Are we putting Christ first? part one

Paul’s letter to the Colossians is all about Jesus Christ.

He goes to great lengths to prove that Jesus is most unique and important person in the Universe. In chapter one, he tells us that everything was created by Him and for Him. (1:16) In chapter two, he explains that in Him dwell all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and that in Him dwells the fullness of deity bodily. (2:3,9) In chapter three, he writes that He is the believer’s life. (3:4)

Those are magnificent statements and each one obviously has important theological implications. Paul deals with many of those in chapters one and two. He makes it clear that the fact Jesus is the most unique and important person in the universe has profound ramifications for what we believe. Each one of those statements also has important practical implications.

That’s Paul’s concern in chapter 3.

He makes it clear that the fact Jesus is the most unique and important person in the universe has profound ramifications for the way we live. Over the next several posts, as we look at this text I want us to carefully consider three questions which will help us evaluate if whether or not the way in which we live matches up with what we as a church profess to believe about Jesus Christ.

  1.  Are we controlled by the peace of Christ?

Paul writes in verse 15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body….”

He’s talking here about the implications the Lordship of Christ has for our relationships. The peace of Christ should rule us.

I want you to zone in on that word rule. An image that might help you understand what Paul is talking about is that of an umpire. That’s actually the way the word rule was commonly used in Paul’s day. If you looked it up in a Greek dictionary you’d find that it comes from the Greek word for umpire.

Most of you have played enough sports to know what an umpire does. The umpire enforces the rules of the game. He’s supposed to be an objective observer who calls the shots. He’s the person who says you can do this – that’s fair – and you can’t do that – that’s foul.

Being from Philadelphia we’re trained to boo umpires, but it should be obvious that umpires are pretty important. If you’ve ever played a competitive game without an umpire you know that all too well. When I was in college we’d play a lot of pick-up basketball. My friends and I would go down to the court and so obviously we didn’t have refs or anything like that. And let me tell you the way you play pick-up basketball without a ref is very different than the way you play basketball with one. Let’s just say there’s a lot more pain. As my friends used to say when we’d play basketball – no blood no foul. We could hurt each other because there was no one there to call the shots.

But almost worse than having no umpire is having a bad one. A bad umpire can literally effect the outcome of an entire game. You can lose a game you were supposed to win because of a bad ump. I think of that recent scandal with the Winter Olympics where the biased judge from France caused the ice-skating duo from Canada to lose the gold medal when it was clear to everyone watching they deserved to win. Or even further back the 1972 Olympics where the referees made a bad call and put extra time on the clock which allowed the Soviet Union to upset the United States in basketball.

When it comes to sporting events, serious sporting events, you need an umpire and you need a good one. The game depends on it. And Paul by saying let the peace of Christ rule or umpire in our hearts is telling us when it comes to our lives and our relationships with others we really need a good umpire as well.

You see, all of us have an umpire calling the shots in our hearts. When it comes to basketball or some other sport you may be able to play without a ref, but when it comes to life, somebody is always working the game.   There’s always an umpire.

The question is – who?

Either we have a good umpire or a bad umpire.

James talks about the bad umpire in James 4. He identifies it as selfish desires. He asks,

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

You see how James describes selfish desires as clearly calling the shots. These people are quarreling and fighting, why? Because they are being ruled by selfish desires.   “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel.” You do what you do because you want what you want.   To borrow Paul’s terminology you’ve got the wrong umpire calling the shots.

Selfish desires are what I like to call the “default” ump. They are the umpire who shows up when we don’t call on the peace of Christ to work the game.

And selfish desires have a very specific way of umpiring. They call anything that goes against what we want out, and pretty much anything that goes along with what we want, in or fair.   You can imagine this umpire holding a big old fat book of rules and you look over his shoulder and every page says the same thing: What do I want? The book may have a lot of pages but there’s really one rule – what’s best for me?

You want me to do something that makes me feel uncomfortable?

Selfish desire steps up to the plate and says out! Not acceptable. Can’t do that!

You want me to do something that would require me to make a sacrifice?

Selfish desire steps up to the plate and says out! Not acceptable. Can’t do that!

You want me to do something I don’t want to do?

Selfish desire steps up to the plate and says out! Not acceptable. Can’t do that!

If we’re going to be honest, selfish desires work as umpire in our hearts far too often. Probably one reason why is because we like how they call the game. The thing that makes selfish desires such an attractive umpire is that they promise to work for free and they promise to call the game in our favor.

But know this, they lie.

You allow selfish desires to rule in your hearts and I promise you they’ll end up costing you the game.

To live for Christ you have to die to self.

We’ve got to ban selfish desires from ever working as umpire in our hearts. Instead as God’s people we must allow the peace of Christ to call the shots. That’s the umpire God wants working in our hearts.

To understand what Paul means by that I think it helps to circle the phrase of Christ in your minds. Paul is not talking about any old kind of peace but rather a peace that belongs to Christ.

Now that could mean a couple things.

When the Bible talks about the peace that belongs to Christ sometimes it is talking about our relationship with God. Christ reconciled us to God. But sometimes when the Bible talks about the peace of Christ it is talking about our relationship with one another. You see, Jesus has not only brought us peace with God, He’s also brought us peace with one another. He’s made us one.

I tend to think that’s the peace he’s primarily talking about here because of the context. The whole context is that of the way Christians should relate to one another. Besides that, you see how he emphasizes that aspect in verse 11, “There’s not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all…” There’s no more divisions between, there’s just Christ.

And here it’s as if Paul is summing up, saying the peace that Christ purchased should work as an umpire in our hearts. It should rule us, literally it should completely control our thoughts and actions.

If selfishness calls anything out that goes against our desires; the peace of Christ calls anything out that goes against the good of others. Specifically, that goes against the good of other believers in the body of Christ.

It means if you or I are in a situation and we have to make a decision we’re not asking ourselves, “What’s best for me?” but instead, “ What’s best for the body of Christ?” It means to quote Paul in Philippians 2 that we do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility we consider others more significant than ourselves. We don’t only look out for our own interest but also to the interests of others.

Now that’s a radical way to think. I realize that. That is probably why Paul doesn’t only give us the command but also adds an explanation writing,  “…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”  

When he talks about being called to one body, he’s talking about our salvation.

We as a church should relate to one another and make decisions in this radically new way, because we are radically new people. We must think different because we are different.

You are not just one body. You are part of one body. Therefore you must think about some body besides your body because your body is part of the body of Christ.

If we say Christ is Lord so we must not live as if we were.

He is our head, we are His body, therefore His peace must rule our hearts and one way we can evaluate whether or not we as a church are putting Christ first is by evaluating our relationships with one another.

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