Colossians 3:1-18

By December 12, 2021Sermon Notes

I had another group question from the 4 & 5 Next Class: You may not remember the last group question but it was “How can Jesus be fully God and full man?”

I think they are conspiring against me upstairs.

This time the question is:

“Why is sin mentioned in the Bible so much?”

The easy answer is…because we sin so much.

But the better answer, and the reframing answer to that question is another question:  “How much is sin mentioned in the Bible in proportion to things like life, love, grace, joy, salvation?”

Sin(what God is against) is mentioned far less than the many, many things that God is for.

Because, the reason God is against anything is because he is for…something much greater, better.

Sin, in the NT, is a word that means to “miss the mark.”

Like an archer shooting at a target…the same word would have been used if he missed bullseye.

So, the idea is that there is a target, the meaning of life is to hit it…when the Bible says “You missed!” or “sinned”…is because there is something, good, to “hit”.

Why do the Bible’s references to sin stand out so much (even to children) while its vast references to life, and purpose, and relationship…seem to not stand out as much?

Think about your own approach to life: 

-How often do you notice, normally,  a green light versus notice and groan about a red one?  Or a series of red versus a series of green.

(“You kidding me, these are all red”…what about yesterday they were all green).

“No, Terry, they are never all green.”

-If you received 5 positive statements in a week from the workplace, friends, family…but 1 negative…what thoughts tend to take up the most space in your mind?

-If someone were to tell you they were disappointed with you because of a failure…would you tend to see what they were against or what they were for?

For instance: My wife has told me on occasion that my words/or demeanor seemed unkind.

-My go to response, at the very least internally if not externally has often been: Defensive, or trying to explain why this is so…

-Versus gratitude that she desires a close, growing relationship with me…and kindness is a necessity for those kinds of relationships.

-I am learning to be grateful for her willingness to keep pursuing me because of what she is for in our relationship…which requires by the way, on occasion, her pointing out what she is against.

But, it wouldn’t be very fun if she only pointed out what she was “for” BY focusing on what she was against.

“The reason that I’m non-stop nagging you, pointing out all your failures…is because of all I want for our relationship.”

Yeah, that doesn’t work.

She doesn’t do that…she majors on what she is for…and when necessary, points out the things that are out of line with a growing relationship.

Same with God….he is not a cosmic nag, or an all-powerful policeman.

He is Father…he desires relationship…the biblical vision is for “Thrive in life” not “hey, stop sinning”

Today we are in Colossians 3, we will get a list of what God is against and a list of what he is for.

And in both cases, he is “for” the same thing…that we live as his new created kids…that we enjoy a thriving relationship with him and others.

Last week Trace gave the contrast in chapter 2 of Colossians between the real wisdom of God and what appeared to be wise but was not.

That chapter sets up this one.

Chapter 2 ended with: “This focus on external regulations looks wise…but they don’t change hearts.”

In fact, they completely fail to do so…they lack any value, he wrote, in actually restraining the sin nature…sensual indulgence.

Chapter three…then goes straight to the heart. 

“Since then, you have been raised with Christ…set your hearts on things above…”

Why is God so interested in us getting wisdom into our hearts anyway?

Wisdom in the bible is not the same as what we call intelligence.  He is not trying to merely make us smarter.

You can be a brilliant fool, or have a low IQ and be wise.

Wisdom is skillful living…which equates to the great commandment: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, strength…love others…that is wisdom.

Love God, love People.

Wisdom is living as God’s new creation in the world that remains broken.

Wisdom deals with the heart not just external symptoms.

In the old way of life…humans tried to change by obeying external laws…this didn’t work, because our problem is at the heart level.

In the new covenant…we are changed from the inside out.

Because, Christ…is the wisdom of God…and Christ dwells in our hearts by faith.

Remember: “heart” in the Bible is not the same as “heart” in a hallmark movie.

-Don’t throw anything at me…but biblically “heart” is less hallmark and is more war movie…it is the command post.

It is where the battle is planned, directed, and won or lost.

-The heart is thinking, choosing, deciding you…it includes mind, will, emotions…but it is the place where when Christ (Wisdom)dwells at the center…we thrive.

When Christ reigns on the inside…then in our lives on the outside…we experience victory, growth, thriving.

So, maybe heart treated as “War Movie”…our internal command post can allow for life as “Hallmark Movie”…with sweetness in relationships.

*I have seen this, many of you have as well:  When we allow Christ to have command…when his will and ways shape us inside out…things on the outside…out here where we live our lives…things are changed.

We still get sick, have work and bills and traffic and diapers and deadlines…but all this is different…relationships are different, perspectives are different, values are different… we are being changed day by day.

The life to come has entered into this life as it is now…we live already/not yet as his changed people.

In chapter 3, here is what we will find:

3:1-4: Christians are already risen with Christ.  We are new creations already.

-But we are not yet (verse 4) fully transformed.

3:5-11: Since we are already God’s new people, we can and must make a clean break with the old life.

-Put off the stuff of the old life like taking off dirty clothes.

3:12-17: Since we are already God’s new people, we must embrace the life of the age to come (that is already broken into this dying age).

-Like putting on fresh new clothes.

3:18-4:1 (next week) He applies this principle in practice to daily life in the family and work place.

Let’s look at 3:1-18

3 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. 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. 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. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 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.

You almost don’t need to say anything else…if ever there was a self-explanatory passage, this is it.

Like gold nuggets just laying around on the ground…just pick them up.

But there is more treasure to be mined from this passage, if we get out shovels and dig a bit…so let’s dig.

There are bunch of similar lists, like this in the NT…they were probably used to help train new believers in what it means to live the new life in Christ.

The lists differ in details from one another because these are not a new set of laws.

They are to help us understand what to aim for…what we want to believe, value, and do…as we collaborate with the Spirit in becoming more like Christ.

In 2:20-23  Paul wrote that we have died with Christ to the old way…with its rules and regulations that are powerless to bring change.

Now he gives the implications of us having risen with Christ.

We don’t have to struggle to attain right relationship with God…we have it…now work out what God by grace has worked in.

(3:1-4)

(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. )

Three points can be made from this passage:

  1. We are already risen with Christ…we are not yet perfected in him.
  1. We must proactively set our hearts and minds…will and thoughts on things above not on earthly things.
  1. What is already true of us now is “hidden” to a degree.

Point one, we have talked about this many times this year…we are already being changed, not yet fully changed.

Point two…hearts and minds set on things above not on earthly things is often misunderstood to be encouraging a focus on the life to come as a sort of escape mechanism from life now.

Freud thought that belief in God was a myth we invented to provide a comforting father figure to compensate for difficult relationships with our biological fathers.

“God did not create man; man created God” He wrote in his book “The Future of Illusion”

Marx thought belief in God was a drug propagated by the ruling elites to keep the masses unaware of their exploitation.

Freud and Marx were foolish.

But we must not see this “setting our hearts and minds on things above” as an escape from life and relationships here and now.

It is the exact opposite of that…hearts and minds set on things above…is full on, live giving and receiving engagement with God and people now.

What are things above?  What does that mean.

Christ…King and Creator, humbled himself to death on a cross…that is the key to understanding the “things above”

To live this way…hearts and minds set above…is to fully, heart and mind…engage life here below…to serve, love people.

And what follows in this chapter is the contrast between “earthly” and “heavenly” thinking, and values lived out in life.

Simply put:

-Earthly values: “me!” “Selfishness”

-Heavenly values: “God!” “Serve others”

Which one works?  No question?

Point three: The “hidden” nature of our new life.

This work of the Gospel is hidden to those who don’t have eyes to see it.

Often, it is “hidden” even to us…especially if we don’t stop and pay attention.

Paul, was a ragged looking, prisoner, outcast, traitor to his people…

Writing to some insignificant ex-pagans in a third-rate country town…about their new life in Christ.

Do you think that those around them saw this already but not yet…glory in these folks?

Do you think these early believers easily saw who they are in Christ?  No, Paul had to continually cast vision for them.

When people drive by this building…nice, doing some remodel…but there are many bigger projects going on…and this is, after all, just one more church on one more corner.

I get a symbolic pat on the head sometimes…when people find out what I do… “Good for you, Pastor, church is helpful for some of those people.”

But what is in fact true…what happens here…is of vast, eternal importance…and world shaping importance now…as lives are changed for time not just eternity.

I might just as easily pat the four star commander of EuCom…as he deals with Russia massing troops on the Ukrainian border.

“Good for you, general….but none of this will matter in 100 years.”

I wouldn’t do that…it would be wrong…and I might go to Leavenworth (the military prison) side of the post.

But my point is…what is visible is the power structures of this world…these are passing away.

What is hidden, invisible in many ways…is the reality of the new world breaking in on this old one.

When people see you and me out there…doing our work, living our lives…they may think…hopefully…nice guy, nice gal…but beyond that…

They don’t have the ability to see that when Christ, who is our life, appears, we will appear with him in glory.

But we must absolutely see this, now…why?

Let’s go on…so we can, therefore(in light of this reality)….put to death whatever is still “earthly” or “earth only”…what won’t survive the transition to heaven.

“Put to death” is meant to be an attention grabbing phrase.

It is resolute, decisive…no mercy.

No mercy, no quarter to the old life…that is dying and that used to define you…put it out of its misery…and yours.

(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. )

We can now…because of Christ in us…do what external rules could not.

Live free of the sins that used to define us and control us.

He begins with what would have formerly been a controlling and very damaging sin supply chain in their lives.

Sexual sins were often a part of pagan worship in that culture and sexual immorality was very acceptable and common…though it was as devastating then as it is now.

Put to death:

-sexual immorality: which means very explicitly…sexual intercourse outside of marriage

-Impurity: the contamination of character (heart) by these actions

-Lust: Uncontrolled sexual urges

-Evil desires: Evil added to desires…desire is not bad, evil desires are the mental state proceeding lust.

-Greed: unchecked human hunger for physical pleasure…the breeding ground for what follows…evil desires, lust, Impurity, sexual immorality.

-Then, notice the foundation for all that tower of pain and misery…idolatry.

Idolatry is placing anything or anyone at the center of our heart and life…other than Christ.

So, this is not just about a list of things to avoid…it is about a pathway for how we grow in our new lives…at the heart level.

There is a supply chain problem in the world.

There are many diverse factors behind this: Covid, Cold snap in the deep south last winter, human error…and many others.

“Supply chain” is a phrase that describes how that the entire process of getting something created and delivered is interlinked.

Each part is a connected link…break a link…and the whole chain fails.

What we have in this chapter is a strategy to break the supply chain of sin.

You don’t have to wait all the way to the point of delivery…Amazon is at the door…

“Your sin is here, just as you ordered.”

And now you are trying to not accept the package (that by then, you really, really want)

It is futile and foolish to moan about our inability to resist the last stages of sin when the early stages have been ignored or even embraced.

We have talked so much about beliefs, values, behaviors this year because it is just so important.

When we allow wrong and foolish thoughts to build nests in our minds.

And when we nourish and treasure wrong values in our hearts.

It is no surprise when destructive behaviors show up in our lives.

Sin is really hard to “Kill” at of the delivery end of the supply chain.

We must attack it at the source…and we can…Paul is advocating for “put to death” at all links in the chain.

But notice, he doesn’t just say… “Don’t sin…don’t be sexually immoral.”

We can attack at every link in the chain.

Here is how James describes the sin supply chain: 1:14

“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Temptation…is fed by evil desire(things we allow it remain and root in our hearts and minds)…desire if allowed to go to full gestation…has a baby called sin.

Sin when it grows up…has a baby called death.

What a horrible word picture James…what nasty babies.

WE have the ability and responsibility to cut the lifelines of whatever sins are defeating us…and we must do it without pity.

Because…

Verse 6: These things are under the wrath of God.  Under his judgment.

We are not any longer under his judgmennt…so why do the things that are?

This is not God arbitrarily deciding “I will call that sin and that I will be okay with.”

As if it could be another way.

Bad could good and good could be bad.

As if life is some game, God made up…where rules are sort of randomly determined that could be different than they are.

Sin is not like… If you play football in America you get four downs to make a first down. 

But, if you play football in Canada you get three downs. 

Football rules are arbritary…they could be one thing or another…and they are often changed.

But sin is not arbitrary…it is what is it because of how things are in reality.

What is wrong, sinful…is not going to changed…even if we changed how we view sin…what is sin is fixed.

*Sometimes people have misunderstood what the Bible teaches and have gotten things wrong…but what is wrong and what is right is fixed in the reality of who God is and always be.

Of course, his wrath…his judgment,  is on the kinds of things that they are in opposition to who he is and what actual good is in the world as he has made it.

But it not’s just sexual sin, that is his first example…because many of them would have come out of destructive immoral lifestyles. 

Verse 7 “You used to walk in these ways…”

But now that he has the sin supply chain model in place…he expands his list…

Get rid of all such things (this is a representative not an exhaustive list) as this:

Anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language.

So…brooding anger, words designed to hurt…lying…these are to be put to death, or thrown off like old clothes…just like sexual immorality is to be.

This is not about making good resolutions or promises to behave differently…there is a place for that.

But this is about living in the new community in the new life in Christ.

This is about a change of life in totality…this includes…new life in Christ and life in the New community…the Church.

It is joining a new family, with a new culture…people do things different here in the church, people treat each other different here in the church. 

When they don’t…they get a letter like Galatians, or 1 Corinthians from Paul…straighten up…this is not your birthright.

But then there is this letter…and there is Philippians…because churches, made up of people…sometimes get it right sometimes they don’t.

But we need to stay after it.

Because we can get it right…in direction, not in perfection.

What is communicated, demonstrated, and celebrated…sets the culture.

In the church…what Christ has said, done and what we celebrate…his sacrificial death…love for God and others…is to set our culture.

This new life is a personal choice…but it is lived in community…it is ONLY going to be able to be lived in community.

“The new self is being renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator…Here”

“Here” in the church…where all the things that divided people are now irrelevant in Christ…is where this is all worked out in practice….here, the old dividing differences don’t matter.

There were still people from cultural backgrounds, still people who didn’t speak Greek (barbarians for the Greeks), still people from far northern Asia…Scythians…still free and bond servants…but these distinctions don’t matter.

Because Christ is all and is in all.

A Christlike like life is impossible to live apart from the Body of Christ, the church.

Many have tried…perhaps you have.

If you have tried, and have failed…the gospel has not failed you…you have not lived fully in the gospel.

“But” you say, “The church has failed me.”

Perhaps some Christians have failed you…but the church as the body of Christ…is beautiful, powerful…and it is us…it is you and me.

You don’t “try” the church…we are the church.

Last Sunday night…I watched after Amelia’s commissioning service as our teenagers…many who likely wouldn’t know each other apart from the church…enjoyed each other…accepted each other. 

I’ve watched this for 31 years…in the church as a whole…but especially in the youth.

HS, MS is a time when distinctions are often most the painful evident and cruelly applied…I’ve watched kids love and accept each other.

They are teens and there are lots of problems to be solved…lots of forgiving and restoring.

Some give up…because they thought that church was something to try not something to be.

I have seen the gospel in the church…bring diverse people together.

My closest friends through the years…have often been…men I would not have, apart from the gospel and the church…connected with.

The church is us…

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

This is not a “to do list” any more than what preceded it was merely a “to not do list.”

This is a beautiful description of how the church is to live together.

Starting with the theological truths: WE are God’s chosen people, we are holy (set apart by God) and we are dearly loved (as we are).

Cloth yourselves with:

Compassion (is two words in the Greek)…a heart that attempts to understand and “feel” what others feel…complex two-part word.

Actions and heart

There is, when we engage people, as best we can…where they are…this thing called compassion.

Compassion can help us not just “put up with each other” but learn to deeply love and accept one another.

Then there is…Kindness…so simple, and yet so necessary in relationships.

-So self-evident…you know when it is there, and when it is not.

-Yet, for some…so difficult to be…kind 

Humility, gentleness, and patience…these round out the list of 5 Christ-clothing items to put on to match the 5 old life items to discard.

Why five for five? Five old rags and five new garments

Because he is casting vision…not giving lists.

Then the practical application of wearing these virtues…

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.

*This is beautiful language that Paul uses…but it is not impractical, or mere poetry.

It is a life that is possible…Paul saw it happen, I have as well.

Then when love has its full effect in community…peace reigns there.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

This verse is often over personalized…when that happens the point is lost.

We tend to read this as “Christ rule in my heart” (singular)

It is written, in context… “Our hearts.”

Hearts is plural…it’s seen in the next line…as members of one body you were called to peace…members, plural.

The point is that when Christ rules our hearts individually, then peace rules in our relationships as his collective body. 

It is  easy to be thankful…when relationships are peaceful…so hard when they are not.

**I consistently thank God for the peace we have in our church…and that I have in my relationships here.

I neither take this peace for granted, nor take credit for it.

I am…consistently thankful.

Then, once again…don’t over personalize what follows and miss the community reality of what Paul is saying…he is writing this to a church, not a single person.

And what follows is only done in life-changing fashion in life-changing community.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish ONE ANOTHER with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

This teaching and admonishing and singing is not just done in community but it is done most powerfully and most consistently here, together.

*If you are watching from home…I’m glad for the capability of technology…but you need to know…you are missing something deep and powerful. 

Better to watch, if that is what circumstances require, than not watch…but watching is not participating.

Participation is transformation.

I have a couple of friends who don’t enjoy public singing…but they engage worship in community anyway…because they understand the heart-shaping reality and value of it. 

I have a couple of friends who experience anxiety in public groups…but they come…because they understand…participation is transformation. 

Verse 17…great summary of this new life. 

17 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.

This is more than just a token “In Jesus name” at the end of prayer this is practical in two ways:

Acting in someone’s name means:

  1. I represent him: “Can I/should I do this, say this, think this…since I represent him?”
  1. I am empowered by him: “When I all of out of my strength…I need not give up…I can keep going.”

This entire passage has been non-stop application…so let’s just finish with verse 17 as our final take away.

“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.”

All you do and say…consider who you represent and consider whose power is accessible to you

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