Christ’s Word and the Believer

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” (Col. 3:16).

- Colossians 3:16-17

Spiritual elitism, the idea that there is a hidden body of knowledge available only to a select few, has appeared in various forms throughout church history. Second-century heretics appealed to texts not received by the church to promote a radical split between the body and the spirit as well as deny the authority of the Old Testament. Roman Catholicism has for centuries affirmed the existence of unwritten apostolic traditions that are binding on the church today. Today we see people argue that with the right training one can discern a hidden code that predicts current events in the biblical text. No matter the form it takes, all variations of spiritual elitism have one thing in common—ordinary people do not have access to the depth of God’s Word.

If anyone had reason to advocate elitism, it was the apostle Paul, who had several visions of Jesus Himself (Acts 9:1–19; 2 Cor. 12:1–4). Yet when we turn to his epistles, Paul is the strongest critic of the idea that only an elite few can understand the revelation of the Lord. He strongly advocates the clarity of the gospel in today’s passage, encouraging all Christians to let the “word of Christ” dwell in us richly and to teach and admonish each other “in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). The “word of Christ” refers to the apostolic gospel, and the apostle’s encouragement for us all to instruct one another makes sense only if all believers are able to understand what the Messiah accomplished.

Not everyone will be ordained as a teacher, but all can engage in the work of teaching in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (v. 16). We should not sharply distinguish these musical references, for Paul is likely piling up terms for emphasis. His point is that even non-ordained people must teach in the public assembly through singing God’s Word, whether the verbatim words of Scripture or words proclaiming the doctrines found therein. Music has always been central to the worship of the people of the Lord, as the Psalms attest, and we actually teach one another as we sing. All of our songs in worship will be a vehicle for teaching, whether this teaching is good or bad; thus, songs for public worship must always be chosen carefully.

Confidence that all can and must learn God’s revealed Word identifies the new humanity the Father is building in Christ, as does continual thankfulness in our hearts toward Him (v. 17). Those who say otherwise do not understand the gospel.

Coram Deo

Paul closes out Colossians 3:17 by reminding us to do everything in the name of Jesus. This entails not merely an action accompanied by an audible expression of “in Jesus name”; rather, to do something in His name is to act in the ways the apostle has described in verses 12–17. As we live ever-thankful lives for the love God has shown us, we will be humble, kind, patient, meek, and forgiving, and thereby act in Christ’s holy name.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 15:1–11
Acts 17:10–15

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