Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ruled by Christ (Grace Bible Church, 28 July 2013)

Colossians 2:6-19

Spiritual Fullness in Christ

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Freedom From Human Rules

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Comment from Colossians
We begin by walking through the text together, looking primarily at Colossians 2.
2:6-8: We live our lives as Christians “rooted in Christ” and growing out of that root. Any other “root” (or any other foundation—to use the image Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3) is “hollow and deceptive philosophy”.
2: 9-12: Christ can be this root (or foundation) because God dwells fully in him. Compare Paul’s words in chapter 1: “15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
     In baptism the human-ruled part of ourselves that we sometimes call “the flesh” is put to death (“I am crucified with Christ”), and we rise with the life of Christ, the divine life within. Just as “the fullness of God dwells in Jesus”, so also—in Christ—“the fullness of God” begins to dwell in us.
2: 13-15: We recognize that we are describing conversion with metaphors, and here Paul uses two more metaphors to illustrate the process—a legal metaphor (he cancelled the charge of legal indebtedness) and a military metaphor (he disarmed and defeated the “powers and authorities” that would lead us astray). This second metaphor reminds us that these powers and authorities are “hollow and deceptive philosophies” when we rely on them to control our lives.
2: 16-19: This new life in Christ is a life of freedom from the old authorities (hollow and deceptive philosophy; human rules for living). We may observe them or not, depending on the circumstance; but we are free from them to live fully in Christ. Paul introduces a new metaphor for this new life—that of the church as the body with Christ as the head. This new life is the life that is governed by Christ as the head, rather than by any other authority.

Brief Comment from Luke
In Luke’s gospel Jesus gives the Lord’s Prayer, and then reminds the disciples that they can pray at all times. Their heavenly Father is a good father who will give them what they need when they ask.

You remember that the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer has the words: “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” Even in this briefer version, our prayer rests on God’s authority, which has come into our world. The Gospel reminds us that God’s authority is ultimate, and Paul tells us clearly that we find that ultimate authority in our intimate relationship with Jesus the Messiah.

The essential point in these texts is found in the first verses of the passage in Colossians: “We live our lives as Christians rooted in Christ and growing out of that root. Any other root (or any other foundation) is hollow and deceptive philosophy.”

Consider other possible foundations in our world.
1. The commitment to peace. I have a deep and abiding commitment to the way of peace and non-violence in our world. The scourge of war and all kinds of violence against other people is a deeply-rooted disease that requires eradication. But the call to peace is not itself the root or foundation of our Christian lives. Recently I read a book by Eric Seibert entitled, The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy. In it Seibert tackles the difficult and troubling problem that we have with the violence we find in the Old Testament. He does so honestly and with real courage, and I find much of his analysis and many of his suggestions helpful and worth considering.
     But in the end I have one basic problem. It is not clear to me what Seibert’s foundation is: It looks to me as though it is a rock-bottom final ultimate commitment to peace, whatever else is happening. I know Eric. We went to Asbury Seminary at the same time, and he teaches at my Alma Mater (Messiah College). I know that he shares a real commitment to Jesus and to Christ’s Church. That’s one of the basic reasons he has written this book. But in the book he does not give Christ as the foundation for his commitment to peace. I see rather a final commitment to peace. I share that commitment, but as the centre of our lives it becomes what Paul calls a hollow and deceptive philosophy.
2. The Truth of Science. Many Evangelicals have a bias against Science. That makes no sense to me. Science has shown itself to have a powerful explanatory force in our world. It includes the search for truth in all areas of life and has contributed to wonderful technological advances in our modern world.
     My appreciation for Science shows itself in the way that I respond to reports of Climate Change. Some people respond with ridicule, noting that in the 1970s some scientists thought we might be facing a Global Winter, and now they say we face Global Warming. The truth of course is that climatologists did not predict a new ice age or anything like it; that claim was a media creation. But in any case, Science’s willingness to consider new data and come to new conclusions is part of its great strength.
     Any form of Christian faith that includes a bias against Science weakens itself, since God placed the order in the universe that makes scientific study and exploration possible. But Science works best when it builds on the foundation of God’s reign. When Science becomes the foundation it becomes a “hollow and deceptive philosophy”. It has no way to tell us what we should do with its discoveries. Science can tell us how to use stem cells from fetuses to bring new life; it cannot tell us whether or not we should harvest fetuses in order to use their stem cells.
     I suspect that you could list more ethical dilemmas coming from scientific advances than I know about. The point is clear: Science makes a poor foundation on which to build our lives.

3. Environmentalism. I mentioned the findings of Science in terms of climate change. I am an environmentalist. That is, I am committed to wise and proper use of the resources God has given us in the Creation. I occasionally vote Green because I do indeed believe in the importance of treating our environment responsibly and because I see many examples of abuse and misuse of God’s good creation.
     I know people who make the environment part of their foundation for living. There are environmental theologies that replace Christ with Gaia and Christian faith with the spirits of the world around us. Used in this way my commitment to the environment becomes a hollow and deceptive philosophy.

Summary: You see what happens. We start with something that is genuinely good, but when we make that good thing the foundation for living, it changes and becomes something bad. Our foundation for living is Christ and nothing else. You will have to do the analysis for your own life. I don’t know what stands in your life that is important and can compete with Christ for your allegiance. It may be the right to life movement. It may be a commitment to marriage equality—or to what we sometimes call traditional marriage. There are many possibilities, and we must keep each one of these competitors in its place, built on the new life that we have in Christ: These things are secondary, however important.

What Then Should We Do?
The answer is obvious, I think: Put Christ first. In everything. But a real danger lurks as we do so. We can be so focussed on putting Christ first that we neglect the world around us. History (or legend) says that Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned. The Christian equivalent would be for us to put so much emphasis on prayer and meditation and “Christian activities” that we ignore the real needs around us. To avoid this danger, look again at the metaphors Paul has used.

Building: Christ is the foundation—We are the temple built on that foundation.
Plant: Christ is the root—We are the tree that grows from that root. (Or in the version of this metaphor that Jesus uses in John’s Gospel: He is the vine [plant], and we are the branches.)
Body: Christ is the Head—We are the body led by that head.

In each case the church makes Christ present in the world around us. Putting Christ first is not a way of escaping what happens in the world around us. We are ruled by Christ as we represent Christ and his rule in the world around us. Think again of the three examples I gave:
Peace: We are committed to peace and justice, not as the foundation for our lives (when they become a false and deceptive philosophy), but as an expression of the rule of Christ in our lives. I was a CO during Vietnam, not because I have built my life on peace, but because I have built my life on Christ. Pursuing peace and justice grows out of living the gospel.
Science: I am not a Scientist, but my Christian friends who are do their work as an expression of their faith. I think of my university biology teacher, K.B. Hoover, now 100 years old. When I was a teenager encountering ideas about evolution and faith, Hoover presented the ideas as a man of deep faith in Christ, for whom science was not an enemy, but a friend. With his example, I have never been able distrust science the way that some do, but have always seen it as an outgrowth of Christian faith, with the potential to lead one into greater awe and wonder for the marvellous Creator of the universe.
In right proportion, faith in Christ leads us deeper into the scientific endeavour. Properly understood, the rule of Christ leads us deeper into whatever our profession is and makes us better police officers, better musicians, better gardeners, better writers.
The Environment: When we approach the environment understanding the rule of Christ, we are set free from unnecessary worry and fear of the future on the one hand and from an abusive manipulation of nature on the other. Jesus is Lord! As the Creator of all that is, God has given the world into our hands to use as God’s stewards.
When we make the environment into God in place of God, it becomes a burden and cannot do us any good. When we build on the foundation of God in Christ, we are free to do what is right and best for the Creation. Think of one of the fears that paralyzes our politicians as well as the public: We fear that environmentally-responsible actions will hurt us economically. But if Jesus is Lord, when we follow Christ faithfully in the way that we treat creation, we can trust God to take care of us.

Questions remain. How do we live in the rule of Christ? What steps in our lives do we take to place Christ first? Do we need an ecstatic experience of Christ’s presence, or some sort of crisis coming to the altar for prayer? Are the classical spiritual disciplines the best way to place Christ first? These are all questions for you to work at as you resolve to grow out of the root that is Christ and to set aside all “hollow and deceptive philosophy”.

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