Doug Van Meter - 2 September 2018
Sing to One Another (Colossians 3:12–17)
As we explore the various one anothers in the New Testament, I trust that we are coming to appreciate the unique fellowship to which Jesus calls his disciples. As Acts 2 makes clear, the church is a community of faith, a close community, which shares its life together. We therefore share our lives together. We share our praises and our problems, our burdens and our blessings, our troubles and our triumphs, and our fears and our certainties.
We are to be together. Therefore, we pray together and worship together. We are so together that we share our possessions together. But further, and perhaps fundamentally, we learn together.
The early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They learned from those who had learned from Jesus. And I would suggest that, fundamentally, this kind of learning is to continue today.
Teachers and preachers are called to faithfully deliver the apostle’s doctrine (1 John 4:1–6; Jude 3; etc.).
But since we are all to be learners, we can all teach others.
Now, this might frighten you, but it shouldn’t, because we have been provided with those things that have already been prepared for us: biblical psalms, and biblically faithful hymns and spiritual songs.
As we gather together to sing, we are to do so with a view to teaching one another biblical truth. This is Paul’s point both in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19–21.
In this study, I want us to learn what is meant by singing to one another—so that we might do it.
We need to appreciate that the congregation is the choir. We are blessed at BBC to have various gifted choirs, but the greatest choir we have is the congregation. And it is a shame when this is minimised and marginalised as it often is in churches today—especially in larger churches.
The entertainment mentality has captured many in the church of our day. And with this has come an over-emphasis upon professionalising the music ministry. The pursuit of excellence is one thing (and God of course is worthy of this), but the pursuit of professionalism and the pursuit of perfectionism is quite another thing.
Too often, the music, and even the singers, can drown out the participation of the congregation. I have personally experienced, not at BBC, the sense that my voice did not matter in a worship service. In fact, I could neither hear my voice nor the voices of those standing around me as we joined to sing. That is not the way it is supposed to be. That is not how Paul envisioned congregational worship.
I have a friend whose one son recently went to study overseas. He spoke to his father telephonically recently and lamented how, though he is at a large, faithful church, he really misses, more than anything else, the congregational singing in his home church.
My goal in this study is to try recruit choir members. Rather, I want to persuade each church member that you are a choir member. So let’s behave like it.
The Description of Choir Members
Verse 12a addresses the description of the choir: They are “chosen ones, holy and beloved.” All of those who are chosen by God, made holy in Christ, and loved by God, are part of the choir in view here.
The three words here are all used to describe Israel in the Old Testament, and therefore they are descriptive of the new Israel of God. And just as old Israel had a choir of holy priests (see 1 & 2 Chronicles), so does the new Israel.
Those who are born again, who are truly Christians, are by divine default members of the choir. If you are a Christian, you cannot be excluded from the choir! Rather, you are expected to participate in the choir!
Let me put this more strongly: If you are a Christian, then you mustparticipate in the choir. And, if you are a Christian, you will wantto participate in the choir.
There is something deeply disturbing about a church member who will not sing. Think of the line from “Come Ye that Love the Lord” by Isaac Watts:
Come, we that love the Lord,
and let our joys be known;
join in a song with sweet accord,
and thus surround the throne.
Let those refuse to sing
who never knew our God;
but children of the heav’nly King
may speak their joys abroad.
If we are indeed marching to Zion, then we will join in a song of sweet accord.
The Dress Code of Choir Members
Verses 12b–15 show the dress code of choir members. This dress code looks like
compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
There is probably the implicit implication that the church is not only expected to gather together, but the church is to be glad to be together. Alas, this is not always the case. In fact, though we are to gather for worship, too often so-called “worship wars” break forth.
Church members with critical, cynical and even hardened and unforgiving hearts gather together. When the choir is not filled with the Spirit, a war may break out.
John MacArthur once quipped that, when Lucifer fell from heaven, he fell right into the choir loft! Sadly, this has often been the case in church history. There have been countless arguments about musical style, types of instruments to be used, and even where to place the musicians. But, if the “choir” pays heed to this passage, if each member of the choir paid heed to the biblical dress code, then such ugliness would not occur.
In reality, the dress code is a dispositioncode. Paul is giving instruction concerning the proper disposition—the proper demeanour—when the church (choir) gathers. This is the dress code for corporate worship.
The overriding disposition is that of humility. As Wright says, “Gentleness is the effect of meek humility on one’s approach to other people, whereas patience is the effect of that humble kindness on one’s reaction to other people.”
The belt that pulls the choir robe together is love and peace and gratitude. Such a disposition will motivate our inclination to forgive one another. Without this determination, without this disposition, we will not be properly clothed to sing in the choir, regardless of how gifted we are.
A grace-filled and therefore gracious choir is a blessing to all. Our singing is to be filled with gospel grace; with the fullness of forgiveness.. Let’s not be guilty of singing a lie—“Amazing Grace” while staring daggers at our fellow choir member. Without love we will sound like a clanging symbol regardless of how skilled we are with an instrument.
But at this point, a fair question is, how? After all, this is a tall order. What is required for us to be skilled and fruitful and helpful and meaningful members of the congregational choir?
The Dynamic of Choir Members
The first part of v. 16 reads, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” MacArthur writes, “Peace and thankfulness , as well as unity, love, and all the required virtues, flow from a mind controlled by Scripture.” Again, “The word in the heart and mind is the handle by which the Spirit turns the will.”
So, if the choir member will properly sing, the word of God must be “at home” in their life. This means, among other things, that if one will be a faithful and fruitful choir member, practice is required—practice in the form of filling your heart so your mouth will meaningfully sing.
Prepare yourself for corporate worship. Others are depending on it. Thankful hearts are singing hearts, and this will require that they be well-nourished hearts. Seek to be filled with the Scriptures and with the Spirit, and you will be filled with singing.
The Duties of Choir Members
Paul concludes this section by detailing some of the duties of choir members:
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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
As in membership of any group, there are responsibilities to be fulfilled. So with the choir. There are two basic things to learn here.
Sing from the Same Book
Members of the choir must sing from the same book: “in all wisdom, singing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.” Without getting into the debate what each of these categories are, the context makes it clear that what we are to sing is biblical truth. The preceding words (“word of Christ” and “in all wisdom” make this clear).
When we gather, if we will help one another, we must sing biblical truth. Our singing must contain substance rather than sentiment. Our singing must be true rather than trite. We must sing fact, not fiction.
That is why we are intentional at BBC about what we sing, for God is glorified by truth as his church is edified by it. That is why content takes priority over style. That is why we don’t do “contemporary vs. traditional.”
Sing with the Same Outlook
Choir members must all sing with the same outlook. The required outlook is both upward and outward. In other words, when we gather with one another, we are to focus both vertically and horizontally. In fact, if we don’t do the former, we won’t do well at the latter.
With regard to the upward look (v. 17), our singing is directed to God. We are to sing from our hearts to him, otherwise, it is not worship. We need to work at this. We need to focus.
With regard to the outward look (v. 16b), we need to deliberately think “choir.” We must think “audience,” not performance. The goal is audience enrichment. In other words, we must think of others, not simply ourselves. We sing to “one another.”
Think of one another when you gather for worship. Think corporately as you gather. Think of opportunity to encourage others. Think of singing as an opportunity to instruct others. Think of singing as an opportunity to indirectly counsel or admonish others. Think of the family when you sing, remembering the ultimate Another who has gathered with us—the Lord Jesus—with whom we join our voice (Hebrews 2:10–13).
For this to occur, we need a heart that is engaged with God. In other words, for us to be of real spiritual help to one another, we must have hearts that are devoted to God (v. 17).
You need to fellowship with the saints; you need to gather! You need to focus both vertically and horizontally—at the same time. You need the giftings of others—that is, those who can write “hymns and spiritual songs.”
Ultimately, we want to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We who have been saved have every reason to sing. So sing we must, both to God, and to one another.
We need to remind one another that we have a Saviour. We need to remind one another of the good news of how Jesus died for sinners who sang the wrong songs, so as to make them saints who sing a new song. So, as we gather, let us sing to one another the “old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
Can you? Will you?