Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church.
Have you ever thought about what you would like your epitaph to read - what you would like on your tombstone? There have been many interesting and often funny statements made on tombstones.
Consider this tombstone from the early 1900’s. Apparently they used to put the cause of death on the tombstone. This young man’s stone read that he died by being stabbed by an ink eraser while trying to evade six young women who were trying to give him birthday kisses.
Rodney Dangerfield’s epitaph reads - There goes the neighborhood - after his characteristically self-effacing comedy.
Talk show host Merv Griffin had “I will not be right back after these messages” put on his stone.
But what would your’s say? If our epitaph is a commentary on how we lived our lives - as the 19th century cattle rancher and gun fighter’s Robert Clay Allison’s read “He never killed a man that did not need killing” or the 20th century actress Bette Davis whose read “She did it the hard way” - then what would be the summation that could be put on our headstone?
This morning Paul is going to help us answer that question. And in so doing he’s going to wrap up this intensely personal section of this letter. You see no one is going to put a reference to your mother, your father, your children or your spouse on your headstone - unless you share a headstone. But what they are going to put on your marker is related to you. And throughout this chapter - over the last four weeks Paul has been dealing with each of us as individuals. Yes, this letter was to a corporate church - but the subject matter in these last few verses have been personal in nature. Look back at the whole passage with me and circle in your Bible every time there is a reference to you - not where you think you might see yourself but the actual word you or your.
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.
So this morning let’s each listen a little selfishly - I know in light of last week’s message that may seem out of place. But listen this morning for what the Spirit would want to say to you as we look at these great verses together. Let’s now move on to Colossians 3:16-17.
Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
On the surface the beginning of this passage would seem to require a bit of permission on our part. The passage says “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you” and every major translation has this construction to the sentence beginning with the word “let”. It’s almost as if our permission is sought as in “if you have room in your life allow the word of Christ to dwell among you” or “if it’s convenient let the word of Christ dwell among you”.
Even the words of our translation seem to contradict everything I’ve said so far about this passage starting in chapter 3:1 until these verses being an individualistic passage. Even though many of the you’s are taken to be plural as Paul is writing to a church, a group of people yet as we’ve just read each of them could be applied individually as well so while he is writing to a corporate “you” this passage, these verses seem to have a very personal, individualistic application.
The ESV translates this particular phrase as “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” and the NLT translates it as “Let the message about Christ, n all its richness, fill your lives.” Of all of the translations I think the NASB has it closest to Paul’s meaning here as he says “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” - it carries a very personal meaning for the word to dwell within each of you individually. And yet here we are again with the permissive word “Let”.
You might be wondering why I’m making such a big deal about this little three letter word - and the reason is that it is supplied by the translators. The original Greek manuscripts have no word for “let” associated with this passage. And so the thrust, the imperative nature of the original language is softened a bit by the permissive nature of “let”. What Paul originally wrote here is simply “the word of Christ dwell richly within you” - a statement of imperative. The verb dwell is in the present active imperative sense meaning that it is an ongoing, continuous action that is even now taking place. And not to take us on too deep of a grammar lesson here but the subject, the agent carrying out the action of the verb, is the word of Christ it is not us.
And so how does the word of Christ dwell within each of us richly? There are four ways that this takes place and what we will find is that each works independently of the other but also builds on the one before it to encompass all of our spiritual lives. The four ways that the word dwells within us is through hearing the Word, reading the Word, meditating on the Word and finally obeying the Word.
Hear The Word
Hear The Word
What do you come here on a Sunday morning to hear? When we get together what is the purpose? I would submit that there are many churches, and in some cases it may even be the case here, where people gather together with an expectation built on what is our pastor going to say today. This is true in even the most conservative and orthodox churches - people gather waiting eagerly to see how their pastor is going to break down the Scripture and many times they come away with wonder at how he saw so much in that text and how they could never see all of that.
I must confess that there are times that I listen to sermons and I get caught up in that very same mindset - and in so doing I do a great disservice to myself and to the power of the word of Christ in my own life. And anyone else who comes with that thought process does the same in themselves. When we come together for a gathering of the body under the preaching of the Word of Christ we should come with the expectation that we are going to hear something from God.
Not that that the preacher is the voice of God - as the Catholic church would suggest in reference to the pope. Nor that I am going to be somehow speaking some inerrant, inspired addendum to the Scriptures that you should take down verbatim and staple in the back of your Bible. But what is happening is that you are hearing the Word of God explained and then applied to your life in such a way that it - meaning the Word - forces you to change. As Ligon Duncan once said - we should come together and listen as if our very life depends on it because it does.
Romans 10:14 says
How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher?
The key sentence in that progression is “how can they believe without hearing about Him”. We don’t come together to expound pop psychology or to explain the five ways that Avengers Endgame embodies the Gospel but instead to look into the deep mysteries of the Word of God and to understand Him better through the medium He has chosen to most reveal Himself. There is great Biblical and historical precedence for this.
The entire book of Deuteronomy is the manuscript of Moses last sermon to the nation of Israel before he dies and they go in to the promised land led by Joshua. And if you think that that’s only an Old Testament precedent - the book of Hebrews is the same thing - a sermon manuscript from an unknown writer that was included in the cannon of Scripture.
The books of the Law were often opened throughout the Old Testament - just after crossing the Jordan, Joshua again took time to read the Law to the people of Israel despite Moses having just done it. After the completion of the walls of Jerusalem in the book of Nehemiah, Ezra stands up and reads the Law to the gathered people in Jerusalem and the Levites were “translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read.”
The New Testament carries on the central nature of the sermon as Christ preaches the Sermon on the Mount and we have the sermons that Peter preached on Pentecost and other instances of great sermons throughout the book of Acts. But there is a key phrase in the Nehemiah passage that has great bearing on our purpose this morning.
“Translating and giving meaning so that the people could understand what was read.”
This is such a key point in how we prepare ourselves when we come together to hear the Word of God. To know that we can understand it. In the mid-1600’s the puritan Richard Baxter published his seminal work entitled “Christian Directory” which had an entire chapter dedicated to how to listen to a sermon. Two of his directions have an importance for our purpose this morning as they explain the two-fold nature of what takes place during the sermon or any time we hear the Word of God. The first is the admonition to
“Mark especially the design and drift, and principal doctrine of the sermon”. As a preacher it is my aim to make the main point of the sermon as clear as possible so that you can follow the main idea throughout the preaching. The second step relates to the preparation of our hearts. Baxter writes it this way. “Come not to hear with a careless heart, as if you were to hear a matter that little concerned you, but come with a sense of the unspeakable weight, necessity and consequence of the holy Word which you are to hear: and when you understand how much you are concerned in it, and truly love it, as the Word of life, it will greatly help your understanding of every particular truth.”
In much more economic language Jesus, throughout His earthly ministry, would say “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” When we come to the Word we must come with an expectant heart that is prepared to hear the Word of the Lord. When we hear and understand we can appropriate what is being said into our lives and the Word comes to dwell more fully within us.
Now there is a caution to be offered here. There are many today who say they are hearing God “speak” to them. It reminds me a bit of the old illustration of the man and the flood. A river was overflowing its banks and flooding a town. To escape the rising waters a man climbed on the roof of his house and started to pray for deliverance. While he was praying a man came by in a canoe and offered him a ride. He politely declined saying that God would save him. Next came a man in a john boat and again the man declined the invitation. As the waters rose around his home and started climbing the roof towards him a Coast Guard helicopter came and hovered overhead. They dropped a rescue line and offered the man a ride. He again declined saying that God would save him. Well you know the end of the story - the man drowned and when he stood in front of God he had the temerity to ask Him “I was trusting you, why didn’t you save me?” God answered him “I sent you a canoe, a john boat and a helicopter and you refused all of them.” It is the same way with the expectation to hear from God audibly today. He has already given us 66 books that contain everything we need for life and salvation and we refuse to listen why should we expect Him to speak to us?
It is as many have said “If you want to hear the Lord speak read your Bible. If you want to hear him audibly read your Bible out loud.” Which brings us to our next way that the Word dwells within us - through the reading of the Word.
Read The Word
Read The Word
This is an area that is deeply troubling in the church today. The Bible is widely recognized as the best selling book of all time. The average American household has three Bibles. And unfortunately in most of them they are covered with dust. Biblical illiteracy is the worst epidemic that our nation faces.
In April of 2017 Lifeway Research published a study entitled “Americans are fond of the Bible, don’t actually read it.” The study revealed that the same percentage of people have read through the Bible multiple times as those who have never read the Bible at all. The largest group, 30% of respondents, say that they have only read selected passages or stories. Some of the most troubling statistics in this study come from the age group of 18-25. 46% of the respondents to this study said that they do not read the Bible on their own at all. They are also the least likely group to see the Bible as true. We have raised an entire generation to see the Bible as irrelevant to their lives.
This should not be so. Some of this has to do with the idea that Scripture really isn’t sufficient for our every day lives and so when life issues arise that we think are outside the realm of the Bible’s capacity to address we search for answers in other places. This is despite what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,
Yes all Scripture is inspired by God and that means all - even the geneologies and the recitations of the measurements and articles of the tabernacle. All of it has bearing on our lives and thus we should seek to include all of it in our reading. The Lifeway survey has bearing on our reading patterns - 19% say that they simply reread favorite stories or meaningful texts and 17% say they simply flip the Bible open and read wherever their eyes fall. The majority of those who read the Bible this way fall between the ages of 25 and 45.
Imagine if you read letters from your wife or your husband this way. When I was on deployments in the Navy if I had read my wife’s letters in this same haphazard fashion - either only reading the parts I liked and skipping the parts I didn’t or closing my eyes and letting my finger fall and then reading whatever sentence my finger landed upon i would have missed so much of life that was happening at home. Yet many of us read the Bible the same way.
One significant time that believers are commended in the New Testament and the only time this particular group is even mentioned is in Acts 17. Paul has just been chased from Thessalonica and he arrives in the town of Berea. The Bible says that these believers were “of a more noble character than those in Thessalonica” because they received the Word with eagerness and “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” We have no epistles to the church at Berea and they are never mentioned again in the Bible. What is highlighted here is that the reason they were noble is that they didn’t just accept what Paul preached but they went and searched the Scriptures to confirm his message for themselves.
Charles Spurgeon once said “If my sermons kept people from reading the Bible for themselves, I would like to see the whole stock in a blaze and burned to ashes. But if they serve as fingers pointing to the Scriptures and saying, “Read this and this and this,” then I am thankful to have printed them.”
The Scriptures are the anvil that the Spirit uses to hammer us into shape as Christians. They are the great two edged sword that separates soul from spirit, joints from marrow, and is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of our heart. But no sword is ever effective unless it is drawn.
So how are you doing? Do you seek the sustenance provided in the Word of God every day? I love how Ray Comfort says it - No Bible, no breakfast. For some of us that schedule may not work - but the point is that Bible reading must be a priority in our lives. We must not, we cannot be illiterate with regards to Scripture. There are so many good resources out there that will help you in reading and understanding the Bible. We will publish a list of reading plans on our Faithlife site. The bottom line is that you must read the Bible. You will never understand, you will never be able to appropriate the entirety of the majestic plan of God if you don’t read His Word. But you can’t just read it.
A few years ago many Christians celebrated because the state of Kentucky approved a high school curiculum that authorized teaching the Bible as literature in schools. Now there are benefits to this because the word of God will never return void and once sent out it will reap the harvest it was meant to. The issue that I have with the curiculum is that it teaches the Bible as literature - just another book beside A Catcher in the Rye or War and Peace. But we know that the Bible is not just another piece of literature - yet for thousands of years it has been read that way to zero benefit for the reader. I have a cousin who is a virulent God-hating athiest that claims to have read the Bible cover to cover multiple times and yet he remains unconverted. There has to be more to our reading than just a surface level perusal of Scripture. We have to go deeper. We have to - and this word will sound jarring to some of your ears because of how modern society has hijacked it - meditate on it
Meditate on The Word
Meditate on The Word
How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.
Meditation has become a major topic in our society. It is infiltrating our board rooms, our military and our schools. Even my watch tries to convince me to stop, take one minute of deep breathing and meditation. But the subject of this meditation is anything but helpful. What the world is attempting to convince us to do is to empty our minds and meditate on that nothingness. The primary way the world is getting people to focus on this is through the practice of mindfulness - but this is contrary to the way that the Bible encourages us to meditate.
One of the most amazing passages of Scripture on the Bible is Psalm 119. Throughout this great Psalm we are encouraged repeatedly to meditate on the Word.
I will meditate on your precepts and think about your ways.
Help me understand the meaning of your precepts so that I can meditate on your wonders.
I will lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and will meditate on your statutes.
Let the arrogant be put to shame for slandering me with lies; I will meditate on your precepts.
I am awake through each watch of the night to meditate on your promise.
When we meditate on the Word it works like a salve for our deepest worries, a rod for our deepest convictions and it is the way that we hide the Word in our heart that we might not sin against God. Reading is good - it is very good - but it is meditation on what we have read that cements that Word in our very being, allowing it to work to strengthen our faith. It is meditation that enables us to memorize the Scriptures so that we have them at hand when they are most needed whether that be during a witnessing opportunity or to console a grieving brother or sister in Christ.
Spurgeon again said this “To believe a thing is to see the cool crystal water sparkling in the cup. But to meditate on it is to drink of it. Reading gathers the clusters; contemplation squeezes forth their generous juice.”
When we meditate on Scripture we are able to wring out the deepest truths of what that Scripture means. It is like taking the diamond and not looking at it from behind a glass but turning it and holding it up to the light and looking deep inside it with a loupe. It is allowing the light to refract through it like a prism so we can see all of its truths refracted out and understand all of the implications for our lives.
Mediation is the driving force that supplies the power for the the final way that the Word dwells within us richly - it enables us to obey.
Obey The Word
Obey The Word
This is probably the hardest of all of the ways that the Word dwells within us because it is the most personal for us. It is the one that requires action on our part. Yes, reading is an activity but many of us can mindlessly read without applying any real effort. Yes, meditation requires some effort as we dig and contemplate and wonder about the truths that we’ve read or heard. But it is obedience that actually might cost us something because we have to apply those truths that we’ve discovered.
One of the reasons this is so hard for us is that it requires our submission to the authority and the Lordship of the Word in our lives. And that is something that we are often loathe to give up. At the heart of all sin is our pride and our desire to be in charge and in control of our own lives and futures. And so we battle in our flesh the new spirit that has been given within us. Paul talks pointedly about this reality in Romans 7 and sums it all up in Romans 7:24
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
IF the war within isn’t intense, the war from without is crushing. The world is constantly on the offensive against the truths of Scripture telling us to “be free” “do it your way” “whatever you believe is true is true”. And we’re being told that when what we desire or believe isn’t given to us that we’re being victimized or oppressed. And so a multitude of sins are being justified by the idea that to fail to allow people to practice life as they according to their own personal convictions is wrong. This puts Scripture in the place of being a mental or spiritual bully instead of the peace providing, authoritative, loving truth that it is.
In John 14:15 Jesus said
“If you love me, you will keep my commands.
And that’s not just the red letters that Jesus is talking about because all of Scripture is His inerrant, inspired perfect Word. And it all reveals Him.
Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him.
Puritan William Gurnall tied the need for obedience to the strength of our faith.
When obedience falters, faith weakens. How can there be great faith, where there is little faithfulness?
So the question that is put to each of us this morning is
Is the word of Christ dwelling richly within you?
The first step is that you have to have bowed your knee in submission to Christ as both Lord and Savior. Have you recognized your sin? Do you recognized that because of those transgressions that you deserve nothing but eternal separation from Him? But He, in His gracious kindness and love, has provided a way for you to be saved. That His Son came and lived a perfect life to die a criminals death - your death - so that through Him you could be reconciled to God.
And then Christian the spotlight now turns to you. Does the word of Christ richly dwell within you? Do you deeply desire, above all else, to hear His Word preached? Do you spend time reading His Word? Do you meditate on His Word to understand the truths and implications for your life? And the hardest question of all - are you willing to obey the Word. There are many this morning who are not. There are many things I could say here but I will leave it at this challenge - when the world, the flesh and, unfortunately, sometimes the church is saying something or practicing something contrary to what this says will we allow the Word to dwell in us richly and stand on its truths - even if we have to stand alone? What kind of church will we be? Let us commit to being a place that stands on the Word because the Word dwells in us individually and corporately with a richness that confounds the world.