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  • Practical Truth from Colossians 3

    Posted on April 29th, 2010 admin 2 comments

    I had a friend in middle school named Matt. He was your typical skater kid who wore skinny black jeans and skate shoes. Later in high school, after I became a Christian, I remember talking to Matt about Jesus. He thought Jesus was a joke, and he didn’t want anything to with church, or religion. After repeated invitations, Matt agreed to go on a Young Life trip to Lake Saranac—which is a summer camp in upstate New York.

    God got a hold of Matt during that trip. The kid who once thought Jesus was a joke, placed his faith in Jesus for salvation. Matt dove into his new life as a Christian. He was given a little blue-covered book called, “My first thirty quiet times,” and he sat down and read it. Somewhere I have a picture, taken from a distance, of Matt sitting outside his cabin reading that devotional book alongside his Bible.

    I lost touch of Matt when I graduated from high school and went to college. Matt was a year younger than me. He stayed behind in Maryland, while I moved out-of-state to attend Virginia Tech.

    As a college student I had great plans to someday be the President of the United States. I was an engineering student, and I had a scholarship from the Air Force. My affiliation with the Air Force ROTC meant that I had to be in the Corps of Cadets, which was basically a full-time military fraternity. We had to wear these ugly, uncomfortable uniforms all the time. I did not enjoy the permanent wedgie created by the tight pants, but it was part of the price that had to be paid on this path toward success.

    One day I was walking along a busy sidewalk on campus when I heard someone calling my name. I knew it wasn’t someone from the Corps because they called me by first name, which was unusual. I looked around and saw that it was Matt. He approached me, saw that I was wearing this hideous uniform, and asked in this bewildered tone of voice, “What are you doing here?” At that point, I was trying to figure out what he meant. “What am I doing here? I’m going to class.” He said, “No, what are you doing here, wearing this stuff? You know God wants you to preach, and you better go do it.” I thought that was bold, so I asked him the same thing, “What are you doing here?” He said, “I don’t know, but I’ve had enough.” It was his first semester as an engineering student, and he decided to pack his bags for Bible College. As a young Christian, Matt knew that life was not about getting a degree, landing a job, and making money. He was after something more, although I’m not sure if he knew what that was at that point in his life.

    Now there’s nothing wrong with higher education and a secular career path, but Matt had a God-sized vision for ministry that caused him to go another route.

    We’ll come back to Matt later, but for now, let me ask you a question, “What are you doing here?” You’ve made the decision to come to this church this morning when you could have gone somewhere else. You could have stayed home and cleaned the house or cut the grass. But, for some reason, you chose to be here. God has you here, today, in this church for a reason, and I’d like to share a word of encouragement with you.

    I’m going to assume that everyone here is a Christian. That means that you have recognized that you were once separated from God because of sin, but you believed in Jesus as God who took on flesh, lived a sinless life, died as a sacrifice for your sin, and rose from the grave. Because you have believed in Jesus, the old you—the dirty, rotten, smelly, stinky, bound to sin, spiritually dead, heading to hell you—died with Christ. Because you have believed in Jesus, the spiritual you has been raised from the dead with Christ. That’s what the apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 2. Paul begins Colossians 3:1, “You have been raised with Christ.” He continues Colossians 3:3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

    So, the old you, the before you knew Christ you, the old Matt who thought Jesus was a joke, and the old me, the old us has died, and our life is now hidden with Christ in God. If it is true that all that we are now is hidden with Christ, meaning our life is locked up—safe and secure—with Jesus, wherever he is now living in flesh, somewhere beyond the reach of our eyes or even the Hubble telescope; If it is true that all that we are now is hidden with Christ, then what are we doing here—not just in this church, but on this earth?

    I’d like to give you six things to think about as you wrestle with this “What am I doing here” question. These six points are presented as instructions to Christians in Colossians chapter 3.

    Colossians 3:12-17:

    12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

    First, put on the new self. We see this instruction in Colossians 3:12-13. Just as Herod would put on his royal robes, or just as you put on your favorite shirt, you are also to put on your new self. Now, what does that mean, “Put on your new self?”

    Paul explains that you are God’s chosen ones. You are holy and beloved. You are different than people who have not believed in Jesus. The non-Christian wakes up, cleans up, dresses up, and goes to work. As a Christian, you do those things and more. You make the decision to clothe yourself with the character of Christ: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other. Don’t you see that the Lord has forgiven you? Then before you do anything, forgive that family member who you haven’t spoken to in years; forgive your spouse who said or did something to hurt your feelings; forgive your mother or father who may not have done the best job of raising you; forgive that person at work who took advantage of you. Put on the new self that is holy, and don’t live like the old you who died.

    Let me tell you something that is borderline profane. Please listen so that you don’t misunderstand my point: the world is full of naked Christians. Look at all the churches, and all the ministries, and all the people who listen to Christian radio, and all the people who buy chocolate Easter bunnies. There are so many Christians, yet they don’t know about putting on the new self. They are trying to succeed in a world that is dying, where living the life of Jesus is seen as a joke. And as they try to make a name for themselves in this world, their spiritual life is suppressed. You can’t distinguish them from someone who is lost in sin, because they haven’t made up their mind to pursue Christ first.

    What are you doing here? Are you determined to succeed as you scale the ladder of worldy success, or are you determined to grow into the image of Christ, as God’s chosen one, by putting on the new self, and living the life of Jesus?

    There may come a time in the near future when compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience cost you something—maybe a promotion, or a business deal, or maybe you’ll miss the opportunity to make someone laugh. You may be asked to do something by a friend, your employer or even your accountant, when God’s Spirit convicts you that it is wrong. Ask yourself, “What am I doing here?” Even if it costs you a friendship, your job, or money, put on the new self, and don’t be a naked Christian.

    Second, put on love. In Colossians 3:14 Paul writes, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything in perfect harmony.” The word for love used here is agape. It is God’s love for humanity, which he demonstrated by sending Christ to die as a sacrifice for sin. That love is available to you, and Paul instructs Christians to put on love, just like you should put on your new self.

    Now, let’s ask ourselves, “What does it mean to put on God’s love?” God the Father demonstrated his love by giving his Son. God the Son demonstrated his love by giving his life. It seems, then, that by putting on love you do what is best for others, even when it costs you something dear—such as your son, or your life. I don’t know how to love that way. I have trouble picking up the phone and calling my parents to tell them that I love them; there’s no way I’m capable of loving others the way God loves us. Yet I still know that I need to put on God’s love, and you need to do the same thing. Make the decision to allow God’s love to flow through you, and to impact those around you. When God’s love flows through you, you will do things that you would not do in the flesh—like calling your parents, hanging out with difficult people, or giving your time to talk to a friend who needs to hear that God cares about them.

    If you had to give one word for all the character traits listed in verses 12 and 13, it would be “love.” So, if someone ever asks you, “What is love?”, then you can turn here.

    During my time in the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech, I knew I was there for selfish reasons. I was a Christian, and I believed it was important to live for God, but I chose to live for self. I mean everything I heard from a little kid was pointing to the world. I thought it was possible to segment life into a bunch of little pieces, where there was work, school, hunting, golf, working out, girls, and somewhere else, God, faith, and spiritual growth. That thinking was wrong. I didn’t know that everything is part of your spiritual life—from your job, to what you watch on TV, to the people you hang out with on Friday nights.

    One day while I was wrestling with how all these competing things fit together, I heard a knock on my dorm room door. I stood to attention, expecting an upperclassman cadet officer to come barging in. But nothing happened. I stood there, careful not to move. Then I heard the knock again, follow by another pause. Then the door knob turned and the door slowly cracked open. I looked straight ahead, careful not to move, else I knew I would get chewed out. This short-haired man stuck his head in my room, and said, “May I come in?” I responded, “Yes Sir.” He told me to relax. I was skeptical, but then saw that he was dressed in civilian clothes. I wondered who he was and what he was now doing in my room. He introduced himself as “Steve.” He was part of the Campus Crusade staff there at Virginia Tech. Let me just say that Steve put on love, and he shared that love with me—a young college freshman who was trying to answer the question, “What am I doing here?”

    Over the course of several months, Steve helped me get involved in a community of people where I started to see that everything is part of your spiritual life. It is impossible to segment life into pieces where your spiritual life is reserved for one little part separate from the rest. If I ever wanted all of life to fit together, I needed to put on God’s love; I needed to put on my new self. And I couldn’t do that if I were pursuing my own selfish goals.

    Third, let the peace of Christ rule in your heart. As a church you are all members of one body. As you put on the new self and put on love, you will grow closer to Christ and you will grow closer to each other. Here’s the issue though: none of us are perfect. Relationships with people are not always easy. Paul knows that, and he instructs his audience to let the peace of Christ rule in their heart. Rather than bickering, and grumbling, and fighting, let the peace of Christ rule in your heart and let it surface in your relationships.

    Now, when I don’t let the peace of Christ rule in my heart, tension surfaces in my relationships with other believers. You may be at a place in your life where you have many questions about your future. You are at the point in life where you don’t want to keep working to put food on the table, but those social security checks don’t cover all the bills. Or, maybe you are much younger. You want what’s best for your kids, but you don’t know if you should stay in your current home, or move somewhere else; keep your kids in public school, or do the home-schooling thing.  Or, maybe you are unsure about this whole church planting thing. You love this church and you’re not sure about leaving this flock to leave another.

    It would be easy to dwell on all these things. Doing that would cost you sleep. You would toss and turn at night. You’d go crazy worrying about yourself, rather than experiencing the peace that comes from trusting God. And when you don’t have peace in your heart, you start to see tension in your relationships—with God, and with other people.

    In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul wrote, “Do no be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33-34, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”

    Paul says the same thing here in Colossians 3. Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

    A friend recently sent me a text and asked if I wanted to go shoot guns. Now I love doing that stuff, and I wanted to go really bad. But I knew that I had more important work to do, such as studying this passage. He sent me another text, “By 2:30 you’ll need a break.” “Stop!” Little decisions like that come up all the time: God, or self; old man, or new man; peace, or anxiety? The choice is yours, now that you have been bought by the blood of Christ.

    If you are anything like me, there have been times when you’ve failed to let the peace of Christ rule in your heart. You don’t sleep well. You worry about this and that. Stop it. Remember what God’s word says about you—that you have been raised with Christ, and that your life is hidden—safe and secure—with Christ in God. All this stuff that we see, the stuff that so easily draws our hearts away from God, is passing away. The only thing that will last is the investment that you make in eternity. Don’t worry about temporal things, then, but let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

    What are you doing here? Anxious about tomorrow, or enjoying the peace of Christ today?

    Fourth, be thankful.

    The command to “be thankful” appears at the end of verse 15. You’ve got to like where Paul mentions this instruction. He has just stated all this rich theological truth—you have been raised up with Christ, the old you has died with Christ and your life is hidden with Christ in God, you have been chosen, you have been forgiven, you have the peace of Christ—then, bam—he throws in—be thankful. Just take a brief moment, to pause, consider what God has done in your life, and be thankful.

    Thankfulness is an expression of your attitude toward God. Now that is convicting to me, because I know God has rescued me from death, and given me life. But my attitude doesn’t always reflect that thankfulness. I tend to dwell on those things that aren’t going well, such as fractured relationships, or things I don’t have, like a steady job. Paul says, “Are you kidding me? Look at everything God has done in your life, and live in a way that expresses your thankfulness to him.”

    A few weeks ago I received a paper copy of a book I wrote for Christian singles. I’ve been working on this thing off and on for several years, so it was good to finally get a print copy in my hands. A friend came over and I told her I had this book. She asked me if I was excited, and I was like, “Yeah, it’s okay. Yeah-uh huh.” What is that? That’s a rotten attitude. God’s given me the ability to work with others and put words on paper, and even if no one ever reads this book, I should be thankful. At a minimum it has been a spiritual exercise, so thank you God for giving me the chance to write about you.

    What are you doing here? Thankful for what God has done in your life, or “Yeah, it’s okay. Yeah-uh huh.”

    Fifth, let the word of Christ dwell in you.

    The “word of Christ” refers to Scripture, or the words of the Bible. These words should saturate us so much that they spill over into the way we will live. Think about that: when God’s word dwells within us, it changes the way we live, and it changes the way we see reality. The best way to put on the new self and to put on love is by letting the word of Christ dwell in you. Because when God’s word fills your heart and your mind, you will begin to live and think like Jesus.

    I’m part of a men’s small group that meets on Tuesday nights. One of the guys in this group is legally blind, yet whenever he gets talking about Jesus, he quotes Scripture in nearly every sentence. At first I thought listening to him talk was kind of strange, because he sounds like an open-air preacher. But the more I’ve gotten to know him the more I’ve realized that the word of Christ dwells in him. He doesn’t have to think about how to describe God. He doesn’t stumble over his words like I do. He has taken the time to listen to the Bible read on audio CD over and over. The words of the Bible have saturated his soul, and the Spirit of God applies that truth to his life as he lives.

    Permit me to be a bit sarcastic here: The best way to live like the old man—the dirty, rotten, smelly, stinky, bound to sin, spiritually dead, heading to hell you that you once were—is to stay away from God’s word. Don’t read it. Don’t study it. Don’t memorize it. Stay away from God’s word if you want to live a miserable life. But since that’s hopefully not your attitude, let the word of Christ dwell in you.

    There is a beautiful response that occurs when a community of believers allows the word of Christ to dwell with them. We see it in verse 16, “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” That sounds much like an orchestrated worship service; however, it describes the everyday life of believers who let the word of Christ dwell within them. There’s nothing about guaranteed success, power, money, influence, or anything else the world values. But, there is teaching, or the discovery of biblical truth. There is admonition, or the warning against error. There is joyful singing, and thankfulness. We all know that those things are not valued in our fallen world. But here we see that they describe the growing believer. That means God wants to take you somewhere different than where the world wants to take you. God wants to take you closer to Christlikeness, where your life is marked by joy and thanksgiving. The world wants to take you down a road of empty promises where everything supposedly revolves around you. The choice is yours. If you are serious about God, then let the word of Christ dwell in you. Take the time to put the word of Christ in your heart and mind.

    Maybe there is one verse you can memorize with your family this week. Philippians 4:6 may be the verse. Or, you could find someone in this church and meet with him or her on a weekly basis to read Scripture. That discipline has helped me stay in the Bible. If you are like me and need help staying in the Bible, find someone you can meet with on a regular basis, and start feeding yourself with truth.

    Sixth, do everything in the name of Jesus. Verse 17 reads, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

    You may ask the question, “what does ‘in the name of Jesus’ mean?” Should you go around saying, “in the name of Jesus” after everything you do? “Man that’s a good steak—in the name of Jesus.” No, that’s crazy. What’s is meant by doing everything in the name of Jesus is that everything you do reflects your identity in Christ. Whatever you say, do, or think aligns with the character of Jesus.

    Now that is a huge challenge. It’s a “huge” challenge. Yeah, can you imagine doing everything in a way that aligns with the character of Jesus? My day is full of words, thoughts and actions that are contrary to the holiness of Christ. In some ways, I think it would have been easier if the New Testament just said, “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” But that’s not the way our gracious God has chosen to govern his church.

    God has not given you a list of rules. Instead, God has set you free to live life as the new person he has declared you to be in Jesus Christ. Remember, the old you has died, and the new you has been raised with Christ. You are now free to make the choice to live for God, or to live for self. You can now choose between life and death.

    So, let’s go back to our big question: What are you doing here? You are facing the beginning of a new frontier in your spiritual life and in the life of this church. What are doing with your life? Are you going to live for the glory of God as you do everything in a way that shows the world that the life you live is all because the word of Christ dwells within you, and his peace reigns within you, and you’ve put on love, and you’ve put on the new self? Or, are you going to be like everyone else and chase after treasures on earth, that eventually rust, and rot, and decay?

    Be challenged by God’s word today, and make the choice to do everything in a way that reflects your identity in Christ. “I can’t do that because it doesn’t reflect the character of Christ. I have no other choice than to live my whole life for Christ, because he is the one who has given me life in the first place. My life is bound up in his life. I have to pursue him, because he has loved me enough to come to earth and die.”

    Put on your new self. Put on love. Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart. Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you. And, do everything in the name of Jesus.

    If I were to connect with my middle school friend Matt over Skype to ask him, “What are you doing here?” I have a good idea of what he would say. It would go something like, “I’m here in the remotest part of East Asia, where there is no running water, where there is no cable television, where there are no white people, where my wife and young boys get sick and have to survive without medical care, because these people, this lost tribe of God’s people who are made in the image of God, need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God loved them enough to send his Son to die for them. The least I can do is spend my life sharing that message with them.”

    Before leaving this place, be sure to answer the question, “What am I doing here?” If it’s not living for God, then turn from yourself, and run toward Christ.


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