Colossians 3 – Singing to God

  • Read Colossians 3:12-17 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (21 November) you can listen to it here.

As a minister within the Acapella Churches of Christ, I still find it mind-boggling that such a large movement can take so much of their identity from what is NOT written in Colossians 3:16!  There are several reasons this amazes me, but that’s not really what I want to discuss today.  One of the frustrating side effects that comes with making Col. 3:16 the centre of the argument for a capella corporate worship, is that Paul’s reason for writing the verse and paragraph is often overlooked.  It’s this message I want to explore in this post.

As always, we need to begin with the context.  according to vs 5-9 God has rescued us from a life that can best be described as a soap opera.  We no longer participate in a Days of Our Lives world.  Instead, God has chosen us to be holy and loved by Him (v12).  We now clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”  We forgive each other and our lives are characterised by love, which results in unity and peace.  (That’s my simple paraphrase of vs 5-15a.)

In the NIV v15 begins a new three verse paragraph.  It seems to me that the theme of this paragraph is thankfulness.  At the end of v15 is the simple sentence, “And be thankful.”  In v16 we’re told to “sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”  Verse 17 tells us that “Whatever you do… [do it while] giving thanks to God the Father…”.

When we compare the before and after descriptions in v5-15 we immediately see why we should thank God.  Life with God is vastly superior than living without Him.  Christians’ lives and worship should be characterised by a spirit of thankfulness for all he has done for us.

As we turn to v16 specifically, Paul tells the church to use their musical worship to remind one another of the Gospel, the message of Christ.  Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in worship contains a horizontal element as we remind each other of God’s goodness toward us.  We’re also singing to God to express our gratitude to Him.

Sadly, in our eagerness to use this verse to debate the method of worship, we often overlook Paul’s teaching on the content and motivation for our worship!

  • I don’t believe that all of our worship services should be one-dimensional or that it’s wrong to sing songs with a message other than gratitude.  But I wonder, in your experience of worship services, what percentage of the service would you say typically involves thankfulness?
  • Have you experience a church characterised by thankfulness?  What gave it that character?
  • How would a church (or individual) with an emphasis on thankfulness differ from other congregations?


  1. Roger Wine

    Context is so key–gratitude is certainly at the heart of these verses! And as you say in the post, “Life with God is vastly superior than living without Him. Christians’ lives and worship should be characterised by a spirit of thankfulness for all he has done for us.” Amen–thanks for sharing noble things of God (I agree with Jim McGuiggan who always encourages us to speak noble things of God!)

  2. Barbara

    Wow, this is an in depth presentation I did not expect. I am a ‘church organist’ and constantly battle against the ever-spreading idea that loud music and sound systems and drum kits and ‘worship leaders’ are a required element in the ‘happening’ church’s worship service. I often quote Col 3:16 to remind people how it was done in the NT. I try to encourage everyone to feel free to come forward with a song, not letting people depend on the ‘professionals’. I am getting to the point where I need to meet with like minded people to remind me I am not a lone voice in this. I believe I need to meet you.

    • ozziepete

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Barbara. I’m glad you found the post encouraging. I think all worship leaders, whether instrumental or acapella struggle with the continuum between sincerity and entertainment. It’s impossible to please everyone with just one style of music, but we should all be able to express gratitude to God in song.

  3. Barbara

    I am now confused. I was told you were a NT church. God spoke to me back in the late 70’s when I was a missionary in France that a movement was entering the American church called ‘worship and worship leaders’ and that I was to have nothing to do with that practice. In fact, I continually tell people, God (Holy Spirit) is your worship ‘leader’, not a man. To me, ‘worship leaders’ implies ‘worship followers’. The Bible speaks of neither. (Music directors and choirs, yes.) What do you mean by worship leader?

    By the way Peter, our church had a pastor from Oz, then our next pastor’s wife was from Oz (they retired there and continually amaze me with bird photos), so I can imagine your lovely accent! Hope to visit them one day!

    • ozziepete

      Barbara, thanks for continuing the conversation. I’m not really aware of a “worship leader movement”. I used the term “worship leader” to speak of the person who usually selects the songs and is singing into the microphone at the front. Because acapella churches don’t have an organ or other instruments to provide cues on when to start singing we need an individual to give those cues.
      I tend to think of the worship leader as “directing” the congregations thoughts around a particular theme, often related to the sermon, and the members as “participants” in worship, rather than leader-followers. God is always the reason and object of our worship.

      There are a surprising number of Australians running around in US church circles! 🙂 Glad to hear they made a good impression on you.

  4. Barbara

    Pete, how long have you been in the states?

    I think you have a cantor. This is what the original colonies established in their houses of worship, I’m told; a designated person to direct the singing. Prior to that point, congregational singing a cappella from the psalter was a cacophony of lusty singing in 13 different pitches with different speeds.

    I guess I am disappointed. I thought if anybody would, a NT church would allow any person to begin a praise song, hymn, or spiritual song or scripture, rather than make an official person in charge of our bringing our praises to God. This is what the main-line denominations like mine do: pre-package the music in advance, with the ‘worship leaders’ dictating to everyone what will be done, allowing NO freedom for participants to bring forth a song God is inspiring. It frustrates me. Maybe you allow more freedom. Tell me more.

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