Colossians 3:12-17 – A New Set of Clothes

White Shirts

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NIV)

Easter is to live forever in our hearts.  The great message of the Resurrection is: We now have opportunity to experience new life, free from sin, death, and hell.  Oh, it isn’t that we never need to deal with evil; we very much do.  The difference is that we now have a new awareness of our spirituality.  And with awareness comes choices.  If we aren’t aware of our feelings, our spirit, and/or old nature, well, then, it’s as if we operate on auto-pilot – losing altitude in an immanent descent into tragedy.  When we are aware of our inner selves, then we mindfully ascend through the clouds to join Christ.

We can make choices about what to wear.  With awareness, we look in the mirror and see that the grave clothes need to come off.  The old raggedy garments of pride and hubris, greed and immorality, selfish lust, jealous envy, spiritual gluttony, unholy anger, and complacency get taken off and tossed in the garbage.  We then go to God’s expansive walk-in closet and choose the bright raiment of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and grab the beautiful coat of love which covers it all with such dignity and honor.

It would be super weird to try and put the new clothes over the old raggedy grave clothes.  That’s not only gross, it’s downright wrongheaded.  Practical Christianity always involves two actions: taking-off and putting-on.  Human willpower and/or ingenuity tries to live a virtuous life while ignoring the vices.  This will not do for the Christian.  The endearing qualities we so desire to possess cannot be obtained without first dealing with the crud of sin which clings to us like so many stinky dirty clothes.  To put this in theological terms: the cross and resurrection go together.  Sin must be put to death before a victorious life is put on.

Once we have acknowledged sin, let Christ take it all off, and put on the new clothes.  Then we’re ready to hit the town in style.  We walk out the door with a tremendous sense of peace, knowing God in Christ has cleaned us up.  We stroll into the world with lips whistling and a song in our hearts – singing with gratitude for what the risen Christ has accomplished on our behalf.  After all, we just put on very expensive clothes and it didn’t cost us a dime.  In fact, we’re so darned thankful that we don’t just talk to others, we sing our words to them – even though we can’t carry a tune.  It doesn’t matter.  Our coat of love compels us.  Easter is bursting forth from the tomb.

Almighty and everlasting God, you willed that our Savior should take upon him our clothing of death upon the cross so that all humanity would have the privilege of wearing humility, gratitude, and love.  Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of Christ’s life, and, also be made aware of our participation in his glorious resurrection, in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Click Easter Song which was written by Annie Herring in 1974 and made famous by Keith Green a few years later.  The California Baptist University choir and orchestra perform this version.  May your Easter blessings multiply.

Seven Christian Virtues

            The Christian life is a struggle, a wrestling match of putting off bad behavior, and putting on good behavior.  Like a set of dirty clothes, we take them off and put on new clothes (Ephesians 4:14-5:20).  We must do both, putting off and putting on.  It does no good to take off dirty clothes and stand there naked.  Neither does it make any sense to just put clean clothes on over your dirty ones.
The seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride are bad habits of vice which darken the heart.  From them springs the evil behavior of the world. We must put them aside.  In their place we are to put on the seven heavenly virtues of purity, self-control, generosity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness, and humility.
1.      Purity
 
The insatiable habit of committing mental adultery needs to be replaced with purity of heart.  The pure of heart seek to better themselves through confession, repentance, and accountability.  One reason many people do not experience victory over their lust is that they confess and repent without allowing themselves to be held accountable by a wise spiritual mentor or a safe small group of people.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, NIV)
 
“Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV)
 
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)
 
2.     Self-Control
 
The glutton overindulges to the point of addiction.  He needs self-control.  Self-control is to engage in the good things of life in moderation, learning to say “no” before it’s too late.  Notice this is self-control, not others-control.  The way to gain mastery over yourself is not through controlling other people.  It’s tempting to blame others for our gluttony, but the path forward is through taking small steps of personal courage and faith.  Lent is the perfect season to intentionally plan to put aside one vice or besetting sin in your life.
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NIV)
 
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)
 
“Control yourselves and be careful! The devil, your enemy, goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat.” (1 Peter 5:8, NCV)
 
 
 
3.     Generosity
 
The greedy person only thinks about money and how to get more.  Greed can only be overcome with generosity toward others.  Not only are we to liberally give money away to those in need, we are to be generous with encouraging words, go out of our way to do humble service, and be effusive in spending time with those who need it.
But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.  Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, NLT)
 
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17, ESV)
 
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18, NIV)
 
4.    Diligence
 
A lazy and indifferent attitude doesn’t want to get involved.  It needs to be replaced with a diligent hard-working spirit.  Diligent people seek to make a difference in the world.  They roll their sleeves up, jump-in and get to work on the great problems of the day.
“The lazy have strong desires but receive nothing; the appetite of the diligent is satisfied.” (Proverbs 13:4, CEB)
 
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5, ESV)
 
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV)
 
“Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23, AMP)
 
 
 
5.     Forgiveness
 
Maybe it goes without saying that anger and forgiveness are mutually exclusive terms.  An angry person doesn’t forgive – she just wants to get even.  Putting off those angry clothes means putting on the clean clothes of extending forgiveness.  Forgiveness is neither cheap, nor easy. It can’t be done quickly or hastily.  It’s the difference between throwing on a few sweats – and getting dressed up in a tuxedo.  Forgiveness takes care and time.
“Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil.  Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, CEB)
 
“As holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.  Put up with each other and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13, GW)
 
6.    Kindness
 
Envy is the evil rot that separates people.  The antidote is kindness.  To be kind is to celebrate what another has achieved that you haven’t.  Kindness extends friendship instead of trying to knock another person down a peg so that you can try and have what they have.  Kindness creates connection and heals division.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV)
 
“And to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love.” (2 Peter 1:7, NCV)
 
7.     Humility
 
If pride is the root from which all other sinful attitudes break ground, humility is the herbicide that kills that root.  To be humble is to know that others have a valuable contribution to give.  Humility listens because it doesn’t think it has all the answers.  The humble among us quietly serve others without caring if it draws attention to themselves.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)
 
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10, NKJV)
 
“God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NASB)
 
 
 
            Developing Christian character is more than identifying the vices and bad habits of life; it is replacing them with these seven virtues.  Cultivating true Christian virtue is in the struggle to be better, and not in the notion that one can achieve perfection.  It is the continual wrestling with one’s own shadow-self that allows the virtues to gain a foothold in the soul.
            Therefore, church ministry needs to be a place where people are free to struggle, doubt, and wrestle with their inner demons.  Genuine ministry is a hospital for the soul, resembling more of the messy triage work of the emergency room, than the sanitized antiseptic room on the top floor who hasn’t seen a patient in days.

 

            Try using these Christian virtues as a way of having a conversation about the nature, direction, and goals of your ministry.  Are these virtues evident in your context? Why, or why not? Which one needs the most attention? How will you address it?

Psalm 14

            George Washington, in his farewell address to the nation in 1796, constructed his encouragements to the American people on the basis of virtue.  Only a virtuous people, Washington believed, could cause the American experiment to succeed among the family of nations.  Virtue, for Washington, could only occur through the twin pillars of religion and morality.  He stated:
 
“Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?”
 
Washington was no fool.  He understood that the guiding hand of Providence [God] was necessary to the flourishing of a free and happy people.  Indeed, as the ancient psalmist said, “Only a fool would say, ‘There is no God!’  People like that are worthless; they are heartless and cruel and never do right.”  Whatever Washington’s true personal sensibilities were about theology, he did believe that belief in God along with the Scripture’s moral guidance were needed for a fledgling nation.  The people’s ability to recognize and engraft religion into their lives would be a must for America.
 
Becoming untethered from God leads to vice; enjoining God and following him leads to virtue.  It is not wise to ignore the God of all creation.  But through daily attentiveness and devotion to the Lord, moral and ethical ways can take root and produce justice, reconciliation, and peace.
 

 

Sovereign God, you rule the nations through your wise and benevolent reign.  Help me to participate with you in your grand kingdom enterprise so that I can make decisions consistent with true morality, for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.

2 Peter 1:2-15

            I will admit that I am not much of a cat person.  I especially do not care for housecats.  I personally think their nocturnal behavior is creepy.  What is more, they get spoiled and finicky quite easily.  Some cats can get so fat and sassy that they turn up their nose on food that I would like to eat myself.  Yet, just as easily as a housecat can take for granted all she has, we as believers can far too easily lose sight of the incredible grace that we possess in Jesus Christ.
 
            Today’s New Testament lesson is meant to be a wake-up call to be reminded of how good we really have it.  God has given us his very great and precious promises.  He has given us everything we need for life and godliness for this present time.  And, yet, like a housecat sticking up her nose, we do not feed upon the grace that has been given to us.
 
            We need to come to our senses and make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  This is how we make our calling and election sure.  We are to recall these things on a continual basis so as to not become fat and sassy Christians only showing up when we want something from our owner.
 
            Instead, be a dog person.  Have unbounded joy when God shows up.  Lay at the Master’s feet.  Eat whatever is put in front of you with happy abandon.  Anticipate the delight of walking alongside the owner as you stroll together through the neighborhood of life.
 
            Do not just pass over these wonderful verses today.  Read them over several times.  Drink them in and feed on them.  Savor the words of Holy Scripture.  Let the Holy Spirit teach you.  Enjoy Jesus today, my friend.
 

 

            Gracious God, thank you for giving me everything I need for life in this old world.  Your divine power is all I need.  I lack nothing in you.  I only ask that you help to live into the grace you have already given so that I can be effective in my Christian life for Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.