Colossians — 3

Monday, July 23

Read: Colossians 3:1-11

Consider: Paul continually emphasized the resurrection that Jesus Christ had already accomplished in the lives of the believers — “you have been raised with Christ” (3:1). He told the Colossians that this resurrection changes everything, including their way of looking at the world.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,” said Paul, you are to earnestly seek the “things above” (3:1). I like the way the New International Version translates it — set your hearts on things above.” This connotes a longing and a passion for what is eternal—for what really matters.

That phrase is followed by Paul’s encouragement to also set your minds on things above” (3:2). Paul’s word choice here points specifically to the use of our intellect. Our minds are to be engaged in our pursuit of God’s new kingdom. That new kingdom is here now, but it is also eternal. We can discipline our minds, as well as our hearts, to focus on what is eternal—what matters—or, as Paul puts it, what is “above” (3:1-2, 5).

So, how do we keep that eternal perspective? How do we constantly live in the new kingdom that is here now and is also to come? How do we live in it—heart and mind?

This letter from Paul repeatedly focuses us on Christ, the Creator and sustainer of all things. And, at this point in the letter, he reminds us that we “have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (3:9-10)

Now, here’s the climax. Those of us who have been clothed with Christ can now see that Christ is all, and is in all” (3:11). The eternal — “Christ is all” — lives in us — “is in all.”

That means that we are eternal, but not in the manner that Christ is. Remember, “He is before all things” (1:17). But now the One who has no beginning has placed his eternal kingdom in us. That is why we can set our hearts and our minds on his ultimate purposes.

Pray: “Lord, today I want to walk in the knowledge of your presence. Help me, throughout this day, to see the eternal all around me—in the faces of the people I encounter, in the laughter of children, in the endurance of pain and suffering, and in the very air I breathe. You are all and in all. Help me to see that today.”

 

Tuesday, July 24

Read: Colossians 3:12-14

Consider: Today’s reading begins with an important word — “Therefore…”

Let’s look at the path on which Paul is leading us. Yesterday we read that…

…we “have been raised with Christ” (3:1)

…we have “died” to our old ways and our lives are “now hidden with Christ in God” (3:3)

…we have “taken off” the “old self” and “put on the new self” (3:9-10). Elsewhere Paul described this as being “clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

“Therefore”—in light of all that Christ has done for you, to you and in you…

“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (3:12).

This is simple, but not easy. It is simple to understand what we are called to do and why we are called to take this path. But it’s not an easy path.

For most of us, this approach — “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” — makes perfect sense in some settings. We know that our homes and churches should exemplify these things (though, that is not always easy). But when we get out in the world this approach doesn’t seem very practical. If we have an abusive co-worker we feel that we must take off the compassion, humility, gentleness clothes and put on some armor. You know, fight fire with fire. But we’re never instructed to change our spiritual clothes from place to place and circumstance to circumstance. No, we’ve been clothed with Christ and that means we wear the clothing of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” every moment of our lives, whether we’re encountering beautiful saints or hateful adversaries.

That is only possible if “over all these virtues [we] put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (3:14). We know that this agape love is not weak and sentimental. It is the kind of love that empowered Jesus to endure the cross, and it can equip us to live as he lived.

Pray: “Lord, I can only clothe myself with love if I am clothed with you. I give myself totally to you so that the ‘old self’ dies and the ‘new self’ can be hidden in you.”

 

Wednesday, July 25

Read: Colossians 3:15-17

Consider: I have spent a number of years trying to understand the biblical concept of peace. We often see it as an emotion which comes from the absence of turmoil in our minds. We also see it as the absence of conflict in our homes or places of employment. When the bickering ceases we claim to have peace.

But that barely scratches the surface. The New Testament meaning of peace comes to us from the Old Testament concept of shalom. Shalom is not simply the absence of something. It is the presence of something. It is not merely the absence of conflict. It is the presence of God’s will for his world.

To understand peace, there is another word we must try to grasp—justice. The biblical concept of justice is not like the concept most people have today. We often think of putative justice. You know, “you do the crime, you do the time.” But the biblical concept of justice is mercy—making sure that all of God’s people, especially the most vulnerable, are treated with dignity, respect and freedom. “Mercy,” “justice” and “shalom” are almost interchangeable words in the Old Testament.

This goes to an axiom we need to live by: if you want peace, work for justice. Work for the poor and downtrodden. Care for the lonely. Love the unlovable. Protect the powerless. Show dignity to every human, because each one is created in the image of God.

Paul said…

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…you were called to peace.” (3:15)

Through the virtues we looked at yesterday and by the power of Christ in us, we are called to be agents of peace and justice—agents of shalom in a broken world.

Pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

 — The Prayer of St. Francis

 

Thursday, July 26

Read: Colossians 3:18-21

Consider: I’ll be honest. I’m a little disappointed with the title of this section in my Bible. (Don’t worry, the titles are not inspired. They were added by publishers, so I’m not disagreeing with the letter to the Colossians. I’m disagreeing with the description that was added.) Above the eighteenth verse, my NIV reads, “Rules for Christian Households.” The newer version of the NIV calls them “instructions.”

I think this misses the point entirely. I think Paul is talking about the spirit of Christian households, not some set of rules. Part of the problem in many homes is that men have taken the “Wives, submit…” portion and seen it as God’s command for family life. It’s not. It can’t be. If someone coerces us to obey, that’s not submission. It’s force. And that is contrary to the Jesus way.

Perhaps it is best explained by looking at how Paul worded it in his letter to the Ephesians. Again, we see the phrase, “Wives, submit…” (5:22). But we often miss the context. Paul is fleshing out the real desire of God. The previous verse describes it.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (5:21)

The words that follow are an explanation of this, encouraging submission and the laying down of life for one another—by both husband and wife—just as Christ did for the church (5:25).

The mutual submission, respect, affection and love we are to have for one another are not presented to us so that we can keep first century gender roles. They are encouraged so that we would live and act with one another in a manner that shows our “reverence for Christ.”

If I read the Bible in such a manner that it makes me coercive, demanding or domineering—with my spouse, children or others—I can be pretty sure that I am not one who “correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Pray: “Lord, show me how to live like you lived—in my world and especially in my home. Thank you that you submitted your life for me (Philippians 2:5-8).”

 

Friday, July 27

Read: Colossians 3:22

Consider: Yesterday I referenced Paul’s words to Timothy by which he encouraged his son in the faith to “correctly handle” scripture (2 Timothy 2:15). Down through history, today’s passage from Colossians has been one of those portions of scripture that has been terribly distorted. This was one of the passages used to defend eighteenth and nineteenth century slavery in the United States. People took Paul’s words about slaves obeying their masters and claimed they gave permission for white people to treat people of color as possessions to be bought, sold, exploited and dehumanized. (Just as yesterday’s passage has been used to dominate and objectify women.)

Well, let’s not do that. Let’s look at what Paul is calling humans to do in the midst of their strange cultures. He’s asking us to live our lives “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord (Colossians 3:22). If that sounds familiar it’s because yesterday we read that spouses—men and women—are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

When I was young I was taught that “reverence” meant respect. We quieted ourselves when the Bible was being read. We bowed our heads in silence when we or others were praying. We entered the sanctuary of the church quietly as if we were entering the presence of the Lord. Reverence was synonymous with respect.

So, Paul is telling us that we respect God by how we treat people—people who are vulnerable and weaker than we are and people who are strong and more powerful than us. In other words, we are to treat people with the same dignity and respect with which we treat God. We treat others with the respect that shows our respect and reverence to the One who created them in his own image.

That doesn’t mean that we accept the status quo. American slavery was pure evil. And there are many evils today that result in the oppression of the weak. To treat people with dignity is to oppose these corrupt systems without becoming hateful ourselves, and without dehumanizing others—even the oppressors. I love the way Shane Claiborne said it…

“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”

Pray: “Lord, it’s so easy for me to think it is my place to decide who deserves my respect. But you’ve already made that decision. This very day, I choose to follow your lead. Please give me the Spirit of Jesus in all my interactions.”

 

Saturday, July 28

Read: Colossians 3:23-24

Consider: In Colossians 3:18–4:1, Paul waded into the complexity of human relationships. And he didn’t speak hypothetically. He talked about real relationships. He approached those with potential for beauty—between wives, husbands and children—and those with great potential for destruction—between slaves and their masters. And as we’ve seen the last two days, he called us to a “reverence” for Christ that creates a deep respect for others, whether or not we think they deserve it. And in plain language he explained how we are to approach all our work and all our relationships.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (3:23-24)

Some days I like my job. Some days I don’t. Some days I see significance in what I do. Some days that is very difficult to see. Some days people bring me great joy, while other days they can cause frustration and pain. And, of course, what I am saying about me is true for you as well. All of us know the challenges of work, especially the hard work of relationships. And all of us know that sometimes motivation can be allusive.

That’s why I’m grateful for Paul’s words. This is not the stuff of emotion. This is not hype. This is reality. As a Christ-follower I really have an audience of only one. I have one Lord and one Master. And when I clear my head and get this straight, I find that following him, obeying him and pleasing him bring me great joy.

In a coercive world, Paul teaches us how to find significance in our work and how to find great joy in serving. This brings liberation to our relationships and to our lives.

Pray: “Lord, thank you that you are not a taskmaster, but a Father. What a joy it is to work for the One who loves us, forgives us and encourages us. It is an honor to serve you today!”