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“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” 

Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly! 

A serious exhortation indeed! 

Addressed to the church of Christ in the world, which is called to walk in sanctification, in obedience to the word of Christ. An exhortation which stands in close and mutual relation to a rather long list of exhortations appearing in the preceding context.

In the preceding the apostle had exhorted the church “to set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth”; “to mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth . . .”; “to put off all that is of the old man, and put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” As the elect of God the church is exhorted “to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.” Moreover, the church is exhorted to put on charity (love) which is the bond of perfectness; and let the peace of God rule in their hearts . . . and be thankful. 

All of these exhortations are mutually related to the exhortation in our text. They all have to do with the walk of the church in sanctification, with the walk of faith in the world. Shall our active sanctification be realized in our lives it is absolutely indispensable that the word of Christ dwell in us richly. On the other hand, it is equally true that the walk in sanctification is indispensable to letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly. One has no place in his heart for the word of Christ unless he is walking in sanctification, and one will not walk in sanctification unless he is letting the word of Christ dwell in him richly.

The main thrust in the text is: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. As we will see, this is accomplished by teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom. And the evidence of this indwelling word of Christ will be in the singing of spiritual songs unto God. Such is, briefly, the idea of the text. 

You, the believing church, are to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. 

If you are Reformed in doctrine, and if you have learned of the nature of the word of Christ, instinctively you will be moved to ask: But does not the powerful word of Christ make its own abode in us? How then can the apostle say that we must let the word of Christ dwell in us? We reply: You have observed correctly. Indeed, the powerful word makes its own entrance and abode in us. 

We must not have the mistaken notion that somehow it is up to us whether the word of Christ dwells in us. In our Arminianistic age the conception is general that everything depends on the will of man. Accordingly man has the power to decide whether Christ shall save him. Man, by an act of his will can determine whether Christ shall come into his heart, and by that same will mere man can determine to keep Him out. Though Christ may have made it possible for all men to be saved, and stands at the door of every heart pleading to come in, it is man who must decide whether he will open his heart to let the Saviour in. And the Arminianistic preacher also pleads with you to let Him in now or it may be forever too late; for the Saviour may pass you by. But anyone with an ounce of spiritual understanding should be able to see that with this conception you cannot have a Saviour Who is mighty to save. If He is unable to break down the most stubborn will, and the most impenetrable door of the heart, He is impotent to save. Such is not the Christ of the Scriptures, but the figment of an unregenerate mind and will that does not want an all-powerful Christ but an omnipotent man. 

Indeed, the truth is, that the irresistible Word of Christ makes its own way into our hearts. Fact of the matter is that only after the word of Christ has found its abode in us can we be exhorted to let that word dwell in us. The apostle assumes the former, and therefore exhorts to the latter. 

Nevertheless, it must not be overlooked that the viewpoint of the text is an exhortation. And again, that cannot mean that it is up to us whether the word of Christ will find its way into our hearts, or, that it is in our power whether the word of Christ will remain in us after it has found its way into our hearts. But the apostle means to say that we cherish that word of Christ that has so powerfully made its way into our hearts, that we consciously and conscientiously do something with that word, that we absorb its contents, and that we obey its commandments. 

And mark you well, it is the word of Christ! 

That is, the word which Christ speaks; of which He is the subject. Christ is the Chief Prophet in the church. This by no means denies the fact that the word of Christ is the word of God, but it is the word of God through Christ. Nor does it deny the fact that the word is concerning Christ, for the word of God from Genesis to Revelation is always concerning His Son, concerning Christ. But the text emphasizes the truth that Christ is the word that speaks. And it is His word we are to cherish and allow to abide in our hearts, whether that word comes to us through the reading of the infallible Scriptures in Bible study, or whether it comes to us through the preaching of the gospel. Not man is the subject of the word but Christ speaks to us through those means. Unless we hear Christ speaking to us through the preaching we hear no gospel. 

Let that word dwell IN you! 

We must not read this directive as though the apostle said: Let the word of Christ dwell “among” you, as though he would that the church allow the word to be preached or taught in her midst. This is true in itself. Surely the church must allow the word to be preached. That is her sole calling as the church of Christ in the world. The church is not divinely intended to be a social center, or any such thing, but to preach the gospel. This is the only task of the church of Christ. But the apostle does not have this in mind here. Rather, he says: Let the word of Christ dwell “in” you, that is, in your inmost hearts; and from the heart in your minds and thence in your entire being. You must imbibe that word and keep it in your hearts. That this is the thrust of what the apostle is saying is further established when he adds: “richly.” Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, that is, first of all, see to it that not a small portion of it dwells in you, but all of it. And secondly, allow that word to overflow, to be abundant so that it flows over in your whole being and walk of life as believers in Christ. 

In all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another! 

As we suggested above, the phrase “in all wisdom” belongs with the participles “teaching and admonishing” which follow, and together they describe the manner in which the church is to let the word of Christ dwell in her richly. The translators have placed a semicolon after the word “wisdom.” Better it is to place the phrase “in all wisdom” with what follows. In or by all wisdom we are to teach and admonish one another. Thus the apostle used the phrase earlier in the epistle (Col. 1:28), only there the phrase appears in a different order—”whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ.” So it must be understood here.

In all wisdom, refers, of course, to the spiritual wisdom of Christ, not to the wisdom of this world. Wisdom is the grace that is able to reckon with reality. And there is nothing more real than the word of Christ Who is the truth. (John 14:6). In all wisdom implies that all the instruction and admonition will be given in the sphere of the truth, reckoning only with the word of Christ. It means that all the instruction and admonition will be in all that Christ has spoken, nothing else. And the relation of teaching and admonishing is such that the latter is based on the former. Teaching is instructing, setting forth the truths of the word of Christ, while admonishing is exhorting and encouraging to embrace only that instruction while warning against error or heresy. 

A mutual experience in the church! 

The apostle here is not especially underscoring the duty of the officebearers—of ministers, that their duty is to teach and exhort; or of elders, who also must be able to teach and exhort those over whom the Lord places them. The believers are to follow this rule mutually among themselves. They are to follow it in their personal visits as they fellowship together, and in the organic life of the church, in the society life of the church. How different then will our visits with one another become, when instead of talking about everything under the sun, we will strive to edify one another in all wisdom concerning the word of Christ which dwells in us richly, overflows in us! Then our society meetings, instead of becoming coffee kletzzes will become most meaningful and attain to the purpose for which they were organized. 

All this will take place within the sphere of grace. And standing in that sphere you will sing. 

Here is the evidence that the word of Christ dwells in you richly while you are instructing and admonishing one another in all wisdom. Literally the apostle says: with psalms and hymns, with spiritual songs, in the grace singing in your hearts to God. 

In the grace, not “with grace,” as the translation has it. In that sphere the word of Christ plays on the heart strings, and the result is that spiritual songs, psalms, and hymns, rise out of our hearts as paeans of praise to God. 

It is not the intention here to legislate what must be sung in the church, nor in a similar passage inEphesians 5:19. Rather, he is reflecting on what happens when believers respond to the exhortation in the text. And they respond as they abide in the sphere of grace. Only when they stand in that sphere where the word of Christ dwells in their hearts and they are cherishing and obeying that word, and in all wisdom are instructing and admonishing one another, will they become beautiful and make melody of praise to God. Also here, grace is fundamentally beauty. And how beautiful also the spiritual songs these beautiful ones sing! 

Sing in the heart to God! 

Not, as you might expect, to Christ. Though it is the word of Christ that dwells in us richly, Christ Who is the spokesman always directs us to God. He never speaks of Himself, but only that which the Father has given Him to speak. And His speech, as well as His life is always intended to glorify the Father-God. So also is the evidence of His word dwelling in us—it directs us to God, as the God of all our salvation. Also here Christ is the Mediator bringing us, reconciling us to God. And therefore God is to be praised and glorified. 

And so the redeemed church, already in this life, belongs to the great chorus which, the prophetic word of Revelation envisions as standing about the throne and saying: “Amen, Blessing, and glory and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God.” (Rev. 19:1). 

What a beautiful experience that is—where believers are cherishing the word of Christ, imbibing its contents, so that it overflows in them, and they are instructing and exhorting one another in all wisdom. They sing all manner of spiritual songs of praise to God as evidence of the grace in the sphere of which they dwell!