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GETTING PAST GOOD INTENTIONS


GETTING PAST GOOD INTENTIONS

COLOSSIANS 3:1-17

INTRODUCTION: My doctor called me three years ago this month, and the first thing he said was, "What in the world do you eat?" I had just recently had a physical, including various blood tests, and his warm greeting seemed to indicate something might be off on the blood results. I told him I had a well-balanced diet… McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Papa John’s, and his response was, "That makes sense. Your cholesterol is sky high, you have to change your diet immediately, and I want you to do a stress test. You are at risk for heart problems." You know what happened? I totally changed my diet, ate thousands of salads, became repulsed by the sight of a French fry, worked out more consistently, and in three months lost 18 pounds and 100 points off my cholesterol reading. And it wasn’t even hard to do! It was like a switch was flipped in my brain, and my old diet was now the enemy, to be avoided at all costs. It was so easy.

BUT it’s been the exception. It’s the only time in my life when I was able to make a major change in my habits of life without any real effort. And you know what has happened in the last two years….the sense of concern has faded, a few pounds have crept back on my body, and my diet has slowly and steadily wandered back toward its old habits.

Now before the doctor called, there had been many times when I had paused in the middle of a Whopper Combo, thought "I should probably cut back on this stuff," and then finished the combo. I would occasionally express concern and good intentions about my diet, but inevitably and quickly fail.

Getting past good intentions can be incredibly difficult, can’t it?! We say we will do this or that, change this or that, or become this or that, but we often fail…even in our spiritual life.

Colossians 3:17 is a verse that sparks good intentions….Paul says, "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

In other words, live in such a way that your behavior always makes God looks good! Great intention; ever have a hard time doing it? I have!

THE NEED: We need to understand how God can work in our lives so that we begin fulfilling our good intentions, Colossians 3:17 included! But if we are going to apply Colossians 3:17 in our lives we first need to understand and apply verses 1-16.

And if we want to understand Colossians 3 at all, we first need to take a look at Colossians 1 and 2… let me explain why!

THE CONTEXT: Colossians 1-2 I have the privilege of being a father for three great kids, and I have found that one of the great challenges of being their dad is that I often "arrive late." What happens is, child one says or does something that child two does not like. Child two responds. It gets noisy, Dad hears and starts in the direction of the noise. Dad plans to fix the situation, but he arrives late, and he finds it a great challenge to help resolve anything, knowing only part of what has actually happened! Child one and child two know Dad has arrived late, they both quickly present their understanding of recent events (which share absolutely nothing in common), and Dad responds by saying….. "Talk to your Mom."

In a moment we will look closely at Colossians 3, but first we need to take a look at Colossians 1 and 2. Otherwise we will run the risk of "arriving late" and be hindered by a partial or incorrect understanding of what Paul has written to the people at Colosse.

Here’s some of what we learn in Colossians 1 & 2….

Paul has never met the people of the church in Colosse, but the Holy Spirit has worked mightily through his apprentice Epaphras, as he has told them of the gospel of grace that changes lives.

Prayer is fundamental for life change. Paul prayed fervently for the people in Colosse and for God to work mightily in their lives.

Jesus made possible reconciliation between people and God, through his life, death and resurrection. It is his work, not ours.

The people in Colosse are confused about grace and works; the Colossians are hearing others teach "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" They are being asked to observe special "holy days." They are wondering if there is a big long list of "Do nots" that they have to keep in order to be secure with God. Paul, who had once been a very good legalist, now directly challenges its lies and declares that legalism is impotent to change lives for good, instead leading to pride and further enslavement to sin.

And that brings us to Colossians chapter 3.

TIME-OUT: But before we dive in and learn what these verses teach, we need to clarify two very important truths about getting past good intentions which Paul explains in other passages, but does not state explicitly in Colossians.

If we are going to get past good intentions, we can’t just try harder!

One of the things I love about worshipping at Wooddale Church is the music. I love to listen to the band play, but I need to let you know a little-known fact about the band; they never practice. In fact, none of them have ever taken lessons. They all just have a lot of enthusiasm, and before each service they get together, read the program to see what songs they will be playing, then the service starts and they try really, really hard! Isn’t it amazing how great they sound?!

Do you believe me? Of course not. We all know that the only way a group is going to sound this good is for each member to train for years with their instrument and then for the group to train together as a team. Good musicians don’t just try harder. That’s obvious!

But oftentimes we get confused and think that "good Christians" will be fine if they just try harder. Perhaps I have a problem with anger, but I am committed to overcoming this problem, so the next time I am frustrated, I just grit my teeth, try really hard, and stay calm. It never fails!

Or I might have a problem with pride, but I am committed to overcoming this problem, so the next time I feel a little pride coming on, I once again grit my teeth, try really hard, and become humble. This also never fails. In fact, I just want you to know I am really good at humility!

Now let me ask you a question; does life really work that way? Of course not! We need a lot more than "trying harder" to get past good intentions and become people who make God look good.

2. We can only get past good intentions if we train wisely.

In order to mature spiritually, our effort needs to be guided by wise training, not just in blindly trying harder! Note how Paul speaks of training in other passages he wrote…

2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

1 Timothy 4:7 "Train yourself to be godly." Paul believes that wise training is the key to spiritual growth, and Colossians 3:1-17 is a handbook for wise training. End of time out! Let look at this passage, which explains…

PAUL’S TRAINING PLAN FOR GETTING PAST GOOD INTENTIONS

The first part of Paul’s training plan is to "Get Set" (vss. 1-4)

Paul begins Colossians 3 with these words… "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."

Because of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, everything is different! The old self with its old habits and priorities is gone and a new vision needs to be set and pursued for our lives. That vision will come into focus as we make two strategic moves…

- Set our HEARTS on "things above." Augustine, a leader in the early church in North Africa, wrote that we each need a "well-ordered heart." He said a well-ordered heart "loves the right thing, to the right degree, in the right way, with the right kind of love." Sin disorders our hearts, and we can only "re-order" our hearts by focusing on the things that are above ordinary life in our world; that would include the person and work of God, the example of Jesus, and the teaching of the Bible. That is setting our hearts on things above.

- Set our MINDS on things above, not on earthly things. Sergei is a friend from Kanev, Ukraine. The first time he visited the states he saw a lot and learned a lot. He also taught others a lot. After only a few days here in Minnesota he remarked to some American friends, "It must be very hard to be a Christian in America." This stunned the Americans and they asked why he would say that. He said, "You are surrounded by songs and movies and TV shows and magazines and other things that are spiritually toxic. It must be so hard to keep your mind on God." Wise words!

If we are going to get past good intentions, we need to proactively make choices that wisely control what we allow our minds to focus upon. As Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Philippi…

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things."

Simple Question: Are your heart and mind set on things above or on earthly things? Are there some simple, practical changes you need to make as part of your wise training toward getting past good intentions?

The second part of Paul’s training plan is to "Exterminate" (vss. 5-11)

I lived in the Philippines the year after I graduated from college, and there were a number of things I had to adjust to while living there. One was the collection of various animals that shared the house with us. We had a round dining room table where we ate, and in the middle of the table was a lazy Susan with a toaster on it, along with some napkins. One morning at breakfast, while some bread was in the toaster, two cockroaches shot out of the toaster and ran under the lazy Susan. That got my attention and I asked if anyone had seen what had just happened. Mary, the lady of the house, said "Yes, those are the cockroaches that live in the toaster.

Halfway through the second slice of toast it gets too hot and they move under the lazy Susan." I then asked what I thought was a logical question; "Why don’t you get rid of them?" She replied, "Have you ever tried to get rid of cockroaches?"

End of conversation. She had given up. After that, every time I had toast I met my little friends and was reminded of how tenacious they were.

In verses 5 – 11, Paul tells us to continue our training by exterminating "whatever belongs to your earthly nature."

"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."

Now at times "putting to death" the attitudes and behaviors listed in these verses might feel like trying to kill off cockroaches, and it is tempting to just give up. But we are not helpless as we seek to exterminate the habits of our old lives.

Here are a few ideas to consider as you prepare the extermination plan for your old, earthly habits….

Get God’s help: pray and ask for help.

Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Ask God to give you new desires, from which will spring new actions.

Get a friend’s help: isolation perpetuates old habits. Share your challenge with a friend, and ask for their encouragement.

Ask Why?: There is always a reason for what we do. Check your reasons…it could very well be that your heart and mind have strayed and are no longer set on heavenly things. "Get Set" again!

Avoid the right thing: As we seek to exterminate tenacious habits of old, we must make sure we don’t try and avoid sin. The way to conquer these habits is to move everything back one more step and avoid temptation!! That is where sin is conceived, and it is also where we probably have more strength to make the wise choice.

Exterminating old habits and attitudes can be a challenge, but it should not be our only focus as we train wisely for getting past good intentions. Just as important is the next step on the journey, where Paul tells us to….

Put on new clothes (vss. 12-14)

I am by no means an expert on lawn care, but I have heard many say that if you want to get rid of weeds, grow grass. The point is, when faced with a problem, sometimes the best thing to do is focus on the good you can do instead of the problem that exists. And as the good is strengthened the problem is weakened.

This is terribly important to remember in seeking to train wisely for getting past good intentions! In Colossians 3, verses 5-11 speak of the old habits we are to get rid of in our lives, and we dare not ignore them. But verses 12 - 14 speak of the new habits which can help us exterminate those old habits, and we dare not forget them!

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."

God has chosen and adopted us to be His loved children, set apart as special people under His perfect care. Our response? Start practicing a new way of living that is consistent with how loved and special you are.

When something is treasured it is treated with special care! I saw a vivid example of this dynamic while I was in high school. Steve was a friend and a wild young man. Steve had an old, beat-up green Camaro and he drove like he had a death wish. The guy was absolutely crazy behind the wheel. One day he came to school in a brand new Trans Am, and we were shocked when he said his dad had given him the car. At first glance it looked like Steve’s dad was nuts; as it turned out, he probably saved Steve’s life. Steve was a totally different driver with the Trans Am, and when we asked him what was going on he said, "The Camaro was a dump and I didn’t care about it. This Trans Am is really worth something, and I am going to take care of it."

Paul says, "You are holy, set apart, loved, cherished by God." In Steve’s words, "You are really worth something." So be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, and loving. For this is how loved people live! It’s also how they get past good intentions!

Step four in Paul’s training plan is to "Welcome God’s influence"

(vss. 15-16)

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." When Paul speaks of letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, he is saying we are to let the peace of God act as an umpire in our hearts. As one commentator wrote,

"If the peace of Jesus Christ is the umpire in any person’s heart, then, when feelings clash and we are pulled in two directions at the same time, the decision of Christ will keep us in the way of love and the Church will remain the one body it is meant to be. The way to right action is to appoint Jesus Christ as the arbiter (umpire) between the conflicting emotions in our hearts; and if we accept his decisions, we cannot go wrong."

In addition, we are to welcome the influence of the Bible into our lives. Reading, meditating, memorizing, and discussing the application of the Bible’s teaching will give us wisdom in getting past good intentions.

The result of Paul’s training plan for getting past good intentions is to "Live with gratitude" (vs. 17)

We have returned to verse 17… "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." A great intention, and now a real possibility as we train wisely to apply our good intentions, through…..

- getting set

- exterminating

- putting on new clothes

- welcoming God’s influence.

As we conclude, we must put an exclamation point next to a very important truth…

Any success we have in training wisely and living with a well-ordered heart is primarily the result of God’s grace. It is easy for pride to sneak in upon our thoughts and attitudes when we train hard and wisely to get past our good intentions. If that happens, then we are in the same place as the Colossians, confused about grace and good works. It’s at that very moment when we need to be reminded of what one author has recently written;

"the transformation of the inner being is as much or more a gift of grace as is our justification before God." In addition, he states, "we consume the most grace by leading a holy life, in which we must be constantly upheld by grace, not by continuing to sin and being repeatedly forgiven."

We can only get past our good intentions when we receive the grace of God in our lives! And His grace is always available to us! And that is why Colossians 3:15 says, "be thankful", verse 16 says "be grateful," and verse 17 says, "give thanks." God provides all that we need to get past our good intentions and actually live the life we’ve always dreamed of. Train wisely and give thanks, for His grace will change your life!

Prayer

 

Wooddale Church June 1, 2002

© Geoff Bohleen 2002


 
 
 
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