I don’t know if you have ever had this happen, but I would be willing to wager that at least a few of you have been in this desperate position. Imagine you are in a public place, and someone said or did something very funny, or something just struck your funny bone in a way that you could not control. Maybe you were in a place where laughter wasn’t appropriate. Maybe you were halfway into drinking a soda. You get the idea… Not long ago I saw a YouTube clip of a weather man on a local station that just couldn’t do his job. Whatever happened just before the live broadcast started, the guy just LOST IT on camera. He tried to fight through it. He attempted to offer the weather… but there was simply NO HOPE. As I watched, something within me was routing for him to win against the overwhelming impulse. It never happened. He collapsed, unable to finish. He was overtaken by an outburst of laughter that would not be controlled.
I mention it because I believe that is the pattern for real change that happens when God works within you. It is not that you collapse on the ground in laughter – but rather that an inner change comes unmistakably to the surface with undeniable force. The most profound changes Jesus works are within His followers – but they do not remain there. You can most often see them in the relationships between His followers, because of attitude changes. You can sense them in a new compassion, a new peacefulness, and a joyful thankfulness. Maturing believers learn, step by step, to navigate life together with the guiding principles of His insightful direction from His Word. We behave with a privileged sense of representing Him and His Kingdom. We seek to dwell together in unity. It is not our loud preaching that invites us into the lives of hurting people; it is our kindness, our Christ like attitudes, and our behaviors toward one another, and toward a hurting world. It is humble living, not boisterous protest of their lifestyles.
Key Principle: The profound changes WITHIN us work their way OUTSIDE us. Christianity is a relationship with God through Jesus that changes the way we live our daily lives.
Paul knew the small community of Colossae in Asia Minor. He worked out of Ephesus, the great port city of the region, but he kept in touch with the believers in the more remote areas of Hierapolis, Laodicea and Colossae. The Colossian church was a small one- probably meeting in two or perhaps three homes – not more. Paul knew what it meant to work in the big city, but also the small town. In fact, my life journey has taken me on that same path…Along the way, I have taken special comfort in Paul’s writings to the small agricultural first century town of Colossae, and his especially warm words to Epaphras, one of its chief disciple makers.
I have walked the tell – the archaeological ruin – and the city was tiny. I love this little letter, because in its pages you find encouraging words about the fullness a surrendered believer can have in Christ, in spite of the small and rural town that was receiving the letter along with its sister cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis. The theme of Colossians appears to some scholars as “completion and fullness in Christ”. You can get that idea from a quick survey of the language…
1:9 asking God to fill you with all understanding… 1:19 all fullness dwelt in Christ…. 1:25 I have become His servant by the commission God gave me to present the Word in its fullness….1:28 We proclaim Him, that we may present everyone perfect (full grown, mature) in Christ. 2:2 My purpose is that they may have the full riches of complete understanding…. 2:9-10 In Christ the fullness of the Godhead dwells… and you have been given fullness in Christ.
Can anyone else spot the utter irony in this theme? Paul wrote about completeness and fullness to the smallest church in the New Testament! Most of us don’t think of small churches in words like “fullness” and “completion”. Here is my point: smaller churches cannot ease the work of making completed disciples, while they settle on citing their inadequacies and long for the profound programming of the larger churches that make the news. Our ministry profession is to make disciples that make disciples.
Years ago I heard a speaker mention this: “When we think of small churches, we tend to think of the incomplete nature of the church. We see limitations, and believe that it isn’t really possibly to “fully complete” discipleship like the church that has all the departments and the programs.” I want to urge you that such thinking is very American, but not at all Christian. Paul told believers at Colossae – by my count (at most) a total of thirty people, that they could produce by God’s power, people who were complete in Christ.
How? They had no gym, no youth program, no power point – and yet they could produce mature believers! By now the church at Rome probably had a cool logo on their chariot bumper stickers – but Colossae had no budget for such things. I am forced to conclude that the small church – if it is acting in obedience in discipleship and honest diligence in outreach – is just the right size to get discipleship done. What do I mean? I don’t mean that small is better, or bigger is better, but let’s be practical – if you live in a town of 1000, dreams of mega-church building are both unwise and unlikely. But here’s the catch: No matter what size the town or the church – our commission of growing people to maturity is NOT beyond our reach nor beyond our responsibility!
Let me say it this way: There is no purpose of the local church that cannot be accomplished in the smaller church – but it will require of the Pastor and workers a deliberate attention to the discipleship process, just as it should in the larger church. If they are truly reaching out to lost people, they are the right size to be all that God called them to be – but they must not secretly pine to be what they are NOT. The New Testament is a record of small places, and small fellowships building great people.
I am not speaking against large churches, nor am I speaking against avid evangelism. What I am saying is this: the small church Pastor cannot let himself off the hook in raising believers to maturity because of the apparent inadequacies of buildings, budgets and bodies. That isn’t Biblical, and that excuse must be put to rest. There is no evidence, in the history of world missions, that the church is more or less able to grow people to greater spiritual maturity in the larger setting. Big churches are wonderful in many ways, but they aren’t necessary to accomplish our mission to make disciples that make disciples. God CAN bring the fullness of Christ to our people through His Word, His Spirit and His gifted people. We must not cop out and long to be what we are not. We need to refocus the task on BOTH evangelism and impact of the lost community – as well as the growing to real maturity in Christ those we have been given.
Let me ask a question that will guide our thinking in the next verses as we study them. What does a “life transforming work” of Jesus look like in a man or woman as they submit to God? Our text offered six clear markers:
Six Markers of God’s Transforming Work:
Marker 1: New Eyes.
Our eyes are the windows through which we look at life. People who are transformed by Jesus gain a new perspective by a spiritual “eye replacement” surgery – they see life differently. Paul made clear that we begin to see each other with love and compassion – because we recognize how much we have received in compassion from an absolutely perfect and holy God.
Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things [put on] love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
• Note that he reminds them, first of all, that they have been chosen of God. You and I who follow Jesus did not search endlessly for truth and find a reluctant God hiding from us. That isn’t the Bible’s claim. The Scriptures say that God sought us “while we were yet sinners”. The Bible’s earliest search was God looking for a sinful Adam and Eve who were hiding from Him. If you know Jesus, God chased you to grab your heart. If you don’t know Jesus, can you feel His tug? He brought you to hear this lesson today.
• Second, Paul reminds them that they were distinct and beloved of God. The Bible says that: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). God’s love is initiating; ours is responsive. Why is that important? Because it showed the pattern of loving relationship. Someone has to take the first step. In our case it was God, perhaps using someone else. Now it is OUR TURN to be used by God as an instrument of His love.
On the basis of those two ideas – they were chosen and separated out by the love of God – Paul placed a list of eight commands of changed acts on their lives:
• Put on a heart (splangkh’-non) of compassion (oyk-tir-mos’): the idea is represented in two Greek words. The first term is the word “bowels”, and the second (oiktirmós) is properly, an emotional pity or. deep feeling about someone’s difficulty or misfortune.
• Put on kindness (chréstotés): We have no word that translates this directly, but a good way to think of is “useful kindness” – a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22) whereby the believer is empowered to meet the practical needs of another.
• Put on humility (tapeinophrosuné): This compound word is two terms – tapeinós – which means “lowly or humble”, but implies becoming God-reliant rather than self-reliant (which ironically brings us true worth, cf. 1 Pet 5:6); and phrḗn – a word for “the midriff (the root word for “diaphragm”), referring (figuratively) as “the parts around the heart”.
• Put on gentleness: praótēs, was derived from the root pra- (emphasizing the divine origin) and the term meekness, or “gentle strength”. This is a word for power with reserve, ever exercised in controlled measure.
• Put on patience: makrothumía is a compound word from makrós, “long” and thymós, “passion, or outbursts of anger”. The word has the import of one who consistently chooses to wait sufficient time before expressing anger, thus avoiding the premature use of force or retribution.
• Put on “bearing with one another”: anéxomai is from “completing a process” and exō, “to have” – properly it is translated “forbearing” but actually means to “bear up while understanding a process is in action”. It has in view that our ability to help is enhanced when we see the faults and weaknesses as another being dealt with by God – as He is maturing them.
• Put on forgiveness for one another: xarízomai is literally “favor that cancels”. The term is used of God giving His grace to pardon, not based on any merit of the one the gift. In the believer, it denotes an attitude of grace despite any work that makes the recipient worthy.
• Put on love – the superglue that holds us together: agápē – properly, love which centers in moral preference.
The point is that we need to SEE differently. Instead of convincing ourselves that we were somehow BETTER and MORE APPEALING to God than other people around us – we must recognize that we have been the recipients of God’s love and care. He pulled us to Himself because of love – and we must see each other as valuable. God said that those who are around you – other annoying believers that you worship with – were worth His love, His purchase, His selection, His Son! If that is true, we must SEE EACH OTHER through the new eyes that reflect that value. Then we must ACT ACCORDINGLY.
2: New Steadiness
People who are transformed by Jesus are to learn to allow the peace of Jesus rule their heart.
Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body;
The word PEACE is the New Testament term eirḗnē, taken from the word eirō, “to join, tie together into a whole” and means wholeness, a completion. Something is wrong with a generation of believers constantly stirred up – they seem to be lacking something. I have been talking to believers, trying to figure out what is keeping them stirred up. Here are a few of the WHOLENESS ROBBERS I have discovered:
• Fear of loss of the past: A great many people in America today live with the constant fear that new government programs, new propaganda planted in our educational system, and an emerging new moral system that is casting off the most basic constraints are about to topple our way of life. They may be right, but their response is not. Living in fear of eventual loss sours you to living with today’s joys. The constant whining of some under the guise of “we have to make people aware of the problem” seems like those who share prayer requests in order to gossip – it isn’t honest. If you are spending hours a day reading and reposting articles about how the government is being ruined – you aren’t spending those hours in peace, nor are you sharing Christ or discipling others. What will you accomplish with a lifetime of Facebook complaints about America? I know what you would accomplish by using that time to learn and teach God’s Word. In the process, you would gain back a measure of wholeness. Every time you allow yourself to be stirred by a problem you have no ability to directly influence, you surrender peace.
• Fear of coming troubles: Akin to the loss of the past is the ever threatening voice of “their going to take your guns”. They are going to take away our religious freedoms. They are going to come and make our children do wrong. You know what? I think you may be right, but I am not worried. My years on this earth are limited, and my purpose is primarily to see that those who need to hear about Jesus, do. Washington doesn’t care about my opinion. I give it regularly to be a good citizen, but I don’t believe my belief system is in the majority. I cannot get overly excited about what is going to happen in the country while I forget that my neighbor doesn’t have Jesus.
• Fear of loss of control: From health care to guns, from school curriculum to state welfare – we are constantly being campaigned to join a cause. It has become a national obsession. Believers confess to me that they dance between immersion in the news cycle and retreat from media, only to come back and do the dance all over. I appreciate wanting to be informed about issues, I truly do. We aren’t running a monastery here. At the same time, we have to recognize that liking an article is not making new legislation. Pick what you are concerned about, and find a practical way to make a difference in that area. Leave the rest for prayer. God is not going to hold you personally responsible for the back door dealings of the Congress – because you can’t do anything about them. Practice some version of the serenity prayer:
During the Second World War, servicemen heard the prayer that originated by Reinhold Niebuhr. A version of it is still circulated in AA meetings:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it.
Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.
I am not declaring you all alcoholics, but I am saying there are too many believers that are too stirred up, and we are commanded to put on the ruling mastery of peace. Note the language of the text that carefully calls us to allow God’s gift of WHOLENESS to take charge of our heart. It is simple rebellion to resist the ruler ship of peace and turn over the realm to worry.
3: New Demeanor
When we learn to see each other differently, and let peace stabilize our daily walk, the third mark will show profoundly… We will learn to be thankful!
Colossians 3:15b “…and be thankful.
The word “thankful” is euxáristos, taken from eú, “well” and xarízomai, “grant freely”. It means you become “thankful for God’s grace working out what is (eternally) good”. It is a LONG TERM look at life – a look with eternity’s values in view. It is a heart recognition that leads to a positive outlook.
Let’s be honest. You and I have no control over the issues of life. Forget that you don’t control the government… as we age we are struggling to control our own “plumbing”. Don’t be embarrassed by the fact that as we age, we realize that control is an illusion lived in the minds of the young. Yet, we are not to panic – we are to face facts. We were NEVER in control. We have journeyed through the battlefield of life and have no idea why some who lived more healthy lives were taken long before we have been. Some of us can admit we pulled CRAZY stunts without a scratch, but were badly injured by household chores. You don’t have control, but you DO know Who does. You DO know what His big purposes in the world are, if you know His Word. If you know Him, how can you look at eternity with Him and not be unbelievably thankful?
4: A New Mouth
With a thankful and peace guarded heart, I must learn that as a follower of Jesus I need to fill my mind with the Word of Christ daily. When I do that, I will want to recite it in three ways:
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms [and] hymns [and] spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Did you see the three recitations of God’s goodness? They are found in the words “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”. What are they?
• Psalms: the term “psalmós” was originally Scripture sung and accompanied by a plucked musical instrument (typically a harp). It was an old Hebrew tradition that made its way into the early church.
• Hymns: hýmnos is a word taken from hydeō, which means “to celebrate”. In antiquity, these were generally songs that praised heroes and conquerors. The emphasis was they were “historically well known” songs. Many church hymns were set to tunes known in celebrations and even pubs. Luther encouraged the German church to place Christian words to already popular tunes.
• Spiritual Songs: An ōdḗ was a song that wove a tale with a moral exhortation. In some ways, it was like a ballad that unwound a story in song. The term was used of spontaneous, impromptu (unrehearsed) melodies of praise, giving testimony about a walk with God to other worshipers.
Whether we sing out the Word of God (something I wish we did even more than we do), sing historic and well-structured hymns and songs of the faith, or whether you are simply “making music as the Lord leads” in “spiritual songs” about your journey with Jesus, your mouth will reflect what is going on inside – transformation!
Ephesians 4: 29 reminds: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” For those who have struggled with a “bad mouth” before Jesus (and sometimes after), I suggest you change your musical diet. Sing the Word more! Sing Praises more! A new vocabulary comes with practice!
5: A New Purpose
When we sing out in joy, and walk in the stability of peace, we begin to challenge attitudes and actions in ourselves that do not agree with our new heart. We see that our purpose in life is changing. We learn to being to do all that we do in Jesus’ name (in His character and under His authority with personal responsibility).
Colossians 3:17 Whatever you do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Note that Paul carefully covered every word and every deed. Your faith on Monday should sound like your “church faith” on Sunday. Also note that Paul talked about a testimony of acting out truth – DOING SOMETHING thankfully.
Let me ask a pointed question: When was the last time you really felt like your actions clearly showed others your faith? I don’t mean that you did a good deed or were a nice person… I mean, when was the last time that your actions so clearly pointed another to Jesus, they knew you were a believer – not just a nice person?
Paul said that we were to do EVERYTHING WE DO, and say EVERYTHING WE SAY according to Jesus’ character. We are to say and do all this THANKFULLY.
When asked to list what he was thankful for, one little boy wrote, “My glasses!” “That’s good,” said the teacher, “they help you see better”. “No,” responded the child, “I’m thankful for my glasses because they keep the other boys from hitting and fighting with me and the girls from kissing me.” This little guy clearly understood the meaning of gratitude! (from William Akehurst in Sermon Central).
The songwriter said: “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’VE GOT TILL IT’S GONE!” It is SO true! Our power is shut off, and suddenly we become thankful for electricity. Our garbage is not picked up, and suddenly we become thankful for the garbage collector’s weekly stop. A good friend dies, and suddenly we discover how much he meant to us. Our water becomes too polluted to drink and suddenly we appreciate having good water… WHO and WHAT are you looking past today that God is blessing you with?
6: New Relational Behavior
The passage ends with a laundry list of instructions about RELATIONSHIPS that change when we practice God’s Word in daily life.
Colossians 3:18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. 22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who [merely] please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. 4:1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
These aren’t unfamiliar words… but they may be unfamiliar actions in our lives! Look at the list:
• Wives: be subject. Let’s face it, ladies. You know the truth. He can’t make you voluntarily place yourself in a serving position in your marriage – but I will tell you the truth: He yearns to be respected. Men want to be respected more than they desire to be loved. That respect is clearly transmitted when you place them above you in rank, though (and we know it is true), we are often not nearly as smart as YOU! This “befits” a believer according to the text.
• Husbands: There are TWO instructions. The first is LOVE your wife. The second is to deliberately toss out of your heart anything that will allow bitterness to take root inside you concerning her. The word used, pikrainó, can mean “to make bitter” or “to make harsh”. Address issues and then LET THEM GO. Love her, and cherish her. Let her know you are fortunate to have her in your life.
• Children: In a bare-knuckled, no-nonsense way, Paul says: “Please the Lord and obey your parents.” He is addressing this to those who are not considered adults, and he is saying that parents are supposed to be honored and respected.
• Fathers: Paul returned to the men of the congregation and directed them to learn some tempering gentleness when dealing with their children. Roman fathers “accepted” or “rejected” a child immediately after birth when someone placed the child at the foot of the father. He was under no legal obligation in Roman society to claim the child, and could order the child abandoned. Such dictatorial power over even life and death for a child could have easily given them an un-tempered harshness with their children.
• Slaves: Paul told slaves who knew Jesus to serve Jesus by serving their masters. Though the rewards may not have come to them in this life, their real inheritance was beyond this life. Look closely and you will see some great principles for how God wants us to think when we are in unjust situations.
• Masters: God’s Word to those who held power over others was to look up, and remember God had power over their lives!
A few years ago, a magazine offered this little nugget: If you were to Google the phrase “Christians are known for” what do you think the results would be? What are people who call themselves followers of Christ known for… whether good or bad?
The following are some of the results you would find:
… being trustworthy and honest and having high levels of integrity
… building governments based on fairness
… respect for others and tolerance
… their intolerance of non-Christians and other religions
… their high level of integrity, their moral character
… their homophobic views toward anything remotely gay
… their gratitude and thankfulness
… their hatred, not the good and love they claim to practice
… what they are against, not what they are for
… denying birth control to families in the so called ‘third world’, resulting in hungry, unwanted babies
… replacing science with superstitions in the schools
… looking for trouble in the hopes of controlling others
… their love of others and towards God.
If you think about that list you will see some things that are quite contradictory. You will see items that are fortunately true, unfortunately true, and items that are false. What I hope you see is that the simple question of: “what are Christians known for” is not an easy question to answer. –www.orcmagazine.com
Colossians 3 says that the redeemed show it in actions and attitudes – not just labels and memberships…