The peace of Christ
The word of Christ
1. Teaching and admonishing
In the name of Jesus
As you walk through the door...
As we’ve been dealing with the conflict between the old and new natures and the type of expressions of both which should be seen through the believer, we’ve quite naturally thought of the expression of the new as being clearly perceived even by those in the world - that is, although the work of God in a believer’s life is spiritual, it has natural, earthly consequences that will affect the way a man or woman begins to deal with their fellow man (or woman!).
Firstly, we should note that this is entirely consistent with following Jesus Christ - being converted to Him isn’t a moral code that we put on during meetings with other believers and which we discard when we go out into the world. Rather, it’s the total transformation of an individual to be obedient from the heart in every situation in which he or she finds themselves.
Having said this, Col 3:12-17 is a passage which speaks predominantly about the overflow of the new nature reflecting itself towards fellow believers. So, we read Paul speaking clearly of ‘forbearing one another’ (Col 3:13), of ‘forgiving each other’ (Col 3:13), of being called to peace ‘in the one body’ (Col 3:15) and of teaching and admonishing ‘one another’ (Col 3:16).
There seems to be a clear understanding in the apostle’s mind, then, that God’s work in them must necessarily be displayed outwardly to the brethren first and foremost and his aim during these verses is to straighten out the relationships between them - or, perhaps better, to encourage them to live as they’ve been re-created to.
The peace of Christ
As we noted above, it’s very easy to take the mention of the phrase ‘peace of Christ’ and apply it to relationships between believers and non-believers, seeing the apostle’s command to be insisting upon good inter-personal relationships even with those who hate those who are committed to doing the will of God in Jesus Christ. In Rom 12:18, we read Paul’s command (my italics) that
‘If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all’
where the implication seems to be that it will be impossible to be at peace with all men simply because of the way that they chose to live against the believer. The fault shouldn’t be on the believer’s side, however, and elsewhere believers are instructed to make it their aim to live at peace with all men (Heb 12:14) but it seems fairly obvious that ‘peace’ will never be achieved with all men and this not because the believer has necessarily committed anything wrong before God.
Even Jesus made the observation that His mission was one which would cause a division upon the earth because men and women would now have to decide whether they were to accept the truth as it confronted them or to reject it (Luke 12:51).
I also wonder from time to time at Paul’s charge to Timothy (I Tim 3:7) concerning those who should be appointed as elders (the Greek is actually ‘overseer’) that they
‘...must be well thought of by outsiders or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil’
After all, the people who are going somewhere for Jesus and who are affecting the enemy’s authority over men and women’s lives are hardly likely to be ‘well thought of’. Either we have to insist that an elder is a clapped-out and ineffectual believer or else we need to reassess our interpretation of what we often take ‘well thought of’ to mean!
These observations, however, aren’t important to the verse under discussion here but we need to note from the outset that Paul isn’t concerned to speak about relationships outside the Body of Christ (even though the overflow should affect them) but is trying to undergird the believers so that they remain in unity by their continued demonstration of the new nature flowing out from them.
There appear to be two different types of ‘peace’ in Paul’s mind at this point where that which is being experienced by the believers from God is used as an appeal for peace to be demonstrated within the fellowship (I have previously discussed the subject of ‘peace’ very briefly here where we first encountered the word in the salutation of the letter. If possible, I shall be committing to writing an even briefer consideration of the word at this point in the notes). Paul initially urges the believers (Col 3:15) to
‘...let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...’
and points towards the work which they’ve previously received when converted. The Gospel’s basis is so importantly peace with God through Jesus that it is, on occasion, described solely in these terms (Acts 10:36, Rom 10:15, Eph 6:15) and, in other places, peace with God is spoken of as being the conclusion of the work of the cross (Rom 5:1, Eph 2:17).
Peace is also demonstrated in the cross by the destruction of the division which existed between the children of God according to the flesh (that is, Israel) with the Gentiles who were excluded from the promises of God in the OT until the One was to come who would put an end to the hostilities (Eph 2:14,15,17).
It’s the peace which comes from Christ’s work, then, which Paul urges his readers to allow to ‘rule’ in their hearts in order that peace between the brethren might also come about as a consequence and an overflow. The English translation is a little difficult to follow in the RSV, but the NIV’s is much easier at this point, even though they add quite a bit to the Greek that’s there. They translate that the peace of Christ should rule in the believers’ hearts
‘...since, as members of one body, you were called to peace’
The appeal, therefore, is that, just as God has reconciled them to Himself through Jesus and has dealt with the problem of enmity which existed between them, so too should they allow the realities of that peace to overflow from them that they might welcome and receive all who come with the name of Jesus upon them.
We might think of this ‘peace’ as a ‘neutral’ attitude so that disharmony and disunity are seen not to be present within the dealings between fellow believers. Actually, it goes much deeper than this for it stands as an outworking to Paul’s parenthesis regarding forbearance and forgiveness (Col 3:13) and his insistence that they allow love to flow from the inner nature (Col 3:14) because it
‘...binds everything together in perfect harmony’
This is also the teaching in Eph 4:1-3 where Paul ‘begs’ the believers to
‘...lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called’
going on to list a few of the expressions of the new life we’ve already discussed and ending with (Eph 4:2)
‘...forbearing one another in love...’
which seems to catapult him into his instructions that they should be
‘...eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’
In this letter, then, peace comes about through bearing with those we might not particularly like or get on with so that peace might be established in the Church’s midst rather than division, slander and enmity. And this unity is necessary because the Colossians have been called into ‘the one body’ or ‘a single organism’ (as Colbrien quoting Moule) so that a demonstration of their relationships between believers is also a revelation to everyone that Jesus has established unity in and through His cross.
But, without forgiveness and an outworking of love - just as in the Gospel - peace cannot be present. So, even in adversity between husband and wife, Paul can still note that the unbeliever should be allowed to separate from a believer if they so desire (I Cor 7:15) because
‘...God has called us to peace’
Even though this points towards relationships which are not solely between followers, the principle is a good one to think about. Wherever peace can be achieved, it should be without the relaxing of moral responsibility.
Paul also addresses the issue of peace when two believers have diametrically opposed views over an issue which isn’t important for salvation (Rom 14:1-15:13 - see my notes here) and appeals to his readers (Rom 14:19) to
‘...pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding’
Peace, then, is necessary to control disagreement and to bind together believers even though they might naturally find that they have trouble co-existing. And this peace comes through a realisation of the peace which has already been granted to the believers as a work of Jesus Christ on the cross where they’ve been brought into an acceptable state before the Father of all.
The Greek word for ‘rule’ which occurs only here in the NT (Strongs Greek number 1018) is noted by Kittels as describing
‘...the work of an umpire at the games’
and the inference seems to be that of a judge which sits over the actions which are being displayed before it and who makes a decision according to their own concerns. ‘Peace’, then, is the rule of harmony in the Church where an action or attitude which doesn’t set out to have as it’s conclusion the union of the brethren is seen to fall short of God’s will for His people. Colcar speaks of an inner conflict of attitude and that
‘...when love and bitterness contend for the mastery, peace is to be the governing factor’
yet, even when a conflict of interest as the commentator describes isn’t present, it’s plain that even the subject of what’s both right and wrong to eat (Rom 14:1-15:13) can be a matter in which considerations of ‘peace’ must be applied. Here there appears to be no bitterness or resentment in the initial stages of conflict of different views but, rather, if peace is applied from the outset of the discussion, such possible attitudes are easily protected against.
When the reader approaches this three word exhortation in both the Greek and the RSV’s translation, it’s very natural to think of both the object and subject of thanks to be either God the Father or Jesus Christ - that is, the believers are being encouraged to thank God for the provision which has been given to them in the work of Jesus on the cross.
We could think of the previous subject of ‘peace’ as being the main reason why Paul deflects his teaching this way, seeing as he mentions the ‘peace of Christ’ with all that means and the position of the believers as being ‘one body’.
It’s difficult to be absolutely certain, however, whether this is the correct interpretation - as I’ve said on numerous times before, just because we approach the Scriptures with an understanding from other parts of the NT, we shouldn’t inflict them upon texts when there’s more than one interpretation possible and when all understandings of the text are either inkeeping with other Scripture or, at the very least, not discordant with it.
One good reason for not taking Paul’s words here as referring to God as being both object and subject is that he will go on in Col 3:17 to speak once more about
‘...giving thanks to God the Father through [Jesus]’
where the Greek word being employed (Strongs Greek number 2168) is the verb form of the word which appears in Col 3:15 (Strongs Greek number 2170). The note of thanks also seems to appear in Col 3:16 where a different Greek word is employed (Strongs Greek number 5485 - I’ve rendered this as ‘gratitude’ below) and which the RSV translates as the need for believers to accompany the singing of
‘...psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God’
The question remains whether the note of ‘thankfulness’ should have God as its subject for His work on the cross or whether there might be a better reason for thankfulness. It seems difficult for God not to be considered as the object of the thankfulness, however, even though Colcar notes that a possible alternative interpretation is that men and women should be thanked for the way in which God moves through them to minister and edify them.
Personally, I’m inclined to understand the words as being an exhortation to thank God for the believers in which one finds themselves serving God. The thrust of Paul’s teaching in the passage which began with Col 3:12 has already been observed above to be aimed at securing godly relationships in forbearance, forgiveness and the demonstration of both love and peace towards one another.
It seems only natural, therefore, that the apostle’s exhortation should be directed towards God because of the people that God has also saved for Himself out of the world. It’s that sort of unselfish consideration of others which would naturally stimulate there to be mutual edification and would undermine feelings of bitterness and resentment which could all too easily spring up in the hearts and through the lives of fellow believers.
After all, how can one refuse to forgive someone (Col 3:13b) and yet, at the same time, thank God for them? Or to be getting annoyed with their failings, weaknesses and things that just get up one’s nose (Col 3:13a) and still confess before God that they’re a blessing? And the same holds true for failing to love (Col 3:14) or to live at peace with one another (Col 3:15a) - these negative attitudes are impossible to cultivate within oneself if there’s heartfelt thanks being offered to God for their presence in one’s midst.
Finally, I should note that the Greek word translated ‘thankful’ (Strongs Greek number 2170) occurs only once in the NT and is found in the LXX again only once in Prov 11:16 which the RSV renders (my italics)
‘A gracious woman gets honour, and violent men get riches’
It’s this idea of ‘graciousness’ which lies at the foundation of the word and I find it difficult to understand why most translations render the word in Col 3:15 as ‘thankful’ rather than, as appears to be necessary from the LXX, ‘gracious’. If this were done, the exhortation
‘Be gracious [towards the brethren]’
would be much more in keeping with what’s preceded it where relationships between believers are being defined. Just why every commentator I’ve read takes the phrase as denoting a response of thankfulness, I have no idea, but I’m forced to accept their expertise in the matter, failing any more conclusive arguments for its meaning from Biblical and non-Biblical sources.
The word of Christ
On my web page dealing with a definition of the NT usage of ‘word’, I listed this verse under the heading ‘logos’ as being indeterminable by context as to whether the spoken or written word was being referred to.
If we sit down and think it through, however, the application of the word as relating to that which was written seems all the more unlikely - but there may be equal objections raised for an interpretation which sees it as indicating that which was spoken.
What needs to be determined primarily, however, is what the phrase ‘word of Christ’ should be taken to mean which Paul encourages to dwell within the believers, a phrase which occurs only here throughout the NT. There aren’t very many options, however, when one starts to think about it - unless, of course, one wants to come up with something wacky - and it seems best that the phrase is taken as having the more obvious meaning of ‘message of Christ’ or ‘Gospel’ that had been already declared to the believers through Epaphras (Col 1:5-7).
There’s the possibility that the phrase could be referring to the words which Jesus spoke while on earth - and, therefore, may be more indicative of a written word which the believers were wont to refer to and study - but, either way, it still has to do with the declarations of Jesus Christ and, so, the Gospel of the Kingdom.
It may even be more attributable to the word which Jesus is speaking now to the fellowship and to which they should give their full attention but Paul hasn’t mentioned prophecy at all up to this point and it would come as somewhat of a cutting across his thought for him to introduce the theme here in a way which was ambiguous rather than to use the Greek word for such utterances.
When all’s considered, it seems the most likely that the apostle is referring to that which had already been spoken to them and to which they’d responded to be converted to Jesus Christ.
This message of the Gospel is meant to dwell within the believers. This Greek word (Strongs Greek number 774) occurs just six times in the NT (Rom 8:11 x2, II Cor 6:16, Col 3:16, II Tim 1:5, 1:14) and is never used in its more literal sense of a man or woman living within accommodation. It only ever occurs in Paul, also, and is always used of something that’s being spoken of which exists inside the external appearance of believers.
So Paul speaks about the Holy Spirit living within believers (Rom 8:11, II Tim 1:14) and, even though the phraseology is different, the mention of God living within them is probably meant to be taken identically (II Cor 6:16). The only other time it’s used is of the faith which resides within believers (II Tim 1:5).
Commentators are torn between a meaning of seeing the Word of Christ as dwelling within individuals or, corporately, within the fellowship as a whole. If taken as the latter, the idea of the internal residency of the message need not be insisted upon for the apostle may be simply trying to exhort his readers to allow the message of the Gospel to be the primary subject of conversation, discussion and learning when they come together. Colbruce notes that
‘...the collective sense may be uppermost in view of the context’
but the fact that in each of the other five occurrences (each of which is Pauline) it’s certain that what’s within believers is what’s being referred to, the likelihood would point us toward a non-collective application. Besides, in II Cor 6:16, both concepts of living within and of moving amongst are used in the same verse to show the different ways in which God resides with His people.
It seems strange that the apostle would choose the word there employed to denote an indwelling and not the one used of His presence amongst the corporate Body of believers - therefore, the meaning is better taken to be speaking of the message of the Gospel continually abiding within individuals in the fellowship.
The word ‘richly’ (Strongs Greek number 4146) is another infrequent word occurring just four times in the NT (Col 3:16, I Tim 6:17, Titus 3:6, II Peter 1:11) and, though the AV decides to render it with the word ‘abundantly’ on two occasions, the RSV is the more consistent, using the same word each time.
There’s little that needs to be said about the word but the presence of the concept shows that their relationship with Christ was never imagined by Paul to be something shallow or superfluous. The message of salvation which had come to them was meant to have taken root within them securely and immovably but it was also intended to be continuing to live within them in great measure so that there would be an overflow out from them and into the world around them.
This appears to be Paul’s intention by his inclusion here in his next phrases of teaching and admonishing one another and of singing
‘...psalms and hymns and spiritual songs...’
where their existence in their midst was a clear cut demonstration of the outworking of the word of Christ within them. There’s a ‘cause and consequence’ in this verse, therefore, where the former concept is of primary importance for the fulfilment of the second and third, even though it’s not obviously stated and commentators are divided on the best interpretation and interrelation of the concepts.
Even though the correct way to translate this verse has as many variants as I have commentators, the following two phrases seem dependent upon the first for their fulfilment - that is, it’s only when the word of Christ dwells within them in fulness that they will be able to effectively teach and admonish and to adequately express themselves in spiritual song.
Teaching and admonition, then, is not a way in which ideas are brought to the congregation from external sources and applied to the believers present - it’s an expression of the truth of the Gospel which resides within and is, therefore, wholly different from what often passes for Church discipline and edification in the present day.
Similarly, praise is no mere exercise of the voice or demonstration of musical expertise on instruments - indeed, it’s not even that. Rather, it represents the expression of the fulness of the message of the Gospel dwelling within believers and of it having its full effects.
1. Teaching and admonishing
I left the question of whether the phrase ‘in all wisdom’ was better to be thought of as being attached to the last phrase until now even though some may have felt it needed dealing with in the previous section where it occurs in the AV. Colbruce writes that it ‘makes better sense’ to regard the phrase as referring to the idea of teaching and admonition and this is strongly supported in Col 1:28 where both Greek words are again used for ‘teaching’ and ‘admonition’ along with the phrase under consideration. That previous verse has Paul noting that it’s
‘[Christ] we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ’
so that what the apostle regards as his own ministry is now passed on to the Colossians as being their own responsibility to be directed towards fellow believers. This isn’t some sort of academic exercise whereby good order is the end result and which is devoid of any real life, but that each man and woman might come to the point of standing ‘fully mature in Christ’.
Both these aspects of growth should be thought of as having their source in having the riches of the word of Christ dwelling within as the previous phrase indicates, so that such actions are simply the overflow of a life which is centred in Him, a point that we noticed at the conclusion of the previous section.
I’ve previously dealt with the subject of wisdom on that web page where the phrase first occurs and the reader is directed there for an explanation and definition of the concept under the heading which bears the word. ‘The means’ on the same web page defines both ‘teaching’ and ‘admonition’ and tries to contrast both words when used together - little more needs to be added except to remember that what I’ve written there concerning the apostle’s ministry is here shown to be reflected in the life of individuals in the local church.
The concept of ‘teaching’ and ‘admonition’ is clearly connected to the need of having the word of Christ dwelling within in great measure as we’ve seen above but the relationship of ‘singing’ to the first two phrases is far from clear. Colcar announces that
‘...singing must be rooted in the word [the way this sentence reads, it sounds like the commentator is referring to the Bible which, as we’ve seen, the opening of Col 3:16 isn’t referring to]. It is against the background of the indwelling word that this exhortation to edifying praise is set’
and it can be seen that he thinks of the construction of the Greek in a similar manner to Mtw 28:19-20 where the command to ‘make disciples’ was expounded by the phrases which began ‘baptising them’ and ‘teaching them’. The underlying Greek, however, is far from clear at this point and it’s seemed best for others to opt for the translation which links teaching with singing with the words such as ‘by means of’ so that the singing is seen as a methodology for their teaching and admonition.
There’s not much to chose between either option, even though each of the translations will force their respective commentators to understand the relationship of this phrase to what precedes it somewhat differently to the other. I prefer to take the translation as running something like
‘...singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude [RSV ‘thankfulness’, literally ‘with grace’] in your hearts to God’
and to see the response of singing to be an integral overflow from a life which has the word of Christ dwelling within. Those who see this section as being the way ‘teaching and admonition’ take place are saying something quite significant about the early Church which, from other sources, seems to be unsupported. The implication is that ‘musical teaching’ was a method of edification and correction - a sort of ‘sermon set to music’ - which seems wholly unacceptable.
I have no problem with times like this occurring in the Church today but for Paul to instruct the believers that this was what they should be doing is another matter entirely - perhaps, even, his letters were supposed to have originally also have included a musical score for distribution with them?!
All that needs to be said, then, is that there is no evidence from other NT sources that musical teaching and admonition sung to one another was the way that the Church grew in stature in Christ. We should also note that the RSV’s simple opening ‘and sing’ cuts the phrase away from much of the relationship to what’s preceded it and is best rejected in preference for one of the above two options.
Having now decided upon the relationship of this phrase to the previous two, we can make an attempt at an interpretation. Whether Paul intends his readers to understand specific types of musical pieces from his threefold description of
‘...psalms and hymns and spiritual songs...’
isn’t easy to determine and there are many who would see specific demarcations between them. In the present day, we would, perhaps, categorise the first label as referring to the OT book of psalms, the second as referring to the more doctrinal of songs (which were nearly all written many years ago in parameters which displaced normal English word order) and the third to those shorter ditties which appear on the walls of more ‘go ahead’ churches through the use of an overhead projector.
If we would but accept such a ‘fact’ (even though it isn’t a fact at all), we should really be able to receive each of the ways of singing and praising God as being ‘from Him’ rather than criticise anyone on grounds that are purely subjective or, at worst, divisive. As we’ve hinted at above, it’s not what type of song that’s used but that they’re the expression of the overflow of letting
‘...the word of Christ dwell in you richly’
and this is of fundamental importance. Let a congregation sing hymns or choruses exclusively and justify themselves because they think they’re serving God Himself - it’s of no use if they aren’t expressions of the overflow of their lives but dead and boring traditions that take place every time the fellowship meets together. We should insist not on types of musical formats but, rather, on the reality of the words being a true representation of what the singer is declaring.
When we began thinking about suffering on a previous web page (under the heading ‘Rejoicing in sufferings’), I used the story of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi to demonstrate how their life was centred in God and not in the circumstances in which they found themselves. Therefore, they sang hymns to God (Acts 16:25) even in the most impossible and uncomfortable of circumstances because the overflow of their lives was being expressed through their lips.
This is the same thought here for tribulation can’t affect a man or woman’s praise of God if their lives are centred in Him alone, for their response to the One who is the sole protector of their life remains rooted in something which cannot be shaken.
The final phrase which I rendered
‘...with gratitude in your hearts to God’
shows the accompanying attitude necessary but there’s some dispute as to the correct translation and meaning of the word I’ve rendered ‘gratitude’ (Strongs Greek number 5485). The interpretations seem to be divided amongst ‘thankfulness’ (as in the RSV), ‘gratitude’ or ‘grace’ (the more literal meaning of the word and used by the AV).
Perhaps we could opt for either and still be faithful to what Paul meant, but the latter seems to have to strain the apostle’s words to make some sort of sense out of them and it’s best, I feel, to opt for one of the first two. The more regular Greek words for ‘thankfulness’ appear in both Col 3:15 and 3:17 and, to me, the RSV’s translation only confuses the issue - therefore ‘gratitude’ is seen to be an accompaniment in the believer’s heart as they respond to God through song.
It’s difficult to write much more on this subject without attempting some sort of definition of the structure of the fellowship at Colossae. As I said above, however, we should look to the importance of the overflow of the heart which opens the verse and the presence of gratitude accompanying the expressions in song rather than to dwell on ‘types’ of musical pieces employed or the ‘structures’ of the meetings as they came together as the Body of Christ.
In the name of Jesus
Throughout these past few verses, we’ve looked at observations by Paul which have been either the foundation from which subsequent thoughts spring or the conclusion towards which ideas are moving. In Col 3:17, however, we look at an exhortation which could be used to underpin everything that the believer does. Colcar speaks of it as being
‘...a general summary of the preceding verses...’
but it’s more of a primary principle upon which the concepts of the previous verses rely than to think of it strictly as a summary. Paul writes (my italics) that
‘...whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus...’
There’s a double emphasis at the start of the verse for the phrase ‘word and deed’ is used elsewhere by Paul to denote the sum total of the expression of the man or woman out into the world (Rom 5:18 - see also Luke 24:19) and it seems affixed to the opening phrase ‘whatever you do’ to provide an underlining of the all-encompassing nature of the following words.
It also shows that we aren’t looking only at church conduct as the believers come together to meet but that the new birth is to encompass the totality of the believer’s experience.
The concept of doing something ‘in someone’s name’ has often been misunderstood by the Church when they come to such passages as John 14:13 (there are many who would simply affix ‘in Jesus name’ to the end of their prayers, thinking that it’s a verbal formula that was being described) which speaks of prayer and the impossibility of ever having a prayer go unanswered. Jesus announced to the disciples shortly before He was to leave them that
‘Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it...’
a statement which is paralleled by John’s own words in I John 5:14 where he writes that
‘...if we ask anything according to His will He hears us’
We could almost make these Scriptures give us the equation that praying in the name of Jesus is equal to asking something according to the will of God so that the phrase becomes a summation of the character and a reflection of all that He stands for.
It means much more than this for it also carries with it the idea of authority being placed upon the person who’s doing an action or speaking a word by the one in whose name it’s being performed. There’s less of this idea present in Col 3:17, however, and more of the idea that the will of Jesus is being done in whatever takes place in the believer’s life. Even so, Colwright sees the phrase as speaking of
‘...both representing Him and being empowered to do so’
which is certainly necessary in the life of the believer.
The concept of doing the will of God has often been consigned to waiting upon God and of listening to His voice so that His purpose can be determined - in this way, the believer can go out into the world and be sure that they’re in the right place at the right time and, if revealed to them, that they have the right words in the situation.
There’s a time and a place for all this, but it seems wrong to attribute such an interpretation to the passage here. Rather, Paul is simply exhorting his readers to realise that there’s a manner of life which is automatically the will of God for them, a lifestyle that’s the overflow of the new nature within them that inevitably does the will of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, when the new nature is the basis from which everything that the believer does emanates, the follower can be sure that they’re doing everything ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’. This phrase sits as a good summary, therefore, to the passage which has preceded it, but is only fully explained in terms of the old and new natures and the believer’s call to kill off the old and to encourage the free expression of the new.
For the past couple of years, I’ve seen ‘WWJD’ stickers and badges appearing on cars and people in various places as the Church seems to be bombarded by another marketing campaign that insists that we have to buy them to serve God (okay, I’m cynical). Quite obviously, the concept of asking oneself
‘What would Jesus do?’
has become very real to a great many people and it serves as a good check on the desires of the heart. However, Paul doesn’t seem to envisage that the question should be asked - rather, that the overflow of the new nature should naturally (or, supernaturally) flow from the believer as a fulfilment of the will and purpose of God.
What I’m saying is that the question which is often asked can become more a spiritual exercise which relies upon an assessment of the mind rather than the free expression of the new nature from within. It isn’t always a matter of asking oneself what Jesus would do as if we’re trying to grasp some action which lies outside us, but of simply putting on the new (Col 3:12) and allowing what’s been implanted within to dictate our response or our actions.
Finally, Paul draws out the truth that such conduct of living one’s life in accordance with ‘the name of the Lord Jesus’ is to overflow with
‘...thanks to God the Father through [Jesus]’
The previous note of giving thanks has occurred in Col 3:15 but we saw there that the idea was possibly to be directed at thanksgiving for the brethren. Here, however, thanksgiving is more general and should be thought of as covering every aspect of the believer’s life, simply because Jesus is also to cover each part.
Therefore, just as a life is lived ‘in the name of Jesus’, so too is praise offered to the Father ‘in Jesus’ for He’s the medium in which the believer is expected to function wholly. The idea seems not to be one of Jesus standing in-between the Father and mankind and of handing over points of praise as they’re presented to Him but that He’s the mediator who’s already opened a way of direct access into the presence of God (Heb 10:20) and that it’s through His work that prayer can be presented before the Father.
As you walk through the door...
I add this section slightly tongue-in-cheek, even though it’s not meant as a joke or as a humorous article. But it seems to me that we know very little about the local fellowships of the NT and we could pencil in a possible interpretation of at least one of them by what Paul commits to parchment in the previous few passages.
If we truly knew whether Paul’s words from Col 3:1 were meant to be corrective, informative or affirmative with regards to what was happening amongst the believers in Colossae, we might have a good idea of what sort of meetings the believers were having and what sort of life they were in the process of living out in their everyday lives.
As it is, we can but surmise what the apostle thought was important and assume that the believers took it to heart to echo those instructions in their own lives.
Perhaps the first thing we should note about Colossae was that lifestyle was important. Paul has gone on at some length to speak about the old and the new and how the reality of their new position above earthly circumstances and influences should cause them to live with different conduct than that which they previously demonstrated before they came to know Jesus Christ (Col 3:1-14).
It’s this which stands as the foundation from which he goes on to develop more principles such as the need for peace between the brethren (Col 3:15a) and thankfulness for them (Col 3:15b). Another foundation opens Col 3:16 before Paul moves on to the need to teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16b) and to sing with gratitude to God (Col 3:16c). As I noted there, however, the point of Paul’s instructions is to observe the foundation from which these flow and not to tie down the believers into a structure which their meetings were to follow.
Finally, Paul’s observations about the ‘conduct principle’ at the start of Col 3:17 is something which should overflow into all the believer’s life that Jesus might be seen operating through them by speech or action.
One should be struck by the general lack of descriptions of ‘service’ in this section - we get no directions about leaders sitting at the front, about the length of meetings, the time of day they were to be held or even about whether they should be faithful to their own hymnal.
We often read about church ‘disorder’ in the letters to the church at Corinth and can imagine that there must have been some ‘style’ within the fellowships which was expected to be observed - but Paul’s lack of clear cut descriptions of what they were to do when they met together in Colossae is striking because he aims at the believers getting their lives functioning properly in Christ and seems to be unconcerned about how that life is expressed as they meet together as the Body of Christ.
We may, perhaps, think that the only reason that we know so much about the practices at Corinth is because, in them, they were beginning to undermine the lifestyle and conduct which was fitting for saints of God so that they had to be reminded strongly that they should desist from their conduct and reassess it to the end of edifying the body of believers.
What we have in Colossae is the bottom line - that is, the foundations from which structure would spring as they met together. If they were to forbear, to forgive and to love; to let the peace of Christ harmonise their relationships and to be thankful for their fellow believers, then what transpired as they came together would reflect it.
Perhaps, in the present day Church, we should take a good look at these words of the apostle and lay aside either traditional formats or the more free-flowing charismatic arrangements that have come to be just as much traditional as were the ones which they sought to break free from, realising that structure flows from life and organisation from right relationships and conduct - rather than think that there’s a type of service which God is more pleased with than another and to which we should all aspire.
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