Whatever!

Colossians 3:11-17 

 

Do you ever make a decision about someone based on the color of their skin or the clothes that they wear or where they were born? We all do it – the Bible calls it judging. And the problem with judging is that we don’t have all the information about anyone or any situation. Only God does. And so, deciding we don’t like someone because they look or sound or dress or smell different from us is wrong.

 

Here is Colossians 3, Paul takes that one step further. Not only might we mistakenly misjudge someone, we have failed to take into consideration the one thing that God takes into consideration. As the Lord told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)

 

And all those things that define us and distinguish us and divide us – racial, social, economic, physical – when we are clothed in Christ they become meaningless: Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Col. 3:11)

 

In God’s kingdom the things we are clothed with – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience – what we do and how we live flows from who we are. Paul writes in verse 12: “Therefore because you are God’s chosen people, holy, dearly loved – clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  These qualities are the expression of the new nature in Christ. In Christ, we no longer distinguish people by their outward appearance because it is Christ with whom they are clothed. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:16-17)

 

When we read this imagery of clothing, let’s not mistake this for superficiality –as though one day we wear one suit and the next we change into something else – a kind of external façade that we take off and put on to fit our mood, or adapt to our surroundings.  This is a transformation that affects us to the core of our being – not Cinderella and her new dress, but the frog who becomes a prince.  It is the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly or coal to diamond.

 

This doesn’t just affect our vertical relationship with God, but the horizontal relationships we have with each other: 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. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Col. 3:13-15)

 

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. And when we act independently and treat others with contempt and unkindness, we are violating, not only our relationship with these people, but with God. We are bound together in the deepest kind of intimacy – Paul says, “as members of one body.”

 

Some of you suffer or know people who suffer from autoimmune diseases like lupus or multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia. You know what it feels like physically when your body is waging a war within itself. That’s how Paul describes it when the body of Christ wars against itself: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Gal. 5:15) Everything from petty squabbles to gossip, slander and outward contempt for each other destroys the unity of the body, and destroys our witness among the people around us.

 

What does it look like when we “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”? It means that when we have disagreements with each other (because wherever there are people we won’t always agree), we continue to treat each other with respect and compassion. When we see someone living contrary to God’s will, instead of gossiping about them we go to them and talk with them personally. When someone slights us or hurts us we don’t retaliate, but forgive them – because that’s how Christ treated us. The church becomes a place of healing and reconciliation and that’s the picture of the church that Paul paints in his letter to the Colossians.

 

Verses 16 and 17 talk about the place of the Word and the power of the message in our lives: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:16-17)

 

When Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” he’s describing a lifestyle in which the word of God is so ingrained in our lives that it is second nature.

 

There is a lot of political pushing and shoving over monuments of the ten commandments sitting on public lands in Oklahoma and Alabama and Georgia. And those battles may represent another step in the erosion of societal values. But rather than being concerned about words chiseled in stone, I am far more concerned with those words being written on our hearts. Atheists are launching campaigns to eradicate the word of God from the public arena; Satan has launched a battle to eradicate the word of God from our hearts. If Christians lived out the principles of scripture we wouldn’t need to fight battles over granite monuments.

One out of ten people might read the words in the Bible, but the other nine will be reading you. What is the message they will hear?

 

Paul says let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, and that takes spending consistent, intentional time in his word every day, letting it mold our thinking and our motives, our hearts and our relationships.

 

“Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom”

 

This teaching and admonishment is an outflow of the word of Christ dwelling in us. When the Word dwells in us it can’t stay contained within. You aren’t a sponge soaking up God’s wisdom, you are supposed to be a faucet letting that life-giving word flow out into the lives of others.

 

And it’s interesting that Paul describes the form of this outflow as singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. I don’t know whether you enjoy singing or don’t, whether you love music or don’t, whether you are a good singer or couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Paul says, if you have the word of Christ dwelling within you, you have a mutual obligation to your brothers and sisters to share that word with your voice as you sing.

 

Many in our fellowship have traditionally used this passage as a battleground over instrumental and acapella music in church. Anybody who tries to turn this verse into a debate over instrumental music has missed Paul’s point. There are those who would fight to the death over instrumental music who refuse to open their mouths and sing. And that is the worst kind of hypocrisy. Paul’s point is that your voice is a powerful instrument of sharing the teaching and wisdom of God, regardless of your musical talents or abilities, likes or dislikes. God wants you to use your voice to share his word. When you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, you are teaching someone, you are encouraging someone, you are challenging someone, you are inspiring someone, you are admonishing someone.

 

The songs we sing, the words that come out of our mouths, they have the power to change lives, and it is not only an obligation, but a privilege to let our voices be used by God.

 

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”

 

You’ll often hear someone say, “Whatever!” as a dismissive, apathetic reply. It’s disrespectful and sarcastic and says “I don’t care” (even when I do care and am deeply affected). And that’s a reflection of the attitude of the world that says nothing matters.

 

In the modern world, “whatever” means “it doesn’t matter.” But in Paul’s lexicon, “whatever” means everything matters. Whatever you do – that is all inclusive – not just what you do in public where people will see and hear, but in private where nobody but you and God will ever know. Whatever you do matters to God.

 

Whatever you say, whatever you do – it all comes under the lordship of Jesus Christ. If he rules your life as lord, then everything matters.

 

I hope you noticed in these last three verses a recurring refrain:

Vs. 15 – “And be thankful”

Vs. 16 – “With gratitude in your hearts…”

Vs. 17 – “Giving thanks to God the Father”

 

Paul describes a lifestyle of gratitude. That thankfulness flows from our recognition of the gift that we have received (that should take us back to 1:6 – “the day you…understood God’s grace in all its truth.”) When we truly understand God’s grace, we cannot help but have a deep sense of thankfulness and gratitude.

 

Illust. – Garrison Keillor - Uncle John

Garrison Keillor, author of the nostalgic Lake Wobegon books, recalls his childhood Thanksgiving dinners, as the family gathered around the table and remembered the blessings of the past year. 

 

Uncle John usually gave the prayer, which caused everyone to squirm.  As Keillor said, "Everybody in the family knew that Uncle John couldn't pray without talking about the cross and crying....  Sure enough, Uncle John prayed, talked about the cross, and cried.  Meanwhile, the rest of us shifted nervously from one foot to the other and longed for the prayer to end." 

 

Then Garrison Keillor adds this powerful observation: "All of us knew that Jesus died on the cross for us, but Uncle John had never gotten over it."