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Colossians (2013)

The New Man

Colossians  3:5-14

Lesson audio

Wrath of God

Colossians 3:5-7 NASB  Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.  (6)  For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience,  (7)  and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.

 

The reader will recall from the previous lesson that Paul admonishes us to set our minds on things above. The process of doing this produces the initial word “therefore” in this passage.

God’s Wrath?

One of the curious beliefs to which modern man has fallen victim is what might be called “the loving God.” This particular belief is that God himself evidently has no moral convictions whatsoever; it is considered that they cannot be required when compared to love. In other words, if you have a choice between being right and to being loving you always pick being loving. This is most commonly applied to matters which deal with sex. When this author was a young man it was a common argument that God could not possibly disapprove of any form of sex outside of marriage because, after all, he is a loving God. In this view, right and wrong always give way to a vague, amorphous form of love which sees neither right nor wrong but only squishy happiness.

A similar belief system, and a bit older, is what I call “Santa God.” God, in this view, is some sort of cosmic blessing generator whose purpose in existence is to make you happy. Anything God does is supposed to make you happy. Therefore, if you are not happy, it’s obviously some failure on God’s part either to perceive your needs or to be able to deliver them. On the other hand, whatever you do that makes you happy is perfectly okay with Santa God. Note that both of these views place you in charge of what God thinks. His opinions must conform to your thought.

The truth is much more difficult. God faces what might be called the “divine dilemma.” God is love; therefore he wants none of us to go to hell. God is righteous; therefore some of us sinners — the unrepentant ones — are going to hell. There is no sense saying, “God can.” Putting the phrase “God can” in front of nonsense doesn’t change it from being nonsense. It’s what Aristotle called an “impossible impossible.” That’s something that’s intrinsically impossible, like saying that yellow is square. God’s solution to the divine dilemma is found at the cross, where his love provides the way for his righteousness to be satisfied. It is that act that changes us.

Consider… Us Dead

That, of course, is the gospel. One of the painful impacts of the “loving God” and “Santa God” theories is that the recipient of God’s love has no need to change. We’re just fine; fixing things is God’s problem. Paul differs. In what I suspect was a rather hurriedly scratched out list, he tells us the things that we should put aside now that we are members of the body of Christ. Here’s his laundry list.

·         He begins with immorality — the Greek word is porneia, from which we get our word pornography. Interestingly, the word does not mean pornography — but it does include fornication, adultery and incest. Evidently the Colossians were not particularly saintly people before becoming Christians.

·         Next he lists impurity — the word in the Greek is related to our word “catharsis.” It means someone who refuses to clean up his act; someone who never repents. If you’re Jewish, the best translation might perhaps be “unclean.” It’s the moral equivalent of leprosy.

·         In what might seem a little odd, he next lists passion. The word in the Greek is pathos, and it means an inordinate affection or lust to the point of suffering for it. It is desire gone completely out of control.

·         The next phrase is somewhat complicated; “evil desire.” When you dig through it what it really means is a longing for that which is forbidden. Adam and Eve would have something to say about this.

The last item he mentions is greed. What’s fascinating about it is that he equates it to idolatry. It’s not hard to understand; if you’re greed is motivated by the fear that God will not provide for you — and therefore you have to get the money by whatever means you can — you are worshiping the money instead of God. That is idolatry. This particular word however includes a little nuance. It’s associated with the acts of fraud and extortion. It’s not just that you’re chasing the money; it’s that you’re squeezing it out of others.

You Also Once Walked

All in all, these folks don’t seem to be particularly morally upright prior to their conversion. It’s important for us to remember that there is only one qualification for becoming a Christian: you have to be a sinner first.[1] But we might wish to consider here a problem which has vexed the church since the beginning: just what kind of people are you going to allow to come to church? Your author has known the church which prohibited most black people from entering on the grounds that “we need to preserve the character of our witness.” (That’s been a few years ago, by the way.) The church has had a number of approaches to this problem.

·         The most common approach is that of the parish — everybody in a specific geography is welcome. At least in theory, they’re welcome.

·         A more modern approach is what might be called the specialty church — a church that’s dedicated primarily to motorcycle riders, for example. The good news is, motorcycle riders have a church. The bad news is, no one else’s sure they’re welcome there.

·         We also have various parachurch organizations — for example, we have prison ministries. State governments tend to frown on building cathedrals in the middle of a prison exercise yard.

The problem in modern time comes down to something like this: how do we accept — and indeed welcome — the homosexual without approving of homosexuality? Many churches today simply stop disapproving of homosexuality in order that they may be inclusive. This is a principle which can be extended to some interesting lengths. It is a very cheap way to avoid the pain of loving the sinner while hating the sin. The right method takes work; the wrong method lends itself well to mass publicity.

Sins of the Mouth and Mind

Colossians 3:8-11 NASB  But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.  (9)  Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,  (10)  and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him--  (11)  a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

 

Control of the Tongue

One of the most cheerful facts about Christianity is that its ethics and moral practices strongly resembled those that your mother taught you when you were a kid. Watching what you say, keeping your mouth shut, and thinking before you speak are things your mother told you that you should do. We may review this from the Scriptures.

First, control of the tongue is a sign of wisdom.

Proverbs 17:27 NASB  He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.

 

It is also a sign of true religion.

James 1:26 NASB  If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.

 

The truth of the matter is simple: what’s flowing out of your mouth is the overflow of what’s happening in your mind. And Christ is greatly concerned with what’s happening in your mind; therefore we should be greatly concerned with our speech.

Put Aside

So we begin again with another list of things you shouldn’t be doing. Once again, in chorus with your mother, we are saying, “don’t do dumb things.” Here’s Paul’s list of dumb things.

·         The first is anger. The root word in the Greek is orge, from which we get our word orgy. The emphasis of the word is on the emotion of anger, passion out of control.

·         Next is what is referred to here as wrath (the NIV has rage). This is sometimes translated as “fierceness.” The actual Greek word is a bit of onomatopoeia; it means heavy breathing.

·         Paul follows that with the word malice, which is a general word for wickedness — just in case he forgot something else.

Paul then moves on to three very specific types of speech, which do not necessarily carry with them the connotation of rage and anger.

·         The first is slander — the Greek word is the one from which we get our word “blasphemy.” In our modern day this would probably have to include such things as libel as well (libel is printed or otherwise in electronic documents; slander is spoken). We would do well to remember the prohibition against gossip as well. (The distinction is that gossip may be true in fact, where slander and libel are not.)

·         The next is “abusive speech.” This is a polite euphemism in the Greek for filthy language. If you wonder why this prohibition is here, look at it this way: have you ever seen someone who is exhibits great self-control and also uses filthy language?

·         Finally, he tells us not to lie to one another. That may seem rather obvious to us today, but almost all cultures have an acceptable list of lies. Some of them seem innocuous enough — and certainly a little tact goes a long way. If you think not, husband, be careful the next time your wife asks you, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

Why Not?

To a new Christian this sense of self-control may seem somewhat strange. The experienced Christian knows better, but we have to remember that we all start somewhere. The reason quite simply is that you have put on Christ; you are a new creature.

This, of course, makes sense to the experienced Christian. To the new Christian however it may seem quite puzzlesome. So Paul explains it. He tells us that you have access to the knowledge (the word in the Greek means a full knowledge, not a partial knowledge) of the icon of God — that is to say, Christ. So let’s take it step by step:

·         It used to be that you didn’t know what you are doing, so you did whatever felt good at the moment. You had no self-control.

·         Now you know what you’re supposed to be doing; so you’re going to have to change.

·         That “knowing” is not a list of rules and regulations, but an example to follow — the imitation of Christ.

Verse twelve may seem to have been stuck in here by somebody with a pair of scissors and a paste pot. To us it doesn’t seem to fit logically. To the people of that time, however, it made a great deal of sense. They were accustomed to the idea that “we” were the civilized, intelligent people on this planet and that “they” were a bunch of religious hicks, barbarians or low class, good for nothing sorts. It would just seem natural to them that there would be a different set of rules and regulations for the good guys (“us”) than for everybody else. The problem with this view is that it completely underestimates what Christ does to the human being. Christianity is not the process of receiving the revised standard version of the rules and regulations for civilized behavior. It is a total transformation of the human being from the inside out. Therefore, distinctions of race, class, slave and free, barbarian and civilized cease to have any real significance.

You might think this is a completely obsolete sentence then. It is not. We have the same problem today when someone who has been raised right, is basically a good person meets another new Christian who was raised to a much lower set of standards. There is a natural feeling that if your mother raised you right, you are better than the other guy. You’re not. You’re still a sinner; that’s a yes/no question.

Bond of Unity

Colossians 3:12-14 NASB  (12)  So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;  (13)  bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  (14)  Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

 

C. S. Lewis made an interesting distinction between men and women. In his time, he observed, when you talked about Christian charity men usually took this to mean something that you did in the way of putting up with what others did. Women, on the other hand, typically meant something you did for someone else. As he observed, both of these are correctly labeled Christian charity; perhaps we should consider doing both.

Doing for Others

We can identify three major ways in which we can conduct Christian charity for others, as outlined in these verses.

·         The first is compassion. It should be noted that while the group form of compassion — for example, assisting a missionary project in Kenya, done by hundreds of people in our church — is given the most publicity, it is not the only form. There is also a question of compassion for individuals. The simplest example I can give you is the fellow standing by the stop sign with the cardboard message asking for help. It’s not nearly as glamorous, but it’s still compassion.

·         The second is kindness. The word in the Greek is a form of general moral excellence — the kind of person who can be relied on to do the right thing. So very often the right thing is not a scowl but a smile, and some practical help.

·         The third, which may surprise many, is gentleness. It comes as a surprise to many Christians to think of it this way, but the Christian is the most powerful person on earth. The question alone has access to God Almighty through the blood of Jesus, the Christ. Great power is best used when clothed in gentleness.

Bearing with Others

Paul gives us three attributes here which are part of bearing with others, faults included.

·         The first is humility. Nothing so graces the Christian’s forbearance as humility. It is exceedingly irritating to have someone condescend to put up with you because, after all, they are “that kind of person.” Look at it from the center’s point of view: it’s a lot easier for the humble man to obtain your repentance than it is for the proud man who looks down on you and tells you what you should have done.

·         Next is patience. The word is almost untranslatable from the Greek; it begins with the partial word “macro”, which tells you that you’re going to need a lot of it. It is that kind of patience which just doesn’t give up on other people. This is a very useful thing to have, but a bit on the expensive side when it comes to experience.

·         We then have bearing with and forgiving each other. Often enough it is not feasible for the older Christian to straighten out what the younger Christian has just done. Maturity often tells you that your own mistakes at a younger age have just been echoed. If you think back to those days, you will probably recall some senior saint who smiled and put up with you. Go thou, and do likewise.

Love — the Bond of Unity

Well, now that you have the pieces, you need to put it all together. Paul is not giving us these attributes simply to make us better people. He has another purpose here: the unity of the church. If you don’t have these attributes commonly distributed amongst the members of the church, they will soon become a contentious lot. So, above all else, you are commanded to love one another. This is the great binding strap which holds the church together. We have plenty of forces which tend to terrorist apart; indeed, more than enough. But we are reminded that the world knows that we are real Christians by the way we love one another. If we are constantly squabbling with each other, the average citizen of the world Mike just well ask what purpose there could possibly be in becoming a Christian. After all, don’t we have enough argument and factionalism already? Do we need more by joining the church?

Throughout this lesson there has been one constant message: the imitation of Christ. The love that Christ showed to us on the cross is the love that he is expecting us to imitate in him. Make the imitation of Christ your first principle, and all these virtues flow out of it. If you want to build a boat, you’ll need the dockyard plans. If you want to build an airplane, you’ll need the engineering diagrams. If you want to build a child of God, you will need the example of Christ to be imitated.


[1] All together in chorus now: "and some of us are exceedingly well qualified."

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