3/5/2020 [Thematic Message 99] www.lifechurchmissions.com
Living on Earth, Yet Seeking the Things that are Above <Col 3:1-17>
Prelude: Many a times, we attribute our sufferings to the environment or human factors, or else to our own weakness. We often hear some people say that it is not easy to change their personality. They are born impatient and sensitive, and are prone to have friction with others. Otherwise, they think that their current state has been shaped by their background and environment. Indeed, some believers have believed in the Lord for a long time, but it is obvious that they are still in living in their old self. No doubt, our human nature can sense sufferings and misery every day. We live in a suffering world and also lead a life full of miseries. All creation are indeed groaning as in the pains of childbirth, yet, God's Word tells us believers who are living on earth, to seek the things that are above. Indeed, we holy people have a life that belongs to heaven, and a sense of belonging to heaven. That is the very meaning of our lives today. Think about it, if our faith only treats going back to heaven in future as a concept, and we live most of our present lives based on things on earth, then we would not be able to live a victorious Christian life. On the contrary, our Christian life will be full of ironies. On the other hand, as we seek things above, if our Christian life neglects things to be done and our responsibilities on earth, then we are like a spiritual but impractical person. In this way, we are unable to use the power and wisdom from above to influence the people around us. First of all, let us ask ourselves how much have we pursued understanding and accomplishing the things that are above since we believed in the Lord? Indeed, many people who come to the church do not know, and do not think deeply about the things that are above. They misunderstand that seeking things that are above is by coming to church to participate in some activities or to be involved in some ministries, but in actual life, they are evidently worldly people. These people often magnify matters on earth and the current situation they encounter and as a result, get tempted easily. They will often drain their emotions and time in their lives, and also make people around them suffer. In addition, there are some believers who, all their lives, want to be liberated from their own problems and are unwilling to live in their past hurts and failures. However, no matter how resolute they are, it does not help much. That is because they still put their heart on things on earth, thus they get bound by various worries, troubles, and distracting thoughts on earth. On top of this, some believers are willing to live for the Lord, but once they encounter actual situations in their lives, they do not know how to rely on power from above to manage and so, are at a loss of what to do. This problem is due to believers not understanding the things that are above. So, here we are again facing a very practical problem, how do we reconcile with things on earth? For example: How do we manage our daily lives at home? How do we deal with interpersonal relationships daily? Do we not need to pay attention to the pandemic now? Indeed, these seem to be things on earth. Actually, the Bible does not tell us to escape from the reality on earth, but in doing all these things, we need to have a heart that seeks things that are above. Sometimes, we are too focused on doing things well on earth that we forget about our heavenly purpose, which is to glorify God and benefit man, so that others may see the glorious beauty of Christ because of what we do. Sometimes, we may be very clear that our purpose on earth is to spread the gospel, but we lack the wisdom and love from above, such that others cannot see the virtues of Christ. Therefore, “spiritual practicality” is probably the most important lesson we Christians should learn. Some believers are too “spiritual” and become a person who is disassociated from reality. Some believers are too “practical”, such that they do not exemplify a life that is set apart for God. When Lord Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He said, “Father, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” <Mt 6:10>. At the Last Supper, He also prayed for the disciples, “They are not of the world…but I have sent them into the world” <Jn 17:16,18>. Therefore, the result of seeking the things that are above is to manifest the will of the heavenly God in everything that is done on earth. Thus, if we want to be truly spiritual, we must first understand how to live out the heavenly mystery on earth, so that people around us can see Christ the Lord through our actions and give glory to our heavenly father.
1. A life that is in unity with Christ <Col 3:1-4>
1）A life that is already seated in the heavenly realms in Christ
Here it says that Christ is already seated at the right hand of God, meaning, He is already completely victorious. Then where are we holy people? We are also together with Him. <Ep 2:6>: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. But when we look at our current self, it indeed seems as if we are living on earth, being in flesh and blood, and acting and speaking in the flesh. Thus, many believers do not know how to enjoy the life in unity with Christ. They always feel that they must enter into a kind of very spiritual and mystical state then it is like a heavenly experience. However, over here, the Bible does not first use experiences or senses to describe the spiritual reality of us who are born again. If you are in Christ, the old life in the past is already dead, and you are now already seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. We must first know our own lives based on this truth. Indeed, Christians have a life of “already-but-not-yet”. They are in a state where they already have the new life in Christ, but their bodies are not yet redeemed.
2）The “already-but-not-yet” tension is in fact the best proof of our spiritual identity
Christians cannot avoid the “already-but-not-yet” tension. Sometimes, because of this tension, Christians feel very helpless and miserable. Because they know their lives belong to God, yet they cannot break free from secular thoughts and worries, thus they struggle a lot in their hearts. But in fact, this struggle brings to us who belong to the Lord the greatest proof that we are people belonging to heaven. Today, many people in the church do not like such struggle, and they do not ponder deeply over the meaning of this struggle. They are led by selfish desires, yet they are afraid of being accused in their conscience, thus they only like to hear affirmative words. In church, they only love to hear: “We are loved in Christ! We are victorious! We are no longer condemned!” No doubt, these are promises which God gave those who truly belong to Him, but where does the assurance of us being truly “loved, victorious, not condemned” come from? That is, we are the holy people who can no longer hand ourselves over to the world. We already have the identity in heaven, so we will keep waging war against earthly directions and methods. However, this “already-but-not-yet” tension cannot merely stop at struggles, but must gradually become the power by which we can have victory. Because the Bible says: Christ is seated at the right hand of God (signifying victory). If we are truly seated with Him in the heavenly realms, then our faith must have the victory brought by struggles, instead of the defeat brought about by struggles.
3）Thus, holy people must seek the things that are above
If our lives often face the struggles of wanting to seek the things above yet we are entangled by things on earth, let us not treat God’s refining work on us lightly. Just as after a marathon runner went through arduous training, facing the challenge of the marathon will be an easy feat for him. Likewise, a believer who keeps seeking things above after going through struggles, will gradually be able to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles <Heb 12:1>. Here, God instructs the holy people to seek the things above. In seeking the things above, according to the book of Colossians, there are two main concepts: (1) that is to let Christ have supremacy in everything <Col 1:18>; (2) to strenuously contend for Christ’s church <Col 1:24, 29>. Thus, we can say that seeking things above is not detached from reality, but it is to know how Christ is living with me in reality and imitating Him in real life. Furthermore, in doing everything, we cannot drift from the original intent of “Christ wanting to save His people and build His church”. Therefore, let us ponder, in this pandemic, everyone advocates abiding by the law, and doing our part to stop the pandemic, exercising social responsibility, etc. Think about it, is this message all that a Christian should spread now? Is “Stay Home, Stay Safe” our gospel? Certainly, this is what the general public advocates, Christians are also not rebels, we also dutifully do whatever is beneficial to the society. However, we cannot stop here. We must ask, “What are the things above? What are things more important than the end of this pandemic?” At this moment, the church should spread the gospel of salvation through God-permitted avenues. Because, our crisis awareness and that of the people of the world are different. The crisis we can sense is not just what can kill the body, but also that which can destroy the soul <Mt 10:28>.
2. Put to death the earthly nature, put on the new self <Col 3:5-11>
1）Put to death the earthly nature
Where does the earthly nature come from? Is it passed on to us by our parents? Is it brought about by the environment? Truthfully speaking, that comes from the root of our sin. Within us, there are some inclinations toward sin, which are what we will easily gratify until we see the Lord. That is not just brought about by our inner selfish desires, but the earth we live in has prevalent evil. In <Col 3:5-9>: Basically, four kinds are mentioned. First, it is related to sexual desires (sexual immorality, impurity, lust); second, it is related to greed (evil desires, greed). To the people of the world, these are all very common. When they are in contact with the opposite gender, they are not respectful but develop sexual desires instead. When they see that others have better conditions than them, having more wealth and achievements than them, then they cannot help but develop greedy desires in their hearts. Third, it is violence (anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language). This comes from human pride and uncontrollable flesh. We treat people with violence and will also lose relationships because of violence. The Lord says, “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” <Mt 26:52> Fourth, it is lies (lying to each other – hypocritical). The Bible tells us to put to death all these things. Here, “put to death” is a serious term. That is not merely enduring not to do temporarily, it is also not adjusting slowly over time, but it is to see this nature as completely evil, not giving it space to enter through any gap, and not allowing it to come back to life again. For example: Some people are obsessed with handphone, or are in too much contact with the opposite gender, this is giving the enemy obvious chance to tempt us. Some people just allow themselves to get embroiled into conflicts and disputes, stirring their flesh unnecessarily. Some people always treat people and matters with a hypocritical heart, all these are what we should put to death. However, it is not by our own strength, but by the power of Christ’s resurrection.
2）Put on the new self
The new self is the new temperament which is born again in Christ. He also has thoughts and emotions. However, he longs to be more like Christ the Lord who created him <Col 3:10>. Especially, through knowing Christ, this temperament will all more be like Christ. Saints must always put on such temperament. In particular, in <Col 3:11>, it says that such temperament is not limited to any race, gender, age, special condition or background. The new self has Christ as its master and its purpose is to imitate Christ. However, our old self always differentiates between you and me. The conflicts in the church often come from judging and despising one another, or forming cliques, or having divisions. The Bible tells us that what the holy people have is one Lord (Christ), one body (church), with one faith, one baptism and one God <Ep 4:4-6>. Sometimes, if we are not careful, we will magnify the “I”. Thus, we allow certain subjective views, political views, public opinions, ways of doing things, nationalistic attitudes, even theological knowledge, etc, of the “I” to create divisions among us. This is the state which people who do not seek the things above fall into easily. Indeed, if we are not careful, we will let the old nature occupy our hearts, such that we cannot see the beauty of the Lord. This is also what we should always reflect in the path of faith.
3. Seeking things above certainly includes the matter of getting along with others <Col 3:12-17>
1）Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…Bear with each other and forgive one another…
In fact, the embodiment of our Christian faith lies in the quality of our relationship with people; it is especially revealed in how we treat others. On this point, we absolutely cannot merely look at our superficial friendly relationship with others. When people are nice to us and can meet our expectations, naturally we will get along happily. However, the quality of our relationship with people (especially with brethren) is how we treat them with the heart of Christ at those moments when they reveal their weaknesses or give us certain negative feelings in some areas. Actually, the Spirit who is working among saints is so precious. <Col 3:12> says we are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. However, our weaknesses are also real. Sometimes, saints just cannot overcome the grievances that arise in the course of living together. Sometimes, conflicts arise in the midst of living together, producing a heart of comparison, or there are all kinds of grievances, if we do not cleanse all these with “the Lord’s precious blood” and forgive one another, then they will remain in our hearts and become channels for the devil, such that the heart of loving one another cannot grow. The forgiveness of Christ tells us that true love is not about loving someone when he is lovable, but when he is especially unlikeable and even when he jeopardizes our interests, use the love of Christ to forgive the brother who sins against us.
2）Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, since as members of one body we were called to peace
The peace mentioned here is not the peace we enjoy from God’s love when we pray privately in our inner room, but this is the peace given by the Holy Spirit when saints have fellowship and communion. Indeed, sometimes, we saints can talk about anything when we are together. Sometimes, we confide in one another, mutually encourage and intercede for each other and exchange ideas among ourselves, etc. However, in doing all these, we must be careful. Sometimes, when we use God’s word to teach and admonish one another, if we are not careful, we can get into disputes or quarrels, or have disgruntled heart toward each other. Sometimes, between us brethren, we may not need to say too much, but we must know how to let the peace of Christ rule. If the conversation or communication among us cannot bring about the peace of the Holy Spirit, then we must stop. Between brethren, we must know how to let this peace be the judge, instead of letting our own views and opinions be the judge. The saints who seek things above will obey such principles as saints gather.
3）Whatever we do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him
In the name of Lord Jesus is to die and resurrect together with the Lord. Thus, everything is done by obeying His will. The heart of such a person receives no rebuke and is full of peace. Therefore, his heart toward Father God is that of thanksgiving rather than one of grumbling. He is assured, instead of doubtful, of the situations which Father God gave him. If we have this same heart as we live and act, then we are someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit, and who knows how to enjoy the power from heaven.