How to be Like Christ, Colossians 3:15-17

The Purpose of Life

I think about every rational person who believes in the existence of a living intelligent Creator at some point wonders about the big fundamental question, “Why did He create us? For what purpose did God give us a few years of life on this earth?” It’s certainly one of the most important questions for every person to find the answer to. It can end the frustrating search for “What should I do with my life?” It can keep us from wasting years of our lives in meaningless endeavors. It enables us to direct our energy and our thoughts and our time toward what really matters. And there’s peace, joy and contentment that comes with knowing that you’re doing what you were made to do.

From what I see in the Scriptures it appears to me that the purpose for which God made us centers around one word, and that’s the word love. I John 4:8 says, “God is love.” Love describes God. Love is the dominate trait in the nature and character of God. And the next verses, I John 4:9-10, say God has proven and demonstrated this to us. It says, “By this the love of God was manifested among us, that God has sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The fact that love is the dominate trait of God’s character suggests to me that God created us out of love, to express love, to have living beings like Himself that could be the objects of His love.

And yet not just that. God did not just want to have objects of His love, but also to receive love in return. So He made us not like the animals, not creatures just ruled by instinct (II Pt 2:12), who just react to stimuli as they were made to react, who just are and do what they do because they can’t help it; it’s how they were made. God made us in His image, according to His likeness, which involves the ability to make our own choices including whether we want to love God and love others or not. Matthew 22:36 a scribe tested Jesus with a question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Those are the summaries of all the commandments. What God desires of us is in essence that we choose of our own free will to love Him with all our being and love each other as ourselves.

… and not just for the little bit of time we have on earth, but for eternity. God wants this relationship of love with like beings, this big loving family, for eternity. In I Corinthians 13, in what we call the great love chapter of the Bible, at v8 it says, “Love never ends.” And then it contrasts that with certain spiritual gifts like tongue speaking and miraculous knowledge that will end. They’re only for a temporary period until the church reaches an age of maturity. And then at v13 it says, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” In other words after these certain spiritual gifts have ceased, faith, hope and love will remain; the church will have those and be guided by those. But then it says, “But the greatest of these is love.” And in the context it appears to me part of why love is the greatest is what he said earlier that “Love never ends.” When Christ comes back in all His glory on the last day, when everything we believe in and hope for becomes visible and becomes ours, faith and hope will end. Faith will be replaced with sight. And we will have all we hoped for and ever could hope for, so we won’t hope anymore; we will have. But love between God and His people, and His people with one another, will never end. And it’s this eternal existence of loving wonderful relationship with like free will beings, that I think God was after when He created us. Our life on this earth is that we might be a part of that. We are given the opportunity to be a part of this loving blessed family of God forever.

And God desires everyone, everyone that He has made, to choose to be a part of that (I Tim 2:4; II Pt 3:9). And He’s done and He’s doing so much to help us and motivate us to develop love for Him and for people. He made the trees. He made the mountains. He made the birds that sing in the morning… all the color in the world. He made such an awesome and abundant variety of foods and drink. He made the minds that have made music. He made my wife and my kids. He’s made the sky, the warm sun, the moon and the stars. Every good thing is from Him. That’s part of why I love Him. But He’s also provided at His own great cost the gruesome sacrifice for our forgiveness. And II Peter 1:4, He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises to motivate us, promises of forgiveness, protection, resurrection, eternal life, a world to come without the curse of sin. He’s given us the perfect model, example of what He desires of a human being in Jesus. In Jesus we see loving God with all one’s being and your neighbor as yourself. And He’s given us His word to instruct us and guide us. And He’s called us together that we might encourage each other and stimulate one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25). He disciplines us sometimes to help us. He brings people into our lives sometimes that we need. And His Spirit is at work that we might be conformed to the image of His Son.

If we’ve become Christians truly we have not just acknowledged that God loves us and Jesus died for us and that He’s Lord, but we have submitted and are submitting to the change that God has been at work to produce within us. We have repented. We have laid aside the old self that didn’t care much about God or others. We’ve put on the new self that resembles Christ and that is under constant development more into the image of Christ, that’s growing in love for God and for people.

We studied Colossians 3:5-14 last Sunday where Paul explains that very truth, and explains in more detail what it means to be like Christ, to love God and our neighbors. He explained that it means we refuse to be involved in immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech and lying. We ‘re not involved in that stuff. And rather we have a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, by which bear with each other and forgive each other. That’s what God is after with us. People who are that way, who are following Christ, who are ever becoming more that way, are the people who are fulfilling the very purpose for which they were made, and those people will share eternity with God.

Now we’re going to look at the next 3 verses in Colossians, 3:15-17. And I see a shift here. Paul was describing what it is to be like Christ, what God wants to see in us. And now I think here at v15 he shifts to talk more about how, how to become more that way, how to continue to progress in Christlikness through all the trials of life and all the attacks of Satan to pull us the other direction. All the exhortations of v15-17 are those that help us to be all that God wants us to be. There are 4 of them here.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body (v15).

You may not realize it, but the Bible says that we need each other in order to help us stay faithful and grow into all that God wants us to be. Remember Colossians 2:19, “from [Christ] the entire body [talking about the church, Christ’s people], being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” That verse says that Christ and God are the source of spiritual growth. But the means that Christ and God use to supply the members of the body with the nourishment and what they need for growth is the other members of the body. We are supplied through the joints and ligaments, through our connections with the other members. Christ gives us the encouragement we need at times through other Christians. Christ gives us the inspiration and the examples we need to see sometimes through other Christians. Christ gives us the correction and instruction we need sometimes through other Christians. Christ keeps us from sin sometimes by having other Christians in our lives who will hold us accountable and that we don’t want to disappoint. Christ helps us learn by other Christians who challenge our views on certain things. Christ teaches us humility and gentleness and patience by having us be with other Christians and telling us to work together. It is for our spiritual strength and growth that we need to stay connected and interacting and treating each other like members of one body.

Paul’s admonition here I think is basically that we must not mess that up; we must not cause any separation or discord between us and other members of the body if we don’t have to. The phrase “the peace of Christ” here, just the phrase itself, you could understand in different ways. You could take it to mean the peace with God that Christ has brought us, or an inner peace knowing all is well with us, or peace with each other. And I think Paul is primarily talking about peace with each other, because defines it as the peace “to which indeed you were called in one body.” He wants us to see each other as members of one body. The members of different bodies might fight each other, but not members of the same body. You know, there’s been a few times when left hand has been holding the nails and right hand has been swinging the hammer and righty has accidentally hammered lefty, but lefty has never once picked up the nail and stabbed righty in retaliation. The members of one body bear with each other and forgive each other and get along with each other; they live in peace with each other. That kind of peace that members of one body have with each other I think is what Paul is talking about.

And he says let that peace rule in your hearts. The word for “rule” here literally means act as an umpire or a referee. “Let the peace of Christ act as the umpire in your hearts.” The umpire in a baseball game is the guy who makes the decision when there’s a difference of opinion; he gives the verdict in contested situations. Is he out or is he safe? Can he stay on base or does he have to go back to the dugout? The umpire decides. The umpire controls the game. If peace is acting as umpire or ruling in our hearts, then peace is the deciding factor in our hearts. We let peace decide what we’re going say and do.

So you’ve got a problem with me evidently. You don’t talk to me or sit by me anymore, because I did something that I don’t think was really a big deal; I didn’t show up at a party you were having or I said something in joking and you took it very personally. I don’t think you should be so sensitive about it. I think you’re being a big baby. You’ve said things that I could have taken personally and I didn’t. You didn’t show up to my parties before. What should I do about this? Paul would say, “Let peace decide.” Like Jesus told the Jews of His day, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Meaning for us, more important than going to church, you swallow your pride and you go to that brother or sister and you say, “I’m sorry that I insulted you. I don’t want you to be hurt. Please forgive me.”

You want the new carpet to be bash, but I want it to be blue. If I let peace decide, then I don’t demand that the carpet be blue.

I think your opinion about this particular subject is just ridiculous and what you think we should do in our worship services is ridiculous, and I kind of want to tell you that you’re an idiot. And I kind of want others to know that as well. But if peace is ruling in my heart I don’t call you an idiot and cause that tear in the body of Christ, and I don’t damage your relationship with other members of the body by gossip. I might in kindness and respect ask you why you hold the view you hold on this subject, and kindly explain my reasons for seeing it differently. But I’m going to be careful not to cause any separation in the body of Christ.

I’m tired of always being the one to clean up after this thing we do and you claim you’ve got to go, that you’re too busy, and I think that’s bologna. And I kind of want to tell you I think you’re a lazy selfish bum. But if the peace of Christ is ruling in my heart I put up with things being unfair for me sometimes.

This means let’s not be selfish; let’s let others have their way; let’s admit when we’re wrong and apologize; let’s forgive; let’s be servants that pick up the slack that others are leaving; let’s be willing to have things be unfair for us. Let’s not let our wants and desires and preferences rule in our hearts, but the peace that we were called to have with one another in one body… because we need each other, we need to be functioning like one body to help each other stay faithful and grow into all that God wants us to be.

Be thankful (v15,16,17).

Cultivate thankfulness. That’s the end of v15. And it’s reemphasized at the end of v16 where it says that our singing is to be with thankfulness in our hearts to God. And then again at the end of v17, “giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” So 3 times in these 3 verses we’re admonished to thankfulness.

God has been so good to us, from the daily blessings that come from His hand to the giving of His Son to the kindnesses He will show us in the age to come. Paul emphasizes thankfulness not just because God has been so good to us and it’s just so right and proper that be very thankful, but also because developing a thankful heart is crucial to becoming more like Christ, to loving God and others.

Think about the difference thankfulness makes. What will be different between a person who is grateful to have a job and to be able to have an income for his family, which he knows is more than he deserves, from somebody who’s upset that his job is not like the job his friends have and focuses on all the aspects of his job that he doesn’t like? One will grumble, the other will whistle while he works. One will work half heartedly, the other will work hard. One will sour the atmosphere at work, the other will brighten it. One the boss will more likely want to get rid of and the other more likely want to keep around.

What will the difference be between a man who is thankful that he has a wife and thankful for somebody to talk to when he comes home and that somebody does his laundry and takes good care of his kids, from a man who focuses on the qualities that he sees in other wives and things that other wives do that his wife isn’t doing, and feels like he deserves better? One will be kind. One will be ugly. One will honor and cherish and serve her. And one will just try to be served more by her and point out all the ways in which she’s not measuring up.

What will be difference between one who realizes that just life itself is gift that God didn’t have to give him, and all his sin makes him all the more undeserving, every little good enjoyable thing is a gift, not something he’s entitled to, and that Christ died for his sins, and God has forgiven him of all his sin and has eternal life in store for Him… what will be the difference between that guy from somebody who looks around at what others have that he doesn’t and feels like he’s sort of been cheated in life, and like he’s entitled to all he has and more? One will love God and desire to spend this short life in His service. And the other, well, might come church, and may not steal and sleep around and things like that because he doesn’t want to go to hell. But he’ll probably try to get away with as much as he can and do the minimum that he thinks he has to for God. But he won’t love God with all his being and his neighbor as himself.

So we must be thankful. We must train our minds to think about how blessed we are and how undeserving we are of any of it. And something that definitely helps us to cultivate thankfulness is the next admonition here.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you (v16).

What’s he mean, “the word of Christ”? Is that just the letters in red in the gospels? I think that would definitely be part of the word of Christ. Is it what the gospels tell us about Christ and His life and death and resurrection? I think that would also definitely be part of it. But you remember 1:28, Paul’s summary of all that he preaches. He said, “We proclaim Him [Christ]…” All that Paul preached was about who Christ is and what He did and what He will do and what He’s said and what His will is. And that’s what the other apostles preached. And I think that would also be the “word of Christ,” and that’s what they wrote for us in the New Testament (NT). The NT is the word of Christ. And I’m not sure we should exclude the OT from the “word of Christ,” because much of the OT is about Christ and our need for Him and foreshadowings of Him. And Christ was God who became flesh, and so the word of God back in OT times you could say was also the word of Christ. So I think it’s alright if we take the “word of Christ” here to refer to simply the whole Bible.

Now, notice the word here “richly.” “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” What does “richly” mean? I think that means, doesn’t it, that you have more than just John 3:16 and Acts 2:38 dwelling with in you. I think “richly” means a whole bunch, a wealth of the word of the Lord is internalized and can be pulled out whenever needed.

Paul mentions a few things for the Colossians to do to help fill each other with the word of Christ. There are 3 participles in v16, 3 verbal adjectives, 3 “ing” words that explain how to fill each other with the word. Teaching, admonishing and singing. You know in 1st century churches like the one to whom Paul wrote this, they didn’t have the great privilege that we have of everybody having their own Bible and everybody educated enough to be able to read it. So to be richly filled with the word of Christ, they needed to come together and read what copies of the Scriptures they had, and those who knew some of the word of Christ from an apostle or prophet or some source needed to teach it to those who didn’t know it. And they didn’t want to just be filled with the word itself but also what it means and how applies to their personal lives. And so you have the word “admonish” here, which has to do with telling people what they need to do about the truths they’ve learned. And much of the word of Christ and the applications of His word they put into hymns and spiritual songs. And you know it’s much easier to remember something when you put it into a song. So they would instill the word of Christ into each other’s hearts by singing hymns and spiritual songs, and also Psalms of the OT scriptures (another reason I wouldn’t exclude the OT from the word of Christ here).

We have quotations of some of their songs in the NT. For instance most scholars who can read Greek think Philippians 2:6ff was from an early Christian hymn. In the Greek text it’s got a rhythmic pattern to it like a song. And so they would sing to each other “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Or II Timothy 2:11-13 where Paul says, “It is a trustworthy statement:” And then he quotes something. We think likely he quotes from one of their songs. “For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” They would sing those truths of the word of Christ to each other and instill the word richly in their hearts. That’s a big reason why we sing the songs we do, to ingrain the truths of God’s word into our hearts.

But I think Paul would have added something here in v16 if they had the same privilege that we do where we all have our own Bibles and the ability to read them. I have no doubt Paul would have been an advocate of reading your Bible daily if possible. Psalm 1, “How blessed is the man… [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither…” What streams of water are to a tree, streams of God’s word are to our souls. A tree cannot grow and cannot produce without a regular intaking of a lot of water. The more Bible we know and understand, the stronger and healthier and more productive we will be.

Are we trying to get the word of Christ into our hearts and into the hearts of one another richly? Are we reading our Bibles? Taking every opportunity we can to hear the Bible taught or to get together with others to talk about the word? Do we talk about it with our kids and our spouse to fill them richly with the word of Christ? If our heart’s desire is to be like Christ as God wants us to be and to help others to be as well, if that’s the most important thing in the world to us, as it should be because that’s all that really matters, then we fill ourselves and overflow with His word.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (v17).

Very simple summary of how we’re to live.

When a master would send his slave on a mission, the slave went in the name of his master. That slave was going where he was going and doing what he was doing for the master, to carry out the masters will. He was just like an extension of the master, doing what the master wanted done over there.

Paul says whatever we speak and whatever we do should be in the name of our master, in harmony with the will of Jesus. It should all be stuff He would have us to speak and He would have us do; stuff that He would say and do if He were in our circumstances. So all our words and deeds we should filter through the questions, “What would Jesus have me say? What would Jesus have me do? If He were in my circumstances, what would He say, what would He do?”

So you wake up Sunday morning and you look at the clock it’s 8 am. And your favorite football team is playing on ESPN at 10 am. But you also know that your brothers and sisters in Christ are going to be meeting together around that time to worship God, to learn from the word of Christ, to commune at the Lord’s Supper, and to encourage and build up one another, and you could join them in that and go encourage some people. What do you do? You ask the question: What would Jesus have me to do? What would Jesus do if He were me? I think it’s pretty obvious.

Monday morning you wake up early, get ready for work, get in your car and head off for work. Then along your commute you notice up ahead there is a car on the side of the road, and there’s an elderly man outside struggling to unscrew a lug nut on a flat tire. Now, you know how to change tires. But you’ve got a lot of work to get done at the office, and you wanted to get there early so you could get it all done today. What do you do? Just ask the question: What would Jesus have me to do? And of course Jesus would have you treat this man as you would want to be treated if you were in his circumstances.

So after you help that man, you work a long day, and you come home and pull the car into the garage. And you glance over at the other car in the garage and you notice that the back bumper is a little smashed and the tail light busted. You go in the house and the wife’s on the couch watching TV, and you say “Hi, honey.” And she just “shushes” you. You know, “Shssh! I’m trying to watch this.” You’ve been working all day to support this family and she doesn’t even say “Hi” to you when you come in. But you wait til commercial, and then you ask her, “Honey, what happened to the car?” And she says, “Oh, I accidentally backed it into a post in the Wal-Mart parking lot.” This the third time she’s ran the car into something. And you look around and the house is a pit and there’s no dinner on the table. How do you respond to that? Just ask the question: How would Jesus have me respond? And Paul has told us here in Colossians that the Lord would not have us respond with anger, wrath, malice, slander, or abusive speech (3:8). But He would have us respond with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (3:12).

Every decision we make about what we’re going to say and what we’re going to do is to be in His name, in keeping with His will.

God made us to receive and reciprocate His love for eternity. This life on earth is that we may choose to be a part of that. But if we’re choosing to spend this life going after money and pleasure and status, if we choose to be self-centered, then we’re choosing not to be part of the loving eternal fellowship that God created us for. Let’s do what we were made to do. Let’s decide that we’re going to follow Christ; we’re going to love our Maker and fellow man and learn to do that better. And let’s do what we can to help others to do the same. We’re going to need each other. We’re going to need to be like members of one body that work together and take care of each other in peace. So let’s let that peace, not our wants and preferences, rule in our hearts,. And we’re going to need thankful hearts. And we’re going to need to fill ourselves and each other richly with the word of Christ. And we’re going to need to filter our words and deeds with the questions, “What would Jesus have me say? What would Jesus have me do?”

– James Williams

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