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Apr 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Colossians 3:5-17 Chuck Smith Jr. April 11, 2010

Colossians 3:5-17

INTRO: We betray our willingness to give up control, be victims
“It’s my one vice” – “I’m a chronic worrier”

Paul will show us a way to get off the hamster wheel

V. 5, Another “therefore”

Vv. 1-4 Gave us a theological framework for Xian spirituality
Bring attn & awareness to “things above” (Jesus, Spirit, etc.)
What follows: a magnification of the polarity – “above” not “earth”
How it plays out in practical issues of everyday life

A simple structure to this section (vv. 5-17): Two lists – a “vice list” and a “virtue list”
The lists are not exhaustive, but pinpoint specific concerns
The two lists are linked together at a central pivot point – vv. 9-11
And because the section turns at this point, it is the key to everything else

  • The psychological roots of vice and virtue (five items)

Vice: v. 5: immoralilty, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed
Virtue: v. 12: heart of compassion, kindness, humility gentleness, patience

  • Examples of specific attitudes and behavior

Vice: vv. 8-9a: anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and do not lie to one another
Virtue: v. 13: bearing with one another, forgiving each other

  • An identity statement

Vice: v. 6: “sons of disobedience”
Virtue: v. 12: “chosen of God, holy and beloved”

  • A destiny statement

Vice: v. 6: “wrath of God”
Virtue: v. 15: “peace of Christ … you were called in one body”

Then, in vv. 14-17, Paul adds details regarding the Colossians’ lives within their spiritual community

The whole passage is enclosed by contrasting statements at the beginning and end (forming an envelope structure):
“Put to death earthly members”
“Whatever you do in word or deed”

Verses 5-8, The Vice List

With our mind set on things above, what happens to our “earthly members?” (i.e., the parts of us that are still stuck on earth)
We bring our our attention and awareness to heavenly things, but we don’t live in heaven
Our bodies are grounded on earth
We are to “put to death” (the Greek is not so gentle as “consider”) anything that would break our connection with heaven

Didn’t Jesus teach that the problem isn’t just of matter of us doing bad things? And right living (righteousness) does not come down to an exercise of our will? The Law can say, “Stop doing that,” but in our experience with sin, it is not as simple as turning off a tap
More than once, Jesus emphasized that the human heart hatches feelings that give rise to murder, adultery, etc.
Paul knows this too. That’s the reason he begins with the psychological roots of vice: our desires and motives

Last on his list is “greed” or “covetousness”–which is also the last of the ten commandments
It would seem that even if we are able to keep all of the other commandments, this one trips us up
That was Paul’s experience, “I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (Ro. 7:7-8)

In True Spirituality, F. Schaeffer, asks whether any desire is coveting and therefore sinful. He concludes that:

desire becomes sin when it fails to include love of God or man. Further, I think there are two practical tests as to when we are coveting against God or man; first, I am to love God enough to be contented; second, I am to love man enough not to envy.

Shcaeffer also lack of contentment as the opposite of “giving thanks”–the covetous person does not give thanks.

But how is covetousness “idolatry”?
It locates my hope (for happiness, fulfillment, etc.) in a material object or experience

Between the psychological roots of vice and specific examples, Paul highlights the danger using the perspective of time

  • v. 6, the future – eschatology has us looking down the road
  • v. 7, past – “walked” contrast 2:6 – “lived” that was “home”
  • v. 8, present – put aside, like an activity that no longer works for us, no longer relevant or useful

Two problems with vices:

  1. They erode our inner life–the center from which we act in world
  2. They damages the spiritual community

We will skip vv. 9-11 for now

Verses 12-17, The Virtue list

Paul prefaces “virtue list” with a statement about believers–words that define us
That’s because what we do flows out of who we are
We don’t put on good deeds like sweatshirt and jeans
The spiritual life doesn’t work from the outside-in
Being comes before doing

  • Chosen: we could not rise to God–if he did not first choose to open the door, we couldn’t enter
  • Holy: the necessary condition for drawing near–for crossing the threshold into the sacred
  • Beloved: not what we are in ourselves, but what we are to someone else–how God sees us

What do we notice about the nature of the items on the “virtue list”? 
They are not moral, but relational
All of these things, even “peace,” are not about improvements to myself or the development of my own spirituality
They all have value in building and strengthening the community–the “one body”
The Pharisees were all about personal moral perfection–which results in intense attention to ones self
Jesus emphasized, however, that love stood as the great commandment and that the attitude and activity of love fulfilled all other laws–which shifts our attention from ourselves to God and others (or at least shares our attention between ourselves God and others)
Paul says the same thing in Ro. 13:8-10, “love is the fulfillment of the law”

“Beyond all these things” (or upon all these things) there is love–as if laid over all the virtues, covering them all

An alternative translation is provided in the margin for v. 14, “the uniting bond of perfection”
This is my choice, because of the obvious connection of verses 14 and 16 with what Paul had already said in 1:28

  • 1:28, “complete” is the same word translated “perfect” in 3:14
  • 1:28, “all wisdom”; 3:16, “all wisdom”
  • 1:28, “admonishing . . . and teaching”; 3:16, “teaching and admonishing” 

What Paul did for them, they were to do for each other
We do not get to spiritual maturity or completion in solitude–we travel together on this spiritual journey

The last three statements are tied together by “thanksgiving”

  • 15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart”

“Rule” is the Greek word brabeueto, which with the prefix kata (katabrabeueto) was translated “defrauding” in 2:18, which we saw had to do with an umpire or referee who made a bad call
When you are faced with a difficult situation, let the peace of Christ “make the call”

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33)

We have a choice: our attitude and outlook can be conditioned by external events and circumstances or by Jesus
Contrast the “peace of Christ” with “anger, wrath, malice, etc.”

In How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman explain that research in neuroscience has revealed that:

Anger interrupts the functioning of your frontal lobes. Not only do you lose the ability to be rational, you lose the awareness that you’re acting in an irrational way. When your frontal lobes shut down, it’s impossible to listen to the other person, let alone feel empathy or compassion. Instead, you are likely to feel self-justified and self-righteous . . .

On the other hand, a deliberate and conscious decision to give thanks increases neural activity in frontal lobes, which in turn decreases activity in the limbic regions that are associated with anger

So there is a neurological correlation between the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts and being thankful

  • 16, the value of worship

Throughout the majority of Christian history, most believers learned scripture and theology through song lyrics
(e.g., Paul’s quotation of songs in Col. 1:15-20 and Php. 2:6-11)
The fact that music is able to find its way around our intellect makes it the perfect language of the Spirit
Through psalms (the worship music of the Hebrew Scriptures) and hymns (the developing music of the church) and spiritual songs (Spirit-inspired songs that may have been composed and sung impromptu), believers were able to carry on the teaching and admonishing of the apostles with each other

  • 17, Worship, not only as something we do in church, but as a way of life

“Whatever you do” connect it to the name of the Lord Jesus
Paul would have believers connect everything in life to Jesus–even the bad things
If you are in a situation that you cannot connect to him, the you are lost

Is there anything about this passage that bothers you?
In my first pass I thought, “This looks like the Law”
Is Paul taking us back to rules that are backed up by threats (“wrath of God”)?
Vice and virtue lists can revive the tension that we felt with the Law and that Paul so eloquently described in Ro. 7
But the distress these lists create is not only what we feel inside–even greater distress ic caused by what some Christians do with these lists
They take them in hand and use as standard to judge others–it becomes a tape measure that they carry with them all the time to determine whether other believers fit the criteria
Helmut Thielicke, described the logic of these people something like this: If God doesn’t want the sin, he doesn’t want sinner
As a result of “shalt” and “shalt not” lists, their religion becomes a closed system
Then they cannot imagine God working outside their moral and theological box
There is no room in their understanding for kindness of Jesus (e.g., Lk. 7:39).

Why is it that Paul is not recreating the Law here? Because this is doable. How so?

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Ro. 8:3)

This brings us to the turning point in vv. 9 and 10: the “old self” is put off and the “new self” is put on

The new self is

  • being renewed – it is a process
  • to a true knowledge – truly knowing God, a knowing that transforms us into “the image of the One who created him” (cf. 2 Co. 3:18)
  • in which there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, etc. – in this new state, all the labels disappear and Christ is the “all” in which differences dissolve

CONC: If I don’t like the way I am—filled with chronic anger, or depressed, or anxious, and so on—then there must be two of me: the one getting angry and the one who observes me getting angry (and not liking that aspect of myself)
These two selves are what Paul refers to as the old self and the new self, or in Romans 8, the mind of the flesh (sarx) and the mind of the spirit (pneuma), what I call the sarchotic self and the pneumatic self

Once, when staying at a monastery, I was explaining to my friend Romuald how I had been beating myself up with negative thoughts
“Smith,” I was saying to myself, “You’re such an idiot! Your a loser. How can you be so stupid?”
Romuald responded, “I’m surprised. Well, I’m not surprised that you have such thoughts, because so do I. But I’m surprised that you think they’re real. Whenever I find I’m doing that sort of thing to myself, I switch levels”

In other words, we can learn to recognize the thoughts and desires generated by sarchotic self
When that happens, we can switch to the pneumatic self and observe those thoughts and desires
We can simply acknowledge them–we do not have to analyze or judge them

But the point is, we are not stuck or trapped in addictive behavior
We can find the freedom to choose between our two selves and make a contemplative shift to the new person, re-created in Christ’s image

When we do this, we take up residence in the virtue list and no longer even need to think about the vice list

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