Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “From Old and to New”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We’ve all seen those New and Improved commercials, and the Before and After ads – and some of them become kind of enticing after watching them untold numbers of times….
I believe those advertisements have been around for as long as humans first learned to speak, or since the first swap meet in history – “Look, Og. This New Wheel round! Way better than Old square wheel.”
Today we begin our fourth full week of the Season of Lent in which we are studying the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae, Asia Minor (today’s Turkey). These Colossians, while living across the planet, 2,000 years ago, in the Roman Empire, weren’t all that different from we Lidgerwoodians.
Colossae was on the decline, in the midst of a thriving Greco-Roman world – and false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking over!
Paul writes to remind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.
Today’s passage contains such a “Before” and “After” image, going from Old to New. Where do we land on that spectrum?
Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 3:1-17 ….—-
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Like most of Paul’s Epistles, the first half is mostly theology and the second half is mostly application. Today we begin that second half of this brief letter.
“Since, then” means there should be some evidence of our salvation, evidence that we believe the theological doctrine of the first two chapters. “Since” what has just been stated in the previous two chapters is true, “then” our lives should reflect that hope of glory….
If we live each day, stuck in our own self-doubt and unable to experience the light of Christ, maybe we haven’t grasped the truth of the Gospel yet. If we wonder if we’ll make it to heaven when we die, maybe we haven’t heard, or believed, the Good News of Jesus’ sufficiency, of His grace-payment on our behalf, of His death for us and His conquering death after His crucifixion so that we, too, could live victorious lives through Him!
“Since, then,” Paul writes; and he continues with the application process:
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Whenever there’s a “therefore”, you have to ask what the “therefore” is there for? In this case, the “therefore” is there because of what comes before: “Because we have been raised with Christ, because our hearts have been set on things above … therefore – we put to death, we crucify with Jesus, our earthly Old nature, our Before picture dies on the cross!”
The simple application is that we stop sinning! And the list of sins, while not meant to be exhaustive, involves both sins of the body and actions that offend both our God and our neighbor, AND sins of the heart – lust, greed, envy. Specific sin categories are mentioned – sexual immorality at the top of the list, but this is meant to cover the 10 Commandments of Exodus and Deuteronomy AND the Great Commandment as both Moses and Jesus stated it – to love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
In Matthew’s Gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You know the Law, Do not commit murder; but I say if you even keep a grudge in your heart you’ve broken that commandment already.”
Paul says, “You used to walk in those ways … but now you must rid yourselves of ‘anger, rage, slander, filthy language….’”
Those were your Old ways, but in Christ all things are made New (actually, that’s from II Corinthians). So, No lying, no evil talk, no slander, just cut it out! Play nice with each other!
And, Paul knows his audience. There were Jewish Christians living in Turkey, and they thought they were better than Gentile Christians; there were also Gentiles from further north and from further west; and there was at least one run-away slave mentioned in this letter, so Paul says, “There is no Democrat or Republican, no Mexican or American, no Refugee, Immigrant, or Native born in the Church of Jesus Christ! There is only Christians! So love each other and be nice to each other!”
Simple application? Yeah, right! How does one do that? How do I never throw a cuss word, or spread gossip, or hold a grudge against someone, or never speak ill of someone who I think deserves it?
Paul gives us another “Therefore”:
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
We cannot do it on our own! To the Church in Rome Paul said, “All have sinned, and all continue to fall short of the glory of God.” Even we who are “chosen”, the “elect of God”, while saved into a saving relationship with the God who has the authority to forgive and to gift us with Holy Spirit power – we still live in our earthly bodies and in our earthly circumstances! While we are “New” in Christ, we still bear the “Old” nature every day!
Since we cannot do what we know we should do, Paul says, “Because you are completely loved by God, and He cannot love you any more than He already does, no matter how good or bad you act, just get dressed every morning with the things God has laid out for you – compassion for the needy, kindness for those around you, humility with those ‘beneath’ you, gentleness with those who aren’t quite ‘there’ yet, and patience with everyone (including yourself!). … And because life is hard, wear an overcoat of love to hold it all together.”
If we consciously decide, not just when we wake up, but also when we encounter our first “other” (spouse, neighbor, child, whomever), and again several times throughout the day, to step into Jesus’ sandals and allow His power and love to flow through us, then we have a chance of experiencing authentic ecclesia, of knowing Christian community, of expressing Christ-like love.
But we have to be willing to be made willing to “clothe ourselves” with God’s beautiful garments of Grace. Last week I made reference to Corrie ten Boom, and gave you one of her quotes that said, ““If You look at the World, you’ll be DISTRESSED. If You look within, you’ll Be DEPRESSED. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at REST …”
This week let me share with you another CTB quote. This is one of her prayers, and she prayed it every day while in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp during WWII. She would simply pray: “God, make me WILLING to be MADE willing.” That was her prayer of compassion for fellow prisoners, kindness toward prison guards, humility among her comrades, gentleness alongside weaker fellow-sufferers, and patience while God seemed to just wait forever to send His rescue!
“God, make me WILLING to be MADE willing.”
And Paul continues:
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Someone, give me an answer here: What does it mean to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”? What does that mean for you personally?
What is this “message of Christ” Paul wants us to allow to dwell in us richly?
What does “dwell in us richly” mean?
I love that for Paul, a thinking man, a man of action, a man with a life-agenda to accomplish – Paul says that when we allow the “peace of Christ and the message of Christ to rule us and dwell in us” (and notice that strange pairing – I would have had the “peace of Christ dwell in me” and the “message of Christ rule me”, but Paul reverses that) when we allow that to happen we will stop our preaching and our mission activity and our study and our teaching and we will just sing – and we’ll sing all kinds of songs – from the Old Testament Psalter, from the Hymnbook, and from the Praise Song books – and we’ll sing all these songs with thanksgiving! – We will simply worship, in Spirit and in Truth!
And, finally, whether in Church or in Culture, in Sacred things or in Secular things “whatever we do, in speech or in action, we are to do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
“God, make me WILLING to be MADE willing.”
Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means living like we believe what we say we believe!! This is a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.
We are One in [Your] bond of love; We are One in [Your] bond of love.
We have joined our spirits with [Your] Spirit [O] God; We are One in [Your] bond of love.
Let us join our hands that the world will know, We are One in [Your] bond of love.
Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 79-92.
Skillings, Otis; “The Bond of Love”; 1971.