COLOSSIANS #23: THE SOURCE OF LIFE

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 There is no life in external things like bad stuff happening, or even good stuff happening.  If we live by our circumstances, or how we feel, we will be constantly going up and down, back and forth. Our text today tells us to seek life in the things of the spirit, not in our circumstances or flesh. We can be OK, no matter what is going on around us, or even in our own bodies. Our life is hidden in Christ with God, and that is where we draw our strength, joy and peace.

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Colossians #23. Colossians 3:1-4

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV, Colossians 3:1-4)

In Colossians 2:11-12 Paul explains that those who trust Jesus have been buried with Jesus by faith, in baptism, and that they have also been raised with Christ. Again, in verse 20, he says, “since you died with Christ, don’t be sucked into living according to the principles of this world.” He has been telling us things to avoid: legalism, religious hypocrisy, trying to justify ourselves to God, or somehow add to what Jesus has done for us.

Now, he begins with the other side of the equation. In Jesus, we died to the basic principles of this world. That means, says Paul, you have been raised with Christ to a new kind of life. Since you have this new life in Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is. Set your minds on the things above, not on the things of earth.

I want to dive into this deeply, because it is so important. To help us, let’s briefly consider the life of the prophet Elijah. He lived in ancient Israel, during a dark time of history. God used Elijah to confront Ahab, king of Israel, and his evil wife Jezebel, who were worshiping false gods, and leading the whole country away from God. God told Elijah that it wouldn’t rain for three years. Elijah had enough faith to tell the king and queen that this would happen, and that it was God’s judgment. This was a great act of faith and courage. Even so, he hid from the king and queen for most of the time of the drought.

At the end of three years, God told him to stop hiding and confront them. In that confrontation, God showed himself powerful, and the false gods, of course, proved false. All the people were ready to listen to Elijah, rather than the king. So, in accordance with Old Testament law, he had them execute all the false prophets for blasphemy.

Next, Elijah prayed for God to make it rain again. It didn’t happen at first, but Elijah persevered in prayer, and the cloud formed and a great storm broke. This was an amazing victory for God, and Elijah was central to it.

Immediately afterward, the queen sent Elijah a message. She had already killed many of the prophets of the Lord, and she told Elijah that he was dead meat. She was sending men to kill him.

The great prophet, flush with all the amazing things God had just done….ran away. He went a very long distance away. At first God just patiently comforted him. Elijah went further. Then God came and told Elijah to get ready. He said he was about show Elijah His presence.

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire, a thin silence.

Many translations say, “a still small voice.” I’m not much of a Hebrew scholar, so I’m mostly relying on the research of others. But a literal rendering might be “a voice, silent and intangible.” The important thing is that when Elijah heard the silent voice, he went out and listened to the Lord. The presence of God was in a calm silent voice in a way that it was not in all kinds of noise and thunder.

I think there was a lesson here for Elijah.

Remember Elijah’s recent life. He confronted the king and queen – that was awesome! God was with him. But they didn’t listen That was a real letdown. Then he predicted and prayed for drought and famine as judgment. God was at work again, making things happen – how thrilling. But the king and queen still didn’t listen, and continued in their evil, idol-worshiping ways, and Elijah ran away in fear. That was a bust. After three years in hiding, he confronted the rulers again. God showed up by burning up Elijah’s sacrifice! The people followed his commands! Then when Elijah prayed, God ended the drought. This was amazing! But the queen remained evil, and killed many other followers of God, and put out a contract to kill Elijah. All the fire and excitement went out of Elijah, leaving him like a wet kitten. He ran in fear for his life.

You see what was going on? Elijah was drawing his life from what was going on externally. When things were going well on the outside, Elijah was doing well. But when things were going badly, Elijah was not doing well. When the king and queen refused to repent, when they threatened him, he was discouraged. He was a coward.

We might say, “So what?” Isn’t it normal to do well when things are good, and to feel discouraged when things are not good?”

God was saying to Elijah: “No. It doesn’t have to be that way. My life is not in the external things. My Life is not in things going well, and my life is not absent when things are bad.”

Remember how God showed himself to Elijah. He was not in the storm, or the earthquake or the fire. Now, obviously, God sent the wind, caused the earthquake, lit the fire. So they resulted from his action. But the true presence of God was not in those things that he sent and did. The true presence of God was a silent, calm voice that spoke into Elijah’s spirit.

We look for God in action. We want Him to do external things for us and for others. We want Him to show off His power. And there are times when that is exactly what He also wants to do, and He does it. But we need to understand – the deepest presence of God cannot be found in external things. It is found as he communicates with our spirit. And in the spirit, it doesn’t matter what storms, what fires, what earthquakes are happening on the outside – for bad or for good. In the spirit, where true life can always be found through Jesus, it is calm and still.

This is what Paul is saying to us: “Your real life is in the spirit, through Jesus. Set your mind on spiritual things, not in how your life is going.”

We seek life externally. We try to stop the downs and live in the ups. We try to organize our physical environment. We try to reform our behavior, to learn to how cope. But God is not in the externals, not in the deepest sense.  Elijah’s externals were not all bad. In fact, some of the miracles God did through him were downright awesome. But they were still externals. God did them, yes. God used them, yes. But the Lord showed Elijah that those external things could not be a source of life and power for him. You can’t draw life from Externals.

We keep trying to live like Elijah. We want to maximize the victories, and minimize the defeats. We want it to be all “wow! God!” times, and no “uh-oh, Jezebel” times. But just stop and think about this for a moment. Has anyone, in the history of mankind, ever been able to make that happen? Has anyone ever lived moving only from victory to victory, all ups, no downs? Of course not. Elijah didn’t. Peter didn’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus in his physical life here on earth, had his setbacks here on earth. His hometown wouldn’t accept him, and their lack of faith prevented him from working the way he wanted to there. The leaders of the people – including the religious elite – rejected him. His own closest disciples consistently misunderstood him and his message. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus  was tested in every way, just as we were (Hebrews 4;15). The word for “tested” or “tempted” is the Greek word pronounced “peiradzo.” Some English translations say “tempted” but it doesn’t really mean just temptation to sin. It means undergoing trials to determine an outcome. In other words, this is life. Everyone faces the trials. No one, not the prophets, not the apostles, not even the Son of God is exempt. If Jesus could not throw a lasso around life and make it behave for him, do you really think you can?

Now, when we face the idea that this is just how life is – that can be a daunting idea. “You mean the rest of my life, I’m going to go up, and down, and up and down? I’m going to win victories – and then be defeated. I’m going to see God at work…and then I won’t see him at work. I’m going to live a holy life — and then I’m going to sin. And then I’m going live holy again?”

The reason that idea is so daunting to us, is because we are trying to get life here and now. We are trying to get life out of our behavior. We are trying to get life out of our externals, like money, or success or relationships, or sex or drugs or alcohol or even…religion.

Brothers and sisters, there is no life there. There is no life in mood-altering substances. That’s easy, we know that – even addicts know it, but they can’t seem to stop looking there.  There is no life in money or success or accomplishment. Read Ecclesiastes. It’s been tried. There is no life in partying. There is no life in abstaining. I’m not saying that they are morally equal – but I am saying that you can’t get real life out of either excess or self-denial.

There is no life in “living for God.” That’s right. If you are living for God with your own will and effort, you will not find life in it – not lasting life, not the streams of living water which flow from within and cause you to never thirst again.

The reason there is no life in these things is because they all take place on the outside of us – in our flesh. Paul has been telling us that our flesh is already dead through Christ. We’re done with it. There is no life there. Let’s go back to how human beings are made. The scripture says there are three parts to humans: Body, Soul, and Spirit

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Heb 4:12 (ESV)

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of your Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

It’s a different Greek word for each one: soma (body) psyche (soul) and pneuma (spirit). The body is fatally infected by sin. It is going to die. Everyone dies in this way. Sometimes, the New Testament calls a sin-infected body “the flesh.”

The soul is where we have our mind and personality. It is connected both to the body, and also to the spirit. It is the go-between, the middle. You might say the soul is where spiritual battles take place. Our soul can tell our flesh to stop doing something it wants to do, or to keep doing it. I believe that the souls of Christians will be made perfect and holy and complete when they are given new resurrection-bodies.

The spirit is the part of us that interacts with spiritual things. Those who do not trust Jesus have spirits that are dead to God (but alive to the influence of evil spiritual power). When we trust Jesus, our spirits are made alive to God, whole, perfect and holy, and dead to sin. The condition of your spirit, in Jesus, never changes. Your spirit is perfect, holy and absolutely. Your spirit is fine if things are going well in your life. Your spirit is perfect, holy and absolutely fine if things are going badly in your life. If you belong to Jesus, your life – your truest life, your spirit-life is already with Christ in God.

Now we can better understand what Paul was saying to the Colossians, and what God was showing Elijah. Life comes from God, through our spirit, into our soul, and then out into our behavior. If we want true life, we need to fix our thoughts and ambitions and desires upon the things of the spirit. These are what Paul calls “things above.” When we have real spirit life, we are no longer controlled by what the body/flesh wants. One of my bible school teachers put it this way:

“There are two dogs inside of you. A good dog, and an evil one. They are fighting each other for control over you.”

“Which dog wins?” asked someone.

“Whichever one you feed,” she said.

Paul is telling us to feed the good dog by setting our hearts, minds and will upon the things of the spirit. This is one reason that reading the Bible regularly is so important. I started reading the bible daily when I was thirteen years old. I’ve had spells when it wasn’t daily, but in general, I’ve continued ever since. Now, reading the Bible like that did not, in and of itself make me more holy. It certainly did not make God love me any more than he already did, and it didn’t make him love me any more than he loves people who don’t read their bible. But what it did do was to shape my thinking and my emotions toward the things of the spirit. It feeds the good dog, and weakens the bad one.

Paul also tells us that our spirit life, for the time being, is hidden with Christ in God. That means that the condition of your spirit it is not always evident to the world, or even to you. The Greek word for “hidden” in verse three is the basis for our English word cryptic. That means it is sometimes difficult to see or understand.

Paul makes sure, in verse 4, that we know there will come a day when the spirit-life will be fully revealed: fully evident to yourself and to all others. But that does not  change in what is happening with your spirit. It is only a change in that it was hard to see before, and when Jesus returns, it will be fully manifested.

Because we are already perfect and complete and holy in our spirit-self, Paul urges us strongly to seek to focus on  spiritual reality, rather than flesh reality. Let our souls, and then our bodies be influenced primarily by the spirit, rather than the flesh. To do so is not complicated: read your Bible, understanding that spiritual-reality is greater and eternal, while flesh-reality will eventually die. Develop community with other believers who are trying to do the same thing. Pray – have an on going conversation with God all day long. I know of a couple who communicate constantly throughout the day, by phone. They probably call each other dozens of times each day, and often they pass the time while they are doing the shopping or laundry or whatever else, talking to each other even while accomplishing other tasks. We need to do this with Jesus, also. Leave the phone line always open, connected. You can pray while hanging drywall. You can pray while fishing, or grocery shopping, or mowing the yard or entering data. Or, writing a sermon (thanks for that one, Lord.)

Paul says almost the same thing in to the Philippians that he did to the Colossians:

18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (ESV, Philippians 3:18-21)

Be encouraged. If you know Jesus, all is well in your spirit, not matter what else is going on. You all know that these aren’t just words for me. For five years I’ve felt physically like I have a knife blade broken off in my left kidney. We’ve spent thousands of dollars looking for answers, and received none. But my spirit-reality matters much more than my body-reality. I do get frustrated. I do break down sometimes. But those of you who know me personally also know that my spirit-reality matters more to me than this, and that is why I’m really OK, and will continue to be OK, even if I don’t get healing until I die. This body won’t last forever, but my spirit will. So set your mind, seek, pursue, meditate on, prioritize, things above, things of the spirit, not things of the body and the flesh.

PEACE

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When you know that you are loved, that you are truly and totally forgiven; when you know that your shame is removed and the most important part of you has been made holy, there is not only joy, but also peace. Something inside you becomes settled, able to be at rest, both in good times and in bad. The internal struggle is over.

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Galatians #21 . Chapter #5:22, part B

Let’s see. My last few days have gone like this: I started the week knowing that I was getting less than half of my regular income, with no reason to believe that might change. Meanwhile, we paid $80 for a plumber to tell us there is nothing wrong with our pipes. We lost our little dog, who is like part of our family, and dearly beloved by all, especially our children. And we got a message that our oldest daughter’s college financial aid application, which has already been held up for five months, is still in limbo. We heard about extended family members who are upset with us, and we were crazy busy from Monday through Thursday, and our heating and air-conditioning system is malfunctioning. There is more, but you get the point.

The message this week is about peace. I should have known.

We are examining the fruit of Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22. Last week we considered joy in depth, and we saw that is was not dependent on circumstances. Actually, that is true about all the fruit of the Spirit. Remember, love, the first fruit of the Spirit? The word for love is the Greek word agape. It means self-sacrificing love. Agape is the result of a decision and a commitment to honor and value another person. It is not dependent on what you feel, or even what the other person does or fails to do. In the same way, all of this fruit flows from the Holy Spirit, through our spirit. None of the fruit of the Spirit depends on what happens, or fails to happen, externally. These are manifestations of the character of Jesus Christ, arising from within us, not outside of us. In some ways, the fruit of the Spirit is most lovely and obvious when it is in stark contrast to our circumstances.

With that in mind, it is clear that peace, as one of the fruits of the Spirit, does not mean that there is no turmoil in your circumstances. In fact, it might be the opposite. It could be that outside, your world is crumbling, but you are sustained from the inside by the peace of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word is pronounced “ei-renay.” It is used some 85 times in the Greek New Testament.

Virtually all of the apostles seem to use “peace” as a key part of greeting other believers (the exceptions are James, and whoever wrote Hebrews). Within the first few verses of each of his letters, Paul says something like this:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! (Phlm 1:3, NET)

Jude, John and Peter do much the same:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2John 1:3, NET)

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! (2Pet 1:2, NET)

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. (Jude 1:2, HCSB)

The only other thing consistently proclaimed in these greetings is grace. What this says, is that, in the minds of the apostles, peace is a key part of the message of good news. It is central to what Jesus has accomplished for us; it is closely connected to the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ.

This makes sense to me. When you know that you are loved, that you are truly and totally forgiven; when you know that your shame is removed and the most important part of you has been made holy, there is not only joy, but also peace. Something inside you becomes settled, able to be at rest, both in good times and in bad. The internal struggle is over. Sometimes the bible describes this as “peace with God.”

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Rom 5:1, NET)

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:17-18, NET)

This peace remains, regardless of what else may be happening. Jesus said that he himself gives us this kind of peace:

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. (John 14:27, HCSB)

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33, NET)

Jesus doesn’t say that this peace is based upon the absence of trouble on the outside. In fact, he says the opposite. The peace that world gives is temporary. It is based upon things going well for you. Jesus says, his peace isn’t so weak. His peace conquers, even in the middle of trouble and suffering. Paul says elsewhere that this peace we have often doesn’t make sense to the human mind. It isn’t rooted in the here and now. We get it by trusting God with everything, every situation, with the sum total of our lives:

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7, NET)

The peace Paul talks about here is “beyond understanding.” If things were all good on the outside, peace might be understandable. But this peace surpasses our comprehension, because it is rooted not in in circumstances, but in relationship to God through Jesus Christ.

So, how do you get peace?

We talked about this last time. Holy Spirit-peace does not come from our striving or our effort. It doesn’t come from us trying hard, or saying, “I am at peace! I am at peace!” It comes from being connected to Jesus. The closer we are to Jesus, the more peace will grow in our hearts.

Someone in one of our small groups mentioned something very important this week. Paul describes these things as fruit, and fruit do not grow all in one day. Early in spring, all you can see is a little shoot, or a tiny swelling at the end of a twig. Gradually, over a period of days or weeks, you perceive a bud. A while after that, you see a pretty flower, but still no fruit. Then, at first the fruit is tiny, and it would be bitter to eat. But it slowly grows. The point is, all these things are character qualities that grow in us. That word “grow” should encourage you. This text is not here to show you that you ought to have it all together. These things grow in us in increasing measure, as we stay connected to Jesus. Maybe right now, you only have a little bit of peace, joy or love. That’s OK. Some is better than none.

The fruit will grow if you stay connected to Jesus. Being connected to Jesus means you continue to rest in him, trust him, seek him through the bible and through prayer and fellowship with others. It means that when you understand he is asking you to something, you do it. If you remain in Jesus, this fruit will grow. And it will grow at the pace set by the Holy Spirit.

So, if need be, you can have peace about how little peace you have. You can be patient with your lack of patience. Stay connected to Jesus, and let the fruit grow.

There is another aspect to peace that the New Testament talks about frequently. I think this second meaning of peace arises from the kind of peace we’ve been talking about. But this secondary peace is important to. It is peace among believers. In other words, the result of the Holy Spirit being in both you and me, should be that we find common ground, and learn ways to get along without a lot of strife and wrangling and arguing. Remember the flesh? The flesh wants its own way. But the Spirit wants Jesus’s way. When we walk with Spirit, and submit to what he wants, rather than satisfying the flesh, the natural result will peace among Jesus-followers. I’m not saying everything will always be perfect, because you all just aren’t as right as I am J. Even so, one result of walking by the Spirit should be increasing harmony between people who are remaining connected to Jesus.

Sometimes, maybe we have a choice about whether to embrace God’s nonsensical peace, or to turn away. Paul writes to the Colossians:

Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. (Col 3:15, NET)

It sounds like he is saying they have a choice to let the peace of Jesus Christ control their hearts, or not. I think this might mean giving up trying to get fleshly satisfaction, and embracing Jesus and his promises, and whatever situation he has you in at the moment. I think this involves a choice of either trusting God, or retaining the right to be stressed and upset about your situation.

I’ll close with some more words about peace:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2Thess 3:16, NET)