Colossians 3:12-17

Like the Ephesian passage, Paul discusses hymnsinging in Colossians 3:12-17 after an opening doctrinal discourse. The context for his specific exhortation in verse 16 regarding hymn singing, is the whole chain of Christian graces to be found among God’s chosen people, especially their culmination in love, unity, peace, and thankfulness. What a setting for musical advice! Imagine what a mutuality of these graces among believers could do for the music in our churches!

Verse 16 begins: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and counsel one another with all wisdom . . .” The results of the rich indwelling Word are teaching and counseling. Perhaps the teaching involves mostly doctrinal content, and the counseling, practical exhortation.

Paul goes on to translate this wise teaching and counseling into musical expression. The NIV and RSV read, “and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude [‘thanksgiving,’ RSV] in your hearts to God.” This makes the clause parallel to “as you teach and counsel,” and both clauses signify ways through which the indwelling Word may be expressed. The ASV, however, renders the passage, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.” I naturally prefer this translation. In any case, the context implies a close connection, and Paul’s parallel paragraph in Ephesians verifies it. Here is doctrinal teaching and spiritual counseling in song.

The major ideas of verse 16 are (1) the rich indwelling of the Word of Christ; and (2) the teaching, counseling and singing. Which is cause and which is effect? The most obvious answer seems to be that the rich indwelling Word produces teaching and singing. But a complementary interpretation is also possible: Teaching/counseling with wisdom and singing with gratitude are natural ways to let the Word indwell in us richly.

Reflecting upon this great passage raises some searching questions:

• How faithful to the Word is a particular hymn?

• How richly indwelt by the Word am I as a hymn singer or accompanist? How fully does a certain gospel song reflect the Word or my response to the Word?

• Should the church consider using hymns for doctrinal instruction or spiritual encouragement of the young and for newborn believers? Is this expecting too much of a hymn?

In verse 17, Paul summarizes his thought in one comprehensive ethical principle: Do all on the basis of your relationship to God through Christ, with thanksgiving. For the third time in three verses, the apostle emphasizes gratitude to God. We are moved again to ask certain personal questions:

• Does this hymn or gospel song reflect a scriptural understanding of God’s grace and my Christian response of gratitude?

• Am I singing (in the congregation or choir or as a soloist) with genuine thanks, based on a fresh appreciation of God’s grace?

• Should one of the qualifications for church musicians (choirs, choir directors, organists, soloists) be a thankful spirit? What would an attitude of grace and gratitude do for the music problems in our churches?


Paul’s two paragraphs on hymn-singing emphasize four basic points:

1. Hymn-singing has a twofold inspiration: the believer’s continuous filling by the Holy Spirit and the rich indwelling of the Word in his or her heart.

2. Paul discusses the attitude and motivation of the singers and the spiritual content of their hymns, but he says nothing about musical styles, forms, or accompaniment.

3. Paul sees hymn-singing primarily as a joyous, thankful response to God’s grace: its basic movement is upward praise to God. Only secondarily does it flow outward to fellow believers for edification.

4. One feels in these verses a kind of “musical koinonia,” a sense of sharing and active participation by the congregation. The privilege of singing belongs to the whole Christian community, not an elite few.


JESUS, YOUR BLOOD AND RIGHTEOUSNESS by Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760)

Count Zinzendorf wrote his first of some 2,000 hymns at age 12. His story nearly duplicates that of Francis of Assisi. Both came from wealthy, titled homes, and each renounced the favors of nobility to provide for others. Zinzendorf’s life made an abrupt turn after he viewed a picture of the thorn-crowned Christ, underneath which were the words “What hast thou done for Me?” He called his religion “Christianity of the heart” and practiced it by building a village on his beautiful estate called “Herrnhut”—the “Lord’s Shelter”—providing asylum for persecuted Christians. The number of refugees he cared for grew to 600 in less than a decade.

Though he studied law at the University of Wittenberg, he became a preacher and was consecrated as a bishop of the Moravian Brethren in 1737. However, the Lutherans accused him of teaching false doctrine, and he was banned from their pulpits. Undeterred, he traveled widely, preaching and establishing Moravian colonies in Germany, Holland, England, and America. When the ban was lifted, he returned to his estate, using his wealth for religious work. He died a poor man.

“Jesus, Your Blood and Righteousness” was written in 1739, after he returned to Saxony from a missionary journey in the West Indies. Originally, it had 33 verses, was translated into English by John Wesley, and the tune composed by William Gardiner was adapted from great composers like Haydn and Beethoven. It has become a stirring testimony of “Christ Jesus” [who] “lived and died for me.”

CHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY by Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

This triumphant hymn of Charles Wesley was written just one year after his “heart-warming” experience at the Aldersgate Hall in London in 1738. The first Wesleyan Chapel in London was a deserted iron foundry. It became known as the Foundry Meeting House, and this hymn was written for the first service in that chapel and originally had 11 verses.

Following his conversion in Aldersgate, Charles began writing numerous hymns on every phase of the Christian experience. It has been said that the hymns of Charles Wesley clothed Christ in flesh and blood and gave converts a belief they could easily grasp, embrace with personal faith, and die for.

The hymn was published by John Walsh, an Irishman who established himself in London, publishing, among others, the works of George Frederick Handel. The message of this Easter hymn is to personally experience the transforming power of the living Christ, who will “raise your joys and triumphs high.”

THERE IS A GREEN HILL FAR AWAY by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895)

The author of this hymn, Cecil Frances Alexander [nee Humphreys], wrote 400 hymns and was one of England’s finest hymn writers. She was active in the Sunday School Movement before she married William Alexander, archbishop and primate of the Anglican Church for all of Ireland. As a devout Anglican Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Alexander was intent on making the Apostles’ Creed understandable to children, and she believed that the most effective way to explain spiritual truths was through hymns. So, in 1848, she decided to put the details of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, expressed in the Creed as “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried,” into a song. No doubt the grass-covered hills of Londonderry reminded her of the hill of Calvary and inspired the writing of the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

Actually, the tune was composed by a Londoner, William Horsley, in 1844. Horsley was not only a friend of Mendelssohn but also was one of the founders of the London Philharmonic Society. As you sing this hymn, may the truth of God’s great love motivate you to “try His works to do.”

THINE IS THE GLORY by Edmund Louis Budry (1854–1932)

This hymn combines a remarkable blend of French, English, and German influences. It was written by Edmund Budry, who was educated in Lusanne as a minister of the National Reformed Church and pastored in Cully for eight years before going to the Free Church in Vevey, Switzerland, where he ministered for 35 years. During that time, he wrote more than 60 hymns, some of which were translated into Latin, German, and English.

The translator of “Thine Is the Glory” was from Lancashire, England, and, though reared in a Methodist home, was ordained a Baptist minister. He served various churches and, for two years (1934–1936), taught Systematic Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He died in England in 1939.

The tune comes from a famous Handel oratorio celebrating the life of the Jewish hero Judas Maccabeus and made for “See the Conquering Hero Comes.” Though made at the request of Frederick, Prince of Wales, to celebrate the victory of his brother, the hymn is a fitting, triumphant promise of a soon-coming celebration with the saints of all ages in honor of our victorious Lord.

Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.