Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Travel Musings

These past few weeks, I spent 60 + hours driving. In that time, I talked with Jan, listened to books, and meditated on various topics. One of the books we listened to was Atlanta Pastor Andy Stanley’s latest book: Not in It to Win It. I also listened to books on social commentary. Today’s sermon has been taken from my reflections on that drive.

 

Today’s Scripture is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Before we read it, there are some concepts that I want you to focus on.  First, the reading calls you to clothe yourself in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Then you are asked to clothe yourself with love. In the Greek, it is more the idea of being bonded or held captive by love. To be held in such strength, that you cannot escape its power and its influence on your life.  

 

Second, the idea of being clothed is not a passive concept. Ἐνδύσασθε is a word with investment meanings. It is translated clothe. It means that one is invested with or given attributes. We are invested with the power of Christ. We are compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient because we have the power to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient.  Third, these words are action-oriented and imperative, which means that now that you have been invested with these attributes, you must act. We are not compassionate when we feel compassion. We are compassionate when we do acts of compassion. The Greek word is active. We are οἰκτιρμοῦ when we relieve the suffering of another. That is compassion.

 

Our Reading is Colossians 3:12-17

||As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 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. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

A thought that challenged me from my days in Divinity school has been the success of Christianity. In worldly terms, it should have died with Christ on the cross. Yet, Christ rose from the dead. The Holy Spirit inhabited the early Christians, and they spread they Gospel. If the Gospel 2000 years ago was spread by today’s Christians, I am not sure that we would be Christian. What was different in the first century? How did we get to our current expression of Christianity?

 

I think some of it has to do with the first century Christians being different.  I am going to read portions of a letter from Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan in 112 AD. Pliny the Younger was faced with a dilemma. He was the governor in the Roman province of Bithynia (modern day Turkey) when several Christians were brought into his court. He was ordered by the emperor to interrogate them, but he was unsure what their offences were to justify such interrogation. His letter to Emperor Trajan.

 

They [the Christians] assured me that the main of their fault, or of their mistake was this:-That they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament [or oath], not to do anything that was ill: but that they would commit no theft, or pilfering, or adultery; that they would not break their promises, or deny what was deposited with them, when it was required back again; after which it was their custom to depart, and to meet again at a common but innocent meal, which they had left off upon that edict which I published at your command, and wherein I had forbidden any such conventicles. ….

 

The success of their difference from the people around them can be found further in the letter.

 

Hereupon I have put off any further examinations, and have recourse to you, for the affair seems to be well worth consultation, especially on account of the number of those that are in danger; for there are many of every age, of every rank, and of both sexes, who are now and hereafter likely to be called to account, and to be in danger; for this superstition is spread like a contagion, not only into cities and towns, but into country villages also. 

 

 

Pliny’s description does not describe your average Roman citizen. All the positive attributes of the Christians would have been the opposite of your average Roman citizen.

The Christians also did not practice common behaviors of the Romans. These people did not worship the gods of Rome. They were often held responsible for bad situations because the Romans thought they displeased the gods, and that the gods took it out on their communities.

 

In the first century, the term Christian was a derogatory term. It was a put down that described a crazy group of people who followed a crucified savior as their God. Yet their difference made all the difference. Rome became Christian. The behaviors of the Christians became the laws of the land. This quiet, different group of people changed the world. Clothed in Christ, clothed in love, they saved the world.

 

I think there are important distinctions between first century Christians and today’s Christians. First, they were clothed in Christ and only Christ. Following Christ ordered their whole life. Second, their faith was a faith of action and not a faith of beliefs. They did not think you could simply believe and be saved. Salvation required you to act out the love of Christ. The first century Christians added value to the lives of every person they encountered. They lived their lives sacrificially in order to serve people in their communities. Christians demonstrated the character of Christ and uncommon love for their fellow man.

 

This trip, I saw a road sign in Georgia that said, “Every knee will bend to the name of Jesus, including Democrats.” Democrats was in red, and the sentence ended with a devil’s fork. In graduate school, one professor, in all seriousness, said that you could not be a Republican and a Christian. I ask you; would these be the signs of a first century Christian? Would a follower of Christ even care about a political affiliation?

 

I think that we have Christ in one part of our lives and politics in another part of our lives. Lately it seems that they overlap more than ever, and we think that when our faith and our politics come together, we are on the side of truth and God’s will. I am guilty of this, which is probably why I was thinking about it on the road trip.

 

In truth, our lives have no part that is not covered in Christ. Our whole life is consumed by the presence of Christ. Frankly, our political affiliations are inconsequential to our being clothed in Christ. Vote, yes. Participate yes. Make following Christ about which party we belong to—never. Love people on the other side of the aisle – always.

 

Because first century Christians’ faith was a faith of action and because they wore only Christ, they never separated themselves from any of their neighbors. Because only Christ mattered to them, they could give their lives away to everyone and care for everyone. They were always a value add to those around them.

 

In the lives of everyone around them, first century Christians brought compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience into their lives. People were better off because of the Christians in their lives.

 

We are Christian, and we are to be clothed in the power, incorruptibility, and immortality of Christ. We are clothed in love. If you are a democrat or a republican and it informs your faith, you cannot generate spiritual value add. Why? First, you have cut off half of the people in the country from the love you have. Second, you are not clothed in Christ alone. You are clothed in a political party and Christ. Christ is exclusive.

 

I pick on politics because it is a hot topic. In fact, any tribal connection that blends your Christianity with the world reduces your impact in the lives of the people you touch. Are you a value add to the lives of not just some, but all the people you touch?

 

I have often thought about putting a sticker on my car. Which ones? Democrat? Republican? Trout Unlimited? Sports team? Christian fish? I like good political humor as much as the next person and appreciate a good bumper sticker. Yet, in the end, I chose none. Why? Because the tribal identification can separate me from people. I want to extend Christ’s love to everyone. Like my long gone first century ancestors, I want to add value to everyone’s life. I need not separate myself from others but rather, be prepared to connect with others on their terms and serve. I can only add value to someone if they will engage with me.

 

Next, compared to first century Christians, today’s Christianity is focused on belief and experience and not on action. If I believe, I am saved. I can personally experience my salvation. You would have never heard these words in a first century church. Did they believe, yes. Did they experience the awesome power of the Holy Spirit? Yes. However, their faith relied on action. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” Jesus personally gave his life and his efforts to the disciples who followed him. To follow Christ, we must give to the lives of those in our circles. We must be Christians of action. First century Christians won the world because they acted out their faith.

 

What about the unworthy, the unreceptive, the atheist, the purveyor of untruth etc.? I have one comment, Jesus washed the feet of Judas.

 

Finally, first century Christians gave their lives away. They sacrificed self-preservation. They sacrificed their lives for the lives of others and for the immortality offered in Christ. Some literally martyred themselves for Christ. The Christians that Pliny the Younger talked about sacrificed their future security for others. They all eschewed self-preservation for the betterment of others.

Likewise, today we must risk our self-interest and comfort to benefit others. The first century Christians had a list of virtues. These virtues meant that they were vulnerable to others around them.

 

The first century Christians chose love and the power of Christ over profitable deception and unethical business practices used by most in the Roman world. They cared for the sick, widows and orphans. They helped their neighbors. They added value to the lives of others at substantial risk to themselves.

 

Tribalism and political affiliation are, at the core, a practice in self-preservation. We are manipulated by fear to believe that one political party will help us survive and the other party will lead to our demise. We see others as the enemy because their affiliations risk our very survival. We identify with one party and vilify the other party because they manipulate our fears.

 

Yet, when we follow Christ, we have sacrificed our lives. Our lives are no longer ours. Our lives belong to Christ. We risk our lives to love our neighbors and to be a value add to those that we live among. That includes everyone. As a Christian, there is no place for any form of tribalism, save your identity as clothed in love.    

 

So, as we leave today, are you clothed in love? Are you like your first century Christian ancestor whose faith is a faith of action? Do you add value to the lives of everyone you touch? Have you given your life away and left your worries and self-preservation in the hands of Christ?

 

These are the questions that I contemplated on my trip. I am not there, but I believe this is my next journey. I feel compelled to be this kind of Christian. I do not want to be aligned with one part of humanity; I want to serve the diversity of all humanity. To be of value to any person, I will need to risk myself and to live clothed in Christ. Pray for me. It is not easy. It wasn’t easy 2000 years ago, but it changed the world. 

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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