Archive

Archive for the ‘Colossians’ Category

Putting on Christ

October 14th, 2019

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. (Colossians 3:11-14 BSB)

If this were the only verses that spoke of the Christian life, we might falsely assume that it was merely one of performance. But we need to back up a few verses to see these words first: “you have been raised with Christ” (Col. 3:1), “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), “Christ…is your life” (Col. 3:4), and “[You] have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10).

The Christian life begins with and is sustained by the work of God’s Spirit in our innermost being – our spirit – to bring new life into existence and to indwell us with His presence. Then and only then and only by God’s power are we able to put on the new self, or to put on Christ in our thoughts and actions.

Beware of a disconnect between the life of God and your actions. I fear that too often, though we may know that we have a new heart and mind in Christ, we act and react on our own, in our own fleshly habits, or by copying the world around us. In other words, there is a disconnect between the new spiritual reality of the believer and our actual actions and reactions. We live in the Spirit but act and react in the flesh.

So Paul is writing, as the Spirit inspired him, to instruct us in the practical application of the life of Christ. The Spirit must transform our thoughts and our actions. He must flow through us completely, and just as take off the works of the flesh one at a time, like dirty clothes, so now we put on the clothing of Christ, also one at a time, as the Spirit inspires us. Really the question is: How does a Spirit controlled heart think and act and speak? 

We should ask ourselves daily, am I acting and reacting in the Spirit or in the flesh. Three things are the Spirit’s concern for us to know in these verses above:

Clothe yourself with kindness   

Five traits are mentioned in this general category: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Compassion is the capacity to care about the other person and consider his or her perspective. Kindness is to desire to bless and help another. Humility is the opposite of pride, and means not to think of our selves as “too good” for others, but willingly associate with them. 

Gentleness is the divine capacity to navigate difficult discussions and interactions with grace and sensitivity. Patience is the passive capacity to both endure difficult interactions and circumstances, and the active capacity to persist in doing what is right. 

There is a great deal of speaking in today’s world of “just being yourself” and of demanding that others “accept me for who I am.” There is some good in this of course, for we all must accept our limitations, as John the Baptist said, “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). Lustful and selfish ambition does much harm to the church (James 3:16). Each of us should appreciate and respect our individuality as a believer in Christ.

But this is often taken as an excuse for anger and sinful interactions. “This is just the way I am,” we can say, blaming God for our own weaknesses. If we will just “be ourselves” in our interactions with others, then we should be the new self in Christ. We should think and react with one another as Christ would, for that is who the Christian is in his new character. Depend on Him daily and let His kindness soak into you and into your conversations continually.

Bear with one another

We do not need to react to everything that is said to us. We can be patient and considerate. It was said of Christ:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

If Christ could endure such mistreatment, surely with Him in us, we can in His grace endure one another. “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11).

There are rules in scripture of how to deal with conflict. We ought to be proactive in settling matters when there is a larger conflict or the suspicion of anger or distrust (Matt. 5:23-25 and Matt. 18:15-17). We should be kind and not argumentative (2 Tim. 2:24-26). But there will never be a church family, or even another Christian who we will know very well, where we will not need to exercise this trait of “bearing with” – and the same is true about each of us. They will have to “bear with” us as well.

Put on love

“Over all these things” means that love is both the source of our transformation and love should penetrate all the characteristics of Christian character. And it is love that brings about Christian unity, the “bond of perfect unity” (BSB) or “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (ESV) or the “bond of perfection” (KJV).  

Love (agape) differs from kindness and patience in that it is pro-active, like the love that Christ has toward men (2 Cor. 5:14). Rather than trying to punish one another into submission — we usually do this in a passive aggressive fashion and avoid them or “give them the cold shoulder” — we should actively love them. Love is transformational in our deepest being.

Love must be shaped for the needs of the moment, and especially by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The diversity of human personalities being what it is, love may be expressed toward one by being with him, and toward another by leaving him alone. Love take into account the life and needs of the individual, and it is to do something gracious for another.

Aim high!

Because the source of the Christian life is no less than the Spirit of God, we should have the highest standards and expectations of what He will do in us. These traits are like the fruit of the Spirit, and the root of God’s work is in Himself. He does not begin with us and our weaknesses when He seeks to determine our fruit. He starts with Himself and His power. 

Let His kindness, His forbearance, and His love determine your kindness, forbearance, and love toward others. 

Questions:

  1. Can you relate to the idea of there being a “disconnect” between the life of Christ in the innermost person and the daily words and actions of the Christian?
  2. The disconnect is resolved only by (a) being aware that it exists and (b) going back to the basics of our life in Christ. Where does this disconnect exist in your life? Where does the Spirit need to exercise control of your thoughts and words and actions?
  3. Too much worldly entertainment is one of the problems in our lives. How much worldly entertainment do you expose yourself to each day?
  4. Can you name a person who has been kind to you? How did their kindness touch you?
  5. Can you name a person who has exercised forbearance and patience toward you? Can you do that toward another person this week?
  6. Loving others is more than just thinking kind thoughts about them. What actions can you take to help someone know that you love and care about them?

 

 

Colossians

The New Self

October 11th, 2019

Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and is in all. (Colossians 3:9-11 BSB)

“There is no perfect sermon that is unattached to any specific, real human circumstance.” This is one of the credos that I have taught my Homiletics pupils. (I have taught Homiletics for many years as an adjunct lecturer.)  It is also commonly observed s being true about great speeches – that every great speech is about something specific, that it is fixed in time and attached to a concrete circumstance. 

And the same is true of Scripture. Every scripture passage was written in the midst of a real human circumstance, with real people, and each deals with real problems. And therein lies the benefit to us. Scripture is about God’s Spirit moving in real people in their lives and world (2 Peter 1:21).

Understanding the historical circumstance

This means, however, that we need to take into account the historical circumstance in which the author spoke. In the passage above we can understand the challenges facing a multi-cultural church in Colossae. There were people who were culturally very different from one another. Some of these differences were understandable, and other harder to accept.

The words about “lying,” for example, seem to be a bridge thought, going from the problem of sins committed to the issue of the people from various cultures united in Christ. He was speaking about sins, and then, immediately upon mentioning lying, he makes this blanket statement that in Christ there is unity for people of all nations. His Spirit-inspired words speak powerfully to all people. We all who are believers in Christ are called to live holy lives and not to lie.

But what is lying? It is common in cultural differences for some cultures to be more direct in their speech and others to be more indirect. Across America, for example, it is widely observed that the further east you travel the more indirect people speak to one another. They call it just being polite. And the further west you travel the more direct people speak. They call it being truthful. But it ends up with one group thinking the others are untruthful and the other thinking the others are impolite. This division cuts directly  through my home state of Texas, with West Texans being plain spoken, and East Texans being more indirect.  

The New Self is Christ in us and it is not about culture

And this could also lead to an assumption — an assumption widely made across the world — that people of some cultures just can’t be as good a group of Christians as people from others. There is a sense of cultural superiority in most of us, at least to some degree.  

So Paul is making a powerful point, that the New Self is not about a culture, other than the culture of heaven. The original Greek simply says “the new” and the word “self” or”man” or “person” is assumed. This is similar to what he did in 2 Cor. 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” The work of God to transform us is tethered to His eternal character and transcends all human societies and all human cultures. It is “new” because it has its origin in God.  

The miracle of the Christian life is that each believer is being transformed into the image of Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29). And this is done not by us in our strength seeking to copy Him, but by Him in His power working in us to change us. The minute we trust in Christ we receive the new self “created after God in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). 

And we are “being renewed” in the knowledge of God. The image Paul paints, as I understand it, takes into account the complexity of human existence. Some of sought to simplify this by describing human life as consisting of a spirit, soul, and body. In lost man, the spirit is dead because of sin in him (Eph. 2:1), and in Christ we are brought to a new life and born again or born from above (John 3:7-8).

And the soul then, which is our mind, emotions, and will, must be constantly renewed by the work of God in our innermost self or our spirit. The life of God is constantly at work in our life: “Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). With this constant work taking place, in the grace of God, our habits, thoughts, actions, attitudes, etc., is being transformed. 

The source of the new life is God, not culture, not people. God is at work and because He is at work, He will complete His work in us. Sometimes new converts try to copy the actions of more mature believers, and sometimes they pick up some cultural customs of the mature Christians they know. This is harmless usually, but, they should know that the real One they are to emulate is none other than Christ. He is at work in them!

The New Community

Because Christ is at work, in every culture and in every place on earth God can be at work and a church of redeemed people can exist. Regardless of where they are. We can take any community, any family, any group of friends, and let Christ go to work in them forming them into a new community.  

In the weakness of the flesh, some times we have substituted the miraculous work of God with quaint nostalgic thoughts of the churches from our childhood. Often some idyllic image of a white clapboard country church set on a hill, with sweet people gathered for dinner on the ground, and the children playing around a swing tethered to a tree limb, is the ideal. But unless God is at work in lives, such a community can turn into a gossip-fest, with children fighting over the swing!

The first church ever was not some quaint country church, but a miraculous large multicultural city church with 3,000 members from the first day, which were being transformed into the image of Christ, and who loved each other miraculously well — with many selling their properties and sharing it all with the rest.   

Whether we call the church a community or a family we find some limitations, because both words are linked to a specific, fallen human condition. Though some are better than others, no earthly family or earthly community is perfect. 

But in Christ, the church is something of a divine order, with a divine origin. Paul said in Ephesians 4:25, “We are members of one another.” That we are not merely strangers called to tolerate one another, but rather we belong to one another. And the words in Colossians above carry similar weight, but he says it from the perspective of God: “Christ is all and is in all” (Col. 3:11).

The overwhelming and overriding reality of every church is to be “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Christianity is truly “Christ-in-you-ity” and “Christ-in-me-ity” and “Christ-in-us-ity.”  

Questions:

  1. What is Christian and what is cultural about your church?
  2. Where are people more likely to substitute sweet earthly memories for the work of God?
  3. Do we need to go back in time to be the church of Christ? 
  4. Can a biblical, Spirit-filled church of redeemed people exist in your neighborhood? What would it look like? 

Colossians