There are lots of passages in the New Testament that specifically bring up the purpose of the gathered church, and we’re look at one this coming Sunday at Raintree Church: 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
The neatest part of this verse, in my mind, is the call to let the word, God’s revelation of Himself to us, “dwell” in us. This word translated “dwell”, when paired with “richly”, means that the word of Christ is to richly and abundantly make its home in our minds and hearts. I love that!
But how does this happen? How do we get to a place where the word dwells richly and extravagantly in our minds and hearts? Yes, we study the word. Yes, we pray and worship Christ on our own. But letting the word dwell in us is inextricably linked with our fellowship in the body of Christ, or the church.
I don’t know if it’s mainly me that’s experienced so many times of not being aware of my own faults, or if it’s pretty normal and I just happened to have someone in my life willing to say something. But as human beings, with everything in our lives being affected by the fall, including the way we think, it is so easy for us to miss seeing our own faults. Why is that? Because, according to Hebrews 3:13, sin is deceitful!
Marriage, at least for me, has been an unbelievable tool for my sanctification. Lauryn, knowing me better than anyone on earth, also knows where I’m lacking better than anyone on earth. This relationship is one where I am completely exposed, and where there’s no way to hide who I truly am, and who I am not. It’s a beautiful thing. Fortunately for me, Lauryn is such a strong believer in God’s faithfulness that she can trust Christ’s leadership in me with our family.
But this is part of why God has designed Christianity to be a corporate faith. In a very real sense, we are to allow our true selves to be exposed before the body. There is no shame for children of God, because our sin has been dealt with in Christ. Admonishment, which is basically another word for correction, can be openly accepted and even sought out in the midst of the church, because our goal is to pursue godliness, and other people can help us see things we don’t see!
The context of Colossians 3:16 is clearly talking about corporate sanctification, or believers becoming more like Jesus together. In fact, the entire text we’re looking at this Sunday deals with how we relate to each other as believers. Why is there always teaching when we gather? Because we need it (vs. 16). Why is there singing? Because that’s the corporate expression of letting the word dwell richly in our hearts (vs. 16).
If we truly desire to become more and more like Christ, “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18), we will drop our pride and allow people into our lives. If we truly desire to be a people controlled by Godly love (vs. 14), we must let each other in. We allow each other in, not just so we can all feel good about sharing our deepest faults and failures, but so we can truly help each other repent and be changed by the Holy Spirit.
Even I as a pastor, in fact especially as a pastor, desperately need the loving correction and teaching of the body. I need the elders. I need the leadership. I need the members to help me better reflect and represent the heart of my Savior.
We Need the Body!
We need the body, because there’s no such thing as drifting or sliding toward holiness. I definitely do NOT naturally fall into an attitude of pursuing Godliness. To be honest, I’m naturally lazy in most ways, including with my faith. Again, this is why we need the body!
“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, and obedience to Scripture, faith and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” -D.A. Carson
I don’t see Dr. Carson’s quote above as overly negative. I see it as profoundly biblical. It’s not negative because it points us to our need for grace, and to our need for grace-driven effort. Yes, this effort is personal, but it is also profoundly corporate. We weren’t made to live the Christian faith alone. We were made to be a people called out by God along with other people, for the purpose of being set apart, holy, and reaching the lost and dying world with the gospel of Christ.
We all desperately need the Body of Christ, including and perhaps especially those that aren’t yet part of it.