Summary: Nurturing Godly character in our lives involves "taking off" old habits and "putting on" new ones.
True Godly Character
Love and Wisdom; God and You
(This message is begun wearing dirty, torn or worn clothes ... shirt, scarf, shoes, socks, jewelry ... and in the middle changed into a nicer suit. This should be done in a quite non-provocative way, no pants or revealed skin in the change-over. Amusing; not alarming.)
This passage is directly connected to the previous passage. Paul relieves our anxiety about rules and warns us against pagan influence, but he does not leave us hanging. The Colossians were seeking for true wisdom, and Paul cannot say what it is not, without clarifying what it is.
So, if the true path to spiritual wisdom is not in strictly following rules or seeking out the spiritual wisdom of the world, where is it? Paul says it is not in the details, but in the development of a character that is rightly oriented. The specific actions of a person reveal our innermost concerns. So, we look at our actions, not to see if we are in compliance, but to see if our inner person is being transformed. This approach is less measurable, but in the end, more reliable.
Paul uses two images to clarify his ideas: Life / death, and dressing / undressing.
Life is found in Jesus, not in our earthly nature
How do we seek the things above? Paul says it is in thinking about them. The beauty of it is, that when he begins clarifying, the only "thing" above that Paul can recommend is Christ himself. He is risen and living, sitting at God’s right hand. Jesus is the source and the keeper of your life, which will find its fullness not here and now, but later, in eternity.
Jesus is our life. So, think about Jesus. There is more to it than that, but it is an incredible start.
On the other hand, we should put to death the things inside us that draw us back to this earth. Paul generalizes in his examples of things of this earth which we should put to death:
• sexual immorality
• shameful passion
• evil desire
• and greed which is idolatry
Paul often begins lists of evil things with sexual sin. It is clear that he thought this was a prominent problem for many people. If you have problems with it, don’t be shocked, so do many others. Other than this one item, he is more general.
• Do you have mixed motives? That is impurity.
• Are you passionate about things that are better not spoken of? That is a shameful passion.
• Do you secretly or openly desire evil things?
Look carefully at greed. When we desire things to the point of unsatisfiable grasping at more and more, we are making those things we want god and placing them in the highest position of our lives. We may as well melt it all down, mold it into an idol, and worship it every day. We are reembracing our own death instead of killing the deeds of darkness.
Don’t forget, when you let your heart return to these motivations, you are realigning yourself with the very things that are going to be judged in God’s wrath. When you aligned yourself with Christ, you killed these things inside you. However, like a rusty sculpture, you can clear the rust away, but when it rains you will have to touch it up. These are things we have to kill within us, not once, but every day.
What are you wearing?
Now Paul shifts his image from life and death and looks instead at an image that suggests clothing. He says that when we readmit these dark impulses, it is like wearing old, dirty, worn out clothes. He wants them to divest themselves of:
• abusive language
There is an appropriate sequence to things. You can’t wear a suit over your work shirt. You can’t wear a gown over your coveralls. Before virtue can be put on, vice must be taken off.
When he speaks of taking off vices he addresses things that are more obvious, mostly associated with speaking or violence. Anger, rage, and malice speak of the hatred that we are capable of harboring and exhibiting. Slander, abusive language, and lies are the tools we use to dismantle the reputations, the personal peace, and the integrity of others. Paul is addressing a very obvious bitterness. These are vices that somebody at Colossea was wearing on their sleeve.
But the Colossians and all disciples are being inducted into a new life and identity. This new identity is the original form in which man was made, a redemption of the lost humanity of Adam. It is a renewal of the image of God, the best dignity, beauty, and integrity in humanity. Those characteristics we should "wear" and show to the world are those features that are like Christ.