And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)
From this passage, we are told to get close to other Christians; close enough to need patience and humility and forgiveness. We are told to get so close it hurts. Notice, we aren’t told to come together merely to enjoy each other’s company; we have a rally cry, and it is our devotion to Christ, who rules in our hearts. It’s no coincidence that the instruction to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly is mentioned in the same breath as the instruction to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Paul is endorsing Christ-centered, Christ-exalting worship. Why? Because that’s how the church is built up (Colossians 2:19).
So we’re told to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly when we sing; in such a way that we are teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom. What exactly does that look like? At the very least, it means that our songs are substantial enough to teach us something. This doesn’t necessarily mean that our songs must have a minimum word count of 1,000, nor does it mean that our songs must be hymns. There some amazingly profound songs that are simple and easy to remember. However, what we are saying is that the songs must be saying something. They shouldn’t be ambiguous or nonsensical; those songs don’t teach us anything. We should be clearly praising God for things that are true of him.
Not only does “teaching and admonishing” imply that our Christ-exalting songs ought to have significant content, it also implies much about the way we interact with one another. When we bear with one another in community, it will certainly impact the way that we worship in our corporate gatherings. When I see the mother of a three-year-old, cancer stricken little girl, raising her hands in adoration, during a song that praises God for his sovereign goodness, I am being taught. There is so much edification that comes along with this kind of unity. But here’s the rub; we can’t benefit from this kind of edification if we’re not intimately knit together in love. Unless I know that a three-year-old is battling cancer, the raised hands of her mother will mean nothing to me. We can’t share in profound joy with one another unless we’re willing to share in profound pain as well.
When this kind of intimacy is present in the body, God does an amazing thing. Paul describes what this is in 2 Corinthians:
But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. (2 Corinthians 7:6-7)
So God comforted Paul by Titus. But not only that, God also comforted Titus through the Corinthians. And, amazingly enough, God comforted Paul through the Corinthians comforting Titus! In other words, Paul was comforted by God vicariously, through the comfort that the Corinthians gave Titus. So God speaks through his people, to his people. There are things that God intends to do in our lives, and he has ordained to do them through the people in our churches.
I understand that being close with other Christians is difficult; after all, one of God’s specialties is placing people together who would usually never have anything to do with one another. Often, a love for Jesus is the only thing we have in common with the other members of our church, but that is plenty. God wants us to experience this kind of messy community when we come together in worship. He is honored by it.