In Paul’s letter to the Church at Colosse, known to us as the New Testament book of Colossians and companion letter to Philemon; we read in chapter three about rules for holy living. Holy living is “church speak” for how we are to live and interact with others. The word holy simply means that we are to interact with others in a way that is uniquely Christian, or consistent with Christ’s teachings. The goal of holy living has two objectives or benefits; first it is practical, in that if we want to enjoy peace in our life then it is the only effective way to live. Second, if we are successful, it will stand out when compared to the ways of the world around us; which is largely self-centered rather than focused on the well-being of others. In turn, it will arouse the curiosity of others around you, hopefully to the point of causing them to ask you why you are living in such a way. It is then that you will be able to tell them the source of your peace; Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God living in you and through you. All too often we get the horse before the cart, so to speak. We are quick to want to tell people about our faith but without the context of our good works. By doing so they are only words to some, and they will often reject or at least ignore our testimony regarding Christ as Lord of our life. The brother of Christ, James the Apostle, put it this way, “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action is dead. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” This not to say that our words are of no value but only that if we want to be real and effective, it is our life testimony that makes our words come alive. Some of us read and study God’s word and even go so far as to earnestly pray to God for his help, but as soon as we are off our knees, we go out into the world and live by its rules and standards. This will only result in failure and frustration and will prompt some to ask God, “Where were you, God, when I needed you most?”
So what are these rules for holy living that Paul is referring to; which if lived out, will bring us into real harmony with those around us, even to the point of healing broken relationships? It begins with a mental shift of gears. Paul tells us that we are to set our hearts and minds on the things above (vs. 1-2). Your heart represents what you really want, feel and need; tucked away in the deepest recesses of your mind and will. What is required is a reset or transformation of what you believe is of value and important in life. It is the process by which we become selfless instead of selfish; it is all about valuing the welfare of others above and before our own, no matter what they may have said about us or done to us. This certainly sounds impossible, and it would be, without the enabling Spirit of God who lives in us and is ready at all times to help us along the way.
If there is any question about what exactly we need to rid ourselves of, Paul gives us a list. It may not list every stumbling block or problem, but it covers the root cause of what is creating problems and divisiveness in our lives; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, greed, anger and rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lying to each other. Paul’s emphasizes that we not only need to rid ourselves of these on an incident by incident basis, but that such thinking is to be put to death. In other words, put away forever, so it will never reappear again. This is indeed a tall order, one that will never be completely accomplished in our lifetime. Yet it is what we are to set our minds and hearts to do; each and every day.
Paul provides a helpful word picture to help us approach each day, when our feet hit the floor in the morning and then venture out into the world. It is something I have used for years to help prepare myself for the day ahead. Paul uses the imagery of getting dressed in the morning, putting on the necessary clothing to cover-up our tendency to only seek those things that give us pleasure. He describes it as taking off the old self and putting on the new. When I put on my freshly laundered clothing in morning, free of the soil and wrinkles from the previous day, it reminds me that my sin of the previous day has been covered and paid for by Christ’s work on my behalf, and it’s now time for me to once again go out into the world to do his work. Yes, I did get dirty the day before, I wasn’t completely successful in my efforts, but today is a new day and a new opportunity.
So what exactly are we to put on in the morning? Once again, Paul provides us with a list; compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. None of these come naturally to us, but are provided for us by the Holy Spirit, who lives in our hearts and minds. Then Paul gives us one more article of clothing, probably the most important of all, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” So when you put on that freshly pressed shirt or blouse in the morning, remember what else you should be putting on to prepare yourself for the day. I know how difficult it can be, as we rush around our house or apartment in the morning, getting ready for the day ahead. For some it means attending to the needs of others, like our children or spouse; so to take time to pray can be more than a challenge; sometimes it’s simply impossible to retreat for a quiet time with God. Yet, we all get dressed in the morning, so try to use that time for preparing your heart and mind for the day ahead. When you look in the mirror, think about what kind of reflection you wish to make in the lives of those around you.