The simplest and easiest illustration to draw our minds into and discussion about spiritual goals and disciplines is to talk about athletics – about personal disciplines for individual prowess, fleshing out how that affects an entire team in a joint endeavor. It’s not just me who defaults to that; actually, it is the metaphor that the Apostle Paul uses on several occasions.
But let me attempt something different to draw our minds together today.
Imagine you work for a company that supplies a particular product to the public that has become rather popular. Last year was the best year ever for the company, with the highest historical revenues, reflected as well with increased salaries and production capacity. The new year was entered with every expectation that this was going to be awesome – all things were in place to excel at the highest level in the marketplace, far beyond peer competition.
But as the new year began, some problems began to develop …
- Several high-level managers began to quarrel with each other about ongoing priorities of production and distribution. Mid-level managers began to take sides. Verbal outbreaks were not unusual as hostilities mushroomed higher and higher. The office became an awkward place with a palatable tension in the air.
- Production floor managers did not know what to make of these conflicts. They were not sure who to listen to and what perspectives to implement, and before long this created clashes in procedures that ruined previous efficiencies.
- Beyond a slow-down in production, the company conflicts and procedural inconsistencies resulted in flaws in the product itself. This was obvious by an unprecedented number of customer complaints and returns. Everyone could feel a decline in market share.
- Given the salary increases from the previous year, throughout the company on all levels, managers and workers were using their vacation times at the beginning of the year – particularly to get away from the pressures and tensions. This created shortages of personnel at critical moments. And more than a few lifestyle changes were noted at all levels as well, as people took on more of a pleasure-seeking purpose that became destructive patterns for them and their families.
- Putting this all together, it was not long before a formerly great company – one that had every resource and reason as to why it should excel at the highest level – now was in a destructive slide. Something needed to be done. Clearly there needed to be newly-defined goals and purposes – both in the lives of individuals as well as in the corporate structure.
Christian people can be like this and have similar experiences. And a “company” of those Christians together – doing life in this community and endeavor called “the church” – can also experience such calamitous results. With a new life as a result of this thing called the Gospel, God’s adopted family should have every resource for personal success, corporate success, and impact in the broader marketplace of the surrounding culture.
But as with our imaginary company, conflicts can arise on all levels of the church – creating inefficiencies and losing market impacts. On a personal level, Christian people can lose sight of the larger picture and begin to live in such a way that personal pleasure attainments end up afflicting not only the corporate community, but their individual lives as well.
The time arrives when there needs to be a, dare we say, “come to Jesus moment” when individuals realize they need to take personal inventory, that along with others doing the same, results in a recommitment to grand visions and goals.
The Apostle Paul exhorted several of the New Testament era churches along these lines, including the one we turn to today – the Colossians. Good things had happened in this church community. As he writes to them, he immediately references them as faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, saying to them: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.
But they needed continual renewal of their commitment to this “hope stored up in heaven” – revitalizing their vision and relationships both with God and with each other.
And it is good, and appropriate that we regularly have such evaluations – personally and corporately. Seriously? Yes, seriously, we need to consider our goals for the Christian life, possessing also a renewed goal toward heavenly affections – our primary idea for today.
The Apostle Paul says, in one of our verses today … “set your hearts on things above / set your minds on things above …” That is a challenge, isn’t it? We are not NOW “above”. We have to live here, and we have to deal with the things of this world; and having a prudent balance is a challenge.
The Colossians were struggling with such balance issues. A group of false teachers had set up camp amongst them – teaching that matter is evil and spirit is good. This was a common heresy in the early church era.
So Paul is giving them teaching on the balance of being already an eternal, spiritual being, living successfully in a material world. The key is to live even now with a focus upon things eternal, and the attitudes of such spiritual realities.
As we look at Col. 3:1-14… will see three simple paragraphs that fall out this way…
- The Goal – a heart and mind set on things above… (1-4)
- Attitudes and actions to lose in order to achieve the goal… (5-11)
- Attitudes and actions to increase in order to achieve the goal… (12-14)
So, to be where you need to be with the proper goal, there are some things you’ve got to get rid of, yet also some other things you need to increase.
- The Goal – a heart and mind set on things above. (1-4)
Yes, the natural proclivity will be to be continuously drawn to the things that one can see in the material world. But God’s people have to look higher …
COL 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
“Since you have been raised with Christ” … This puts a new spin on everything, as we have been resurrected with Christ. We think of this as future, and it is. BUT, like many things of the spiritual realm, it is also a present reality.
For example, we often speak of three aspects of sanctification – positional / progressive / perfect. The point here is that your eternal life has begun. It is an accomplished fact. The proof is that Christ is now there, and you will be “there” one day. So, it is appropriate to see yourself in this light and begin to act like the eternal person you already are in Christ.
“Set your hearts on things above” … The word means “to seek.” In the original language it is in the present imperative form, which denotes a continuous action … “to keep on seeking.”
“Set your minds on things above” … This literally means “to think on.” We cannot act without thinking, as everything begins in the mind. There is a radical change in a person’s status when one comes to know Christ that changes everything.
For example, when a person is engaged to be married, they are not yet fully realizing their new relationship, but the knowledge of what is someday going to happen affects how they act now. So, it is therefore not appropriate to live as if that new relationship does not exist. It changes your other relationships and values, along with the things you give time to…
… you don’t date others like you used to, that’s for sure.
… you don’t spend money on worthless things unrelated to your future – you begin to invest in a way that anticipates the future.
… it would be strange to not highly value the other person and not spend time growing to know that person more and more.
So therefore, the reality of the future relationship would affect everything about how you function. Though you yet live amongst other people as a single person, you also live in constant circumspection, because a larger, future reality governs your entire life. And so it is in regard to relationship with Christ.
In verse 3 – “For you died, and your life is now hidden in Christ” … That is the engagement. You are SO connected to Christ, who guarantees your place eternally, as he now exists eternally with God.
And then in verse 4 – “when Christ appears” … This anticipates the coming of Christ. The idea here is the “unveiling” of Christ – the light of all that shines from Him at his appearing. We are a part of that because of our close connection with Him.
So Paul says that the believer has a goal – to set our minds and hearts above.
- Attitudes and actions to lose in order to achieve the goal… (5-11)
Here we will see a list of things to get rid of in order to accomplish the stated goal of heavenly affections…
COL 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
We have to put to death the things that belong to the natural, earthly nature we all still possess; and this is painful to do. A commentator said, “The old life is dead; we must let it die.” But that is not what we always do. We too often tend rather to sort of let the old life hang around in the closet, or in the trunk of the car, so that we may go get it out once in a while. The verb used here “put to death” is a very vigorous word – “to slay utterly,” or to completely extinguish.
I believe there needs to be a one-time action where this is done – not that it renders a person free from sin. But is a time of declaration and determined decision. Have you done that? It may have happened at salvation for some folks, but for many others – especially those who trust Christ early in life – there needs to be a time of commitment. As in Romans 12…
ROM 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
It is like restoring and painting an old car. You must get rid of the rust, or it will eat its way through. You can’t just cover it up, which is the way too many Christians are in their attitudes toward sinful patterns.
And then we see a list in verse 5 of various sexual sins, which become greedily coveted and even an idol to those who do not expunge these natural desires sourced in this fallen world. These can function within in soul like computer defaults of the human condition. Therefore we must take action to change them, not just to avoid them a little bit more than the rest of the world.
In verses 6 and 7, Paul adds two more reasons to get rid of this stuff, beyond the gangrenous reasons of how these things eat away at us and are inconsistent with our position in Christ…
- This is the reason why judgment is coming on the world. And we don’t want to be associated with that!
- This is the way people lived before they knew Christ. So it is crazy to continue to act that way as if there has not been a significant change.
And then in verses 8 and following, there begins another list of attitudes and speech that must be deleted. The verb has the idea of getting rid of filthy clothes, and not by just throwing them in the hamper, but rather in the trash. Dispositions mentioned include anger and rage, malice and slander, filthy language, and telling falsehoods. The last of these gets singled out particularly, as it is the most likely and easiest wrong to do; and this relates back to the original sin.
Rather, the text says: put on the new self – again, this has the idea of an entire clothing change.
The thought of verse 11 (Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.) as compared to the preceding: whereas relationships are inevitably marred by various sins, when living in Christ, all relationships are wholesome, even those you would think make for great divides…
- Greek / Jew – very different
- Those with a background in the law / are now totally without that divisive issue
- Those from a totally different “caste” or ethnicity, or culture
- Those from differing social strata
But Christ is the great uniting agent in all these circumstances.
- Attitudes and actions to increase in order to achieve the goal… (12-14)
Having spoken of what must be eliminated in order to achieve the goal of heavenly-mindedness, Paul now states the positive dispositions to add to one’s attitudes and actions …
COL 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Here now is the positive “clothing” to put on…
- Three reasons why believers should apply these guidelines …
- They/we were are chosen by God – is a special thing for sure
- They/we are holy – set apart by God – as examples of His grace
- They/we are dearly loved – like Israel of the OT – special to God – with privileges and responsibilities.
And then, five virtues are given. These may seem to demonstrate weakness, but actually are great strengths, as these traits are admired even by the world.
Back in my high school coaching days I had a boy on my team who was not an especially good runner – He was rather small for his age and would never make the varsity squad. But he never missed a practice or meet. He was the most likeable fellow who spent all his time exhibiting the items in this list, as he encouraged others and just loved everyone around him. The school had a “teammate” award that was given at the end of the school year to a peer-voted-upon athlete in each sport. And this boy every year won it for cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. … People like it when you act like Jesus.
How do you know when you are gaining these things? Verse 13 …
- You’ll be better able to bear with irritating people – remembering that you are probably an irritant to others.
- You’ll be able to forgive others quickly – remembering that you have been very forgiven.
The summary thought of the paragraph is in verse 14 in that it is all wrapped up in love – like an outer, overcoat garment.
In fact, we can give a summary statement for this entire chapter: Our goal as believers is to be heavenly-minded in validation of our status in Christ, by ridding ourselves of natural vices, while adding to our attitudes and actions the virtues of Christ.
There used to be an old, derisive statement about some ostensibly Christian people that “they are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good!” But Paul’s exhortation is rather: “Be heavenly-minded in such a Christlike way that you can be so truly earthly good, because you’re living here like the godly citizen you are from over there.”
So, where has your focus been? Do you have the correct goal of thinking upon the future – that future that actually is already happening today? Do you realize that this active, applicational perspective has impacts not only for you, but for the entire “company” … the church family?
You might say, “Well, I think I’m doing pretty well with this most of the time. Maybe I’m about 75% of the way there.” Well, that sounds pretty good. And imagine if 75% of the people in the church family could say that they are 75% of the way toward being serious about their faith and lifestyle values. Sounds decent!
But, think about this. How would you like it right now if only 75% of your bodily organs were working properly? Hey, it’s only 25% that are asleep or on vacation. Wow … and we’re worried about a coronavirus scare! This is worse! (And I remind you that I’m not the first person to talk about the church family as a body; this guy who wrote to the Colossians used this illustration particularly in another letter to the Corinthians!)
It is easy to put this off, but it is dangerous to do so. Yes, the time has come and passed to begin getting serious about faith and living well in the faith community. Seriously? Seriously!