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

Month: September 2010

Reading the Orbits Rightly

What do you think of when you hear the word orbit?

Of course you know that our moon has one.  And you know that the earth, along with the other planets of our solar system, follow their own orbits around the sun.  Each of those planets has their own moon(s) that trace an orbit around them.  And you’re aware that all the other planets and their moons do similarly.  These are stellar orbits.  They occur on a macro-scale.

Some of you also think of the orbits taking place at a micro-scale.  Right this instant there are electrons chasing an orbit around their proton in every cell of everything we know as reality.  You and I can’t see these orbits with our natural vision, but we now know that they exist—indeed, have existed from the beginning—and continue on in the reality of their orbits even when we are unaware of them.  These are sub-atomic orbits.

But now we are being told by scientists that there are other orbits taking place on a super-macro scale.  There is evidence to suggest that entire galaxies move together in orbits around a common center.  It staggers the imagination!  These are inter-galactic orbits.

What do Jupiter, the electrons in the atoms of your eye and our solar system all share in common?  Orbits.  As vastly different as those orbits are, they are all alike in that they have a determined course they chart around nucleus.  As greatly as they differ in their speed, span and splendor, each of these circle rhythmically and consistently around and around and around.

Interesting.  But what’s the point?  Simply this – Just as there are consistent, God-created movements at every level of physical creation, so there are divinely inspired, God-breathed movements at every level of Scripture.  And because this is true, we need to read the Scriptures with an eye to all those levels of movement.

Too often we train our eyes to expect and thus to see God’s Word at only one level.  Perhaps we have established the discipline of reading a chapter of the Bible each day.  Wonderful!  We may tend, then, to look for a particular verse that we feel has something to say to us.  We have probably learned to look for the divinely inspired message at the level of the sentence.  Or maybe we’ve learned to think also about how sentences string together and add context and meaning to one another—we’re reading each paragraph for its meaning.  Or perhaps even further we try to comprehend how all those paragraphs relate to one another and we find the message, not only of a sentence or a paragraph, but of a chapter (or sub-section) of a book of Scripture.

Are you starting to see the different divinely-inspired levels of Scripture?  But it goes both smaller and larger than that!  First the larger scale – have you ever tried to see how the Lord has given movement and meaning in how the chapters (or sub-sections) of a whole book fit together to make up one message?  Or how all the books of one particular author (like Paul or Peter) fit together and complement one another?  Did this just happen?  Or did God breathe out this level of meaning as well?  Indeed, He did!  Even consider what God is saying to us in the two testaments of the Bible—Old and New.  God did this as well.  But think also of the more infinitesimal—God breathed out every word of Scripture.  So we need also to examine the parts of the sentence—each and every word is there because of God’s intention.  Indeed, the very tense of the verbs and the number of the nouns carry meaning for us.

Please understand – as we look at all these levels of Scripture we are looking only for what God Himself breathed into the text.  We’re not looking for creativity on our part, but at the revelation on God’s part.  We are only looking for what God actually put into the text of the Bible.  Yet too often we miss a great deal of this because we’ve trained ourselves to only look for God’s message at one level.

Here are some exercises for you.  Use them to train yourself to “see” more faithfully what God is saying to us at every level of Scripture.

Words – What does Galatians 3:16 teach us about the importance of each and every word of Scripture and its form?  Why does the Apostle make the distinction in this verse?

Chapters – What does Isaiah’s twice-repeated refrain (“There is no peace for the wicked,” 48:22; 57:21) teach us about the message of the second half of Isaiah (chapters 40-66)?  Did you notice that these two statements divide Isaiah 40-66 into three symmetrical divisions of nine chapters each?  Why do you suppose that is?  What is the unique message of each of those sections?  How do those three fit together into one entire message for Isaiah 40-66?  How then does that compare with the message of the first half of Isaiah (1-39)?

Books – Watchman Nee, in his classic exposition of Ephesians, reduced the entire message of that letter to three words: Sit, Walk, Stand.  Can you find from the text of Ephesians why this is a faithful representation of Paul’s intent?  Here are a few clues: 1:20; 2:6; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15; 6:11, 13, 14.

These are just for starters.  As you read and study God’s Word, ask the Author Himself to open the eyes of your heart to see what He has revealed at every level of Scripture and to hear what He says with a view to obedience.  Remember, the point of God’s Word is not to give us trinkets of information for the satisfaction of our intellect.  No, He spoke to us in written form that we might obey Him, be conformed to His image and give our lives to the fulfillment of His great purpose—brining glory to Himself in every arena of created reality!

In Everything …

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17)

What Paul says now seems to serve a summarizing effect for the whole of verses 12 through 16.  The Apostle now casts a net as broadly as he can, using words to bring everything possible under this closing exhortation.  The English word “Whatever” actually represents four words in the Greek.  The word pan has here the broadly inclusive the sense of “everything (anything) whatsoever.”[1] The words ho ti are the uncompounded form of a relative pronoun which means “whatever.”[2] The combination of these three words is a strengthened effort as saying “whatever”[3] or “whatsoever.”[4] Then the addition of ean achieves and even further heightened indefiniteness.[5] The effect is a clear attempt to make a statement so broadly inclusive as to gather up all possible scenarios.  Clearly God intends that worship should touch all of life and all of life should become worship.

That which is so broadly considered is whatsoever “you do.” The present tense points to whatever the present moment may at any given time find one engaged in.  This includes both what one does “in word or deed.” The first noun is used in its most general sense of “word.”  The second noun means here simply “deed” or “action” in contrast to “word.”[6] The singular forms look to each and every individual act or word and brings them under the microscope.  Anything whatsoever that may fall under the broad categories of something it is possible either to say or to do, whatever word or work you may find yourself occupied with at any given moment – this is the Apostle’s net cast as broadly and as inclusively as possible.

Having thus gathered up all possible endeavors any one of us might at any given time engage in, the Apostle now says we must “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The imperative “do” is supplied in English, though it is not present in the Greek text.  Yet clearly some such word is expected to be supplied mentally by the reader.  Reading an imperative such as “do” seems the safest assumption given the previous subjunctive (“do”).  The “all” is shorthand for the fuller earlier attempt at gathering all possible scenarios together.  We are to do “all” the “whatsoever”(s) “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  The historical person of “Jesus” is “Lord” over all our individual words and works in each an every moment of life.  But just what is meant by “in the name of”?  Given the broad and inclusive nature of the wording of this sentence it probably has the widest sense possible.  To do something “in the name of the Lord Jesus” is then to do it in dependence upon Him, relying upon His strength and power.  It is to do whatever we do or say whatever we say for the furtherance of His established purposes.  It is also to do it for His glory, that He might be the one noticed and remembered in our words and actions.  To be such, each and every thing we say and do must be in conformity with the character of Jesus and with His revealed will and pleasure.  We should so act and speak that it would be as if Jesus Himself were performing the act or speaking the word.  In that sense it would be what Paul described of his own life: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

And all of this is to be done, “giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” This is the cognate verb to the adjective just used in verse 15 to speak of thankfulness.  As we have seen thankfulness is a major theme of this letter (1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 16, 17; 4:2).  Here the present tense emphasizes ongoing, regular action.  The participial form modifies the assumed imperative “do” and is used to express attendant circumstances—in the unfolding of our daily lives thanksgiving should ever and always be permeating the atmosphere of all our words and works.  This gratitude is directed “to God the Father.”  Our thanksgiving “to God the Father” is to be offered “through Him,” clearly referring to “the Lord Jesus,” and viewing Him in His role as our mediator at God’s right ha

[1] Thayer, 492.

[2] Hariris, 171.

[3] BAGD, 632.

[4] Thayer, 492.

[5] BAGD, 586; Harris, 171.

[6] BAGD, 307.

Where the Scripture Dwells (Part 3)

“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 3:16)

As we continue dissecting this incredible Scripture sentence, check here and here for the previous two posts.

We come now to the clause “with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” To what is this connected?  Does this rightly modify that which precedes (“teaching and admonishing”) or does it modify what follows (“singing”)?  The former is represented in the NASB, NKJV; the latter in the ESV, NET, NIV, NRSV.  If we connect it to the former, then “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” would identify the means by which the “teaching and admonishing” take place (thus the NASB’s “with”).[1] If we connect it to the latter, then “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” identify what is sung[2] or the instrument for expressing their praise (“singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God”).[3] Commentators are divided; a decision is not easy.  The scales, however, seem to be tipped by holding it next to the parallel passage from Ephesians (5:19).  There the three-fold descriptions of songs are unambiguously connected to “speaking to one another.”  So here it seems best to understand “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” as modifying “teaching and admonishing” and thus indicating a (not the exclusive) means by which such “teaching and admonishing” takes place.  To this reasoning Moo adds two other arguments: First, that this understanding addresses the fact that there is no “and” before the third participle (“singing”).  Second, this makes for a balance between the two clauses.[4]

It may seem awkward that one’s singing can at one and the same time be both “to God” and “to one another.”  Yet this is an idea familiar to us from the Old Testament.[5] This is instructive to us for our gathered worship.  Our singing is not simply to warm individual hearts, but to testify to, instruct, and edify the larger body.  Though we may have sung the words to the current song many times and though we may all be speaking the same words, this is nevertheless a God-ordained means of instruction and upbuilding for the whole of the gathered church.  We may be instructed by a worship leader to simply “sing to God” and not worry about the person next to you and what they think of your voice, but the fact is that we are to consider the person next to us and to realize that while we are addressing our praise to God, we are inserting truth into our brother or sister’s heart.

Now just what does Paul mean by “with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”?  A great deal of scholarship has gone into trying to differentiate between the three nouns, but a consensus of meaning remains elusive.  All three appear again in Ephesians 5:19.  Gregory of Nyssa (In Psalm. 2, 3) made “psalm” a song produced by the playing of an instrument, the “song” a melody sung with the voice, and “hymn” a song of praise to God for His gracious acts and gifts.[6]

The noun “psalms” can certainly be used to refer to what is found in the Old Testament book of Psalms (Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33).  Paul lists it alongside “a teaching” and “a revelation” as something a believer may come to the gathered worship of believers to share (1 Cor. 14:26).  It would seem then to be either an actual psalm from the book of Psalms, sung in worship to God and for the edification of the believers or a contemporary song composed along those same lines and used for the same purposes.  There may be an emphasis here on the fact that this was singing with musical accompaniment,[7] though the exclusivity of this meaning is not to be pressed.[8] The noun “hymns” is used only here and Ephesians 5:19, though its cognate is used four times (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Heb. 2:12).  The word describes a song composed and sung in praise of God.  The New Testament may contain examples or fragments of such hymns composed with specifically Christian meaning (e.g. Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. 3:16).  The noun “songs” is used again by Paul only in Ephesians 5:19.  Beyond this is it used four times by John in Revelation, twice referring to “a new song” (Rev. 14:3) and the other two times referring to “the song of Moses” and “the song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3).  It is the general word for “song” in the Greek language.  There is debate about whether the adjective (“spiritual”) modifies just this last noun[9] or all three nouns.[10] In favor of taking it with just the final noun is the fact that it agrees with it in gender (feminine), while the previous two nouns are masculine.  Though this does not absolutely disqualify the former sense, it does point to the latter.  Also, given the general nature of the noun (“songs”), it seems more likely that Paul would want to qualify it.  But just what does Paul mean by “spiritual”?  The word is used in the NT with reference to that which is caused by, filled with or pertaining or corresponding to the Holy Spirit.[11] Beyond this commentators have offered various meanings such as: “prompted by the Spirit,” “spiritual,” or simply “sacred” as opposed to secular.[12] Perhaps it is best to realize that the same expression appears in the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:19.  There it follows upon Paul’s command to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18b).  The notion there is not one of quantity, but of control (cf. the illustration of note being drunk on wine, 5:18a).  Thus we should simply conclude that Paul is describing songs that are offered in praise under the control of the Holy Spirit.  To offer any conclusion more specific than this runs the risk of speculation or bending Scripture to support partisan issues.

Most commentators agree that it is unwise to attempt too narrow a demarcation between these three nouns.  Precise classification of song types was probably not the Apostle’s intent.  Perhaps Paul was not enumerating three strict classifications of musical worship, but simply piling up the nouns to make his point – that in our gathered worship we must be “teaching and admonishing” one another so that the word of Christ has central place in our worship and is made to dwell richly in our hearts.  Wright says, “Together these three terms indicate a variety and richness of Christian singing which should [not] be stereotyped into one mould . . .”[13]

These three, though probably modifying “teaching and admonishing,” naturally suggest Paul’s third participle: “singing.” This too, like the previous participles, is a present active in form.  Just how does this participle relate to the two that have gone before?  Some see all three as coordinate, and thus the NIV supplies “and,” though it is not present in the original text.  It seems best, however, to understand this entire participial clause as subordinate two the previous one—indicating “the attitude or disposition which is to accompany the previously mentioned instruction and admonition.”[14] This then yields a syntactical relationship something like this:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you,

teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,

singing within thankfulness in your hearts to God.[15]

Our singing, then, is to be carried out “with thankfulness.” The noun is the common word for “grace” and some have taken the word in that sense here (KJV, NET).  The word, as the NASB translation demonstrates, can mean “thankfulness” (or ‘gratitude,” NIV, NRSV) for such divine grace.[16] Given the emphasis upon thankfulness in Colossians as a whole (1:3, 12; 2:7; 4:2) and in this immediate context (3:15, 17), perhaps we should understand it in this way here as well.[17] This gratitude is to be “in your hearts.” This does not refer to some kind of “silent singing.”  Rather the word “heart” refers to the essential core of one’s being, including the intellect, emotion, and volition.  This means that the indwelling word that we share among ourselves by teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs should have its effect first within us and then all our responses to one another should arise from an inside-out orientation.  We do not derive our heart’s condition from outward circumstances and relationships.  Rather we allow the word of Christ to richly dwell within us and then govern our outward relationships and interactions from this inward state of heart.  From a heart truly grateful for the ongoing grace of God received by His Spirit’s work through Christ’s word, we sing.  All of this—singing with thankfulness in our hearts—is to be “to God.” We live with one another in this word-reigning, grace-receiving, edification-dealing way with one another on a horizontal level because there is all the time a vertical relationship with God that is governing all our earthly relationships.

This verse finds a close parallel in Ephesians 5:18-20.  The parallel is significant when we note that the key concept “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” is changed to “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).  Just how should this substitution be understood?  Do they describe the same reality—i.e., one is filled by the Spirit by letting the word of Christ dwell in him richly?  Are they describing two realities that are somehow loosely connected—i.e., you cannot be filled with the Spirit without letting the word of Christ dwell in your richly and you cannot let the word of Christ dwell in you richly without being filled with the Spirit?  Holy Spirit’s role is to bring glory to Christ (John 14:14-15) and He serves as the Illuminator who enables one to understand Christ’s word.  Thus the two can never be removed from one another.

God’s intent is that we live together in peace-ruling (v.15a), thanks-expressing (v.15b), word-indwelling (v.16a), and praise-singing (v.16b) assemblies.

[1] Alford, 3:237; Fee, 652-653; Lenski, 177; Moo, 287; O’Brien, 208.

[2] Eadie, 252; Wright, 145.

[3] Bruce, 158; Harris, 169; Hendriksen, 161.

[4] Moo, 287.

[5] Fee, 652.

[6] Lohse, 151.

[7] Lightfoot, 223; Lohse, 151; Rienecker, 581.

[8] Bruce, 159.

[9] Fee, 653-654; Moo, 290; Wright, 145.

[10] Lohse, 151; O’Brien, 210.

[11] BAGD, 678-679.

[12] Harris, 169.

[13] Wright, 145.

[14] O’Brien, 210.

[15] Moo, 288.

[16] BAGD, 878.

[17] O’Brien, 210.

Where the Scripture Dwells (Part 2)

“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)

Let me pick up our observations on this important verse.  Check the previous post here for context of the opening words.

Paul follows up with two participles: “teaching and admonishing.” Some contend that these participles receive imperatival weight from the previous imperative (“Let . . . dwell,” cf. NRSV)[1], yet this seems doubtful[2] and it is best to find their meaning in subordinate relationship to that imperative.  Just what is that relationship?  They could indicate the means by which we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly,[3] or the mode in which this dwelling becomes reality[4], or they could indicate the result of letting that word so dwell within us.[5] There is obviously a evenly divided split in opinion regarding the function of these participles in the sentence.  All in all the best option seems to view them either as expressing means or mode, the difference in meaning being negligible.

These two actions have already been used to describe Paul’s personal ministry in 1:28, though in reverse order.  Now they are to characterize what the local believers are to practice with “one another.” The plural form of the reflexive pronoun (“one another”) can function also in a reciprocal manner and pictures the back-and-forth nature of the fellowship intended.[6] In speaking of “teaching” Paul uses a word which is used at times to speak of official teaching of doctrine within the church and the scope of those who are to undertake this ministry is limited (1 Tim. 2:12).  But here the word is clearly broadened to include all members of the body of Christ.  The word “admonishing” comes from a word which in turn comes from a compound of “mind” and “to place/put.”  Thus the literal sense of the word is “to put in mind.”[7] It means to admonish, to warn, or to instruct in the sense of “giving instructions in regard to belief or behavior.”[8] Being coordinate (“and”) with one another they present a positive (“teaching”) and more negative (“admonishing”) side to the total ministry of the word among the believers.

As one can quickly see this ministry must be undertaken “in all wisdom.” This is the third time this precise phrase has been used in Colossians (1:9, 28; 3:16).  Most telling is its use in 1:28 where it similarly tells us the manner in which Paul undertook these same two ministries.  Wisdom is a significant theme in this letter (1:9, 28; 2:3, 23; 3:16; 4:5), playing a more prominent role than it does in Ephesians (1:8, 17; 3:10).  This may be due to a special emphasis on wisdom among the false teachers in Colossae (2:23).  Paul has in view “all” or every form or expression of God’s wisdom.

[1] Lightfoot, 222; Lohse, 150; Robertson, 4:505.

[2] Wallace, 652.

[3] Harris, 168.

[4] Moo, 228; O’Brien, 207.

[5] Alford, 3:238; Wright, 144.

[6] Robertson, Grammar, 690.

[7] Thayer, 429.

[8] Friberg, 273.

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