Full of the Word - the Theory

When Paul exhorted the believers in Colossae to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly", they may have understood this command slightly differently from the way it is sometimes thought of by Christians today.

Whereas modern believers are likely to hear in it a challenge to go and read our Bibles more regularly and more deeply, it is probable that the Colossian believers would have heard in Paul's words an encouragement to teach each other more carefully and to sing to God more thankfully.

The key is in reading the whole verse:

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 your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

Please note the phrases, "as you teach..." and "as you sing..." Paul wanted the word to dwell richly in the lives of these believers, firstly, as they taught each other. The focus here is not on private piety but on corporate practice. Paul apparently envisaged a way of being the church together in which members regularly and wisely taught and admonished each other - this activity producing a rich indwelling of Christ's word in members' lives.

The second way Paul envisaged the word of Christ dwelling richly was as these early Christians sang to God. The experience of each member teaching and exhorting each other was to be reinforced by the activity of corporate singing - which in context must imply that the songs of the early church were doctrinal in nature and reinforced gospel truth in the minds of those singing them.

Let's think about the key words in this verse:

Word of Christ - Most commentators agree that this phrase (which is used nowhere else in the new testament in this exact form) refers to the body of truth about Christ - who he is and what he has done, including Christ's own teaching and that of the apostles. This body of truth has been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writings which we now know as the Bible, both old and new testaments. Calvin rightly concludes: The Scriptures must be read with this intention, that in them we find Christ.

Admonish - while "teaching" describes positively imparting spiritual principles to one another, admonishing means doing this with a warning. An example might be "do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery."

Wisdom - a recurrent term in the letter, Paul is keen that the believers' teaching and exhorting is done wisely. This means knowing what to say when, how to say it, in what spirit and with what application.

Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs - although commentators love discussing these terms, the reality is that they are not really defined in the new testament. A possible distinction between the three terms may be that a) psalms refers to the contents of the biblical book by the same name b) hymns may describe Christian songs used regularly among the churches (examples may include Phil 2:6-11 and 1 Tim 3:16 and c) spiritual songs may describe spontaneous songs which are contributed during a specific gathering of the church but which are not written down and used regularly.


In conclusion, whereas Paul is not denying the role of elders in teaching the word, his interest here is primarily on every member teaching and every member giving thanks. This would have been more natural in the churches he served, which tended to meet in homes and be of a certain size which encouraged a high degree of interaction and one-anothering.

The church of my dreams? Believers, who have previously been taught the word of Christ and had a foundation laid in their lives together, meeting together and speaking the truth wisely and specifically into one other's lives, in the context of singing with gratitude to God.

We could call this edification and it seemed to have been the staple diet of the early church's life.

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