Friday, April 29, 2011
The following is part of a seminar I did for a congregation in the midwest a few years ago on the Epistle to the Colossians. Prior to this lesson I reviewed our lessons on chapter 1 & 2. I offer it here in the prayer that it may bring a blessing. When reading this remember it was an oral presentation.
Briefly review how Paul moves from the Supreme Savior in ch. 1 and the Sufficient Savior in ch.2 to how we are to respond in our lives: we become Selfless Servants. That is we live out the meaning of baptism each and every day.
I. A WORLD OF DEADNESS! (3.5-11)
”Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” (NRSV)
In 3.5-11 Paul reminds us of our unredeemed nature or as the NIV calls it the "sinful nature.” That is the part of us that is in rebellion or at odds with God. He is talking about us as we once were in our state of deadness. He is speaking of the “life” before our redemption by the Sufficient Savior's blood. He is saying that some of us are still living in the old world, living our lives as if we have never been converted -- an impossibility according to Paul . . . or should be!
Paul says in v.5 we are to "kill" the earthly nature that keeps rearing its ugly head. Listen to him, "Kill off, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry." Most of us assembled here will quickly, and defensively, distance ourselves from any such activity and declare before all: "That is not me! I am innocent of that kind of life!"
Perhaps we should slow down though and take serious stock?? Are we not often a greedy people? We Christians, often, pride themselves that we don't fornicate and have never had a drop of beer. However, what about our anger? Fits of rage? Our malice towards one another? What of our slander of one another? and what of the coarse language that frequents our lips (v.8)? These things: anger, slander and lying, are evidence we have surrendered to the sinful nature we claim to have cast off in the name of the Christ at our baptism.
Every time I have known of a church split (and having lived through one I speak of experience here) it really had more to do with some brother's or sister's anger or malice (animosity) toward a fellow Christian as any doctrinal issue. If our lives are characterized by these things, Paul says, we lied to God when we came to be baptized into Jesus' name.
II. "IN" THE SELFLESS SAVIOR, BECOMING SELFLESS SERVANTS! (3.1-4,
”So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
I have mentioned baptism several times now because the Apostle has been discussing, I believe, "post-baptismal" life or what might be called "resurrection life" in Christ since 3.1. All the things in 3.5-11 are things that are contrary to the life of one who has undergone baptism in the Lord's name. Beloved, living as a citizen of the Kingdom of God is more than joining a church, attending worship services, placing money in the collection, or going to Bible class. It is even more than making sure our "doctrine" is perfect (and we know that it never will be for God alone is perfect). No! Living in the Kingdom is to undergo conversion. It is to undergo transformation. It is to go From death To life!
Let me see if I can illustrate what Paul is talking about here in 3.1-4. Ernst Gordon wrote an engrossing work titled THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE KWAI. It is a saga relating his ordeal of three years being held prisoner by the Japanese in World War II. It is a good commentary on religious experience as I see it. At first many in the camp turn to God and were confident of rescue. There were pious affirmations of faith. But as time passed, with harsh and brutal treatment, the rescue did not materialize. They turned on each other. They fought, stole from each other, and refused to care for the sick and dying among them. They were according to Gordon the "living dead."
But something happened in that camp. A few moved past shallow faith in God as a quick fix artist and began to live a mature faith. They stopped bickering and practiced sacrificial love. Gordon himself was nursed back to health by fellow prisoners who refused to eat so he could have their meager rations. In fact one inmate actually starved to death so Gordon could live. One underwent an undeserved execution in order to keep the whole group from being killed. Some even found ways to be kind to their captors.
Gordon says "selfishness, hatred, jealousy, greed were all found by us to be ANTI-LIFE! Love, self-sacrifice, mercy and creative faith were the ESSENCE of life. These were the gifts of God to men." Brothers and sisters is that not what Paul is talking about: the old way of life with its anger, malice, slander, and selfishness is ANTI-LIFE. But Gordon and his fellows underwent conversion of sorts. It was a life altering and mind changing event and process -- that is what Paul says has happened to us. That mind altering and life changing occurrence was baptism.
Notice carefully v.1ff "Since you have been raised with Christ . . . For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God . . . Christ IS your life" (vv. 1-4). These anti-life things cannot be part of the Christian because the old dead person that was full of anti-life was killed, buried and raised by God up. God raised us up and brought us to LIFE in Christ. The life of a Christian, post-baptismal life is resurrection life. It is life free from the dominance of sin and death. Paul is reminding us of the language he used already in 2.21:
"having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead."
Here in these verses then Paul is making clear what the life of a baptized person should look like. What the life of one who confess Christ to be the Supreme and Sufficient Savior is to be a Selfless Servant. He says in essence baptism is not just an ending of the old sinful person but it is the beginning of the new person. It is entering the New Creation. In baptism we underwent a transformation so radical -- more radical than that of Gordon's -- we experienced CONVERSION! Conversion from one who acted and thought like an enemy of God to one whose life is so much like Christ's that it is said to be "hidden in Christ."
If we understand that we were once dead but are now alive IN the Savior, then we know we have no life of our own for "Christ is our life." We are to by like him. If Christ is my life then how can I let anger,
slander and other anti-life situations dominate my life ... these were killed and buried in the watery grave! We learned in ch.1 and 2 that Christ has defeated those "powers" at the place of victory, his Cross. Paul says this cannot be for one who has experienced being resurrected from the dead by the power of God in baptism.
This point is so important and I have struggled on how to illustrate it. This is not perfect but maybe it will help. I have something, in my pocket, that was alive but now it is dead. I plan to bring it back to life before your very eyes. This is a parable of sorts on Paul's point of coming to life in the Savior. Here it is. It is a genuine leather glove. It once had life as a cow. But the cow died and became someone's steak and my glove. I cannot bring this glove back to life as a cow -- but I can give the glove life. Let's see if it can be done by commands (this is how some think life is imparted): GLOVE, LIVE! Nothing is happening. Let's try threats: Glove, come alive or I will throw you into the fire! Nothing. The Glove is DEAD. Its motionless and lifeless. How can a dead thing, whether a glove or a human being, respond to a command or a threat? It cannot! The point here is that one cannot live as God would want . . . no matter how hard they try (and Paul seems to think we prefer to go our own way).
I want to try a radically different approach. One that demonstrates the difference between man's effort and God's power and grace. Watch carefully as I place my LIVING HAND INSIDE THE DEAD GLOVE. It responds now. It moves. It does productive things. My mind and the glove are connected and it “obeys” even without my verbalizing a command. But its life is not the old life of "cowness" but the new life of "handness." Life flows into the glove from without . . . from me.
Do you see any connection to Paul? The old, dead person cannot change her status. Commands nor threats will do it. Only by being filled with Christ the Supreme and Sufficient Savior will do it. Only then can we have life because then and only then “Christ is your life." Paul says if we have faith in the Crucified One that will bring us to the baptismal waters and there God will crucify the death that reigns in our bodies and then he will raise us from the dead to a new life just as he did Christ. Like the glove we will come ALIVE when we are clothed, filled and hidden in Christ. It is a life full of grace. It is a life full of peace. It is a life that forgives each and every fault we see in others, with no strings attached, as Paul says:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”
You see if we cloth or "glove" ourselves with Christ, we will start to look and act like the Savior we claim to follow when we enter the waters of baptism.
Beloved, Paul has been talking about the radical nature of conversion. His question to each of us is this: "have I been truly converted?" Have I been transformed? Did I undergo a change of life? Have I gone from Death to Life?" Baptism is far more than getting our sins forgiven, though it certainly involves that. Baptism is where God recreates us in his Son. In baptism I claim to give God control of my life. Baptism, the great reformer John Calvin wrote, takes only a moment to do but takes a lifetime to live. What an insightful thought. Our Christian life is a bapitsmal life, a resurrection life hidden in Christ. The goal is to be as responsive to the Savior as the glove is to my hand. That means we, like Gordon, must go through a life altering and heart changing experience through the power of God in baptism. Through his living in us we can be all he wants us to be -- when we choose to follow him and live out our baptism.
"by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them." (Col 2.14-15)