And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~ Colossians 3:17
I’ve read a lot of writers in the fellowship of churches of Christ who insist that this verse means that (in the words of at least one of them): “Whatever we say and do must be supported by His authority” and “The church should obey the apostles’ teaching and should not adhere to anything not authorized by Christ.”
Which all sounds very scriptural and obedient and worthy, except that not everything that a church can do (even a lot of good things) can’t be said to be specifically authorized by Christ.
And a lot of things that churches — even churches led by some of these writers — are doing all the time are not specifically authorized.
I don’t really want to get into all that; it’s an old argument.
What I want to ask is: Where does the word “authority” fit into this verse? Which words is it between, so I can find it? Does this verse really have anything to do with the authority of Christ as a prerequisite for doing anything?
These writers’ logic goes like this: because a great many Old Testament verses and a few New Testament verses use the phrase “in the name of” to connote that someone spoke or acted “by the authority of,” that’s what it means here in Colossians 3; it can have no other meaning. (They’ll cite Deuteronomy 18; 1 Samuel 17:45; 2 Kings 2:24; Esther 8:10; Isaiah 48:1; Jeremiah 11:21; Acts 4:18; 16:18; James 5:14 and perhaps some others, and I won’t quibble.)
Trouble is, in the Old Testament and New, there are plenty of instances where “in the name of” has little or none of that connotation; it can mean “in behalf of” (1 Chronicles 16:2; 21:19; Psalm 129:8; Jeremiah 26:16; Matthew 21:9; Acts 5:40; 1 Corinthians 1:10) or “in honor of” (1 Samuel 20:42; 1 Kings 18:32; Psalm 20:5; Micah 4:5) or “trusting in / dependent upon” (Psalm 20:7; 124:8; Isaiah 50:10; Zephaniah 3:12; John 3:18; Acts 2:38; 10:48; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 John 3:23) or even “in gratitude to” (Psalm 106:47; Ephesians 5:20)
The context of this verse is gratitude; giving thanks to God through Christ. Let’s just read a few verses which verse 17 culminates:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~ Colossians 3:15-17
Yes, the context is worship; specifically the sharing of gratitude to God with fellow believers in wisely teaching and edifying each other in song. It should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.
How does that mean “with the authority of the Lord Jesus”? Is His authority needed in order to say “Thank you” to God? Is it a command to close each prayer “In Jesus’ Name” or God will not hear it? Was Jesus’ name required at the end of every prayer from Adam until the resurrection, too? Did the apostles all pray and sing and close each prayer and hymn “In Jesus’ Name” lest God not listen to them? Must we?
Is this a command to sing and sing only? Is this a command that specifically forbids instruments of music by not mentioning them at all?
Is this the only way that we are authorized to teach and admonish one another by vocal music? Should we have cantors rather than preachers?
Is there anywhere in this verse something that says everything a church or believer does must be specifically authorized by the authority of Jesus Christ and/or that anything not specifically authorized is automatically forbidden and condemned and punishable if violated by eternal hellfire (as some writers would have you believe)?
Does it only apply to gathered worship or also to individual worship?
Does it apply only to worship? (It does say “all.”)
I think there’s at least one alternative and better interpretation of the phrase “in the name of.”
I think this passage is a reminder that Jesus promised and explained:
It is a custom that reminds both Jew and Gentile (who have been used to another way of praying and praising their God or gods) of the One through whom they have believed in a God who has accepted His last sacrifice for sin.
Surely we are to be as grateful to the Son as to the Father God; both made that sacrifice.
And let’s just think about the concept of worship for a moment. Is worship something that God wants from us because He has commanded it and requires it and expects us to only do it in prescribed ways with no margin for creativity and so we do it out of obligation, duty, fear and selfish desire to obey in order to be saved in heaven and avoid eternal punishment? Is that the motivation from which true worship springs?
Or does worship best flow from gratitude … from the joy of receiving the promise, of being blessed, of having worth ascribed to us by God and being entrusted with the precious gospel of Jesus Christ, to faithfully and truthfully bear it to others who need it as dearly as ourselves? Not to mention the power and promise that He will give what we ask (and doesn’t that imply a responsibility to know His will and to want it to be done and to ask for it to be done through us)?
Are we not to do all that we do in gratitude for what God through Christ has done for us?
The verse says what it says. Does it mean what these writers say it means? Is that the one and only meaning it can have — that “in the name of” means “by the authority of” and no other?
And if it can have both meanings in this passage … where in the context of the verse are the words that talk about authority?
Yes, I am using a different hermeneutic from most people, a Jesus Hermeneutic, that asks “Which interpretation draws me closer to God through Christ?” and the answer that it yields has nothing to do with the law Jesus fulfilled or instructions God left out but expects us to obey anyway.
And I will keep using it, because it points to the Way, the Truth and the Life and not to the law of sin and judgment and death.