Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When ‘Army Strong’ Looks Weak: memoirs of a reluctant servant leader

When ‘Army Strong’ Looks Weak:
Memoirs of a reluctant servant leader
by Deb W.
(note: this is the basic text of a speech I gave to a group of government workers recently. The intent was not to be a testimony, but instead it was considered an icebreaker.)

When most people meet me, they have a hard time imagining me as having retired from the Army seven years ago - with a total of 24 years in the military!

For the most part today I think I tend to be soft-spoken and a bit reserved. At work, I tend to be serious-minded and analytical. But that has not always been the case.

Today, I’d like to share a snapshot of my unique military experiences, which I believe God used as a main catalyst in developing me into the person who I am today. 

Body: Enlistment.
When I first enlisted, joining the Navy was really an act of self preservation.

I had fought so much with my parents growing up, that I was kicked out at the age of 18.

So, I was trying to work full-time, go to college, and maintain a social life while renting a studio apartment. But I was failing miserably on all fronts.

College frustrated me because I chose based on what would pay the most after graduation. But I hated computer science.

Work was a means to an end and that end was my party life. And the party scene was taking me places I never expected. I knew if I didn't make a serious change, I’d probably get arrested or maybe end up in jail.

So, with that backdrop, at the age of 19, I landed my keister in the Navy recruiter’s office and within a couple of weeks, shipped off to Orlando, Florida for Basic Training.

I spent the better part of the 1980's in the Navy where partying, working, and training were the symbiotic ecosystem of my post-adolescent experimentation. Learning to work hard and play hard was my mantra during those years.

Blue to Green.
After six years of travel fun and meritorious achievement, my Navy tenure ended and I was ready for a new chapter.

With a few months of separation under my belt, boredom started to set in. So I ended up in an Army recruiter’s office, who essentially guaranteed me a slot in the job of my dreams if I enlisted in the Army. So, in 1990, I became an Photo Journalist in the 101st Public Affairs Detachment – the opportunity of a lifetime. I enthusiastically seized upon the opportunity as my “reason to be”.

At first, I under estimated the challenge of going from “Blue to Green” – transitioning from serving in the Navy to becoming an Army Soldier. Almost everything I learned about being a Sailor was completely different from being in the Army!

But I did what it took to graduate in the top of my class from most of my Army professional development courses. Somehow, this naïve, self-absorbed, misguided, post-adolescent grew up in the Army and became an NCOIC (non-commissioned officer-in-charge).

Being in Public Affairs, I almost always found myself assigned to some General officer’s staff in a high profile position, with a much greater degree of responsibility than the rank on my collar would seem to indicate. My sense of pride and self-worth was in the success and recognition I’d find in assignments all around the globe: Italy, Panama, Japan, Germany, Kosovo, Normandy, Belgium, and Turkey. The windows and doors of opportunity being opened to me seemed like they would never end.

By the time I reached the rank of Sgt. First Class, E-7, all of these roles and opportunities started to feel bland and boring. The most exciting job I could have ever imagined had become dull and passé to me. So, I sought out even more challenges and ways to become influential and powerful.

Green to Gold.
As I listened to the voices of the recruiters once again, they assured me that becoming a commissioned officer would be the golden ticket to the influence and acknowledgement that I was craving. At that time, I idolized officers and had this fairy-tale image of how they lived glamorous and privileged lives, while at the same time holding the power needed to change everything.

So, when the 9/11 tragedy hit our country, I was more than primed to embark upon the great “Green to Gold” Army tradition and enrolled in Officer Candidate School. The lessons I would learn from my time training and serving as a military officer are not written in anyone’s textbooks. Chief among them was the lesson of humility.

"Lower than worm poop" is what they called us. That was the title I put on after taking off my chevrons. Every former NCO who descends from the enlisted leadership ranks to the training ground of the future commissioned officer undergoes this transition. But it took me longer and quite a bit of more emotional pain to concede. The process simply made no sense to me.

Why would becoming an officer entail such an excruciating surrender of pride? Isn’t pride the whole point of why I wanted to be an officer in the first place? To be the best? The brightest? The strongest? The smartest?

The humbling process was more difficult for me than any of my classmates. On my LES (leave and earnings statement), I still outranked most of my drill instructors, but now I had to submit to their commands, no matter how much I agreed or disagreed. Plus, I had always enjoyed the privilege of “having the General’s ear” before, but now, it was nothing more than ‘suck it up’ and ‘do as you’re told’ – ugh!.

In retrospect, officer training taught me more about the art of leadership than anything I had ever learned before. It was just so much different than I had envisioned it.

Putting on Pure Gold.
When I graduated from officer training, all of my close relatives came to my graduation. Which is saying something, since as you might remember, I was disowned and kicked out when I was 18. This was a monumental experience for me.

I won’t go into all of the details and assignments that I had over the six years that I served as an officer, other than to say that I had two company commands (one as acting commander, the other was on official orders) by the time I was promoted to Captain. The pride that I had in serving in those commands had very little to do with pride in myself, but rather it was the pride I had for the Army and every Soldier under my charge.

Through this process I learned that everyone is uniquely qualified to contribute to the unit’s success, while at the same time acknowledging that everyone is fighting a battle I couldn't even see. The former taught me to protect the inherent dignity of all people and the latter allowed me to show compassion and understanding even when they inevitably let me down.

Conclusion: I had finally learned and could see what the officers before me had done to facilitate my growth and development. Being an effective leader is not all about the getting the glory and changing the world. It’s about being available at any given moment to use my influence and knowledge to open doors and windows of opportunity for those I might serve. 

So, if I seem soft-spoken and restrained to you in how I present myself today, I hope you understand a little better that there is more to me than meets the eye. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Living for the Lord - Not as People Pleasers: Col. 3:18-4:1

COL 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. 4:1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Col. 3:18-4:1 Paul continues the exposition and application that he began in the previous section: Because our relationship with God has changed through Christ, our relationships with those around us must change for Christ.

Previously, Paul wrote about our servanthood to one another as the body of Christ, as we "put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" and "let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts" (Col 3:12 -- also, cf. Eph. 5:21Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”). When the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, He mediates our interactions with one another. Our testimony to the watching world in this way glorifies Christ:  "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35)".

Now, we see Paul moving along to focus particular attention on how freedom in Christ also affects the other relationships close to us—in our homes and our work. Since we have experienced the grace of Christ, Paul calls us to likewise be gracious to one another in our day to lives - in our vocational callings.

Note first how many times Paul reminds his readers and us that in each of these relationships “the Lord” is present. It is not human or man-made rules to which Paul appeals, but rather how we were originally created to relate to one another as His image-bearers. These are not "traditional roles" but rather "biblical roles" we are to walk in by faith. 

  • wives submit fittingly
  • husbands love sacrificially
  • children obey rightly
  • parents discipline unprovokingly
  • workers work diligently, and 
  • bosses act justly

Notice how these verses in Colossians mirror the same teaching Paul gave to the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:22-6:9:

wives submit fittingly (cf. Eph. 5:22–24), 
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

husbands love sacrificially (cf. Eph. 5:25–32), 
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

children obey rightly (cf. 
Eph. 6:1–3), 
6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

parents discipline unprovokingly (cf. 
Eph. 6:4), 
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

workers work diligently (cf. 
Eph. 6:5–8), and 
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, aspeople-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 

bosses act justly (cf. 
Eph. 6:9).
Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

This is the beauty of the life into which the gospel of grace calls us. It is a life we can now live as new creations in Christ, glorifying Him as His image bearers in our various callings, as we growing in grace.

Related link: Five Things to Avoid When Discussing Gender

Additional notes on the text: 

Col. 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands
Instead of telling wives to “obey” (Gk. hypakouō), as was typical in Roman households, Paul appeals to them to “submit” (Gk. hypotassō), based on his conviction that men have a God-given leadership role in the family. The term suggests an ordering of society in which wives should align themselves with and respect the leadership of their husbands (see Eph. 5:22–33). Paul is not enjoining the wives to follow the prevailing cultural patterns of his day but to live as is fitting in the Lord, thus stressing the importance of evaluating everything in light of Christ and his teaching. A wife would not submit to her husband in a way that would be disobedient to the Lord or that would enable her husband to willfully sin against the Lord.
  • Have you ever noticed? Directly after Paul’s teaching in Ephesians on marriage and family, Paul instructs the church to “Put on the Full Armor of God”. I don't think this is a coincidence!

Slaves and Masters
The kind of servitude practiced in the first century was seldom in keeping with God’s will; the Scriptures regulate the institution without commending it (see notes on 1 Cor. 7:21; Eph. 6:5; 1 Tim. 1:10), and the evil of trafficking in human beings is condemned in the NT (1 Tim. 1:10; cf. Rev. 18:11–13). As in any other city or village in the Roman world, there would have been many slaves (or bondservants) at Colossae; Paul treats them with dignity and appeals to them directly to honor Christ in their hearts, work, and behavior. Philemon (see the book of Philemon) was a wealthy Colossian who benefited from the labors of his bondservant, Onesimus. Paul later writes to Philemon, compelling him in love to “do what is required (v.9)”, "that you might receive him back forever, no longer as a bondservant, but more than that, as a beloved brother. (v. 15b-16)” 

* Today, we typically view the principles of slave and master as they might apply to employers & employees. It's important to understand the cultural context in which the Colossians lived. Slavery, just like other institutions referenced in the Old Testament (such as divorce and polygamy) were given certain boundaries of practice among the Israel nation, but these were never God's original intent or design for human relationships, as the Genesis creation account attests.

(Attribution: Many of the above notes were paraphrased from text notes found in The Gospel Transformation Bible and time spent in Bible study preparation)

Friday, August 1, 2014

On a Personal Note: About women, blogging, & seminary

One trend that I've noticed lately is that a number of women bloggers who've been writing for quite a long time are feeling discouraged in their endeavors, considering giving up their writing, especially since there are "so many other voices" speaking to women's issues. Since I've just re-engaged this blog after having been inactive for quite a while, I have a couple of thoughts that might be helpful on this subject.

To Teach What is Good and So Train the Younger Women (Titus 2:3-5)
First, some of the more recent voices that have shot up into the limelight are not necessarily the voices of spiritually older women who have a depth of theological background and experience. Many of these younger voices have attracted attention because they perhaps have touched a nerve in the popular psyche that "older" women may not have noticed. But that doesn't mean the younger voices have all the answers. Those more Biblically mature women who've been out on the blogosphere for 8 or 10 years need to be engaged with these conversations. While it's been incredibly encouraging to see and read a plethora of new books published by women on the subject of women's ministry lately, the depth, clarity and theological precision of each varies quite a bit. Bottom line: women writers have a great deal to learn and gain from one another.

Formal Seminary Training - To Go or Not To Go? (That seems to be the question du jour!)
Lately, a number of the more seasoned women Bible teachers, whose teaching I've read and listened to for years, have decided to undertake seminary degrees at one of the top reformed seminaries. Their various reasons are their own and are surely between them, their husbands/their pastors and the Lord. It's interesting to me that so many of the women I regard as having such rich theological backgrounds and knowledge are the ones who are considering this option now.

I understand the desire to grow; I have even explored a few seminary options recently, taking a few online courses at two of the different institutions to get a taste of the course work and their approaches. My conviction at this point is that I absolutely do not want to pursue a seminary degree any longer after testing the waters. Yes, I love learning - I'm a perennial and lifelong student, especially of scripture and theology. And yes, of all the subjects in my life that I would want to dedicate myself to on a daily, committed basis, reformed theology and doctrine is definitely at the very top of the list.

However, taking a few courses on topics that I've already developed a love for and have studied previously, has been a stunningly disappointing experience. If I were to follow through with a full seminary degree, I have hard time imagining that I would develop a deeper passion for the glory of God and His Word.

That last sentence highlights the issue of motive for me:

Why would I want a seminary degree? (These are my actual answers to that question).
1- To increase my intellectual skills and amass knowledge.
2- To become a more credible authority in the eyes of others. (by adding say, MDiv, to the end of my name?)
3- Because so many other women are doing it and I want to be like them.
4- Because getting a seminary degree will make me feel better about myself.
5- To get seminary training would make me more effective in the ministry work that I do.
6- To get seminary training would lead me to be more worshipful and to develop a deeper passion for the glory of God and His Word.

And here are some of my appropriate responses to those honest(!) answers/motives above:
#1 on it's own, for it's own sake, this is most likely a form of greed and potentially idolatry
#2 is people pleasing - fear or man - and has nothing to do with the fear of the Lord. (If women's ministry required such a degree as an entrance requirement, as the pastorate typically does, then this might be a different question.)
#3 is a form of coveting, desiring what others have for oneself, simply because we want it, is not a valid reason and would be a form of coveting (also, idolatry)
#4 feeling better about oneself might be an interesting motivation for a non-believer - Maybe!-, however, in my case, it points to the sin of discontentment and highlights a performance-driven mentality.
#5 to become more effective in my ministry work is a Godly motivation for attending seminary. However, the additional question might be whether a certificate or a few select courses in a particular area of study (such as counseling or Bible studies) would provide an sufficient foundation, or whether a full seminary degree is actually warranted.
#6 to grow in knowledge that leads to being more worshipful and passionate about God's glory is, at the end of the day, my chief concern. Even if I attend seminary courses in pursuit of #5  (a worthy goal) and those courses result in diminishing my worship and love of God, I might want to consider this.

Based on all of the above, I will likely take a few more seminary courses in my particular areas of need and interest; however, I am seriously considering taking any future courses in "audit" status. I have no need to earn an MDiv. and I believe that taking the courses in an audit status will allow me to achieve my objectives without zapping the joy of learning and study and Godly growth that will come from being immersed in the actual content.

Back to the Issue of Older Women and Younger Women
So, here are my questions for the older women in our churches. And when I say older, I'm referring to women who are more spiritually mature and not necessarily women who are "old". The temptation of checking out and sinking back from engagement because there are "so many other voices" out there is strong. And sometimes women who tend to be more introspective might want to redirect their time and energy toward a formal seminary degree before fully considering whether such an endeavor would produce the kind of outcome that they would necessarily desire. To those who are on that fence, I ask:

  • Will a seminary degree help you grow in your ability to teach younger women the gospel, about the doctrine of the church, to grow in their love for the Lord, to love their husbands and their children, to serve better and to be self-controlled, etc.?
  • If you have already been doing these things for years, what do you expect to gain from a seminary degree? Examine these answers with your husband (if you're married) and pastor.

    And for women's ministry in general:
  • Is this a potential opportunity for the Church to learn how to keep older women engaged with younger women?

In summary
 Let us pray for contentment, to make the most every opportunity that we've been given, to grow in our love and knowledge of the Lord's grace and His Word, and to encourage one another to continue by faith -- whatever that might look like in each of our lives. Let us also pray for one another, that we would consider what the Lord may calling the next generation of older women of the church to do to engage with the younger women.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Glorious Adornment of the Saints (Col. 3:12-17)

Col. 3:12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 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. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 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. 17 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.
Just as Israel was called "God's chosen people" in the Old Testament (Deut. 4:37), the Christian Church is now called Chosen - as a "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1 Peter 2:9). God's purpose was for a people who would praise Him, serve Him, and glorify Him (Eph. 1:12, 1 Pet. 2:9) As we've seen in studying the book of Colossians, we have been made alive in Christ, new creations who are to walk in newness of life, clothed with His goodness, putting off the deeds of the flesh, and putting on the righteousness of Christ, our Savior. Paul goes into detail in the verses above about what this righteousness looks like. Let's take each of the elements and examine them one by one:

Compassion (v. 12)– Heartfelt sympathy that is shown in outward deeds of kindness
Matthew 9:35-38: 35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Kindness/Goodness (v. 12)– Also "generosity", "bounty", and "courtesy". The word expresses the abundant bounty God displays to His people, as in a harvest that is not just adequate, but is overflowing.
Luke 6:35: But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

Humility (v. 12)– The Old Testament says repeatedly that God opposes the proud and arrogant, and will exalt the lowly and humble (Isaiah 2:6-22, Amos 2:6-7). The former think they have the resources to manage life on their own and can operate independent of God. By contrast, the latter know that apart from God they are not great, but because they are made in God's image and are loved by him, they are of great worth. They know they have no real hope without God.
Phil. 2:5-11. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gentleness/Meakness (v. 12) – This is a near synonym for humility; the two words are often paired in both Old and New Testaments. The meek in ancient times were the poor people who did not own land. They were the defenseless, those without rights, who were oppressed, cheated, and exploited. In deep need, they were apt to seek help from God alone (Psalm 40:17). The gentle person does not have a low opinion of himself; he is not occupied with self at all. Because he/she trusts in God's goodness and God's control over situations, the meek or gentle person does not have to worry about self-interest and looking out for number one. Meekness is not passive tolerance of injustice, but a reliance on God for vindication and a refusal to retaliate when insulted.
1 Peter 2:23 "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

Patience (v. 12) - Long suffering endures wrong and puts up with the exasperating conduct of others rather than flying into a rage and wanting revenge.

Isaiah 48:9
“For my name's sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.

Bearing with one another (v. 13) And forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven us
Col. 2:13-14: 13 "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."

Above all (v. 14):And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Galatians 5:22-24 - 22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Consider how Christian love binds all the other Christian graces together and how we are called to put love on top of all these other articles. Further study: 1 Cor. 12-13 - Love is called indispensable, the most excellent way, and the greatest of the gifts of the spirit.

Letting the Peace of Christ Rule

v. 15 - And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.

It is especially crucial that we practice these virtues among one another 
John 13:35 "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

                1 Cor. 12:12-26 – We are one body, with many members. And every member is vital to the effectiveness and mission of the body. If one part suffers, all suffer. If one part rejoices, all rejoice.

How the healthy church body functions (v. 16)

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
Studying the Word, attending the Church service, where the Word is preached, humbly asking the Spirit to let the Word change us from the inside out. 
teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
In fellowship,under the Word of God 
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
during the Sunday service, in our informal meetings, at home with our families, when we go to work, everywhere possible.

with thankfulness in your hearts to God.The grateful heart does not grumble and glorifies the Lord.
 And what should be included in every deed? (v. 17)

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.

The human heart was created to worship. If we flee from idols and turn to the Lord in faith, we can glorify Jesus by faith and in gratitude and praise to the Father. 

Becoming Who We Are (Col. 3:1-11)

Col. 3:1 "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." (ESV)

I. Focus: Who We Are in Christ

More literally: "Therefore, if you have been..." (NASB and Mounce Greek interlinear translations).  Paul is connecting everything that he has said beforehand about the supremacy of Christ and our redemption (being set free from the bondage of sin) through faith in Him to the truth of who we are called to be in Him. "Therefore, if" or "Since then" is also setting the stage to compare how different the believer's life now is in contrast to her old life.

Part A - Paul sets the stage for who we are in Christ

1- We've "been raised with Christ" v.1 - Christ has been resurrected and is ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He rules and reigns and sits on the throne presently as our mediator and intercessor. He is still the God-man, truly God, truly human. He intercedes on our behalf as one who was fully tempted in every way we are tempted, but yet He was without sin. When we were saved, we were made new creations in Christ to walk in newness of life, by the power of the same Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead. When Christ returns, we will also be resurrected with Him in glory (see #4 below for more).
Additional cross references: Ephesians 2:4-6 " But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus'
Romans 8:11 "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

2- Our minds and hearts now belong "set on things above" v.2 Philippians 2:8-9 "Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything excellent, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

3- We have "died with Christ" v3a. - Romans 6:4-7 "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin."

4- Our life is presently "hidden in Christ" v3b. Here are some of the ways the scriptures refer to our lives presently being "hidden in Christ" (although everything will one day be brought into plain view)

  • Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39)
  • I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me. I live by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:20)
  • No one can snatch us out of Jesus' hand (John 10:29) 
  • The LORD is our refuge and our fortress, in whom we trust (Psalm 91)
  • 1 Peter 1:3-7: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

5- We will "appear with Him in glory" v.4.
He will bring to light the things that are now hidden in darkness and secret; He will disclose all the purposes of our heart (1 Cor. 4:5) This truth by itself ought to terrify everyone of us!
-- BUT...
(for those who are in Christ) Phil. 3:20-21 " But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself."
We also have the promise that we who are God's children shall be like Him. (1 John 3:2)
Praise God for these graces!

Part B. What We are Called to Put Off v.5
(put to death/mortify/get rid of) 

Now that we are new creations - new women in Christ-- Paul makes it plain that we are no longer under the control of sin. We are called to wage battle against sin by putting to death evil practices, such as:
1. Sexual immorality...This includes prostitution, adultery, un-chastity, fornication -- every kind of unlawful sexual acts. Some of the churches that Paul planted, as well as this one at Colosse, had difficulty abandoning their tolerance of immoral sexual practices because they were so widespread and ingrained in the Greek culture.
2. Impurity... Generally applies to sexual misconduct, but also applies to other forms of moral evil, such as "impure motives" (as described in 1 Thes. 2:3) which denotes an overall lack of integrity.
3. Lust... The ESV states "passions"; however, it seems more accurate to say "shameful passions", since sin depends on the object of our passions and desires. For instance, Paul said that he longed to be with Christ. John Piper says that we are called to be "Desiring God". Instead it is "shameful passions" that is in view as being wicked. Also, it is true that lust does not only refer to sexual passions, but can be the excessive longing for anything other than that which leads us toward the Lord.
4. Evil desires... Similar to lust and shameful passions, the one who even looks on another individual (to whom he or she is not married) with sexual attraction in his or her heart, and especially with a desire to possess that person, must put to death such desires. (Matthew 5:28)
5. Covetousness, which is idolatry (also, Greed)... A covetous or greedy person seeks to lay hold of something that does not lawfully belong to him or her, often in an attempt to wrest personal satisfaction from in ways that only the Lord can provide -- which is why it is considered idolatrous.

All of the above sins are related to one another specifically because in each situation, the sinner is essentially worshiping something or someone else rather than God. All of these are blatant and outward manifestations of sin that are direct affronts to the goodness and holiness of God. The Lord hates sin so much that He cannot abide such evil. Thus, "On account of these (in v.5) the wrath of God is coming(v.6)".

In all of the above, we once walked, when we used to live in them or among them -- (however, we are now alive in Christ - new creations). We are called to put those old things away for good.

But, wait, there's more!
v. 8 says, "But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth." -- Not only the obvious, blatant, outward sins that are so easily connected to the old pagan life, but also "Respectable Sins" (as Jerry Bridges calls them in his excellent book). These are the ones that we as church-people so often justify in ourselves or neglect to root out. For instance, I've been taken back so many times with books that reveal the depth of remaining sin in my life that I hadn't even studied much or thought about. Some examples of these are: Resisting Gossip, Gospel-Powered Humility (sin of pride), Peacemaking Women, Uprooting Anger, The Holiness of God, etc..

Essentially, it would seem that Paul is telling the church at Colosse that these smaller, less obvious sins also much be mortified and that they lead to the same end as the more blatant ones. In verses 9 and 10, we read that we must put off the old self and "put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator". So, as we grow in God's grace by putting off the old, we will also be renewed to become more like Him. As Dr. Gregory Beale has written, "We become what we worship". If we continue to nurture sinful passions, we will become like mute and dumb idols. If we worship the Lord in all that we do and say, then He will make us more like His Son. Paul is calling us to right worship, so that we - collectively as the church universal - will become what we are called to be -- His body/His bride.

  • In fact, as we will come to see in the next few verses and the next couple of lessons, Paul seems to be saying that to neglect putting these sins to death will impair the mission and unity of the church.

Part C: The Body of Christ -- Unity in Diversity

1. No longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised v.11 - A major division in the early church. Both the Jewish people and the Greeks thought their culture was superior -- Jewish Christians had a hard time accepting Greek Christians who were uncircumcised and who did not keep all of the ceremonial laws. Greeks also had a great pride in their cultural history and often had a hard time associating with Jews.

2. Barbarian, Scythian, v.12 - At one time, anyone who did not speak Greek was considered a barbarian and uncivilized. And Scythians, who had a reputation for brutality, were considered little better than wild beasts.

So, both Jews and Greeks were deeply biased in how they treated others by their ethnicities.

3. Slave or free v.11 -- The class system was just as rigid socially as the ethnic barriers were in the Roman Empire. Roman law treated slaves as subhuman and as property.

Therefore, when Paul tells the Colossians: "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all", this is not a non sequitur, illogical conclusion, or even a new or separate line of thought. This is essentially his crescendo - what he's been leading up to. Why does it matter that we put away malice, anger, envy, slander? Because we're being in-grafted to a body of members who are going to look, act, speak, and relate very differently and who are going to come from all over the earth, not just our own family or neighborhood. Unless we mortify our selfish desires, we are going to be in conflict with each other A LOT, maybe all the time. And that's not God's intent for the Church. He wants to renew us after the image of our Creator - to make us more Christlike.

As Paul goes into detail about what it looks like to "Clothe Ourselves with Christ" in the next Lesson, The Glorious Adornment of the Saints, he is building on this idea -- that we are the Body of Christ in which there is no inequality of persons, since all have been created in God's image and who have all been redeemed by His blood and adopted as His children. No "IN" or "OUT" group or class. No preferential status. We will see this more and more in the next lesson.

Here are two article excerpts that really drill down on the issue of "In" groups and "Out" groups. The first one discusses the negative outcomes of perpetuating the life of "The Inner Ring" and the second one highlights a reversal: what can happen when we forsake our human tendencies to stratify the church and instead model the body of Christ after "things above". Enjoy:

From C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring:
"Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can really be enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one."
There is a ton more in Lewis' article that I commend to you, but the paragraph above was chosen to highlight why the human tendency to have a stratified culture in the Church can be harmful and why we must be diligent to seek things above, rather than earthly patterns for the Church.

The next excerpt is from a testimony on HarvestUSA's website titled Silent Sisterhood. I hope you find it a powerful, uplifting and motivating example of how the Church can be the kind of different that it's called to be (even Women's Ministry!):
"So, as I came to know what I shouldn’t do, my heart cried out to God to know what He was calling me to be! There had to be more, my heart yearned too much for these deep changes to stop there. What was it? What was it I was tasting, glimpsing, that drew me to the cliff edge of choices, and to the realization that I had choices. It was in this place I first began to understand what it was to be a child of God – the child of a loving father.
Though it sounds simple, to move from seeing myself as a child of God to being His daughter was a momentous step... He teaches me in Word and leads me to women in church, in groups, and in friendships who, as in the words of Proverbs 31, are clothed in strength and dignity, who do not fear the future because of Him and who speak with wisdom and faithful instruction. These women move freely and enjoy the respect and confidence of others and shatter my old notions of strength, independence and freedom. These women are interdependent, they do not see themselves as separate, and they are connected closely to others and enjoy it! The connection is neither smothering nor exclusive as I found in lesbianism, but springs from being present to one another even in the hard, raw times that God uses to shape His daughters."
Praise God for that testimony and the example of what the body of Christ is called to be!

Next week's lesson: The Glorious Adornment of the Saints>>