SEPTEMBER 23rd, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
“Mail From Jail” Colossian 3:1-11;12-7;4:2-6
“LIVING A NEW LIFE”
Our series, “Walking in Paul's Footprints”, ended as Paul arrived in Rome, where he was placed under house-arrest, to await his trial with Caesar. While he waited, he wrote numerous letters to the churches in Asia and Europe. Why so? Well, why does anyone write a letter? Consider Calvin, for eg.
Calvin: As a genius, it's important that I write a lot of letters. After all, my correspondence will
be the basic resource material for historians to reconstruct my life. My writing will
provide countless fascinating insights for biographers.
Hobbes: Such as how all your salutations begin, “Hey Boogerbrain”?
Calvin: It's been three weeks and I still haven't received my x-ray glasses!
(It's A Magical World, p. 135)
Okay, that’s probably not one of the reasons Paul wrote all those letters. One of the first letters he wrote, apparently, was his letter to the church in Collosae in Asia Minor. In his opening chapter, as we saw last week, Paul provides four reasons for his writing them: 1) To connect; 2) to correct; 3) to encourage them to live changed lives and 4) to elevate them by lifting them up in prayer.
Now, in chapter three, he returns to the subject of living changed lives to clarify what he means: “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life and your new life is in Christ.” (Colossians 3:1-3)
Paul begins by reminding them that these new lives, lives that are free of guilt, fear and shame, are the result of something that has been done for us – not by us: Since you have been raised to new life...! It's a done deal – its past tense. And you are the passive noun in that sentence. Jesus the active.
So how does that work? Personal change doesn't come easy. Even if we get off to a good start, many of us have a tendency to backslide into old ways. If we're not careful, if we don't make a clean break with old behaviors and relationships, temptations will quickly surface to lull us back in. Not only that, but if we're honest, we'd have to admit how easily distracted we can be.
It's kind of like a certain canine that appeared in film a few years back...
[DVD clip from the film, “Up”; ]
It's so hard to stay focused when there are squirrels around. So what's your squirrel look like? How can you live the new life Christ offers without getting distracted and losing your way?
In the context and the teaching text of Colossians 3, Paul provides several helpful insights. For one thing, we learn from the context that the Christians in Colossae, had struggles with squirrels too. “Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you...” (Colossians 3:5)
How does Paul know this? After all, as we learned last week, he's never been to Collosae. He's never met the people in this church. How does he know that sinful earthly things are lurking within them? Well, because they lurk within all of us – believers and nonbelievers alike. “Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed or idolatry...” (Col 3:5)
And then he makes a telling statement: “You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid (of such thoughts and actions).” (Col 3:7)
Apparently, Paul had been informed about the kinds of lives they used to live. That is to say, that among the Christians in Collosae there are many who were already living changed lives, or at least had been, but some are now getting distracted by false teaching, for one thing, and are backsliding. We are all prone to distraction... Even in Paul's own entourage there is such a one.
In the conclusion to his letter, Paul mentions a number of partners in the gospel that are with him as he writes. It's like a roster of all-stars from the early church. He mentions Luke the doctor who traveled with Paul and authored a gospel and the Book of Acts. There's Barnabas, Paul's partner on his first mission trip; Mark, Barnabas' cousin & traveling buddy; Tychicus, a changed man and dear friend; Epaphras, the Colossian whose life was changed by Paul's witness during his third missionary trip; Aristarchus, a suave traveling buddy who visited us a couple of weeks ago; Onesimus, a slave who will reappear in Paul's letter to Philemon and then there's a fellow by the name of Demas.
The mention of Demas is significant in light of Paul's teaching here in Colossians. By the time Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, Demas had seriously backslid. As Paul later writes: “Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:10)
Apparently there were some squirrels in Thessalonica that caught Demas' eye. The point being, that Paul could speak with authority on this subject as he knew firsthand of those who struggled to continue to live the new life Christ had called them into.
So it is that Paul writes to encourage those in Colossae to continue to live out this new life. How so? “Set your sights on the realities of heaven – think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” (Col 3:1-2) In short, don't lose focus. Feed your faith by focusing your mind on the things of God. Be aware that the enemy is constantly trying to distract and dissuade you.
As Christians, we are disciples in training, but the problem is that there is so much in our day to day lives to distract and discourage us. Consider Calvin's experience in the classroom...
Calvin: I wonder how long it's been since I last looked at the clock. Maybe it's been an hour.
Well, actually it's probably been only 40 minutes. I guess half an hour to be safe...
20 Seconds?!? It's going to be a very bad day.
Teacher: Calvin, sit up. (It's A Magical World, p. 134)
Calvin: …..BORRRING! Yeah, yeah.... Kill the messenger.
(….Jungle Cat, p.88)
We're so easily distracted. No wonder Paul urges us to tune in to God's new, life-giving frequency. It's like slipping into a new set of clothes, Paul suggests. “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him... Clothe yourselves with grace, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience..., and above all, clothe yourselves with love...”
(Colossians 3:10, 12, 14)
This is the attitude and actions of Jesus himself. Paul is saying that this new life we are called to live is like getting dressed up in Christ on a daily basis. But in order for us to look like Christ we need to hang out with Christ, learn from him thru his word, let him give us new desires, attitudes and aspirations, by letting him rule us from the inside out, guiding our human spirit with his Holy Spirit.
Another insight Paul provides for those who embrace Christ is the importance of learning from others who are also in Christ. Paul writes: “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom He gives.” (Colossians 3:16)
This past summer Melanie, did an internship in Germany working for a company that makes bi-cycles for people with special needs. At one point she told us how happy she was to have greasy hands. I was like, “okay, that's.....wonderful! You go girl!” And it was! She learned from others, contributed to a cause greater than her self and connected with the boss. For similar reasons, Christ gave us the church. With all of its many imperfections it provides an op for us to learn from others, contribute to Christ's cause and connect with the boss – inviting others to join in on life's greatest adventure!
Paul follows that insight with yet another: that of developing an attitude of gratitude! “Live in peace and always be thankful... Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks thru him to God the Father... Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”
(Colossians 3:15-17; 4:2)
Over and over again, Paul repeats it. Always be thankful. Scary and painful circumstances will come your way but such things as loss and grief do not change the character of God. Even hard-ship and failure can be used by God to further his kingdom and draw us closer to Him.
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells of her experience being imprisoned at Ravensbruck concentration camp with her sister, Betsie, during WW II. There they lived in deplorable conditions – lice, dysentery and brutality from the guards were the norm, yet Betsie ended each day giving thanks for it all. Corrie protested that she couldn't give thanks for everything – not for the sadistic guards or the torment of lice infested beds, but Betsie persisted. Only later did they find out that the reason the guards did not interrupt their weekend worship services, or punish them for having them as they were strictly forbidden, was because the guards were afraid of the lice.
An attitude of gratitude not only reflects that of Jesus but opens our hearts and minds to the peace of Christ which surpasses all human understanding. An attitude of gratitude guards our hearts from the devices of the enemy to discourage and deceive us. Paul's remedy? Always be thankful.
Finally, Paul offers fresh perspective: “God chose you to be the holy people he loves...” (Colossians 3:12) God chose you! He wants you on his team. I recall what that was like as a kid. I was not the best athlete so I was often chosen last... But once, David, a kid from church, chose me second. When the other kid complained David defended me. 'No – he's good! Don's super quick!'
What a feeling to be chosen because the captain sees something in you. So it is with God and you. He sees something in you even you probably don't see. God chose you – and he chose you to be one of his holy people. Holy does not mean perfect, it means set apart, distinct. What's more he has chosen you – not because you're super quick..., but simply because he loves you because he loves you!
You're holy, set apart, to look and behave differently than the world around you. The difference being is that you have Christ's Spirit coaching and helping you along! So it is that he offers to help you discard the soiled garments of your past – the part of you that was consumed with self-indulgence and to live in a radically distinct way – holy, as if God is indwelling you...!
The concept is dramatized in the opening scene in musical, Godspell.
[DVD clip from the film, Godspell; ]
That's who we're called to be – shedding our old lives in order to get dressed in a whole new way – clothed in the tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience of Jesus himself.
My friends, “God chose you to be the holy people he loves...so that whatever you do or say, you do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. So then, make the most of every opportunity...so that you will have the right response for everyone.”
(Colossians 3:12,17; 4:5-6)