March 24, 2019
Colossians 3 – New Identity, Deep Roots – Part 11
Here we are in the season of Spring-it officially became spring on Wednesday of this past week-so winter is gone and warmer weather is ahead-and that means vacations. Maybe you’re going somewhere over Easter break or maybe you’re going somewhere over the summer-but vacations are on the horizon and that’s exciting. However I think there are 2 terrible parts of a vacation that I think we can all agree on. Obviously returning home from a vacation is terrible-whether it’s the flight back home or the car ride home-you realize with a sinking feeling that the vacation’s over, relaxation is done; it’s back to work, back to school, and you have to unload all these suitcases and do the laundry. Which is the other terrible part of a vacation-packing the suitcase before you go. I want to ask-who gets started packing well in advance, meticulously taking your time to figure out and decide what you need to take, what clothes to bring along, what stuff to include? Who packs lightning fast and just last minute randomly throws clothes in your suitcase or bag? I’m more like the later. But here’s the even more important question-who knows exactly what they’re going to wear in advance on any particular day of the vacation-that you’ve got it all planned out and precisely organized in your suitcase-Monday of the vacation I’m wearing this, Tuesday is this, Wednesday this, here’s what I’m taking to the beach, here’s what I’m wearing for dinner that night, and so on. It’s very structured packing-that’s sort of how Monica packs. I can’t do that at all. I have no idea in advance what I want to wear on vacation so I overpack a ton. I’ll put in all kinds of shirts and t-shirts and pants and shorts-and not end up wearing half of it-but what if I wake up that morning on vacation and change my mind or don’t feel like wearing what I’d packed for that day-a blue t-shirt, I so feel like a grey t-shirt! I don’t want to be stuck with what I packed a week in advance and not have a wide selection of options to choose from in my suitcase based on how I’m feeling in the moment that day. Needless to say Monica and I learned long ago not to share suitcases.
But the reason I bring this up is because we’re continuing our study of Col 3 this morning-so you can go ahead and turn there in your Bibles. And if you were here last week we called it the wardrobe passage. Col 3 was all about what clothes you’re putting on and what clothes you’re putting off. And obviously it’s talking about spiritual clothing-the behaviors, attitudes and actions we choose to put on and display. But unlike physical clothing where you can decide in the moment what to wear based how you’re feeling, Col 3 tells us in advance what to wear and it’s based on who we are in Christ and the things He’s called us to put on. This brings us right back to the theme of the book-New Identity, Deep Roots. So it says in v. 9-10, 12. And then it went on to talk about bearing with one another, forgiving one another, and ultimately putting on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And as we said last week-these are all things we would agree on, all things that we would want to be true of us-love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness-but it’s in the tough and messy situations of life, the relationships which strain and stretch us where putting on these behaviors and attitudes is so important. That love and forgiveness don’t happen in a vacuum where it’s easy to love-but in the frustrating, difficult moments where it isn’t easy to love. And as we move towards the end of the chapter, Paul tells us to put on another piece of clothing that directly relates to those frustrating, difficult times.
Take a look at-v. 15. Did you catch what the verse is saying? If you have the NIV it says it well-Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace. This is saying that one of the results of being a follower of Christ, one of its outcomes, one of the purposes to which God has called you is peace. Have you ever considered that? I think most of us we would say that the purpose of our Christian lives is eternal life, that being a Christian means to be saved and forgiven and know that when this life is over we’ll go to heaven. And that’s certainly true-following Christ gives us a confident hope for eternity-but it’s far more than just a future reality, as we’ve already said it’s about new life now-that new identity right here in the present. And one of the defining marks of that new identity is peace-something that’s in rather short supply these days. So this verse is forcing us to wrestle with the questions-Is peace predominant in my life? Does peacefulness describe my outlook? Are the relationships in my life described by peace? Or am I always stirring up conflict, always filled with worry, or constantly consumed by fear?
We mentioned at the beginning of this series that Paul was writing this letter to the Colossians while being chained up under house arrest. Look at 4:18a. His circumstances weren’t good at all, he had every reason to be angry and upset. Here he is faithfully doing the Lord’s work and this is what he gets from it. Paul could have been filled with all sorts of frustration and bitterness, yet he allowed the peace of Christ to rule in his heart. He allowed the presence of Christ to reshape his outlook. What about you and me? This is Pt1:Peace of Christ: to rule our hearts, while surrendering all worry, frustrations, fears and angst. And that last one is when you get all worked up about something. I’ve been there! So we’d all say-Yeah, I want the peace of Christ to rule my heart in those moments-but often it’s these other things that rule instead.
Think about that word rule for a moment. We’re not talking about a rule like a law. In this case we’re talking about the verb to rule as like what a king does over his people. It’s a regulating principle, something that’s in charge and dictates what will happen. For example, what do you do when you’re ruled by your hunger? Maybe it’s when you just get home from school or work and you’re starving-maybe it’s late at night because dinner feels like forever ago-but when you’re ruled by your hunger you’ll eat anything, even the first thing in sight. You’re a one-track mind-Give me food now!-and then you eat way too much. Like you when you finish off a pan of brownies or eat the last cookie or down a bag of chips because you’re ruled by your hunger. In college a buddy and I would always be ruled by our hunger whenever Burger King ran their special 2 whoppers for $2. It was right there on campus, it was always after Greek class-I don’t know what it was about Greek-but we’d walk past Burger King and see that sign 2 for $2 and we were powerless. As college guys, downing 2 whoppers was nothing, like a precursor to lunch-but it ruled us. Or what about going to the movies? Maybe you tell yourself you’re not going buy any popcorn-save some money, be healthy-but the moment you walk into the theater and smell it-game over. That popcorn rules you and you’re buying a large with extra butter. Being ruled by something is a very powerful force.
And it’s one thing for food-but being ruled by these things is entirely different. Just take a second to think about an average day in your life. How much are you ruled by anxiety over your work or your studies-that stress just builds up and overtakes you, or maybe you’re ruled by frustration when your plans aren’t working out? Or maybe you’re so scared and nervous about a new or unknown opportunity in your life that you just avoid it-and don’t even try it because you’re ruled by fear. Or even ruled by conflict and angst with someone who really upsets you and drives you crazy. But how much do these emotions rule your heart and absorb your thinking? Is it 20% or 30% of your day, or is it more like 50%-75%, even 90% of your day. Do people know to stay away from you or not to speak with you when you’re really frustrated and stressed out? Give me some space until I figure this thing out. Don’t try to help me, just let me deal with it. Or maybe you let that stress and frustration keep building in your heart, dictating how you relate to others and you become almost unbearable to be around? Or again maybe fear rules your heart and you live so frozen and scared that you’re unable to step out in faith or take a risk because you’re nervous you’ll fail or let someone down.
That’s not the kind of life the Lord intends. Last week we talked about God interfering with the old you and not managing our sin. God doesn’t want you managing your stress and anxiety, He wants to directly challenge it. He wants you to surrender what’s been previously ruling in your heart. He wants to dethrone the anxiety, frustration, fear and conflict and replace it with His peace; to let His peace take center-stage and become the primary state of your heart. I’m sure we can all think of things in our lives, things we’ve dealt with or things we’re going through, that constantly cause us anxiety, fear and frustration. Who have you ever talked with that doesn’t have something? Let’s see-no worries, no stress, no issues or problems, no fears-I got nothing, I’m good. Nobody says that. We all have anxieties, fears and frustrations. But what are those things for the believer? What do they all have in common? Unbelief. If you’re struggling with frustration and things not working out like you expected that really means you’re not trusting in God’s timing for the way He’s working things out; you’re not really believing that God will bring about things in your life according to His perfect will. What does it say in-Isa 40:31? And promises like that become your source of peace. But maybe you find yourself trying to do all you can to make things work out how you want, trying to take matters into your own hands and force your own way, instead of believing that God will lead you. Look at-Prov 3:5-8. Taking your hands off the wheel and trusting Him to lead you brings peace and refreshment-even when you’re nervous about what lies ahead. How many times have you laid awake at night staring at the ceiling and all kinds of worries flood your mind and consume you? I’ve had plenty of those moments-where at 2am I can’t fall asleep because I’m so stressed out thinking about stuff it feels like the world is going to end. But that’ precisely when I’ve forgotten to let the peace of Christ rule my heart. It’s times like that-at 2am-that I need to remember the words of Isa 43:1-3a. Letting the peace of Christ rule your heart is about believing in God’s sovereign hand guiding your life, in remembering that nothing happens outside of His control-even if it seems hard in the moment. Look-fear is something that’s going to happen. We’ll be fearful about stuff-of course we will-it’s part of being human. But it’s when we let that fear rule our hearts that we’ve lost sight of God. Fear can be there-but He wants His peace to rule over it because as His child He’ll never leave you nor abandon you-not even in the waters, the rivers or the fire. What a great promise! And maybe it’s not even that right now in your life. As fearful as those things can be and we’ve all been there at different times-what about the anxieties of just everyday life, the mundane things that end up stressing us out to no end? I love how Jesus addresses this-Matt 6:25. And talk about mundane, everyday things-food and clothing. And in His day there wasn’t car repairs and lost cell phones and computers that crashed or boilers that break-but I’m sure He’d add them to the list saying-Life is more than that stuff-don’t let those everyday anxieties consume you and rule in your heart. Look at this promise-Matt 6:30, 33. Focus in on the kingdom of God, seek Him, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
And it happens when you’re immersed in His Word. There’s a reason that we’ve looked at lots of different verses just now for battling anxiety and fear-because what does the passage go on to say-v. 16. Having the peace of Christ is the result of spending time in the Word of Christ. So that’s Pt 2:Word of Christ: to dwell in our hearts, while setting aside all distractions and hindrances. And this is so important and yet so challenging. Now throughout this series we’ve been underlining lots of key words and phrases-and there’s a very important one in v. 16 to underline-and that’s the word richly. That’s what makes all the difference in the verse. We can’t rewrite it to say-I’ll let the Word of Christ dwell in me sparingly or slightly or occasionally when it’s convenient and I have the time. That’s not what it says. God’s Word needs to dwell in us richly. Is that true of you? Are you richly soaking it up and studying it; richly reflecting on what it’s saying and what it means for you life? Ask yourself that-is the Word of Christ dwelling in me richly? And for that to happen it means setting aside all distractions and hindrances that keep you from reading it. That might affect your morning routine and getting up a bit earlier to read it. And as someone who’s not a morning person I say that with the full weight of those words. But maybe it means prying your eyes open a little earlier to start your day connecting with Christ. Maybe that impacts your lunch hour where you carve out extra time to do your devotion. Maybe you need to rearrange parts of your schedule, or turn off the tv or shut your computer or se down your phone. As someone who loves to read, maybe it means setting down some other book I’m reading to make sure I’m picking up this one first. But whatever keeps you from letting God’s Word dwell in you richly needs to be seriously challenged. Make the necessary changes because reading and absorbing and reflecting upon God’s Word has to be your top priority, it needs to be your desire and delight. But I fear that for many of us we just try to get by on the fumes of a devotion we did 2 months ago or hope that our time with God last week will carry us through this week because we’re too busy. Or maybe a friend posted a verse they read and we just go with that without getting into God’s Word ourselves. It’s so easy to come up with reasons not to read God’s Word, to convince ourselves that we already know what it says, that we’ve read it before so there’s no need to keep pouring over it every day. But that’s such a dangerous error to make because this is what needs to richly dwell in us the most!
Think back to the last time you were in a really dark room. Maybe it was when the power went out and your house was plunged in darkness, maybe you shut the lights off before bed and then tried to make your way down the hallway, maybe it was somewhere new where you didn’t know where the light switch was, or maybe it was a hotel room with blackout blinds. Those places can truly be a cave where you can’t see anything. You might be laying there in bed thinking it’s a dark cloudy day outside until you sort of stumble across the hotel room to the window and open the curtains and almost get blinded because it’s so sunny and bright outside and you had no idea being in that dark room. Well that’s what the Word of Christ is-it’s a window to the brightness of the gospel that shines into the darkness of our lives. Do you remember Ps 119:105? It’s there to guide us and lead us-yet why do we so often try to live our Christian lives stumbling around in the darkness, running into walls and obstacles without turning on the light of God’s Word? Or maybe you use it but at such a dim level that it only creates a little flicker in your life, and it’s barely a part of you. You can’t afford to live that way. Listen to what David said earlier in Ps 119:9-11, 27-28. The wisdom, knowledge and strength that David needed all came from reading and soaking up God’s Word. Or consider what Paul said to Timothy about the importance of the Word-2 Tim 3:15-17. Paul is telling Timothy that being a man of God isn’t about how talented you are, or how hard you work or if you can talk a good talk, it’s about being equipped by God’s Word for every good work He calls you to do. And that only happens by reading it. People often make the comment-why is God so mysterious, why can’t He just make it clear He’s out there and tell us what He wants. He has-right here in a book, in His Word that all of has access to!
I like what it says in this book-Disciplines of a Godly Man, 77. Do you know God’s Word? Are you filled with it so it dwells in you richly? You cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know. And here’s what we can’t forget-these are God’s words to you and me-breathed out by Him. This isn’t just any old book or novel. This is your Maker, your Savior speaking to you. And way back in the beginning when God spoke the universe was created. So when He speaks now, will you become the new creation He’s calling you to be? We have a God who isn’t silent, we have a God who has lots and lots to say-all kinds of glorious, incredible truths about who He is and who we are in Him. Don’t ignore Him, recommit yourself to let God’s Word shape you as it richly dwells within you. Back to Pt2.
Back in sophomore English class we had to read the book, Fahrenheit 451. Maybe you’ve read it, but it was written back in 1953 and told about a dystopian future in which people have embraced all sorts of new technology and a quickened pace of life; attentions spans became shortened and everybody just reads articles, trade publications or abridged versions of books since no one could be bothered to read a whole book. Eventually books became outdated and bland, censorship stepped in and the government hired “firemen” to locate and burn all the books. So the novel is about a particular fireman named Montag who wrestles with this-and in a lot of ways this novel aptly describes the short attention spans of our digital day and age. But, at the end of the story, the main character arrives at a country village where a network of people have fled society and its mindless lifestyle and have instead devoted themselves to soaking up and memorizing various books. This way the contents are never lost; that even though the hard copies are burned, the books are dwelling within them. They’ve got people who memorized Plato, Shakespeare, Thoreau, Einstein, even people who memorized Ecclesiastes and the gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Fahrenheit, 153. It’s such a powerful image of people that have books dwelling within them. And books are great. But is God’s Word dwelling within you and me? v. 16-17
Did you see how Paul concluded this section? Giving thanks to God the Father. Then back in v. 16-with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And again in v. 15-Be thankful. If there’s one thing reading God’s Word does, it makes you thankful. More than anything else, when you read about all God’s done for you, His patience and mercy and love, when you realize that in grace He sent His Son to die as your substitute and sacrifice-what other response is there? Look back at Col 1:13-14; 2:13-14. How can you not, over and over in your heart, say-Thank you for loving me and sending your Son to save me, thank you that He would go to the Cross where all my sins would be nailed there with Him so I could be forgiven and brought into your kingdom! Thankfulness becomes an eternal refrain that you’ll forever sing to God. Revelation 7 pictures the whole multitude of believers praising God around the throne and look at what it includes-Rev 7:12. It’s an eternal quality that will always be central to the hearts of God’s people. So is it central in your heart now? Three times in three verses Paul tells us to be thankful-are you? Pt3:Thankfulness: to abound from our hearts; while silencing all grumbling and complaining.
I don’t know about you, but every time I read about the Israelites in the wilderness I’m amazed. Here’s God who miraculously delivered out of Egypt from under Pharaoh’s oppression and slavery. He brought them through the Red Sea and they were on their way to the Promised Land-and yet what did the Israelites do? Grumbled and complained the whole way, they stressed out and were ungrateful over everything-the food, the water, the walking, the manna and the quail. They completely lost sight of God’s provision and what He’d done for them, they lost their perspective for the Promised Land and began to dream about Egypt again. Their grumbling and complaining was only about the here and now-and eventually God said, “Enough’s enough” and I always think “Amen, Lord, those were some ornery, selfish people. Give them what they deserve.” And yet the next thing I catch myself doing is grumbling and complaining that I don’t have this or that, where I’m not thankful for God’s blessings but just wanting more. How hypocritical! We’ve all been there. Grumbling, complaining, being bitter is so easy. It takes no effort whatsoever to sit around and complain to someone about all your frustrations, or to bad-mouth somebody and tear them down, to say things aren’t fair, I deserve better. Go back to percentages again and think about your typical day. How much time do you spend being negative and complaining about things-50%, 75% of the time, versus how much time do you spend being thankful? Does your mouth grumble to God a whole lot more than it gives thanks to Him? Do you spend more time complaining about what you don’t have instead of praising Him for all the blessings you do have? Or maybe you know people like that or are around people like that who are constantly consumed with complaining, nothing but grumbling all day about everything, who would complain about not having something to complain about!
That shouldn’t be the case for you and me. As someone saved by grace, as a recipient of the endless blessings that come from knowing Christ and being an heir with Christ, of having the hope of eternal life, there is no room whatsoever for grumbling or complaining. Obviously God wants to hear your heart and it’s okay to tell Him that things are hard and you don’t like what you’re going through. But when it shifts to blaming God, when it becomes poor me, how dare you let this happen to me God, when you start to have a heart of ungratefulness and bitterness and you’re consumed with negativity, that’s when you’ve crossed the line into grumbling. And all that shows is an earthly, self-centered outlook that’s completely forgotten all that God has done and what He’s still going to do. You have everything you could ever need in Him. Do you realize that? God has saved you, He’s molding and shaping you according to His perfect will, He’s always with you, filling you with His Spirit, and He’s promised you a glorious, unimaginable future. When was the last time you poured out your thanks to Him?
As we come to the end of this section of Col 3. The wardrobe passage as we’ve called it. There is no better piece of clothing to put on than thankfulness. Maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve worn thankfulness. Maybe grumbling and complaining has become that sweatshirt you’ve been wearing for far too long and it’s gotten way too comfortable. Take it off, get rid of it-and put on thankfulness-v. 17. What would that look like in your life later today, tomorrow, this coming week? As the peace of Christ rules in your heart, as the Word of Christ dwells in your heart, might thankfulness abound from your heart! Lord, I am thankful for ____________.