Colossians 3:12-17

Have you ever had a conversation with your teenager…
About cleaning up after themselves – “whatever”
About being more respectful – “whatever”
About being more responsible – “whatever”
And we all do it – “whatever”

“Whatever” (usually accompanied by a role of the eyes) is the typical worldly response to events in life – dismissive, disrespectful, sarcastic, apathetic, minimizing, devaluing, creating distance, communicating “I don’t care” (even if I really do care and am affected deeply).

In the modern world, “whatever” means “it doesn’t matter.” In Paul’s dictionary, “whatever” means “every single thing matters.”

What I want to do this morning is to help us reclaim “whatever” in the context of faith.

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

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:12-17)

This is a body passage. It re-centers us firmly in the context of our place in the body of Christ – the community of God’s people. It reminds us that we aren’t in this for ourselves. What I do affects you, what you do affects me. We are in this together.

And those first three verses especially challenge us to the kind of life that is deeply entwined in the lives of others. We aren’t just to act, but to “clothe ourselves” with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We need to forgive each other as the Lord forgave us. And on top of all those virtues with which we are clothed, we need to put on love, because love binds them all together.

Now, if you and I could only practice those three verses, we’d never get crosswise with each other again. There would never be another divorce, never be another church conflict, never be another argument between a parent and a child. This is the perfect antidote for conflict. In fact, that’s what Paul says next in vs. 15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”

Do you have a sense of how precious and rare peace is? And this peace isn’t just the absence of conflict – this goes a step further – this is the peace of Christ. It’s not a tentative cease fire – a detent that temporarily calls off the hostility, but still simmers under the surface.

The peace of Christ is thorough-going and permanent. It brings about a freedom and a calm that is real. It creates the environment in which we can not only not hate each other, but can actually learn to love each other. We learn to trust in the midst of peace, because where the peace of Christ exists we know that we are on the same page and among kindred spirits.

Do you remember the TV show MASH, where they often did delicate life-saving surgeries with bombs exploding nearby and the ground shaking and the dust from the tents shaking down into their open incisions? Surgery would be difficult enough in a sterile environment with a team of skilled assistants and cutting edge technologies, but under battlefield conditions it had to be terrifying.

Imagine working on a relationship where the tension is high, the trust is low and the hostilities break out with every careless word or imagined insult. Relationships are tough enough under ideal circumstances – they are almost impossible when you are working against each other.

Imagine introducing the peace of Christ into those circumstances. Genuinely, intentionally sacrificing personal agendas to let Christ rule the relationship. Instead of me pursuing my agenda and vilifying you, and you pursuing your agenda and demonizing me, we both agreed to honor Christ and treat each other with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness patience, forgiveness and love.

Imagine being a part of a church where the peace of Christ ruled – where we not only talked about Christ, but let him be the Lord of our lives. And that church could become a place of healing and refreshment, where we left the cares and hostilities of the world at the door and experienced true peace when we sat down next to each other and knew that we were with people who love us unconditionally.

How does that happen? I see a progression of thought as Paul continues in vs. 16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

The only way to have the peace of Christ is to allow the word of Christ to have a permanent place in our lives. And by the way he phrases this, he makes it clear that it isn’t an occasional brush with the word, or a weekly tidbit in a sermon, but he says, let the word of Christ “dwell in you richly.”

That word he uses for “dwell” is one used in other places in the NT of God making his dwelling with us, of Christ dwelling with us, of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. It is God’s presence in our lives that is continual and abiding, not momentary and fleeting. And he says, let it dwell in you “richly.” Do you know someone who, when they are with you, they are fully with you? Their attention is on you, they listen to what you are saying, they are engaged with you – not distracted and preoccupied, ready to be somewhere else with someone else. That is the way we need to let the word of Christ dwell in us. Fully, permanently, abundantly.

And I want you to understand that Paul isn’t talking about walking around with your nose glued in a Bible, but that the word has become such a part of you, its message so ingrained in your heart that it informs every word, every thought, every action. Your life is fully engaged in God, and so his word is the background score for your day, as it continually plays just beneath the surface.

But notice, this isn’t something you do in the privacy of your home, in the quiet of your living room – just you and God communing together. The thought moves us into the context of the body now: “As you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”

I keep saying that we are in this together. You can’t read very far in scripture without coming to the realization that God puts us together for a reason. We need each other, we need the mutual encouragement and support, we need the strength and nourishment we get from growing together, we need the challenge and conviction that comes from people who care about us.

One of the places that happens is when we gather as a body to worship the Lord – you heard how we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly – and that takes place as we teach and admonish “one another” with all wisdom, and as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to “one another”. You can read the Bible by yourself, you can pray on your own, you can listen to Christian music on your ipod, but when you exclude yourself from the body, when you isolate yourself from fellowship, when you miss out on the richness of our time together in the word, in prayer, in joining our hearts together in “one voice” (as Paul wrote in Rom 15), you are missing out on one of the most significant parts of being a Christian – that we are the body of Christ.

We get so much from each other, but we also have that reciprocal responsibility to give of ourselves to each other. And when you are gone from the body, it’s not just what you miss out on, it’s what we are impoverished of because you aren’t here. Isn’t that what the Hebrews writer was getting at in Heb 10:24-25?: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

He’s not shaking a scolding finger at you for not having a check next to your name on an attendance sheet. He is telling us what a responsibility we have to each other to encourage each other in our time together as a family.

And then, Paul sums it up in this all encompassing admonition in vs. 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

And now we’re back to where we began. In the language of the world, “whatever” means that nothing matters. When Paul writes “whatever” he says that everything matters. Everything you do matters to God, and it matters that it is done under the lordship of Jesus Christ. When you are at work, you do your job, you interact with your employers/employees and your customers with the love of Christ. When you are at home, you treat your wife/husband, your children/parents with the love of Christ. When you are out in the world – wherever you go, whomever you are around, whatever you are doing – do it as though Christ were standing beside you at the grocery store, sitting beside you in the movie theater, riding beside you in your car. Would Christ be honored, would God be glorified by “whatever you do in word or deed”? If someone saw you or heard you, would you be embarrassed or ashamed, or could you confidently own up to being a follower of Jesus? What Paul is saying is, live intentionally for Jesus, so that your life will bring glory to him.

There was a recurring chorus that you may have noticed we skipped over at the ends of vss. 15,16 and 17. At the end of vs. 15: “And be thankful.” At the end of vs. 16: “with gratitude in your hearts to God.” At the end of vs. 17: “giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

The accompaniment to letting the peace of Christ rule, and the word of Christ dwell, and letting Jesus be the Lord of our lives is thankfulness. The world thinks that apathy is to be valued (insulate yourself from pain, isolate yourself emotionally from other people). Paul says gratitude is to be valued. A thankful heart opens up our lives to experience the fullness of God’s gifts, and to be able to share them with others. That lifestyle of gratitude flows from our recognition of the gift we have been given.

That attitude is expressed in Paul’s prayer at the beginning of this Colossian letter:

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”

Only when you “understand God’s grace in all its truth” can it begin to bear fruit and grow. Grace, the undeserved gift of God’s love, given freely and abundantly to you opens the door for God to do great and amazing things in your life.

When we live with a “whatever” attitude, we may avoid the emotional pain that comes with life, but we will also miss out on the incredible joy and love that comes from being immersed in God’s word and in God’s family.