15 April 2012
We’ve been winding our way through the New Testament letter to the Colossians for a few weeks. Who can tell us something they remember about the letter or the situation at Colassae?
(Read Colossians 3:12-25)
Remember that Paul is responding to some wacko right wing teachers who were trying to take over the church in Colossae by introducing some restrictions and add-ons.
He was thwarting a spiritual coup d'etat.
In vs 11 he had just defused an attempt to create a caste system in the church --
“In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”Christ is the bottom line -- and he lives in all of us -- not just some elite special opps Christians -- all of us.
And in light of the resurrected Christ living out his new life in all of us -- we all need to put on the uniform -- dress the part. Following Christ isn’t a matter of following a rule book -- but you do want to dress for success -- so that you can become who you are.
There is an axiom in business: “Never dress for the job you have but the job you want to have.”
That’s the whole idea behind the dress for success movement -- in which I’m obviously heavily invested.
If you’re in high school or college and you get a job interview with Target show up to the interview in khaki pants and a nice solid red shirt -- and you’ll probably get the job on that qualification alone. You understand the corporate culture and expectations. And you look ready to work! Dress for success. There is a certain amount of truth there -- and there is a lot of truth in it when it comes to the point that Paul is making here in chapter 3. And I think that vs. 17 is key in that regard: “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus...”
If we’re serious about representing Christ and his new life then we’ll dress the part. (Key Point)
And lest you jump to the conclusion that it involves a white shirt, tie, and dark pants -- Paul says - - no, no, no -- It’s a lot more basic than that.
Here is what the OFFICIAL new life in Christ uniform looks like:
You get A MERCY AND KINDNESS SHIRT (#1)
No, we’re not talking about a shirt that literally says “Mercy and kindness” -- You know, been there, done that, got the commemorative t-shirt. But we’re talking about actually covering yourself with mercy and kindness -- the kind that emanates from God himself -- the kind that reflects the life of Christ.
vs. 12 -- “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy and kindness...”Kindness seems to have to do with maintaining a sweet disposition -- not necessarily syrupy sweet -- but it’s thoughtfulness -- thinking of others first.
A kind person whenever possible sets aside his or her personal agenda in order to act or speak on behalf of others.
Mercy (or sometimes translated as "compassion") is a matter of showing sensitivity to people who are in need.
And this is a challenge in our culture. Our default is to be very compassionate toward those who are in need AND who are worthy.
If someone’s house burns down -- we’re right there to help -- unless we believe that they were negligent in not keeping up their renter’s insurance -- or if we suspect that they might have been cooking meth in the kitchen.
We feel for the guy living on the street because he was laid off from his job in the mailroom when the company went under. But we’re not so sympathetic toward the CEO who lost everything -- including his house -- when the economy tanked. He should have known better and made better back-up plans.
We are compassionate toward the Haitians after the earthquake leveled everything. But after two years -- if they haven’t been able to fix it all - and if we hear a few stories of corruption and ineptness we begin to shift them out of the worthy column.
And then there is the whole compassion fatigue thing. “I don’t know about you -- but I get tired of hearing about this war and that war -- earthquakes and tsunamis -- refugees -- family crises. You don’t expect that I can continue to care about all of this indefinitely -- do you? I got to have a life, too. What’s a person to do? Sometime I just have to tune it all out and focus on me”
Have you heard that before? Or maybe that’s you talking.
We’re willing to wear the Compassion and Kindness t-shirt when we’re working on a special project -- but "sometimes you just gotta’ change into something more comfortable." Or so we figure.
How to we keep from burning out on the compassion and kindness expectations?
And that is the issue -- especially when we consider that the kind of compassion and kindness that Paul is talking about doesn’t have an expiration date and there is no cancellation clause just because we’re dealing with stupid or even evil people. As a matter of fact even in the Old Testament there is a strong emphasis on having compassion toward your enemies.
Proverbs 24:17 came to mind when everyone was all partying after the death of Osama Bin Laden.
“Don't laugh when your enemy falls; don't crow over his collapse.” ~ (MSG)Yeah, you might feel a little bit of delight in his death -- that’s natural. But don’t run with that feeling. It will ultimately dull your compassionate heart and suck the kind disposition from your mind. You’ll lose your edge as an agent of Christ’s peace.
The second part of the uniform includes the TROUSERS OF HUMILITY AND GENTLENESS.
Humility or humbleness involves thinking more highly of others than yourself -- not because you know that humble people accomplish more of significance but because you really do think of others as more important than yourself. This is not the same as being a push over but it is an outlook.
I know some very humble people. But the thing is -- none of them think of themselves as humble. (And I know a few people who drop hints here and there that suggest that they think of themselves as humble. They’re not.)
Truly humble people are always striving for more humility but tend to get frustrated by their self-apparent lack of progress.
Gentleness, the other leg of the trousers, has to do with quiet strength. In our culture we tend to look toward the demanding go-getters -- people who loudly proclaim their version of the truth -- and demand that other people pay attention to them. This is an election year and there is a lot of this going around. They get things done by making a scene.
In contrast, the gentle get things done through the strength of their character and the loyalty that it attracts -- often quietly and in the background to the blowhards.
Now, don’t confuse gentle with meek or timid. Gentle people know where they’re going and what needs to happen. But they’re not in your face to make it happen.
Jesus, of course, was a gentle leader. He didn’t raise up an army to challenge the status quo but through his teaching he planted viruses that would eventually suck the world into his transforming sacrifice.
“Well, wait a minute,” you say. “Didn’t Jesus storm into the temple and over-turn the tables of the money changers? That doesn’t sound very gentle.”
Well, yes he did. We read about that in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19 and 20, and John 2. And the reason why that hardly-gentle event has such an impact is that it is extraordinary for Jesus. He is normally firm but gentle in his approach.
So, there are times when gentle people can engage in the dramatic. But if everything is high drama, the chances are high that you’re using the drama to feed your own ego -- that you are making it all about you -- less about serving as a representative of Christ. For when we represent Christ we do so in a way that reflects who Christ is and how he operates. When we’re wearing a Jesus uniform we look a lot like a Jesus.
The third piece in this Jesus uniform ensemble is a pair of PATIENCE SHOES.
“You must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience...”I choose to think of patience in terms of shoes because I get tired of standing in line and lose my patience most when I’m on my feet.
I know that in the past I’ve shared quotes from John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted. John is both a private practice clinical psychologist and the pastor of Meno Park Presbyterian Church in California.
He’s a good guy -- very solid -- and I use this book in my spiritual formation classes.
He has a great chapter on learning patience. And in essence he says that you can’t really become a patient person just by dealing with trying situations.
When things are tough people tell me -- "Well, I guess God is teaching me patience."
Maybe, but if we really want to grow in patience we need to develop some intentional habits to ruthlessly eliminate all hurry from our lives. That is, we’ve got to train for patience. And we can do that through intentionality. If we don’t intentionally train for patience then the trying situations that come our way merely feed the impatience and we get frustrated.
So we need to train for patience. For example, here are some small things you can do -- and this is my list --
- Intentionally choose the farthest open parking space at the mall -- and walk slowly to the door. Yes, you’ll have to walk further to get in and out but you won’t be in as much of a hurry and if you’re not in a hurry you won’t lose patience as easily.
- When you are about to enter the check-out line at Costco -- instead of looking for the shortest line -- look for the longest line -- and get in that line. Remember while you’re standing there that you’re not in a hurry anyway.
- If the check-out clerk apologizes because it took so long -- smile and tell him that it’s okay you’re trying to live an unhurried life anyway.
- Turn off all radio stations where they have fast talking announcers and commercials.
- Move to the Pacific islands for awhile. They major in unhurried living.
- Befriend someone who speaks English as a second language. That will force you to talk slower and listen more.
- Driving tends to feed impatience so set aside a day or two each week where you don’t drive -- where you walk or ride your bike everywhere that you have to go. (There are other benefits to that as well.)
- Go to the library and spend a few hours reading the story of the tortoise and the hare.
“We must find ways to deliberately choose waiting, ways that make hurry impossible. As we practice them, we should tell God that we are trusting him to enable us to accomplish all we need to get done. “Often people worry that if they don’t rush, they will accomplish less. In fact, researchers have found that there is simply no correlation between hurry or Type-A behavior and productivity.”The fourth piece in the Jesus uniform is/are the FORGIVENESS GLASSES.
That is how we look at others. We can choose to embrace a judgmental perspective or we can choose to look at each other in a forgiving and understanding way. I’m not going to say more about this at this point, other than to read vs. 13 --
"Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others."Then fifth, there is the BELT OF LOVE, PEACE, AND HARMONY which holds everything else together.
Vs. 14 --
"Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace."Kind of sounds hippyish doesn’t it. But it’s the apostle Paul.
Are you stirring up love and harmony? Or are you, through your actions -- or demands -- or passive aggressive behaviors -- stirring up trouble for others? Your spouse? your children? Your co-workers?
I love the Message translation here:
“And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
“Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.”Be thankful for what you have and get past the victory at any cost mindset. It’s not a competition. We’re not out for blood -- but out for love, peace, and harmony.
Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that anything goes -- as long of you play nicely. Paul isn’t ready to tolerate sloppy thinking or teaching about Christ -- and his resurrection -- anything that might undercut the gospel. He’ll go after it.
But he is advocating for a radical peace -- the kind which transcends mere differences of opinion -- preferential differences -- and which allows for adiaphora. (Who is willing to define that vocabulary word from a couple of weeks ago?)
Wow, that’s amazing. What Paul says here in chapter 3 is tied into what he was saying in chapters 1 and 2.
Then sixth, there is in this uniform the CAP OF RESPECT.
Colossians 3:18-25 is one of those loaded sections which can and has at times been easily be twisted to mean all kinds of crazy things that were not at all in the writer’s mind -- things which were actually quite the opposite.
- Some have tried to use it to justify the institution of slavery.
- Some have tried to turn the “wives should submit to their husbands” in vs. 18 into the backbone of a theology of marriage. And they understand submission to mean “absolute obedience” -- which is not exactly what it meant.
- Others see all kinds of roles or jobs in here -- a kind of blueprint for society. It’s the wife’s job to submit and the husband’s job to love -- as though wives don't need to love their husbands nor never treat them harshly.
- Or that husbands shouldn’t ever submit to their wives -- even though Ephesians 5:21 tells wives and husband to submit to one another.
I know that I’m opening a can of worms here -- and we could pull these verses apart word by word in Greek, line by line... We could easily spend hours here but I don’t want to linger here right now because it would be easy to miss the bigger point that Paul is trying to make in the overall flow of Colossians 3.
All of those verses (18-25) about wives, husbands, fathers, slaves -- the common thread tying them all together is respect -- a kind of radical respect. Paul is not advocating for male dominance in marriage nor is he in favor of slavery -- but he is saying that we act respectfully even toward those who do -- those with whom we might be at odds.
That is a very unique part of the uniform -- whether in the ancient world or the so called modern world -- especially during an election year.
Seventh, finally, the uniform is characterized by CHRIST COLORS.
Color makes a statement -- and sometimes moves people.
Retailers know that and they like to saturate their environments with branding colors. They build an identity around color:
- Target is ______________ (I already gave that to you!)
- Walmart is _____________
- Ikea is ________________
- Coca Cola is _______________
- Shell Gasoline is ____________
- Starbucks is ___________.
- AT&T is ______________.
- ASU is ______________.
Well, at the risk of pushing my wacky analogy way too far I’d suggest that we’re called to wear Christ colors, too -- a part of the uniform. It’s not just a particular type of trousers, shirt, belt, glasses, and hat that make up the uniform. But the uniform is of a particular color. It’s all the color Christ. (I’m not sure where that is on the color spectrum. Use your imagination.) I’m only trying to illustrate how it is that Christ saturates everything on us -- about us. Vs. 16 --
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, color ("fill") your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. (NLT)Make everything about Christ. Let him totally color your life. Vs. 17 --
And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.Now, as I see this, it’s a pretty big order. Some of us are thinking -- "Wow, I can barely dress myself -- let alone dress for success."
But here is the good news in it all. Even though we’re told to clothe ourselves -- it’s not as though we have to figure out what to wear. Vs. 12 --
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves...”Note that the uniform is issued by God. It’s not something you have to get on your own. He hands it to you “the holy people he loves....”
You don’t dress this way so that you become the “holy people he loves.” That’s already who you are in Christ.
"Holy" means that you are set apart -- that you have an exclusive purpose -- to serve God. You are putting on who you are in Christ, so it’s not a matter of generating enough internal energy or wisdom on your own. You don’t have to figure out how to look the part. It’s been handed to you.
In Galatians 5 Paul is saying something very similar -- but with a different metaphor. He talks about the "fruit of the Spirit" -- the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives -- and the list of characteristics is very similar to the Dress for Success New Life Christ Uniform here in Colossians 3.
Galatians 5:22-23 --
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”In a few moments we’re going to push you out the door -- send you out as Christ’s representative to take on the world. Are you fully dressed? If you are appropriately humble you’re probably thinking that you are not ready. But the message from Colossians 3 is that you are.
If you have the resurrected Christ living in you and through you -- you already have the uniform.
And regardless of who you are -- how bad your life has been up to this point -- how stupid you’ve been -- how many times you’ve failed -- YOU’LL STILL LOOK GREAT IN UNIFORM -- not because of who you are -- but because of who Christ is.
Can you get the uniform to fit better and look sharper? Of course, there is always room for growth and improvement.
But the point is that you have the uniform. Wear it -- trust that Christ will live through it -- and you’ll firm up and be just fine.
Would you please join me in the affirmation of faith printed in the bulletin. It’s a single sentence that was a part of our passage last Sunday. Colossians 3:11 --
“Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”