The apostle Paul repeatedly underscores the person and work of Jesus Christ in his letter to the Colossians. Concluding a section of teaching devoted to maintaining a holy lifestyle and keeping unity within the church (Colossians 3:12–17), Paul urges believers to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (verse 15, ESV) and “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” (verse 16, ESV).
In this passage, Paul introduces the unique phrase word of Christ (it occurs only here) rather than his earlier usage of “word of God” (see Colossians 1:25). Bible scholars are split into three camps regarding the meaning of word of Christ in Colossians 3:16. Some, such as Warren Wiersbe, interpret the expression to mean the Word of God: “The Word will transform our lives if we will but permit it to ‘dwell’ in us richly. The word dwell means ‘to feel at home.’ If we have experienced the grace and the peace of Christ, then the Word of Christ will feel at home in our hearts. We will discover how rich the Word is with spiritual treasures that give value to our lives” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2, Victor Books, 1996, p. 139–140).
Others believe the word of Christ refers to the actual words that Jesus Christ uttered—His teachings and messages that came directly from His mouth or were spoken by the Spirit of Christ. A third camp proposes that the word of Christ denotes the message about Jesus Christ—“the word of the truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:5; Ephesians 1:13 ESV), “the message of the gospel” (Acts 15:7), or “the word of the Lord” (see 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; Acts 8:25, ESV).
None of these interpretations conflict with the others. The words that Jesus, God the Son, spoke were given to Him by God the Father. Jesus told His disciples, “And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me” (John 14:24, NLT). Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30; 17:11); therefore, the word of Christ is the Word of God. Likewise, the message of the gospel is the Word of God (Mark 1:14; 1 Peter 1:25).
Earlier in his greeting, Paul testified that “the word of the truth” or “the gospel,” which the Colossians had received, was “bearing fruit and increasing” since the day they first heard and understood “the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:5–6, ESV). Holiness and unity, both individually and in the body of Christ, are cultivated when we let the word of Christ make its home in us—when we give the truth of God’s Word ample, comfortable space in our hearts and lives through teachings and Bible study, counseling one another with its wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16), and meditating on it day and night (Psalm 1:1–2).
Another way we might understand the word of Christ is as the sum of Christian doctrine, or the gospel in its broadest sense as presented by Jesus Christ and the Spirit of Christ. Paul clarified, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin” (Galatians 1:11; see also Hebrews 2:3; 1 Corinthians 7:10). The gospel Paul preached was the word of Christ delivered by the Spirit of Christ.
God’s Word is meant to permeate our lives so profoundly that it takes up permanent residence. This abiding infilling is made possible through the indwelling Holy Spirit, who reminds us of everything Jesus said and did (John 14:26; 16:13). As we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly and are filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18–20), we become living representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ for God’s glory in whatever we say and do (see Colossians 3:17, 23; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 8:11; 2 Corinthians 6:16). The life of a born-again believer, fully submitted to God and occupied by Christ, “will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God . . . and that word is the Good News that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23–25, NLT).