The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: October 2018

Kill Them

Who wants to read a sin-list?  Just tell the good news!  But here Paul has gone from preaching to meddlin’!

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)” (3:5).

Fierce words. Furious words.  Kill them.  Paul’s read-aloud words reverberate through the Colossae congregation. Already he has urged believers not to set their minds on earthly things.  But, some earthly things require killing.

The Greek is nekro-o. Luke uses it of the prodigal who was starving to death.  “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death’!” (Luke 16:16).   Paul uses it figuratively, but with the same ferocity:  “Completely stop earthly things, even if it requires extreme measures”.

Kill “fornication” (Greek, pornaya)–a reference to sexual immorality of any kind, including extramarital sexual intercourse.  Kill ” . . . impurity” (Greek akatharoia)–moral filthiness, like flesh decaying in the grave.  Kill  ” . . . passion” (Greek pathos)–uncontrolled lustful desire.  Kill . . .” evil desire”(Greek evpiqumian)–unrestrained godless desire.  Kill ” . . . greed” (Greek pleonexian)–disposition to acquire more and more, to the point where one actually unknowingly worships his acquisitions.

Serious stuff.  Not behavior to dismiss with a, “Nobody’s perfect”.  Because . . .

“On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient” (3:6).

This behavior doesn’t simply bring God’s discipline.  It doesn’t just remove God’s blessing.  It elicits  divine reaction against evil.  It brings judgment  and punishment  historically and in the future.

Furthermore, these are marks of the old life . . .

“These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life” (3:7). Here Paul implies concrete expression of connection with Christ.  If you’re connected with Christ in his death and resurrection, your life should show it.  Stop living “that [pre-Christ ] life”.

 “But now you must get rid of all such things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth” (3:8).  Here in verse 8 Paul urges, “But now you also must put them all aside” (NAU).   And in verse 9  (NAU) “. .  . since you laid aside the old self with its sinful practices . . . ” .  In both verses Paul uses synonyms– the Greek apekduomai (take or strip off clothing) and apotithayme (take off and lay down clothes).  He seems to say believers “laid aside the old self” when they believed and were baptised.  Now  they “must put [earthly things] all aside” day by day.

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices  and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (3:9,10).

This echoes 1:9,10 . . .
We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives.Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God.”

The “old self” is gone; the “new self” is here.  The “new self” is the self now connected to Christ.  It is not static.  Something is happening to it.  It “is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator”.

A process is at work in the Christian. And God is its cause.  So when Christians “kill earthly things”, God has already initiated the work.  He is renewing the new self in knowledge.  Knowledge of what?  Of whom?  Knowledge of Christ the creator of the new self.  This knowing of Christ causes hatred of what Christ hates and thus motivates and empowers believers to run from temptation and kill (that is, completely stop) ungodliness.  This is a life-long battle.

” In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! (3:11).

Out of left field?  Only because we think individually not communally.  The same Spirit that connects us to Christ connects us to one another.  Old divisions in this new mankind are broken down.  Christ is all (not Jew or Gentile) and in all.

* * *

Our sin-nature hates sin-lists.  It balks at our guilt.  It waves off repentance.  It treats sin as normal.

Paul doesn’t.  We must not skim sin-lists.  We’ve got to admit our guilt.  (“I have evil desires.”)  Then, strip it off like vomit-soaked clothes.  Kill it like stomping on a spider.  God is progressively renewing us.  But  we’ve got to work hand-in-hand with him.

I’m 75.  And I still find myself on these lists.  A life-long battle.  Wage it, we must.  Because we’re connected with Christ.

And our sin dishonors him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Unearthly

Arthur longs to attain a higher spiritual and moral state than others in his church.  He gives up coffee and desserts–then any food he enjoys.  He starts running–marathon distances, though he hates all physical exercise. He sheds pounds until he’s practically skin and bones. He sleeps on the hard floor, without a blanket in winter or air conditioning in summer.

Asceticism is “the doctrine that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like” (Dictionary.com).

That’s what Arthur is buying into and what the false-philosophers are pushing the Colossians into and what Paul refutes . . .

“Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.  Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.  If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations,  ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. ” (Colossians 2:16-23).

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth . . .  ” (3:1,2).

Instead Paul prescribes pleasure, not privation.  Believers are raised with Christ (“You were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead “--2:12).  And Christ is “seated at the right hand of God”.  So pursue the above-things.  Deliberately think about the above-things.  Don’t try to kill the flesh and attain a higher plane of spirituality by asceticism.  Seek the above-things where Christ is.

What are the above-things?.  Paul implies several.  The hope heaven gives (1:5,23,27).  The inheritance of the saints (2:12).   The treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ (2:3).  In fact, Christ sits at the center of the above-things:  Christ as Creator (1:16), as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (1:15), the One for whom all things were created (1:16), who holds all things together (1:17), and who will have the supremacy in all things (1:18).

Paul contrasts the above-things with “the things that are on earth”.  And with this brief phrase catapults us far beyond asceticism-practices.  On-earth things are all those things that distract our thinking from the above-things.  For our thinking must be shaped by Christ and the things that are above.  Our minds must be informed by our eternal destiny.

With Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

” . . . for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your  life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (3:3,4).

Believers have died.  That is, in spiritual union with Christ, sin no longer rules.  The “old” man has been killed.  Yet, believers live–a life that is “hidden with Christ in God.” 

When I was a kid, I was a Superman fan.  Behind the suit and tie and kind of a blundering behavior, lived SUPERMAN!  But Paul doesn’t mean believers should hide their Christianity.  He means, as with Superman, what believers really are in Christ is hidden by the natural man.

But when Christ appears, believers will be revealed “with him in glory”.  All “Clark Kent believers” will appear as “Superman” in the glory of Christ.

* * *

I’ve been tied to this earth almost 75 years.  It’s all I’ve ever known.  So when Paul exhorts, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth . . .  ” , I cringe.  Because it reminds me of what I have to leave behind here.  Not my house or truck.  My wife, children and grandchildren.  It tears my heart.

At the same time, I remember I’ve also wanted something to look forward to–a family vacation, Christmas, etc.  Paul gives me something greater to anticipate.  And urges me to set my mind on it now.

C.S Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Deep down, buried under desires to be healed and walk again, are desires nothing in this world can satisfy.  I was made for another world.

Unearthly.

 

 

 

 

 
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

 

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Complete

Occasionally in Bible reading a hard-to-understand passage confronts us.  One that seems irrelevant and inapplicable.  That’s Colossians 2:16-23.  In it, Paul gives only snippets of the false philosophy he’s countering.  And what we see doesn’t seem to apply at all to us today.

Here’s the entire text.  Comments follow.

“Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.  These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.   Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.  If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.”

Colossae was a significant city from the 5th century onward, notable for its angel-worship cult.  By Paul’s day, the city’s  prime had passed.  Indeed, we’d probably be ignorant of its existence, but for Epaphras taking the gospel and planting a church there.  That church is now in danger of being taken captive by a false, Christ-diminishing philosophy.  This text gives us clues to its components–but clues only. This much we know . . .

The Colossae false-philosophers  claim they can reach a higher spiritual plane apart from Jesus Christ. To achieve this one must practice severe asceticism.  This includes abstinence from strong drink and certain kinds of food.  Observance of religious festivals and holy days is also necessary. A person must deny himself basic bodily needs and endure other forms of physical mistreatment.  If one proved diligent and faithful–and worshiped angels–he could expect religious visions not accessible to an ordinary believer.  This identified one as spiritually superior.

Paul responds:  don’t let anyone condemn you about food or drink or festival observances . . .don’t let anyone disqualify you because you don’t practice self-abasement or worship angels or have visions . . . don’t submit to worldly regulations that come from men, not God . . . hold fast to the head from whom the whole body grows with growth from God . . . remember with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe.

We could dig more deeply.  But, since we’re not similarly threatened, why do it?  Paul’s argument here and throughout this letter is plain:  in Christ you have all of God; don’t be intimidated to think you need something  else.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

One day I happened to briefly discuss church with a woman who taught at the same school as I.  I remember nothing about our talk except she felt she had to attend her Roman Catholic church that Sunday–either to compensate for her sins or to add merit to her good works.

In “The  DaVinci Code” Movie (2006) Silas belonged to a religious sect that practiced severe self-flagellation to curb his sinful temptations and make himself acceptable to God.  His body bore the grotesque scars of his religion.

After 44 years of pastoral ministry, I sometimes find myself thinking,  “God owes me healing because I served him all those years.  (Truth is, I was going nowhere when he called me.  And his call made my life more meaningful than it could have been otherwise.)

Church attendance merits nothing.  Body-beating doesn’t make us holier.  God owes us nothing for our service.  All smell like human nature rising up to accomplish something with God.

The Colossian false-philosophies were captivating for that very reason.  Heightened spirituality was possible through learning their secret knowledge.  Its glaring error:  it bypassed Christ.

This is why Paul wrote:  “For in Christ the fullness of deity lives in a human body . . . ” If God’s fullness lives in Christ, there’s nothing to be had of God apart from Christ.  “And you have fullness through your union with Christ.”  Secret spiritual knowledge doesn’t gain heightened awareness of God.  Church attendance doesn’t merit more of God.  Self-flagellation doesn’t make us holier for God.   Service doesn’t get us good treatment from  God.

We have all we will need and all we could want of God in Christ.  We have been made complete in him.

That’s grace.

 

 

 

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