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Fashions for the soul

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Colossians 3:12-17

Spring Break has just ended for most of us, so it must indeed be Spring. With the new season comes the new season’s fashions, or so I hear. One website says, “This year’s look is flirty, fun and fabulously feminine. Have it both ways with trim, tailored silhouettes or soft, flowing lines and indulge yourself with a little fresh couture with all the frills.” I don’t even know what any of that means. And I have no idea how to say “couture.”

Not to be deterred, I asked Minni to help me find Janet a new spring wardrobe. She located an Oscar de la Renta beaded dress for $3,800.00; a “turquoise stone tote” for $1,975.00; and “leather espradrille sandals” for $937.00. What is “espradrille”?

By contrast, a website for men’s spring clothing says, “The classics still hold sway when it comes to men’s fashion.” I think that means that nothing changes for us. Since I’m wearing the same kind of suit I’ve worn all my married life, I guess that’s a good thing.

Last week, Paul showed us the winter clothes our souls are supposed to strip off if we want to experience all of God there is. Now he displays the spring fashions we are to put on. How we are to be with others, and with ourselves. This is a crucial conversation, for the health of our souls and the salvation of our society. It’s my privilege to explain why this subject matters, and how it applies to our lives and souls today.

Why relevance is so relevant

You and I no longer live in a world which believes it needs what the church provides. We can be “spiritual” without being religious. I can believe in Christ without going to church. Most non-churched people say that’s exactly their position on the subject.

Only two percent of Americans are afraid of going to hell. So long as I’m sincere in my beliefs and tolerant of others, my spirituality is as good as yours. “The Bible says” is no longer the answer; for many, it’s not even the question. We must show that our faith is relevant, before anyone will consider the fact that it might be right.

This is precisely how it was in first-century Colossae. Paul doesn’t quote much of the Old Testament in his letter to this Greek culture, because they wouldn’t care any more than you care what the Koran or the Book of Mormon says on today’s subject. If the Colossians cannot prove the relevance of their faith in their relationships and their own character, their witness is lost. But if they can, they can reach their world. So can we.

What follows is one of the most complete descriptions of external and internal spirituality to be found in all of God’s word.

At issue is not our salvation. We are already “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” He has already “chosen” or “elected” us to be his children. We are “holy,” set apart for him as his special people. We are “dearly loved” by our Father today. All that was true of Israel in the Old Testament is extended to these Gentiles in Colossae, and to you and me today.

So we are not learning how to merit his favor, but exhibit his grace. Measure yourself by these standards. Then we’ll learn how to put on the spiritual clothing our Father offers us today.

How to be spiritual with us (vs. 12-14)

Here’s what is in style with God this spring: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v. 12).

“Compassion” means to “feel with,” to empathize with others, to put ourselves in their position. “Kindness” refers to kind deeds and actions. “Humility” requires that we serve others, not because they are superior to us or we are superior to them, but because we are their brother or sister. “Gentleness” is strength under control, submitted constantly to the Spirit. “Patience” means “long-suffering,” refusing revenge or retaliation.

Now comes the test: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (v. 13).

“Bear with each other” means to endure one’s sins against us. “Forgive whatever grievances” means to pardon whatever has been done to us. We cannot forget it, but we can choose not to punish it. Do this to the same degree that Jesus has forgiven you, without condition.

How? “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.” Love is to be the outer garment which “binds together” all the others, which protects them and keeps them in place. “Agape,” selfless, sacrificial love which puts the other first, is the foundation virtue of all the rest.

There appears to be a progression here in our relationships. Think of the person who last hurt you, or who has hurt you the most. Have that person in mind, and think about what he or she did to you.

Begin your response with “compassion.” Ask God to help you feel what they feel, to see things as they do. Why did he do this to you? What insecurity, false information, or past experiences motivated him to act in this way? Let’s assume that he mistreated you out of his own need to feel secure.

To respond unkindly, returning hurt for hurt, only makes things worse, reinforcing his insecurity. Kindness means that I find ways to help him feel secure. I look for actions which respond to his need in grace.

Humility means that I do so while understanding that I am an insecure person as well, that my needs are no greater than his. There but for the grace of God go I.

Gentleness means that I submit to God, asking him to help me give this person the security and compassion he needs. I seek God’s leading and strength continually.

Patience means that I do this for a long time, whatever the person’s response. I am not responsible for what he does to me, only for what I do to him.

Forbearance means that I do this even when he does not respond in kind, and when the hurt continues.

Forgiveness means that I pardon all that he has done to me, and all that he continues to do to me.

Love means that I do this as a lifestyle and commitment, offering him what Jesus has given to me. This is the way to health and peace in this hurting relationship; the only way to resolution. God’s method works!

Such grace in relationships could not be more counter-cultural today.

“You’re fired!” is Donald Trump’s contribution to our culture. “American Idol” viewers tune in each week to watch Simon lambaste unlucky singers. “Survivor” is all about voting people off the island. Employees are often a means to the end of the bottom line. AT&T’s consolidation will cut another 10,000 jobs, while their stock soars.

Giving grace to those who deserve it least and thus need it most is the fastest way to show the culture that Jesus is real and our faith matters. Who needs such grace from you this week?

How to be spiritual with yourself (vs. 15-17)

Now Paul shifts from the external to the internal, from relating with others to relating with ourselves. If what follows isn’t true, what has gone before won’t work.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” he commands (v. 15a). “The peace Christ gives” is the sense here.

How do we get it? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Give God your requests, leave them with him, and you will find his peace.

Let such peace “rule” in your “heart.” “Rule” means to umpire, to call the shots. “Heart” is the center of emotions and will. Seek God’s peace, and put it in charge of all your decisions and problems. Give them so fully to God that you receive his peace in their place. Such serenity will show a stressed world that Jesus lives in your soul.

“Be thankful” (v. 15b): the word indicates thanksgiving for all God has already done for us. Spend time each day considering his blessings, and you’ll “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Such thanksgiving will show a driven world that Jesus lives in your soul.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (v. 16a). “Dwell” means to take up residence. Begin the day in God’s word; spend the day in his word; end the day in his word. Be “rich” and extravagant in your study and obedience to his word.

Then you’ll be able to “teach and admonish” others, showing them God’s word and its application to their lives.

Then you’ll be able to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” “Psalms” probably refers to Old Testament songs of praise; “hymns” to such songs of praise found in the New Testament; and “songs” to praise expressed by believers outside the biblical texts. All are to be “spiritual,” centered on God and not the performer.

Then you’ll live “with gratitude in your hearts to God” for all he has done for you. And such a joyful spirit will show a frightened world that Jesus lives in your soul.

Underlying all such internal spirituality is this motive: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v. 17).

“In the name of the Lord Jesus” means in his authority and for his glory. Stay connected with his Spirit and you’ll have his power. In his power you can be gracious with others. And you can be peaceful, thankful, and joyful with your Lord.

All this will glorify your Father, and show a lost and dying world that Jesus lives in your soul.

Conclusion

Where do you need to give God’s grace to someone who has hurt you? Ask God to help you have compassion for that person, understanding something of why he or she did what was done to you.

With his help, look for a practical way to be kind, meeting that need with his love. Stay humble, recognizing that you are no less a sinner. Be “gentle,” submitted to God’s guidance and strength. Be patient and bear with the person, as this may take time. Forgive, choosing not to punish. And your selfless love will show that person and all who observe that Jesus is real in your soul.

Where do you need to experience God’s peace, thanksgiving, and joy in your own soul? Give your problems to his power, and you’ll have peace. Remember his blessings, and you’ll be thankful. Spend some time in his word and worship, and you’ll have joy. And the world will know that Jesus is real in your soul.

Everybody Loves Raymond was one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. The star of the show, Ray Romano, went from being a struggling stand-up comic to one of the highest-paid actors in television. After nine seasons, the show broadcast its final episode in May of last year.

At the conclusion of the last day’s filming, Romano spoke to the studio audience as he reflected on his past and future. He read a note his brothers had stuck in his luggage nine years earlier, when he moved from New York to Hollywood.

A tearful Romano said, “My older brother Richard wrote, ‘What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?’ Now I’m going to work on my soul.”

Let’s join him.