New Testament Instruction on Congregational Singing: An Examination of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 (Part 3 of 3)
This post is the last of three in this brief series on congregational singing, and the points below are conclusions made from an examination of Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16. Read these posts here (Eph 5:19) and here (Col 3:16).
A comparison and contrast of Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 give us some helpful points of instruction as to how a congregation should worship in song.
First, congregational singing is imperative. While the focus of Eph 5:19 is to detail how the congregation engages in Spirit-filled worship (cf. Eph 5:18), the focus of Col 3:16 is how the word of Christ is to dwell richly among them through their singing. In both cases, singing is not the primary command of either verse, but it is a means of how to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us and how to live a Spirit-filled life.
Second, there is an emphasis on the internal workings that lie behind congregational singing. There is an initial acceptance of the word of Christ by each individual and a desire to have Him dwell richly among the congregation. Singing involves songs that are spiritual and thus led by the Spirit. Singing and making melody are with hearts motivated by thankfulness. Singing must be guided in all wisdom.
Third, congregational singing involves a complex relational dynamic. Each Christian ministers to others by singing and is at the same time the recipient of the singing of others. Ultimately, everyone sings to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Fourth, there is variety in how the congregation may worship in song. Both verses list psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Though these terms overlap and are interchangeable on occasion, they may be distinct as well. The use of psalms indicates that the OT psalms should be sung as appropriate, and hymns and songs indicate that Christians may wisely craft their own texts and melodies insomuch as they promote a richer dwelling of Christ among the congregation.
Fifth, we learn something of the Trinity even in our congregational singing. Singing is to God and to the Lord Jesus and is an expression of being filled with the Spirit. We edify one another as we together sing to God and Christ through the Spirit.
Sixth, the content of these verses leaves us with practical instruction and implications for congregational worship. The use of wisdom indicates that discretion is necessary in considering what a text should say, how a song should be sung, and the congregation itself. Many texts and melodies should be avoided if they do not help a congregation let the word of Christ dwell more richly among them. The terms psalm and sing (from psallō) indicate that instruments may be used in congregational worship, and the chief instrument for each person is the voice itself. The term psalm also indicates that we already have a songbook of 150 selections for congregational worship. The psalms are also examples for hymns and songs in showing what a text and its literary features should be. Further instruction for worship in song can be found within the psalms, and the Bible offers other examples of hymns and songs as well.
About David Huffstutler
David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.