Wholehearted Worship (3:16)
Here again is my translation of this remarkable passage: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom by means of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing in your hearts to God with thanksgiving.” I would like to conclude our study of this text with four brief observations.
First, although one can surely worship without singing, we can’t ignore the emphasis in Scripture on this expression of praise and joy in God. I encourage you to take the time to read the following representative texts that highlight the centrality of singing in worship: Exodus 15:1,20-21; Judges 5:2-5; 1 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 47:6-7; 66:2,4; 69:30-31; 96:1-2; 105:2; 1 Cor. 14:15; James 5:13. 85x in the OT alone God’s people are exhorted to sing their praises to God.
But why singing? Why not just speak your praise to God? In my book, “The Singing God” (Creation House), I tried to answer this question as follows: “Singing enables the soul to express deeply felt emotions that mere speaking cannot. Singing channels our spiritual energy in a way that nothing else can. Singing evokes an intensity of mind and spirit. It opens the door to ideas, feelings, and affections that otherwise might have remained forever imprisoned in the depths of one’s heart.
Singing gives focus and clarity to what words alone often make fuzzy. It lifts our hearts to new heights of contemplation. It stirs our hope to unprecedented levels of expectancy and delight. Singing sensitizes. It softens the soul to hear God’s voice and quickens the will to obey.
I can only speak for myself, but when I’m happy I sing. When my joy increases it cries for an outlet. So I sing. When I’m touched with a renewed sense of forgiveness, I sing. When God’s grace shines yet again on my darkened path, I sing. When I’m lonely and long for the intimacy of God’s presence, I sing. When I need respite from the chaos of a world run amok, I sing.
Nothing else can do for me what music does. It bathes otherwise arid ideas in refreshing waters. It empowers my wandering mind to concentrate with energetic intensity. It stirs my heart to tell the Lord just how much I love Him, again and again and again, without the slightest tinge of repetitive boredom” (p. 22).
Second, the singing Paul has in mind is neither random nor aimless. It is “to God”! He is the focus of our faith, the object of our praise, the audience of One to whom we lift our hearts in wonder and awe. I suspect this is one reason certain people are uncomfortable with singing. It requires of them vulnerability, openness, and honesty as they direct their most heartfelt adoration, hopes, and desires “to God.” They are fearful of the depth of commitment and devotion that singing “to God” entails. But sing “to God” we must.
Third, all our singing to God must be bathed in gratitude, a consistent theme in Colossians (see 1:3, 12; 2:7; 4:2). In fact, it is mentioned three times here in the span of three verses: “And be thankful” (3:15b); “singing in your hearts to God with thanksgiving” (3:16b); and “giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17b).
Gratitude is to characterize our corporate relations with one another, as evident from its use in v. 15. It is also to characterize our worship and singing, as v. 16 makes clear. And finally, as if to cover all his bases, Paul instructs us in v. 17 to give thanks in whatever we do in whatever circumstance. It reminds me of something Matthew Henry wrote in his diary after being robbed: “Let me be thankful: first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although he took my money, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”
Fourth, and finally, this grateful and glorious singing unto God is to take place “in our hearts.” In referring to our “hearts” Paul does not mean that worship is to be silent or secretive. The “heart” is here a reference to the whole being: mind, spirit, soul, will, affections, everything we are in the core of our personality. Thus, worship must be “rooted in the depths of personal experience and springing up from that source – heart worship and not merely lip worship” (Dunn, 240).
This passage in Colossians 3 reminds me of one of the most frightening texts in all of Scripture. In Matthew 15:7-9, Jesus denounced the Scribes and Pharisees with these words: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Just think of it: you can “worship” God by singing and shouting and dancing and loud declarations of loyalty and love and it all be vanity! If the “heart” is not engaged, worship is a sham. You can be orthodox and honored among men, as the religious leaders in that day certainly were, fervent and faithful in your vocalized praise of God, quite “pious” by all outward indications, at the same time your “heart” is distant and cold and lifeless.
Whatever else our worship may entail, regardless of the style we prefer, no matter the form or freedom in which it is expressed, let us labor by the grace of the Holy Spirit (1) to “sing” (2) “to God” (3) “with thanksgiving” (4) “in our hearts”.
“My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Ps. 84:2b),