Embodied – Colossians 3:15-17

The following post is the manuscript of a Sunday teaching I delivered on May 17, 2020.

In 362 AD the Roman Emperor Julian wrote to a high priest of the pagan charities that the pagans need to equal the virtues of Christian, for recent Christian growth, was caused by their “moral character, even if pretended” and “they support not only their poor but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.” The character and priorities of Jesus embodied in the ancient world caused those who hated the Christians to be like them in some way.

While the norms of social service and community solidarity have been staples in our culture, the church is once again in a position to have the surrounding culture say we need to be like them. The church, those who are followers of Jesus, have always been meant to be an alternative community in our world. 

Paul’s thesis in this section: Live in the present as the kind of human you will become.

First, put to death sinful behavior. Second, embody the new humanity. Following Jesus means joining his new humanity. Resist the old, but aspire to the new. If Christ is all and in all.

The characteristics that led to the rise of Christianity are the very characteristics described by Paul into today’s teaching.

How is the new humanity characterized?

First, as people who remember their identity. Paul again roots action in identity. Identity is received from God rather than achieved by you.

Therefore, God’s chosen ones: some versions might say elect. Chosen ones, holy & loved, are boundary marking terms for those who have placed their faith in Jesus. This means that God has chosen the Christian to be something special in His plan. Their aspirations in life should match how God sees them through Jesus.

Scot McKnight in his commentary on Colossians says this, “We agree that the privilege of being elect carried with it a responsibility, a point not always remembered by some people today, more concerned to assert their rights than to accept their obligations.”

The moral vision is clear: these believers are to divest themselves of the ways of the flesh and death and to clothe themselves with the ways of Christ and life.

Second, as people who commit to the community. “Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility.” Each one of the qualities mentioned in this passage expresses themselves in relationships. A significant measure of our Christian life is found simply in how we treat people and the quality of our relationships with them.

Heartfelt compassion: compassion comprises three elements – a need expressed, a response of mercy and love to that need, and an action that alleviates the need.

Kindness: “The ancient writers defined as the virtue of the man whose neighbor’s good is as dear to him as his own… It is used to describe a wine that has grown mellow with age and lost its harshness. It’s the move of the heart that translates to care and work for the good of those around them. 

We can say that humility (which was not considered a virtue among the ancient Greeks) is the “parent” of both gentleness and patience. Gentleness shows how humility will affect my actions towards others; I will not dominate, manipulate, or coerce for my own ends, even if I have the power and the ability. Patience shows how humility will affect my reaction towards others; I will not become short, or filled with resentment towards the weaknesses and missteps of others. What this depicts is a rugged commitment to the community via presence and advocacy in the journey to becoming Christ-like. 

When Ruth and I ran the Spartan with a few others it was an amazing experience. Throughout the people would help others, while still being committed to the goal of finishing the race. I experienced this commitment to the person and a commitment to the goal firsthand. Instead of leaving the person who lagged behind (me), those we were running with would encourage, coach, and even lift the person over the obstacle (not always me). Throughout the race it didn’t matter if you were running with us or competing with us, what was abundantly clear was the commitment to helping others. We were part of the Spartan community. The Church has a higher and more powerful goal in mind–helping people trust and follow Jesus together. Just like those in the Spartan race, people who commit to a community (the church) lift others around them.

A local church is a group of people from all different walks of life who are then able to exist in unity rather than divide. When you agree to be part of a church you are agreeing to place yourself within these types of relationships. If you are someone who is trying to explore what it might be to be part of Generations Church–this type of community is what we are attempting to pursue together.

Paul is not done yet. Third, as people who are motivated by Jesus’s model.

Forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” We are told to live forgiving one another, after the pattern of Jesus’ forgiveness towards us. Understanding the way Jesus forgave us will always make us more generous with forgiveness, and never less generous.

Forgiveness is a deep and loaded concept. CS Lewis once said, “Forgiveness is a lovely idea until you have something to forgive.” I could spend another hour discussing the nuances of forgiveness. Even at the mention of forgiveness some of you have tensed up. Every situation is unique. The temptation for us as we discuss forgiveness is to go, yeah, but what about…”

I have actually recorded a supplementary video that takes some more time and care for the nuances of forgiveness. It discusses the process of feelings and emotions which lead to unforgiveness. The video also shares distinguishing marks between forbearance, decisional forgiveness, and emotional forgiveness.

Hear where Paul is coming from. If we are to be the embodiment of Jesus in the world, then we must have the mindset and the actions to reflect his disposition and priorities of the world. Paul’s basis for forgiveness isn’t how it’s healthy for you, which it is, or how unforgiveness harms your life, which it does. Pauls’s basis is in Jesus.

When we consider the staggering debt Jesus forgave for us, “The forgiveness they have received is used to enforce the duty of forgiving others.” Most of you who are participating in this service might now think of yourself as a bad person in need of forgiveness. On this mid-week podcast, Jon and I will be talking about how our pursuit of being a good person and that mindset is the enemy of being the person God created you to be.

When one thinks of how Christ forgave you it should make us much more generous with forgiveness. Unless we are motivated by Jesus’s model we will opt for a lesser version of being human.

  • God reaches out to bad people to bring forgiveness to them; the habit of humanity is to not reconcile if the offending person is a person of bad character.
  • God makes the first move towards us in forgiveness; the habit of humanity is to only be reconciled if the offending party craves forgiveness and makes the first move.
  • God forgives often knowing that we will sin again, sometimes in the exact same way. It is the habit of humanity to forgive only if the offending party solemnly promises to never do the wrong again.
  • God bore all the penalty for the wrong we did against Him. In the habit of humanity, when one is wronged, one will not forgive unless the offender agrees to bear all the penalty for the wrong done.
  • God keeps reaching out to man for reconciliation even when man refuses Him again and again. In the habit of humanity, one will not continue to offer reconciliation if it is rejected once.
  • God requires no probationary period to receive His forgiveness; in the habit of humanity, one will not restore an offender without a period of probation.
  • God’s forgiveness offers complete restoration; in the habit of humanity, one may feel that they should be complimented when they merely tolerate those who sin against them.
  • Once having forgiven, God puts His trust in us and invites us back to work with Him as co-laborers. In the habit of humanity, one will not trust someone who has formerly wronged him.

We must choose to forgive over forget. It doesn’t make the wrong automatically right. Initially, it  does not lessen the pain. If you are struggling with unforgiveness then let’s set up a Zoom call this week.

Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection: Love is the summary of all the things described in this passage. Love perfectly fulfills what God requires of us in relationships. “The other virtues pursued without love, become distorted and unbalanced.”

When Christ’s love becomes your identity, it re-orders all of your loves. It gives you the capacity to live in a world and love well, while not being crushed or isolated.

The tubes on the bottom interlock with the studs on top of other bricks. The studs get neatly wedged in between the tubes and the sides of every brick making them stick together firmly. The clutch power of LEGO® bricks has made it possible to create bigger and bigger sets without them falling apart.

Love is the super glue. Love are the tubes that enable you to construct a life that isn’t simply good, but is Godly. A Godly life is a great life because it begins with an identity received rather than achieved.

How is the new humanity characterized?

The love of Christ embodied in the lives of people.

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