Saturday, July 13, 2013

Living a Life Worthy of Christ

The Introduction To The Scripture Lesson…

            Our New Testament Lesson for this morning comes from Colossians.  This is a very short book of the New Testament.  You can easily read in about 15 minutes. 

The book was written by St. Paul, who wrote most of the books of the New Testament.  Like all of Paul’s books, Colossians is really a letter.  This particular letter was one that Paul wrote while he was in prison, and he wrote it to a group of Christians he’d never met. 

In all of his travels, he’d never visited the city of Colosse (1:4-8, 2:1).  Christianity was brought to that city by a man named Epaphras, a native Colossian (1:7).  Epaphras visited Paul in prison and he told the apostle some good news and some bad news about the Colossian Church.

            The good news is the people of that church have great faith and are working to spread the Gospel.  The bad news is, people outside the church are trying to shape and influence the church.

Here it is 2000 years later and we are going through pretty much the same thing today.  The world is trying very hard to tell the church what we should believe and what we should teach.  The world is telling us that it is arrogant for us to teach that Jesus is the only way to God the Father.  The world is telling us that the ethics we’ve taught for the past 2000 years are outdated.  The world is proclaiming all sorts of New Age faiths.  And the church is listening.  And the church is adopting the teachings of the world, and the church is setting aside the teachings of the Word of God.

            What is happening today was happening in the city of Colosse. 

            The world was telling the church that Christ was not both divine and human.  The world was telling the church that people must be saved by works, not faith.  The world was telling the church that angels should be worshiped.  And that church was listening to the voice of the world, rather than to the Word of God.

            So Epaphras visits Paul, and tells the apostle about what is happening in the church -- the good news and the bad news.  And Paul sits down and begins to dictate this letter.

            He doesn’t begin the letter in the style of our letters today -- “Dear Colossians…” but rather he begins the letter in the style that was used back in Paul’s day.  He starts in this way…

Colossians 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,  To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.  We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints--the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.  You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.  For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,  being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

            In this, the opening verses of his letter, Paul hasn’t started dealing with the bad news that Epaphras has brought to his attention -- that the church is struggling to keep its faith pure of outside influences.  Instead, he starts off by praising the Colossians for the good that is in their church, and by encouraging them in verse 10 to “live a life worthy of Christ.”

            “Live a life worthy of Christ…” --  Easier said than done.

            In the movie, Saving Private Ryan, actor Tom Hanks plays an army captain who is among those American soldiers who took part in the D-Day Invasion of World War II.  Shortly after the invasion, this captain is put in charge of a special mission -- save Private Ryan.  Ryan’s brothers have all been killed in different battles during a short period of time.  Only he survives among his siblings.  The military decides Private Ryan must be located and returned safely home to his family.

            But the search is not easy.   Many of the men in the group are shot and killed along the way.  The cost is incredibly high.  At one point, the character played by Tom Hanks talks to his men and in frustration says, “This Ryan had better be worth it.  He’d better be a genius or something.  He’d better live a long life and do something like invent a longer lasting light bulb or something.”

            Finally, they find Private Ryan.  But before returning to safety, the captain is shot.  Mortally wounded, he looks up at Private Ryan and with his last breath, says, “Earn this.”

            It is a touching moment. 

The captain died for this private, and the private had better live up to that honor.

            Christ died for us, and we’d better live up to that honor. 

Our lives should reflect that the sacrifice made by Christ was worth His life.

            It is a tall order -- live a life worthy of Christ. In the movie, Saving Private Ryan, we get a glimpse of this.  A man is about to die.  He orders the soldier for whom he has given his life to live up to his sacrifice and to earn it.  No one would want to sacrifice his or her life for nothing.  We would want it to count for something.  We would want the person for whom we died to live a life worthy of the life we were giving up.

            So -- Christ died for you.  Your life, therefore, had better be worth that sacrifice.

            How do we do that?

            Paul wrote his letter in the Greek language and what we read in English as a phrase is actually a single word.  “Live a life” is the single word that actually means “walk.”  (peripatesai)

            In fact, some English translations render it this way.  The King James Version, for example, says, “Walk worthy of the Lord.” 

            Now how does one live -- or walk -- in a manner that is worthy of the Lord?

            Well, if you take a look at how one literally walks, we do it with two legs -- at least, if we are born healthy and keep our health.

            St. Paul tells us that we live worthy, or walk worthy, by using two spiritual legs. 

            Take a look at what he says in his letter, in verse 10:  “We pray that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way:

bearing fruit in every good work,

growing in the knowledge of God.”

            One leg is bearing good fruit and the other is knowledge of God.

            Or put another way -   One leg is action, the other education.

            Think about education.  Time and again, the Bible affirms the value of knowledge and understanding.

            Psalm 119, verse 66 has a prayer in which the psalmist begs God, “Teach me knowledge and good judgment.”

            Proverbs 1, verse 7, says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

            One of the things that has always been a part of the Presbyterian Church is that we have valued education, knowledge and understanding.

Years ago I served a church that had been established in 1779.  It is the oldest Presbyterian Church in Tennessee and it had a great history. Shortly after that church was organized, the pastor and elders opened the first school in the community.  A short time after that, the pastor opened the first college in the area. 

That’s the way it was all over this country.  Many of the first schools were started by Presbyterian ministers and churches. 

This tradition continues today.  Presbyterians value education and knowledge.  Our own congregation demonstrates this with a college scholarship program.

            We believe that knowledge is important.  When we learn about Calculus, we are not just studying numbers -- we are learning about the principles by which God operates the universe.  When we study astronomy, we are learning about the universe God created.

            St. Paul once told his student St. Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto God.” (II Tim 2:15, King James)

            You want to live -- or walk -- in a manner worthy of Christ? 

Use your mind. 



Grow in knowledge and understanding.

            Learn all you can about God’s world, and God’s Word.

            The other leg we need for our spiritual walk is “action” -- taking what you learn from God and putting it into the actions of your day to day living.

            In the words of Jesus and the Apostles, this was called “bearing fruit.”

            You can grow a good plant of some sort, but if you are a farmer, you expect that plant to produce some decent fruit of some sort.  Otherwise it is worthless.  God has planted us.  He expects us to produce decent fruit in our lives.

            Much of my life has been spent in South Carolina, and most people in that area take advantage of the wonderful soil and climate and plant these wonderful gardens.  I would plant corn and peanuts and potatoes and okra and squash, and all sorts of things.  And they would grow.  They would produce great crops.  “Bear fruit” as the Bible would say.  Once in a while, I would plant something that failed -- and that failed miserably.

            Green beans for example.

            One year I planted lots of green beans.  But between the unusually dry weather, and all the deer that would come into the yard, I harvested one green bean.

            I don’t mean I had one plant filled with good green beans.  I mean I had one single green string bean.

            You have to be on a pretty strict diet for a single bean to be worth anything.

            God expects us to produce some decent fruit in our life.  He expects us to do great things that are worthy.  We don’t earn God’s love or salvation that way -- we earn that freely by God’s grace.  But having experienced God’s love and salvation, we ought to respond by living, walking, a life worthy of Christ -- we ought to want to produce a life that “bears good fruit.”

            Are you producing fruit in your life?

                        Do you show love to others?

                                    Do you give generously to others?

Do you join in ventures such as the Family Promise project or other missions of our church?

            You don’t have to build a college or hospital in order to bear fruit.  Bearing fruit is in the day-to-day way you live your life.  It’s in the simple things.

            St. Paul tells the Colossians that if they are to face up to the world’s secular influences and live a life worthy of Christ -- walk in a manner worthy of Christ -- then they must use their two legs -- actions and knowledge.  Or as he says in verse 10:  “bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.”

            Now, sometimes, in our physical lives, we find we need some help in walking.  Two legs are not always enough.  We need canes, walkers, wheelchairs, or even artificial legs.

            The same is true in the spiritual realm.  And Paul tells us in Colossians about three things that can assist us in our spiritual walk.  There are many other aids to our spiritual walk, but Paul mentions these three in this particular passage.  They are three simple gifts God offers us that can enhance our spiritual walk and help us to “live in a manner worthy of Christ.” 

            “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,  being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have

great endurance

and patience,

            and joyfully giving thanks to the Father…” (Col 1:10-12)

            Endurance, patience, and gratitude.  Three gifts from God that will strengthen you in your walk with God.

            Endurance – most of us would prefer escape rather than endurance.  Many times we find ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable, or even frightening.  We pray for escape.  We want OUT.  We want to move from being in a bad situation, to being in a good situation. 

We want out of having cancer. 

We want out of dealing with an elderly and sick parent. 

We want out of being in a difficult job.

            But often times, God doesn’t offer escape.  He offers endurance – the ability to cope with the situation. 

            St. Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians in which he said (Phil 4:11-12), “ I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

            He didn’t say this from his home, writing comfortably in his favorite chair.  He wrote this while in prison, with chains around his feet and hands, and a death sentence written on his calendar.

            God offers you the gift of endurance. Accept that gift and learn how to use it – it will help you in your spiritual life or walk.

            Patience is the second gift to aid us in our walk.  Patience and endurance – two things that are pretty close to being the same thing.  But there is a slight difference. Endurance helps us deal with situations.  Patience helps us deal with people.

            It is not easy to deal with people.  Others around us are often selfish, mean spirited, unfair to us, and sometimes just downright hateful to us. 

Colonel George Washington Goethals was the man who was responsible for the completion of the Panama Canal.  It took years to complete and the project was filled with big problems – financial, engineering, weather, labor – everything.  But his biggest challenge was the growing criticism back home from those who predicted he'd never finish the project.

            Finally, a colleague asked him, "Aren't you going to answer these critics?"

            "In time," answered Goethals.

            "When?" his partner asked.

            "When the canal is finished."

            And a decade later, the canal was finished and the patient Colonel finally had an answer to all the criticism of the people.

            Endurance deals with situations.  Patience deals with people.

Gratitude is the third gift that helps us in our spiritual walk.  While endurance deals with situations and patience deals with people, gratitude deals with God. 

Years ago I had a youth director named James.  He had a little boy named Grady.  Those two had a great relationship.  James was telling our youth about how God gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us because he loved us so much.  James went onto say that he loved the youth of the church very much – and would do almost anything for them.  But he did not love them enough to let his son Grady die for them. However, IF for some reason James decided that he would give his son to die so that someone in the youth group could live, then James would expect a tremendous outpouring of gratitude. James put it this way, “You’d better call me every day and say, ‘Thank you.’  You’d better visit me and say, ‘what can I do to show my gratitude?’”

There is no way you can live a life worthy of Christ if you don’t have gratitude in your hearts for what he has done.

At the end of the movie, Saving Private Ryan, the scene jumps out of World War II and suddenly it is 50 years later.  Ryan is now an old man visiting the cemetery near the beaches of Normandy. 

The war is long over. 

The place is no longer violent, but peaceful. 

He knells down at the tombstone of the army captain who gave his life so that Ryan might live.  He breaks out in tears.  His wife is at his side and she reaches out to try to comfort him.  Ryan looks at her and asks, “Have I been a good man?”

The question he really is asking is, “have I lived a life worthy of this man’s sacrifice?”

It’s a question for us.  Are we living a life worthy of Christ's sacrifice for us?