Last week, we looked at growing in grace and holiness – we continue that theme, looking at the spiritual baggage that we bring from the old life to the new and what we can do about it.
The city of Colosse was near Laodicea (one of the 7 churches of Revelation) in modern day Turkey. It is currently and unexcavated Tell (a large mound of rocks, bricks and earth).
The church in Colossse was probably founded by Epaphras while Paul was ministering in Ephesus for about 3 years. It was a multi-cultural congregation with mixed social status - Jews, Greeks, Barbarians, Scythians & Slaves which caused all sorts of tensions that Paul felt he needed to address.
Purpose of the Book
(1) Combat false teaching that was undermining the centrality and supremacy of Christ
(2) Stress the true nature of new life in Christ and its demands on the believer
The book of Galatians describes the battle between the Flesh and the Spirit in chapter 5 and this passage similarly contrasts the two.
The “old self” and its practices
Paul sees a clear distinction between life without Christ and life with Christ. Most of us will recognise an “old self” that existed before we asked Jesus into our lives. Paul lists some of the practices of the old self.
• Sexual immorality
• Evil desires
• Greed (which is Idolatry)
• Filthy language
The “new self” and its practices
• Bearing with each other
We have been given a new nature in Christ, but the old one, the Flesh, hasn’t completely gone away. It’s still trying to exert an influence on us. What’s happening, is that our “new self”, our “new nature” is in a process of transformation. The Spirit of God is slowly changing us from the inside out. But of course, we have to be willing to change, we have to be open to the work of the Spirit – we can resist it, or we can embrace it. This process of transformation is often called Sanctification and it’s described in several places in the Bible. Here are some of them:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
2 Corinthians 3:18
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Colossians 3:10 (from our reading today)
“…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
The “new self” is being renewed in knowledge in the image of God. But, we still have some of those old ways in us. Old habits die hard. We don’t enter into new life in Christ empty-handed. We bring a lot of baggage from our “old self” with us.
One of the problems in the church at Colosse was that cultural baggage was causing tensions, in particular between Greeks and Jews. Both groups brought their cultural baggage with them to church and this led to disputes.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
One of the first disputes in the early church was between these 2 different cultures - The Hebraic Jews spoke Aramaic and followed Jewish culture. The Grecian Jews spoke Greek and most were born outside of Palestine. They followed Greek culture, also known as Hellenistic culture.
Paul’s answer to the disputes caused by cultural baggage in Colosse was to remind them of their total equality in Christ.
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
So Paul reminds the Colossians and us, that as far as the church is concerned
- cultural background is IRRELEVANT,
- nationality is IRRELEVANT and
- social status is IRRELEVANT!
GOD knows that these things are irrelevant but we are still being “renewed in knowledge in the image of God” and so we can easily think and act as if they are important. If we’re honest, we tend to have more time and respect for people who are just like us. We get far more upset when we here about a plane crash in Europe than one in some other distant continent. We get more upset about domestic incidents than wars and natural disasters on the other side of the world – unless people like us are caught up in them. In theory we recognise that everyone is equal in the eyes of God, but we don’t really live that out.
Whether we realise it or not, we are all carrying cultural baggage. Mary McAleese got into trouble some years ago on the radio when she suggested that many Protestants in the North transmitted to their children an irrational hatred of Catholics. She was simply making the point that cultural baggage has consequences. When Liana and myself lived in the North while I was training for the ministry, a Methodist couple we knew called their first child “Patrick” – their friends couldn’t believe it! They thought it sounded far too Catholic!
What do we tend to do with our cultural baggage?
• Pretend that it doesn’t exist
• Hang around with people who have the same baggage as ourselves
• Pass judgement on other people’s baggage (find speck but ignore the plank)
What should we do with our cultural baggage?
• Acknowledge it and identify it
• Give the Holy Spirit permission to deal with it
• Bear with each other as we all sift through a lifetime of experiences and influences, trying to discern what is worth holding on to and what needs to be discarded.
This process takes time and that’s why we need to bear with each other
Look around you – everyone here is loved by God, regardless of cultural background, nationality, or social standing. In fact, God’s love is even more embracing than that. God’s love for you is not based on your level of Christian commitment or your level of performance in His kingdom, it is based on the fact that you are made in His image. As Philip Yancey wrote: "There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you less"
Do we love people the way God loves them? We don’t yet, because we are still being transformed. The more that our minds become renewed in knowledge and in the image of our Creator, the more we will love each other!
In the meantime, we need to bear with each other.
It’s only as we begin to fully realise how much we are loved by God, that in the light of that love we will demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience towards others.
It is vital that we do these things because if we don’t, then people will take offence and grievances will arise between people in the church.
And when that happens, there’s only one way out of it – forgiveness. And that’s hard. It’s better to be patient with someone early on than to let things get to the stage where there’s a grievance and you then have to go up to someone and ask for their forgiveness.
• Due to our “old self”, we all have our own cultural baggage to deal with
• We are all in the process of having our minds renewed and consequently:
o We do not yet see people the way God sees them
o We do not always act in godly ways towards our brothers and sisters in Christ
• We need to treat each other as EQUALS and bear with each other in all compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience
As a response, consider this question:
This is an opportunity to practice the Gospel Waltz that I showed you last week.
Let’s Pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Word, which constantly challenges our thinking and our lifestyle. We Repent of the wrong attitudes we carry towards some our brothers and sisters in Christ. We Believe that Jesus came to show us a better way and that through the Cross we have new life and the Holy Spirit within us, renewing our minds to the likeness of Christ – but we have some way to go. Help us to Obey your Word to us this morning, as we gather around the Lord’s table, one in Christ and one with each other. Amen.