Encouragement Set to Music
Study #21 Colossians 3:16
by Bob Burridge ©2022
We take for granted the place of music in our every-day lives. We can slip on a CD or load up an mp3 of our favorite performers and listen to digitally reproduced sound. With good speakers it’s close to being present in the recording studio or concert hall. It’s available in our cars, in our homes, cell phones, and watches. We can listen as we walk, ride our bikes, shop in stores, or sit on the beach.
It wasn’t always this way. I remember playing those big 78 rpm vinyl records on an old record player, and listening to crackly music on an old vacuum tube AM radio. Then came 45 rpm records, FM, Hi-Fi, stereo, reel-to-reel tapes, 8-track tapes, and cassettes.
Before my time there were player pianos beginning in 1896, and before that the Edison cylinders which started after his invention of sound recording in 1877. Before that, dating back to 1796 there were music boxes. Those mechanical devices were invented by Antoine Favre, a watchmaker in Geneva.
Before that time there was only the music you could produce live. There have been performing groups as far back as history records. But in the home, if you wanted music you sang, or played an instrument. Mothers have for ages lulled their children to sleep with quieting songs, and families would sing together in the evenings and at special occasions. Even in biblical times music was important in people’s lives.
God made us to respond to lyrics set to tunes. We appreciate pitches, melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and timing, set in different voices and timbers. Music has an effect upon the emotions as well as the mind. It can stir up the soul, or soothe us when troubled, or make us think of distant places.
It’s no wonder that such a powerful thing is often mentioned in Scripture. It would be wonderful to have a recording of David’s music as he soothed the troubled soul of the wicked king Saul, or to have a CD of the worship music of David’s Tabernacle.
In our last study of Colossians 3 we breezed past verse 16 rather quickly. In this lesson we go back to take a closer look.
God intends us to use music for his glory.
Colossians 3:16. 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.
The word order in Greek is a little different. It puts “the word of Christ” first because it’s the central focus, the emphasis here of what encourages us. A more literal translation is a little stiff in English. It would go like this, “The word of Christ, let it indwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs in thankfulness singing in your hearts to God.” (a some manuscripts say “to the Lord”)
The “word of Christ” is the real source of the encouragement spoken of here.
This word should dwell among us richly in all its wisdom. It should always be present among us. This is the central theme of this verse. We need the presence of the word of Christ in our lives all the time. It’s there to direct us, encourage us, and keep us from sin; as it says in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
The Christian should be seen as different because he uses God’s word to direct his daily living. The Bible isn’t just a devotional book, text book, or a good luck charm to have around. It’s the living word of our loving Lord. It should be the center of our worship, evident in our homes, and learned by our children. It’s to govern our decisions and set boundaries around what we think, say, and do.
Christ’s word should dwell among us as a rich treasure. Nothing in all the earth is as vital to us as the Word of Christ. Yet too often they’re treated as if they were less important than other things we treasure.
You’ve probably seen cars thick with dust or pollen. Mischievous passers by use their fingers to write the words “wash me” in the grime. Is the dust on our Bibles so thick you can write the words “read me”? I don’t mean literal dust, but is there evidence of neglect that can be seen by the eyes of God?
Christ’s word involves godly wisdom. This isn’t the kind of wisdom where we imagine what we think is wise. It’s what God who made us tells us in his word, and commands us to do. It’s the liberating truth of the gospel way of living.
When we trust that God will honor his promises, the Word of Christ will make a difference in our lives! His promises are the only source of real comfort in times of deep spiritual need.
The way we’re to wisely apply this word of Christ is by teaching and admonishing one another. In this two-fold duty, we establish Christ’s word among us.
We’re to be teaching one another. The first qualification of a teacher, is a clear and organized understanding of his subject. Good teaching isn’t just the skill of communicating ideas and facts. We need to know and understand what the word of Christ actually says. There’s no short-cut. The teacher must first be the student and learn the subject to be taught.
Then we come to the communicating part of teaching. We need to develop the skill of humbly passing on what we know about Christ’s word. We need to explain it clearly, and show a good example of it in our lives.
We’re also to be admonishing one another Most times people use the word “admonish” in a negative sense. It often implies a harsh scolding, or a lording it over someone as a moral superior.
In the Bible, the word has a much richer, a more tender and positive meaning. “Admonish” is a translation of the Greek word “noutheteo” (νουθετεω). So we often call this kind of counsel Nouthetic Counsel. It’s the proper kind of admonishing. Putting together the 11 places where this word is used in the Bible, we should admonish one another by helping the spiritually weak become stronger in the Lord, and by humbly offering advice drawn from God’s word. This must be done in humility, with love, tenderness, patience, and brotherly concern.
We’re all sinners saved by grace, and need to do a lot of growing to be more Christ-like. Until we are made perfect at the last judgment — we need loving admonition.
You might recognize the similar language in Colossians 1:28, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
To be maturing in Christ, we need to be taught and admonished with all wisdom, what God’s word tells us. If we don’t get a good understanding of God’s word we’ll struggle with spiritual immaturity. If we aren’t regularly involved with the church family and its ministries, we’ll lack the loving admonitions of sermons, Sunday School lessons, and friends.
Biblical teaching and admonition
can even be done with songs!
We’re to teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. God in his sovereign wisdom didn’t give equal musical talent to everyone, but all believers can grow through the ministry of song.
Of course it’s not the music alone that has this effect on our soul. God never recorded even one note of music in his word for his people to use. It’s God’s truth in the lyrics that teach and admonish us. The music provides a medium that helps us learn, remember, and appreciate the words.
The lyrics of the music must be soundly based upon God’s word rightly understood. There are religious songs, even some in popular hymnals, that horribly distort what the Bible actually says. Some take verses out of context to make points God never intended. Others teach very wrong lessons that contradict God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.
Paul uses three different words for the songs we should use in building up one another. The words have large areas of overlap as used in the Bible. They’re not three distinctly different kinds of songs. But Paul obviously thought it helpful to use all three words here.
The word Psalm comes directly from the Greek word used here: “psalmois” (ψαλμοῖς). The word comes from the touching of the strings of an instrument to make sounds. Then it came to be used for songs that are sung to musical accompaniment. When the Jews started using Greek, they used this word for the book of songs in Scripture. In Hebrew, there are several different words used for the songs in that book. But since believers were already using this word in its more limited sense, Paul probably means the collection of what we know as the Psalms of the Old Testament. They were used regularly in worship, at festivals and as songs of personal worship.
The word Hymn also comes directly from the Greek word used here: “humnois” (ὕμνοις) The ancient Greek hymns were songs sung in praise of heroes or their pagan gods. They were directly addressed to them and recounted their great deeds and character. It’s logical that when songs were written in praise of the God of the Bible, this word would be the most fitting one in their Greek language. When the Messiah came, new songs were written to expand the Psalms of the Old Testament. They were written to include the great work of redemption in Christian worship.
Augustine, writing in the 4th century, said there were three basic qualities of a hymn: 1. It had to be sung; 2. It must be praise; 3. It must be addressed to God. Certainly the Psalms of the Old Testament would fit in this category. But the hymns of Christians came to include more than just those inspired Old Testament songs.
Then Paul mentions the Spiritual Song: “odais pneumatikais” (ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς). The Greek word for song here is “odae” (ᾠδη) from which we get the English word “ode”. Not all songs, or odes, were spiritual in nature, so Paul includes the modifier “spiritual”.
Odes were a more broad class of songs than hymns. They weren’t just direct praise addressed to God or about his glory. The Greek odes were about battles, the harvest, holidays, and every day life.
Very likely these spiritual odes were composed to teach about the gospel, to give personal testimonies, and to encourage believers as they struggled with sin and lived out in the world. Certainly the Psalms and Hymns can help in this way too. But the addition of this word here seems to show us there should be a wider use of music. These were not so much used in direct worship, as to cheer up and teach one another.
But how does singing help establish the word of Christ among us? By writing our lessons in lyrics with rhythm and rhyme, or with accompanying instrumentation, and by singing them, we fix them in our minds. We use the power of the gift of music to set an appropriate emotional tone. The songs from our Sabbath worship should stay with us all week long. Songs sung by families in their private worship times can fill their hearts and home all day. Songs used in our personal moments alone with God will cheer, comfort, and guide us.
But we shouldn’t rely on the music alone to stir us emotionally. The real power of such songs is that they make the word of Christ dwell among us richly. Therefore they should be centered on the praise of God, and should tell us about God’s nature and what he’s done. The lyrics should be as carefully composed as a sermon.
Sadly, there are bad hymns and spiritual songs. Some are written by unbelievers, false teachers, poor Bible students. Some hymns present false promises, misapplied Bible quotes. We wouldn’t tolerate cult leaders or poorly trained Bible students teaching us from the pulpit, but some might grant them a place in our hearts and worship through their music.
Good songs, on the other hand, can help us cope with the common temptations and discouragements we face as Christians. They can teach us important Bible verses and the doctrines of Scripture.
As powerful teachers these songs should be carefully prepared and selected for content and effect. They should cause us to be singing “with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Take an inventory of the songs that are a part of your life. What kind of songs do you sing during the week? What comes to mind when you think about singing? What tunes do your children hum while they play and work? Do they know songs that re-enforce the promises and principles of Scripture?
In biblical times Christians didn’t have on-line sermons, tapes, or books. Scrolls were expensive. Copies of the Scriptures were rare. To learn and be admonished by the word during the week, they used songs.
Today music continues to minister to us during the week. Music often shapes our moods and attitudes every day. This doesn’t mean that all your music has to be about salvation, or be taken from Bible texts, or even mention God directly. Even the biblical book of Esther doesn’t mention God. God has something to say about every area of life. Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof …”
Christians fall in love, they can enjoy love songs. They can laugh, so they sing humerus songs. Believers can weep and hurt, so they might sing about the blues. Christians may long for the Old Mill Stream or amber waves of grain. As far as we know David soothed Saul’s troubled soul with purely instrumental music, no words.
It does mean that the music you choose to listen to shouldn’t conflict with the Bible’s message. It shouldn’t imply that God is unimportant or not needed. It shouldn’t promote immorality or disrespect of others. All kinds of music can violate these principles.
But the point here is different. Does any of your music include the word of Christ for help and spiritual encouragement? Do you include music that worships and honors God directly in your daily routine? Do any of the songs you hear and sing help you learn the word of Christ? Do any of your songs encourage you with biblical admonitions? If not, you’re missing the very means the inspired Scriptures recommend here.
God’s word says we ought to be taught and effected by the Word of Christ. It can, and should, come to you effectively in the music you hear and sing with one another. Don’t neglect this vital tool for Christian growth.
Let the Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs have their work among us. Sing or listen to them as you drive or ride in the car, work around the house or in the yard, as you cook or fix things. Let them provide a good atmosphere in your home that honors God. Sing them quietly in your heart while you wait in lines, or walk on the beach.
May the word of Christ dwell more richly among us in all wisdom. That’s our hope. That’s God’s promise!
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.