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  • Josh Wredberg

Worship & the Congregation (Sermon)

Colossians 3:16



You’re at a friend’s party one night, where you’re introduced to a man in his late 20’s. You ask him what he does, and he says, “I’m a quarterback.” As a football fan, you’re immediately interested, and you begin to ask him questions. “Really,” you say. “Who do you play for?” “Oh, I’m not on a team,” he responds.

“Well, who did you play for in college?” Again he answers, “I didn’t play on my college team.”


“How about high school?” “No, I didn’t play on my high school team.”

At this point, you’re a little puzzled, so you ask, “So, what team do you or did you play quarterback for?”

“I’ve played quarterback my whole life, but I’ve never been on a football team. That’s not real football. Teams are full of hypocrites. I don’t need a team in order to play.”

“Oh, okay. If you’re not on a team, how do you play quarterback?” you ask.


“While they’re at the stadium playing games, I usually go out in the woods by myself and throw the football through a tire swing. It really clears my mind. I feel like I’m really connecting to the essence of football. It’s so much more authentic then those quarterbacks who play on teams.”


My guess is as soon as the party ended, you would tell someone about this joker you met who thought he was a quarterback but never played on a team. You couldn’t wait to relay the story about this delusional “quarterback.”


A quarterback who never joins a team, but only plays alone makes about as much sense as a Christian who never comes to church, but only worships alone. People who claim to worship Jesus, but never with the church, have deluded themselves about their worship of Jesus.


A life of Christian worship demands worship with the church. Christians worship Christ with the church. This morning as we continue our study on worship, I want to show you how God expects His people to worship with His people. Worship of Jesus is bigger than worship with the church, but worship of Jesus includes consistent worship with the church. We’ll also examine what happens when we gather with the church for worship.


Before we move forward, let’s take a minute and review what we’ve learned so far.

  • First, worship is about what we love, and what we live for. Worship expresses what we value, and what we believe will satisfy us. Therefore, worship is much broader than what we do on Sunday mornings. We all worship all the time. Because of sin, our worship gravitates toward idolatry. Even though nothing is more valuable and satisfying than God is, we look to something other than God to satisfy us.

  • Second, the Gospel fuels our worship. When we understand the depth of our sin, and God’s undeserved grace and mercy to us, our hearts will be moved in worship. His invitation to us motivates our celebration of Him. The more we read and rehearse the Gospel, the more we understand God’s value and worth, and the more our worship turns to Him.

Meeting together with the church is not only God’s expectation for every Christian, but it’s an irreplaceable part of our worship of Jesus. Christians consistently gather with other Christians to rehearse the Gospel and respond in worship to our King. We see this pattern clearly in Colossians 3.

Context of Colossians

Colossians was written to a group of Christians who had gathered and established a church in the ancient Roman city of Colossae. The church was pastored by a man named Epaphras (1:7; 4:12). When they received this letter, they were to read and study it in their weekly gathering (4:16). The main purpose of the letter was to teach them how to live as those made alive by Jesus Christ.

(Colossians 3:1-2 ESV) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

These Christians had been raised with Jesus Christ. They were no longer dead in sin, but were now alive in Christ. With this new life came many questions about how to live. The apostle Paul tells them to live with their minds set on heavenly things. What’s that look like?


In verses 5-11, he commands them to put off certain worldly or earthly behaviors and activities.

  • Verse 5—put to death sexual sin and idolatry

  • Verse 8—put away anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk

  • Verse 9—don’t lie

They are Christians. As Christians, they put away sinful activities and actions. They’ve been rescued from their sin in order to say no to sin. “Discard sin like a dirty, stained, worn-out shirt,” Paul tells them.


But the Christian life isn’t just about saying no to sin. We also say yes to righteousness. The next set of verses is full of commands to put on certain attitudes and activities.

(Colossians 3:12-17 ESV) Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 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.

Did you notice certain attitudes and actions we are commanded to put on can only be obeyed by participating in the church? So, the Christian life requires us to engage our life with other lives in the church.


In verse 13, we’re commanded to bear with one another. The easiest way to obey that command is to move to the wilderness and live in a cave. It’s much easier to bear with other people if you never have to see them. But God is not honored when Christians avoid those who are difficult. God is honored when we submit our hearts to Him, and we treat difficult people and difficult situations with patience and forbearance. God made us alive with Christ, and the fruit of Christ in us is patience with others. When we demonstrate that kind of patience in our relationships with others in the church, we bring honor to God. We worship Him.


We’re told to forgive one another. This implies we live in close enough proximity to each other to cause tension. Again, the “one another” referenced is other Christians in the church. So, we “put on” living in such close proximity to others in the church that situations arise where we need God to work in us to forgive each other. And when that happens, God’s glory is seen in His grace at work in our difficult relationships.


Verses 14 commands us to put on love, so we can live in perfect harmony as a church. Verse 15 tells us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts because we’ve all been called to live in “one body.” The “one body” is the church.


I need you to hear this very clearly. Your participation in the church is a necessary part of God’s sanctifying process for you. Said another way: God wants to change you, and He uses the church to do it. If you pull out of the church or if you never put on engagement in the church, you have short-circuited God’s transforming work in your life. Much like a chef uses a knife, God wields the church as an instrument to shape you into what He wants you to be.


If you want to follow Jesus, it means putting off some things and putting on others. God commands you to put on life in the church. To say, “I worship God alone. I don’t need the church.” Is to spit in the face of God. It’s saying, “God, your Word is so valuable to me that I’m going to ignore what you say and do what I think is best.” That’s spiritual stupidity. It makes as much sense as playing quarterback in the woods by yourself. That’s not authentic. It’s absurd.


Now, we do worship privately. We worship all the time, but true worship cannot be confined to our individual experience. Christian worship must include a corporate dimension. You can throw a football through a tire, but you’re not a quarterback if you never join the team. You’re just a guy playing make believe. You can worship God by yourself, but you’re not a Christian if you never participate with the church. You’re just a guy playing make believe. You’re certainly not worshipping the God you won’t listen to.

Verse 16 gives us a command to put on a certain practice, and this practice governs what happens when we gather as a church to worship.

(Colossians 3:16 ESV) 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.

Allow me to point out the obvious. You can’t obey this command if you don’t show up! This command cannot be obeyed remotely. You may be able to vote in the election with an absentee ballot, but you can’t worship as an absentee member.


Those who’ve been raised with Christ (3:1)—that’s code for Christians—“put on” going to church. That’s the underlying and obvious assumption of these verses. Here’s what Christians do: they put off things opposed to God, and they put on things God loves and desires. One of those things—so obvious it shouldn’t even need to be mentioned—is Christians go to church.

I’ve been asking myself this week: What would the apostles say about a Christian who rarely attended church? Think about it this way. Being an active participant in the life of the church is something Christians are supposed to “put on.” Sexual sin is something Christians are supposed to “put off.” What would the apostles say to a professing Christian who rarely put off sexual sin and didn’t think it was a big deal? They’d tell them to repent and start living like a Christian. And that’s exactly what they’d tell the professing Christian who rarely “put on” participation with the church and didn’t think it was a big deal.


A life of Christian worship demands worship with the church. This leads to a question: What does worship with the church look like? Verse 16 is the answer. It begins with the phrase: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” This is the controlling command of the church’s times of corporate worship.


When we gather as the church, here’s what we’re commanded to do: Saturate the service and your soul with Scripture. Saturate the service and your soul with Scripture. Let’s break this down word by word.


Saturate

The command is to let the Word of Christ dwell in you. Dwell means to inhabit. The Word of Christ comes into your heart, not as a renter, but as a homeowner. This same word dwell describes the action of the Holy Spirit when someone becomes a Christian—He dwells in them (Rom. 8:11).


What do we do when we come to worship with the church? We invite the Word to take up residence in us. We soak up the Word. We drench ourselves with the Word. We want the Word of God to saturate us from head to toe. If you were to wring us out like a dishrag, the Word of Christ would drip from us. Our heart cries out, “I want more of the Word. There’s still a part of me that’s dry. I’m not completely saturated yet. I can still soak some more in.”

We’re to let the Word dwell in us richly or in abundance. We’re greedy for more of the Word. We want more Word deposits in our account. I picture the look on someone’s face as they stand at the bank counter watching their account balance rising, excitement in their eyes. Are you more excited about cash deposits in the bank or Word deposits in your soul?


We want the Word to saturate us because we know it tastes good. We love it. We want more of it. We want seconds, and thirds, and fourths. We want to come to a buffet, where we can go back again and again and fill our plate with the richest food. We cannot get enough of the Word.


Saturate the service

Our services should reflect this commitment to being saturated with the Scriptures. Everything we do comes from and is guided by the Word. We have no authority apart from the Word of God. Here’s what we do when we gather as a church.

  • We preach the Word.

  • We sing the Word.

  • We pray the Word.

  • We read the Word.

  • We portray the Word.

  • We obey the Word.

The Word shapes our worship as a church. Our commitment to the Word guards what we will and will not do in the service. As we evaluate the service, we evaluate whether anything detracted from the Word. Were there any umbrellas in the service which prevented the water of the Word from soaking us to the bone? Was there anything we did which hindered the Word from falling on us?


Saturate the service and your soul

The pronoun you in verse 16 is singular. You (singular) are to let the Word dwell in you richly. Together we embrace the Word, but this happens as we individually embrace the Word. It’s not enough to say, “Our church is serious about the Word.” Our church’s commitment to the Word is an extension of each individual member’s commitment to the Word. We are the church, so we individually need to be committed to being saturated with the Word of God.


Saturate the service and your soul with Scripture

What words dominate our worship? It better be the Word of Christ. The words which belong to Jesus and testify about Him should be the dominant words of our worship gatherings. Any other words are not only inferior, but they are ineffective in changing our hearts.


Is it possible for a church to claim Biblical fidelity and not have the Word of Christ dwelling richly in it? Absolutely. The church in Colossae was in very real danger of that happening. Many words were being spoken, and many of them came from the Bible, but they were not being filled with the Word of Christ. The saving work of Christ on the cross had been replaced with commands to abstain from certain foods and requirements to celebrate certain Jewish holidays. Teachers were trying to compel Christians to embrace mystical practices and legalistic requirements, all by using biblical vocabulary (2:16-23).


The apostle Paul countered this false teaching with the truth about who Jesus was (1:15-20) and what He accomplished on the cross (2:6-15). The word which saturates our services and souls is the word about the Christ who hung on the cross for our sin and rose from the grave for our victory. The Gospel is the Word which permeates our worship gatherings.


When someone attends a Christian worship service their overwhelming takeaway should be “God has spoken.” The Creator of the Universe is not distant, and He is not silent. He has spoken to us in His Word. The dominant voice of the worship service is the voice of Jesus speaking through His Word.


The rest of the verse shows us the results of letting the Word dwell in us richly. So, what happens when we saturate our service and our souls with Scripture?


We instruct one another with wisdom

(Colossians 3:16 ESV) 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.

Teaching means “to impart knowledge,” and admonishing means “to correct behavior.” Together they give the picture not of a professor, but of a coach. Someone who not only teaches someone else, but shows them how to apply the truth to their situation. Word-saturated churches are filled with life-on-life coaching.


When the Word fills us, we look for ways to pour the Word into other people’s lives. This is not always, or even predominantly, accomplished in a formal setting. It happens more organically, more naturally in the nitty-gritty of everyday life. We gather to hear the Word together, and then we disperse and discuss the Word in the context of our normal routine.


Here’s what this might look like. In the middle of the week, you attend a community group. During your study, one of the members of the group mentions a situation at work. Someone speaks up with words of encouragement. The next day you text them to let them know you’re praying for them. When you see them on Sunday, you ask how they’re doing and encourage them to remain faithful.


The work of the ministry in the church is primarily accomplished by the members of the church. You are to minister to each other. The pastors are here to equip you to do the ministry. We preach and teach the Word, so you can share the Word with each other. The fuller you get with the Word, the more you have to share with someone else.


Sometimes we use the Word to encourage struggling Christians and sometimes we use the Word to confront sinning Christians. But we always do so in love and humility. For instance, when the apostle Peter was failing to live out the Gospel by looking down on Gentile Christians, the apostle Paul admonished him with the Word. It was an act of love, and it was the overflow of a life saturated with the Word.


How do we know what to say to others? Whether it’s a word of encouragement or confrontation, how do we know what to say to them? We get wisdom for each situation by receiving the Word of Christ. Notice we can teach and admonish “with all wisdom.” There’s never a situation we encounter where Jesus lacks wisdom. Jesus never says, “I’m not sure. Let me think about it. I’ll google it. Give me a second.”


What we need is not our own thoughts, but the thoughts of Jesus. And where do we find His thoughts? In His Word. People don’t need our opinions. They don’t need our perspective. They really don’t need our suggestions. They need wisdom for how to handle the situation they’re facing. God’s Word equips us with the truth to share in times of uncertainty.


When we saturate our souls with Scripture, the overflow is instructing one another with wisdom. A friend of mine who served as a missionary in Africa told me you know you’ve become fluent in another language when you dream in that language. We need to learn a new language—one full of God’s vocabulary not ours. We need to be so fluent in God’s Word that even our dreams are biblical. As that happens, we will find ourselves able to help people in ways we never dreamed before.


Encouraging people with the Word of Christ is a way of worshipping Christ. It shows His value when you say to someone, “Jesus knows what you need to do in this situation—listen to Him.” When we point people to Jesus as the ultimate solution, we value Him above everything else.

We sing to God with thanksgiving

(Colossians 3:16 ESV) 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.

There is some debate about how this verse should be translated—whether we’re to sing to one another or sing to God. The parallel passage in Ephesians says we’re singing to one another as part of our teaching and instruction. I believe the focus in this verse is singing to God.


Our songs to God include three different types of songs—psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We don’t know how to precisely define each type, but the point is to sing a variety of songs. Variety is good. Variety adds beauty to the worship, and variety expresses something of the greatness of God. Our God is so great it takes all types of music to praise Him. He’s the God of all people, and therefore the music of all people should be used in worship of Him.

It’s interesting that nothing is said in this verse about musical style. In fact, nothing is said in the New Testament about musical style. Even the Old Testament is relatively silent. We tend to discuss the style of music, when the Bible focuses on the content of the music. Our songs are our theology. It’s vital we sing songs rich in biblical truth. Consider what we’ve sung this morning.

  • Salvation Belongs to Our God is a short, contemporary song that draws most of its words straight from Revelation chapter 5.

  • Praise to the Lord the Almighty is a German hymn written in 1680 and translated into English in 1863.

  • The Doxology is actually the final verse of a longer song (“Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun”) written in 1674. The melody is a common English melody from 1551. The other 2 verses we sang were written by a church in Texas eight years ago.

  • Cornerstone is an updated version of a song from 1834 called The Solid Rock. The new melody and chorus were added by a church in Australia five years ago.

  • O How Good It Is was written by Irish songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty in 2012, and is based on Psalm 133.

Five songs with parts written in Germany, England, Australia, Ireland and the United States. The newest is a 4-year-old hymn based on a psalm, and the oldest is a 450 year-old song sung to a 560 year-old English melody. Yet all of them share in common rich, wonderful truths about God drawn from His Word.


We need to concern ourselves less with musical styles and more with a musical activity—singing. In fact, this verse and the parallel verse in Ephesians is why we place such a strong emphasis on congregational singing. Singing in church was never meant to be a spectator sport. We’re all participants in praising God with song.


When we consider what songs to sing on a Sunday, Isaac and I always ask, “Is it singable?” There are great songs filled with great theology which just aren’t singable for us as a congregation. I love Handel’s Messiah. It’s filled with great biblical truths. It would sound awful as a congregational song. We try to choose songs that everyone can learn to sing quickly and easily.


Singing in worship is a marriage of inner attitude (thankfulness to God) with an outer action (singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs). True worship incorporates the mind, heart, and body.

  • We’re not just minds, so our worship must be more than intellectual.

  • We’re not just hearts, so our worship must be more than emotional.

  • We’re not just bodies, so our worship must be more than physical.

Congregational singing joins mind, heart, and body in worship. Our minds think about the truth. Our hearts are moved by the beauty of the truth set to music, and our body responds by singing out the truth.


I love how this passage guards from ritualistic, formulaic worship. It doesn’t tell us to sing robotically, like a machine plugged in and turned on. It tells us to sing out of hearts full of thanksgiving. It reminds me of what God says in Psalm 50. He’s talking about why the Israelites bring sacrifices to Him. It’s not because He needs meat—He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He wants them to come with thankful hearts.

(Psalm 50:23a ESV) The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.

God doesn’t care about the quality of your singing. God doesn’t care if you can hit the high notes. God cares about a heart that’s thankful. When the Gospel saturates our hearts, we are so overcome with gratitude for God’s unmerited and extravagant grace that our hearts burst forth with singing to God. That’s what God wants. That’s what pleases Him.


I’ve noticed my three sons all react differently when they receive a gift that really means something to them. One of my sons, his eyes fill with tears, and he gets choked up. Another son immediately walks over to his mother and me and gives us each a hug. The third son is most likely to react loudly, maybe jump up and down, and he’ll definitely start talking.

A church full of people with thankful hearts will demonstrate a wide variety of responses to God’s grace. Some, like our dear sister Betty, will bounce up and down, trying to hold in all the “hallelujahs” about to burst out. Others, like Heather, will raise both hands in the air overwhelmed at God’s goodness to her. It doesn’t make a difference if one of her hands is holding a microphone or not, that hand will eventually make it all the way up. I joke with Mike about how he wants to raise his hands when he sings, but he can’t bring himself to do it. He told me there’s rarely a service that goes by without tears coming to his eyes when we’re singing about Jesus.


When our hearts are moved with thanksgiving, we’ll react. And we’ll react differently because we’re different people. But this passage is clear. The heart saturated with the Word of Christ overflows its banks and like a dam bursting, songs of praise and thanksgiving to God for His grace flood out.


Conclusion

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible… I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”[i]


Lewis makes a shrewd observation. When we truly value something, when we delight in it, we express it. We can’t help it. “The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.” But we don’t stop with expressing it. We invite others to join us in delighting in it. We want to share our delight with others.


Years ago, Cari and I went to a traveling Broadway show. When it began I wasn’t all that excited, but as I got caught up in the beauty of the story and the music, I began to enjoy it. At one point in the show, one of the actors sang a beautiful song. When he finished singing, there was a moment of absolute silence in the theater. But then as one 2,000 people jumped to their feet with thunderous applause. No one told us to do it. It was the natural response to delight. We wanted to express it, and we wanted to share it.


Here’s what is looks like for the congregation to worship. We gather and the Word of Christ—the wonderful news of the Gospel—delights us. We’re blown away with God’s grace in Christ, so blown away we can’t help but express it through song. And our expression of delight longs to share it with others. We want others to join our joy in God.


Every Sunday, the Word fills us with delight, we express it to God, and we share it with each other.


This sermon was originally preached at Calvary Baptist Church in 2015.


Footnotes

[i] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1958), pp. 93–97

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