Several years ago my church hosted an evening women’s event. I was not able to go, but heard from friends who were there about an incident that left some people feeling uncomfortable. Shortly afterward I ran into another friend, the MC of the event, and mentioned to her what I’d heard. I was passing on less than flattering information I had not actually witnessed. The MC, a wise and mature Christian woman, saw my words for what they were, gossip (though I didn’t see I was gossiping at the time), and gently admonished me for what I said.
In Colossians 3.16, Paul lays the groundwork for this kind of admonishment. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom …”
Let the Word of Christ
While Paul used the phrase “word of God” 12 times in his epistles, he used “word of Christ” only twice. Some commentators think that Paul’s focus on Christ in his letter to the Colossians motivated him to refer to the word of Christ rather than the word of God in this letter.
Let is a verb and in this case connotes action. Paul calls us to do something with the words Jesus spoke. In order to take the appropriate action, we must first know and understand them.
Dwell in You Richly
Paul wants us to allow Jesus’ words to dwell in us, and to do so richly. Two questions come to mind: why and how? Though there are many reasons in scripture, Paul gives one in the remainder of the verse—so that we can teach and admonish with wisdom. Others include receiving blessings (Luke 11.28), sharing God’s truth with those who haven’t heard (Acts 13.5) or those who want to hear (Acts 13.7), arming ourselves to do battle against evil forces (Galatians 6.12-17), and serving as a witness to God (Titus 2.2-5).
How do we allow the word of Christ to dwell in us? By regularly reading His word, praying for understanding from the Holy Spirit, meditating on it, and memorizing it. The primary evidence of Christ’s word dwelling in us is our obedience to the directions we find in scripture.
Teach and Admonish
We are to teach. Jesus’ final command to the disciples was to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28.19). Most people need to know the truths of God before they are willing to make a commitment of faith. Additionally, long before Jesus lived on earth, parents were commanded to teach God’s truths to their children (Deuteronomy 6.7) to ensure the next generation carried on the faith.
Second, we are to admonish believers who are not living out the word of Christ. Depending on the translation we read today, Paul instructed older women to admonish, encourage, or train younger women (Titus 2.3-4). This is what my friend did when I was passing on details I didn’t really have grounds to be passing on.
With All Wisdom
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” These things allow us to make decisions, interact in relationships and live in ways that reflect God to the world and testify to His grace and mercy.
Wisdom allows us to teach with effectiveness and admonish with gentleness. It allows us to set aside pride when we are right and respond with a humble spirit. It can protect us from poor decisions and guide our advice to others.
As a perfectionist, I generally don’t receive criticism well, preferring to defend my actions rather than consider that I may have acted unwisely, even sinfully. Fortunately, when my MC admonished me, the Holy Spirit pricked my spirit and prompted me to listen without getting defensive. As I contemplated her words, I could see how what I’d shared was inappropriate. The experience has caused me to guard my words more carefully.
My friend showed me how the word of Christ dwelled in her heart so that she could admonish me with all wisdom. In doing so, she taught me how to better guard my words and live out Paul’s instructions to the Colossians. God desires that the word of Christ dwell in each of us richly so that we, too, can teach and admonish with wisdom.