Introduction (Luke 12:13-21)
When reading through Luke 12 we drops right into the middle of a busy scene. Jesus has been teaching his disciples, word has spread around the locality that he is about; then a crowd starts to gather because people are attracted to the ministry of Jesus. Within this scene, again we find ourselves narrowing into an even more specific conversation, Luke decides to recall the event of an unnamed man presumably interrupting Jesus to ask him for some legal advice. “Teacher” – yelled by a man worried about all the wrong things. His addressing Jesus as ‘Teacher’ already shows he is missing the point; he is speaking to God but all he needs is someone to address his concern around some obscure point of the mosaic law, he is concerned with a point of the mosaic Law. Jesus retort is blunt but honest it takes the interruption and turns it into an opportunity to teach the disciples and surrounding crowds “Who Made me a judge?” Jesus’s response is literally “and, what do you want me to do about it?” His mission is not to sort out earthly material disputes that people are involved in his concern rises above matters pertaining as to how the family estate should be divided up. As always, Jesus uses everyday concerns to teach heavenly lessons. With the concerns of the stranger still fresh in the mind of the disciples; Jesus turn and addresses them and the crowd and sums up his message in the words he speaks in verse 14:
“Notice that, and be on your guard against covetousness in any shape or form. For a man’s life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions.” (Luke 12:14 JP Philips)
Jesus speaks for all who can hear: “be careful what you think defines life, it does not” then to show the folly of false hope he goes onto tell the story of the ‘Rich Young Fool’. The fool whom had be blessed by a good harvest which in an agricultural society was equivalent to coming into unexpected wealth. The equivalent today of a small company loosing thousands a day, the owner struggling to survive and suddenly Google steps in with an offer of £15,000,000. The harvest is now so unexpected that he does not know what to do with it. The parable progresses, and we have to see ourselves in it: doing exactly what the rich young fool is doing, literally thinking that he will put it in the bank (tearing down his old barns to put up new ones) and build security into his life. Security that means he can sit back, relax and enjoy life for the next few years (Luke 12:18-19). However, there is no rest in the passage quickly we are lead to the folly of his thinking with a heavenly scene in which God declares that his life is coming to an end. The parable is not about the end of life, the focus is the root of your identity, where we find our security and simple we have a choice – Jesus or the things of this world. God wants us to enjoy all that he has created, however it is when those things become idols by which we define our life. True faith means we enjoy them, but fight every day to build our identity in Christ. This is what Colossians three centres on: What new life in Jesus looks like.
It is because of Jesus (1-4)
The letter to the church is one of encouragement, and also partly motivated out of concern by the influence some unknown philosophy might be having over the church. In response to this concern Paul has addressed two issues:
- The Authority or Divinity of Jesus and his Status as equal to God. This is mainly dealt with in the first chapter of the letter
- Salvation comes through him and is found in him: in chapter two Paul outlines the role of Christ is the redemption of the whole of the created order.
Now Paul turns to the practical implications of what that actually looks like in the life of Christian starting with a simple reminder of where we as Christians find our identity. Paul from the offset is pointing to Jesu; reminding everyone that they have earned nothing, they have simply received Grace. In the first verse, he captures the heart of the whole passage: if you have new life, then aim for the things of heaven. JB Philips captures it perfectly:
“If you have been raised with Christ, reach out for the highest gifts of heaven. Where Christ reigns in Power”- (Col 3:1 JB Philips)
In the first four verses, Paul is seeking to remind the church that is not about works, the practical out working of life in Jesus (which he will outline in the rest of the passage) is a response to grace, not to earn it. In verse one we are compelled to direct our minds to the things of heaven, the Image of Christ seated at the right hand is a picture of authority. Verse two gives us a contrast of where the mind should be focused: a Christian mind is set on the things that are above heaven, compared a mind set on earthly things, Why? Because we have died to the things of this world and our life is in Jesus. Verse three is confusing, blunt and scary; but it simply means that we are dead to the things of this world and our lives are in God, JB Philips again captures it perfectly:
For, as far as this world is concerned, you are already dead, and your true life is a hidden one in Christ (Col: 3:4 JB Philips)
In verse four, we are given hope of things to come; for both believers and the world. When Jesus (the source, sustainer, focus and goal of our life) finally reveals himself in all his glory then we will be revealed with him. This verse shows the heart of the epistle – Jesus – and reminds us our hope is found in him because our life belongs to him.
Shedding the Old Ways of this World (5-7)
In the first four verses Paul outlines our status as believers (in Jesus) and now moves to describe the servanthood (for Jesus) because of that status. It is the upward nature of the Gospel (understanding our identity in Gods Grace) that drives the outward nature of our lives (what is requires to live in obedience to the will of God). The first thing we do in response to what has been done is put to death all the earthly things that are within us. JP Philips phrases it wonderfully:
“Consider yourself dead to worldly contracts: have nothing to do with sexual immorality, dirty-mindedness, uncontrolled passion, evil desire, and the lust for other people’s goods which amounts to idolatry” (Col 3:5)
Why, what is the point of dealing with all these things if we are saved by Grace? We do it out of a desire, not a duty, the Grace God has granted us fuels our desire to live a life worthy of it.
Paul then paints a picture through negatives in verse six; the Wrath or Anger of God is kindled against those who disobey God’s instruction. This does not mean that we face God’s anger whenever we trip up, or if we struggle. This is a full refusal – one Day God’s anger will come to those who have refused his Grace. In verse seven we find a reminder of such Grace: Paul wants them to remember the old ways of their life: he wants their minds too contrast between the old ways of the flesh and the new ways of Grace – it’s a beautiful contrast. In verses which can seem quite foreign to our modern context because they paint a picture of the world that is not overly pretty, we almost could choose to ignore them, we must fight this. The reality is that although we don’t all struggle with the same things we all struggle with worldly things. Take heart, God wants us to be able to identify our struggles so that then with his help we can deal with them. What’s on the outside influences our inside so the things that take our time will influence our hearts, heads and desires: something we see in the next section of verses.
Dealing with the Heart (8-9a)
Paul compels us to deal with our worldly contracts because they have a direct input into our heart and head. It is not hard to see that what takes up our time in the world is in response to the desires of our heart; Part of the reasoning of Pauls instruction is reorientation. If we fight the desires of this world, it means we can free up time to give to our Faith. More so, it means we are serious about becoming more Christ-like and is an outward expression of our inward workings. It is the inward worldly heart we see in these next few verses:
“evil Temper, furious rage, malice, insults and shouted abuse” (Col 3:8 JB Philips)
All of these are not temptations of the world, but heart issues, we must deal with them because they are representative of something deeper. They are pictures of our heart’s desire, again we are all different – thus must deal with different things. Each of these things may come from our heart but they ultimately affect our relationship, these are social issues that display how we see people and the world around us. Christians are compelled by grace to live a life where people see Jesus, but, if some of these or all of these issues are present in our lives then we do not represent Christ well. I know they are present in my life, I know I struggle with anger, that I have a short fuse – but I also know by the grace of God the fuse is not as short as it used to be. Paul is calling you and me, with the help of God in us (the Holy Spirit) to become more like Jesus who is our goal and our life. The final command is that we would no longer even lie to one another because we are choosing Christ. In Jesus, our relationship are to become like Jesus and his relationships.
A New Self (9b-10)
All of this is done and must be done because of who we are in Jesus, it is not something done out of duty or a desire to impress God, the first section (1-4) of this text dispels any notion of duty or merit – simply, it is done in response to God’s Grace. We respond out of grace because when faith is real it carries a desire to become more Christ-like through the Holy Spirit working in us. We have taken off the old self and put on a new self which “which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” Meaning, once we belong to Christ there is an immediate change, the old self is gone and the new self is on – all that is left is bringing our lives up to the standard required by that newness. The present tense of being renewed simply reminds us that the transformation of Christians is an ongoing process. It is a dual renewal; In desiring to ride the old ways and become more Like Christ we come to know more of Christ.
New Life means a New Identity (11a)
Today and every day we have a choice; a choice in how to live; a choice in how to define ourselves; a choice in what is the centre of our life – we have seen in the Gospel reading the folly of placing our trust in material things moreover, we see the foolishness of placing our trust in anything other than Jesus. We can end up either like the man who interrupts and only wants to use Jesus for his own needs and to meet his own purposes. Or worse we end up like the rich young fool who comes into material blessing and somehow thinks it guarantees his future, his eternity. Paul finishes this section of text by outlining that in this renewal, this process of becoming more like Christ (sanctification) there is no longer any dominant narrative or identity. You are not a Jew; you are not a Gentile; you are not defined by a physical act; You are not a foreigner or a savage nor or you a slave or a free man. You are simply you in Jesus.
Conclusion: Christ is all in all!
Why are we none of the things we see Paul list? Simply, because as JB Philips puts it ‘Christ is all that Matters because Christ lives in all’ we as Christians must find our all in him because he is all in all. We as Christian move to shed of the old self because we are being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so and if our faith is genuine it’s only natural. Ultimately, we do it because it displays the gospel. Paul reminds the Church of social struggles because it is in relationships where people most see Jesus. If the interrupting stranger had found his identity in Christ, he would not have been compelled to interrupt for his own desire, if the rich young fool had his life in Christ he would have used the new wealth to further God’s work. Ultimately this is not simply about behaviour; we respond to grace so that others can come to know grace (5-8); we seek renewal because it is in that process we come to know more of God (10); we choose to live for Christ because Christ is all that matters and he Lives in all. We choose Christ – because unlike the rich younger ruler our security is not created but the creator, not temporary but eternal. Our security will give us the fullness of Life