Colossians 3:12-17

Jimmy JoAdvent, Colossians, SermonsLeave a Comment

So today is the last Sunday before the New Year.  And we sit at the threshold of 2022, probably hoping that the next year is a good deal better than the last one.  But having said that, I want to remind us how important it is that we don’t lose sight of the blessings of God in the midst of the inconveniences of the world.  Perhaps, if anything, that’s one of the lessons that we can take from the past couple of years of the pandemic.  It’s something that we are frequently encouraged to remember during our prayer times, as we begin (usually) each prayer time with a time of thanksgiving.  That is, it’s important to maintain the discipline of thanksgiving because we can so easily become blinded by the disappointments and struggles of this life. 

But through all of that, we try to remember that God is good, to know that God is faithful, and to place our hope in that which is so much more than that which is temporary. 

So, as we sit at the threshold of a new year, we put our hope in God alone.  And as we’ve said so many times before, that’s largely what we’re trying to do here in church, as a body of God’s people.  We are trying to live faithfully and fully into the new life, the true life, into which we have been called, into which we have been saved through Christ Jesus.  That is, though we are hard pressed on every side, we are not crushed; though we may be perplexed, we are not in despair; though we are persecuted, we know we are not abandoned; though we may be struck down, we are not destroyed.  Rather, as a body of Christ, we seek to live in the resurrection of Christ; we press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus takes hold of us. 

So our passage today comes to us from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Looking at Colossians 3:12-17, we read: 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17

I don’t know how well most of you will remember, but we’ve actually done a quick study of Colossians before and have looked at these verses a couple of times before (once as part of the study, and once (last year) during the Easter season).  However, both of those times, we looked at these verses as part of a larger section.  So having said that, I hope that our sermon today won’t be overly repetitive. 

To begin with, I want to review very quickly what’s going on in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  In short, Paul’s concern seems to be with the Christians in Colossae being led astray by false teachers (or wrong teachers).  These Christians are being led astray with all kinds of ideas and practices about what it means to be the people of God.  That is, they are being led to believe that they have to do all kinds of things, fulfill all kinds of requirements, in order to be “saved.” Instead, says Paul, they need to remember and cling to the simple truth that Jesus Christ is everything.  In Jesus Christ is the fullness and completeness of God’s redeeming work in human history.  Life – that is, the resurrection life – is found in and through Jesus Christ alone.  

Now there’s more to be said about that, obviously.  But if we take a brief look at the letter to the Colossians, we can kind of see how Paul works out his argument. 

In Chapter one, Paul lays out the foundation of his faith – again, that Jesus Christ, the son of God, is all.  It is through Christ alone that we sinners are brought back into right relationship with God.  So, we read:

1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:15-23

And Paul says, it is through Christ, and for Christ, that Paul is called to his ministry. 

In chapter two, Paul begins to address the issue in Colossae.  He says that his desire is that the believers come to spiritual maturity – that is, to know and life out the truth of the fullness of Christ.  And this in particular because some are suggesting otherwise.  So we read in chapter two: 

2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:8

And Paul goes on to say: 

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:

Colossians 2:16-20

And in chapter three, where we find out passage today, we read: 

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-3

Paul goes on to say that the believers must “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  Paul encourages the believers to be different than those who are in the world, those who don’t know God.  And one of those things has to do with divisions – it has to do with segregating one another based on judgements about “the truly godly” and those who are not.  Paul says: 

11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Colossians 3:11

And then we get our verses for today: 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17

Now we’ve gone through that very quickly, obviously.  So we’re not able to dig into the nuances or the specifics of Paul’s concerns and therefore his argument.  It’s worth noting that immediately after these verses, we get Paul’s interpretation of the household code (wives, submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives, etc.).  Which to me suggests that the household code in this context arises out of the verses we read today.  (And in chapter four, we get Paul’s closing remarks.) 

But my basic understanding is that what we’re seeing in Colossians is this contrast between those “false teachers,” those who are taking some captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ and the “true philosophy,” or true teaching of Paul which says that because we are all saved solely and completely through Christ, we are brothers and sisters, one body, in Christ. 

To put it another way, the characteristics of the people of God are not the customs, requirements, or even theological inclinations that some may deem necessary.  Rather, the defining characteristic of the people of God is the sole and complete dependence upon Christ. 

Therefore, because we are saved solely through Christ, be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient with one another.  Because it is Christ’s work and not our effort, bear with one another, and forgive one another.  Because all of us are sinners throwing ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God, love one another. 

Now as a quick aside and an important corrective, does that mean that we can believe whatever we want, and do whatever we want?  No, it doesn’t mean that at all.  What it means is that there is Christ-life, and a not-Christ-life.  And we are called to seek the Christ-life, if we are actually seeking life at all. 

Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  Now I’m not sure how genuine the attribution is – it’s one of those quotes that is often repeated but might be entirely apocryphal.  But the essence of the sentiment is something that is kind of pervasive in western culture.  That is, people don’t really have a problem with Jesus – but they seem to have significant issue with those who purport to represent Him (Christians). 

Now it’s worth going into further depth to examine the source and extent of discontent with Christians and the Church.  And it’s worth asking the question, “how well did Gandhi (or anyone else) really understand the biblical Jesus.  More often, at the popular level, we create an image in our head of Jesus that has nothing to do with biblical revelation. 

But the criticism may be worth paying attention to.  And I’m certainly not saying that the point is to be liked, to be accepted by the world at large.  What I am asking is, “how then shall we be known?”  What are the primary characteristics by which the church of God is known? 

For the church in Colossae, it seems that some wanted to be known by certain theological and ethical distinctives.  I’m over-generalizing here, but it seems that these distinctives had at least something to do with their Jewish roots. 

But for Paul, what should set the people of God apart are things like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love (though of course, we shouldn’t take this to be comprehensive – that is, it’s not limited to these things).  And Paul understands that characteristics such as these represent a life, or a way of life, that is made possible because of the work completed in Jesus Christ.  Or to put it another way, Jesus makes it possible for us to live as we were meant to be, as we were created to be as the very image of God.  And so, Paul says: 

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:15-17

Therefore, how we the people of God are to be known is how Christ has made Himself known to us. 

Now we stand, once again, at the threshold of a new year.  I have no idea what 2022 is going to look like.  I hope that it will be better than 2021 – but as I said on Christmas Eve, things are never so bad that they can’t get worse.  But I certainly hope that it will be better.  But what will the witness of the Church be this coming year?  How will we engage whatever circumstances may come our way?  What will the witness, what will be the testimony of this church be this coming year?  And what kind of community will we choose to be? 

I hope that we will continue to work, to continue to live in such a way that when people see this community, they will see a community defined by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, and unity?  I hope that when people encounter this community, they will encounter Jesus.

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