Christian author, Charles Colson tells this story in his book, The Body: Being Light in Darkness, p.163 -- one time, theologian Francis Schaeffer, shared a platform with former politician and urban leader, John Gardner. Mr. Gardner spoke on the need to restore values to our culture. After he finished speaking, a Harvard student asked him – “On what do you build your values?” Gardner, usually articulate and confident, paused, looked down and said, “I don’t know.” Colson says, “I have repeatedly encountered this same reaction when I have contended before scholars and college audiences, that…in a secular, relativistic society, there is no basis for ethics. No one has ever challenged me. In fact, in private, they often agree with me.” I would affirm -- I am not certain what other answer could there be. Without some set standard, such as that found in the Word of God, then there can be no set standard for values. When this is the case, every individual is his or her own standard…so, there can be any number of millions of standards. This is the kind of pluralistic world that we are living in today in many respects. But, before we through dirt on a Christianity that some have settled in a six foot box, let’s not forget that the power is with God, not us. Humanism has no definitive answers to life’s big questions, but...God does. People’s doubts and fears will be erased when they trust in the God that “shows up” when we least expect it, but who also is always there.
Paul shares with the Colossian believers (Colossians 3:12-17) that, in Christ, they have been blessed with distinct values, a set of standards. The challenge is to continue to live according to these values that are revealed. Paul wants the Colossian believers to live holy, “set apart” lives, (the original word, which we are probably familiar with, is hagios). There are some important motives for doing such, based upon what God has done for all of us. God has chosen His people through His Son, Jesus Christ. He wants for all men to come to salvation. For those who “choose their chosenness” in Christ, these are able to find salvation in Him. And as we have indicated, believers who have given their lives to Christ also have been set apart from the world and unto the Lord. We are not our own, for those of us who are in Christ belong completely to Him. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) This is certainly a growth process for all of us, but I appreciate what Kyle Idleman says about this subject…that we do not get “to go to a ‘spirituality’ buffet” to pick and choose what we want and what we do not want.
We are motivated by love…by such unbelievable, yet believable love, that we have a Father in heaven who would give up His Son on our behalf, so that might be able to live eternally. Related to this is another motive for Christians to understand -- forgiveness. In Christ, God’s forgiveness is complete and final…it is not conditional or partial. God is able to forgive guilty sinners (which is all of us), because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. He has forgiven us for the sake of Christ. (Ephesians 4:32) And because of this love, we should live lives of love of gratitude, thankful for what God has done. As we grow in our love for God, we also grow in our desire to obey Him…walking in a “newness” of life in Christ.
Now, based upon these motives, believers have a solemn responsibility before God. Following are eight spiritual values that we need to grasp and apply: Tender mercies – we live with compassion (love) toward others. The word is, once again, one of my favorites in the original, splanchnizomai…we feel deeply, an anguish for people, as from the bowels; Kindness – because of God’s kindness toward us, we likewise need to live with kindness toward others; Humility – while the pagan world of Paul’s day admires pride and domination, Jesus exemplified humility…thinking of the Father and others first, rather than Himself; Meekness – is not weakness, rather it is “power under control”…like “healing medicine,” such as the plasma that Kent Brantly is donating to Ebola victims in order to speed their healing process; Long-suffering – literally means, “long-tempered,” which is to forbear with difficult circumstances, people without retaliating…in other words, it is patience; Forbearance – which we just mentioned means to “hold up” or “hold back”…to be patient with one another. God holds back judgment because of His grace. As with God’s virtue above, we also exercise -- forgiveness. Unlike the Father’s love, our love is frequently conditional and partial. But the more that we grow to understand and apply God’s love to our lives, we understand that this is not acceptable. We love and forgive those who offend and hurt us. We do this because we come to understand how much we have been forgiven, and that we have no room to be carrying such fleshly baggage around as envy, anger, worry, hate. It is simply not enough just to endure, but we must be active in our forgiveness. Finally -- love is the most important of all Christian virtues and values. All of the other qualities flow out from this, as if it is the headwaters. Love binds all virtues together.
Paul moves from character to conduct. When we live according to God’s will, we experience the peace of Christ. When we are not at peace, it is likely that we have somehow disobeyed the Lord. But, if we have peace in our hearts, then we will also be at peace with fellow-believers. As seen in the parallel passage, Ephesians 5:18-19, we are likewise encouraged in other spiritual pursuits by living according to the Word – teaching, admonishing, singing, and praising are all able to take place in our lives if we are living to please the Lord and not ourselves. As Christians, we bear the name of Jesus Christ…and it is His name that has authority. Whatever we do in our spiritual walk needs to reflect that there is salvation in no other name, but Jesus. (Acts 4:12)
A few years ago Dr. Nick Stinnett of the Univ. of Nebraska conducted a series of studies in an attempt to discover what characteristics were common in strong families. He and his researchers discovered six qualities. And the first quality and one of the most important to be found in strong families was that of appreciation. They concluded that families which were strong were strong because family members expressed appreciation for what each member DID and for who they WERE. In a similar study another researcher looked into the effect of praise in the workplace. His study showed that the ratio of praise to criticism in the workplace needed to be 4 to 1 before employees felt that there is a balance - that there had be 4 times as much praise as there was criticism before those employees felt good about their work and about the environment they worked in. (Both studies were reported in Richard J. Fairchild’s "Gratitude-A Necessary Attitude" 2001)
People need appreciation…they need praise. And they need to receive this four times as often as they receive criticism in order to have a healthy environment at work or home. One of the things that Christians are often accused of is that they often do not look or act any different than those who live in the world…this is a problem. The Lord calls the Colossians…and us…“holy.” Once again, “holy” means “set apart for a special purpose”. People that are set apart for a special purpose live differently from the rest of the people around them. God chose us in Christ because He sees great potential in us. Do we really want to be like everybody else, or do we want to be special and reach the great potential that God sees in us? Do we want to “live out our salvation”? If we want to reach the place that God has for us, we need to recognize that we belong to a different family. We must dress in the wardrobe of that family. We are to wear white clothes that have been given to us by our Savior. We do not want to stain these clothes with sin, or even by living in the gray areas of life. We need to have the “whatever we do” characteristics at work in our lives – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love. If we are in the Word of God, if we are at peace, by the grace of the Lord we will strive and thrive as His special people…and be thankful.