Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 2, 2010

Sermon on Colossians 3:15-16

FILL UP YOUR HEARTS

  1. with the word of Christ
  2. with the peace of Christ

 Text: Colossians 3:15-16

Introduction

The way you fill up your daily schedule is similar to the way you fill up your plate at a buffet.  Some things in the buffet are better for you than others, and everything looks good, but there’s only so much room on your plate, and you have to determine what gets a place on the plate and what doesn’t.  The same can be said about our daily schedules.  There are many activities that take up our time.  Some are better than others, although many are fine and worthy activities we could spend our time on.  But there’s only so much room in the schedule.  We have to determine what gets a place on the daily planner and what isn’t so important.

When Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42), the two sisters clearly had different ideas about their priorities at that moment.  Martha thought it was best to honor her Lord with a meal.  Mary thought it was best to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from God incarnate.  Martha thought Mary’s priorities were wrong, but Jesus said that Martha’s priorities were upside down.  When God is in your living room, it’s more important to learn from him.  Making a meal, even though it was a worthy task, was not the top priority.

In our always on-the-go, multi-tasking culture, it’s easy for us to think like Martha.  In our attempt to get at everything before us, we may be tempted to turn our priorities upside down.  We may be tempted to set aside opportunities to listen to God speak to us as we sit in his house in worship or Bible Class or as we sit in our living rooms with our Bibles.  In today’s Second Lesson, the apostle Paul encourages us to think more like Mary and less like Martha.  Saint Paul encourages us that, as we fill up our schedules, we make sure that the Word of God is a top priority.  As we study the closing verses of today’s Second Lesson, Paul will encourage you to fill up your hearts with the Word of Christ and with the peace of Christ.

I.

One of my former college professors reminds pastors how important it is to have a rich devotional life.  It’s especially important that pastors—whose job it is to apply the Word of God to others—regularly take a substantial amount of time to study God’s Word and personally apply its message to themselves.  If pastors are to avoid degenerating into “religious professionalism,” then the Word of God needs to be a part of their personal devotional lives and not just their professional, pastoral activities.

Pastors aren’t the only ones who need a rich devotional life.  In the Second Lesson, the apostle Paul makes a point about regular contact with the Word of God, and Paul’s point is properly applied to all Christians.  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.”  Paul wanted everything that Jesus taught to reside in his readers’ hearts.  He wanted the law that Jesus preached to convict their hearts, and he wanted the forgiveness of sins that comes through Jesus to comfort their hearts.  He wanted them to meditate on Jesus’ word richly and regularly. 

So how was that supposed to happen?  How does “the word of Christ dwell in you richly”?  Paul lists three ways that happens.  These are not the only ways that Jesus’ word dwells in his people’s hearts, but they are some of the chief ways this happens.  One way the “word of Christ” dwells in us is when we teach from Scripture.  Accurate Scriptural teaching points people to Christ.  Proclaiming the high standards of God’s law drives people to see their need for Christ.  Preaching the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us on the cross leads souls to find peace in Christ.  Teaching is one way that Jesus’ word dwells in us.

The second way Paul mentions is admonishing.  Christians are sinners just as much as unbelievers.  Christians need to be admonished when they sin just like anyone else.  Christians need to hear the law of God that condemns the desires of our sinful flesh as much as anybody.  Contrary to the way some people view Jesus today, Jesus was not just a preacher of “sweetness and light.”  Read the Sermon on the Mount.  Read the way he condemned the self-righteous religious leaders of his day.  Jesus preached the law strongly and unapologetically, and we need that message to permeate our souls if we are to appreciate what Christ has done for us.

A third way Christ’s word lives in us is when we sing.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly … as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  When a person understands the depths of Jesus’ love for them, when a person realizes what it cost Christ to redeem us from sin and hell, that person can’t help but be filled with gratitude.  So how can you express gratitude to God?  One way is in song.  The best of Christian hymns and songs throughout the ages echo with the saving work of Christ found in the Word of Christ.  Look at the songs that people like Mary and Zechariah sang in Luke chapter one.  Look at the songs that all those in heaven sing in Revelation.  Look at the ancient hymns and early Lutheran hymns of the Reformation.  Look at some of the best of Christian hymnody today.  You will see one thing in common: these songs praise God by proclaiming his Word and what he has done for us.  That’s how singing can “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

So what does your “plate” look like?  Is your plate filled up with daily opportunities to fill your hearts with the word of Christ?  Or is your plate filled to overflowing with anything and everything else?  “I’ve got this group and that activity and this other outing.  There are meetings at work and summer vacations and the other evenings out with my spouse or friends or coworkers.”  And it may be that nothing on our schedule is necessarily by itself.  But if our filled-to-overflowing schedules leave no room on the plate for rich and regular contact with the word of Christ, doesn’t that suggest that everything else we’re doing is more important that the word of Christ?  And if the way we schedule our lives reveals our sinfully poor spiritual priorities, doesn’t that reveal how we have broken the First and greatest Commandment to love God above everything else?

But how quickly we rationalize our actions.  “There’s nothing wrong with anything I’m doing.”  “I work hard during the week; surely God will understand if I’m in church every other week or once a month.”  “I need to work my way up the corporate ladder; I’ll devote more time to God when I reach my goals at work.”  We convince ourselves that our upside down, Martha-like priorities are just fine.  But little by little, Satan turns up his boiling temptations so that we don’t notice ourselves slowly inching away from the word of Christ and slowly inching closer toward the fiery flames of hell.

II.

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that the Word of God has taken second place behind too many other things in our lives.  And if we our honest with ourselves, we must admit that the ramifications of our misplaced priorities are spiritually and eternally dangerous.  As uncomfortable as that is, we need to acknowledge with repentance that we have all too easily wandered from God and his Word.  When we recognize that, we can appreciate Paul’s other encouragement for filling up our hearts all the more.  In verse 15 of our reading, Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”

Paul uses an interesting word in this sentence.  When he said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” the word for “rule” sometimes has the flavor of the work of an umpire or referee.  A referee presides over a sporting event; he governs the activity.  Paul wants the peace of Christ to preside over and govern the hearts of his readers.  Hostility ought to rule our hearts because of sin, but Jesus Christ put an end to the war between God and humankind.  Jesus’ death paid the penalty for sin that created hostility between us and God, and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead ushered in the promise of eternal peace between God and all who believe in his Son, Jesus Christ.  That peace—the peace that comes from the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for all—is the peace that Paul wants to permeate the hearts of God’s people.

So how does someone get this peace?  Paul went on to tell his readers, “As members of one body you were called to peace.”  Notice that Paul says that his readers did not choose this peace for themselves or that they obtained this peace for themselves.  Rather, they “were called to peace.”  Someone else gave them this peace.  That someone was the Holy Spirit.  God the Holy Spirit called them to faith through the Word of Christ and the waters of the font, and at that moment they were made members of the “one body” that we call the Holy Christian Church.

So the peace that governs and rules our hearts is not a peace that Christians go out and get, but a peace they are given.  This peace is not a peace that Christians work for, but a peace they receive.  The Holy Spirit brings people into the church, and when he does, he delivers the forgiveness and peace that Jesus won 2,000 years ago and places it in their hearts where it rules and governs and presides over us.

C.F.W. Walther was the first president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  Walther was also a professor of the Missouri Synod’s seminary in St. Louis from 1850 until his death in 1887.  During his time as a professor, Walther delivered a series of lectures that are commonly referred to today as “Law and Gospel.”  Walther’s Friday evening lectures for the seminary student body were designed to help those students understand the importance of preaching law and gospel—God’s demands and God’s forgiveness—and the proper way to distinguish between and apply law and gospel.  Walther’s lectures were built around 25 theses or statements about law and gospel.  His last thesis was this: “The Word of God is not rightly divided when the gospel does not predominate in teaching.”  In other words, pastors must preach both law and gospel—both God’s condemnation for our sin and Jesus’ redeeming work that has paid the penalty for our sin—but the gospel must always be the most important part of what we preach and teach as a Christian congregation.

If you want to find the peace of Christ that Paul talks about in our reading, then look to the gospel.  Open up the pages of Christ’s Word and discover the depths of Christ’s love for you.  See how Jesus planned your salvation before the world began.  Learn how the One who created us came into this world at his birth and became one of us.  Follow the story of his journey to the cross where he laid down his life for your sins but was raised back to life for your acquittal.  Remember how he made you his own at the baptismal font and gave you the peace that he first won for you on the cross.  Come forward and receive his peace yet again as you gather around his altar and receive the very body and blood that secured your forgiveness in the past and delivers your forgiveness in the present.  If you want the peace of Christ, look no further than the gifts of his Word and sacraments to find the very thing your soul craves the most!

Conclusion

Today is the start of August.  Summer is about two-thirds complete.  It’s time to make plans for the start of the school year and all the activities that begin in fall.  So what do your plans look like?  Will your schedule be filled with Martha-like busyness and distractions—nothing in the plans is necessarily wrong, but something extremely important is missing?  Or perhaps is it time to reevaluate those filled schedules and to put some serious time on the calendar for the Word of God—for Sunday School and Bible Class, for regular worship, for personal devotional time and Bible reading?  Is it time to follow Mary’s lead and plan moments to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from the Son of God in the Word of God?

Your spiritual heart needs to be fed just as much as your physical stomach does.  Your heart needs to be filled with the word of Christ which delivers the peace of Christ.  So let the months ahead be a time that we reset our priorities so that the gospel once again takes center stage.  And with the gospel ringing in our ears, may Christ’s peace fill our hearts with the gracious forgiveness that makes us right with God and ready for heaven!  Amen.

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