His Achievement Are We
“LET the word of Christ be making its home in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing yourselves; in psalms, in hymns, in spiritual songs, singing, with grace in your hearts to God. And whatsoever you may be doing, in word or in act, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God, the Father, through Him” (Col.3:16,17).
The word of Christ needs to be making its home in us, not merely visiting upon occasion. And it needs to be present in abundance, or “richly,” not in short supply, or “poorly.” How we need to be thinking Christ’s thoughts and to be governed by His motives! “Therefore we also, from the day on which we hear” (Col.1:9a) concerning the realization of “the grace of God in truth” (Col.1:6)—whenever we learn that it has been given to any of our fellow believers—we “do not cease praying for you and requesting that you may be filled full with the realization of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col.1:9b).
This is Paul’s prayer for us, for “you to walk worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the realization of God; being endued with all power, in accord with the might of His glory, for all endurance and patience with joy; at the same time giving thanks to the Father, Who makes you competent for a part of the allotment of the saints, in light” (Col.1:l0-12).
As a figure of association, Paul uses the expression “the word of” in a number of places in reference to various foundational unfoldings of truth entrusted to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of the following seven expressions or passages from Paul’s ministry present or make reference to “the word of” (the teaching concerning) a particular consequential theme: “the word of [God’s] grace” (Acts 20:32); “the word of promise” (Rom.9:9); “the word of the truth” (2 Tim.2:15); “the words of the faith” (1 Tim.4:6); “the word of life” (Phil.2:16); “the word of the cross” (1 Cor.1:18); “the word of the conciliation” (2 Cor.5:19).*1
Yet here in Colossians 3:16 Paul’s expression is “the word of Christ.” We are to heed his entreaty concerning it: “Let the word of Christ be making its home in you . . . . ” Just as any consideration of “the word of God’s grace” will concern itself with the nature of and various key elements pertinent to grace, all our meditations upon “the word of Christ” will be centered upon those most notable things pertaining to Him.
Paul speaks to us from the vantage point of his own evangel, the evangel which came to him through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal.1:12), which he heralded among the nations (Gal.2:2). He does not even take up the many details of the personal ministry of Jesus, those things associated with the Lord’s “personal entrance” to “the entire people of Israel” (cp Acts 13:24; Matt.15:24). Paul begins his evangel where Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John conclude theirs. From beginning to end (cp Acts 13:16-48; Phil. 2:8-11), Paul’s message is the sacrifice of Christ and “the blood of His cross” (Col.1:20).
THE “SCANDAL” OF THE CROSS
To Paul, “the word” which is “of Christ,” is vitally connected with “the word of the cross,” the sufferings and shame associated with His death. Yet it centers upon, to borrow a phrase from Peter, “the glories after these” (cp 1 Peter 1:11), upon glories which were hidden from the prophets of old of whom Peter writes, glories which are only revealed through the “prophetic scriptures” (Rom.16:26) of the apostle Paul.
In itself, the word of the cross heralds, not Christ glorified, but Christ crucified. To those not called, it appears to be a very stupid message (1 Cor.1:21). It “is stupidity, indeed, to those who are perishing, yet to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor.1:18). It speaks of the terrible suffering, the pain, humiliation, cursedness and abandonment of the cross. It presents a bloody Sacrifice—in all its stark ugliness and terror—yet a Sacrifice which is a fragrant odor to God (Eph.5:2).
The “word of Christ” reveals to us, most notably, the significance and consequences of His sacrifice in achieving God’s purpose. Briefly, all is for God and His glory, and is according to His purpose. This entails the highest measure of blessing for His creatures. The entire ecclesia, and eventually all mankind, will one day find their All in God, yet only through Christ. God is working all together for good, but only through, and because of, the cross.
Sadly, many who gladly receive the word of the cross with respect to the terrible event itself and its sacrificial nature on their behalf, nonetheless become “enemies of the cross” (Phil.3: 18). For they insist on adding something of their own to its saving power, insisting that Christ’s work alone is insufficient to ensure their salvation. Though a few of them may succeed in doing so modestly, they all boast in their own flesh, in the supposed “part” which they fancy they had in the whole matter. Thus they nullify the “scandal” (skandalon, AV “offence”) or “snare of the cross,” its completeness or all-sufficiency for salvation, and so avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ Jesus (cf Gal.5:11; 6:12-14).
When God enlightens us, He makes known the word of Christ to us. He reveals the truth to us concerning His own righteousness, the good news concerning the gratuitous justification for all through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus (Rom.3:21-24). It is this word “of Christ,” this gracious message pertaining to Him, which must dwell in us if we would enjoy and experience its practical benefits.
So, by His grace, we are heeding Paul’s entreaty to “be rejoicing in the Lord. To be writing the same to you is not, indeed, irksome for me, yet it is your security. Beware of curs, beware of evil workers” (Phil.3:1,2). We are “glorying in Christ Jesus,” not in ourselves (not in “that flesh of yours”), for we “have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil.3:3; Gal.6:13).
We must beware of those who teach differently, who, like wild dogs of the street, voraciously take to themselves all manner of things from Scripture (since they are “in the Bible”) which, as employed by them, detract from, if not altogether deny, the work of Christ. Thus many are distracted from a greater appreciation of the word of Christ, and many more are debarred from it altogether.
FAITH IN WHAT GOD HAS SPOKEN
The word of Christ needs to be making its home in us not only richly, but “in all wisdom” (Col.3:16). “Brethren, do not become little children in disposition. But in evil be minors, yet in disposition become mature” (1 Cor.14:20). “Do not become imprudent, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph.5:17). It is not sufficient simply to read the Scriptures casually, or to repeat many passages from its pages merely by rote. We would become aware of the facts which it contains, and acquire an intelligent grasp of what the Scriptures actually say. This itself is a great advance. Even then, however, we would judge each passage as to whom it concerns, when it applies, and in what sense it is true. This calls for competency, and especially for wisdom. Wisdom is “the faculty which makes the highest and best application of knowledge” (KEYWORD CONCORDANCE, p.329). We need to use our minds*2 and to use them well.
“Faith is out of tidings [what is heard], yet the tidings through a declaration of Christ” (Rom.10:17). “The sword of the spirit . . . is a declaration of God” (Eph.6:17). As Paul says, “In accepting the word heard from us, from God, you receive, not the word of men, but, according as it truly is, the word of God, which is operating also in you who are believing” (1 Thess.2:13).
Our faith, if it is “the faith [which is] of God” (cp Mark 11:23a), is found only in what God has spoken, not in man’s mistranslations, misapplications, or inferences. We need to be fostered (NOURISHed) in “the words of the faith” (1 Tim.4:6) and to learn to think and express ourselves accordingly.
It can certainly be helpful to be “admonished” (MIND-PLACED) by those who teach us well, but we also need to be admonishing ourselves, “in psalms, in hymns, in spiritual songs, singing [whether literally or figuratively], with grace in our hearts to God” (Col.3:16). It is at least as important for true grace to be a matter of the heart as it is for it to be a matter of the intellect. The joy and assurance of God’s gracious goodness to us cannot live in mere intellectual correctness. It is vital for us to be correct that we might be faithful, but it then becomes vital for us “to know the love of Christ as well which transcends knowledge—that you may be completed for the entire complement of God” (Eph.3:19).
Everything, whatsoever we may be doing, in word or in act, is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, with thanksgiving to God, the Father, through Him (Col.3:17). Anything that cannot be done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, is not to be done at all. This entreaty reminds us of Paul’s words, in Romans 12:1,2, to present our bodies a sacrifice, living, holy, well pleasing to God. This is our logical divine service. We are not to be configured to this eon, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, for us to be testing what is the will of God, good and well pleasing and perfect.
If it was foolish for Israel of old to say, “All that Yahweh speaks we shall do” (Ex.19:8a), it is beyond foolishness for us to make a similar response when reading these words of Paul’s. We laud and commend the ideal, but we recognize that we must have a Saviour if we are even to begin to live in accord with these lofty admonitions.
FAITHFULNESS VS. SUCCESS
In the phrase, “Let the word of Christ be making its home in you richly” (Col.3:16), the idea is not “let” in the sense of “permit,” but “let” in the sense of, “Let each one be fully assured in his own mind,” or, “Let there be light.” It is the imperative mood, not the thought of cooperation. We, who are nothing (Gal.6:3), are nonetheless given this imperative.
If we have any hope in heeding this imperative, however, it is not to be in ourselves. The confidence that we have is “through Christ toward God” (2 Cor.3:4). “Not that we are competent of ourselves, to reckon anything as out of ourselves [would be wrong], but our competency is of God” (2 Cor.3:5). “He, then, Who is supplying you with the spirit, and operating works of power among you—” [will be completing what He has undertaken] (Gal.3:5; cp Gal.3:3).
Concerning the one who is infirm in the faith, the apostle says, “he will be made to stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom.14:4). Patience will wait upon God and for His appointed time. Similarly, wisdom will shun all human wisdom, especially that concerning “the free will of man,” while recognizing and accepting God’s wise counsels as to “what must be” (Rom.8:26). We simply wish to be meek and humble, to rely upon God instead of man, to boast in our Saviour instead of ourselves. It is not that we wish to be lax in the meantime, until God gives us further saving grace. Not at all. To the contrary, as in all things, we long to be faithful and we seek to be faithful. Indeed, we are thrilled that, in measure, we are faithful, and we give God all the glory.
But when we fail, as we often do, we wish to recognize that this is because of what we are in ourselves. We are members of the old humanity. We sin because of what we are. We are flesh. “The disposition of the flesh is death . . . because the disposition of the flesh is enmity to God, for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither is it able” (Rom.8:6,7). Indeed, whenever we obey or disobey, we act due to a cause and therefore must act as we do whenever we do act as we do.
Until we recognize and understand this simple fact, we can never be humble of heart. Regardless of what we may say, so long as we finally see something of ourselves as the key to our problems, we are boasting in the flesh and not relying on God. The question is not what is popular, but what is true; not what “works,” but what is faithful; not what seems right, but what actually is right.
Everyone wants to succeed, even those who have no interest at all in obeying God or in pleasing Him. No one enjoys the suffering which attends failure. Since all genuine believers have a new disposition and walk, it would seem that each one would have some measure of interest not merely in success, but in faithfulness. However, unless we have a greater desire to be faithful than merely to be successful, we will care more about success than faithfulness. Even if we have a considerable desire to be faithful, if our desire to succeed—to have what we want—is greater than our desire to be faithful, we will surely be disqualified as to the faith (2 Tim.3:1-7).
We may well attain a great many of our goals, even including an externally upright walk, while all the while being remarkably unfaithful. Unless our desire for faithfulness is greater than our desire for success, we will not enjoy the former even if we should have the latter in abundance. If we do not care how we succeed, we will never actually succeed at all. The only true “success” is found in faithfulness to God. Yet faithfulness is impossible apart from the faith.
Knowing the truth and loving the truth—while making some progress in pursuing righteousness even though falling far short of the ideal—is ever so much better than being ignorant of the truth or willfully repudiating what is actually true, even if we should manage to gratify many of our desires for success and happiness by so doing.
The withdrawal (or “apostasy”) from the faith is inevitable, for the spirit is saying “explicitly” that it will occur (1 Tim.4:1,2; 2 Tim.3:1-13; 4:3,4). The only question, from the human standpoint, is whether we will be a part of it. Therefore, under God and in His grace, we wish to save ourselves from such a course (cp 1 Tim.4:1,16). Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders serve ideally as a solemn entreaty for us as well: “Now I am aware that, after I am out of reach, burdensome wolves will be entering among you, not sparing the flocklet. And from among yourselves will arise, men, speaking perverse things to pull away disciples after themselves. Wherefore, watch, remembering that for three years, night and day, I cease not admonishing each one with tears. And now I am committing you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to edify and give the enjoyment of an allotment among all who have been hallowed” (Acts 20:29-32).
LIVING BY THE FAITH OF THE EVANGEL
If to us Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, we have been called and we are “in Christ” (1 Cor.1:24). But to be growing in assurance that we are indeed living our lives in the faith of the evangel, we need to be growing in an understanding of the evangel itself and in a practical realization of God’s faithful hand in our daily affairs.
“The word of the cross . . . to us who are being saved . . . is the power of God” (1 Cor.1:18). Or, to say the same thing, the power of God is the word of the cross. It constitutes God’s appointed means. The word of the cross is the agency which God uses to savingly affect us. It is “powerful to God” (cp 2 Cor.10:4). Wisdom will not drink from any other fountain, no matter how sweet its water or promising its cures.
The word of the cross, and its associated revelations, constitute the word of Christ. It is the agency which God uses to effect our practical salvation. He causes us to be influenced by it in ways which result in salvation, in our preservation or deliverance each day according to His own counsels. “The evangel . . . is God’s power for salvation to everyone who is believing” (Rom.1:16). Consequently, we say, Let the word of Christ be making its home in you richly.
*1 for a consideration of each of these expressions, cf “Herald the Word,” UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, vol. LXXVI, pp.89-94.
*2 It is interesting to note that the elements of the Greek word for “foolish,” anoêton, are UN-MINDed.
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