Scripture: Colossias 3:1-11
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. – Colossians 3:9-10
Have you ever tried to do something wearing completely the wrong clothes for the occasion? I remember when I was a kid I went to a school where we had to wear uniforms, which meant polo shirts, dress pants, dress shoes and a tie every day. One of the first recesses all the boys went out to play soccer, a game I hadn’t really played much of, and as I joined the game I found that my dress shoes, and my dress clothes made it terribly hard for me to get the traction on the field I need and it was a miserable first attempt.
Aside from my lack of experience with the game, I had also missed the part where many of the other kids had changed into their sneakers, allowing them to be much better prepared and equipped for the game at hand. Instead my feet hurt, I was slipping all around the field, getting my nice clothes just a little dirty and certainly not playing very well at all.
My lack of skill had a lot to do with never having played much soccer before but it also was because I was really ill-equipped for the task at hand – I was wearing the wrong clothes, the wrong outfit. The next time I played I wore my sneakers and although I still wasn’t the best, I didn’t slip as much or make as much of a fool of myself – and I actually learned to like the game of soccer, something I wouldn’t have imagined after that first time out.
In our reading from Colossians Paul reminds his readers that their spiritual life, their life as disciples, the life of the church requires a different set of clothing, requires the right equipment to experience it fully, to experience the abundant life that God opened up for them through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Like many of the new Christian communities the church in Colossae was struggling to find it’s way in the midst of an empire that was beginning to become suspicious of the new faith and the competing philosophical and spiritual truth claims of Roman pagan cults and religious groups, including traditional Judaism with it’s adherence to kosher purity law, and other strict moral regulations.
They had received the Good News of Jesus Christ from one of Paul’s colleagues, Epaphras, and Paul heard of the little community and their faith and commitment to Jesus and the challenges they were facing with teachers trying to draw them this way or that away from the core Gospel message, including an attempt by a Jewish-sect of the church to impose adherence to the Law as a requirement for faithful participation in Jesus, and his salvation.
These teachers were offering the Colossian church a different set of equipment to go about their life of discipleship, they were offering them a particular set of clothing for the job – but in Paul’s estimation the focus on the moral restrictions of the Jewish Law was as much a focus on the earthly things as the more morally grey life in the Roman world and as such an impediment to true discipleship and the Gospel they had received in Jesus Christ.
Paul instead exhorts his readers to ‘seek the thing that are above’, ‘to set their minds on things above’ and not the things that are on earth. He reminds them that in their baptisms they had died with Christ, died to the earthly passions and their earthly priorities and that they had been raised with him in his resurrection to the abundant and eternal life of God. He tells them that their life, that our lives, have been hidden with Christ in God, our life is revealed with God in his eternal glory.
Paul reminds his readers and us, that this is Christ’s work, and Christ’s work alone. We have no part to play in our salvation, in our life being hidden in the life of Christ – there is nothing we can do to buy or earn our salvation, it has been completely and utterly won for us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Although there is nothing we can or can’t do to achieve our salvation – since it is a sheer gift of God – we are invited to live into the life that God has won for us, and setting our minds on the heavenly things is a way for us to experience the abundant life of God.
Like playing soccer with the right equipment, Paul suggests that there is a right kind of spiritual clothing that the church and individual Christians should wear in their life of discipleship to experience the fullness of God’s life, and not metaphorically slip and slide, and make mess of things like I did on that first recess long ago.
Unlike the wrong pair of shoes, or playing soccer in dress pants, the difference between the wrong spiritual clothing and the right one is a stark one. And so Paul rightly uses stark language, he speaks of putting to death the ‘earthly’ passions and attitudes – particularly those that are driven by self-interest, selfishness and which cause the breakdown and destruction of communities.
Paul highlights two sets of behaviours, of spiritual clothing or equipment, that hinder the Christian life and the flourishing of the Gospel.
The first set of behaviours are more physical in nature: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desires and greed. Each one in their own way destroys relationships, destroys communities and draws people away from the goodness of God and the life he has prepared for his church and for each one of us.
While most of us think we are perhaps free from these sort of behaviours – the truth is they are far more pervasive and ingrained in our culture than we would like to admit. Our society, and perhaps we with it, has normalized gratuitous sexuality, promiscuity and casual sex is celebrated in our media, pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation run rampant. And as to greed our whole modern capitalist system thrives on greed – all of us run the risk of falling into behaviours that Paul would certainly have characterized with greed. All of these behaviours hinder our living a life of discipleship, hinder our complete experience of God’s healing grace – because more often than not they are behaviours that hurt others, that seek the benefit of ourselves over the good of the community, that trample on trust and faithfulness.
The second set of behaviours are more cerebral in nature: anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language and lying. Again while they may not be the vices and sins that the church often rails against, Paul places theses sins of the tongue on an equal footing with the more carnal or physical sins and just as destructive and as much a hindrance to the life of the church and a Christian disciple – something we might be wise to heed in our own day and age.
These behaviours are sadly just a pervasive (perhaps moreso) within our culture and sadly within our churches as well. Many of us have been on the receiving end of angry words, malicious talk and gossip, lies which break trust – and we need to be honest with the ways we have participated in these behaviours even in the midst of our Christian communities. These behaviours are as much a stumbling block on the journey following Jesus as Lord and saviour, they are as destructive as the flashier sins that the church is more likely to call out. Paul exhorted his readers, and he exhorts us to get rid of all these behaviours, putting them to death just as we were exhorted to put to death the sins of the flesh.
Paul reminded his readers, and his letter reminds us, that in their baptisms they had been given the right equipment all that they needed to thrive and experience the fullness of God’s life, they had been clothed with the very life of Jesus, that their identity was fulfilled in him, in his death and resurrection. That is why Paul tells them, tells us, that in the renewal there is no Jew nor Greek, no circumcised nor uncircumcised, no slave nor free – because no matter our identity, no matter who we are, our life is hidden in Christ.
And so as Christians, the Colossians and us alongside them are challenged to live a life worthy of the salvation we have received – a challenge that is certainly difficult to achieve on our own, but by the grace of God we have been blessed with power and presence of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God we have been blessed with brothers and sisters in Christ (as broken and imperfect as we all may be) to support us and lift us up when we stumble, to bring us comfort when we are in sorrow.
May we all seek the things that are above and set our minds on things above, so that each one of us may know the abundance of God and the fullness of life that he has opened for us in Jesus Christ.
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