“Live life to the fullest” is a common phrase today. But what does it mean? That depends on whom you ask. The Dali Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said, “The purpose of our life is to be happy.” He thinks living life to the fullest means being happy. Most of the people in the world would probably agree with him. Maybe you would. After all, who wants an unhappy life?
Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan said, “live life to the fullest, tomorrow may never be.” That’s a true statement, but it doesn’t say what living life to the fullest looks like. Matt Cameron wrote, “Live life to the fullest, and focus on the positive.” In his mind, part of living a full life is paying attention to the positive things we experience. That’s important too; most people don’t like to be around others who are constantly negative.
Most of these quotes contain some truth, but not the whole truth. So, how do we live life to the fullest? But we really can’t answer that question without first asking another question; “what is the meaning and purpose of our life? If you and I don’t know why we’re here or what we’re supposed to do, how can we live life to the fullest?
Nearly 400 years ago, a group of Puritan preachers and elders came together and produced a document called The Westminster Shorter Catechism. The catechism is laid out in a series of 107 questions and answers (shorter?). This little document has been used all over the English-speaking world ever since, to teach the basic doctrines of Christianity.
The very first question of the Catechism addresses this issue of why we exist. It asks, “What is the chief end of man?” In modern terminology we might ask “Why are we here, and what is the purpose of life?” The catechism then answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
I believe, it is only as you and I come to embrace and understand this truth that we will be able to live life to the fullest! That’s the title for our study today, “Live Life to the Fullest.” And our text is Colossians 3:15 to 17. Listen to these words from the Lord through the apostle Paul.
This text provides several IMPERATIVES that, if obeyed, will enable us to “Live Life to the Fullest.”
Before we get into this text, I remind you that the theme of this letter to the Colossians is the preeminence of Christ. That is, He is first in rank, dignity, and importance. He is supreme overall. And that reality impacts all of life. Keep that in mind as we explore these imperatives.
The First IMPERATIVE (that will enable us to live life to the fullest) is,
Let the Peace of Christ Officiate
The actual wording in this first verse is “let rule the peace of Christ…” The word “rule” is interesting because this is the only time this word is used in the Greek New Testament. The word is brabeuo (brab-yoo-o). It means to arbitrate, to prevail, to be the umpire. A brabeus (brab-yoose), in Paul’s day, was an Olympic official who judged winners and losers. We’d call him a referee or an umpire. He’s the one who is officiating the game. He knows the rules and he will enforce them.
And as you know, the umpire or referee has the final word. If he says, “you’re out,” then you’re out. Now today, with instant replay, the umpire’s call can be overturned, but that’s a modern development, it wasn’t that way in the past. You can disagree with the umpire, you might even argue with him, but if you get too vehement, you’re liable to get tossed out of the game!
Now in the context of these verses what is the umpire? It is the peace of Christ, the peace He gives to us as His children. In John 14:27 Jesus told His followers; “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The peace Jesus spoke to the disciples about wasn’t dependent on their circumstances. Jesus spoke these words just hours before going to the cross! That same peace is available to you and me. It’s a supernatural peace that, according to Philippians 4:8 will keep, or guard, our hearts and minds in Him.
The lack of peace is pictured in Isaiah chapter 57; “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. “There is no peace,” Says my God, “for the wicked.” Before we embraced Christ, we were alienated from Him, we opposed Him. So, in a sense, we were at war with Him. We had no peace and no rest.
But when we accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as the only payment for our sin, then we were set at one with Christ, we were reconciled, we were brought into harmony with Him. And that, my friend, brings us peace. Not only peace between us and God, but peace with our fellowmen too.
There’s another application of this imperative of letting peace rule in our hearts. When you need to choose between several options and all of them are acceptable, how do you decide which one is the right one? Some of you know where I’m going with this, don’t you? In a situation like I just described, I rely on the peace that God brings to my spirit. If that peace is missing, it indicates to me that I need to reevaluate my decision, my choice. I really do want to let the peace of God be the umpire in my heart.
Notice with me how this instruction to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts follows the change of character that’s commanded in the earlier verses. When we are “putting on” Christ, our lives will be stabilized by His peace. I say stabilized because peace smooths out the rough spots in life. I can’t think of a better current example of this then my own wife, Joyce, and her cancer journey. The peace that she has through Jesus has enabled her to bless and encourage many people.
Not long ago she got a card from a friend who saw her in a large public gathering but didn’t talk to her personally. The friend’s note said that “when she saw my wife’s peaceful countenance and her joyful interactions with others, it was like hearing a sermon from the Lord.” She was touched by my wife’s peaceful countenance. That’s not natural peace, that’s supernatural peace. That peace enables her to make decisions without fear and then to rest in the outcome because Christ is in control. She is letting the peace of Christ officiate in her heart.
And then Paul says it is to this kind of peace that we, as Christ-followers, have been called. Notice too, that the context or setting for the exercise of this peace is in the body, that is the Body of Christ, the church. When this peace of Christ is ruling in our hearts, then our decision-making processes will result in peace between us and God, and peace between us and those around us.
Listen to these words from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit — in the bond of peace.” Hebrews 12:14 gives us another reminder of the importance of letting peace rule in our hearts. It says, “Follow peace with everyone, and holiness, for without these no one will see the Lord.”
And then, there’s a second imperative in the end of this verse. I chose not to use it as one of the main points in this teaching, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. I’ve included it here under the imperative of letting peace officiate. Paul tells us that while we’re letting the peace of God rule in our hearts, and while we’re living out this peace relationally with others, we should be thankful! Thankfulness is such an important part of being a follower of Jesus.
When there’s tension between you and your spouse, or you and your children, or you and your fellow-employee, are you thankful for that? Generally, not! But when there’s peaceful, harmonious relationships, that’s something to rejoice in, something be thankful for. Peace reduces or eliminates unnecessary tension which is a primary cause of stress.
You know, there’s a lot of turmoil in our world today and many people are worried. Wars and violence are happening all over the world. The government’s responses to Covid-19 and its variants are causing lots of social upheaval. Persecution of Christ-followers is increasing. Fires, floods, earthquakes, and more, all result in tremendous property damage and the loss of human life. And yet, despite all this, we can be thankful for the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts.
If you and I ever hope to live life to the fullest, we will need to let the peace of Christ officiate in our lives.
The Next IMPERATIVE (that will enable us to live life to the fullest) is,
Let the Word of Christ Educate
Here, the wording is, “let dwell the Word of Christ…” The words “let dwell” imply relationship. The picture is to allow the word of Christ to make its home in you. The verb tense indicates clearly that this is a continuous action, a process.
What does it look like to have the word of Christ at home in you? First, what is your concept of home? Home is a place of safety, a place to rest, a place that separates us from the cares of work and the constant gaze of the public. It’s a place to spend time with the people we love, to grow in our appreciation for who they are and to learn the things that are a concern to them. It’s a place, ideally, where we can be genuine, transparent, and vulnerable.
Now, take that picture of home and apply those scenes to this imperative of letting the Word of God dwell in your heart. If the Word of Christ is going to live in you, you’ll need to spend time reading and meditating on it. You’ll need to shut out distractions and the cares of this life and concentrate on what God is saying to you through His Word. As you do, you’ll learn what is on God’s heart, what’s important to Him and what He wants you to embrace as important. His Word will probably expose some things in your life that need to change too.
If we’re going to let the Word of Christ dwell in us, we must know what this Word is. Remember, Paul is exalting Christ in this epistle. Now there are two possible ways to understand this phrase and both, I believe, are valid. One interpretation is that Paul is referring to “the word delivered by Christ;” that is, the “all things” Jesus commanded us to teach in Matthew 28:19 and 20. The other interpretation is that Paul is referring to “the word about Christ,” what we might call the doctrine of Christ, the truths about His person, His position, His ministry, and so on. Both these interpretations are educative, that is, they expand our knowledge of who Jesus is and our practice of His teachings. And they are both much needed today.
One of the things you notice in the contemporary church, if you’re paying attention, is many people are woefully ignorant of biblical truth! I saw a recent poll that interviewed1,000 professing, born-again, Christians. The poll revealed that 60% of these folks believe that Jesus Christ is not the only way to acceptance with God the Father. 60%! That’s nearly 2 out of every 3; to me that’s incredible!
When questioned further they suggested Mohammed, Buddha, and others as ways to God. Yet, Jesus Himself, pointedly told us in John 14:6 that “no one comes to the Father except by Me.” So, either they don’t know what Jesus said, or they just don’t believe it. Their understanding of the doctrine of Christ – who He is and what He’s done – is sadly lacking.
For professing Christians who live in the developed world there’s simply no excuse for not knowing the truth about Christ or about the things He taught. We have more ways to access the Word of God than any previous generation, but, as a rule, we have a lot less Bible knowledge. And too often, even the Bible knowledge we have remains theoretical; it’s in our heads. But for us to live life to the fullest that knowledge must make it to our hearts. It must significantly affect the way we live! One reason we have so much depression and purposelessness even among church-going people today is because they don’t accept the truth at the heart level.
And notice HOW this word of Christ is to dwell in us – richly, in all wisdom! The word richly is plousios (ploo-see-ose), abundantly, copiously. Copious means plentiful, a bountiful yield, something taking place on a large scale, like a mountain spring gushing continually from its source without diminishing. In other words, we’re not just to have a smidgen of the Word of Christ, but an abundance of it, an overflowing of it from our lives in every kind of wisdom.
The Colossian false teachers were promising their followers an esoteric wisdom, that is, a kind of wisdom available only to a small group of people especially initiated into their group. But Paul says, no, this wisdom that is contained in the Word of Christ is a resource of infinite riches for ALL true Believers.
The wisdom of the false teachers in Colossae is described in James 3:14-16, “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
In contrast, the wisdom Paul is talking about, “…the wisdom that is from above – is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
What is the context where this bountiful richness of wisdom is to be exercised? In the church, in the Body of Christ to which you and I have been called. Do you notice the pattern here? In the preceding verse the peace of Christ is also to be exercised in the context of the Body.
Really, the entire New Testament teaching on the Church knows nothing of a Christ-follower who is, by his or her own choice, detached from a local body of Believers. The mentality of “I don’t need to be a part of a local fellowship” is a product of our western individualism and a consumer-oriented mentality. The prevailing idea today is that the Church exists to serve me, rather than that I’m called, as a Christ-follower, to serve the Church.
This richness of the Word of Christ dwelling in us and educating us will produce a certain effect. That wisdom will result in teaching and admonishing each other in a variety of ways. Teaching carries the idea of instruction, of learning. Admonishing is to caution someone or to gently reprove them. It carries the idea of warning. This calls to mind Paul’s words in chapter one of this letter, “Him (Christ) we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”
Next, the apostle gives some specific ways in which this teaching of the Word and this admonishing can be done. Interestingly, he uses music as a tool to do this. Based on the logical flow of thought in this text, and the entire body of teaching in the New Testament, I believe that the teaching and preaching of the Word must take priority. Then, music is used as reinforcement, not the other way around as we see in many churches today.
The first kind of music Paul mentions is psalms. The Psalms were the original music of Israel as a people and nation. As Believers, we should be familiar with these because there’s a whole range of emotions expressed in the Psalms: joy, sorrow, thanksgiving, complaint, trust, questioning, and more. But there’s also substance there that teaches us about God, His character, His sovereignty, His great love and mercy, His wrath, and more. The psalms are both theological and practical, not mindless repetitions of the same phrases. God is primarily the focus of the Psalms; they call us to worship Him.
Next, is hymns. Hymns are simply praises to God that are composed by Christ-followers. They are often rooted in the Scriptures. In fact, many hymnals have something called a “scriptural index” where you can find the biblical text that was at least partially the motivation for the composition of that song. And hymns encompass a whole range of emotions and issues. Some carry messages of warning, like, “Where Will You Spend Eternity?” Others are deeply theological, like, “Great God, How Infinite Thou Art.”
Hymns like “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” and “We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator” help us express our heartfelt praise to God. Sadly, many of these hymns are being discarded by the modern church and that’s at least partly to blame for the lack of biblical knowledge so prevalent today. I must say that I’m grateful for the renewed interest among some of our younger people to write new hymns with solid biblical lyrics and harmonies.
And then, Paul mentions spiritual songs. This is a general description of all godly songs. We have gospel songs like “It’s Not an Easy Road,” that speak of the trials and difficulties of our lives. There are others that offer us hope, like “By and By When the Morning Comes.” These and many more have their place in our worship services, our homes, and our personal times of fellowship with the Lord. They can all be helpful in teaching and admonishing us and each other in the Lord.
Next, Paul gives us some important guidance on the source of our singing and how we should use music. He writes “…singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” How do we do that? I’m told by Greek scholars that the definite article is present in this phrase. So, we should read it like this; “…singing with THE grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The motivation for our singing is the grace of God, His unmerited favor that has provided our salvation and rescued us from destruction. I can sing because I am redeemed! That fact alone should fill our hearts and our voices with songs of praise, not to mention all the physical benefits He provides for us every day.
Then, look where this use of music begins – it begins in the heart. Anyone can sing a song, we know that. But if the singing isn’t an expression of what is in the heart, it’s only a performance.
I have good memories from my childhood of hearing my mom sing as she went about her daily work. Like every other wife and mother, she experienced difficulty personally and in the family. When money was tight, which it often was, she had to be creative in running the household. But she usually had a song in her heart and on her lips.
Growing up on a small dairy farm I can still hear my dad singing in the milk house. Since that environment was mostly concrete and steel, he didn’t need an amplifier! He was born with such poor vision that he was classified as legally blind. Life was hard, yet he persevered in providing for and raising our family of 5 siblings. And through it all, he never lost his song. In his final months of life, when his mental faculties deserted him, the songs he had loved and sang for all those years were still present in his memory. That reality still blesses me today!
Secular musicians and entertainers of the past would often record a “gospel album.” Some of them were pleasant to listen to but knowing that the singer didn’t truly embrace what he or she was singing was disappointing, to say the least. In the past, I’ve observed people singing things like Handel’s Messiah in professional choirs. I think you can sometimes tell the ones who really sing from their heart because they know Christ personally.
Is the Word of Christ dwelling in you? Is it educating you in the things of the Lord? Are you expressing what you learn from Him in a life of obedience? Are you encouraging your brothers and sisters in the Lord with the overflow of that Word from your life? Are you rejoicing in the unmerited favor of God through the medium of music? I hope and pray you can answer all those questions with a resounding, yes! And that leads us to the final imperative.
Let the Name of Christ Motivate
“Let everything you do, whether in word or deed, be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.” In other words, let the name of Christ motivate all you do.
In the minds of some commentators, Paul is leaving the subject of worship and passing on to daily life. But I disagree. As I see it, Paul is simply continuing to show us what living life to the fullest looks like. Too often we make worship an event that happens on certain days or fits in certain time limits, rather than a lifestyle. That’s a mistake.
I believe this last verse is at least somewhat like what we talked about in verse 14 during our study of pursuing perfection. Much like love is the crowning accessory of our spiritual clothing, to be put on over all the other items, here, doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus ties together this whole concept of living life to the fullest.
In our day we are very much prone to make distinctions between sacred and secular. This verse, and other Scriptures, remind us that this idea doesn’t come from the Word of God. Saint Francis of Assisi was once cultivating a row of beans in his garden when a pilgrim approached and asked, “What would you be doing now if you knew this was the last day of your earthly life?” Saint Francis smiled and replied: “I would keep on hoeing.” He understood that our work is an expression of our worship!
What does this imperative, this command, to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,” look like in daily life? Let’s consider at least two things. First, doing things in His name means doing them under His authority, with His blessing. And second, doing all things with the keen awareness of my dependence on Him. If you and I could simply live out these two principles it would dramatically change the whole character of our actions.
Whether the task is great or small, exciting or monotonous, easy or hard, public or private, isn’t really the point. The point is if we are IN Christ and Christ is IN us, then any task is imbued with meaning and value that is eternal. But too often, our focus is on ourselves, and we ask, “what’s in it for me, what benefit do I get from this?” Instead, we should be asking how this task, no matter how menial, can bring glory to God.
And did you notice, Paul closes this imperative in the same way he did each of the previous ones; with instruction for us to be thankful. Each of these three verses in our text contain this counsel. Why is this characteristic so important that the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, would mention it three times in three verses?
One reason, I am sure, is because a lack of gratefulness is the first step on the path that leads away from God. Romans 1 describes those who once knew God but are now His enemies. And verse 21 tells us that, “…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
My friend, when you and I forget who we are without God, when we forget what we’d have without Him, and when we forget where we’d be without Him, we’re in trouble. We will then become, as Paul wrote, proud and foolish in our thinking and ultimately our living. And that, is the path to destruction.
And here’s another thing; is there anyone you know whom you consider to be living life to the fullest who isn’t thankful? I didn’t think so! Unthankful people can’t live life to the fullest because they’re never satisfied. They’re always looking for something more. But thankful people are grateful the smallest of God’s daily gifts; they tell Him they’re thankful and their lives display it to others.
Are you living life to the fullest today? Perhaps, before, you weren’t quite sure how you could do that. But now you know from this portion of the Scripture. And now that you know, what will you do with what you’ve learned? I believe God’s desire is for every human being to live life to the fullest. But that will only happen if we let the peace of Christ officiate, the Word of Christ educate, and the name of Christ motivate in all we do.
My desire is to live life to the fullest for the glory of God; will you join me in this desire?