Keeping the Peace - Colossians 3:15 - 4:1
One of the challenges any preacher faces is to grab the attention of the congregation. Well, one day a curate hit on a bright idea to do just that. He began his sermon: Last night, my wife found me in the arms of another woman. And of course everyones ears pricked up at the sound of a juicy morsel of scandal. The curate went on: Yes she did, and the woman was my mother. Well, there just happened to be the Bishop sitting in the congregation that morning and he was so impressed with this sermon opener he decided to try it out the next time he preached. Unfortunately, the Bishop was well known for having a memory like a sieve. So he stood up and began his sermon, Last night my wife found my in the arms of another woman - and for the life of me cant remember who she was.
At a more serious level there is a spiritual equivalent to memory loss, which is a failure on behalf of the Christian to appreciate who Christ is and what he has done. The Christian writer Os Guinness puts it like this: Part of the moulding - power of the world is its ability to leave us blasé. It makes us accustomed to the efficient, the routine and the expected. It encourages in us an arrogance which takes everything for granted. This is true of the world of science and technology where the spirit of secularism has triumphed, and it is no different in the area of faith. You see, if from time to time we do not remember what life was like before we became a Christian, or what life would be like if Christ were not there, one thing we will soon be starved of is gratitude. That deep, heartfelt thankfulness that God in Christ should ever look upon us in the first place and shower his love upon us daily. And so not only will our religion degenerate into that which is dry and formal, we will also be tempted to look elsewhere for a remedy to our spiritual malaise. That is when we will be at our most vulnerable to those who will come along offering that extra something - as was happening in Colossae. And so it is not surprising that in the passage we are looking at tonight in Colossians chapter 3, the one theme which keeps surfacing again and again is gratitude. It is there at the end of v 15 be thankful, v16 singing hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude, v17 doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father. Now this doesn't mean having a SWEG - a Sickly, Wet, Evangelical Grin - that can be just plain off-putting as well as being ludicrously false. No, for Paul the life of thanksgiving is far more radical and impressive than that. You see, whether it is in relationships at church, or at home or at work our gratitude to Christ is to be such that these relationships are enriched and transformed. We are to be so full of thanks as we ponder our salvation in Christ that it simply spills over into every area of life. So Pauls concern is in helping Christians to work out what it really means to thankfully acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. And this involves three things: the peace of Christ, the word of Christ and the fear of Christ.
First of all, the peace of Christ v 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Now the fact that Paul speaks of being members of one body which is a picture of the church, seems to indicate that the peace he is referring to is not some inner peace of mind in the individual Christian, but peaceful, harmonious relationships within the fellowship. We have already seen in 1: 20 that it was in order to establish peace between ourselves and God, and so with each other that Christ came and died on a cross, so where else is that peaceful working together, overcoming differences to be displayed but in the local fellowship of the church? Just consider this metaphor of being members of a body for a moment. Think of what would happen in a human body if the different parts were given consciousness and freedom of choice. Then the hand decided to attack the throat or the left foot to stamp on the right foot. In other words imagine some civil war breaking out in your body. Now to say that you would have a dysfunctional person would be one major understatement. And yet you know, there is many a dysfunctional church, with petty interests being pursued to the detriment of its members. No, Christ has created peace. In principle hostility has ended, so his peace is to be our rule. And the word rule, here, carries overtones of an umpire. So for peace to break out amongst us, what we must constantly be asking is this : is what I am doing or wanting to do going to enable the church to be the church - that is witness to the Gospel of peace or will it deny it? If the latter, then umpire rules - out of court - stop it - get on with the game.
But if the peace of Christ is to rule in our hearts, then the word of Christ must be allowed to dwell in our lives - v16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. There is no reason to suppose that this word of Christ is any different from the word of truth Paul speaks of at the beginning of the letter in chapter 1: 5 which he then goes on to identify as the gospel in verse - 6. And this word is to dwell amongst believers richly, says Paul, that is the church is to be as well stocked with good teaching as a palace is filled with rich treasures. And as this word dwells within the fellowship we teach and as we teach it dwells, perpetuating itself as it were. And notice who is to do this - everyone - as you (plural) teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. You see, this is not the prerogative of a few with dog collars, it is the responsibility of us all. It happens in home groups - that is a great place to do this sort of thing. It should happen as Christians simply talk with each other, share concerns, gently bringing a Christian perspective to bear on things - perhaps that Bible verse which provides a word of comfort to someone just bereaved or a questioning word when someone is involved in a relationship they deep down know they ought not to be involved in. But we can only give out what has been put in, so we neglect that daily time with Gods Word at our peril, as well as to the detriment of our brothers and sisters in church, for if we are not feeding on the Word then we cannot feed others. Stands to reason doesn't it?
But did you notice how else this outflow of the treasures of Christs Word happens - through singing - psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We have a tendency to think of hymn singing to be for Gods benefit - so we must offer him our praise. Well, there is a sense in which that is the case, as truths about God are sung and heard by others, he is glorified as people are drawn to him and acknowledge him for who he is. But, for the most part singing hymns is for our benefit - a vital means of building up Christians and so the church as our minds are fed with gospel truths set to music and our hearts are stirred into thoughtful adoration. In fact chapter 1: 15 ff. and following might well be such a hymn which the early Christians used - jam packed with tremendous teaching about the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ - get that under your belt and you will be able to spot a heresy a mile away as well as being taken up in rapturous adoration. The Christian writer A. W. Tozer puts it like this: I say without qualification, after the sacred Scriptures, the next best companion for the soul is a good hymn book. For the child of God, the Bible is the book of all books, to be reverenced, loved, pored over endlessly and feasted upon.. To ignore it or neglect it is to doom our minds to error and our hearts to salvation. After the Bible, the hymnbook is next.... Sometimes our hearts are stubborn and will not soften no matter how much praying we do. At such times, it is often found that the singing of a good hymn will melt the ice jam and start the inward affections flowing. Isn't that true? I well remember as a student on a Monday morning having had a great time in church Sunday evening, cycling down Inglemire lane from Needler Hall to the university singing my head off - And can it be? People probably thought I was mad as I overtook the milk float, but it did me the world of good. But Pauls point is that it does us all the world of good - to get Christian truths infused into our heart through song is one of the most valuable services we can ever give to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. That is why we must go back to old hymns which are rich and deep as well as drawing on the best of the new. So when it comes to singing in church, please sing up - I certainly need it if no one else does!
Now the practical expression of the life of gratitude is summed up in v17 which leads on to some detailed outworkings: 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. Do you see how the whole of the Christian life is to be embraced with thanksgiving and there is no room for compartmentalisation - so this becomes the religious bit separate from the way I view my work or family life. In that great hymn already mentioned in chapter 1, Paul has painted in the most striking colours imaginable how Jesus is Lord of all by virtue of creation and by virtue of redemption. In the eternal mind marriage and family life was conceived as a blessing, work as an expression of our god - likeness, he is a creative worker and so are we. But sin has entered the world and marred everything, but Christ has come to unravel the effects of sin and exercise his loving rule amongst those he has redeemed. So now we have a test we can apply as we consider any course of action: can I do this in the name of the Lord Jesus and thank God the Father for it? By doing this particular thing in this way does it express the Lordship of Jesus Christ or does it deny it? Can Christians honestly say: I had premarital sex in the name of the Lord Jesus ? I got drunk in the name of the Lord Jesus, I lied in the name of the Lord Jesus ? Some apparently seem to think so. But it grates doesnt it? Can Christians say: I cooked this meal in the name of the Lord Jesus ? I dug this ditch in the name of the Lord Jesus ? I studied for this exam in the name of the Lord Jesus ? Of course they can. He is Lord of all.
So very briefly lets see how this works itself out in the other two spheres of family life and work life - which brings us to the fear of Christ - vv 18 - 4: 1.
Now it is when we come to a list of injunctions such as these - wives submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives, children obey your parents in everything, slaves obey your earthly masters in everything, that the extent to which we seriously take the Lordship of Jesus is put to the test. Did you notice how everything is linked back to Jesus Lordship? How it is a matter of what is fitting in the Lord, what pleases the Lord, serving the Lord, masters knowing they have a master in heaven? That is what I mean by the fear of Christ - that awesome recognition that he stands behind everything we do. Now, if we are honest, our immediate reaction is to say Ah but... and reel off the exceptions. Should a child obey his parents if they command him to steal. Should a wife submit to an abusive husband and so on. Paul is not stupid - he is a as realistic about sin as anyone. These commands are set within a wider context of what characterises the Christian life and the non - Christian life and wisdom is all about having the nouse to apply these commands intelligently. But that is not the same as trying to overturn them and reduce their force because they are not PC. It is far more challenging and will get us nearer to what God wants, if we take the commands at face value and try to go with them and then to deal with the exceptions as they arise, rather than letting the exceptions undermine the force of these commands.
Now we must get it clear in our minds that how we are to behave as Christian husbands, fathers, wives, workers, employers - to bring it up to date - flows from what we are as Christians. Earlier in the chapter we have already seen that the Christian is different, he has a new status and a new power - which stems from his relationship to Christ. He is in Christ and Christ is in him. Now I want to suggest to you that what Paul has to say here about how Christians are to act in their various relationships are all expressions of the way Christ acted and continues to act through us.
How can wives submit to their husbands? Well, because they see Jesus submitting to his heavenly Father: I have come down from heaven not to do my will but the will of him who sent me. (John 6: 38)Has not the Lord Jesus dignified a submissive spirit by his own example? Should it then be such a burden for the Christian wife to follow her Lord at this point by being submissive to her husband? How can husbands love their wives refusing to be harsh with them? Because that is exactly what Jesus does with us:. John writes: Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love(John 13: 1) - Jesus then wrapped a towel around himself and got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciples feet - including the one who was going to betray him. He wasnt harsh with them or high and mighty with them - he loved them. But the full extent of his love is shown of course at the cross - as he bled for his bride - the church. And could you have ever wanted a more obedient son than Jesus ? As he lay prostrate in that garden, beside himself with fear at the prospect of what was to come on Golgotha, he cried out: Abba, Father, everything is possible with you. Take this cup of suffering from me. Yet not what I will but what you will (Matt 14: 36)And you say your parents expect too much from you?
Was there any point when Jesus embittered his spiritual children, ever failing to encourage them? Such that even after him being denied, the risen Lord Jesus said to Peter: Feed my sheep(Jn21: 17) - no grinding his face into the dirt, nothing but a clear sign of trust and forgiveness. And as Jesus worked, pressed in by the crowds, teaching, healing - did he do it simply to gain the applause of men? Did he take shortcuts when the disciples werent watching - saying to himself Well, let us get away with a short sermon today? Hardly: He made himself as nothing, taking the very nature of a slave (Phil 2: 7). And you complain that your employer doesn't value you enough? That your course is too demanding so get by with the minimum of homework? - v23 Whatever, you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. That is Christian thanks in action - yes Lord Jesus I love you and I will show it by the way I work. And what possible motivation could there be for someone in a position of responsibility over people to treat them with dignity and fairness? All judgement has been entrusted to the Son.. a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to life and those who have done evil will be condemned. (John 5: 28)You see, he is impeccably fair in his dealings with us and so should we in our dealings with each other because we are going to have to answer to him one day.
You can privatise the train service, you can privatise nuclear fuel, in theory you can privatise more or less whatever you want, but what you cannot do is privatise Christ - not if you are going to be a real and effective Christian, because he will not be reduced to pocket size. As the missionary Hudson Taylor once put it: He is Lord of all or not Lord at all. And in a society like ours which has kissed goodbye to God and is paying the price - there is only one hope for the future - and that is communities like ours in which we experience the peace of Christ, in which dwells the word of Christ and as we all exhibit this loving healthy fear of Christ - Jesus is Lord - lets show it.
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