Ever notice how filmmakers use music? Through the soundtrack, they telegraph feelings and provide glimpses into what may be just around the corner. Think of the movie Jaws and how the feeling of foreboding is enhanced by a thumping droning series of notes when the shark is near. Or consider the trumpet flourishes as the heroes celebrate victory in the original Star Wars and Tolkien’s Return of the King. If your life was a movie what soundtrack would be playing right now?
Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, NASB95) Now, in all fairness, the punctuation for this verse is difficult to translate. The original Greek did not contain punctuation marks, those came later. Paul seems to have one overarching principal, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within us.” The indwelling word of Christ provokes two distinct responses. 1) teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. 2) express our thankfulness to God through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Another translation put it this way, “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” (Colossians 3:16, NLT)
It’s tempting to pull one of the notes out of this triad. To focus solely on the indwelling of Christ’s words or the need to teach and admonish one another with wisdom or the joy of opening our hearts to God with songs of thankfulness. But just like a musical chord requires three notes to give it a full voice we must let the notes of this verse ring together to fully hear its vibrant encouragement.
Christ’s word within
In the sense of a musical chord, Paul’s encouragement to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” is the root note. It is the predominate note to which the other two notes provide harmony and support. The other two have little or no meaning without this root note.
What is the word of Christ? There are two basic ideas for what Paul meant. The first is the good news, the gospel message, founded in Jesus Christ. The second is the teachings of Jesus. I prefer to think that it is all of the above.
The word of Christ surpasses knowledge. It’s not just pieces of information to be understood. The word of Christ is life. It roots deeply into our reborn heart and spreads its branches over our life if we give it room to grow. The word of Christ is not just an ethic or a set of moral guidelines. It is life itself that transforms our hearts and our minds. It is rooted in love and covers our hearts with peace.
Teach and admonish one another
There’s a basic truth to following Jesus together. Not all are evangelists, but all spread the good news. Not all are caregivers but all care. Not all are prayer warrior intercessors, but all pray. Not all are teachers, but all teach. From the youngest to the oldest, from the newly formed in Christ to the old saint, we teach each other in many ways. I’ll admit that I’m a teacher at heart. I love to dig deep into scripture and build bridges to God’s truth. But I also enjoy taking a back seat and listening as others share and teach what God has given them. Remember the “one anothers” are steeped with giving and receiving. We really do need to learn from each other.
And then we get to the hard word that we don’t want to hear. Not only are we to teach each other but we are to admonish one another. Now, there are shades of admonishment that run from providing counsel and advice to providing a stern warning or rebuke. We all need that at times. We need someone to let us know that something we are saying or doing is missing the mark. But there are right ways and wrong ways to go about this business.
Whenever we feel the Holy Spirit prompting us to be that voice of correction and counsel we need to consider the following. Am I going in anger and with pent up emotion? Do I see them the way Jesus does or do I just see their faults? Am I walking in forgiveness and love or with a spirit of judgment? Have I examined my own life and dealt with the log in my own eye? Am I prepared to offer grace if the outcome is rejection? Am I prepared to walk humbly if the outcome is reconciliation? Have I considered how I would want to be treated if the tables were reversed? Am I ready to accept new information and be wrong in my conclusions?
We must likewise be prepared to receive words of correction and counsel. Can we look past the presentation and consider the truths or concerns presented? Can we take the risk of being vulnerable and make an effort to avoid defensiveness? Can we be prepared to listen with grace? Can we look past someone’s age, education, gender, position, or spiritual maturity to hear what is being said? Can we commit to seeking the Lord over the matter even if we think we know the answer? Am I ready to accept new information and be wrong in my conclusions?
Singing with thanksgiving
The third note of the triad is our response to God. “Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” In a general sense what we say comes from our mind, but what we sing comes from the heart. Songs and melodies both touch and release emotions that we may not be able to express any other way. We can sing and worship anywhere and at any time. While out on a walk. While driving to work or to the store. While facing the troubles and challenges of life.
Paul wrote in another letter, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Ephesians 5:18b–20, NASB95) It is beneficial to sing and worship God with others. There’s something special about worshiping God together in song (whether it is in a small group, in the larger church body, or in a stadium filled with believers) that moves and focuses our heart on God.
God doesn’t reserve song, praise, and worship for the skilled, gifted, and talented. The angels don’t sit like judges American Idol and rate how well we can carry a tune. Worship is not a spectator sport, but a concert for an audience of one. So sing out whether you are skilled enough to tackle the toughest aria or can’t carry a tune in a bucket. It’s the expressions of thankfulness to God from our heart that matters, not if we’re on pitch and in rhythm.
Sounding the Chord
Now, put those notes together. Do you see how they build and support each other? How intertwined they are? Do you hear in them the soundtrack of the cross that God is playing for our lives? Those three activities are the basics of walking with Jesus in fellowship with others. We receive from God, we share with each other, we worship God. It would be easy to think of this as a triangle, but that would be inaccurate. What we’re really seeing is the cross-shaped way of God’s kingdom. Our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with one another. So what is really the soundtrack of your life in Christ?