Sermon

Colossians 3:14 – 4:6

Walk the Walk

By Dr. Philip W. McLarty

If you just got here, we’ve been following Paul’s Letter to the Colossians – how he commended them for keeping the faith, warned them to beware of false teachings, and admonished them to strive for the goal of new life in Christ.

He ends the letter with practical instructions for living this new life in Christ. The goal is for them not only to talk the talk, but to walk the walk – to live in such a way that their thoughts, words and actions match their beliefs.

That’s what I hope you’ll get out of the sermon today because what you believe is best known by what you do, not what you say. The way you live your life speaks volumes about your principles and values and where you place your confidence and trust. It’s easy to talk the talk; where the rubber meets the road is when you walk the walk.

My buddy, Keith, took his youth rappelling. They gathered at the top of a 75′ cliff, where an instructor named Bob took charge. Bob explained the gear and now it works, then he strapped it on Keith to demonstrate. Keith had never been rappelling. He had his doubts. He certainly didn’t want to go first. But he was the youth director, and it was up to him to lead the way.

Ever so slowly, he backed to the edge of the cliff. As he got past the point of no return, Bob said, “Hold it right there for a minute.” Keith held onto the rope at a 45 degree angle and waited for Bob to give him the go-ahead. Bob looked at the kids and said, “I understand the good reverend here talks a lot about the importance of faith.” The youth smiled and nodded. “Well, now he’s going to show you what faith is.” Keith gulped. This didn’t sound good.

Bob said, “Keith, I want you to let go of your left hand and wave to me.” Keith took a deep breath and released his grip on the line. Then Bob said, “Now, I want you to let go with your right hand.” Keith knew that if he released the rope in his right hand, he’d go sailing down the mountain. The only thing to stop him was the safety line, which Bob held around his waist. He said, “Come on, Bob, this isn’t funny!”

“You’ve got faith, don’t you?” Bob said, “Now’s your chance to prove it. Let go of the line.” Keith said a prayer and released the line. His body fell back an inch or two, as the safety line took hold. Then he held both hands high in the air and waved. The kids waved back. Bob looked at the kids and said, “Now, that’s faith. Until you’re willing to let go, it’s just talk.” With that, Keith took the line back in his right hand and rappelled safety down the mountain.

Anyone can talk the talk. Paul would have us walk the walk. He begins by saying,

“Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance;
bearing with one another, and forgiving each other …
even as Christ forgave you, so you also do.”
(Colossians 3:12-13)

What would you say if I asked you, “What’s the opposite of love?” Most people would say hate. Love and hate are generally accepted as opposites. But, when it comes to the Christian life, the opposite of love can also be arrogance.

An arrogant person is one who stands above others and keeps his distance. He’s condescending, looking down with pity, perhaps, but not compassion. He refuses to stoop to the level of those below him and risk getting dirty – or worse, being identified as one of them.

A Christian is one who stands shoulder to shoulder with the least and the lost, the down and the out; who identifies with those who are hurting and sees himself simply as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” (D. T. Niles)

The person who best epitomizes Paul’s description of “compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance” is Mother Teresa, walking amid the slums of Calcutta, stooping to feed a starving beggar, nurse a bleeding ulcer, hold a dying person in her arms until he takes his last breath.

And while that may be a stretch for most of us, it’s not too much to ask: Are you willing to show kindness to those in need, to look upon those less fortunate with compassion, and confess, in all humility, “but by the grace of God, go I”?

Then there’s the matter of forgiveness: “… forgiving each other … even as Christ forgave you.”

Forgiveness is easier said than done. When someone hurts you, your natural tendency is to hurt them back, to avenge the wrongdoing, to get even. It’s not easy to forgive. Humanly speaking, it’s not always possible. There are times when the hurt is so deep and the wrong so heinous that the thought of forgiveness goes beyond our wildest imagination.

We saw reports on the news this week where the Syrian Army allegedly attacked several villages near Damascus with chemical weapons. Some estimate that over a thousand innocent civilians were killed, including men, women and children. How can you forgive an atrocity like this?

Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” He’s right. At the end of the day, it’s God who forgives, not us. Our choice is to let God be God and deal with the everyday hurts as best we can, to follow the words of Paul to the Romans,

“Repay no one evil for evil.
Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men.
If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men.
Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath.
For it is written, ‘Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.'”
(Romans 12:17-19)

When you nurse old wounds and hold on to grievances from the past you only hurt yourself. When someone hurts your feelings or does you wrong, the best response is to cut your losses and move on. If possible, forgive and forget. If not, put it in God’s hands and let God set you free to get on with your life. Refusal to forgive lets others continue to have power over you. Paul goes on to say,

“Above all these things, walk in love, which is the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts … and be thankful.”
(Colossians 3:14-15)

Love is the foundation of everything pertaining to this new life in Christ. John says it best:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God;
and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God.
He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love.
By this God’s love was revealed in us,
that God has sent his one and only Son into the world
that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:7-9)

Whole books and commentaries and countless sermons have been devoted to the subject of love, so I won’t belabor the point, except to remind you of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

“If I speak with the languages of men and of angels,
but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. …
Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy.
Love doesn’t brag, is not proud,
doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way,
is not provoked, takes no account of evil;
doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
(love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things. Love never fails. …
But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three.
The greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

It’d be nice if we could stop here, but Paul goes on. What follows is a passage many find offensive. It sounds out of touch with the world in which we live – old school and politically incorrect. Listen anyway:

“Wives, be in subjection to your husbands …
Husbands, love your wives …
Children, obey your parents in all things …
Fathers, don’t provoke your children …
Servants, obey in all things those who are your masters …
Masters, give to your servants that which is just and equal …”
(Colossians 3:18-4:1)

Here’s what you need to know: In Paul’s world, women had no rights of their own; children were at the mercy of their parents, particularly the father; slaves were just that – property to be worked and treated as their masters saw fit.

To the Colossians Paul’s words would’ve sounded revolutionary and startling. As far as he was concerned, husbands and wives were to relate to each other with mutual love and respect. Parents were to nurture their children and build them up, not put them down. Slaves were to obey their masters, and masters were to treat their slaves fairly, with dignity and respect.

As example, Paul’s Letter to Philemon concerns a runaway slave named Onesimus, who came to Paul to serve him in his hour of need. While Paul was grateful, he insisted that Onesimus return to his rightful owner. But in sending him back, he urged Philemon not to punish him, but to receive him graciously, “no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother.” (Philemon 1:16)

No, Paul is not speaking as a male chauvinist; he’s describing this new life in Christ in which we are called to live:

• a life in which husbands and wives are to work together as partners in marriage, playing their separate roles, to be sure, but in so doing, complementing each other’s strengths and abilities;

• a life in which fathers and mothers are to regard their children as children of God and do everything possible to help them know their place in God’s great family of faith;

• a life in which masters and slaves, property owners and hired hands, residents and aliens are to benefit each other and so, serve the common good.

Paul spoke on good authority. Here’s what Jesus said:

“You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them …
it shall not be so among you,
but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant …
For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many”
(Mark 10:42-45)

Jesus is our example. He laid down his life for the sins of the world in order that the world might be saved through him. On a personal level, he died for you in order that you might be free to live for him, serving others to the glory of his name.

Paul concludes this portion of his letter with a few simple words of instruction:

“Continue steadfastly in prayer … praying together for us also …
Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside …
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt,
that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
(Colossians 4:2-6)

Prayer is the staple of every Christian’s diet. It gives us immediate access to God. Nothing stands in the way. You can pour out your heart to God, 24/7, and God will be listening.

To walk in wisdom with those who are outside the faith is to relate to non-Christians with understanding and acceptance, not judging them for what they believe, if they are of another faith – or what they don’t believe, if they say they’re agnostic – but looking for the common ground of our humanity on which to work together for the common good.

To let your speech be full of grace and seasoned with salt is to speak the truth in love, with candor and good humor, yet always mindful that words have the power words to heal and to hurt.

Let’s wrap it up. Based on what others hear and see in you, how would they describe your relationship to Jesus Christ? What discernible difference is there about the way you live? If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Paul reminds us,

“For we must all be revealed before the judgment seat of Christ;
that each one may receive the things in the body,
according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10)

When Kathy and I toured the Dorcheat Museum, we were introduced to the Hunter family and, in particular, Larry and Gladys Hunter, and how their home served as the community center in the 30s and 40s.

The back door was always open. Kids could come in at will and have an iced cold Coca Cola and a cookie or two. Their lawn was Hunter’s Playground. A large portion of it was later bulldozed and turned into a full-sized baseball field. Nearby was Hunter’s Playhouse, where youth gathered for parties and dances, or just to hang out. Then there was the swimming pool, where kids from all over came to get out of the summer heat.

What impressed me most were the letters Mr. Hunter wrote to the servicemen stationed overseas in World War II – personal letters he typed himself giving them news from back home while commending them for their patriotism and courage. We’ll never know how much these letters meant to these young men as they stood in harm’s way, so far from home and family.

I never had the privilege of knowing the Hunters, but I’ve known others like them – men and women who gave of themselves generously and devoted themselves fully to building up the community and serving the common good. They grace the lives of others, and then they’re gone. But their legacy of good works lives on to inspire future generations. May the same be said of you and me.

“Let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:16)

Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2013 Philip McLarty. Used by permission.