Embodied – Colossians 3:5-11

The following post is the manuscript of a Sunday teaching I delivered on May 10, 2020.

On the opposite wall from me hangs a sign that says “Family — where life begins & love never ends.”

You probably have a few sayings like that hung around your house. Pithy. Inspirational. What would it take for that sign to be true–actually true–not just an idea? It would take a group of people in that home acting on that very conviction. This framework is not unique to the church. Most groups have some sort of mission or aim that it directs its members to achieve or be.

What sets the Christian community apart from other types of community groups?

Right now our world is longing for this answer. When the church understands the character and priorities it possesses innately as the body of Jesus–the world just isn’t a better place for it– it becomes a taste of heaven on earth for it. As we face pressures in our world, we must be reminded of who God has called us to be.

This is the precise place where we find ourselves in today’s teaching text. Let me give you the previously on…Colossians is a letter written to a church that is facing pressure to acquiesce to the philosophy of the world around them. This pressure comes from inside and outside the church.

Paul is writing to a group of believers whom he wants to remind them that their experience can catch up to reality. Paul wants them to aspire to be like Christ because through Christ God sees them as actually like Him. Therefore, they don’t need external practices to make them appear to be what they in fact actually are. Because we know that Jesus is really raised from the dead, then our identification with Him becomes real. 

Paul has set this all up to Colossians 3:5. In verse 5, we get another “therefore.” A tip whenever you read the Bible, whenever you see “therefore” you must ask “what’s that there for?”

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

Paul gives us two responses to the proposition: Live in the present as the kind of humans you will become.First, put to death, or get rid of sinful behavior.

To describe this new humanity Paul first contrasts their old way of living with their new way of living. Here’s an important piece to remember, Paul has commended these believers for their faith. So he is firmly aware that they know the difference. They have already undergone a change, but current pressures them back to their old way of living.  Paul mentions “put off.” This word picture here is that of changing clothes. You wore these desires that drive everyday life. You were ruled by them.

Paul’s lists mostly include a distorted sexual ethic and destructive speech. Paul is fully aware these believers are surrounded by a context and culture. Therefore, they need to be reminded that certain sins the culture around them are guilty of; these sins should not be present with them. Paul makes sure to remind them–the wrath of God comes on them.

There was an image of a dress going around a few years ago. The image divided everyone into one of two groups. People either said the dress was black and blue or the dress was white and gold. While the colors on the dress were debatable, Christian living should be as obvious as two different color of shirts 

To this fact, Paul continues “According to the image of Him who created him.” There is no way that Jesus would walk in any of these sins, so if we identify with Him, we won’t walk in them either. We should be eager to get rid of behavior that does not reflect that heavenly mind-set.

At Generations Church, we have a value called Progress over Perfection. Our desire is to become more like Christ. It’s his perfection that lives in and through us. We do not have to be perfect, however, we should see progress marked by increasing Christlikeness in our lives.

Those who are part of Generations Church, we must put these sinful actions off by identifying sin in our own life and naming it to Jesus. This habit individually provides the groundwork for the second response.

Second, the Colossian Christians are to collectively embody the new humanity. The response here is a frame of reference–with the eternal perspective in view, the church community the Colossians are currently part of should have no barriers based on ethnic identity, socio-economic status, background, heritage, etc. The renewal refers not simply to an individual change of character, but also to a corporate recreation of humanity in the creator’s image. 

Christians are saved through their union with Christ, and they follow Christ’s model and teaching in faith and ethics. The church as the embodiment of the gospel is an essential form of witness to a watching world.

This community differs from other major religions of the world where one’s ethnicity, place of birth, and family link faith and society, believer and citizen, doctrine and culture, and church to state. The church is composed of voluntary disciples. Biblically, one is not a member of the church on the basis of citizenship, ethnic identity, or birth into a particular group.

This work of the new creation not only deals with the old man and gives us the new man patterned after Jesus Christ; it also breaks down the barriers that separate people in society. Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free: The new man is part of a family, which favors no race, nationality, class, culture or ethnicity. Paul uses these descriptions because they were the barriers in the Roman world that were now broken down because of Christ. 

We want people to become like Jesus. The temptation will be to make them like us. This is what Paul has just addressed with the false teachers; people do not need to become like you in order to then become like Christ. 

Among new creation people it doesn’t matter if one is Greek or Jew or circumcised or uncircumcised or a Scythian or a slave or a free man. All those barriers are broken down. It only favors Jesus, because in this new family, Christ is all and in all.

Jews are still Jews in Christ; Gentiles are still Gentiles in Christ; black is black in christ; Latino is Latino in Christ; as a white male, I am still a white male in Christ. These earthly identities are no longer what is most important: solidarity in Christ is now the ruling paradigm for the new community. 

The Christian who lives in North American should have more in common with His Chinese brother and sister in Christ than the unbeliever in their town. We should never surrender the essence of the Christian faith in the name of a common essence.

So what does that mean for us?

  1. Identity emerges not from one’s ethnicity, heritage, or status but from Christ. If you are not a follower of Jesus — you are offered a new identity.
  2. Because of Jesus mustn’t be something we simply say, but something we live. If we are Christ’s body collectively then we must collectively put off sin. To collectively put off sin we must individually put off sin internally and externally while putting on Christ. Paul envisions a new kinship, the family of Jesus, in which Christ brings together what had always been separate. What I want to say–this means that we identity lines that we draw to divide must become lines we cross.

How does this happen? It happens through communion. We develop greater unity with Jesus when we commune with him. When we have a conversation with him. We develop unity with other believers when we commune with them, when we have conversations with them.

Communion leads to care.

As we look at two buzz words in our culture, racism and ethnocentrism. Let’s look to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. His murder was evil. We must call out racism.

The church becomes the locale for healing when we say it and then display it. It matters what you say on social media about something far away because it produces a witness in every day.

Further, we must identify ethnocentrism. It means that we have brothers and sisters in Christ in China and we won’t stand for the belittlement of Chinese Christians and the Chinese people.

Our union with Christ leads to a unity that is displayed in morals and care by a diverse group of people.

What sets the Christian community apart from other types of community groups?

Christ is all and in all.

Give Over Get – A Shift

Generations Church is a community of everyday people committed to expanding God’s family together because of Jesus for generations to come.

We have five values that help us accomplish our vision.

  • Spirit over Self
  • Give over Get
  • Story over Sin
  • Progress over Perfection
  • Send over Stay

Our values are structured as a choice.  Too often we have been conditioned to choose the latter of the options (in our values) because we follow faulty maps. We need a shift in our thinking, more than that, we need a shift in our living.

We are going to take a closer look at our value Give over Get – Looking to make a difference in the lives of others and our community through generous living rather than always wanting to receive more.

Before I tell you what this series is, let me tell you what it’s not about. This series isn’t about getting more out of you. In some ways, this series will help provide a common language to give a reason for why this church community differs from other communities in the world.

We pick up the story of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover. He has been explaining and demonstrating that his way is upside-down. It’s a re-orientation of all our common social values. In this section of Luke, following Jesus is like a journey where you learn as you go. If you are following Jesus, you common assumptions and actions will be challenged. Jesus is being openly opposed.

Our desires must reflect our destination. Jesus’s destination is Jerusalem. 

  1. What Is Life (12:13-14)

The person is looking for an authority to help this man get what’s his rather than deal with the loss of life(Jesus’ disciples went out ahead of him announcing “good news to the poor that the Kingdom of God is here—Jesus is going to usher in this new way that renews God’s commitment to Israel that his blessing will go through them to all nations while also portraying Jesus as the wise and good King)

Jesus had just taught on our great value to God and on the importance of standing for Him. In the midst of this teaching, a man interrupted Jesus to ask that He take his side in a financial dispute.

According to the law of the day, the elder brother received two-thirds of the inheritance and the younger brother received one-third (Barclay). This man did not ask Jesus to listen to both sides and make a righteous judgment; he asked Jesus to take sides with him against his brother (“Tell my brother to divide the inheritance”). Obviously, Jesus’ previous words about the need for full commitment and God’s care for us didn’t penetrate this man’s heart. He felt he needed to fight for what was his. “If each of them learned the real meaning of life, and sought as its chief endeavor to be ‘rich toward God,’ the question of possessions would settle itself. The one would be eager to share, while the other would be careless about receiving.”  We often mask our covetousness by claiming we are on a righteous crusade.

  1. Life Is Not Defined by a Lot of Stuff (12:15-21)

Greed means wanting what doesn’t belong to you. “He then told them, ‘Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.'” Storage businesses appear to be one of the fastest-growing businesses in the country because we covet and hoard, then we buy more space so we can continue coveting and hoarding.

As we move ahead to verse 19, the parable illustrates that some people think a good life is relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry. The man was a fool – not because he was rich, but because he lived without any awareness of and preparation for eternity. The people who define life by what they possessed and enjoyed will be called fools. This can manifest itself in the search for the perfect vacation or perfect dream house. We have been conditioned to pursue the upgrade.

The man’s problem was not in that he had some treasure on earth; but that he was not rich toward God. This isn’t an attack on having possessions. It’s an affront on being rich towards ourselves and being rich toward God. When we live for the upgrade the upgrade will consume us.

  1. Life Is More Than Food and Clothes (12:22-24)

In this next section, Jesus turns to the disciples — they are in relationship to Him. He challenges them not to worry. This statement on worry is referring to the consumption of stuff; it is not dealing with anxiety. Research clearly shows that worry deteriorates our immune systems; people under constant worry show lower T cell counts, essential for immune response. Prolonged worry has been shown to affect the brain, making a person less able to respond to future stress. And stress also is related to sudden heart failure. When we worry in relation to our stuff, it communicates a connection to our identity. An identity based on material items can be taken away because these material items can be taken away.

Jesus is reminding His disciples. Your life is more than those things. Life is not defined by the things we have; life is worth more than all our things.

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars…the house…the cash.  What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

by Linda Ellis

  1. Life Is Wasted by Worry (12:25-28)

We are tempted to think that worrying is the same thing as thinking or planning or even protecting ourselves. Yet take careful note: the birds don’t worry, but they do work. Birds don’t just sit with open mouths, expecting God to fill them. God provides. The worry many people have over the material things of life is rooted in a low understanding of their value before God. They don’t comprehend how much He loves and cares for them. God cares for the flowers, but that means that every day for the flowers is not sun and sweetness. If every day was sunny, and there were never clouds and rain, the flowers would die quickly.

One of the ways God provides is through people. We have seen God provide through people right here in Generations Church. In order to see God provide, we must be willing to express our needs. We also must be willing to GIVE OVER GET to help those in need.

  1. Life Is for Seeking God and His Kingdom (12:29-31)

The purpose of life is to seek God and his kingdom, not things and our needs. The mystery of life is that when we seek God and his kingdom he provides our needs. We receive a kingdom in exchange for worry. Jesus contrasted the life of those who do not know God and are separated from Him with those who do know God and receive His loving care. Those who know God should seek after other things. This is why we use the value GIVE OVER GET. Throughout your day you will face choices, will I be like everyone else, or will I make the choice that communicates something different?

  1. Life Follows Treasure (12:32-34)

The kingdom is not like an Easter Egg Hunt. When we realize this, then the world’s possession and our needs lose their grip on us. Jesus didn’t just tell them to stop worrying; He told them to replace worry with a concern for the kingdom of God. A habit or passion can only be given up for a greater habit or passion.

What is Jesus really saying? The command to give away what we have is a test of discipleship, and it is also a tool to train us as disciples. It points to giving as an antidote or cure to covetousness. “Readiness to respond to the call of renunciation is a sign of genuine conversion, a sign of undivided loyalty to Jesus, a sign of unwavering faith in Him.”

We can use this life’s possessions to bless the needy because we know the Father gives us a kingdom and a treasure that cannot be taken away, stolen, or decay.

We all have areas of our lives where we feel the pressure of this truth. Give over get isn’t simply an amen to affirm your generosity when you have the means. It’s a choice to make when it challenges your circumstances.

Our desires must reflect our destination. People will come into contact with this and ask “well aren’t you concerned about ___.” We must be able to give an answer that says, “I GIVE OVER GET because of Jesus.”

In the coming weeks, we will get very practical as we apply this to every area of our life. Your connection with God and connection with others will enable you to choose to GIVE OVER GET when you would rather opt-out. In a repeat of a similar challenge from last week, develop a deeper connection this week.