In the context of chapter three of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians he writes this profound statement:
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, by means of singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (ESV, though v. 16 is my translation)
Likewise in Ephesians 5:18-21 Paul writes:
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 by means of speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, by means of singing and making melody [lit. “psalming”; Greek ψάλλοντες] to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
(ESV, though v. 19 is my translation)
Most contemporary translations render the Greek participles in Colossians and Ephesians that refer to singing in a very ambiguous manner listing them simply as “singing,” and offering no explanation as to how the participles relate to the main verbs. Based on the grammatical information provided in the Greek, it can be shown that the present adverbial Greek participles which are translated “singing” are here indicating –not merely that singing is taking place—but more specifically, that the singing is the means by which Christ’s Word dwells in the hearts of the congregants. Grammatically, singing itself is the instrument by which the tasks of teaching and admonishing—actions usually associated primarily with the preaching of Word in the sermon and the office of the preaching pastorate—are accomplished in the church! Likewise, in the passage from Ephesians, Paul exhorts us to be filled with the Spirit. Once again, the means by which the filling with the Spirit occurs, in this context, is through song in the midst of corporate worship! In the Greek of the New Testament, these grammatical elements are called referred to as the dative of instrument (in reference to the nouns psalms, hymns and songs in Colossians) and, in regard to the participial forms, adverbial participles of means or instrument. In plain English: the grammatical terms for singing express that partaking in song during worship is the means by which the main verbs (teaching, admonishing, and Spirit/Word indwelling) are accomplished. This is hugely significant.
On the basis of this theological precept, we must say that the person tasked with choosing the music, leading the music and engaging the congregation with the musical components of the worship service is, in fact, not merely a wind-up worship music monkey, artsy, skinny-jeans-wearing, cool-beard-like-David-Crowder (if a dude), Rivers-Cuomo-awesome, emo-glasses-wearing, Starbucks-fending, listens-to-Sufjan-Stevens-and-some-obscure-indie-alt-country bands, non-heretic. No! According to the New Testament, worship leaders are tasked with helping us to do at least three things. Worship leaders are meant to:
- minister the word of Christ to us so that it can dwell in us through psalms, hymns and spirit
- assist us through music in teaching and admonishing one another in the Gospel Word and the Gospel call to Christ-like transformation as a community, the body of Christ
- to help us experience the ministry and presence of the Holy Spirit precisely by means of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
If you are a worship leader, you are more than just a tag-along to sing Jesus songs which complement the theme of the Sermon; you are a minister of the inspired, inerrant Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are you prepared and/or preparing yourself for this weighty task? Consider and proceed wisely.
If you are preaching pastor, your role is integral to the Gospel fellowship of the church, but the ministry of the Word is not constrained to the preaching or the pulpit. Rather, it etches itself into the souls of the saints through the transformative Word of Christ as it dwells in the hearts of the faithful by means of the mode of musical worship and liturgy.
How can this principle inform our worship? …that’s another post for another day for which you can stay-tuned. In the meantime, just make sure you’re tuned into the Spirit and in tune when you’re enacting and receiving the ministry of the Word through the modality of music in corporate worship. God will meet you in the midst of the melody, harmony and lyrics. And he will change you through it.