Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Less of Me, More of Him -John 3:25-30

 Today is a special day in the life of our church and I was I thinking about what I would share, I couldn’t help but reflect on what has been preached from behind this pulpit. Over the last eleven years, in compliance with the unique calling upon me to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) we have traveled through Jonah, The Sermon on the Mount, Daniel, John, Ruth, Nehemiah, Genesis 1-11, Hebrews, Revelation, and Judges, not to mention the many Christmas, Easter, and Summer Mission’s series that we enjoyed together. In every message I have endeavored to do nothing more than to say what he said (that is what God said) and to do this as clearly and creatively as possible so that the Spirit of God might use the Word of God to make the children of God look more like the Son of God. The question that has weighed heavy on me is what would I preach about this Sunday, my final Sunday as your Senior Pastor.  As I was praying about what I would share, I found myself drawn repeatedly to a text in John 3:25-30. In it, much like our church is experiencing in this season, a transition is taking place. In it, people are asking questions, some are growing anxious, others are looking for explanations, and still others are trying to figure out what lies ahead. Caught in the middle of this cacophony is John the Baptist who is the primary speaker in this text. You see, he is the one on his way out and he is the one being pursued for answers to what is going on. John the Baptist provides some important insights here that I believe help quell the fears of those who have been following him and will also help provide the kind of perspective we all need as we continue to follow the Lord moving forward.

This passage begins at the emergence of a discussion taking place between the disciples of John the Baptist in response to what Jesus was doing in and around the area (read vv. 22-24). With John baptizing in the area and Jesus doing the same nearby, John’s disciples began to “discuss” issues of purification and its relationship to baptism— Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification…” (3:25). Given the context of this dialogue, it might be that these followers of John were in a dispute around the issue of whose baptism was more efficacious, the Baptist’s or Jesus’. The discussion may also have concerned the clash between John’s practices and other prominent Jewish practices. Lots of people are getting wet for all kinds of reasons. Therefore this small group of disciples begins to have a heated debate on the subject.

The discussion continues with “…And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him’…” (3:26). The manner in which John’s disciples refer to John reflects incredible honor. “Rabbi,” or “my great one,” would have been an esteemed title for any teacher. However, the manner in which John’s disciples refer to Jesus reveals a hint of jealousy on their part. Notice how impersonal they are in their reference to Christ, “he who was with you…to whom you have testified.” It is not as though His name escaped them or was unknown to them.  Jesus was a big deal! He had already amassed a large gathering and had performed many signs (one of which involving a very large spectacle in the temple that would have been the topic of many discussions in and around Jerusalem). Even John the Baptist had testified to Him! However, these followers of John were confused about who their ultimate leader was, which is why they extend the kind of respect, awe, and allegiance to John that should have been reserved for Christ.

The passage reveals that both John the Baptist and Jesus had attractive, vibrant ministries. However, one (Jesus’) was becoming more attractive and vibrant that the other (John’s) and John’s followers were none to happy.  

The exaggerated statement, “all are coming to Him” reveals, once again, the impure jealousy of the disciples of John. Now that some of John’s disciples were leaving the forerunner and going to Jesus (see 1:35ff), many were beginning to ask questions. What’s the deal? Are you not as special as we thought? You were first man? We know you, like you, enjoyed your messages and have come to appreciate you! These questions/sentiments gave John every reason and opportunity to stake his claim, defend his ministry, and tout his experience.

Faced with a similar barrage of questions, anyone would be tempted to go to one’s own defense for fear of looking weak, obsolete, or inferior—especially after being egged on by a group of one’s supporters. However, that is not what John does here.

A. STATEMENT #1 (I am Not in Control)-3:27-“…John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven…”

Here, instead of running to his own defense or explaining away the mass migration to Jesus, John tells his disciples that he must neither exceed his own calling, nor compare himself with the work of others—“ John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven…” (3:27). As much as it concerned people responding to a message or calling, John submits that Jesus’ is far superior because the calling associated with Him is from heaven. The reference to Jesus’ superior calling coincides with John’s witness throughout this gospel (1:7-9, 15, 26-27, 30). Reminding his disciples of his consistent testimony –Jesus is greater than he is—the Baptist tells his devotees that they should not be surprised that Jesus has attracted a larger following. John ultimately confesses that he is not in control and could not control how people were responding because the God of heaven is at work and moving. God’s sovereignty stands hidden behind all human claims, for a human being does not have anything but what he has received. Believing for one second that John could alter the minds of people or attempting to sway them in his direction and away from Jesus would have been to behave in the worst possible arrogance.

My calling to this ministry and the next is a calling from heaven that supersedes the calling that I desired for my own life. Therefore I have to recognize, just as John’s disciples and as John already knew, that I am not in control, and neither are you,…God is.  In the grand play of life, He calls the shots as the director of the show and if His direction involves something unexpected or averse to your preconceived notions about life, then so be it.

Recognize that as far as your life is concerned, you are not in control. As a result, it is incumbent on us to refrain from the tendency we all have of ever believing that we are calling the shots in our lives.

B. STATEMENT #2 (I am Not the Christ)-3:28-“…You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but I have been sent ahead of Him.’…”

John, unlike some of his followers, is not perturbed by the news of Jesus’ growing popularity. For starters, he had always made it abundantly clear that he was not the Christ. 

John 1:20-23-“and he confessed and did not deny but confessed “I am not the Christ.’…I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness,’ make straight the way of the Lord.’…”

With Jesus’ popularity on the rise and John at the height of his popularity, the issue of John’s relationship to Jesus needed clarification. Here, he succinctly provides this clarity by saying, “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but I have been sent ahead of Him.’…” (3:28) –i.e. “by the way, I am not the Messiah, I’m just the messenger for the Messiah.”

Indeed, John had prepared the way of the Lord and His ministry, by its very nature was intended to result in people encountering the Christ (Messiah/Anointed One).  Both Jesus and John had been given their roles from heaven and John was content to play his part well. “Act well you part, there the honor lies.”

Over the last eleven years God has reminded me time and time again that I am no savior, builder, or hero of anything, let alone God’s church. Neither are YOU! Jesus, however, is the Savior of his people, the builder of his church and the hero of the unfolding story. This doesn’t apply exclusively to this church. That marriage that is on the frits, that addiction you are trying to hide, that relationship that is broken is beyond your saving capabilities. Only Jesus is suitable for saving your life, because only Jesus is God. In the grand play of life, Jesus not only calls the shots as the director, but is the main event in which the real actions takes place, leaving you and I as a preshow pointing to the main attraction.

Understand, although it can be hard at times and although the world ad your flesh might try to convince you otherwise, that you are not God, Jesus is. We ought to say along with John the Baptist often and loudly that we are not the Christ.

C. STATEMENT #3 (I am Not the Groom)-3:29-“…He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full…”

John next provides a similar comment by means of an illustration—“…He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full…” (3:29). Here, he likens himself to the best man at a wedding who stands ready to do the bridegroom’s bidding. In the first century, the role of a best man included organizing the details of the wedding and presiding over its success. He would find his greatest joy in watching the ceremony proceed without a problem, and in knowing that the groom and his bride were being united with great rejoicing. In light of the Old Testament background where Israel is depicted as “the bride of God,” John the Baptist is suggesting that Jesus is Israel’s long-awaited Groom. In keeping with the ancient law, the Baptist as the “best man” would have been forbidden to ever marry the bride. Rather than try and steal the attention that belongs to a bride and groom on their wedding day, John, as a good best man stood on the side and “rejoiced greatly.” John is ecstatic, not bewildered or threatened, that many are responding to the voice of Jesus Christ. He, for one, realizes his ministry, his life, and everything else is about people responding to the Messiah, not him—the groom, not the best man.

Over the course of the last many years, my wife and I have been in or I have officiated many weddings. I am always interested in what the best man has to say about the groom in his speech at the reception. It is the one time the best man is allowed to take center stage and yet, even still, the main attraction is often the look on the groom’s face and his reaction to what is being said. Similarly, John’s life and ministry was intended to point all attention and focus to Jesus. In this he found incredible joy and no cause for worry or shame. However too often in our lives, the platforms God gives us at our jobs, or in our families, or among our friends are used for selfish gain instead of pointing people to Jesus. Even ministry can be misused this way! Too often our source of joy is how many people are looking at us, instead of looking at Him. In essence, we become guilty of trying to steal the people’s attention for ourselves which is no better than the best man trying to run off with the bride at the wedding reception! In the grand play of life, Jesus is not only the director calling the shots and the main action that takes place on the stage; He is the lead role who receives all of the attention from the audience and from the minor roles around Him.

Give focus to Jesus as the groom instead of trying to steal people’s attention from where it is supposed to be. God’s people would do well to give up a worldly obsession with the sound of our own voices and begin tuning them people around them to the sound of the only voice that saves.

D. STATEMENT #4 (I am Not Trending)-3:30-“…He must increase, but I must decrease’…”

John correctly perceives that his ministry is changing. The transition from the Baptist to Jesus represents a crucial salvation-historical watershed from the Old Testament prophetic era to that of the Messianic era. In other words, the time for looking ahead to Jesus was coming to a close and the time for the emergence of the Messiah was at hand. Therefore, John concludes, in a most reflective tone, that it necessarily follows that “Christ must increase while he must decrease” (3:30).

John finds his satisfaction in wholeheartedly embracing God’s will and the supremacy it assigns to Jesus Christ. John’s language is reminiscent of the increase and decrease of light from heavenly bodies. The more radiantly the sun begins to shine in the morning, the more John’s star would grow faint.

One of the shows my wife and I like watch from time to time is America’s Got Talent. At the live results show, they will often talk about how an artist/performer is trending on twitter or on Itunes, meaning that a specific act is being downloaded by huge number of viewers or receiving a lot of attention on social media sites. The artist wants to be trending because that means their popularity is growing. In the case of Jesus and John the Baptist, Jesus was trending, and would continue to trend throughout His ministry. Some might even make the case that He continues to trend as His kingdom grows throughout the world. However, Jesus’ growth of popularity necessarily meant that John’s popularity and influence was depreciating and would have to suffer. Similarly, our lives must be spent make ourselves smaller so that Jesus can trend on our platforms (not us!). What it is that we broadcast should only result in Jesus becoming more and more popular in our corner of the world. In the grand play of life, Jesus is not only the director calling the shots, the main action that takes place on the stage, and the lead role who receives all of the attention, He ought to be the name on the billboard that draws the masses to Himself.

Instead of broadcasting yourself and your will to the world around you, choose to use yourself as a channel of God to broadcast Jesus Christ and His will in order that He might trend in the lives of those around you.

So What?

As a final challenge both to myself and this church in lieu of the transition that is taking place, I would charge you given what God has shared in this passage that we all adopt a “self-loss” program this year that includes these realizations: I am not the Christ, I am not in control, I am not the Christ, I am not the groom, I am not trending. Post them on a mirror, in your car, on a frequently opened door, and write them on the tablet of your heart. Recognize that Jesus is in control; He is God; He is the center of attention; and He should be the one trending in popularity. Today’s Christians have a real obsession with self as demonstrated by the questions they ask and the attention they seek. “How can I be a better husband or wife?” “How can I manage my money better?” How can I know the best decision in this particular situation?” “How am I supposed to fix this or that?” Applied to the church, the enemy would love nothing more than to convince people to rely on their own talents, expertise, experience, and insights so as to play the part of savior of the church, especially now in light of this season of transition. Here is the dirty little secret. YOU CAN’T! And no three or four-step process will provide you with the salvation you need in any of these areas. But Jesus can. He is a great husband; He manages everything well; He knows all things; He fixes all kinds of problems. Instead of focusing on becoming better version of ourselves, perhaps we need to focus on becoming a smaller version of ourselves so Jesus can become a bigger influence in our families, our churches, our culture, and our world. John the Baptist, understood this, and in response became the biggest loser. And so I say, with all due respect, as someone who has learned this lesson the hard way, step aside, move out of the way, and let God move. He must increase, and you and I must decrease.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

First Century Email Signature- Col. 4:7-18

 Many who work for a company know a thing or two about branding. One of the ways companies will work to normalize their messaging and standardize their online appearance is encourage/require a specific email signature. I know as an adjunct faculty member at Liberty University there are certain things about my email signature that must be present—name, highest degree completed, title, phone number, the correct university logo, etc. These details, for anyone who pays any attention, reveal certain things about not only who I am, but something of the nature of what is being shared in the email above. Those who see it learn my credentials, specific role at the institution, and what school I am affiliated with and, as a result, can expect certain things about the correspondence given. At the very end of Paul’s letters he provides something similar. Colossians 4:7-18 is one example of what might be a first century version of an email signature. While many might be tempted to quickly gloss over the apostle’s sign off, the details provided give insight into the nature and impact of the contents of the letter, who is sending it, who he is working with, and why this all matters.

A. Paul Sends His People-4:7-9

As Paul wraps up his letter to the church of Colossae, he starts by indicating who he is sending their way (along with the letter). The first sent one is called Tychichus—“As to all my affairs, Tychichus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information,…” (4:7). Tychichus probably served as a special page of Paul and was entrusted to send this letter. It was an important and delicate business carrying special correspondences a long distance and Tychichus, in this case, was the man for the job. However, more than a courier, Paul calls Tychichus a brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant. These three descriptive phrases mark a trinity of compliments that any God-fearing believer ought to desire be said of them. First, “brother” highlights the relationship Tychicbus had with the church by means of their being in the same spiritual family. Second, “faithful-servant” suggests that Tychicus was obedient to the Lord’s calling on his life, faithfully carrying out his duties as unto the Lord. Third, “bond-servant in the Lord” suggests both humility and allegiance to the Lord in all things. This was the kind of man that Christian leaders long to serve alongside—brothers (or sisters), faithful servants, bond-servants of the Lord.

He sends this special courier for a specific purpose—“For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts” (4:8). Not only did Paul desire for Tychichus to share the letter itself, but he also wanted Tychichus to reveal the circumstances surrounding the letter’s origin. Paul was in prison for the faith and yet was remaining faithful to the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Surely this ought to inspire similar perseverance in the walks of those who served the Lord in Colossae under increasing pressure. There is something about perseverance under fire that motivates the people of God to move forward in strength and Paul desired that Tychichus share as much with the church. The apostle did not want to the church to be disturbed by his present situation nor paralyzed in fear of what it meant; he wanted them to be encouraged and inspired by God’s faithfulness, even amid his shackles and chains.

Along with Tychichus, Paul sends Onesimus—“and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number” (4:9a). This is that same Onesimus that serves as a major focus in Paul’s letter to Philemon—Onesimus’ master. That is right, Onesimus, according to the world’s eyes, was a runaway slave. In Rome, “that (typically) meant that he lost whatever respect he may have had previously and could have been severely punished” (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 327). However, Paul does not introduce this recent convert as a convict, but as a “faithful and beloved brother” (4:9a). In other words, Onesimus ought not be looked down upon because of his past or his socio-economic status. Onesimus, because of his newfound position in Christ, was a fellow brother in the Lord and Paul reiterates this with “who is one of your number” (4:9a). You see, in God’s family, the classifications, classes, or categories the world would love to place people in no longer divide. What matters most to the identity of those who have been saved (much as Onesimus was at this point in his life), is that they are a child of God! Therefore, the church ought look at brothers and sisters, not at the world does, but as God intends.

Galatians 3:28-“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Understanding oneself primarily by means of his/her relationship with God goes a long way in staving off the divisive influences that exist in a myopically preoccupied world.

Both Tychichus, the courier, and Onesimus, the new brother, Paul says, “will inform you about the whole situation here,…” (4:9b).

B. Paul Send His Greetings-4:10-14

After sending these two men, Paul sends his greetings (or, better yet, the greetings of those who are with him). First to send his greeting is “Aristarchus”—“Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings,…” (4:10a). Aristarchus was a convert of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9) and enjoyed a good reputation. He remained with Paul on the journey to Rome (Acts 27:2) and was presumably in prison for the same reasons as Paul (as he was one of three Jewish believers who were with Paul at the time) (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 328). Like the apostle himself, prison had not dampened the spirits of Aristarchus who offers his greetings to the church in Colossae.

Another to send his greetings is “Barnabas’s cousin Mark,” about whom Paul says, “if he comes to you, welcome him” (4:10b). Mark (or John Mark) had a significant place in early Christian missions. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5) and yet, for some unknown reasons, he returned home after the group entered Asia (Acts 13:13). This became an occasion for division between Barnabas and Paul (yes, division occurred even among the early church leaders). Regardless of exactly what happened, Barnabas, who had discipled Paul in his early Christian years, went on to disciple Mark from that point and saw him develop into an effective minister. Despite their past conflict, Mark had interfaced again and reconciled. This is why Paul commends Mark to the church and why later, nearing the end of his life, the apostle requests Mark’s presence  (2 Tim. 4:11). It is nice to know that conflict and division does not have to be permanent. Here, in this quick commendation we see that whatever needed working out was worked out and any differences between these two saints were long passed.

Along with Mark Paul sends the greetings of ”Jesus who is called Justus” and indicates that “these (he and Mark and Aristarchus) are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision” (4:11). In other words, these were Jewish converts to Christianity. Many of the earliest Christians, including the apostles themselves, were Jews first. However, as the church began to spread across the Roman world, converts to Christianity from the Jewish community became more scarce—scarce, but, as Paul indicates, not totally absent.

Next to send greetings is “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis…” (4:12-13). Perhaps Paul spent special time on Epaphrus because the church of Colossae already knew him—he was one of their own. Paul reveals that Epaphrus has proven to be a bondslave for Jesus Christ (faithfully obedient in every way), that his labor in prayer for the church in Colossae has been tireless, and that his concern for the church in Colossae and the surrounding areas has been passionate. This Epaphrus guys sounds like quite a co-laborer! He was a passionate prayer warrior!

Finally, “Luke, the beloved Physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas” (4:14). Remember, this is a relatively small and obscure church. Consider that John Mark, and Luke (the writer o the Gospel and Acts), along with sterling examples of faithfulness, obedience, and perseverance, and prayer, are among those greeting and encouraging the saints there! No church is too small or insignificant not to be whole-heartedly encouraged by the very best of God’s servants. No church is alone in their endeavor to see the Mission of God accomplished. These greetings testify to the important task of sending encouraging words to our brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever they may be!

C. Paul Sends His Requests-4:15-17

Next, Paul sends his requests of the church in Colossae. First, much as he has already demonstrated, he asks that the church “greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house” (4:15). Laodicea was a neighboring city to Colossae and the church there, while starting out as a vibrant energetic Christian community, by the end of the first century, suffered from being Lukewarm (see Revelation 3:14-22). If there was a community of believers who needed encouragement, it was this neighboring congregation. Paul requests that the Colossians church do well by encouraging their brothers and sisters there and, more specifically, in the home of Nympha. Nympha is not a city, but a lady’s name. Her house served as a meeting space for the church in Laodicea. Paul wanted the church and its host to be encouraged by the Colossians.

In fact, going a step further, Paul requests next that the church in Colossae share this letter with the church in Laodicea—“When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea” (4:16). While the primary audience of this correspondence was the congregation in Colossae, surely the church in Laodicea (and the church today) could stand to learn from the principles of what has been disclosed—namely the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the Christian life found in Christ, and the application of Christianity in the home and the church. Ephesians is another example of such a letter that was circulated among neighboring sites. In the case of this letter to Colossae, if the church of Laodicea was floundering or growing stale, being reminded of who Christ is and what being in Christ means would go a long way in helping them stave off further decay.

Paul’s last request is for a specific person in the congregation—“say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it’…” (4:17). Little is known about exactly what Archippus was doing or what work he was tasked with. However, Paul, in a special way, spurned him toward faithfulness in this personal address here at the end of his letter. Perhaps Archippus needed a little extra motivation to be faithful to his calling. 😊 Being called out by the apostle in front of the church would certainly do the trick!  

D. Paul Sends His Confirmation-4:18

The final send-off Paul provides the church of Colossae is confirmation that this letter is indeed from him (with all the apostolic authority appertaining thereunto).  He writes in verse 18—“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand….”. At this point, Paul takes the pen from his secretary (who was writing what Paul dictated) and composes this last line himself. This, no doubt, provided the letter with more authenticity. It is possible that Paul had very distinguishing handwriting and that the penmanship here would have changed significantly, indicating that a new writer was taking over. In many ways, this is like a signature/seal of approval, verifying and confirming all the contents of the letter. After providing such, he asks that the church “remember (his imprisonment),” probably in prayer—asking for God’s blessing, strength, and provision—and then confirms the blessing “grace be with you.”

So What?

What might we stand to learn from these send-offs in Colossians 4:7-18 that we can apply today? Given the description of the people mentioned, we learn that belonging to the family and God and faithfulness in service to the Lord are to be the most revered credentials in the church. Value in the Church is not calculated by surveying letters that may or may not follow or precede your name on a business card nor is it a product of counting the degrees on your wall. God’s people are valued simply by belonging to him and this witnessed in how they faithfully fulfill their calling. Dear brother/sister, don’t be impressed by the wrong things or don’t fall into the habit of believing you don’t qualify for God’s service. As a child of God, who have all the credentials you need to do all that God would have for you to do. Another thing that this passage teaches is that who we are in Christ now is what ought to define our identity. Like obsolete or outdated credentials on a resume, who you were before your relationship with Christ does not define you. Look at Onesimus. Paul introduces him for who he is, not what he once was. Don’t let the enemy allow your past to ruin your present effectiveness or future capacity. You are, as God says “a new creation” –your resume has been updated in a most dramatic way. Finally, this passage reveals that God is willing, able, and pleased, to use imperfect people to encourage the mission of the church forward. Those mentioned in this text were not void of conflict and division and yet, this did not prove permanent or paralyzing. The mission of God, their position in Christ, and the task of encouraging the church in Colossae overwhelmed past grievances and allowed this letter and all of the rich theology and application therein to be sent off. Similarly, the church/churches would do well to allow the mission of God, its position in Christ, and the task of encouraging others to overwhelm past grievances as she pursues God’s will today.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Some Final Instructions- Colossians 4:1-6

 As Paul continues to bring his letter to a close, the practical instructions/callings for the church in Colossae continue to spill onto the pages of this correspondence. Remember, the church of Colossae was a small church in a brave new world of persecution and false teaching. Adherence to Paul’s many instructions both for the individual (3:1-17), for the family (3:18-25), and, as we will soon see, for the church (3:2-6), would go a long way in preventing ministry failure and advancing the mission of God in a dark and otherwise difficult context. Thankfully, many of the same instructions and callings apply today as our church faces a brave new world of pressure and deception. In Colossians 4:1-6, three more callings are provided that, if followed, would help the church execute herself and her mission well. It is my prayer that we would take these callings seriously and apply these relevant principles as we head into the future.

1. Lead Fairly-4:1

In a continuation from the list of instructions in the last chapter, Paul begins chapter 4 with a calling for masters to lead fairly—“Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness” (4:1a). Again, the master-slave relationship in first century Rome looked very different than what we typically think of when we consider the institution of slavery. Although slaves did not receive salaries then, their basic needs were met in such situations in keeping with the value of human effort, time, and life (Melcik, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 319). If masters were to avoid judgment, they had to have concern for fairness in their dealings with those who served.

Some have argued that these instructions for slaves (see 3:22ff) and masters (4:1) suggests that the Bible condones the institution of slavery. As a result, many question the goodness of God and the truthfulness of his word. However, this passage is one example of many of God bringing order into the chaos brought on by sin so that institutions that crept in because of the fall would not go completely off the rails and destroy the human race. Slavery is one result of the fall (and, as a result, a problem mankind brought on himself). Instructions on how to keep this fall from having an even worse effect on humans than it already does is a grace of God. In fact, what Paul shares in Philemon suggests that slavery is not part of God’s original design and should be avoided if possible.

However, wherever such arrangements existed in the original context, masters were to lead with fairness.

This they were to do “knowing that you too have a Master in heaven” (4:1b). No human master is the ultimate authority and, in fact, in the grand scheme of things, all of God’s people serve the Lord. Those who lead and manage others must do so in full recognition of the fact that they are being led and managed by One greater. The Lord God is the ultimate authority and sovereign leader of all and the best masters in the first century and beyond would be those who were clearly mastered by the Lord.  That God is the greatest master is not only a matter of who he is, but also where he is situated—“in heaven.” Because he occupies a better place and, in some ways, stands outside of our domain, he is able to see a more complete picture and understand the end from the beginning. Who better is there to ultimately call the shots?

To those who lead others in various arrangement Paul says, “lead fairly.” Leading well means leading as one being led.

2. Pray Purposefully-4:2-4

As Paul continues to draw his letter to a close, he calls upon the church in Colossae to devote themselves to prayer (with consistent and constant intensity with the possible implication of difficulty)—"devote yourselves to prayer” (4:2a). The same verb is used in Acts 2:42 to describe the early church’s devotion to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship and prayer. In light of all that Paul has taught so far in this letter, Paul’s moves to the close by highlighting this most important practice in an encouragement to the church to commit themselves to a life of fervent intercession.

However, not just any praying will do. The Colossians were instructed to pray in a specific manner, with “alertness” or “watchfulness” and “with an attitude of thanksgiving,” (4:2b).  Although prayer does require the individual to be awake (duh), when Paul says “keeping alert,” he is talking about praying with an acute awareness of whatever affects the spread of the gospel. This becomes more obvious as Paul will soon provide specific requests. Informed prayer is likely to be more purposeful, personal, and powerful.

Notice also that prayer is supposed to take place in the context of thanksgiving (1 Thess. 5:17). Thankfulness provides the proper context for good praying. No one depended on the context of thanksgiving more than Paul whose own circumstances were often anything but something for which to be thankful. He was writing this from a prison cell for crying out loud! However, to ensure a proper perspective amid tribulation, Paul both modeled and urged that prayer be offered in an attitude of thanksgiving. This kind of prayer Paul encourage here both recognizes the obstacles and difficulties AND remembers that despite all of them, God is able to work.

The construction of these two verses may suggest a three-fold pattern in prayer life. First, an individual prays fervently, second, an individual watches or waits for a response (“keeping alert in it”), and third, the individual responds with thanksgiving upon answered prayer. The first element (fervent prayer) requires obedience, as a believer takes on the command to pray. The second (waiting for a response) requires faith as the believer anxiously seeks the fulfillment of the answer. The third (thanksgiving) encourages praise and adoration to God for having answered the prayer offered. While the world sleeps in their disbelief and ignorance, Paul calls Christians to keep awake and devoted to regular and steady prayer.  The church’s kingdom-building mission cannot be successful without a strong connection to the King and this comes by a dynamic fervent prayer life.  

Paul continues in verse 3 with “praying at the same time for us as well.” By repeating the word “prayer” in verse 3, Paul emphasizes its importance and in the spirit of being specific in their prayer lives, Paul gives the church some specific requests of his. Listen carefully to what he asks the church to keep in mind. First, Paul requested that the church in Colossae pray for an open door for the gospel, “that God will open up to us a door for the word so that we may speak for the mystery of Christ for which I have been imprisoned…” (4:3). Paul always looked for ways to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. No one had better skills to turn any situation into an opportunity for witnessing. His success was, in part, due to the many prayers offered on his behalf for wisdom and opportunities. You want an opportunity to spread the gospel successfully? Pray for it! That is what Paul did and look how God used him! Paul instructs the Colossians to pray that he would find an open door. The apostle lived for such opportunities and realized that God alone provided these divine appointments, often, in response to the prayers offered.

Second, Paul wanted an opportunity to share the mystery—“so that we may speak forth the mystery off Christ” (4:3b). However, what is this “mystery” Paul wanted to share? The answer is found in Colossians 1:26-27 which says “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The substance of Paul’s message, the mystery that he longed more than anything to disclose for people, was that by grace through faith, anyone can have Christ in them, the hope of glory. This was the kernel of truth that Paul hoped to share with those who were lost. This is the campaign slogan of the mission of God! It is this message Paul desperately wanted to share and it was for this message that Paul was imprisoned—“for which I have also been imprisoned…” (4:3c). There is much that can be said of this small verb. Its passive voice suggests that Paul was forced into his chains. Secondly, the perfect tense of this verb emphasizes both the past reality of his imprisonment and the present result of his bondage. In one sense, Paul states the obvious, being bound in chains; however, with this verb he also looks at the opportunity his imprisonment has given him for the spread of the gospel (cf. Phil. 1).

A third element of Paul’s prayer request was that he may proclaim the gospel as clearly as possible, “That I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (4:4). Paul not only looked for new doors to walk through, he also looked for ways to make the gospel understandable. He did not pray for a specific method of spreading the gospel, but for the wisdom to know what to say in specific situations, all while doing justice to the gospel.

In this second calling, Paul reveals how important it is for the church to adopt a dynamic prayer life which includes: praying for the lost, praying for opportunities to share Christ with the lost, and praying for wisdom so that the sharing done may be appropriate and winsome.

3. Communicate Well-4:5-6

Paul’s final command for the church is to communicate the truth they are proclaiming well both verbally and nonverbally. He writes, “conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders” (4:5a). The Colossians were to ensure that their lives, behavior, and appearance reflected Christ in them (the hope of glory). To “conduct yourselves with wisdom” means to follow Christ as God’s pattern for full and authentic living. Paul knew all too well the importance of giving the world no reason to criticize the behavior of Christians. Blameless living alongside that comes with dynamic prayer life are two cornerstones of a good witness.

2 Corinthians 6:1-3-“And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—for He says, ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’— giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited.” But Why?

A blameless and prayerful walk naturally affords a believer the ability to make the most of every opportunity given to him/her to show Christ, “making the most of the opportunity” (4:5b). The word for “making the most” insinuates that every opportunity the church has to spread the seed or water on planted ground needs to be snapped up, lest it be lost to something or someone else. 

Some may say, “Well, I have very little if any opportunities to share the gospel.” However, the very fact that you are left on this earth and here today suggests that your opportunities have not run out. (CONSIDER THIS: Perhaps the church does not recognize the myriad of opportunities around her or isn’t being given more explicit opportunities because she has failed to pray for them). Time itself is an opportunity to seize for the kingdom of God. What is the church going to do with it? Paul hoped that the church would snatch up every opportunity to share the gospel well for all its worth for the glory of God. After all, the time is near! Jesus could return at any moment!

Matthew 24:36ff- “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”

One way for the church in Colossae and the church today to be ready is to be about the mission to which she is called by praying for an opportunity to share the gospel and seizing every opportunity to make the most of it by acting accordingly. However, not all communication is non-verbal. You have heard it said, preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words. However, Paul believed words were vitally important and it is verbal communication that he addresses next.

“Let your speech always be with grace as though seasoned with salt…”(4:6a). Here, two statements illustrate the nature of Christian speech. The first is “in grace.” “In grace” may reflect an idiom used in that day for charm or charisma. However, Paul wants it to mean more than just tactfulness. Ultimately, Paul is trying to get the Colossians to speak with grace as those who live in grace—i.e. to speak in a distinctly Christian way. While the world slanders and bludgeon’s people with their sharp rhetoric of negativity, division, and deception, a Christian’s words are to stand in contrast as a presentation given with grace.

1 Peter 3:15-“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

The second way Paul describes the speech of a believer is “with salt.” Salt was used in three different ways in the first century. It could preserve food, sterilize food, or season food. Here Paul is talking about the latter. Conversations are to be seasoned in such a way that they bring life and richness. Paul knew that a lengthy and laborious monologue is often useless in evangelism. Rather, Christians are to work at making their witness lively and colorful while at the same time making sure they stay true to the gospel.

This kind of speech is required “so that” as Paul says, “you will know how you should respond to each person” (4:6c). Respond to what? If the first two commands (pray purposefully and act accordingly) are being carried out properly in the life of a disciple, outsiders will begin to ask Christians about their new life and its source. As these opportunities present themselves and people are engaged, believers must respond to each person as an individual. One technique or approach may not be suitable for every person you meet. Instead, each outsider must be given special and customized attention.

So What?

Lead fairly, pray purposefully, and communicate clearly (both in behavior and in word). Great encouragements for the church of Colossae and for the church today! Which of these callings needs special attention in your life? Are you leading as one being led? Remember, as God’s people we are all living in service to our King in various roles. Perhaps today you will ask God to remind you of your humble place before him and in his service. Are you fervently praying and, even there, are you praying for the right kinds of things? Remember, prayer is to be done in faith with an attitude of thanksgiving and ought to be preoccupied with advancing the mission of God and making the most of the opportunities given to God’s people to share the good news. Perhaps this week you will choose to spend more time and in your prayer time carve special moments out for missional prayer. Are you communicating the gospel message in both what you do and what you say with clarity? Remember, Christians are help to a higher standard of behavior and speech as bearers of the greatest news of all. Perhaps there are some habits or ways of speaking that need to be discarded from your life as they are getting in the way of a clear gospel presentation. The callings are clear—will you answer? After all, the mission is at hand and the time is short!

Monday, May 17, 2021

Der Haustafeln -Colossians 3:18-25

 As Paul continues to deliver practical instructions toward living out the Christ-centered life in Colossians, he speaks directly to the Christian household in chapter 3 verses 18-25. This is one example of several in the New Testament of what is called a haustafeln. “Haustafeln” is the German word for “house table” and applied to the New Testament this label calls to mind those passages that provide codes on Christian home life—passages like Ephesians 5:22-6:9; 1 Peter 2:13-37; and Colossians 3:18ff. Both Peter and Paul demonstrate in these passages that Christianity is not something that is exercised exclusively in the Church or in the privacy of one’s own thoughts; it is lived out in the home. After all, the first institution God established in the history of the world was a marriage and family (preceding even the church or the state). Living out the Christian life at home will not only serve us well in our families; it will shine as an example in a world where the family unit is in utter shambles and under constant assault.

1. For Wives-3:18

As Paul instructs the Christian household, he begins by addressing wives—“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,…” (3:18). This command for wives exists consistently in the New Testament guidelines on the Christian home life (see Eph 5:22), demonstrating a uniformity concerning this call. However, to understand what this call means, one must understand how this command operates in the New Testament. There appears to be a difference in the specific nuance of the term dependent on the voice in which it occurs. If the command to “submit” is in the active voice, the power to subject belongs to God himself (see 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Phil. 3:21—“who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”; Rom. 8:20—“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope”; Eph. 1:21-22). When the verb occurs in the middle voice (as it does here), it describes a voluntary submission which resembles that of Christian humility. Examples of this kind of submission abound. It is witnessed in church members submitting to one another (Eph. 5:21—“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope”), believers submitting in the exercise of their own spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:32), and even Christ’s voluntary submission to God the Father (1 Cor. 15:58). Here, in the context of marriage, wives are called of God to submit to the design that God has established in the household and to, like Christ, submit to the leadership and headship of the husband.

One important note on this calling, in connection to the rest of the passage, is the difference between this command for wives and the coming commands for children and servants. Children and servants are called later to obey; the wife is not. “Submission is voluntarily assuming a particular role because it is right…Submission demands obedience as a pattern, but there are times in which obedience to a husband may become disobedience to God. By using the word ‘submit,’ Paul separated the kind of obedience expected by the wife from that expected of others. The wife has a very different relationship to her husband than children to parents or slaves to masters” (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 312).

What ought to motivate this voluntary adherence to a divinely-designed role and practice in the context of marriage? The answer is a willingness to please Lord—“as unto the Lord.” Godly submission, rightly understood, comes from the overflow of one’s relationship with God and ultimately out of submission to his lordship, will, and design. Voluntary submission to God’s design in the home is one component of the Christian household and the wives in that household play an integral role in that order as they seek to accomplish God’s will.

Interested in what you could do to submit well in the context to your marriage? Try prolific words of affirmation and encouragement. Consider thanking your husband for all that he does often and commend his leadership whenever and wherever appropriate. Pray fervently for God to bless and direct your husband and, in whatever way makes sense, let him know that you are always in his corner, ready to lend your support.  

2. For Husbands-3:19

Husbands, for their part, are commanded to “love [their] wives” (3:19a). This simple command is a uniquely Christian calling for husbands to sacrificially give of themselves for the spiritual and practical well-being of their wives. If you think I am reading too much into a single word here, Ephesians 5:25ff helps us with a more complete picture of what this ought to look like.

Ephesians 5:25-30-“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are parts of His body.”

To be sure, in any God-honoring marriage, a husband’s loving, caring, sacrificial approach to his wife’s spiritual and practical well-being ought to enhance her willingness and ability to submit to his leadership. Similarly, a wife’s voluntary recognition of her husband’s role of leadership ought to inspire and inform, at least in part, his love toward her.

As Paul continues his instructions to husbands, he follows up the positive command to love well with a prohibition—“and do not be embittered against them” (3:19b). The verb means “to have bitter resentment or hatred toward someone else” (Louw & Nida)—i.e. the opposite of “love” mentioned earlier. It is the husband’s responsibility to see to it that bitterness does not develop in the marriage. Husbands do well to prevent such bitterness from taking root by loving their wives well.

Before the reader moves on to look at further commands concerning the Christian household, let us consider how both the calling for the wife and the husband help each party look more like Christ. The wives’ call to submit in its own way helps them resemble Jesus who submitted consistently to the Father. The husband’s call to love his wife sacrificially calls to mind how Jesus sacrificially loved the church and gave himself up for her. Therefore, these callings do not just help establish a healthy order in the context of the home, but they also cultivate a compelling witness of who Jesus is to an unbelieving world. In other words, dear sir or ma’am, how you relate to your spouse testifies to what you believe about Jesus! Take it seriously!

Husbands, want to answer this call and love your wife in a way that helps their spiritual well-being? Try praying with her, studying God’s Word with her, taking time to be affectionate toward her (even/especially when you could be doing something else). Such investments of love honor the Lord, enrich a marriage, and will go a long way in encouraging a Christian household.

3. For Children-3:20

Children, you are not off the hook! Mommy and daddy don’t just have work to do, so do you! Paul continues with “children, be obedient to our parents in all things,…” (3:20a). Take a moment to appreciate that children were expected to be in the audience that Paul addressed here in Colossae. Paul anticipated having the ears of children and addresses them directly, helping us to answer whether or not it is worthwhile for children to attend church and hear the preaching of God’s Word.

Paul’s command for children to “obey”/”be obedient” to their parents is stronger than what was addressed to wives earlier. The text reinforces this by using the phrase “in all things.” Here, obedience is commanded and expected. In Ephesians 6:2-3, Paul even stated that in obeying, children were fulfilling the law and were qualified to receive God’s promise.

Ephesians 6:2-3-“Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may turn out well for you, and that you may live long on the earth.”

Similar to the calling given to wives, the motivation for a child’s obedience to his/her mom and dad involves whom is ultimately in view—"for this is well-pleasing to the Lord” (3:20b). “To be pleasing to the Lord as Christians, [children] should obey their parents” (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 315).

Kids, if you want to be obedient to God and for it to go well for you, immediate obedience to our parents is what is required. This means “Yes sir” and “Yes Ma’am” ought to be heard when they ask something of you. More often than not, whatever they ask of you is for your own good, even if you can’t see it or if it isn’t what you may want to do at the time.  

4. For Fathers-3:21

Next, Paul addresses the parents and their responsibility in relationship their children—“Fathers, do not exasperate your children,…” (3:21). Paul’s use of the term “fathers” (patereV) certainly highlights the dad’s role in the lives and well-being of his children and yet doesn’t totally dismiss the mothers as the plural form of the noun certainly would have included moms in the command. It is both parent’s responsibility not to “exasperate” their children. What does this mean? The term means to “embitter” and/or “irritate” toward resentment. It is used only here and in 2 Corinthians 9:2-“for I know your readiness of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them.” There, “stirred up” is the translation. So how might a parent “stir up” or “exasperate” their child toward resentment? Parents might embitter their children by constantly picking at them or by refusing to acknowledge their efforts (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 315).

Another clue that might help readers understand what is meant in this command is found in the reason given for it in the second half of verse 21—“so that they will not lose heart” (3:21b). The fact that children could become discouraged if/when embittered suggests that the parents may have too easily, either consciously or subconsciously, implied through their words or actions that they were not good enough. A household in which the children have lost heart and have become embittered is not the sign of a healthy Christian home. It is the parent’s responsibility to see to it that incessant nagging and/or knit-picking doesn’t lead down the path toward discouragement in the lives of their children.

Helpful tips to that include might include the following: 1) Celebrate the motivation with which children does things more than the execution (it may not be perfect, but they did try so very hard), 2) Be quicker to give compliments than criticisms, 3) frame necessary discipline with love, 4) choose the battles to engage in well, 5) commend progress rather than demand perfection. These are just some things to consider as parents seek to cultivate a Christian home.

5. For Servants-3:22

The next command is addressed to servants/slaves—“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth,…” (3:22a). This is the first of the commands that may not resonate as easily today as it may have in the first century. While certainly wives, husbands, children, and parents are represented in this room, I doubt we have any slaves here today (and thank goodness). However, this was another group that Paul no doubt expected to be listening to the reading of this letter in the church at Colossae. You see, slavery in the ancient Roman world was a very large institution. Some speculate that 40% of the Roman citizenship was in some form of servitude. Such servitude did not look like it did in the 18th and 19th centuries in America. Instead, it was a status that many voluntarily enlisted in to pay off a debt. For others, it was an acceptable way to live long term. Paul probably expected that several in his original audience belonged to the servant class and therefore has a calling for them in the context of the Christian home—“obey those who are your masters on earth” (3:22a).

The obedience that is demanded is one that goes beyond outward compliance. Paul continues and says that the obedience that ought to be seen in the lives of Christian servants is “not [merely] with external service, as those who merely please men,” (3:22b). Anybody can go through the motions—believers should do better.

Christian servants ought to serve “with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (3:22c). Here again, as with so many of the other commands given, the ultimate direction/destination of the service, posture, or action performed is heavenward. Servants are to serve as those who are serving the Lord in addition to those who might prove to be their masters. While upon the earthly master’s absence, the servant might get away with procrastinating on the job or only putting in half an effort, there is a Master who sees all. “All of life was to be lived with a conscious realization of the Master” (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 317). This type of heavenly-directed and spiritually-motivated service would have shined bright as an example before others, especially in the first century.

6. For Everyone-3:23-25

Not a wife? Husband? Father? Mother? Child? Or slave today? No problem, Paul has a word for everyone in the Christian community in this passage. The apostle closes with a general command that certainly applied to the servants in the audience, but also applies to anyone who claims the name of Christ—“Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men” (3:23). Whatever one does ought to be executed “out of the soul” (ek yuchV) (or “heartily”). Work, in other words, should be more than a manifestation of talent, skill, and physical exertion; it should also indicate something of the very essence of a person—an expression of who they are. Something of who a person is ought to be seen in the work they accomplish—whatever that work may be!

Such work also ought to be ultimately directed to the Lord, rather than men. Christians toil, perform, effort, and expend energy primarily and finally for an audience of one—the Lord God.

After all, as Paul acknowledges in verse 24, it is the Lord that will ultimately reward his people—“knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance” (2:24a). Believers ought to employ themselves to whatever they have been tasked with or called to do, not with the paycheck in mind, but with the inheritance and good pleasure of the Lord in mind. This is the first motivation that ought to guide everything a believer does in service.

A second guiding motivation for service is the sovereignty of the Lord. A serving believer should recognize that, as Paul says, “it is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (2:24b). As Paul said in 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or in deed, do all for the glory of God!”

The third and final motivating factor behind services rendered is given in verse 25—“for he who does wrong will receive the consequences for the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (2:25). Poor work will be judged accordingly, perhaps by masters on earth, but ultimately by the Master of all in heaven. This should propel God’s people everywhere to serve well in whatever God has given them to do.

Here are some helpful tips toward serving well as God’s people in whatever we do: 1) surrender your schedule and everything in it to the Lord at the beginning of each day, 2) pray before each and every task, asking the Lord to empower you and ultimately be glorified by what is accomplished, 3) give God the credit and thanks at the end of each day for using you however he saw fit.

So What?

These instructions given to various parties work together to cultivate good Christian homes, not for their own sakes, but for the glory of God. The way that we relate to each other in the context of the family and serve in whatever God has given us to do should draw attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. Which of these instructions applies most to you? Which of the helpful tips do you need to employ ma’am, sir, little one? Though growth as wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, etc. is certainly a process, choose today to take one step in the right direction so that your home looks more like God intends for it to look—a Christian haustafeln.


Monday, May 3, 2021

New Season, New Wardrobe Pt. 2

 Last week we began looking at how the sufficiency of Christ looks as applied in the lives of believers. Paul described what believers ought to take off and what they ought to put on now that they have been saved. Today, we are going to pick up where we left off and continue the clothing analogy that Paul introduced in 3:1-11. While general cues and principles for what a believer ought to wear and how to put it on were offered in verses 1-4, in verses 12-17 Paul identifies specific spiritual articles of clothing that ought to be worn by God’s people as they live the Christian life in the context of the church. Though such articles may prove rare in the world, they should be common in the kingdom. Five articles are identified as essential to the wardrobe of God’s people in Colossians 3:12-17. These articles are identified by five callings voiced by Paul in this passage that we will consider carefully today.

1. Be Nice-3:12-13

In verses 12-17, Paul continues to outline what salvation in the lives of believers ought to look like. In so doing he gives five callings that should go answered among believers. The first of these is simply to “be nice.” Don’t you know how much better the world would be if more people would simply “be nice.” Don’t you know how much more effective the witness of the church would be if God’s people would answer the call to “be nice.” I cannot help but think that the same much have been true in Paul’s day. This is why he makes sure to encourage such in verses 12-13.

The call to “be nice” is predicated on another calling—the calling of God on the life of the believer. Paul says, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved” (3:12a). This identifies a special group of people who have been chosen, saved, and rendered holy and especially loved by God. Such people because of their being called, saved, and loved ought to look and behave differently than the lost world around them. This starts, at least as far as this passage suggests, with being nice. Paul expected the church in Colossae (and really the church in every context) to be known for how nice they were.

Of course, Paul doesn’t put it quite as simply as “be nice” (why use two words when many more will do 😊). Instead, he frames this sentiment in the following way “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (3:12b). Each of these qualities highlights a slightly different component of the simple call to “be nice.” First, being nice means being compassionate. The word means “to show mercy and concern with the implication of sensitivity.” Jesus celebrates as much in the sermon on the mount when he says “blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Being nice also involves exercising kindness or showing a willingness to provide something beneficial for someone else (Louw & Nida). Humility is also a hallmark of being nice. The proud/arrogant often find it difficult to show mercy or behave kindly. Being nice also requires gentleness (the opposite of proving harsh toward others) and demands patience. Just consider how rare these commodities are in the world today. Such commodities were probably rare in the Roman world of the first century also. Paul did not want these positive qualities to prove rare in the church. Instead, these qualities ought to characterize God’s people. They ought to be the nicest people around.

If a reference was called upon to give an account of your character, could they honestly report that you were a nice person as evidenced by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience? Maybe you are like me and so many in Paul’s original audience and you need a little coaching in this area. Thankfully, Paul provides exercises along with this calling to help his readership grow nicer. 

If God’s people need growth in being nice, one great way to accomplish this involves “bearing with one another” (3:13a). This calls to mind the sharing of difficulties/trials with patience. One way to improve rapport with others is to traverse a host of situations in a spirit of cooperation and patience. Hard to do, but essential as one learns to show mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and, perhaps most of all, patience.

A second exercise one should adopt to improve one’s “nice” quotient is extending forgiveness. Paul writes, “and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (3:13b). As people work together amid adversity (as is required in the first exercise), heads will inevitably collide and personalities will conflict, leading to possible frustration and offense that will require people (all of whom are in process—see 3:1-11), to quickly and liberally forgive one another. This is rendered more feasible when brothers and sisters in Christ consider that they have been forgiven by God. As those who have been forgiven much, they ought to extend forgiveness to others.

The first calling voiced in this passage is to “be nice.” To grow nicer, the church ought to bear together with each other amid all circumstances and prove quick and liberal to forgive. Such exercises will lead to a healthy body and a compelling testimony before a coarse, impatient, and unforgiving world.

2. Show Love-3:14

The second calling Paul provides in this passage highlights a cardinal virtue among God’s people—love—“beyond all these things put on love” (3:14). Love, perhaps even more than being “nice,” ought to identify God’s people. Jesus even teaches that “they will know that you are disciples of mine if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Why is love so important to the identity of God’s people? Because God, their Father, is Love--“The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Those in Christ are also the ones who understand how they have been so loved by the Lord—“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him” (1 Jn 4:16). In fact, the love that is present in God’s people is based first on God’s love for them—“We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). This is why Paul concludes elsewhere “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). Love is essential in the lives of God’s people. It is the love of God that saves and it is this same love that ought to be shared with the world.

It might also be worth mentioning that Paul uses a fairly emphatic word for “love” here—agaph—that suggests more than politeness, friendliness, or affection. Such a love is based on sincere appreciation and high regard for the beloved party. This ought to bind people both to their God and to their brothers and sisters.

This is why Paul suggests that love “is the perfect bond of unity” (3:14b). Love and unity go hand and hand. When either is in short supply, the other is also lacking. For the church in Colossae to persevere well together in her volatile context (and in order for the church today to persevere well together in its own volatile context) love, and, subsequently, unity must prevail above everything else. This is the highest calling that Paul provides in this passage.

3. Embrace Peace-3:15

After calling the church to be nice and show love, Paul calls the church to embrace peace. This might prove to be the most welcome and refreshing calling you will hear today given the chaos swarming around us in our current context. However, consider also how welcome this calling would have been to the church in Colossae (a church that was dealing with false teachers, the pressure of persecution, and much more). Paul writes in verse 15—“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (3:15a). Paul hoped that this would be the church’s prayer in Colossae. Oh that this would be the church’s prayer today! In a world of tension, chaos, distractions, and anxiety, Paul calls for the peace of Christ to rule in the hearts of God’s people. The verb “rule” means “to control the activity of someone” (3:15a). Paul didn’t want instinct, knee-jerk reactions, stress, hectic schedules, the news cycle, or concerns to control God’s people (as was and is often the case); he wanted the peace of Christ to be the captain of the believer’s psyche.

Such peace appears to be dependent in part on what has already been encouraged by Paul in this passage (being nice and showing love which brings unity). He writes in 2 Corinthians 13:11—“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” Peace also seems to be a result of putting on and taking off the right things (“They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it”-1 Pet 3:11; see also Col. 3:1-11). Elsewhere, Paul teaches that peace is just a prayer away—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).

Paul continues in Colossians 3:15 by revealing that such peace is also discovered in the context of the body of Christ—“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (3:15b). In the body of Christ, brothers and sister ought to find nice people, plenty of love, and lots of peace because the head of that body—Christ—has shown kindness, is the greatest expression of love, and provides perfect peace.

Like the call to show love, the call to embrace peace includes a complementary exhortation. When Paul admonished the church to love, he subsequently called them to unity. Here, as he admonishes the church to peace, he also calls them to thankfulness—“and be thankful” (3:15c). There is something about peace that breeds gratitude just as there is something about love that yields unity. Again, when one is lacking, you can bet the other is in short supply.

4. Immerse Yourselves in the Word-3:16

Paul’s next calling is to “immerse yourselves in the Word.” He writes to the church, “Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you” (3:16a). A more wooden translation of this verse might read “let the word of Christ make a home in you.” Paul desired for the church in Colossae and God desires for his people anywhere to be creatures saturated with the Word of God. It is his revelation (spoken, recorded, and witnessed in Christ) that ought to inform and inspire his people more than anything else.

The messages that we come across in our world today might be best illustrated by taking a joy ride down the main strip in Las Vegas. Neon signs, bright lights, billboards, and other spectacles ornament and illuminate the boulevard, competing for attention. These advertisements exist to lure tourists into different hotels, casinos, or other venues, hoping that time and money is spent in their places of business. Our journey in the world is much the same way. Between news media, social media, the marketplace, etc., we are bombarded with messages intent on drawing our attention and keeping it long enough that we spend time, energy, and resources on certain things, considerations, or people. In a world full of competing messages, it is the word of Christ that ought to find a home first in God’s people. Why? Because the word of Christ alone offers life, purpose, and hope forever. NO OTHER word/message/GIF/news bulletin/etc. can offer that!

So how does one decipher and mediate on the World of Christ in a world of competing messages? Paul suggests two means. First, “with all wisdom teaching” (3:16b). Sitting under wise council at the hands of a gifted teacher of the Word renders the Word of Christ more easily recognizable and more readily embraced. The more one knows the Word, the more one becomes fascinated with, dependent upon, and appreciative of that word. After all, here is what Paul and others have to say about the Word of God:

Hebrews 4:12-“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Psalm 119:105-“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”

2 Timothy 3:16-17-“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Matthew 24:35-“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

These and many other statements offered in the Bible verify that the Word of Christ is worthy of special preoccupation and consideration in the lives of God’s people. It is an enduring living lamp offered by God for the benefit of his people. Therefore, God’s children ought to immerse themselves in it, in part, by endorsing wise teaching thereof.

While wise teaching helps immerse the church in the word of Christ, so too does the celebration of the word in song—“and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (3:16c). Not only should the church study the Word, but they ought to sing the word. Singing exercises the heart along with the mind as the believer exalts the principle focus of the Word (Christ) and what he has accomplished for the believer (salvation). Regardless of the form the singing takes (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs), the subject remains the same and the spirit is consistent—“with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Singing has been a mainstay in the church from its inception. In fact, before the New Testament even existed, most historians believe that many creeds confirming the deity, death, and resurrection were already being circulated, recited, and even sung regularly in the gatherings of the church. Singing aids in memorization and the corporate expression of gratitude for what God has done in Christ. Paul expected it to be a mainstay in the church as she immersed herself in the Word of Christ. In other words, While words are thrown around by a myriad of sources, God’s people ought to be those who read, hear, speak, and sing the Word of God.

5. Glorify the Lord-3:17

The final calling that Paul gives to the church in Colossae in this passage is “glorify the Lord.” In what? In the religious practices? On Sundays? When on is with his Christian friends? During personal devotions? Paul writes in “Whatever you do in word or deed” (3:17a). This is the scope of that which ought to glorify the Lord—everything. Everything about a believer’s life should contribute to the exaltation of Christ and the glory of God…everything! The description of the scope that Paul presents here includes everything one says and everything one does. After all, out of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45) and what one does demonstrates the convictions they hold (James 2).

All a believer says and does should be accomplished, Paul says, “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17b)—that is in a way that is consistent with who he is, what he did, and all that he taught. If someone cannot see Jesus doing it, encouraging it, or teaching it, it ought not be done or said.

Additionally, everything said and done ought to be executed in a spirit of thanksgiving—“giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (3:17c). Once again thanksgiving is attached to a Christ-centered life (just as it was fixed to the idea of peace earlier in verse 15).  

So What?

Which of these articles is absent or lost from your wardrobe today as a child of God? Are you nice? Or has the past year or severe trials/circumstances left you trading kindness for callousness toward others? Are you showing love, or is your inability to work with others or forgive telling you that maybe there is something important you have neglected to put on? Are you ruled by the peace of God or is something else driving you ever so anxiously in your day-to-day life? Are you immersed in the Word of Christ or do you entertain other messages more the life-giving message of the Bible? Do you seek to glorify the Lord in all that you do, or are you working for self-interests and self-exaltation? Here are some practical tips that will help you apply the spiritual articles of clothing Paul encourages here: 1) Choose today to be especially courteous to someone (even or especially when they don’t deserve it), 2) Forgive a grudge you’ve held for a long time, 3) Pray today more than you did yesterday (specifically for peace and to be ruled by the Spirit of peace not the heat of the moment), 4) Start a Bible reading plan (that may or may not include journaling, Scripture memorization, etc.) to immerse yourself in the word, and 5) surrender even the most menial of tasks in your daily life to the Lord. Whether you choose to incorporate all or just one of these habits in your life, may we be a people with a complete spiritual wardrobe that glorifies the Lord and serves a s compelling witness to the world around us.