In Colossians 3:16, Paul also says that the word of Christ should dwell in us richly. He means the word of Christ must live in our minds – often when we read the Bible, it goes in one ear, but instead of dwelling, it goes out the other. We are to be like the psalmists who meditated on God’s word day and night (Ps. 1), who hid God’s word in their hearts that they would not sin against God (Ps. 119:11), and who discovered that God’s word was a lamp to their feet and a light to their path (Ps. 119:105).
An obvious matter that should come to mind is how the Colossians could do this when they did not possess individual Bibles. Before the invention of the printing press, it was not possible for believers to have personal copies of the Scriptures, and in any case most of them would not have been able to read one. The answer to this situation was that the Scriptures were read publicly in church gatherings (a blessing is made on the person reading and those listening in Revelation 1:2: ‘Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it’), the contents were remembered (memorised), and they were repeated again and again by the believers.
Of course, the best way for us to remember it is to read it. I recall being told by someone that there are more words in our daily newspapers than there is in some of the larger books of the New Testament. There is no reason why we cannot read some of the books of the Bible in one sitting.
Paul here is speaking about the scriptures that the Colossians would have had – the Old Testament, and he calls it ‘the word of Christ’. This can mean that it belongs to Christ or it is about Christ, and both aspects are true. Because it belongs to him, obeying it is an aspect of acknowledging his Lordship; because it is about him, it means that he is found on very page. So, in a sense, having the word of Christ in our hearts is the same as having Jesus in our hearts. He shows himself in the Bible, he speaks to us in the Bible, and we have a living relationship with him through the Bible.
We should not be surprised at Paul’s teaching here because he is saying what Jesus himself said about the Old Testament when he spoke to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus on the day he arose from the dead (Luke 24:27) and what he taught the apostles when he met with them later that day (Luke 24:44). He made the same teaching to his opponents when he rebuked them for searching the scriptures and failing to see that they were about him (John 5:39).
Right away, we face an important challenge – how much of the Old Testament do we know?