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Colossians 3:16 & Ephesians 6:18-20 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:40 mins 1 sec

Singing to the Glory of God. Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 6:18-20



Colossians 3:16 NASB "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms {and} hymns {and} spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

We are focusing on what it means to sing and why it is that we sing, and what is the significance of singing in the congregation. Some think that somehow singing is just something that we do—let's just get through the singing so we can get to the real meat of the meeting, which is the study of the Word. We ought to ask ourselves: is that how the Bible approaches singing? We should be reminded that we are to sing to the glory of God, and that means that we are to sing to honour God in terms of all that He is. Often the glory of God represents the entirety of His essence, so we are to do everything in order to honour God. This would include what we do when we come together to worship as a corporate body of believers.

Colossians 3:16 says that we are to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within us. The phrase "in all wisdom" really modifies the two participles teaching and admonishing. So we are commanded to let the Word of Christ take up its residence in us, to make its home in our lives so that the Word of God is fully at home in us. That means we have a familiarity with it. It is to be very much at home in everything that we do. That means we have to really, truly know the Word—not just doctrine. Doctrine is derived from the Word. We are to know the Word and what the Word teaches; not just abstract principles of application. The Bible is not teaching just some simple pattern of morality, not just giving principles. There are principles there and often we principle-ise the basic teachings that are in the Word, but we are to know the Word, the Scripture says. The psalmist said: "They Word have I hid in my heart." It is the Word of God that is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword—Hebrews 4:12. It is powerful because it is the truth.

This isn't an option; it isn't an option that God gives that we can do or not do. We have the choice but the choice of obedience is the path to life, the choice of disobedience is the path to experiencing temporal death, i.e. a death-like life, not experiencing the blessings and the joy and the peace that God has for us. So it is a prime mandate for the believer to let the Word of Christ make itself at home abundantly and generously in every aspect of his thinking and life. That is the application of this. It affects every single thing that we can think of.

As we have seen, the punctuation in the NKJV puts a comma after "wisdom," which makes it seem as if the phrase "in all wisdom" modifies the verb to dwell, i.e. "dwell with all wisdom." But actually the phrase "in all wisdom" modifies the following participles, so the comma should be moved to follow the adverb "richly" and then "in all wisdom teaching and admonishing." These two participles "teaching" and "admonishing" are what are called participles of result. This is expressing what the result should be when we have let the Word of Christ richly dwell within us. The subsequent statements that are made here in the remainder of Colossians express other results, other consequences of letting the Word of Christ "richly dwell within you," e.g. verse 17. It affects everything that we do.

So the result of this is that we are to teach and admonish one another, and the word "teach" has the idea of instruction. The word "admonish" has the idea of warning, encouraging someone and challenging him to a course of action. For example, a hymn such as "Turn your eyes upon Jesus," a hymn of admonishment. This is an exhortation and a reminder to all of us that we are to make Jesus the focal point of our lives. We are to fix our hope upon Jesus who is the author and completer of our faith. "Look full in His wonderful face"—our occupation with Christ. "The things of earth will grow strangely dim"—all the details of life suddenly come into perspective because we realise what is truly important when we are occupied with Christ. So this is an exhortation and a challenge to us to put our focus upon Him. Then in the last verse, "His Word shall not fail you—He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well: Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!" This is a great reminder that our mission, given by the Lord to His eleven disciples called the great commission and passed down to us, that we are to be witnesses of Him throughout all of the world until He returns. 

So we sing hymns like this because they encourage us by the words, they remind us of our priorities, and they give us an opportunity to reflect a little bit about why we are believers and what our life is really all about.

We see that the prime directive given in Scripture when it comes to talking about singing is this idea of teaching or instruction, as well as admonishing one another. This is the result of letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within us. We see this parallel in Ephesians 5:18, 19. Notice that in Ephesians 5:19 the result of being filled by means of the Spirit is "peaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." In both passages (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16) there is this phrase, "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." We have noted that oftentimes pastors and teachers and preachers talk about these usually in terms of our modern conceptions, so they will reflect upon the Psalms and the meaning of the psalms as singing, singing the songs that we have in the Scripture. There are some traditions coming out of the Reformation and in the early years, the first century or two after, there was an emphasis on congregational singing. The reason for that is that in the Roman Catholic Church all of the rituals were conducted in Latin, and nobody understood Latin or knew what was being said. So out of the Protestant Reformation major reformers like Martin Luther, who wanted to get the language of the people into the hymns and everything going on in the church so that they could understand what was going on and participate.

So there was an emphasis on congregational singing and a rigid view of let's stick with the Scripture, and so they only sang the Psalms. They had various tunes which were very simply that they would sing the Psalms to, and usually the song leader would hit the line and then the congregation would sing the one line and then he would say the second line. They didn't have hymn books. It wasn't until the early part of the 18th century that there was a major revolution take place in hymnody by a man named Isaac Watts who was a pastor as well as a brilliant poet, wordsmith, wrote a number of hymns. He wrote these hymns as a reflection and meditation upon the Psalms. In fact, his first hymn books that came out were called Reflections Upon the Psalms. He realised that there were many New Testament doctrines that were ignored if they only sang the words of the Psalms in the Old Testament. There was nothing about Christ or what Christ had accomplished and what had been provided for us in our spiritual life, the Holy Spirit or any of these things. And so what he did, which was revolutionary at the time, was take the Psalms and rework them and use them as his pattern and model for creating poetry, because essentially the words that we sing in a hymn are initially a poem. He would write a poetic reflection upon that psalm. It was not word for word what was in the psalm, it was a reflection upon the psalm. In that way he could bring into the psalm New Testament ideas and church age doctrines that were related to the ideas in the text of the psalm. This became very popular within a very short time and it was especially stimulated for the first great awakening that occurred in both England and the United States in the early part of the 1700s.

That is often how people would translate the idea of psalms. Then hymns would be something like what Isaac Watts wrote—a reflection or meditation upon a psalm. Spiritual songs would be something a little further removed from the text. However, what we discover is that these words that are used for hymns and spiritual songs are used as synonyms for the psalms in the Old Testament. 2 Chronicles 7:6 NASB "The priests stood at their posts, and the Levites also, with the instruments of music to the LORD, which King David had made for giving [offered] praise to the LORD—'for His lovingkindness is everlasting'—whenever he gave praise by their means, while the priests on the other side blew trumpets; and all Israel was standing." In the translation into the LXX uses these same words in reference to the Psalms. Remember 2 Chronicles was written after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile, many years after David wrote the Psalms. In this verse the Greek word used for "music" is hode [w(dh], and this is the word used for "song" is Colossians 3:16. "Whenever David offered praise" is the Massoretic Text translation, but in the LXX they translated the phrase "offered praise" as "by the hymns of David."  So they used the word there for hymns. In this verse the Psalms of David are referred to by the word "songs" as well as by the word "hymns." So the phrase "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" were basically three different ways to designate the music of the Psalms.      

 This helps us to understand the text a little better. Paul is not talking about three different types of spiritual music, he is talking about the Psalms because this was what was sung at that early stage of the church. It doesn't mean that new sings couldn't be written but they wouldn't be inspired by God as the psalms of the Old Testament were. So that becomes our pattern, our standard for lyrics for music.

Today there is a lot of controversy going on about music and music in the church. There is more heat than light in some places and this has been going for almost forty years. In man churches today there is what they call a contemporary worship service. They song a lot of choruses and it is referred to by the term "contemporary Christian music/worship." It has been very divisive over the years in numerous congregations and they have shifted to an all-contemporary type of service, and there are a lot of misconceptions as to what the issues are related to this. This is something that we need to address and think through as a congregation, realising that we do what we do for a specific reason, having developed this and understood this from the text of Scripture.

We recognise, first and foremost, that the Bible does command us to sing. So when we ask the question as to why we sing, we answer because the Bible says so. It is simple; it is not an option. It is a result of letting "the Word of Christ richly dwell within you," and being filled by means of the Spirit.          

Just as a side note, there are some traditions in Christianity that are against the use of instruments in worship and that is not accurate. If we look at Ephesians 5:19, "… speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in you're your heart…" The word there translated "making melody" is the Greek verb psallo [yallw]. The noun form is psalmos [yalmoj]. The root meaning of this word meant to pluck, to twang a bow string, and to pluck the strings of a harp. So right there the singing relates to singing with the voice and making melody relates to making melody with a musical instrument. The text makes it very clear that musical instruments are appropriate for worship.

Psalm 68:4 NASB "Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Lift up {a song} for Him who rides through the deserts, Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him." This is a command. This is the Old Testament but we have seen that the New Testament reiterates this. The point is that throughout the history of Scripture there is this expectation that the people of God will respond to God and ought to respond to God in singing.

Psalm 68:32 NASB "Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth, Sing praises to the Lord, Selah. [33] To Him who rides upon the highest heavens, which are from ancient times; Behold, He speaks forth with His voice, a mighty voice." When we are singing it is not just singing praise to God. When we praise God we don't do it by simply repeating the command "Praise God," we praise God by explaining what it is that God has done and what He has accomplished in our life. And this is what we see in verse 34, which is ascribing that praise: "Ascribe strength to God; His majesty is over Israel And His strength is in the skies. [35] O God, {You are} awesome from Your sanctuary. The God of Israel Himself gives strength and power to the people. Blessed be God!" What we are to notice in this psalm is that this is our pattern; we are to look to the ultimate standard for our lyrics. There is not a restriction to one verse, repeating one or two phrases over and over; there is a doctrinal development, an ongoing explanation of what God has done in history. So when we sing we are not just repeating phrases or clauses again and again, but there should be doctrinal development. The point here is that when we sing to God we don't just take a phrase from Scripture or a verse from Scripture and simply repeat it, as is typical in various forms of contemporary Christian music which is rather shallow and limited. Just the recitation of Scripture doesn't mean much. It has no explanation, no theological or doctrinal development, and this is part of the problem that we see today.

Psalm 96 is a descriptive praise psalm. In other words, it is describing why we should praise God. Verse 1 begins with a command. NASB "Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth." A new song doesn't mean a song that is reflective of the music of this next generation.

Part of the self-absorption, the narcism of last two or three generations, starting with the baby boomers in the 60s, is the idea that somehow what has been accepted and proclaimed and followed as a pattern for 2000 years of Christianity isn't good enough for this generation; we have to have our own music. There are a number of problems with that which we will see later. But one of the things we should reflect upon is that this is the first generation in history that has ever had the arrogance to say we want our own form of music. Up until the World War 2 generation there was an understanding that there was a distinction between sacred music and what we sang at home—folk music, usually. Pop music is really a product of the 20th century. But for most of the time in the history of Christianity there was a realisation that when you went to church the culture of the church was the culture of God. Outside of the church is the culture of the world. It was not expected that when you went to church you would sing the kinds of songs or have the kinds of music that was sung outside of church. There was a culture difference. The culture of the church was impacted and affected by the thinking of Scripture, and there was that understanding.    

When the baby boomers came along suddenly they had the idea they wanted to sing the kind of music they liked to sing (notice that that is never a standard in Scripture) rather than what has been developed and thought through for centuries by previous generations who had given profound thought and time and energy to developing biblical forms and content for the worship of the body of Christ.

Singing a new song is not singing something that is new for our generation. It simply reflects, if we study this term out in Scripture, that time goes by as God interacts in human history in our lives there are new things to praise God about, so there are reasons to write new hymns of praise to God for what He has done. That is the meaning of singing a new song—not a new kind of song for a new generation but a new song because God has now performed new things in life.   

Psalm 96:2 NASB "Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day." Notice that the second line of verse 2 talks about proclaiming the good news but it is in the context of what we sing. We are singing about the good news, the gospel, and proclaiming it through what we sing. [3] "Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples." If we stop and think about the history of music a little bit it could be demonstrated that western music is what it is because of Christianity, and that no other world religion has produced music. But when Christianity impacted the paganism of the Greco-Romans world at that time it transformed the culture. And out of that transformed culture came a development in the arts, specifically a development in music, that completely revolutionised it, and almost all music that developed from the fall of the Roman empire to the time of the 19th century, the end of the Enlightenment, was church based and related to worship. In many cases today, especially if we are talking about Rock or some other forms of contemporary pop music, many of the singers got their start singing in a church choir. If Christianity had never been here we would not have the music that we have in the world today. Only Christianity has had that impact. This is the result of the people of God, the church, reflecting and applying these principles. The great music of many of the composers down through history were declaring the glory of God among the nations. 

Why do we sing to God? It is because the Scripture commands us to.    

There is more to this than the commands of Scripture. Now we have to answer some tough questions. What is it that we should sing? How should we sing it? What are the words? What about the music? What are the issues in all of this?

Colossians 3:17 NASB "Whatever you do in word or deed, {do} all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." This is because our Lord's death on the cross is the reason we have salvation. As we come to reflect upon that it has an impact on us. That impact often is emotional and it affects us in many different ways. We express this through singing and it is extremely important in terms of our spiritual life. Notice that it is an understanding of what the Scripture teaches that precedes and evokes the emotion; it is not the other way around. It is not the music that evokes the emotions; it is the content that evokes the emotions. And so we always have to be careful when we evaluate and think about singing how this is structured. It is always the Word of God and the truth of God that is what is impacting our soul.