- Locate the Passage
3:15-17 constitutes the final paragraph of specific exhortations flowing from the generic exhortation of 3:1-4. 3:18ff contain specific exhortations as well, but of a different sort than those in 3:5-17. 3:18ff will commence instructions on Christ-centered relationships in the home, work, and world. 3:15-17 instruct the Colossians on how to live Christ-centered lives in the context of the church.
- Identify the Genre
The macro level is epistolary. The micro level is hortatory.
- Determine the Structure of the Passage
There are three imperative verbs in 3:15-16 with an additional subjunctive verb in 3:17. These form the four major exhortations of the text. First, the Colossians are commanded to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (3:15a). Second, the Colossians are commanded to “be thankful” (eucharistoi, 3:15b). Third, the Colossians are commanded to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you abundantly” (3:16a).
Paul modifies this third command by using three participles in 3:16b to explain the means by which the Colossians are to allow the Word of Christ to dwell in them: by “teaching,” “warning,” and “singing.” They are to teach and warn with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” They are to sing to God “with gratitude in your hearts.”
Paul uses a generic subjunctive exhortation in 3:17 that constitutes the section’s fourth exhortation: “Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Paul defines “everything” as “whatever you do in word or in deed.” Paul modifies this command with the participle eucharistountes (“giving thanks”). Note the repetition of the idea of gratitude in 3:15, 16, and 17.
- Exegete the Passage
Paul’s first exhortation in 3:15, “let the peace (eirene) of Christ rule in your hearts,” is a reference not to an internal sense of calm but rather a relational concord between people. Paul is speaking specifically of relationships within the church, the people who are unified in Christ despite their racial, cultural, and sociological differences (3:11). For Christ’s peace to “rule” (brabeueto) means for the peace of Christ to be the “arbiter” or to “act as the umpire” in any disputes, repeating a theme from the previous paragraph to bear with and forgive each other just as the Lord has forgiven them (3:13). Paul reminds the Colossians that it is this peace “to which you were called in one body.” If the Colossians are going to withstand the danger of the Colossian heresy, they must do so together. The solidarity of God’s new people standing together as one unified body is vital to withstanding the theological threat they face in the church.
Paul’s second exhortation in 3:15 is simply to “be thankful.” This is the first of three references to gratitude in these three verses. Paul may be trying to emphasize the importance of not taking the gospel for granted, but rather being intentional about thankfulness for Christ and what He has done.
Paul’s third exhortation in 3:16 serves as the guardrail that will protect the Colossian church from the syncretistic heresy: “let the Word of Christ dwell in you abundantly.” The genitive construction ho logos tou Christou could mean that this is the word about Christ or the word from Christ. Either way, it is the logos that they are to allow to root deeply into them that will protect them from the threat of theological error. It is important to note again the importance of the corporate solidarity of the body at this point. Paul uses the plural “you.” The word is to dwell in them together as a body of believers.
The three participles in 3:16 describe the means by which the word is to dwell in them: “teaching…admonishing…singing.” They are to teach one another and warn one another with the word, specifically by means of the use of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Finally, they are to allow the word to dwell by singing with gratitude (chariti) in their hearts to the Lord.
Paul’s fourth exhortation in 3:17 is a more general exhortation than the previous three: do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Paul defines “everything” in the clause “whatever you do in word or deed.” By “in the name of the Lord Jesus” Paul could mean that everything that is said or done should be done as those who represent Jesus, or that everything should be done in a manner consistent with who Jesus is, or everything should be done to bring honor to Jesus. This may be a case of “semantic density” where more than one thing is meant. It seems at a minimum that the reputation of Christ is in some way represented by the words and actions of the Colossians. Paul modifies this with his third reference to gratitude, using a participle “giving thanks.” The connection of gratitude to the honoring of Christ’s reputation is significant. Like Israel in the Exodus account, ingratitude evidence of people whose hearts are cold to the Lord. Without gratitude, it is impossible to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.
- Let the Structure of the Text Drive the Structure of the Sermon
In the Church…
- Prioritize the Peace of Christ (3:15a)
- “Let the peace of Christ, to which you were called in one body, rule in your hearts”
- Prioritize Gratitude to Christ (3:15b)
- “Be thankful” (3:15)
- “Singing with gratitude” (3:16)
- “Giving thanks” (3:17)
- Prioritize the Word of Christ (3:16)
- “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly… teaching…admonishing…singing”
- Prioritize the Reputation of Christ (3:17)
- “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus”