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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Practices from Above


“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselveswith compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

In a garden there are many flowers and all of them play their part in creating a beautiful and vibrant scene when you look out of the window.

One flower though, a garden does not make.

But neither is a garden made without the uprooting of bad things andthe laying down of good things. And it really is both; not just one of those things, that counts.

The weeds have to be dealt with and the fertiliser has to be applied. The pruning has to be attended to, and the watering has to be deployed. The soil has to be turned and the bulbs have to be planted.

One is a tearing down process and the other is a building up process – but it’s all hard graft.

Here in Colossians 3 a garden of sorts is in view. The goal is a diverse and vibrant body of believers all unified under one head - Jesus.

At the end of the last message we touched on verse 11 saying that there is no place for sectarianism in the church. The same Christ is everything to all his blood-bought people because he is in all his blood bought people, regardless of their background.

We said, if that’s true, there’s no place in the church for division. What we are above is one people – all of our lives hid, with Christ, on high. That reality, then, takes precedence over the distinctions that are here below.

If we live as we should, having taken off the old self with its practices (v.9), and having put on our new selves, renewed in the knowledge and image of the creator, then we should no longer think in ways that drive wedges between us. Rather, we should think of each other as ultimatelyprecious in the sight of Jesus and therefore of the highest value to the body.

That kind of heavenly thinking will also serve to guard us against a very insidious kind of distinction-thinking that was making its mark in Colossae.

It’s the kind that draws a comparison based on outward and external qualities and causes self-judgment to rise up in the heart.

Last time we thought of it in terms of judgment on others, but this time it’s the other edge of the sword – judgment on self.

It’s the kind of thinking that causes people to believe they are inferior because of the experiences of angels they don’t have, or the clothes they don’t wear, or the house they don’t live in; or the car they don’tdrive.

It’s the kind of thinking that fails in this one main respect: to take account of Christ, who is all.

It speaks a lie. It says that our identity is on earth, when in truth it is in heaven; in Christ. It forgets that Christ is our life (v.4) and starts to believe that our lives are defined by material things. It’s a lie.

And we buy back into it for two reasons. The first is, we live in a world driven by that way of thinking. And second, we have lost connectionwith the head by setting our minds on earthly things.

The aim here, at this point in Paul’s letter, is unity in the body of Christ, which is the church. You are all members of one body – one body, made up of many different people with one unifying and identity-makingtrait: Christ is your all.

It’s not a whimsical thing to have become a person for whom Christ is all.

If the identity shift had been of our making then it would be whimsical. You can shift identities when you are the creator of the identity. But when we say we are defined by this reality: Christ in us the hope of glory (1:27), we are not talking about something that we created. We are talking about something that has been created for us – created for us by God.

And we might ask, on what basis was it created for us? Verse 12 tells us, it was created for us because we are God’s chosen people, we are holy – that is set apart for this purpose, and we are dearly loved. This is profound identity making.

Out of all the people of the earth, God chose you; God set you apart; God set his love on you.

This is why it will not do to identify the way the world identifies. It will not do to live constantly comparing yourself with other people as though you were somehow deficient when, because of God’s infinite love, shed abroad for you, Christ is your all!

Live, then, like the chosen of God you really are.

If you do, you will esteem your brothers and sisters as you ought and you will not treat yourself as a second-class citizen, which you are not.

The result will be unity in the church. And it’s that unity that Paul is aiming for in Colossae; not this fragmented group who are competing with each other for common-or-garden experiences based on the elemental forces of this world and not on Christ. Rather, believers boundtogether by their common identity.

With that unity in mind, we have already heard – last time – what kind of weed removal needs undertaking. But now Paul sets forth the keyspiritual practices that concord with having put Christ on. And just like with gardening, these things that need putting on are as hard work as the things that need taking off; and they are no less vital for a unified church.

I see 5 things that Paul sets our here, and like we saw with the things that need to be dealt with in our lives last time, this list is not exhaustive - rather it is foundational. These practices inform how we are to live.

There is a love, according to verse 14, that needs to be ‘put on’ and which binds together other qualities.

There is a peace, according to verse 15, that must be allowed to rule in our hearts.

There is a thanksgiving (verses 15, 16 & 17) that must permeate our lives.

There is a message, verse 16, that we must allow to dwell amongst us richly.

And there is prayer that must inform our actions and words, which I’m getting from the phrase, ‘do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus’ in verse 17.

So, let’s take them one at a time and see what precious practices we are instructed to put on.

I am convinced that the path to greatest happiness in this Christian life is the path that takes these things seriously and embraces them relentlessly.

Much Christian joy is lost for lack of these qualities.

And that is hardly surprising because, these are the qualities that accord with Christ himself. And because our eternal happiness is rooted in that very same Christ, to be without these would be a sure-fire way to forego Christian joy.

So, the first is love. Put on love Paul says which binds them all together in perfect unity. Love is the glue that binds all the other virtuestogether, and the glue which binds the body of Christ together.

Jesus said, the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbouras yourself.

Someone once asked Jesus, who his neighbour was. He asked that question because he hoped that Jesus had in mind friends.

And, that if that was the case, then that would conveniently excuse his hatred for his enemies. But Jesus, knowing his heart, told the parable of the good Samaritan to answer his question.

Since it is the unity of the church that Paul has as his goal here, we would do well to consider the virtues of verses 12 & 13 in light of conflict. That’s what Jesus did to show what the second greatest command meant, and we will learn, from taking the same approach, what these virtues mean that are bound up in the word ‘love’.

Paul says in verse 12, to clothe yourself with compassion. Compassion is that deep feeling for another person that is so tangible that it drawsyou into their suffering along with them.

Think of Joseph. So badly treated by his brothers - so hated by them, so mistreated by them, his life so broken by their behaviour towards him – enslaved, wrongly accused, imprisoned and estranged from his people. Yet when his brothers – the very ones who had hated him and mistreated him were so distraught at the thought of the anguish it would cause their father Jacob to lose Benjamin, he could control himself no longer and wept so loudly that he could be heard outside.

He said to them, ‘do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here’. Such was his deep compassion for them. And his compassion resulted in reconciliation and unity.

So, in the church, if someone has wronged you and yet you see them in deep pain, the approach that accords with your life that is hidden above, is the approach of compassion – deep feeling that draws you in to their pain.

Paul also says to clothe yourself with kindness. In the very parable Jesus told to show that your neighbour is your enemy as well as your friend, he demonstrates how kindness towards an enemy is a fulfilment of the second great commandment.

In the parable, the sworn enemy of the Jew – the Samaritan – is the one who shows acts of love. He bandages his enemy’s wounds; he placeshis enemy on his own donkey; he takes him to the inn; he pays the fullexpense of his enemy’s rehabilitation.

This is kindness.

So, when you have been mistreated by a brother or sister in the church and you find them in need, the love-action that accords with your life hidden with Christ above is to show acts of kindness to them.

Next, Paul urges us to put on humility as a garment. There is no better example of the lowly servant approach than Jesus himself. At the last supper, it was he who took the towel around his waist and washed the disciple’s feet – and, even the feet of Judas his betrayer. And he knewJudas was the one who would betray him!

So, when someone wrongs you in the church, be willing to be even theirhumble servant because it is the kind of practice that accords with your life above.

After humility, Paul stresses gentleness – other versions have meekness. It means submissiveness under provocation; the willingness to suffer injury rather than to inflict injury.

This goes against the grain. There is nothing that sticks in our craw more than the injustice of unsatisfied injury.

Here Moses helps us. We are told in Numbers 12, Moses was more humble than anyone on the face of the earth at the time. So, when he was opposed by Aaron and Miriam and they said, ‘has the Lord spoken through Moses only, has he not spoken through us also’ – for they were jealous of him – and the Lord broke out in anger against them and Miriam was found to be leprous, what did Moses do? He cried out to the Lord like this: ‘Please God, heal her’. So, Moses, in his humility, was willing to be wronged and so he became the mediator of unity in the camp.

So, if we are wronged in the church let us be humble and forego the offence – it will bring unity. Let us do it because our lives are hidden with Christ on high.

Paul calls for Patience too. Think of Hosea, that prophet whose wife loved to prostitute herself. He kept the unity by, not only receiving her back repeatedly, but by going and buying her back from those places of debauchery. She was a serial adulterer. He, on the other hand, was a serial long sufferer.

We need to be like that with each other in the church - patient. We can be, if we remember where our real lives are.

These are all ways that we bear with each other (v.13). But, on top of love tolerating much – which it must – it must also, according to verse 13, forgive.

It is no use exercising every single virtue of love, and yet storing up resentment, bitterness, animosity and anger in your heart toward that person. Real, heartfelt, forgiveness is in step with your new life.

Hanging on the cross, Jesus did not resent his enemies – rather he prayed for them, with these words, ‘Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’. Do you know what the next words are? ‘They divided his clothes by casting lots’. They cared nothing for him. Yet he prayed for their forgiveness.

He is our example. And if we tread in his footsteps and forgive those who have wronged us, there will be unity in the church. ‘Forgive’ Paul says, ‘as the Lord forgave you’ (v.13) – it is a fundamental principle of the new life that we have ‘put on’ in Christ.

So that is the first of the five practices Paul sets down for the Colossians.

The second is, let peace rule your heart.

Just as you can ‘clothe yourselves’ with the virtues of love, so you can‘let’ the peace of Christ rule. Don’t underestimate the power of a renewed heart – it is able to steer the vessel that is your will to goodthings, if we keep in step with Spirit of God.

But beware, you can resist His Spirit too. So, Paul is saying, ‘the peace of Christ must rule in your heart’ and you must let it do that. You must not resist it!’

I wonder why he says the ‘peace of Christ’, rather than just ‘peace’. It could mean that Christ was peaceable and we should follow his example.

I think there is another plausible explanation though. One that is perhaps more empowering. If you live in the light of who Christ is for you – that he is your all. In other words, if you live the most complete kind of life you could live here below - the one that rests, fully, completely, and truly in the reality that Christ is your life; with not one jot lacking - if that was your experience, you would have complete peace.

So that, if someone mistreated you, your hope, your solace, your comfort, your peace would be this: Christ is everything to me. Such mistreatment could not rob you of your peace in that case.

That seems to me to be what Paul is getting at. Let the truth that Christ is your all, so reign in your heart that you know persistent, unwavering peace. That kind of life, is the opposite of strife, and it is the kind that engenders unity.

Strife, on the other hand, robs us of our peace in Jesus.

The third principle is to live in a posture of thanksgiving. Verse 15 calls us to be thankful. Verse 16 says that we ought to sing to God with gratitude. And, verse 17, calls on us to give thanks to God.

Thankful people are rarely irritable people.

People who think they are owed something, seem to me to be the ones who are most often disappointed; most frequently annoyed; and have the greatest tendency to joylessness.

But thankful people expect little, and are surprised when they receiveblessings. They believe they have constant cause to be thankful.

There are six references to ‘thankfulness’ in this short letter and Paul references thankfulness in his letters no less than 46 times. In his mind, we are the beneficiaries of good things from God’s good hand. Psalm 103 calls on us ‘not to forget all God’s benefits’.

How much easier it is to overlook the indiscretions of each other when we have been giving thanks for each other and meditating on God’s goodness to us through those very people he has placed in our church.

The fourth practice is allowing the ‘message of Christ to dwell amongst us richly’. What this means is, that the Word of God, which are the scriptures that speak of Jesus – he said so – need to permeate the whole of our lives together as a body of Christ.

Our speech is to be laced with them; our text messages should exudethem; they ought to trip of our lips.

According to verse 16 they are the basis of our teaching one another – I’m not talking about Paul and I now, I’m talking about you; you are to teach each other. You are to admonish each other – that means you are to warn and correct each other with the message of Jesus. You are to bring the wisdom of scripture to bear in counselling one another. You are to share psalms with each other; and the songs you love because they are saturated with scripture - share those with each other. You are to write poetry - songs from the Spirit - informed by the message of Christ and encourage each other with them. The picture here is not one of timidity, it is one of boldness with God’s word. And how? Because you are not concerned about what people might think of you, you are freed because Christ is all to you.

The last practice Paul advocates is prayer I think. It’s not explicit in the text, but I think it’s there. I have often asked myself what would be a good test of what is permissible. And the conclusion I have come to repeatedly is, the test of prayer.

Am I able to pray that God would be glorified by this action or these words? And afterwards, will I be able to give thanks for the participation in them?

That, I think is a pretty exacting measure for all of life.

If we employed that method, we would find ourselves in prayer a lot. We would find ourselves in prayer about the movie we’re about to watch, or the place we’re about to go. We would also find ourselves in prayer before the comment we were about to make when we saw that brother in his new car. We would find ourselves in prayer before that criticismwe were about to offer.

Paul says, ‘whatever you do – whether in word or deed - do it in the name of Jesus and give thanks to God through Jesus’.

So, in summary, the unity of Christ’s body relies on each member living in accord with their life which is hidden with Jesus above. A life lived here below in the love of Christ. A life lived here below in the peace of Christ. A life lived here below in thankfulness. A life lived here below in the Word of Christ. And a life lived here below in prayer. These practices shape a Godly church. May God grant it to be so.


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