Colossians 3:12-17 – The Role of Congregational Singing in the Life of the Church

There are only three New Testament passages that instruct us in congregational singing: Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:18–20, and 1 Corinthians 14:15–17.

In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes, “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.”

Paul commands believers to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” But what is “the word of Christ”? It does not mean “the words of Christ.” We are not commanded to sing only the words Jesus spoke. “Of” means either “the word about Christ” or “the word which consists of Christ.” Either way, it means the message about Jesus—the gospel.

The gospel—the truth of Christ crucified for sin and raised from death—is to dwell in us richly. How does the gospel dwell in us? By “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” All of us—not just pastors or preachers—are to teach and admonish one another with the gospel. And how do we do this? By “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Congregational singing is an act of instructing and encouraging one another. Finally, notice to whom we’re singing: a dual audience. We sing “with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God.” So we sing to God, with hearts that believe, but we also sing—the verse implies—to one another.

[Also], notice Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 14:15–17. My singing in church is not merely for my own benefit, but for the edification of those who hear me. It is not private, personal worship; it is an act of corporate instruction and encouragement. “For you may very well be giving thanks, but the other person is not being built up” (v. 17).

As you [sing] next Sunday morning, approach it with Paul’s concerns in mind. Sing with thankfulness in your hearts to God, but also sing to one another. Don’t sing for the sake of mere personal edification; sing to instruct and admonish your neighbor. Paul tells us to let the “word of Christ”—the gospel message itself—dwell in us richly and corporately. Singing general truths about God is right and good. But for the gospel to dwell in us, it’s necessary to sing specifically about Christ’s person and work.

In the excitement over gospel-centeredness, let’s make sure we are actually clear about the gospel in the songs we sing. Let’s give our congregations content, not mere sentiment. Let’s sing about the crucified and risen King. For the gospel, spoken and sung, is the power of God for salvation.

Matt Schumacher

Read Colossians 3:12-17 with particular emphasis on verse 16 and consider what role congregational singing has played in your life? In what ways can grow in the amount or quality of your participation?

How Great Thou Art by Stuart Hine

Posted on: September 11, 2020 - 12:00PM

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