Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
I recall when I was involved in strongly Calvinistic churches that Colossians 3 would often be seen as a passage with great Gospel importance. This week’s passage, from verses 12-17, would be promoted as a place where we would learn the joy of bringing God’s care and forgiveness to our world. Indeed it is. But, strictly speaking, there’s no gospel about most of the passage.
In historic Lutheran thought, the statements of the Bible divide into Law and Gospel. The Law statements tell what we are to do. The Gospel statements tell us what God has done for us. The Law does many things, but it always accuses us. We are told to put on compassion, kindness, humility… “Wait a minute! I thought I was already doing that. Now God wants to tell me to do it more? I’m proud of my humility!” That’s exactly the situation here. In verses 12-14 we are given gracious but forceful statements about what we are to do. Above all, in verse thirteen, we see that our standard for forgiveness is that we are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. And, truth be told, the Bible is clear that outside of Christ we have tried to set ourselves up as gods who rule our domains and take no care of God. We are told we were haters of God, rebellious children who were turned against him. That is the attitude of those who don’t think Jesus’ forgiveness is necessary or is for them. We despise the gifts of God. What does Jesus do in his love for us? He comes, tells us the truth, and dies in our place so we can have life. That’s a standard of forgiveness that none of us can keep. It’s law, and among other things, it accuses us.
Where’s the Gospel? I want to know what God has done for me. There must be a remedy! I want to know how I can do better at all this the Lord tells me to do, which is good for me, my neighbor, and the whole world. We’ll find the Gospel when we have a brief grammar lesson.
Greek has imperatives, commands, in the second person, just like we do in English. A command is always for “you” in English. But Greek also has a third person command. We don’t really have that in English. It is a command that he/she/it/they should do something. When we see a third person command, we readers are being told that someone else needs to do something. And that’s exactly what we see in verse 15. Let Christ’s peace rule your hearts. Let Christ’s word dwell among you richly. This is nothing that you can do. It’s nothing I can do. It’s what Christ’s peace and word do. There’s the Gospel. It’s something we can have every expectation that God will be doing for us, in us, through us, and around us. God will rule our hearts. His word will dwell in us. And then, as God works and speaks through us, we can have a very particular expectation.
As the Lord works in us, we find that we have his characteristics. We grow in compassion, in kindness, in humility, gentleness, and patience. We find that we can forgive because we are forgiven. We can encourage and correct one another in the gratitude of Jesus. And we give thanks to God, because we have God’s word dwelling in us. We have the Lord ruling our hearts.
These two little third person imperatives change our world. Because of those great Gospel statements we find that as well as being accused by God’s demands in this passage, we are also starting to live them out. Thanks be to God.
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