God’s Word for You
Colossians 3:16 Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, August 3, 2019
16 Let the word of Christ live within you richly as you teach and admonish yourselves with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
What does Paul mean by “the word of Christ”? By the time Colossians was written, at least two Gospels (Matthew and Mark) were probably written. Mark’s Gospel in particular, written with Roman Christians in mind and even including a few Latin words, was probably being circulated throughout the European mission field by this time. But the Apostles were also carrying “the word of Christ” from group to group and from church to church. “The word of Christ” is not only the message Christ spoke, but the message about Christ as well. It is the report of his suffering, death and resurrection.
A key word in this verse is “yourselves.” It is often translated “each other,” but the reflexive pronoun emphasizes the “-selves” idea, and whether or not this was the primary reason for Paul choosing it, the “-selves” idea should at least not go unmentioned.
When we teach, we remind ourselves of the truths we hold dear in the very act of teaching. To teach, after all, is to throw and throw and throw an idea until it is finally caught, and so a lesson may need to be presented in more than one way before it is caught by the listener.
No one should admonish someone else without also inspecting his own life and actions. The word nouthetéō (νουθετέω) is a favorite of Paul’s, usually with the sense of “warning” against false teaching (Acts 20:31) or against unchristian attitudes or behavior, “when anyone admonishes us to turn from unrighteousness to righteousness,” 2 Clement 19:2 (see also 1 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:14), but sometimes simply to describe teaching in general (Romans 15:14). Here it is probably a way of saying all of these things according to the needs of the moment, as in 2 Clement 17:2, “So let us help each other, and bring those who are weak back to goodness, so that we all may be saved, and convert and exhort one another.”
“Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are also touched on in Ephesians 5:19. The psalms were the hymnal of the Old Testament church. The musical style of the Psalms has not come down to us in detail, but we have the inspired text.
A hymn is a song of praise. Any song of praise or worship can be called a hymn. While hymns and songs that are purely praise are not as useful for teaching as those that also apply correct doctrine, they have their place, especially at important festivals such as Easter, Ascension, and Christmas.
An ode is a musical presentation of lyric poetry to be sung or chanted in public worship. Many odes in the classic style had a chorus or refrain, and sometimes a complex pattern of point (strophe), counterpoint or argument (antistrophe) and resolution (epode). I have wondered whether this style of composition was originally based on the structure of the Book of Job.
We teach and encourage one another with the word of God, the message from Christ and the message about Christ, whether it is taught, applied, spoken, or sung. But we shouldn’t forget that we also teach and encourage ourselves with these things, too. It’s good to set aside time every day (perhaps the earlier the better) to ponder the Holy Scriptures, set a passage to memory, or to sing a verse of a hymn. Let it stay in your heart and on your mind. You will find that God will call it back onto your lips more often than not for the benefit of someone—someone you love, someone you meet, or someone you might even see in the mirror.
Pastor Timothy Smith