Sunday, August 2, 2009

Living in Light of the Supremacy of Christ

I've heard many lessons and sermons on the commands contained in Colossians chapter 3 regarding how the Christian is to conduct themselves in their family and social relationships. You know, the section that says things like this:

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. (Colossians 3:18-22)
In fact, I heard another one of these sermons today, the last one from our interim pastor, focusing again as most do on the whats and the hows of these commands. What does a wife being subject look like, and what does it not look like? What does it mean to be obedient to parents, and who does this include? More marriage advice for husbands to be more sensitive to their wives, etc, etc. None of which are necessarily bad things, or wrong application. But as I listened and I read the context that came before in this letter, I realized that there was a huge point missing in this sermon and in most others I've heard on these commands. Why? Why should I or anyone else live like this, in a manner that is so contrary to our nature? What's the reason, the motivation? Just because Paul says so?

Step back and look at the whole flow of this letter to the church at Colosse. The major focus from the start has been the superiority and the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Superior to any other person, supposed deity, system of philosophy or belief, man made religious system, or false teaching that would diminish the person and work of Christ as revealed in the Gospel. That is the content and focus of the first two chapters of the letter. And the third chapter begins with a corner turn, a change from establishing the supremacy of Christ, to laying out the realities of living in light of that supremacy and the changes His Gospel has brought about in His people. Look at that transitional passage:
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)
Here's the point - we are new men and women in Christ, the old is dead, so we must raise our minds and life to focus on Him. And Paul goes on then to explain what that looks like, the practical application of that new identity, as he starts to expound in v. 5:
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
See that? Another "therefore." Continued progression of application of the previous truths. And where does this lead? To a whole series of commands in principle to live in light of the supremacy of our Savior who has killed our old self and given us a new life. We're commanded to live out that new self (3:9-14), to allow Christ's peace reign in us (3:15), to allow Christ's words to abide in us and enrich us (3:16). And finally to do all we do or say for Christ's glory (3:17), in view of His surpassing supremacy.

Then, and only then, does the application of those principles of living out the new life make sense. Once we have these new life principles of conduct based on Christ's supremacy down, we are ready to hear more commands regarding specifics of how to live them out in our relationships with spouses, children, employers and employees, etc. And therein lies the why. Why should I live out these relationships in this manner? Because of the surpassing superiority of Christ in all He is, in all He has made me, in all His glory.

When we understand as much as we can about the person and offices and work of Jesus Christ as Paul explains so clearly in the first half of the letter to the Colossians, we have a solid foundation to base our living on as Paul commands in the last half of the letter. But separate the two, and we lose both the supremacy of Christ and the right motivation to live righteously in our personal relationships.

Once again, orthodoxy must precede orthopraxy. Don't forget that next time someone wants to just get to the practical application. Without the doctrinal truth, what do you have to apply? Lots of whats and hows maybe, but the whys? Not so much...

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