Clothe yourself with gentleness and patience – Colossians 3:12-17, Part 3

Photo by Abbas Tehrani on Unsplash

Last week we ordered a book on Amazon, and it was at our front porch in 24 hours. I often think about what my 16 year old self would think of the world in 2021.  Much of the world is the same, but there are some notable differences in the past 30 years.  One of those differences is the speed of delivery.

Back then you would order something from a mail-order catalogue by literally sending an order form in the mail, or maybe you would call in the order, and then you would do what?  Wait.  6-8 weeks was a typical turnaround period to fill your order and get it mailed to you.  I think back to the 1980s and early 1990s, and I wonder what could possibly take a company that long to fill an order?  Now…?  Amazon Prime can get just about anything you want to your doorstep in two days.  Sometimes faster, especially now that their blue trucks are all over the place. 

This week on the blog we are studying Colossians 3:12-17, a wonderful passage where the writer, the Apostle Paul, lists the new “clothes” that Christians are to put on. So far, he has talked about kindness, humility and compassion. Today we learn about gentleness and patience.

Take a look at the next word in Paul’s list of items we are to put on: “Clothe yourselves with gentleness.”  This word, like the others, refers to both attitude and behavior.  It is the opposite of harsh.  It is speaking softly.  Not raising one’s voice.  Tone of voice is a powerful thing.  In fact communication scientists tell us that the words we speak carry less significance than the non-verbals we use.  Body language, facial expression, tone of voice.  The classic example of this is something angrily yelling “I love you.”  What message gets sent?  It’s not love.  In fact, the message that gets sent is the opposite of the words spoken!  That’s how powerful tone can be.  But it is not just words, gentleness should also be expressed in our behavior. 

Paul is not saying that Christians should be mamby-pamby doormats.  But we should avoid being harsh.  Harsh tones and actions and volume can be manipulative and damaging.  Some of you have learned how to use harshness.  Some of you are experts are it, and you need to confess and repent.  Instead, clothe yourselves with gentleness.

Finally, in the list in verse 12, Paul says, “Clothe yourselves with…patience.”  The word Paul uses for patience is defined as “a state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation—‘patience’.” (Louw & Nida)

Remember the story I started this blog post with? 6-8 weeks waiting for something? How many of us say, “I have no patience for that”?  We say we have no patience for a great many things, don’t we?  We are a culture of impatience.  Especially because of the internet, we are used to having access to so much immediately.  Want to know something? Just Google it, and you have the answer immediately.  We have been trained to expect immediacy, and thus we have a really difficult time waiting.  But we Christians are to be clothed with patience. 

You know the saying about patience?  If you pray for patience, get ready to deal with a situation that will force you to practice patience.  Covid, for example, has been a massive test in patience.  We’re about 18 months into a pandemic, and we are growing more and more frustrated with how long it is taking to get past it.

Here’s the thing about learning patience: patience is not just being forced to wait.  Patience is learning the right way of waiting.  It is waiting with gentleness, with calm trust in God, just like the definition of patience above. Patience is learning to wait without complaining, without irritation. How are you doing with patience?

Here’s another way to look at patience: a Christian need not be in a hurry.  We are people who radically combat hurry in our lives.  That’s a hard one for me.  I started my doctoral program almost three years ago. The first two years were filled with classes, and now the past year has been focused on writing the dissertation. I so want to be done with my dissertation, and it feels like it is going way too slow.  I need to clothe myself with patience.

How do you struggle with patience? What will it look like for you to clothe yourselves with patience. 

In Colossians 3:12, patience is the last piece of clothing on Paul’s list of items we should clothe ourselves with. But he is not finished. Check back to the next post, as Paul has more qualities, clothes, we are to put on!

Clothe yourself with kindness and humility – Colossians 3:12-17, Part 2

Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash

How would you caption the photo above? “She got the whole world in her hands”? “She’s got a big head”? What I see is humility. I see a global focus, a focus that is bigger than oneself. I see a person that wants the world to be in the spotlight, not themself. (I wonder how the photographer would caption the photo?)

The photo illustrates our study this week in Colossians 3:12-17, where Paul says that Christians should put on the new clothing of the way of Jesus. Yesterday we looked at how he said, “Clothe yourselves with compassion.” He continues with more clothing.

Next Paul says, “Clothe yourselves with…kindness.” This is speaking and acting with kindness, which is quite similar to compassion, isn’t it?  Kindness should show in our tone of voice, in our generosity, in our care for people.  When Michelle and I were in Bible college, every year before the spring semester started, the whole student body would return to school a week early for a mission conference.  For a couple years, one afternoon of the mission conference was devoted to a unique outreach opportunity.  We would go out into the community to do random acts of kindness.  Students would pay parking meters for people in the city.  Clean toilets at restaurants.  Collect trash.  It was a fun time, but kindness is not to be random because God is not random.  His kindness to us is absolutely intentional, purposeful.  So we should practice consistent, intentional kindness toward others, even toward those who are difficult for us.

Then Paul says, “Clothe yourselves with…humility.”  This is both a humble attitude and action.  In my doctoral classes, it was fascinating how often humility came up in the readings we had to do.  It is almost as if humility is in second place for the most important quality a Christian should have.  What is in first place?  Take a quick peek at verse 14.  We’ll talk about that in one of the upcoming posts this week. Hint: it’s love! But humility is not far behind love in its value and impact.  Humility is the opposite of arrogance.  Remember that student who wrote that paper criticizing the denomination?  I mentioned that person in the previous post.  He left no room in his paper for the possibility that he might be wrong in any way.  He comes across not only as a know-it-all, but as a person who does not give any impression that he is aware of other ways of thinking. Instead he communicates as if his view is the only view, as if it is so obvious that everyone already knows it and agrees with him.  Does that describe you?  To that Paul says, “Clothe yourselves with humility,” which means that you will leave room open for the possibility that you are wrong.  Fight against arrogance in yourself.  Even if you don’t believe you are wrong, humility says that you should make room for that possibility.  We humans, almost by definition, are fallible, and we need to own that. 

Years ago I was having a discussion with a person who was disgruntled about my preaching.  They claimed that their perspective was 100% right, and what I had preached was wrong.  So I responded asking them, “Are you telling me that there is no chance that your viewpoint is even slightly wrong?”  They confirmed that they believed there was no possibility that they were wrong.  I was astounded.  We went back and forth about this, until finally the person begrudgingly admitted that maybe there was a 1% possibility they were wrong.  When the meeting was over, we hugged, and I thought it finished well. They never came back to the church.

I think that person and others like them fear a wishy-washy faith.  They would say, “Aren’t there foundational truths that we Christians hold to?  Aren’t there times when it is important to say we are 100% committed to a particular belief or idea?” Of course.  But I would suggest that those foundational views are very few and far between.  A couple years ago, our local Ministerium felt we should create a document to us identify what we believed in common as Christian churches of many different denominations.  We kept the document purposefully very short, trying to focus on the absolute essentials that all Christians believe, such as the Apostle’s Creed.  But this clothing of humility reminds that even when it comes to those foundational beliefs, we are called to hold them with a humble attitude and tone. 

What can be so difficult is when people elevate the non-essentials to the level of essentials.  Or when there are disagreements in a church family.  Or in any family or workplace.  We are to be people who hold our opinions with humility, not with arrogance.  What do we do about that?

Check back in to the next post, as the next item of clothing Paul says we should put on will help us know how to handle differences of opinion!

Clothe yourselves with compassion – Colossians 3:12-17, Part 1

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

“Can you wash my jeans?”

My daughter was asking a normal question, except that it was 9pm, and she needed the jeans first thing the next morning for her work as a dishwasher at a local cafe. I responded, “Can’t you just wear them again? They’re going to get dirty anyway.”

“No, dad!”

Think about how much time you spend doing laundry.  In my house it can be five or six loads per week, and that is after our two adult sons have moved out.  All that sorting, putting items in the washer, then the dryer, then folding, then putting away.  Over and over and over, week after week.  Hours upon hours of our lives spent working to clean our clothing.  Thank goodness we don’t have to do it by hand.  If you think getting clean clothing is a lot of work now, imagine how much work it could be without washers and driers.  Clean clothing is worth the work, though!  As much as we can grumble and complain about it, and as much as we might be tempted to just keep wearing dirty clothes, most of us would agree that putting on clean clothing is great. They feel great.  They look great.  They smell great.  I don’t blame my daughter for wanting clean jeans.

In our continuing series through Colossians, Paul is talking about laundry, but not undergarments or pants and shirts.  There is another kind of clean living that is vital for us, Paul says. Turn to Colossians 3:12-17. 

Paul starts this passage with the word, “Therefore,” meaning that something he said before is the rationale for what he is about to say now.  What did he say before?  In chapter 3:1-4 (see the blog series on that section starting here), he taught that we Christians identify ourselves as people who are raised with Christ.  Our old life is dead, and we have new life in Christ.  So we actively focus our hearts and minds on things above, which means we live the new life of Christ here and now, and we have the hope of eternal life with him.  How do we live that new life?  In verses 5-11 (see that series starting here), he began to talk about laundry as a metaphor to help us think about how to live that new life. Last week was part one, take off the dirty clothes, which means that followers of Jesus remove from their lives the actions and attitudes of the sinful nature. 

This week is part two, put on the new clean clothes, which Paul first hinted at in verse 10.  “You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator.”  What Paul meant is that a renovation is taking place.  Our lives are being renewed in knowledge.  We are learning a new way to live, and it is a very specific way of life. We don’t get to decide what the new way of life will look like.  Paul says that we are learning the way of life that is in the image of our Creator.  Our new life will look increasingly more like the way the Jesus lived.  And furthermore, look at verse 11, where he describes how, through Christ, a new community is formed.  No longer do ethnicities or nationalities or skin color divide us.  But in Christ we are a new community that is living the new way, taking off the old dirty clothes and putting on the new clothes.  Let’s read what he has to say about this.  Read Colossians 3:12-17.

In verse 12 Paul describes the people who are a part of this new community.  They are God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved.  Clearly, God has done the work of making this new community possible because he loves us and wants us to be holy.  That is a call back to what Paul said in chapter 1, where he called Christians holy, saints.  That might be confusing, because you and I well know that we don’t act holy all the time. 

You can see the connection, then, with what Paul is talking about in chapter 3.  We are to pursue holiness, because we died to the old way of life, and we are alive in Christ to his new way.  Therefore, we not only take off the dirty old clothes of the sinful nature, but we also put on the new clothes.  Now Paul is going to talk about what it means to put on the clean clothes.

What we find in verse 12 is another imperative, a command, “Put on clothing.”  What clothing?  Paul writes a list of the clothing we are to wear.  On the blog this week, we’ll look at each word he uses to describe it:

First, he says, “Clothe yourselves with…intestines.”  Intestines?  What???  Don’t see that on the list, do you?  It’s there…kind of.  You know how we use the word “heart” to refer to emotion, especially to the feeling of love? When we say, “I love them with all my heart,” we are not referring to the actual blood-pumping organ in our chest. In the Greco-Roman era during which Paul wrote this letter almost 2000 years ago, the intestines were used figuratively as a place where you would feel things deeply. 

That word, the place of inner feelings, is connected to the next word, compassion.  In the New International Version, you don’t really see the emphasis Paul is making.  The New American Standard is closer, “clothe yourselves with a heart of compassion.”  But as I said, Paul doesn’t use the word for heart.  He uses the word for intestines.  Literally Paul writes, “clothe yourselves with the intestines of compassion,” or “bowels of mercy” (King James Version).  Paul is saying, “Clothe yourself with an ability to feel deep compassion.”  We Christians are to be compassionate.

It seems to me that some people are more naturally compassionate than others.  For some of you, compassion and mercy just flow out.  For others of you, your personality has a harder time with that.  Think about teachers you’ve had over the years.  Some were hard core, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.  You failed the test.  That’s it.  Done.  Then there were the ones who were ready and willing to give second chances.  Grade on the curve. 

Christians are to clothe themselves with compassion and mercy, keeping in mind the astounding compassion and mercy that God showed to us! 

But what if you are thinking, “Yeah, but when you have compassion and give people mercy, they don’t learn from their mistakes.”  Really?  Is that true in every instance?  “Show no mercy” is always best?  No.  Thank God that he is a God of mercy, and we, too, are to be people clothed with mercy and compassion. 

I will admit, though, that sometimes it is hard to have compassion on people. In my volunteer role in the denomination, I direct the EC Church’s Institute for Christian Leadership, a program of 12 courses, a person can finish in three years.  Anyone can take the classes.  It’s kind of like a community college for studying the Bible and ministry.  We also ask pastors who do not want to get ordained to complete that program. This past week, I was involved in a conversation about one of our pastors who wrote a paper for a class, and the paper criticized the denomination’s approach to the spiritual gifts Paul writes about in Ephesians 4.  While I disagreed with his interpretation of Scripture, I support his right to have an opinion that is different from mine.  What I take issue with is his tone and attitude.  In my opinion, this wasn’t the first time this pastor has expressed himself in a condescending, arrogant, or pompous manner.  Maybe you know a person like that.  It is super-hard to have compassion, to have deep mercy on that kind of person.  But we are called to clothe ourselves with compassion and mercy, even to people who are difficult for us.

That doesn’t mean that we let them get away with sin.  Compassion is not excusing sin, as if our actions have no consequences.  That is not what God did when he showed us compassion and mercy. In fact, Jesus himself took consequences upon himself, didn’t he?  God also allows us to face the natural consequences of our choices. 

That is where we can get confused in thinking about compassion.  Compassion is having an attitude of graciousness and mercy to a person.  Too often when people are difficult or frustrating, we write them off.  We get sick of them.  We use the phrase, “I’m done with them.”  Compassion fights against those attitudes, but it does not preclude setting boundaries, or speaking the truth in love.  Deep compassion is a tricky balance.  But it is a must for Christians.

Why are people giving up on church? – Colossians 3:12-17, Preview

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

I recently read some articles (here and here) that surveyed people who stopped going to church. Their answers about why they chose to stop going to church revealed a trend. While there is no doubt that Jesus is a “stumbling block,” as his teaching will naturally turn some people away, the vast majority of the people who stop going to church do so because Christians in the church were acting unlike Jesus.

Over the years we’ve heard this before, right? One hundred years ago Ghandi, the famous leader of India, said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Take a moment and consider what Jesus must have been like. Even for atheists or believers in other faiths, it is hard to argue against the idea that Jesus was amazing. He was filled with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love, peace, and truth. No wonder crowds numbering in the thousands flocked to hear him. I’m sure the miraculous healings also helped his popularity soar. But there is no doubt that Jesus was compelling. Not just the miracles, and not just the teaching, but how he lived his life was astounding. He was not in a hurry. He cared deeply about all people. He practiced what he preached. He lived a consistent life. He was hilarious, sincere, fun and serious when he needed to be. He was selfless.

Now consider what people see when they observe us. Can it be said that we are drawing people to Jesus because our lives look more and more like his? I’m not suggesting that you have to be perfectly like Jesus. I’m getting at what we’ve heard the Apostle Paul writing about in Colossians 3, that we are people who have been raised with Christ to new life, so we seek with our hearts and we ponder with our minds the way of the Jesus, which is sometimes called a Kingdom mindset. Last week with Colossians 3:5-11, we began a two-part miniseries in which Paul describes how to have that Kingdom mindset, using the metaphor of laundry. In that passage, part one was “take off the dirty clothes” of the old sinful nature. This week in part two is “put on the clean clothes” of the new way of Jesus.

I invite you to open a Bible to Colossians 3:12-17, read it and check back on Monday as we begin to discuss it.

How to change, when change seems impossible – Colossians 3:5-11, Part 5

Photo by Iulia Mihailov on Unsplash

Have you ever felt like the guy in the picture? He seems afraid to take off the mask. Changing ourselves can be very difficult, even when we want to change. But it is possible. Keep reading to discover how.

Today we conclude our study through Colossians 3:5-11, which we started here. In verse 10, Paul writes, with the old self torn off, we “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge of the image of its creator.” This is an image of something that is made better than it was before.  This is “the new self which is made new in knowledge,” (L&N) and knowledge here is that which is definitely known.  It is true.  There is no room for debate.  I’m not going to focus on putting on the new just yet.  That will be part two which we will study further next week.  This week we are focusing on taking off the old. 

Notice how transformative this renewal is in verse 11.  The implication is that the renewal that takes place, which Paul just mentioned in verse 10, leads to a knowledge and situation in which there is “neither Greek nor Jew, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free.”  In Christ people of all ethnicities, skin colors are equally included, even those who are violent enemies, because Christ is all, and in all.  This is a community of people who have taken off the old clothes.

Christians, we are people who live a different way, the way of Jesus. We are people who no longer live the old way.  We take drastic action to remove the old way, the old clothes of sinful behavior and thoughts from our lives. In my own life, and in the lives of others I have observed or counseled, this process of removing the dirty clothes is rarely easy or quick.

First, it involves admitting you have sin in our life.  Admit it to God.  Admit to people close to you.  And admit to people you have hurt.  This is called confession.  It is hard and humbling, but confession is the first step.  It is the seeing that there are actually dirty clothes on us.  In this process, we might not be aware of the dirty clothes, or we might actively be avoiding them, even though those close to us know we have a problem.  We simply need honest, loving people to tell us the straight truth.  Some of us are emotional infants, some of us are immature, though we might be old in human years.  Some of us have cultivated for decades an echo chamber around us, people that tell us what we want to hear.  We need people in our lives to speak truth to us, and that will require humility and teachability. 

Second, do the hard work of changing your ways.  Sometimes this happens cold turkey.  But that is rare.  God is more than capable to help us stop sinning cold turkey.  Most often though, the Spirit helps us day by day, week by week, slowly make change.  This might require getting professional therapy.  It amazes me how many people know they have a problem, but are unwilling to get help.  They are just fine allowing those dirty clothes to stay on.  That is a sin of apathetic jaded immaturity.  Instead we Christians are people who tear off those old clothes.  The old ways likely won’t all come off at one time.  But as our hearts desire to look more like Jesus, then our actions, our thoughts, our desires will change. 

What do you need to tear off?  No one has arrived at a place of perfect maturity yet.  This is for anyone and everyone.  We are all in need of God’s grace and all in need of  his strength to do better in a new area.  We all have things that need to be removed.  How can this be more than a blog post, but an actual change of life for you?  

Check in next week as we’ll talk about the new clothes we are replacing these old clothes with. 

When battling a bad habit or sin feels like a losing fight – Colossians 3:5-11, Part 4

Photo by Attentie Attentie on Unsplash

How do you overcome a bad habit, a sinful struggle? It’s difficult, right? It can feel like entering a boxing ring, doing battle every day, often losing. Does that resonate with you?

There is hope and there is help!

In our five-part study of Colossians 3:5-11, Paul says in verse 7 that Christians had an old life, fixated on and participating in deviant sexuality, lust, greed, and acquiring possessions.  In their old way of life, Christians indulged in all that. 

Christian, that’s not you anymore!  You are not a part of that old way, and so therefore, look at verse 8. He has another list for us.  In verse 5 he commanded us to put the items on that list to death.  Now in verse 8 he says something similar, “get rid of” everything on this new list.  What’s on this new list?

First, anger or fury (which is the basic form of anger), then intense anger (a word that can include passionate outbursts), then hateful feelings (a word that has the possible implication of desiring to harm others), and finally blaspheming (reviling, defaming and wanting to injure a person’s reputation).  Get rid of all of it! 

At its core, anger is a warning sign, basically a feeling flashing in our hearts and minds, “Warning, warning, someone is defying you,” or “Someone is doing something wrong, there is an injustice here.”  If that was all anger did, just a warning, it would be a really good thing.  Frankly, we can learn to control our anger, so that it fuels justice.  If we allow love to have control over our anger, anger can do a whole lot of good.  The problem is that anger is a powerful emotion that often gets out of control, sometimes seemingly taking control of us, leading us to do damage, verbally, physically, and otherwise. 

So there is righteous anger and unrighteous anger.  Paul here is talking about evil anger, the kind that does damage.  We should get rid of it.

In the last word in the list in verse 8, Paul says we should get rid of filthy language, which is defined as “obscene, shameful speech involving culturally disapproved themes—‘vulgar speech, obscene speech, dirty talk’.” (Louw & Nida)

I don’t know where to draw the line on a lot of this.  Is it dirty jokes?  Could be. How dirty?  Who gets to define this?  Is it cursing?  Could be.  There are in our culture numerous curse words that are generally considered to be inappropriate.  But who gets to decide that?

Paul doesn’t want us to set up a new law book for Christian speech.  Instead, he is giving a principle, get rid of filthy language from your life.  Again, this comes down to our heart.  Filthy talk that is obscene will be talk that is degrading to another.  That is not loving the other, which is what we are called to do. 

As he continues, he is still focusing on the words we use.  Look at verse 9, “Do not lie.”  This is another imperative, a command.  We Christians are to speak truth.  We don’t lie about ourselves, about our accomplishments, about what we know, about what we see.  We are committed to the truth, even when it hurts, even when it puts us at a disadvantage or a bad light.

We Christians are people who are radically committed to the truth, and notice how Paul specifically mentions, “to each other.” We tell the truth to each other in the church family.

Why is this so important?  Because, as Paul continues, we have taken off the old self.  The word for “take off” that Paul uses in verse 9 is vivid. It is a tearing off, or stripping off of the old man, the old woman, the old person, and its practices. 

Now do you see how Paul is starting to talk about clothes?  It’s like he depicting a forceful tearing off of or stripping down from the old dirty clothes.  But Paul is not just clothes. We know that. He is speaking figuratively. He is also not just speaking outwardly. We could think outwardly when we read Paul’s words because clothing is outside us. Notice how Paul is more intimate than that.  Paul envisions an act of tearing off something that is a part of who we are, our old self.  He writes that this tearing off, this stripping down, happened in the past.  That old self, that sin nature, that earthly way of thinking is gone.  Remember verse 3 earlier in the chapter: “You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 

Those who are in Christ are new persons! Praise the Lord!

If we are so new, then why do we often still struggle with the old ways? Check back in to the next post as we’ll talk about how to address that in our lives.

Identifying and responding to evil desire – Colossians 3:5-11, Part 3

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

You’re driving down the road, looking at the vehicles passing by, feeling very dissatisfied by your own vehicle.  You feel within you a strong desire for a particular vehicle you pass by. As I said before, I desire Land Rover Defenders.  Or maybe it is a better house. Maybe you desire someone else’s body, personality, athletic ability, creativity, or income.

What does your heart desire? 

As we continue our study through Colossians 3:5-11, Paul talks about desire in a more general way.  He calls it evil desire.  Or evil craving.  Certainly this could be sexual (which we discussed in the previous post), but it is a desire often expressed in other ways too.  For example, it could be coveting, strongly wanting something that belongs to another. 

It can be very tricky to evaluate our desires.  Notice that Paul specifically calls it evil desire.  We all have desire, and most desire is neutral.  So at what point does a desire cross the line into an evil desire?  I wish Paul would have given us a precise guide, or some sort of measuring tool, or that God had built within us some kind of physical response, like our ears would start flashing beet red when we have crossed the line, something unmistakable. 

You might think, “But, Joel, don’t you think that most people know when they have crossed that line into evil desire?  Don’t we know it deep down inside?”  Most people?  Maybe.  But plenty of people are callous, jaded or apathetic, and they cross the line often into evil desire.  I think what is more important is for each one of us, in an ongoing way, to learn to discern if we have desires within us that have crossed the line.  Then we put them to death, as we saw in the previous post

Next in the list, Paul talks about a specific evil desire that is very applicable to our culture.  Greed.  Greed is an inner desire to acquire more and more money, possessions and experiences, when you don’t need them.  This is a strong temptation in our culture, even among Christians, because so many American Christians have money to spend, and because we see so many other Christians spending it, and thus it seems normal to do the same.

Notice what Paul calls it.  Idolatry.  The worship of things other than God.  The seeking of our satisfaction in things other than God. 

Again I ask, “Where’s the line?”  How does a person know if they have allowed evil desire of greed to take hold in their hearts and minds?  How do we know if we have spent money or acquired possessions based on want, rather than on need? 

I want to ask Paul, “Are you saying, Paul, that we should never buy anything, except based on need?  And who will get to be the one who decides what needs are?”  Some of you might be inwardly thinking, “I would love that job. I would love to tell the wealthier ones among us how to spend their money.”  If you are thinking something like that, perhaps your heart is revealing some of that evil desire Paul referred to earlier.  Do you covet the money of the wealthy?  Do you covet the fact that they don’t have to worry about how they are going to pay their bills?  Are you jealous of their cars that are paid off, their homes that are paid off, their second homes, their third homes, and their hobbies and vacations? 

And then what about those of you who have the second and third homes, or the extra vehicles, or the savings accounts, or the vacation plans, or vacation homes, or stock market investments?   Are you now thinking, “What a minute, Joel, those are all investments.  I’m being a good steward.  Didn’t Jesus tell the parable of the good stewards?  And I give to the church.  I tithe.” 

Good points, but we also need to remember what Jesus said to the rich young ruler.  Sell everything you have a give it to the poor.  Did Jesus mean that literally?  I think so.  To that rich young ruler, he meant it literally, and for all we know, he might have meant it literally to many rich Christians in our day.  Why?  Because it is so easy for greed and evil desires to become idolatry. 

Or take for example the typical practice of willing your estate to your kids.  Are you convinced that after you die, your kids will handle that money in a way that is consistent with the Kingdom of God?  If not, don’t will it to them.  Will it straight to the Kingdom of God.  

I am purposely trying to help us all think about greed, about evil desire, and how it might be a part of our lives.  And why? Because I am very concerned about what Paul says in verse 6.  Through of all those evil desires, whether sexual or coveting or lust or greed, Paul says the wrath of God is coming. 

Yikes.  I don’t want myself or any of you to have to face that.  The wrath of God??? That’s something that is so plainly obvious that we should want nothing to do with it, right?  And yet we just keep having our focus be on ourselves, not on loving our neighbor and not on sacrificial living.  We can be all too casual about feeding our desiring, indulging ourselves. 

Paul is issuing an ultra-clear warning here: “Put to death, I command you, all these actions and attitudes.”  These actions do not flow from hearts that look like the heart of Jesus.  They are unbecoming of a disciple of Jesus. 

One time Christians are commanded to kill? – Colossians 3:5-11, Part 2

Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash

In the previous post, I said that we will be studying Paul’s comments about laundry for a few weeks. This week is part one, Colossians 3:5-11, all about taking off our dirty clothes. Next week will be part two, Colossians 3:12-17, all about putting on clean clothes. In today’s post, we start studying part one. But before Paul gets to talking about clothes, you might be surprised to read that he talks about killing.  Killing? Yes. Take a look for yourself.

In verse 5, Paul says that we are to put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature.  When he writes, “put to death,” in the ancient Greek he originally wrote this letter, Paul is using the imperative tense, and that is important for us to know.  The imperative tense is the command tense.  That means this isn’t a suggestion.  Christians will do this, Paul is saying, insinuating that it is wrong in God’s eyes if we don’t do it.  That might seem harsh, because we are not used to being commanded to kill.  We Christians are supposed to be peaceful, and we are not to commit murder, except in this area.  So what is Paul doing talking about killing? He says we are, “to put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” 

What is the earthly nature?  Paul is using figurative language here.  If you’re looking at the language he wrote it, he literally says, “Put to death the members which are upon the earth.”  What members is he talking about?  He describes the members that we, as people who are desiring to look more and more like Jesus and to have our hearts in line with his heart, are commanded to put to death. They are actions of the earthly nature, actions of the sinful nature.  They are actions or attitudes that are not in line with the heart and character of God.  Therefore we put them to death!  How do we kill them?  We stop doing them!  Cease them completely.  Essentially Paul is saying, “Christians, you people who have been risen with Christ so that you are no longer enslaved by your sinful earthly nature, stop sinning!”

Look at the list of the things that we are to stop doing.  It’s pretty specific.  “Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  Paul says those actions are members of the earthly sinful nature.  Put them all to death.  Cease them completely. 

Notice these sins, these actions and attitudes of the earthly nature that Paul tells us to put to death, all are self-focused.  Consider how different they are from the way of Jesus, which is very “other” focused.  He shifted his life and sacrificed heaven for others, for us.  He washed the feet of the disciples, asking them to follow his example in being other focused.  Jesus tells us one of the greatest things we can do is to love our neighbor.

So when Paul says “put these things to death,” he is grounding his teaching in the selflessness of Jesus, who once taught, “If you want to be my disciples, you must die to your self.” That’s how serious Paul says Christians are to consider this command to stop doing these sinful things.  Let’s look at each of the actions on the list. 

First, he describes three actions or attitudes related to sexuality.  Paul is not leaving any room for confusion.  No loopholes.  He is talking about sinful sexual thoughts, sinful sexual actions, and the general sinful state of sexual sin.  Christians should stop participating in sexual immorality.  Again, considering God’s heart, Paul is responding to an area, sexuality, that is often rooted in deep selfishness, in actions of not loving another selflessly, which is what Jesus did on earth and what he calls us to.

When Paul lists sexual immorality, he is saying that God’s way, the Kingdom way, is to not involve ourselves in sexuality immorality of any kind.  God’s design is for sexual expression to take place only in marriage between one man and one woman in a loving, committed relationship.  That is not me talking, and that is not a political statement.  That is God’s design and desire, for our good, and for the flourishing of society.  So when Paul says that Christians must cease any immoral sexual activity or thought, Paul is communicating that God-given desire.

Now at this point some of you might be thinking, “That is so antiquated and wrong. How can you maintain those repressive fundamentalistic teachings?” I’d be glad to talk further about that. Feel free to comment below. I’m not trying to hurt anyone. I’m simply trying to present the message Paul wrote as it is because I believe it is God’s best for all people.

I suspect, however, that a majority of my readers might be thinking,“Yes!  I agree!  Our society is so sexually immoral, and we need to clearly proclaim this!  Preach it, brother!” 

Fair warning. You might not be so happy when we take a look at what is next on Paul’s list.  Check back in tomorrow to find out!

Prince Philip’s Surprising Choice For His Hearse – Colossians 3:5-11, Part 1

Queen sits alone at funeral for Prince Philip to set example

Did you watch the funeral of Prince Philip who recently passed? Or maybe you saw highlights or pictures on the news.  Did you notice that his coffin was transported in a plain old green Land Rover Defender pick-up truck?  Defenders are mode of Land Rovers that look kind of like Jeeps.  You rarely see Defenders here in the USA. 

When I saw that the casket of the long-time husband of the Queens was being transported in a Defender pick-up truck, I thought, that is a very unique, decidedly non-royal, choice. It was reported that it was Philip’s request to use the truck, an 18 year old vehicle that he owned, rather than a hearse, because of his love for Land Rovers and his love for the military, as Land Rover Defenders have long been the iconic military vehicle of the British armed forces, of which Philip was a member.  Philip’s choice jumped out at me right away, not just because it is so uncharacteristic for a royal.  When we were missionaries in Jamaica, because it was a former British colony, there were Land Rover Defenders all over the place, and they really grew on me.  During that year in Kingston, Jamaica, I looked into buying an old beat-up Defender for sale.  These feelings still rise up inside me when I see one of those on the road.  Longing.  Desire.  Coveting.  I want one! 

It might not be for Land Rover Defenders, but maybe you know the feeling of longing, of desire.  Wanting something that isn’t yours, something you don’t need, or that you can’t have.  Or maybe there are other thoughts or feelings that bubble up from deep inside you?

As our hearts become more like the heart of Jesus then our thoughts and actions will naturally be more and like his.  But did you ever notice how things come into your mind or out of your mouth that aren’t like Jesus?  Have your ever balled your hands into fists to hit? Ever notice how your eyes wander?  Or that your neck cranes to look at what is not yours? Or that your fingers tap away, in the process of taking you online to places you should not go? 

What we do about this?  Sometimes these feelings and desires can be strong. As we continue studying the letter of Colossians, we’ll find here is hope and there is help!  Turn to Colossians 3:5-11. 

Before we read the passage, notice how Paul starts verse 5. Paul has a flow of thought, which we know by his use of the word “therefore.”  What he said before provides the rationale for what he is about to say now.  What did he say before?  Last week we studied verses 1-4, and we saw Paul talk about how, as people who love Jesus, we are people who are raised with Christ, and therefore we focus our hearts and minds on things above.  Paul was talking about developing a longing for and mindset focused on the mission of the Kingdom of God. 

Now in verses 5-11 he is going to give us practical guidance to help us have that Kingdom mindset.  Actually, verses 5-11 are part one and verses 12-17 are part two.  Those two parts are very easy to remember, as they feature a common metaphor.  Clothing.  Part one, verses 5-11, is “take off dirty clothes,” and Part two, verses 12-17 is “put on clean clothes”.

We also see how the clothing metaphor connects to what Paul wrote in chapter two, because there Paul said that what being raised with Christ means for a Christian is victory over sin on two levels.  The first level is the eternal level.  Victory over sin, because Jesus’ defeated sin, death and the devil when he died on the cross and rose to new life, means we have hope of eternal life, freedom from sin’s final consequences.  But that is not all there is to victory in Jesus.  The second level affects the here and now.  We also have the wonderful privilege of experiencing victory over sin in our lives now.  Setting our hearts and minds on things above is not only the hope of eternal life in heaven but also an active seeking and focusing on living a Kingdom-focused life now. How do we do that?  We take off the dirty clothes and we put on the clean clothes!  But what does that mean?  Laundry? 

Go ahead and read the passage, and then check back in to the next post, and we’ll start to discuss what Paul has to say.

How often should you wash your jeans? – Colossians 3:5-11, Preview

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

How long do you typically wear a pair of jeans before you wash them?  Unless I get them sweaty or so dirty they are unpresentable, I will wear a pair of jeans for multiple days because I want to preserve water as well as avoid wear and tear on the denim.  But after a couple days, natural skin oils leave my jeans feeling grimy. Also the normal motion of my daily activity stretches them out, and they feel too loose to my liking.  For me, the sweet spot is three days, but no more than that.  After day three, the jeans go in the dirty laundry bin.  How about you?  Are you a single-use person?  Maybe two days?  How many days do wear them?

Believe it or not, the CEO of Levis, Chip Bergh, said that you should never wash a pair of jeans.  He meant it, claiming that he does not ever wash his jeans.  Washing them, he said, does damage to the denim.  Instead he spots cleans with a toothbrush, as needed.  How do you feel about that?

I love the feeling of newly-washed jeans, either crisp from being line dried, or softer from the dryer.  Admittedly, Mr. Bergh is right; over time, washing jeans will fade their fabric.  Mine always thin in the knees, inevitably leading to holes.  But I can’t imagine never washing my jeans.  Wouldn’t they start to stink?  They would!  Anti-washers have solutions for that.  Put your jeans in the freezer overnight to kill the bacteria creating the odor, or hang them out in the sunlight, or spray them with a deodorizer.  Again, I ask, how do you feel about that?

I’m talking about laundry because over the next two weeks, in our sermon series through Colossians, the writer of the New Testament letter of Colossians, the Apostle Paul, talks about laundry.  This coming week we’ll study part 1, taking off the dirty clothes, and the following week, part 2, will be about putting clean clothes on. 

When it comes to the kind of laundry Paul is talking about, it seems he would differ from the CEO of Levis.  But what kind of laundry is Paul talking about?  Check out Colossians 3:5-11 ahead of time, then I look forward to discussing this with you on the blog next week.