Tuesday, November 10, 2009

And Be Thankful

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3.15)

The Great Equalizer

Colossians is one of Paul’s trickier letters, if it really is his in the first place, which many scholars doubt. Given its date and stylistic variances, most probably one of his associates composed the epistle in Paul’s name. The tone is markedly more pastoral, unlike reliably authentic letters (e.g., Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians), where Paul addresses ongoing issues with treatises that read closer to doctrinal briefs than spiritual counsel. Yet while the prose lacks his force and finesse, the content indubitably reflects Paul’s views. Fringe thinkers have confused the Colossians with teachings about divine hierarchies, legalism, and circumcision. After reasserting Christ’s supremacy as God Incarnate—and his ordained authority as their leader—in the first chapter, Paul (or “Paul”) disputes these toxic notions in the next chapter, and turns to pragmatic truth in chapter 3.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things,” Paul says in verse 2—dismissing the extraneous doctrines as earthbound and unworthy of attention. In their place, He summarizes what should command the believer’s focus, prefacing it with this: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (v5) In case we’re unsure “whatever” that is, he makes a list: sexual obsessions, greed, anger, malice, gossip, insults, and lies. Everything he cites spins off the urge to prove we’re better or more important by securing better or more lovers, money, or influence than others have. One-upmanship isn’t confined to secular life, either. The teachers Paul vilifies also tout superior levels of spirituality, piety, and ethnicity. This is impossible, verse 11 says: “Since Christ is all and is in all, there are no Gentiles or Jews, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarians, nomads, slaves or free citizens.” Nothing we’ll ever achieve or possess can raise us above anyone else. Christ is the Great Equalizer. Know we’re all equal and don’t forget it, Paul says.

Called to Peace

Although the false doctrines foisted on the Colossians run the gamut from impenetrably abstract to imperviously literal, they share a common thrust—claiming exclusivity as God’s elect. In verse 12, Paul assures the Colossians their equal acceptance is secure and reorients them to what’s truly important. He writes, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Instead of demanding the impostors correct their thinking, he places the onus on us to disarm advocates of religious elitism and discrimination with tender care. “Bear with each other,” he says. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (v13-14) With this, equality acquires a much weightier significance than same status. Being chosen, holy, and dearly loved people carries certain expectations and responsibilities. There is no high road and low road to choose between; there’s only one road. It’s level and accessible to all. And it leads to peace.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace,” verse 15 says. Whether triggered by base cravings or high-minded ideals, efforts to prove our superiority to others inevitably end in strife. Somebody always gets hurt—and most often it’s us. We weren’t called to prove anything. We were called to peace. When we give Christ’s peace complete rule of our hearts, it governs our desires as well as thoughts and feelings they produce. It overrides compulsions to compete with those trying to belittle us and destroy our faith. We speak peace to the confusion they generate by responding with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We tolerate and forgive, and most of all we love—not to convince anyone we’re better, but being convinced we’re no better than anyone.

Mercy and Grace

The third chapter of Titus, another Pauline epistle of questionable origin, houses a passage very similar to Colossians 3. It encourages us “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” (v2) We’re reminded, “We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (v3-5) This synchs up with Ephesians 2.8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Because of God's mercy and grace we’re saved. Even faith is a gift we receive, not a thing we can take pride in doing on our own. Before we get too caught up in how right and wonderful we are, we should take the last three words of Colossians 3.15 to heart: “And be thankful.”

Going into this thanksgiving season, let’s be thankful we’re no better than anyone else. Let’s express our gratitude for every opportunity to humble ourselves and extend compassion and kindness, gentleness and patience to others. Let’s thank God for this magnificent gift of faith to know His love, mercy, and grace are real—to offer forgiveness out of grateful hearts healed by His forgiveness. Let’s thank Him for His peaceful governance of our lives. We are His chosen people, holy and dearly loved. If no other blessings come our way, that’s more than enough to be thankful for.

Seeking status is a pointless endeavor that always ends in strife. Thank God for true equality in Christ.

(Next: In Word and Deed)

Postscript: Minor Changes

This past week saw the fewest posts of any week since Straight-Friendly launched in June 2008. In part, this was because it’s taken longer than I expected to bounce back from last weekend’s illness. It’s also due to the demands of maintaining a daily schedule in addition to personal and professional duties. Finally, I’ve needed to devote extra time proofreading Straight-Friendly: The Gay Believer’s Life in Christ, a book I wrote two years ago that prompted the blog. In the next two weeks I hope to announce it’s in print and available for purchase. (Pray with me about this, please.)

Consequently, I’m making some minor changes here, moving from a daily format to publishing posts every second day. Over time, the posts have grown to explore topics and texts in greater detail. No one is more aware than I of the burden this places on you by doubling the reading time of the earlier posts. It’s a lot to keep up with. Yet I also feel our conversation here is richer as a result. Slowing the frequency of the posts gives you more time to read and respond, and me more time to prepare them. It just makes sense all around.

I hope none of you will be disappointed by this and pray you’ll keep dropping by and commenting as always. You have made this place everything it is. I’m grateful to God and you for your faithful, enthusiastic support. And your satisfaction with it matters most of all. By all means, feel free to offer your thoughts about this change, pro or con. Straight-Friendly is a work in progress. Your opinion is of utmost importance.

Blessings always,

Tim

4 comments:

Cuboid Master said...

My prayers are always with you! Your book will bring solace to countless hurting souls. I feel in my heart it is blessed and carried on angel's wings. My household will be forever grateful. Can't wait to buy a copy fresh off the presses!

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

I believe you have a gift, and I am delighted that you share it with the world, regardless of what form it takes!

I look forward, in faith, to holding a printed version of your writing!

Davis said...

I don't know how you do it - how you keep such a positive outlook and keep encouraging us, but thank you as always.

Tim said...

CM, Jake and Davis, you all bless me in such precious ways.

All that I've been blessed to receive throughout my life is my blessing to share. God is truly a good God. And His goodness is too much for any of us to keep to ourselves.

Were I to try to stay positive on my own, I'd be an utter failure; but His light is so pure and His love is too great ever to need looking for it. It's all around us--in my case, in the kindness each of you and everyone else here shows. Everything here comes from God through you. And I love each of you dearly for it.

I truly thank Him for you--for all that you are and all that you hope to be. It keeps me strong and smiling despite the clouds and setbacks. We walk this road together, step by step, bound together in love and friendship, guided by divine light and love!

Blessings and gratitude always,
Tim