And if you would take a Bible in hand, turn with me to Colossians chapter 3; Colossians 3:15-17 on page 948 in one of the church Bibles. Paul has been offering us some general exhortations about practical Christian living and beginning in verse 18, as we'll see God-willing next week, he's going to get quite a bit more specific with some exhortations about the Christian family and the Christian household. Here he's still in the level of general principle. He has called us, we've seen, to put sin to death, verse 5, to live a new life, to put off the filthy garments of sin, verse 8, to put on the new clothes of obedience that reflect our true identity now that we are united to Jesus Christ, verse 12. That is the challenging task of Christian holiness. Put sin to death; put it off. Put on obedience and likeness to Jesus. Well, how do we do that, Paul? Paul's concern is not only to tell us about the tasks of Christian obedience but now also to provide us with some of the tools that will help us to implement the exhortations he has given us to help us grow in obedience. That's verses 15 through 17 this morning.
If you’ll look at the passage with me for a moment, before we read it I want to highlight the way the text, these three verses, are structured and put together. In each of them you will find an exhortation to do something, Christ is explicitly mentioned in each, and in each we are called to be thankful. Do you see those elements in these three verses? Verse 15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And be thankful.” Verse 16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…with thankfulness.” Verse 17, “Do everything, whether in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks.” So there’s the same structure in each.
In verse 15, as we’re going to see, Paul’s focus is really on the unity of the church and the peace of Christ as the tool by which by preserve our unity. In verse 16 he’s focused on ministry, that we not only be passive receivers and consumers of the Word but that we teach and admonish one another. That we become Word ministers ourselves, and as we do, the Word of God will dwell in us; the Word of Christ will dwell in us richly. He’s focused first on unity, then ministry, then thirdly, verse 17, he’s focused on doxology. “Let everything be done in the name,” that is, for the sake and for the glory “of the Lord Jesus.” So unity, ministry, and doxology. And all the way through at every point, he says all of this is to be done from a grateful heart, a heart of thankfulness and gratitude. So those are the tools Paul is giving us to help us make progress as he calls us to put sin to death and to live to righteousness; to put off the old life and to put on a life of Christlikeness. And we’re simply going to work through each of them in turn. Before we do that, let’s bow our heads as we ask for God to help us in prayer. Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, You have the words of eternal life. To whom else shall we turn? So as we come to You and Your Word, we pray that You would give to us ears to hear what Your Spirit is saying to the church, for we ask this in Your name. Amen.
Colossians 3 at the fifteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy, inerrant Word.
So a few years ago my younger brother decided that a great gift would be table tennis, a ping-pong table, for his nephews, my two boys. That sounds like a nice gift. Not so fast! The thing required construction, and guess who had to put it together? And so, I'm in the garage, grunting and muttering as I try to put this thing together. It was enormous and it weighed a done and it filled the whole garage. We couldn't park our cars in there and I grew to resent it, honestly. I think my brother, when I told him about it, he just said, "You're welcome," with a big smile! And so when it was finished, I was really proud of myself. It's a collapsible thing; it folds up. And it was huge. And I stood back and sort of marveled at my own hard work and the fruit of my labors and then I folded it down only to discover that the two halves didn't meet in the middle. You know where the net is supposed to go, there was like a six-inch gap! And when I unscrewed the top and pushed the two halves back together again and fixed it in place, I couldn't collapse it! Something had gone wrong along the way. I must have missed some steps. And so I did what everyone who works with their hands and makes a mistake does – I immediately blamed my tools! "It wasn't me. It was the tools! If only I had the right tools." That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.
When it comes to living the Christian life, the apostle Paul wants to make sure we never make that excuse. “You know, I would obey but I don’t know how. I don’t have the tools. I would be faithful to Jesus in this area in my life if only I had the tools.” In our passage, he gives us the tools that we need – the peace of Christ to secure our unity, the Word of Christ to advance ministry, and the name of Christ to turn everything we do into doxology. The peace of Christ to secure our unity, the Word of Christ to advance ministry, and the name of Christ to turn everything we do into doxology and praise.
Let's think about the first of those in verse 15 – the peace of Christ that secures our unity. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body." The focus is on the unity of the church. Paul's talked about the church several times in Colossians as the body of Christ, chapter 1 verse 18, again in verse 24 of chapter 1, and again even more explicitly in the context of the need for unity in the church, chapter 2 verse 19. And this theme of unity we saw even more recently in chapter 3 has come up again and again as a major concern of the apostle Paul. We saw him in verses 12 through 14 urging meekness and humility and patience and forgiving one another. We saw the "one another" language that is very much at the front of Paul's concern for the Colossian church. We saw in verse 11 of chapter 3 several weeks ago Paul remind them that here, there is no Jew or Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free; but Christ is all and in all."
You see, at Colossae, the false teaching had begun to cause division and fractions that the church was straining at its unity, it was bursting, the seams were beginning to split; the relationships were tearing. And so Paul is very much concerned that we see, as he presses the duty of Christian holiness upon us, that Christian holiness is never fractious, it’s never contentious, it is never prickly. It is a community project. It is something we pursue together. And the tool, he says, that we need if we are going to advance and preserve and secure our unity so that we may make progress in likeness to Jesus, he says is the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The “your” there is plural. So your hearts, this peace of Christ is something we share. We have it in common. It is ours together. And the word for “rule” – actually we’ve met a version of this word earlier back in chapter 2 verse 18 where Paul translates it as “disqualify.” “Do not let anyone disqualify you.” Both the word that’s used here and the word that’s from the same route that’s earlier in chapter 2, both originally have the sense of a referee, an umpire in a sporting event, for example, that might rule something out of bounds, that would call a foul in the middle of the game according to the rules. So he’s saying the peace of Christ is to be the referee in your heart that will rule certain behaviors out of bounds, that will call foul when needed, to speak to your conscience, to your heart, to call you to preserve your unity.
Listen, when you became a Christian you were an enemy of God. He was hostile to you because of your sin. And because of the cross of Jesus Christ, you were reconciled to God so that instead of enmity with God you were adopted into His family, you were reconciled to Him. Now you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. That is an objective reality, not a felt reality. Praise God, whether you feel it or not, if you're a Christian today you have peace with God in the courts of heaven. Whether you feel it or not, it's an objective fact – peace with God.
But there’s more than that that happens when you become a follower of Jesus. Not only do you receive peace with God, you have peace from God. Peace in your heart to guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The peace of God that passes all understanding. It comes in the wake of having your conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ, from dead works to serve the living and true God. It comes as you realize you were once, as it were, an orphan, but now you’re an adopted child of the great King and this is your family and these are your people. The church of Christ is your family. The Word of Christ your daily bread. The glory of Christ your great purpose. And now because of this, you have peace from God and peace in your heart to guard and play referee.
And I think we all understand how that works. When our relationships are under pressure and we find ourselves frustrated with one another, when we know we’ve sinned against a brother or a sister we have our peace shattered. The inner referee is crying, “Foul!” And I suspect for some of us today this is a timely word. God is really saying to you, “One of the reasons you have not made progress in your Christian life, why it’s stalled the way that it has, is because for far too long you have allowed some festering resentment to simmer away. You’ve learned to smile and say the right things and go along to get along while inside you’re seething and frustrated and you’re holding a grudge.” Paul is saying the peace of Christ is to play referee in your heart, saying, “Foul.”
Now, what do you do when your conscience stings and your peace is shattered and when you know that you're breaking fellowship with a brother or sister for whom Christ died? What are you supposed to do? You remember the words of Jesus to "leave your gift at the altar and go, be reconciled to your brother." Paul has earlier said in this very chapter, "Forgive one another. As the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive each other." The peace of Christ is the referee who works in our hearts. It's the gift of Jesus to preserve our unity, alerting us to our need to pursue one another, to bear with one another in patience, to forgive one another that love might cover a multitude of sins and help us preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. So first, Paul says we need the peace of Christ to rule, to be referee in our hearts that our unity might be preserved, that in the fellowship of the church together we might grow in grace and in likeness to Christ.
The secondly, verse 16, he says we need the Word of Christ to advance ministry. First, the peace of Christ to secure unity, now the Word of Christ to advance ministry. Verse 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 heart to God." So how, Paul, do I practically put sin to death? How do I make progress in my Christian life? What's the plan? Well here's part of the plan. We are to let the Word of Christ, the Word of God, the holy Scriptures, the Bible, which is God's key to our growth – neglect the Bible, neglect yourself. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Go beyond superficial. Penetrate deeply into it. Let it marinate in the Word. Let it soak into you. Make it a part of yourself. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."
And how does that happen? How do we do that? Paul says we are to be more than consumers of the Word; we are to be Word ministers. Do you see that in the text? Verse 16, “teaching and admonishing one another.” How will the Word of Christ dwell in me richly? It will happen as we teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. We’re not simply to be consumers of the Word; we are called to be ministers of the Word. You are called to be a minister of the Word if you have been called to be a follower of Jesus Christ. There’s a sense in which we, all of us, are to be speaking the Word to one another. That’s what Paul says in our text. Not just hearing the Word Sunday by Sunday, but proclaiming the Word throughout the week, sharing the Word among us and from us to the world around us. You are called to Word ministry.
And you know actually when you do that, haven't you noticed this – when you share the Word with others for their good, when you teach and admonish, the Word goes more deeply to your own heart also. Haven't you found that to be true? As you share it with someone else, it grips you in new ways. It beds down and puts down roots in your own heart and life even more deeply and profoundly. It begins to bear fruit in your life so that both the teacher and the one who is taught, the one who gives the admonition and the one who is admonished, together grow. The Word penetrates more and more deeply as we teach and admonish one another. So we need to learn simply to say to someone a bit more than, "I'm praying for you," but to say, "You know, as you say that there's some passages of Scripture I've been reflecting on this week that have been so good to me and so helpful for me. Maybe they'll be of use to you. Here's what I'm learning from the Word of God. This is what God is teaching me. Perhaps it could be of some encouragement to you." And as you do, as we teach and admonish one another, the Word comes to dwell more and more richly among us.
But Paul has a particular context in mind for the Colossians in which this mutual teaching and admonition will take place. Look at the text again. Verse 16 – we are to "teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs in our hearts to God." So the particular context is worship. It's the sung praise in the church. It's what we are doing in this hour of worship and service to God. And he tells us when we gather to worship, when we sing praise, we're doing two things simultaneously. He says we are giving praise to God – "with thanksgiving in your hearts to God." God, remember, is the primary consumer of our worship, not ourselves. We are here for His glory, His praise; to honor Him and adore Him. There is a Godwardness, an irreducible Godwardness to Christian worship; a vertical dimension that must always be present.
But he says as you sing praises to God with thankfulness in your hearts, there’s something else going on. There’s also a horizontal dimension to our worship. We are teaching and admonishing one another as we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. As the psalms of the Bible and the songs of the faith, as the Spirit Himself has protected and provided and preserved them for us across the ages, as we sing them together we are doing more than simply celebrating God’s grace in our lives. We’re also teaching each other. We’re being Word ministers to one another. And that has some implications. All me to be direct for a moment and say that the singing of the praise of God is not an optional thing for those of you who think you sound good. Right? It’s a command of Scripture for every one of the children of God. If you have a voice at all, you are to use it in His praise. Singing is not optional.
Encouraging One Another
But Paul is saying to the Colossians, “Guys, when I come to visit you in church in Colossae, I need you, I need to see you singing. You are teaching me the Word. This is how the Word of God will dwell in me richly – when you sing praises. And you need to see me, we need to give ourselves with urgency and enthusiasm and devotion and seriousness to the praise of God. And when we do, we teach each other and admonish one another. We are an encouragement to one another.
And the converse is also worth noting. What are we teaching, what are we teaching when, as the people of God around you sing, our lips are closed and our arms are folded? Dads, let me say this advisedly to the men because more often than not as I look out in a congregation like this one and in other places where I’ve had the privilege to teach and preach from time to time, it’s usually the men who are not singing. Dads, what are you teaching your children when they look over and see you with your lips closed, when they see you silent when everyone around you is praising God? You say, “Well, I don’t sound so good. I don’t have a great singing voice. I’m self-conscious.” Look, you don’t have to belt it out! Just open your mouth and give praise to God.
After the early service one of our members came to me, she said – she was weeping – she said, “When I was a little girl, my grandmother’s funeral, I looked over at my father singing God’s praise as he’s burying his mother.” She said, “By the look in his face, I knew heaven was real.” What was he doing? He was teaching her in the singing of praise. She said in him faith and rest and conviction and hope as he sang praises to God. And her heart was stirred and moved and she’s never forgotten it. We are to teach. Listen, I’ve seen it in your faces; as you’ve taken up the praise of God, I’ve seen it come across your face, as you sing these rich words and the truth begins to strike home, and what a profound encouragement it is to me. And we are to be mindful of one another in the praise of God because when we are, when we remember we are teaching and admonishing each other, it’s not just about you forgetting about everyone else and trying to focus on Jesus. No, we are together in this. This is a group project and we are teaching and admonishing one another “that the word of Christ may dwell in us richly.”
So first, we need the peace of Christ to be referee in our hearts that our unity might be preserved so that in the fellowship of the church we might grow in grace. Secondly, we need the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly as we sing His praise, as we teach and admonish each other as Word ministers. And then thirdly, we need the name of Christ – the third tool Paul gives us – the name of Christ, to turn everything we do into doxology. Look at verse 17. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” That’s a pretty comprehensive exhortation. Isn’t it? “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” for the glory and praise of God.
Name of Jesus
What does it mean to do something in the name of Jesus? It means to do it for His sake, to do it for His honor, to do it for the renown of His name that others looking at you, observing your actions, hearing your words might say, “Jesus Christ is great. Look what He is doing in that person’s life, in that person’s heart, through that person’s service in the way that they are serving, giving, caring, praying, loving.” We are to do it for Jesus, for His glory. In other words, everything that you do becomes worship. It all becomes doxology. It’s all for His honor. It’s Romans 12, isn’t it? “Present your bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.” You’re offering your whole self, everything you do, everything that you say, everything that you are for the praise of the name of Jesus Christ. Paul wants the name of Jesus to be such a pressing, urgent reality in our thinking that in every circumstance we might ask ourselves, “Can I say this in Jesus’ name? Can I be with those people in that place doing those things in Jesus’ name? Can I do this for His sake, as His representative, for His glory, to extend the honor of His name? Or will this bring dishonor to Him? Does this undermine the glory of His name? Would anyone knowing that I was a Christian in that place saying those things, participating in that behavior, think Jesus is not really worth following after all – those who follow Him are just like those who do not?” Paul wants to remind us we exist, we exist to make much of the name of Jesus Christ so that everything we do, in word or deed, might be for the glory and praise of His name.
And very quickly, did you notice through all of this, on each one of these tools that he gives us, in each verse, Paul has insisted on the duty of thankfulness, of thanksgiving, of gratitude? Verse 15, "be thankful." Verse 16, "singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Verse 17, "giving thanks to God the Father through him." Gratitude is one of the great engines of Christian obedience. Gratitude is the enemy of entitlement. A grateful heart is not an entitled heart. Gratitude is the confession of our utter bankruptcy and the wonder that we feel at Christ's great mercy. That's gratitude. Gratitude is the song we sing when we come to the end of ourselves and we find Jesus there to meet us, saying, "Welcome home at last." Gratitude is the song that we sing when we come to the end of ourselves and there Jesus meets us and welcomes us home.
Be thankful, Paul says, when the peace of Christ plays referee in your hearts stopping you from fracturing your unity. Be thankful, with thankful hearts toward God. He says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another in your singing.” Do everything, he says, in word or in deed, take every step in Jesus’ name, he says, but be sure that the road you travel is paved with thanksgiving. Lace every word with thankfulness, with gratitude, because gratitude is one of the great engines of Christian obedience. Fan the flames of gratitude. Remember what has been done for you. Remember the price that has been paid for you. Remember from what you have been rescued and to what you have been rescued – the great blessings that are yours in Jesus Christ and in the Gospel. Let the truth and the wonder of it begin to fan the flames of gratitude back into life in your heart. Those who most feel their gratitude to God are those most willing to live their whole lives for His praise, who will pursue Christian obedience, who will long to display His glory to the ends of the earth.
Now look, I don't know about you but I regularly need help stoking the fire of gratitude. I am a wretched sinner and I'm often void of that sense of gratitude; entitled, self-absorbed. I need help to be grateful. And so I was thinking about how can I help us as a congregation, as we close, begin to stoke the fires of gratitude again so that we feel it. And one of the ways that those fires were given some new vigor in my own heart as I was preparing was from the words of Augustus Toplady's great hymn, "A Debtor to Mercy Alone." We know that hymn, don't we? "A Debtor to Mercy Alone." So what I thought I'd do – I'm going to pray in just a moment – but what I thought I'd ask you to do is bow your heads with me and I'm going to read that hymn. It surveys the whole landscape of our salvation and I think Toplady really gets it, he really understands how gratitude works. I want you to listen as I read and then I'll pray. And allow this to be your confession, the song of your heart, your expression of gratitude to God. Let this begin to reignite the fires of thanksgiving so that we may have one of the great engines of Christian obedience really functional in our lives. So let's close our eyes and bow our heads together and let this be the song and confession of our hearts.
“A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing, nor fear, with Your righteousness on,
my person and offering to bring. The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do; my Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which His goodness began, the arm of His strength will complete; His promise is Yes and Amen, and never was forfeited yet. Things future, nor things that are now, nor all things below or above, can make Him His purpose forego, or sever my soul from His love.
My name from the palm of His hands eternity will not erase; impressed on His heart, it remains in marks of indelible grace. Yes! I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given; more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven.”
Our Father, how we bless You for the Gospel. That all that we are and have, we have as a gift of Your grace. That flowing from the wounds of our Savior is mercy and grace upon mercy and grace. And so as we rehearse again the wonder of it, we offer our thanks and praise. And we ask that You would continue to help us stoke the fires of gratitude that we may gladly yield our whole selves in new obedience. We long that Your peace may be an effective referee in our hearts. Forgive us when we’ve ignored its voice, calling “Foul” and failed to pursue reconciliation with one another. We long that Your Word should dwell in us richly bearing much fruit to Your glory. Help us to give ourselves with renewed commitment and resolve to the singing of Your praise as we teach and admonish one another. And grant, O Lord, that the name of Jesus, so precious and so worthy to be adored, might exercise a great control in all our words and all our deeds that we may ask ourselves, “May I do this for my Savior’s glory?” And if the answer is ever, “We may not,” let us run from it. Grant, O Lord, that everything we might do is for Your praise. Make our lives, lives of doxology and fill us, fill us with thanksgiving. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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