Tuesday, June 30
I have come to consider the Bible to be a wonderful jewelry box, comprised of an endless number of drawers, each with hidden gems of wisdom for us to marvel at when we are moved to look therein ourselves or when motivated by someone or something else. In my case, I am now regularly drawn to look for these interesting gems to help drive my regular writings for these weekly thoughts and prayer postings – a wonderful opportunity extended to me by Rev. Geoff Lloyd. The selection process for these writings usually involves me referring to our annual Anglican lectionary and selecting a Scripture passage assigned to the calendar day. Today, I am bending this methodology slightly and taking a reading for tomorrow, Canada Day, for reasons I will come back to at the end of this piece.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians, is one of the smaller gems in the New Testament – a mere four chapters spanning two and one-half pages in my NRSV bible. My focus today is on the third chapter in Paul’s letter, labelled “The New Life in Christ”, verses 12-17. But before getting our jeweler’s loup out for closer examination, let’s set a context for Paul’s message to this early church community.
Colossae was, from the 5th century BC onwards, a significant city on the Lycus River in the then Roman province of Asia (now Western Turkey), but it had dwindled in importance by the time of Paul’s writing (early 60s CE) to members of its Christian church. The city was located on major trade routes which resulted in a cosmopolitan mix in its population. Many Colossians professed a range of pagan beliefs, some of which raised heretical challenges to early Christian teachings regarding the human nature of Jesus, whether angels should be held in high regard and proclaiming that salvation was the result of one’s knowledge of, rather than a believer’s faith in, God.
Although Paul never set foot in this Christian outpost, he was informed by his disciples of these heretical challenges. This prompted him to write this letter to proclaim and support the importance of one’s belief in Jesus Christ as well as to educate these new believers in what was expected of them in patterning their lives after the Lord. Then, as well as today, a reading of Colossians 3:12-17 focuses the reader’s attention on how we can lead a holy life, both as an individual and as a collective member of the body of Christ.
In my teaching experience at Durham College, I always looked for a “hook” on which to hang key aspects of theory and practice involved in a lesson plan. Paul uses such a teaching device in today’s reading (Colossians 3: 12-17) to instruct the early Christians – both Jew and Gentile alike – on how to adapt their life to a new approach to living as a follower of Jesus. For example, at the start of this passage (3:12), Paul writes, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” He goes on to add the virtues of forbearance and forgiveness to round out this wardrobe of Christian behaviour. Paul’s “hook” of clothing ourselves works well as we have a lifetime of experience in doing it. It is a daily activity of “taking off” and “putting on” things we decide to wear. Not only do we make such choices, but others can see what it is we have chosen to wear. The undercurrent laid out by Paul here is that as a follower of Christ we must make choices firstly of shedding clothing that is contrary to a life in Christ – jealousy, self-centeredness, bigotry, rudeness etc., and consciously put on new clothing each day that reflects the virtues and related behaviors of a follower of our Saviour. Let’s look briefly at this new set of clothes which Paul called on the Colossians to wear and asks us to put on each day.
Compassion relates to one’s desire to extend sympathy or empathy to the suffering of others. This virtue is witnessed in many references in both the Old Testament (e.g. Isaiah 49:13, Psalm 116:5) and the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 14:13-14, Hebrews 4:15). In our modern world, with 24-7 opportunities to view suffering in our community and around the world, it is a challenge to shed our indifference. Paul throughout this letter asks us to daily put on compassionate clothing that can be seen in many ways including prayer offerings, acts of generosity and words of understanding to those in need of relief from pain and suffering.
Kindness has been described as action that reveals our compassion for others. It can be offering to run an errand for a neighbour who is housebound during the current pandemic or sending a “Thinking of You” bouquet to someone who has recently experienced the loss of a close friend or relative. Kindness references abound in Scripture (e.g. Proverbs 16: 23-24, Acts 28:2, and 2 Peter 1:5-7). So, just as tomorrow you may put on a sweater, what is an act of kindness that you can carry out for someone in need?
Humility or Meekness were considered the “rarest and fairest of all Christian virtues” by John Stott, a renown English Anglican priest, theologian and leader of the worldwide evangelical movement. Moses was said to be the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3), Yet, meekness is not weakness but rather strength that is under control. Paul wrote elsewhere in the New Testament of this virtue, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 3-4). Clothing oneself daily in meekness requires special attention when dressing oneself to go out into a world that frequently places emphasis on personal ambition, individual reward systems and “keeping score.”
Patience requires a daily clothing ensemble of tightly-sewn garments and subtle tones. It is a virtue that is tested in personal relationships at home and the workplace, with situations or things where our ability to control is minimal, or when our personal stamina is at a low ebb. Our ability to endure exasperating situations (fill in your own example here) may cause us to wonder if we can ever wear this type of clothing again without a real risk to our physical or mental health. Paul references here the virtue of forbearance – which is similar to patience but has a more positive aspect to it by asking a person to uphold and support someone else. A great example in the New Testament (2 Peter 3:9), here reminds us that the Lord is indeed not slow in keeping His promises to us, but rather patient, not wanting anyone to perish.
The clothing list provided by Paul to daily wear in our private and public lives concludes with the virtue of forgiveness. We can still air our views on things we see as unjust, but once said, we are encouraged to put it aside – to forgive and “turn off” the reminder switch in our brains to avoid thinking about it again and again. For me, and perhaps for you, this is sometimes hard to do. We tend to repeatedly put on the same old clothing woven with unforgiveness. If this is a particularly difficult struggle for you, I suggest looking back at today’s reading (Colossians 3:13) were it says, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
On the eve of Canada Day, 2020 let us be thankful and praise God for all that we have in this wonderful country. In recent months, our personal resolve and no doubt some of the virtues covered in today’s Scripture reading have been tested by factors outside our control. No doubt we have not always properly clothed ourselves as Paul suggested to the people of Colossae. We have lately seen too much evidence of discrimination, racism and other dark aspects of our human nature. Yet, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can get up tomorrow, celebrate Canada’s birthday with a sense of peace and thanksgiving and put on clothing made of virtues that reflects a desire, albeit at a one-day-at-a-time pace, to start to live a new life in Christ.
Prayer for Canada Day
Almighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage. May we prove ourselves a people mindful of your generosity and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honourable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance; and from every evil course of action. Make us who came from many nations with many different languages a united people. Defend our liberties and give those whom we have entrusted with the authority of government, the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, in troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada, p.678