One of the great dimensions of following Christ is that it has calls us both to personal and corporate transformation. We lead new lives, not just as individuals but within communities – especially communities of believers. In this marvellous chapter of Colossians, St Paul moves seamlessly from one to the other. Towards the end of last week, we focused primarily on personal transformation – on what it means to put on the new self, and be clothed with Christ.
However, this renewal of self inevitably has implications for our community life. Indeed, it is easy to forget that nearly all references to ‘you’ in the New Testament – including in this chapter – are plural and not singular. Qualities such as compassion, kindness, gentleness and forgiveness can only be practised in community, since we need to have someone (or some people) to be compassionate or kind or forgiving towards.
It is natural, then, that as Paul talks about these qualities growing in our lives, he finds himself reflecting on our broader community life. The start point is our fundamental unity in Christ. Because the same Christ dwells in all of us, we carry a deep unity which transcends our different circumstances in life. Whatever our religious or ethnic background, ‘Christ is all, and is in all.’ (v11)
So, our shared community life begins from a place of equality and mutuality in Christ. Therefore, we can all practice the kinds of virtues that Paul encourages in vv12-14, since it is the same Spirit of Christ working renewal in all of us. We are members, as Paul also reminds us in v15, of one body – the body of Christ.
It follows, then, that as we live as one body, we are ‘called to peace’ (v15). Peace in the bible is a much bigger word than we often give it credit for. It is derived from the Hebrew ‘shalom’ which means complete wellbeing, a place where the love and grace of God dwells pervasively and endlessly. It’s where we began on day 1 of these reflections, with Paul offering ‘grace and peace’ to all its readers – the peace of Christ which he describes here.
And let’s note that we don’t manufacture this peace: Christ’s work has already done what is needed for this state of peace to exist – all we have to do is let (i.e. allow) this peace of Christ to rule in our hearts (v15). The peace is there for us to claim and live by – but we need to let it have its way. No doubt there are things for each of us that make us anxious, that beckon us towards un-peace. So, today, make a choice. Choose to let Christ’s peace, Christ’s shalom, have sway in your heart. It is Christ’s gift, and our calling.