Colossae was a bit more than 100 miles from Ephesus, and the two letters to the respective churches were written about the same time—which would be approximately 60 or 61 A.D. The apostle Paul had heard a number of good things about the church there, but there was also a troubling problem with some false teaching that was circulating among them. Paul addresses that problem with a positive statement of the gospel, but from that positive statement we can gather some information about the heresy he was countering.
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:15–17).
Summary of the Text
Paul urges them to allow the peace of God to rule in their hearts. They are to do this with gratitude. The word of Christ is to dwell in them richly, in all wisdom, and this would be manifested in the result, which would be psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all of them sung with grace. And do everything, he says, in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to the Father in the name of Jesus. As we shall see, the theme of this letter is the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ over all things. And because of a true spiritual awareness of this, music from the heart is therefore essential.
The Colossian Heresy
What problem was Paul countering? There appear to have been three general aspects to it. First, it granted a lot of importance to various spiritual powers, angels and whatnot. Second, a strong emphasis was placed on outward religiosity—new moons, feasts, fasts, and so on. And then third, these false teachers claimed to have the magic decoder ring. They were possessors of an esoteric “knowledge.” All this indicates that it was some form of early Gnosticism.
Paul counters their empty philosophy with three profound answers. To the first, he answers Christ. To the second, he answers Christ. To the third, he answers Christ.
The Cosmic Christ
Confronted with a teaching that postulates a spiritual world crawling with various celestial dignitaries, Paul responses with the magnificent “Christ hymn” (Col. 1:15-20). Christ is the Creator of all things, and has dominion over everything, including thrones,
dominions, rulers or authorities. The second claim is also answered by Christ. When empty deceptions and philosophies are erected, Paul answers with Christ, in whom all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9). In the crucifixion of Christ, we see the circumcision of the world (Col. 2:11), and in that circumcision God has forever and finally removed the foreskin of vain religious observance. This is what true regeneration entails. And to the esoteric claims of “knowledge” (gnosis), Paul answers with the real thing, knowledge of Christ. Paul answers them with a battery of words like knowledge (gnosis and epignosis), wisdom (sophia), understanding (synesis) and mystery (mysterion), and all of it centered in Christ the absolute.
Christ is the very image of God. He is the agent of all God’s creative activity in the world. And He is the head of the church, the fullness of God Himself.
The Mathematics of Death
So what happens when death dies? It is like canceling something out in mathematics. Death is a negative, and when it has a negative value placed on it, the end result is positive. The death of death is life everlasting.
The Christian life is therefore not rule-keeping. These are of no value, Paul says, in dealing with the flesh (Col. 2:20-23). Rules—do this, don’t do the other, here eat this, make sure you never eat that, stay off the grass—are worthless in creating an ethical human being. Rules are just a bit and bridle for a stubborn mule, when God intends to transform the one who believes into a winged horse.
Your liberty from the old ways is found in one thing only, which is the fact that you have died. If you have died, then your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). If that is the case, then you have a foundation from which to put to death your earthly members. From the basic death that all believers have, you may apply more death to particular besetting sins.
Dead Men Singing
And so we come back to our text. We do not sing because we have formulated a new rule —thou shalt sing. Our life in Christ, hidden with God in the heavenly places, is not some sort of new super-law. It is not as though Moses had the law carved in earthly granite, but the new super-law is carved in celestial adamant, but still somehow outside us. We sing because Christ is Lord. We sing because of the absolute supremacy of Christ over everything. In Romans, when Paul finishes a particularly tough bit of theology (Rom. 11:32), his natural reaction is to burst into song (Rom. 11: 33-36). We should be the same way.
We are not Gnostics, but we do worship a cosmic Christ. We are not Gnostics, and so while we use earthly and material forms in our worship, we do not rely on them from the outside in. The Lord taught us that if you wash the inside of the cup, that takes care of the outside. But if you just tend the outside, then there are all sorts of ways to keep the cleansing power away from the inside. We are not Gnostics, but we do know. We know God through Christ.
And so it is that we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs as a matter if simple spiritual overflow. Music is a divinely-designed release valve, uniquely installed to keep us all from exploding with joy. If that is not how you are experiencing it, then revisit the central message of Colossians. In Ephesians, the music is the result of the filling by the Spirit. Here is the result of the word of Christ dwelling in us richly. Put it all together. Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion. And everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.