"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: August 2010

Where the Scripture Dwells

“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.” (Colossians 3:15)

I’ll warn you now, that I’m going to take at least three separate posts to try to unpack this marvelous verse!  So, to get us started within Paul’s context, I ask: How may we ever keep the well of God’s grace bubbling up within us (vv.12-14)?  How are we to cultivate a habitual gratitude (v.15)?

The Apostle steers us directly into the path with his next imperative: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” This is an obvious parallel to the opening expression of the previous verse (“let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”).  The expression “The word of Christ” is found only here in the New Testament.  The “word of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:8; 4:15; 2 Thess. 3:1) or the “word of God” (e.g. Rom. 9:6; 1 Cor. 14:36; Eph. 6:17) are more common.  Our present expression, however, is in keeping with the Christological focus of this letter.  Elsewhere in this letter Paul speaks of the afflictions “of Christ” (1:24), the circumcision “of Christ” (2:11), the substance (lit. body) “of Christ” (2:17), the peace “of Christ” (3:15), and the mystery “of Christ” (4:3).  The genitive (“of Christ”) here could be subjective (“the word which Christ speaks”)[1] or objective (“the word that speaks about Christ”).[2] Probably the latter is closer to Paul’s intent, but perhaps he provides an intentional ambiguity—it is the message Christ gave, which expounds and explains who He is, that has its core and center in Him.[3] This would be another way of referring to the gospel message itself, as expounded from the Scriptures—primarily at that time Old Testament (he does, after all, refer to Him as “Christ” or “Messiah[4]), but also to include in time the New Testament (cf. Rom. 16:25-27).

This “word of Christ” we are commanded to “Let . . . dwell” in us.  The present imperative form, as with the command of verse 15, demands that action be taken repeatedly, as a habit of life.  The word simply means to dwell or live in.  But here surely it means to dwell personally and powerfully, pulling in some of the idea of the parallel verb from verse 15 (“Let . . . rule”).  It is used five times in the New Testament, all by Paul and all metaphorically.  It describes God (2 Cor. 6:16) by the Holy Spirit residing in the believer (Rom. 8:11; 2 Tim. 1:14).  It also, closer to our usage here, can describe faith dwelling in the believer (2 Tim. 1:5).  Here the word of Christ is to dwell “in you.” Continuing the idea of their corporate experience and life (from verse 15) the plural form means “in your assembly”[5] not simply in each one of you personally.  Certainly for this to be true of all of them together it must be true of each one individually, but the point is that if “the peace of Christ” is to rule their relationships (v.15) then “the word of Christ” must dwell in their midst (v.16).  Personal opinion must bow to Christ’s word.  Personal feelings must yield to what Christ says.  Individual ideas must bow to Christ’s determinations through His word.  When this happens then peace will rule in their relationships.  Paul emphasizes even further the nature of this indwelling by saying it must be “richly” undertaken.  The adverb is used four times in the NT, three of those by Paul (Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 6:17; Titus 3:6; 2 Peter 1:11).  It is related to the more frequently used noun which is translated as “rich.”  The adverb thus has the sense of richly, abundantly, and lavishly.

When God’s people live together in fellowship and gather together for worship “the word of Christ” must have a prominent and primary place.  Christ dwells among His people where His word is anticipated, sought out, welcomed, and allowed to rule.  Christ’s own indwelling is enabled through His word preached and taught in the power of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Bruce, 283; Lightfoot, 222.

[2] O’Brien, 206; Moo, 285-286.

[3] Dunn, 236.

[4] Moo, 286.

[5] Thayer, 217.

Grace and Peace

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”  (Colossians 3:15)

To his previous imperatives the Apostle now adds another command: “Let the peace of Christ rule.” The present imperative demands that action be taken repeatedly, habitually, and as a pattern of life.  The verb meant to be a judge or umpire in the public athletic games.  Thus it came more generally to mean to preside, to direct, to control.[1] That which we are to given such broad powers is “the peace of Christ.”  Just how is the genitive to be construed?  It could be an objective genitive: the peace which Christ possesses.  But surely it is a subjective genitive: the peace which Christ gives, the peace which comes from Christ,[2] or “the peace brought by Christ.”[3] Robertson suggests a combination of the two, saying it is the peace that Christ “has and gives.”[4] The peace which Christ brings and gives to us is first redemptive and vertical—establishing peace with God (Col. 1:20).  From that restored relationship Christ then brings to each of us peace within our hearts (the peace of God) and peace within our circle of relationships.

The arena of this peace’s reign is “in your hearts.” The heart is the core of one’s being—the place where intellect, volition, and emotion arise from.  In and from this locus peace is to be permitted sovereignty.  The preposition (“in”) identifies the location of peace’s rule, but it could mean either “in” or “among.”  The former would point to a personal experience; the latter to an interpersonal, communal experience.  Which is intended here?  Though the verb (“Let . . . rule”) is singular this phrase is in the plural.  Each individual believer is responsible to make certain that Christ’s peace reigns in his heart and from his heart in his relationships with others.  This would seem to underscore the more inclusive sense of the phrase “the peace of Christ” – it is something each one must receive, experience, and appropriate, but it is something that is also then experienced collectively as God’s people.

This is not simply a good idea passed on by the good Apostle.  Rather this is that “to which indeed you were called.” The preposition (“to”) is used spatially, meaning it was “into” such “peace” that we were called.  To this “you were called.”  Paul has just referred to the Colossians as “those who have been chosen by God” (v.12).  Now he elaborates on something of what that privileged grace gives and requires.  Here the aorist tense looks upon the event of God’s call extended to each believer.  The passive voice pictures God’s initiative in calling each believer.  God’s call to Himself through Christ is a call to be at peace (with Him) and to live at peace (with ourselves and one another).  This was a call “in one body.” This should be understood in the sense of “the oneness of the body being the sphere and element in which that peace of Christ was to be carried on and realized.”[5] Each one is called individually, but God is calling more than one and all of them together discover that they have been called into one unified body.

Paul now adds (“and”) a second imperative: “be thankful.” The verb (“be,” lit. “become”) may be drawing “attention to the ‘constant striving after this exalted aim as something not yet attained.’”[6] The present imperative demands repeated habitual action.  Gratitude is to become the default setting of our hearts and minds.  Though this particular adjective (“thankful”) is used only here in the New Testament, thanksgiving is major theme in Colossians (1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:16, 17; 4:2).  The present word designates the compulsion of one who is grateful to another for a favor bestowed.[7] Here then it views the believer’s gratitude in response to God’s grace extended into his life.  The emphasis may be not simply upon thanksgiving, but upon thanksgiving expressed.[8]

In the midst of all the hard work of relationships (vv.8-14) in which the believer must constantly be focused on extending grace to the next person, the well of God’s unceasing grace must constantly be bubbling up within him, manifesting itself in gratitude to God for His grace extended to him.  Apart from this ever present, always flowing supply of God’s grace and our resultant gratitude, we will soon run dry of grace to extend to the next person and our relationships will no longer be marked by the touch of God.

[1] Friberg, 93.

[2] Thayer, 182.

[3] BAGD, 227.

[4] Robertson, Grammar, 499.

[5] Alford, 3:237.

[6] O’Brien, 206.

[7] Rienecker, 581.

[8] O’Brien, 205.

The Binding Power of Love

“Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Colossians 3:14)

The Apostle has commanded that we “put on” five virtues (v.12, see this post).  He has now one more notion to add before he closes the sentence: “Beyond all these things.” By “these” Paul is referring to the graces set forth in verses 12 and 13.  This is clear because the imperative “put on” from verse 12 should be supplied here (which the NASB does by “put on” in italics).  The precise emphasis of the word translated “Beyond” has been debated.  It could mean “over” (as in the final piece of clothing placed over all the other garments/virtues; cf. NIV), “in addition to” (as in “love” being counted as just one more virtue to be “put on”; cf. NET), or “above (all)” (thus marking “love” as the superlative or crowning virtue in the list; cf. ESV).[1]

That additional virtue is to be “love.” Unlike the previous nouns, this one is accompanied by the definite article, while those virtues were anarthrous.  This touch underscores the elevated estimate of this final virtue.

Indeed, it is that “which is the perfect bond of unity.” The relative pronoun (“which”) is in the singular and points back to “love.”  The verb (“is”) is in the present tense underscoring the ongoing nature of “love.”  The noun (translated “bond of unity”) refers to “that which binds together.”  It could be used in non-biblical Greek to describe the fasteners that hold different ships together.  In Ephesians 4:3 Paul uses it to exhort the Christians to preserve the unity of the Spirit “in the bond [same word] of peace.” (cf. its only other New Testament usage in Acts 8:23).  Paul used it in Colossians 2:19 in a metaphorical reference to the “ligaments” which hold the body of Christ together in unity.  The relationships of believers within the body of Christ must operate in “love” if they are to maintain the unity of the Spirit.  That which here is thus bound together could be either the previously listed virtues of verses 12 and 13[2] or the believers who are to practice them.[3] The former seems the more likely, given the nature of the imagery used.  In that case “love” could be seen either as the final layer of clothing (virtue) “put on,” as a necklace or broach which caps off the clothing, or as a sash or girdle which physically binds all the virtues together.  Here Paul adds a genitive noun to round out the meaning (“perfect,” lit. “of perfection”).  The noun speaks of a state of completion or perfection.[4] But how are we to understand the genitive?  It is unlikely to be a subjective genitive: “the bond produced by perfection.”  It could possibly be a genitive of apposition: “the bond that consists of perfection.”[5] It might be a “descriptive gen[itive] indicating the bond which signifies or indicates perfection.”[6] Thus this makes it “the bond that unites all the virtues (which otherwise have no unity) in perfect harmony or the bond of perfect unity for the church.”[7] Or it could be an objective genitive: “the bond which brings about perfection” or “the bond that perfects.”[8] In this case it would be the “new self” as a corporate whole, not simply the individual believer, which is brought to “perfection.”[9]

[1] Harris, 163.

[2] Harris, 164; Moo, 281.

[3] DNTT, 3:592; Lohse, 148-149; O’Brien, 203-204.

[4] Friberg, 377.

[5] Robertson, 4:504.

[6] Rienecker, 581.

[7] BAGD, 785.

[8] Harris, 164-165; Lohse, 136, 148-149; Moo, 282; O’Brien, 203-204.

[9] Moo, 282.

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