Practical Expressions of Christ
Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 3:15-17
Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” We can probably all remember a teacher who hadn’t heard Einstein’s quote. There was all sorts of cluttered brilliance in his, but he had no ability to communicate it. But we can also probably all remember parent, a Sunday School teacher, a school teacher, or a coach who made a great impact because he or she made learning easier by “taking the complex and making it simple,” or at least as simple as possible.
Our text for today is an example of such genius. There are some interpretive challenges, but its basic message is very clear. Just about anyone in this room could read through it 5 times and tell me the basic point of each verse. It’s a simple passage, but it also has an underlying genius in that it simplifies a multitude of significant truths.
Even though this text is short, my head was spinning this week with very important implications of these verses. Verse 16 has all sorts of ramifications for congregational worship. And v. 17 gives a simple grid by which you can solve probably 90% of the ethical dilemmas you face in living for Christ.
Therefore, I can’t do justice to this passage in one sermon, so today we are going to focus on the major themes Paul articulates and apply them to us. And then I want to spend a second sermon discussing the ramifications of this text for the debated but important subject of worship. So I’m going to leave you hanging on a few things today, and you’ll just have to come back next time to hear the rest of the story.
That being said, notice a couple of important features that bind this passage together. First, all three verses are dominated by a phrase about Christ. Verse 15 mentions “the peace of God.” There’s a textual variant here, and it probably should say “the peace of Christ.” The “word of Christ” dominates v. 16, and v. 17 is built on “the name of the Lord Jesus.” Therefore, each verse challenges us regarding a practical expression of the work of Christ in our lives.
Second, notice that all 3 verses end with a note on gratitude. Verse 15 concludes by commanding us to be “thankful.” Verse 16 calls us to sing “with grace (or gratitude) in your hearts to the Lord.” And v. 17 concludes with “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Therefore, this passage challenges us to respond appropriately to Christ’s work for us and in particular to give thanks for all he has done. The first expression of our life in Christ must be…
I. Peaceful Relationships (v. 15).
To understand this verse, we first need to ask…
What is the “peace of Christ”? To understand this phrase we need to look back at 1:19–22. This passage declares that through the cross Jesus provided for the eventual peace of all things. One day Christ will eliminate sin and every affect of sin. There will be peace like creation hasn’t seen since the Fall.
But through the cross Jesus has already made peace between God and his people. We are at peace with God. And we have seen in Colossians 3 that our peace with God creates peace among God’s people. We are a new humanity that is to be characterized by grace, patience, and forgiveness.
And the “peace of Christ” in v. 15 encompasses all these ideas. I am at peace with God, and I know I’m going to heaven someday; therefore, as v. 15 states, peace should “rule in your (my) heart.” I have no reason to be filled anger, or malice (v. 8) because my life is in God’s hands.
And when our hearts are at peace, it will create peace among God’s people. We saw last Sunday in vv. 12–14 that God’s grace empowers us to manifest grace and love to each other. And so the “peace of Christ” is peace with God through the gospel that empowers us to enjoy peace with each other. This brings us to a second question…
Where does the “peace of Christ” express itself? Notice that v. 15 adds that we were “called” to experience the “peace of Christ” “in one body.” The word “called” comes from the same root as “elect” in v. 12. It emphasizes God’s initiative in saving us and bringing us together in the church.
And here in v. 15, the emphasis is especially on the fact that God didn’t just elect us to individual salvation. No, God actually calls, and as we saw last Sunday night, baptizes us into union with Christ’s body, the church.
We’ve seen this emphasis time and time again in chapter 3. An important affect of the gospel is that it unites me with the church. Colossians 3 couldn’t be clearer. Christianity is a community faith, and you can’t be a good disciple of Christ and ignore the people to whom God joins us in the gospel. And the point here in v. 15 is that the “peace of Christ” must dominate how we relate to each other in this body.
Of course the “one body” is ultimately the universal church, but Colossians 3 is clear that God expects the local church to embody the graces he has described. God is saying to us that the “peace of Christ must rule in each heart, and it must rule in how we live together at Life Point Baptist Church.
To appreciate this, maybe it’s helpful to contrast it with the typical workplace. Most people don’t have the peace of Christ ruling in their hearts when they come to work. Instead, they are cranky and irritable. And they didn’t come to work because they just love their coworkers and want to be with them. They are there because they need money. They have to be there. And so your workplace consists of a bunch of people with a short fuse, who don’t want to be there and don’t love each other. We shouldn’t be surprised when tempers flare, and tension fills the air.
But the church should feel very different because we enjoy the peace of Christ. We are resting in the gospel, and we genuinely care for each other. Therefore, when challenges arise, it doesn’t turn into a fight; we just absorb each other’s quirks and struggles. And we move to meet needs and to help each other grow. May God help us to be ruled by the peace of Christ.
But let me add that it all begins with you. The peace of Christ must rule in your heart before it will rule over us collectively. And the same goes for your other relationships. Maybe your marriage or your family is filled with strife. The first step to fixing it is not to complain about what’s wrong with everyone else. No, you must first make sure that the peace of Christ is ruling your heart and that you are manifesting the fruits of peace.
And so the peace of Christ expresses itself through grace-filled community among God’s people. A third question I want to answer with v. 15 is…
What attitude drives peaceful relationships? Verse 15 ends by commanding us to “be thankful.” Notice what is not said. It doesn’t say be thankful when God gives you a blessing. It doesn’t say, be thankful when life is going well and there are no trials. No, it just says “be thankful.” The assumption is that we are to be thankful at all times, and in all circumstances.
But how is that possible when my life is a wreck? 1:12 gives an answer. Verse 11 says that life often involves suffering, but no matter what’s going on down here, I have an inheritance with Christ. I always have more than I deserve. And 2:7 says that when my life is rooted in the gospel, and I see life through the lens of my loving, wise, and sovereign Savior, it will produce a spirit of thanksgiving. And in our text, if the “peace of Christ” is ruling in my heart, it will utterly transform my perspective on the hardships of life. From a Godward perspective, my trials as difficult as they may be are not the end of the world, like we sometimes think. Again God is in control, and he is doing a good work even in the darkest of times; therefore, I can give thanks.
And think about how grateful hearts will bring peace to our relationships. Doug Moo sums up the connection well when he says, “Believers who are full of gratitude to God for his gracious calling will find it easier to extend to fellow believers the grace of love and forgiveness and to put aside petty issues that might inhibit the expression of peace in the community.”
Are you lacking peace in your marriage, at work, or with the church? If so ask yourself, “Am I full of gratitude to God?” The best thing you can do to fix your problems down here it so make sure your focus up there is right. If we are all overwhelmed by the grace of God, we will have a much easier time putting up with each other and enjoying peace. And so the first expression of the life of Christ is peaceful relationships. The second expression is…
II. Word-Centered Worship (v. 16).
This verse has all sorts of significant ramifications that we will consider next time, but for today I’d like to simply walk through the verse and note the major points of application. There are 3 main ideas in this verse. First…
The gospel must dominate our worship. Just as “the peace of Christ,” dominated v. 15, “the word of Christ” dominates this verse. In the context of Colossians, the “word of Christ” is the gospel message and all of its ramifications for life. We’ve been saved by grace through the sacrifice of Christ, we are complete in Him, and now we can “walk in Him.”
If Colossians has made anything clear, it’s that the gospel is not just for those who need to get saved. No 2:6 said, “As you…have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” The gospel must dominate the life of a Christian.
In this vein, v. 16, states that the “word of Christ (must) dwell in you richly.” Both dwell and richly again picture the idea of a dominant idea. God is commanding us to make sure that the gospel is always on our hearts and that it drives our entire approach to the Christian life.
Of course, this begins with the fact that each believer must live a gospel-centered life. But this verse is primarily talking about our life together in worship. Therefore, “in you” is probably better translated as “among you.” Therefore, God is commanding us to make sure that the gospel dwells richly in our life as a church and especially at the heart of our worship.
Therefore, we must all be lovers of the gospel who come into church each week full of gratitude for what God has done for us, and God says that our joy in the gospel must be the driving energy behind our worship.
Folks, this means that our worship must be rooted in the gospel. The church doesn’t gather to talk current events, to hang out with friends, or even to make ourselves into better people. No God says that we gather around the gospel to celebrate and apply the gospel. We must pray the gospel, sing the gospel, and preach the gospel every time we meet. I hope that’s what you expect and what you eagerly anticipate.
This also means that the worship of the church must be energized by the work of the gospel in God’s people. So many people today come to church as spectators looking for a show, and sadly that’s what many churches give them. They’ve got high-energy music, highly skilled performers, light displays, and a really engaging, funny preacher. And people leave feeling energized and happy.
And my point is not that these things are all bad. We want to have engaging, energetic services, and you should expect to leave church refreshed. But notice in this verse that God’s people energize true worship by letting the word of Christ dwell in them richly. Fundamentally, worship is not the church energizing you; rather, we are to come into the church so full of Christ that we energize worship as we express joy in the gospel.
Therefore, worship is not a spectator sport. It is a participation event, and if we are going to worship well, we must come with full hearts prepared to give thanks to God. And so God is telling you that our worship depends on you. You must make sure that the gospel is dwelling richly in your life so that when we come together we are full of the gospel and it dwells richly among us. The second main idea in this verse is…
We must proclaim the gospel wisely and musically. Notice that when the gospel dwells richly among us, it will result in teaching and admonishment. This means that worship is not just a feeling. It should be educational. You should come to church expecting to learn about God and the gospel and desiring to have your mind transformed by the truth of God.
And admonishing tells us that worship should also be confrontational. Our preaching, singing, and fellowship should push us sometimes even painfully toward greater godliness. You should come to church wanting to be pushed.
But it’s especially important for our understanding of this verse to recognize that God doesn’t just put the responsibility for teaching and admonishing on a couple of people who are on the platform.
This verse is clearly directed to the entire congregation and notice the thought flow of the verse. The word of Christ is to dwell richly among all of us resulting in teaching and admonishing. And Paul is not thinking of the sermon. He says we teach and admonish by means of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” In other words, the congregation teaches and admonishes each other by how we sing.
This is very significant because we tend to evaluate singing by what it does for me. But ultimately the end of the verse says that we are singing to the Lord. Whether he is pleased is far more important than if I am pleased. But in addition to that, God is saying that when we sing, we are teaching and admonishing each other. We are teaching each other the glories of God, and we are challenging each other to trust and obey him. This perspective is so important for how we sing. When you sing with conviction and energy, you are teaching and admonishing your brothers. The 3rd truth is…
We must sing to God with hearts of gratitude. This last phrase describes the spirit behind how we sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The ultimate audience of our singing is not me, it’s not you, and it’s not the visitor who happens to be there. Ultimately, we sing for the Lord, and what matters more than anything else is whether or not he is honored and pleased with our worship. This is so important to remember as we sing. The song service is not a good time to send a text or catch up with a friend. No, it is our chance to declare our praise to our great and awesome God.
Specifically, this verse says that we honor him by singing “with grace in your hearts.” The word for grace can also be translated as “thankfulness,” and this is the best way to understand it here based on the references to thankfulness in vv. 15 and 17. And so the idea is that when we come together, our hearts should be so full of the gospel, and when we declare the gospel in song we should be saying with full hearts “thank you Lord” for your wonderful grace.
Summary: And so v. 16 calls us to express the grace of God through Word-centered worship. Folks, it is so important that we take congregational singing seriously. It’s not just a time to wake up, use the bathroom, send a text, or stretch your legs. It is a vital expression of gratitude to God, and it is an important way that we minister to each other. And notice in v. 17 a third expression of our life in Christ…
III. Christ-Exalting Lifestyle (v. 17)
I’d like to highlight three truths in this verse. First…
God’s glory is my standard. Notice that the expression about Christ that dominates this verse is “the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In our culture names are not all that significant. When most people name a baby, they are more interested in what sounds good or is popular than they are in the meaning of the name. But throughout Scripture, God’s name is always held up as very significant. God’s names describe his character. The 3rd Commandment demands that we honor God’s name. And very often God’s glory is closely associated with his name.
And in v. 17 the name of Christ again speaks of his character and glory. And so to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” is an approach to life that seeks to do live consistent with the nature of Christ and for the glory of Christ.
This is not a new idea. First Corinthians 6:20 states, “You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Jesus bought me with his blood. He owns every part of me. I am not my own, so I am obligated and ultimately privileged to live my life for his glory.
Folks, this is an idea that is worth parking on for a moment. Every day we have things that we want to accomplish. We have tasks that need to get done, and we want to enjoy ourselves in some way. Sometimes we conscientiously think through this list but regardless we have expectations. I wonder is the glory of Christ at the very top of your list? We all probably know that it should be, but does it actually dominate the way you live? If you are a Christian Christ bought you with his blood. You belong to him, and you must live for his glory. And then notice a second truth in v. 17.
God’s glory must dominate all of life. Verse 17 begins by saying, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Did you catch the emphasis? God is not giving a command that only applies to Sundays or to certain areas of life. No every word and deed, and everything I do must bring glory to Christ.
Folks, this is so different from the hypocrisy of how many people live. So many people live two lives, so to speak. They go out and they live for themselves, and then they try to pay God off through going to church or doing some good works.
But God is clear that he doesn’t just want a part of your life because he bought all of it. He bought all 7 days of the week, he bought your body and soul, every thought and every deed. And so in the context of Colossians 3, Paul is essentially wrapping up this long series of exhortations by saying, “And if there’s anything else I have missed, do it all in the name of Christ.”
As a result, this verse serves as a genius benchmark for every difficult decision you have to make as a Christian. The fact is that there are all sorts of dilemmas we face that the Scriptures do not directly answer. Can I go here? Should I watch this? Should I say this? Can I eat this? When you come up against these kinds of questions, a simple question you can ask is this. “Can I do this in the name of Christ.” Will this reflect well on my Savior or poorly on my Savior?
And if you can’t definitively say, “Yes, I can do this to the glory of God,” then you probably shouldn’t do it because Romans 14:23 states, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” And maybe when you hear that, your heart gets very defensive because you love certain things that in your heart you know don’t glorify God. And I understand that it’s hard to say no to things that we love, but as a Christian, I’ve got to recognize that it’s not ultimately my choice to make. Jesus gave his life for me, and he bought me out of the pit of hell. In light of that how can I possibly want to go back to the sin that first condemned me? Instead, I must find my joy in giving glory to the one who gave me life and who is my life. Christian, find your joy in glorifying your Savior. The 3rd truth in v. 17 is…
Gratitude glorifies God. Just like vv. 15–16, v. 17 concludes with another note on thanksgiving. And here Paul especially emphasizes that thanksgiving must be a way of life. I am to approach every word and deed with a desire to glorify God, and every step along the way must be marked by expressions of gratitude for the grace and kindness of God.
In so doing, I bring great glory to my Savior. There are few things that turn our hearts to the Lord more effectively than hearing a word of thanksgiving to God. It’s a joy to hear how God saved someone, how he sustained through a trial, or even to see his hand behind the basic blessings of life.
And there are few ways that you can better turn your own heart to the Lord then to reflect on all he has done for you. Sometimes we get in a rut. We’re discontent or frustrated with life. God’s not giving me what I deserve. A simple cure is to just remember all he has done. Give glory to God for all his marvelous expressions of grace and in so doing live a Christ-exalting lifestyle.
And so the message of this text is that new life in Christ must dominate our relationships, our worship, and our service. Don’t be guilty of compartmentalizing your faith. Glory in what Christ has done, and let all of life be an expression of the gospel and of your gratitude for what Christ has done.