Commentary on Colossians, 3:16-17 (Worship Music)

Colossians 3:16-17

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to God.”

Paul has been instructing the Colossians Christians about how we’re to treat and and relate to one another as Christians, and he continues that here.

This is no doubt one of the most important verses in the Bible as it relates to the instruction for churches today, specifically, in regard to corporate worship. This instruction addresses directly the type of music we’re to play, and to the type of songs we’re to sing. There seems to be a large number of Christian leaders who believe the Bible is silent about the type of music we play, and that it’s therefore, neutral. But that’s simply not true.

Paul deals with that very issue both here, and in Eph 5:19. A close look at these verses reveals that music is not neutral at all, but is to be distinctly Christian.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”

This can mean either the very words spoken by Christ, or spoken of Christ. I believe both is intended. Furthermore, God’s Word in general is likely in view, since Jesus is God, and since He is central in all of it’s teaching.

“dwell”  (Gr. enoikeo – 1774)

To take up residence, to be at home, to permanently dwell.

The idea is, that the word of Christ is not to make an occasional visit, or to be of a short stay, but is to permanently and continuously living within us in order to direct our lives and shape our character.

“richly”  (Gr. plousios – 4146)

Great abundance, extreme wealth, riches.

The idea here is, that the word of Christ is to permeate every area of our lives. God’s Word is to govern everything that we do and say. We’re to allow it to shape our way of thinking and character. We’re to allow it to direct the path we take in life. We’re to allow it to lead us and direct our every way. We’re to allow it to have it’s full effect upon our lives, and to lead us into a close walk with God.

The only way for all of that to occur in our lives, is to saturate ourselves with God’s Word. We must be reading it and studying it and meditating on it. This goes way beyond simple little devotions that lasts but a few short minutes. I think many Christians have the idea that if they spend 10 minutes in “Our Daily Bread,” or using some other devotional, they’ve done their duty. The Word of God must be taken more seriously than that. It must be something that we approach with a passion, like we do with so many other things in life: sports, hobbies, entertainment, education, etc. The learning and applying of God’s Word is to be our greatest pursuit in life.

“wisdom”

Based on knowledge and understanding, wisdom is the ability to discern or judge the right or best course of action. It’s the ability to apply knowledge and understanding.

“teaching”

This refers to instruction regarding the Christian life, and of our service to Christ as His disciples.

“admonishing”

To warn, caution, exhort, reprove, counsel, encourage.

“psalms” (Gr. psalmos – 5568)

Commonly understood to refer to the psalms of the Old Testament.

Preceptaustin:

Psalmos originally meant a touching, and then a touching of the harp or other stringed instruments with the finger or with the plectrum. Later it referred to the instrument itself, and finally psalmos became known as the song sung with musical accompaniment.”

Thus we know for certain that the type of music we play in our assemblies is to be considered in Paul’s instruction.

“hymns” (Gr. humnos/hymnos – 5215)

Preceptaustin:

“Refers to a song of praise, a song in honor of God or generally to a song with religious content. It also came to mean praise to men. Whereas a psalm is the story of man’s deliverance or a commemoration of mercies received, a hymn is a magnificat, a declaration of how great someone or something is (Lu 1:46-55, 67-79; Ac 4:24; Ac16:25). It is a direct address of praise and glory to God.”

“spiritual” (Gr. pneumatikos – 4152)

Preceptaustin:

“Means something like pertaining to the (divine) spirit, “belonging to the spirit”, “of the nature of the spirit”, and thus “pertaining to that which is spiritual.”

I think this is the most important word in this verse. There can be no doubt that Paul is using this word to speak of the spiritual as it relates to the Holy Spirit. He obviously is not using this term in the general sense, because this term can also be used to refer to evil, as Paul does in Eph 6:12. Thus spiritual songs are songs that are of the Holy Spirit and sung unto God in worship and praise.

Spiritual songs are therefore songs that are of a holy nature, and in contrast to that which is unholy and of the world. With this in mind, note what Preceptaustin says about spiritual songs:

“Songs (5603) (oide from aido = to sing, always signifying praise to God) is a generic term for any words sung or for songs in general, thus needing modification by “spiritual” in this context. The qualifier of “spiritual” was important because of the fact that the original use of singing among both believers and idolaters was in the confessions and praises of the respective gods.”

Also from Preceptaustin:

“Eadie writes that song or ode is a general term, and denotes the natural outburst of an excited bosom—the language of the sudden impulses of an Oriental temperament. Such odes as were allowed to Christians are termed “spiritual,” that is, prompted by the Spirit which filled them. But the psalms and hymns are already marked out as consecrated, and needed no such additional epithet.”

“singing with grace in your hearts to God.”

Singing with grace, means to sing with thanksgiving and gratitude, with sincere worship and praise. It means to sing with a tender heart, a heart that is moved by the love of God, and by the word of Christ.

Preceptaustin:

Colossians 3:16 parallels Ephesians 5:1820 where the singing of hymns, etc, is  the outgrowth of being filled with (controlled by) the Holy Spirit. Here in Colossians 3:16 the singing is the result of an intake of the Word of God. Do you see the parallel relationship, beloved? A believer who is filled with the Word is much more likely to be a believer who is being controlled by the Spirit.”

Our songs of worship and praise are to have substance. Our songs are to be rich in God’s Word. Paul’s instruction doesn’t allow for shallow words to our songs. The primary purpose of our songs is to worship God, but they’re also meant to teach and exhort and encourage those who sing. Everything we do as followers of Christ is to be done with excellence, and that includes our songs.

Furthermore, excellence pertains not only to the words of our songs, but also to the music that accompanies them. Again, the type of music we play is in no way neutral. Like everything we else we do, our music is to be distinctly Christian. I have much to say about that, and so I encourage you to click on the link below to read my commentary on the parallel passage in Eph 5:19. Both of these passages should be studied together in their individual contexts:

“17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Within context, this refers both to how we relate with others, and to our songs of worship in corporate settings. However, it’s to be taken in the general sense, as well. Everything we do and everything we say, is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” That means all things must be done in harmony with His character, with His Word, and with His will. If Jesus can’t put His name on what we say or do, then it’s not to be done. If it’s not something He would do, then we’re not to do it. If it’s not something that He would say, then we’re not to say it. I believe that also includes our attitudes and motives.

This instruction provides a wonderful guide for finding God’s will for our lives too.

In regard to corporate worship songs in a church gathering, we must keep this instruction in mind. Church leaders must ask themselves: “Are the songs we sing and the music we play in harmony with Paul’s instruction in verses 16 and 17? Can Jesus put His name on the type of music we play? If the music sounds like the world, then I can assure you that it’s not something that He would approve. Jesus is distinct from all people of the world. His ways are distinct from all ways of the world. As His representatives, we are to be distinct from the people of the world and from the ways of the world.

We live in an unholy world. We live among unholy people. Therefore, we are not to do as they do. We are to separate ourselves from their ways. When it comes to music, there is nothing more culturally relevant than music. Music is highly significant and important in all cultures of the world. Therefore, when the Bible instructs us not to love the world, and not to be conformed to the world (1 Jn 2:15-17; Ro 12:1-2; 2 Cor 6:16-18), the type of music we play in our church services is to be of major consideration. We must make sure that we’re following the instructions and principles of the Word of God, and that we’re not simply choosing a type of music that is popular and preferred among most people today. And we need to be really honest about that.

We’re not to try and reach the world with the ways of the world. We reach the world with the ways of God. Remember, if Jesus can’t put His name to it, then it must be avoided. To use the music of the world in order to draw the people of the world, simply isn’t His way. The idea that we must use the means of the world in order to reach the people of the world, is counter to everything that is written in the Word of God. The world is always counter to truth. They’re polar opposites. Thus there is no place for worldly ways in the assemblies of God’s people….and quite obviously, in our own personal lives.

“giving thanks to God the Father”

If it doesn’t come from God, then we shouldn’t be thanking Him for it. We must make sure that everything we do and say is of God. It’s very unwise to give thanks for something that is not of God. As it relates to music in our churches, let’s make sure that God is really in it. If we have any doubts about it, then it’s wise to go the route that we know is safe, as being of God.  

“through Him”

Jesus is central in all things, and all things must be by way of Him, and in His name. His will, and the honor of His name, must always be of primary consideration. When we do things in the name of Christ, we’re then able to “give thanks to the Father through Him.”