There are numerous books in publication and seminars to be attended that provide principles and advise about how to be a better teacher. Some of these are based on Scripture, while others are not. Many, if not all, of these resources have in mind a particular picture of teaching in the church. Often the idea is of the trained professional, whether that person be a pastor or small group leader, who is the one in charge of instructing students in the Bible. While it is certainly appropriate and necessary for engaging in those kinds of ministry of the Word, that is not all that should or needs to be said about teaching in Scripture.
One aspect of teaching in the life of the church that is far too often overlooked is the idea that every member of the body of Christ is called to be a teacher. In Colossians 3:16 Paul addresses one aspect of the kind of teaching ministry that should characterize any church of Jesus Christ when he writes, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (NIV). This verse makes it clear that every person in the gathered assembly is to be able to “teach and admonish.” The occurrence of “one another” drives home this point. Now this does not necessarily mean that every time believers gather together each one must instruct their brothers and sisters in Christ and receive instruction in kind, but the idea is that all will be prepared and capable of offering such instruction. In fact, it is expected for this to take place at some point while they are gathered together.
If this is the case, what then are some principles for Christian teaching from Colossians 3:16? First, it is necessary for each and every member of the gathering to be growing in one’s understanding and practice of Christian Scripture. This is picked up in the command to “let the message of Christ dwell in you richly.” The “you” here is not singular but plural referring to everyone in the assembly. In addition, the manner in which they are to teach and admonish one another, “with all wisdom,” implies the necessity of understanding so that one may speak wisely rather than foolishly and falsely. This does not mean that every one needs to attend seminary or Bible college to grow in their understanding of God’s Word, but it does imply that one will not only be devoted to daily Scripture intake, but also study of the Bible. This may mean one picks a particular book of the Bible to study and in doing so, gathers all of the necessary tools to do it well (commentaries, Bible dictionaries, etc.). It may mean purchasing a book on systematic theology to expand one’s general understanding of any number of biblical doctrines (theology, Christology, soteriology, etc.). It may mean reading a book on biblical theology, to better grasp the many themes witnessed in Scripture (temple, rest, etc.) and to better understand how the entire Bible is put together around the central figure of Jesus Christ. God’s people should be equipping themselves, as well as being equipped by others (pastors) to know God’s Word well, in order to be prepared to teach and admonish one another.
Second, the means or instrument of teaching and admonishing one another is “through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” What we may gather from this is that one of the ways the gathered assembly may engage in teaching and admonishing one another is through corporate singing. If this is the case, then it is necessary to sing songs that are informed by and saturated with Scripture. In some church traditions this means actually singing the Psalms. Although I don’t think this passage means one must sing the Psalms, I do believe it should lead us to make sure the songs we sing are thoroughly biblical in nature. They should be rich enough that they can actually be used to instruct one another in God’s Word. This may mean some of our churches need a heavier dose of hymns, rather than praise choruses. It also reminds us that singing has a pedagogical function in the church. It’s been said one can tell a lot about one’s beliefs by the songs that one sings. Shallow songs may indicate a shallow faith. The converse may also be true. For those who think hymns are old, dated, relics of the past, they couldn’t be more wrong. We live in an age where hymns are being updated and new hymns are being produced. We have no reason not to take advantage of this gift God is giving us to use to instruct one another.
While Colossians 3:16 doesn’t say everything that may be said about the teaching ministry in the church, it does serve as a reminder that if you are a Christian, then you have a responsibility to be growing in the faith. This isn’t solely for your own personal holiness, but also so you may contribute to the growth of other members of the body, through teaching and admonishing them as opportunities present themselves.