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Posts Tagged ‘Colossians’

It is impossible to imagine the ethical lifestyle towards which the apostle Paul encourages the churches without reckoning with the prominence of gratitude.

Simply put, thanksgiving is a powerful  motor. Apart from whatever else it represents, thankfulness fuels and in some ways summarizes the way of the believer in Jesus Christ.

As Paul draws an extensive piece of ethical instruction to its conclusion, gratitude comes to the fore:

And above all these put on 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 one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts 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. (Colossians 3:14–17 ESV)

We live either as though the world has cheated us of what we are owed. Or as though life has given us more than we deserve. There are only two ways.

We call the latter—with its constant element of bemused surprise—thanksgiving, or gratitude. It is different from feeling lucky, for strictly speaking the feeling of having been befallen by good luck has no object. Thanksgiving or gratitude, on the other hand, is directed to someone, who has been one’s benefactor, the giver of the gift one has received. Gratitude is personal. Someone has been generous and I am grateful to that person.

Near the end of the passage just quoted, Paul appears to focus on one skein of the yarn that is gratitude.

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. (Colossians 3:17 ESV)

There is a certain robust, comprehensive fulness in the words and actions of a grateful life.

All that one speaks and all that one does are speech-acts and purposive movements that express the character of Jesus and express thanks to God the Father. Gone is the squeamish fear that I may have lost may way, may have crossed some invisible line. The overcautious sophistries of ethics that are not grateful ethics is absent.

No good thing, no Jesus-aligned thought or word need fall outside this circle of life-as-thanksgiving.

The countless dots that form the line that is the trajectory of our life become thank you’s. Life can be no more relational and no less grumpy than this.

 

 

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We are being saved from what we were.

We come in from the muck and the cold and slowly, with muscles labor-sore, drop our clothing on the mudroom floor. It is foul, cold, unsheltering stuff, redolent with things we would forget, toils that damaged others and ruined ourselves. They fall, articles of clothing that once provided some modest protection, no longer needed in this new, warm, nourishing house.

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:8–11 ESV)

Too familiar with sturdy lists of virtue and vice to introduce language that is unnecessarily new, the apostle Paul names the torn, muddy fabric of ourselves in classical ways, with nomenclature his first readers would have found robustly familiar. This is the raiment of what we were, interpenetrated with the smoke of wrath, heavy with the stink of a style that once defined us. We can hardly peel this stuff away quickly enough.

There is anger, mis-shaper of countenance and heart.

There is wrath, a boiling cauldron that prepares no food.

There is malice, our devious prowess of ruin.

Slander, the poison of tongue and lips at senseless war.

Obscene talk, the drivel of honor-less hearts.

We step out of them into the naked chill, they fall still bearing the space of our shoulder, our hip.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12–14 ESV)

Warmth and wholeness wait.

Compassionate hearts, quick to care.

Humility, for we are second.

Meekness, the new and quiet wait.

Patience, our liberation from now.

Bearing with one another, for now we glimpse what they will one day become.

Forgiveness, for we need not punish or control.

And love, the foundation, the pillar, the roof, the hearth of new life.

New clothes, a modestly flattering cut, a style that will not pass.

This is who we will be. We are becoming.

 

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Paul’s articulation of Jesus’ being lies often at huge distance from the cautions language of the church’s later creeds. To make this observation casts no shadow either upon Paul or upon the creed-makers, for they were pursuing similar ends by very different means. Each employs his own code, so to speak.

Like all true monotheists, Paul is convinced that strength and peace come through serving just one, supreme deity and not worrying about the rest. Even to refer to ‘the rest’ is to allow for heavens packed with or perhaps loosely populated with other powers. Biblical monotheism never denies the possibility. Its ends have less to do with ‘scientific’ description of all who—the personal pronoun is intentional—might exist. It is unconcerned with filling out the roster. (more…)

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