You cannot cook on a cardboard fire. If you are going to cook, you need coals.
I remember setting up gloriously useless cardboard fires when I was a kid. We would build a sort of cardboard city or castle, start the blaze in a corner, and enjoy the show. It was a spectacular but worthless fire. If you want to cook – or even just roast a marshmallow – you need coals.
A Conversation Command
Which one is happening at your church? Is your community spending the time and care it takes to get coals glowing? Are you satisfied with an impressive burst of activity that leaves nothing of lasting value? For the people of God to live out the mission of God, we need the word of God to continuously enliven us. This is the only way we are going to get real cooking coals.
I think this is what Paul has in mind when he gives this command:
“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.”Colossians 3:16, ESV
This command stands out when you look through the other instructions that Paul gives here. Most of the other commands make sense as moral or ethical issues. Put to death your evil desires and actions. Do not lie to one another. Put on righteous desires and actions. Be kind and forgiving. Love one another. But this command is different. Rather than telling them to stop bad actions and do good ones, Paul is telling them what they are to talk about.
This is not a command that you can keep by yourself. We can hear this as a command about our own internal lives because of the way our English translations work. But this letter was written to a group, not an individual. In fact, the pronoun “you” is plural. The command is not so much to let the word of Christ dwell in you as an individual, but let the word of Christ dwell in you as a group.
This means the way we obey the command is by speaking the word of Christ to each other. Paul is not saying here that we should store up God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). He is saying that we should talk about the word of Christ when we are together. Let the word of Christ dwell among you. Reading, meditating, and memorizing are only the beginning of this call. We need to speak the word of Christ to another.
Christianity is Response
Why does this matter? Why do we need to hear the word of Christ from each other?
Christianity is not just about racking up a stacks of good deeds or rituals performed. It is also not just collecting information about God and gospel. Christianity is a response. It involves a message so our minds are crucial. But if all we have is knowledge we are not Christians. It involves action so our deeds are crucial. But if all we have is activity we are not Christians.
It is like the difference between cutting an apple in half and cutting an apple tree in half. In the first case you still get to have some apple. In the second case, all you have left is a log or a stump. With only knowledge or only action we are not half-Christians. We need to hear the word of Christ so that we can respond to the word of Christ. We need to know so that we can act.
Think about it like this: no one can become a Christian by accident. I once found out that I was nearly doing a new diet fad accidently. I was eating mostly meat and produce and someone asked me if I was doing keto (which I thought was the capital city of Ecuador). You can stumble into all sorts of things accidently, but not Christianity.
We know that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17) but we forget that this is more than an entry issue. This shapes our entire life. We talk about this life as following Jesus because you must see him and respond to him. It is hard to follow someone that you cannot see. This is why Paul prays that the Colossians will be filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Colossians 1:9-10). It is why he tells them to continue in what they were taught (2:6-7). It is also why he tells them to set their minds on things that are above (3:1-2). The way that we are transformed is by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).
The word of Christ must dwell richly among us so that we have something to respond to. This does not mean that we all have to be “thinkers.” We do not all have to read big books and learn ancient languages. We do not all have to be thinkers, but we absolutely must be knowers because we are called to be believers.
The Word for the Whole Church
It is crucial to hear this not only as members of local churches but as members of a global church. Think about the resources that we have at hand. Tally up what we have to help the word of Christ to dwell richly among us. There are books, videos, blogs, bible studies, conferences, and more. We have churches with pastors who have years of training. We have more resources than what we can properly digest in a lifetime. Meanwhile, crowds of our brothers and sisters in Christ are longing to hear the voice of God in his word, but do not have the opportunity.
Even though most of the world’s Christians are outside of the West, the majority of our resources remain here. There is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen and any kid with a coloring book knows that too many people working in the same corner is a problem. Some of us need to spread out. For the sake of the voice of God being heard clearly by the church and for the sake of the world hearing the voice of God through the church all over the globe, some of us have to go.
You cannot cook on a cardboard fire. If you want to cook, you need coals and that takes time.
Cambridge for Coals
These are the things that are pushing our family forward. In service of helping the church to hear God well, we are headed to Cambridge, UK this summer. Right now we are in a major push to gather a support team that will send and support us as we go with SIM.
As it stands today, we need about 40 new supporters within the next 40 days. Please join us as we we serve the Global Church so that the good news of Jesus will be heard where he is least known. Click on the Together… tab for more information about how you can partner with us.
Please join us as we we serve the Global Church so that the good news of Jesus will be heard where he is least known. Click on the Together… tab for more information about how you can partner with us.