Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . . (Colossians 3:12).
Opened in 1930, Isaac Litton was an iconic high school on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. In the course of its 41 year history it was at times a football powerhouse, but was most often known as the home of a 100+ member marching band. I come across “Litton” grads often in my travels. My mother attended there. By the time I came along they had added a Junior High which I attended briefly in the 9th grade. Every graduate I’ve ever talked to spoke glowingly of their time there. My mother treasured her class ring all her life. The school has now been closed for nearly half a century.
Recently, on a social media page devoted to my own high school (Madison) someone wrote asking if anyone had any memorabilia from “Litton” (the schools were rivals but not that far apart). It would seem his grandfather graduated from there in 1955 and he was looking for an Isaac Litton pennant from his grandfather’s time to remember him by.
I was surprised when, in reading the responses, a woman wrote: “Your grandfather was in my class. I was a cheerleader then and I have some things. I will look to see if a pennant is among them. He was a great guy and a special friend.”
Graduating in 1955 would put the woman in her 80’s. She’s kept memorabilia from her high school days because they were precious to her, but she was willing to share her treasure with someone she didn’t know.
I thought: “That’s a kindness. To give something you value to bless the life of another.” It’s what God did. It’s what Jesus did. And while anyone can show a kindness, kindness is a necessary identifying marker of a follower of Jesus.
As Paul comes to the end of Colossians he returns to a subject he began with: prayer – though it is not a “subject” of the letter at all. Paul has been praying for his readers, and in the last chapter, he urges them to pray for him. It is apparent Paul considers his success impossible without God’s help, and considers that help available only because of the intercession of prayer.
Don’t you find that strange?
Paul is engaged in God’s work. The success of that work depends on God’s intervention. But the intervention only comes if Paul asks and others ask in Paul’s behalf. It’s God’s work. Why doesn’t God just tend to it? Why must we always be asking for success doing what He wants done?
The answer, of course, can be summed up on one word: dependence. God wants us to be ever mindful of our need to rely on Him. Even engaged in His work accomplishing His goals, He wants us not to take it for granted that we will be successful, but demonstrate we depend on Him.
At the bottom line, this is the life of faith.
That being said, why is prayer for the Colossians such a struggle that Epaphras must “wrestle” in prayer for them? I wonder if it might not be these problems the Colossians are facing. After all, they know better than believe the foolishness being fed to them by their false teachers. And yet, they are buying it anyway. Might it not be easier to forget them and move on to something or someone else?
It might, but that would not be the attitude of Jesus. It had to be a struggle to eat with the man who would betray him, but Jesus did it, and placed him close to him as he did and fed him from his own hand. That’s tough. But it is what followers of Jesus do.
The “spiritual life” is always touted as the one that brings you closer to God. It’s full of ideas that have been developed over the centuries and it includes asceticism (refraining from certain foods or activities), meditation, the seeking of “enlightenment” (or visions or “truths” no one else has thought of) or the adopting of philosophies handed down from the ages.
In and of themselves, perhaps none of these things are harmful. The problem comes when we think any of them will bring us closer to God. Paul uses a variety of terminology in this chapter to refer to them – philosophies, human traditions, basic principles of the world. They result in rules and regulations that make us indentured servants, working off a debt that will never be paid. The very notion that these things can bring one closer to the Almighty is the teaching of demonic beings rather than the Lord’s. Jesus, Paul says, did away with this foolishness and nailed it all to the cross (3:14). Incidently, just here some interpreters see Jesus as nailing the Old Testament to the cross – that “written code with its regulations.” Nothing could be further from the truth. As you move through the product of this “written code,” you will see some Old Testament subjects (like circumcision and the observance of the Sabbath), but you will see other things that have no bearing on the Old Testament (like false humility and the worship of angels). Rather, we should see Paul talking about human ideas and programs designed, in human terms, to provide a relationship with God.
Instead, Paul points to Jesus. HE is the fullness of God in bodily form. In our baptism, our connections with these earthly schemes was cut away and the only thing that counts now is our imitation of the one we’ve been raised with, Jesus.
When Monica and I married, our lives forever changed. Some freedoms were lost or limited, but opportunities and blessings not open to us before as singles were gradually (and sometimes suddenly) open to us. Only one other event was more life-changing for us, and that event was when we became Christians.
In Corinthians Paul describes our life-changing, life defining, relationship with Christ like a marriage (1 Corinthians 6:15-17). Clustered in two chapters of Colossians (2-3 – and more there than any other book), Paul emphasizes it another way: we are “with Christ.” We died with him, have been buried with him, raised with him, made alive with him, and our lives are now hidden with him in God. Because of this, God’s sure promise is that when Christ appears again, we also will appear with him in glory.”
The result, of course, is that we cannot act without Christ. Where we go, he goes. We make him a party to all we do and say.
There is, of course, security here. We never walk alone, never have a need that will go unmet, and never face a challenge or failure that can destroy us. There is also responsibility. We are in no danger of leading Christ astray by our behavior. We may, however, hurt his reputation.
Our task is not to hurt, but to enhance – to magnify the life of Jesus by our own as we walk with Him.