I heard someone pray recently in a gathering of Christians, “Lord, may your name be brought up in our conversations tonight.”
Now that isn’t a bad thing to desire, or even to pray. I’m not trying to pick on anyone.
But it struck me as a sad illustration of how things often go when believers get together to ‘fellowship’.
Is God that far from our minds that we need the Holy Spirit to remind us to think and speak of him? I don’t think I would be blessed or flattered if my husband was going out with friends for a few hours, but before he left, he turned to me and said, “Honey, could you call me every hour or so and remind me to think of you. That would probably help me to mention to my friends how important you are to me and how much I love you. Thanks.”
Besides, when bringing God into conversation is something we feel like we ought to do instead of something that happens because of where our heart is, things just get awkward. Have you ever had someone spontaneously quote you their favorite memory verse with no context whatsoever? Or have you ever been greeted in such a spiritual way that you have no idea how to respond?
“Blessings in the name of the Lord! He is so faithful, isn’t he! What deep things has God been speaking to you this week?”
Even if you are well aware of deep things God has been speaking to you, it feels forced and weird to be prompted that way. It’s sort of like someone walking up, shaking your hand, and asking if your spouse has been good to you lately. If the answer is an enthusiastic ‘YES’, the question still feels intrusive—but if the answer is ‘no’ or ‘I hadn’t really noticed,’ you feel embarrassed and cornered.
I just don’t know that forced, awkward ‘honorable mentions’ are actually all that honoring to God—or edifying to us.
What then, do we do with passages like Colossians 3:16?
“…teach and admonish one another in all wisdom…”
What does that look like? Let’s read the whole verse.
Colossians 3:16 (NRSV) 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.
Does that first part sound familiar?
John 15:7 (NRSV) 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Dwell. Abide. Richly. I think this is the key.
Commentators disagree on what exactly Paul means by the word of Christ. Many say that because Paul is writing to Gentiles—and the New Testament was not yet completed or collected, he must be referring to Christ’s teachings alone. I am no expert on this sort of thing, but given Paul’s view of the authority of scripture (2 Tim 3:16), his frequent appeals to the Old Testament (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:8; 1 Cor 6:16), and his personal experiences with Christ (Acts 22:6-21; 2 Cor 12:2-4), it seems more likely that the word of Christ Paul has in mind is any true and accepted body of teaching from or concerning Christ and his gospel.
For us…this is the Bible.
So, how do we know when the word of Christ dwells richly in us? When we read, consider, ponder, test, and experience the word of God. When we meditate on it and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us. When we learn to apply and trust it. When we obey it. When it is changing us. When it is so integrated into every area of our lives that to consult it, appeal to it, consider it, or speak of it becomes as natural as talking about our children, spouses, jobs, or hobbies. When Christ really is our passion. That is when the word of Christ dwells richly in us.
And that is when teaching and admonishing each other in wisdom happens—without superficial or insulting weirdness. In the course of our Christian friendships and activities, it should be the norm for us to offer spiritual encouragement and counsel to each other. As we share about our lives, experiences, interests, questions, struggles, fears, and joys with each other, the word of Christ will come out—if it dwells richly in us.
Colossians 3:2 (NASB) 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
Matthew 12:34 (NASB) …For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.
Our ‘lives’ and our ‘spiritual lives’ are not separate. Why are they so separate in our conversations—especially conversations with those who share our faith? I’m not saying we should constantly be having intense, theological conversations. And I’m not saying we should be know-it-alls or have all the answers—just that we might consider whether or not we regularly have interaction with fellow Christians that could be considered teaching and admonishing in wisdom. And if not—why?
I’m curious. Why do you think this is lacking in our gatherings?