July 28, 2013

Continue to Live Your Lives in Him

Series:
Passage: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-19, Luke 11:1-13
Service Type:

Bible Text: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-19, Luke 11:1-13 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. James Clubine | Series: 2013 Sermons

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives* in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Introduction

The publication Christian Reader has a section titled “Lite Fare;” one man contributed the following story about his mother.  “One Sunday morning my mother decided to play a joke on my sister by phone.  Dialing the number, she heard someone pick up the receiver, her cue to say in a deep voice, “This is God speaking. Why aren’t you in church?”  To Mom’s horror, she had dialed the wrong number. (The story sparked an idea that maybe a good strategy for the church is it to do “robo-calls” like this on Sunday mornings.)

What most of us know about our gathering together for worship is that we are sustained in our faith through it; the very thing Paul describes as being “rooted and built up in him (Christ) and established in faith” occurs as we worship.  It isn’t the only place where rooting and building up occurs but here Christ has promised to unfailingly meet us so to do.  We miss it when we are unable to get to church.  In a way Christ’s work of sustaining us in faith is imperceptible—nothing we can physically point to—but we know it nonetheless.  Much like how meeting for coffee and conversation with a friend, imperceptibly that friendship deepens.

The Apostle’s admonition to “continue to live your lives in him” presupposes this gathering, worshipping, studying, praying community of believers.  Using the metaphor of the body to speak of the church—a little later in this chapter—Paul concludes that in holding fast to our “head”, Jesus Christ, the whole body is nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews and grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:19) “Living your lives in him” (Christ Jesus the Lord) and “holding fast to our head” are different angles of vision of this same faith-sustaining reality.

The Greek word that is translated “live your lives” literally means “to walk around.”  It was used as a common idiom to mean “a way of life.”  Grammatically speaking, the mood of the verb is the imperative, a command.  “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives* in him;” you can hear in the background that there are those in the Colossian church who are encouraging believers to strike out in a different direction.  Jesus was good to begin with but that needs to fade into the background as you come to a more mature or fuller understanding of spiritual life, argued some of these teachers.  Paul insists that the way to continue is “in him.”  I invite you to reflect with me on this admonition to “continue to live your lives* in him;” as we reflect please underline and highlight the words “in him.

1. It’s all about Jesus.  “In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily;” these are but two of Paul’s all-encompassing descriptors of Christ’s identity in his Colossian letter.  It’s because of who Jesus is; this is why we should continue to live our lives in him.” So endlessly rich is the person of Jesus Christ he is singularity capable of being to be the one main thing for all of our lives.

“Jesus Christ,” said Paul a sentence or two before the text we are considering, “was God’s secret plan, a plan that has lain hidden for ages and generations.  Now it has suddenly come to light in the events concerning the Messiah (Christ).” Nobody, no matter how learned or devout, could have guessed that, when the one true God unveiled his blueprint for bringing the whole world  under his sovereign and saving rule, that blueprint would consist of a man suffering the cruel punishment that the Romans used for rebel slaves and revolutionary leaders—and then rising from the dead three days later. But once these astonishing events had unfolded, the Apostles came to see the wonder of God’s plan.

Jesus wasn’t simply a religious leader; he is the centre of the cosmos, the key to life and the universe, the image of the invisible God, the clue to genuinely human existence.  Christianity is Christ.  Put him in the middle of the world, and the world will stop spinning in incomprehensible circles and begin to make sense.  Find him, and you’ve got the treasure.

As in Paul’s day, so today, believers are being dissuaded from being so Christ-centric.  Paul warned the Colossian believers about those who would take them captive “through philosophy and empty deceit” that lead away from Christ.  What are the religious and philosophical attractions in our world that are most likely to draw Christians away from the fulfilment that is in Christ Jesus?

We can name some of the usual suspects; fame, fortune, power, prestige, popularity.  But some dissuaders are far more subtle and come from within the church, from those who would lead us in pursuit of what they conceive as the church’s mission.

Dr. James Smith teaches philosophy at Calvin College, Michigan.  In a recent article he spoke about the curious blind spot of some religious higher education institutions.  In speaking of one institution’s new mission statement he noted that it was “Long on talk of justice, diversity, and service, the word “God” nowhere appears in the document. “Jesus” never makes an appearance in the mission statement.”  Smith went to note, more generally, that “In strange, often unintended ways, the pursuit of “justice,” peace, and a “holistic” gospel can have its own secularizing effect.  What begins as a Gospel-motivated concern for justice can turn into a naturalized fixation on justice in which God never appears.  And when that happens, “justice” becomes something else altogether—an idol, a way to effectively naturalize the gospel, flattening it to a social amelioration project in which the particularity of Jesus as the revelation of God becomes strangely absent.”

It isn’t just in Christian higher education we see the setting aside of the particularity of Jesus; it also occurs in many church denominations.  A ministry that was once understood its impetus as rising from the gospel—the good news that is Jesus Christ; the ministry is so emphasized that it is mistaken for the gospel.  The gospel, for example, fosters a life of love of neighbour; but love of neighbour is not the gospel—Jesus Christ is the gospel.  Many so emphasize love of neighbour that “love of neighbour” is now mistaken for the gospel.  Counseling, spiritual direction, doing justice, engaging culture itself may become the main thing instead of the gospel.

Imagine you are in an orchestra and you begin to play, but the sound is horrific because the instruments are out of tune.  The problem can’t be fixed by simply tuning them to each other.  It won’t help for each person to get in tune to the person next to her because each person will be tuning to something different.  No, they will all need to be tuned properly to one source of pitch.  Often we go about trying to tune ourselves to the sound of everything else in our lives.  We often hear this described as “getting balance.”  But the questions that need to be asked are these: “Balanced to what?” “Tuned to what?”  The gospel does not begin by tuning us in relation to our particular problems and surroundings; it first re-tunes us to God.

The gospel is good news, not good advice.  The gospel is not primarily a way of life though it leads us to follow after Jesus.  It is not something we do, but something that has been done for us and something that we must respond to.  The word “gospel” means “good news”; the gospel is something to be announced because that is what you do with good news.  We do not proclaim a better way of being religious—though a religious life emerges for being sustained in the faith.  Christian faith is not a code of ethics—though a certain ethic emerges as we follow Christ.  The gospel properly grounds our religious life and ethic; at its heart the gospel is news, good news, and therefore must be publically announced.

The gospel is good news announcing that we have been rescued or saved.  Listen to how Paul speaks of this rescue in this text from Colossians. “And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God* made you* alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed* the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” The event Paul refers to is Jesus’ crucifixion.  Crucifixions were done publically to send a message of Rome’s power; in this crucifixion God is publically announcing his love for the world.

In the Roman world military triumphs over enemies were celebrated with maximum symbolic impact.  Victorious armies would parade the spoils of war before the folks back home.  These spoils consisted of captured booty, a long bedraggled line of prisoners and if possible, right at the end of the line, the king of the just defeated nation.  At the climax of the celebration the king was ceremonially executed.  Every crucifixion was considered another triumph for Rome.  Anyone looking at Jesus on the cross of the first-century world would think that the rulers and authorities had stripped him naked and celebrated a public triumph over him.

Listen again to how Paul describes what God did in Jesus death.  “He disarmed* the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” Paul never gets tired of relishing the glorious paradox of the cross: God’s weakness overcoming human strength, God’s folly overcoming human wisdom.

The gospel is good news about what has been done by Jesus Christ to put right our relationship with God.  Becoming a Christian is about a change of status.  The Apostle John wrote “we have passed from death to life.” (1 John 3:14) The Apostle Paul wrote that we “were dead in trespasses” and God has “made us alive together with him (Christ).”  Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones—pastored at Westminster Chapel in London, England—was fond of asking the question, “Are you now ready to say you are a Christian?”  His point is that becoming a Christian is a change in relationship with God.  Jesus’ work, when it is believed and rested in, changes our standing with God.  We are “in him.”

2. Is Jesus enough?  Is salvation more than a ticket that says “admit one past the pearly gates”? You have it tucked away ready to show it at the right moment, but what is its impact in life now? The gospel calls us to “continue to live your lives in him”.  The good news that is Jesus Christ is so endlessly rich, it can handle the burden of being the one “main thing” for the church and can handle being the one “main thing” for our lives.

The Summer 2013 edition of the University of Toronto magazine featured stories of a number of young graduates who were creating their own companies.  The story of several young entrepreneurs and the companies they started were interesting to read; I was particularity interested in the ideas that motivated them.  If we believe that the good news of Jesus Christ is endlessly rich and able to be the main thing for our lives, what would we say to a young Christian entrepreneur about the gospel being this main thing.

We read today from Luke’s account of Jesus teaching—we know this as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus’ teaching here presupposes that God knows all of our needs including the economic ones.  While it’s true that we humans don’t live by bread alone, without bread we don’t live at all.  The economic order is important.  “So I say to you,” says our Lord, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  I can think of nothing more foundational than ask, seek and knock for the habits of entrepreneurial life and no motivation higher than knowing that God is one who opens doors and helps us find.

We have often noted that the cross of Jesus Christ shows us that love is self-forgetful self-giving.  Most entrepreneurs I know have experienced those difficult days when they worked just to keep the doors open and the employees paid—their resources were being spent with no return.  I also know that lasting motivation comes from a sense of how the business serves genuine needs of clients.  If the motivation is about what I get—money—this idol will soon undermine the success of the organization. It also is my conviction that a life dedicated to an ever deepening relationship with Jesus Christ—continuing to live our lives in him—will do the entrepreneur no harm and, in fact, inspire and lead in ways unimagined.

Now I know that it is currently popular to impugn entrepreneurs as greedy; to blame business for everything wrong in the world.  Yes, we are all fallen creatures—but enterprise in the economic order is not by definition corrupt.  In the same way that there is nothing wrong with being human—God created humans after all; the problem is that humans are sinful.  So too with work—God is a worker and created humans for work with him.  The problem is that sinfulness has corrupted these things God made for our good.

Now, about the money; Jesus issued warning after warning about the ever-present danger of how wealth demands our allegiance—you cannot serve God and wealth.  Still God can be served with your wealth just as he can be served with your time, talents, and energies.  John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, gave this advice with respect to money: “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”  I point out to you that before you can give it away, it has to be earned.

Conclusion

Jesus Christ can handle the burden of being the one “main thing” for our lives.  Consider the testimony of author J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit; perhaps you have seen the movies based on these novels. Tolkien was a devout Christian who wanted his books to awaken people to the biblical struggle with evil.  While he was working as a university professor, Tolkien had the following experience: “I was doing the dull work of correcting exams when I can upon a blank page someone had turned in—a boon to all exam markers.  I turned it over and wrote on the back, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” (that sentence would become the first line for The Hobbit).  I’d never even heard of a hobbit or used the word before.”  In a personal letter Tolkien described his writing process: “The Other Power (God) then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), that one ever-present Person who is never absent …”

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives* in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.