Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
What is the difference between who you are and what you do? Is there a difference? Does it matter?
Paul speaks to the struggle of being and doing in Romans 7. He writes “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” Here is a case of setting a standard up of who we should be, who we want to be, but finding that the doing of that being is impossible. Note that Paul is using the present tense in that passage. It is a current struggle, not just a struggle from his past, from his “pre-Christian” days. If he says our faith is an impossibility, what are we to do?
Some people will retreat and hide away so they can’t sin. They become isolated and live very small, very quiet. Some people go the other way and don’t even try.
I read an article about a new online business launching, and when they go public they are expecting to raise a billion dollars. The business is a website for people in open marriages to connect with other people to date and meet and sleep with while staying in their supposedly committed marriage relationship. The founder of the company says it is the way people live, that down through the ages people, especially men, have always had multiple partners at the same time, and that it is more open and acceptable now because women finally have the same freedom to make that choice. Marriage is simply a construct of raising kids, and in today’s world it is no longer relevant. The article says humans don’t need this construct any more, they don’t mate for life, never have. And that is one take on living out an impossible faith. We give up. We just go with what feels good. On the one hand we have people who say the body, the physical is evil, “Don’t do anything”, and on the other it is all good: “Do whatever you want”. Any good thing, taken to either extreme, becomes bad.
Let’s go back to this passage in Romans 7 for a minute. How does Paul start this “impossible” discussion? He says, “For we know that the LAW is spiritual…” The LAW is what makes our faith impossible – you can’t live by faith in the LAW. The LAW legislates what we can and cannot do. It is an external force working on our behaviour to change who we are. And it doesn’t work. You can’t just change behaviour and make everything better, because changing behaviour doesn’t change who you are – but changing who you are does change behaviour.
When Paul talks about living the resurrection life, as Pastor Debbie shared with us last week, she talked about the power of God changing us. Listen to the first three verses of Colossians 3, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Paul starts this whole chapter on changed behaviour, changed lives by reminding us we have died and our life is now hidden with Christ. We are changed, a new creature is how Paul describes it to the Corinthian church, a new creation to the Galatian church. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, and allow His Spirit to work in and through you, you will be changed. The changed behaviour flows out of who you are in Christ, not out of your identity as a human. You will fail every time you try to do that change out of your own strength, your own will. Humanity is too fallen to be able to pick itself up by the bootstraps, to become “good enough”. So often the messes we get ourselves in are because we have tried to do it on our own – give it up and give it to God, and let Him raise you up out of that miry pit.
So, what is the difference between who you are and what you do? Nothing. You are what you do, and you do what you are. Consider God. God loves, because God is love. Love isn’t something added to God, something outside of who He is. As soon as we try to separate the being from the doing we run into all kinds of theological issues. If love was separate and distinct from God, yet we say God is love, either love has to be divine (and we then make it a separate deity unto itself), or we set the precedent that God can do evil, because He can do good. Both extrapolations don’t work.
So you are what you do, and you do what you are. Same with the church. That’s why the mission of the church is not to build itself up, but to accomplish the mission of God – to be agents in God redeeming humanity. And that is our mission – to be used of God in the Kingdom, to give evidence of God’s reality by living changed lives – lives changed by the power of God at work in us. The doing and the being are the same – you can’t say, I am a follower of Christ” and at the same time do all the things that go contrary to that. You are fooling yourself. Paul talks about being changed in what we do, because we are changed in who we are through Christ.
Before we head down the homestretch, any questions?
Finally, we come to this passage at the end of Colossians 3. Paul gives specific instructions to wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and masters. Here is what I want you to take home, remembering that what we do is who we are:
• First, notice that all these commands are about a relationship – how we treat those closest to us. Who are you with those closest to you – is the character of God shining through you to those people?
• Second, some of the commands are for the well-being of the other person, while other commands are for the revealing of God’s character in you. Sometimes we do things to encourage and uplift the other person. At other times, it is just because it is the right thing to do.
• Third, Paul doesn’t say the slave/master thing is wrong. Elsewhere in the Bible we can make that judgement, but he says if you are in that difficult place, be Christ there. Wherever you find yourself, be Christ in that place.
• Fourth, the verse we love to quote “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord” is in the context of a slave. Got a lousy job? Doesn’t matter – do it as if you were doing it for Jesus.
• Fifth, there are consequences of the wrong we do – think Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
• Sixth, we are all slaves, for we all have masters. You Gotta Serve Somebody!
This broken Popsicle stick reminds you that you are part of other things, other people. Focus on Christ, live the Resurrection Life, and be real in your relationships.