Month: October 2019

A Final Note: The Illuminated Path

The Psalmist, wrote, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your Presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

“The Light” first appeared on my path in 1970 when I said yes, to Jesus. Although, I didn’t realize at that time the enormity of how that “yes” would impact my life.  Now, looking back almost 50 years, I am both humbled and astonished at the life God planned and purposed for me, His daughter.

God’s Word has been that guiding beacon on my life journey. This is not to say that the path was without twists and turns, trials and uncertain terrain.  There were mountains to climb that sometimes seemed insurmountable and deep valleys of the soul that felt so dark that it would appear to obscure the light…but His sufficiency never dimmed.

His promises are many and have never failed me. He gives understanding, enlightenment through the Spirit of Truth, wisdom, strength, hope and faith as I trust Him along the way. His Word, that is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path leads me. (Psalm 119:105); My God who turns my darkness into light, and keeps my lamp burning, (Psalm 18:28) also carried me when my feet stumbled and the path seemed too difficult.

In the desert places, He provided springs of living water that refreshed my soul, and He raised up a mighty fortress where I found refuge along the way from my enemy. When I was fearful or anxious, I could lie down in safety and peace and find rest for both my body and my soul in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91)

I know that I’m  never alone, He has given me strength as well as “Joy” for the journey and assures me that I won’t grow weary or faint, but He will strengthen me, give me help and hold me with His mighty right hand (Isaiah 40, 41). He has certainly been My “Way” and “Truth” and my “Light”.

Now these many years later, as I look back, I can rejoice in remembering how I’ve seen each and every life challenge met by way of His life giving Word.

There were also treasures along my path; found in those who walked with me and beside me at different times and in specific seasons. These special individuals came at just the right time with words of encouragement, in the form of teachers and pastors, sisters who bound up my wounds and broken heart in seasons of grief. There were family and friends who celebrated my accomplishments and so many others who walked with me and partnered together in ministry as we sought to make Jesus visible and known.

It has been such a privilege to serve the women of FCBC for the past 14 years as the Women’s Ministry Director. I could not have imagined that God would allow me to serve Him in this capacity. It has been such an honor to lead you and to partner with you for His Kingdom.

As I retire in a few short months, I’m excited to see what new assignments God will tuck into my heart as I continue to run the race marked out for me, on this amazing “illuminated path” where my God is always more than enough!

With Much Love,


Anomie, Anonymity, Alienation

Philosophers and ethicists have offered the theory that every person is affected by “anomie, anonymity, alienation” (Waldo Beach, Christian Ethics).  Cut off from any moral basis, people are “anomie;” they have no “norm” of behavior or moral ground.  They act primarily for themselves and look out for and fight for their own best interests.  Our culture has largely cut itself adrift from moral grounding as we have denied the existence of any being bigger than we are (namely, God).

Secondly, they suggest that we struggle with “anonymity.”  We are not known.  We have no identity, no purpose, no direction.  We are lonely specs in the cosmos.

When I was a little boy and dinosaurs still roamed the earth, we used to go to a stream of runoff water near our house and we’d catch “pollywogs;” baby frogs that still had tails and hadn’t grown legs.  We would keep them in a metal bucket and wait for them to turn into frogs.  They were just specs in that large metal bucket, and they’d squirm back and forth, but everywhere they would swim ended the same.  That’s the way many people feel.  They are aimless, insignificant, meaningless, accidental specs.

And finally, people are alienated.  When you have disconnected yourself by sin from the most fundamental life relationship… with God… you find you can’t really get along with anybody.   The problems of life, everything from sibling rivalry to world-shaking wars, come back to the reality that we are cut off, not only from God, but from each other.

When you come to Christ, you are no longer “without law” but now you have a moral compass and moral code that constrains you.  Living without a moral direction feels like freedom, in the same way escaping the confines of the goldfish bowl feels like freedom to the fish.  But we know that ends in death.

And now that you have been raised with Christ, you have meaning, and a purpose, and a new identity:  you are God’s child, and an heir with Jesus Christ.  You are no longer “anonymous” and unknown.  You are known and beloved by God.

Then the third thing, you are no longer alienated.  “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And because we have a reconciled relationship with God, we can begin to see this reality working its way out in our relationships with others as we being to experience the power of “living risen!”


Salvation begins at the initiative of God. We don’t just wake up one morning, decide we are terrible people because of our sin, and set out to knock on God’s door. The Holy Spirit “quickens” us (old English word for “make sensitive,” like the “quick” of your fingernail). As we are “quickened” or “made spiritually sensitive” to God we are awakened to the possibility of new life in Jesus.

We were dead… now we have been made alive in Christ! And as we are alive, and know the fullness of God through Christ, we find we are also being set free from the guilt that burdens us.

Being set free from our guilt is like being set free from the pull of gravity! It is elating to know our sin and guilt has been taken out of the way. “He forgave us all our sins….”

While “forgave” is past tense (already done) in English translation, the Greek is more definitive. It says, “God has done something in the past (He forgave you) that is continuing to affect and work itself out in the present (we continue to be forgiven).

Some have mistakenly understood that this verse is teaching that all the sins forgiven at the cross that we had committed up until that time. If you continue to mess up after that, then it’s your problem to fix! Those who believe this way find themselves entering a non-stop treadmill of trying to work for salvation, believing they have “lost” their salvation and need to “find” it again!

That is not what Paul is teaching, and it is not what God is doing. When Jesus died for you, remember, ALL of your sins were future. ALL of your guilt was future.

But when the Bible says, “He forgave us all our sins,” this is a proclamation that the penalty due for every sin we have ever committed or ever WILL commit in the future has already been paid for.

I’ve heard it explained this way. It is as though someone placed a $100,000 check in your bank account. It is there. It is good. But until you start writing checks or using your debit card, you will never receive the benefit of the gift.

We are to continue, if you would, “writing checks” on the forgiveness that God has deposited in our “account.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just (righteous) to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Sermon Notes 07


We have been walking through Colossians 3, and we notice something striking. Paul begins in vv. 1-4 talking about our individual relationship, one-on-one, with Jesus. “If you are raised…seek…set…” and live this way.

But what we see as the chapter continues is that walking with Jesus is not JUST walking with Jesus. We have relationships that must be paid attention to, and some of those are our “closest” neighbors-our family.

We were challenged by the words of Colossians 3:5-9 which exhort us to “strip off” the old behaviors and customs we practiced while living as “dead men walking.” Now that we are alive in Christ, we have “new clothes” we are to put on.

But if you look carefully, you see that the ethic that Paul lays out for those who have been raised in Christ move from our personal and inner moral purity outward to how this connects to others.

Chapter 3:15-17 talks about how we related in the church as we “let the peace of Christ rule” and “the Word of Christ indwell” us. And then how we are to honor the Name of Christ above all.

As Chapter 3 continues, we travel next to some needed conversation about how the “new family” looks in Jesus. If we have been raised, this should first of all and perhaps MOST of all affect how we live out family relationships: Marriage, parenting, and relating as children to parents, and even in our employment.

A Word to Husbands and Wives

Our culture, due largely to the impact of the postmodern philosophy that has torn the West apart over the last two or three decades, is now witnessing the tearing down of traditional structures of society like marriage.

Marriage has been moved away from its Biblical moorings and is now adrift in isolation. We are left to our own devices in trying to make sense of this basic relationship in human societies. And what we have come to, in the thinking of our culture, is the belief that marriage must exist, as everything else does, for our enjoyment and as something we should use to find personal satisfaction and joy and meaning in life. In other words, it is a commodity to be enjoyed or disposed of as the whim hits us.

When we pervert God’s good and sacred gift of a man and woman becoming one, what we end up with is an aberration of marriage that cannot stand. It is a testimony to the power of this relationship that, in spite of our attempts to unravel and redefine it and nullify it by cohabitation, still exists as a primary and important relationship in our culture.

But if we’re honest, we don’t really know why. So we blindly seek to “make it work” and “hammer it out” as best we can. The danger I am seeing is not simply the abandonment of our definition that it belongs to a male and female partnership, but the deconstruction of the marriage relationship as a place for us to go to lose ourselves in love and service to the other. This is a problem for heterosexual couples.

Until we come back to the understanding of marriage in the way God intended it in Genesis 1 and 2, we will continue to drift further away and flail and flounder trying to find ground to stand on. Maybe “flailing” and “floundering” describes your experience with marriage.

The other issue I see often today is that, even though two people are male and female, in love, and claim to be Christ-followers; their marriage often doesn’t reflect that. In other words, even when we get the gender issues right, we still haven’t gotten back to the heart of the issue.

Our missionary brothers and sisters are quick to remind us that, when people in the culture they serve come to know the Lord, it is some time before their marriage begins to reflect the Christian understanding of this God-ordained institution. This is an issue since they continually struggle to find marriages that can “mentor” new believers away from their old cultural understanding into the new “risen” life.

A few years ago, our church went to Dubai and held a retreat for 155 missionaries serving in the Red Sea region. We used a retreat center that was located on the Indian Ocean, and were in beautiful accommodations.

Across the street from the main center was a series of bungalows designed for visiting sheiks who would come and need accommodations for ALL of their wives (usually five or six) and their maid. They all required their own rooms. They served us well as space for our Vacation Bible School being offered to the missionary families!

I met an Emirate sheik while there; a young man wealthy beyond our definition of the word, and he was accompanied by his six burkaed wives. We only had a brief time to converse but it left me to image what would happen if this Arabian “rich young ruler” actually came to Christ. How would this affect his family life? He could not continue in relationship with six women, but divorcing them would ruin their lives socially. What would I say to him? And how long would it be until his new faith began to impact his “old clothing” of a Middle Eastern marriage with multiple wives?

Yet even among western Christians, there are many seeking to follow Jesus in the risen life but it has not yet affected how they see their marriage. It is a problem for us as well, in the USA. Maybe it also is for you.

It was certainly a pressing issue for the Colossian believers. The radical things that Paul was saying in this letter would have rocked most of them. It would not be hard to imagine that this was the first instruction most of them had received on the subject of how to live out their faith at home now that they were believers.

A Risen Marriage: The Christian Wife

Paul’s words, though separated from the original context, were incredibly elevating. We do not appreciate fully the radical nature of these thoughts. Though his statement begins, “Wives, submit to your husbands,” which the culture of that day would have also demanded, he turns things on their head with the next statement, which said “Husbands love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (v. 18)

So this sets the stage for an upending of social conventions of his day. The same words have a similar impact on us today. In this text, the grammar of the sentence is making the wife’s submission a voluntary act, “as is fitting (proper) in the Lord.” This was not something to be held over her by social conventions, or forced on her by physical threat, or enforced on her by strength but was in reality a beautiful act of obedience to Christ.

Submission is an inflammatory word in our modern culture. It has to do we hear, by our definition, with a person being demeaned by an individual or system. This seems like anything but a radically freeing and fresh thing for women, but if it doesn’t seem like that it is because we are missing the point.

Again, Paul is returning drifting marriages to their moorings. He is anchoring the Biblical teaching of marriage back to the Creation account. Bruce says, (Paul) “does hold that there is a divine instituted hierarchy in the order of creation, and in this order the place of the wife comes next after her husband.” (NICNT)

That is not to suggest that women are created as inferior beings either spiritually or naturally. There is hierarchy, yet equality in the Trinity. Jesus is simultaneously equal to the Father and yet submissive to Him. (Hughes, Colossians) In the same way, equality and submission can beautifully co-exist in the same relationship, including marriage.

The idea of submission is repulsive to our me-first, flesh-exalting nature. Every time we encounter it, we run from it or seek to vilify the person using the word.

In our efforts to eliminate this word from the Biblical narrative on family and marriage, we have moved to the opposite extreme. And yet it takes only a few moments to catalogue in your memory the times in life you have “gotten creative” with what God clearly proclaimed and “done it your own way” (as my three-year-old granddarlin’ is fond of doing). And when she gets her own way, the problem she thought she could solve is made only more complicated.

Sometimes, when it is obvious that we have messed it up so bad, we have to return with our heads hung with the pieces of our life, our broken marriage, our frustrated relationships, back to the One Who does know how to fix it. When we have wrecked our lives with “do-it-yourself” fixes in sexual relationships, or when we have run our financial ship aground through ignoring the clear counsel of God’s Word on money, then we come to God with the pieces to fix them His way.

When we can finally admit that how we’re doing our relationships is broken and not working, then we come back to God with the pain and the pieces and say, “Please fix it.” And the first word we encounter in all of the Bible’s relationship advice is “submit.” “Be (willingly) in submission.”

That’s hard, and humbling for our flesh to take. In fact, it crucifies our flesh. It kills us. And then, when we are dead in this area, we can begin to “live risen” in our relationships.

Now again, this is not counsel to grab your wife and force her to submit to you. But there is nothing servile and menial about a wife who will willingly submits herself to a husband who loves her.

I’m not writing a relationship manual here, but I can hear some saying, “Yes but…”. “My husband doesn’t love me. He said so.” Or, “my husband is not a believer. What do I do?” Or worse, “My husband is already beating, abusing, or physically hurting me.” (To this last I would say WHY ARE YOU STILL IN THE HOUSE WITH HIM??)

But to the others, we need to remember that God’s Word is not circumstantial ethics, not limited to one historic era, and not culturally constrained. Your circumstances, while difficult, are not unique. They are not the first time these words have been spoken into a relationship with an unloving or uncaring spouse, or even into a household where one spouse is not a believer.

My counsel would be this. If your husband doesn’t love you, you will not make him fall in love with you by being arrogant and aggressive and angry toward him. While your flesh will be happy that you are asserting yourself, you will lose the war while winning the battle. Men just do not fall in love with women who seek to lead them or rule the household. Sadly, many women try to do this.

And men who are not believers need to see, in a way they cannot avoid, a transformation in their wife that involves this submission. We must remember that our submission is FIRST to the Lord, and then to your spouse. Don’t forget that. Your obedience to the Lord in this honors Him first by your willing trust in Him to change your husband’s affection toward you, or ultimately to see his heart turn to Jesus because you obeyed. (It may help to read 1 Peter 3 and see what the Bible says there about living with an unsaved husband).

A Risen Marriage: The Christian Husband

The exhortation which follows for the husband in 3:19 seems almost obvious. “Well, of course the husband should love his wife!” Yet as William Barclay reminds us in his commentary,

Under Jewish law, a woman was a thing; she was the possession of her husband, just as his flocks, or house or material goods were. She had no more legal rights than his flocks or herds….under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any reason or no reason, while the wife had no rights whatsoever to initiate divorce. In proper Greek society, the woman lived a life of total seclusion usually in a separate residence to her husband. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go to market. She would not join her husband for meals. From her there was demanded a complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he pleased, and could enter as many relationships outside of marriage as he pleased with no social stigma. In both Jewish and Greek culture, the privileges belonged to the husband and the duties belonged to the wife.”(Barclay)

In other words, love played no part in the transaction and relationship of marriage in Jewish and Greek culture in Biblical times, let alone the radical call to love the husband was issued to demonstrate in this verse. Further the husband was enjoined “do not be harsh with them.”

Lohse confirms that such a command does not occur in any extra-Biblical material of the day. It was a “new command” for a man who was a new creation in Christ. It was an ethical demand beyond any scope of thought in that day.

The love that men were called to show their wives was not erotic love, or even simply friendship love. It was self-denying “agape” love, which meant the husband was to care for and serve his wife as he sought her entire well-being, providing for and protecting her. It is a love that does not originate in the self-centered, broken heart of humanity. It was a love that must first be received from a Divine wellspring: The heart of God.

This love is like the love with which Christ loves His bride, the church. Ephesians 5:22-33 carries this further than the Colossians passage, but both were written from the same place at the same time.

1). The love of Christ was intimate.

The Biblical idea of “two becoming one flesh” is a deep and true picture of what marriage does. It causes one to enter the other, as portrayed in the act of physical intimacy, and share life mutually, one with the other. There is a sense in which a man can enter his wife’s emotional and mental processes as he comes to know and love her more deeply. He can enter into her spiritual life. All of this binds the two together as one, which is the truest description of Biblical marriage. The husband is called to love his wife “as his own body.” This also demonstrates to us the depth of our Savior’s love for His bride, the church, to the degree that He calls it “His body.”

Practically, these things mean we must spend time together. The best marriages are also growing and deepening friendships. While it may not have begun as that, it should certainly move toward it. Second, we need to listen to our wives. Howard Hendricks said that marriage is sometimes the “dialogue of the deaf.” We don’t listen to what the other is saying, even though marriage is indeed a lifelong conversation. Men can sometimes check out before they have heard their wives. There’s a reason it’s called “paying” attention! Effort is required. The Harvard Business Review has estimated that 65% of a successful executive’s time should be spent in listening. As the Proverb says, “He who speaks before listening—that is his folly and his shame.” (18:13). It’s probably not accidental that it uses the masculine pronoun with that proverb!

2). The love of Christ was sacrificial

Part of the issues confronted by our Western culture today is our radical individualistic mindset. We think of ourselves: “I” “me” and “mine” are the pronouns we are most often comfortable with, leaving little room for “the other.”

This impacts most of all our homes. Our marriage relationships have changed from a relationship that was entered into for the best interest of the community as a whole. Marriages were arranged between families for the good of the family and the whole community.

As societies became more “portable,” the mindset of marriage was focused on smaller family units, and centered often on child rearing and raising. The good of marriage was seen as for the good of the smaller family unit, with little regard for the larger family system.

Then, marriage became about the husband and wife. Numerous books and marriage manuals appeared to help husbands and wives “maximize” their experience is marriage, and the thought of procreation may not have had anything to do with the marriage at all. Everything was considered “what was in the best interest of the couple.”

In recent years, marriages have become drastically bride-centered. The community is often not considered, and the church is basically a backdrop for the inordinately priced wedding photography. The center of all attention and, for that matter, all concern with weddings now is the bride.

Along with that, we have seen couples become more and more focused on their personal fulfillment in the relationship; their needs, their desires and wants and expectations. When one mate does not fulfill that, they feel entitled to go and find a new one.

Running through all of this was the radical insurgency of the sexual revolution, which has single-handed torn many marriages to shreds. And yet, in spite of this “drift” away from the Biblical foundation of marriage, people still seek something they believe marriage can bring. The problem is that they have forgotten the Creator of marriage!

In such a cultural drift, the idea of love as sacrificial and self-giving is a foreign concept and difficult to accept. The expectation of the culture around them is that marriage, if its “done right” will lead to joy and bliss and continually satisfaction; not serving and sacrificing and self-surrender.

3). The love of Christ died for the beloved.

Perhaps the hardest thing for us to understand in our culture oriented against selflessness is that our purpose is to die. Not die in the sense of throwing ourselves in front of a runaway truck or a speeding bullet. But die daily. Giving ourselves away in little sacrifices that don’t make the headlines, and that maybe only we and God know about. “I die daily,” Paul said. We are to die to ourselves and our needs each day to our wife and family. And as we do, we will find the life and joy that marriage truly can bring…not by seeking and getting our own way, but by dying to it…every day.

A Word to the Children

The children of Paul’s day and, on the whole, throughout the Bible, get very little personal attention in the writings of Scripture. However, here in the midst of a culture dominated by Patria Potestes (“The Power of Father”) children are addressed and required to join the rest of the family system.

The Roman justice system of the day demonstrated one of its cruelest laws by placing absolute power and authority in the hands of fathers. A father could set a living newborn child out to die of exposure or to be eaten by wild animals simply because he did not want a girl (or any child for that matter), or that he did not wish a particular woman (even his wife) to bear the child. It was literally a license to kill the children of Rome without recrimination.

Children found to be deformed or lacking in some physical quality or having some level of special needs would be dispatched without a second’s thought. Children had no legal rights, and were not yet considered “fully” human.

How different the counsel of the Scriptures that elevates the dignity of every child, special needs, mentally challenged, or physically disfigured and calls each “the image of God.” That God has made each child “fearfully and wonderfully” and “knit them together in their mother’s womb.”

This placed a different demand on the parents of the day, and turned a spotlight on the child as one who could add to or detract from the family system. By the failure to obey, the family suffered. By their obedience, the family flourished.

And so children were given a significant role to fulfill. They were to obey. This would have been read in the presence of children old enough to understand the command “obey in everything.” They were probably younger children, still being supervised by parents.

The reason they were to obey was “for this pleases the Lord.” The assumption also was this would have been aimed toward children who knew they were “in the Lord.” It’s not that all the children were not called to obedience. That would be expected and enforced. But the children in mind here are children who understood that their obedience, though sometimes difficult, was a part of their testimony and their service to the Lord, the church, and the Kingdom. They have a responsibility in the family order. “Obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

A Word to the Parents

The Biblical command once again upends the social order of the day by making the relationship between children and parents a mutual one. (Melick, NAC) Paul uses the term “fathers” (as ESV, NIV, etc.) but it was easily interpreted to encompass both parenting roles. Therefore “parents” is an easier interpretation to apply for our purposes.

It is far too easy for us to slip in this important responsibility of parenting. We can over control and become smothering and hovering, raising children who have no confidence in themselves. We can go to the other extreme and bring up children with a harsh hand and raise cowering and unconfident and discouraged children.

Either extreme is wrong. The second error is particularly called out as a danger for parents. “Don’t discourage” your children, Paul tells them. The word used is “embitter,” (erethizow) and means to be overly harsh and to discourage. “Do not be harsh” with your words, your punishments, or your expectations. Once the tender reed of a child’s self-worth is bent and broken, there is often no coming back.

We can over expect too much of our children in obedience, compliance, hard to understand commands, and by often reminding a child they are not good enough. All of these render the child “discouraged” and “embittered.”

I meet many such children in my counseling office and my role as a pastor, but now they are adults. A wounded childhood litters their past, and now they limp through their own failing efforts and raising children successfully. Sadly we tend to repeat sometimes the very thing we despised about our own upbringing!

That is not to be the case in the Lord’s household. Raise your children as the gifts they are. Correct them as their will requires it. Bless them, even when their efforts to obey or please you are feeble.

And as you do, they will grow to be children grateful for your careful hand, and will raise your grandchildren in a way that will thrill your heart!

A Word to Servants and Masters


Working for the Glory of God
Colossians 3:18-4:1

So today we salute the American worker. I know that, for some, the very last thing you care to think about on Labor Day weekend is, well, labor. But in reality, most of us have spent, or will spend, the bulk of our adult lives working. You spend between 150-180 hours a month on your job if you work full time. Some of you work more, if you are working two jobs or you own a business (which is like working two jobs)! You may be in a job that makes you thankful to wake up in the morning and get to it. You whistle while you work.

You may feel fulfilled in your work, or frustrated by it. It may be grinding, demanding, demeaning, or draining. It might be fulfilling and exhilarating, and you feel guilty taking a paycheck because you enjoy it so much. (Well, maybe not that much!)

The question is, how do we participate in the rat race without becoming, well, a rat? In other words, what difference does it make for you, as a Christ follower in your business, or on your work crew, or in your profession in how you see your job and the people you work around most days? Does God really care what kind of employee or employer we are, or is our working life just a throwaway…something we endure until we can retire or do something “meaningful” with our life?

One of the things we need to get straight in our thinking about this is why is work even a “thing” we have to deal with? Don’t the smart and fortunate people figure out how to drop out of the race and kick back into a leisure-saturated existence?

Some people think of work, and view work as a punishment, not as a God-given privilege. We are trapped into doing some menial, low-level subsistence job, or maybe we’re trapped by the lifestyle we want to live (or appear to live) and we don’t see a way out until the turn of the next century. Retire? Yeah right. Quit? No way.

Work is dignified by God’s participation in it

So work gets a bad reputation, and we sometimes add to the negativity of it when we complain and criticize our company or employer or employees. Christians somehow have come to believe that work came about as a result of sin.

Adam and Eve blew it in the Garden of Eden, and now we have to roll out of bed at 6 every morning and roll into the office or to our job site. It’s punishment because of sin, right? Many believe that.

But if you read carefully you will see that before sin ever entered the picture God created man, Adam, and put him immediately into the Garden to work it. Sin brought the curse of thorns and difficulty in laboring but God’s original intent was for His creation of male and female to have work.

I’ll take it one step further. When you die and go to Heaven you are not going to lie around on a tempur-pedic cloud all day and sip heavenly iced tea. You are going to be a worker! We are going to be kings, and priests, and rulers of angels and of God’s universe. Doesn’t sound like eternity on a cruise ship to me!

At the same time, God put a limit on labor. “Six days you will labor, but the seventh is a Sabbath…a time to rest for you and your household…animals, servants, and family.” But the emphasis is on “six days of labor.” It was never God’s intention for our work to own us.

Ok I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at the text in Colossians and see what the Bible says about our work.

God is a worker. A part of our need to work comes from being made in God’s image. In fact, Genesis 2:15 tells us that God made man and immediately put him to work caring for the Garden of Eden. Man was born a worker; not a tool for God to use as cheap labor, but a worker who did labor as a part of his makeup as a human being. In fact, only man is charged to occupy “work” in creation; plants don’t work-animals don’t work. God is glorified in our work! He dignified work by doing it Himself.

Now I know all of us, if you’re of working age, have had jobs we absolutely felt were not dignified. They are beneath us. I’ve had a few; I cleaned toilets in an office building. I scraped mortar off of bricks while freezing to death in the winter. I was a clown in a circus. I unloaded hardware and building supplies off train box cars and into warehouses in the summer. I pumped gas back in the days when that was done. I know that every job does not have a built-in glory with it. Some grew up with a strong work ethic. One guy said, “My Daddy only made us work half a day in the family business…and he didn’t care which twelve hours we did it.”

But unless you’re moving drugs for a cartel or robbing people at gunpoint or doing something illegal or immoral, your work is dignified because God created us to work. Work is not punishment for sin. Work was in place before God created a wife for Adam! Sin brought thorns and weeds to our labor, but labor is a necessary and important piece of our reflecting the image of God.  Creation: Two kinds of work. Victor Hamilton has written that, in Hebrew, there are two different words translated as “work” or “labor” in the Bible. The first word for “labor” is associated with artistry or craftsmanship; it is highly skilled labor. Artists, artisans, carpenters, skilled labor.

The other word has to do with labor as “back work,” or what we would call “manual labor.” It may or may not take a skill set to do that kind of work. Just show up with a capable body. But when the Bible talks about God working, it uses the second word to describe it.

God associates Himself as a laborer with us, all of the work we do is dignified, whether artisan or laborer; skilled or unskilled. All of it has the potential to reflect His glory since He gave it to us to do.

Work is empty when God is absent from it

But work can be empty when God is absent from it. Probably no one in the Bible had more skill and craftsmanship and wisdom than King Solomon. Solomon was into horticulture, and engineering, and writing books, and poetry, and music. He had accumulated huge sums of money and servants and he used both to build. He designed as an architect. He built huge channels for irrigation of farmland. Today if you visit the Holy Land you can still see some of the pools he built to store water for irrigation. And of course, he built the temple which in its day was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

All of which make your little backyard renovation and new crape myrtle tree look pretty lame by comparison. But here’s the thing. Somewhere in his life between the time of his coronation to the throne and his death, Solomon turned his back on God. He was doing these things with no consideration for the work of his hands pointing to the One Who made him.

His conclusion at the end of his life, a journal in the Bible that we call Ecclesiastes, was that “all the labor of my hands was emptiness.” You can spend a lifetime working and being successful, but if God is absent from your labor it will simply frustrate you with futility at the end. Whatever we live our lives for that is less than God will ultimately frustrate us.

Turning that around, however, when you are working the most menial of jobs, if God is in what you’re doing, it will somehow satisfy you. If we are simply working to spend what we get on ourselves, it will leave us empty and dry. Learn to live beyond your paycheck… (not your means)


Mike Ullman, former CEO of JCPenney, tells of a conversation he had with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz when he was first offered the JCPenney position. Mike had retired from a long and successful career in retail management a few years before and was reluctant to get back into the business. But Schultz said to Ullman, “This opportunity is made for you. They need to put service back into the mission of that company, and you’re the guy to do it.” He didn’t need the money or the recognition, but he agreed to take the role because he saw an opportunity to reorient twenty-five thousand retail employees to seeing that their work matters and that serving their customers is an honorable career. In short, he believed that God called him to a particular position of service.


Work is glorifying when God is the focus of it

The Letter to the Colossians, at the time Paul wrote it in the Roman Empire, was a radical social document. It was unheard of in the literature and writing of that day for a formal letter like Colossians to address women, or children, or the common laborers and even slaves in the empire.

But Paul addresses all three, and spends several verses speaking directly to “bondservants:”

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Colossians 3:22-24

“Bondservants” captures more the sense of the Greek text than the word “slaves.” At the height of the Roman Empire, the people who were considered slaves numbered over 60 million. That was around half of the empire’s population. These were people who had been captured and relocated in war, some who sold themselves or were sold as children to repay debt (hence the word bondservant), and some were made slaves as part of a prison sentence. But on the whole the “slaves” would constitute what we call “the working class.”

They would sometimes live in a household with a family and be a teacher to the children, or a nanny, or household servants who worked in cleaning or yard care; many of these people were highly educated and served as doctors or scribes who worked in libraries or school settings.

They were not always ill-treated but could be legally. Some of their circumstances were difficult, and in 1st Century Rome they were considered as human tools, not human beings. Yet at other times they were valued as members of the family. So Paul here is not addressing people who had no choice about doing their work. A slave, as we understand the term, would not have the options to do what Paul is telling them. These are workers, who worked every day for a living. Those were the ones he told:


Whether we act on this or not, God has an opinion and a position for you to fulfill. This is particularly something to think about as you are choosing a vocation on the way to college, or declaring a major to finish in. Have you prayed over this decision? There is nothing wrong with choosing careers in finance, or accounting, or business but is it possible God wants you to do something besides make money for you and yours? I’m not saying you’re wrong for being in such a career or wanting to be; I am simply asking for your motivation…and the simple question: Have you asked your Master?

Don’t despise your work, whatever it is. Obey…with sincerity of heart.

Don’t demean your boss, whoever they are. Work heartily, as for the Lord, not man. Your boss may be a bozo, like Michael Scott in the Office sitcom. Your job is not to judge your boss, but to serve the Lord by serving him or her.

Don’t diminish your testimony…you serve the Lord Christ!
“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God!”

And a final word, though very important. It is a word to those who are “masters” or bosses or employers. If you are a person who has oversight of others…a business owner, or CEO, or supervisor or manager…there is also a word for you. It does not say you have to like everyone who works for you or never correct or chastise work that isn’t done properly. But YOU are commanded to “treat your workers justly and fairly.” And you are reminded that you, too, along with everyone else, have another Master Who is overseeing YOU in heaven!

In other words, just as your servants or employees will be held accountable by the Lord for their work, so will you be held accountable for your oversight and supervision. Paul’s example and personal feelings about this can be seen in the Letter to Philemon written at the same time as the Letter to Colossians.

In that letter, Paul appeals to a slave-holder, Philemon to forgive and receive as a brother a runaway slave named Onesimus. While Paul was not advocating slavery, he did advocate that the slaves not be treated as less than family when they were believers. This was an upending of the social order of the day, and eventually much of what Paul wrote in our New Testament letters served as the foundation of slavery’s collapse in Rome and other places around the world since then!

“You have been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body,
which is the Lord’s.”

Sermon Notes 06


A New Life

A New Identity

A New Affection A New Destiny

A New Wardrobe

Off with the old

On with the new

A New Direction

Toward peace

Under the Word

With Gratitude

A New Life

The first section of Colossians 3 is one of the most stirring and magnificent sections in all of the Bible concerning the believer’s new position in Christ. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (vv 1-2)

We find in these opening words the reason Paul has so strongly warned the Colossians and, over 2000 years later, us as well that there is something far better than the dry bones of philosophy and legalism, mysticism and asceticism for the Christ follower to pursue. People today sell their souls far too cheaply to the flashiest bidder. We commit to style over substance, and to appeals to the external and physical rather than the inner unseen world. That is human nature; it should no longer be the nature of the Christian.

We have spent a lot of time trying to unearth those things that Paul is warning against. Now it is time to move into a description of that which is better by far.

If we know we are raised in Christ, then we truly have a new identity in Him. Now while we may still look the same physically, live in the same house, and remain married to the same person in reality the moment faith in Christ becomes a reality everything about us changes.

We have an immediate change in mindset…from an earthly focus to a heavenly one. This is not to say that we simply are to sit around and daydream about what we think heaven will be like, usually with images that are more informed by culture than the Bible.

This is not a recommendation to start decorating your mansion, or to wonder how close to Jesus’ house you get to live on Golden Street Lane. As tempting as it is, this is not even an admonition to think about those who have already gone to live in heaven with Jesus.

To “think with a heavenly mindset” is none of that. Paul gives us a hint of the right understanding by his reference to “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

This is also not to say we are to imagine a golden throne, with Jesus sitting nearby in a choir robe and a golden crown. The “right hand” was the place of all authority, all power. It is a reminder to keep our first affection, our first priority fixed on the One Who gave us new life from the dead.

It is important to remember that Jesus controls it all, is supreme over all, and is ruling from that seat of power in glory. Our minds are to be on Jesus, Who now is in Heaven.

My father in law used to have a dog who was totally obsessed with a tennis ball. He would rather fetch the tennis ball than eat, sleep or be petted. If we X-rayed his brain, it would be shaped like a tennis ball.

When Barney showed up, he would drop his iridescent green tennis ball at your feet, and wait anxiously for you to throw it as far as you possibly could. He would scamper to it, and bring it back and drop it at your feet. Wash-rinse-repeat. How long? Until your arm could throw no longer, and then he would search out another victim!

Barney and his ball were never separated, except for the few moments it was airborne as he ran for it. We could say that Barney’s mind was set on his tennis ball!

In the same way, our minds should be “set” on Jesus: knowing Him, serving Him, loving Him. When people see us, just like when we saw Barney coming they knew the tennis ball would be right there, we should be “carriers” of Jesus! Our identity should be of those who “in Christ” and those in whom Christ lives.

The implication of this is that our minds, our ambitions, our interests, our attitude should be of those who lived bound to the life of Christ. Our lives are bound up in His. We are not separate from Him.

This influences so many things. It is a reality we take to work, to school, and home with us. Our family sees it, as do co-workers and classmates and roommates. Christ is in us!

We are to tenaciously set our worldview on Christ. If we are dead to this world, and we have been raised with Christ, we have left behind the loves and domain of this world.

The passages in verse 1-2 are parallel commands. The word “heart” actually doesn’t appear in the Greek manuscripts. It is inferred by the translators, and agreement is that this is a correct understanding. Paul is not repeating the same command here, but giving two distinct commands.

First, our “hearts” are to be set on things above” and our “minds are to be set on things above.” One has to do with our affection and our love and desires. The second has to do with what we would call our “mindset.” We are to be “minded about things above” (from phroneo)

Paul said in Romans 6 that “the mind (phroneo) set on the flesh is death, but the mind (phroneo) set on the Spirit (things above) is life and peace.” So we can see the power of our minds set on Jesus to help us find life and peace. That is what Paul desires for the Colossians and, I’m sure, for us who would one day read these words.

Phroneo” is a word that occurs often in Paul’s writings, notably Romans 12:1-2 where we are called to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind” (phroneo) and the familiar passage in Philippians 2:5 where we are called to “let this mind (phroneo) be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “

This has to do, not with affection and love but with thoughts, values, ideas, and focus. We are to set all of these and sift them through the Christ Who is “seated at the right hand of God.”

The imagery here is taken directly from Psalm 110:1:

“The Lord says to my Lord

Sit at My right hand

Until I make Your enemies

A footstool for Your feet.”

For the early church, this passage demonstrated the Deity of Jesus. It was focused on two possible meanings. First is the implication of the power of Jesus. In Mark 14:62, Jesus told the High Priest “You will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Jesus is described by the apostles as the “One Whom God exalted to His right hand as Prince and Savior.” (Acts 5:31)

It may have also the idea of privilege or honor at work. The disciples sought to be seated “one of His right hand and one of His left,” with the thought being one of privilege. They wanted honor, not power. They wanted recognition, not the responsibility of ruling.

So to our passage, Paul’s desire was calling the Colossians to consider the implications of Christ’s rule in the world. This would be in keeping with much of what we’ve read over the earlier verses in Colossians.

As Christians, we live in two domains: one fallen and one redeemed. Our bodies, though in heaven, contain a mind and heart that can be more focused on the redeemed realm while living in the fallen one. But they were to guard themselves against allowing the fallen world order to pollute and preoccupy their thoughts and hearts.

Living risen means a heart that is set on heavenly things, and a mind that thinks the thoughts of a heavenly realm, not an earthly one. This does not imply we are to walk around with our eyes fixed heavenward and ignoring the realities of the world and its pain around us. But we are to think new thoughts and desire new things.

Live as a heavenly-minded person. We are to “seek” or literally, to “keep on seeking” the heavenly things and “keep on setting” our minds on them. This is not a one-time event. We continue to battle with being overtaken by earthly reactions and earthly thoughts. We must set and sometimes “re-set” our minds on these things. Lightfoot’s translation helps some here. He has this as “You must not only seek heaven, you must also think heaven.”

As a compass needle points north continually, so our minds and hearts should continually course-correct toward Christ and “where Christ is.” Only then will our behavior begin to be transformed as we act in accordance with where our heart is focused and our minds dwell.

These early verses of Colossians 3 tell us three things about the position of the Christian:

  1. You are raised
  2. You are hidden
  3. You are glorified

You are raised (vv 1-2). The comments above concern this aspect of the Christians new life in Christ. We are raised in Christ’s resurrection and live now in Him.

You are hidden (v 3). Salvation involves a double-imputation. At salvation, our guilt, our shame, and our sin debt was imputed to Jesus, Who “became sin for us, Who knew no sin.” And we were at the same time “imputed” His righteousness. We literally exchanged our lives on the cross and at salvation this becomes reality for us.

Now, when God views our lives, He doesn’t look through the laundry list of accumulated evil and bad things we’ve done. He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son wrapped around us and the blood of Christ covering us. We are hidden. Our lives have disappeared in Christ. “We have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ…”

You are glorified (v 4). Being glorified is an as-yet-unveiled reality. It is as good as done when we are saved, but the final “unveiling” of the glory will happen when Christ appears. This is an ongoing scenario in the New Testament, and is mentioned in several different places as we look forward to the consummate event of our salvation experience. In the meantime we walk the dirt road of sanctification; sometimes moving forward and occasionally taking two steps back. But we live now in the “not-yet fulfilled” part of our salvation when even our earthly bodies will be glorified in Christ. Nothing escapes God’s reach in salvation. Nothing will be left out as the redeemed are glorified and experience eternal life in a glorified creation.


At this point in Colossians, the theological section ends. The remainder of the letter will deal with the outworking of the theological teaching that Paul has been laboring in.

Lucas (BST) disagrees that the segment ends in verse 4 and pushes through to verse 8. His thinking is this section deals with the relationship between Christ and the believer. For the purpose of this study, we will end the theologian discussion at verse 4 and move in to more practical matters in the next segments.

Paul began this section with an earnest prayer for the real knowledge of God’s will to be revealed. He ends with a call for us to live in that reality, ultimately to be seen as Christ’s comes in His glory.

A New Wardrobe

We have in Chapter 3:5-11 a return to the image used in others epistles of putting off the old life like an old set of clothing and putting on Christ as your new clothing.

This image has an historic basis in baptismal practice in the early church. While we can’t say for certain this was how it was done, it is believed by several reliable historical New Testament scholars that part of the imagery of baptism was the discarding of an old robe or set of clothing that you wore coming into the baptismal font or body of water. Before entering you “discarded” or “put off” the old clothing and would then be given a white robe to wear after the baptism. This was a practice of churches in the second century; though we cannot be sure how far back the custom went.

Whether or not this is Paul’s thought it carries the idea well as he says to the believers in Colossae that they are to “put off” those things that characterized them before coming to Christ.

While our salvation is no doubt driven by the grace of God, that does not mean our efforts to walk in this reality are unnecessary or of no consequence. Obviously, we can continue living with elements of the old life clinging to us, but why would we want to do that? A part of the process of being sanctified is making what is true of us on the inside manifest on the outside! This is the definition of integrity; our inner world and our outer world “hold together.” There is no disconnect, and no confusion.

Putting Off the Old (3:5-9)

There is something wonderful about putting on new clothes; a new shirt or coat or dress or pair of shoes. It makes you FEEL new, at least for a little while. But what we are dealing with in this text is not a temporary feeling, but a new creation from the inside…out!

Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “this is the will of God, even your sanctification”. Sanctification, you remember, is the ongoing “dirt road” process of “working out” our salvation. It is the process and progress of our salvation between justification and glorification. While we have nothing we can do to add to our justification or glorification, we have much to do with our sanctification.

It is in sanctification that we begin to look like Jesus in practicality. Sadly this aspect of our salvation is the most neglected by many. We so lean into the reality that we are saved by grace (and we are) and that our salvation is secure (it is) that we can almost ask the question, “Why go to the effort?” (We do). However we are reminded also of a promise that “He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

So in this section, Paul defines for us what sanctification looks like. It is a process of “taking off” or putting to death actions, attitudes, and behaviors that are part of our life before Christ. And then, it has to do with “putting on” those things that are like Christ.

In our testimony to a dying, lost and confused world, we must send a clear message that “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; old things have passed away and all things become new.”

In addition to being new spiritually, let’s LOOK new as well!

The first section in our scope of concern targets sinful actions. As a new person in Christ, our actions should reflect the discretion, self-control, and moral behaviors consistent with the teachings of Christ.

We are, first of all, to “put to death” the earthly things that are within us. Lest we miss the point, he begins to list for us five things that must be killed by us: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed, which is idolatry.

For Paul and the secular moralist writers of his time, using lists of five virtues or five vices was commonplace. Paul uses three sets of five in this part of Colossians. There was often overlap in the historic lists offered by moralist writers, particularly those relating to sexual mores, though Paul’s list was probably inspired far more by Old Testament legal codes. But this does imply the Christian should, as a baseline, be expected to adhere to the cultural morality of the day and exceed that. (Melick NAC V 22).

There is also another idea that needs some exploration. The AV translates the verse to say “put to death the members of your body” using the word mele as a reference to the location of sin. The idea of “members” of our body being connected to sin occurs primarily in Paul’s epistles in the New Testament. Rabbis of the day taught that there were 248 members of the body, connected to the 248 laws of the Torah. (Horst, TDNT)

The picture that is painted for us in this passage poses a logical question for us: Why would we let something that is dead continue to cling to our body? For the Jewish person and for many of that time, the decay of death was a vile and disgusting thing. Many Old Testament laws of purity talk about avoiding dead animals and people. You could not come into physical contact with a dead body and maintain ritual purity.

So we are to “cut off” the members of our body that are now dead and not allow them to pollute or corrupt the rest of our body. The “members” that are listed include these areas of sensuality and immorality and other types of moral impurity. They are things to be considered and treated as dead, no longer finding life within us.

This also follows very closely to the teaching of Jesus which said “If your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your right hand offends you, cut if off.” The statements, while misunderstood, have led some to do just that and “cut off” or “pluck out” the offending members of their body only to understand later that the problem lay, not in the physical member but within the heart.

We are to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1). To “perfect” holiness means to see it brought to completion and to the fulfillment for which it was intended. Let it do its perfect work, God working in us with all the energy of the Spirit, and see holiness become an outward as well as an inner reality.

Sexual immorality. There is probably no intent of prioritizing or categorizing the sins on this list, but the issue of sexual immorality was a prevalent one in the culture of the day. It continues to be a prevalent issue today. In Biblical thought, “porneia” involved simply sexual intercourse or fornication. This could be broadened out to any number of illicit sexual behaviors, including adultery. However, adultery usually carried with it the stigma of breaking covenant law and the legal violation this presented. Sexual immorality while morally wrong was not considered legally wrong or even socially disreputable in most cases.

It is likely that, awash in a secular culture as we are, one could view more acts of immorality and impurity in an evening on TV than our grandparents saw in their lifetime! Twenty years ago, Psychology Today (by no means a supporter of Biblical morality), posted an article decrying the level of violence against women being portrayed in movies, and suggested that they should have a warning label posted on them. Their prophecy that the violence in movies would turn into real violence against women was, sadly, spot on.

We have reached a level of “porneia” (Greek for sexual immorality) in our culture that has exceeded anyone’s possible expectation. While much of this is acted out and portrayed in pornographic movies and video, it is far too often depicting real people in real situations.

While this kind of teaching should have its point directed toward the secular world, it is now as it was in Paul’s day needed as well in the Christian community. Pornography has become a rampant addiction for many who profess Christ. Its availability through computer access is rampant, with over 60% of websites devoted to varying levels of pornographic materials.

Though it is doubtful that Paul saw this coming, it was certainly something the Holy Spirit could foresee and these inspired Biblical words are targeting the same problem though a different delivery system. Sexual immorality should not be a part of a professing Christian’s inner or outer world, through actions or voyeuristic viewing on computers or television screens.

Impurity. Impurity (okatharsia) usually was tagged next to sexual immorality in most of the Bible’s lists of sins. It was the outflow of pollution and may have in mind the diseases that came from the filthy condition of prostitutes and brothels of the day. To come into contact with such constituted internal pollution and external defilement. In the AV it is translated “uncleanness.” It has to do with inner violations of thought and wicked intentions. Though the “members” of our body DO the defiling, it is the motivation of inner impurity that motives the defiling.

Passion. This is a word that builds on and goes beyond “impurity.” The word has to do with sensuous desires; and in reality covers a variety of emotional states and responses (Bruce). But in context the word has to do more with “dishonorable desires” than good ones. Left alone the word can be either good or bad desires or passions. Here there is little question but that it means wrong ones.

Evil desires. Building on “passion,” this moves from action to motive behind the actions. Evil desires always preface sinful action and behavior. Paul is urging that even the evil thoughts that we can tolerate must be put to death. These provide the wellspring for actions that are sinful.

Covetousness. The verse quickly adds “which is idolatry” (as also in Ephesians 5:5). What is there about covetousness which makes it idolatrous? Doesn’t there need to be a false god or false image worshiped to make something an idol? Yet isn’t this exactly what covetousness does…elevates a person, a position, an object…to the status of “god” in a person’s life?

Covetousness is insidious and hard to detect because we have made it a “respectable” sin. We do not consider our wrong desires for our neighbor’s spouse or house, their car or their job, their status or their looks as something so heinous. After all, doesn’t everyone covet something?

And the answer, of course, is yes. But when covetousness is equated with idolatry, the narrative suddenly becomes darker. Covetousness no longer has a cloak of “acceptability” draped around it. Calling it what it truly is… idolatry… strips the coat away.

Paul then issues in verse 6 a stern reminder that it has been true in the past and will be true still that those who do these things are the targets of the wrath of God. If we freely choose a course that puts us at odds with our Creator’s law, defying them flagrantly, we are doing the very things that incurred His wrath in earlier times.

A needed reminder follows in verse 7. He reminds them (and us) than “you once walked in these (in this way) in your lifestyle.” We can’t get too far away from the reminder that our present holiness and righteousness has not always been our state or condition. Once we were like those who are children of disobedience. This is not to bring us back into a state of condemnation or self-recrimination, but to remind us that the grace that saved us can also save them.

And so we are to “put off” or “put away” or “strip away” these outer garments of the old man, like an old suit of clothes that no longer fits. These things no longer “fit” you as a child of God! (v 8a)

From there the list is lengthened but tightly focused on the issue of our tongue and our use of language: “anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk from your mouth.” (v 8b) Our language is to be in sync with our new “wardrobe” of righteousness. These things that once flowed freely from our mouth should no longer be heard coming from us.

It should perhaps be noted as well that all of these terms flow out of the word “anger.” This may have less to do with our speech and more to do with our attitude toward those with whom we find ourselves in conflict.

Nothing sets a Christian testimony apart like the ability not to respond in anger when everyone else around you knows they would! The beauty of self-control, especially as it extends to our words and speech, may be what Paul was getting to here.

One admonition stands alone in this passage. That is verse 9, “Do not lie….” This certainly ties together with the passage later on Christian community, since it is “do not lie to one another.” Our attitude toward the truth is in view here, and our valuing of the truth is in direct proportion to our willingness to tell it. If we lie, we do more than simply speak an untrue thing. We devalue truth with every lie we tell. “You have put off the old self with its practices….” (v 9b)

Putting on the New

“…and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (v 10) This conveys the following ideas:

It means that new life does not come from a daily, successful battle with temptation. The new life marks the starting point. We are not just giving up a few vices and adopting a few virtues. Our whole nature must be exchanged, not just revamped. (Schweizer)

We are “being renewed,” which implies a continual and ongoing process. We are always in need of more renewal. We must continually “kill” (mortify) the flesh, and continually actualize the already existing new creation.

The passive “being renewed” indicates that the renewal is not something that results from our own efforts. We are the workmanship of God, and our new nature comes to us as a gift from God. We must work out the salvation that God has worked in our lives.

Knowledge of God, of Jesus, and of God’s ways are crucial for living a life pleasing to God. The fullness of the knowledge of God comes as a byproduct of our renewal.

This renewal comes from our being joined to Christ, Who is the image of the invisible God. We cannot recreate the image of God with systems or lists of “do’s” and “don’ts.” (Garland, NIV Colossians)

In Colossians 3:11, we encounter a bit more of the social implications of what it means to say “Christ is all, and in all.” While we have dealt extensively and will deal some more with the personal and individual implications of this statement, the radical social impact also comes into view in verse 11.

Paul shows how walls should come down nationalistically (Greek or Jew), religiously (circumcised or uncircumcised) and socially (slave or free). These walls divide people into hostile groups built around their own preferences and class standings.

The reference to “Scythian, barbarian” is a subject of some debate. For years, Biblical interpreters have taken this to be a reference to pagan people (barbarians) who came from north of the North Sea. These people groups would have drifted in and settled in the Lycus Valley, some brought as prisoners of war and others bought as slaves.

Recent archaeological and literary studies, however, have shown that the Scythians were a people group unto themselves, and would not necessarily have been forced to settle in the Lycus River valley. Though not necessarily a slave class, they were not a respected group due to their pagan background.

Due to that status, the Scythians obviously had endured some prejudice and the Colossians needed the reminder that they were also people for whom God cared.

The final dividing wall of hostility was the wall between slave and free. Both obviously had ended up in the same church (See Philemon for a case study). This wall was one of the most difficult to tear down.

“Christ is all, and in all” has implications that transcend the individual, and the statement impacts the body life of churches still today. With this verse, the stage is set for a deeper dive into what “the new community” must look like. (vv 15-17)

Colossians 3:12-14 contain a further description of what the Christian’s “new garments” should contain. It offers a seven item list of things that should begin to characterize us as we “live risen.” These items are catalogued in three broad groupings:

“Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience fill in the first list of virtues mentioned in these verses. All of this is aimed toward harmony and unity within the church, and the need for long-suffering within the group. These are individual characteristics that have implications for the broader life together in the church.

The second listing has to do specifically with forgiveness and “enduring,” or “forbearing and forgiving” which is putting up with people when they fail or don’t live up to expectations. The word forgiveness is based on the root word for grace, indicating the fundamental virtue necessary for forgiveness to take place.

The essence of Christian community is realizing that the church is made up of imperfect, flawed people who will offend each other and hurt and each other and act in unChristlike ways toward each other.

Community can continue only in the context of believers willing to “charisomai”, to forgive the offense of a brother or sister in Christ. As we have been forgiven, so we are to forgive, beginning with each other. God initiated forgiveness through Jesus even before confession occurred. (Melick NAS)

The third category is captured simply with the word “love.” We are, above all things, to put on love. It is this love, Paul tells us, that “binds all things together in perfect unity.” (3:14). It is this mutual love that binds them together in perfection, or completeness. (Or, “it is love that brings all things to an appropriate and logical end.)

A New Community

New people; people with a new identity and a new joy and a new purpose and even a new character will naturally create a new community. As they bind together there will come a spiritual synergy that will bear witness to something greater than the composite parts of the body. Indeed, that is exactly what the church is!

But each part must perform its role. This is why Paul began with character, and then moves specifically to conduct within the body. What does Christian community look like? How is it different from any other social group of people, religious or secular?

Let the Peace of Christ Rule

The first characteristic of the new community listed is peace. The community of believers is to be “ruled” by (an athletic term that means to “umpire” or “preside over,” as a judge) the peace of God.

It is the peace of God within us that keeps us in alignment with the will of God. Now peace can be counterfeited, and the discomfort of the Holy Spirit within us when we are being disobedient can be covered over by a false sense of security and peace. Jonah experienced such a “false peace” that, even while fleeing God’s mandate to go to Nineveh, he slept through a storm in the belly of the ship.

But God’s peace is to be the final “umpire” or “referee” in the church. His peace should be our spiritual GPS, knowing which way to turn and when to stop and when to move. He is to rule, not only in our hearts, but in His church.

Let the Word of Christ Dwell

The second command is in Colossians 3:16 and says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us.” To dwell means “to feel at home.” The Word of Christ should be a welcome guest in the hearts of believers, not an unwelcome intruder.

But the implication of this command is not simply an individual encouragement and admonition, but it literally says “Let the Word of Christ dwell AMONG you….” It moves then to a community command, and not just an individual mandate.

The Word of Christ is also a guidepost for the truth. The Gnostic intruders were bringing a false gospel to the Colossians. It is the Word of Christ that brings clarity and truth and must be the beacon we follow.

The Word of God is not the sole property of the preacher, and even one as esteemed as the Apostle Paul did not claim proprietary ownership of it. He encouraged the Colossians to “teach and admonish” one another with wisdom.

When we are doing this with “one another” it takes great humility and wisdom to speak it, and to receive it from one who is not “an authority.” It is hard to hear from a brother or sister in Christ who feels the need to “teach” you or “admonish” you. Our pride bristles.

But the Word of God is to be transmitted to “one another,” and not just from pulpit to pew. And all of us, whether trained or untrained, in positions of authority and leadership or with no recognized authority, are to be both carriers and dispensers of the Word of Christ “in all wisdom.”

The Word of Christ is not simply to be spoken however. It is also to be sung with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” with gratitude. Music in the church has three audiences. We are to sing, of course, to God. Then, we are to sing to other believers. Finally, we are to sing to ourselves.

Music fails in its mission if those three targets are not in sight. Sometimes the music that is sung, especially in our day, can have little to know Biblical or doctrinal truth in view. It is seen as enough if some level of emotion is felt as the song is sung, even though the singer or songwriter has little or no understanding or training in the Bible.

We must be careful in such a day not to imbed in people’s hearts an untrue statement attached to a memorable melody. Music in the church has always been and will always been important as a means of communicating the Word of God to ourselves and to others, and as a primary way of offering worship to God. Every great movement of God in history has been accompanied by a rebirth or a “new song,” but it is still the same truth being communicated. We should not fall in love with the singer of the song or the style in which it is presented. But the truth should always be present in what we are singing in church, whether familiar tunes accompany it or not.

This is all to be done “with gratitude” to the Lord. Over and over the Book of Colossians returns to this theme of thankfulness and gratitude which we pass by too quickly. Our singing should be with thankful hearts and spirits. It is this accompaniment that most pleases the Father.

R.E.O. White, the great British preacher, used to say, “The surest sign you are carrying a full bucket is wet feet.” When our hearts are full to the brim with the Word of Christ, our feet will be “wet” with songs of praise to the One Who dwells within us.

Let the Name of Christ Overflow

The church is to be a place where the name of Jesus overflows in everything that is done, whether within the church or not. “Whatever you do…” We are to be people who “take the Name of Jesus with us” as we live together in unity, and love, and harmony with the Word of Christ indwelling us and His Name receiving glory for it all.

And one last time, Paul reinforces that this is to be done “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This overflow comes out of the fullness of His peace, the indwelling of His Word, and a continually growing gratitude in our hearts.

When the church looks like this, God will be glorified in it. When it is less than this, His Name is diminished among us. When we are not grateful and growing in gratitude, His reputation is tarnished among us.

May we always be people with wet feet, filled to overflowing with His presence among us!

Putting Off the Old: Colossians 3:5-9

There is something wonderful about putting on new clothes, a new shirt or coat or dress or pair of shoes. It makes you FEEL new, at least for a little while. But what we are dealing with in this text is not a temporary feeling, but a new creation from the inside… out!

Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, “this is the will of God, even your sanctification”. Sanctification, you remember, is the ongoing “dirt road” process of “working out” our salvation. It is the process and progress of our salvation between justification and glorification. While we have nothing we can do to add to our justification or glorification, we have much to do with our sanctification.

It is through sanctification that we begin to look like Jesus in reality. Sadly this aspect of our salvation is the most neglected by many. We so lean into the reality that we are saved by grace (and we are) and that our salvation is secure (it is) that we can almost ask the question, “Why go to the effort?” (We do). However we are reminded also of a promise that “He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6) We are not made new by our own strength any more than we are saved or glorified or resurrected by our own strength.

In this section, Paul defines for us what sanctification looks like. It is a process of “taking off” or putting to death actions, attitudes, and behaviors that are part of our life before Christ. And then, it has to do with “putting on” those things that are like Christ.

In our testimony to a dying, lost and confused world, we must send a clear message that “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; old things have passed away and all things become new.”

In addition to being new, let’s LOOK new as well!

Diet and Days

Some Christians designate themselves as the “religious police” whose role is to punish those who get “out of line” in their opinion. Much of legalistic belief today comes not from those things taken from Scripture, but from the opinions and “traditions of man.”

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you…” Paul warns in 2:16. He specifically addresses issues of eating and drinking, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations, or Sabbath observances. Basically, his warning addresses “diet and days.”

This clearly contains an obvious reference to the diet taught in the Old Testament and codified by the Jews as “kosher” foods. While few Protestant believers seek to follow Jewish dietary laws, we have our own “legalistic diets” that we’ve created.

If you are serving your family anything but organic, whole grain, farm-fed, free-range, single-origin foods, you are in the eyes of some, poisoning them. Now I agree there are health benefits to food not polluted by antibiotics and hormone fed. I can even get a little misty-eyed over chickens kept and fattened up in cages in which they can barely move! And I like single-origin coffee that can be traced to the point of growth and knowing the coffee farmer is getting paid well for his or her work.

But while that is true, I have never been judgmental about people who don’t pay the exorbitant costs of organic or farm-raised food. And I have been more than a little miffed over fruits and vegetables that go bad before I even have a chance to eat them, since they contain no preservatives.

So I don’t judge you for eating non-specific sourced foods or drinking coffee from a fast food restaurant. More power to you! Enjoy! But please don’t judge me when I occasionally slip in to a burger joint for a preservative-filled hamburger from a hormone-fattened cow on not-quite whole grain bread. Sometimes, you just need a good French fry!

But I visit the fresh food and farm-to-table stores enough to have encountered those who would very quickly look down on me (judge me) for doing what I just confessed to you. And they will judge you as a parent for not feeding your children the very best and healthiest foods possible.

But RIGHT HERE IN THE BIBLE it clearly states you have Paul’s permission NOT to be judged and to reject their judgmental glances or opinions regarding your dietary choices.

And I’ll try really hard not to judge you either!

Sermon Notes 05


If you ever visit the historic city of Krakow, Poland, you will see the beautiful spire of the St Mary’s church. But you will also hear something unusual. Every day, and it’s been so for the last 700 years, a bugle sounds and is always muffled or broken on the last note.

There is a reason for this tradition. The bugler commemorates a lone man who climbed the spire during the coming invasion of the Tartar army, and signaled the impending attack. Many Krakovians were saved because of his heroic act, and on the last note of his alarm an arrow penetrated his body. The last note was muted; broken as he died.

The people of Krakow still, even in the 21st century, commemorate his sacrificial act. It reinforces to us the importance of warnings we also must heed.

Paul speaks in Colossians 1:28 “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching every man…” Warning and teaching go hand-in-hand in apostolic writing and teaching. You cannot teach well without also warning; and every warning should contain an element of teaching and pointing to what should be thought or done.

When we arrive at the latter part of Colossians Chapter 2, we find a recurring them: That of warnings. In fact, from Chapter 2:8 forward, we are in a section that emphatically warns the Colossians from some very present dangers.

Chapter 2:8-10 A warning about “hollow philosophies”

Chapter 2:16-17 A warning about insurgent legalism, probably Jewish

Chapter 2:18-19 A warning about the danger of mysticism

Chapter 2:20-23 A warning about the vanity of asceticism

So with these warnings being prevalent and repeated, the thought of this section seems to be to flesh out the content and the danger of these four main warnings.

1. A Warning About Philosophical Deception. (Col 2:8-10)

Just as every person with the capacity for thought is a theologian, (they have some thought about God, even if just denying He exists), so every person is a philosopher. Not every person is a competent or thorough theologian or philosopher, but we all stab at and wrestle with these topics in our thinking.

Properly understood, the word “philosophy” is taken directly from Greek, and is a compound word that means “the love of wisdom.” However, loving wisdom does not necessarily make one wise. Philosophers are those who “love” the discipline to an extent that they make a lifelong study of learning, reading, and seeking to assemble a philosophical system that allows them to “make sense” of life.

While Christian philosophies and philosophical thinkers do exist, the vast majority of published philosophers has been and is agnostic or atheistic in their orientation. They find themselves with the difficulty of trying to make sense of life’s challenges and realities by creating a worldview with no God in it.

This is the position that led Paul to refer to “hollow philosophies.” These are empty arguments that are not based in the most fundamental of truths: that God does exist.

One of the most popular Christian philosophical thinkers of the last century was Francis Shaffer. Dr. Shaffer wrote extensively on philosophical thought from a Christian worldview. One of his most popular books was entitled, God is There and He is Not Silent. Other titles include, The God Who is There and How Shall We Now Live? The thinking of this brilliant man still impacts schools of thought and certainly had an influence on mine.

Other thinkers, like the late Norman Geisler, Voddie Baucham, Dallas Willard and Ravi Zacharias have actively engaged in philosophical defense, debate, and writing in the Twenty-First Century. I frequently encourage young men and women with the capacity to do so to explore deepening their philosophical reading with men like these. Still others could be mentioned, but to the point, all philosophy is not “empty” and “hollow.” When it is filled with thoughts of God, and is engaged in helping us understand more deeply Who God is and how God works in the world it can be a wonderful and exhilarating subject to read.

However, most philosophical thinkers and writers (I am thinking immediately of Richard Dawkins and other 21st Century atheistic philosophers) offer up the “hollow” and “deceptive” philosophies that Paul was warning against. These are prolific in our culture, and eagerly swept up by unsuspecting minds.

Of them, one commentary summarizes:

No wonder Bertrand Russell at the end of his life, 90 years of age, the vast majority of his life, at least 70 of those years, being spent as a philosopher, his last words were, “Philosophy has proved a washout to me.” That’s a long washout, 90 years. Thomas Hobbs, the famous English atheistic philosopher who fostered materialistic psychology and what is called utilitarian morality, when he was drawing near his death said this, “I’m about to take a leap into the dark. I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of this world.” David Hume, the deistic Scottish philosopher was an immoral man in every sense of the word, totally indecent, completely dishonest. His biographers tell us that he was a teacher of immorality, a denier of God. And his death was so tragic that his attendants at his death said he agonized to the point that he shook the entire bed and demanded that the candles be lit all night, that he never be left alone for one moment, and his lips were filled with cursing and remorse until he died.

These atheistic philosophical thinkers attempt to provide a rational and intellectual basis for their argument of unbelief in God. It seems to buttress the argument of those struggling to make up their minds that God in fact does not exist, and if you come from a position of theism (you believe in a personal God) then you must be intellectually deficient.

This position is often the first salvo fired at incoming college students in our university system today. When professors and instructors have been steeped in the “hollow” philosophies in vogue today, these streams of thought will influence or even dominate the lectures they give.

Some philosophical positions, however, have more to do with ideas that have already seeped into the consciousness of the culture. The recent postmodern movement is one such philosophical movement that has literally swept much of the world. But philosophy drives many things: political platforms, educational institutions, and even the writing of school textbooks used by our youngest children.

But one important philosophy still remains with us. That is the position of scientific naturalism, which has a tremendous impact not just on science but on cultural morality, decisions as fundamental as abortion rights, gender identity issues, sexual mores, end-of-life medical decisions and in recent times, suicide.

This position, though not brand new, holds to the viewpoint as do many of the empty philosophies of our day that God does not exist. Therefore the universe around us is the ultimate reality. One of their most prominent spokesman would say, “The Universe is all there is.” In this system of thought, the material world is all that’s real and all that matters.

That has tremendous implications in how we see the world around us, since it is ultimately drilled down to an amoral system in which people are born at random and simply cease to exist at death. The question in such a system becomes, “What is right? What is wrong? Who has the ultimate authority to say?”

Without laboring this point, it is important to note that it is imbedded deeply into our thinking in the modern west, in everything from children’s cartoon scripts to the highest levels of education, art and medicine. If this life is all there is, the implications are tremendous…and dangerous.

That is a long way around the point, but the point is we HAVE been taken captive; kidnapped; plundered by this philosophy without realizing it. It filters into our minds and out through our thinking in ways that we are not even aware.

Paul said, “Don’t be taken captive” by such thoughts. This was the threat posed by the Gnostic intellects of the day. They wanted to “take captive” the minds of the new believers with their philosophical viewpoint. And theirs was likewise a very dangerous position that reduced Christ to the level of an angel, and not even necessarily a good angel!

No wonder Paul issue such a stern and fatherly warning to these new Christ followers. “Don’t let them kidnap your thinking…and plunder your faith.” “Don’t fall prey to the traditions of men….”

Our failsafe in such situations as they faced and that we face today is an absolute assurance in and knowledge of the truth of God’s Word. We are to be “rooted” (“earthed”) and “built up” through Christ and “established on” the bedrock of His Word.

We must stay alert for those who would seek to take us captive at the point of our faith, our values, and even the heart, mind and soul of our children if we allow it! Be alert.

2. A Warning About Legalism. (Col 2:16-17)

Perhaps no problem still dominates and intimidates the church today as does legalism. Legalism essentially is the idea that spirituality can be quantified. It is an exercise in pride and judgmentalism, claiming to be able to do with our hands what God could not accomplish in us through the new birth and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet there seems to be an allure to it. This is most likely because it caters to human pride. Whenever judgmentalism is in play, pride is the motivator. We judge in an effort to make ourselves seem more righteous than the one we are judging. “While God may not agree, at least I know I’m righteous and the person I am judging knows I am too!” we seem to be saying.

Legalism, inherently, is joyless. If we continually live in the “Thou shalt not” sections of Scripture without the needed balance of God’s grace, we will create a picture of Christianity that is dependent more on the efforts of man and not the blessings of grace.

Legalism demands uniformity. Unity is not uniformity. The body of Christ is rich and radiant and multi-cultural and multi-racial and multi-dimensional. To seek to reduce all of that to one style of dress, one preferred manner of speech and even the same facial expressions is to rob it of the glory God intended for His people to reflect. Legalism demands this sameness as a matter of control and “keeping score.”

Legalism results in a superficial faith. Jesus railed against those who He called “whitewashed tombs” full of “dead men’s bones.” In other words, the external appearance looked clean enough, though within there was corruption. The focus is continually on the surface with the legalist. Conformity can be enforced and even established for a little while. But what is in the heart will always be made known.

Legalism, ultimately, is judgmental. It focuses on “keeping score” of violations of law and codes of behavior and punishing failure to conform successfully. Those in a legalistic religious system continually feel judged by those who feel superior to the stragglers.

Legalism is absent of joy, evokes condemnation and judgement, and focuses ultimately on the flesh either in a congratulatory manner when law codes are kept, or in self-recrimination and judgment of others when the laws are not kept.

Christianity is certainly not unique in producing the aberration of legalism. Islam and other world religions do the same to their adherents. In some Muslim cultures around the world, a Religious Police force exists for the purpose of punishing those who violate the laws of Islam. Punishment is swift, public, and can be brutal.

Some Christians designate themselves as the “religious police” whose role is to punish those who get “out of line” in their opinion. Much of legalistic belief today comes not from those things take from Scripture, but from the opinion and “traditions of man.”

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you…” Paul warns in 2:16. He specifically addresses five issues of eating and drinking, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations, or Sabbath observances. Basically, his warning addresses “diet and days.”

This clearly contains an obvious reference to the diet taught in the Old Testament and codified by the Jews as “kosher” foods. While few Protestant believers seek to follow Jewish dietary laws, we have our own “legalistic diets” that we’ve created.

If you are serving your family anything but organic, whole grain, farm-fed, free-range, single origin foods, you are in the eyes of some, poisoning them. Now I agree there are health benefits to food not polluted by antibiotics and hormone fed. I can even get a little misty-eyed over chickens kept and fattened up in cages in which they can barely move! And I like single-origin coffee that can be traced to the point of growth and knowing the coffee farmer is getting paid well for his or her work.

But while that is true, I have never been judgmental about people who don’t pay the exorbitant costs of organic or farm-raised food. And I have been more than a little miffed over fruits and vegetables that go bad before I even have a chance to eat them, since they contain no preservatives.

So I don’t judge you for eating non-specific sourced foods or drinking coffee from a fast food restaurant. More power to you! Enjoy! But please don’t judge me when I occasionally slip in to a burger joint for a preservative-filled hamburger from a hormone-fattened cow on not-quite whole grain bread. Sometimes, you just need a good French fry!

But I visit the fresh food and farm-to-table stores enough to have encountered those who would very quickly look down on me (judge me) for doing what I just confessed to you. And they will judge you as a parent for not feeding your children the very best and healthiest foods possible.

But RIGHT HERE IN THE BIBLE it clearly states you have Paul’s permission NOT to be judged and to reject their judgmental glances or opinions regarding your dietary choices. And I’ll try really hard not to judge you either!

Paul also brought up the issue of special days. These days were designed to commemorate various aspects of the work of Christ, in the same way as the special diet was teaching God’s people about purity and holiness and the importance of abstaining from forbidden things. The Sabbath regulations pointed clearly to the Sabbath rest that God’s people would know. Lightfoot comments, “The setting apart of special days for the service of God is a confession of our imperfect state, an avowal that we cannot or do not devote our whole time to Him.”

But all of these things were a picture…a shadow of reality. Christ is that reality. When Jesus came, ALL of the law and all of the covenant requirements for holiness and purity were fulfilled in Him. “The reality, however, is found in Christ.”

I have used the image before of a man returning home after a long stay out of the country. While he was away, he only had a picture of his fiancée to remind him of her. But when he arrived, the fiancée was waiting for him. But how ludicrous would it have been for this man, now in the presence of his beloved, to continue to love her picture and kiss her picture when the person the picture represented was with him?

We would think the man was crazy! But in reality, this is exactly what those who were making their way into these early congregations were telling them. “Yes, you have the reality, which is Christ. But YOU STILL NEED THE PICTURE TO FULLY KNOW HIM AND LOVE HIM!”

To Paul’s astonishment and certainly to ours today, the believers kept falling for it! “Don’t let anyone judge you….” Paul warned. We need to be careful lest we fall into the same trap of judging others legalistically, or of being judged by them.

3. A Warning About Mysticism (Col 2:18-19)

“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and the worship of angels….” (2:18)

Though some important translations, such as the newer CSB choose the word “condemn” instead of “disqualify” it is generally agreed that the Greek word used here, “kataBraBeuw” though very rare, carries with it the idea of “being disqualified” or “being ruled against,” rather than “condemned” which is more legal and the territory of jurisprudence. The RSV uses the word “disqualify” as well as the NIV and the ESV.

So for our comments, and to stay with the ESV translation, we will use the word “disqualify” as well. That said, I feel there are some strong reasons to see this word as stronger than that.

It is also important for us, before continuing in the textual comments, to consider the word “mysticism” in the context in which Paul used it. Christian mysticism has a long and even respected history throughout the church. Though some were Catholic in their belief system, others were not.

Mystics as people were often those who would seek to withdraw, and that fitting with their temperament would sometimes even be despondent. Many reported fits of depression and anguish of soul. The mystic was one who would intentionally seek out solitude and separation from others in an effort to seek out God.

Many would speak of deep and even rapturous experiences of long seasons of prayer and fasting, seeking the face of God. One mystic in the earlier years of the church, known as St John of the Cross, would sometimes journal and write of their experiences. His was entitled, The Dark Night of the Soul. I have heard many relate their experiences in that same dark night, and I dare say many have experienced it without quite knowing what it was or what to call it.

Others such as Teresa of Avila spoke of intense seasons of despair and depression and wrote out of her pain. The mystics were often reclusive, and did not hold official positions in the church. A man simply known as Brother Lawrence, a member of a monastic kitchen crew, wrote a small but powerful book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God.

While odd, the mystics could also be extreme in their devotion, such as Simon Stylites who separated from the world in such extremity that he lived on top of a pillar for forty years! I can’t image what would motivate this type of withdrawal, but we can’t discount his obvious devotion.

But we also must remember that Paul had his own “mystic” experience as he spoke of being taken up (“whether in the body or out of the body” he did not know) into the “third heaven” and seeing things which man should not utter. This was, literally defined, a “mystic” experience.

They all had something in common, and that was a desperation to draw closer to the God they loved and to know Jesus intimately. Their journeys were typically very inwardly focused, though some mystics would find their place in service to others in the name of Jesus while they sought Him deeply.

Whatever our opinion of them, they are acknowledged for their contribution to Christian history and devotional thought and writing. It is not such mysticism being condemned and warned against by Paul.

Gnostic Mysticism

The mysticism Paul was confronting in Colossians was a different type of mystical approach. While the ultimate goal of this mysticism was to put its adherents in touch with God, they were offering a path different than simply knowing Jesus and having a relationship with Him.

In fact this mysticism was a toxic mix of angelology, which was a way of systematizing angelic hierarchies or rule and ascetic practices that went from abstaining from food and drink to self-abuse of the body.

The Gnostics approach made them seem to be deeply devoted followers of God, but they had created a pathway, a man-made religion involving a combination of angelology, mystical thought borrowed from eastern religious beliefs, and asceticism.

Lest we think this type of thinking has left the mindset of modern culture, I call your attention to the Bethel Church movement in California, led by Senior Pastor Bill Johnson. His wife, Beni, “co-pastors” with him.

Beni Johnson also teaches some peculiarly unorthodox views of angelology, such as that there are “different kinds of angels: messenger angels, healing angels, fiery angels” who have “fallen asleep.” In a blog post she wrote, “I think that they have been bored for a long time and are ready to be put to work.” She relates a story about one of her students at the Bethel Supernatural School of Ministry who claims God told her to go to the chapel and yell “WAKEY WAKEY!” As Johnson says,

Nothing happened for about five minutes, so [the student] turned around to cross the road to go over to a shop. As she turned around, she felt the ground begin to shake and heard this huge yawn. She looked back at the chapel, and a huge angel stepped out. All she could see were his feet because he was that large. She asked him who he was, and he turned to her and said, “I am the angel from the 1904 revival and you just woke me up.” She asked him, “Why have you been asleep?” The angel answered and said, “Because no one has been calling out for revival anymore.” (Joe Carter)

This movement has drawn tens of thousands into its teaching and experientially-oriented worship services. It gets us painfully close to the kind of angelic worship and mystical experiences promised by the Gnostics of Paul’s day.

It was the opinion of those who follow such views that a run-of-the-mill, ordinary faith with no gigantic angels being awakened was a sub-standard belief system. The Gnostics were “disqualifying” the Colossians by demeaning their adherence to Jesus Christ as the One Who is Creator of and ruler of angels. “Was Jesus asleep,” I wondered as I read the blog post quoted above? Did He require a hapless girl to shout “Wakey Wakey” to make Him willing to pour and blessing and bring revival?

How easy we are to be “disqualified” by such teaching and drawn away by incredible stories of mystical experiences (Bethel also reports an occasional unexplained dropping of angel feathers and gold dust in their services). And people flock to be a part of such sensationalistic claims.

The danger of disqualification still confronts us today. We must not allow it. IN the same passage, Paul warns us about the false “humility” of these Gnostic prognosticators. While they posed in humility, Paul calls them out for the pridefulness with which they paraded their “humility.”

The flesh is a slippery thing. We can deceive ourselves or be deceived into a pretend humility while in the same moment demonstrating the greatest pridefulness for our supposed humility.

Paul said “they take their stands on things they claim to have seen” in the mysteries…things only they were allowed to see. Paul said they were “full of wind” (literally… “puffed up” in the AV). This was the act of pretending to be “bigger than life:” larger and more important than they really were. They were “inflated to no purpose” by their carnal minds.

Rather than being “connected” in a special way to mysteries of God, Paul points out in v19 that they were in reality “disconnected” from the Head. They had “let go” of the Head, which is Christ, from which the whole body grows. The picture means they are also disconnected from the body, which is the church.

IN summary, Paul is cautioning the Colossians about following windbag, prideful, beheaded, fleshly men who claimed to know mysteries that no one else could know. These are not the people to follow, and to do so is to disqualify yourself along with them.

4. A Warning About Asceticism. (Col 2:20-23)

Asceticism has its place in church history as well as mysticism. Most ascetic practices are misguided efforts to control and constrain the appetites and desires of the flesh, sometimes in the extreme. What is forgotten by those who practiced these extremities of self-abuse is that, no matter how much we “do not touch, do not taste, and do not eat,” the flesh always finds a way of expression.

Ascetic practices in the Middle Ages involved sleeping on beds of straw, wearing sackcloth next to the skin, rigorous fasting, self-flagellation, going without sleep for days, and the list could grow. The Catholic Church has maintained some of these practices, and only in the mid-twentieth century banned some of the most extreme.

While we cannot know for certain which ascetic practices the Gnostics were advocated that the Colossians adapt, Paul puts a definitive stop to all of them with his argument from this passage: “You have died to the elements of this world.” Or as Barclay translates it, “If you have died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you keep on submitting yourselves to their rules and regulations, as though you still lived in a world without God?”

It’s important in dealing with this passage to remember that the Gnostics believed all matter was evil. Everything in this world was therefore polluted and not truly created by or connected to God. Therefore we have to get OUT of the world to find our connection with the true creator.

This then translated into practices of avoiding the things of the world, “Don’t taste, don’t touch, don’t eat” in an effort to show our determination to turn our backs on materialism. The body, being matter, needed to be controlled and abused, since it really wasn’t important anyway and is going to perish.

There is always a deceptiveness regarding man-made religious rules and man-created religious systems. They have no value in restraining the flesh, but only inflame it more. Paul himself said of the law that the more he sought to keep it, the more it inflamed him. When we try to do in our own strength what only Jesus can do for us that will always be the result.

Paul said, “If (since) you have died with Christ to the elementary principles (the ABC’s) of the world, why as if you are living in the world (under the constraint of the world’s rules) do you submit yourself to decrees…” We are not under the constraint of the world’s rules. Since we are dead in Christ, they have no power, authority, or dominance over us. We are not obliged to subjugate ourselves to them.

In Christ we are free…from ascetic practices which have an appearance of wisdom but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. The flesh will find a way, even in our religious practices, to rear its head.

Our fallen self will always prefer a way to work our way in to God’s favor than to have it bought and opened for us. The only way we can enter faithfully and completely into God’s presence is with flesh that has died. Religion continually resurrects our flesh with new ways to work, and therefore exalt our self, even at the cost of great severity to our flesh, and great sacrifice made (as long, of course, as we are being watched by others!)

Only as we have died in Christ…with Him in death, burial and resurrection…can we be pleasing to God. Only as we come, with the hymn writers verse, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Your cross I cling” as our boast will we enter the kingdom.

You will never begin with the flesh (our lost, carnal nature) and find your way to God. It is impossible, so why are you trying? Why are you giving yourself over to those who claim to have “a new revelation” or “a new way” to come to God?

Why are you seeking the favor of angelic beings, or approaching the saints or Mary or the spirits of the departed or the stars for access when it has been granted you by Jesus, if you know Him? We have already come to the pinnacle in Christ. We need search for no other way. Only in Him.

Child of God, be careful who you follow. Avoid the traps of legalism, and hollow pseudo-philosophy, and mysticism and asceticism and man-made religious systems. Only then can we relate freely to God as those who are IN CHRIST.

This passage is, according to many commentators, one of the most difficult in all of Paul’s letters to interpret. I found myself agreeing. Since we know little really of the Gnostics mystical religion, we can only deduct from what Paul wrote what they were perpetuating. Our history is sketchy at best, so the interpreter has to “fill in gaps” with some assumptions. I do not present this as the last word…just my attempt.

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