Every year as Christmas ends and the new year begins we take time to remember, to remind, and to teach about the Church. About who the Church is, about how the Church is to live in the world, about what the Church believes, and about the God and Savior of the the Church who brought the Church into existence. This year we wanted to approach the series on the Church in a way we’ve not done before.

We’ve decided to call the series ‘unprogrammed’ because we realize that there are many things about our life here at SonRise that, on one hand, we expect to be present and active in the lives of all the members…but on the other hand, we don’t program these things for you. For example, we expect the members of SonRise to be reading their Bibles and spending time in prayer. But we don’t program Bible reading for you nor do we have a prayer meeting. Also, we expect our members to be not just present at church, but active in service to the Church and active in the lives of other members to give and receive discipleship so that we all grow in godliness. But we don’t program this kind of discipleship for you. And lastly, we expect our members to regularly engage the lost and share the gospel with the non-Christians God brings across our path. But we don’t program evangelistic outreach for you.

All in all, with all these unprogrammed expectations floating around here in the life of our Church, we thought it would be a great time to take the first five weeks of 2023 to address these things head on. So the first unprogrammed item before us today is the Bible.

The big idea today is this: Christians ought to be people who live near the Word of God. But doesn’t that raise another question? What does living near the Word look like? That question brings us to 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.”

The “word of Christ” here in v16 in the original context means the gospel. That’s the most basic meaning to the original audience of this letter. They didn’t have a settled New Testament canon yet like we do, so the word of Christ meant the word about Christ, which is the gospel. For us today it means the same thing, the Word of Christ is the gospel of Christ. But now that we have the finished and closed New Testament canon we can take the Word of Christ in v16 to mean the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, which taken all together is the word about Christ.

Look at this next main word, dwell. Dwell is a curious word in the original Greek. It’s enoikeito. Within this word is where we get the Greek word for house, oikos. And a house just so happens to be a place we dwell in, a dwelling place, a place we’re deeply familiar with, a place where we’re frequently found. So, this word enoikeito, or dwell, gives us the idea of what our relationship to the Word ought to be. We ought to be those who are deeply familiar with the Word because we are to be people who are frequently found in the Word. This is what it means for the Word to dwell in us richly.

Now, I’d like to ask two questions during the rest of our time today and look into v16 to find the answers. First, whyshould the Word dwell in us richly? And second, how should the Word dwell in us richly?

The Why

Why should the Word of God dwell in us richly? Many reasons.

The first reason is massive and gives meaning and content to all the others I’ll give. It’s right there in v16. The reason the Word should dwell in us richly is because the Word is the Word of Christ. It belongs to Him. It’s His. And, it’s not only His Word, but the Word is all about Him. It centers on Him and teaches us about Him. So if we want to draw closer to Christ, if we want to grow in Christ , and if we want to live near Christ, His Word must dwell in us richly.

The second reason the Word should dwell in us richly is because the Word is inspired. To say the Word of God is inspired is to say it is top down revelation, from God to us. The word inspired is used in 2 Timothy 3:16 which says, “All Scripture is inspired by God (literally – God breathed) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This verse teaches that all Scripture comes from the very breath of God, such that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments come to us directly from heaven. How did God inspire this Word to us? 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Men spoke from God as the Holy Spirit carried them along. This is how God inspired the writing of the Bible. Some believe God dictated to the biblical authors and they, somewhat mechanically in response, wrote down what they heard like a secretary takes down a letter. Others believe the Holy Spirit gave dynamic direction to the human authors and did nothing else to oversee their writing. Both of these are wrong. The mechanical view removes much of the human element while the dynamic view removes much of the divine element in inspiration. Others go even further and aim to boil things down a great deal believing the Bible to only be an ordinary book written by ordinary men that becomes inspired only when one has an encounter with God in it. These are misunderstandings of how inspiration worked. What then is the proper conclusion to arrive at in regard to how God carried the authors along to produce what we now call Sacred Scripture? 

A few other terms help clarify. We believe God inspired the Bible organically, in that He guided the human authors through each of their unique personalities, character, gifts, education, style, and diction to produce the canon. For example, John largely used simple Greek whereas Luke and the author of Hebrews show a more complex Greek. Mark used a specific vocabulary unique to him while we see Paul writes long sentences in Greek while others write shorter sentences. The result of God’s organic inspiration is that each biblical book is indeed the work of both the human authors and God. How so? God carried them along such that what they wrote was exactly what He desired to be written. One more term helps. We believe in verbal plenary inspiration, which means God didn’t just inspire large broad themes in Scripture through these writers, no. His superintending over the writing of Scripture extends to “all of its parts, down to the very words…”[1]

Third reason why the Word should dwell in us richly. The reason the Word should dwell in us richly is because the Word is infallible and inerrant. For something to be infallible it means that it cannot fail, and for something to be inerrant means that it does not contain error. Taken together these two words mean not only that the Scriptures do not err, but that they cannot err. After all, God is truthful, therefore He only speaks words that are true. 

Even though this high view of the Bible has fallen on hard times today we continue to uphold it. Why? Jesus held this belief about Scripture. Matthew 5:18, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” John 10:35, “Scripture cannot be broken.” John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the Truth, Your Word is truth.” Jesus also proved His case in various occasions by referring to the Old Testament simply saying, “It is written.”

These three terms about Scripture are foundational: inspired, infallible, and inerrant. We believe the Bible to be these things. Since we believe the Bible to be these things, we believe the Bible, this Word of Christ in v16, should dwell in us richly. That’s the why, now for the how.

The How

Remember what we’re doing here. This is a sermon series on things we do not program here but still expect to be happening regularly among us here at SonRise. Sure we have our Sunday gatherings, we have our small groups, we have our men’s and women’s meetings where the Word is front and center, but at the start of each new year we do not all sit down together and plan out what we’ll all be reading in the Word, or how often we’ll read the Word. And more so, if our gatherings are the only time you spend in the Word, you’d be spiritually malnourished. So, if we don’t program this how can the Word dwell in all of us richly here at SonRise?

Well, the big broad answer is the title of this sermon, we ought to ever be people who live all our lives near the Word. Through times of abounding, through times of great need, sickness, health, at home, abroad, in blinding confusion, in bright joy, in trial, in triumph, in prayer, in temptation…in all of life we’re to live our lives near the Word. That’s the big broad answer to this question of how the Word can dwell in us richly. But how do we do that? How do we live near the Word? Three things. We must be reading the Word, hearing the Word, and singing the Word. Let’s take those one at a time.

First, we must be reading the Word. If the Word is going to dwell in us richly, we must be readers of the Word. I don’t think this is too simple a place to begin. God has chosen to reveal Himself in all His glory through this book, so we must be people who read this book, who are at home in this book, who know our way around this book, and who are growing ever more familiar with this book. I count it a great joy and privilege to have been through seminary and now back in it again. But I’ve always laughed a bit at the degree I received, Master of Divinity, and Lord willing soon I’ll have a Doctor of theology. This might give someone the impression that I’ve mastered all things divine. That there is nothing about God I do not know, or that I now know God as well as He knows Himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. I get what they’re saying in these titles, I do, hours upon hours have gone into learning as much as possible about all things revealed in the Bible. But nonetheless, it should be the aim of every Christian not to be a master of the Bible, but to be mastered by the Bible. Such that we see the Bible as the map by which we sail, the clock by which we set our life, the balance by which we weigh all our actions, and the authority we live under.

Question, how then can any of these things happen if we don’t regularly read our Bibles? Church, in order for the Word to dwell in us richly, we must dwell in the Word richly. And we dwell in it richly by reading it, again and again. But not just reading, we must slowly linger over it, mull on it, and digest it. This is what is means to meditate on the Word.

Don’t be daunted by this. Reading the Bible can happen thousand different ways for us. We can read it verse by verse. We can read it chronologically or thematically. We can take one book and memorize it to get it into us. We can read it all in a year, or two years, or 6 months, we can use any of the multitude of Bible reading plan options. And if you don’t like those options, you can now listen to the entire Bible on tons of free apps in an accent you find most pleasing to the ear. In order to live near the Word we must be reading the Word.

Second, we must be hearing the Word. If the first application about reading the Word was mainly individual, we now turn to the communal. We must not only be those who read the Word, we must be those who gather with others to hear the Word. How else is Colossians 3:16 going to happen in us? It not only says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” it also says, “…teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” So when the Word dwells in us richly, we’ll also find ourselves willing and eager to bring our individual study of the Word out and into the context of the local Church (that’s the one another in v16) where teaching and admonishing happens, and hopefully happens in wisdom like v16 says. Personal Bible study is massively important, yes, but it must not remain personal and never come out in the context of the local church.

Now, hearing the Word happens in many ways as we gather together but the main way it happens is through the what’s happening right now, the sermon. You ever wonder why sermons exist? I mean why is it that we devote so much time to this endeavor? It’s because God not only rules over us through His Word individually, God rules over, guides, provides for, and cares for His Church through the Word. And yes it’s true, many who call themselves pastors intentionally seek to mislead and deceive people, true. But while those charlatans ought to be avoided, the faithful handling of the Word ought to be treasured. When the Word is faithfully taught and proclaimed it is God and God alone, through His Word, steering the ship and setting the agenda for His Church.

So, here are a few ways to prepare for hearing the Word.[2] Don’t just show up and be surprised about the sermon each week. Watch the worship prep video that goes out each Friday. Look on the LOOP to find out what passage will be preached next Sunday and read that passage before you come to Church. Then, pray God would open your eyes in this very passage as you read and as it is preached. Then, pray for the whole church as well, that God would speak to us all in that passage, and pray for the pastor preaching, that God would use him in a mighty way to drive that passage home to us. In this way, you’ll arrive Sunday ready and eager to hear God speak through His Word, and when the moment comes for the sermon to begin, pray, ‘Lord, speak to me, I’m listening.’ In order to live near the Word we must be hearing the Word.

Third, we must be singing the Word. Notice how v16 ends. “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.” I love that. I love how it ends. Do you? Or do you find it surprising? That in and among all this talk about the Word, about it dwelling in us, and about us dwelling in it, that there would be a command to sing it? To me, it seems a most natural and fitting conclusion to v16. I say that because the voice only expresses what is most felt in the heart. And if the Word is dwelling in us, it would be natural for it to overflow out of the mouth in song. And see it, all kinds of songs are in view in v16. Psalms mean just that, singing the Psalms. Hymns likely refers to songs with more rich and robust lyrics, while spiritual songs likely refers to songs more reflective, repetitive, or even spontaneous. I would say God created us to sing His praise, God commands us to sing His praise, and in the gospel God compels us to sing His praise!

Do not be duped in this. Everyone worships. Everyone praises something. C.S. Lewis said it so well, “The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless…The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars…I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”[3]

I said earlier that in order to live near the Word we must be reading the Word and hearing the Word. Now I add, if the Word is dwelling in us richly we’ll find ourselves singing the Word.

Conclusion:

This then is how we live near the Word. Reading, hearing, singing. We ought to live near the Word ourselves. Our families ought to live near the Word. And all churches ought to live near the Word. Not only because it is inspired by God, and because it infallible and inerrant. But because it is beautiful. Meaning, that which the Word reveals to us carries more beauty than any other thing. What does Scripture reveal to us? God. Who He is, what He’s like, and what He requires of us. He is beautiful in His glory, matchless in His wonder, stunning in His splendor, and glorious in His gospel grace. 

Be much in the Word Church, it is light for a thousand dark nights, and healing for a thousand deep hurts.


[1] Taken from the Chicago statement on Inerrancy.

[2] Taken from Christopher Ash,  Listen Up: A Practical Guide for Listening to Sermons

[3] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 93-97.

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