3:16 The words teaching and admonishing express the means of how the gospel is to dwell among believers. Singing and gratitude characterize the manner of this teaching and admonishing.
3:16 This is the only time the phrase “the word of Christ” is used in the N.T. Other references refer to “the word of God” and “the word of the Lord.” “The word of Christ” refers to the revealed word, whether spoken by Christ or of Christ. “Dwell in you” refers to the body of believers as well as the individual. Judaism is a singing religion, but Christianity is even more profoundly a singing faith than any other in history. Singing makes conventional instructional channels, such as teaching and preaching, even more useful vehicles for acquiring wisdom. The Colossians are to emphasize the ministry of teaching and admonition by the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
3:16 dwell in you richly. Because the believer is united with Christ (3:3 note), not only the “word of Christ,” but Christ Himself lives in the hearts of the faithful (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17; cf. Rom. 8:9). With God’s wisdom present in this way (3:3; cf. 1 Cor. 1:30), the ethical demands of Christian love can be lived out in every part of life, including the everyday responsibilities that are reviewed in 3:18–4:6).
teaching and admonishing. The first half of this verse is strongly reminiscent of 1:28. In the ministry of the Colossians to one another, the word of Christ will be as effective as the presence of the apostle himself.
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the three nouns used in this phrase are often synonymous. It is not likely that in Colossians they designate three separate types of song (Eph. 5:19). See theological note “Music in the Church” on the next page.
3:16 word of Christ Refers either to the gospel message about Christ or to Christ’s teaching (as opposed to human philosophies or traditions; Col 2:8).
psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs Refers to a variety of songs used in Christian worship, probably including the ot psalms.
3:16 The word of Christ probably refers to the teaching about Christ as well as the words of Christ himself, which were part of the oral traditions passed on to believers in the early years after Christ ascended to heaven, before the Gospels had been written. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (see note on Eph. 5:19) is one means of teaching and admonishing. Corporate worship has a teaching function through the lyrics of its songs. This was particularly important in the oral culture of Paul’s day.
3:16 word of Christ. This is Scripture, the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, the word of revelation He brought into the world. richly dwell within you. See notes on Eph 5:18. “Richly” may be more fully rendered “abundantly or extravagantly rich,” and “dwell” means “to live in” or “to be at home.” Scripture should permeate every aspect of the believer’s life and control every thought, word, and deed (cf. Ps 119:11; Mt 13:9; Php 2:16; 2Ti 2:15). This concept is parallel to being filled with the Spirit in Eph 5:18 since the results of each are the same. In Eph 5:18, the power and motivation for all the effects is the filling of the Holy Spirit; here it is the word richly dwelling. Those two realities are really one. The Holy Spirit fills the life controlled by His Word. This emphasizes that the filling of the Spirit is not some ecstatic or emotional experience, but a steady controlling of the life by obedience to the truth of God’s Word. psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. See note on Eph 5:19.
3:16 — Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs .…
The “you” Paul has in mind here is plural—“you” as in “all of you in the church of Jesus.” We cannot grow into maturity in Christ Jesus without the encouragement, help, and even the needs of others.
3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly is apparently a parallel thought to Paul’s statement in Eph. 5:18 where he says to be “filled with the Spirit.” Both here and in Ephesians, the result of being “filled” with the Spirit or the word of Christ is singing (Eph. 5:19–21). The psalms are the psalms found in the OT, the “songbook” of the early church as well as of Israel. The hymns would be the songs of the church that reflected the new truth in Christ. Examples of such hymns are found in 1:15–20; Phil. 2:5–11; 1 Tim. 3:16. Spiritual songs may have been other kinds of songs praising God.
3:16. The importance of God’s Word cannot be overstated. Believers cannot grow into spiritual maturity unless they consistently feed on the word of Christ, the Bible. To dwell (enoikeō) means “to permeate” or “to live in,” and God desires that believers allow His Word to live in their hearts and lives. Plans and decisions will be made in wisdom if Christians look first to Scripture for guidance.
Yet the Word of God should also impact the lives of others. Believers are to engage in teaching and admonishing others with the Word, making sure that they learn the Scriptures and avoid doctrinal error. The psalms and hymns and spiritual songs Paul mentions refers to singing in one’s worship to the Lord.
Parallels between this verse and Eph 5:18–21 suggest that to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly is what Paul means by being filled with the Spirit.
3:16 There is disagreement as to how verse 16 should be punctuated. There was no punctuation in the original language of the NT, and the meaning of such a verse as this is largely determined by the punctuation marks that are used. We suggest the following: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another; in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
There are thus three sections to the verse. First, we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. The word of Christ refers to the teachings of Christ as found in the Bible. As we saturate our hearts and minds with His holy word, and seek to walk in obedience to it, then the word of Christ is really at home in our hearts.
The second thought is that in all wisdom we should be teaching and admonishing one another. Every Christian has a responsibility to his brothers and sisters in Christ concerning this matter. Teaching has to do with doctrine, whereas admonishing has to do with duty. We owe it to our brethren to share our knowledge of the Scripture with them, and to seek to help by practical and godly counsel. When teaching and admonishing are given in wisdom, they are more likely to find acceptance than when we speak with force but unwisely or without love.
The third thing is that with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs we should sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. Psalms describe those inspired utterances which are found in the book by that name, which were sung as part of Israel’s worship. Hymns, on the other hand, are generally understood as songs of worship and praise addressed to God the Father or to the Lord Jesus Christ. For example:
Jesus! the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.
—Attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux
These hymns are not inspired in the same sense as the psalms. Spiritual songs refer to religious poetry describing Christian experience. An illustration of this might be found in the words:
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Using these various types of songs we should sing with grace or thanksgiving, in our hearts to the Lord. At this point it might be well to say that the Christian should use discernment in the type of music he uses. Much of the so-called “Christian” music of today is light and frothy. A great deal of this music is utterly contrary to Scripture, and still more is so similar to the world’s “pop” and rock that it is a discredit to the name of Christ.
Verse 16 is very similar to Ephesians 5:18, 19, where we read: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” In Colossians 3:16, the main difference is that instead of saying “be filled with the Spirit,” Paul says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” In other words, being filled with the Spirit and being filled with God’s word are both requisites for living joyful, useful, fruitful lives. We shall not be filled with the Spirit unless we are saturated with God’s word; and the study of God’s word will not be effective unless we yield up our inmost being to the control of the Holy Spirit. Can we not therefore conclude that to be filled with the Spirit means to be filled with God’s word? It is not some mysterious, emotional crisis that comes in the life, but rather day by day feeding on the Scriptures, meditating on them, obeying them, and living by them.
3:16. The new life Christians must “put on” is one in which the Word of Christ dwells richly. Christ’s words were recorded by Spirit-guided apostles (cf. John 14:26; 16:13; 20:31). The words of the Bible, God’s written Word, are to dwell in believers. That is, by study, meditation, and application of the Word, it becomes a permanent abiding part of one’s life. When the words of Christ become part of a believer’s nature, they spring forth naturally and daily in psalms (songs from the Book of Psalms), hymns (other songs of praise), and spiritual songs (as opposed to secular odes) with gratitude (en tē chariti; lit., “in grace”). This can mean either (a) God’s grace, (b) graciousness in Christian singing, or (c) Christian thanks. As suggested by the NIV it probably has the third meaning. Such joyful singing is not only to please oneself or others but is to be praise to God. Through this Spirit-filled kind of life (cf. Eph. 5:18–19), Christians can teach (instruct) and admonish (“counsel”) one another (Col. 3:16; cf. “admonishing and teaching” in 1:28) if it is done with all wisdom (sophia; cf. 1:9; 2:3; 4:5) and not tactlessly (cf. Gal. 6:1).
16 In a letter which emphasizes the person and work of Christ, Paul refers to the word of Christ, rather than ‘the word of God’ (1:25) or ‘the Lord’s own word’ (1 Thes. 4:15). Of Christ could mean that Christ himself is the speaker when his word is proclaimed, but it probably refers to the message that centres on Christ, the word of truth, i.e. the gospel (1:5). That word is to have its gracious and glorious way in their lives, individually and as a community. The rich indwelling of Christ’s word (cf. Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 6:16; 2 Tim. 1:5 for the indwelling of God himself, the Holy Spirit and faith) would occur when they came together, listened to this word as it was expounded to them and bowed to its authority. They are to teach and warn one another in a thoughtful and tactful way, activities that would take place in Spirit-inspired psalms, hymns and songs as the Colossians praised God with their whole being. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is a broad expression and includes OT psalms, liturgical hymns as well as spontaneous Christian songs.
3:16. If believers are to be transformed into the character of Christ, the word of Christ should find a home in our hearts. It should not come and go, show up occasionally, or be something we visit like a vacation spot. As Eugene Peterson translates this phrase, “Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives” (Peterson, 504).
The parallel between Colossians 3:16–4:1 and Ephesians 5:18–6:9 must not be missed. The structure and terminology are almost identical. The Ephesians passage exhorts believers to be filled with the Spirit, whereas the Colossians passage exhorts believers to let the Word of Christ dwell in them. The two concepts must be synonymous. The external results are the same. The internal effect is the same. The believer is to be “under the influence” of the word of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The reason for the Colossians’ emphasis on Christ is expected in a book so devoted to his centrality and supremacy. 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 with gratitude in hearts to God (v. 16). When the word of Christ finds a comfortable home in individual believers and in the new community, there will be teaching (positive instruction), admonishing one another (negative correction), and thankful worship, evidenced by singing and gratitude.
3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” This is a PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE SECOND PERSON PLURAL. “The word of Christ” can refer to (1) the gospel; (2) His personal presence or (3) the Spirit. Notice that this dwelling is not automatic. Believers must co-operate in the Christian life as they do in salvation.
There is another Greek manuscript variation here which is similar to that in vv. 13 and 15. Scribes tended to unify Paul’s expressions. The phrase “word of Christ,” is a unique expression found only here in the NT. Therefore, it was changed to “word of God” (MSS A, C*) or “word of the Lord” (MS א*). By far the best Greek manuscripts, P46, א2, B, C2, D, F, G, and most ancient translations have “word of Christ.”
The outlines of Eph. and Col. are very similar. The parallel to this verse in Eph. is 5:18! The Spirit-filled life is daily Christlikeness or allowing the word of Christ and the mind of Christ to guide in every area, especially interpersonal relationships.
There is an ambiguity in this verse concerning the Greek PREPOSITION “in” (en). It can also be translated “among.” “In” would have an individual focus, while “among” a corporate focus (cf. 1:27).
© “with all wisdom” This is a play on the false teachers’ overemphasis on human knowledge. The word of Christ (the Spirit-filled life) is true wisdom. Wisdom is a person (cf. Prov. 8:22–31) and a lifestyle, not isolated truth or creeds.
© “with psalms” The NKJV and NASB translations imply “teaching with songs,” but the NRSV and NJB imply “teachers with songs in their hearts.” TEV implies worshiping God with songs.
The modern controversy over musical preference in worship could be addressed by this verse (and Eph. 5:19) in that several different types of music are mentioned: (1) psalms; (2) hymns; and (3) spiritual songs. Although we cannot identify all the types it is obvious that the early church used several different forms of music. The key is the heart of the worshiper, not the form of the music (cf. 3:17).
16. Paul has just been saying. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” At first glance a believer might well ask, however, “If I do this am I not building the edifice of my hope and trust upon a rather insecure, subjective foundation?” After further thought, however, he answers, “Not at all, for I have peace when in my inmost being I, by God’s sovereign grace, resolve to live in accordance with the objective word of Christ.” Verses 15 and 16 must therefore not be separated. By obedience to the gospel peace is conveyed to the heart. So Paul continues, Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly. The objective, special revelation that proceeds from (and concerns) Christ—“the Christ-word”—should govern every thought, word, and deed, yes even the hidden drives and motivations of every member, and thus should bear sway among them all, and this richly, “bearing much fruit” (John 15:5). This will happen if believers heed the word (Matt. 13:9), handle it rightly (2 Tim. 2:15), hide it in their hearts (Ps. 119:11), and hold it forth to others as being in truth “the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). Though when the apostle wrote this, “the word of Christ” had not yet been entrusted to the written page in the form and to the extent in which we now have it, this does not cancel the fact that for Paul and for all believers in his day as well as, in broader scope, for us today, “All scripture (is) God-breathed and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped, for every good work thoroughly equipped” (see N.T.C. on 2 Tim. 3:16, 17). The logical continuation is: in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another.137
For the explanation of these words see on 1:28, where essentially the same thought is expressed in an almost identical statement. The differences are as follows: (1) in 1:28 the apostle relates what he, Timothy, etc., are doing; here (in Col. 3:16) he admonishes the Colossian believers what they should be doing. In both cases the content is the same: admonishing and teaching. Believers, by virtue of their “office” as believers—let them not forget that they are clothed with that office!—should do what Paul and his associates are doing by virtue of their office, respectively as apostle and apostolic delegates. Each person must do it in accordance with the rights and duties of his particular office. (2) In 1:28 the object is somewhat broader, “every man.” Here (Col. 3:16) the emphasis is rather on mutual teaching and admonition. And (3) in 1:28 the phrase “in all wisdom” is placed last. In the Colossian passage it is placed first, perhaps to underscore the thought conveyed in the immediately preceding adverb “richly,” as if to say, “If the word of Christ is to dwell among you richly, then in all wisdom you should admonish and teach each other.”
There is something else that should also be done if the word of Christ is to dwell among the Colossians richly. It is stated in these words: (and) by means of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs singing to God in a thankful spirit,139 with all your heart.
Paul clearly recognizes the edifying nature of God-glorifying singing. As to the meaning of the terms psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (see also Eph. 5:19) a little investigation quickly shows that it may not be easy to distinguish sharply between these three. It is possible that there is here some overlapping of meanings. Thus, in connection with psalms it is natural to think of the Old Testament Psalter, and, in support of this view, to appeal to Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33. So far there is no difficulty. However, expositors are by no means agreed that this can also be the meaning of the word psalm in 1 Cor. 14:26 (“When you assemble, each one has a psalm”).
As to hymns, in the New Testament the word hymn is found only in our present passage (Col. 3:16) and in Eph. 5:19. Augustine, in more than one place, states that a hymn has three essentials: it must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God. According to this definition it would be possible for an Old Testament psalm, sung in praise to God, to be also a hymn. Thus when Jesus and his disciples were about to leave the Upper Room in order to go to the Mount of Olives, they “hymned” (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26). It is held by many that what they hymned was Psalm 115–118. According to Acts 16:25 in the Philippian prison Paul and Silas were hymning to God. Is it not altogether probable that some, if not all, of these hymns were psalms? Cf. also Heb. 2:12. But if Augustine’s definition is correct there are also hymns that do not belong to the Old Testament Psalter; such hymns as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55) and the Benedictus (Luke 1:68–79). Fragments of other New Testament hymns seem to be embedded in the letters of Paul (Eph. 5:14; Col. 1:15–20; 1 Tim. 3:16, and perhaps others).
The word song or ode (in the sense of poem intended to be sung) occurs not only in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 but also in Rev. 5:9; 14:3, where “the new song” is indicated, and in Rev. 15:3, where the reference is to “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb,” These are not Old Testament Psalms. Moreover, a song or ode is not necessarily a sacred song. In the present case the fact that it is, indeed, sacred is shown by the addition of the adjective spiritual.
All in all, then, it would seem that when here in Col. 3:16 the apostle uses these three terms, apparently distinguishing them at least to some extent, the term psalms has reference, at least mainly, to the Old Testament Psalter; hymns mainly to New Testament songs of praise to God or to Christ; and spiritual songs mainly to any other sacred songs dwelling on themes other than direct praise to God or to Christ.
The point that must not be ignored is this, that these songs must be sung in a thankful spirit. The songs must be poured forth sincerely, rising from within the humbly grateful hearts of believers. It has been said that next to Scripture itself a good Psalter-Hymnal is the richest fountain of edification. Not only are its songs a source of daily nourishment for the church, but they also serve as a very effective vehicle for the outpouring of confession of sin, gratitude, spiritual joy, rapture. Whether sung in the regular worship-service on the Lord’s Day, at a midweek meeting, in social gatherings, in connection with family-worship, at a festive occasion, or privately, they are a tonic for the soul and promote the glory of God. They do this because they fix the interest upon the indwelling word of Christ, and carry the attention away from that worldly cacophony by which people with low moral standards are being emotionally overstimulated.
The passage under discussion has often been used in support of this or that theory with respect to what may or may not be sung in the official worship-service. Perhaps it is correct to say that the appeal is justified if one is satisfied with a few broad, general principles; for example, (1) In our services the psalms should not be neglected. (2) As to hymns, in the stricter sense of songs of praise, “It is probably true that a larger proportion of the religious poems which are used in public praise should be ‘hymns’ in the stricter sense. They should be addressed to God. Too many are subjective, not to say sentimental, and express only personal experiences and aspirations which are sometimes lacking in reality” Charles E. Erdman (op. cit., p. 91).
For the rest, it is well to bear in mind that Paul’s purpose is not to lay down detailed rules and regulations pertaining to ecclesiastical liturgy. He is interested in showing the Colossians and all those to whom or by whom the letter would be read how they may grow in grace, and may manifest rightly the power of the indwelling word. His admonition, therefore, can be applied to every type of Christian gathering, whether on the Sabbath or during the week, whether in church or at home or anywhere else.
Ver. 16. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.—
The Word of Christ:—
- What is it? The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. 1. Christ is their author. 2. He is their subject-matter—they testify of Him. Christ is the Word, the wisdom of God, the truth; and truth as well as grace came by Him.
- How shall we treat it? 1. Let it dwell in us. It must not be as a stranger, or a visitor, or as an acquaintance with whom we are not specially intimate, or as a friend away and seldom seen, but rather as a resident member of our family with whom we are in constant and loving communication. 2. Let it dwell in you. It is not enough that it be in our house, study, pocket, and so at hand. It must be in our heart, pervading our whole spiritual nature, directing and controlling all our life and conduct. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart.” “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” 3. Let it dwell in you richly, plentifully, profoundly. This implies—(1) An intimate knowledge of the truth. (2) A believing, saving experience of the truth. We should seek to understand it in its inmost compass; in all its bearings and relations, and then gladly receive it, in the love of it, into good and honest hearts (James 1:2). (T. W. Sydnor.)
The school of the Word:—
- The lesson-book. The Word of Christ, so called, because—1. He is its central theme. The beginning of the story of the race is told that the first Adam may prepare the way for the second: then the mass of the race is forgotten, and one chosen family selected because Christ was to come out of it. The songs, prophecies, teachings of the Old Testament are full of Christ, and its characters are as fragments of the perfect character of Jesus. The ethics of the book find their full manifestation in Him. The Gospels are biographies of Him, and the Epistles expositions of the truths of that biography. 2. It was originated by Christ. Some write of what they see or hear, but Christ produces the history He causes to be recorded. He not only breathed His Spirit upon men’s minds that they might write its doctrines; He produced the facts which are the basis of the doctrines. Pardon is taught; but He made the atonement by His death. Immortality is taught; but He revealed it first by His resurrection. 3. He dwells in it. Men are in quest of Christ, and seek Him in sacraments and holy things and places. But we have “not to ascend into heaven to bring Him down,” &c. “The Word is nigh thee.” Christ is in His Word, not as Plato in his republic or Shakespeare in his plays, but as a living and operating power. “My words are spirit, and they are life.” 4. Through it He works. There is not a process of grace promised or commended that it does not promote. (1) Conviction of sin. “The entrance of Thy Word giveth liglit.” “The Word is powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword.” (2) Conversion. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” (3) Salvation from sin, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart,” &c. (4) Edification. “The Word of His grane … is able to build you up,” &c. (5) All sound Christian profit. “Is profitable for doctrine,” &c.
- The school. 1. The Church generally. Christ appointed the Church to teach His Word, and His Word forms the basis of her creeds, and the final authority when those creeds are questioned. It is to be exalted in her worship, commemorated in her sacraments, and proclaimed and defended in her pulpits. 2. The school of devotion; the prayer-meeting. 3. The school of experience; the class or fellowship-meeting. 4. The school of the family, where children learn theology, and the Divine character and administration, by object-lessons, by what father and mother say and do. 5. But pre-eminently is the Sunday school the school of the Word.
III. The teacher. 1. His qualification. The Word is to dwell in him richly—in his tongue as its expounder; in his memory as a student; in his heart as a believer: so that when he prays he uses it, when he teaches texts come to his tongue-ends, and as he lives he illustrates it. It must so dwell in him that he will delight in it, love to quote it, go to sleep in times of storm resting upon it, and use it in the hour of death as the key to the kingdom. 2. His method. (1) Teaching; (2) admonishing; (3) translating into life. (Bishop Vincent.)
The indwelling of the Word:—There is nothing easier than to hear the Word with a general regard, and few things more difficult than to receive it as a principle of spiritual life. Satan hinders; cumbering with much business, diverting with trifles, or disturbing with wicked imaginations or affections.
- The word of Christ. 1. In a special and limited sense this is the gospel, because He preached and published it. 2. In a larger sense it is both Testaments, for He is the author of both. 3. Then in listening to Bible teaching we are listening to Christ Himself. “The Word” is one of His titles, and He would have us honour it by honouring the Scriptures which testify of Him. 4. It is sometimes called the Word of the Kingdom, because it shows the way to the kingdom of grace, that we may be partakers of the kingdom of glory; “the Word of life,” because the instrument of regeneration and spiritual sustentation. 5. But though necessary, how many unnecessary things are preferred before it. It is the polar star which shines out in the spiritual firmament to point you to Christ; and yet in how many instances is the glimmering taper of human reason preferred! It opens a well of life; yet many choose the broken cistern.
- Its dwelling-place. 1. It is to dwell. (1) This points out a contrast between a settled and vagrant life. With the mere wanderer we hold little in common: the resident is well known. As you give yourself up to the study of the sacred oracles, the mind of the Spirit becomes imparted to your own. (2) This is an allusion to God’s “dwelling” in the Holy of Holies. Christ’s Word is to be as the Shekinah. 2. It is to dwell within: not in the understanding merely to enlighten it, nor in the judgment to inform and convince it, but to be deeply seated and treasured up in the heart. “I will write My law in their inward parts,” &c. And unless it is so written it is quite certain that we have no interest in the covenant. (1) It is to dwell there as a man dwells in his own house, which he is proud of calling his castle, and which is not as a temporary tent. “If ye continue in My Word,” &c. How many there are who give it only the entertainment of a wayfaring man who obtains with difficulty a lodging for the night, and in the morning is gone. (2) In order thus to dwell it must be mixed with faith. Without faith it may produce various effects: it may make you, like Herod, “do many things,” and induce you, like Felix, “to hear Paul gladly”; it may produce feelings of wonder, &c.; but it is only when received in faith that it can really profit.
III. The measure in which it is to dwell in us. 1. Richly: not as a scanty stream, but as a full flowing river. You are not to be content with partial views of God’s truth. The whole written Word is the soul’s pasturage. “All Scripture … is profitable.” “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word,” &c. 2. This requires prayerful searching, and much more than reading in haste a chapter in the morning or at night. We do not search after worldly wealth so. 3. This rich indwelling will be fruitful in (1) comfort; (2) holiness; (3) revived spiritual life. (T. Watson, B.A.)
The indwelling Word of Christ:—1. This exhortation is connected with the exhortation out of which it springs (vers. 14–15); and with the outward expression in which it finds vent (ver. 16). 2. The Word of Christ is not His personal teaching merely, but the whole Bible as His present Word, affording the materials of present speech. 3. Its indwelling is personal, and is not to be evaporated, as if it referred to the Church collective (Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 3:17; 2 Tim. 1:5, 14).
- Let the word of Christ dwell in you. 1. This implies a sense of the preciousness of Christ Himself realized by faith. (1) No one’s word will be precious to you unless he is precious whose word it is. The word of one you dislike will be contemptuously rejected; the word of one who is an object of indifference will pass swiftly by you. (2) How much of the Word of Christ may be missed unless He is precious. In many parts you think that He is only dimly and distantly to be found, and even passages fullest of Him do not bring Him as speaking personally to you. But it is only as it does that that the Bible is the Word of Christ. A friend’s letter is his word to me when by means of it I call him up before me in his own loved person speaking to me. Then it dwells in me. Thus, through my love to Him and His preciousness to me, Scriptures which seem to have little to do with Him may become His Word to me. 2. The preciousness of Christ’s Word, as well as of Christ Himself, is essential to its dwelling in you. (1) If Christ is precious, His Word must be precious. The word of a precious friend is precious even before you know what it contains. Its very outside is welcome. But it becomes more so as you study it, and especially if it be of real value. (2) Most Christians can name a text apparently having little to do with Christ, which has become, nevertheless, one of His best remembrancers. It is connected with some marked crisis; as a whisper of consolation, a breath of pity in sinfulness, felt as the Word of Christ just then wanted. (3) The way of finding Christ all through the Bible is not merely to get it to speak of Christ, but to get Christ to speak to you about it; and so to make it all His, i.e., let it all, every bit and fragment of it, be welded into your experience, with Christ living in you the hope of glory. (4) This may be by the Spirit being given in answer to the prayer of faith. He teaches you all things as said by Christ. Do not force it to tell of Christ formally, so as to offend critics and offend ordinary readers. Take it in its plain meaning, but expect that Christ in it may have some lesson to teach; some comfort to impart; some rebuke to administer. 3. The felt preciousness of real present and living intercourse between Christ and you will cause the Word, as His, to abide in you. (1) That Word sustains the intercourse, and is for colloquial uses. You are to dwell in Christ and He in you, but communion cannot long be maintained without language. We may dream of this mutual indwelling after some vague, sleepy fashion; but if it is to be more than a dream there must be talk between us. He Himself deals with this subject (John 15:7; 16:23). This can only be realized by the Comforter “bringing to remembrance whatsoever He hath said unto you.” His Word, then, must be the staple of the verbal intercourse. He uses it in speaking to you, and you in speaking to Him. (2) Thus used, it will dwell. Otherwise, while whole strings of texts or chapters may be retained in the memory, and may be glibly quoted, the virtue will be gone out of them. If you would have the Word to abide in you as the precious Word of a precious Saviour, you must always turn it to account in fellowship with Him.
- Richly. 1. In quantity. Let the mind and soul be richly stored. Ah! how much there is of the Bible that does not dwell in you because you do not realize it as the Word of Christ; whole chapters that have not been linked to any gracious dealing of Christ. 2. In quality. (1) A rich manure is one that enriches the soil; and it dwells in the soil richly in proportion as it enriches it, turning its hard, dry sterility into fruitful mould. So let the Word of Christ dwell in you as to enrich your souls. (2) But it must be as the Word of Christ. For such is the poverty and perversity of the soil, that otherwise even the Word will, instead of enriching the soul, become partaker of its deadness, and end in being as salt which has lost its savour. The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life, making it truly the living Word of a living Christ. (3) And how penetrating, as well as powerful, should be its virtue. It should reach to every nook of your life. 3. In correspondence to the riches of Him whose Word it is. Riches of goodness, glory, wisdom, knowledge, grace; unsearchable riches of Christ. 4. It is to dwell in you, not only as rich receivers, but dispensers. “Freely ye have received, freely give.” You are to be richly productive, fruit-bearing, in faith, in good works. 5. Notice the social bearing of the precept as embedded in the context (vers. 12–15 on the one hand, and ver. 16 on the other). In either view this indwelling is not to be like a mass of dead matter crammed into a dead receptacle; as bales are packed in a warehouse, or loads of unread learning are crowded on library shelves for show. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth, the life, the hand must speak. (R. S. Candlish, D.D.)
Indwelling of the Word of Christ:—
- The Word of Christ. 1. The literal Word of Christ is one of the most wonderful things that ever has been in the world. Not from Roman rostrum, nor in terms of Greek philosophy, nor as a Jewish rabbi, but simply and naturally to simple and ordinary men wherever they could be got together, and as He spake the words seem to root themselves in the heart, and grew a living force in the life of the nation. Then came the alternative that He must keep silence or die; but He went on speaking till He said, “It is finished.” Immediately on His resurrection He began to speak, and when He went away He left nothing behind Him but His Word. At that time His life and death were unknown powers, and He did not leave the least written explanation of them, nor were the Gospels in existence at the time of this Epistle; but there was the Word of Christ in its newness and energy. 2. Whether or not that Word would have lived without a literary embodiment we are not required to settle. For evidently it was Christ’s purpose to condense His living speech into writings for the instruction of men. And there is clear reference here to the written as well as the spoken Word. Thus the phrase takes its most comprehensive sense—the gospel—all that is revealed of God for human salvation. 3. Manifestly all this lies solely in the Scriptures. There is authoritative Word of Christ for us nowhere else. But here the Book is all His. He has fulfilled it, explained it, inspired it, made it a living Word from first to last, that He might by His Spirit give it living and blessed applications.
- Its indwelling. Yield yourselves up as sacred dwellings to be occupied with it. 1. This means that other tenants are not to remain unless in full agreement with this chief dweller. Thoughts and words of men, plans of earthly ambition, pleasures of sin—away! All thoughts are to be ruled, all cares hallowed by it, and all enjoyments made safe and good. It must be this much, or it can be nothing vital. Christ’s Word in the morning, selfish prudence all through the day; Christ’s Word for religious service, the word of man for the mercantile transaction; Christ’s Word for sickness and death, other words for times of health and pleasure; will not do. The tenant will only occupy as sole possessor of the tenement. 2. Let it dwell. There is plenty of it to fill the wonderful house. (1) Down to the deepest base of life it will go, where passions lurk, and flowing round and through them, it will purge away what is unhallowed, leaving only wholesome forces to strengthen and perfect character. (2) Into the rooms that lie more open to common day, and more level with the world, where many busy feet come and go—where knowledge gathers her stores, prudence holds her scales, judgment records her decisions, diligence plies her tasks, acquisition counts her gains, and foresight watches the opening future; into all these the living Word will enter, and at her ingress the darkening shadow melts, the wrinkles of care are smoothed, and slippery things cease their blandishments, and injustice and unkindness hide their heads. (3) Up higher yet, where imagination lights her lamp, and invention stirs her fires, and desire bends the knee, looking upward, and hope sits watching with nothing between her and the stars. 3. Richly—in its best forms and sweetest fragrance, with all its luminous, guiding powers. Fill yourselves with it. Open all the doors, fling wide the windows. You have only to do that. You have not to make the Word: it is nigh thee in thy heart and in thy mouth if thou wilt but let it dwell in thee richly. 4. But here is more than a mere passive allowance. There is a direct appeal to the will and to the activity of the mind. The Word, abundant as it is, will not come to dwell at all without consent and careful and diligent endeavour. Much “wisdom” is needed for the due remembrance and seasonable entertainment of the various parts in order to apply it to meet the wants of life as they arise. In this every man must be his own minister. We do not need the whole Bible every day; we need it as we need corn in the granary, as the lamps by night. There is many a passage in reserve. We glance at them to-day with only a general interest, but the day will come when they will be as thousands of gold and silver. Meantime it is a great matter to know what is daily bread for this day. (1) Am I in the dark about myself, about the world? Then it will be wise to let the Word of Christ dwell in me as a revelation. (2) Am I doubting and desponding, finding few signs of grace? Then let me remember the Word of Christ as a word of assured salvation, saving the eyes from tears, the feet from falling, and the soul from death. (3) Am I, though calmed with forgiveness, very weak, and unfit for continuing the struggle of the nobler life? Then let me take some strong promise, adapted to the need, and drink it up as a fainting man would drink a cordial until I am refreshed. (4) Am I sorrowing? Can I forget “Let not your heart be troubled.” (5) Am I passing away from earth and time? More than ever do I need to take Him at His word: “I will not leave nor forsake.”
III. The outflow. One of the divinest and most necessary truths is that we must give in order to have. The Word of Christ, in order to secure continuance, must be always leaving us. Go among the mountains, and you will see that it is the living stream that flows away; and where it flows the grass is green, and the flowers bloom, and the cattle drink, and the children linger to dip the foot and hear the song. Yet the spring is in no way exhausted. It is fed by the drawing sun, the condensing mountains, the bountiful clouds, the wide sea. Let your inner life, nourished by the indwelling Word, have not ostentatious and noisy, but natural and continuous expression. Its light will come to you from the land of lights. So will you draw from the infinite ocean of Divine love (see vers. 16, 17). A beautiful life; a life of poetry and heart music; a life, too, open alike to all. (A. Raleigh, D.D.) Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.—
- The Psalms of the Old Testament have no single and universally accepted designation in the Hebrew Scriptures. They first obtained such in the Septuagint. Psalm comes from a word signifying properly a touching, and then a touching of a stringed instrument with a plectrum, and next the instrument itself, and lastly the song sung with this musical accompaniment. It was in this latest stage that the word was adopted by the Septuagint, and to this agree the ecclesiastical definitions of it. In all probability the word here and in Eph. 5:19 refers to the inspired Psalms of the Hebrew canon, and certainly designates these on all other occasions where it is met with in the New Testament, with the doubtful exception of 1 Cor. 14:16. The psalms, then, which the apostle would have the faithful to sing to one another are those of David, Asaph, and the other sweet singers of Israel.
- Hymns. While the “psalm” by right of primogeniture, as at once the oldest and most venerable, occupies the foremost place, the Church of Christ does not restrict herself to such, but claims the freedom of bringing new things as well as old out of her treasure house, a new salvation demanding a new song. It was the essence of a Greek “hymn” that it should be addressed to, or be in praise of a god or a hero, i.e., a deified man, as Callisthenes reminded Alexander, who, claiming hymns for himself, or suffering them to be addressed to him, implicitly accepted divine honours. In the gradual breaking down of the distinction between the human and the divine which marked the fallen days of Greece and Rome, with the usurping on the part of men of divine honours, the hymn came more and more to be applied to men; although this was not without remonstrance. When the word was assumed into the language of the Church, this essential distinction clung to it still. A “psalm” might be a De profundis, the story of man’s deliverance, or a commemoration of mercies received; and of a “spiritual song” much the same could be said; a “hymn” must always be more or less of a Magnificat, a direct address of praise and glory to God. Augustine in more places than one states the essentials of a hymn. 1. It must be sung. 2. It must be praise. 3. It must be to God. But though “hymn” was a word freely adopted in the fourth century, it nowhere occurs in the early Fathers, probably because it was so steeped in heathenism, so linked with profane associations, there were so many hymns to Zeus, Hermes, Aphrodite, &c., that the early Christians shrank from it. We may confidently assume that the hymns referred to in the text were direct addresses to God, such as Luke 1:46–55, 68–79; Acts 4:24, and that which Paul and Silas sang in the Philippian dungeon (Acts 16:25). How noble, how magnificent uninspired hymns could prove we have evidence in the Te Deum, in the Veni Creator Spiritus, and in many a later heritage which the Church has acquired. That the Church, brought at the time when St. Paul wrote into a new and marvellous world of realities, would be rich in these we might be sure, even if no evidence existed to this effect. Of such evidence, however, there is abundance (Eph. 5:14; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:11–14). And as it was quite impossible that the Church, releasing itself from the Jewish synagogue, should fall into the same mistake as some portions of the Reformed Church, we may be sure that it adopted into liturgic use, not psalms only, but also hymns, singing them to Christ as God (Pliny, Ep. x. 96); though this we may conclude, more largely in Churches gathered out of the heathen world than in those wherein a strong Jewish element existed.
III. Spiritual songs. Ὀδή is the only word of this group which the Apocalypse knows (5:9; 14:3; 15:3). St. Paul, on the two occasions when he employs it, adds “spiritual” to it, and this, no doubt, because “Ode” by itself might mean any kind of song, as of battle, of harvest, or festal, or hymeneal, while “psalm,” from its Hebrew use, and “hymn,” from its Greek, did not need such qualification. The epithet thus applied does not affirm that these odes were Divinely inspired, any more than the spiritual man is an inspired man (1 Cor. 3:1; Gal. 6:1), but only that they were such as were composed by spiritual men, and moved in the sphere of spiritual things. How are we, then, to distinguish these from the former two. If “psalms” represent the heritage of sacred song derived by the Christian Church from the Jewish, the “hymns and spiritual songs” will cover what further in the same kind it produced out of its own bosom; but with a difference. What the hymns were we have seen; but Christian thought and feeling will soon have expanded into a wider range of poetic utterances than those in which there is a direct address to the Deity. If we turn, e.g., to Herbert’s Temple, or Keble’s Christian Year, there are many poems in both, which, as certainly they are not “psalms,” so as little do they possess the characteristics of hymns. “Spiritual songs” these might be fitly called; even as in almost all our collections of so-called “hymns” there are not a few which by much juster title would bear this name. (Archbishop Trench.)
The poets of the New Testament:—
- The extent of the poetic endowment in the primitive Churches. That it was extensively bestowed we may conceive—1. From the frequent reference made to it (1 Cor. 14:26). In Corinth it was valued as a charismata (see also Eph. 5:19; James 5:13). 2. From the universality of the preternatural endowment. The gift of the Spirit was generally bestowed, and this would rouse the poetic faculty in all who had it, and consecrate it to sacred uses. 3. From the universality of excited feelings in the apostolic Churches. Most of those who embraced religion were subject to extraordinary excitement, and poetry is the language of excited feelings. To the unconverted this inspiration was madness or intoxication.
- Its character. Poetical productions have a character. They are fruitful or barren, corrupt or chaste. There is much in our great poets repugnant to our sense of propriety and which we would fain suppress; but the mere fact that these early Christian poets were under the power of the Spirit would show that their poetry must have been high and pure. There are three things which determine the value of poetry. 1. Intellectual merit. This was high with the primitive Christians. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Christian truth is calculated to incite the highest feelings of the soul, and these lofty emotions would find utterance in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” The profoundest feelings of our nature can only be expressed in poetry. The highest strains of the orator are poetical. 2. Moral purity. “Admonishing one another.” This implies a deep concern for each other’s moral welfare. The basis of this concern is personal morality, and issued in strains that were morally improving. 3. Poetic conception. The ideas of the primitive Christians were imaginative and creative.
III. Its utility. Every Divine gift is bestowed for a useful purpose. What is the use of this? 1. For personal enjoyment. The true poet lives in a creation of his own, and in the deepest solitude he communes with the infinite source of light, life, love, and beauty. “Poetry,” said Coleridge, “has been to me its own exceeding great reward. It has soothed my affliction, it has endeared solitude, and it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and beautiful in all that surrounds me.” 2. As an element in public worship. Nothing adorns, enlivens, and augments the interest of public worship more than music. It secures the harmony of hearts as well as of voices. 3. It is of social utility. Poetry has exercised a powerful influence on society in all ages, for consolation, inspiration, &c. (P. L. Davies, M.A.)
The service of song:—
- The duty. 1. Singing is God’s ordinance, binding all sorts of men (Eph. 6:19; James 5:13; Psa. 66:1–2; 92:1; 135:3). This is a part of our piety, and is a most comely thing. 2. A Christian should recreate himself chiefly this way (James 5:13). God does not allow us to shoulder out this with other recreations. 3. We should sing in our houses as well as in our Churches. (1) For daily exercise (Psa. 101:1–2). (2) When Christians meet together (1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19).
- The manner. 1. We should teach and admonish by singing, and that—(1) ourselves, by considering the matter. (2) Others, as ministers in appointing hymns for the congregation, or masters of the family, or when Christians meet, there should be choice of such psalms as may comfort or rebuke according to occasion (1 Cor. 14:26). 2. We must sing with grace. This is diversely interpreted; some understand it of the dexterity that should be used in singing; others of the comeliness, right order, reverence, or delight of the heart; others of thanksgiving. But I think that to sing with grace is to exercise the graces of the heart in singing, i.e., with holy joy (Psa. 9:2); trust in God’s mercies (Psa. 13:5); a holy commemoration of God’s benefits (Psa. 47:6); yea, with the desire of our hearts that our singing may be acceptable (Psa. 104:33–34). 3. We must sing with our hearts, not with our tongues only for ostentation. To sing with the heart is to sing with the understanding (Psa. 47:7; 1 Cor. 14:14), with sense and feeling. Hence we are said to prepare our hearts before we sing (Psa. 57:7). Then we must sing earnestly and awake out of our lethargy (Psa. 57:8). 4. We must sing to the Lord (Eph. 5:19), both to God’s glory and with a sense of His presence, and upon a holy remembrance of His blessings.
III. The uses. 1. For instruction. When we are merry to sing psalms (James 5:13), yea, to account this a heavenly melody (Eph. 5:19). 2. For reproof of such as delight in profane songs. (N. Byfield.)
The conditions of the service of song:—
- Psalms, &c., must be spiritual. 1. As to the origin. As Moses, David, and others under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, composed their psalms, &c., so we, whether we sing the same or others, ought to do it under the same direction (Eph. 5:18, 19). 2. As to matter: they treat of spiritual things, relating to the glory of God and our salvation; not of secular and vain matters.
- They must be sung with grace. 1. With gratitude. The word sometimes means this (1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14). Gratitude is not improperly joined to songs; because we are moved to sing in joyous and prosperous circumstances, in which condition thankfulness is binding and necessary. 2. With gracious affability, which conveys both pleasure and utility to the hearers; so that what Horace says concerning poets may be said of these spiritual songs. “They would both profit and delight.” So the word means in chap. 4:6, and Eph. 4:29.
III. They must be sung in the heart, i.e., from the inmost affection. And rightly is an ardent emotion required, for the action of singing declares the inward exultation of the heart. He therefore acts the hypocrite who sings with the heart asleep. Hence David not only tunes his voice to the harp, but his voice before either (Psa. 57:7–8). So Mary (Luke 1:46–47). Do not think one thing and sing another.
- They must be sung unto the Lord. The songs of Christians ought not to aim at promoting dissoluteness or gain; but to be employed in celebrating the praises of the Redeemer. Corollaries: 1. The custom of singing is useful, and is to be adopted in the assembling of Christians, as well in public as in private. 2. It is so to be performed, that they who hear may from thence derive spiritual pleasure and edification. Therefore farewell to all nugatory, and much more to impure songs. 3. In singing it ought to be our especial care that the heart be affected; they who neglect this, may perhaps please men by an artificial sweetness of voice, but they will displease God by an odious impurity of heart. 4. What things are done for cheerfulness and relaxation of the mind by Christians, ought to be of such a kind as are agreeable to Christ and religion: we must therefore detest the madness of those who cannot be cheerful without the reproach of Christ and the ridicule of religion. (Bp. Davenant.)
The service of song a means of Christian edification:—Whenever a great quickening of religious life comes, a great burst of Christian song comes with it. The mediæval Latin hymns cluster round the early pure days of the monastic orders; Luther’s rough stormy hymns were as powerful as his treatises; the mystic tenderness and rapture of Charles Wesley have become the possession of the whole Church. The early hymns were of a dogmatic character. No doubt just as in many a missionary Church a hymn is found to be the best vehicle for conveying the truth, so it was in these early Churches, which were made up largely of slaves and women—both uneducated. “Singing the gospel” is a very old invention though the name be new. In these early communities Paul said, “Every one of you hath a psalm, a doctrine.” If a man had some fragment of an old psalm, or some strain that had come fresh from the Christian heart, he might sing it, and his brethren would listen. We do not have that sort of psalmody now. But what a long way we have travelled from it to a modern congregation, standing with books that they scarcely look at, and “worshipping” in a hymn which half of them do not open their mouths to sing at all, and the other half do in a voice inaudible three pews off. (A. Maclaren, D.D.) The hymnology of the Church has from the first been a most important element in her holy progress and means of usefulness. A large part of the Bible is poetry. Instruction thus conveyed aids the memory and makes a greater impression on the mind. How constantly did David find relief in expressing his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows in song; and in the record of his experience how precious is the boon he has left for the instruction and encouragement of God’s children in all ages. There was a special impressiveness in the use of psalms and hymns in the early Church. The first forms of literature in every country and in great national movements are for the most part in song. Thus it was in Greece; thus it was in Scotland. Facts of history, deeds of prowess, wonderful providences, are handed down in song, and are in this form better remembered and more easily preserved. In our own day, with the power of the printing press, this may not be so necessary; but when books had to be copied in MS., and books were scanty, the citation of song and psalm formed an important element of instruction. It has been said, by a well-known author, that if he were allowed to make the songs of a nation, he cared not who made the laws. The hymns of the Church have often been as the very shrine of spiritual life, for the preservation of doctrine, and the means of progress. How many cares have been relieved by some well-known hymn? How many Christians have crossed the river strong in the faith with the words of some precious stanza on their tongues which they learnt in the Sunday school? (J. Spence, D.D.) Singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord.—Phrygia was proverbially a land of music. A music of wild excitement was used in the worship of Cybele, and of Salazion, the Phrygian Dionysos. Hence St. Paul might be the more anxious that Christian singing should be sweet and graceful in a Phryian Church. For a deep feeling of anxiety on the part of a ruler in the ancient Church that sacred song should be beautiful, see the story how Ignatius brought back the melody of angels heard in vision to his Church at Antioch (Socrates, Hist. vi. 8). Heartfelt singing is not voiceless singing (Psa. 111:1). The Psalmist’s praise was in his heart, but it must have been vocal also, for it was such praise as is offered in the “assembly.” The three conditions of sacred song are sweetness of vocal expression, fulness of inward devotion, direction to a Divine object. These are expressed in this clause. (1) As to outward expression—“gracefully, sweetly, so as to give pleasure and be attractive.” (2) As to inward devotion—“heartfelt.” (3) As to the Being addressed—“to the Lord.” The clue to the real meaning of the passage is to bear in mind that the apostle is speaking of singing as a Church duty, a part of the Church’s corporate life, a declaration of peace among her children, and a means of edification. The recognition of sweetness and pleasingness as an element of public worship is very interesting and important. Such care for singing, again, is quite of a piece with Paul’s high ideal of womanly grace and beauty in youth (1 Cor. 11:15), priestlike dignity in age (Titus 2:3), with his recognition of things “lovely” (Phil. 4:3), with his appeal to primary æsthetic instincts (1 Cor. 11:13), with his horror of “confusion” in public worship (1 Cor. 14:33), with the word for a grave and majestic beauty in public service expressed in that great foundation-rubric (1 Cor. 14:40). It shows how thoughtfully he considered local circumstances, and adapted his lessons to them. Phrygian music was apt to become the accompaniment of the passionate and unmanly wailing of Asian barbarism. As Plato says, “The Phrygian strain was adapted for sacred rites and fanatical excitement, being of almost frenzied wildness.” (Bp. Alexander.)
Power of a hymn:—On one of the days when President Garfield lay dying at the seaside, he was a little better, and was permitted to sit by the window, while Mrs. Garfield was in the adjoining room. Love, hope, and gratitude filled her heart as she sang the hymn commencing “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah!” As the soft and plaintive notes floated into the sick chamber, the President turned his eyes up to Dr. Bliss, and asked, “Is that Crete” “Yes,” replied the doctor; “it is Mrs. Garfield.” “Quick, open the door a little,” anxiously responded the sick man. Dr. Bliss opened the door, and after listening a few moments Mr. Garfield exclaimed, as the large tears coursed down his sunken cheeks, “Glorious, Bliss, isn’t it?” (W. Baxendale.)
Power of a hymn:—A little boy came to one of our city missionaries, and holding out a dirty and well-worn bit of printed paper, said, “Please, sir, father sent me to get a clean paper like that.” Taking it from his hand the missionary found it was a bill with the hymn “Just as I am” printed upon it. He looked down into the little earnest face and asked the boy where he got it, and why he wanted a clean copy. “We found it, sir, in sister’s pocket after she died; and she used to sing it all the time she was sick, and loved it so much that father wanted to get a clean one to put in a frame to hang up. Won’t you give us one, sir?” (G. F. Pentecost, D.D.)
Saved by a hymn:—On board the ill-fated steamer Seawanhaka was one of the Fisk University singers. Before leaving the burning steamer and committing himself to the merciless waves, he carefully fastened upon himself and his wife life preservers. Some one cruelly dragged away that of his wife, leaving her without hope, except as she could cling to her husband. This she did, placing her hands firmly on his shoulders, and resting there until, her strength becoming exhausted, she said, “I can hold on no longer!” “Try a little longer,” was the response of the wearied and agonized husband, “let us sing ‘Rock of Ages.’ ” And as the sweet strains floated over the troubled waters, reaching the ears of the sinking and dying, little did they know, those sweet singers of Israel, whom they comforted. But, lo! as they sang, one after another of the exhausted ones were seen raising their heads above the overwhelming waves, joining with a last effort in the sweet, dying, pleading prayer, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me,” &c. With the song seemed to come strength; another and yet another was encouraged to renewed effort. Soon in the distance a boat was seen approaching! Could they hold out a little longer? Singing still, they tried, and soon with superhuman strength laid hold of the lifeboat, upon which they were borne in safety to land. This is no fiction; it was related by the singer himself, who said he believed Toplady’s sweet “Rock of Ages” saved many another besides himself and wife. And this was only salvation from temporal death I But, methinks, from the bright world yonder the good Toplady must be rejoicing that God ever taught him to write that hymn, which has helped to save so many from eternal death, as, catching its spirit, they have learned to cast themselves alone for help on that dear “Rock of Ages,”—cleft, sinner, for them, for you, and for me, and which ever stands rent asunder that it may shelter those who utter the cry, “Let me hide myself in Thee.” (Canadian Baptist).
Let the word of Christ dwell in you (verse 16)
As usual in this letter Paul takes every opportunity to stress the centrality and sufficiency of Christ. Elsewhere, in a parallel passage, he can write to the believers about letting the Holy Spirit fill them. In Paul’s teaching there is never any question of Word and Spirit being separately experienced. The coming of the Word of God in the gospel is the coming of the Spirit, and the coming of the Spirit is the coming of the living and abiding Word of God. Therefore, to enjoy the fullness of the Spirit, a Christian must necessarily be filled with the word of Christ.
A Christian community is happy, therefore, if the word of Christ is richly, that is abundantly, available. But it may well be that the visitors looked to other sources by which a ‘word’ from God might come their way (cf. 2:4, 18, 20–22). If so (and how else did they get their authoritative messages?), this must have greatly influenced the teaching they gave, and the type of songs they used for praise: instead of being characterized by the word of Christ, there would be a significant admixture of human doctrines, i.e. of religious traditionalism.
For the apostle, therefore, the word of Christ must control all the ministries of the local church. First, there is the ministry of teaching. It is intriguing, in view of modern interest in lay ministry, that the work of teaching and admonishing, described in 1:28 as Paul’s major function, is here said to be the work of the local congregation, the people (laos) of God in one place. How could it be otherwise? A responsibility so vast must be shared. But it will not be carried out in all wisdom, that is with sufficient balance and relevance (1:9ff.) if the local congregation itself is not firmly under the word of Christ.
Secondly, there is the ministry of praise. Paul likes to pile synonyms together, although words that appear synonymous (e.g. as here, teach and admonish) sometimes carry different emphases. In the case of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs we shall be wise not to attempt a differentiation, for since the time of Jerome the problem has been debated, and is still unsolved! What is at issue here is the content of the young church’s hymns. The history of Christian awakening shows that whenever the word of Christ is recovered, it is received with great joy, a joy that can fully express itself only with songs of praise. What the apostle is concerned to see is that these songs are consistent with the word of Christ, or as we are bound to say nowadays, scriptural. A fair test of this is to be found by whether or not they echo a heartfelt spirit of thankfulness: genuine Christian praise is not primarily a vehicle for the expression of spiritual aspirations and experiences, so much as a celebration of God’s mighty acts in Christ. Lohse has an interesting comment on the normal translation:
This translation cannot account for the definite article which specifies charis as God’s bestowal of grace which gives life to the believers. The phrase en tē chariti reminds the readers of sola gratia (by grace alone) which is the sole basis of existence and creates the realm in which Christian life can exist and develop. This is the reason why God is praised.
Very well. A gospel of grace (1:6) must be echoed by songs of gratitude for grace.
16. The tasks Paul described as his own in 1:28 are not his alone: they are for the whole church, as you teach and admonish one another, in the mutual forgiveness and trust of verses 12–15. This activity is further described in two ways. First, it is to be achieved by letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly. The first phrase could refer to the teaching about Jesus Christ, stories such as we now have in the Gospels; and certainly there is something attractively wholesome in Williams’ comment, ‘be at home in the Gospel story, and let it be at home in you, so that it may be always ready for use’. But it more likely refers to the gospel message announcing what God has done in and through Christ, which was set out in 1:15–20 and applied to the Colossian situation in 2:6ff.; or, just possibly, to the word which Christ speaks in the present by his Spirit. None of these possibilities, of course, should be played off against another: the gospel message and the word given in the present are both recognized as authentic by their conformity with the man Jesus himself. This word is to dwell in them ‘richly’: the church is to be stocked with good teaching as a palace is filled with treasures. The teaching is to be with all wisdom: the ‘word’ concerns Christ, Wisdom himself (2:3, etc.), and will be characterized by wisdom in the teachers.
This ministry of teaching and admonishing is to be part of a life of thankfulness that overflows into song: as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Linking the two parts of the verse in this way suggests that the singing is not the sole or primary means of teaching, though Christian hymns and songs have often been a powerful means of implanting and clarifying Christian truth. Rather, the ministry of instruction should always be seen as one part of a total life characterized by grateful worship. ‘To God’ could go with ‘singing’ instead of ‘gratitude’. But niv and rsv probably express Paul’s meaning. ‘In your hearts’ gives the location, not of the singing (though it should of course be heartfelt), but of the gratitude.
The three different categories of song in this verse are not easy to distinguish. Older writers suggested that ‘psalms’ were probably accompanied, and that ‘songs’, being a more general word than ‘hymns’, is qualified with the adjective ‘spiritual’ to distinguish it from secular singing. ‘Psalms’ may actually refer to the Christian use of the Old Testament psalter, but should not be restricted to that; the early church was prolific in its adaptation of Old Testament themes to Christian use (see e.g. Rev. 5:9–10; 15:3–4, etc.), and in its composition of new material (see, perhaps, Phil. 2:6–11; Col. 1:15–20; 1 Tim. 3:16). Together these three terms indicate a variety and richness of Christian singing which should neither be stereotyped into one mould nor restricted simply to weekly public worship.
16. Let the word of Christ dwell. He would have the doctrine of the gospel be familiarly known by them. Hence we may infer by what spirit those are actuated in the present day, who cruelly interdict the Christian people from making use of it, and furiously vociferate, that no pestilence is more to be dreaded, than that the reading of the Scriptures should be thrown open to the common people. For, unquestionably, Paul here addresses men and women of all ranks; nor would he simply have them take a slight taste merely of the word of Christ, but exhorts that it should dwell in them; that is, that it should have a settled abode, and that largely, that they may make it their aim to advance and in crease more and more every day. As, however, the desire of learning is extravagant on the part of many, while they pervert the word of the Lord for their own ambition, or for vain curiosity, or in some way corrupt it, he on this account adds, in all wisdom—that, being instructed by it, we may be wise as we ought to be.
Farther, he gives a short definition of this wisdom—that the Colossians teach one another. Teaching is taken here to mean profitable instruction, which tends to edification, as in Romans 12:7—He that teacheth, on teaching; also in Timothy—“All Scripture is profitable for teaching.” (2 Tim. 3:16.) This is the true use of Christ’s word. As, however, doctrine is sometimes in itself cold, and, as one says, when it is simply shewn what is right, virtue is praised2 and left to starve, he adds at the same time admonition, which is, as it were, a confirmation of doctrine and incitement to it. Nor does he mean that the word of Christ ought to be of benefit merely to individuals, that they may teach themselves, but he requires mutual teaching and admonition.
Psalms, hymns. He does not restrict the word of Christ to these particular departments, but rather intimates that all our communications should be adapted to edification, that even those which tend to hilarity may have no empty savour. “Leave to unbelievers that foolish delight which they take from ludicrous and frivolous jests and witticisms; and let your communications, not merely those that are grave, but those also that are joyful and exhilarating, contain something profitable. In place of their obscene, or at least barely modest and decent songs, it becomes you to make use of hymns and songs that sound forth God’s praise.” Farther, under these three terms he includes all kinds of songs. They are commonly distinguished in this way—that a psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of: a hymn is properly a song of praise, whether it be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while an ode contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles. For this has a connection with his argument.
The clause, in grace, Chrysostom explains in different ways. I, however, take it simply, as also afterwards, in chapter 4:6, where he says, “Let your speech be seasoned with salt, in grace,” that is, by way of a dexterity that may be agreeable, and may please the hearers by its profitableness, so that it may be opposed to buffoonery and similar trifles.
Singing in your hearts. This relates to disposition; for as we ought to stir up others, so we ought also to sing from the heart, that there may not be merely an external sound with the mouth. At the same time, we must not understand it as though he would have every one sing inwardly to himself, but he would have both conjoined, provided the heart goes before the tongue.
3:16 / Here is a verse loaded with important truths. Paul has just spoken about the peace of Christ that is to rule in the believers’ hearts (3:15). Now he turns to another aspect of Christ, namely, the word of Christ. This phrase, taken as an objective genitive in Greek, means the words about Christ, that is, the gospel.
The word of Christ is to dwell within the believer and can do so either richly or feebly. Although the gospel certainly is “rich” in meaning, content, and so on, the Greek adverb richly definitely is intended to characterize the manner in which Christ’s message is to inhabit the believer: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
The indwelling word will manifest itself in two ways: First, the Colossians are exhorted to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. This is a pedagogical process (cf. 1:28) in which all members share responsibility. In light of Paul’s ministry as a teacher and Epaphras’ as a transmitter of tradition, this verse should not be taken to imply a deficiency in these church leaders.
The second manifestation of the word of Christ is in worship. Considerable research has gone into analyzing the different components mentioned, so it is not unusual for commentators to suggest that psalms (psalmois) may have their heritage in the Old Testament; hymns (hymnois) could include psalms but may be more Christian songs of praise to God or Christ; spiritual songs (ōdais) may be musical compositions originating from ecstatic utterances under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 14:16).
On the basis of this passage and a similar one in Ephesians 5:19, it is not possible to establish distinctions with any precision, even though there is a certain diversity about the three. It does help one to appreciate both the richness of Christian hymnody even at this early stage of the church’s life and the function of music within the context of worship. When such music is grounded in the word of God (i.e., doctrinal in content), it definitely serves a teaching and instructional function within the body.
Singing is to be expressed in a spirit of gratitude. Music may edify the members of a congregation, but its primary function is to render thanks to God. The word translated gratitude is charis, not the more common eucharistia. charis can also mean “grace,” and with the inclusion of the article (en tē chariti), Paul may be referring to the grace of God. When Christians sing “in the grace,” they sing by virtue of the grace of God which is theirs. (The niv rightly uses God rather than “Lord,” which has weaker manuscript evidence and probably represents an attempt to harmonize it with Eph. 5:19.)
16 Paul continues with “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly,” which might sound either semimystical or individualistic until one reads the next line: “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”162 That is to say, the message dwells among the fellowship as the members exercise a vigorous and comprehensive ministry of the Word. Like God and the Spirit and Christ (cf. 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 8:11), the “message” is to take up residence among the Colossians. Paul believes that logos/word becomes a dynamic reality that pervades a community.
The verse opens in Greek with “The message of Christ.” What is the “message” of Christ? Since the Greek term is logos (see above at 1:5) and since logos is translated “word,” and since “word” to many means “Word of God” as in Bible, many (over-and under-) interpret this verse to be a ministry of the Bible. For a succinct and comprehensive summary of the meaning of logos in the New Testament, I quote from the new edition of New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, edited afresh by Moisés Silva:
The term’s wide semantic range is evident in the NT, where it can refer to a statement or utterance (Matt 5:37; 12:32; 15:12; Luke 20:20), a question (Matt 21:24), a command (Luke 4:36), a report or rumor (Matt 28:15; Mark 1:45; Luke 5:15; Acts 11:22), a discourse (Matt 15:12), a message or teaching (Luke 4:32; 10:39; John 4:41; 17:20; 1 Cor 15:2), oral as opp. to written communication (Acts 15:27; 2 Cor 10:10), a written book (Acts 1:1), a citation from Scripture (1 Cor 15:54), and mere words as opp. to power and action (1 Cor 4:19; 1 Thess 1:5).… Special significance attaches to the use of logos with ref. to divine revelation, to the words spoken by and about Jesus, and to Jesus himself as the Word.
Logos describes verbal communication: In the New Testament logos acquires a special gospel kind of communication, Jesus teaches in essence the logos about the kingdom of God, and inasmuch as Jesus is the essence of the gospel (1 Cor 15:3–8), Jesus himself is the Logos (John 1:1–14). Why? Back to the notion of “verbal communication,” because he is the express communication of the Father to the world about God’s plan for the world and its redemption through the Son. Hence, the logos “of Christ” in our passage will refer to the message or gospel-preaching about Jesus as the Messiah-King, Lord, and Savior (1:5, 25; 4:3). The logos was favored for early Christian gospeling about Jesus (e.g., Gal 6:6; 1 Cor 14:36; 2 Cor 2:17; cf. Acts 2:40–41; 10:36, 44; 12:24; 16:6; 17:11). In our context one has to note what Paul said of the gospel to the Corinthians, namely, that it was the “logos of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19), and Col 1:20 expands this thought to cosmic reconciliation in Christ. The implication of this expression in Col 3:16 is that their speaking to one another takes on a Christocentric shape in subject matter. Put in modern terms, the discussion is not so much about the Bible but what it says about Christ, whom the Bible serves and to whom the Bible points. Such a view does not diminish the significance of the Bible but reveals the subject matter of the Bible.
The logos is to indwell them “richly” (NIV), which refers to the manifest ways the logos is to take root among them as specified in the words that follow: “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” I prefer the term “abundantly” to “richly.” As God provides abundantly (1 Tim 6:17) and as the Spirit is poured out abundantly through King Jesus (Titus 3:6), so the logos indwells the Colossian fellowship abundantly—that is, pervading everything in all ways.
The specifics of the indwelling logos are now spelled out in these terms: first, teaching and admonishing are the primary logos acts within the fellowship, and second, they occur in psalms, hymns, and Spirit-prompted songs. This is a rare glimpse into the nature of early Christian corporate gatherings. What Paul says in 1 Cor 14:26 resembles what is said here: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”
And so does Eph 5:18–20: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But in Colossians we have a logos saturation, a Christ-shaped communication among the people of God and performed by each in the congregation (“one another”). At Col 1:28 much the same was said about the logos ministry of Paul and Timothy, and that verse gives us an orientation to our verse: “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
Again, we encounter a Christocentric logos ministry of both teaching and admonishing, while 1:28 contained the teleology (“so that”) that sets the logos ministry in context. Our verse has less concern with that teleology and more of a concern with the means of the teaching and admonishing (3:17 will hint at teleology). To remind of what was said at 1:28, “teach and admonish” in 3:16 can overlap in meaning, so that admonishing is not just rebuking or warning but entails the kind of instruction that reminds and reveals and rebukes (or warns) and gets someone’s mind in proper shape (see 1 Thess 5:12, 14; 2 Thess 3:15; 1 Cor 4:14; Rom 15:14). If “admonish” focuses on the warning side of ecclesial catechesis, the term “teaching” focuses on the more informational, formational, and positive side of catechesis or paraenesis.171 This kind of “teaching” emphasizes both theological and moral instruction, the sort we find throughout Colossians. Most notably, Paul does not reserve teaching to one group of people (apostles, teachers, pastors, elders) but instead here reveals it to be a fellowship-wide activity. In context—unless somehow we can establish that his command of 3:16 applies only to males—this entails women teaching and admonishing men.
Their logos communication is “in all wisdom,” an expression much along the line of our comments at 1:9 and 1:28, with the added observation that Jesus himself is the incarnation of that wisdom (2:3). With the term “wisdom” Paul guides the Colossians to live in God’s world in God’s way, namely, in Christoformity—shaped by the life-giving and cosmos-reconciling grace in the life, death, resurrection, and exalted rule of Jesus. The sphere of the teaching and admonishment is the wisdom of knowing how to live a Christoform life.
Our instinct when it comes to instruction and admonishment is the classroom or the pulpit, if not an entire catechesis program, but Paul’s next words surprise: he envisions catechism of one another through song. This dialectical expression gets at the heart of Paul’s words: “If we regard the impartation of the word of Messiah as the goal of teaching, admonishing, and singing, then we are led to the conclusion that teaching is meant to take on a worshipful character while musical praise is to take on a didactic role in order to comprehensively impart the word. Christian teaching is not meant to be dry, but soaked in thankful praise. Similarly, singing is not purposed to be doctrinally benign but should comprise a pointer to the truth of Jesus Christ.” Colossians 1:15–20 fulfills such an expectation.
The terms for songs (psalms, hymns, songs) move from the classic Jewish prayer/songbook, the Psalms, to two terms with little distinction between them. Each term connotes singing unto the Lord as “songs from the Spirit,” so it is unlikely we should press distinctions between them.178 There is a debate about whether we should use “Spirit” or “spiritual songs” in our translations. The first term, “psalms,” refers to set songs in an already established singing or chanting tradition (the Psalms of the Old Testament) and very possibly accompanied by stringed instrument.180 Paul affirms the recitation or intoned chanting of the Psalms. “Hymns” refers to the growing poetic tradition about Christ in the earliest Christian churches (hence, Luke 1:46–55, 68–79; 2:29–32; Col 1:15–20; Phil 2:6–11). The third term (“songs”) is the least formal, and thus “songs from the Spirit [or spiritual]” may mean “spontaneous” or “inspired” or “charismatic” songs. A good example of such is 1 Macc 13:51: “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it [the citadel at Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.”
But it is a mistake to think the word “spiritual” (CEB, rather than the NIV “from the Spirit”) in Col 3:16 can be divorced entirely from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 14:15, 26; Eph 5:18–20) because what is “spiritual” for Paul is “Spirit-prompted” or “Spirit-ual.” So it is at least possible that glossolalic singing is in view (1 Cor 14:15). A solid case has been made that the songs contrast to the mystical music of the halakic mystics at Colossae (cf. 2:18–19, 23). With mystical music present in the heavenly tour in Testament of Job 48:3; 49:3; 50:1 and in the Apoc. Zeph. 8, Paul himself may have heard such music in his own ecstasies (1 Cor 13:1; 2 Cor 12:4). By anchoring songs in local worship, Paul grounds the Colossians in opposition to the heavenly mysticism of the opponents. The prepositional phrase “singing to God with gratitude” attached to “songs from the Spirit” is another bridge phrase: Does it attach itself to “songs from the Spirit” or to “singing to God” (NIV, CEB)? Once again there is no certainty, but I opt with the NIV and CEB in attaching it to “singing to God.” They are to praise187 God in a state of gratitude because of the cosmic reconciliation in which they are now participating. Furthermore, they are to do so “in their hearts,” which here refers to the depth of their praise.
Song in Pauline theology has an important role to play in communal catechesis, something known to many in discovering how much our theology has been shaped by songs. Nevertheless, we do tend to devalue music’s value for catechesis.
16 What is meant by the injunction: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”? Does “in you” mean “within you” (as individual Christians) or “among you” (as a Christian community)? Perhaps it would be unwise to rule either alternative out completely, although the collective sense may be uppermost in view of the context. Let there be ample scope for the proclamation of the Christian message and the impartation of Christian teaching in their meetings. Christian teaching must be based on the teaching of Jesus himself; it must be unmistakably “the word of Christ.” It would “dwell richly” in their fellowship and in their hearts if they paid heed to what they heard, bowed to its authority, assimilated its lessons, and translated them into daily living.
The punctuation of this sentence is disputed, but it makes better sense if the phrase “in all wisdom” is attached to “teach and instruct” (not to “dwell richly”) and the words “in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” modify the verb “singing” (and not “teach and instruct”).
The Colossian Christians, like those at Rome, should be able to instruct one another;151 but such instruction should be given wisely and tactfully. If wisdom or tact be absent, the instruction, however well intentioned, could provoke the opposite reaction to that which is designed.
Whatever view is taken of the punctuation or construction of the sentence, the collocation of the two participial clauses (as they are in the Greek text), “teaching and instructing …” and “singing …,” suggests that the singing might be a means of mutual edification as well as a vehicle of praise to God. In 1 Cor. 14:26 Paul insists that, when Christians come to their meetings prepared with a psalm or any other spiritual exercise, they must have regard to the essential requirements of general helpfulness and good order. In our present passage, as in the closely similar Eph. 5:19, antiphonal praise or solo singing at church meetings is probably recommended. We recall the younger Pliny’s report to the Emperor Trajan (A.D. 111–112) of the way in which Christians in Bithynia met on a fixed day before dawn and “recited an antiphonal hymn to Christ as God”; or Tertullian’s description eighty or ninety years later of the Christian love-feast at which, “after water for the hands and lights have been brought in, each is invited to sing to God in the presence of the others from what he knows of the holy scriptures or from his own heart.”154
It has been asked sometimes if a strict threefold classification of praise is signified in the mention of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” It is unlikely that any sharply demarcated division is intended, although the “psalms” might be drawn from the OT Psalter (which has supplied a chief vehicle for Christian praise from primitive times), the “hymns” might be Christian canticles (some of which are reproduced, in whole or in part, in the NT text), and the “spiritual songs” might be unpremeditated words sung “in the Spirit,”157 voicing holy aspirations.
Plainly, when early Christians came together for worship, they not only realized the presence of Christ in the breaking of the bread but also addressed prayers and praises to him in a manner which tacitly, and at times expressly, acknowledged him to be no less than God. If here the Colossian Christians are encouraged to sing in their hearts to God, the parallel Ephesian passage speaks of “singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (meaning, presumably, Christ). The voice must express the praise of the heart if the singing is to be really addressed to God. Again, the necessity of a thankful spirit is emphasized, although the phrase rendered “with thanksgiving” might mean “with grace” or “in a state of grace.”
16 The thankfulness to which Paul calls the Colossians was to be enthusiastically expressed in their corporate worship (cf. Lincoln, 648). Paul enjoins the assembly gathered for worship to “let the word of Christ dwell in [or among] [them] richly.” Like “peace of Christ” in v. 15, “word of Christ” is unparalleled in the NT (cf., however, 1 Th 1:8; 4:15: “the word of the Lord”). (Additionally, as with “the peace of Christ,” some later copyists altered “the word of Christ” to read “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord.”) While “the word of Christ” may refer to instruction proceeding from Christ (i.e., Jesus tradition), it more likely speaks of the message pertaining to Christ (i.e., the gospel; cf. 1:5, 29; so O’Brien, 206)—though arguably a wedge should not be driven too firmly between these alternatives (cf. Abbott, 290; Bruce, 157; Houlden, 207; Moule, 125; Dunn, 236). The proclamation of Christ, not the veneration of angels, was to be central in the Colossians’ worship (cf. Lincoln, 648; Dunn, 235–36). “The gospel is to have its gracious and glorious way in their lives” (O’Brien, 207).
The congregation is encouraged to let this word dwell, live, or abide richly in their midst as an operative, transformative force (cf. Harris, 167). How is it that “the word of Christ” is to make its home among the community? The answer appears to be, by means of the assembly’s ministry of teaching, admonishing, and singing. (The Greek syntax of this verse is complex and has occasioned much discussion [and confusion!] among commentators; cf. Moule, 125–26; Harris, 166–70.) Though Epaphras played a pivotal role in founding and instructing the Colossian assembly (1:7; 4:12; cf. Phm 23), he was not the only one who was meant to function in a teaching capacity. Notwithstanding the fact that Paul was an apostle grasped by God to admonish and teach all people in all wisdom (1:28), mutual, thoughtful, tactful instruction and admonition were privileges and responsibilities entrusted to the entire congregation (cf. Garland, 242; Lohse, 150–51).
It is possible that church members were meant to instruct and correct one another by means of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (so NASB; cf. Eph 5:19). However, psalms, hymns, and songs may simply be descriptive of the various forms of congregational singing (so NIV). Even if one cannot say with certainty which reading is most likely on grammatical grounds (cf. Moule, 125; O’Brien, 208–9)—though I favor the NIV’s translation here (so also Dunn, 211, 237)—one may note that a positive, mutually reinforcing link is to exist between the church’s teaching and singing (cf. Bruce, 158; Houlden, 208; Lincoln, 649; Lohse, 151). The songs of the church can be both instructive/cognitive and responsive/emotive (cf. Lincoln, 651).
It is best not to try to differentiate too sharply among psalms (cf. 1 Co 14:26), hymns (cf. Ac 16:25; Heb 2:12), and songs (cf. Rev 5:9; 14:3; 15:3; so, rightly, Garland, 212; O’Brien, 209; Lohse, 151). From our vantage point, these three terms appear to be more or less synonymous (so also Dunn, 238–39, who nonetheless contends that “some range of songs is presumably in view, unless we assume that the authors are being needlessly tautologous”; cf. Lincoln, 649, who notes, “They are the three most common terms for religious songs in the LXX, where they are used interchangeably”). Regardless of those nuances now lost on us, these songs are depicted as “spiritual.” (Whether or not the adjective pneumatikos, “spiritual,” GK 4461, is meant to modify “psalms,” “hymns,” and “songs,” or merely “songs,” is an open question, though it arguably applies to all three nouns [so also O’Brien, 210; Lincoln, 649; Lohse, 151].) Some of these songs were probably set (cf. 1:15–20 [?]), while others were likely spontaneous and even glossalalic (cf. Dunn, 239). Taken together, these three terms reveal the rich variety of praise in the worship of the Pauline churches in particular, if not of the early church in general. Whatever the precise form and content of these songs, they were to be sung with a thankful or grateful heart toward God. Gratitude should well up within believers for the grace that God has bestowed on them in the Beloved (cf. Lohse, 152).
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 dwells 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.
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