Portrait of a Church

Big Idea: Prayer, missional mindset, and transformed relationships are how a church lives out its faith

Purpose: To encourage greater devotion to prayer, a missional mindset, and transformed relationships

What do people notice about a church when we are just ourselves - not necessarily presenting our best face?

1. Prayerful (2-4)

a. Watchful – spiritually aware
b. Thankful
c. Praying for mission

2. Missional (5-6)

God is a sending/missionary God. The church is not a place. A church is not somewhere you go. "Church is at home, in the car, in the restaurant, the beach – wherever God's people find themselves in their daily lives." No withdrawal.

a. Wise
b. Open to opportunities
c. Pleasant and interesting

3. Relational (7-18)

a. Tychicus (7-8) - service
b. Onesimus (9) and Mark (10) – forgiveness (12 years earlier)
c. Epaphrus (12) – prayer
d. Archippus (17) – encouragement

Taking Faith Home (Colossians 3:18-4:1)

Taking Faith Home (Colossians 3:18-4:1)

Video clip from Shrek 2:

Shrek 2 continues the story of an Ogre named Shrek who married the princess Fiona. The princess takes her new husband to the kingdom of Far Far Away to meet her parents. The King and Queen of Far Far Away receive a shock when they discover their new son-in-law is a big, green ogre, and Fiona now looks just like him.

The family sits down to a royal meal where personalities and prejudices begin to clash. A face off between in-laws escalates into name-calling and then a food fight.

The king and his son-in-law glower at one another from opposite ends of a long, ornate table.

"What kind of children can we expect from you?" shouts the king.

"Ogres!" Shrek yells in return.

Attempting to keep the peace, the queen adds, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

"Not unless you eat your young!" shouts the king.

As classical music plays in the background, any illusion of family togetherness is buried under a barrage of harsh words. The anger spreads to husband and wife as Fiona screams at Shrek, and the queen shouts at the king. Suddenly the battle breaks out in earnest, and food becomes the weapon, completely ruining the feast. The crackers are crushed, the lobster is cracked, Shrek shreds the chicken, the king filets the fish, and a roasted pig sails high into the air.

Sarcastically, the queen says, "It's so nice to have the family together for dinner."

Elapsed Time: 00:17:15 to 00:18:31, DVD chapter 4

Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at the book of Colossians. It's been about pretty heady stuff. Paul's been writing to this ancient church about the identity of Jesus Christ, what took place at the cross, how this can lead to personal transformation. The book contains some of the deepest teachings about Christ that you can find anywhere.

As is normal with Paul, he begins to apply some of this more directly to everyday life as he goes along. Last week, we ended by looking at a challenge from Paul to take this theological teaching and to make it real in every area of our lives. Paul wrote, "And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17). Good! Paul is making this practical. How can we live our faith? Where do we start? Out of all the areas of our lives, where should we focus in making our faith real?

You could pick a lot of areas. Paul picks an area that is so much a part of our everyday lives that it's easy to overlook. He doesn't keep this theology at some abstract level. He starts by applying it to the most normal relationships you already have. The place to start living your faith is not in some abstract area of your life. It's with those who you already live with and work with and talk to every day of your life. The place to start is with the people that you interact with the most in your life.

Paul says, "Begin living your new resurrection life." Great! Where? He says, "Begin with the people closest to you. Begin living your new life with your husband, your wife, your kids, your co-workers. Begin to apply this with your roommates and classmates and friends." He affirms that it's here that we really do live our newness. It's where we learn to control our anger, rage, abusive language, and lying. It's where we learn to love those who are different than us, to serve, to grow in becoming more like Christ.

I'm sure the passage that was read for us this morning raised a lot of questions for you. It did for me. I can buy that we should begin living our faith with those closest to us, but maybe some of us wish Paul phrased what he said differently. He talks about submission and slaves and masters. It is a little disappointing to some after the lofty language of Colossians 3:11: "In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us."

We won't be able to solve all the issues today. I do want to look at the bigger picture of all three types of relationships that he describes: husband-wife, parent-child, and master-slave. Before I draw out some observations, I think we need to remind ourselves that the master-slave relationship he's talking about is not the same as the one that existed in the American south and other parts of the world. There are some big differences. There is no real parallel to any relationships that we have today. Our work relationships are not anywhere close to the relationships that masters and slaves had back then.

I want to take a step back and see what Paul says in general to all the relationships in our everyday lives. What Paul says here is applicable to every type of relationship we have.

1. There is no harder place to live our faith than in our closest relationships

That's the first observation I want to make. It's hard to live out our faith in the context of our relationships. That's often the most difficult place to apply what Christ has done in our lives.

The new trend these days is to build homes with separate suites for different family members. This week, I read about one family that built a 3,600 square foot house with special rooms for studying and sewing, separate sitting areas for each kid, and a master bedroom far from both. Then there's the escape room, where the father says, "Any family member can go to get away from the rest of us."

After two decades of pushing the open floor plan-where domestic life revolved around a big central space and exposed kitchens gave everyone a view of half the house-major builders and top architects are walling people off. They're touting one-person Internet alcoves, locked-door away rooms and his-and-her offices on opposite ends of the house. The new floor plans offer so much seclusion, they're "good for the dysfunctional family," says Gopal Ahluwahlia, director of research for the National Association of Home Builders.

I can see why people want to live together but apart. In this passage you get some sense of why relationships are so challenging. Marriages weren't started back then out of the same sense of romantic love that is common today. It wouldn't be easy for some of the wives back then to submit to their husbands – it isn't easy today! It wouldn't be easy for the husbands to love their wives the way that Paul describes. It takes a huge amount of spiritual maturity to be able to do that in some relationships.

Children back then had very few rights. They were legally viewed as the father's property, little better than slaves. The father had almost unlimited power to do as he pleased with his kids. He could imprison them or even put them to death. It would be a tough thing for a child to live out his or her faith given the rights of the father at that time.

Slaves had even fewer rights. They were seen as possessions, not people. Paul spends a lot of time talking about how a slave could live out his or her faith as a follower of Christ.

I wish that Paul could have wiped out all these distinctions. As someone has said, Paul could no more do that than a preacher today could put an end to the internal combustion engine. It was just a part of the reality of that time. Paul didn't aim to turn the world upside down, although these teachings did sow the seeds that eventually led to dismantling an unjust social structure. Paul was aiming to teach the people how to live faithfully in the situation in which they found themselves.

Let's make this practical. Some of us don't live in ideal circumstances in which to practice our faith. Some of our marriages are tougher than we could ever have imagined them to be.

I want to be clear that the Bible is not suggesting that you stay in abusive relationships. It is not suggesting that you ignore problems or settle for them.

What it is suggesting is that in the context of whatever relationship you are in, you live within that relationship as faithfully as you can, regardless of how the other person acts. If he or she doesn't act faithfully, you act faithfully anyway. If they don't treat you with respect, you act in a way that honors God anyway.

We usually think the way to fix a relational problem is to change the other person's behavior. Paul puts the emphasis on living faithfully, even if the other person never changes. You can't change them, but you can learn to live faithfully in your everyday relationships without them ever changing. Change from within.

2. Go out of your way for those who are the most vulnerable in the relationship

Paul didn't aim to dismantle the social structure. He did, however, radically adjust the social structure for followers of Christ.

I already mentioned the disparity that existed men and pretty well everyone else back then. Wives, children, and slaves had responsibilities. Husbands, fathers, and masters had rights, but they didn't have obligations toward their wives, children, and slaves. In the household codes that were around that time, there was nothing about the duties of the more privileged partner in the relationship.

Paul does something radical. He turns it on his head and outlines the duties of a husband, father, and a master. It would have been shocking for the males of that time to learn of their responsibilities to love and to serve others. Paul taught the men that they have obligations to those who, in that society, were rarely given any rights.

Let's look at what Paul said about marriage. To wives, he said "submit". That wouldn't have been shocking in that day. It certainly is hard to read today for many of us. You can have a lot of debates about whether wives today are still called to submit to their husbands, and what that means. I could tell you what I think, but I'm going to sidestep the issue and suggest that there really is no other option, no matter what view you hold. Submission is the standard for those of us who hold traditional views of gender; it's also the standard for those who hold more modern views. Submission means that we move beyond self-interest and we think of the other person and not just ourselves. Submission does not mean subservience. It means that we move beyond self-absorption and become focused on how we can love and serve others.

Paul then says something that would have been surprising to the readers. He says, "And you husbands must love your wives and never treat them harshly" (Colossians 3:19). The Message paraphrases it, "Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don't take advantage of them." Husbands were never told how to treat their wives back then. Paul says that the way that a husband can live out their faith in their marriages is to become a servant, a lover, of his wife. It's about putting her first and caring for her.

I recently attended a panel discussion on the role of gender and marriage and leadership. There were all kinds of views presented. Near the end, one of the speakers said, "Let's face it, regardless of our views, we all live the same way. We are all called to give ourselves completely to our spouses and put our interests ahead of our own." It really doesn't matter what your view of gender roles is. That is the calling of Christ in your life.

One of the most traditional people I know on the issue of gender roles is someone I respect, not because of what he believes but because of how he lives. He visited Phoenix with his wife and realized that the climate there was a lot better for his wife's health than where they lived in Chicago. The only problem was that he had a prestigious position in Chicago. It would be a major step down to accept a position at the school in Phoenix. But because it would be better for his wife, he made a cold call to the school president in Phoenix and ended up moving there. That is what it means to love your wife and go all out for her.

Paul talks about the parent-child relationship. It would have been surprising for a parent to read, "Parents, don't come down too hard on your children or you'll crush their spirits" (Colossians 3:21). That advice isn't surprising today. It's not radical. Back then, it was saying to the person in control, "It's not about your rights. You have a responsibility to treat them well."

The same with masters and slaves. Paul says, "And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don't forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven." (Colossians 4:1).

Let's make this real today. There are all kinds of relationships we have where we have the upper hand. We are parent and bosses. We may have greater financial control in some of our relationships.

Living our faith means that we go out of our way for those who are vulnerable in all of our relationships. It means treating those who would otherwise be vulnerable as well as we possibly can.

One last observation:

3. Respecting the personhood of others, and serving them, brings glory to God

Seven times in this passage, Paul makes reference to how our relationship with God affects our relationships with each other. He talks about how treating others honors God, delights God. He talks about seeing past the person and seeing how what we're doing is an act of worship to God Himself. Our relationships are important to God. There is a divine dimension to every one of our relationships because God is either honored or dishonored in what we do.

Paul wrote to slaves and helped them see past their situations. He reminded them that their real master was God. He talked about an inheritance. Slaves weren't allowed to receive an inheritance at that time. Paul says, "It doesn't matter what society says about you. Society won't give you an inheritance. It looks down on you. But God doesn't. God has promised you an inheritance that nobody can take away." Slaves were viewed in that society as being little better than animated machines. Paul urges the masters to treat the slaves as responsible human beings, independent and capable.

In every one of our relationships, we have the opportunity to see the image of God in the other person and to treat them in a way that brings glory to God. This is the challenge of taking our faith home.

For some of us, we need to go home and to apologize to someone for how we've acted toward them. We haven't treated them with the type of respect or honor that brings glory to God. One of the best things that we could do would be to go to them and acknowledge this, and to ask their forgiveness.

Some of us may need to focus on a relationship that we have. It's always tempting to think the problem is with the other person. It might be time to look at what we're bringing to the table. It may not be all our fault, but we can begin to live faithfully no matter how the other person chooses to respond.

Some of us may need to take the difficult step of forgiving someone who has wronged us. Taking our faith home may mean forgiving someone, not because they deserve it, but because Christ forgave us when we didn't deserve it.

This is where living our faith is the hardest. But it's exactly the place for us to start.

Living What Jesus Has Already Done

A few weeks ago I mentioned a new book coming out by Ron Sider called The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Sider was talking about the ways that the lives of Christians aren't really that different from the population at large. We talked about this at a macro level the other week, but I think we need to bring it down to the individual level as well. A lot of us are frustrated that we aren't changing as much as we had hoped we would.

We know this pain on a personal level. A lot of us wished that we didn't struggle with certain areas of our life the way that we do. Hang around anyone for long enough and you discover the same about them. They have character flaws they wish they didn't have. They have anger problems, relational challenges. They are prone to stretch the truth or to gossip or to do something that they believe is sinful. It's frustrating and it's reality.

Some of us know the sense of shame that comes after this. We may have been flipping the channel and stayed a little too long at a cable TV show that we'd be ashamed to admit that we watch. We might have a couple of websites we visit that we wouldn't want anyone to know about. We might have a tendency to blow our stacks or to cut corners at work. They used to call things like this besetting sins - areas of struggle that are continual, that don't go away no matter how much we'd like them to. Since we believe that Jesus is all that we need, and has done everything that we need, how can we handle this in our lives? How can we put up with our tendency to keep falling into the same sins all the time?

I'll tell you two approaches that don't work. The first approach that doesn't work is to expect that when you become a Christian, the struggles stop. I remember hearing a man talk about being free from temptation ever since he became a Christian. I sat back and said, "Yeah, right." I wish it was true. I wish that all of a sudden, there was no more temptation or struggle. The opposite is actually true. There's an old saying that the mark of a saint is the struggle. It's not perfection, it's struggle.

There are times that I've heard of somebody quitting some behavior cold turkey after beginning to follow Christ. That might happen sometimes, but it's not something we can expect. The struggle continues long after we start to follow Christ.

The other approach that doesn't work is willpower. I've tried this approach myself. No matter how much I try not to do something, I inevitably fail and end up doing it all over again. Willpower is a terrible way to fight sin.

So if becoming a Christian and sheer willpower is not enough to overcome sin, what does work?

There is no series of simple steps you can take. There is, however, some new ways of thinking that can help in the transformation process. The good news is that it really isn't a question of trying harder or being more determined. The key really is to make real in our lives what has already been done for us. In essence, it's not making something happen. It's more recognizing that something has already happened, and to live in a way that reflects that reality.

We've been studying the book of Colossians. Paul's been writing this everyday group of Christians a letter, and it's been pretty heady. He's been talking about who Christ is, how we have everything that we need in him. He's warned them against accepting substitutes for Christ or adding to what they already have in him. Now, in Colossians 3, he spends a lot of time unpacking how this looks in our lives. He essentially gives us some insights into how we can be changed in the light of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

I hesitate to put what Paul says in a list, because it almost makes it seem like a formula. It isn't that neat. There are three insights or ways of thinking, though, that he uses in this chapter to help us experience the transformation process. Let me give them to you from this passage and we'll unpack them a little.

1. Change your focus

Paul writes in verses 1 and 2: "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God's right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth."

It's a fact that what we think about determines how we live. There's a lot of literature out there that talks about taking a longer view. I've read books that help you get over bad incidents by asking, "Will you even remember this in a year?" Others ask you to picture the end of your life and to live backwards from that perspective. Paul elevates our perspective to a much wider one. He encourages us to look beyond what we see with our eyes, and to develop spiritual eyesight that is aware of the realities of heaven. It's an awareness that sees Jesus as ruling over all things. Let the perspective that he's talked about in the first two chapters of this letter change the way that you see life.

Paul isn't saying that we stop living on earth and only think about spiritual things. That's called dualism, and it's not Scriptural at all. Look at the Bible and you discover it's a gritty book. We're not supposed to leave earth and think only about heaven. We should be gritty and real, to enjoy good food and friendships and nature and sports or whatever. It's not about checking out mentally from earth.

It is, however, about expanding our perspective to see all of live in light of what we know is true spiritually. It really does make a difference when our way of thinking includes theological truth. In fact, if theological truth doesn't make a practical difference in the way that we see the world and live, there's something wrong with it.

You may not be a deep metaphysical thinker, but you and I think a lot of metaphysical thoughts. We have developed a way of understanding the world, and that influences the decisions that we make. We see life as random or purposeful. We think in terms of a small window of time or a long period of time. We all have ideas of what is important. Our mental perspectives translate into reality, and changing our perspective makes a much bigger difference than focusing on individual behaviors.

Paul says, "Begin to see spiritual realities. Begin to see the world as it really is. Don't just think about what you can see and touch. Begin to really live as if you believed that Jesus is all that you need, that he is holding everything together. Let that reality and perspective change the way you live."

2. Kill off the old self

Paul says in verses 3 to 8:

For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don't be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry. God's terrible anger will come upon those who do such things. You used to do them when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.

You don't discipline the sinful nature within you. You don't try to control it. You go much further than that: you kill it. You don't even keep it around. You completely root it out and bury it and put it to death. It's a death more than it's a prison sentence.

That sounds pretty violent and, well, impractical. How do you kill the tendency to do wrong within you? Well, you don't really need to do the killing. It's already been done for you. Verse 3 says, "you died when Christ died." The death already took place at the cross. When Jesus died, your old nature died as well. Your new life is present, but it's hidden. It's not yet revealed and obvious to everyone.

So why does it say that your old nature has already died, before it says to put it to death? If you've ever watched a scary movie, you know that the enemies have a way of springing back to life. They're dead, and just when you let down your guard they pop back to life and attack again. The old nature is like that. It's dead. When it springs back to life, you just have to look back at it and say again, "You're dead." It's a lot easier than fighting it. Instead of fighting it, remember that Jesus has already dealt with it. It's already a reality. You just have to work it out in your experience.

Anne Lamott puts it this way:

...when you ask God into your life, you think that he...is going to come into your psychic house, look around, and see that you just need a little cleaning - and so you go along for the first six months thinking how nice life is now that God is there. Then you look outside the window one day and see that there's a wrecking ball outside. It turns out that God actually thinks your whole foundation is shot and you're going to have to start over from scratch.

What needs to happen in our lives won't happen with gradual measures or minor repairs. It involves a complete tearing down and reconstruction. It involves a complete death and resurrection. Our job is to remember that this has already been accomplished for us, and we just need to make it real within our lives. It's about actualizing what Christ has already done.

It's not just about the areas that we think about. It's interesting that the two lists include things that we normally think of as sinful - sexual sins and rage and so on. It also includes things we don't normally think of as sinful: greed for the good things of life, for instance. According to Paul, consumerism is just as dangerous as pornography. We need to put all of this to death in our lives, by realizing that Jesus has already dealt with it.

Verse 6 contains a bit of difficult teaching for us to accept these days: "God's terrible anger will come upon those who do such things." You don't hear a lot about God's anger these days. We talk more of God's forgiveness. Here in Ontario, we witnessed the Walkerton water scandal a few years ago, where a whole town was exposed to contaminated water. Seven people died and more than two thousand people became ill. We are repulsed by the idea of drinking contaminated water. God is equally repulsed by the idea of sin and what it does to us. Anger is not too strong a word to describe God's reaction to sin.

Kill off the old. Don't let it hang around. Remember that Christ has already killed the old nature. You don't have to even kill it yourself; you just need to remind it that Christ has already killed it for you. Make real in your life what has already happened.

3. Switch clothes

Paul writes in verses 9-14:

Don't lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all its wicked deeds. In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you. In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.

Paul gives us another image for what we need to do. It's a similar word picture to the idea of killing the old nature and distinctions. Here, instead of killing, you strip off the old evil nature. You recognize it for what it is and you take it off. It's dirty and shredded and disgusting and ready for the garbage. You take it off, and in its place you clothe yourself with elements of the new nature.

The Message paraphrases verse 10 this way: "Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete." You've got custom-made designer clothes made by God for you to wear. Take off the old and simply begin to wear the new clothes God has already provided for you.

The new clothes are much more fitting. I love the fact that the new clothes Paul describes are all relational qualities. The new nature shows itself most powerfully in our relationships with others. The most essential piece of clothing to wear, as part of the new nature, is love.

I also love that the new clothing is continually renewed, according to verse 10: "In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you." It's like clothing that never gets dirty and never needs washing and never goes out of style. This is what has been given to us in Christ.

The way that we deal with sin isn't by trying harder or by expecting to instantly change. The way we become holy is by living out what Jesus has already done for us. It's already reality. We just need to work it out in our experience.

The summary of what Paul says is found in verse 17: "And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father." Understanding what Jesus has done, allowing that to become a reality in our lives, and living as his representatives changes everything about our lives. It's all been given to us. We just have to live it.

Last night we decided to order pizza. Last summer, we bought one of these coupon books that are good for two free pizzas and all kinds of other deals. I pulled it out and called the number. While I was on hold I looked at the fine print and realized that all the coupons expired at the end of January. We've been sitting with this coupon book for months and haven't used a single one, and now it's no good.

To get a pizza, we didn't have to work for it. We didn't have to make it ourselves. All we had to do was to enjoy what we already had - something we failed to do.

We don't have to work for a new nature. We don't have to try harder to be transformed. All we have to do is to remind the old nature that it's already been killed, and to enjoy the new nature that Christ has already given us. That is the route to transformation.