We are in our second week of our series on “How to Get Along.” Last week, we saw how vital it was to Jesus to teach us to take the initiative of reconciliation (Matthew 5:23). Perhaps my “radar” is up to look in Scripture for how many things there are for us to consider when it comes to our relationships with one another. In Colossians 3:12-17, the apostle Paul is writing to a community of followers of Jesus. He uses this language of “putting off and putting on” to communicate what a new life of listening and obeying Jesus looks like. After strongly telling them to put to death certain things, he then mentions putting away or “putting off” these things:
anger, rage, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying.
I look at each of these words and see how each one is tied to our relationships with one another. Sure, we can get “angry with the world,” or even angry with God for our lot in life. But primarily, we are angry at one another. Our rage has a target—sometimes intended, sometimes unintended—and that target is usually another person. We have malice towards another, we slander someone else. Our obscene talk is directed at someone else. And finally, we can lie to ourselves, but we more often lie to others.
This life of following Jesus is intensely relational.
New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie calls these things we must put off, “social irritants.” To be honest, when I first read these words, I chuckled to myself. “Um, with all due respect, I think they are more than irritants.” But I looked up the definition, and it speaks of two kinds of irritants: things that cause inflammation and discomfort in the body; and, something that is a continual annoyance or distraction.
As someone who deals with a disease that can cause persistent inflammation in my body (celiac disease), I reflected a bit more on that definition. I know I have undertaken all kinds of things in my life to reduce inflammation. Diet, lifestyle, exercise, supplements. I was given a diagnosis, and told that fighting inflammation is key. So I began that fight.
Do I fight against these “social irritants” of anger, rage, slander and the rest in the same way? Have I changed the “diet of my thought life,” changed how I live, have I sought out “exercises” and “supplements” for my life that might free me from such things as these? Or, have I begun to love nursing my anger and can’t imagine a life without it?
Fortunately, Paul gives what Guthrie calls “social ointments” to begin healing those irritants. He says we are to put on the following things:
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love.
There is too much here in each of these words to fit in this space. So I want to specifically focus on this verse:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. —Colossians 3:13
A variety of English translations translate this verse differently. “Bear” with someone literally means to be patient. “Grievance” means you blame someone else for something. We live in a world where our patience is constantly tested, and we are tempted to blame at every turn. Is Paul saying that we simply “stop being impatient,” and “stop blaming”?
It’s important to remember something here. Last week, I said Jesus in Matthew 5 is not necessarily saying “Don’t be angry.” He painted a picture of what someone would do if they were the kind of person who sought out reconciliation first, even in the midst of something important. In the same way, we all know that it is very difficult to read “Be patient,” and just do that.
Instead, what if we began to ask ourselves, “How can I become the kind of person who is more patient, and quick to forgive?”
One place to start is where Paul ends this verse:
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Read that again. Think about what that means. For what has the Lord forgiven you? Is it little, or is it much?
When I ask that question, I can’t help but think of a story we find in the gospels. When Jesus is invited to dinner in the home of a man named Simon, a woman who had a less-than-perfect reputation came. She begins to wet the feet of Jesus with her tears, and anoints his feet with expensive perfume. Simon assumes Jesus doesn’t know the woman’s reputation, and slanders Jesus’ reputation in his heart—“he must not be a prophet.” Jesus somehow knows what Simon is thinking. He tells him a parable of two people—one whom owed much, one whom owed little. Both debts are forgiven, and Jesus gets Simon to answer the question: “Which will love the moneylender more?” Simon answers, “The one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus then turns the attention back to the woman, effectively saying, “Whoever is forgiven much, loves much,” or loves with extravagance.
The point is clear. When we have in view how much we have been forgiven, we are on a pathway to show the extravagance of love that Jesus has for us.
When you begin to think about all that the Lord has forgiven you, and THEN you look at the person against whom you have a complaint, does your perspective change?
I will end with this. This section of the letter ends with Paul writing these words:
“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.”
What does it mean to “do all things” in the name of Jesus?
Donald Guthrie offers this:
“In the New Testament church this would be regarded as no mere superstitious uttering of the name as a magical formula in the manner of many contemporary heathen cults, but as a recognition of the Lordship of Christ in everything.” Donald Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary [emphasis mine].
Questions for you: Guthrie writes about the early church learning to recognize the Lordship of Christ in everything. When you think of Jesus as Lord, do you think He is Lord over every area of your life? What parts of your day, what parts of your week, your schedule, your thoughts, priorities and dreams is Jesus a part of, and where is He absent? What would it look like for you to include Him in those places?
Against whom might you have a complaint? Whom might Jesus be calling you to forgive? Could you be more patient with them? Has Jesus forgiven you of anything similar to which you are blaming the other?
Questions for children and families: Talk amongst yourselves about the times when it is hard to be patient. Perhaps it was waiting in line for a turn on a ride, getting to your destination on a road trip, or when you would finally get dessert. How quickly did you find yourself getting angry, speaking poorly about someone, blaming someone, or even lying to get what you wanted? What would being patient look like instead? What would it look like to forgive people in those circumstances instead?
Questions for your workplace: In your place of work, how many times have you seen examples of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, or lying? How many times have you promoted those things with your own words? Speaking things that verge on slander of a co-worker or boss, a client or customer, a parent, teacher, or someone else? Where might compassion, kindness, forgiveness, or patience have a place in your workplace? What would be the risks? What would be the rewards? What would it look like if love brought unity, and peace ruled, with the people you work alongside?