Sunday 10th May @ St Michael’s
What does it mean to ‘remain in Christ’? In our reading from John’s gospel, we hear this idea again and again … those of you familiar with the older version of our Bible will remember it as ‘abide’ as in the hymn ‘Abide with me’ – as will any serious football fan!
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
(I’m sure you’re humming it as you read the words!)
But the hymn has missed the point … these words in John’s gospel are not about Christ abiding in us to bring us comfort or security when times are tough … Jesus is issuing a challenge – no, not a challenge, a command for us to remain in him. Only when we seek to remain ‘in Christ’, attached to the vine, can he remain in us and work his peace in our hearts and lives.
So the simple question is, how do we do that?
Of course the answer is anything but simple … most of the epistles in our New Testament were letters written to different churches to help answer that one, simple question in their many different contexts and circumstances. Yet the modern churches can read those same letters, nearly 2,000 years later to find that they fit our situation perfectly, just as if they were written for us … which is why we consider our bibles to be the ‘inspired word of God’ … words written at a particular time, in a particular place, but containing truths and principles for all time and all places.
Such as those words from the letter to the Colossian church that we heard read just now.
Let ‘s have a look at that passage in more detail … and remember, the question is, How do we ‘remain in Christ’?
Rev Tim looked last week at the first half of this chapter … those verses form the foundation for what follows in our reading today … you know that because we start with a ‘Therefore … ‘ If ever you are reading your bible and find a ‘Therefore’ … ask yourself why is it there? ‘Therefore’ always makes a link, a logical connection between what has just been said and what the writer is going to say next … So back to verse 1 for a moment … Since, then, you have been raised with Christ… and then read our starting point today, Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved … put them together … You have been raised with Christ as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. Therefore …
You, I, we, have been raised with Christ, and by Christ’s death and resurrection, God has shown the depth of his love for us, and made us holy so that we might live in the here and now as those who have eternal life, who are under God’s protection and who have already received all the blessings of heaven … therefore!
So what follows is not a set of instructions as to how to make ourselves acceptable to God, or a list of dos and don’ts about the life of the church, although it can be read that way. What follows is a description of the life of God’s people lived in community. When do we need a description? When we need to recognise something … or someone.
I belong to an online, internet forum of Christian Mums … and in this new world of the internet one of the things we have to teach our children is that they should never, ever give out personal details online, or meet up with someone they’ve met there … but several times over the past three or four years, I’ve been to a real life get together of members of that online forum … each time, we’ve been able to organise a small group to meet at a certain place at a certain time, and each time, I’ve wondered how I’m going to know who they are, which table at the café they will sit at, or how I’ll tell which ones they are from the crowd queuing up to get into the zoo … and each time I’ve known straight away … I’ve recognised them, because of something about the way they are, and their behaviour. That’s what this passage is about … a description of God’s people in their community life together …
First of all, there is the confidence of knowing who they are … God’s people, holy and dearly loved. Holiness is about righteous thinking and behaviour, but it’s also an awareness of being set aside for God’s use … available whenever he needs them.
And loved, they know they are loved … you’ve all seen documentaries on television about the effect of neglect on children … it needn’t be physical neglect … I remember once seeing a baby in clinic when I was a midwife, who’s mother loved it dearly, but didn’t know how to simply talk to her child … the baby came to our attention because it was failing to develop, made no eye contact with anyone and had no speech, not even gurgling. As I watched her get the baby ready for an examination, I realised she didn’t react to the baby at all, no smiles or baby talk … six months later, after meeting with her health visitor on a regular basis, and learning how to ‘mother’ her baby, that baby was right back on track. We need to know we are loved, in order to grow and develop … and God takes time to reassure his people that they are dearly loved, as precious children …
But being God’s people isn’t a passive thing … vs 12, clothe yourselves … look back again at verse 9 of chapter 3 … Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self … the picture is that of someone taking off their old, shabby work clothes and putting on a new suit, suitable for a royal reception where they are the guest of honour.
Look at bit further down the passage, too … vs 15 and 16, ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts’ … Let the word of God dwell in you’ … ‘ … to let, or allow, something to happen is a deliberate, considered action … it’s not a passive, ‘Oh, all right then’! It’s a deliberate course of action, allowing something to take place … and we get a clue what that might be as we read on in vs 12 … clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … does that remind you of anything? How about Galatians 5:22 …
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
What Paul is describing here are lives full of the Holy Spirit … we know from elsewhere in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit lives in anyone who names Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, who has been forgiven their sins because of Jesus’ death on the cross … and although there are times when the Holy Spirit seems to come and flood our lives with his presence, he is nevertheless with us all the time, working away to recreate us in the image of Christ himself – in other words, to help us grow into the family likeness. And that is what Paul is describing here … the kind of attitudes and behaviour that means people recognise us as being Christian disciples, people who live under the influence and discipline of God.
The significant feature of the fruits of the Spirit are that we can’t exercise them in isolation … they only exist in community, when we are together with other people. It wasn’t until we got married, for example, that I realised just how impatient I am … when I lived on my own I didn’t have much opportunity to get impatient with people. That’s what the community of the church does, it creates opportunities to practise the fruits of the Spirit … the more time we spend with each other, the more practice we get!
But, as the next verse reminds us, there has to be an understanding that no-one is perfect, nor will they (we) ever get it right all the time … vs 13 … Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. There is no limit to the forgiveness we are to offer each other, just as there was none when Christ died for our sins … and although we are called to live for the future, we live in the light of the past … it’s only when we remember what we were without Christ, that we realise just how much we have to be thankful for … and Paul has already reminded the Colossian believers (2:13) that without Christ they were, ‘dead in (their) sins and in the uncircumcision of (their) sinful nature’. This is our starting point, and everything follows on from there … there is no salvation, no peace, no forgiveness unless and until we realise that we have a need of it. And as we live together as the family of God, we know that each of us is in the same position …
So we are called to forgive one another, and we are also called to love one another … verse 14 … And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that love is …
… patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)
The fruits of the Spirit and this description of love are really two sides of the same coin … they are inseparable, you can’t have one without the other …
We come now to verses 15 and 16 that we referred to briefly, earlier.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.And be thankful.
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.
A reminder then, this is not a passive blessing … it takes a thoughtful and considered decision on our part to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts … when something goes wrong, what’s the first thing you do? One person will shout, another will panic, another will look for someone to blame, another will pray. Only one of them makes a conscious decision to ‘let the peace of Christ rule … ‘ the situation.
It’s hard, isn’t it, to change the habit of a life time. But if anything, the second ‘let’ is even more demanding … Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly … I mentioned right back at the beginning that the word of God … the Bible … is inspired, written under the influence of God, a particular time, in a particular place, yet containing truths and principles for all time and all places. So we commit ourselves to reading it … perhaps with the help of some daily reading notes … and we set time aside each day, 10 or 15 minutes to read and pray about what we read … but is that the same as letting the word of Christ dwell in us? Richly?
But look carefully at vs 16,
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing …
This isn’t an individual activity or commitment … we’ve already seen that Christians are called to live in community together, as a family unit … but now Paul tells us that our focus is to be on the word of God and on worship whenever we are together … on the word of God as we ‘teach and admonish one another … ‘, as we study the Bible together and give account of our lives to each other … with our focus always on how we can apply God’s word to each person and situation, ‘with all wisdom’ … and I suspect that Paul is using a theological shorthand here, that the wisdom we need is all that we’ve looked at in verses 13 & 14 about forgiveness and love …
I mentioned worship in passing … verse 16 again, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you … sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. I can’t remember if it was Wesley or Spurgeon who said that the church learns it’s theology from it’s hymns … and long after we’ve gone home and forgotten anything the preacher said, we’ll be humming the tunes of the songs we sang … their words sink right down into our hearts, so we need to be careful that they are words worth remembering. So next time you see on the notice sheet that the worship planning group is meeting … don’t forget to pray for them!
Worship and Wisdom … both shaped by the Word.
And gratitude … did you notice how many times the idea of thankfulness or gratitude is mentioned in this one short passage …
be thankful vs 15 … with gratitude vs 16 … giving thanks vs 17
Thankfulness is a huge factor in Paul’s thinking and teaching throughout the epistles … Philippians 4:6 for example, a very familiar verse … Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Thankfulness means we count our blessings, we remind ourselves just how much God has done for us already … and it keeps things in perspective. Paul applies it to everything we do as Christians … prayer, bible reading, worship, witnessing … and to every situation … times of blessing or hardship, persecution, illness. Thankfulness is an attitude, it changes our outlook on life, and shapes our reactions to each other.
And finally, verse 17,
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.
Whatever we do, we are to do it in the name of Jesus … in Biblical thinking, someone’s name contains the essence of their character, who they are, so doing something in the name of Jesus means
• for the sake of the name
• under the authority of the name
• and in total dependence on the name …
But I think that’s another sermon for another day! So, can you see how in these few short words, just five verses, Paul has built up a description of God’s people, the church, building layer upon layer to create this detailed portrait of the family of God … and I want you to go home this morning with a fresh, renewed vision for the life of St Michael’s … so to finish we’re just going to have a very brief recap
As the people of God, then, …
WE ARE God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved
WE MUST play our part
WE HAVE the Holy Spirit
WE ARE CALLED to live in community at peace with each other
• to forgive each other
• to love one another
• to teach each other with wisdom
WE OFFER God our worship
WE GIVE thanks to God
WE DO everything in the name of Jesus
Do you recognise this as a description of St Michael’s? What do we need to do to live up to this description?
Jesus said, ‘Remain in me and I will remain in you’ … let’s pray.