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Two thousand years ago the angels sang at Jesus’ birth, “and on earth, peace …” But the world hasn’t got any better. Indeed, while peace is something we all long for, it is one thing the world does not have. So, where is the fulfilment of the angelic promise?
Before we charge the angels with false advertising, we need to read the full text of their song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14). The angels were making a promise to a specific group – the people of God.
Over these last weeks we have been trekking through the Letter of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians. Today we come to his words in chapter 3:15: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
Broken relationships. Too often we ignore our deepest human problem – we are all self-focussed. Our relationships with God and with one another are broken. Jesus made it clear that the solution to the human condition, would require his death, for he would die the death we all deserve. It would be Jesus’ divine, costly work alone that could heal our relationship with God. What is more, once our relationship with God was restored, there would also be healing of the broken relationships across social and cultural, racial and national divides amongst his people. No wonder the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, ‘shalom’, ‘peace’.
Indeed, in Colossians 3:11 we read: … there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all. And in the following section, Paul goes on to write of the inner attitudes that we are to adopt as we relate to others. This includes ‘letting the peace of Christ rule our hearts’.
Referee. The context helps us to understand Paul’s meaning here when he speaks of peace. He is speaking about the inner peace that the Lord Jesus gives to his people, and also the attitude of peace that should now rule our minds and wills as we relate to others. In the flow of Paul’s writing about forgiving one another and loving one another, the peace of Christ is to be the referee. So when bitterness and love battle within us the peace of Christ is to win the day.
Now this doesn’t come easily, especially when we’ve been hurt by others. When we are dealing with injury and conflict, it’s hard to forgive and so make peace. Nevertheless, Paul is saying that God’s people are to be at the forefront of finding solutions to resolve tension and conflict. As Jesus himself said, we are to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
Bible. Furthermore, we need to know Christ, so that we will have his wisdom to bring into our conversations. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, Paul writes; Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16).
Keeping the peace doesn’t mean simply sweeping our differences under the carpet, let alone putting on an artificial smile. In the 1992 Australian film, ‘Strictly Ballroom’, Scott, the central character refuses to dance the traditional ballroom steps. His mother is furious. ‘Put on a happy face’, she was told. But hiding our feelings isn’t the way to true peace. We need to find a way to express our feelings.
Furthermore, we are not at liberty to give one another a piece of our mind! Rather, we must bring our minds under the direction of the Lord’s mind, and the only way we can do this, is by coming to the Bible together.
And notice, we are to do this with all wisdom. Our coming to the Bible together is not to be an uninformed pooling of ignorance. We must work together at finding what the Bible means, rather than reading into it what we want it to mean. It’s a ministry all of us are to aim at. There is no place amongst God’s people for strong-willed, aggressive individuals insisting on their way. That creates division.
Song. And Paul continues: … with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. We often overlook Paul’s point here, that as we praise God, we are also instructing and exhorting one another. It’s one of the reasons our songs when we meet should be strong on Bible, and not insipid and repetitive. Even in our world of Covid restrictions, we can still reflect on the words. Singing Bible-based songs is an important way to build relationships.
And, there is something else. Gratitude to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, Paul writes, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
Nothing brings about tension and division more than a discontented spirit. And a discontented spirit is an ungrateful spirit. To be thankful is to accept our situation in the loving providence of God. A thankful heart trusts God in every situation, and thankful people are always happy people.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts …, for it is to this that you were called… We begin to see that the promise of the angels’ song at Jesus’ birth was not fake news. Jesus has not only opened up the path to peace in our relationship with God, but also with one another as God’s people. Furthermore, we are now to let this peace of Christ within us become the referee or umpire in our relationships with others.
Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called the children of God”.
© John G. Mason
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