How to Change (and Be Civil) as a Christian
Change is difficult for people. As humans, we like routine. We like to do the same things in repetition. The rhythm of life is easier for us when we know what the next note will be. When we are told to change something, we immediately reflexively resist. We don’t want to change the notes in the music. We don’t want to make the effort because change makes us have to adapt to an unknown. When we change from what we know to what we don’t know, it can very frustrating. As a result, many people go back to the rhythm that makes sense to them. Jesus has changed us. But we haven’t seen the music change in our lives. We have to adapt to a new rhythm pattern. While before we were thinking of notes from here, we have to be thinking of the music of heaven (Colossians 3:1-2). Some of that music is written but not yet sung (Colossians 3:4). But before we can experience that musical melody, we have to stop singing the old tune of sinful being (Colossians 3:5). We have to stop listening to the worldly nature music and start listening to Godly nature music. As we learn these new tunes (Colossians 3:10), then we can adapt to Christ’s rhythm much easier. He rhymes Greek with Jew, slave and free (Colossians 3:11). They enjoy a harmony that cannot be overcome.1
Because my belonging and believing have changed, my behaving changes too. The Bible urges me to change my behavior. The illustration that is used here is like changing clothes. First, one learns to “put away” certain behaviors.
Here in these first few verses, we have another conduct or vice list. Last week we talked about the sins of desire. Today, we will look at the sins of disunity. All of these sins are related to communication. Their purpose is in destroying relationships. The way I speak affects the way I relate.
Put away and put on, First, we have to put away different sins. These sins all have one thing in common: they create disunity in any context. So these sins of disunity prevent a Christian from “putting on” the characteristics that God wants us to show to others.
These are essentially sins of anger, as the first list was basically sexual sins. The behaviors in the second list are those that disrupt the peace of the congregation. They have no place in the Christian lifestyle.2
I can “put off” the sins of disunity (Colossians 3:8-9)
These sins are all related. They all lead to disunity. They destroy relationships.
THE SIX SINS OF DISUNITY
Two friends, Bill and Tom, were drinking at an all-night café. They got into a discussion about the difference between irritation, anger, and rage. At about 1 A.M., Bill said, “Look, Tom, I’ll show you an example of irritation.”
He went to the pay telephone, put in a coin, and dialed a number at random. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, when a sleepy voice at the other end answered, Bill said, “I’d like to speak to Jones.”
“There’s no one here named Jones,” the disgruntled man replied as he hung up.
“That,” Bill said to Tom, “is a man who is irritated.”
An hour later, at 2 A.M., Bill said, “Now I’ll show you a man who is angry.” He went to the phone, dialed the same number, and let it ring. Eventually, the same sleepy voice answered the phone.
Bill asked, “May I please speak with Jones?”
“There’s no one here named Jones,” came the angry reply, this time louder. The man slammed down the receiver.
An hour later, at 3 A.M., Bill said, “Now I’ll show you an example of rage.” He went to the phone, dialed the same number, and let it ring. When the sleepy man finally answered, Bill said, “Hi, this is Jones. Have there been any calls for me?”3
The Greek word translated wrath means “hot.” Wrath is like a volcano. It is an explosion of anger.
Malice is finding humor in another’s misfortune.4 When I truly don’t love someone but I enjoy when hard times come to them, then I am engaging in malice.
I need to change how I speak to others. To be more loving means that I communicate better in a loving way. My problem is that I am not civil with other people. I am too willing to get easily angered. I am too easily willing to listen to slander, gossip, and I am too willing to swear and lie. That is part of my old self. It is part of the behavior of my old self.
5. Filthy language
This word can be used to describe “cussing” or “colorful metaphors,”, it is related to how we speak about others. When I speak with filthy language, I speak horribly about other people. I speak about these people in negative ways, never in positive ways.
This is when someone does not tell the truth. Slander, filthy language, and lying are related.
Because God has “put on” His love in me (Colossians 3:10-11)
But I have to make a conscious effort to be obedient. I should “put on” these qualities that are part of God’s love for me (Colossians 3:12). I am made in His image and He is continually changing me to be like Him (Colossians 3:10).
Therefore, God challenges me to “put on” my Christian identity (Colossians 3:12-14)
I can choose to “put on” my Christian faith every day. My behavior as a Christian is the outward sign of my inward change. How I behave as a Christian matter. As “God’s elect” or God’s chosen people, we are both loved and holy (Colossians 3:12). These two characteristics should reveal themselves to others.
These qualities are graces which God has bestowed on every person. We HAVE these qualities in abundance. All we have to do is express them. To HAVE as a Christian means that there are qualities which every Christian possesses.
EIGHT QUALITIES OF EVERY CHRISTIAN THAT WE POSSESS
Compassion begins with pity, but it is more. Compassion is that deep response we have when we do something about our feelings of pity. I can feel sorry for you and do nothing about it. Feeling sorry for you may result in my pitying you. But to be moved by your pain, to feel your situation so deeply that I seek to act in your behalf, is compassion.
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared,” (Titus 3:4, HCSB)
We have seen God be kind to us when it comes to our salvation. We should be kind with others. Kindness is the outworking of our compassion. To be kind means that we care for the good of the other person.
There is an earthiness about this word. “Humus” is the root word for earth and out of that root, the word “humble” comes. It has the dimension of meaning “of the earth.”
The humble know who they are. Humility has nothing to do with self-depreciation, or cowering back, nothing to do with self-disgust at our shabby lives; nor is it a downcast, brow-beaten stance. The humble know who they are in relation to God and other persons. They have perspective, soundly estimating their strengths and weaknesses. They flaunt neither their strength nor weakness but take their place in God’s kingdom without fanfare.
The humble also know their source of power. God’s presence and power in their lives give them certainty and confidence—certainty and confidence not in the power they hold, but in the Power that holds them.
To be meek does not mean to be weak. It really means to have strength under control.
This word was used to describe a soothing wind, a healing medicine, and a colt that had been broken. In each instance, there is power: a wind can become a storm; too much medicine can kill; a horse can break loose. But this power is under control. The meek person does not have to fly off the handle because he has everything under control.
To be long-suffering is to suffer long with people. This is patience we have with people. It means that when it comes to your temper, you let your fuse get longer before your temper ignites.
This word is literally “long-temper.” The short-tempered person speaks and acts impulsively and lacks self-control. When a person is long-suffering, he can put up with provoking people or circumstances without retaliating. It is good to be able to get angry, for this is a sign of holy character. But it is wrong to get angry quickly at the wrong things and for the wrong reasons.
This word literally means “to hold up” or “to hold back.” God is forbearing toward sinners in that He holds back His judgment.
“Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, HCSB)
“God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” (Romans 3:25, HCSB)
To forebear has the negative meaning, “to refrain or abstain,” or “to control oneself.” But it also has the positive meaning of bearing one or carrying. Thus one translator substitutes “affirming” for fore-bearing in this text. We are forbearing when we affirm when we value and respect another.
Meekness, long-suffering, and forbearance go together.
“And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32, HCSB)
Two cars were involved in an accident. One of the drivers had insurance; the other didn’t. The driver without insurance also did not have a job, and his license was expired. The insured driver had a choice after he left the scene of the accident. He could live for the rest of his life sour about his messed-up bumper, or he could use his insurance to get his car fixed. He chose to get his car fixed rather than be held hostage by someone else’s lack of insurance.
When we sin, we must lay it before God and admit our sin. If someone has sinned against us, we must relieve them of the sin so that we can move on.
God forgave us through the death of His Son Jesus. Forgiveness is a quality which God wants us to show to others. One of the most important characteristics of a Christian is to be forgiving to others. Forgiveness frees the forgiver. Forgiveness also diminishes selfishness. I have to be very self-less to forgive someone else. I have to give to forgive.
In a sense, these eight qualities increase in nature. Each of the seven is characteristics of the eighth. All seven qualities are a shade of love. God has given us a loving nature.
I can choose to “put on” love that leads to unity and peace in all my relationships (Colossians 3:14-16)
This love acts as a bond, a word that ‘means the fastening together of separate items which are thus brought together into a unity’.
The word “bond” is a medical term used for ligaments that hold the parts of your body together. When the ligaments don’t work, you limp, your knee gives way. When our lives are not filled with the love of Christ, we walk with a spiritual limp; things give way in our life. Love binds together all of these virtues that reflect the character of Jesus.
We are called to “admonish” one another through worship (Colossians 3:16). We can replace the sins of disunity, with the characteristics that build up unity in the church (Colossians 3:12-14). The six characteristics in Colossians 3:12-14 should replace the sins in Colossians 3:8-9. “Above all,” love is the primary characteristic that overcomes disunity and builds unity (Colossians 3:14) which leads to a sense of peace and thankfulness in the church (Colossians 3:15-16).
By allowing the word of Jesus to continue to dwell in me (Colossians 3:16), I remind myself of the image God has made me and the new nature He has provided me. Worship is a way in which I can keep Jesus before me. The way I worship can affect my speech. Worship has a teaching role. It corrects my communication with others.
A woman bought a new car that was loaded with high-tech options. The first time she drove the car in the rain, she turned a knob she thought would start the windshield wipers. Instead, a message flashed across the dash: “Drive car in 360 degrees.” She had no idea what that meant, and so when she got home she read the car manual.
She learned that while trying to turn on the windshield wipers she had inadvertently turned off the internal compass, and the car had lost its sense of direction. To correct the problem, the car had to be driven in a full circle, pointed north, and then the compass had to be reset.
Each time we gather to worship, we are resetting our internal compass. We establish “true north” in our soul, remembering who God is and what his truth proclaims.5
1 Jim Erwin, “The Nature of Lasting Change,” 15 September 2015, Colossians 3:1-11.
2 Charles H. Talbert, Ephesians and Colossians, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 228.
3 PreachingToday.com, Perfect Illustrations: For Every Topic and Occasion (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2002), 11–12. Citation: David Holdaway, Scotland.
4 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1318.
5 PreachingToday.com, Perfect Illustrations: For Every Topic and Occasion (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2002), 306. Citation: Nancy Cheatham, Olathe, Kansas.