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Apr 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Colossians 3:1-4 Chuck Smith Jr. April 4, 2010

Colossians 3:1-4  

INTRO: When we began Colossians, we first looked at Paul’s life in Jesus
It began when he encountered the Lord on his way to Damascus, but that was by no means his last encounter with Christ  

Paul prayed “with the mind” (1 Co. 14:15)–i.e., he could form prayers that were rational and organized
But he also prayed “with the spirit” and “in the Spirit” (1 Co. 14:15; Ep. 6:18)
His praying in the Spirit may help explain how it was that Paul encountered Jesus in prayer (Acts 22:17-18)
Prayer was an activity through which Paul opened himself to the realm of the Spirit
Between Paul’s time and ours, we lost something
Something he assumed was true for all Christians
Because of that loss–the loss of an experiential relationship to God’s truth, we are prone to misinterpret much that Paul says in his letters  

The theme of chapter 3 is this: If Jesus is everything Paul has described (2:9-10), then go after him
These first three verses provide a theological framework for Christian spirituality and practice 


Verses 1-2, Where do we go from here?  

Notice how Paul makes the transition from the previous passage with the words, “Therefore if”
If the source of Christian experience is not philosophy, tradition, etc., then what?
He begins with the conditional clause–“Therefore if”–which indicate  

  • that certain conditions apply depending on where people stand (“if – then”)
  • that where we stand defines how we proceed

It is natural to long to be where Jesus is (Jn. 12:26; 14:3; 17:24)
He is “above” (beyond) and we have been raised with him 

“right hand . . .” – symbolizes authority to rule – his will! 

These conditions establish the trajectory of our spiritual progress 

Paul returns to what happened in baptism – 2:12-13
This is a radical concept
Contrast to our banal invitation, “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior”
Paul describes Christian baptism as an invitation that says: 

“Come ane die with Jesus Christ. Die to all the things that enslave you and diminish you as a human person. Then begin living in the vital energy of God that raised Jesus from dead” 

For Paul, the Christian experience was not something we add to an already rich and full life
It was a total change or transformation
Now if what Paul describes here were not an actual experience, he could not make it prerequisite for what follows
But how many Christians know this experience or link such a thing to their baptism?  

“Keep seeking” is present tense, because 

  1. the spiritual journey is one of continual progress in our life with God
  2. we naturally slip out of this concentrated attention on things above and need to return

“Seek” is a spiritual “activity” that is familiar to us from the Hebrew Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus
How does one go about seeking “God” or things above?
Not with a GPS tracking system, a treasure map, a car, boat, or plane, or with a shovel, or through a microscope or telescope
“Things above” belong to a different order of reality 

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talked about a time when in a vision he was “. . . caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (v. 4)
He could not only find words from his human vocabulary to describe the “inexpressible” sight and sounds he witnessed, but such things are not permitted to be spoken in our four-dimensional universe 

Although rational and analytical thought has a role in our understanding of scripture and theology, it does not provide the suitable criteria for seeking the things above (1 Co. 2:4-8)
Instead, we keep seeking things above through direct contact with them
The intellect watches and analyzes, but it cannot lead 

In John’s gospel it is very clear that Jesus used metaphors and analogies to intentionall misdirect and confuse his listeners (Jn. 3:3-4; 4:13-15, 31-32; 6:51-60; etc.)
He did this to create opportunities to elaborate on the deeper meaning he wished to reveal
But he also did it to frustrate the intellect, forcing people to find another way to grasp what he was saying
To proceed in faith and in the spirit rather than going “intellect first” (Jn. 3:6; 6:63)

The kind of seeking that is required is the essence of contemplative prayer
To seek, not on earth and not with the senses, mind, or feelings, but with our spirit  

A model for contemplative prayer
Jesus in wilderness, fasting and solitude to eliminate distractions
Satan comes along with powerful distractions of a sort that tug at the heart and mind
But he is dismissed with God’s word (not our own) and therefore by God’s promise and power rather than by our will power

“Set your mind” – goes further than moments of seeking and carries the discipline forward – makes it a lifestyle
Shift our orientation away from “things that are on the earth”

Mt. 16:23, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests but man’s”
Ro. 8:5, “For those who are according to the flesh (sarchotic self) set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit (pneumatic self), the things of the Spirit”  

Paul is not suggesting a dualistic separation of spirit from matter or a gnostic separation of Christ from Jesus
Rather, he suggests a prioritizing – using free will to choose what we allow to affect us
And this is exactly the renunciation that we practice in contemplative prayer

 Verses 3-4, We come to the end which is a new beginning

This is not about patching up the broken parts of our lives
It’s the end of the old habits, attitudes, etc.
Paul describes a metamorphosis

  • Without it, we are stumbling in dark – groping around in Good Friday without coming to Easter
  • Without it, we have no idea why we so easily let ourselves become conformed to the world  

God works in both our death and rising (death of the sarchotic self and rising of the pneumatic self)

In Waldon, H. D. Thoreau, refers to William Bartram’s description of Mucclasse tribe
At the beginning of the new year, they would collect old clothes, trash, and provisions in village, pile it all up and burn it
Then fast three days, after which the “high priest” would start a new fire in the public square
Everyone then took fire from that flame to light and warm their homes

Dying and rising with Christ is a sloughing off of the old life (we’ll come to this in v. 9)  

“your life is hidden with Christ” – right now we cannot see ourselves risen with Christ and seated in “heavenly places” (Ep. 2:5-6, any more than we can see the risen Christ seated in heavenly places, Ep. 1:20)
So the outward appearance of a Christian gives no clue to the person’s true identity–it is hidden
From the outside, you can’t see that we are dead and risen – at least, not for now  

Verse 4, Paul looks forward to a time when that will change
Then thre will be a dual revelation

The phrase, “Christ who is our life” consist of only three words in the Greek text, Christ our life
It is not simply a matter of Jesus giving us life, but he is our life
We breathe him, depend on him, derive our existence from him (Jn. 15:1-7)


I have tendency to read up on a subject and then think I’m an expert
I can “talk”–i.e., bluff–as if what Paul describes in this passage is my experience
But just reading, studying, researching, and repeating the words doesn’t make the experience my own

Christianity has become too much talk and that is why it has begun to sound hollow
“Christ is risen” is a true declaration, but it sounds completely different on the lips of someone who has also died and risen with Christ!
Yet, in my own life, there is much that is still un-risen and many times I am seeking things below

Knowing the truth as a living experience does not happen when I get ahold of this truth
But the truth has to get a hold of me
It is like the treasure in the field – if I am going to have it, that treasure must first have me
And I know it has me when I throw everything else away to have it (Mt. 13:44)

So how can we get there from here?
God is already leading the process, and that is the fact of our spiritual journey
Here is how it unfolds:

  1. It takes a passage like this–one that defines the Christian experience–for me to realize how far I am from God’s intent for my life
    My heart isn’t quite there and I can’t bring it there
    And in this moment of realization and honesty, I get my first breakthrough
    I come face to face with my inadequacy
    So the first step is this insight: that I haven’t mastered this and I never will
    I need God – I need his working inside me – 2:12!
    A second stage of insight occurs like a miracle
    I am awakened to the fact that a dying with Christ is already going on inside of me
    That God already has me on the path of dying and rising again
  2. For the truth to take hold of me, my relationship with the Scriptures cannot be one of just reading, memorizing, and quoting
    I have to find the life in them; press my ear to the sacred text and listen to its heartbeat
    I have to combine the learning process with personal experience
    I have to contemplate God’s Word – sit with the truth (and this will be a struggle at times, so you may have to customize your contemplation so it will work for you, depending on your learning style and other factors)
    Eventually the light comes through the text
    And then, we’re not only enlightened, but we find ourselves beginning to be “raised up” 
  3. Then the truth is written inside of us (the new covenant, He. 8:10)
    This way, we experience the truth without resistence
    It no longer enters as something foreign that our immune system tries to reject
    But it enters as something that belongs to us – as our own organ
    And then God’s will feels as if it is our own will

CONC: What do we do next?
What is the next step of our spiritual journey?
It is always the same

You do not have to attempt a lot of inner changes or make a host of new vows or commitments
You do not have to bring more will power into your struggle with sin or dedication to prayer and Bible reading

Grace is not given as a reward for our efforts – it is not even given to assist us in our efforts
Rather, it comes to us as gift

So enter God’s presence–sit before him in contemplative prayer–and let his grace permeate you
Stand in the sunlight and it will warm you – automatically

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