Colossians 3:12-17 is one of the most treasured portions of all scripture. It just seems to encapsulate perfectly what a loving, healthy lifestyle should look like – even to those who may not consider themselves to be followers of Christ. For example, this is the second most popular passage chosen by couples marrying in church (the ‘hymn to love’ in 1 Corinthians 13 is inevitably first!). I speak on this passage in about a quarter of the weddings that I conduct, and in each case it is the couple that chooses this passage, not me (although I love the text, too).
We have already looked at the lovely image in vv12-14 about wearing virtues as part of our new lives in Christ. Today we think about vv15-17, where Paul gives us three wonderful pieces of wisdom: ‘let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… let the message (or word) of Christ dwell in you richly… do [everything] in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ The peace of Christ, the message of Christ, the name of Christ. Not a bad guide to life, that, is it?
As an aside, Paul is here showing a bit of rhetorical skill – let’s remember that those undermining the church in Colosse were claiming special knowledge, probably steeped in Greek philosophical rhetoric. There are at least two sections in this letter where Paul gently reminds the church that he is just as well educated – 1:15-20 and here in 3:15-17, where he uses the classic rhetorical device of ‘three’ where each element repeats or alliterates. Paul had the equivalent of an Oxbridge education: he can talk the talk as well as anyone when he needs to, but his priority is always to walk the talk, which is where these other ‘teachers’ are letting the church community down.
But what is often unnoticed about these three little gems is what underpins them – in ease case, the foundation is thankfulness. In fact, he describes thankfulness progressively as a state, an attitude and an activity. So, as we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, Paul reminds us to be thankful (a state). It’s wise advice – peace can’t live together with ingratitude.
Then, as we let the word dwell richly among us – and note this is a community instruction more than a personal one, though it is that, too – we sing ‘with gratitude in our hearts’. The late, great Rev. John Stott put it like this: ‘Our favourite attitude should be gratitude,’ and there is nothing quite like sung corporate worship to raise thankfulness in our hearts. (As an aside, even in the early church there were psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – there is space for all kinds of sung worship, then as now!)
Finally, as we do everything in Jesus’ name, we give thanks. Thankfulness is not just an act of will and an inner habit, it is something we do. We give thanks. We declare it – especially to our loving heavenly Father. If love binds all the Christian virtues in unity, thankfulness empowers this kind of lifestyle. In my own life, I have also found it self-reinforcing. I have had ‘desert times’, when instinctively I didn’t think there was much to be thankful about. But when I chose to be thankful, it’s amazing how many things I was able to name, with gratitude – which in turn stirred hope, and joy, and led to more thankfulness. In other words, Paul’s advice really works. My prayer is that all of us would discover it to be true – this day, this week, every week.