Summary: Paul gives us all the New Year’s resolutions we need.
Today is New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow is the day that we begin a brand-new year, full of hope and promise, anticipation and expectation. Today is the day we slough off the old, tired, worn-out, unrealized dreams, and start looking toward our new goals.
Today is also the day when we make our New Year’s resolutions. When we vow never to do this or that again, or to spend a lot more time doing this, make an effort to sometimes do that. Today’s the day when we hone our resolutions to a fine point, trying to make them realistic, easy enough to pull off at least for a while.
I think the resolution made by most people is to lose weight. I’m never going to eat sweets again. Never going to eat another gram of fat. Going to exercise every day and twice on Sunday. Going to lose 100 pounds by next month. Harsh goals.
Others vow to quit smoking. Going to put those cigarettes down and never look at them again. Going to quit cold turkey. Going to be a non-smoker. Unrealistic goals.
Some vow to get rich. Others did it; I can do it. I’ll put money in the stock market. I’ll start day trading and do it all myself. I’ll quit spending money on anything but the bare necessities and funnel it all into a money market account. I’ll start my own internet company and get rich overnight. Unattainable goals.
Some vow to quit drinking. Others to quit doing drugs. To stop beating their wives. To stop screaming at their children. To put an end to that affair they’ve been having. To stop stealing. To go to college. Innumerable resolutions made by innumerable people. All made in good faith with every good intention. Most of them broken by the middle of January.
Then there’s the resolution that covers pretty much everything. I resolve to be a better person. Beautifully evasive and non-committal. Not to do anything specific, or to quit doing anything specific, but to just be a better person. Well, for some people it wouldn’t be hard to keep this resolution. Any change at all would be an improvement.
So why am I yammering on about New Year’s resolutions? Well, if we take a closer look at today’s scripture, I think you’ll understand.
Paul has written a letter to the church at Colosse, where some problems have arisen because the people there are trying to mix paganism and Christianity, or Judaism and Christianity, or Greek thought and Christianity. This letter to the Colossians is Paul’s attempt to straighten things out.
In the passage we just read, Paul has made a list of the things the people of Colosse need to do to live a holy life. He begins by reminding them that they’re God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. He’s doing this so they’ll know that they’re special. God chose them even before they were born to be his special people. And any instructions God has for them will be given out of love, and because God wants what’s best for them.
These words don’t mean that the people at Colosse are the only ones who are holy and dearly loved. These words are addressed to Christians everywhere, in every time. They are aimed straight at us, just as they were aimed at the ancient Christians, and we need to take them to heart.
"Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." The first thing God wants us to put on is compassion. When we think of compassion, we usually think of sympathizing with someone else’s pain. They feel pain, we’re sorry, and that’s about it. But the word used here for compassion means a lot more than that. It means actually feeling someone else’s pain. Experiencing their pain just as they’re experiencing it. Actually entering into another person’s pain and sharing it with them.
Compassion also involves showing mercy to people who are shunned or hated by others. Jesus was really good at this. He showed compassion for a tax collector and called him to be his disciple. He showed compassion for the woman caught in adultery and sent her on her way with all her sins forgiven. He showed compassion for the people who crucified him, and asked for forgiveness on their behalf. Jesus was truly compassionate.
Next, God wants us to put on kindness. What does it mean to be kind? Basically, it means treating others without harshness. Kindness is treating other people with respect and honor. It’s attributing value and dignity to another person. Jesus was good at this, too. He valued every living thing. He showed respect for the woman at the well. He valued children and took the time to listen to them. He healed slaves and little kids. Jesus was kind.