Colossians3v1to11: THE CHANGED LIFE
This is an easier passage to expound than some of those that precede it. This is because Paul itemises in detail features of the old life that the Christian should be rid of. This makes a welcome change to the oblique references to Gnosticism - a mindset we are largely, although not completely, unfamiliar with.
(1) Christians are raised to new life.
Just as Jesus was raised to new life so a Christian is raised to new life, through faith in the power of God.
(2) Some characteristics of the Christian's new life.
(a) A Christian's heart should be set on pleasing Jesus. Who do we set our hearts on pleasing? It maybe someone we love very much like our wife, our husband, our father, our mother, our child or ourselves. It maybe someone with the power to influence our well being: our employer, an important customer, a sponsor, our superior.
Christians should be motivated by love for Jesus. He has done so much for us. I revel in the words of the hymn:
No one has more power or influence than Jesus. He sits at God's right hand interceding on behalf of his own. Surely we need no greater motivation to please Jesus than the knowledge of his interest in us and intercession for us.
There is a name I love to hear,
I love to speak its worth,
It sounds like music in my ear,
The sweetest name on earth.
O how I love the Saviour's name,
O how I love the Saviour's name,
O how I love the Saviour's name,
The sweetest name on earth.
(b) A Christian's mind should be set on things above and not earthly matters. We should have an heavenly agenda - not a worldly one.
So, instead of getting, we prioritise giving. Jesus advises us: "Do not store up treasures on earth ...but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.... . For where your treasure is there your heart will be also." Mt6v19to21.
So, instead of acquiring status, we concentrate on serving others. Jesus washed his disciples feet as an example to all who follow him. He said: "Now that I your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." Jn13v12to17.
So, instead of treating people as they deserve, we should show grace. This is the message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The wayward son received a right royal welcome home - which was certainly more than he deserved. Every Christian depends on God's grace for salvation. Yet, despite this, we are more likely to treat someone as they deserve rather than with grace. See my account of a, 'Nearly perfect day'.
(c) A Christian looks forward to sharing the life of Christ. The believer's future is wrapped up in Christ's. When he returns to earth in glory all who believe in him will be resurrected to return with him. We have this wonderful event to look forward to. It should cheer our hearts. Christians should be a hopeful, expectant and happy people.
(3) What the Christian should dispense with at once.
A freshly qualified and newly appointed teacher might be warned that certain behaviour is unacceptable. He or she must henceforth eschew:
- Chewing gum.
- Wearing shorts, hot pants, sandals and facial studs.
- Arriving late for lessons.
- Leaving early from lessons.
- Teaching off the cuff.
A change in behaviour does not occur automatically in a newly qualified teacher. A determined effort will be needed to abandon unprofessional behaviour.
The new Christian must resolve to abandon promptly certain characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle. It is wrong to suppose that this will be achieved easily. It is folly to suppose that the indwelling Spirit makes the transition from a child of evil to a child of God effortless. The behaviour to avoid includes:
- Sexual immorality. Sexual intercourse before and outside marriage was common place in the ancient world.
- Impurity. Dirty minded people delight in filthy talk, filthy jokes and filthy books.
- Lust and evil desire. Many of the ungodly find themselves driven by a passionate, uncontrolled desire for the wrong things; things like fame, popularity, drugs and drink, sex outside marriage.
- Greed which is idolatry. We need to think in terms of what men and women would sin in order to possess. They may covet:
Money - like Judas.
Power - like the Chief Priests in the time of Jesus.
Victory in sport or war - like King Saul.
Another person - like Bathsheba doubtless wanted King David.
Adulation - something Miriam and Aaron longed for. Why should Moses get all the glory!
The things the unbeliever covets are as nothing compared with God's goodwill. Lose that and we really are in trouble. We need to remember the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. v6.
(4) Behaviour to eliminate.
Paul gives the Christians at Colosse a second list of failings to overcome. Unlike the first list these may take time and maturity to get the better of. The failings are:
- Anger. This is the anger that is long lasting, slow burning and carefully nourished to remain strong and active. It is like a wild beast, caged but untamed - just waiting the opportunity to lash out.
- Rage or hot temper. This is a second kind of anger: short-lived but intense and disproportionate to the offence that triggered it.
It took me years to overcome this weakness. Rage spoiled my career as a teacher - let alone my witness as a Christian.
- Malice. This involves bearing ill will toward another. The scribes, Pharisees and Chief Priests all bore ill will toward Jesus - an ill will that engineered his death.
Sadly there is a lot of ill will in churches. It might be ill will toward those with whom we differ over doctrine. The supporters of the great 18th century evangelist, George Whitefield, harboured some enmity toward John Wesley because of the latter's views on predestination and sinless perfection.
Some have ill will towards those who are more talented or, as is often the case, less talented but more popular!
- Slander. We slander a person when we misrepresent them. I have used this illustration a few times in my expositions. As our last pastor neared the end of his time with us he said to me, "Well John, we have got on surprisingly well. I can remember someone saying to me before I began as pastor, 'Simon, you will have no trouble from the people at Brockley. The only one to watch out for is that John Reed.'" I would NEVER cause a pastor grief for the sake of my grandfather, my father and my brother - all of whom were Grace Baptist pastors.
- Filthy or obscene language. Years ago I was asked to give a tribute to a pupil who died of cancer at the school in which I taught. This was not easy for me - but God helped me. My contribution to the pupil's memorial service met with a lot of approval. Later in the day I was sitting in the staff room with a group of my cronies talking among other things about a girl who flaunted her cleavage. I shall always remember the look the deputy head gave me as he caught the tail end of my coarse remarks. It was one of wonder and acute disappointment
- Lying to one another. Christians should not spread untruths about others. We should avoid like the plague that horrible expression: There is no smoke without fire.
In my last school I taught three boys from the same family. When the youngest of the brothers arrived in my Geography class he had heard so many embroidered stories about Mr Reed that he didn't open his mouth for a whole term. He sat frozen in fear at his desk until it finally dawned on him that I wasn't as bad as his brothers had painted me.
One of the ways Christians lie is to pretend they are better than they are. The reason John Wesley's promotion of the sinless perfection of Christians is so pernicious is because it is untrue. Any Christian who claims to be without sin is lying. Any minister who teaches the possibility of living the perfect life also lies. It is a totally unrealistic doctrine and causes much distress to genuine believers who doubt their status as children of God because they know that they are by no means perfect.
(5) Differences that don't matter.
Paul summarises what he has been arguing for:
The convert to Christianity must put off the old godless self with its distinctive practices - practices he delineates.
The Christian must aim to put on the new self. This may be a more gradual process. Progress is made as the believer matures and grows in knowledge and grace becoming more and more like the Master.
Paul adds a further truth at this juncture. There may be important differences between the old and new self but there are some differences that do NOT matter. The apostle wrote: There is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. v11.
Christianity does break down barriers. Paul lists some barriers Christianity destroys - or should destroy. These are:
(a) Race. God taught Peter that he was as concerned for the salvation of the Gentile, Cornelius and his family and friends, as he was the Jews. When Peter told the church at Jerusalem how the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his guests the members, praised God, saying, "So God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." Acts11v18.
In Malaysia there are Malay Christian churches and Chinese Christian churches. This is not really how it should be. There should just be Christian churches that all races attend.
(b) Religious life and practice. Yes, this can be a barrier! In the early church there were Christian Jews and probably some Christian Gentiles who were former proselyts to Judaism who believed circumcision was necessary for salvation. This led to a division in the church at Antioch. Even Peter and Barnabas refused to eat and drink with uncircumcised Gentile Christians. It must have resulted in two Communions. How terrible! Paul thought it was terrible and addressed the schism in no uncertain tones. He said: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ." Gal3v26.
For almost the whole of its existence my small church only invited believers baptised by immersion to stop to Communion. This policy divided us. When we changed and invited all who loved the Lord to stay, almost everyone stayed. It removed a barrier and resulted in much happiness.
(c)Education and learning. The well educated Greeks looked down on the uneducated barbarian. The Scythian was the most barbarian of the barbarians - little more than a wild beast.
In a hospital there is a clear hierarchy based on knowledge and skill: Consultants, junior doctors, technicians, nurses and orderlies. Such divisions should not exist in the church. As William Barclay observed: The greatest scholar in the world and the simplest son of toil can sit in perfect fellowship in the Church of Christ.
(d)Social standing. A slave had no social standing. They were not even recognised in ancient law as a human being. Slaves were just living tools.
The message of the gospel is clear: Yet to all who received him (Christ), to all who believe in his name, he gave the right to become Children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. Jn1v13.
Many, many slaves existed in the early church. Some were church leaders and had owners in their congregation.
I like this anecdote about George Whitefield:
The great 18th century evangelist did not oppose the practice of slavery in America but he was the first well-known religious leader in the modern era to address their spiritual needs in a serious and consistent way. He made every effort to ensure that slaves were exposed to the gospel message. Whitefield's insistence that Jesus came to redeem blacks as well as whites contributed to the growth of the anti-slavery movement. Eventually they received justice. Now black and white worship God together.
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