Background Scripture: Colossians 3:1-17
Quotes of the Week:
When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
This lesson is a continuation in the series on practices of a believer. What do you think of when you think of practice? Throughout my life, I have played various sports, both organized and unorganized (sometimes VERY unorganized). Generally, when you are younger and are playing sports, there is at least as much time spent in practice as there is in games. When I was younger and played basketball at school, we had practices for many hours, nearly every day, for multiple weeks prior to our first game. As the season progressed, we had less practice time, but it was always important to help correct problems noted in games. As I have continued to play basketball throughout my life, practice time for most of my teams has been generally limited to about two minutes (or whenever we show up) prior to any game. The 'product' we put on the floor was generally indicative of the lack of practice. Certainly, if we truly cared about the performance of the team, we would have practiced together. Practice helps anyone 'hone' their game (individually and as a team), as well as building and maintaining endurance.
For a number of years, I was involved in coaching Upward basketball. I coached my own sons for several years and then, more recently, Berkley and I coached some boys for a couple of years. On each Upward team, there are a couple fairly highly skilled athletes, a few moderately skilled athletes and others who seemingly had little inclination towards anything athletic. In our practices, our team worked on fundamental skills that some of them lacked and helped them all to realize what was required to play as a team in a game. In the games, it was obvious when a team had used their practice time wisely, as opposed to letting the kids run amuck. On the other hand, there were some coaches that seemed to treat their team as if their players were 'all-stars', pushing them in practice to a level far beyond what their capabilities were, individually and as a team. Certainly, practice, at the appropriate level, is beneficial for any team.
In this series of lessons, we often think of high level meanings of the topics, such as love, encouragement and forgiveness. We need to think about these topics, as they apply to day to day events in life. For example, we may think about forgiveness, as being forgiven by God, but many come up with many excuses as to why they are exempt from having to forgive others. In some cases, people may say that they have forgiven someone who may have wronged them in the past, but their actions belie their words. What is the impact of forgiving others? At times, we may feel like we let someone off of the hook or that we pretend that what they did was okay if we forgive them. We tend to forget that an attitude unwilling to truly forgive ends up hurting the one who is unwilling to forgive more than the one that they refuse to forgive. When you refuse to forgive, resentment sets in. As some have said "Resentment is the poison you feed yourself, hoping someone else will die." What should be different with forgiveness and being a believer and why?
Perhaps we should all take a step back and ask ourselves, "What has changed in my life 'since' I became a believer?' Hopefully, there are areas of your life that have changed since you came to Christ. If it is only that you go to church regularly, is this really the change that should have occurred? While it may be good to look back to reflect on what has changed in the past, it is more instructive for us to look forward and ask ourselves, "What still needs to change?" As believers, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit and He speaks to us in many ways, including convicting us of areas of our lives that we hold back to our selves.
We should set our hearts on the things above. Our heart, or our desires, should be in line with those of Christ. We all have desires in life, and there really isn't a problem with having desires. The real question is "What is your driving desire in life?" If our driving desires are focused on career or possessions or anything else earthly, they are not set on the things above. As believers, our primary desire should be set on things of God. We should set our minds on things above. Our minds are set on lots of things. Often, these are directly associated with our desires. For example, if your desire is found in a career, you may find yourself thinking a lot about issues with work (even when not at work). If you are dealing with specific issues in life, it can be hard to get your mind off of those issues. At times, people want to give their minds a rest. Some try to get their minds diverted by reading a book, watching a movie or even through medication. As believers, our minds and thoughts should be focused on things of God, as a priority. How would your perspective change if you were able to put your mind and heart on things above?
Some nonbelievers look at believers that they know and have no desire to 'become like them'. In some of these cases, there is no change in a believer other than they go to church (sometimes) and in other cases, believers act as if they are better than others. In effect, some see believers as so 'heavenly minded' that they are of little 'earthly good'. It is as if they believe themselves to be better than anyone else. When believers have made theological constructs their key focus, they are of little help to others around them. Jesus said that we should be known by our love, not by our spiritual academic prowess. The things of God are very much a part of our everyday life - the way we deal with others and the way we live our lives. There is certainly a change in the way we view life, from a heavenly perspective. When we can do this, we have the ability to find peace in the midst of turmoil, and comfort in the midst of loss. We are able to provide encouragement to those who are discouraged, and as this lesson intimates, we should be able to forgive as we have been forgiven.
What is it about the earthly nature that we need to put to death? The earthly nature thinks only of here and now, and is utterly selfish. Paul writes that things such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed and idolatry are all parts of our earthly nature. It isn't that any of us would want to pursue these categories (or at least that is not what we would say), but you can see how each of these things deal with an unhealthy obsession of self. How often have you heard someone say, "That's just who I am", as an excuse for bad behavior? Even if it doesn't impact us directly, the whole of society has been in a downward spiral, from a moral standpoint. Even in prime time television and commercials, there are blatant references to sexual immorality or language that would never have been accepted even ten to twenty years ago. It isn't as if it is just accepted, but it is even encouraged.
We read that because of our earthly nature the wrath of God is coming. It is imperative that we put to death our earthly nature. Since putting to death sounds extreme, some believers deal try and handle things by making a tweak here or there, believing that those tweaks will appease God and bring themselves some benefit. This is not putting our earthly nature to death.
Paul writes about the way that the believers used to be, but now changes had to be made. Unfortunately, things like anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language still find an acceptable home in the lives of many believers. We should be active in getting rid of these types of things. The intentional act comes along with setting our minds and hearts on the things of God. We need to realize that we will always deal with some measure of these things, but it is certainly a problem if we are overtaken and these things become out of control. For example, it's not a problem to be angry, but it is a problem to stay angry. An angry person will find it very difficult to truly forgive someone else.
We read that we are not to lie to each other. It doesn't seem that this should even have to be said, right? There are many reasons why people lie. People tend to excuse 'white' lies that are told in order to protect someone (or so we may think), but even that excuse can be problematic over time. Lying can be outright by not telling the truth, and lying can also be omission. Lying can be veiled, intermixed with some similar version of the truth. When we tell one lie, the next lie gets easier and, then over time, people tend to start believing their own lies as being truth. This obviously damages a person personally, but it leads to further damage when one's lies impact others and perhaps go to the point of destroying relationships (all based on lies). How have you lied to yourself and others, and what have you seen to be the result of your lies? What might be different if you could go back and simply tell the truth? Sadly, we can't go back and change consequences, but when we realize that we have lied to others and caused them to act in a certain way because of our lies, we owe it to ourselves and to them to let them know the truth. Perhaps lying ties into unforgiveness, because when we lie about what happened, we may cause others to think that there is nothing to forgive.
For any person, it can be easy to morph back into our old way of doing things. It may be the attitudes that we had or it could also be some of the activities that we have previously been engaged in. We read in this passage that our old self is gone and we are to put on the 'new' self. Even apart from the way we act and the things we do, in our old self we are all different people. There are racial differences, cultural differences and so on. Paul wrote that there were Gentiles, Jews, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free. As part our old new self, we are all in Christ. Our earlier distinctions, while still valid to the world, are dropped and we find our identity in Christ. Certainly you will find cultural differences between different groups of believers around the world, but you will find that wherever you go, you will not find anyone closer to you than another believer. As we mature in Christ, we are drawn more to other believers. Are you more related to the 'new' self or are you still living in terms of the 'old' self?
We are called to bear with and forgive one another. Even to say that we have to bear with something implies that it won't be easy. We bear with a difficult situation, while we enjoy the easy situation. While there is an internal joy amongst believers, there are also times where we will all have to bear with each other. Paul says that we are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. How have you been forgiven, assuming you are a believer? What wrongs has Jesus Christ forgiven you for and how does that make you feel? If you take a step back and think about the person that you refuse to forgive, what if you were forgiven in the same way by Christ? What if Christ 'said' that you were forgiven, but still treated you as if He didn't want to have anything to do with you?
Forgiveness is one of the most central keys in a successful relationship. When people refuse to forgive, the relationship will ultimately tend to deteriorate. It isn't enough to read a book about how to forgive, or listen to sermons about forgiveness. It matters only that you put forgiveness into practice. Often, those who are focused on their own goodness have the most difficult time with forgiveness. Many people, believers and non alike, keep lists of other's offenses in their head, or at least keep something in their minds that reminds them of the ways that they have been disappointed. It may be tucked way back in their subconscious, but given the right stimulus, they can rattle it back off. It is hard to truly forgive wrongs, and it is even harder when the wrongs continue to pile up. However, we are called to forgive, even when it is hard.
We read that over all of these changes in our lives is love. In fact, to try and avoid the bad things (malice, slander, anger, etc) and do the good things (gentleness, compassionate, kindness, etc) because "you have to" will often have a negative impact. Certainly, you may do the right things and avoid the wrong things, but to do so without love, much is missing. Love needs to be the glue that holds all of the other virtues together.
We are called to be thankful. Are you truly thankful for what you have been given? In this me-focused world, the entitlement mentality runs rampant. It is as many are quick to say "Give me… Give me… Give me", but are very slow to ever express gratitude. In fact, they may be silent from one "Give me" to the next, and then be upset when the answer is No. In his book, "Soul Keeping", John Ortberg writes "The more you think you're entitled to, the less you will be grateful for. The bigger the sense of entitlement, the smaller the sense of gratitude." Be thankful for that you have been given, and if it is required in your life, train yourself for gratitude. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Would those around you say that you are a person of gratitude, or that you are more likely to take things for granted?
We need to remember that we are a community of believers and that none of us is on an island. There will be times when you may be the one who needs a word of encouragement and someone to walk beside you. Others who have experienced similar issues can come by your side. At some point, you may need someone who can be truthful and let you know when you are in the wrong. This should never be to chastise, but at times, we may need to be made aware of issues. There will come times in your life where you may need to be the one that encourages another, or perhaps you need to lovingly confront another. However, if you must confront someone and you are looking forward to it, you are not the right person to do the confrontation. As we live our lives, Christ works in our lives. As He has worked and as you have grown, we should teach and encourage each other in all sorts of ways.
In this lesson, we have seen that there is part of us that will never want to forgive or never be transformed into the people that God wants us to be. We are called to put to death our earthly nature. What do you need to do in your life to put those words, deeds and attitudes to death? It isn't about simply avoiding them, but that is a start. As we begin to realize more and more the benefits of being a believer, these other things of the world begin to diminish. It is important that we all realize that we are susceptible to different lures of the world. It is crucial that we realize where the problem areas in our lives and find ways to safeguard ourselves. The temptation to become self focused is one that we have to deal with throughout life.
Lastly, in the practice of forgiveness, who do you need to forgive today? Perhaps you have said the words before, but when you really think about your actions, you may realize that you never truly forgave. Would the person you forgave really say that you had forgiven them, if they were asked? On the other hand, if you are the one who has wronged another, have you ever considered asking for forgiveness? Sometimes in life there can be an issue when one side doesn't realize what they did and may not realize that they have hurt the other. As a community of believers, we need to be open with one another and, in the context of love, forgive each other.