Singing songs that admonish

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Col 3:16). Here is an unusual kind of song: A song that admonishes. What kind of song is this? The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to choose the Greek word ‘noutheteo”, with its overtones of ‘reminder’ and ‘warning’. ‘Admonish’ is a good English translation. The job description of an elder/pastor/church leader included the task of ‘admonishing’ (1 Thess 5:12) the congregation ~ and the people were expected to love them for doing this! (v13).

The outcome of this admonishing service was that we would become more like Christ. This requires energetic struggle (Col 1:28,29), using tough brotherly love (2Thess 3:14,15). ‘Admonish’ is not a soft, comfortable, tolerant word. God tells us to “admonish one another … as you sing”.

Recall the sermons preached in your church so far this year: How many admonishing sermons were heard? How many warnings were issued? How many sermons made your conscience squirm?

Check your repertoire in your church’s Powerpoint selection, page through your song-book, search your memory ~ How many admonishing or warning songs can you find?

In paging through the first 200 songs and the last 200 songs (Book 1- 3) of Songs of Fellowship, I find only 7 songs with a hint of admonition or warning: 17  67v2  88v1  139  167v3  1296 1434  1576. 393 songs out of 400 have no warning messages.

Yet as I survey Matthew’s Gospel, I find God’s warnings are frequent and severe ~ even threatening hell. There are 20 admonitions in the first 5 chapters: 2:12, 22 3:2, 3 7-10,  12 4:4, 7, 10, 17 5:13, 17, 19, 20, 22, 25, 28-30, 32, 34-36, 46. The ‘word of Christ’ is packed with warning admonitions.

So why are our songs so disproportionately thin in expressing some of the main themes of Scripture? After all, God wants to use songs to warn His people as they sing the ‘word of Christ’. I suggest:

1. We conform too easily to this world’s current culture of tolerance. Intolerance is politically incorrect. (Rom 12:2). Examples of Intolerance: Matt 23, Acts 20:28ff, Gal 1:6ff, 1Tim 1:20, Tit 3:9f.

2. We over-emphasise ‘grace’ and ‘love’ and under-emphasise ‘righteousness’ and ‘truth’. We forget that the glory of Jesus was seen in the way he combined both “grace and truth” (John 1:14).

3. We preach “God accepts you as you are” but don’t preach “God won’t leave you as you are”. Salvation ‘by grace through faith’ means we must then ‘do good works’ (Eph 2:8-10)

4. We emphasise “receiving Jesus by faith” but don’t plead with people to “repent from sin”, as the apostles did (Acts 20:21).

5. We are so scared lest we “judge” others, that we fail to exercise the discernment that God requires. We must be prepared to be judged by the same values we use to judge others, and we must discern which people are pigs. (Matthew 7:1-6).

6. We pick and choose the comfortable teachings of Christ and avoid his uncomfortable teachings. We like “Neither do I condemn you” but don’t like “from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

7. We’re glad that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” but we forget this same grace also “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (Titus 2:11).

8. We enjoy singing about heaven, but are too embarrassed to sing about hell. It’s not appropriate in church. Jesus was loving and bold, speaking frankly about both eternal destinies. (John 5:28,29).

9. We think that Christian “love” is soft and comfortable, and won’t embarrass by confronting anyone concerning his sin, or arousing her conscience. God’s tough love disciplines us. (Heb.12:6).

10 We think only “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and forget that “those who bring back a sinner will save his soul from death and so will also cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

Be faithful to God’s call to you to “admonish one another with all wisdom as you sing”. Intentionally seek out and include Warning Songs in your Sunday services. If you can’t find any, email me at and I will email you a selection of admonition songs for your use.

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