Probably, you shouldn’t have a favorite Bible author—all Scripture is God-breathed and useful, etc. Probably, most of us do. Whether we gravitate towards David’s passion or Luke’s orderliness or James’ directness, there’s a writer or book we find ourselves returning to again and again. For me, the author is Paul and the book is Colossians. I love this little epistle’s prayers, theological emphasis, practical advice and—most of all—how they all flow into and out of each other. Paul never gives the church precepts divorced from behavior, or vice versa; everything is linked by a “for” or a “then” or a “therefore”. The book circles like a corkscrew. This is true, so do this, because this is true, so do this. Consider, as I have been doing of late, the third chapter, which begins:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Paul has already told the Colossians, and us, that indeed we have been raised with Christ. That’s not up for discussion. Since that’s true, there’s a behavior required (seeking the things above) and a reason for the behavior (because your life is hidden with Christ in God). But how, we might ask. How do we seek the things that are above? Fortunately, Paul answers that as well in the following thirteen verses. First, we are to put off what is earthly (v. 5-11). Then we are to put on what belongs to the new man, the things that are above (v. 12-17). A daunting task, by all means. But Paul then gives us another twist of the spiral and tells us why: we can do these things because “Christ is all, and in all” (v. 17).
Christ is our life (v.4) and we can and should, therefore, live like it. Paul doesn’t tell us to stop getting angry and start forgiving because it’s the nice thing to do; he exhorts us to live the new life we already have because we have been “reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (2:22) and “raised with Christ”. His death is ours. So is his resurrection. So is his life.
As I’ve been meditating on this passage (I’m trying to memorize it in one translation rather than knowing bits of it in three) I’ve been struck by the repetition in the last few verses. Three times we are told to be thankful (v. 15, 16, 17). In fact, the third instance seems to sum them all up, and the section too:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
We usually hear (and resent) this verse in relation to our jobs or our chores. In context, however, it refers to a wider pattern of behavior. Whatever you do, do everything: putting to death everything earthly, putting on compassionate hearts, being at peace, teaching, singing. Everything. We can hardly do anything else; Christ is our life and we do it in his name. That’s the how. But Paul gives us one final why: do this to give thanks to God the Father. Knowing what we know about Christ, about what he’s done, and what that means we can then do, gratitude is the only response, and gratitude looks like living in the name of the Lord Jesus.
It’s an old chestnut to criticize Christianity as a religion full of arcane, arbitrary, impossible rules. Colossians 3 says that simply isn’t true. For everything we are encouraged to do, God himself provides the how and the why.