What the Bible Has to Say About Singing, Part 7
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. – Colossians 3:16 (NASB)
Colossians 3:16 instructs us about congregational singing in at least 7 ways.
- The CAUSE and COROLLARY of our singing is God’s Word
- God’s Word should be the CONTENT of our singing
- Singing is a COMMUNITY activity
- Singing is a COMMAND
- There are a variety of CATEGORIES of congregational songs
- The CORE of singing is the heart attitude behind it
- » The CULMINATION of singing must be God’s glory
The culmination of singing must be God’s glory
“singing … to God”
The last phrase of our verse is of foundational importance. We are instructed to teach and admonish one another by singing together to God. Does this mean that all of our songs must be addressed to God in the second person, taking this instructional to literally influence the grammar of our song lyrics? If that were the case, the Psalms themselves would not measure up. The person of the Psalms is varied: sometimes the songwriter sings to his soul, sometimes to an unspecified listener, sometimes to God, or sometimes to other people (the congregation). The instruction to sing “to God” must connote a different meaning for how and why we sing together. Let me suggest that the pre-eminent motive of our singing and worship music must be the glory of God.
What does it mean to sing for the “glory of God?” It means to sing in such a way that the greatness of God’s character and works are put on display or showed off. It means that others, when they observe our singing, can see that God Himself is our treasure and there’s nothing we enjoy more than to make Him, not ourselves, famous. If we are seeking the glory of God in our singing, it will reveal itself both in our choice of songs and the way in which we sing them. The very next verse in Colossians 3 (verse 17) says “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We are commanded not simply to sing for the fame of Jesus (and ultimately the Father) but to think and behave, moment by moment, with an view to the glory of God in everything.
Our singing gives witness to God’s glorious work in making us worshippers. As we discussed in part 1, we generally sing about what we treasure. Singing demonstrates to visitors and to the world that there’s something worth singing about – that God is real, beautiful, worthy of praise, and precious to us.
Singing also glorifies God because it edifies the church. We are instructed in this passage to teach and admonish one another through songs. 1 Corinthians 14:26, speaking of what the outcome of our times of gathered worship should be, says “when you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” God is glorified when individual believers in His church focus on encouraging and ministering to others rather than simply on their private experience. Singing is a wonderful way to break the emphasis in our culture, and in the culture of the public worship life of many of our churches, on individualism. When we all unite our voices together in one song, we are demonstrating that our joy in singing about God transcends our stylistic or song preferences, our musical abilities, or our opinions of each other. It demonstrates a posture of submission and humility in our church, which ultimately puts God’s sanctifying work on display.
This concludes our short series on how Colossians 3:16 instructs and informs our congregational singing. May God be glorified as we sing of His greatness and grace!