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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Singing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
Text:Colossians 3:16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

From the 1976 Psalter Hymnal:

307 - Ye Who His Temple Throng

387 - I Sought the Lord

192 - Unto God Our Savior

469 - By the Sea of Crystal

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
11/15/2015 – p.m.
(On the occasion of a musical presentation by The Men of A-Chord)
Singing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”
Colossians 3:16
I don’t know about any of you, but I personally find it amazing that next month is already December. I find it amazing that Christmas is just around the corner!
With the Christmas season comes the singing of the wonderful Christmas carols as well as renditions of Handel’s Messiah. Singing often reaches a new height when we consider how the angels sang praises when Jesus was born, and we echo that praise in the music that we sing and hear.
The music of the Christmas season is so powerful that even some who are not believers appreciate the beauty of Handel’s Messiah as well as the other well-known Christmas carols. But our text in Colossians 3:16 teaches us that in order to truly sing praises to God, whether at Christmas time or any other time, we must first have the Word of Christ – that is, the truths of Scripture – dwell in us richly.
Why is that? Unless you know the Lord Jesus Christ through saving faith in Him, as He is revealed in Scripture, you cannot truly sing praise to God because you don’t really know who He is.
There are many people with great voices who sing praises to God in a way that moves us here on earth. Even Elvis Presley did a wonderful job on many of the hymns. And I’m thankful that we can leave it up to the Lord and not judge ourselves whether he or any other singer truly knew by saving faith the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in Scripture.
But while we leave that judgment with the Lord, we recognize from this 16th verse that the praise we hear on earth from the lips of some, may never be listened to by the Lord as praise. The words we sing are only acceptable to the Lord if the Word of Christ – that is, Christ as He is revealed in the pages of the Holy Bible – truly dwells within us.
Teach and Admonish with All Wisdom
A second truth that this verse teaches is that when we have the Word of God within us, we are equipped to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.
It may seem at first glance as though teaching and admonishing one another doesn’t fit in with gratefully singing praises – psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – to God. However, it is a great blessing to be admonished and taught by a fellow Christian, one who has the Word of Christ dwelling within him or her, and who speaks the truth in love to us.
Proverbs 27:6 says, faithful are the wounds of a friend. Who would you rather have as a friend? Would you rather have someone who only tells you what you want to hear about yourself? Or would you value as a friend someone who tells you truths from the Word of God which may initially hurt?
After all, Hebrews 4:12-13 points out: "...The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."
All of us who have the Word of Christ in us have been both taught and admonished by that Word. The Bible is blunt in teaching us the error of our ways. The Bible is blunt and straightforward in showing us our sin. The Bible has the ability to strip from us every shred of our self-righteousness. But the reason the Holy Spirit uses the Word of Christ - which is the Holy Bible - to convict us, is for our good.
It is only when we see our sin that we also see our Savior. In the same way, you need the law to convict you of your sin before you understand the grace of the gospel, that God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
It was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the well-known preacher of an earlier generation who wrote:
I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The law is the needle and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart unless you first send the needle of the law to make way for it. If men do not understand the law, they will not feel they are sinners. And if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. There is no healing a man until the law has wounded him, no making him alive until the law has slain him.
Verse 16 is teaching us that unless we have been taught and admonished by the Word, we cannot properly sing praise to the Lord. And if we have not been taught and admonished by the indwelling Word of Christ, we cannot use it wisely to teach and admonish others for their own good – for their spiritual well-being.
Singing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs
A third truth this text teaches us is that when we have the Word of Christ in us, we are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
Singing has an important place within the church. By singing we bring praise to God, but music is also a teaching tool within the church. Because of that, this verse stresses the importance of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
Most commentators agree that the reference to "psalms" (v. 16) refers to the Old Testament Psalms and that it is right and proper to use them in the worship of our God. They are God’s “songbook” for us.
Some commentators point out that hymns, as used in this verse and in a parallel verse in Ephesians 5:19, are portions of Scripture that were sung. For instance, Luke records two great hymns of praise for us in the opening chapter of his gospel. He records for us the hymn that Mary sang when she realized she would have the privilege of giving birth to the eternal Christ in human flesh as the baby Jesus. Luke also records Zechariah’s hymn of praise when he realized that his son, John the Baptist, would prepare the way for the Lord. We know those hymns as the Magnificat and the Benedictus.
But there are other passages of Scripture that were used as hymns in the early church. Among the most notable is Philippians 2 where Jesus Christ is extolled because:
 ..Being in very nature God, (He) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (6-11).
Those words from Philippians 2 were undoubtedly part of an early Christian hymn that was frequently sung by believers in their worship services.
Some commentators believe that the spiritual songs refer to Scriptures such as Exodus 15 which records the Song of Moses. In that song the people rejoiced and praised God for His deliverance through the Red Sea. Some commentators also believe that it refers to some of the songs which are recorded in the last book of the Bible. In Revelation 5 and 15 we read songs of praise joyfully offered to the Lord for His redeeming work through Christ Jesus.
Because of that, there are some churches that will only sing Scripture, usually only singing the Psalms. A point can be made, and is made by them, that the hymns and spiritual songs could be part of the Psalter itself. For instance, when Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn before going to the Mount of Olives on the night He was betrayed (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26), it is universally believed that they sang – they “hymned” – Psalm 115-118. Those Psalms are called The Egyptian Hallel, because they were sung as a hymn in remembrance of the Passover lambs which were slain when Israel was in Egypt.
Singing Songs Faithful to Scripture
While singing the words of Scripture is an important part of true worship, most Christians today recognize that the hymns and songs that we sing, along with the Psalms, are also right and proper to sing.
But we also recognize that they are only right and proper to sing to the degree that they are faithful to Scripture. Because of that Article 39 of our United Reformed Church Order states:
The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches. Hymns which faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity may be sung, provided they are approved by the Consistory.
The reason why we want our elders to approve the words – the lyrics – of songs, is because songs teach a message. If that message is not in accordance with the Word of Christ, then those songs or hymns cannot be sung. Elders have the spiritual oversight of the church and its teaching, so it is only natural that elders would be the ones to approve music.
Other churches I have served did not spell out the importance of singing what is faithful to Scripture as distinctly as Article 39 of our Church Order spells it out. But each church recognized the importance of guarding the music that was sung. Every faithful church seeks to sing only that which accurately reflects the Word of Christ, that is, what is true to Scripture.
In one former church, we had a hymn sing every Sunday evening that was led by one of our elders. The songs were open for congregational requests. Anyone could raise their hand and request a song or hymn. It was a wonderful time of worship, a part of the Sunday evening worship service that we all looked forward to.
Often, we sang songs from a praise book in addition to the Trinity Hymnal used by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. And I’m thankful that I did not have to censor any of the songs in the praise book because a predecessor, Rev. John Fikkert, had gone through the book and put a big dark X with a magic marker over every hymn or song that was not theologically correct.
And sometimes people would say, “I wish that Pastor John hadn’t marked out these hymns.” But in every case if you looked at the words of the hymn you saw that they were not faithful to Scripture; they were not faithful to the Word of Christ. Most often they would be unfaithful in one of three main areas or categories.
One category of songs that received an X from Pastor John’s magic marker were those that were purely sentimental, describing the relationship of the believer to Jesus almost in the terms of a teenage boy and girl romantically walking hand-in-hand through the park. Scripture points out that we walk with the Lord, but our walk with the Lord is hardly like a teenager’s romance. Sentimental, romantic portrayals of that walk with the Lord deserved the big dark X of Pastor John’s magic marker.
A second category that was often X’d out were those hymns or songs describing Jesus vainly knocking on the door of human hearts. Those hymns portray Jesus with a bloody hand, as though He is helpless to save anyone unless that person “opens the door of their heart to let Him in.”
That theme is found in many hymns and praise songs. It is Arminian theology, so named after Jacob Arminius, the popular Dutch preacher who disagreed with the five points of Calvinism which outline the doctrines of God’s grace. The Canons of Dort, which are part of our confessional statements found in the back of our Psalter Hymnals, clearly explain that the teaching of Jacob Arminius is false and must be rejected.
As a church that is Reformed to the Scriptures, we understand that God is sovereign in electing love as expressed in the hymn we sang earlier:
           I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
               He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
           It was not I that found, O Savior true;
                No, I was found of Thee.
A third category that Pastor John perceptively put a big X over were the so-called “7/11” songs where one phrase, although true to Scripture perhaps, is repeated over and over. Those songs fall into the category of “Christianity light.” That is, they may have some truth, but they have no deep biblical depth such as we find in many of the old well-written hymns, and some newer hymns as well.
The “7/11” songs do not have the depth of riches that Article 39 tells us to have when it declares that only those songs and hymns are to be sung that “faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the three forms of unity.”
Visitors to our church in Florida, especially snowbirds who just happened in on our church without realizing what it meant to be “Orthodox” Presbyterian, were sometimes dismayed to find a big dark X over their favorite songs in the praise book. But the rest of us were thankful for Pastor John’s faithful work – and for the remarkable durability of his magic marker!
Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that are sung in the church do indeed teach and admonish us. They either teach and admonish us with the proper theology of the Word of Christ. Or they teach “Christianity light” and the sentimental or Arminian teachings that are so common in many churches.
* * *
I look forward to the singing that accompanies the upcoming Christmas season. I’m thankful that renditions of The Messiah and other great musical pieces are listened to by unbelievers because the message of the gospel is in those great musical pieces. But I also recognize that the unbeliever’s appreciation for Handel’s Messiah, or any other great Christian musical piece, cannot earn them salvation.
The application of our text is that the only proper motivation for singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – and for appreciating Christian music – is true gratitude for the Lord God Almighty as He is revealed in His Word.
This evening we all look forward to hearing the beautiful music of the Men of A-Chord. But beyond the beautiful music that we listen to ask yourself, “Is the Word of Christ truly within me? Do I open the pages of the Bible regularly and find there the admonition and the teaching of my God? Do I know by faith that my salvation is only by God’s grace through faith in His dear Son, Jesus Christ?"
If you have an affirmative answer to those questions, then sing – and listen – with grateful hearts! Amen.
                                                    - bulletin outline -
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another
with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude
in your hearts to God.  –  Colossians 3:16
                          “Singing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”
                                                     Colossians 3:16
I. Our text teaches:
    1) In order to truly sing praises to God we must have the Word of Christ - the
         truths of Scripture - dwell in us richly (16a)
    2) When we truly have the Word in us, we are equipped to teach and admonish
        one another because we have been taught and admonished by the Word
        (16b; Proverbs 27:6a; Hebrews 4:12-13)
     3) When we have the Word of Christ in us, we are to sing psalms, hymns, and
          spiritual songs (16c; Ephesians 5:19)
II. Application: The proper motivation for singing is gratitude in our hearts for God,
     and all His wondrous works, as revealed in His Word (16d)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Ted Gray

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