The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, December 27, 2009. The text for this week’s message is Colossians 3:1-17.
It’s hard to believe it, but this is the last Sunday of the year. New Year’s Day is on Friday, and we’ll have a whole new year, and a whole new decade, to look forward to. This is that time of year when people start to take stock in what they have accomplished, what they have been through and what they would have done differently. For some reason, the changing of the calendar inspires us to examine our lives and start thinking about making some changes, hopefully for the better. I think it is fair to say that it has been a good year – difficult at times, and incredible at times. I’m sure there’s not a person here that hasn’t run the gauntlet of emotions at some point over the course of the year.
One of the most popular things that will take place this week is New Year’s resolutions. You know, that special time when we make the same promises that we have made for years, only this time, we really are going to take them seriously – at least until February. Some of the most popular resolutions are to get back into shape and to eat healthier. Some will make it a priority to focus on family, or to read a couple books. Whatever those resolutions may be, I pray that you’ll be honest with yourself and make a concentrated effort to accomplish those goals. But what about your spiritual life?
What are some resolutions that you can make about your spiritual life that will really make a difference in how you see the world and how you approach your faith? What I’d like to do this morning is give each of us some time to reflect on the past year. We should examine where we have been, and start looking forward to where we are going. I want to begin this by looking through the words of Paul from today’s reading and reflect on some of the areas in all of our lives that could be better.
The passage begins with a very simple word. It’s a word that we probably don’t think a whole lot about, but how it is used in the Greek is extremely important. “If” – two little letters that make such an important statement. There are different ways to use “if” in a sentence, even in the English. The problem is that, in the English, it is ambiguous. Is the “if” presumed to be true? Is it a statement of fact, or a hypothetical? It is difficult to tell for sure, which is why, when texting and instant messaging have completely ruined the English language in 5 years, we should start training everybody in classical Greek instead. I’m starting a movement, and I need people on board with it. Seriously though, in the Greek there is no ambiguity.
Now it’s time for a little lesson in Greek grammar. In the Greek there are a handful of ways to put together an “if” clause. The way that it is put together here implies that the “if” part of the clause is assumed to be true. It’s not a hypothetical; it is a statement of fact. Another way of translating it is, “Since you have been raised in Christ, seek the things that are above….” Paul is saying that these people have indeed been raised, have found their identity, in Christ. And because of that, there is a certain way that they should be living. Okay, for those that checked out during the grammar lesson in today’s message, it’s time to see where this is important.
If you call yourself a Christian, if your life has been changed by Christ, if you believe that you will be crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land when your time on earth is finished, then there are certain things that you should be doing with your life. There are things in your life that shouldn’t be a part of your life, and there are things that aren’t in your life that should be a part of your life. That’s what Paul is talking about here. He gives us a list of things that we should and should not be doing as people who claim to be living with Christ in our lives.
Now, first of all, Scripture is often seen as a list of “do’s and don’ts” and I think this perception is inaccurate. That’s not what Scripture as a whole is about. Scripture as a whole is about the story of God. It’s about the love that God has for each person. It is about the people of Israel, who were instrumental in bringing about God’s plan of salvation for the entire world. Are there do’s and don’ts? Yes, there are. But it is because this is a new way of thinking, a new way of approaching the world, a way that goes contrary to what our sinful selves think it should be. So, yes, there is some instruction on the implications of living out this faith, but that is not what the Christian faith is all about. The Christian faith is about being in relationship with God, and nothing else. What Paul does is show us the implications of this truth.
The first of those implications is that we should be setting on minds on the things above, not on earthly things. There are higher ideals in this life than control, or a lust for power, or whatever it is that is hold us back. He gives us a list of things in verses 5-11 that we should put away for the sake of God. Paul uses some pretty severe language here. He says that we are to “put to death” these things in our lives that do not glorify God; these things that are a part of our lives without Christ. There are things in our lives before we come to Christ that do not honor God, and these things need to be removed.
How have you done in that area this year? Are there things in your life that shouldn’t be in your life? When we come to Christ, our life isn’t magically transformed and we suddenly stop sinning and are never tempted to sin. As much as I wish it worked that way, it simply doesn’t. We come to Christ when we realize that we can’t do it on our own. We come to Christ because we can do nothing to affect our own salvation. We can never accomplish in our lives what God has already done for us. The sooner we realize this, the better off we are. It is through Christ and Christ alone that our relationship with God can be restored. So, once we come to that realization and submit ourselves to God, what happens next?
This is where the second half of what Paul is saying here is so important. There are certain things that we do when our lives have been affected and changed by God. We are to focus our minds on heavenly things, things that really matter. And we don’t do it to put on a show for the people around us; we do it because God really has changed our lives. We do it because Christ is at work in our hearts. We are encouraged to put on the new self that is being renewed after the image of the Creator, and when we are being renewed in the image of the Creator, the divisions that once existed are no longer there.
Paul says that there is no Greek or Jew, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free. The distinctions that we place on people are non-existent in the kingdom of God. Most people are all right with that, as long as it doesn’t include “those people.” Who are “those people” in your life? Who in your life bothers you the most? You see, as much as we don’t want to admit it, there is always somebody in our lives that we would just rather not spend time with. In fact, if our paths never crossed, that would be all right. But these distinctions don’t exist in the kingdom of God.
It was this kind of message that got the Jewish leaders all riled up. Jesus didn’t want to be a part of the elite, he came to seek those who were lost, and the Jewish leaders didn’t like that. Jesus hung out with the tax collectors, the sinners, the non-Jews, the fringe Jews, the poor, everybody that was different because they were the ones who needed him the most. And it all starts with a new approach to life that is brought on by the change that Christ can do in our hearts, if we let him.
Starting in verse 12, Paul has a list of things that we should put on as people who have been redeemed by God. But he starts off by telling us why we should put these things on. We are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. God has chosen those who put their faith in Him to be His representatives here on earth. We are the ones who set the example of what it is supposed to be like for people to live in relationship with God. We are to be holy because God has made us holy. Holiness is about being separated from the things in this life that keep us separate from God.
We are also loved. God loves us, and because of this great love, we need to respond with our lives in such a way that others see His love as well. It is because of these things that we are to act in a way that Paul lists here.
How are you doing on this list? Do you have compassionate hearts? Are you kind, humble, meek and patient? Do you bear with one another in love? Do you forgive the wrongs that have happened to you in the same way that God has forgiven your wrongs? Do you love others? And I don’t just mean that you love those who love you. I don’t just mean that you are patient with those who are patient with you, or that you only forgive those who have forgiven you. You can’t control that. All you can control is how you react in certain situations. And how you react is a representation of how God is working in your life. Focus your mind and heart on heavenly things, not on earthly things. But how? How can we do this? In verses 16-17, we start to see how we can be affected in some very practical ways. We start to see how we can position ourselves to be molded and shaped by God.
Paul begins by telling us to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly. At the beginning of the year, I laid down a challenge for everybody to spend 15 minutes every day reading his or her Bible. How did that go for you? Some days were certainly better than others, no doubt. I had, over the course of the year, a number of people tell me that they had been trying to do it, and that it was really beneficial for them. I haven’t said anything about it in a couple months, but hopefully some were able to accomplish this goal. Have you let the word of Christ dwell richly in your lives this year? Will you let the word of Christ dwell richly in your lives this coming year?
I want to lay down another challenge for 2010, since it starts later this week. I want to see what happens when we start letting the word of Christ dwell richly in our lives. I want to challenge you to read through the entire Bible this year. I know, I know, it sounds daunting. It sounds impossible. At times, it is going to seem boring or inconvenient. At least, those are the excuses that we’ll come up with this year. But they are just that – excuses. There is no reason why we can’t accomplish this goal. I’m not asking everybody to write and in-depth summary of what they read. I just want you to spend some time reading the word of God and letting it dwell in your life.
Let’s put a couple of things in perspective here. Because I can get my email on my phone, I sometimes don’t read and delete emails in my Inbox. I finally cleaned up my Inbox last week, and in a month, I got over 500 emails. That’s about 6000 emails a year. An average newspaper has, what, 15-20 pages? That’s anywhere between 5500 and 7300 pages each year. A mass-market book, one of those little ones that you can buy just about anywhere, has 300 pages, and you can read one of those in a week or two. Add it all up and you can read thousands upon thousands of pages worth of things over the course of the year.
Now, go ahead and pull out the pew Bibles that you have in front of you. The way that people approach reading the Bible would make you think there are 40,000 pages in that thing. There’s not. In fact, I looked this week, and there’s only 1085 pages in that tiny, little book. Do you know what that means? If you read three pages every day, you can read through the entire Bible in a year; that’s 21 pages a week. Yes, there is a lot of content, and sometimes it’s hard to understand, but the good news is that there are several different translations out there that make it a little easier. I read the English Standard version, but if you want to read The Message, the NRSV, the NIV, the Good News Bible, I don’t care. Just read it.
As the New Year comes upon us, make some resolutions. Make the same ones that you make every year, but add something to it. Spend some time in the Bible. It won’t take long. Keep a copy in the bathroom if you need to. Take some time this year to dwell in the word of Christ. Take some time to look at your life and see where it is that you need Christ to work the most, and then let him. If you do this, I can promise you that 2010 will be a year that you will never forget.