Pastor Sherry’s Message for 7/24/2022
Scriptures: Hosea 1:2-10; Ps 85; Colossians 3:1-11; Lk 11:1-13
As I looked through my former sermons this week, I discovered that I had preached on the Hosea passage in 2016, and on Luke 11 in 2019. So, I believed the Lord was calling me to tackle the Epistle lesson with you today. It wasn’t until the passage was read this morning that I realized I had messed up. The passage appointed for today was Colossians 2:6-19. I am a highly intuitive person, focused on the “Big Picture” and not much given to details, so I mistakenly addressed the passage appointed for next Sunday, Colossians 3:1-11. I apologize. Perhaps the Lord meant for someone to focus on chapter 3 instead of the last half of chapter 2 today.
Colossians is one of Paul’s 4 pastoral letters (including Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) written from prison in Ephesus.
Apparently, Paul never met in person with the church in Colosse (75-100 mi east of Ephesus). It had instead been planted by a disciple of his named Epaphrus. We could say that Paul was like a spiritual grandfather to this church.
His focus in this letter is becoming a mature believer in Christ. Many folks in Colosse had become as sick of the immoral excesses of paganism as we have of what we see/hear happening in DC, NYC, LA, Chicago, etc. They were initially attracted to the high ethical standards offered by the Jewish faith. They looked at the Torah and were impressed with laws that said don’t do this or that, don’t taste this or that, or don’t handle this or that.
They saw these laws as a means of escaping the soul-killing, vapid, immoral world of paganism. It was as though they thought, Maybe keeping these rules will help us live a better life; and Perhaps keeping these rules will help us improve our spiritual lives.
But Paul tells them this way of thinking is an illusion, a dead-end. First of all, none of us can keep these rules perfectly. So we end up trading what Bishop. N.T. Wright calls, “a worldly self-indulgence of a sensual kind for a worldly self-indulgence of a spiritual kind” (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, N.T. Wright, Westminister John Knox Press, 2002, p.174.)
We reduce our faith to keeping a set of earthly rules, and avoid developing the deep relationship God desires with us. Additionally, contrary to popular thought, rule-keeping doesn’t lead to holiness. Holiness requires that we die to self. Rule-keeping keeps our focus on ourselves. Holiness requires that we die to self and are raised to live for God. The Good News is that by being in Christ, we have the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit—if we ask for it—to help us live out our lives at a higher moral standard. It’s not a matter of trying harder in our own strength, but rather of cooperating with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul admonishes us to (verses 1-2) Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. And in verse 5, he adds Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. In verses 8-9, he adds to the list of behaviors to avoid, including anger, rage, wickedness, blasphemy, dirty talk, and lying. This is like putting aside an old set of tattered and soiled clothes and taking up and putting on your very best. In the 1st century church, folks being baptized showed up in their old clothes, were immersed in the waters of baptism, and then dressed in new, white garments, symbolizing their new status as followers of Christ Jesus.
If it’s not just rule-keeping, how do we proceed? We have to know what needs to be changed in order to cooperate with changing it.
Let’s look first at the main categories of sins that Paul lists here:
1. Sexual misbehavior–This one is tough because our culture today—like that of ancient Corinth or Colosse, is overly sexualized. Much of American advertising makes sexual appeals. It doesn’t take too many clicks on the internet before you stumble onto pornographic images. (I worry about what our children are being exposed to at too young an age.) But Paul means everything from sexual intercourse outside of marriage (fornication), to adultery, and even including sexual fantasies. Paul calls these behaviors idolatry because, as in all pagan worship, they require that you give your allegiance to something of this world rather than to our holy and supernatural Trinitarian God.
2. The 2nd category Paul cites are sins involving unedifying speech. This includes everything from angry, malicious speech to gossip, slander, and lying. Wouldn’t Paul have a fit over the way folks lie in Washington DC? When I taught Psychology at the community college in Gainesville, I heard my students punctuate their sentences with the “f” word. Reminding them that they were there to get a higher education, I challenged them to try to elevate their vocabulary by replacing that word with something more dignified. To my delight, they got the concept and did cuss much less in class.
Both sexual and verbal sins can tear a community apart. Years ago, before I went to seminary, I had a pastor with whom I was very close. He was like an older brother in the Lord. We met about once a month for breakfast, to talk over the Bible study I was leading and other leadership concerns of our church. I later discovered he had been fired by our bishop for having an affair with another woman in our congregation. He and I had met just the day before this took place. He had told me he had 3 things to tell me, but ran out of time to tell me the last. When I learned what had happened, I figured he was too ashamed to confess he had compromised his calling. His family was humiliated. We had a booming college ministry at the time. They were so disappointed in him that they said we were all hypocrites and left the church. Other adults left as well, and for the same reason. Our community was hurt by this one man’s sexual sin.
Paul presents the problem (these two very popular sin-groups) and their solution. In verse 10, he writes [since you have put on your new self]…which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…. Remember back to the 80’s and 90’s when people would ask, WWJD? What would Jesus do? It was a great slogan because it reminded us to stop and think before acting/speaking. It encouraged us to think about how Jesus might view our actions or our speech. Would He say, Well done, good and faithful servant? Or would He want us to, Go and sin no more? Again, as Bishop N.T. Wright says, “Being a Christian means learning to think harder, not to leave your brain behind in the quest for new experiences. Thinking straight and knowing the truth are part of what it means to be a truly human being, the sort of human being the gospel is meant to create. (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, pp. 179-180.) We think harder because we are not just considering what we want to do, but also what the Lord would desire of us. We know the truth because Scripture reveals it. Immoral behavior and malicious speech may feel good at first, but the truth is that they leave a bad aftertaste. Our consciences bother us. Then the Holy Spirit compels us to make amends, which humble and perhaps embarrass us further. In the long run, it is simply easier for us to train ourselves to avoid the behaviors Paul lists.
This is another way of saying we are growing in spiritual maturity. Consider these definitions of Christian maturity:
(1) Chuck Swindoll—One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable.
(2) Fred Cook—Maturity is the ability to do a job whether supervised or not; finish it once started; carry money without spending it; and …bear an injustice without wanting to get even. If Cook is correct, his definition is quite an indictment of our current culture, isn’t it? We are trying to get along with a huge number of spiritually immature persons.
(3) John McNaughton—Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.
(4) Anonymous—Maturity is moving from a soft skin-tough heart to a tough skin-soft heart (This one requires some pondering).
When we are followers of Jesus Christ, trying to think like Jesus and live in ways that please Him, we might come to say like John Newton🡪 I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” (Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.370.)
The Apostle Paul wanted the Colossian Church—and us—to grow in spiritual maturity. This is not an easy task. It involves self-denial. It can and often does involve pain. The devotional, Today in the Word, printed a story years ago (1987) about how a mother eagle encourages her chicks to leave the nest:
Though many of us have seen pictures of a huge eagle’s nest high in the branches of a tree or in the crag of a cliff, few of us have gotten a glimpse inside. When a mother eagle builds her nest she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks, and a number of other items that seem entirely unsuitable for the project. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she has killed, making it soft and comfortable for the eggs. By the time the growing birds reach flying age, the comfort of the nest and the luxury of free meals make them quite reluctant to leave. That’s when the mother eagle begins “stirring up the nest.” With her strong talons she begins pulling up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and branches to the surface. As more of the bedding gets plucked up, the nest becomes more uncomfortable for the young eagles. Eventually, this and other urgings prompt the growing eagles to leave their once-comfortable abode and move on to more mature behavior.
It’s not easy to mature spiritually, but we can attain it—or at least move toward it—by cooperating with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Like the mother eagle, He can and does comfort us when we are afflicted (hungry, lonely, tired, etc); but also like her, He can and does afflict us when we get too comfortable. This side of heaven, we don’t attain perfection. Nevertheless, we want to be like John Newton, the former captain of a British slave ship, who repented, came to Christ, and was ordained. He is also the one who wrote the hymn, “Amazing Grace”. Remember he said, I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was…. Hopefully, day by day, we are making progress in becoming more and more like Christ Jesus.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams