Colossians 2:16-19 is often cited by those who object when Christians take note of holidays that are commonly observed in our culture (i.e., Christmas, Easter, etc.). In context, however, Paul is actually addressing the problem of “judaizers” who attempted to require the Colossians to pay homage to traditional Jewish feast days and days of worship. Paul’s expression in about “judging” (vs. 16) actually means “let no one ‘pass sentence’ on you.” He is NOT saying that Christians must take no notice whatsoever of the world’s feast days and holidays, or that “all holidays are evil.” What Paul IS emphasizing is that Christians should not allow others to bind us to obligations (their own opinions) which the Lord did not impose. A brother who cannot, in good conscience, give a gift to his child on “Christmas” is within his rights to ignore the “season.” That same brother, however, also has no right to censure a sister who enjoys that custom without attaching any religious or holy connotation to it. If he tries to “bind” his belief on his brethren, he places himself in the same position as the Judaizers who were demanding ascetism (“voluntary humility,” KJV, vs. 18) from the Colossian saints. Notice that Paul goes on in verse 23 to describe this kind of insistence on one’s own opinions and doctrines as “will-worship.”
In chapter 3:1-4, Paul again emphasizes that one of the fundamental effects of being a Christian should be a permanent change in priorities that leads to a permanent shift in the focus of our lives. As Christians, our minds are to be “set” (directed) toward heavenly things instead of earthly matters (vs. 2) because we “died” to the world’s values in order to be united with Christ (cf. Romans 6:5). This change in basic values and goals should be reflected by dramatic and dynamic changes in our everyday actions and words (vv. 5-10). This is the same point Paul made in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Galatians 5:19-21. Verses 12-14 go on to describe what can be called “the Christian’s clothing,” qualities God intends to be typical characteristics of His people.
Colossians 3:16 is one of the most explicit passages in the new testament (along with Ephesians 5:19) on the subject of “Christian” or “worship” music. Notice that there are at least three conditions which should be present for a psalm, hymn or spiritual song to be pleasing to God:
Such songs should teach and admonish. These words mean “to impart information, or educate” and “to encourage.” Songs with no words – no distinct message – don’t fit the new testament’s pattern for musical worship. Furthermore, songs whose lyrics either don’t convey an understandable message, or which contradict biblical teaching likewise don’t fit the new testament’s pattern because they don’t agree with the “wis-dom” of the gospel message. (The “message” of “Jesus is Coming Soon” is a good example of such songs.)
Such songs are sung (rather than played or performed). The instruction to sing is directed to all Christians, who are to sing to one another. This means each of us has an obligation to participate (which is why we can’t allow a choir or chorus to do our singing “for” us). The emphasis here is NOT on the “musical beauty” of the songs, but on the message they convey. Likewise, there is no authority here either to augment our singing with any kind of manmade instrument, or to replace it entirely with instruments; there is no way the tones of an organ or piano (much less a band or an orchestra) can “teach” a spiritual lesson.
Spiritual songs are to be sung in a spirit of gratitude. This means our minds must be engaged as well as our mouths! Simply “going through the motions,” or allowing our minds to wander as we sing turns our songs of praise into mere harmonious noise, instead of something that honors God and edifies His church.
Now note that Paul’s corollary to this instruction (vs. 17) is that everything we do should have a biblical mandate to back it up. Christians are supposed to say/ teach/do the things we do because our Lord has authorized it – not simply because “it’s always been done that way,” or “we like it that way.” If we can’t find a new testament instruction for our actions, we need to change what we’re doing so that we conform to God’s word (cf. Romans 12:2)!