New Life in Christ: A New Community

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Colossians 3:12-17

The world’s truly beautiful people aren’t movie stars or super-models. They’re the people who are beautiful on the inside, men and women of character.

Genuine Christians will be changed people. If there’s one message that comes through loud and clear in Colossians 3, it is that. Once when Jesus was traveling near the Sea of Galilee he met a man filled with demons, whose behavior was so wildly uncontrollable that he could not be restrained even with chains, so he was living naked among the tombs of the dead. But after Jesus found and healed him, all the people of that region were amazed when they saw the man clothed and in his right mind and sitting at the feet of Jesus.

That’s a sort of parable of what happens to everyone who comes to Christ. The change may not be as immediate and dramatic as it was for that demon-possessed man in the gospel story, but it is real change nonetheless. In order to describe this changed way of living in the third chapter of his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul uses the metaphor of changing clothes. When people converted to Christianity in the early church, the beginning of their new life was marked by the ceremony of baptism, in which they would strip off their old clothes before going down into the water and then put on white robes afterwards. The clean change of clothing symbolized the way their behavior would thenceforth be different.

This is the most basic way Christians change. Believers in Christ must show the reality of their inward spiritual change by an outward change in the way they act and speak.

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self. . . . Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Colossians 3:9-13)

HOW TO BEHAVE

Let’s look at that list of attitudes and actions. How should Christians behave if they have truly come to Christ and become new creatures through faith in him?

Four distinctive features stand out.

First, Christian behavior is tender: “Clothe yourselves with compassion and kindness.” The heart of a Christian should be soft, not hard, filled with compassion and pity for all who are weak, hurting, or needy in any way. In this way our hearts should match God’s heart, for the Bible often appeals to us on the basis of the mercies of God or the tender compassion of Christ. Christians have long responded to the suffering around them with similar compassionate kindness.

In many places the first institutions of mercy in society were begun by Christians, and a large number of them – hospitals, orphanages, shelters for the homeless, food pantries and the like – continue to be operated by Christians. In our own day, for example, the hospice movement, which offers both mercy and dignity to the dying in their last days, was begun by an English Christian doctor. She was bothered by the way the medical establishment treated people with terminal illnesses, so she did something about it and thus founded a new kind of institution that has benefitted thousands. That is Christian behavior at its best.

Second, Christian behavior is humble. “Be humble and meek,” writes Paul. In another letter, he makes the same point with a moving appeal to the example of Christ.

Don’t be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves and think the same way that Christ Jesus thought.

(Phil. 2:3-5, cev)

Scholars tell us that the ancient world did not consider humility a virtue. Instead, being humble – serving the needs of others, putting others’ interests ahead of one’s own, laying aside self-interest for the sake of one’s neighbor – was viewed as a sign of weakness. Those were the actions of a slave. No self-respecting person in classical antiquity would think of behaving that way; that is, until Jesus came along. Even though he was equal with God, he did not think himself too high or important to humble himself even to the point of assuming the position of a slave. He came, as he himself explained, not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). Can his followers do anything else than to imitate him in this? The basic selfish question that everyone asks – “What’s in it for me?” – is no longer appropriate for Christians. What we have to learn is to ask instead, “What’s in me for others?“ Christian behavior is self-effacing, not self-asserting. Christians must be humble servants, not lordly rulers.

Third, Christian behavior is patient. Listen once more to the articles of clothing in the wardrobe of the well-dressed Christian: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you“ (vv. 12-13, niv). Christians should never be quick to find flaws, to feel slights, to take offense. We are told to be both forbearing and forgiving. You know, not everything has to be forgiven. Things like minor nuisances, trivial offenses, unintentional insults, and small irritations are not important enough to require forgiveness. These we should just overlook. Save forgiveness for the big sins. With the little things, practice forbearance, which means you just put up with them. Why should Christians practice patience and forgiveness instead of the more natural way of retaliation and payback? For one very good and simple reason: because this is how God has treated us. “Put up with each other and forgive anyone who does you wrong just as Christ has forgiven you“ (v. 13, cev). You remember Jesus’ golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Well, here’s Paul golden rule: “Do unto others as God has done unto you.”

Fourth, Christian behavior is characterized above all by love. “Over all these virtues put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Paul is thinking of love as rather like an overcoat or a cloak. It goes on over everything else and makes our wardrobe complete. All these other Christian virtues such as forgiveness and patience and humble service are really only different expressions of love; love is the great unifying force. There is a law of physics (technically, it’s called the Second Law of Thermodynamics) which says that in a closed system all physical bodies move toward a state of increasing entropy. That’s just a fancy way of saying that, left to themselves, things tend to run down and fly apart. But love is a greater power than any force of physics, and it’s just the opposite. Love builds up and binds together. Love causes us to become whole again. Love puts the pieces back together. It draws people closer to one another. Love is the glue that unites the body of Christ, and creates the new community of God’s redeemed people.

LIFE TOGETHER

As I look over this “wardrobe of the well-dressed Christian,” several things stand out. One is that this so obviously describes Jesus’ way of living. Sacrificial love, forgiveness, patience, humility and the rest – these are supremely the qualities of Jesus’ own life. In one sense the Christian life is all a matter of imitating Jesus, like children playing “follow the leader.” But on a deeper level it’s even more than that. It isn’t just that we’re trying to live the way Jesus lived but rather that in some profound way Jesus is now living in and through us so that our actions become his actions. Paul expresses it in an almost mystical way. “You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. . . . Christ is all, and is in all” (vv. 3, 11)

But it’s easy to talk about what we should do. Anyone can say that we need to change and be more loving, more patient, more humble, more filled with peace. The question, though, is: How do you actually do that? Not by yourself, I’m convinced of that. Christian faith is not individualistic; it’s not something you can do all alone. The only way to become a Christian is to join the group, to become part of the body. The only way to grow as a Christian is to participate in the life and worship of the body, God’s new community, the church.

Listen again to Paul: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . . be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another . . . and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (vv. 15-16). It’s clear here that he’s talking about church, and in the context of instructions concerning Christian behavior, that’s no accident. It is only when we become active, growing members of a living healthy church that we really begin to change and develop the life of Jesus Christ ourselves. If we want to learn how to live like Christians, we must learn to worship like Christians: submitting our hearts to the peace of Christ, taking in the Word of Christ, giving back praise and thanks to God, sharing wisdom and insight and encouragement with one another in the body of Christ.

TELL ME WHY

There’s one final point to be made. I’ve said quite a good deal about how Christians should behave. But why should we try to live this way? What’s the motivation that drives us to do things which admittedly don’t come easily and often go right against our natural inclination? Is it simply the desire for self-improvement? Is it because we’re trying to impress somebody, maybe God? Is it just to escape the punishment we suspect might be in store for selfish or immoral people?

Here’s the real reason: “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved , clothe yourselves. . .” (v. 12). We don’t do the things we do in an attempt to make God love us, or to cause him to accept us. No, we strive to live the life of Christ because God has already loved and accepted us in him.

Do you remember the fairy tale of Cinderella? Cinderella’s mother died and was replaced by a wicked stepmother and her nasty daughters. Cinderella was banished to the kitchen where she was forced to become a serving girl. Dressed in rags, she slept among the ashes and cinders of the kitchen fireplace (which is how she got her name). But one night there was a great ball at the palace. Miraculously, Cinderella was enabled to attend, and at the ball, out of all the women present, the prince chose her to be his one true love. “That’s just a children’s story,” you say; “real life isn’t like that!”

No, it isn’t; it’s even better! If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, that means that God has chosen you for his own. Not a storybook character but the all-powerful Creator of the universe! He loved you before you ever knew him; before you were even born, he set you apart to belong to him. You are one of God’s own special people, holy and dearly loved. Doesn’t that make you want to live for him?

A lot of people spend a lot of money on clothes trying to make themselves more attractive. But real beauty isn’t outward: “Handsome is as handsome does.” The truly beautiful people are those who live in the way that pleases God.