Jan.17, 2010 Col.3:1-17
MORAL FAILURE EXACERBATES HAITI'S COLLAPSE
We are born sinners, offspring of fallen forbears. Jesus offers new life, but unless we repent and turn to Him in obedience, we remain trapped in the evil desires that come all too easily.
The tragedy of this week's devastating earthquake in Haiti illustrates how our base impulses aggravate situations that are already fragile. As relief efforts start to bring humanitarian aid to Port au Prince, shock and grief turn to anger and desperation amongst the survivors. Looters roamed the capital armed with machetes. The warehouses of the UN World Food Program were broken into and looted, although officials managed to reclaim most of the material. An angry crowd banged on the doors of the Food for the Poor agency, trying to get in, and dispersed only after being told no food had yet arrived. People were almost fighting over water being distributed from a pickup truck. UN forces warned aid groups they'd better add security personnel to their convoys.
It's easy to stand back and analyze this and be critical from Canada, where we're well fed and are not in that sort of emergency. But it shows what we all know - when we're tired and hungry or stressed, we get grabby and selfish, angry and unruly. It would help distribution and relief efforts so much if people would be patient, respectful, and wait their turn - but sinners find that hard to do. So, spiritual and moral brokenness aggravate the mess and trouble that already exist.
In the third chapter of his letter to the people at Colosse, the apostle Paul describes how we don't have to be stuck there. When we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ and receive His lordship, He gives us new life - complete with new longings, new language, and new liaisons or ways of relating.
It all starts with new life - if you don't understand this part, you won't get the rest! Repeatedly in this chapter and throughout the letter Paul describes the conversion and regeneration that are essential to become a follower of Jesus. Vv3-4, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God [where's your life? A new location - with Christ in heaven, spiritually speaking]. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." So, your life is with Christ, and Christ IS your life - you're identified, one with Him. V1 begins, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ..." Life new as the resurrection - by faith, we're raised with Him who rose on Easter. Also vv9-11, "...you have taken off your 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...Christ is all, and is in all." The old self is gone when we repent, we receive a heavenly 'make-over' - being renewed from our thinking on down in the likeness of our Creator, Christ. Paul said in Romans 8(29) believers are being conformed to the likeness of God's Son - there's a recognizable similarity developing between you and Jesus!
Paul has been repeating this 'new life' theme in a variety of ways throughout his letter, using different metaphors or ways of expressing it. In chapter 1: "He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves...He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation...the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (1:13, 22, 27) There you have transfer of domain; reconciliation, being changed from God's enemy to God's friend; Christ being IN us, new being. Then in chapter 2: "...you received Christ Jesus as Lord...you have been given fullness in Christ...When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us...the reality...is found in Christ..." (2:6,10,13,17) Then in v19 you have a marvelous analogy of Jesus being the Head from whom the whole body grows as God causes it to.
So, over and over again, Paul is hammering home this idea that our old selves are no more when we confess Christ as Saviour; we have Him now IN us, He gives us fullness or completeness, He makes us live, we're forgiven, He connects to us and supports us to grow along with connecting us to others in the Church.
ChristianWeek tells the new-life story of Pam Ritchert, a retired paralegal in Winnipeg who leads a recovery ministry at a church there. She was married and divorced by the time she was 21. Her second marriage was marred by physical and emotional abuse. When her third relationship ended after 16 years, she turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. A friend invited her to a divorce recovery group at a church. Eventually she began praying with the group; that's when her relationship with Jesus began. She recalls, "I didn't feel numb anymore; I began feeling alive." One night after a particularly bad argument with her 19-year-old son, Pam drank 3 bottles of wine and swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills. The next day a friend from the divorce recovery group took her to the hospital where the doctor said she should have died with the amount of drugs in her system. She realized God had fought not only for her physical life but also for her soul that night. Her eyes welling up with tears, Pam says, "For the first time, I felt love; He taught me love."
The new life God brings in Christ is not always so dramatic, but it's no less real and life-changing.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor." One aspect of the new life Jesus gives is new longings, new desires, being content in Christ.
Now, remember, all the rest of this - new longings / language / liaisons - all of it only happens IF we first experience the new life. Paul drives this home by repeated use of conjunctions linking the theological part of his letter with the practical part talking about our behaviour. 3:1 "Since, then..." vv5 and 12 "therefore"; v8 "But now you must"; v13, "AS the Lord forgave you..."; v15, "Since as members of one body you were called to peace [let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts]." New feelings and behaviour result from the realization of new life that's God's doing. I closed last week with a quote from David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians; he observed that once they caught on to the message of Christ crucified for them, they didn't have to be preached to about morality - sanctified behaviour started happening automatically after they received new life.
So, what are these new longings? In this text we're offered a sort of 'before'n'after' shot, if you will. Paul mentions briefly in vv5-6 some of the old depraved longings and desires: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.[Then he adds] Because of these, the wrath of God is coming." Wrong desires such as lust, impurity, and immorality.
I was watching some of American Idol for a brief time this past week. One of the female contestants was particularly attractive. As she walked off the set, the video went to slow-motion and the producers added a soundtrack of sexy saxophone music as we watched her ambulate off. Now, was that necessary? The media practically coach us in how to look at someone lustfully! Lust, impurity, and immorality lead us to treat other people as objects, dehumanizing them; lust tempts me to exploit another person for my own pleasure, rather than honouring or respecting them.
In Christ we have a heart transplant with new longings, Holy-Spirit-prompted longings. 3:1 says, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." Next verse adds, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.For you died..." - and we will appear with Him in glory. THAT'S what's worth getting excited about! When that moment comes after Christ's return, we want to be seen as pure as He is pure. John wrote in his first letter, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him [there's the longing!] purifies himself, just as he is pure.""And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming." (1Jo 3:2f; 2:28) Do you have a longing to be unashamed before Jesus when He comes? That will greatly affect your choices and actions.
3:12 describes Christians as "God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved..." Knowing that satisfies our longings, our need to be significant to someone. That leads us to want to please God most of all; 1:10, to "live a life worthy of the Lord and...please Him in every way..."
3:15 counsels us to "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since...you were called to peace.And be thankful." His peace addresses our longings, so we're content and thankful.His peace literally 'umpires' or supervises, decides between our sometimes conflicting desires.
V15 ends "be thankful", v16 commands "gratitude in your hearts to God", v17 talks about "giving thanks to God the Father through" the Lord Jesus. Knowing Him, there are really no unsatisfied longings that are all that important. When we get Christ, we get the whole package - "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (2:3)
Evil desires including greed can lead to many needless pursuits. Once a rich industrialist, disturbed to find a fisherman sitting idly by his boat, asked, "Why aren't you out there fishing?" The fisherman answered, "Because I've caught enough fish for today." Whereupon the rich man asked, "Why don't you catch more fish than you need?" "What would I do with them?" "You could earn more money and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you'd have a fleet of boats and be rich like me!" "Then what would I do?" asked the fisherman. The industrialist answered, "You could sit down and enjoy life." At that, the fisherman replied, "What do you think I'm doing now?"
Besides new longings, life in Christ results in new language. 3:8 describes our past behaviour in this regard: "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." Or as Ephesians 4(29) puts it, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Does our language tear others down, or build them up? Is it coarse or filthy, or wholesome?
I used to enjoy Bill Cosby as a comedian - generally he did not use coarse language, unlike some comedians today - which spoils it. Cosby offered clean humour, he had a funny way of putting things - like talking about his kindergarten class and lukewarm curdly milk that had been sitting on the radiator for 3 weeks. His language was genuinely humorous in that it didn't make you feel guilty for laughing.
3:9 adds another aspect of the way we use our words: "Do not lie to each other..." Honesty is essential, fundamental if there's to be any degree of trust in a relationship. If someone lies to you, it's like they've committed treason or mutiny as far as relating to them is concerned. The American nation felt its first leader was someone they could trust, as exemplified in the story of George Washington confessing to cutting down a cherry tree; "I cannot tell a lie." A very laudable quality in a politician!
Profanity has plagued society for as long as people have had tongues in their mouths. John Bunyan, prior to his conversion, was so profane he could hardly speak a word without attaching a curse to it. But one thing cured him. He was standing one day before a shop window, cursing and swearing freely, and a woman passed by. She herself was a "very loose and ungodly wretch, yet she rebuked him, saying that he was 'the ungodliest fellow for swearing that ever she heard in all her life' and she further declared that he was 'able to spoil all the youth in a whole town, if they but came into his company."
Bunyan later wrote, "I wished with all my heart that I might be a little child again, that my father might learn me to speak without this wicked way of swearing; for, thought I, I am so accustomed to it that it is vain for me to think of a reformation, for I thought it never could be. I knew not how to speak unless I put an oath before and another behind, to make my words have authority."
But the Lord so cleaned up Bunyan's English language that he wrote the greatest English classic ever written--and the most printed book outside the Bible: Pilgrim's Progress. New language!
(Traditionally we confess and pray for help not to sin in thought, word, or deed - but with 'new life' I've got an L thing going, so instead of thought word or deed we're using longings, language, and liaisons - or relationships, how we act toward others.)
Paul uses the analogy of clothing to describe our new comportment once we become Christians (hence the title of this sermon, 'Jesus Wear'): 3:9 'since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self..." V12, "Clothe yourselves with compassion..." And v14, "Over all these virtues put on love..."
Does it look to others as though you're dressed in Jesus? Is He the 'label' to your behavioural togs? Do you wear Him well?
In this passage, Paul refers to several relational qualities that are expressed dynamically in interaction with other people. V11, though it's not explicitly mentioned, prejudice is implied: "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free..." Jesus helps us not to make distinctions based on race, but to appreciate the person below skin depth.
V12 lists "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." God helps us overcome compassion fatigue - to really care for someone. Christ exemplified kindness in helping others. Humility means adopting a servant attitude, counting others better than ourselves. Gentleness stops us from being harsh or abrupt with others; instead, sensitive, tactful, having regard for their feelings. Patience is particularly outstanding in today's 'instant' culture, where selfishness demands service right now. Jesus had a world-saving agenda, but He took time for those who called on Him - even lepers, tax collectors, and outcasts. Bible in Basic English translates patience as "a power of undergoing all things." There are lots of things I'd rather not undergo, thank you very much - but that's where patience comes in.
V13, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.Forgive as the Lord forgave you." These things are tough to do; bearing with others - that someone whose personality just rubs you the wrong way; imperfect people who fail at tasks you were counting on them to do. Forgiveness is so essential that Jesus embedded it right in the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."
On her golden wedding anniversary, a grandmother revealed the secret of her long and happy marriage. She explained, "On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband's faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook." A guest asked her to name some of the faults. She replied, "To tell the truth, I never did get around to listing them.But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, 'Lucky for him that's one of the ten.'" (!)
V17 notes, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." All we do - all our liaisons, our relating, our actions - all is to done as Jesus' representatives, His ambassadors. Canadians in Haiti were glad to be able to make their way to the Canadian embassy and find shelter, services, and even a plane ride back home when disaster struck. So all we do, in word or deed, ought to provide that safe 'embassy compound space' that's a little taste of heaven and Jesus' presence to others. It's not about doing things for our own credit.
3:18-4:1 outlines briefly Christian behaviour in marriage, in family and work life. These institutions require a certain ordering in society, that gives it strength; when there's disorder, a lack of co-ordination, things don't work. But in these relationships involving power, authority, and submission, Christians are to model love and respect. A husband doesn't 'own' his wife or lord it over her, just as disciples are not to throw their weight around like Gentile rulers (1Cor 7:4; Mk 10:42). Paul concluded his passage on marriage to the Ephesians summing it up in these words: "each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." (Eph 5:33) When those are in place, leadership and submission are not onerous or oppressive. On v18 about wives submitting to their husbands, Robertson comments: "Wives have rights and privileges, but recognition of the husband's leadership is essential to a well-ordered home, only the assumption is that the husband has a head and a wise one." The man's headship is also subject to Christ being HIS head.
Finally, chapter 4 adds a couple of other relational elements. 4:2 tells us, "Devote yourselves to prayer" - even as Paul and Epaphras were examples of this, agonizing, struggling, wrestling for the believers in their prayer life (2:1; 5:12,18). Do you carve time out of your day to pray for others? That's part and parcel of new life in Jesus.
And 4:5, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity." Literally, 'buy up' or redeem the time, capitalize on each occasion that presents itself to re-present your Lord in the way you act.
CAREFUL WITH THE CLEANING
We talked about gentleness, kindness, and how important is the way we talk to others. Richard Dunagin of Denton, Texas, writing in Leadership Journal said that his children won four free goldfish at the school carnival, necessitating a Saturday morning family outing to find an aquarium. The first several they found were too expensive, but then he spotted a used one right in the middle of the aisle: A discarded ten-gallon tank complete with gravel and filter. It was five dollars.
Dunagin recalls, "Of course, it was nasty dirty, but the savings made the two hours of cleanup a breeze. Those four new fish looked great in their new home, at least for the first day. But by Sunday one had died. Too bad, but three remained. Monday morning revealed a second casualty and by Monday night a third goldfish had gone belly up.
"We called in an expert, a member of our church who had a 30-gallon tank. It didn't take him long to discover the problem: I had washed the tank with soap, an absolute no-no. My uninformed efforts had destroyed the very lives I was trying to protect.
He draws this moral from the story: "Sometimes in our zeal to clean up our own lives or the lives of others, we unfortunately use 'killer soaps' -- condemnation, criticism, nagging, fits of temper. We think we're doing right, but our harsh, self-righteous treatment is more than they can bear." May God help us learn from the goldfish! Let's pray.