Open your Bibles to Colossians 3:16. Today marks the last Sunday in 2015. At this time of the year it is natural for us to reflect on the year gone by. Asking questions such as, was this year what we expected? Did we achieve what we hoped to achieve? Are we today the person that we hoped we would be? Many times, the answers to those types of questions are depressing.
This then translates to the infamous New Year's Resolutions. Many times those resolutions are oriented towards worldly things such as losing weight, learning a foreign language, paying off debt, etc. Each one of those goals may be good, but they are not the best.
- 1 Timothy 4:18 - “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
As Christians, as another year ends, and a new one begins, our eyes should not be set on worldly goals, as much as heavenly goals. We should resolve ourselves to be in line with God's will in all that we do, not for the purpose of earning salvation, but because we love the Lord.
As we begin another year at Cornerstone Church, my desire for 2016 is that we would be more godly. I want each of us, from the new believer to the 30 year saint to be more like Jesus then you are now.
So the question is how do we do this? Is it as simple as a New Year's Resolution? “I resolve to be more like Christ.” No it is not. The answer, I believe is found in our text for today, Colossians 3:16.
- “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” - Colossians 3:16
If we are to become more like Christ as a Church, we must implement verse 16. Why do I believe this? Because Jesus taught it. In John 17:17 Jesus prays to God, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Once you become a Christian the work is not done, it is just beginning. Between justification and glorification is sanctification. Or to say it another way, in-between being saved and going to heaven is a journey of becoming more holy. Right now we are on that journey, and the means by which we become Holy is the Word.
Word of Christ
So with this in mind, let us examine verse 16 in sections. First let us look at the phrase, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” What is meant by this?
Generally when you think of another phrase for the Bible, you think of the phrase, the Word of God. When you hear this you think, the entire Bible. However, when we hear the Word of Christ, you wonder if Paul means something less than the Bible. Perhaps Paul is telling people to stop caring about the Old Testament and only be New Testament Christians.
For some of you, you would love it if Paul was telling you only to focus on the New Testament. Why? Because that is exactly what how you read your Bible. You have a tendency to only pay attention to the last ¼ of this book. In fact, some of you in this room may be what is called, a Red Letter Christian. You only think the words in red matter therefore you only read the Gospels. And when you read the Gospels you ignore the extra stuff like John chapter 1. Is that what Paul is saying,? Are we only to pay attention to the red letters of the Bible?
No. First, within the verse itself, Paul uses the phrase “all wisdom.” It would be inconsistent for Paul to say only pay attention to what Jesus said and then in the same breath talk about all wisdom. Second, if Paul was encouraging the Church to be a only Gospel readers, or only New Testament readers he would be a hypocrite, for in 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul teaches a young Pastor, Timothy, to be unleash all the Bible in Shepherding a Church.
- 2 Timothy 3:16 - “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
On top of this, if Paul was teaching that we only need to worry about the Word of God from Jesus birth onwards, he would be undermining the teaching of Christ himself. We have already heard the words of Jesus in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in your truth, your word is truth.” But in Matthew 4:4 Jesus reaffirms the words of Deuteronomy 8:3 by saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Therefore, I think we can confidently say that Paul is not encouraging Christians to read only a small portion of the entire Bible. So why does he say, “The Word of Christ”?
I believe for two reasons. First, because the entire Bible is about Christ. So many Christians do not understand this. The Bible is not a collection of different stories, it is One Story, with one Hero, Jesus. Jesus says this himself in John 5:39.
- John 5:39 - “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,”
The Old Testament is all about Jesus, from Genesis to Malachi. Everything is setting the stage for Christ's grand appearance. Granted, at times you may have to connect some dots, but make no mistake when you do, the image that appears is Christ himself.
The second reason Paul uses the phrase Word of Christ is related to the first, but somewhat different. Because all of the Bible is about Jesus, the core of the Word of God is the Gospel. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the binding the holds this book together. Therefore, everything we read in the Word of God, must be seen through a Gospel lens. You would think this would be obvious, however, many people, when reading the Bible fail to do this. And this is why we have so many false teachers, teaching false doctrines. This is why we had the reformation, because the Catholic Church during the dark ages was not reading the the Word of God as the Word or Christ. Instead they were, and still are to some degree, attempting to recreate the religion of the Pharisees.
So in summary, the Word of Christ means the Bible, but it means the Bible through the lens of the Gospel.
Dwell in You Richly
Now let us turn our attention to the phrase, “Dwell in you richly.” In my opinion you can look at this two ways, and I believe that both of them are right. First, you can read this as if Paul is addressing the Church as a whole, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in [the Church] richly.” However, you cold also read it as an individual command, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in [each of you] richly.” As I said, I believe that both of them are right. In the context of verse 16 Paul is talking about individuals living as one Body, but in the verse this indwelling of the Word is to pour out onto others in teaching and admonishing.
With that said, what does it mean for the Word of Christ to dwell in the Church richly? Don't all Church's build themselves on God's Word? Unfortunately no. There are very few Church's that I would say fall under the category of being Biblically rich. They may be socially rich, or liturgically rich, or traditionally rich, or even money rich, but rich in the Word, no.
Why are so few church's not rich in the Word? One reason is that many churches are not really Churches. They are mere shells. They are going through religious motions, but there is no substance. The people who attend and the priests and pastors who lead are not saved. Paul speaks of these people in 2 Timothy 4:
- 2 Timothy 4: 3-4 - “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.“
Unfortunately, many “churches”, including Churches in this area, have wandered away. If you are visiting today, and you go to one of those Churches, then get out before you are turned away from the truth, before the false teaching starts to poison your own hearts.
A true Church is to be saturated in the Word of God. Preaching the Word Sunday after Sunday. Just a few verses earlier in 2 Timothy 4 Paul admonishes Timothy to do just this?
- 2 Timothy 4:1-2 - “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
This is the charge of a Pastor, to preach the Word. His charge is not to fill the building. His charge is not to tell funny stories. He charge is not to fill up the morning with dramas or special music. His charge is not to present pomp and circumstance. The Pastor is to be preaching the Word of God. Once again, if you go to a Church that has a sermon that lasts 15 minutes, then you should start looking elsewhere, for your Pastor sounds like they don't understand their charge.
Having said that, I believe that preaching the Word is primary, but it is not sufficient. On top of preaching there should be more. One sermon a week does not qualify as the word of Christ dwelling richly. Churches should have ample studies available for people to come and feast on the Word of Christ. In the first few years of the early Church in Acts, this is exactly what we saw.
- Acts 2:42 - “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching...“
The Apostles teaching that is referred to here are people such as Peter, John, and James connecting the Old Testament to the Gospel, and then explaining how we are to now to follow Christ as our King. My guess is that many days were spent re-teaching what Jesus taught them during the three years of his earthly ministry.
It is for this reason, we at Cornerstone have so many Bible study opportunities. It is my goal to make devotion to the Word as a Church family as accessible as possible, so if you can't make it, it is not because Cornerstone didn't accommodate. My hope is that in the next year we will have even more opportunities, specifically small groups Bible studies in multiple homes throughout this area, Cascade, Monticello, and Anamosa. My desire is that the primary ministry is the sowing of God's Word onto the hearts of the believers and unbelievers.
However, as the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. My role as a Pastor is to shepherd the flock that God has provided. I do this by preaching and teaching the Word of God. However, the one thing I cannot do is to force it down your throat. And this is where the personal indwelling of the Word of Christ comes into play.
First, I say this perhaps more frequently than I should, but I know in this room we have people who are not Christians. You have been coming to Church for weeks, months, or even a year or more. You have heard the Gospel proclaimed over and over again, but it has not pierced your heart. Perhaps you want it to, but it just hasn't. What are you to do? Resolve this year to immerse yourself in God's Word. Don't just come on Sundays and hear me preach. Read the Bible for yourself. Start with the Gospel of John and keep going. Read through the entire Bible. As as you do, pray that God would reveal himself to you. If God answers your prayer, he will take that Word of Christ and push it down into your heart.
- James 1:21 - “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
For those of you with loved ones who are not believers encourage them this year to read the Bible with you. Once again, start in John and just keep going. God willing, your loved one will some day receive this Word and it will indwell in them, rooting itself into their soul and growing and bearing fruit for God's glory and their good.
Now for those of you, who have already received the Gospel into your heart, the question is, is the Gospel seed growing at an appropriate rate. Or to say it another way, after being born again, are you still an infant in Christ, or have you progressed to toddler, child, teen, young adult, or spiritual maturity?
Whatever you are in this moment, on this last Sunday of 2015, you should resolve that you will not be the same place next year. If you just gave your life to Christ this year, commit yourself to not be an infant next year, but to be walking? If you see yourself as a child in the faith, commit yourself to becoming an adult by next years end. How do you do this? Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Commit yourself to reading the entire Bible in 2016. It will take you only 70 hours. That is less than 1% of your life next year. Commit to join a small group Bible study, or two. Every one of you should be in a Bible study. Commit to memorizing key Bible verses, or even large chapters of the Bible. Pick a book of the Bible and read that book every day for 30 days straight. Then move on to another book. Or if you are really resolved, don't just pick one, but do it all.
Right now many of you may be saying, but I don't have time let the Word of Christ to dwell in me richly. To that I say baloney. All you have is time. What you don't have is a heart for the Lord.
- Matthew 6:19-21 - “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“
If you spend your days chasing the things of this world, then your love is not for the Lord, it is for this world. James 4:4 tells us, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” So my exhortation to you is do not just come to the waters edge, but drink deeply.
Fruit that Flows from The Word Dwelling Richly
Take a moment and imagine what Cornerstone would be life if we corporately and individually let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. What would this Church look like?
If we let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly both corporately and individually, something very powerful will start to take shape within this Body of Christ. As the Word is poured into our lives, it will likewise start to pour out onto others. I believe this is one reason why we see Paul speak of “ teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” This living and active Word of God will fill us up and spill onto those around us.
This rich indwelling in the Word combined with the pouring out onto each other in teaching and admonishing will act like this giant title wave with each passing week getting stronger and stronger and beating against the gates of Hell until they come crashing down at the return of Christ.
I believe that this is the building up of the Church that is spoken about throughout the New Testament. Church growth is not dictated by the weekly offering, nor is it dictated by Church growth strategies or fancy marketing. The Church of God is built upon the the Word of Christ. I truly believe that if we implement God's design for His Church, God will move mountains.
And as the Word of Christ is lavished over us, not only do we grow in power and strength, but grow in praise and thankfulness. As we mine the Word of God and discover the riches of His grace our hearts overflow with joy and we cannot help but break forth in song. Our commitment to the Word of God swells into a crescendo of gratitude for all that God give us. The pathway to powerful worship is not a worship leader with a tattoo and and a five oclock shadow. The pathway to powerful worship is the firm foundation of His excellent Word.
So as we close out another year hear at Cornerstone and look forward to 2016 we stand at a crossroad, do we resolve ourselves to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, or do we instead go through the motions, playing Church and pursuing our own passions and sinful desires? The choice is yours, but make no mistake the command of God is clear.