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So we are concluding our series of sermons on the 3:16s today.
Over the last couple of months we have explored some really crucial verses from Scripture that have outlined for us the essentials of the Christian faith. We’ve covered a variety of themes: God as our strength, God at work in us, Reflecting God in how we live, the importance of the Bible, Jesus’ sacrifice, the place of faith in our lives, God’s love for us, God’s healing in our lives, God’s peace in our hearts, and the need to live sacrificially.
Today is our final reflection, this time on Colossians 3:16, and our need to encourage one another in the Christian faith.
In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes this: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.”
Now, here’s the interesting thing: this passage from Colossians 3 is about encouraging one another but the source and foundation of our encouragement is to ensure that we are worshipping together. The best way in which we can encourage one another in life is to make sure that we all grow stronger in God’s family here at St. Andrew’s and that we grow stronger together as a people of praise and worship.
And if we get our worship right and become strong as a spiritual family, that will then spill over into how we live our lives throughout the week and we will be taking God with us in our hearts into the everyday lives in which we live and work and play.
And that is the greatest encouragement of all. If we have found our happiness, our contentment, our fulfilment, in the worship of God in the context of a loving and supportive spiritual family, then we will know God’s encouragements and presence in every aspect of our lives. The worship of God within the context of a Christian church family is foundational to knowing happiness and fulfilment in our lives.
And in this passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, especially verses 16 and 17, we see firstly how the church gathers together for worship and then secondly, how that extends itself into every aspect of life.
So as we think about this idea, let’s start by thinking what we actually mean by the idea of ‘worship’. And there’s three things I want to say about this.
1. Worship engages us with the Word of God in the Bible
In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes this: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…”
This is referring to the teaching and life of Jesus, of course, that we find in the four Gospels. But it’s also true to say that the whole Bible points to Jesus and so there’s a sense in which the whole Bible is the word of Christ.
And Paul uses this interesting word, ‘dwell…’: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” and that implies a deep rootedness in our lives.
I can visit you in your home and it is always nice to do that, but I don’t ‘dwell’ in your home; I ‘dwell’ in my home. My home, where I ‘dwell’, is where I go to relax and get some rest, the place where I can chill out with family and recuperate after a tough day at work.
We see this word ‘dwell’ in another important verse, in John’s Gospel where he wrote that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ and he dwelt among us, he lived among us, and people came to him for rest and recuperation and challenge and healing and to meet with God in person.
And there’s something important about the idea of God’s word dwelling in us. Because in all the storms and chaos and confusions of life, we can return to God’s word every single day and find our rest and relaxation there, and recuperate with God as he speaks gently to us through the Bible and also be challenged and healed as we grapple with God’s word to us.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…”
There is a richness in God’s word that we won’t find anywhere else. There is a fullness and a completeness to God’s word: we can turn to the Bible in any season of our life, no matter what we are going through, no matter how we are feeling – and we will receive the richness of God’s presence in our lives.
But there’s just one more interesting point to note from this phrase: “Let the word of God dwell in you richly…” In the original Greek, the word ‘you’ is in the plural, not the singular. So what Paul is saying is this: that it’s not just us as individuals that need to dwell in the Word, soak ourselves in the Scriptures. But this is a corporate activity for us to focus on as a church family together. As the body of Christ here at St. Andrew’s Enfield, we, together, are to ‘dwell richly in the word of God…’
Together, we are to study the Bible, be shaped by the Bible, and allow the Bible to transform how we are as a church and how we develop our mission, ministry and worship together.
Letting the word of God dwell richly is a community act, not something that we just do as individuals.
So in the context of this passage, then, we are to encourage one another – as the family of God – to study the word of God together, and be shaped by it as a family as we come to worship together
So what does that look like in practice?
Well that leads on to the next point, which is this:
2. Our worship engages both the mind and the emotions
In verse 16, Paul says this: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
As we come to worship, we want to be engaged in both our mind and our emotions.
Firstly, our minds: “Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom”.
The idea of a sermon may seem, to some people, to be outdated: there are few places in society today where someone talks to a group of people for 20 minutes of so in an uninterrupted way in order to work through the text of a book! But sermons are still important in religious settings, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or whatever, because it is through the sermon that we engage together with the sacred texts.
And the church, this church family, is a learning community. All of us are learning together. Just because I have a dog collar on, that doesn’t mean that I know God any better than you do. We are all on a journey into a deeper relationship with God. And I need to learn with you and from you what that looks like and hopefully I can encourage all of you in some small way too.
So we need to explore together the teachings of the Christian faith so that we can find our way on our spiritual journey.
But worship is not all about the mind: it should engage the emotions too.
As Paul says in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
Our worship of God comes from our hearts, our emotional centre, as we reflect on what God has done for us, what Jesus has done for us and the forgiveness and new life that we have received through Jesus’ death on the cross.
As we come together to worship, we reflect on God’s amazing love for us and we are moved in our hearts to sing, to praise, to receive Communion together and have our hearts warmed as we meet together in the presence of God.
The hymns, the songs, the Communion, should not just be ritualistic acts that we go through. Instead, as Paul says here, we worship “with gratitude in our hearts” for what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
And as he also says in this verse, our worship is “to God”. We aren’t singing for one another, or to just do something pleasing amongst ourselves: God is our audience when we sing, when we worship, when we receive Communion and he is pleased with our worship…It doesn’t matter if we have a good singing voice or a bad singing voice. It doesn’t matter if we feel worthy or unworthy when we receive Communion. It doesn’t matter what clothes we wear to church. It doesn’t matter what people may think about us. We only have an audience of one when we worship – and that one is God. And God is always pleased with our worship…
So firstly, worship of God engages with the word of God, the Bible.
Secondly, worship of God engages both the mind and the emotions.
3. Our worship impacts on how we live throughout the week
In verse 17, Paul writes this: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Worship is not something that we do just one day a week, on a Sunday, or on those occasions throughout the week when we come to church. Our whole life, every aspect of our life, should be an act of worship. We are to honour God with the way we live and all our behaviours, all our relationships, all our responses should aim to be an act of worship to God. When we are at work, we offer our work as an act of worship to God. When we are cooking dinner, we offer our cooking as an act of worship to God. When we are looking after the kids, we offer our love and care as an act of worship to God.
Everything we do is an act of worship to God.
Of course we will fail, and fail often, because we are fallible and weak. But it should be our aspiration to honour God in every part of our life.
And what we do when we come to church, to meet together in worship, should energise us and orient our thinking towards God so that when we leave here after an act of worship, our minds and our hearts are focused on God and we seek to reflect that in how we are in the world outside these walls.
But it’s not easy to do that, of course, and we need the encouragement of one another to worship God here in church and the encouragement of one another to live for God throughout the week.
And that’s why Paul puts this teaching into the context of encouraging one another. We simply cannot live out the Christian life on our own. We need one another. We need the encouragement of one another so that we can deepen our walk with God.
So this passage from Colossians 3:16 and 17 is a really important one for us to hold onto because it stresses our co-dependence on one another and our need to encourage one another.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Let’s do all we can to encourage one another in the faith.
How do we do that?
Firstly by encouraging one another to come to worship here at St. Andrew’s and while we are here, to engage with God through his word to us in the Bible and to engage with God through our emotions in the liturgical acts we undertake.
And then to encourage one another to take God with us when we leave our worship services and to do all we can to live our lives as acts of worship, pleasing to God.
The Christian faith is a community faith. St. Andrew’s is the community God has given to you and me for this period in our lives.
Let’s be sure to encourage one another as we walk together with God and, with gratitude in our hearts, thank him for all that he has given us through the sacrificial life and death of his Son, Jesus Christ.