Colossians

Proclaiming the Message (Colossians 4:2-4:6)

“The Blue Angels are the friendly face of the U.S. Navy and Marines and put on aerial stunt shows before live audiences across the country most every week. The scandal has sullied their reputation and that of the military branches they represent, Navy investigators said.” (“Blue Angels dived into porn, homophobia and harassment, study says,” cnn.com)

 We cringe at this story not just because of the impact of their actions on the people in the story, but because the Blue Angels were supposed to be the face of an organization that represented their country. Their role - and their failure in it - reminds us of something important: we are the friendly face of the Kingdom of God. We are constantly representing Christ. Nobody has to officially send us or appoint us – followers of Christ are in that role 24/7. I was thinking of how this news story could read if it involved me and my walk with Christ.

“Anthony is one of the friendly faces of the Kingdom of God, and he “puts on” a display of what discipleship looks like every week.”

 So far, so good. But there are at least two different ways that paragraph could end.

  • “His recent scandals have sullied the reputation of the church and the Christ he represents.”
  • “His recent success has bolstered the reputation of the church and the Christ he represents.”

 So are there ways we can prepare so that we can more effectively represent Christ?  As Paul closes his letter to the Colossian church, he gives us some insight:

Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray. And while you are at it, add us to your prayers. Pray that God would open doors so we can go on telling the mystery of Christ, for this is exactly why I am currently imprisoned. (4:2-3)

Here’s the first thing to note: We are to ask God to orchestrate the opportunities. We don’t have to leave where we are to be a missionary (to be on mission). If we want to have an impact in the world for the Kingdom of God, pray that God will open doors where we are. Big trips gets headlines; ordinary friendships usually don’t. But it’s ordinary friendships that change the world for Christ. I have talked to plenty of people who feel they are wasting their lives because they are just stuck in an ordinary job around ordinary people from one ordinary day to another.

I would challenge us to see the holiness and the potential in every moment in life. We don’t have to leave to do something meaningful (though “go” is certainly part of the great commission). The reality is that as long as we are near other people, we are in a position to impact eternity. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis about the importance of each person and each moment in our life: 

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. 

It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. 

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe… proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. 

Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors…” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

 Every day, in every conversation and interaction, we are representing Christ to someone who will live forever.  It’s the “weight of glory” not because we give it, but because we carry the truth of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us wherever we go, and we dim it or reveal it all the time.

We don’t have to wait for something special. We can simply pray that God orchestrates circumstances in even the most ordinary moments of our life so we can more fully proclaim the message of Christ. Then, we actively look for these things to open up with our family, our friends, at work, with our neighbors, and even at church. That co-worker who annoys us is not merely a mortal. Our neighbor is not just a person next door. God will bring opportunities to reveal the presence of the love of Christ. We need to be alert and ready. 

After stressing God’s role, Paul reveals ours: 

“Pray that I will proclaim this message clearly and fearlessly as I should. Be wise when you engage with those outside the faith community; make the most of every moment and every encounter. When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly.” (4:4-6)

If God orchestrates the opportunities, we bring the message. We need to own our faith so we can state it clearly and fearlessly. In order to do that, we need at least two things.

 We need knowledge. We need to know what Christianity has to say about the essentials of our faith as well as cultural hot topics. We learn this through the Bible, sermons, classes, books, podcasts, videos, conversations… This doesn’t mean we have to have degrees or have to be an expert that answers every question. But we should in some sense constantly be learning. If you have a question that bugs you – search for answer. If you don’t know what to think about the Trinity, or the reliability of the Bible, or same-sex marriage, or why God’s moral claim on our life is for our flourishing, seek to understand. Even currents events deserve your attention – not all of them and not all the time, but be prepared to learn so you can offer a perspective as a Christian on the environment, or immigration, or health care.

 We need experience. We need to live a committed life so all the information is not just head knowledge. What does it mean to serve God? Why is sanctification a blessing even though it feels like a trial? What does it mean that those who lose their life will find it?  How does God meet us in the midst of our pain? Husbands, what does loving your wife like Christ loved the church look like? 

We need to engage wisely (v.5). We need to understand the context in which the gospel message is shared. How do we do this?

  • Learn what people love. What is it that moves them? What are the stories that shape how they view the world?  (Think of how Jesus used parables). What do they think are the most important issues of the day? Conversations with your NASCAR neighbor and your film festival neighbor will probably be very, very different. You will have to take the time to listen and understand what it is that captures the imagination of those around you – then pray that God opens doors of opportunity and gives you wisdom and boldness. 
  • See their life.  How has their history impacted how they will think of Christ, the church, or even Christians for that matter? Why? What do they think of when they hear “God,” “love,” “father,” “forgive,” and “family”? Take the time to learn about the things that have formed them. Take the time to get to know people and enter into their story. Not only does it honor them, it gives you insight into how to most effectively communicate the love of Christ.
  •  Speak their language.  As you learn what they love and see their life, you will increasingly learn how to speak their language. We instinctively know this when we talk with kids or when we go to other countries. We also learn this in marriage (the love languages, for example). It’s just as important when trying to communicate spiritual truths. In an article about copywriting in advertising, the writer made this point: “Words matter, and people crave connection. We have to start thinking, “How can I speak of Jesus in ways that will resonate with those around me?” When Paul wrote that their conversation was to be  “seasoned with salt,” he was writing to people in a city located near a famous lake from which salt was harvested. He knew the context.

Pray that God will open doors and give you wisdom. Be fearless and clear when the opportunities arise. (Check out this link for a look at “Christianese,” or language that we might know what it means but non-Christians don’t).

Finally, we need to respond gracefully (v.6)

“When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly.”

 The story is told of a time when a British diplomat named George Brown asking someone to dance at a diplomatic reception. He received this response: “I shall not dance with you for three reasons. First because you are drunk, second, because this is not a waltz but the Peruvian national anthem and third, because I am not a beautiful lady in red; I am the Cardinal Bishop of Lima.”

We need to learn how to say graceful things in a graceful manner. There is much to be said for personal character and integrity. I don’t mean our lives have to display perfection. I simply mean that we must “put on” (to use Paul’s term)  humility, self-control, patience, kindness, and love.

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So how do we proclaim the message effectively? Pray for God opens doors, then step through as the “face of the Kingdom of God,” praying for the wisdom and strength to enable us to show the love and truth of Christ to the world.

Life Together: Submitted to Christ (Colossians 3:16-4:1)

“Submit” and “obey” are two words that don’t usually bring out the best emotions. Perhaps we think of submission as something we endure from some overpowering bully, like a mixed martial artist who submits his opponent. Perhaps we think of a family, school, a church or a business where all that mattered was authority and obedience, and it was experienced in a way that was mean, cold, harsh, or demeaning. Perhaps we think of obedience or submission as being weak, or being told not to think for ourselves. Perhaps we think of being a victim, abused by those who want to dominate and control us rather than compel or love us.

So here’s a question: What does the Bible say about power and submission?

 Let’s go back to Paul’s letter to the Colossian church.

  • Paul began Colossians by demonstrating the supremacy of Christ in every area of life.
  • Because Christ is above all, we are not enslaved to human traditions and expectations about what it means to be righteous or holy.
  • We are free – from the power and condemnation of sin, and to become people who “put on” compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and forgiveness.
  • In this life of freedom in Christ, the differences that we cite to create division and pride – race, nationality, gender, and social position – are gone.
  • We are to put on love as the thing that holds together all the goodness we are free to have and to do in Christ.

Next, Paul gives a very practical demonstration about how this looks in their community:

Let the word of God richly inhabit your lives. With all wisdom teach, counsel, and instruct one another. Sing the psalms, compose hymns and songs inspired by the Spirit, and keep on singing—sing to God from hearts full and spilling over with thankfulness. Surely, no matter what you are doing (speaking, writing, or working), do it all in the name of Jesus our Master, sending thanks through Him to God our Father.” (v. 16-17)

 

So the Colossian Christians were to do at least four key things: Let God’s Word richly inhabit their lives (read, listen, think, and absorb the truth found in God’s revelation); teach, counsel and instruct each other (challenge and encourage others with love); sing with gratitude (respond to God in thankfulness for who He is and what He has done); and do everything in the name of Christ (live transformed lives). Sounds great! What will happen when we do this?

Wives: be submitted to your husbands as is appropriate in the Lord. Husbands: love your wives, and don’t treatthem harshly or respond with bitterness toward them. Children: obey your parents in every way. The Lord is well pleased by it. Fathers: don’t infuriate your children, so their hearts won’t harbor resentment and become discouraged. Slaves: obey your earthly masters in all things. Don’t just act earnest in your service only when they are watching. Serve with a sincere heart , fearing the Lord who is always watching! So no matter what yourtask is, work hard. Always do your best as the Lord’s servant, not as man’s, because you know your reward is the Lord’s inheritance. You serve Christ the Lord, and anyone who does wrong will be paid his due because He doesn’t play favorites. Masters: treat your slaves fairly and do what is right, knowing that you, too, have a Master in heaven. (3: 18- 4:1)

 

Hmmm. Two thoughts strike me. First, this seems like an odd thing to write at this point in the letter. Second, this section seems to have a lot to with power: those how have it and those who don’t. In order to understand what is happening here, we need to know something about life in first century Colossae.

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 As far back as the fourth century BC, there is record that the Greeks viewed the household to be a miniature version of the order found in society, the realm of the gods, and ultimately the universe. Aristotle even identified the three key relationships within the household that mattered: “The smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”  Aristotle believed free men were by nature intended to rule over their wives, children, and slaves because they were created by the gods to be better. His writing is pretty clear on this point, noting that “the one gender is far superior to the other in just about every sphere,”  and that “the slave has not deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature.” .

Considering this type of philosophical background, it's probably worth understanding how life looked like for women, children, and slaves in the Greco-Roman world before we look at Paul's Christianized household code.

Women existed to please the men around them, and a husband could do with his wife (or wives) whatever he wanted. Marriages were typically based on economic considerations. Wives were often young teens who married much older men. They were more important than slaves, but in many ways they were just property of their husbands. The reason for marriage was not “love” in our usual sense, but to bear legitimate children and to keep the family line going. Demosthenes noted: Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children."

They had almost no voice in the home or in the city. They could not testify in court because they were considered unreliable liars (that was true in Judaism as well). Some were educated; most were not. They rarely joined their husband and his friends for meals, which was where all the important conversations happened. They had to be faithful while the husband could be promiscuous.

The father also had authority over his children no matter their age. They were to submit to his will even after they had families of their own.  Once again, his children existed to serve and please him. He could set them outside the city to die when they were babies if he didn’t like what he saw.  He had absolute control over their lives.  They were meant to bring him honor and perhaps wealth.  It was all about him, not them.

The head of house was also free to beat his slaves, servants, wives and children, into submission (see the posts on Philemon for a more nuanced look at the reality of slavery at the time).  

This is what had formed the perspective on Paul’s audience. In this cultural milieu,  Christians were already finding themselves butting heads with both the culture and the law as they came to grips with what it meant to follow Christ. They were now part of a "new humanity" in which the divisions of race, gender and freedom were meant to dissolve in mutual love toward Christ and each other. For example, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women, were sharing common meals together in their meetings (1 Corinthians 11). This was unheard of.  Meals separated the free men from everybody else.  While the Romans passed laws forcing widows to get remarried, the early church helped the widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16) without insisting they get remarried.

This was not necessarily sitting well with Rome. The early Christians were called “haters of humanity,” because they so willingly broke down the structures that the Greeks and Romans believe brought stability to the nation and honor to the gods. So when the husband/father became a follower of Christ, his conversion brought him and his household shame and suspicion in the eyes of the Romans and Greeks. They were pretty sure this man and his family were on the verge of being traitors to their country, the gods and the order of the universe.  

So Paul has his work cut out: he does not want to add shame, suspicion or even persecution by dismantling the structure of the household. What he needed to do was show believers how to enter into an imperfect Greek culture and apply a gospel of love and servant hood that reflected the heart of Christ.

This brings us back to the question of power vs. submission and authority.

 I have heard this passage quoted as an example of how Paul just wanted men to be at the top of every relationship. That kind of observation misses the point. Paul was not imposing a new power structure onto marriage. He was showing them how to redeem a flawed cultural reality so that they could live at peace in their city while offering everyone the dignity and honor they deserved.  This may seem like an odd conclusion to reach from this passage, but let's go back to Genesis.

The power struggle between people entered the world as a result of sin entering the world. We read of women in in Genesis 3:16 that, as a result of the fall: “With pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” (NET Bible). I saw a website for wives that posted this verse with the comments: “Could your desire for your husband be a little stronger? Could you let him rule over you a little more than you did last week?”

They are missing the point badly. This verse is not a promise of blessing; that’s an observation about how life will not look in a fallen world.  Rebellion broke the world. Genesis 3 is not a list of how things ought to be; It's an explanation of how things have become.  One thing we learn right away: The fallen nature craves power and hates servanthood. But the New Adam, Jesus Christ, came to redeem not just people but the ways in which people have grown comfortable in their fallen state.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, did not seek the position His power offered him. Instead, he became a servant and gave his very life for those he loved as an example for how we are to live. Three examples from Scripture:

  • Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8). 
  • In speaking to them about authority he said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28). 
  • When his disciples argued amongst themselves about who would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus told them that “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

In Colossians, Paul is showing how redemption looks in relationships. Now men (the culturally privileged and powerful) have to care for the people within their household for their own sakes with the same level of committed self-sacrifice that Christ himself showed for us all. Men must learn to genuinely love and serve those whom their culture said they could use and control. The redeemed nature chooses service over power.

This was unprecedented in the history of household codes.

 No one is told that they are better. No is told they have a right to rule. No one is told what their rights are, or what is owed to them. They are all told what their responsibilities are to those around them: mutual service to honor Christ. The language is different, but the principle is the same.

From this perspective, there is much we can learn from the household codes about confronting our own lives.

  • Do we feel like we actually are better than others because they don’t have the same education, level of success, background, appearance or spiritual training?
  • Do we feel like we deserve to be in a place of privilege?
  • Do we feel like our spouse, kids, parents, employees, or friends are there to serve us and make us happy? 

When we follow Christ, we are called to sacrifice power, pride and privilege.  Are we learning how to genuinely love and serve those whom we assume we can use and control?

 When we all find ourselves kneeling at the foot of the cross, we look up and see only Christ, not other lording over us. If we look up and see our spouse, or our parents, or our boss, something has gone wrong.We look down and we see only the ground, not people we are lording over. If we look down and see our spouse, or our kids, or our employees, something has gone wrong. And when we look around, we see everyone around us eye-to-eye, remembering that God so loved the world – and we are called to nothing less. 

New Life: Risen With Christ (Colossians 3:1-3:14)

So it comes down to this: since you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on heaven above, where He is seated at God’s right hand. Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Your new life is now safely enmeshed with Christ, who is in God. On that day when the Christ—who is our very life—is revealed, you will be revealed with Him in glory!" (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

This is the solution to a life in which we are enslaved to sin (read Colossians 2 to see what that looks like). Awesome! But…how does that work? How do we “set our minds” and “stay focused”? Let’s keep reading (picking up in verse 5):

"So kill your earthly impulses: promiscuous sex, impure actions, unbridled lust, evil desires, and greed (which is idolatry). It’s because of these that God’s wrath is coming, so avoid them at all costs. These are the same things you once pursued, and together you walked in the path of evil. But now make sure you put off such things: anger, rage, spite, slander, and abusive language. And don’t go on lying to each other since you have traded the old self and the evil it did for a fresh new you, which is continually renewed in knowledge according to the image of the One who created you. In this re-creation there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and conqueror, or slave and free because Christ is above all, and dwells in us all. Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let the peace of God control your heart (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:5-14)

 

In this passage, we see three important principles that should help us find the freedom of new life in Christ.

Identity: Know who you are (1-4)

The Bible gives at least three images to describe our life “enmeshed” with Christ:  Getting out of jail, being adopted, and putting on new clothes.

  •  Getting out of Jail: It used to be the case that we were in chains, slaves to our sinful nature. We could not live freely. We might have moments of good living when we thought we had been set free, but we were just walking in the courtyard. No matter what, we would enter lockdown again. Christ opened the prison door; He set the captives free. Now we can truly walk out of the prison of sin.
  •  Being Adopted: It used to be that our character, reputation and nature were the result of the Family of the World – priorities, worldview, default reactions, loves, habits, tendencies.  Christ brings us into the Family of God, where all these things undergo a process of change. My priorities increasingly reflect God’s, etc. As we go through sanctification, we begin to naturally reflect our new family’s character, reputation and nature. We will fail at times, but that doesn’t mean we get kicked out of the family. In this family, we pull each other closer with the love of the Father.
  •  Changing Clothes: We make a decision: will I dress with my family colors or not? Will I present myself in such a way that when people see me, they see who I am now? Do I wear a jail uniform even though I am no longer a prisoner? Do I wear the styles and slogans of the Family of the World, or the Family of God? I have to dress myself every day. What will I put on?

 We have to remind ourselves of this identity. It won’t necessarily be easy. Old habits die hard. We could keep on our prison clothes and go hang out in the yard. We could pursue our old family and honor their habits. We could keep the old clothes.

Clarity: See who you were (5-11) 

In order to make the decision to “kill” our earthly self (stay out of jail, new clothes, etc), we need to understand what is at stake. If we don’t think our old life was that big of a deal, we probably won’t make changes that last. So, why do you need to “kill” these things? Why is God angry? Look at the life that unfolds when you indulge your earthly desires:

  • Greed -  You have a lust for more, be it sex or anything else. You want what is not yours. If you get it, it’s still not enough.  It doesn’t matter who you hurt or what impact you are having on others, you take what you want. It’s relentless; you are driven, you are always hungry for more.  Paul starts with an external activity, then moves into the heart – it’s greed, and it’s idolatry. You are worshiping things (at least on the surface); ultimately, you are worshiping self.
  • Anger – Of course, you are never satisfied. There is a “slowly building, settled animosity” as your frustration boils over, the rage – you lash out since you have no reserve. If you are a person who struggles with anger, Paul identifies at least one reason for it: greed or lust. You are driven to get something you want but don’t have, and when you don’t get it, or when you do and it fails to satisfy, your anger builds and then spills over onto the people around you. First you used them as simply things to satisfy your demand for more – sex, attention, respect, money, authority, admiration, comfort – then you abuse them verbally and emotionally (slander and abusive language).
  • Deception  -  You live and speak deceitfully. This may simply mean they had a problem with lying, but I wonder if this doesn’t have more to do with the duplicity of their lives. They claimed to be followers of Christ, but they were still living in lust, greed, and rage. The phrase translated as “abusive language” is the same word for “blasphemy” – somehow, they were blaspheming the name of God as the lashed out at other.  The Jewish converts knew the commandment, “Don’t take God’s name in vain,” which was actually not an admonition against swearing. It meant don’t claim allegiance to Christ falsely.  Don’t lie; particularly, don’t lie by claiming allegiance to Christ while living in allegiance to the world.

 What’s at stake? More than just a relationship with Christ. Your relationship with others matters too. That list of contrasts (slave or free, etc) highlights the problem of  division, where people tend to reject others with prejudice. This list covers nationality, religion, education, and social status. This is an issue of pride. I am better than you. Why? I am American…I have more money…I have an education or skill set…I don’t work for other people…I have a good reputation…I understand the finer things in life… (All of these have their opposites, I might add. Look how redneck I am! A country boy can survive!)

We might think, “It’s not a big deal if I sleep around. No one is getting hurt. It’s not a big deal if I am greedy – why shouldn’t I want more? It’s not a big deal if I get angry – it’s justified; they had it coming! Slander? I am just telling people what that jerk is really like!” If you don’t understand how destructive these things are, you will never understand why God is angry. If, however, you see the impact they have on you and on others, you will begin to get a little angry too. Your heart will begin to break for the damage people experience.

 If you or someone you love has been sexually used and discarded, or experienced the damage that rage can bring, or lived with chronic lying and the untrustworthiness that follows, or had their faith rocked by hypocrisy. - if you or someone you love has experienced this, you know why God is angry. They more you begin to understand the heart of God for those whose lives are wrecked by lust, greed, anger, gossip, and lies, the more you will put that away from you.

Priority: Be who you are (13-15)

"Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts be ruled by Christ’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful."

 

Here’s the thing: Your identity is given to you Christ. Your clarity will result from the work of the Holy Spirit in you. Your freedom is a gift from God. But you choose your clothing. And how your dress yourself will have a huge impact in how you experience life in the Kingdom of God.

 I think we have a tendency to be complacent. “God saved me; He wanted me in His family. Awesome. He can do the work.”  So we sit back and wait to stop being angry, or lustful, or jealous, or peaceful.  We just expect to start feeling kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, loving, and thankful. That’s not how it works (according to Paul).

 You have been freed from the power of greed, lust, anger, lies, and pride. But you must make a choice: Will I dress myself in the clothes of my new identity, or will I put on the uniform of all those things I once was? You didn’t have a choice before; now you do. You are free to become who you are.

  • Do you want to be compassionate? Clothe yourself with compassion.
  • Do you want to be kind? Clothe yourself with kindness
  • Do you want to be humble? Clothe yourself with humility.
  • Do you want to be gentle? Clothe yourself with gentleness.
  • Do you want to be patient? Clothe yourself with patience.
  • Do you want to be forgiving? Clothe yourself with forgiveness.
  • Do you want to be loving? Clothe yourself with love.

This is the opposite of the idolatry of self – every action is a sacrifice you make for the sake of Christ and with the help of Christ for others.  It will bring freedom from the control of sin and self-destructiveness in your life, and it will bring peace to your family, church and community. It’s one of the beautiful ironies of life with Christ: it’s when we lose our life that we find it. It’s when we offer ourselves in service that we find freedom and bring peace.

We have to connect to Christ. We have to understand our identity. We have to see ourselves and our lives with clarity. We have to prioritize the life Christ has given us. We have to commit to what we have been given. Then we have to choose to dress like a Child of the King.

 

True Freedom: Secured By Christ (Colossians 2:16-2:23)

Plato told a story in which people are trapped in a cave, watching shadows on a cave wall and thinking it’s reality. Occasionally, some of them recognize the shadows for what they are and leave the cave, entering into the sunlight of truth and experiencing Reality for themselves.

It might surprise you to know that the Apostle Paul tells a very similar story. The Colossian church had a problem with living in the shadows. Paul started out his letter to them by stressing the preeminence of Christ in everything, then noted how glad he was that the Colossians were rooted in and built on Christ, because He was the source of all that mattered. God had brought them to life.

“Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness. Make sure no one deceives you through some misleading philosophy and empty deception based on traditions fabricated by mere mortals. These are sourced in the elementary principles originating in this world and not in Christ. You see, all that is God, all His fullness, resides in His body.” (7-9)

 

 These elementary principles all come back to one thing: I can save myself. I am good enough. Paul goes on to say that God, through Christ has triumphed over every force (spiritual or physical) that would tell you that you can save yourself and publicly displayed their ineffectiveness and Christ’s effectiveness.

“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. He disarmed those who once ruled over us—those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross."

 

But here comes the problem. Some false teachers wanted them to go back to the world’s “elementary principles” that would keep them in a spiritual cave. So Paul tells them what this will look like: 

"Don’t let anyone stand in judgment over you and dictate what you should eat or drink, what festivals and feasts you should celebrate, or how you should observe a new moon or Sabbath days—  all these are only a shadow of what shall come. The reality, the core, the import, is found in Christ.Don’t be cheated out of the prize by others who are peddling the worship of heavenly beings and false humility.People like this run about telling whoever will listen what they claim to have seen; but in reality they testify only to an inflated mind, saturated in conceit—not in the Spirit. They are detached from the very head (Christ) that nourishes and connects the whole body (of Christians) with all of its nerves and ligaments, a body that grows by the kind of growth that can only come from God.Listen, if you have died with Christ to the world’s legalistic ordinances, then why are you submitting yourselves to its rules as if you still belonged to this world? You hear, “Don’t handle this! Don’t taste that! Don’t even touch it!” but everything they are obsessed about will eventually decay with use. These rules are just human commands and teachings. They may seem wise, but they are promoting self-imposed forms of worship, self-humiliation, and bodily abuse. No matter which way they try to tether their bodies, they cannot harness their desires." (Colossians 2:13-23) 

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Let’s put some context to this discussion.

 The Jewish converts had been raised on the book of Leviticus, a book about how sin may be put away. It gives different types of laws to avoid sin (ceremonial, moral, civil, dietary); it provides five offerings to make up for all the times they still sinned anyway. There were feasts and festivals (some associated with the New Moon) and a temple full of symbolic things and activities. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the "types" are but the “shadow of good things to come.”(Hebrews 10:1) – specifically, Christ.*

It pointed toward the real thing. It was meant to give hope. It represented something greater in a way that served as a promise: So it’s  not that shadows are bad – in fact, people need to be faithful to God if they felt that strictly adhering to these customs were important for their spiritual growth and maturity:

There may be a believer who regards one day as more sacred than any other, while another views every day as sacred as the next. In these matters, all must reach their own conclusions and satisfy their own minds. If someone observes a day as holy, he observes it in honor of the Lord. If another eats a particular diet, he eats in honor of the Lord since he begins by giving thanks! If yet another abstains from that same food, he abstains out of respect for the Lord and begins his meal by thanking God too.” Romans 14:5-6

 

So there is a way to honor the Lord with these observances. But a "shadow" is an out-of-proportion, imperfect representation of the thing it reveals. Problems arise when people mistake the shadows for the Real Thing. Paul identifies two ways of “staying in the shadows” that rob us of the ability to be fully united with Christ, and as a result be denied the fullness of the new life and freedom he has given us. These two shadows are moralism and mysticism.

  • Morality is a good thing, but Moralism says, “If I do, I can be good enough.” It detaches us from Christ because we are trying to harness our own desires: that is, to live lives of holiness and purity on own power.  
  • Supernatural experiences are a good thing, but Mysticism says, “If I experience enough, I will be good enough.” Both are shadows that will detach you from Christ.

If you are content with either of these approaches to God, you will either become proud or be driven to despair. With these two categories in mind, let's look at the breakdown of shadowy problems in the CO 

“What you eat and drink”

This refers to Old Testament laws that focused on diet and hygiene. The problem was not in the regulations; it was that this physical “clean” was only a shadow of the genuine spiritual “clean” that Christ gives to us. For us, it’s probably not “Don’t go to Red Lobster or eat bacon.” It’s probably more along the lines of, “I don’t have a TV…I grow kids God’s Way… I only listen to Christian music and read Christian books…I only watch movies rated PG or less…”

 None of those things are bad in themselves. If God convicts you that in your life this is important, honor Him with your obedience. That’s an important part of God’s work in your life. But if they become the standard by which you think you can become clean enough for God, that’s moralism, and you’re in trouble. This is still a version of “Don't Handle, Taste or Touch!” which come from the idea that I can be in control of my holiness and goodness – I can manage my life if I just try hard enough that I can be clean enough for God.

 Eventually, nothing else will matter as much as your self-imposed regulations of what it means to be good enough, and you will constantly be looking for all the ways in which you are currently failing. When you do well, you will become proud and sit in judgment of those who don’t do what you do. When you fail, you will despair because you believe God and everyone else thinks you are a terrible person. 

“Festivals, feasts, moons and days”

In the OT, it clearly mattered to God whether or not his people did this with sincerity. Many times, the prophets warned of God’s anger and frustration at how callous, shallow, hypocritical of forgetful his people had become. There was an understanding that honoring the festivals and feasts pleased God and brought reward, and dishonoring them displeased God and brought punishment (often in the sense of, ”If you don’t honor my presence, I will remove my presence.”) Conclusion? Faithful observance make me a good, holy person. Once again, the problem is not in the holiday or festival; it was that they were just shadow pointing to the reality of Christ, and the people had made them the most important thing.

We aren’t Jewish, so we don’t observe the Feast of Trumpets, for example. What do we do instead?  We have Sundays, Christmas, Easter, the National Day of Prayer, The March for Life, 40 Days of Purpose, Prayer Circles, Blood Moons, and every big push in Christian circles that is promoted as being the crucial thing that will bring God’s blessing if we just observe them properly.

Once again, none of those things are bad. If God convicts you that in your life it is important that you observe any or all these things in a particular way, then by all means do so. That’s an important part of God’s work in your life. But if they become the standard by which you attempt to honor God and therefore earn his blessing, that’s moralism, and you’re in trouble.

When you do well, you will become proud and sit in judgment of those who aren’t as committed to the cause (Are they embarrassed of Christ? Are they Laodiceans?). When you fail, you will despair because you believe you have let God down, and now you are in trouble – so you try even harder the next time to do even more.

“Worship of Heavenly Beings/False Humility”

Some of the Jews thought angels were intermediaries between God and men. Other sects actually tried to be an angelic presence on earth. There was a desire to know more about God, but they got so enamored with the messenger that they forgot the message. They began to believe that Superior knowledge and experiences made them important.  What should have fostered a desire for others to know and experience God instead became a desire to be known and seen for their experience.

 There are still people and groups in Christianity that put a lot of stock in those who convey information about visits with angels, or being caught up into heaven, or having supernatural encounters in which they spend time with really important people and are given crucial insights. If you have a genuine supernatural encounter with God, that’s an important part of God’s work in your life. But if they become the standard by which you gauge if you are doing things right or getting to know God, this is mysticism, and you are worshipping the shadow rather than the One who casts it.

 Here, I think, is a good rule of thumb: When the story deflects glory, drop the story. If people give a message so that others will follow them and not the One who is the point of the message, that is precisely the kind of person you should not follow.

 The pursuit of or fascination with angels and visions will take you captive – nothing else will matter as much as your experiences. If something glorious happens, you will become proud and sit in judgment of those who don’t have the connection with God that you do. When you don’t have them, you will despair because you believe something is terribly wrong with you, and you will become increasingly radical in what you will do to recapture the experience. 

Do you see what is happening here? If we live in such a way that we mistake shadows for the real thing, we are disconnected from Christ and we can’t grow. We will long for the fullness of life with Christ, but we will never find genuine peace, joy, love, hope, contentment. We will never understand genuine grace, or forgiveness, or worth, because we sought them in the shadow of the One who offers them.  So what is Paul’s solution?

“So it comes down to this: since you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand.  Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Your new life is now hidden, enmeshed with Christ, who is in God.”  (Colossians 3:1-3)

 

It's a huge worldview shift.  In the next post in this series, we are going to look more closely at what Paul means by the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

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* Some examples of the types and shadows in the OT that point toward Christ:

Feasts

Unleavened Bread – holiness: "Purge out therefore the 'old leaven' that ye may be a 'new lump,' as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Feast, not with 'old leaven,' neither with the 'leaven of malice and wickedness.' but with the 'unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.'" 1 Cor. 5:7,8.

 Law: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” (Hebrews 10:1)

 Temple: “The priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” (Hebrews 8:5)

 Offerings: In the first covenant, every day every officiating priest stands at his post serving, offering over and over those same sacrifices that can never take away sin. But after He stepped up to offer His single sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down in the position of honor at the right hand of God.”  (Hebrews 10:11-12)

God’s Nature: Revealed in Christ (Colossians 1:15 – 1:23)

I am a big fan of Lebron James. But as I watched the playoffs this this last week, I thought, “Glory is hard taskmaster.” Lebron promised Miami a handful of championships, and now there is tremendous pressure on him to win. He gets high renown and honor if he performs up to expectations, but he can go from hero to zero over the course of just two games. He may look magnificent in the moment, but those moments fade, and then he has to look magnificent again by doing something amazing yet again.

But let’s be honest: We pursue glory (renown, recognition and applause) in our homes, our work place, our church, online, with our friends. We want to be renown for something. We might not say “Look at me!” but we think it and hope it.  And if being noticed become the most important thing – an idol, really - we will need to keep accomplishing things, and we will need to have people around us who notice.

In our homes: we want our spouse or our kids to be impressed by our magnificence. So we do more yard work, or cook more, or take them on a bigger vacation, or buy them stuff, or work harder at our job to make more money…. And it’s not that these things are necessarily bad. They just become bad if they become about us. Soon we realize we are running ourselves into the ground, and the family isn’t noticing. So we have to either remind them about everything we are doing, or point out all their failures so our successes look better.  

With our friends: We want them to be impressed with our magnificence. So we get the beach body abs, or the new car, or the degree, or the new job. And even when they notice, we are never satisfied with the applause, and our friends are growing weary of us, and we just keep pushing ourselves harder and others away. And it’s not that these things are necessarily bad. They just become bad if you make them an idol.

 In church: We are generous with our time and money, we read and study so we know a lot, we have grown kids God’s way and they are just a model of respect and godliness (at least in front of others), we lead, teach, worship or serve in some way that is powerful and moving.  And all of these are good things – unless we have turned them into something that is supposed to get us the glory and honor that is finally due to us. But we keep trying harder, thinking that one day God will reward our hard work and we will be NOTICED!!!  

There are so many good things God has given us or placed around us, and they are meant to be a gift to us and the world.  But if we simply pursue our own glory,  this “I”dolatry will drives us mercilessly. It will always fades always leave us empty, always take a toll on the people around us. This brings us to Paul’s letter to the Colossian church. Right after his opening prayer, he quotes what many believe to be an early hymn of praise:

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 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, the eternal. It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes. He has always been! It is His hand that holds everything together. He is the head of this body, the church.

 He is the beginning, the first of those to be reborn from the dead, so that in every aspect, at every view, in everything—He is first. God was pleased that His full nature should forever dwell in the Son who bled peace into the world by His death on the cross as God’s means of reconciling to Himself the whole creation—all things in heaven and all things on earth." (Colossians 1:15-20)

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Christ is...

  • The eternal God in the flesh
  • Creator and sustainer of everything.
  • The Designer of Purpose
  • The Head of the Church
  • The Resurrector of the Dead
  • The Redeemer and Reconciler of all Creation

 He is preeminent, ultimately outstanding, first in everything, everywhere. Why does this matter? Because that kind of God is the only one who can do this:

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You were once alienated from God, wicked in your ways and evil in your minds; but now He has reconciled you in His flesh through His death so that He can present you to God holy, blameless, and totally free of imperfections as long as you stay planted in the faith. So don’t venture away from what you have heard and taken to heart: the living hope of the good news that has been announced to all creation under heaven and has captured me, Paul, as its servant...

  What I am talking about is nothing less than the mystery of the ages! What was hidden for ages, generations and generations, is now being revealed to His holy ones. He decided to make known to them His blessing to the nations; the glorious riches of this mystery is that Christ lives in you, giving you the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:21-27)

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 “The living hope of the good news” is that we have been reconciled to God through Christ who lives in us, giving us the hope of glory.Commentators note that this phrase probably has a dual meaning. First, “the hope of glory” refers to the promise our next life in heaven. Second, it also refers to the impact of God in this life as well. Dóksa ("glory") corresponds to the OT word, kabo ("to be heavy"). Both terms convey that there is infinite, intrinsic worth of God’s very essence that has a depth, permanence, and beauty beyond what we can imagine.

God alone can bear what C.S. Lewis called “the weight of glory” – and He chooses to pass it on to us. And I don’t mean the glory that we tend to pursue. This is a different kind of glory that is all about Christ. It’s the kind of glory that does not fade, and is not empty. So what are the implications ?

We are free from the burden of generating our own awesomeness. We don't have to worry about the applause of others – with Christ in us, we have the applause of heaven.  We are magnificent because Christ is in us, not because we had the biggest sales month or have kids whose hair is always washed or we look good in a swimsuit or we are a leader.  No one needs to notice. We no longer say “Look at me!”  We say, “Look past me!”

 We don’t need others to fail so we look better. We don’t need to impress anyone, and we don’t need to hold them hostage to our need for affirmation.  They can flourish and we will rejoice. “You have the spotlight! Well done.”

 Let’s just say, theoretically, that we were awesome for a day. And let’s just say that no one noticed. That’s okay. They weren’t supposed to look at us anyway. They were supposed to see Christ, and if I remember correctly, He is supposed to increase while we decrease. It’s when people look past us that they Christ in us, the source of our only true glory and our only true hope. 

God's Will: Fulfilled in Christ (Colossians 1:3-1:14)

  “Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed serving at God’s pleasure, along with our brother Timothy  to you, dear holy and faithful brothers and sisters in the family of the Anointed who live in Colossae. May grace and peace from God our Father [and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One envelop you.  As always, we’ve been praying for you, thanking God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed,  ever since we heard of your faith in Jesus the Anointed and your love for His holy ones—  a faith and love that emerge from the hope you have heard about in the word of truth—the gospel—the very hope that awaits you in heaven. 

  The same gospel that was brought to you is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has been growing among you since the day you heard and took in the truth of God’s grace from our beloved fellow servant Epaphras. (He is a faithful minister of the Anointed on our behalf.)  He was the one who told us how you demonstrate your love by the power of the Spirit. Since the day we got this good news about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We ask:

‘Father, may they clearly know Your will and achieve the height and depth of spiritual wisdom and understanding.  May their lives be a credit to You, Lord; and what’s more, may they continue to delight You by doing every good work and growing in the true knowledge that comes from being close to You.

  Strengthen them with Your infinite power, according to Your glorious might, so that they will attain every single thing they need to hold on and endure hardship patiently and joyfully.  Thank You, Father, as You have made us eligible to receive our portion of the inheritance given to all those set apart by the Light.  You have rescued us from Dark and brought us safely into the kingdom of Your Son, whom You love 14 and in whom we are redeemed and forgiven of our sins [through His blood].’” (v.1-13)

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Paul prayed that they would find God's perfect will. What does that look like? What is God’s will for us? For you? For some, the lack of clarity almost freezes them. What if they choose the wrong career? What if they marry the wrong person? On the other hand, some just don’t care. They grow skeptical about “hearing from God” (whatever that means) and just do what the feel like doing.  So is there a way to know what God’s will is for your life? Yes, in fact, there is. It’s right here in Paul’s greeting.

“Do every good work” (v.10).  

“May their lives be a credit to You, Lord; and what’s more, may they continue to delight You by doing every good work…”.

 You can gave tremendous confidence that you are living in God’s will if you delight him by living well. It’s what the Bible often calls “bearing fruit.”  Notice, however, that this is not the fruit of legalistic good works. This is the fruit that God brings through His Spirit and through Christ hen we commit our lives to him: 

  • “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,..” (Galatians 5:22)
  • “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation--the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ--for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” (Philippians 1:11)
  • “For the fruit of the Spirit produces all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” (Ephesians 5:9)

 We delight God in doing good because the Holy Spirit has brought about in us a genuine desire for surrender and service to Christ and others.  These passages do not suggest we always want to do so in the sense that we are emotionally happy; it may be that we want to do good deeds because doing so delights God and benefits others. We may want to do good deeds so that we live as a particular kind of person. We can give a genuine act of loving service to Christ even as we genuinely battle our selfish nature within.

 I’ve heard people say, “If I act good when I don’t want to act good I am being a hypocrite.” I don’t think that’s true. If I stay calm talking to my kids when I want to yell, does that make me a hypocrite? If I act loving when I don’t feel loving, does that make me a hypocrite?”

Maybe it just means I am committed to living a particular way even when I don’t want to.  I want to act a particular way because I want to honor God.  In my soul, I want to honor a commitment that’s bigger than what I want in the moment. So this is the first part of God’s will: Give Christ your life; God will give you His Spirit, and you will begin to produce goodness, righteousness , truth and character that brings glory to God and life to those around us.  

“Do every good work and grow in true knowledge.” 

“May their lives be a credit to You, Lord; and what’s more, may they continue to delight You by doing every good work and growing in the true knowledge that comes from being close to You.”

 Commentators note that this phrase seems to be a parallel statement to “doing every good work,” as if the action of doing good works is in some fashion the same as growing in true knowledge of God.

We become what we repeatedly do. I like what Jim Rohn said: “First we form habits, then they form us.”  We see this in sports, music, farming, dancing, martial arts, construction work, marriage… we can’t just study it if we want to understand it. We have to do it.  It’s no different in our walk with Christ. Learning and living are inseparable.  

So God’s will: Give him your life; He will give you His Spirit, and you will begin to produce goodness, righteousness , truth and character that brings glory to God and life to those around us. And as we engage in life with Christ – his actions, his priorities, his speech, his sacrificial life –that we begin to really know Christ.

 “Do every good work and grow in true knowledge by the power of God. 

“Strengthen them with Your infinite power, according to Your glorious might, so that they will attain every single thing they need to hold on and endure hardship patiently and joyfully.”

 We are strengthened with dynamis, “power through God’s ability.” It’s a word that is used in the Bible to refer abilities, miracles, and even money. There’s all kinds of power, but it’s all from God.

 It’s not that we do every good work and gain true knowledge because we have awesome will power or ability. Whatever we have is a gift. If someone says to us, “You are such model of the Christian life,’ our response should be, “It’s a gift.” If someone says, “Wow. You really know God,” our response should be, “It’s a gift.”

Why does God give us this power?

 So we can “attain every single thing we need to endure hardship patiently and joyfully.”  The Greek means literally getting every single part of us that makes up the whole of who we are. God isn’t planning to just generally empower you. He plans to empower every single part of you – because life is going to be hard.

When we talk about God’s will for our life, we are very good at claiming promises anywhere in Scripture that involves God’s will intersecting with our lives in such a way that it’s always Christmas but never Winter. But Winter is Coming. It’s inevitable. God’s will is to prep you so that you can endure it patiently and joyfully with His help.

God's will is that we give him our lives; He will give us His Spirit and His power, and we will begin to live a life that brings glory to God and blessing to those around us.  As we do this, we begin to really know Christ and be able to face the challenges of life.

Do every good work and grow in true knowledge by the power of God, in the Kingdom of God.”

“Thank You, Father, as You have made us eligible to receive our portion of the inheritance given to all those set apart by the Light. You have rescued us from Dark and brought us safely into the kingdom of Your Son, whom You love…”

There are some really inspired chalk artists who have created some phenomenal images on sidewalks and streets. As you approach their painting, it seems so incredibly real. It’s not, of  course. It’s a very clever fake. If you approach it from the other side, it just looks silly. As your perspective changes, you see the drawing for what it really is.

We were pulled from the kingdom of darkness, sin and death and into the Light. As the Holy Spirit works in us to increasing our fruit and knowledge, and as god empowers us, we see with more clarity what we have been pulled from and what we have been drawn to because of Christ. Jesus has brought us into His Kingdom of redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 An old hymn begins, “I was in sin’s prison, oh so dark and cold.” One sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in us is that we begin to see the Kingdom of Darkness for what it is. The Holy Spirit works in us a change of perspective.  We used to approach sin the same way we approach the front of the chalk drawing. It looks really compelling. Now, we see it from the other side.

We see greed, and pride, and lust, and anger, and gossip, and selfishness as they really are. They are tricks, facades, things that promise excitement and life but leave us empty and a little more cynical and jaded every time.

God's will is that we give him our life; He will pull us from the Kingdom of darkness, give us His Spirit and His power, and empower us to live a life that brings glory to God and blessing to those around us.  As we do this, we begin to really know Christ and be able to face the challenges of life.

Do every good work and grow in true knowledge by the power of God, in the Kingdom of God, through the work of Christ."

“..in whom we are redeemed and forgiven of our sins [through His blood].’”

It’s all about Christ. In the end, all of this rests on the person and work of Christ.

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So what is God’s will for your life? 

If you mean where you should work or go to school, or who you should marry, or what you should do with that extra money, or how you should spend you summer, or what kind of career you should pursue… I don’t know. Pray for wisdom to see where your passion, skills, and opportunity intersect, and ask some friends for advice. Make the best decision you can and go do something. God gave us common sense and good friends for a reason.

On the other hand, no matter what you do, I know God has this in mind for you: Do every good work and grow in true knowledge by the power of God, in the Kingdom of God, through the work of Christ, in whom we are redeemed and forgiven of our sins.”