“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.” (Colossians 3:15–16, ESV)
In the gathering of the saints, the proclamation of the Word stands supreme. Hymns, Psalms and spiritual songs are indeed one medium for worship. However, music is not the sum of worship. Together with prayer, it is a contributing element of the congregational response to the proclaimed Word. Singing is a response in the dialogue between God and his people. When this principle is dishonoured, the music itself becomes the focus of worship.
Like all Scripture, Colossians 3:16 has a context. Paul mentions the ‘peace of Christ’, ‘one body’, and ‘be thankful’ in the previous verse. He talks about ‘the word of Christ’ and ‘gratitude’ in the next verse. Put all this together, and we must conclude that congregational singing promotes harmonious praise and fellowship.
In singing, the congregation agrees on the melodies, harmonies and the words of the songs – all simultaneously as ‘one body’!
1 Corinthians 14:33 states an unchanging attribute of God: He is not a God of disorder, but of peace. An element of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is peace. Therefore the peace of Christ must rule the hearts of Christians (Colossians 3:15). It, therefore, speaks for itself that congregational singing must reflect the Triune God’s character of peace. In their commentary on Colossians, Hendriksen and Kistemaker state spiritual songs “fix the interest upon the indwelling word of Christ, and carry the attention away from that worldly cacophony by which people with low moral standards are being emotionally overstimulated.” Disorderly and upbeat worship and music do not fit within reverent worship of God. However, joyful music cannot be excluded from worship. There are abundant references in the Psalms about singing with joy.
Hymns and spiritual songs must reflect the theology of ‘the Word of Christ’. Singing is nothing short of Gospel proclamation. The words must be an expression of praise and thankfulness. Christian musicians must give primary attention to what is proclaimed and secondary attention to how it is conveyed.
Hymns, Psalms and spiritual songs are as much an expression of praise as they also can be expressions of confession of sin, dedication to the Lord, and supplication. Good congregational music will reflect these principles in tone, construction, harmony, rhythm and sound. Not all songs are, therefore, fitting and acceptable as congregational music.
Too many contemporary worship songs are nothing less than spiritual pep talks and a frivolous repetition of hollow phrases centred in “me” and “I”. Some songs are nothing more than love songs with a religious slant, driven by bare emotion. They lack references to the might deeds, majesty, grace, righteousness and holiness of God.
Ministers might need to be more involved in the choice of music. After all, they are the worship leaders; the musicians are just leading the singing; they are not performing artists.
The assembled congregation of the Lord sing the Gospel together in the hearing of one another; as such, exhortation and teaching must also take place. The impact can be huge. When it seems like the forces of darkness are getting the upper hand, go and stand amid your fellow believers and sing: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” That’s way more than a spiritual pep talk!
You might need to hear “The old, old story” when you have cause to fear that this world’s empty glory is costing you too dear. Your fellow believer might need to remind you that your eternal happiness is “In Christ alone” on whom every sin was laid.
Music is a beautiful gift from God. He included 150 Psalms in the Bible. David was an exceptional musician. He also hand-picked people “trained and skilled in music for the Lord” (1Chronicles 25:7) and “to prophecy” (25:2). They had the responsibility for playing instruments “for sacred songs” (16:42), which gave “praise and thanks to the Lord.” (2Chronicle 5:13)
We are grateful to God for talented composers and lyric writers. Some of the hymns and songs we sing have been with the church for hundreds of years. Christians all over the world translated some in their language; we can almost sing them together as ‘one body’! We are also grateful for new composers and lyric writers who truly serve God and his people. May they stay faithful to the Gospel and the glory of God. After all, the hymnbook cannot be canonised.
Having said that, music caused the walls of Jericho to fall.