Jesus Christ is absolutely everything that matters. Full stop.
I could just stop there.
Everything else - Everything Else - is detail only: how does all of life, in its joys and deep sorrows, connect to this one foundational fact, this one foundational Man?
I take this bald statement from Col. 3:11: among believers there are no ethnic, religious or class distinctions ...but Christ is all, and is in all
Wrestling with Col 3 this morning. It isn't all becoming quite clear yet, either the understanding of the passage or exactly what to do with it. Time to keep gazing, keep wrestling, keep staring at it until it gives up its treasures. Blogging a passage often helps me do this.
There are two standout questions about it in my mind right now:
- I don't have any problem with the above statement, but what is it doing here, in the middle of this passage about how to live as a disciple?
- The passage is quite clear that we died to our old nature when we became Christians. We died with Christ. We have been given a new nature. But the passage is equally clear that the Christians in Colossae had to act deliberately to put to death things that still belonged to the old nature and keep on putting things that belong to the new nature. So the obvious question is: when God gave the new nature, why didn't he completely take away our tendency to revert to the ways of the Old? And how does Christ being all answer the question - in reality, in practice, in my relationships in the church and my attitudes and behaviour?
A common - and true and right - way that Christians think about how to live is that we have been given a new identity, as new creatures in Christ. The rebirth into a living hope is real! And it is here in Col 3:1 - since you have been raised, think and behave commensurately.
However, important though this is, it is actually only a secondary motivation. The primary motivation for how we live, how we think, how we treat each other, how we view the world is: Christ is all. We only reckon on, and work out, our new identity in Christ because he is all. It wouldn't make any sense if he were anything less than everything that matters.
Therefore at least part of the answer to the discipleship question must be that we are to put off anything that is incompatible with him being all (v3-11) and put on everything that is compatible (v12-17). Be like Jesus because Jesus is everything that matters. "What Would Jesus Do" is a good and powerful question - but not just because Jesus was nice and we want to be nice. It is powerful because Jesus is all.
But what about my second question: why didn't God transform us at once at the New Birth so that Paul wouldn't have to tell the Colossians all about how born again believers are to behave in the church? (In the church mind - they are real believers who are still tempted into behaving like this towards other believers, let alone outsiders). Why not sanctify at once?
It has to be related to Christ being all and in all. Might it be that our experience of learning to live as though it is true confirms him as all in our hearts more than if we were instantly sanctified? That the process of deliberately deciding not to to live a certain way but to choose his way against our natural tendency displays him as more glorious? That struggling with how to make him all in very painful or difficult circumstances confirms him in our hearts - and to the world - as more valuable than anything else precisely because there is an alternative not to? Or maybe the processing of his supremacy into every area of life takes our will and submits it to him being all in a way that instant sanctification never would?
If we were instantly sanctified we would never have to make any choice between whether I want to act as though Jesus is all in this or that situation or not. It would become irrelevant. And therefore my treasuring him becomes a worshipless act because there is no submission, no volition. Is it that God is honoured - even seen to be greater - because voluntarily deciding to make Christ all turns it from simply recognising the prime fact of the universe in a factual and dispassionate way into an act of worship and deliberate obedience?
I'm not sure. If there is any strength in the last of these, it means that every decision to align my life, my speech in the church, my attitude to believers and unbelievers is both a demonstration that Christ is all, and an act of worship to the one who is all. Maybe this is why the section finishes with an exhortation to teach each other and gratefully worship God with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
And then the crucial application: since Christ is all, whatever you do, do it in the name of Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (v17). He is all, therefore he is supremely all over everything I do today.