Colossians 3:12-14 WHO I WANT TO BE IN 2003
I think it’s true that people are getting more and more mean and aggressive as time goes on. For example, today, everyone knows what “road rage” means. More and more people are driving aggressively, pushing people on the road who aren’t going as fast as them. Sometimes it surprises me when I see a very aggressive driver, tailgating and swerving in and out of traffic, and the driver turns out to be an older woman who can barely see over the steering wheel. People are getting more and more mean and aggressive as time goes on. If you go to the store this time of the year, and watch the people as they stand in line to return their gifts – many of them will display an attitude of meanness and impatience toward others. Suddenly that Christmas spirit of kindness disappears, and people revert back to their old ways.
That’s why our second lesson for this morning, from Colossians 3, fits perfectly with this time of the year. In a few days, we will be bringing in the new year, and people will be making New Year’s resolutions. What are yours going to be? This is a time of the year when many people try to reinvent themselves. Many people make resolutions relating to their health or fitness, or to their jobs or hobbies. What kind of person do you want to be in 2003? Today, we have a list of seven New Year’s resolutions – seven things you can strive to be in the new year, as people of God.
In our text for today, these resolutions are described as items of clothing. Imagine someone who has an incredibly bad wardrobe. All their shirts are too small, and permanently dirty. Nothing fits. The person looks ridiculous. Perhaps a friend of that person would have the courage to say, “Hey, you have to make a change. Why don’t you make a New Year’s Resolution to buy new clothes?”
God says to many Americans today, “The way you’re treating other people is ridiculous. Here’s how you can change. Here’s how you can start over, just like buying a new set of clothes….”
Look at verse 12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” These are five attitudes you don’t want to leave home without. Compassion is the first one. The opposite of this would be someone who is cold and heartless, someone who is concerned only with himself. Think of the character Scrooge, a man who, for awhile, was too busy balancing his own checkbook to notice the needs of other people. A compassionate person is someone who not only balances his checkbook, but wants to help the people around him. What’s going on with the people at church? What’s going on with my family? What’s going on with the people at work? My neighbors? My friends? Is everything OK? What can I do to help you? “Clothe yourselves with compassion…”
“… and kindness.” Kindness includes not only saying nice things, but doing nice things. Kindness is going above and beyond the call of duty to help someone out. I saw this at the store the other day – a woman’s little child began pulling all the packages of candy and peanuts off the shelf and was throwing them onto the floor. One of the packages burst open and there were M&M’s everywhere. The store clerk came storming down the aisle and said to the woman, “Don’t worry about this, ma’am. I’ll clean it up. You just do your shopping.” Clothe yourselves with kindness…”
“… and humility.” Humility means that you recognize your own weaknesses. You don’t think about how great you are. A few months ago I was at the Holiday Inn, getting something out of our closet back there, and one of the young workers came up to me and talked to me. He found out that I was a pastor, and then he proceeded to tell me about how he was in a Christian rock band, and how talented they were. He told me how he was going to go into the armed forces and earn 3 doctorate degrees. He was very smart, he told me, and the Holiday Inn was lucky to have him as an employee. I smiled to myself as I listened to him talk. He seemed to be a nice enough guy, but he still needed to learn humility. He was really into himself, and didn’t realize how focused he was on his own greatness. Do you know who is described in the Bible as the most humble man on the face of the earth? Moses (Numbers 12:3). I’m sure he recognized his weaknesses very quickly, as he tried to lead 2 million people through the desert. “Clothe yourselves with humility…”
“… and gentleness.” Gentleness is the opposite of road rage. Gentleness is the opposite of the man who is ranting and raving at the customer service counter in the store. I remember how paranoid I was when I was visiting a member during my vicar year, and she let me hold a vase that was worth over $3000. I was never more gentle in my life, as I carefully placed that vase back onto the table. That’s how God wants us to treat the people around us. “Clothe yourselves with gentleness…”
“… and patience.” The Greek word here contains the idea of being patient in unpleasant circumstances. When the gas station attendant has no clue. When it’s the bank teller’s first day on the job. When the mechanic tells you that you need a new air filter, even though you just put a new one in your car last week. You are patient with the people around you, even in trying circumstances.
These first five New Year’s resolutions are very very important. Instead of being mean and aggressive, I resolve in 2003 to put on these 5 new items of clothing. This is who I want to be in 2003. I will be compassionate, I will be kind, I will be humble, I will be gentle, I will be patient. I will deal with people a new way, a nicer way, a way that pleases God and witnesses my faith in Jesus Christ.
And hen there is the sixth item of clothing. It’s set apart from the others so that we can spend a little more time looking at it. Verse 13: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have with each other.” A grievance is a legitimate reason to be upset with someone. If someone promises to pick you up at 2:00, and they forget and leave you standing out in the cold, you have a grievance. If someone promises to help you clean up the kitchen, but instead they fall asleep on the couch, you have a grievance. I’m sure we all could come up with a list of legitimate reasons why we are upset with certain people. But in 2003, I want to be a forgiver. I want to forgive whatever grievances I have with other people.
What does it mean to forgive? The last part of verse 13 says, “Forgive, as the Lord forgave you.” Jesus, our Lord, could have many grievances against us. All the things that Jesus wants us to do, and we don’t do them. All the things that Jesus doesn’t want us to do, and we do them. But Jesus forgives whatever grievances he has against us. There are many pictures of forgiveness in the Bible. One of the most common ones is the picture of a loan officer. He sees the debt you have piled up – your credit card bills, your car loan, your mortgage, your other bills. And that loan officer tells you that as of right now, these bills are wiped off your account. As of right now, you owe nothing on your credit card bills. No more car payment. No more house payment. You are debt-free.
That’s how Jesus forgives you. He wipes all that sin out of your account. And Jesus holds no grudges. Jesus doesn’t say to you, “I forgive you for what you said to your wife the other day, but I’ll remember what you did.” No, Jesus forgives you, and forgets. It’s as though it had never happened. No grudges. That’s how Jesus forgives you.
And that’s how Jesus wants you to forgive the people around you. Sure, you have legitimate reasons to be upset with people sometimes. But forgive, Jesus says. Forgive the way I have forgiven you. Completely wipe that grievance out of that person’s account. And hold no grudges. No “remember when you did that” type conversations. Forgive completely. This is who I want to be in 2003. I want to forgive, as Christ forgave me.
And finally, verse 14: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” That’s the seventh, and the biggest item of clothing. After you have put on compassion and kindness and humility and gentleness and patience and forgiveness – after you have put all these other things on, then, over all these virtues put on love. What kind of “love” are we talking about here? There are different words in the Bible for different kinds of love. When we think of “love,” we’re probably thinking of the Greek word “phileo.” That’s a two-way kind of love. That’s where we get “Philadelphia” from – the city of brotherly love. In other words – you love me, and I’ll love you back. I love you because there are certain things that are good about you. And you love me because there are certain things that are good about me. A two-way love.
But that’s not the word used here for “love.” When the Bible says, “Over all these virtues put on love,” it’s talking about a special kind of love. The Greek word is “agape,” one-way love. In other words, you love me, even if I don’t love you back. You love me, even though there is nothing good about me. It’s a strange kind of love, the kind of love that God has shown to the world. Even though the world didn’t love God, God loved the world, and sent his son on Christmas. Even though you didn’t ask for it, Jesus loved you and died for your sins on the cross. God loves us, even though there isn’t anything good about us to love.
That’s the kind of love that God is talking about here – a one-way kind of love. Love someone, even though he is unlovable. Even though she might not say thank you. Even though they don’t appreciate what you do. Love them. Even though there are a million reasons to not love someone, you love anyway. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Where in the world are you going to get the strength to carry out these seven New Year’s resolutions? If you’re always the mean, aggressive, proud American, how can you suddenly throw those old clothes away, those old attitudes? How can you suddenly put on these new attitudes of compassion and kindness and humility? Just last week you were yelling at someone who cut you off in traffic. How can you throw that attitude away, and put on gentleness and patience? It’s easy to hold grudges, but it’s hard to forgive. And to love someone that’s unlovable, that’s near impossible. How are you going to fulfill these seven New Year’s resolutions?
Here’s the answer: Christ will change you. Spend time with Christ in 2003, and he will change you. Spend time learning about his humility at the stable. Spend time learning about his compassion at the cross. Spend time learning about how he has taken all your sin away, how far he was willing to go, to save you. Spend time with Christ in 2003. His forgiveness will turn you into a forgiver. His one-way love for you will turn you into someone who shows one-way love to others.
Perhaps that is the most important New Year’s resolution a person could make – to spend time with Christ in 2003. That’s why the success rate for doing these things is so low for some people. You can’t do these things without spending time with Christ. And so I resolve from this day forward to spend more time with Christ in his Word, and I will not make excuses anymore. I will not allow my culture to convince me that the Word of God is not important. I will sacrifice things in order to spend more time with Christ. I will hear his Word in church, and I will let nothing get in the way. I will figure out how to study his Word on my own during the week. I will pray to him on my own, during the week. I will spend more time with Christ, and he will change me in 2003.
We pray. O Lord Jesus, by this time next year, help me to be more compassionate, more kind, more humble, more gentle, more patient. By this time next year, help me to be a forgiver. Help me, more and more, to show that special one-way kind of love that you have shown to me. Amen.