“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.