that the when the Word of Christ dwells richly in the church that Word will be expressed in a variety of musical forms.
And this is fitting.
1. The gospel is for every nation, tongue, language, and people. The Church, the Body of Christ is diverse and so musical expression will be diverse.
2. But also a diversity of musical forms is fitting because the gospel deals with both pain and gladness, joy and sorrow, justice and power, as well as mercy and gentleness. Our God is awesome in majesty and holiness and wrath and He is gentle and kind and compassionate. He is strong and sovereign and He emptied Himself and became nothing. Musical forms should reflect what we are singing about. Music is a gift to express the heights and the depths of the gospel.
When the Word of Christ dwells richly among a people music flows out of the weight of that truth – it is the beauty and weight and glory of the Word of Christ that creates the music. The music is the expression of the truth.
Therefore, the truths being expressed should be the controlling factor in the tone and style of the music. And because there are different aspects of the gospel (sorrow, pain, sin, repentance, joy, faith, victory, holiness, etc) there must be a variety of musical expressions in the songs we sing together.
I want to linger here for just a moment, because some churches have really stumbled over the musical expressions of the local body. The question of what kind of music a local church embraces is a very hot issue for some. So I’d like to take a few moments to tease out some implications of what Paul is saying here in Colossians 3:16.
First of all, notice that singing is an essential part of the life of the church together and we should, therefore, labor to have music that accurately expresses the glories of the gospel. I think that point has been established.
Second, notice in verse 16, that singing is the expression of the Word of Christ dwelling richly in us, together. And notice it is closely tied to the teaching and admonishing ministry that each one of us is to give and receive from one another in all wisdom. Paul is speaking into the Body and showing us what we should be doing together as a body: Letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
There are a few implications to what Paul is saying here.
For example, much of the discussion about music in the local church ends up being about the musical style that speaks to “me.” And so the discussion revolves around what “I” prefer. “I prefer older, more musical complex hymns,” “Well, I prefer newer, more upbeat songs.” Too often this becomes a generational debate. One generation is attached to a style of music, which leaves another generation feeling flat.
One popular way of dealing with this difference in preference is to have two or more services with different musical styles. At first glance this seems to have merit because the local church is trying to serve the different preferences of the body.
But I fear that when we divide the Body of Christ by musical preference (and often as result by age), we are running away from what Paul has been calling us to in this chapter. We have been called into the Body of Christ. We are the new creation, the new covenant people of God. We are not united around musical preferences, but around Christ.
And Paul has called us, as a body, to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another is all wisdom, singing… Singing is an expression of the Word of Christ cherished among us and it is the extension of the teaching and admonishing ministry that each one of us is to give and receive.
If we divide ourselves up based on musical preferences than we will be missing a crucial opportunity to display the effects of the gospel in our lives. Is it not the gospel that teaches us to count others as more significant than ourselves? Is it not the gospel that teaches us to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others? It is the gospel that teaches us to remember how the Lord of all descended to serve and lay his life down that we might live and it is the gospel that teaches us to serve one another like Christ served us (Philippians 2:3-8).
There is an important sense in which the musical expressions of the Body of Christ together should not just be our own personal expressions of delight in Christ, but the Body gathered should be a place that we can serve one another so that others may delight in Christ.
I have been in a number of churches that have a youth Sunday. A Sunday when the youth in the church are given an opportunity to help lead the corporate worship service. It always puzzled me that whenever the youth were given the chance to decide what songs to sing – the service without fail was filled with songs that youth prefer. I wonder if we had a Senior Sunday, would the seniors choose all songs that seniors prefer?
I believe Paul is calling us to serve one another in our songs hymns and spiritual songs. If we are thinking this way, than there will be times when you are served and times when you are serving. Giving and receiving. And so it should be in the body of Christ.
Our singing together should be an expression of our unity in the Spirit and around the gospel. Christ unites us with bonds infinitely stronger than musical preferences.
I don’t believe we will be divided by musical preference around the throne in glory. I believe we will all together join in many musical expressions with all our hearts because of the One about which we will be singing and before whom we will be singing. …and so it should be today in the Body of Christ.
Singing is Essential, Singing is Serious, and Singing is Service.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys. Visit Windham Bible Chapel.