Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17
September 4, 2016
Paul makes a transition in this chapter. In his letters, he spends a certain amount of time telling them his understanding of the faith, then he tells them the practical side, how to live the faith.
So far, he’s been giving the Colossians his understanding of a lot of things. He’s told them about the supremacy of Jesus Christ. “He is the visible image of the invisible God!” And that right there was an amazing statement, coming from the guy who tried to eradicate the name of Jesus, and stamp out his ministry! We sometimes forget that, don’t we? I know I have to stop and think about that from time to time.
So he’s told them about the nature of – the supremacy of – Chris. Then he went on to warn them about some false teachings about that. We talked about that last week. He gave them some further understanding of the faith, saying that they had “died to their old understanding of life.” Paul believed that we have died to sin, died to the old ways of seeing things, and we have been raised with Christ to new life! You’ve heard me say that in the Assurance of Pardon. “…He died and rose again so that we might be dead to sin, and alive to all that is good.”
That leads us to the words we started with today. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” And that’s the change I mentioned at the start. Paul always takes the informational and the inspirational part of this, and he now turns them to the practical. And that’s so important. Because we sometimes forget that. We place a lot of emphasis on knowing and believing the “right things.” But sometimes we don’t give as much thought to doing the right things, and being the right things. That can happen, can’t it? In fact, people have been doing that for a long time!
I remember sitting up in a tree with my friends in grade school. We spent a lot of time in that tree. It was a crabapple. And it was a great climbing tree! We talked about a lot of things up there. I drove through the neighborhood years later, and the tree was gone! It was like losing part of my childhood!
Well, one day, up in that crabapple tree, we got to talking about heaven. As kids we were just starting to think about that. We were just stating to experience the death of loved ones. We had just gone through the time of the Kennedy assassination! That was the first experience of death for a lot of us!
Well, I’ll never forget one of my friends saying, “All you have to do is believe in Jesus and you get to go to heaven.” And you can’t argue much with that. That’s pretty basic. But as I learned later, it’s more than just a matter of “believing.” There’s an interplay with beliefs and actions. And yes, the whole “works righteousness” thing is out there. In other words, people have believed over the years that they had to “work their way into heaven.” “If you are good enough, if you’re righteous enough, you’ll get there.” That bothered Martin Luther. He knew we weren’t “good enough.” It was “by Grace we are saved,” as Paul told the Ephesians. Luther didn’t include the book of James in his Bible, because he thought it emphasized “works” over “Grace.”
The thing is, though, James was only giving the practical side of things. He would have been quick to agree with Luther – and Paul! They would have all been together on this. And as I’m saying here, Paul does the same thing. He tells about the “beliefs,” he tells about the “Grace,” but then he leads the people to the “practice.” He tells them about “seeking things above,” but then he tells them how that looks “lived
So, Paul is telling us that we need to have a balance between “knowing” and “living.” And here’s the first step. “Set your minds on the things that are above.” Do you remember how he told the Philippians (a couple of weeks back) to “think on these things?” This is like that. “Be careful what you think about and what you concentrate on.”
I remember there was a “thing” in the 1970’s and ‘80’s about “subliminal messages” in music. They were described as messages we couldn’t actually hear, but they were there, and our minds could pick up on them. There were messages if we played a record backwards. They could “get into our minds,” we were told. Do you remember that? If you played “Stairway to Heaven” backwards it told about the power of Satan!
Well, you don’t hear about that kind of thing any more. And I think part of the reason is that there doesn’t need to be anything subliminal in music any more. What’s “bad” is right out in the open! It’s not hidden at all! Well, I never told kids to burn their albums. But then and now, the way I always handled that kind of thing, was to say, “Be careful what you’re filling your mind with!” And I believe that’s very “Pauline.” “Set your mind on things that are above.” “Choose what you think about,” whether that’s worldly influences, or negative critical thoughts about others. Be careful what you think!
Well, skip ahead to verse 12. Because just before that, he’s told them the kinds of things they were “avoid” thinking about –
the things they were to “put to death” in their lives, as he put it. And now he’s telling them what to “put on.” “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.”
When you “seek things above,” when you “set your minds on” things above, those are the kinds of practical things you should do and be – compassionate, kind, lowly, meek, and patient. “Oh yeah,” he says, “and forbear one another!” That’s a big word for Paul! In other words, “tolerate” one another.” “Put up with one another!”
Then he says, “Forgive one another.” And notice the way he says it. This isn’t like the Lord’s prayer, which implies that God forgives us “as we have forgiven our debtors.” That’s a tough thing to say, if you think about it! This is more “inspirational.” This is “Forgive as God has already forgiven you.” Do you see the difference there?
Next he says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly!” This is great stuff, isn’t it? Does the word of Christ dwell in you richly? Again, that’s a practical thing. We choose to have the word dwell in us richly! If we don’t, it’s more likely that it won’t. In fact, if we don’t “seek the things above,” “things below” will likely dominate our thinking, and rule our lives. So, if we don’t choose to let the word dwell in us richly, there are a lot of other things that will dwell in us.
That’s Paul’s message to the Colossians. That’s his message to us. Like them, we are “Holy and Beloved.” That is, we are loved by God and we are called to be “set apart for his purposes.” That’s what “holy” means. It doesn’t mean “righteous” or “blessed.” Those things are nice, too. But “holy” means “set apart for God’s purposes.” And that’s what we are.
So, in invite you to put yourself in this. You have been “raised with Christ.” So, seek the things that are above. Set your minds on them. As God’s chosen ones, holy and
beloved, put on compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience. Forbear and forgive and love one another. Let the word dwell in you richly. And finally, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
Eternal God, help us indeed to be your people. Help us to set our minds on the things of your kingdom. Help us to be “set aside for your purposes.” Help us to be more like Jesus Christ in all we do. For we live and pray in his name, Amen.