“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” Col 3:15
We quote this verse and it’s principles often. It’s common Christian jargon to say things like, “I felt peace about that” or “I didn’t feel peace, so I didn’t do it.”
We’ve pulled a principle from this verse that says peace is supposed to help us make good decisions. The word “rule” in the Greek means to be an arbiter or umpire. Peace, then, is meant to help us judge whether or not we should do certain things. Much hand wringing goes on in church over times that we “lose our peace.”
There is wisdom in these concepts, but I worry that sometimes we take them a bit too far. Often, we can take a true principle and become enslaved to it. What did Paul actually mean here?
In the larger context of this chapter, Paul is talking about how to live now that we are Christians. He’s talking about Christian character, and in particular how to get along with one another. He exhorts us to be humble and kind (verse 12), to forgive one another (verse 13), to put on love (verse 14), and then to “let peace rule” (verse 15).
This is a string of verses about our new identity in Christ, and how that outwardly affects behavior. Peace, then, is not something we strive for, but something we are in Christ. Because of Jesus, we are at peace with God, and at peace with each other. God isn’t mad at us, and we aren’t mad at other people. This is the truth of who we are, regardless of how we feel.
That principle is what is primarily meant to inform our decision making, not whether or not we have any sort of inner turmoil. In other words, when I have to make a decision, I need to allow the reality that I’m forgiven, and I’ve forgiven everyone else, to help shape what I decide. Thinking that way certainly makes me feel calm, but that calmness is more the fruit of the spiritual reality called peace than the peace itself.
This is helpful because sometimes God asks us to do things that make us feel afraid. The presence of fear or stress does not necessarily mean an absence of peace. I felt lots of stress and fear about planting a church. That did not mean I wasn’t supposed to do it.
Certainly, God does not want us to live in fear or anxiety, but often Christians end up so concerned about whether they’re feeling any sort of stress that it creates more problems.
I’ve read some research that says stress itself really isn’t as bad for you as we’ve been led to believe. What makes stress bad is when you worry about your stress. That sounds silly but it’s the truth. Stressing about your stress will kill you. Relaxing and realizing that you’re at peace with God and man because of the cross—even if you feel anxiety right now—will let you lead a long, productive life.
Beneath my anxiety surrounding this crazy thing called church planting was an inner conviction that it was the right thing for me to do. When I got alone with God and worshipped the fear would leave. I would feel the tranquility that is the fruit of my peaceful new nature.
We want to be careful not to confuse temporary emotions with the abiding reality of who we are in Christ. We want our emotions to line up with our new identity, but if they don’t for a bit because you’re confronted with a new stressor, don’t worry about it. You’re in good company. The same Paul who wrote Colossian 3:15 also agonized over the concerns that came upon him daily, the “care for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:28)
I think sometimes that our emphasis on being stress free is causing people to be more stressed out. Paul was awesome and an overcomer in every sense of the word, and yet he admits that he had to fight off worrying about all the churches he’d started. That’s not an excuse for us to worry, but it does mean you can stop worrying about your worrying.