Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1340
March 4, 2018 Colossians 3.1-17
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus Romans 13.11-14
“The Golden Chain”
Raised with Christ
Col. 3.1-4 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians is a good book to study for living the Christian life. Colossians 1-2 engage us in what Dallas Willard calls – enthralling the mind with Christ. The first two chapters of Colossians teach on the supremacy of Christ in all things. We learn from the beginning chapters that it is all about Jesus. All things were created in him and through him. Paul realized the number of philosophies of the world that threatened the life of the church and he warns the church in the early part of the letter to make sure no one deceives us by human thoughts and traditions, anything that is not of Jesus. It is in shapter two where Paul writes about supremacy of Christ for in Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 2.8-12, 20).
Christ’s authority is over all things. These writings encourage us to be enthralled with Christ’s supremacy and authority, to be gripped and captivated by the person of Jesus Christ. When Paul moves to Colossians 3-4, he engages us in what it takes to become like Christ. The goal in his teaching is to remove all the responses or tendencies of our life that would oppose the kingdom of God.
Colossians 3.1-4 begin with our unity in the resurrection of Christ. If then you have been raised...could also be translated, “since you have been raised with Christ”. That is to say that we have been raised! Therefore, seek the things above, set your minds on things above. Jesus said it like this:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6.33). We seek first and foremost in our lives to be conscientious about the things of God, to become enthralled with the kingdom life, a life of abundance and love and grace and mercy and wisdom and hope. I love the way Paul says it: Our lives are hidden in Christ, and when Christ who is your life appears...we will appear with him. Jesus is not just a part of our lives tucked away when we need Him, He is our lives, He is life. Christ defines our very existence. Jesus Christ is our life. And so Paul takes this third chapter and teaches us how to life in Jesus.
Put Sin to Death
Col. 3.5-11 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
The metaphor Paul uses is an outward object to speak of an inward condition. The outward object is clothing. The church is called to “change clothes.” Put on the fresh garment of Christ. Discard the old clothes – those tattered old evil desires, malice, or slander. Strip off the old self with its practices. In spiritual terms this means being crucified with Christ – an action symbolized at our baptism. In practical terms this means a change in disposition. We cannot simply keep living the same old life that sins against God and against one another and truly be living the Christian life.
To change our clothes is to take off the old, bad habits of our lives. Paul lists some inappropriate activity. He may have been listing some activities he had observed in the community or simply taking some random behaviors he knew to be inappropriate. They are all old clothes to be removed. Take off those old rags of promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. Take off the clothes of bad tempers, irritability, meanness, lying, and toss them in the fire.
Paul tells us to do something – to take off the old self, put something to death, kill it, hang it on the cross, and to put on something else – namely, the character of Christ. Paul does not really tell us how to do this. Perhaps this is what he means by the phrase in Philippians “work out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12). Work out what you need to do to live in responsive obedience to Christ. Within the framework of salvation, tend to your life as faithful disciples seeking to please God and grow in Christ.
How do we do put off the old and put on the new? The Psalmist suggests that we keep the Lord always before us, according to Psalm 16:8. Another version says “I have set the Lord continually before me” (NASB). Keep or set the Lord before us. I think this means to have God as our main focus in the vision of our life. Paul also stresses this theme in his letter to the Philippians:
“ For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). To the Galatians he writes: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20).
We take off those old clothes, put that life to death, so that we might live to God.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6.6-11
Peter says it this way:
Why do we to kill off sin, so that we might be alive to God and live to righteousness. -That we might be like Christ.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ
Col. 3.12-13 12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Take off the old and put on the new! Once those clothes are removed we are given new clothes to wear. We make this garment change by working our way into God’s word and by the Holy Spirit working His way in and through that word. We make a garment change when we participate in the life of the church, in worship and service and, for some, in leadership, and in a variety of other ways. We make a garment change when we practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation, silence, solitude, scripture study or memorization. But most of all it is the work of God within us if we would simply yield our will to His. Philippians 1.6 - And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. This is one aspect to our change of garments, God’s work in us. But another also is about working out our own salvation, not that we save ourselves through any works, but that we enable change through our effort with the Spirit. Phil. 2.12-13 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. These verses speak of both our work and God’s work together bringing us to work for God’s good pleasure, that is, to do His will.
I want to bring one more text in here from Romans:
Romans 13.11-14 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh. Don’t fall back into an old way of life that does not trust in Christ for life. Obedience is a key to our efforts. There are many things the scriptures reveal to us as specific acts of obedience and living the Christian life: seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33); loving God and neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40); studying and meditation on scripture (Psalm 1, Proverbs 4:20-23); pursuing God (Psalm 42; 63); worship (Psalm 95:6).
We also learn from what Jesus did: he prayed, he got away for times of solitude and silence, he studied the word of God, he worshiped, he served and taught and preached and healed and showed compassion and treated others with dignity and fairness and kindness and love. The classic spiritual disciplines enable us to be formed in Christ and to have Christ formed in us.
Spiritual formation in Christ is a life long journey. It takes a plan to put to death the old self. It takes discipline to hang our old clothes on the cross. It takes a plan to put on the heavenly, to seek the things that are above and put on love. It takes effort. Spiritual formation, also known as living the Christian life, entails obedience, a matter of spirit, lived from the reality of God, supernatural, shaping our will, shaping the whole being, transforming our thoughts, and takes effort, an effort by God’s grace! Put off the old garment of earthly desires and put on the new garment of Christ.
Peace, Thanksgiving, and the Word of Christ
Paul gives us some ideas of what the Christian life looks like when he says, Col. 3. 15-17 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Just take a look at three of the characteristics listed: peace, thanks, Word.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Seek His peace. It has already been given. Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14.27). This is not just an absence of strife or war, but a wholeness of spirit, soul, and body. It is the fullness of life that we have because Christ lives in us and the realization that God loves us deeply. Nothing, nothing can separate us from that love. This is peace. Two important phrases speak to this peace in Philippians 4,
We can’t get any better sense of peace than that which guards our hearts and minds and in knowing that the God of peace is with us. That peace thing is enough to open our hearts to the second one - give thanks. The Bible speaks of giving thanks over and over again. Giving thanks is a discipline that recognizes our gratitude but also our dependence on God. It helps us to remember that we cannot do anything apart from Jesus. It reminds us of the many blessings poured out for our lives and for our salvation. The third one I want to mention is to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let it live in you. It lives in us when we do it! It lives in us when we engage it in ways that it sticks with us. It dwells richly because it is valuable and sweet!
The Golden Chain
You may have noticed that I skipped Colossians 3.14 to this point. But I saved it for last because it is the key to everything I have said thus far.
Col. 3.14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
That’s great but what is this golden chain thing in the outline? Well, that comes from a paraphrased of this verse from JB Phillips: And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues.
Above all, put on love – putting on love. Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. Love is that favorite shirt that you like to put on in the evenings to relax. Love is that comfortable pair of shoes that you wear on your day off. It's like Paul is saying, "If you forget everything else in this letter, if you forget compassion, kindness, if you forget to be humble or patient, do not forget to put on love. Why? Because love binds everything together." In loving God and neighbor we will naturally be compassionate, kind, patient; we will fulfill God’s law and God’s will because love binds all things together. J.B. Phillips gives us this image of a chain with everything hanging on that chain. It reminds be of ladies who wear charm bracelets. The bracelet holds all the charms and even if a charm falls off, the bracelet remains. Love remains. Love it the golden chain that links everything else together. Such an image may help us to see the power of love as a binding force in our lives.
What is it to seek the things above? Seek love. What does it take to put the old rags away? Love. What does it mean to put on Jesus Christ? Love. What holds our lives together? Love.
One of my favorite devotional writers is Oswald Chambers; many of you know his book My Utmost for His Highest. On the August 30 devotion he speaks of rejoicing in our being rightly related to Jesus Christ. He says, "Keep your relationship right with Jesus, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whoever you meet day by day, God is pouring rivers of living water through you." This is the relationship of love. We will not even know it is happening. As long as we live in the love of God, God will use us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves – no technique we must learn: God simply pours love and living water through us. Amen.