Below are the notes from Matt LaCava’s sermon yesterday morning.

“The Preeminence of Christ in Singing” Colossians 1:11-23; 3:16 Matt LaCava, Sunday, August 1, 2010


D.A. Carson quote:

“In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the “feeling” of things – whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is “better worship” there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset. (31)”

This is a helpful thought to consider when discussing specifics of corporate worship. We must never let our pursuit of corporate worship overtake our pursuit of God. Our corporate worship must be representative of our pursuit of God. In fact, corporate worship is an act of pursuing God, because we are seeking to know Him more, and allow Him to change us and make us more like His Son, Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that we are not simply seeking to “pursue” more excellent corporate worship. We are seeking to effectively and acceptably give honor, worship, and glory to the One Who alones deserves it.

Turn to Colossians 1, and read verses 11-23. Paul here has written to the church at Colossae likely responding to the news that he received from Epaphras, the church planter of the Colossian church, that there were some things being taught at the church that were dangerous. Paul writes to them, then, in an effort to remind them of their Christ, and to remind them of how they should then conduct themselves.

1. Christ is Preeminent

1.a. Christ reveals God for His glory. (15)

Jesus has enabled us to see what God is like. Whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (Jn. 14:9), so although none of us here in this room have ever seen Jesus with our physical eyes, when we see Jesus as the inspired Scriptures describe Him – Who He is, what He is like, what He did, what He does, what He will do -, we see God.

1.b. Christ created everything for His glory. (16)

You may have heard it stated, “There is not one square inch of the universe over which Christ is not King.” All things have been created by Christ, and were created for Christ. “He is not only the agent, but the goal of creation”. [1]

1.c. Christ holds all of creation together for His glory. (17)

Not only did Christ create all things, He is the One Who continually sustains it and governs it. By His very words He “upholds” the universe (Heb. 1:3). If it were not for this work of Christ, it seems that the universe and all in it would collapse into chaos and no longer be “held together”.

1.d. Christ accomplished redemption and reconciliation and forgiveness for His glory. (13-14, 18-23)

God is perfect, and in His perfection, He cannot tolerate any kind of sin or any amount of sin. So, He has determined that the just penalty for sin is eternal death in complete and final separation from God (Rom. 3:23). In Adam, all humanity sinned and all humanity has continued to sin to this day. So, there is a big problem – atonement for sin is necessary, and God has said that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sins (Heb. 9:22). Since man has sinned, man must atone for His sin. But, I/you/we cannot atone for our own sins. It’s impossible. I cannot completely and perfectly satisfy God’s just, righteous requirement for the payment for sin. In my sin, I am forever doomed and condemned before The Righteous God. And, I am bound by sin, captive to it, enslaved by it. It is absolutely impossible for me to pay for my sin and free myself from its bondage and penalty. So I am in great need – I need someone to save me! The Gospel is that Jesus is that Savior! He is the one Who came to earth to live a life in my place that I could never live, and to die the death that I deserve to die as my substitute for my sin. Jesus Christ was fully God, and fully man. So, when He suffered and bled and died for my sins, He did so FOR me, as my perfect substitute, having never sinned in any way. He did this to make my freedom from sin and my eternal life in Christ possible. He has paid the ransom for my sin, has redeemed me by His perfect shed blood, and has reconciled me to God. Through the work of Christ in His perfect life, death, and resurrection, those of us who put faith in Christ and repent of our sin are “transferred” from the kingdom of darkness and all its bondage and hopelessness to the kingdom of Christ and all its freedom from sin and confident hope of eternal life! Jesus was the perfect, complete, mediator between God and man! Jesus is the only One Who could possibly have done this, is the only one Who in fact did do this, and He has done this all so that He might be preeminent! So now, what does it mean to say that Christ is preeminent? It means that Christ Alone(!) is the One who is First, who is Before all things, who is worthy to receive honor and glory and worship!.

Point: All these and more in Colossians (e.g. chapter 2:13-15, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him“) give us a clear impression of what Paul is seeking to communicate to the believers at Colossae – Christ is glorious! Christ is over all! Christ is preeminent! Christ is worthy of worship and praise!

(Note: 55x Christ is referred to in the ESV Colossians whether by name or by pronoun)

Transition: When we read passages like these in the earlier portion of Colossians, and come to chapter 3, and see all the practical instructions that follow these truths about the preeminence of Christ and union believers have with Christ through His Person and work in the Gospel, we read with a little more understanding. We understand that these practical exhortations to live a certain way are in light of a broader context of objective truths about the Gospel through Christ. And when we verse 16 of chapter 3, it’s no different. Many if not all of us are very familiar with Colossians 3:16, but many of us probably don’t read or meditate on 3:16 in light of all that comes before it as often as we should. Let’s read Colossians 3:16 now. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Argument: In light of the immediate context in chapter 3, we know that this admonition to sing as a means of encouraging and admonishing ourselves and each other about the truths of Christ and His work is in the midst of a broader admonition to “put on” a different lifestyle than was characteristic of us before we received Christ. This is read in light of the broader context of the earlier part of Colossians that we have referenced already: Christ is supreme! Christ is the Savior! Christ alone is worthy of praise! Because of these truths about Who Christ is, and what He has done, our lives should be different than they were before we received Christ. And part of the difference between a person who has received Christ and one who has not is that the person who has is a person who sings praise to God.

2. Singing is a means by which Christians give Christ the preeminence He deserves.

This is just one of the admonitions Paul gives to people who have placed their faith in Christ and repented of sin – become followers and worshippers of Christ. But it is an important one. Believers must sing the praises of Christ because singing is a fitting, God-ordained means for us to learn more about and to worship our glorious Christ.

2.a. Christ-exalting singing is gospel-centered.

“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…”

The Word of Christ is the Gospel. Brothers and sisters, when we gather to sing the praises of our God, pray together, and hear the teaching of the Scriptures, it is only because of the Gospel. All that we discussed a few minutes ago regarding what exactly Christ has accomplished is the gospel: the good news about the Person and work of Christ. And when Paul exhorts the church at Colossae here to let the Gospel “dwell richly”, he is admonishing them to allow the Gospel to permeate every aspect of their lives, controlling every word, thought, and action. [2] The Greek word enoikeo translated “dwell” is a word that means “to live in” or “to be at home.”[3] And the word plousioV that is translated “richly” is a word that is also translated “abundantly or extravagantly rich.”[4] So, believers must be allows the Gospel to be at home in them abundantly, allowing it to affect every aspect of their being. It is the gospel that has saved us from our sin (Rom. 1:16), and it is the gospel that continues to change us and make us more like Christ (Gal. 3:1-3). So, in this God-ordained means of sanctification in our lives, singing, we must allow the Gospel to be continually permeating, dwelling, living in us, consistently growing in our understanding of the Gospel and of Christ. Sadly, we often allow other things to live in us besides the Gospel – worries, trials, burdens, idols, lusts, etc – there is a host of other things that creep into our “dwelling”, but the Gospel is what must “be at home” within us more than anything else. And singing praise to Christ is a God-ordained means for that to happen.

2.b. Christ-exalting singing is mutual teaching and admonition.

“…teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…”

Teaching has a positive idea of declaring truths about God, while admonition has the more negative idea of “warning” against what is not true about God. When we gather in a place like this on a day like today and sing songs together like “Wondeful, Merciful Savior”, part of what we are doing is mutually teaching/admonishing/reminding ourselves and one another of truths about who God is and what He has done. In doing this, we exalt the name of Christ, because He is glorified when believers are edified and grow in their knowledge of and love for Him.

2.c. Christ-exalting singing is genuinely thankful.

“…with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

The heart – the essence of who we are, all that we are

2.c.1. Thankful singing involves the mind.

Singing the praise of our great God is not always easy, let’s face it. There are, truthfully, seasons of life that God has determined for us for His glory that are difficult for us, and even painful at times. Some of you understandably struggle to sing with integrity, “It is well with my soul!” Many of you have faced or are currently facing trials that the Lord has brought into your life, and you simply do not understand why, and you’re wondering what God is doing, and you’ve prayed and searched the Scriptures and sought godly counsel and advice, and yet your trial has not subsided nor seemed to diminish at all! So when you see that “It Is Well”, is a song that has been planned for the worship service, your first thought is not one of joy. And then when you are exhorted to lift your voice in singing this truth, you fight through it, but deep inside you’re saying, “It’s really not well with my soul right now, I don’t know if I can really sing this and mean it.” But, beloved, particularly for those of you who struggle with this time and time again, when you come to the phrase in this hymn, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more!” your mind should respond to the unchanging truth that the Gospel brings hope in the midst of trials and pain. The truth in Colossians 2:13-14 is what we sing in this song! Our sins are nailed to the cross! We bear them no more!

In Acts 16:22-25 Paul and Silas were in prison, and what did they do? They sang! They reminded themselves of the unchanging truths of the gospel in the midst of their difficult circumstances. No matter what difficulty may arise, no matter how large or small, the Gospel gives hope! My sin is nailed to the cross! Christ has paid the penalty for my sin! I can now have fellowship with God that I do not deserve! Frankly, some of us struggle with singing with thankfulness in our hearts regardless of whether or not we are fighting through a certain trial. For some of us, we are not as naturally inclined to the act of corporate singing. But beloved, this passage in Colossians 3 doesn’t give us an option. We MUST be singing praise to our God with thankfulness in our hearts. So, the mind must be engaged when singing with a thankful heart. The circumstances that surround us are often hindrances to our mind’s engagement with the unchanging facts that we sing, but we must engage our minds and acknowledge the truths of the gospel and remind ourselves that they are true, whether they feel like it or not, and pray for the Spirit’s help to make it happen.

2.c.2. Thankful singing involves the emotions.

There are numerous different types of emotions that one can and should experience while worshipping our Christ in song. Some of these include: [5]

–       Reverence, awe, and wonder in the presence of a Holy, Almighty God (Ps. 2:11; Heb. 12:28)

–       Joy at the reality of who God is and what He does (Ps. 98:4-6; Acts 2:46; Rev. 19:7)

–       Sorrow over sin in light of the holiness of God (Ps. 51; Isa. 6:1-6)

–       Faith and confident hope in truths about God (Heb. 11:6)

–       Love for God and love for others (Mt. 22:37-40; Jn. 13:34-35)

–       Boldness because of access to God through Christ (Heb. 4:16; 10:19; Eph. 3:12)

2.c.3 Thankful singing involves the body.

Neither this, nor the other 2 specific applications that have been made are based on explicit instructions from Colossians 3:16 and its context. None of these verses explicitly state that we should be using our minds, emotions, and bodies as we sing. But what it does say, that we have already seen, is that we are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts, and we have observed that this means our entire being. Unfortunately, as we look at the history of the Church and different movements in it, we can see a tendency in the more charismatic circles to take this “involve your body” thing to an extreme, at times. . In some churches, during the singing, normal “involvement of the body” would include waving arms around, jumping up and down, clapping hands, rolling on the floor, and other things. This is not what I am talking about when I say that Christ-centered singing involves the body. If we allow our bodies’ movements in the singing portion of a worship service to actually draw attention AWAY from the Person that we’re honoring and worshipping through singing and TO ourselves, then we have defeated the purpose of using our bodies in an effort to have the “whole person” involved in corporate worship singing. There is room for interpretation on this, and many godly believers would perhaps do it somewhat differently than we would suggest, but here are the two “guidelines” that I use for myself regarding this, and perhaps it will help you.

1.) If singing about God and His relationship to us (could be about what He has done for us, how He cares for us, what He will do for us, etc), a helpful physical gesture may be to extend your arms forward somewhat and lift your palms up as a picture of receiving blessing from God.

2.) If singing about God and His attributes and works (could be about what He has accomplished, how He alone is worthy of praise, names of His, etc), a helpful physical gesture may be to lift your arms up somewhat higher and point upward with your palms as a picture of pointing to God and giving Him honor and praise.

Point: Christ-exalting singing that has at its core a spirit of thankfulness involves the mind, emotions, the body – the whole person.

So, when believers gather to worship God, one of the primary means by which this takes place is singing. And Christ-exalting singing has at its core The Gospel, mutually teaches and admonishes those who have gathered to worship, all with a spirit of thankfulness for Who God is and what He has done in The Gospel.

Application: What does this mean for us?

– Parents: I hope this would go without saying, but it is worth saying: Moms and Dads, when it comes to Christ-exalting singing, you have to lead the way with your kids. One of the things that I appreciated, growing up, was my Dad and Mom’s love of singing praise to our God, and it was contagious. We would sing songs around the table during family devotion time, and we would stand around the piano and my Mom would play and we would all sing together. As a result, my sisters and I have always enjoyed singing praise to God. So, parents, particularly Dads, lead the way in your families.

– Kids: As a younger person, I know there was a tendency in me to be maybe somewhat embarrassed to let my voice be heard by all the people around me. But, I came to realize that that mindset and tendency was nothing short of selfish pride – an unwillingness to let my voice be heard in praise to God because someone might hear my voice and not like it as much. Just because you’re a kid, that doesn’t mean you should not be lifting your voices in praise to your God.

– Musicians: singing praise to God isn’t all about how pleasing it sounds and how musically proper or excellent it is.

– Congregation: I thank God that there are those of you here who seem to understand this, and week in and week out are faithful to come and lift your voices in song to our Great God, regardless of your circumstances, and regardless of how aesthetically pleasing your voice may or may not be. There are those of you here, though, who could use this reminder of what exactly it is we’re doing when we sing and why it is that we do it, and begin practicing again, or perhaps for the first time, truly Christ-exalting singing.

– All of us:

1. We must take advantage of this means of grace God has given to us. We used to say in our SIGMA class back at HBC all the time, “we’re not just here to make some music happen and sound pretty and have fun singing – we’re here to teach each other and let the grace of God in the Person and work of Christ dwell in us so that Christ is glorified.”

2. If our corporate singing does not reflect true thankfulness in our hearts through the mind, emotions, and body, and “the Word of Christ dwelling richly in us”, it is because the Word of Christ hasn’t been dwelling in us richly all week. And if that’s the case, there’s something wrong with our understanding of who God is and what He has done. We must continually be looking to the glories of our Christ, and that will be reflected in the way we sing corporately. The issue is the heart – when we are truly aware of Who God is and what He has done, we will be compelled to sing praise to our glorious Christ.

Conclusion: When we see instructions like in Colossians 3:16, we must remember to receive them in light of the truths about God that precede it – ch. 3’s exhortation to live a different life than before, chs. 1&2 lifting up the preeminence of Christ as the motivation to live life to the glory and praise of God. Thankfully, Paul does not exhort us to sing in Col. 3:16 without first identifying the unchanging truths about Christ that should motivate us to obey the instructions and live in the way that the Scriptures exhort us to. Allow your hearts to be compelled to sing praise to Christ in light of Who He is and what He has done. Look to Christ! Sing!

[1] ESV Study Bible, notes on Colossians, p. 2294, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton: Illinois

[2] MacArthur, John,  (1992) The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians and Philemon Chicago: Moody

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] Frame, John M. Worship in Spirit and in Truth, P&R Publishing, 1996