A Life of Grace
Scripture: Colossians 3:12-17
Do you ever wonder whether Paul is making sense or not? I will read the list of sexual & speech-related misbehavior in 3:5-9. Then I will read verses 12-17. < > Now, ask yourself this: suppose there was a town (town A) in which everybody behaved in the way described in verses 5-9. And suppose, a few miles down the road, there was another town (town B) where everybody behaved in the way described in verses 12-17. Which town would you rather live in?
There will always be some cynics who say they would prefer town A. People are free there, they will say. People are having a good time. Okay, they may lose friends every now & then. Some people who cannot look after themselves may get hurt. But they will be doing their own thing, living cheerful & exciting lives. Whereas those in town B (these same people will say) look like a bunch of wimps. They are goodie-2-shoes who cannot stand up for themselves. They are always saying “I’m sorry” & singing hymns. Friends, I am afraid this reaction has become far too common in our world.
But just a little thought will show how shallow such a life would be. The practices Paul outlines in the first verses result in communities – families, villages, & entire towns – tearing themselves apart. Unbridled sexual license & untamed angry speech result in the breakdown of relationships at every level. Some people may fool themselves that they are having an enjoyable time in that atmosphere. But again & again, in moments of truth, they will admit that they are lost, confused, lonely, & bitter.
Nor are the people described in our text a bunch of weak-willed, wimpish people without much to say for themselves. Anyone who thinks that simply does not know what they are talking about. Have you ever seriously tried to forgive someone who has wronged you? Have you ever seriously tried to be compassionate & patient? Have you ever tried to let Christ’s peace, Christ’s word, or Christ’s name be the reality around which you order your life? If you have, then you know it is not easy! It takes serious prayer & real moral effort. And people who engage in that effort tend to be people who are also capable of making tough decisions & engaging in challenging activities in other areas of life as well. Christian behavior, in other words, makes you more human, not less. Self-indulgence & habitual anger & lying may seem like fun for a little while, but sooner or later they destroy you – usually sooner.
Of course, it is a question of balance. Some churches are overly concerned to stamp out sexual sin but seem to ignore the positive things Paul insists should be put in its place, things like kindness, humility, gentleness & patience.
Notice how sexual sin, which often disguises itself as “love,” is a caricature of what real love looks like, as Paul shows in these verses. A church with no (obvious) sexual sin but which is full of malicious gossip has only swapped one evil for another. And a church where everyone is very caring & supportive but where immorality flourishes unchecked – perhaps because people are afraid to confront it in fear they will be told they are “unloving” – is allowing noxious weeds to grow all around the flowers in the garden. You cannot select some parts of God’s commands & leave others. For any of the instructions to make sense, they all need to be in place.
Paul’s list of behavior patterns forms an overlapping sequence. But that does not mean, in this case, that we can just glance at them & think, “Oh yes – he is just saying we should be nice to each other.” (Though of course we should.) Being “nice” is only the start. It is worth taking a moment & thinking about each word here, asking yourself, or better, asking each other, what sort of actions & words will make each one come true in your life, in the life of our church, & in the life of our community. Think about them: compassion; kindness; humility; gentleness; & patience. The word Paul uses here literally means “large-hearted.”
Remember that with most of these words there are people, like the ones I mentioned earlier, who will mock the very idea of behaving like this. Remind yourself that to be compassionate does not mean being sentimental. That being kind does not mean being a soft touch. That humility is not the same thing as low self-esteem. That gentleness is not weakness but is what you get when a powerful wild horse has been tamed. You get all the same power, but now under control. That patience does not mean letting everyone do whatever they want with you. Do not let people scoff at the central virtues that make the Christian life what it is supposed to be – a life of grace. Why do you think people do that? Are they threatened by such a dazzling & demanding way of life?
In particular, notice how Paul draws the picture together, again & again, with reference to the Lord, the king – to J himself. J forgave you, so you must forgive; that is what gives you the energy to use love as a belt, or the outer garment, which holds together & in place all the new clothes that you must put on. Paul says: Over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Jesus Christ is to be the decider in all your deliberations, & his desire for peace among his people is the key factor. The peace of Christ must control your hearts – a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. His word is to be alive within the Christian community; there is always more about the gospel, & also about the written gospels, to explore & discover, & different gifts are needed in the community to draw out the meaning & apply it to the church’s life. The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach & warn each other with all wisdom.
And, finally, whatever you do or say must be able to stand having these words written above it: In the name of the Lord Jesus. do you want a norm for Christian conduct? Do you want a standard to go by? Do you want a principle rather than a lot of little rules? Paul gives us the principle here. He does not say what we should or should not do. He simply says, whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus & give thanks to God the Father through him. Friends, whatever you do – at your place of business, in your home, & in all relationships with others – can you say, “I am doing this in the name of the Lord Jesus?” If you can say that, if you are doing it in his name, the go ahead & do it. This is the marvelous standard, the plumb line we can put down on our lives.
Paul has dealt with this subject before in his letter to the Ephesians. There he told the church to be filled with the Holy Spirit, & then he gave them instructions for living.
What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It means that you will have to be filled with the Word of Christ also. The Word of God is inspired by the Spirit of God. If the Word of God dwells in you richly, then you are filled with the Spirit of God. I do not believe that you can be filled with the Holy Spirit or that you can fully serve Christ until you are filled with the knowledge of his Word. The word of Christ must live in you richly.
Now, if the word of Christ lives in you richly, it will work itself out in your life. And you will be living a life of grace.