Spiritual Clothing and Psalm-Singing
Let me recap what we’ve seen thus far in Colossians. Here’s one way of saying it: What Jesus did changes who we are and therefore changes how we live. And it changes how we live by first reorienting our minds and hearts, which then overflows in a distinctive way of living. Or, to put all four steps in place:
- What Jesus did
- changes who we are, and therefore
- changes how we orient our minds, which therefore
- changes how we live.
That progression really matters. Historical event: Jesus lived a perfect life, died in our place, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven where he rules over all. Decisive transition: by faith we die with Christ and are raised with Christ. We are transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son. Regular re-orientation: We set our mind on things above and orient by Jesus. Christ is our life. He’s the Sun at the center of our solar system. He’s all in all—the supreme object of our desires and the supreme model for our desires. And therefore, because of this new mindset, we live differently. We put off the old self and put on the new self. We put to death all that is sinful and earthly in our lives: sexual immorality, greed, anger, malice. And we do so daily.
Historical Event. Decisive Transition. Regular Re-orientation. Daily Living. Today’s passage focuses more on the kind of conduct, the way of living that flows out of this new identity that we have because what Jesus did changed who we are and therefore changed our mindset and therefore daily changes how we live.
Like he did in the previous passage, Paul repeatedly uses the metaphor of clothing to describe this change in how we live. Put off and put on. Clothe yourself in a certain way. And this underscores the importance of the progression, of getting the order right. Being leads to Doing. Identity leads to Conduct. Who you are leads to how you live. You are a son of God; therefore, dress like a son of God. Dress the part. Wear spiritual clothing that fits who God says you are. The corporate advice is: Dress for the job you want. The biblical exhortation is: Dress for the calling you already have. You are a son; walk like a son. You are righteous; therefore, walk uprightly. You are a citizen of God’s kingdom; therefore, dress like one.
The entire book is built this way, with the early chapters celebrating what Christ has done for us and then leading to chapter 3 and 4 where Paul tells us about the new clothes. But even in this passage, Paul comes back again and again to Being leads to Doing. Identity leads to Conduct. When he tells us how to live, he doesn’t want us to forget where the strength and motivation for that lifestyle comes from. Look for these two explicit examples, and then I’ll unpack one implicit one.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . .
Compassion, kindness, humility, patience. These are the spiritual clothing of the Christian. We should wear humility like it’s a new shirt. Compassion is the blazer of the saint. Put patience on like a new pair of pants. But don’t miss how Paul says we are to clothe ourselves. We do so “as God’s elect, holy and beloved.” Where do compassion and kindness come from? From knowing that we are chosen by God, set apart by God, and loved by God. Humility is not something that we work up by our own efforts. If we were able to do that, we’d just take pride in how good we are at being humble. Humility comes from knowing, deep in our bones, that we don’t have to prove anything to anybody, because we are loved by almighty God and set apart for his service.
Some people think that believing in election—the idea that God chose us to be his beloved—will lead to pride. But if you really understand what the Bible means by election, it can’t lead to pride. God didn’t choose us because he was impressed with us. We didn’t have any redeeming qualities. There was nothing distinctive about us that caused him to set his favor on us and bring us to himself. He chose us purely because of his grace. And therefore, when we know ourselves to be chosen and loved only by the grace of God, we are profoundly humble, meek, and compassionate.
The second example is in the next verse.
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13 ESV)
Paul assumes that we will have complaints against each other. We’re going to rub each other the wrong way. We’re going to get offended and hurt. But when we have such complaints, Paul urges us to be forgiving, and to do so because the Lord has forgiven us. Because you are forgiven, therefore, you also must forgive. What Jesus did changes who we are and therefore changes how we respond when others hurt us or grieve us. The old self grows bitter and resentful when we’re wronged. The complaint festers and grows into anger and malice. We play the tape of what they did to us over and over and hatred hardens in our heart. But not the new self. The new self forgives, because we’ve been forgiven. The new self knows that we are loved by God and therefore has nothing but patience and kindness for those who hurt us, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
The third example is more implicit. Look in verse 15:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
Where does the peace of Christ come from? In Romans 5, Paul tells us very clearly: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Justification by faith means that we are declared righteous in the courtroom of God because we trust in Jesus. Cleared of our guilt because Christ is our covering. Approved and embraced by God the Father because we’ve believed in his holy and righteous Son. Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God. No longer is God our enemy. No longer do we sit under his wrath. No longer does his anger at our rebellion burn against us and threaten us with destruction. We are at peace with God; we are his friends and family, and therefore, because we are the friends of God, let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. What Jesus did changes who we are and therefore changes how we live.
Now in the passage, the peace of Christ in our hearts is deeply connected to our corporate, body life. We were called as one body. In 3:14, Paul says, “Above all, put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” When peace rules in our hearts, love binds us together as a body. This again is the thick community that we’ve seen before—that we are knit together in love (Col. 2:3).
So this is what the good news of Jesus does. It changes who we are and therefore changes how we live. And it changes how we live because we regularly reorient ourselves by setting our minds on Christ and then putting on the spiritual clothing of the Christian. Grace humbles us and makes us secure. We are chosen and loved by God, and therefore, we are kind and compassionate, eager to forgive when others trespass against us. We have peace with God and therefore we seek to put peace on the throne of our hearts so that we are firm and stable and steadfast. In a previous sermon on this passage, I’ve called this way of living “Gospel Presence”: oriented by Christ, putting on the new man, defined by the love and grace of God, ruled by the peace of Christ, with the word of God dwelling richly, and doing everything in the name of Jesus, with gratitude bursting from your heart.
The importance of this Gospel Presence came home in a paragraph from James K.A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love.
We should be concerned about the ethos of our households—the unspoken vibe in our daily rituals. Every household has a “hum,” and that hum has a tune that is attuned to some end, some telos. We need to tune our homes, and thus our hearts, to sing his grace. That tuning requires intentionality with regard to the hum, the constant background noise generated by your routines and rhythms. That background noise is a kind of imaginative wallpaper that influences how we imagine the world, and it can either be a melody that reinforces God’s desires for his creation or it can (often unintentionally) be a background tune that is dissonant with the Lord’s song. You could have Bible “inputs” every day and still have a household whose frantic rhythms are humming along with the consumeristic myth of production and consumption. You might have Bible verses on the wall in every room of the house and yet the unspoken rituals reinforce self-centeredness rather than sacrifice.
Colossians 3 gives us a helpful inventory to check our imaginative wallpaper, to see if we’re in tune with God’s song. Or, to use Paul’s metaphor, this passage allows us to do a closet check. What’s in your wardrobe? What kind of clothes, spiritually speaking, are you wearing?
- Are you killing sin? Are you at war with sexual immorality and greed and anger and malice? Are you at war? Or have you made peace with your sin? Are you protecting your sin, hiding it away in a closet so that Jesus can’t get at it? Are you giving aid and comfort to the enemy?
- Is humility your cloak? Not, “are you always going on about how low you are? Or you always running yourself down and talking about how worthless you are?” That kind of smarminess is often a parody of true humility. True humility is self-forgetfulness—a security that comes from knowing you are loved by God and therefore free from the need to get approval from others.
- Are you kind? Do you smile at people? Are you warm and affectionate and compassionate? When others hurt, do you hurt? When they grieve, do you grieve? Do you sympathize with others?
- Are you patient? Do you know how to wait with a happy heart? When things don’t go as planned, do you blow up, or do you cheerfully roll with it? Do you demand that things happen your way, right now, or are you able to recognize that God loves you and therefore this unexpected change in plans is his good purpose for you?
- Do you forgive other people? Or do you stew in your own bitterness? Do you play the mental tapes of every wrong that someone has committed against you? Do you take offense easily? Or are you quick to forgive, quick to overlook a fault? Do you find it easy to give people the benefit of the doubt, and even when you can’t, you are able to cover their sin because of Christ’s forgiveness?
- Does peace rule in your heart? Are you firm and stable because you know that what Jesus did changed who you are? Is peace the guardian of your heart, protecting you from anxiety and worry?
- Does love crown all the virtues? Are you held together by love for God and love for his church and love for your neighbor? Is love for God the melody line of your soul that allows all the other virtues to play in harmony?
If not, don’t despair. Jesus is not deterred by our filthy rags, our tattered garments. If you’ve failed, then remember: what Jesus did changes who you are. Set your mind on him. Orient your life by him as the supreme object of your desires and the supreme model for your desires, and then, in light of his love for you, start changing your clothes. Day by day, hour by hour, relying on him, put off the old self, and put on the new one.
Now, there are many applications that we could make. And thankfully, Pastor Jonathan will be preaching on some of those implications next week as he talks about marriage and family and work in light of Gospel Presence. For this sermon, I want to focus on one application that you may never have thought much about. It comes from 3:16.
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.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. This reinforces what we said two weeks ago: one of the ways to set your mind on things above is to engage in regular devotional reading of the Bible and to hear the word of God preached in corporate worship. But this passage actually accents a different aspect of how the word dwells in us. And at this point, the ESV actually obscures the passage a bit by where it puts the commas. Here’s the New King James Version.
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. (Colossians 3:16)
I think that Paul is showing us what a rich indwelling of the word looks like: it looks like teaching in psalms and singing with gratitude. When the word dwells in you richly, it flows out of you in teaching and singing. So I want to talk about the value of singing psalms.
Now let’s dispense with one point right at the outset. Some Christian traditions believe that we should only sing psalms. God gave us a songbook, and we should sing from his songbook. At Cities, we clearly reject exclusive psalmnody. We believe that it is good and right to write and sing new songs. But the fact that we believe it is good for us to sing more than psalms, doesn’t mean that we should sing less than psalms. God has given us a songbook, and therefore it is good and fitting for us to sing his songs. What would it mean to sing the Psalms?
There are three basic ways of singing the Psalms:
- Songs inspired by the Psalms. These are songs that take passages from the psalms and turn them into modern worship songs. Shane and Shane’s Psalm 16, which was the prelude this morning, is an example. The words of the psalm are rearranged or altered or supplemented, and sometimes parts of the psalm are left out, but the content of the new song is inspired by the psalm. These are often the most accessible to us, since we are used to singing songs with verses and a chorus and modern arrangements.
- Metrical Psalms. A metrical psalm takes the full content of the psalm and tries to respect the overall structure, while making the psalm fit into modern meter and rhyme. Psalm 100, which we sang, is an example of a metrical psalm. The psalm covers all of the content of Psalm 100, in order, without repetition, but does so to the tune of the Doxology. Metrical psalms are a bridge between the psalms as God inspired them and modern hymns, and so they are often fairly accessible.
- Through-Composed Psalms. Essentially, these are just the words of Scripture set to music. Psalm 149 is an example. No repetition. No chorus. Minimal rhyme scheme. The goal is to sing the Bible directly. Sometimes the Psalms can be chanted as well.
In light of Colossians 3, I’d like to commend Psalm-singing to you as a part of your Bible intake, your devotional life. We’ll continue to intersperse psalms in our worship service, especially songs inspired by the psalms and some metrical psalms. But I’d like to commend the through-composed psalms to you personally. Let me give you two reasons:
- It’s a great way to memorize the Bible. I’ve committed a number of whole psalms to memory simply by learning to sing some through-composed Psalms. Rhyme, meter, and a tune aid memory. One of the ways that we can treasure up the word of God in our hearts, that we can have it dwell in us richly, is by memorizing it through song.
I find this particularly valuable as a way of having a word ready when I need it. Whether for my own sake, or for the sake of a counseling situation, or as a way of blessing my children before bedtime, I love to have the Bible ready to be sung. It was meant to be sung. It was meant to dwell richly, down deep in our souls, and then to come out our hearts and mouths with gratitude and joy. That’s why God gave us a songbook.
For example, I regularly sing a psalm when I put my boys to bed. Psalm 121. That’s one way that I try to shape the “hum” of our home, the imaginative wallpaper that shapes our rhythms and ethos. And I’d encourage other fathers and husbands to do the same. Dads should sing to their kids. Even if you don’t think you have a great voice. Sing to them. Sing words of truth and life over them, just like God does. He sings over us. Sing over them. If you think your kids will think it’s weird, remember that you’re their parent. They have nothing to compare it to. You establish what’s normal in your home. So if you sing with thanksgiving in your heart, they’ll think that it’s normal to do so. That’s what men do: we sing the word of God because we love the word of God.
- Singing psalms, especially through-composed, forces us to take in all of the Bible. We can’t just pick the parts that we like. We’re confronted by Scripture in all of its strangeness. That’s why I chose Psalm 149. I’m sure that parts of it really resonated with you: Delight in God. God takes pleasure in his people. He beautifies the humble with salvation. Be joyful in glory. Sing aloud on your beds (like when you put your kids to bed). And then, as it builds to the end, “Let the high praises of God be in their mouths…And a two-edged sword in their hands.” Many of you likely felt strange singing about binding the kings of the earth with chains, and executing vengeance on the nations, especially since that is the honor of all the saints.
(On this particular psalm, I think it’s interesting that the book of Hebrews says that the word of God is a two-edged sword. So I think that the point of the psalm, in light of what Jesus has done, is that God has given us a mission (Disciple the nations) and he’s given us a weapon, a two-edged sword, to accomplish the mission. He’s given us the word of God, and he’s sent us into the world to bring the nations into submission to Christ, so that they are bound to him (just like we are). The nations need to die…with Christ, just like we have. And the honor of the saints is that we get to execute God’s written judgment in calling the nations to the obedience of faith through the two-edged sword of the Spirit, the word of God.)
But the main point is that singing the psalms confronts us with puzzling passages and takes us deeper into God’s word so that it dwells in us richly. And so for those two reasons, I’d encourage you make singing and memorizing the psalms—whether songs inspired by them, or metrical psalms, or through composed psalms—a regular part of your devotional life. And to that end, Pastor Nick has put together a list of resources to help you get started and those will be posted at the Cities Church Journal online.
I want to close by highlighting two things that the passage accents. The first is how all-encompassing this vision of the Christian life. What Jesus did changes who we are, and therefore, reorients our mind and hearts around Jesus so that we live differently. And this touches every aspect of our lives: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Anything you do, anything you say, any relationship you have—all of it is to bear the name of Jesus. We want to clothe ourselves and our words and our deeds in such a way that Jesus would be happy to have his name on it. You do something, and Jesus stamps it and says, “Amen.”
The second thing is a note that Paul strikes again and again at the end of this passage: the note of gratitude. “And be thankful” (3:15). “Sing with thankfulness in your hearts” (3:16). “Giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17).
And since I’m of the conviction that gratitude, as much as possible, ought to be specific, here are a few things that I’m thankful for right now:
For a bright and beautiful spring Lord’s Day with sun shining and a cool breeze. For the rain that’s turning everything green again. For baseball with the boys in the front yard. For the joy it brings my sons to sit outside and throw a tennis ball against the wall. For good stories and beautiful words. When a home project comes in ahead of schedule and under budget. For a double date night with close friends. For the volunteers who step up and love and care for our children each week. For the grace of God that finds us in our lowest point. For the honor it is to teach Great Books to college students. For the privilege of pastoring at this church. For Mexican street tacos and dark chocolate ice cream. For the cross and resurrection of Jesus that frees us to enjoy all of these things without condemnation. For this Table.
This Table displays and represents the fountain of every blessing. Every joy, and every sorrow that God turns for joy flows from what this Table represents. When we eat at this table, we proclaim the Lord’s death. We testify that we belong to Jesus, that he is our Lord and Savior and Supreme Treasure. We give thanks at this table, and therefore we can give thanks to God the Father through Jesus everywhere else.