RESOLVED, IN CHRIST
How many of you made New Year’s resolutions for 2020? “I resolve to lose weight. I resolve to exercise regularly. I resolve to be a better spouse, better, parent, better friend, better employee, better person. I resolve to save more and spend less. I resolve to read the entire Bible, including the Old Testament, and even the Book of Leviticus.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Yet, of these resolutions, only 22% succeed and 78% fail. Obviously, making resolutions is easier than keeping resolutions. In the stark reality of January 2, many discover that they lack the willingness and commitment to fulfill their own resolutions. “Oh, why did I choose today to start jogging? I’m so tired. It’s cold out and dark. I could slip, fall, hurt myself, go to the hospital, require surgery, even die. I think I’ll wait till tomorrow, or the day after that.” And so the resolutions of one year become the regrets of the next year.
Of course, not all resolutions are important; but some are, and especially the resolve to lead God-pleasing lives. Colossians 3:12-17 contains four such resolutions; namely, the resolve to clothe ourselves with Christian attributes, verse 12; to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, verse 15; to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, verse 16; and to do everything in the name of Jesus Christ, verse 17.
Yet, there are important differences between these biblical resolutions and traditional New Year’s resolutions. In Colossians 3:12-17 the apostle Paul is not calling upon us to become something we are not, as is true of traditional resolutions. Instead, he is simply urging us to live up to the reality of who we are and what we have in Jesus Christ. Notice that he prefaces these resolutions by describing his readers as “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” Since this is who they are, this is how they should live.
Furthermore, as difficult as traditional New Year’s resolutions can be, living godly lives is far more difficult. This is precisely why Scripture never asks us to carry out God-pleasing resolutions on our own; but rather in the strength and grace of almighty God. As Paul explained in Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
And so you will notice that each of the resolutions in Colossians 3:12-17 is connected to Jesus Christ—where He becomes the example and the power and the motivation. What resolutions? For the sake of discussion, I’ll paraphrase them this way: “In 2020 I resolve to dress better in Christ, to sleep better in Christ, to listen better in Christ, and to undertake better in Christ.”
The First Resolution: ‘I resolve to dress better in Christ.’ Paul, of course, is not talking about putting on literal clothing. Literal clothes are external. Literal clothes are put on and taken off to suit particular occasions or circumstances. Rather, the apostle is talking about possessing and displaying those Christian attributes that befit our great salvation and clearly identify us as the followers of Jesus Christ.
In fact, the picture of ‘clothing oneself’ with godly attributes is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors; a metaphor he uses twelve times in seven different epistles. For example, he says in Galatians 3:27, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Ephesians 4:24, “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God.” Wear it. Use it. Own it.
As Christians, then, we are to clothe ourselves with godly characteristics like those mentioned in today’s text, beginning with the attribute of “compassion.” Compassion itself means ‘to suffer along with; to feel for.’ And this same attribute is repeatedly used of Jesus Himself—the same Jesus that you and I too often accuse of being heartless or unconcerned or indifferent toward our problems.
Christ’s compassion was always an active compassion; that is, a compassion that moved Him to action. When He looked compassionately on the suffering and heartache of the Widow of Nain, Luke 7:13, He did not merely say, “Stop crying.” He raised her son from the dead. When He looked compassionately on the hungry multitudes, Matthew 9:36, He did not say, “There’s a McDonald’s a half mile down the road.” He fed them. When He looked compassionately on the desperate leper, Mark 1:41, He did not refer him to a local dermatologist. Jesus did what others would not dream of doing. He touched the leper and then He healed him. Do we have compassion for others; and does it move us to action?
Next, “kindness;” that is, the quality of being useful, helpful, and generous. Traced back to its origin, the Greek word Paul used for kindness, χρηστότης, means ‘to lend a hand.’ Not surprisingly, kindness is an attribute of God. Titus 3:4-5, “But when the KINDNESS and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” Do we exhibit kindness?
Next, “humility;” literally, ‘lowly-mindedness,’ the opposite of arrogance. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in HUMILITY consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Philippians 2:3-4. And in this context whom did Paul present as the supreme example of humility? Jesus Christ, of course; “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness,” Philippians 2:6-7. Are we lowly- minded? Do we humbly serve others?
Next, “gentleness.” What did Jesus say of Himself in Matthew 11:29? “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am GENTLE and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Are we gentle with others?
Next, “patience.” The Greek word is μακροθυμία, and literally means ‘to be long-suffering,’ the opposite of being quick-tempered. And do you know who else is long-suffering? God is. And be grateful He is. The apostle Peter wrote: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is PATIENT with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9. How patient are we with others—family members, fellow Christians, complete strangers?
Next, “bearing with each other.” The Greek word Paul used for ‘bearing’ literally means ‘to hold oneself firm.’ Said differently, not to be ‘put out of place’ by the words or actions of other people. “Who does that person think he is? If he does that one more time I’ll…” What of us? Are we able to bear with the faults, frailties, careless acts, and thoughtless words of others?
Next, “forgiveness;” which of course explains how we can go on bearing with each other. To quote Paul, “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” Colossians 3:13. The question is: How does the Lord forgive us? And the answer is: He forgives completely, unconditionally, undeservedly, and limitlessly. Do we have this attribute? When we forgive others, can they see the forgiveness of Christ in us?
The last attribute is “love;” which as Paul noted, still using the metaphor of putting on clothing—love, which like a belt or sash, binds all the other attributes “together in perfect unity.” The Greek word Paul used for love, AGAPE, is the same word found throughout 1 Corinthians 13; “love is patient, love is kind.” It is the same word found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Consequently, we’re not talking about any type of purely human love—the love of friendship; the love of romance; the love of hotdogs and the Green Bay Packers. AGAPE-love is God’s kind of love. The love that is self-sacrificing and committed and purposeful. The love that takes into account everything wrong with someone and goes on loving them anyway. And if there is one attribute more than any other that identifies us as followers of Jesus Christ, it is this kind of love. As Jesus Himself said: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” John 13:34-35.
The Second Resolution: ‘I resolve to sleep better in Christ.’ Recently, I fell into a terrible sleep pattern. Each night I woke up about 1:00 AM and was unable to go back to sleep until 4:00 AM. Why? Because I started thinking about things—some good, like sermon preparation; others not good, like problems or worries concerning family members or health or finances. “What if this happens? What if that doesn’t happen?” Surely, you’ve experienced similar worries and “what if’s” and sleeplessness.
One of the most frightening aspects of the New Year is that we cannot see a single moment, a single second, into the future. Yet, almighty God can. And He not only sees our future; He controls it with the same love, purpose, and commitment that moved Him to send Jesus Christ into the world to be our Savior. This is why Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”
So, we don’t find restful sleep by counting sheep, but by counting upon the Good Shepherd; by letting the “peace of Christ rule” in our hearts. And I’d like you to carefully ponder Paul’s words: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Let it; because that peace is there in Jesus Christ; waiting, working, wanting to set your heart and mind at peace, if you will let it. The peace that is Christ. The peace that is from Christ. As Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
The Greek word Paul used in Colossians 3:15 for “rule”—“let the peace of Christ rule”— means rule, direct, or govern; it’s root meaning is ‘to umpire;’ like the umpires who officiated at the ancient Olympic Games; or like the umpires that still officiate in modern baseball games.
As you go through this New Year, resolve to keep that image of the peace of Christ in your heart and mind—the image of an umpire. For then, when problems come, that umpire will say, “You’re out!” When you doubt God’s love or forgiveness, that umpire will say, “You’re safe!”
The Third Resolution: ‘I resolve to listen better in Christ.’ Why would Paul talk about the ‘peace of Christ ruling our hearts’ in verse 15, then immediately continue with this imperative: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God”?
Who knows the answer? What is the connection between having ongoing peace in our hearts and hearing the Word of God—at home, in church, through personal devotions and public worship services? Isn’t it obvious? The peace, hope, and joy we so desperately want in our lives comes only through the Word of God. Jesus said to Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed,” Luke 10:41-42.
And let me say this to anyone who thinks that going to church and hearing the Word of God is useless at best and a waste of time at worst: You are absolutely wrong. The words “teach and admonish one another” and “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” are a direct reference to public worship. Just as the author of Hebrews wrote: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching,” Hebrews 10:23-25.
Unfortunately, when we go through difficult circumstances; when we’re convinced that God has somehow let us down; when we feel depressed, forgotten, unwanted, and unloved; we often turn away from the Word and Worship. But in reality, these are the circumstances in which we need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God the most.
Think of the access we all have to that Word. How many Bibles are in this church or at home? How many weekly opportunities do we have to study the Word of God? Sunday worship services. Bible Classes. Family devotions. This is why Paul said of God’s Word, as he previously said of God’s peace: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Let it, because it’s there.
Honestly, I often wonder what the Lord thinks of us when, during a worship service we repeatedly glance at our watch, sigh, squirm, and wonder how long it will be before the preacher finally says “Amen.” Jesus asked His own disciples: “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” Mark 14:37.
Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t attend church to do something nice for God; rather, but to let almighty God doing something wondrous to us; namely, to fill our hearts with the peace of God that can only come through the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s resolve to listen to that Word better, more often, and more closely.
Finally, the fourth resolution: “I resolve to undertake better in Christ.” Paul wrote, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him,” Colossians 3:17. This is a fitting conclusion to today’s text and a fitting summary of the Christian life.
Whatever you do in 2020—no exceptions; whether resolving to be more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, forgiving, and loving; whether resolving to lose weight; to exercise regularly; to be a better spouse, parent, friend, employee, person; to read the entire Bible, including the Old Testament, and even the Book of Leviticus—do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Doing something in the name of Jesus means doing it in His power and authority; and doing it in conformity with His will.
This certainly includes our Gospel outreach in Lemmon, South Dakota. Here we are not simply doing business as St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. We are doing business, the “Father’s Business,” as the representatives of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of Mankind. Remember that when you invite someone to church. Remember that when you serve as a council member, voter, organist, Sunday School teacher, church cleaner or meal-preparer. Remember that when you encourage someone with the Gospel of Christ. “I am doing this in the name, power, and authority of Jesus Christ.”
Therefore, in 2020 and every year beyond it, let each of us resolve to dress better in Christ; to sleep better in Christ; to listen better in Christ; and to undertake everything in the name of Christ. For a resolve based in Him cannot and will not fail.