Week of Feb. 17: Clothed with Christ
Week of February 17
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson Scripture: Colossians 3:5-17
Background Scripture: Colossians 3:1-17 Before we can begin to focus on the specific verses for today, we need to examine how Paul sets the stage for these instructions in verses 1-4. Without understanding this prelude, the reader could well hear the instructions following as a self-improvement prescription like a doctor gives to lose weight, exercise more, and eat the right kind of food. All very true and good, but not until the right motivation is present!
Because we have died to the old self and been raised with Christ, we can now begin to live like Jesus. We do injustice to the concreteness of this message if we treat it only symbolically, or even metaphorically. In baptism we have died and been brought back to life! Paul says that Christ is our life! Truly the old is gone, and we can “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things.” The new reality is “we have been raised with Christ.”
The following instruction has to do with how people live who are caught up in a culture focusing on the gratification of the physical (earthly) nature rather than awareness of the pre-eminence of the spiritual (divine) nature God intended in creation. The writer makes a shocking declaration when he equates these behaviors with idolatry. In other words, when our lives are governed by such acts and attitudes, we have created other gods. For Christians and Jews, there is no greater sin than dethroning God and creating our own “golden calves!”
In this list of proscribed behaviors, he now concentrates on how we express the emotions that well up out of our old unredeemed nature. Here, for us, Paul has really “quit preaching and gone to meddlin’!” Like a hammer driving a nail, he hits at those things that often come boiling up to the surface when we fall back into old patterns—anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language (NIV). Most often these are seen in our words—our speech. Certainly some people show anger and rage in actions of violence and brutality, but for most, it is in our words. Frankly, we have found the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” not to be true. Words do hurt—painfully and continuously!
Another observation is that we have moved from just ethics for the individual to how behavior affects the community. So Paul adds an injunction against lying. The truth of our word is crucial to the welfare of the whole body of Christ. Slander and gossip are part of this dynamic of a healthy body and has no place within the Church. From our observations of over 50 years, too much hurt and brokenness have been caused because Christians forget whose they are! When we talk about each other in a derogatory way, we are killing a personality. In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the same thing. Enough said!
In the middle section of today’s scripture, Paul moves from what we should not be to what we should be. Very much like his word to the Galatians in 5:22 about the fruits of the Spirit, so here Paul speaks of being clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (vs.12). Don’t you like his image of putting on the new self like putting on new clothes? Remember how you felt putting on those new Easter clothes? That’s what Paul wants us to feel. As God’s holy people, we are dressed up in new garments and find ourselves acting in new ways that are contrary to the old ones.
The biggest difference is how we handle the hurts others have done to us. Where anger, rage, malice, slander and obscene language might have been our initial reaction, now we forgive. Even more, we bear with each other, or as the CEB says, “we put up with each other.” Tolerance can cover a multitude of hurts when we understand that we are doing for others what God has done with us. How many times does Paul remind his readers: forgiveness is God’s way with us and forgiveness must be our way with each other?
Overarching all the instructions Paul has given is the one in verse 14: “Over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” As in so many of Paul’s letters, the word “love” is the predominant Christian virtue. Paul wrote his letters in the Greek language, in which there are four different words for love, as C.S. Lewis reminded us years ago! The word Paul chose is “agape,” and this is the word used in his Hymn to Love in Corinthians. The same word heads the fruits of the spirit in Galatians. Not accidentally, John uses the same word in John 3:16. Agape love is the uniquely Christian word to describe how we can love as God loves—unmerited, undeserved, unearned.
Paul brings his discussion of the clothing of grace we are to wear by saying, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (vs. 15). Maxie Dunham gives a helpful insight by saying, “let Christ’s peace be the umpire of your heart.” With all the conflicts, clash of feelings and competing loyalties, we need a power to help keep us under control. That power is the peace of Christ, and it is for the community of faith as well as the individual.
As we end this lesson, we catch a glimpse of the early church gathered for worship and study. At the center is the Word of Christ dwelling in us as we share the Psalms (OT), as we sing our praises, and as we express thanksgiving to God for the wonderful love shared with the world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This gathered community lets both word and deed reflect who our Lord is. The world will know we are Christians by our love.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.