Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. 2 Think about the things above and not things on earth.3 You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things.7 You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. 8 But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. 9 Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices 10 and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. 11 In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.
Our human tendency is to perceive the differences among people more readily than the commonalities. They dress different, look different, believe different. All too often there is a note of judgment included in the observation. “Their different is wrong.” “I wish they would be more like me.” This often leads to strife between people or groups. We even see it in in the church and among the churches. The United Methodist church is standing on the verge of a split due to different beliefs. With strong opinions come strong emotions. How do we “get along” with each other?
It all begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness signals the end of the old life and is what starts life anew – life with Christ. Last week we spoke about the radical nature of forgiveness. “God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong. He destroyed the record of the debt we owed …” It is God forgiving us … and us forgiving others.
So, given last week’s focus on forgiveness, this week’s Colossians reading moves us in two directions: verses 1-4 speaks about lifting your life above worldly standards and ways of thinking. Then, verses 5-11 develop the practical application of how we begin to “get along”. Take off the old life and put on the new life. As we work at these two directions God begins to create the fabric of relationships that are life-giving.
These two directions, with their two lists and associated actions Paul is giving us a good idea of “how to get along.”
Let’s look a little more in depth at these two directions.
First, Paul is aware of an orientation change. Vital Christianity involves a change of orientation. Notice that this chapter begins with a connecting word, “therefore,” a predicating condition, and a statement that points the direction. “Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side.” The connecting word is linking us to the discussion that Paul has been having regarding the judgment-laden relationships in the church that are causing divisions and strife. What he says here reminds me of what Paul says in Philippians. There, Paul develops the idea of orienting our lives “heavenward.” “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14) Craig Groeschel, Senior Pastor of Life Church, Edmond OK, made a powerful statement in his series, Mastermind that PTL in the Hall just completed. He said, “Your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts.” What we feed thrives. What our mind spends its time on grows. Craig speaks of creating “neuro-pathways” in our life and thinking. The more we travel those pathways the more natural it is. Paul says in Colossians 3:1, Think about the things above and not things on earth.” Similar to Philippians 4:8 where Paul says, ”From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” It is taking control of our strongest thoughts, making them captive to Jesus Christ. If my strongest thoughts are about differences and judgment that is what will grow in my life. “How to Get Along” involves brothers and sisters being cherished – even the difficult ones. It is seeing one another as children of God. In 2 Corinthians 5:16 Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” How does Christ look at the believer and non-believer? Verse 11 in our passage today it says, “…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free… ”
Second, Paul turns practical. How do we re-orient our lives heavenward and become more Christ centered?
As Janna and I remodel our house there are many days when I am covered in the dust of work. After a day of crawling around in the attic with its antique dust and grime, covered with sweat from the heat, I am a mess. I have to clean up and change clothes even before sitting down to our evening meal.
Paul indicates two very different actions to accomplish this practical change in our lives – re-orienting our thoughts and lives “heavenward.” First, we have to put to death, set aside, take off and then, second, we have to put on. These actions center on two lists (Imagine Paul using lists!). The first list is about sexual sin and greed (which he identifies as idolatry. “So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” These things are to become a part of the past life and we are to take on a new life. Now, without hardly a breath, Paul gives us another list. The second list involves the sins of language – how we speak to each other. “But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. 9 Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices…” Both lists indicate sins against others – actions that devalue others.
Now it is time to state the remedy. “…put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it.” This is, in Groeschel’s words, writing new neuro-pathways. Choosing to walk in new ways as we relate to one another. Our world is ripe for changing how we relate to one another. Imagine what politics might look like if we saw everyone through God’s eyes. What would happen if we saw our opponent in a race as a child of God seeking the good of the world? We may have different opinions as to how we might bring about that good, but at least we wouldn’t be vilifying that opponent. In faith circles, what would happen if we viewed each expression of faith as children of God just trying to follow God? We may do things differently, perceive God differently, but it is still God we all seek to follow.
Paul concludes this section with “Image”. In God’s image, there is …neither … nor …, but … . We get along by seeing Christ in each other and “putting on” Christ in our lives. 2 Corinthians 5 continues with verse 17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
From Romans 12:2, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” On one level, think what it would do for us as we relate to other Christians (within this church, between other churches, etc.). Our Ministerial Association here in Thermopolis is a great example. We come from many different faith traditions yet see each other and the work we do as something held in common through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God’s Holy Spirit leads us to work together in so many ways.
On a second level, what would this reorientation of our lives do to how we view others in the world who are not following Christ? The old phrase, “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met” seems appropriate. Every non-believer we meet can be viewed as a follower who just hasn’t started the faith journey yet. Our actions will speak louder than our words. With our new nature in place and our lives oriented on the things that are above, getting along will become second nature – even with those who may be difficult to get along with. With integrity between our actions and our words, a forgiven people will find wonderful ways to “get along.”
Pastor Paul Grossman