The editor of a well known London newspaper sent a letter of inquiry to one hundred important men asking them one question: "Suppose you were sent to prison for three years and could only take three books with your. Which three would you choose? Please state them in order of their importance." Out of those replies, ninety eight put the Bible first on their lists.
That kind of surprises me. I'm not really sure why all those people would want the Bible with them in prison, unless they saw it as some kind of lucky rabbit's foot to help them out of their troubles. I find that though most Christians have several Bibles, they don't spend much time reading them. Bible study It is not something that 21st century American believers really devote themselves to.
Unlike us, the believers in the early church placed a high priority on the study of God's Word:
Acts 2:41-42 (NASB) So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
"Continually devoting" is from the Greek word proskartereo, which means: "to be earnest
toward, to be constantly diligent, to adhere closely, to be devoted to." They diligently observed
two things: the apostles' doctrine, which was the New Testament Scripture; and fellowship,
which consisted of breaking of bread and prayer.
In our text for today in Colossians, Paul tells the believers that they are to be devoted to the study of God's Word:
Colossians 3:16 (NASB) Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3 focuses on the Christian life. It clarifies some characteristics we should put off from our life as well as some that should be put on. Under girding it all is the fact that the Word of God should fill the Christian life, and we should follow what it says. God's Word should direct every aspect of the Christian's life and control every thought, deed, and action performed through their lives.
For our time this morning, I'd like to first exegete this passage so we can understand exactly what Paul is saying and then look at how we can apply it.
"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you"- the word of Christ - Christou can be either the subjective genitive (the word delivered by Christ) or the objective genitive (the word about Christ). I think we can take it both ways - we should let the word delivered by Christ and the word about Christ richly dwell in us. This precise phrase is only found here and in Romans 10:17 in the NASB, though "word of the Lord" is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 4:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:1. Elsewhere we find the phrase "word of God." Paul uses this particular phrase here because he is exalting Christ in Colossians. The false teachers came to Colossae with man-made traditions, religious rules, and human philosophies (2:8). They tried to harmonize God's Word with their teachings, but they could not succeed. God's Word always magnifies Jesus Christ. It was not the word of false teachers that brought salvation to the Colossians; it was the Word of Christ, the truth of the Gospel (Col.1:5). This same Word gives us life and sustains and strengthens us (1 Peter 1:22-2:3).
Paul tells the Colossians that they are to let the word of Christ "richly dwell within you" - Dwell is from the present active imperative of enoikeo, and means: "to live in," or "to be at home." Paul calls upon believers to let the Word take up residence and be at home in their lives. This Greek word is used 5 times in the New Testament. If we look at its uses, we can get a better understanding of what it means:
Romans 8:11 (NASB) But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells [enoikeo] you.
So the Holy Spirit indwells [enoikeo] believers, and the Word of Christ is to indwell us in the same manner.
2 Corinthians 6:16 (NASB) Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL [enoikeo] IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.
God dwells [enoikeo] with all believers. And His word is to dwell with us:
2 Timothy 1:5 (NASB) For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt [enoikeo] in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.
The Christian faith was dwelling in Timothy's mother and grandmother, and they passed in on to Timothy.
2 Timothy 1:14 (NASB) Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells [enoikeo] in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
Again, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believers. So this word is used of God dwelling in believers, faith dwelling in believers, and the Word of God dwelling in believers.
The word "dwell" literally means: "to keep house". We should live in the Word of God like we live in our homes. We are familiar with our home where all the closets are, where we have items stored. We must thoroughly acquaint ourselves with the Word. The Word should become so familiar to us that we know it like we know our homes. The idea is to let the Word of God dwell inside and live at home in our lives. The Word of God needs to inhabit us. This is more than just reading the Bible.
Paul adds that the word is to "richly" dwell in us. The word "richly" is another infrequent word occurring just four times in the New Testament. "Richly" is from and old adverb plousios, which has the twofold meaning of quantity and degree; it means: "abundantly, applying it and using it in all its teaching, but also using it constantly, at all times and in all circumstances." Plousios is used in:
1 Timothy 6:17 (NASB) Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly [plousios] supplies us with all things to enjoy.
Titus 3:6 (NASB) whom He poured out upon us richly [plousios] through Jesus Christ our Savior,
2 Peter 1:11 (NASB) for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly [plousios] supplied to you.
These three uses of the word all talk about how God "richly" blesses believers in Jesus Christ. So, we could say we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us the same way in which God blesses us - abundantly or extravagantly. The truths of Scripture should permeate every aspect of the believer's life and govern every thought, word, and deed.
God's Word is to abundantly dwell in us. Someone has said that the first requirement for keeping a treasure is to recognize that it is a treasure. A story is told of a young French girl who had been born blind. After she learned to read by touch, a friend gave her a Braille copy of Mark's gospel. She read it so much that her fingers became calloused and insensitive. In an effort to regain her feeling, she cut the skin from the ends of her fingers. Tragically, however, her callouses were replaced by permanent and even more insensitive scars. She sobbingly gave the book a goodbye kiss, saying, "Farewell, farewell, sweet word of my heavenly Father." In doing so, she discovered that her lips were even more sensitive than her fingers had been, and she spent the rest of her life reading her great treasure with her lips. Would that every Christian had such an appetite for the Word of God!
If other forms of knowledge are useful, they are like the planets; but the knowledge of God as revealed in Christ Jesus is as the sun. Let this always be the center of your system of knowledge, and let all the rest that you know move in subordination and subjection to that first and best form of knowledge....if you find a professing Christian indifferent to his Bible, you may be sure that the very dust upon its cover will rise up in judgment against him...My dear friends, I should like you so to read the Bible that everybody in the Bible should seem to be a friend of yours. I should like you to feel as if you had talked with Abraham, and conversed with David. I can truly say that there is hardly anybody in the world that I know so well as I know David. But do find your choicest friends in the Scripture...Take the whole company of Bible saints home to your heart, let them live inside your soul. . Let old Noah come in with his ark, if he likes; and let Daniel come in with his lions' den, if he pleases; and all the rest of the godly men and women of the olden time, take them all into your very nature, and be on familiar terms with them; but, most of all, be specially intimate with him of whom they all speak, namely, Jesus Christ your blessed Lord and Master.
Paul says, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you..." "Within you" is (en humin). Not "among you." Paul is referring to what's within believers. This would point us toward a non-collective application.
Now I want you to see something about this text that is very important. Look with me at:
Ephesians 5:18 (NASB) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,
Paul tells the Ephesians to "be filled with the Spirit," then he says:
Ephesians 5:19-22 (NASB) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Paul tells the Colossians, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you...," then he says:
Colossians 3:16-18 (NASB) ... with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
It is clear that these two concepts, "letting the word of Christ richly dwell within you," and "being filled with the Spirit" are identical, because the passages that follow each are so similar. The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word richly dwell in one's life. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and the power of the Word, the expressions are interchangeable. In other words, the WORD-FILLED CHRISTIAN is a SPIRIT-FILLED CHRISTIAN.
When Paul says, "Be filled with the Spirit" he is giving a command. The word "filled" is the Greek word pleroo, which means: "controlled." Believers who have the Spirit are commanded to be controlled by Him. So, the question is how are we controlled by Spirit? The Spirit's control is not an automatic, mechanical control. The Spirit's control is brought about by means. We must take possession of the divine strength He has made available to us in Christ. We appropriate the controlling grace of the Spirit through the means of letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us.
Believers, we need more than a casual acquaintance with the Bible. God's word is to dwell in us abundantly - it is to saturate us. It must become part of our very being, transforming the way we think and act. To use an illustration from the area of computer technology, it must be the program always running that controls everything else. Everything depends on it.
The Word of Christ is to abundantly dwell in us, because it is the only source of truth we have about God:
2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
Paul is saying to Timothy that the Bible comes from God. He is its ultimate author. The Bible provides information that is not available anywhere else. The Bible is divine self-disclosure. In it the mind of God is revealed on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture, we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what he values. In the Bible, God reveals himself.
1 John 5:3 (NKJV) For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
We love God by living in obedience to Him. How can we possibly do this if we don't spend time in the Bible to know what obedience is?
He is our Creator and Redeemer. If we are going to live a life of purpose, we must know who He is and what He expects from us. The only place that we can get that information is from the Word of God.
I think that most of us understand that the Bible lays out the terms of salvation, but once we trust the Lord for salvation, does the Bible loose its usefulness? Not at all!
John 17:17 (NASB) "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.
1 Peter 2:2 (NASB) like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
We grow in our Christian walk as we read and study the Bible. The only place where we are going to hear God's voice is in His Word. The world around us will always be giving us its view, but we'll only get God's view as we spend time in His Word letting it abundantly dwell within us.
Does it make sense to you that the Creator would know how to keep the creation working properly? If it makes sense to us, then why do we try to live our lives without a thorough understanding of God's owner's manual for life?
Joshua 1:8 (NASB) "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
Joshua doesn't say, "Have a devotion once in a while"; he says, "meditate on the Word day and night". That is letting the Word abundantly dwell with you. Now, who doesn't want their way to prosper and have good success? I think that the primary reference here is to our spiritual lives, but if we are prospering and having success in our spiritual lives, that will spill over in every area. Notice that it is not just learning, but it says, "....you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it... " That, folks, is why we want the Word to abundantly dwell within us - that we may live it out!
Too many of us have bought the lie that the Bible really doesn't have the answers to life, so we don't apply ourselves to learn its truths. We listen to the voice of the secular world instead of the voice of God, and then we wonder why our lives are such a mess.
How do we know the Bible is true? How do we know that it is not just another book and is, therefore, worthy of our devotion? The Bible can be verified as the Word of God in many different ways. Scientifically, the Bible is amazingly accurate. Historically, the Bible gives stories of wars, locations of ancient cities, the existence of lost civilizations, and many other things that were once thought to be historically inaccurate. As archaeologists uncover the ruins of the Middle East, the Bible is being verified as accurate. I think that one of the greatest proofs of the Bible is fulfilled prophecy. God said certain things would happen and they happened - exactly as He said they would.
As we let the Word of Christ abundantly dwell with us, our faith will increase:
Romans 10:17 (NASB) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Not only is our faith strengthened, but we are comforted as we learn about our God and His love and care for us:
Romans 15:4 (NASB) For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
How much hope would you have apart from the Word of God? Ephesians 2 says that the Gentiles had no hope when they were strangers from the covenants of promise.
The Bible being the Word of God and providing all that we need for life and godliness, shouldn't we be spending more time in it?
Our study of the Word is not to be for academic purposes, we're not to study to just learn facts and doctrines, but that we may grow to know God and know what He wants in our lives. Studying the Bible should be a way of life. We should always be seeking to learn something new and fresh every single day. We should have the attitude that Job had:
Job 23:12 (NASB) "I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.
I think this is why Job did such a great job dealing with the tremendous trials he faced, he loved God's Word. We don't like to miss a meal, and if we do, we can sure get ornery. We have to have our food. But are we that way when it comes to studying the Bible?
The Christian community is a starving, illiterate people. Believers are living lives of frustration and discontentment. The only cure is for God's people to let the Word of Christ abundantly dwell within them. After all God has done for you, is it too much to ask that you spend a time reading and studying His Word?
Psalms 119:105 (NASB) Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.
The word of God directs us in our work and way, and a dark place, indeed, the world would be without it.
Paul is not saying, "Let the Word of Christ have a few minutes of your time." He is saying, "Let the Word of Christ LIVE in you!" God's Word should permeate every aspect of your life. When something happens in life, a scripture should come to your mind as to how to respond to the circumstance. But this will only happen as the Word of Christ abundantly lives in you.
How much time do you spend getting to know the God who you claim to love? If you want to live a productive vibrant Christian life, if you want to be controlled by the Spirit, if you want the Word of Christ to abundantly dwell within you, you need to discipline yourself to spending time in God's Word. If you neglect to spend time in God's Word, you do it to your own peril.
Let's look at the rest of verse 16:
Colossians 3:16 (NASB) Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Paul mentions two specific results of the Word of Christ abundantly dwelling in the believer; one positive and the other negative: "with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another". Teaching is the impartation of positive truth. Admonishing is the negative side of teaching. It means: "to warn people of the consequences of their behavior." Both are the result of a life overflowing with the Word of Christ.
"With all wisdom" - (en pase¯i sophia¯i). It is not clear whether this phrase goes with "richly" or with the participles following "teaching and admonishing." Either punctuation makes good sense. The older Greek MSS. had no punctuation.
Spurgeon writes, "Do try, dear friends, to get so full of "the word of Christ" in all forms of it, that you may run over with it. You know, it cannot come out of you if it is not first in you. If you do not get "the word of Christ" into you, you will not be instructive in your general conversation."
What is interesting here is how this teaching and admonishing are to be done - "teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs."
Psalms were taken from the Old Testament psalter, the book of Psalms. They sang psalms put to music, much as we do today. Hymns were expressions of praise to God. It is thought that some portions of the New Testament (such as Col. 1:15-20 and Phil. 2:6-11) were originally hymns sung in the early church. Spiritual songs emphasized testimony (cf. Rev. 5:9-10). They express in song what God has done for us.
These "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" were to be regarded as a method of "teaching" and "admonishing"; that being the case, it should be obvious that our music must be doctrinally sound. According to this verse, music is a teaching tool. Dr. Johnson once said that if he were allowed to make the ballads of a nation, he cared not who made the laws. It is true in a more important sense that he who is permitted to make the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs of a church need care little who preaches, or who makes its creeds. He will more effectually shape the sentiments of a church than they who preach or write the creeds. So, it is indispensable, in order to preserve the truth, that the music of a church must be doctrinally correct.
On Thursday evening, I was flipping through the channels when on 15 there was a lesbian chorus singing the 23 Psalm. They had changed all the references to God to "She" - "She maketh me to lie down in green pastures: She leadeth me beside the still waters." This is not music, but blasphemy! Johann Sebastain Bach said, "The aim of all music is the glory of God." For God to be glorified by our music, the words must be doctrinally correct.
I believe that the biblical ignorance in our churches is one cause of the abundance of unbiblical songs that we have today. A singer has no more right to sing a lie than a preacher has to preach a lie. The great songs of the faith were, for the most part, written by believers who knew the doctrines of the Word of God. Many so-called "Christian songs" today are written by people with little or no knowledge of the Word of God. It is a dangerous thing to separate the praise of God from the Word of God.
Wiersbe writes: "There is (according to Paul) a definite relationship between our knowledge of the Bible and our expression of worship in song. One way we teach and encourage ourselves and others is through the singing of the Word of God. But if we do not know the Bible and understand it, we cannot honestly sing it from our hearts."
During the Middle Ages, congregational singing died out. All the singing was done by choirs of monks and priests. At the time of the Reformation, reformers like Martin Bucer reintroduced congregational singing, and translated both the Psalms and other Christian hymns for singing in worship. They recognized that true Christian piety is rooted in the Word of God, therefore, we should sing God's Word to each other. We can do this either through singing the Psalms or other biblical passages, or through singing paraphrases and summaries of biblical teaching. A song like "Amazing Grace" is a wonderful summary of biblical teaching and imagery. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me..." Indeed, Scripture tells us that we were wretched and miserable sinners! "I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see." There are dozens of passages which talk about salvation in terms of being lost and blind - the hymn merely takes these images and puts them to music.
Paul goes on to say, "...singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
Thankfulness is the Greek word charis, which means: "grace or thanksgiving." Thanksgiving is very suitable here, as it indicates a grateful spirit which should characterize singing. Our singing must be from our hearts and not just our lips. But if the Word of God is not in our hearts, we cannot sing from our hearts. This shows how important it is to know the Word of God, for it enriches our public and private worship of God.
Music is a big area of influence in our lives. Everywhere you go, people are listening to music. Is the music you listen to helping you to focus your mind on things which are above? God has put music in the heart of man. Singing is an expression of the emotion of the heart. Music flows from the Spirit controlled believer who has the Word of Christ abundantly dwelling in them.
Psalms 100:1-2 (NASB) (A Psalm for Thanksgiving.) Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.
As we sing songs that reflect God's person and work, we are brought into His presence through our songs.
When Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisonment in Philippi for preaching the Word of Christ, how did they respond?
Acts 16:23-25 (NASB) And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;
We can understand them praying. We would be praying, "God, why did you let this happen to me, God, why don't you do something?" Or, "God, judge these pagans for their sin." They weren't praying imprecatory prayers - God, wipe them out. They were praying and singing. How could they be singing at a time like this? What could they possibly sing about? I think it is evident that the Word of Christ was abundantly dwelling in their lives by their response to adverse circumstances. Their lives were clearly centered in God and not in the circumstances in which they found themselves. Therefore, they sang hymns to God even in the most impossible and uncomfortable of circumstances, because the overflow of the indwelling Word was being expressed through their lips. The text says, "And the prisoners were listening to them" - what a testimony! The word "listening" is the Greek word epakroaomai, it means: "to listen intently." The people who heard them singing knew what had just happened to these men. And here they are singing about God. These folks were listening to every word they were saying.
Colossians 3:17 (NASB) And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
The pagan religions said nothing about morality. You could put your offering on the alter and go live any way you want. Christianity is different. He closes this section of Scripture with an overarching command not a long list of to dos. Whether working in the garage, playing basketball, studying for a test, or taking your wife out for a really nice dinner because you were a jerk to her, do it all for the glory of Jesus.
The simplest, most basic rule of thumb for living the Christian life is to do everything, whether word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus. To do everything in the name of Jesus is to act consistently with who He is and what He wants. Paul expressed the same thought in:
1 Corinthians 10:31 (NASB) Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
All we do, we must be put to a simple test - "What would Jesus do or say?" Notice that it says that whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. This covers everything. Everything that we do or say should be done or said according to His character and will. That's what it means to do something in His name. It means it reflects Jesus.
So, we must evaluate everything we do and say by that standard. Is this something that I can do in His name? Is this something that I would say in His name? Would I be doing this if Jesus were here standing right beside me? Would I be saying this if Jesus were standing here listening to me?
There is a story of Jerome K. called The Passing of the Third Floor Back? Roughly, the story is of a poor-class lodging house, where lived a heterogeneous company of needy and seedy folk, and where there was a poor, ignorant little servant-girl, a good deal of a slut, and ready to sell her virtue for a worthless trinket. Into the place there came one day a lodger who at once seemed to be different, and who occupied the third floor back. He quickly revealed himself to have a very kind heart and way. He always had a kindly word for the little slavey, usually so ignored and down-trodden. She almost worshiped him. The other lodgers, too, owed him much for his many deeds of helpfulness. He was always doing something for somebody, in his kindly, sympathetic way. At last the day came for him to move elsewhere. The little maid watched him, open-eyed, as he walked with his bit of luggage to the front door; and as he turned to her with a smile and a gentle pat on the shoulder, she took her leave of him with the words, "Please, are you 'Im?" (Crossing the Border [Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1974], pp. 92-93).
Believers should so clothe themselves with Jesus Christ that when people look at them, they see Christ.
Paul closes verse 17 with what I believe is a defining mark of a believer who has the Word of Christ abundantly dwelling in them - "giving thanks through Him to God the Father." A Spirit-filled, Word-filled believer gives thanks to God for everything.
I believe being thankful is the single greatest act of personal worship a Christian can render to God. Thankfulness is the epitome of true spiritual worship. The ability to offer thanks in the midst of any situation, good or bad, is the ability to praise God. A thankful heart sees beyond the difficult circumstances to the sovereignty of God.
Before Clara Schumann, the widow of German composer Robert Schumann (1810-56), would play any of her husband's music in public, she would first privately read over some of his old love letters.
Inspired by his words, she said it seemed as if his very life filled her, and she was then better able to interpret his musical compositions to the public. In the spiritual realm, if we will read God's words of love to us until we are thrilled by their truth, His Spirit will fill our hearts and minds. The Lord can change our selfish attitudes and fretfulness through our meditation on His Word. We will then experience an increasing evidence in our lives of the peace and servanthood that characterized the life of Christ. The words of our Lord are crucial if we are to be able to teach and help others effectively. We can do nothing by ourselves, but as we let our Savior live through us, others will see Christ in all we do.
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