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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Being Thankful (Colossians 3.12-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 20, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "The Gift of Love" (Martin)
Song of Praise: "Now Thank We/Give Thanks" (arr. Austell)
Song of Praise: "All I Have is Christ" (J. Kauflin)
Offering of Music: "Let the Peace of Christ Rule in Your Hearts" (Courtney)
Hymn of Sending: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" (BEECHER)
Postlude: "Now Thank We All Our God" (Bock)

Being Thankful
Text: Colossians 3:12-17

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last week we talked about an “identity passage” – a passage in the Bible that describes, not primarily WHAT we do, but WHO we are as followers of Jesus Christ. The particular identity we focused on was being God’s “special treasure” or possession. And I challenged you about the importance of understanding who you are as a Christian rather than simply going through the motions of “doing Christian things.”

This week’s passage is from a different place in the Bible, but builds on what we talked about last week. Though it uses a different metaphor to talk about our identity, it nonetheless begins with identity before moving on to character. So, last week we talked about being God’s “special treasure.” Here, in Colossians 3:12, those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are called “chosen of God, holy and beloved.” Have you ever considered that, or is church just something you do? If you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are chosen of God and you are holy AND beloved. We talked some about “holy” last week – that doesn’t mean you are perfect, but means that your belonging to God is evident in your life… you are distinctly His.

Well this week I want to look with you at the character of a Christian. And this passage is rich in describing it. In fact, it is so rich, we will not be able to look in a detailed way at what all is said. I want to just focus on one characteristic of a Christian, but I will give you a thumbnail outline of the whole passage so that you can have some context.

The basic structure of this passage is this: it begins with an identity statement – “chosen of God, holy and beloved” – and then goes on in great detail to describe what makes a Christian so distinct. How should we be identifiable as belonging to God, like we talked about last week. There is a whole list of ways.

Get Dressed Like Jesus (vv. 12-13)

In verse 12, those who belong to Jesus are supposed to look like Jesus. Paul uses “put on” to describe a list of character traits and this is the same word for putting on clothes. We are to put on the character of Christ each day just like we get dressed for the day. Here’s the list, and listen for the outcome of dressing this way. “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” And here’s how that kind of Christ-like character bears fruit in the world around us. Those character traits will cause us to bear with and forgive each other, just like Jesus did with us.

Remember the ending point last week, which was part of the identity at the beginning of verse 12 today… we are to be holy. That doesn’t mean “holier-than-thou” and doesn’t mean “perfect”; it means set apart as distinct for God’s honor or glory. We are to be identifiable as belonging to God in such a way that we rub off on others in a positive and credible way. That’s what Paul is describing here. A Christian isn’t the one with the best church attendance record or who has given the most money, but one who daily dresses with the character of Christ, resulting in the kind of holy impact God designed us for… showing others the grace we have experienced from God.

Paul is just getting started though. In verse 14, he adds one more trait we should wear daily, and it is even more important – “beyond all these things”; it is love. He doesn’t say as much about love, only noting that it is the “perfect bond of unity,” but he does say that it is most important.

And then he changes metaphors slightly and keeps building his message.

Let Jesus Rule and Reside Inside (vv. 14-16)

Paul continues describing the character traits of those who are identified in Christ, but he changes the metaphor. He began with a metaphor of getting dressed, daily putting on traits like compassion, kindness, and love. Now he uses two different metaphors: Jesus ruling over us and Jesus living in us.

First, he writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… and be thankful.” He says a little bit about the peace – it is our purpose and flows out of the unity that he previously mentioned as a result of love. And he includes thankfulness, our theme for today. Thankfulness is a sign that Jesus is ruling in your hearts… that you belong to God. If I rule my own heart, if my passions and interests are self-serving, I will only be thankful to myself, and that turns to greed. But if, as we saw last week, I belong to God as His “special treasure” then my gratitude to God will result in a willing service, offered freely. This will not be the only time thankfulness is mentioned in this passage.

Then Paul offers a third metaphor of Jesus living or dwelling within us. Paul speaks in verse 16 of the “word of Christ,” which could be the message about Jesus or the content of Jesus’ teaching, or both. The result of that Word living in us is, again, a rubbing off on those around us as that Word bubbles forth in wise teaching, admonishing, and singing. Note again the word “thankfulness” describing our singing of the Word of Christ.

All in the Name (v. 17)

Finally, in verse 17, Paul gathers up all that has gone before – our identity and the character of Christ – and issues a blanket challenge: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Taken literally, that may sound like we are supposed to tack on, “in the name of Jesus” to everything we say or do.

“Let me get that door for you… in the name of Jesus!”

“Can I bring you some dinner tonight in the name of Jesus?”

Rather, that “in the name of Jesus” is a way of pulling together all the powerful metaphors Paul has already used. He has challenged us to dress ourselves daily in the character of Christ. He has challenged us to let Christ rule our hearts. He has challenged us to have the Word of Christ take residence in our lives. “In the name of” is simply describing a life given fully to Jesus Christ. It means claiming the identity that God has already declared. It means saying ‘yes’ to belonging to God. It means that “Christian” (which is taking on the name of Christ) is not just about what you do, but about who you are.

What Paul is saying here is that if you belong to God, then belong to God. Take on the family name, but not just externally or for show, but as the very essence of who you are.

And then, interestingly, in that summary sentence, we are reminded one last time to give thanks. “Whatever you do… BE and BELONG to Jesus… and give thanks to God.” Something to ponder deeply this Thanksgiving week…

Something to ponder deeply any time...

Who are you? Who does God say you are? What does that mean? Are you thankful about it?

I think the thankfulness comes when we realize whose we are and what that means, because that’s truly amazing when you really grab hold of it and God grabs hold of you. Amen.

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