Having Sense on the Highway of History
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
In a sermon Dr. King preached on Loving Your Enemies he took the opposite approach you usually hear from preachers. He began with the practical, “how to love our enemies,” and ended with the theoretical, “why we should love our enemies.” As he explained what he called the “theoretical why” here’s what he said.
Somewhere somebody has got to have some sense. And that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate; the chain of evil. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut hate off. And inject into the very structure of the universe that strong and very powerful element of love.
Then he gave a practical example of what he was talking about. He said one night he and his brother were driving to Chattanooga from Atlanta. And for some reason the drivers were very discourteous that night. Hardly any driver that passed by on the other side dimmed their lights. So Dr. King’s brother said in a tone of anger,
“I know what I’m going to do. The next car that comes by and fails to dim their lights, I’m not going to dim mine. I’m going to pour them on in all of their power.”
He said one night he and his brother were driving to Chattanooga from Atlanta. And for some reason the drivers were very discourteous that night. Hardly any driver that passed by on the other side dimmed their lights. So Dr. King’s brother AD said in a tone of anger, “I know what I’m going to do. The next car that comes by and fails to dim their lights, I’m not going to dim mine. I’m going to pour them on in all of their power.” Dr. King said, “I looked at him and said, ‘Oh no. Don’t do that. There’ll be too much light on this highway. It’ll end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody has got to have some sense on this highway.’ Somebody has got to have sense enough to dim the lights, and that is the trouble isn’t it? As all of the civilizations of the world move up the highway of history, so many civilizations have looked at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights and they decided to refuse to dim theirs…It is because civilizations fail to have sense enough to dim the lights. And if somebody doesn’t have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our civilization will be plunged into the abyss of destruction. And we will all end up destroyed because nobody had any sense on the highway of history.”
Dr. King said,
“I looked at him and said, ‘Oh no. Don’t do that. There’ll be too much light on this highway. It’ll end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody has got to have some sense on this highway.’
Somebody has got to have sense enough to dim the lights, and that is the trouble isn’t it? As all of the civilizations of the world move up the highway of history, so many civilizations have looked at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights and they decided to refuse to dim theirs…It is because civilizations fail to have sense enough to dim the lights. And if somebody doesn’t have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our civilization will be plunged into the abyss of destruction. And we will all end up destroyed because nobody had any sense on the highway of history.”
I want to talk to you for a few minutes tonight about Having Sense on the Highway of History. And this sense I’m talking about is rooted and grounded in the love of God in Jesus Christ. It’s a sense that doesn’t make any sense outside of faith in Jesus. Because it’s a sense that calls us to a love that dies to self for the sake of others.
In the first four verses of we hear the apostle Paul say to the Colossians, “Since therefore you were raised with Christ…you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The deal is that in Christ we die. We don’t die physically; we die to the power and grip of sin and wickedness over our hearts. Paul said to the Colossians in 2:14 that in Jesus Christ God cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing to the cross. Therefore, 2:20, with Christ we died to the elemental spirits of the world. But what’s glorious is that when you become a Christian, you don’t die to die. You die live! You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Now, he is going to tell them what this dying to live looks like in practice.
He says, “Therefore, put to death what is earthly in you…You must put them all away…Here, in the church, there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave free, Black, White, but Christ is all and in all.” We’re going to spend our time talking about having enough sense to die tonight; a justifiable homicide for the benefit of living like Christ is all and in all. If we’ve died with Christ, then there’s some stuff we’ve got to kill. I’m going to talk about a A Sense of Reality, and A Sense for Relationships.
A Sense of Reality
A Sense of Reality
we hear the apostle Paul say to the Colossians, “Since therefore you were raised with Christ…you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The deal is that in Christ we die. We don’t die physically; we die to the power and grip of sin and wickedness over our hearts. Paul said to the Colossians in 2:14 that in Jesus Christ God cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing to the cross. Therefore, 2:20, with Christ we died to the elemental spirits of the world. But what’s glorious is that when you become a Christian, you don’t die to die. You die live! You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Now, he is going to tell them what this dying to live looks like in practice.
Here’s the reality that Paul presses upon the Colossians. Y’all are in a fight. He’s done all this talking to them about how they’ve died, they’ve died, they’ve died. But that doesn’t mean that they’re now assured of life as they want it to be. Put to death whatever in you is worldly, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, inordinate craving, evil and greed, which is idolatry. The reality is that you’re in a fight because of the other reality that being a Christian doesn’t mean you no longer have a problem with sin. That phrase, “what is earthly in you,” or, “what is worldly in you,” means that there are parts of us as Christians that still look like we don’t belong to Christ. Here’s a simple reminder for you. Being a Christian doesn’t mean I now have my act together. Being a Christian doesn’t mean I no longer sin. Being a Christian means that I’ve trusted in the finished work of his crucifixion and resurrection to new life on my behalf. Therefore, sin, evil, ungodliness is no longer my authority. Jesus Christ is my authority. Paul put it this way in chapter 1:13-14, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
So, as citizens of the kingdom of light, the light shines on the things in us that are still dark so that they can be killed. Please hear me. Paul is not naïve enough to think that these Colossian Christians aren’t fighting against being consumed with themselves. Look at his list, sexual immorality (porneia), impurity, lust, inordinate craving, evil, greed. He’s not finished. In v. 8 he says, “Now you must lay aside all things like wrath, rage, wickedness, slander, obscene speech from your mouth.” What is the common denominator in these things? The common denominator is that they are the manifestation of a thriving self-consumption. We lust because we want to please ourselves. We are greedy and we covet because we are the center of our world. We face sexual temptation because we want more than anything to have our appetites satisfied. When he says that you’ve got to commit justifiable homicide on these things, he’s saying you’ve got to kill your disordered obsession with yourself.
If you’re going to have some sense on the highway of history. You have to have a sense of reality. You have to come to grips with your disordered obsession with yourself. You got to realize that this disordered self-obsession has got to die.
Let’s be clear. This is no joke. It’s not a laughing matter to be ignored when God shines a light on our sin, especially if we say that we already follow Jesus. He says in v. 7, “Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience.” He just said in v. 4 that when Christ, who is your life, is revealed you also will be revealed with him in glory. Glory awaits for all the redeemed, all those who belong to Jesus Christ. It’s coming is just as sure as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. That’s not the only thing that’s coming though. God’s just judgment of sin is coming too. Your blessing if you’re a Christian is that your judgement day is not in the future it’s in the past. That record of debt was nailed to the cross of Calvary. The justice of God to judge our evil, our wickedness, our sin, if you are joined to Jesus Christ, that day isn’t in the future. It’s behind you. You’ve got to have sense of that reality too.
Here’s my point. The apostle says, that stuff in you that belongs to judgment day, that’s the old self. He says in v. 10, “you all have put off the old self with its practices.” Isn’t that interesting?
My wife and I left our hometown of Brooklyn, NY to move to Maryland 23 years ago. But we’d regularly go back for visits with family. Every once in a while on a trip home I’d come across pictures of my early years as a little boy. There’s this one picture where I’ve got a neat little afro going on. So, from the neck up it’s a good look. But then I look at my button-down shirt. Half of the shirt is plaid, and the other half is stripes. It’s horrifying to see! “Mom, what were you thinking?” But that was stylish in the 70’s. It was fashionable back then. But I’m not trying to bring that fashion forward to 2018. That shirt’s been taken off. It’s been judged and is in the ash-heap of history. I’m not bringing back the old to try and wear it again. That thing is dead. Paul says, these vices, that’s the old self whose ways have been judged as belonging to the ash-heap of history. Don’t try to bring them back into fashion.
A Sense for Relationships
A Sense for Relationships
This is the reality we have to have a sense of. But here’s the deal. Being a Christian means that you still have to fight against the things that are wordly in you. What we can miss however, that is abundantly clear in this passage is that this putting to death the things that are earthly isn’t a solo project. You have to have a sense for relationships if you’re going to live with sense on the highway of history. The relationships that are formed within Jesus’ church are a huge part of putting earthly things to death. The command isn’t to go off by yourself, and keep your struggles to yourself, and act as if it’s you alone fighting against the darkness that Jesus is exposing. Every “you” in our text is a plural “you”. It’s “y’all.” He says in v. 9, “You all have put off the old self with its practices.” Plural “y’all,” singular “self.” Then in v. 10, “Y’all have put on the new self,” plural and singular again, “which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator.” The essence of the image, the substance of the image, what is most important about the image lies in what it is reflecting. What we find here is Paul pointing out that we were created in the image, according to the likeness of God. When the creation looks at humanity it should see a reflection of God. Not God himself, but a reflection. The problem, because of sin, is that the mirror is cracked. Not just one little crack. Picture a mirror with cracks all through it. Such that when you look at it, you say, “I think I know what that’s reflecting, but I’m not too sure.” The mirror isn’t shattered, but it’s sho’ nuff’ badly damaged.
Paul is saying that the new self we put on through faith in Christ is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. The cracks in the mirror are disappearing. But the way that they practically disappear is through brothers and sisters in Christ helping one another to kill the worldly stuff. And this is especially true when it comes to the sinful divides we have along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and on and on.
Look. Paul says, y’all put off the old self with its practices. You never were a solo project. His point in v. 7 is that there’s some people you used to run with, and they shared those same values. Y’all helped each other confirm and affirm your worldly ways. Just like your wickedness is a social project, your righteousness is a social project. Being renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator happens as we help one another kill earthly stuff that Jesus shines his light on.
Let’s be careful here because I’m not talking about a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts. Notice with me that Paul has already dismissed legalistic “do nots” in ch. 2:20-23, when he said,
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
There are some legalistic “do nots” that happen relationally in Jesus’ church that don’t build up. Instead they destroy. But then there are grace driven “do nots” in the church that help make the cracks in the mirror disappear so that the image of God can image God. Did you notice the “do not” in 3:9? “Do not lie to one another…” That was his very next thought after he mentions slander and obscene talk from your mouth in v. 8. These are all connected. They’re talking about what we do relationally, how we interact relationally. The obscene talk isn’t really about never saying a curse word. The Bible says you shouldn’t curse. Ok. The mention of obscene talk follows slander and precedes the command not to lie to one another because it’s about whether what’s coming out of our hearts toward one another is about building up or tearing down. Our current political and cultural moment is one of entrenchment that leads to tearing one another down, not building up. In other words, it leads to the kind of obscenity in the church that Paul is talking about here. Dr. Christian Edmondson of Calvin College said it well in a recent article,
Instead of hearing the experience of the other, owning the consequences of our own cultural-narcissism, we fast from different voices and turn to news outlets, places of worship, and friend groups that match and fertilize our biases. This approach ensures our entrenchment and entitlement.
The Colossian community to whom Paul is speaking included all these people: Greeks and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythians, slaves and free people. The old way includes justifiable divisions based on whatever barriers we prefer. The old way includes staying in our own manufactured lanes, or even the lanes we’re forced into because of life situations. The slaves couldn’t live like the free people. Poor people couldn’t hang with rich people. But the new way in Christ, in the new way poor people help rich people drag their idolatrous love for money out into the light and kill it. How can we go further in showing what it means that Christ is all and in all? Following the election in 2016, the NY Times published an opinion piece by Mark Lilla titled, The End of Identity Liberalism. He’s assessing the presidential election; particularly where he thinks Hillary Clinton fell short. He says,
It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country. It is also a beautiful thing to watch…But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences.
He then is critical of Hillary Clinton saying that on the campaign trail she tended to,
slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded.
How different that is to the vision Paul presents in Colossians! Mark Lilla says you’ll lose elections in America if you don’t scratch everyone’s itch. They’ll feel like you’re excluding them and they won’t vote for you. Paul says, here, in the church there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free. Rather Christ is everything and in everything. In other words, in Christ, is not just about you and your itch. Having sense on the highway of history means knowing that, in Christ, you need others who are least like you for your own growth. These people are now in relationship with one another. They need one another. Why? In part because you need the voices of others who love Jesus, but who are not like you to give you a perspective on what it means to follow Jesus that you don’t have. Here there is not Black and White, Latinos and Asians, Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians, but Christ is everything and in everything. What are the vestiges of prejudice, pride, or even hatred that remain in us and for which we have to cry out to God to remove? How much further into Christ does God have to bring us until our differences, diversity, and distinctions are far less important to us than our unity in Christ? Understand that we will never stop having to ask those questions. The work of living with sense on the highway of history will continue in the body of Christ until glory.