Topical Scripture: Colossians 3:5-17
Tonight on the Discovery Channel a documentary will air claiming that the burial boxes of Jesus and his family have been discovered. James Cameron, director of Titanic and The Terminator, is one of the makers of the film. He’s dealing with ossuaries, burial boxes found in Jerusalem 27 years ago. He claims that the inscriptions on the sides show that Jesus was buried here along with his wife, Mary Magdalene, and their son Judah. His mother Mary and brother Joseph are supposed to have been buried here as well.
Archaeologists have been quick to attack this ridiculous claim, one of them the expert who first found the ossuaries. He points out that Cameron has absolutely no proof for his allegations and that other scholars dismissed this thesis years ago. But it all makes for good marketing during the Lenten season.
If Cameron is right, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Then he isn’t the Son of God, and Christianity is false. If he is right, the first Christians, eyewitnesses to the risen Christ 20 centuries ago, are wrong. There is no explanation for the non-biblical records which document that the first Christians believed that Jesus rose from the grave. More than a million people died for a claim they knew to be a lie. There is no explanation for the miraculous birth and growth of the church.
There’s an even easier way to know that Cameron is wrong and that Jesus is alive today. When the “God is dead” controversy started in the 1960’s, someone asked Billy Graham what he thought. “God isn’t dead,” he replied with a smile–“I just talked with him this morning.”
God still speaks, in prayer and in Scripture. If we will put his revelation into practice in our lives, we’ll learn that the Bible really is true. Its claims really do work. Our lives really are blessed when we lead them as God directs. Let’s learn how to be holy in every relationship of our lives, and what happens when we are.
Refuse sexual sin
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” This is a present tense imperative, intended for us all. The tense is active–something we must do. God cannot do this for us and yet honor our free will.
We must put these sins “to death,” not just out of the way to be considered later. Something must die–these sins, or us. Either we kill the cancer, or it kills us.
Now we come to the vice list, five words which all relate to sexual sin.
The first is “sexual immorality,” porneia in the Greek. Any kind of sexual activity outside marriage and outside God’s will. Premarital sex, extramarital sex, prostitution, pornography–all such acts are included here.
Next is “impurity”–the word relates to immoral thoughts and the decision to act on them.
Next is “lust,” “passions” in the Greek. The word relates to emotions, feelings.
Next comes “evil desires,” immoral desires and longings.
Last is “greed, which is idolatry.” In this context, wanting something sexual which we should not have. Wanting a person or a picture, an act or a relationship.
Immoral acts come from immoral thoughts, which comes from immoral emotions, which come from immoral desires, which comes from immoral temptations. We are tempted–we want this–we feel it–we think about it–we choose it. Such sins lead to the “wrath” and judgment of God (v. 6). Before we decided to follow Jesus, we “used to walk in these ways” (v. 7). But now we must follow them no more. We must “put them to death” today.
You can do this, or God would not tell you to.
People sometimes ask more of us than they should. The voice instructor who insisted that I take his class in college wasted his time and mine. The tragic episode reminds me of the farmer who paid for singing lessons for his pig–it just cost him money and made the pig mad. People often ask more than we can do.
But God does not. The inventor knows his invention. Nowhere does Scripture command us to save our souls, because we cannot. It does not tell us to earn our salvation, because that’s impossible. Whatever it does tell us to do, we can do. So, you and I can do this. We can “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.”
God will empower us, if we will choose to do this. He will tax the last grain of sand and star in the sky to help us. But the first step is ours. Where are you being tempted by sexual sin today?
Refuse spoken sin
The other category about which Paul warns us is just as deadly, though far less public: “now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other” (vs. 8-9a). From sexual sins to spoken sins.
The list grows in ascending order:
Stage one is “anger,” bitterness we will not release.
Stage two is “rage”–a “burning anger which flares up and burns with intensity,” to define the Greek term. From bitterness to anger–the simmering pot boils over.
Stage three is “malice,” the decision and intention to hurt the other person.
Stage four involves “slander” and “filthy language,” when we speak words which put our malice into effect. We belittle and attack with our words.
Finally comes stage five, where we “lie to each other” (v. 9a). From unkind words we progress to out-and-out falsehoods in our desire to hurt the other. “To each other” shows that the problem existed in the Christian community, not just the larger society.
All of this is so unnecessary, since we have already put off this “old self” when we asked Christ into our lives (v. 9b). We have put on the “new self,” which he is renewing in his image every day (v. 10). He does this for us all, no matter our background or story: Greek or Jew, Hebrew or Gentile; barbarian (uneducated), Scythian (savage), slave or free–“Christ is all, and is in all” (v. 11). We are all the family of God. I am your brother–you are my brothers and sisters.
But the text is in God’s word because we are as tempted by spoken sins as were the Colossians. Where has this temptation found you? Name the person for whom you harbor “anger” today. Give that person to Jesus right now, asking for his grace to see him or her as he does. Every time the anger returns, give it to Jesus again.
If you’ve already acted on your anger, rage, malice, and slander, ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation. Give this pain to Jesus, and receive his grace. It will never be easier than it is right now.
Choose forgiving grace
From the negative, God’s word moves quickly to the positive. Here’s how to replace disease with health, pain with joy: “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 their 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 is 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?
To respond unkindly, returning hurt for hurt, only makes things worse, reinforcing his insecurity. Kindness means that I look for actions which respond to his need in grace.
Humility means that I do so while understanding that I am a fallen 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 whatever 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!
Experience forgiving grace
Now Paul closes with the internal spiritual health and power which enables everything else we’ve studied today. If we do this, we can refuse sexual and spoken sin, choosing forgiving grace for all we know. But only if we do this.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” he commands (v. 15a). “Rule” means to umpire, to call the shots. “Heart” is the center of emotions and will. Seek the peace which comes from trusting completely in Jesus. Give your sexual and spoken and relational temptations to him, so fully that you receive his peace in their place.
“Be thankful” for all God has already done for you.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” as you begin the day in Scripture and spend the day meditating on its truth. Then you’ll be able to “teach and admonish” others, showing them God’s word and its application to their lives.
“Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God,” worshiping him every day.
And “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.” Seek to glorify God in every moment, with every decision.
When I am right with our Father, I can be right with his children. Then I have the strength to resist sexual and spoken temptations. Then I have received the grace I can give to those who need it most. When I am connected to the source of the Spirit in my life, I can give what he gives to me. But only then.
We have studied some of the richest, most challenging truths in all of God’s word. But they summarize simply: refuse sexual and spoken temptations. Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another, as the Lord forgave you. How? By starting the day with thanksgiving, in the word and worship of God, seeking to glorify him with all you do.
The result will be days filled with victory, joy, peace, and significance. The result will be the “abundant life” Jesus wants to give every one of us.
A simple essay crossed my path recently. It pictures this text well, I think.
“When I meditated on the word ‘guidance,’ I kept seeing “dance” at the end of the word. I remember reading that doing God’s will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement doesn’t flow with the music, and everything is uncomfortable and jerky.
“When one person realizes that, and lets the other person lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It’s as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.
“My eyes drew back to the word ‘guidance.’ When I saw the ‘G’ I thought of God, followed by ‘u’ and ‘i.’ ‘God, ‘u’ and ‘i’ dance. God, you and I dance.”
Dance together with God, trusting God to lead and to guide you through each season of your life.
Who’s leading your dance today?