A reflection on Colossians 3:12-17 for the First Sunday After Christmas Day, December 26, 2021.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSVA)
Our readings for this First Sunday After Christmas Day have pointed us to the growth of the young prophet-to-be, Samuel, and to the growth of the child, Jesus. Yes, Emmanuel, God-with-us, grew!
And so do we…
Perhaps this is inevitable. We all grow, learn, and become something more than we are today. It is human to change.
The big question, however, is how – or in what direction – we will grow.
Paul, writing to the church at Colossi, seems to assume growth – and to offer a series of practices to keep the church community on track. In this short – though dense – passage, the Apostle points in the direction of a number of key practices that will lead to growth in a Kingdom-of-God direction.
The obvious ones include the practicing of ‘compassion’, ‘kindness’, ‘humility’, ‘meekness’, ‘patience’. Long-suffering and forgiveness are also here. There is the pinnacle practice of ‘love’ and the practice of the ‘peace of Christ’. Gratitude is also prominent. We are invited to ponder the scriptures ‘richly’ while teaching and admonishing the community ‘in all wisdom’. We are urged to be a people of constant praise.
Perhaps the practices we need to look a little deeper for include: recognising ourselves as ‘chosen’, ‘holy’, ‘beloved’,‘forgiven’, ‘called’, and included in ‘one body’.
It is quite a comprehensive, all embracing, list – but just in case any aspect of our life and practice is not obviously included her, Paul offers his final, overarching statement: ‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’
Whenever I read a list like this, I am staggered by the lack of detail and clarification offered. Yes there is clear direction here, but the details of practice leave so many questions unanswered. There is a distinct – even unnerving – lack of detail here.
And maybe that is the whole point. Paul is not writing a prayer book that offers a daily rhythm with sequential words, prayers and a balance of practices spelled out in detail. To be fair, these are good and wonderful offerings that invite us to learn how others ‘clothe’ themselves in the Paul’s practice list.
There is great wisdom in learning from the practices of those who have gone before us.
Paul’s broad brush, however, is asking us to take on the responsibility of searching, pondering, and constantly discovering and revising how we live out our faith. He does not give enough detail for us to do this without thought. We are not given enough to point to one authoritative and timeless practice.
All we are given is direction – the direction of ‘love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony’. If we are to get – and stay – on this track, we will be a people constantly asking if the practices we embrace are leading to the love demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of ‘the Lord Jesus’.
What are the practices listed here that you are most familiar with? What practices listed here are you least likely to do?
Is there one practice in Paul’s list that you would like to develop in your own life? Who might you ask for help – and accountability – in this?
What practices would you – or do you – include in ‘whatever you do – in word or deed’ that are not here? How do you decide if these are helpful to the direction you are growing?