Paul has been describing the priorities of the new man, that is, the new humanity or the people of God redeemed by Jesus Christ. They should be identified by their spiritual attire of love (vv. 12-14), by their experience of peace as they submit to the rule of Jesus (v. 15), and by an ongoing focus on the word of Christ (v. 16). We have considered in previous readings the attire and the experience of peace, and we will now think about the apostle’s instructions about the church as a word-centred community.
Paul’s requirement in our text is divided into four clauses. First, the Colossians are to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly; second, they are to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; third, they are to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; and fourth, they are to do so with thankfulness in their hearts to God. Does this mean Paul is describing a sequence of four stages? That is possible.
I would suggest, however, a three-part division: in division one he is describing preparation for interaction (letting the word of Christ dwell in them richly); in division two he describes practising interaction (teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom), and gives an example of such interaction (with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs); division 3 is then his description of the spirit of interaction (with thankfulness in your hearts to God). Today we will think about the preparation.
What does Paul have in mind when he says, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’? The first detail concerns the term ‘let’, and it suggests that the believers can hinder this indwelling from taking place. Clearly it is sins of one kind or another that will prevent this from occurring. And I suppose all the Colossians would need to do was to think about the various sins Paul has mentioned already in this chapter, the various attitudes and practices that marked the old humanity and which should not be found in the people of God. It is obvious that Paul is reminding the Colossians of their responsibility to ensure that personal sin does not prevent the word of Christ dwelling in them richly.
Then we need to work out what Paul means by the phrase ‘the word of Christ’. There are two common suggestions regarding it. Some say it is the message about Christ (the gospel) and others say it is the Old Testament (most of the New Testament was not available when Paul wrote Colossians). It is difficult to know how a message or several messages could dwell in them richly unless these messages were very detailed about Christ. But it is possible, so we cannot discount. However, it is more likely that Paul has in mind the Old Testament, the Word of God, and in saying that it should dwell in God’s people he is saying what several Old Testament writers also say about it (for example, Psalms 1 and 19). Of course, we should extend the word of Christ to include the New Testament as well.
The word of Christ is to ‘dwell’ in us, that is, we are to make our inner lives its home. Home is where family members love one another, where they are welcome, where they are relaxed, whether there is mutual delight. Paul is saying that the living word of Christ should reside easily, comfortably, enjoyably within us. The word of Christ is not to be like a lodger, a person who is tolerated; nor is it like a guest, a person who comes and goes. Instead the inner hearts of God’s people should be its home. Going back to the illustration of a lodger or a guest – such a person is only allowed into certain rooms. The Bible is not like that when it indwells us. Instead it has access to every space within our lives.
Paul also says that the word of Christ should dwell in us richly. By the term richly, he is indicating the copiousness of what God’s Word contains. Imagine if a millionaire came to live in our house and said to us that everything he has is now ours. Our homes would change for the better – the furniture would be of higher quality, the food we eat would be from the best stores. That is a very poor illustration of the effects of the improvements that God’s Word will bring about in our hearts when it is in residence.