As a Church – are we at peace (3:15)?
Are we carrying any stresses or tensions around? Are there any strained relationships amongst us? What doubts are we experiencing? As a Church – are we at peace? If we were to take a vote now – either a show of hands or a secret ballot – I wonder how many people would say that as a Church we are completely at peace with God and with each another. I wonder how many would say that we are not? As a Church – are we at peace?
The truth contained in these three verses from Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church can transform our lives. These nuggets of gold can enrich many times over the life and witness of this Church. This appeal to live and breathe the message of Jesus can lead to a change in us that will impact every aspect of our lives; and I am not exaggerating.
Verse 15: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Shortly before he was arrested and crucified Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). After the horror of the crucifixion and the wonderful joy of the resurrection Jesus appeared to his confused, fearful disciples and said, “Peace by with you!” (John 20:19); even though Jesus wasn’t Church of England; because of course he was Jewish! When St. Peter began sharing the Good News of Jesus with people outside the Jewish community he described the message of God as “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36); and St. Paul, writing to the Corinthian Church ended the letter we call 2 Corinthians like this: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11).
When St. Paul writes to the Church, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” he has in mind the Jewish concept of ‘Shalom’ – peace and wholeness and unity. The ‘Peace’ or the ‘Shalom’ that Jesus has for us is so much more than an absence of conflict. The peace of Jesus is not an uncomfortable truce borne out of past conflicts or grudges or issues that have been swept under the carpet. The peace or the shalom of Jesus is a reality where unity is genuine, where unity in Christ settles disputes, where grievances are forgiven and left in the past, and where suspicions or disagreements are dealt with at the very deepest level.
St. Paul would say to us: ‘People and community of Christ Church – Shalom! Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.’ Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you.” We are called to be a community of people where the peace of Jesus rules and reigns.
Jesus also says to us, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
I was in Milton Keynes on Friday; meeting with a potential guest speaker for our Church weekend away in the autumn of 2011. We were chatting away; I had just mentioned that the peace of Jesus was to be a major theme this morning, and at that moment we noticed that outside there was a flock of doves circling just to the side of the house. The potential significance wasn’t lost on me because at the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove; and of course we associate a dove with peace. This flock (if that’s the right word) were flying together, soaring upwards together, swooping low together, and every so often settling on the roof of a house together. They weren’t precisely in unison, some were a little awry, but they were unmistakeably together.
We are called to ‘shalom’, peace, togetherness, unity, common purpose; a common mind; but how do we get there? How do we rid ourselves of the relationship difficulties – some very minor but some perhaps more challenging – that prevent us from experiencing the fullness of the peace of Jesus?
Last week as we studied Colossians 3: 12-14 St. Paul was showing us how: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (3:12). That is how we are called to be with each other. That is how we are called to behave towards one another; and Paul then refers to the issue that tends to block and spoil the ‘shalom’ of Jesus from flooding into the Church, and into our lives. If we can deal with this issue then our relationships will be utterly transformed! In verse 13 Paul writes: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another”. Are you doing that? Are we doing that?
As a Church – are we at peace? I long for the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, in our homes, and in this church; because we are members together of one body – his body – the church!
Verse 16: 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 with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Worship pervades this section of Colossians. As we submit ourselves completely - with thankful hearts - to the rule and Lordship of Christ, we will experience his perfect peace in our midst; and Paul now turns his attention towards a life characterised by worship.
We are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. To explain this, in 1907 A.L. Williams wrote: “Be at home in the gospel story, and let it be at home in you, so that it may always be ready for use.”
The Word of Christ here is the entire gospel event, the story of Jesus, the message of Jesus, the forgiveness of Jesus, the love of Jesus for all people, the Holy Spirit of Jesus that fills and refreshes us. It is the whole horde of treasure that is unearthed as we live out the message of the Bible, and as we let the message of the Bible live in and through us; and as we make a point of “teaching and admonishing one another” (3:16). The message of Jesus is meant to transform us. We are to use it to teach and to caution one another; and my word of caution today is that whereas we will not experience the fullness of the peace of Christ if we do not forgive one another, the transforming Good News of Jesus is that his peace is poured out upon us in great measure as we forgive and love one another as he first loved us.
Paul then goes on to mention psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – worshipping God with singing, with gratitude in our hearts.
As we worship in song here on a Sunday God’s perfect intention is that we experience the peace of Christ Jesus, and that the treasures of the word of Christ will grow strong roots in our lives.
There are some great ways that we can invite the word of Christ to dwell richly in us. At home we can take a few minutes every day to study it. If you find that difficult then a great way to drink in the story of Jesus is to get hold of an audio Bible. There’s a free download of the entire New Testament available at www.faithcomesbyhearing.com and I would thoroughly recommend it to you. Some people find it helpful to take notes during the Sunday sermon and to refer back to them during the week, or to look up some of the scripture references. At home you could use Bible Reading notes. You can access a daily Bible reading plus explanation on our Church website; or you can buy a decent Bible commentary, designed to help the Word of Christ dwell richly in you.
As the word dwells richly in us; and as we forgive others as God forgives us, we will experience the fullness of the ‘shalom’, the peace of the Lord Jesus. It is what I want for this Church – for each one of you; so I hope I am not focussing too much on information today. It is not a download of information that I hope to see, but rather it is transformation that I long for.
But there is another aspect of life that can sometimes so paralyze us that we can find ourselves empty, not experiencing peace, struggling to give thanks to God, and finding it hard to worship. It is a four letter word beginning with ‘W’: Work. I remember back in 1997 when I was having a really difficult time at work, with ‘The Woolwich’, I had a long chat with my Vicar who listened carefully to what I said. On the Sunday he preached and I was reminded that God knows about our struggles. He knows and he cares, and I was encouraged, but work remained hard, and for some of you work is especially tough, perhaps unbearable.
Verse 17: 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.
This refers to all that we do in the life of the Church, but is also refers to our daily tasks – the work that we do, whatever it is that we do; because as odd as it may sound – the work that we do is also worship. But when it comes to our work, to quote Mark Greene, many of us are ‘atheists’ because we think God isn’t looking! The Hebrew word for work is ‘avodah’. ‘Avodah’ is also the word for worship! No wonder a little later in this letter Paul goes on to say, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men …It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (3:23-24). And that was originally addressed to slaves! You might feel a bit like a slave in your place of work, but God knows, God cares, and God is interested in the smallest detail of your work, because we are doing it for him; and work is part of worship.
To do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ means that we do it with the attitude of Jesus Christ (see Philippians 2:5). When we speak and when we act we consider Jesus, we take our lead from Jesus, and we seek to emulate Jesus. If Jesus was physically standing here next to me, how would I answer that insult? How would I respond to that need? How would I speak a word of encouragement or rebuke? What would Jesus do? That is our aim.
Someone here may be thinking that you need to know the peace of Jesus. Someone may be struggling to forgive something that happened a long time ago; someone may know that the word of Christ is not dwelling richly in you. Someone may be struggling at work. God wants his people to know his perfect peace, to fill you afresh with his life-giving spirit, and to grant you joy in your work as you do it for him. So, may the peace of Christ; may the Word of Christ; may the name of the Lord Jesus Christ be always with you!