The Peace of Christ
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (3:15)
Eirēnē (peace) includes both the concept of an agreement, pact, treaty, or bond, and that of an attitude of rest or security. Both aspects are in view here. Objectively, believers are at peace with God: “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). The war between the believer and God is over, and the treaty was paid for by the blood of Christ. Because of that, believers are at rest, and secure. Paul told the Philippians that the “peace of God … shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Here he calls it the peace of Christ because it is the peace He brings (cf. John 14:27; Eph. 2:14).
Rule is from brabeuō, a word used only here in the New Testament (although a compound form appears in Col. 2:18). It was used to describe the activity of an umpire in deciding the outcome of an athletic contest. The peace of Christ guides believers in making decisions. When faced with a choice, the believer should consider two factors. First, is it consistent with the fact that he and Christ are now at peace and thus on the same side? Does it perpetuate that oneness with the Lord that is the believer’s possession? First Corinthians 6:17–18 provides an excellent illustration of this point: “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality.” It is our union with the Lord that compels us to purity. Second, will it leave him with a deep and abiding peace in his heart? These two factors are also the two greatest deterrents to sin in the believer’s life. Sin offends Christ, with whom he is at peace, and thereby shatters the rest and security in his heart.
Peace is not only objective and subjective, but also relational. Believers were called to live in peace in one body. Individuals who have peace with Christ and in their own hearts will live in unity and harmony with each other.
To maintain a peaceful heart one has to be thankful. Thankfulness is a constant theme in Colossians (cf. 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 16, 17; 4:2). Gratitude comes naturally to believers in response to all God has done (Eph. 5:20; Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:18; Heb. 13:15), whereas ingratitude marks unbelievers (Rom. 1:21). A spirit of humble gratitude toward God will inevitably affect our relations with others. Peace and gratitude are thus closely linked.
15 Having called the Colossians to put on love, the grace that undergirds the congregation and brings it to completion, Paul enjoins them here to “let the peace of Christ rule in [their] hearts.” Even though Paul typically pairs “grace” with “peace” (cf. 1:2), he does occasionally conjoin “love” and “peace” as he does here (cf. 2 Co 13:11; Eph 6:23; “joy and peace,” Ro 15:13). Paul regarded God as a God of peace (Ro 15:33; 16:20; 1 Co 14:33; Php 4:9; 1 Th 5:23; cf. 2 Th 3:16). Furthermore, Paul conceived of God’s kingdom as one of peace (Ro 14:17) and believed that those who had peace with God through Christ (1:20; cf. Ro 5:1) should know the peace of God (Php 4:7) and pursue peaceful relations with other Christians (Ro 14:19; 1 Th 5:13) and, to the extent that they are able, with all people (Ro 12:18). Peace is a spiritual fruit that ought to be present in believers’ lives (Gal 5:22).
Paul encourages the Colossians to allow the peace of Christ to act as umpire, judge, or arbiter (brabeuō, GK 1093) in their hearts. The phrase “peace of Christ” does not appear elsewhere in the NT, which probably explains why some scribes sought to change this phrase to the more common “peace of God.” If we take the “of Christ” here as a subjective genitive, which seems best, then the meaning of the phrase “peace of Christ” would be something akin to “the peace that Christ gives” or “the peace brought by Christ” (so Harris, 165; Moule, 124; see Eph 2:14; cf. Jn 14:27). The “philosophers” wanted to exclude the Colossians through their asceticism and visions (cf. 2:18 for the related verb katabrabeuō, GK 2857; NIV, “disqualify for the prize”). Paul assures the church that Christ will—if they will be willing and obedient—encompass them and enable them to live in unity and harmony. Indeed, the Colossians were called by God (3:12) to live peaceably in one body (cf. 1 Co 7:15). “It is the very nature of [the Christian] calling to maintain [the church’s] harmonious welfare” (Caird, 207). The Colossians, “[though] many, [were to be] one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Ro 12:5 NASB).
Furthermore, Paul iterates at the close of v. 15 the need for the assembly to be continually thankful. He will reiterate this call to thankfulness in vv. 16–17 (cf. 1:12; 2:7). “Thankfulness is a key response to the gospel in this letter” (Lincoln, 648), and it serves as “the strongest motive for the preservation of the peace to which they were called” (Abbott, 290). In fact, the whole of Christian behavior may be instructively viewed “as the response of gratitude to the grace of God [in Christ]” (Bruce, 157).
15 From love the apostle moves to peace. It is noteworthy that in Eph. 4:3 peace itself is the bond in which the unity of the Spirit is maintained. This is one of the incidental indications that the two letters are the product of the same mind around the same time. If, in the author’s mind, the general idea of love and peace was linked with the idea of a unifying bond uniting believers in one common life, manifesting itself in the Christian graces, this would sufficiently account for the similar, if divergent, modes of expression.
“Let the peace of Christ be arbiter in your hearts,” he says. When hostile forces have to be kept at bay, the peace of God garrisons141 the believer’s heart, as in Phil. 4:7. But here the common life of fellow-members of the body of Christ is in view; when differences threaten to spring up among them, the peace of Christ must be accepted as arbitrator. If the members are subject to Christ, the peace which he imparts must regulate their relations with one another. It was not to strife but to peace that God called them in the unity of the body of Christ. Peace in this sense figures prominently in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). In a healthy body harmony prevails among the various parts. Christians, having been reconciled to God, enjoying peace with him through Christ,145 should naturally live at peace with one another. Strife inevitably results when men and women are out of touch with him who is the one source of true peace; but there is no reason why those who have received the peace which Christ established by his death on the cross should have any other than peaceful relations among themselves.
“And be thankful,” he adds, for Christian behavior (to repeat what has been said before) can be viewed as the response of gratitude to the grace of God. One of the counts in Paul’s indictment of the pagan world in his letter to the Romans is that, “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). If thanksgiving is God’s due from all humanity for his gifts of creation and providence, how much more is it his due from those who have received the surpassing gift of his grace?
15 The direction of this verse moves beyond “one body” to “peace”: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”146 The “of Christ” with the first mention of peace could possibly mean a Christ kind of peace, but more likely it describes a peace that comes from Christ (genitive of source) or the peace that Christ himself gives (subjective genitive).
Peace is at the heart of ethics for Paul in Colossians. This peace is something connected to Christ, and as such, peace emphasizes divine initiative and peace as a model for life (see 2 Thess 3:16). Peace in Pauline theology is a divinely wrought (Gal 5:22; 1 Thess 5:23; Rom 14:17; 15:33) redemptive blessing in relation to God (Rom 5:1; Phil 4:7; also in Col 1:20) that also generates peace toward others (2 Cor 13:11; Rom 14:17, 19; Eph 2:14–15, 17; 4:3). Peace is at the heart of Paul’s missional theology and ecclesiology. It is hard to avoid an echo here of the imperial slogan running throughout the Roman Empire: “The pax Christiana is to prevail in the church, as the pax Romana did in the world of Paul’s day.” But it is not so much countering Rome as it is transcending Rome’s way; that is, this pax is more supra-imperial than anti-imperial. There is more to be considered with Paul’s mention of peace, which follows love (Gal 5:22; 2 Cor 13:11; Eph 4:2–3). It exhorts the Colossians to more than the peacemaking ways of Jesus (Matt 5:9) and presses them to realize cosmic reconciliation through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Col 1:20) so that it takes root in Colossae (3:11). Peace describes the unity of Greeks and Jews in the one body of Christ (Eph 2:14)—notice where this text heads in the next few words: “members of one body.” As such, it undercuts or at least provides a radical alternative to the status systems of divisions at work in the Roman Empire. The location of peace’s transformation is internal first and then external, as it is to begin “in your hearts.”152
The Colossians are to let this peace “rule.” Scholars nuance what this means: does it mean let the peace of Christ judge/umpire or rule? The term and its cognates describe awards given as a prize in competitions and so evokes, as BDAG phrases it, “control of someone’s activity by making a decision” about that person or activity. Hence, the idea is that of the umpire who renders judgment. This sense of the term for the NIV’s “rule” leads to nuance: the Colossians are to render decisions regarding behaviors on the basis of what furthers the peace of the “one body.” Peace as a method of discernment has been consistently ignored in the history of the church. So, we need to say it again by using Harris’s paraphrase: “in making your decisions, in choosing between alternatives, in settling conflicts of will, a concern to preserve the inward and communal peace that Christ gave and gives should be your controlling principle.” As God is a God of peace (1 Cor 14:33), so the Colossians are to pursue what leads to peace in the fellowship and with everyone (Rom 12:18; 14:19). In passing, the words “peace” and “rule” might be a subtle response to the “peace” that supposedly rules in the Roman Empire.
Peace that is the umpire of the “one body” is their communal and moral calling, a calling that may well have evoked the yearning of the prophets for peace (e.g., Isa 8:19–9:7; 26:3, 12; 66:12; Mic 5:4). The expression “as members of one body” might be rendered “because you are one body,” or “by/in being one body and not two or three or more,” which is similar to “conducting yourselves as one body.” But this last explanation might suggest the entire phrase is an added thought not tightly connected to the verb. The “one body” here is the universal body of Christ, the church, expressed in a local setting but not tied to one local church, and the sacred space in which unity is to be found (3:11).
Verse 15 ends with a common note Paul strikes, even if it makes a sudden appearance of the “vertical correlate”: “And be thankful.” Paul probably does not have in mind a cheery disposition or positive thinking but a steadfast orientation to God in confidence that God rules supreme through the death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Son and that history is headed for that cosmic, reconciled lordship—and to live inside this vision enables one to be thankful (see 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:17; 4:2). One can infer in context as well that Paul wants the Colossians to be thankful for the mystery of expanding the gospel to include all (3:11).
3:15 / The peace of Christ has a twofold application. Since it comes from him, it provides an inner peace for each believer; it is to rule (lit., brabyein means “to arbitrate,” “to control”), to guide in the decisions that he or she makes. Those at peace with themselves will be at peace with others; it enables individuals to be united into a single body. The “grievances” (3:13) that members have against each other are settled when Christ’s peace rules in their midst. In the context of the indicative and the imperative, the meaning of Paul’s admonition could be stated this way: By virtue of being reconciled to God by Christ you are at peace (the indicative; cf. Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:14; Col. 1:20); now live out that peace (the imperative) in your personal and corporate life.
And be thankful: Thanksgiving (cf. 1:12; 2:7), which is basically a response to the grace of God, is mentioned three times in verses 15–17. Thus, rather than a final admonition in the preceding list of virtues, it serves as a summons to articulate that response in corporate worship and everyday living.
15. Paul continues, And let the peace of Christ, for which you were called in one body, rule in your hearts. This peace is the condition of rest and contentment in the hearts of those who know that their Redeemer lives. It is the conviction that the sins of the past have been forgiven, that the present is being overruled for good, and that the future cannot bring about separation between Christ and his own. Concerning this peace the apostle says in Phil. 4:7, “And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep guard over your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” It is the peace of Christ because it was merited for believers by Christ, is through his Spirit bestowed upon them, and is fostered by this same Lord and Savior (John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19, 21, 26). It is, moreover, patterned after the peace that dwells in the Savior’s own heart.
Now this peace also has its social aspect, on which the emphasis falls in the present passage (cf. Eph. 4:3, 4), as is evident from the phrase “for which you were called in one body.” When men were called out of the darkness into the light they, as seen by God, were not drawn out of their sinful environment as pebbles are picked up from the beach. On the contrary, they were called as a body, for from eternity they had been viewed as a corporate entity “in Christ.” In time they were “called” in order that they might promote this spiritual oneness in every way. Now this purpose can be accomplished only when the peace of Christ rules in each heart. Let each individual, therefore, constantly ask himself, “Will I have peace within if I do this or do that?” Let him be sure to be at peace with God, for only then can he expect to live in true harmony with his brothers (cf. James 4:1).
Paul adds, and be thankful. It is worthy of note how frequently in this brief epistle the apostle refers to the privilege and duty of being thankful (1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 16, 17; 4:2). Gratitude makes for peace and excellent public relations. When a person is overpowered by the feeling of warm and deep appreciation for benefits received from God he will hardly be able to grudge someone else his wealth or superior talents. Hence, this admonition fits splendidly into the immediate context. Gratitude promotes peace. The exhortation also suits the broader context which mentions some of the blessings believers have received. They are “hid with Christ in God,” have received the forgiveness of sins, and are experiencing daily spiritual renewal. Moreover, the apostle is about to mention the further blessings of the indwelling word and of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. For all these favors thanksgiving is in order. Though all men should give thanks, the Christian can be expected to do so. Ingratitude marks paganism (Rom. 1:21). In all probability it also marked the fearfilled alarmists who were vexing the addressees (Col. 2:16–23). Having therefore been rescued from paganism let the Colossians also turn their backs upon these so-called “philosophers.” Let them in newness of spirit be joyful and praise the Lord every day. Thus they will be truly and serenely blessed, and in turn will be a blessing to others.
3:15. To maintain perfect unity (v. 14) believers are to let the peace of Christ rule in [their] hearts. Rule literally means “to act as umpire.” The Colossians were told earlier not to allow false teachers to “act as umpire against” them (2:18). However, when disputes arise, the believer is to let the peace of Christ make the call. Whatever will lead to peace must be the deciding factor so that peace will be preserved.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 156–157). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.