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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 6, 2011
Part 4 – Peace & Thankfulness
My family has been receiving the monthly report of The Voice of the Martyrs for some time. It has been a good way to be informed about the persecution of Christians around the world. While VOM’s definition of a Christian may be a bit broad, there is no doubt that many of those reported about are true brothers and sisters in Christ. One of the reasons I can say that is because of their response toward both the persecution received and toward their persecutors. Their genuine faith and walk with the Lord Jesus Christ is born out in their living testimony of peace and thankfulness in the midst of persecution. They live in trust of Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation , but take courage; I have overcome the world .” They count themselves blessed according to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:10-12, ” Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 ” Blessed are you when [men] cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
I find I am humbled when I read their stories knowing whatever troubles I face are minuscule in comparison. Since we live in a nation that has relatively little persecution, it can be hard for us to imagine what they have gone through and their ability to respond in such godly ways. We can easily get upset over a day when circumstances have just not worked out the way we had hoped. We know from simple physics (the Second Law of Thermodynamics) that things are going to wear out, so why should we be either surprised or upset when things break – even if they do break at an inopportune time? We also know that people are not just finite and cannot always do what they would like to do in keeping a promise, but they are also selfish and sinful so we will be on the receiving end of their indifference or even sinful actions and attitudes at times. Should we be surprised and upset when that happens? Yet, we often are surprised and do get upset over things that are in reality relatively minor. Perhaps the phrase, “bad hair day” is a fitting description of the pettiness of what bothers us as if what our hair looks like is of some extreme importance.
Consider what your own reaction would be toward those that persecuted you by severe physical torture. Richard Wurmbrand spent a major portion of his life in prisons in Communist Romania and being tortured by them. His response to those causing his suffering is encapsulated in his statement, “Love all men my dear brothers, but bestow the greatest part of your love on the ugliest souls.” His own response to the “ugliest souls” that tortured him was one of love and proclaiming the gospel to them instead of hate. That continues to be a common response of those persecuted because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Like our Lord, they pray for the forgiveness of their persecutors because they did not really know what they were doing. Could you do that toward those that murdered your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents? Could you still be at peace and be thankful?
The answer would be no, unless there was something radically changed about your soul. This morning I want to continue our examination of Colossians 3 and Paul’s description of this radical change that occurs when a person becomes a Christian. This morning we are going to be concentrating on verse 15 and the peace and thankfulness that becomes an incredible characteristic of the Christian who is walking with the Lord so that it is still present even in the midst of the severest persecution.
By way of review and to set the context for this morning’s study, I want to begin by reading through Colossians 3:1-17.
3:1 (NASB) If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, [and] abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its [evil] practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him 11 –[a renewal] in which there is no [distinction between] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
12 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 And beyond all these things [put on] love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Paul’s description here is one of radical change. What was dead in trespasses and sin is made alive and raised up with Christ. The focus of the mind changes from the temporal things of this earth to the eternal things of heaven so that life in the here and now is lived in a radically different manner because eternal purposes are in view. The person becomes so heavenly minded that they can be of some actual earthly good as they live for the glory of the Lord instead of in their own selfishness. The old man is dead and a new man is come and with it the motivations, attitudes and actions change from selfishness to selflessness and from sinfulness to righteousness.
While the eternal person we actually are is changed, the new man still lives in the physical shell the old man left behind along with its old ways of thinking and previous value system. Since the soul is made alive the manner of life is transformed by the renewing of the mind through the washing with the water of the word of God. The true knowledge of God leads to putting to death old habits and forming new ones. Things such as immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed are put to death and things such as anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech are put away.
In the place of such selfish and sinful habits, attitudes and motivations, new ones are put on. Like sports clothing would identify the sport you play and the team you are on, so the believer identifies so deeply with the Lord Jesus Christ that everything else is defined by that relationship. There is no longer any basis for prejudice against others based on ethnic or cultural heritage, social or economic standing, or even previous religious practices. All those who believe and are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ are fellow brothers and sisters in Him.
New characteristics begin to mark the life of the believer. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience begin to grow and are expressed toward all people, not just for those loved or who may be of personal advantage, but toward all people. You learn to bear with those who cause you problems and even forgive those that sin against you. The hallmark of the Christian’s life becomes love. Not the kind of love so often meant by the usage of the English word love – a lust for possession or use of something or someone else or even fond feelings of affection such as in a friendship. This love is agape love, a love that is much beyond any of those things. It is the love of God flowing through you to choose and sacrifice oneself for the best interest of those so loved. That is the love Christians are to have toward one another and yes, even for our enemies. Out of such a love for fellow believers comes a bond of unity that perplexes the world. The church is Christ’s body made up of people from extremely different backgrounds and yet who care about each other so much that they will sacrifice themselves for the benefit of one another.
The next two characteristics we are going to look at in depth are found in Colossians 3:15 – “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
The Peace of Christ – Colossians 3:15
The word for peace here is eijrhvnh / eirênê which is the common word used to describe a state of quietness, being at rest, tranquil. It does have a wide range nuances from the absence of war to national security and prosperity; from personal harmony with others to a tranquil soul and the blessed state of devout and upright men after death (BDB/Thayers). The particular peace noted here is “the peace of Christ.” It is the peace that comes from Christ or that He gives.
The peace of Christ is objective, subjective and relational. It is objective in the fact that it is through Jesus Christ that we have gained peace with our Creator. By God’s grace through faith in Jesus we are justified from our sins and so we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). Our war with Him has ended and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). It is Jesus that redeemed and reconciled us making peace with God through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:13, 20, 22) Our souls are at rest before Him. These truths give us an objective foundation of peace which does not belong to the world. We have security based in God Himself, His character and what He has done in saving us from our sins. That is why one of the titles for the Lord is “the God of peace” (Romans 15:33). It is also why the good news of Jesus Christ is called “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
This objective peace also brings about relational peace both with God and others. As already pointed out from Romans 5:1, being justified by faith in the Lord Jesus we have peace with God. We are also adopted into His family so that there is harmony of relationship with Him that allows an intimacy that would otherwise be impossible.
The peace which Christ gives also establishes harmonious relationships with others. Ephesians 2:14-19 states “For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” The peace that comes from Christ removes the war that had been present and leaves harmony of relationship in its place. That does not mean that we can be complacent about this peace, for it will take effort to sustain it. Paul states in Ephesians 4:1-3, ” I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The peace of Christ also has a subjective part in that it allows us to be tranquil and secure in the vast variety of situations we face in life. Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” He added in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Our ability to handle the tough things that will occur over the course of our life is directly related to our being in Christ. Those who are in Christ will have His peace. Those who are not can only have the foolishness that the world offers, and there are many things the world offers to try to substitute for peace. Let me comment on that briefly.
Jesus specifically states that His peace is something different from what the world can give. He also specifically states that it is a peace that you can have in Him even in the midst of tribulation. What can the world give in such situations?
A very popular worldly alternative to true peace are sedatives of one kind or another. That has increasingly become some sort of drug for there are all sorts of them prescribed by doctors today. A few of them may be helpful in that they can calm you down enough to start working through the problems, but for the most part, even those drugs are not used that way. The drugs become the substitute for working through the problems encountered in life. Instead of seeing the various trials that come upon us as the opportunities to exercise our faith, learn endurance and become mature as James 1:2-4 explains, people strive to numb themselves to the problems. That is why such drugs are sometimes referred to as “happy pills.” The problems are still there, but the patient no longer cares. If a person does not want to use pills, then there is the old fashioned method of alcohol. A hangover may be added to the turmoil suffered, but at least the problems are forgotten for the hours of being drunk.
Another worldly alternative to true peace are methodologies of escape. I am not talking about taking some time off for some rest and relaxation. Even Jesus recognized the need for leisure and sought a lonely place away from the crowds after He learned of the death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:13). I am referring to the constant quest to escape the problems in life through some hedonistic means. It could be entertainment (zoned out on another movie, TV program, show, constant music, never allow silence), physical pleasures (epicureans and the immoral alike), sports (life is about my team), hobbies (when they become all consuming), and the latest additions to the mix – computer games and especially ones such as fantasy and alternate life games. They do not like their own life, so they create an alternate one. I even heard of a farmer who was addicted to farmville – as if he did not have enough real farm chores to do already.
The last worldly alternative I want to mention this morning is psychology, and by that I am not referring to human behavioral studies per se, but rather to all ideas about how humans think and why they act as they do that are in contradiction to the word of God. Such psychology will blame nearly anything for the actions and attitudes of a sinful man except the man himself. When there is always an excuse, then responsibility will never be taken and nothing will be learned about how to respond to difficult circumstances in a godly manner. There will not be any spiritual growth, and without that there will not be any true peace, only self justification. The person may be able to become complacent about things, but never secure, tranquil and in harmony with those with whom there had been conflict.
The peace that comes from Jesus is also directly related to our being controlled by the Spirit, for it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and in actively seeking Him as we face those situations. Paul made this point in Philippians 4:6-7 saying, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We also find that Paul prayed that the Lord would grant His peace to others in every circumstance (2 Thessalonians 3:16), so it is proper to pray for it. Perhaps that is why a prayer for peace is commonly included in the salutation and closings of Paul’s letters.
Application of Christ’s Peace: The word “rule” here is brabeuvw / brabeuô which means to act as an umpire. (A related word occurs in Colossians 2:18). The task of an umpire is to direct the playing of game by holding everyone to the rules and then to decide the winner of the contest. The broader meaning of the word then is to arbitrate, preside, give a verdict or rule.
Specifically, the verse states that the peace of Christ is to rule our hearts, and we must always remember that “heart” in the Scriptures refers to the seat of thought and will, not emotion. The peace of Christ then is to be our umpire in how we understand the situations of life that come upon us and how we choose to respond to them.
In reference to difficulties that come upon on us in life – encountering the various trials mentioned in James 1:2 – the peace that comes from Christ allows us to rest in the security of knowing God’s sovereignty and His love for us. Romans 8:28 is a precious promise to us in difficult times –“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose.” We may neither understand nor like the circumstances that come upon us, but we can be at peace knowing God is so powerful that He will still be able to use it for good. Again, as John 16:33 tells us, though we will have tribulation in this world, we can take courage and have peace because Jesus has overcome the world. The peace arising from Christ can control us in the various situations of life if we will seek it from Him.
In reference to our relationship with others, the peace of Christ should be the factor that determines our actions and attitudes whether we are initiating or responding. Difficulties and conflict are simply part of life on this earth and that is true even among believers that love each other. Personal conflicts can be overcome if love is put into action so that each will seek the best for the other resulting in harmony once again.
Ideally, this would always be true of all believers since there are plenty of verses addressing the peace that is to exist among the body of Christ. Even here in this verse it is plural – the peace of Christ is to rule the hearts of you all. In addition, we are to be at peace with one another because we have been called into one body. There is to be a unity among us and that unity cannot exist unless there is the harmony of peace among those making up the body.
However, the reality is that there are times when we do stumble into sin and become selfish. There are times we make unreasonable demands of others, or become stubborn insisting on our way or no way. There are times when we want to be in harmony with others, but they do not share that desire. They may desire to continue in the conflict or even to escalate it. What about then? The peace of Christ is to still be our umpire even if we must act unilaterally.
This is not rolling over and playing dead or being the door mat for others to wipe their feet on. This is not peace in the sense of an absence of conflict at any cost. Jesus did not do that and He does not expect us to do that. What He does expect is that we will put into practice all the other Christian virtues Paul has already talked about – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, and being forgiving. We put into practice the commands given in Romans 12:17-18, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Some people will refuse that. They will neither accept forgiveness nor grant it to others. In such cases, after you have done all that you properly can, you go on with your life while leaving the door open for reconciliation and the restoration of the true peace of harmony in the relationship.
Be Thankful – Colossians 3:15
This verse ends with the command to “be thankful” or literally, “become thankful.” The two concepts of having peace and being thankful are actually closely tied together and should be the consequence of the other virtues. Those who are at peace will find they have much to be thankful about, and those whose lives are marked by being actively thankful will find they are also at peace. Both arise out of the radical change God makes in the life of a person who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the third time that Paul has mentioned the subject of thankfulness in Colossians and he will bring it up again in each of the next two verses and once more in Chapter 4. It is part of his opening salutation to the Colossians in mentioning that he and Timothy gave thanks to God for them (Colossians 1:3). Then as part of his prayer for them Paul desired that they would respond to what God had done for them by joyously giving thanks (Colossians 1:12). He later adds that thanksgiving should be part of their devotion to prayer (Colossians 4:2).
An attitude of gratitude accompanied by actions of thanksgiving should be normal characteristics of a Christian. In Ephesians 5:18-20 Paul explains that “always giving thanks for all things in the name of the Lord” is a consequence of being filled with the Spirit while in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 he states, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This is not always easy to do for difficult circumstances that may arise that will make it hard to see clearly the reasons for thanksgiving, yet it is what God wants us to do. Hebrews 13:15 further explains and exhorts, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” Giving thanks can be a sacrifice of praise to God. It is a sacrifice because it requires you to set aside your own limited perspective to hold on to the promises of God by faith and thank Him in the midst of all circumstances.
The particular cause of becoming thankful in this passage is the radical change made in us when Jesus saved us from our sin. We who were spiritually dead have been made alive. We who once walked in the sinfulness, selfishness and worldliness of the old man have been made into new creatures with a new man living within so that we are daily being transformed into closer conformity to the image of our Lord. God has been at work so that we are the recipients of God’s grace and have the peace of Christ. God continues His work so that we are the recipients of His manifold promises and blessings in Christ and so should be thankful.
Let me close by once again asking you to consider the response of our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer severe persecution. They are maligned, slandered, lied about, held in disdain, suffer loss of their material possessions which may be stolen or destroyed, suffer bodily from being beaten, shot, stabbed or burned, and may experience extreme grief when a loved one is murdered. Yet, they can respond with thanksgiving and praising God to be considered worthy to suffer for the sake of the Lord, just as the apostles did in Acts. If the peace of Christ can rule their hearts and they can be thankful in the midst of such severe trials, then certainly the same should be and can be true of us in the relative safety and abundance of the lives we experience here.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) How many times is the word “peace” is mentioned? 2) Talk with your parents about how to be at peace in your own life.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. How do you think you would respond if you suffered serious persecution for being a Christian? In what ways is a person radically changed when they become a Christian? What changes will continue to occur throughout the course of their lives? Define peace. In ways is the peace that comes from Christ objective? Relational? Subjective? How is the peace that Jesus gives is different from the world’s peace? What are some of the worldly ways in which people try to find some form of peace? Have you ever sought peace through those methods? Did they help solve our problems – why or why not? What does “heart” refer to in the Scriptures when used symbolically? How can the peace of Christ rule in your heart? How Should that effect your response to the trials of life? How should that effect your relationships with other people? Should Christians pursue peace at any cost? Why or why not? What should you do if you cannot make peace with someone? What is the relationship between being at peace and being thankful? Are you a thankful person? Why are you thankful? What is the source of your thanksgiving? Could you be thankful even if you were persecuted? Sermon Notes – February 6, 2011
Christian Virtues, Part 4 – Peace & Thankfulness
The Peace of Christ
The False Peace of the World
The Application of Christ’s Peace
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