“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
Colossians 3:16 is one of the three direct references which relate to the practice of church music as recorded in the Scriptures. (If you haven’t read any of these posts to this point, it is advisable to read parts 1-4a first).
The history of the Colossian church is a worthy study! The apostle Paul had probably never been there before writing this letter to them (2:1). The church was most likely a result of evangelism by Epaphras (1:7), who was from Colossae himself (4:12). For some reason, Epaphras had left the church in the hands of Archippus, yet Archippus was evidently struggling with the fulfillment of his duties (4:17). Archippus was probably the son of Philemon and Apphia (Philemon 1:1-2) and therefore the church was meeting in his father’s house. Somehow, after leaving Colossae, Epaphras had ended up in prison with Paul and Onesimus (4:12-13; Philemon 1:23).
Undoubtedly there was some false teaching that was attempting to gain a foothold in Colossae. It is very probable that Epaphras asked Paul to write this letter to them. Clearly Epaphras had great concern for this church in his home town and which was the labor of his own hands.
The false teaching is not named, but there are several warnings given to the believers there (2:4, 8, 16-23). All of the warnings revolve around a wrong view of Christ. While there is no name given to the false doctrine, there is an abundance of Christology taught in this book, so it is quite apparent that the false doctrine had something to do with a false view of Christ. Paul’s letter was intended to explain the person of Christ and then to express the reality of life in Christ for the believer.
In chapter 1, Paul prayed that believers would grow as a result of the knowledge of the redemption and the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ (1:14). In his praying, he acknowledged that Jesus is the image of God (1:15), that Jesus is the Creator of all things (1:16), that He is the omnipresent Sustainer of all creation (1:17). From his prayer that began in verse 9, Paul launches into a description of Jesus in which he asserts that is the Head of the body, the firstborn from the dead and intended by God to have all pre-eminence (1:18). In Jesus, full deity dwells (1:19). Jesus made peace and reconciliation through the blood of the cross (1:20). Jesus reconciled believers to Himself by His death in order to present them as holy in His sight (1:21-22). The marvelous revelation to saints is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). Christ is the goal of teaching and preaching (1:28). Paul is just getting warmed up, in chapter 2 he continues on with this barrage of genuine Christology!
In chapter 2, Paul’s labor was to see believers have comfort and assurance as to who Christ is (2:2). He is the One in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge exist (2:3). Christ is the foundation of faith and the One in Whom believers are to walk (2:5-6). Christ is the contrast to worldly philosophy, vain deceit, and the elementary principles of this organized system called the world (2:8). Instead, Christ is the fullness of the Godhead (2:9). Believers are complete in Christ, who is head over all principalities and powers (2:10). Paul told the Colossians that their spiritual circumcision of putting off the body of the sins of the flesh was by Christ (2:11). Believers are risen with Christ through faith in the work of God Who raised Christ from the dead (2:12). When dead in sins, Christ quickened them and forgave them their trespasses by nailing their record of sin to the cross (2:13-14). Christ spoiled all powers, publicly triumphing over them in power (2:15). It is by Christ that the body is nourished, held together, and increasing (2:19).
These thoughts are just a synopsis of the Christology presented in Colossians. The content is overwhelming – by design!
Following these theological assertions, Paul dealt with the daily walk of a believer in Christ.
By way of comparison, chapter 2 only contained four imperatives and three of them were warnings, but 3:1-4:6 contains nineteen imperatives which all revolve around the outworking of God or Christ in the life of a believer. These imperatives follow the introductory clause “if ye then be risen with Christ” (3:1) which should be viewed as an accomplished fact and even understood as “since ye then be risen with Christ” then . . . etc.
So, those who have been raised to new life through Christ, should be living out the instructions in 3:1-4:6.
You may be thinking, “this blogpost is supposed to be about parameters for Christian music.” Instead, you see a synopsis of the Christology taught in the book of Colossians and its application in the life of believers – where is this headed?
Think again of the context of this book. False teachers have focused on philosophy, tradition, religion, and etc. apart from Christ. Paul has intentionally overawed the Colossians with the realities of Christ in the first couple of chapters. Now, he is teaching them what practical life in Christ should be.
In 3:1-4, Paul emphasized that the focus and affections of life should be directed heavenly where Christ is seated. The reason for this is because Christ is the new identity of believers and it is when He appears in them that they will shine (I’m not convinced that there is any eschatology in Paul’s mind in 3:4). These verses serve as an introduction to the various, yet – I believe systematic instructions given to the Colossian believers who have risen with Christ and have put on the new man.
Paul wrote about the personal life of the believer in verses 5-7.
Then in verses 8-11, the apostle wrote regarding the personal interaction between believers who have put off the old man, have put on the new man and are being continually renewed in the knowledge of Christ.
In verses 12-14, Paul explains the imitation of Christ’s love by the believer.
Paul then challenges the Colossians, in verses 15-17, to be governed by the peace of God (they had been called to this corporately), then instructs them to be overflowing with the word of Christ as they identify with Him in everything they do.
The remainder of this section, 3:18-4:6, gives instructions regarding the husband/wife relationship, the parent/child relationship, and the employer/employee relationship. Also, there are instructions to aid Paul’s ministry through prayer and to govern their conduct towards the world.)
The balance of chapter 4 is various information regarding Paul’s partners in ministry and their relationship to the Colossian believers as well as instruction regarding the interaction with the Laodiceans. Finally, Paul concludes with an exhortation to Archippus, who was very likely the struggling and overwhelmed pastor of the church in Colossae.
To recap all of this context. Paul wrote this epistle to undermine a false Christology by declaring a genuine Christology. He did so by presenting salvo after salvo of assertions regarding the person of Christ. These assertions affected reality because believers were risen with Christ and identified with Christ. Since Christ was their identification, His person impacted every part of their lives, including personal interaction and corporate assembly.
The exhortation regarding music harmonizes completely with this context. For those who have received Christ, those who have been buried and are risen with Christ, those who have been made alive in Christ, those who are dead to the world through Christ, and those whose identity is with Christ, the instruction in 3:16, makes perfect sense.
Colossians 3:16, “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.”
Now let’s look at the verse in a bit more detail.
Though there are a couple of variations on possible divisions, I believe the sentence is divided by the following phrases: First, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Second, “with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Third, “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
The gist of the sentence is that believers are to be abundantly inhabited by the word of Christ. Considering the context of the book in which Paul has emphatically declared the revelation of Christ, one can be assured that the author is asserting that believers should have an accurate understanding of (everything declared of Christ in the previous chapters) and rich relationship with Christ. This abundant relationship with Christ results in “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and also “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
An abundant relationship with Christ is worked out in the lives of other believers. The Colossian believers had been warned to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (2:8). They had been put on notice that they should not give heed to false teachers whose teachings were not after Christ, but here (3:16) they are told that with lives full of Christ, they should teach and admonish one another. The presumption is that these believers who are full of the word of Christ are to be influencing each other while rejecting the influence of any who do not hold to Christ as the center of their teaching.
The church is strengthened against false teachers by a mutual edification in the person of Christ! “Teaching” and “admonishing” are both participles. Several commentators have implied that these two words are to be understood as commands, the reality is that these flow naturally from one in whom the word of Christ is dwelling. These two words indicate the actions of “instructing” and “putting in mind.” This “teaching” and “admonishing” is to be done “in all wisdom.” Teaching and admonishing is not accidental, but carefully, thoughtfully, and with biblical wisdom, each is accomplished. Paul expected these Colossian believers to make sure that they were protecting and supporting each other in their knowledge of Christ by continually communicating Him to each other.
Amazingly, the tool which Paul stated should be used in this was music! The “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are the same words used in Ephesians 5:19 and I discussed them in the previous post, so I won’t go over them again in detail. However, a reminder that a psalm is pious praise, hymns are jubilant song, and a spiritual song is spiritual poetry. So, in a church where the doctrine of Christ has been undermined, believers are to use pious praise, jubilant song, and spiritual poetry to teach and admonish each other in Christ.
Actually, the idea of using music as an educational tool is not uncommon. Many of the psalms were considered didactic. My 4 year old pre-schooler can’t say the alphabet to me, but he can sing it to me. As I memorize Scripture, I realize that I have learned many verses of Scripture – almost verbatim, through songs (every now and then I have a difficult time with a verse of Scripture from which the song has varied slightly). Many concepts of doctrine that I learned as a child were learned through congregational music. Try to challenge most Christians at Christmas time about the facts surrounding men who brought gifts to Jesus as a child or the angels singing in the sky to announce his birth and these same Christians will be ready to fight to the death in defense of the things learned through those old Christmas hymns. (I write this light-heartedly). Things taught through music are not easily forgotten or forsaken. Hence, not only is it a tool to be utilized, but it should also be a tool which is carefully guarded because it can just as easily and with the same effect teach wrong doctrine as correct doctrine.
The abundant indwelling of Christ also has an effect in the individual heart. There is “singing with grace in your heart to the Lord.” I’m convinced that “with grace” is not a description of one’s ability in music. Rather, the singing heart is a result of grace experienced and it is singing in gratitude to the Lord.
The final thing I want to point out is the follow up of verse 17. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.”
This command is that all things are to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. Obviously, individuals are going to interpret this in light of their spiritual level. Many will take the side of the flesh, but Paul started out this chapter with the commands to “seek those things which are above” and “set your affections on things above” because your identity is with Christ and “put to death the things of the flesh which bring the wrath of God on the children of disobedience, those things which you used to walk in when you lived in them (before you lived in Christ)!” An honest application of these verses by a spiritual person is going to govern much of the music in which he or she will participate or use.
The main point of this post is that music is a tool that the Lord has given to help instruct other believers in their understanding of Christ as well as their relationship with Christ. The theme of Colossians is a vibrant Christology, both in an accurate knowledge and relationship – music is an instrument towards that end!