Where we “set our minds” is of the utmost importance! When we live with and for Jesus, the reality of the Kingdom of God becomes clearer and clearer to us. But this is no pie-in-the-sky pining away for utopia. It’s not about letting our imaginations conjure a fantasy we wished we were living in. It’s an acknowledgement and daily awareness of a reality that at one time we could not see, but in Christ we begin to see.
The first two chapters of Colossians focus largely on “what is true.” In chapter 3, we see Paul turning the corner to the always-important question: “What does this mean for our lives?”
Having established that “you died with Christ” (2:20), Paul begins here with the encouragement that having died, we are also raised with Christ. And that means new life in every facet. We have new identities, new spiritual family, new purpose, and of course, new vision. It was this kind of “kingdom vision” that set apart all the great ancestors of the faith, described in Hebrews 11.
- If the Kingdom of God were fulfilled today, what would it look like? Use your imagination!
- Read Isaiah 61:1-4. Take some time to visualize how the Messiah, Jesus, can transform people’s lives.
- Pray: what is God calling you toward, as God builds his Kingdom in this world through you, Christ’s body the Church?
It was Bible Day Camp at UPPC all last week! And that means that our regularly-scheduled series was on hold this week as we celebrated all the KIDS!
The overall theme of the week was Shipwrecked, and you can see tons of photos of all the fun on our UPPC Facebook page.
There was a unique focus each day, and together they all had something in common.
- Loneliness. We know Jesus understood this, in his own life and as he interacted with various people. There was a woman who was isolated for twelve years because of a medical condition, and Jesus “rescued” her by giving her dignity…and of course physical healing as well.
- Worry. Everyone worries, right? But it rarely does much good. When Jesus is in the home of Martha and Mary, Martha is “worried and upset” about many things, but Jesus reassures her that only one thing really matters: himself. He rescues her from the notion that she has to be good enough and invites her to enjoy his presence.
- Struggle. There are internal and external struggles of course, and sometimes they even overlap. A very wealthy young man approaches Jesus, asking how to inherit eternal life. But when Jesus tells him to sell everything, he struggles with his dilemma. The good news is that Jesus looked at him and loved him, unconditionally.
- Wrongdoing. Everyone has done wrong at some point or another, but not everyone’s sin has been retold for centuries the way Peter’s denial of Jesus has been. Even though Jesus didn’t “rescue” him that night, he sure did the next day — on the cross. The same place he rescues each of us from the sin that otherwise holds us down and leads to death.
- Powerlessness. Like Peter, when we do wrong we often deal with regret, or being powerless to change things. When Peter felt powerless after his denial of Jesus, Jesus came to him — resurrected, never to die again. What’s more, he didn’t leave Peter (or any of us) powerless. Jesus empowered him to be the rock of Christ’s church and begin sharing the good news throughout the known world.
All of these things share in common one universal human feature: weakness. That’s why the “Shipwrecked” theme is so great. When we are truly shipwrecked in our loneliness, worry, struggles, sin, or powerlessness, Jesus’ love remains constant, the Holy Spirit remains present, and the power of God is made perfect in our weakness.
- One question this time! Consider any one of the five human attributes above. Rank them in order, from the most relevant to you right now, to the least. Bring each of them to God in prayer and ask God to make his power perfect in your weakness.
As we grow up, we have to learn to process and discern multiple different sources of advice and wisdom for life. When we’re quite young, it’s 100% parents or guardians. As we grow up, we broaden our sources to include friends, teachers, coaches, and more. Many times, we learn conflicting things about the best way to live.
This is similar to what the Colossian church was facing, which Paul gets into detail about in the latter half of chapter 2.
A lot of the advice they’re being given appears wise. (Doesn’t it always, in the moment?) But Paul has a perspective that isn’t subject to the same kinds of pressure. And from that perspective, Paul reminds the Colossians of this paradox: the kingdom of God has already come, but is not yet fulfilled. Now, he doesn’t say it in that exact way. But Paul’s audience has had a thorough and fruit-bearing experience of Christ already. But they are not yet fully mature. It appears that Christ guaranteed God’s kingdom, but it is being worked out in our world over time.
What does this mean for us? First, the “already” means we can live in freedom from otherwise empty religious obligations that only foreshadow that which Christ fulfills. We can live in freedom from the judgmental eyes of those who are puffed up with what they claim are special spiritual insights. Second, the “not yet” means we are called to remain connected to Christ, the “head” by which the whole body grows. This connection has a twofold purpose: to grow and mature us, and to be examples of God’s kingdom to the world.
- Looking back on your life, did you ever do anything that you now realize was unnecessary? Why did you do it? (If you heard my sermon, think “enormous gym bag.”)
- Is there anything you do now that is based more on fear-filled duty than on joy-filled living? What are you afraid of?
- If you lived out God’s “already” kingdom, how would it affect your daily life?
- If God’s kingdom is also “not yet” fulfilled, what role might you play in its unfolding in our world?
My family and I were in Washington D.C. the week before Independence Day, doing as many of the “tourist” things we could: the White House, the US Capitol building, the National Archives, and so many museums, monuments, and memorials. Most of what we saw had something in common — the IDEA OF FREEDOM. Having achieved freedom from the British monarchy, can you imagine how our country’s founders would have felt if the new U.S. citizens continued to pay royal taxes anyway?
The Colossian church had experienced an unprecedented freedom in Christ: “God made you alive with Christ” (2:13). But some new ideas (now often called “the Colossian heresy”) have permeated the congregation that are threatening their newfound freedom with “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (v.8).
What makes these ideas hollow and deceptive? Essentially, they are promising a greater spiritual fulfillment than what Christ alone offers. But they find their origins in “human tradition” and “principles of the world.” Human tradition and worldly principles needn’t all be categorized as wrong or bad, but the fact is that they are not absolute. That which is not absolute cannot offer something absolute.
The fullness of life which God freely offers in Christ is an absolute promise, which the Colossians had already experienced, and which God, the Creator and Source of life, is powerful to fulfill. So there is no need to augment it with legalistic religious practices, intellectual gymnastics, or ecstatic experiences. As the song proclaims: “Christ is enough for me; everything I need is in You.”
It’s not always easy to remember this, which is why Paul urges us to “continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him” (2:6-7).
- What ideas are “out there” that suggest Christ isn’t enough for a full life?
- Do you ever struggle against the temptation to “add” things to your spiritual life, as though Christ were not sufficient?
- “Rooted in him”: Try reading the Bible or praying with the posture of listening for God, intentionally asking God to speak to you.
- “Built up in him”: Jesus triumphed over the world humbly, on the cross. Try being a humble servant to someone extra this week, or giving some extra time and energy to your community.
Colossians 1:24-29; 2:1-7 (MSG)
Paul is using loaded, political language (whether we like it or not) that is much more than mere advice for Christians. It ultimately got him killed.
There is so much here for followers of Jesus that helps us understand what it means to be citizens of God’s subversive Kingdom. At UPPC, we don’t “preach politics” by worldly standards. We preach the Word of God as it is revealed in scripture…which sometimes has unavoidable public implications.*
Some people feel that Christian faith is a private thing that has no place in the public sphere. And others feel that there’s no place for dialogue about public life in the private faith of the church. But that leaves us with nowhere to process it! So it’s important to remember that Jesus led people in public life, as well as private spirituality, and Jesus’ followers are called to engage in both.
Polis is a Greek word that refers to the “city” — an organized people under an organized government. The “politic” therefore had to do with the ruling of the people. So you can see how disruptive it would have been to the power-holders of Paul’s day to proclaim that Christ was ultimately ruling the empire.
What does it look like to be ruled by Christ in our cities?
- To love our neighbors as ourselves. And yes, there is no qualification on the concept of “neighbor.” Our challenge is to get over our presuppositions and love those whom God puts into our lives. Always. As a Christian, we are not permitted to view and treat people differently than what God sees and values. We are not permitted to demonize or lionize people for political gain, as though they are the ultimate “problem” or “solution.” If your politics are shaping your faith, you’ve got it backward. Our faith is to shape our politics.
- To demonstrate Christ’s values in the public sphere. Peterson’s translation of Paul’s words reads: “I want you woven into a tapestry of love” (2:2). We do have predecessors in our nation’s history: the abolitionists, child labor laws, and civil rights, among others. But this does not mean to christianize a nation by defeating opponents. The Church represents Christ’s love in the public sphere because Christ is victorious, not because we want to be victorious. Christ motivates us because in our baptisms his life is our life, and he is our Master. We are shaped and driven to act by his grace and mercy, and because he is the one to whom we must give an account.
- How aware are you of local public life and how it’s affecting people within our 5-mile radius? Are you more or less aware of that than you are of national or global public life?
- What would it look like to demonstrate Christ’s values in the public square from a posture of victory, rather than from a posture of striving for victory?
- How uncomfortable does this topic make you? What do you do when you feel uncomfortable about something in scripture or from the pulpit?
*I just arrived home from a week in Washington D.C. and thought it was worth noting that “public life” represented by federal government is, though often the most visible in the news and social media, not the most influential in our daily lives. The public life at the city, county, and state levels tends to have far more day-to-day influence over us. Are we as aware of local public life as we are of national public life?