Peace can refer to a number of different situations. There is world peace, which refers to a lack of conflict between nations. There is interpersonal peace, which refers to a lack of conflict between individuals. There is inner peace, which refers to a lack of conflict within a person, between different desires and elements of his personality, and between his aspirations and the realities that confront him. But the most pressing need for any individual is peace with God. We are all sinners at war with God until we lay down our arms and submit to His lordship.
Romans 5:1 speaks of peace with God: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Once we are no longer at war with God, we can begin to incorporate other kinds of peace into our lives and personalities.
Philippians 4:6–7 speaks of the inner peace that comes from fully trusting God to meet all our needs: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Colossians 3:15, separate from its context, seems to be encouraging the same kind of thing: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” The verse seems to be saying that, if we are worried or troubled, we should let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, and then we will have true inner peace. However, the context of Colossians 3:15 is not one of inner peace but rather of interpersonal peace.
Colossians 3 contains a list of things that people do to each other that do not promote interpersonal peace. Christians are told not to do these kinds of things: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (verses 5–9). If a person rids his life of these sinful things, then he will certainly experience a greater degree of peace with other people.
Colossians 3:11 speaks of the racial and social boundaries that in Paul’s day often served to pit people against each other. In Christ, such distinctions do not apply: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Rather than doing things that promote division and strife, Christians should follow this command: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12–14).
All of these things can be summed up in one command: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). In this context, letting the peace of Christ rule in your hearts means allowing the truth of what Christ has done for us to dictate our actions. We are not enemies with each other. We should not see each other as competitors for the same resources. We should see other Christians as members of the same team, the same body, and what is good for them is ultimately good for us, too. Christ saved us to be at peace with each other. When we choose to act in love and be at peace with other believers, we are allowing Christ’s peace to rule in our hearts.