The Word of Christ
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. (3:16)
The word of Christ refers to the revelation He brought into the world, which is Scripture. Peace and thankfulness, as well as unity, love, and all the required virtues, flow from a mind controlled by Scripture. Dwell is from enoikeō 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. Plousiōs (richly) could also be translated“abundantly or extravagantly rich.” The truths of Scripture should permeate every aspect of the believer’s life and govern every thought, word, and deed. The Word dwell-s in us when we hear it (Matt. 13:9), handle it (2 Tim. 2:15), hide it (Ps. 119:11), and hold it fast (Phil. 2:16). To do those things, the Christian must read, study, and live the Word. To let the word of Christ richly dwell is identical to being filled with the Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18). The Word in the heart and mind is the handle by which the Spirit turns the will. It is clear that these two concepts are identical because the passages that follow each are so similar.
Colossians 3:18–4:1 is a more brief parallel to Ephesians 5:19– 6:9. The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word dwell in one’s life richly. 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.
Paul then mentions two specific results of the Word of Christ 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.
Having the Word of Christ richly dwell in us produces not only information, but also emotion. It generates psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 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. (For more details on this theme, see my commentary, Ephesians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1986].)
Commentators are divided on whether chariti (thankfulness) should be translated “thankfulness” (As in the NIV and NASB) or “grace” (As in the KJV). Perhaps its use here encompasses both ideas: believers sing out of thankfulness for God’s grace. When Paul tells believers to sing in your hearts he does not mean not to sing with the voice. His concern is that the heart agree with the mouth (cf. Amos 5:23). Singing is to be directed to God as praise and worship offered to Him for His pleasure and glory. That it is edifying to believers is a byproduct of its main purpose.
MacArthur New Testament Commentary