Colossians 3:16 (NKJV)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
For Advent and Christmastide we are continuing a tradition that we started several years ago of preaching through the psalms. So I want to take some time to meditate on why this is a fitting tradition and why we as the people of God need to devote considerable time and attention to the psalms. One would think that this would be obvious – singing of God’s word back to Him sounds like a good idea. However, various theologies have divorced Christians from the OT and Psalm singing has fallen on hard times – especially among Protestants. In our text today Paul lays one of the foundation stones for the Christian use of the psalms. So let’s make a few observations from Paul’s text.
First, Paul identifies the content of our worship. We are to let the word of Christ, Christ’s own words, dwell in us richly. Jesus speaks to us today; He is calling today. But where? Not in a still small voice. So where do we hear His voice? We hear Him in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In the Greek translation of the OT, these labels correspond to the various names of the different songs in the psalter. In other words, Paul’s categories of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are not equivalent to our modern day psalms, hymns, and choruses but are different ways of directing us to the same book – the Psalter. The book of Psalms contains psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which we are to sing. Why? Because they are the Word of Christ – Christ’s own words to us. When we sing the Psalms to one another, we are hearing the voice of Christ.
Second, Paul identifies the function of our worship. We are to teach one another and admonish one another. When we sing the psalms we find that they expand and stretch our knowledge of God and our awareness of His work in the world. We teach one another of His righteousness, His mercy, His wrath, His love, His patience, His judgments, etc. The psalms force us to reckon with ways in which our own thinking differs from God’s thinking. When we sing a psalm and find ourselves disagreeing with its words, the problem is not with the psalm but with us. Consequently, we not only teach one another as we sing, we admonish one another. We correct erroneous thoughts, summon one another to trust the Lord more fully, as well as rebuking our complacency, immorality, greed, idolatry, and deceitfulness.
Third, Paul identifies the motive of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts. True worship emerges from a grateful heart; it is an expression of thankfulness for God’s work in our lives. The hypocrite says one thing with his lips and another with his heart; the loyal worshiper joins heart and lips together in song. We are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts.
Finally, Paul identifies the object of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. The Lord is the object of our worship. He alone is worthy of praise, thanksgiving, and honor. He has created us and not we ourselves; He has redeemed us through the precious blood of His Son Jesus. So we are to give Him thanks and praise, to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to Him.
So as we enter into the presence of the Lord this day, as we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, let us remember that in so doing we offer the fruit of our lips as a sacrifice to the Lord of all and that we do this together so that we might teach and admonish one another. Unfortunately, much of the church has abandoned the psalms in favor of songs that do not challenge or rebuke us. So we speak to one another not the words of Christ but our own words. But even we who speak the words of Christ to one another often fail to learn from the songs our brethren are singing to us, we often fail to correct ourselves. So reminded of our failures in this regard, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.