Colossians 3:1-17 "A Fresh Wardrobe"
I have just bought and started to read a book on Holiness. In the introduction the author writes : " I have had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and entire self-consecration to God are not sufficiently attended to my modern Christians. Politics, or controversy, or party spirit or worldliness have eaten the heart of lively piety in too many of us. The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background. "
These words were written over one hundred years ago by Bishop J. C. Ryle.
In todays Epistle Paul encourages us to live for Jesus, and reject the ways of the world.
The passage is divided into three parts : the foundation of holiness, verse 1-4; putting off the old life, verses 5-11; putting on the new life, verses 12-17.
The foundation of holiness, verses 1-4.
Verse 12 tells us that we are God's chosen people. We are saved by our faith which is an undeserved gift to us from God. He has chosen us. Not because we are any better than anyone else, but because God is merciful and compassionate.
We are united with Christ by this faith. Christ is in heaven, so if we are united with him where are we now ? In heaven. Verses one and three tell us this. Heaven is not a place, it is a state of being. Being with God for ever. So we are already in heaven in one sense.
Coming to faith in Jesus involves us dying to our old way of life. Putting God first in our lives instead of ourselves. Rather than pursuing temporary, self-centred things we pursue eternal God-centred things. So we are to have a new aim in life. Of following Jesus. That is why Paul writes in verse 2 - READ.
I mentioned that we enjoy heaven in one sense, but verse 4 looks to the day when we and all believers can enjoy heaven fully. READ.
So the foundation of our holiness is our faith, which is of itself an undeserved gift of God. This faith should lead to a holy life. Holy means set apart for God. Although faith is free it does not mean that our complete holiness will be achieved this side of Jesus return. And it does not mean that we do not have to try hard to be holy. Otherwise Paul wouldn't have needed to tell the Colossians what not to do, and what to do.
The doctrine, of being raised with Christ is heaven leads to practice, of living a holy life. That is why Paul links verse 5 with the preceding verses with the word 'therefore'. Which leads us to our second section :
Putting off the old life, verses 5-11.
Imagine you have been out working in the garden one afternoon with your old filthy clothes on. You are going out that evening for a meal in a very posh restaurant. So when you get in you take off your old filthy clothes, probably have a bash or shower, and then change into your new smart clothes.
Paul is using the picture of someone changing their clothes to illustrate the Christian experience. Of putting off the evil old worldly way of life, and putting on a new holy way of living.
Paul says "Put to death therefore whatever belongs to the earthly nature." verse 5. He then lists a number of sexual sins. Sins motivated by a goal of pleasure. A recent 'Everyman' programme featured a discussion on the age when people could have sexual intercourse. One of the speakers, Melanie Philips from the Observer said that some of the discussion treated sex as nothing more than recreation. The world says that life is about having pleasure. Being happy. Sex brings pleasure and makes us happy, so life is all about sex. Sex is pursued and worshipped by some people today.
All of the things that Paul lists refer to sexual immorality. The word translated greed is talking about coveting. Given the context of this it is almost certainly talking about coveting, or lusting for someone elses spouse.
The issue of freedom to do what we like as Christians is relevant today. The Church is currently under pressure to bow to political correctness and pressure from a vociferous minority. These people want the church to ordain those who are practising homosexuals. They reject God's word as a basis for Christian understanding and look to the ways of the world. But where and when do we draw the line ? Logically if we accept practising homosexuals we should also accept adulterers, polygamists, paedophile and so on.
Sex has been divorced from its God given context. Which is within a loving marriage relationship. Anything else is unacceptable to God, and, therefore, for a Christian.
The Church of England is facing up to this by gradually shifting its position as it did with the ordination of women to the priesthood. If we are not careful we could soon find that ordaining practising homosexuals is allowed, and that those who hold a Biblical, orthodox view will be marginalised and excluded from the church.
We saw this last Wednesday at Deanery Synod. The standing committee , chaired by Keith Garner, withdrew an offer to the Bishop of Wolverhampton to speak because he had publicly supported the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement on this issue. Someone brought a vote of no-confidence in the standing committee. This motion was rejected as inappropriate but in view of what had happened and was said Keith resigned as Lay Chairman of the Deanery Synod.
When we stand up for what is right it will sometimes be costly and painful.
Read verse 6. We have a God who is not just a spectator, although he does see everything. We have a God who is a judge. He is judging those who are immoral. He will judge them when Jesus returns. This is the other side to Christ's return mentioned in verse 4. Christians will be with Jesus in glory. But everyone else will be cast out of God's presence.
In verse 7 Paul reminds the Colossians that they used to live this type of life. He then moves from sexual sins to spoken sins, and says that they must rid themselves of these.
Anger, and rage : the inference is that this is selfish anger, rather than the Godly anger shown by Jesus when he cleared the Temple of money changers and traders.
Malice and slander : speaking about people in a way that is untrue and intended to expose the person to ridicule and disgrace.
Filthy language, a term that includes blaspheming.
Lying. Not just wilfully telling something that is untrue, but also telling someone only part of the truth so they will get the wrong impression. Or exaggerating things and distorting the truth.
I know that this type of gossip goes on in our local community. And I know that there are people who call themselves Christians who get involved with this. I have had it said to me that we cannot expect Christians to behave in a holy way because of human nature. Paul is saying this is wrong. We have died to that old way of life.
A man who is dead may have an attractive young woman stripping off in front of him but he will not do anything because he is dead.
A woman who is dead will not be able to engage in gossip because she is dead.
If we are a Christian we ought to behave like a Christian, since, verse 9, you have taken off your old self with its practices.
Verse 10 says we are to continue being renewed in knowledge in the image of Jesus.
Holiness, becoming more like Jesus, is a continuing process. It requires patience and perseverance. It involves a continuing rejection of all that is not from God, and turning to what is from God. It is hard work, but God will supply us with the strength and the motivation if we let him. And some cannot be bothered because they do not see it as important enough.
Some Christians think that because they have received God's forgiveness then they don't have to try to be holy, but this is a misunderstanding of the Bible. God has saved us so that we are free to serve him and do good works. The good works are evidence that our faith is real. Faith without works is dead, writes James.
We also ought to beware of a legalism. Having a set of rules which can lead to justifying oneself and condemn others. That is why the N.I.V. heading 'Rules for Holy Living' is not ideal.
Paul says that those who have died to their old way of life and risen to new life will be united. Not divided by their religious, racial, social, or economic backgrounds. Verse11.
This leads us to our final section :
Putting on the new life, verses 12-17.
In the first half of verse 12 Paul reminds them of the root of their salvation. They are chosen by God, holy or set apart for him, and dearly loved by God. This root should enable them to grow into being more like Jesus. As we read this list of virtues we can relate them to Jesus. We are to be clothed with these virtues. To put them on to replace the way we used to behave.
We have just bought Joshua a new coat. he is nearly six, but the sizing of coats go from 5-6, then 7-8. The coat we bought is a size 7-8. And it is quite a bit bigger than he is with the sleeves turned up and it coming to his knees ! But he will grow into it.
It is like this with the clothes we are to wear. It may take some time before we fit them well !
Read verse 12.
We are to put other people before ourselves. That is the motivation behind the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And it isn't easy. I find it difficult to be patient, sometimes when I am driving. Yet this is very selfish. It is saying that our concerns have to come first.
So when we and other people fail how should we react. Read verse 13.
The motivation behind our forgiving is that we have been forgiven so much by God. The type of forgiving should be like God's. Undeserved and unconditional.
Our forgiveness of others shows that we have understood the true nature of our own forgiveness by God. That is what the Lord's prayer is referring to in the line "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us". It is not that we earn God's forgiveness by being forgiving. That would be salvation by works. It is that our forgiving shows that we have been forgiven and responded accordingly.
We have been thinking about putting on Christian virtues. Like different items of clothing. Paul now gets to the final item. Read verse 14. It is as if love is like a large, full length overcoat. Holding in place and joining together all the clothing underneath.
We have been considering what we should do, or put on. Paul now outlines how we can do these things.
1) Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.
With the list of spoken sins that the Colossians are to put off maybe there were divisions in the church. Christ has made peace with God for each one of us through his body on the cross. When this happens we join his body on earth the church and so are united with one another. I cannot imagine a body attacking itself without bringing harm and ridicule on itself. So we should concentrate on what unites us, rather than what divides us. Something that we declared with our Methodist and Baptists brothers and sisters four weeks ago.
But we shouldn't be smug about this because I know that there are divisions and tensions between people in out fellowship here and that this is one of the things that is stopping us from growing. So if anyone here has a problem with a Christian brother or sister we are to forgive them and perhaps go to them and be reconciled with them.
We have peace with God through Christ. We should have peace with one another in Christ.
2) We are to be thankful to God for what he has done for us, verse 15b.
Praise and thanksgiving puts things in a right perspective. It can free us from the earthly ties that can entangle us. It enables us to set our minds on things above, as mentioned in verse 2.
This is linked to the singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God, verse 16b. A good way to start off our quiet time can be to sing a hymn or song of praise to God. The context here though is primarily a congregational one. It is encouraging to come together regularly to worship God. It is also important to come together and
3) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, verse 16.
The word of Christ is his teaching found in the Bible. This should be used to teach and admonish. So the teaching should be applied to correct us in how we should live.
John Mottram was showing me a book of pithy sayings based upon Bible verses. I read this one which fitted in with this verse : "In order to receive the direction of God, you must be able to receive the correction of God."
We do this so we can live lives that are more holy, and this will bring glory to God.
4) Read verse 17.
Our words and deeds should be 'in the name of Jesus'. This is not a magic formulae to add to things like abracadabra. It refers to us living and acting as those who bear the name of Christ. Acting for him. Relying upon him. Like an ambassador representing his King. Relying upon his King for orders on how he should conduct himself.
Therefore our foundation of holiness should be our relationship with Christ. We should be putting off the old life with its sinful actions and desires. And putting on the new life that makes us more like Jesus. This should be inspired by the worship of God, and his word, taught and applied to our lives.
Henry Drummond a preacher and author started an address at a club in London this way. 'Ladies and gentlemen, the entrance fee into heaven is nothing: the annual subscription is everything."