Friday, December 20, 2013

Humanity 2.0: All in the Name of the Lord Jesus


You know, there’s nothing quite like preaching your first sermon[1] right after the preaching of President Dr. Philip Ryken of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church. But let’s plunge right in! I’m going to begin by reciting the text, obeying my text to let the word of Christ dwell in me richly. Please follow along in your Bibles, or you can just listen if you like. Now hear the voice of Heaven.

Colossians 3:12–17[2]
12 So, as the elect of God, holy and loved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and long-suffering,
13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a grievance against another; as the Lord forgave you, so you also must forgive.
14 And over all these put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
15 And let the peace of Christ hold sway in your hearts, to which indeed you were also called in one body. And be thankful.
16 Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly: in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with grace in your hearts.
17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

God our heavenly Father, as your elect people, holy and loved, in the name of the Lord Jesus we ask your help to preach this word of Christ, and we ask your help to hear and embrace it in the light of the Spirit. Thank you for this heavenly word for the new humanity. Clothe us with it, we pray, and help us to wear it, for we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

By What Authority?

We live in a culture (don’t we?) that both despises authority and also incessantly, inescapably appeals to authority. About this constant appeal to authority: We see it in the news. We read of it in papers and periodicals and books. Even popular books, even blogs, can’t escape this.

For example, you’ve heard this sort of thing: “Dr. Do-Good, he asserts that a certain food has been shown to cause cancer.” And so we respond, and behave differently.  Or, “Professor Brains-on-Feet, she makes ground-breaking claims based on her extensive research in human development. And so, if you don’t want your kids to turn out neurotic, you need to consider what she’s published.” And so we change our practice.  Or, “The leading authority on thus and such had this to say about X and Y.” We could go on. I could give specific examples, I’m being very general. You know what I’m talking about. Authority. And authority with bearing on our behavior.

Well, we too, we Christians, appeal to authority (now don’t we?), an authority that has bearing on our behavior. The basic Christian confession is, “Jesus is Lord.” Jesus is Lord of all.

All in the Name of Jesus

In verse 1 of Colossians 3, the clause, “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God,” alludes to Ps. 110:1. Psalm 110 speaks of the messianic reign of a Davidic king, fulfilled in the resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus. So, he’s seated at the right hand of God, the place of rule, the place of authority. He’s king!

This rule of King Jesus looms large in Colossians. The theme verses—recall verses 6-7 of chapter 2—these verses begin by referring to the Colossians’ believing embrace of Jesus as Lord of all. Verse 6 says: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him.” This verse, Colossians 2:6, functions as one bracket, and verse 17 of Colossians 3 as the other bracket of the whole section. Colossians 3:17 says: “Whatever you do . . . do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” So Colossians 2:6-3:17, bracketing the section with Jesus’ royal majesty, teaches us about the Lord Jesus, in whom “all the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9), and “who is the head over all rule and authority” (2:10), because “God raised him from the dead" (2:12). And Colossians 2:6-3:17 also teaches us about living under Jesus’ rule and authority, walking a heavenly walk in union with him, the body taking orders and cues from her head—“all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Now, in this text, Colossians 3:17, we need to ask ourselves: what does “name,” the “name” of the Lord Jesus, signify?

We just named our daughter: Ariana Dalissa, which means “holy delight.” We wanted her name to have significance. However, most names today don’t mean much. But a name in the ancient world meant a great deal. A “name” said something about the person. It had significance. The “name” of the Lord Jesus, then—here in Colossians 3:17—signifies his person, namely, his authority and his character. So, doing all that we do in the name of the Lord Jesus means doing all in line with his authority—he is Lord of all—and in line with his character—as we seek to follow his example and walk as he walked, and wear the graces he wore.

Now, just before our text for tonight, in Col. 3:9-11, we see that for those who have died and risen with Christ the “old man” in Adam has been put off, and the “new man” in Christ, the second Adam, has been put on. The language is similar to Romans 13:14. Paul says there: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”And Galatians 3:27: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Paul is talking about a new man, a new humanity, in The Man, the Second Adam, a new humanity where—verse 11—“Christ is all, and in all!” So we’re talking about a new way of being human in Christ.

The Christian’s Christian Clothing

Turn now your attention with me to verses 12-14: “The Christian’s Christian Clothing.” This passage, together with verses 15-16, is communal. It’s about the Christian community, the one body of Christ, the “new humanity.”

The “then,” or “therefore,” of verse 12 links our paragraph with the last one and shows that there are implications for what Paul has just said. Given the new humanity undercurrent in verses 9-11; and given also the injunction of verse 17 to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” what are we to do? We’re told: We are to “put on,” we are to wear something, like fine clothing. In other words, we’re commanded to get dressed. That’s the controlling metaphor. But before we get dressed, let’s first consider who’s being addressed, who this new humanity is, who you are, who we are.

Verse 12 addresses you, addresses us, as “God’s chosen ones,” or it could be translated, as “the elect of God.” Now this description—oh don’t miss it!—this description is so precious. Israel of old was God’s elect. And as Israel of old was called sovereignly and freely, so also “you were called.” Verse 15: “you were called in one body.” You were summoned to be joined to Jesus, to belong to Jesus’ body. And, the “elect of God” are also described as “holy” and “loved.” You are “holy” and “loved.”

Now to understand the power and preciousness of these appellations (what Kent Hughes calls “opulent appellations”[3]), consider the love language of Deut. 7:6-8, where these three concepts of election, holiness, and being loved come together so beautifully. I’ll read it. Deut. 7:6-8:
6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,
8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Chosen. Holy. Loved. And so with these descriptions—chosen, holy, and loved—it’s clear: the Church is being understood as the new Israel in the second Adam, as a new humanity in Jesus.

Well, then, what does this new humanity look like? Well let’s look at the attire of this new humanity. What are we to “put on”? The five “graces” or virtues in verse 12 that we are to put on are all graces that Jesus himself bore in the days of his flesh. And I’d love to take a text for each one of these graces to show how Jesus himself wore these. But since we don’t have time for that, I simply commend it for your own personal study. For now, I’ll only summarize. What we’re being commanded to wear here are the graces of Christ: “put on the Lord Jesus,” be “clothed with Christ.” “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and long-suffering.” “Put on the Lord Jesus.” “Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” That is, consistent with his character.

Well, moving on, since we see the “put on” imperative again in verse 14, we see the clothing metaphor continuing.  And that word, “above,” we should probably understand as “over,” like a coat, like an outer layer. So the layer of love is to be worn on the outside, as the supreme virtue. 

Now if you were to ask me, “What is love?” “How do I know what that article of clothing looks like to take it out of the Bible walk-in closet, and put it on?” I would not give you a philosophical definition. I would not give you a dictionary definition. I would not even direct you to the ten commandments. Here’s what I’d say, first. I’d first quote 1 Jn. 3:16: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” So, do you wonder what love is? Look to the cross. Look to Christ crucified—the supreme demonstration of the love of God. And that’s the love we’re to wear toward one another.

But there’s more: love, you see at the end of verse 14, it “is the bond of perfection.” Now to unpack this clause, we need to step back a little, to see the trinitarian shape of the passage. When Paul refers to God in his letters, as he does in verses 12 and 16 and 17 here, he’s almost always referring to the Father. In verse 17 it’s explicit. And the Son of God is mentioned in verses 13 and 17, as “Lord”; and in verses 15 and 16 as “Christ.” This is the one in whom “all the fullness of deity dwells bodily.”

Okay, you say, I see the Father, and I see the Son. But where do you see the Spirit? Look at verse 16. See the word “spiritual”? This refers, not to the nonphysical, but to what is produced by or in accord with the Spirit, capital S Holy Spirit.

But I also want to argue that he’s present in the love of verse 14. The Spirit is the one who produces love in us as we look to Christ in faith. “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” And the Spirit, as some of the best Christian theologians have argued (convincingly to my mind) is the love between the Father and the Son flowing back and forth as they express infinite delight and satisfaction in each other, binding them together in an eternal fellowship of unbreakable joy and affection.

So what we have expressed here, then, in this “bond of perfection,” I think, is an exhortation to put on the love that partakes of that infinite love in the Spirit between the Father and the Son, a love that has bound them together in perfect harmony and unity from all eternity and will bind them to all eternity. It’s an unbreakable love, the love of the Three-in-One and One-in-Three—divine love. And that love will, when it’s complete, bind us all together in the perfect harmony and unity of the trinitarian love of the Trinity, the God who is three every bit as much as he is one.

So that’s where we’re going, “Humanity 2.0” now, and just around the bend “Humanity 3.0,” swallowed up in the bond of perfection, in intratrinatarian love. Unbreakable. Inseparable. Unity in diversity, and diversity in unity. So, brothers and sisters, let’s bring some of that heaven down now, O family of God, loved by the triune God.

But now, as we seek to dress this way, we’re told how we must put up with one another as we live in community when we don’t always have the right clothes on. Someone shows up, as it were, at the banquet or feast way underdressed. So verse 13 says: “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, whoever has a grievance against anyone.”

Now I love Paul’s realism here. I mean, look, we’re saved, but we’re still sinners, right? This “bearing with” means we sometimes simply have to put up with one another. That’s alright. Hang in there, and persist in love. Put on love. Wear it, like a garment, when you gather together. 

And we’re also going to sin against one another. And as those who’ve been forgiven so much so freely, we’re called upon to forgive, aren’t we? The pattern again is Christ: “as the Lord forgave you, so you also must forgive.” How did he forgive you? Look to the cross. There, at the cross, you stand freely forgiven. So as the Lord forgave you, forgive your brother, forgive your sister. Take those petty grievances in hand, hurl them behind your back, cast them deep down into the heart of the sea, banish them as far as the east is from the west.

Alright, so that’s the “Christian Community’s Christian Clothing,” “all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Now, in verses 15-16, we have “The Body’s Body Language.” “The Body’s Body Language.”

The Body’s Christian Body Language

Now why do I put it that way? Well, this passage is about the corporate body of Christ. Verse 15: “you were called in one body.” Moreover, though you can’t see it in the English, all the pronoun references are plural. So there’s no Lone Ranger Christianity. Christianity is a corporate faith. You cannot be a disciple of Christ unless you are united with his people in one body.

Verses 15-16, then, are about “body life.” They’re also about our “body language.” I say “body language” because this all works out in the corporate body in bodily ways, through hands and feet acting and through mouths speaking and singing. And I say “body language” because of the body language Paul uses. For example, verse 15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in you hearts.” And in verse 16 it’s mouths doing teaching and admonishing and singing.

So this text is about our “body language.” And there are three main commands given for our body life and body language. First, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Second, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”And third, “Be thankful.”

The first command, “let the peace of Christ control your hearts," or "hold sway in your hearts.” This “peace of Christ” was bought by Jesus’ blood, Colossians 1:20. It is beautifully depicted in Ephesians chapter 2, where Christ himself is said to be “our peace”—the peace of the one new humanity made up of formerly  hostile human  factions. This is the peace that comes when sinners are reconciled to God through the cross of Christ, which peace then spreads into the relationships formed by that cross. To this peace “you were called in one body.” So let us, then, in the name of Jesus, pursue the peace he purchased. “Let the peace of Christ hold sway in your hearts.”

Now, second command, verse 16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” “The word of Christ,”what is this word of Christ? Put simply, it’s “the word of truth, the gospel, the grace of God,” Colossians 1:5-6.

You’ll see in the ESV (and virtually all English translations) the phrase “with thankfulness” at the end of verse 16. It’s a different word than the word translated “thankful” in verse 15 and the word translated “thankfulness” in verse 17. The word in verse 16 translated “thankfulness” (in most versions) is the same word almost always translated grace in Paul’s letters. And that’s how the King James takes it. And I think contextually, the King James is right. Paul has just said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” so he is speaking about “grace in your hearts,” not thankfulness, but grace, the word of grace dwelling in you richly. So it’s the message of God’s grace come in Christ crucified, buried, raised, and exalted as Lord and Redeemer of all. So let that word—in the name of Jesus!—let that word dwell in you richly.

Notice now that this word of grace dwelling richly in the body works out in a mutual counseling ministry (verse 16)—“teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom”; and, it works out in a mutual music ministry—“singing to God psalms and hymns and songs from the Spirit.” The Gospel should saturate all our gatherings—large and small, formal and informal. We should speak the Gospel to one another, we should sing the Gospel to one another. Why? That we might all be “deeply transformed by the power of the Gospel.”[4] No word, no transformation. So, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

Third, and last, command, verse 15: “Be thankful.” Thankfulness is also urged in verse 17, and it’s a major pastoral concern in this letter. But just a brief word about this. Body life is messy. Isn’t it? It’s risky, it’s challenging at times. If you rub shoulders a lot with one another (and we should), then you’re likely to be rubbed the wrong way, right? And you’re likely to rub someone else the wrong way. So be thankful, and guard yourselves with gratitude. If you’re thankful, it’ll be hard to nurture bitterness, to envy, to covet, to slander. Thankfulness will put pettiness away. So be thankful, guard yourselves with gratitude, and our body’s body language will be full of life and love.

Christ Is All

So there you have it—“Humanity 2.0: All in the Name of the Lord Jesus.” Here are your Christian clothes, the clothes of Christ. Here is the body’s body language, the Word of grace and peace moving and directing our bodily life and worship. And here, in the new humanity, in the new way of being human—“Christ is all, and in all!” Here, “Christ is all, and in all!”

New Covenant Church, you are the elect of God; you are holy and loved. Since you have died and risen with Christ, and put off the “old man,” continue to put to death the deeds of that old man in Adam. And since you have put on the “new man,” the Lord Jesus, put on daily your Christian clothes, and wear them, letting Christ’s peace rule your hearts, and Christ’s Word dwell in you richly, guarding yourselves with gratitude, giving thanks to the Father through Christ. In a word, “Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Divine authority, with bearing on our behavior.

[1] This sermon was first preached at an evening service at New Covenant Church in Naperville, IL. And it is the manuscript I took with me, without any editing done for the printed page here. 
[2] Translation mine.
[3] Kent Hughes, Colossians and Philemon (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 101.
[4] This is from a portion of the vision statement of New Covenant Church, where this sermon was preached.

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