One thing I ask … to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord… (Psalm 27:4)
Colossians 3:15-17 sermon, “How’s Your Heart?”
Almighty God our Father, your generous goodness comes to us new every day. By the work of your Spirit lead us to acknowledge your goodness, give thanks for your benefits, and serve you in willing obedience; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
“How’s your heart?” That’s a doctor’s concern, isn’t it? A doctor will often explain how diet and exercise are good for your heart and how your heart performs. Today, we have a parallel question as Paul turns our attention to our spiritual hearts. This heart mentioned in the Bible is your inner self – sort of like what we think of as our mind. This heart is where the voice of your whole inner self speaks – what you think, what you will, and what you desire. The Bible talks about the purposes of your heart, the thoughts of your heart, or the desires of your heart. “The heart” – it’s that place that where your actions and behavior begin, as Jesus said, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, etc…” Jeremiah also diagnoses our sinful heart and says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Our hearts are called “stubborn,” “disloyal” to God, “perverse” and “calloused” by nature. And so we pray with the psalm writer, “Create in me a pure heart, O God.”
And we will see how our Savior Jesus Christ, the Great Physician of the soul, changes our hearts and at the same time changes how our hearts perform in everyday life. This Thanksgiving, may your heart belong to Christ alone – ruled by his peace and filled with gratitude.
First, Paul says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”
You’ve probably heard the phrase “No Jesus, no peace; know Jesus, know peace.” Jesus Christ and peace go together, one with the other. Outside of Christ, there is no peace. Outside of Christ, the heart is left empty, restless, and unsatisfied. There were Judaizers with such hearts affecting the congregation in Colosse. They didn’t have Jesus, so they didn’t have real peace. Instead, they had strict rules and regulations that had to be followed – or else! They had mandatory customs and traditions. They emphasized denying yourself to get closer to God. They spoke of the greatness of their accumulated human wisdom and philosophy. Always striving, never attaining; always working, never finding total joy or complete comfort; always trying to sound smart, but doubting yourself since you still didn’t have true wisdom. No Jesus, no peace.
If that’s the condition of their heart, then what do you expect to see in how they lived? They weren’t concerned with loving your neighbor or serving them as God loved you, they were preoccupied with keeping laws. They were nitpicking at every little thing you did. They put on an outward show of works to receive praise from men. They boasted over you of being more mature or complete followers of God. And if you wanted to be more mature and more complete before God, you had to be like them. Otherwise you were incomplete.
How often our hearts are motivated by the same thing. We do our “random act of kindness” because it looks good to others or because it’s comforting to “do the right thing.” We act as if the more mature we are as Christians, the more secure we are before God. I think of others less in terms of service and more in terms of comparison. That’s not peace ruling in your heart, that’s restlessness – me trying to make it on my own.
Do you know what really fills an empty, restless heart? Consider Christ. In him the fullness of the Deity dwells. In him God reconciled us and all things to himself through the blood he shed on the cross, making peace for us. All the things we couldn’t do under the law, all the hurdles and obstacles, Christ took away, nailing them to the cross. So in him we have redemption and forgiveness. In him we are made complete, buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith. In him we have been made alive and brought from darkness to light. In him we are holy. That’s the peace of Christ. Those are all things that Paul mentions in this letter! It all comes in Christ – that which changes our hearts and makes them clean and new.
So Paul says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The word for “rule” is like a sports term in Greek. Think of the “ruling on the field” by referees or the call that is made by an umpire. Paul wants us to let the peace of Christ make the call in your heart. Don’t live out your days feverishly working to win God’s favor. Let the peace of Christ make the decision – know that you win over sin and death and the devil because of Christ. His peace to you declares you the victor!
That’s one way the peace of Christ rules. And how does a heart ruled by peace perform? We seek peace with others; we do whatever it takes to promote peace with someone else in our relationships. If something is hurtful or divisive, then consider it “illegal” or “out of bounds” – against the ruling of the peace of Christ.
And be thankful. What does a person sound like or look like whose heart is characterized by thanksgiving or gratitude? Sometimes people talk about how they are so happy that nothing could bring them down from the clouds. Because of the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts, every moment is lived as a fruit of thanksgiving in my life. Being thankful is the new realm I have in Christ. I’m not in the constant striving to be good enough for God and yet total failure world anymore. I’m in a new place, a place of peace where everything I do is not for merit, but an expression of thanksgiving.
Then Paul goes on: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” [First the peace of Christ, now the Word of Christ – they are synonymous – you see how all we need to pay attention to and focus on is what God has done for us in Christ! That Word of Christ is source of all wisdom!]
Here we go from the sports arena to a home. You are the house. And Paul urges that the good news would take up residence in you and live in you, filling up the whole place. You don’t need anything new; you just need the Word of Christ for your teaching and admonishing.
This is what we do when we study and apply God’s Word, whether on your own or in Bible class.
- The Word is our teacher and gives us knowledge of God’s revealed grace.
- It also admonishes as we apply the truth to how I live. Admonishing means to address our attitudes and behaviors that are changed by the Word of Christ. Like those baptized by John the Baptist, we seek from God’s Word the answer to “What shall we do?”
We teach and admonish and sing in our psalms and hymns and songs too, don’t we? Pick any hymn and you’ll find that it either applies God’s Word in prayer or teaches by proclaiming the reason for our hope or it admonishes how we live by urging us to do this or that. All this attention is given to God’s Word and how it applies to our lives out of thanksgiving for what God has done for us. With gratitude, we go to his Word so that we might be instructed and admonished in how to thank him with my life.
It’s just as Paul says, “And whatever you do … do it all in the name of our Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Our hearts and lives belong to Jesus, so we seek to honor him as Lord by doing everything according to his revealed Word. And look how Paul describes it – whatever it is you do – he says. Word, deed, doesn’t matter. We can give thanks to God for so many gifts each and every day. And we can also live our thanks to God in every moment of every day – the words we say private, the words we say in public, what goes on in front of others and what goes on unnoticed by anyone except God. We don’t just give thanks in prayer or in church. But wherever you are and whatever you are doing – it’s all an opportunity to give thanks to God, doing it in Jesus’ name – remembering all that Jesus has done for you.
How’s your heart? Let me remind you of another Colossians verse just before these – “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Think of all the heart-healthy things God pours into our hearts through Christ! May God lift up your hearts, filling them with the peace of Christ and his Word that out of our hearts might come thankful living. Amen.