Gracious Speech

August 3, 2023 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

I love finding parallels between the words of Jesus and the writings of Paul. There are some in the Christian world who believe that Jesus and Paul are at odds with one another, thus creating a divide in their Bibles and among other Christians. Either you are a Jesus-Christian or a Paul-Christian. But Paul and Jesus are on the same page time after time. They teach the same gospel, the same theology, the same ethics, albeit using different logic and language. 

One such place where Paul and Jesus agree is in our speech. Jesus says in Matthew 12:33-34, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Jesus says that our speech reveals our inner nature and what fills our hearts. 

Paul says the same thing in Colossians. Paul adds, though, direction for how to “make the tree good.” Paul says in 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.” Let me break this verse down so we can begin to see the parallels with Jesus’ teaching. 

The main clause of this verse is “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” It’s a command. It is Paul’s direction for how to “make the tree good.” It must be a transformation that begins with the inner person. And the word of Christ is living and active, bringing new life and producing transformation. We do not make our nature “good.” The Word of Christ transforms us to be “good.” So the command is to let the Word of Christ do its work in our hearts. 

Jesus said it is “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Paul says “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Paul basically is saying, let the Word of Christ be the abundance of your heart. For Paul, this is how our hearts, and our speech, is transformed. 

Back to Colossians 3:16. Paul adds to the main clause two participial phrases. Participles are the “-ing” words. Paul loves using them, making long, complicated sentences. They can be used as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. In Colossians 3:16, these two participial phrases are adverbs, modifying the main verb clause. As an adverb, they will answer a question like how or when or where or why or to what end. The first phrase is “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (yes, I know, there are two participles in this one phrase; they are in a series and go together as one phrase). This phrase explains how we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. It is not the only way, but it is the way Paul emphasizes in this verse. We need teaching and admonishing from fellow believers so that the word of Christ dwells in us richly. We cannot do this on our own. Reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture, even as valuable as they are for our Scripture intake, are not enough. We need the wisdom of the Christian community to aid us in our understanding and application of the Word of Christ. 

The second participial phrase is “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” This phrase could give another answer to the question of how, but I tend to think it answers the question, “What is the result?” When the word of Christ dwells in us richly, our speech is transformed. We sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We have reasons for joy and celebration. Our hearts are filled with thanksgiving. There is an overflow of joy in our conversations. Or, as Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” 

Paul confirms this in a few verses after Colossians 3:16. In 4:6 he writes, “Let your speech always be gracious.” There are two direct connections between the two verses that the English translation obscures. First, the Greek word logos is the first word in each verse. 3:16 reads, “The word of Christ let dwell…” 4:6 reads, “The word of you always let be…” Our “word” (speech is a fine translation) must be influenced by the word of Christ. The second connection is the Greek phrase en chariti, which literally means “in/with/by grace.” In 3:16 it is translated “with thanksgiving.” In 4:6 it is translated “gracious.” If singing psalms en chariti is the result of the rich indwelling of the word of Christ, then letting our speech be en chariti must also be the result of the rich indwelling of the word of Christ. 

This phrase en chariti is one of Paul’s favorites for explaining how we are saved. He says in Ephesians 2:8 that we are saved en chariti. Out of the abundance of God’s grace transforming our hearts, our mouths will speak grace. Gracious speech flows from hearts that have the word of Christ’s grace dwelling richly in them.


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