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Gratitude is the Attitude

Gratitude is the Attitude  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We live with a daily gratitude to God as the peace of Christ rules over our hearts and the word of Christ dwells in our hearts

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Introduction

Colossians 3:15–17 ESV
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Let me tell you a brief story about a young African American couple, Darryl and Joyce. They live in a densely populated urban city in America. They’re both musicians who met while they were each pursuing a master’s degree in music at a prestigious conservatory. And together they attend and serve in the music ministry at an ethnically diverse church in their city.
I interviewed this couple during my dissertation research. And many of my interview questions were intended to provoke an emotional and a thoughtful response. One group of questions that consistently produced that emotional and thoughtful responses were these: What does is feel like to be “your ethnicity” at your church? (I wouldn’t ask it in that generic way. I’d be specific.) How often do you think about your ethnicity at your church? In what ways has that changed since you began attending this church?
When I asked Darryl what it felt like to be Black at his church, he said,
“I can’t really be Black in my church.”
Of course, I wanted to know what he meant by that. He said,
“I mean, the things I would do if I was in a more Black setting, I can’t do that. I often suppress it. If I want to worship God, I’m very expressive, and I’m going to express it with my whole being. The culture of All Saints church is pretty much the opposite. If they call me to play the organ, it’s a Hammond B organ, but I’m not going to play it the way you would hear it in a Black church. It’s the same organ, but it’s going to be something they can relate to.”
Now he’s been a member of that church for five years now. So, obviously he stayed even though he felt like he had to suppress a part of himself. And he’s still a part of the music team. Why is that? He said,
“I used to get upset that I have to suppress it. Over time I’ve learned to see things from everyone’s perspective. I’ve been learning over the years how to deny myself. I hope that it can be the other way around too―that they can deny themselves too and we can assimilate across the different cultures…”
Then, his wife Joyce added this,
“I prefer to hear gospel music played. I prefer to actually play gospel music. And those things are fine to prefer. But really, at the end of the day, my growth with Christ isn’t based on preferences. Actually, it’s a stripping away of my preferences.”
“We’re supposed to be ministers of reconciliation,” Darryl said, “and we really need to see that in our city.”
What does it look like in practice to be a reconciled community? One of the things that has been explicitly clear―if you’ve been paying any attention to events over the past few years in America―it’s been explicitly clear that we don’t live in a land where reconciliation is the norm. You might be weary of all the talk and issues that surround race in this land. You might be angered or grieved by the ongoing evidence of this problem. When will it end? How will the strife be done away with? We need to be perfectly clear. The only true and permanent Reconciler is Jesus Christ. What is absolutely necessary is for the members of Jesus’ church to be ministers of reconciliation. And that begins with his church living as a reconciled community.
Should Darryl have to feel as though he has to suppress his racial identity at All Saints Church? Probably not. Should All Saints church be aware of its preferences and how their African American musician was feeling, and what he was experiencing? Yes. But Jesus is the reason Darryl can say, “I’ve been learning over the years how to deny myself.” Jesus is the reason Joyce can say, “My growth in Christ isn’t based on my preferences. It’s based on the stripping away of my preferences.” What’s more, they both had grown in thankfulness to God for this Christian community even though things were not the way they wanted it to be. Gratitude is the attitude that Jesus Christ creates in his people. Did you notice that in these three verses? The tagline, almost like an add on at the end of each verse is thankfulness and gratitude. In this movement of gratitude, we see peace, place, and practice Grateful in Peace, Grateful in Place, and Grateful in Practice.

Grateful in Peace

This chapter and section of Colossians is primarily about instructions on how the church is supposed to live in light of what Jesus Christ has done for us. “Since, therefore, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things above, not on earthly things. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Since Jesus is the Father’s right-hand man with all power and authority to effect God’s will and to protect his own people, then the Christian life should be entirely oriented by reference to him (Dunn).
This life is a life of putting off and putting on. Put to death what is earthly in you because you’ve put off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator. Therefore, put on, as God’s chosen ones, who are holy and loved, tenderheartedness, compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, patience, forgiving one another. And above all these things, put on love, which is the binding glue of perfection.
This life is not about me or you as individuals. God isn’t just making a new “me,” he’s making a new “we.” And this reconciled community of Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free are holy and loved together. They’re to be putting earthly things to death and putting on love together.
That is absolutely clear in our first point, grateful in peace. He says in v. 15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” The desire for peace is not new. The fact that in this world we are regularly confronted with violence, injustice, war, disruption, disharmony, and division is nothing new. We long for peace, but the world has never known how to get it. This is in part because peace is not simply calmness. Peace is not simply the absence of strife. There were riots in Charlotte, NC last week, but Charlotte was not at peace before people rioted. There are no riots taking place outside of these doors, but that doesn’t mean that we live in a city of peace; not in the biblical sense of the word. Peace isn’t just the absence of strife or hostility; it is the presence of well-being. It is the presence of wholeness, flourishing, and prosperity. It is all things working as they ought.
So here Paul says, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” To be a Christian means to be at peace with God. Jesus Christ reconciles us to God. We are God’s enemies. We are at war with God. That’s a losing battle, but we don’t care. That is how life is apart from faith in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul says in 1:19-22,
Colossians 1:19–22 ESV
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
Jesus Christ is our peace. He is our only hope for peace with God. What that means is that in Jesus Christ we are restored to wholeness and flourishing in our relationship with God. So, Paul says, “let the peace of Christ, this peace that Christ has established, and brought you into, let that rule your hearts.” The command is for something to rule. And the subject of that command is not “you.” The subject is the “peace of Christ.” To “rule” here has the sense of an arbitrator, or an umpire, like in baseball. When there is tension and difficulty among you, what is the determining factor in what you all say and what you all do? What’s in the position of calling balls and strikes in your decision making? What’s in the position of saying, “do this, don’t do that,” “say this, don’t say that?” Is it your feelings? Are you driven by how you feel in the moment? Is it your likes and your dislikes? Is it your preferences?
Jesus Christ is our peace. He is our only hope for peace with God. What that means is that in Jesus Christ we are restored to wholeness and flourishing in our relationship with God. So, Paul says, “let the peace of Christ, this peace that Christ has established, and brought you into, let that rule your hearts.” The command is for something to rule. And the subject of that command is not “you.” The subject is the “peace of Christ.” To “rule” here has the sense of an arbitrator, or an umpire, like in baseball. When there is tension and difficulty among you, what is the determining factor in what you all say and what you all do? What’s in the position of calling balls and strikes in your decision making? What’s in the position of saying, “do this, don’t do that,” “say this, don’t say that?” Is it your feelings? Are you driven by how you feel in the moment? Is it your likes and your dislikes? Is it your preferences?
Jesus Christ is our peace. He is our only hope for peace with God. What that means is that in Jesus Christ we are restored to wholeness and flourishing in our relationship with God. So, Paul says, “let the peace of Christ, this peace that Christ has established, and brought you into, let that rule your hearts.” The command is for something to rule. And the subject of that command is not “you.” The subject is the “peace of Christ.” To “rule” here has the sense of an arbitrator, or an umpire, like in baseball. When there is tension and difficulty among you, what is the determining factor in what you all say and what you all do? What’s in the position of calling balls and strikes in your decision making? What’s in the position of saying, “do this, don’t do that,” “say this, don’t say that?” Is it your feelings? Are you driven by how you feel in the moment? Is it your likes and your dislikes? Is it your preferences?
Would you please notice with me that this is something that the Colossians are to “let” happen, not “make” happen? Paul doesn’t say, “make the peace of Christ rule.” It’s to let the fact that we’ve been reconciled to God and have peace with God be the ruling factor in our decision making. He says, “Christians don’t get it twisted. You all were called to this in one body.” You didn’t call yourselves into this life. God called you. God placed you in this one body. It ain’t even your body. It’s the body of Christ.
You’ve been called into peaceful existence in this body that you’re only a part of because God called and placed you in it. Were it not for the blood of Jesus’ cross you would’ve stayed apart because of your differences and divisions. The pursuit of what makes for peace only happens when we live in a position of gratitude for that peace. When he says, “and be thankful,” it’s not a throwaway line! He means, “keep on being thankful.” Keep on being thankful for the peace that Jesus Christ has made for you with God by the blood of his cross.

Grateful in Place

And being grateful in peace is intimately tied to being grateful in place. When I say, “in place,” I’m talking about the same place Paul is talking about. He says in v. 16, “Let the word of Christ dwell (that is, let it live) in you all richly in all wisdom as you teach and warn each other.” He doesn’t say let the word of Christ dwell in your hearts, but that what he means. He’s still talking about what is at the center of our decision making and our life together. Notice, he says, let it live in you all richly with all wisdom as you teach and warn each other, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude—where?—in your hearts to God.
The peace of Christ is to be the head honcho, decision maker in your hearts. Now he says, the word of Christ is supposed to flourish there. Letting the word of Christ dwell richly isn’t simply about memorizing Scripture verses that you can apply to various situations. We are people of the book at this church. The Bible is our only rule for faith and practice. But the word of Christ here is related to the peace of Christ in v. 15. I like how Wheaton College Chaplain Timothy Blackmon described it when he preached on this verse recently.
“Let the verbalized, vocalized announcement of God about what Jesus Christ is doing and who he is, let it be the telling influence of your control tower, the executive center of your being. Let it be the telling influence of everything you think and act and do. It is the living voice of Jesus Christ.”
The peace of Christ is ours because of the word of Christ! The word of Christ is God’s declaration of who Jesus is, what he is doing, and why he is doing it. Let this word live among you all richly. So don’t just read your Bible. Hear the voice of your Lord. Realize that it is the living word of the living God, and it shouts to us about God reconciling and renewing all things in Jesus Christ. And letting the word of Christ live in us is to be done with all wisdom. When the peace of Christ is the decision maker, and the word of Christ is flourishing among us we will engage each other with wisdom. We won’t simply be walking around quoting Bible verses at each other to correct one another or try to fix an issue. Biblically speaking, wisdom is more than knowledge. It is the skill to apply what we know in a way that enables life to thrive.
And Paul is doing something intentional here. Look at what he said to them at the end of chapter 1:28-29,
Colossians 1:28–29 ESV
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
He’s talking about himself as an apostle. I’m working hard to proclaim Christ to you all, warning and teaching with all wisdom. The purpose is your maturity in Christ. Now, when he gets to chapter 3 he says this isn’t just for me to do for you. This is for you all to do with and for one another. He uses the same words, “with all wisdom, teaching and warning each other.” Don’t only look to me as an apostle. As the peace of Christ rules your hearts, and the word of Christ is lavishly living among you, the God will grant wisdom so that you can grow in maturity together. This dwelling of the word of Christ with wisdom as you teach and warn each other actually happens when you come together for worship. It happens when you’re singing Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. This teaching and warning happens when the body of Christ comes together for worship. Isn’t it wonderful that he calls out our corporate singing in particular as a way we let the word of Christ live richly in us; as a way we teach and warn one another? What do think when you come here and sing? Do you just think about you and God on an island alone? Does it ever work into your praise to be thinking about the people of God?
When we come together we’re able to help each other be grateful for the peace of Christ that’s been given to us. We’re able to help each other be grateful that we were called together into one body. We’re to help each other be grateful that God has opened our ears to hear the word of Christ. We are to be grateful in the place God has captured. We are to help each other be grateful in our hearts.

Grateful in Practice

Lastly, the apostle commands us to be grateful in practice. He expands this attitude of gratitude to the entirety of our lives. “And whatever you do, in word or work, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
The attitude of gratitude in practice is to spill out of Sunday worship in to everyday living. The rubber is to meet the road in our daily lives. Let me wrap this up with an example of what gratitude in practice looks like from something I was blessed to see and hear at a time of disturbing racial tension. My brother Howard Brown is the pastor of Christ Central Church, a PCA congregation in Charlotte, NC. Back in September 2016 he was interviewed on a local TV news program to discuss racial tensions in the city. The city had exploded in protests and there was violence. The reporter said to him,
“Pastor you have a very unique perspective in that you have police officers in your congregation. Yet, you also have congregants who are very frustrated.”
Pastor Brown said,
“Correct. The work we do is the work of reconciliation. So we have open and honest discussion. And we believe we serve a God, and we have a gospel, that can handle any kind of dispute in any kind of issue.”
Then the reporter said,
“But what is the challenge for people, even man people of faith, is reconciling their spirituality with real life right now. In which a lot people feel disenfranchised and feel like they’re targeted, being killed by faith.”
Pastor Brown:
“What the community of faith needs to realize and communicate to people out there is this, ‘You have a God who is highly concerned and upset at the oppression. He is highly concerned about the issues that people are going through. But he also recognizes that it is impossible for us to get the justice that our souls and our situations deserve. So he was willing to go to bat for us through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ. We believe that... The question we need to ask is, ‘Is there space and room, not only in our churches, but in our gospel message for those folk who are in the street who are really hurting…” Then he said this, “The only difference between you and the folk who are running in the street is the degree of mercy and grace you have received that you fail to realize. You are no better. You are no more moral. You are simply given a grace of God in a different situation that is not of your own doing.”
“The question we need to ask is, ‘Is there space and room, not only in our churches, but in our gospel message for those folk who are in the street who are really hurting…” Then he said this, “The only difference between you and the folk who are running in the street is the degree of mercy and grace you have received that you fail to realize. You are no better. You are no more moral. You are simply given a grace of God in a different situation that is not of your own doing.”
What he’s describing is what gratitude in practices looks like.
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