And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.
Some folks have their beach condos. My family has our barn.
The barn on my family’s farm – which increasingly is being engulfed by subdivisions – is a symbol of pride for us. Certainly it serves a function: through the years it has housed animals, hay, lumber and everything in between. Built almost century ago, aesthetically it provides a refreshing contrast to the bland development sprouting up all around the farm. But even more, the barn is a reminder of my great-grandfather’s bravery in venturing to a new world to start a new life.
For so many reasons, that barn is precious to us. And that’s why we’re so careful with it: the barn is, honestly, a tinderbox that could light up any moment if we’re not vigilant.
The church is precious to our Lord. He bought her – you and me – with his own blood, and he saved us to be his holy bride. This church in particular is precious to our Redeemer, not only for the spiritual service we offer him but primarily because he loved us first and gave himself for us.
As we’ve seen in our study of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Jesus expects this church to be a thoroughly different sort of community: one built on humility and Christ-centered love.
But this church, filled with us sinners as she is, is a tinderbox. And if you and I aren’t watchful, our tempers and sinful passions can set the church ablaze in an instant.
The Lord calls you and me to be humble, longsuffering and kind toward one another, as we’ve observed in the verses preceding this morning’s text. How, though, is it possible to bridle your tongue and to be patient in times of great stress and irritation? How can you keep this church from being set on fire?
As Paul says today, the peace of this church begins with your heart. Specifically, the preservation and progress of Leakesville Presbyterian Church depend on three things: letting the peace of God control your heart; letting the Word of God dwell richly in your heart; and letting the character of Christ guide your heart.
The Christ-like life springs from a Christ-filled heart.
First, the heart of a Christ-like person – who promotes the welfare of the church – must let the peace of God control it.
The phrase “peace of God” in part refers to the pacifying of God’s holy anger against you and me by the blood of Christ covering our sins. As a result, the peace that you and I enjoy with God – and this thought is primary in Paul’s thinking – gives us peace in our hearts. You no longer are tossed to and fro, wondering if there’s any hope for you. Assured of God’s love in Christ, you can be settled and calm in your innermost being.
This peace is the result of your calling to be in the body of Christ: literally, to be united with him by faith, but also to be united with other believers in Christ. You and I are in one body (the same Savior), and we are, then, united as one body of believers.
The peace of God, Paul instructs us, is to “rule” or “umpire” in our hearts. Knowing that you no longer have any reason to fear, your settled disposition must govern all your thoughts, words and actions toward others.
So long as you live on this earth a war will rage in your heart. Someone irritates you – and you’d cherish the chance to tear into him. You’re divided: as a Christian, you know you must not harm another person with your words; but as a struggling sinner, your flesh craves the opportunity to speak your mind.
That’s why the peace of God is to govern: it settles you down, reminds you of your union with Christ and with that other person, and encourages you to be a peaceful person. Without the peace of God suppressing our sinful impulses, this church quickly would be set afire.
As a corollary to being peaceful, you and I are to be thankful. Thanksgiving, in fact, must be a continuous frame of mind in which you recall your dependence on God’s mercy and offer Him regular thanks. When your heart is governed by God’s peace and filled with thanksgiving, there simply isn’t any room for malice, for selfishness or for haughtiness.
Second, the Christ-filled heart is indwelt richly by the Word of Christ.
When Paul writes of the “Word of Christ,” he might mean the Word that Christ spoke or the Word about Christ. Either way, there’s not much difference: you must saturate your mind with the Scriptures so that your daily thinking is according to God’s Word and not according to the evil impulses of your sin nature.
But what of this idea of the Word taking up residence richly in your heart? Well, it’s a lot like the company you keep. If you have an athlete visit your home every year or three, you might think about being healthier yourself – until you see their taillights pulling out of your driveway. If you live with athletes for years, however, you’re far more likely to think like healthy people and to adopt their habits.
Thus the Word of Christ is to live in you richly, and you’re to receive the Word and to act on it. Scripture can’t be an occasional visitor: it must inhabit your mind and inundate your thinking. As a consequence, when you’re tempted to lash out against a fellow believer, the authoritative Word of God will overrule your sinful passions and bridle your tongue.
Paul speaks of wisdom in verse 16; it’s the Word of God that truly makes you wise. If you hearken to men rather than to the Lord, you cannot in any way be considered wise. And if you are biblically enlightened, your decisions and words will reflect God’s wisdom.
The Apostle offers an interesting formula in the latter part of verse 16: he says, in effect, that if the Word dwells richly in you, you will be moved to sing graciously and joyfully to God in your heart. Your heart of devotion then will overflow into psalms and hymns of praise from your lips – and you’ll replace bitter words with spiritually edifying speech. That is, if you know God’s Word, you’ll love Him more, and your love for Him will manifest itself in spiritual songs that crop up in daily conversation.
How should you communicate with other believers? Should you tear into them when they make a mistake – or allow them to stumble directly into sin?
Of course not!
Rather, you and I are to teach and to warn one another – but using God’s Word, not our own malicious words.
There probably isn’t much distinction between “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,” and it’s unlikely Paul is here commanding the church to sing only psalms in worship services.
There’s a bigger point: when your heart is filled with God’s Word, and as a result with praise for Him, you’ll speak words to others that build them up – not break them down.
Third, the Christ-filled heart is controlled by a vision for honoring Christ in all things.
Paul’s summary statement in verse 17 looks both backward and forward in the passage, but it serves as a valuable governing truth in the midst of everyday life: in whatever you do, whether speaking or acting, do everything to Christ’s glory. (When he speaks of the “name of Christ,” Paul intends the character and honor of Christ. A person’s name, according to Scripture, is all that for which he stands). Indeed, you’re to speak and to do all things with thanksgiving to God through Christ, who is our worthy Mediator and only means of access to the Father.
In the grind of daily living, it generally doesn’t take much to ignite you or me. Sometimes the heated board meeting Thursday afternoon seems far removed from the serenity of this church Sunday morning. Christian virtue plays second fiddle to flaring tempers.
Thus Paul commands that whatever you do, do it with Christ’s honor in mind. And give thanks to God while performing the act or speaking the words.
If your heart is guided by a vision for honoring the Lord Jesus Christ, you won’t have room for selfishness or for vindictive actions. If you’re employed with thanking Him, you won’t have the opportunity to snarl at someone else.
Everyday life isn’t removed from Sunday morning: in all things, even in the smallest of things and in the idlest of conversations, do all to the honor of Jesus Christ your Savior.
In God’s providence, we have come upon this passage in Colossians during a vital, yet potentially inflammable, time in the life of our church. Officer elections provide many opportune moments for us sinners to “play politics” or to destroy other Christians with our tongues. A renovation project on the church is, likewise, a breeding ground for second-guessing, self-will, pride and mean-spiritedness.
I say this not out of disrespect – but out of love for Christ and for you, and out of great hope of what this church can be for Christ.
In these critical times, let the peace of Christ overwhelm you and dictate your emotions. Let the Word of God take up residence in you and flood your mind constantly. Let a vision for Christ’s honor shape your least word or action.
If each of you does so, with thanksgiving and praise in your heart, we as a church won’t have occasion to stumble. Instead, this might be the finest hour for the work of the kingdom in Leakesville Presbyterian Church.