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(Part 133)


September 9, 2015
Today’s readings:
Colossians 3:1-11
Psalm 145:2-13
Luke 6:20-26

Paul often talks about what causes conflict and disunity in Christian communities. In the From the SG article last July 30 (The Way Forward in Christ, Part 131), we looked at the list of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5, noting that the majority, 8 out of 15, had to do with works that leads to disunity and division (Gal 5:20b-21a). Today Paul again tackles the same problems, this time with the Colossians. And during these times, in fact throughout the history of the Church, the same problems surface very often in the Church and in Christian communities.

In Galatians, Paul contrasts the Spirit and the flesh. Here, Paul says, “Think of what is above, not of what is of earth.” (Col 3:2). Then he says, “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly” (Col 3:5a). What are these? His first list has to do with what most Christians would readily see as wrong, such as “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” (Col 3:2b). These conform to the minority 7 out of 15 in Galatians. His second list parallels the majority 8 in Galatians, as follows: “anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths.” (Col 3:8b). Paul says, “now you must put them all away” (Col 3:8a).

Unfortunately, many Christians, including Church workers and leaders, give way so easily to these. There will always be misunderstandings and disagreements in community and there will always be instances when one is hurt by the other, but those can be easily resolved in a good Christian way. The conflict often starts with the reaction or responses of people against their brethren­anger, slander, gossip and the like.

The Spirit versus the flesh. What is above versus what is earthly. The new self versus the old self, as Paul also says, “you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (Col 3:9b-10). We know which way to go, but we often do not go in that way. As Paul kept reminding the Christian communities in his time, so too do we need to be reminded of the reality of whom we have become. “If you then were raised with Christ, seek what is above” (Col 3:1a). And further, “put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.” (Col 3:10).

Christians, just as in Paul’s time, fall into these same sins in relation to their brethren over and over again. One basic reason is because even if they are renewed, they keep focusing, in times of difficulty and challenge, on their brethren rather than on Christ. Instead of looking up they are looking across (and even looking down on their “opponents”). If they looked to Christ, the issues are easily resolved­through tolerance, forgiveness and mercy.

So we look to Christ our Lord. What do we see?

  • “Great is the Lord and worthy of much praise, whose grandeur is beyond understanding.” (Ps 145:3). Everything, including our life and service, is about our great God. Why then should we respond, in our own self-righteousness or even justified pain, in a worldly way that causes strife and disunity?
  • “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” (Ps 145:8). We are supposed to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Should we then not also be slow to anger and merciful, even gracious as we are attacked and maligned?
  • “The Lord is good to all, compassionate toward all your works.” (Ps 145:9). God is good all the time, so why should we respond in ways that will negatively affect His work? If our brethren are not good to us, that is their problem, but we need to be good to them because God is good to us.

So then what should we do?

  • “Every day I will bless you; I will praise your name forever and ever.” (Ps 145:2). Always keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Always be prayerful. Always ask yourself, “What would Jesus say or do?” And as Pope Francis says, if you are tempted to gossip (telling others about the perceived wrong done to you), bite your tongue. Praise God instead.
  • “They celebrate your abounding goodness and joyfully sing of your justice.” (Ps 145:7). God is just, and vengeance belongs to God. So we simply rest in His goodness and how He wants to ultimately vindicate us. We maintain our joy in the face of serious difficulties.
  • “The Lord is trustworthy in all his words, and loving in all his works.” (Ps 145:13b). We can trust in God who loves us. Does the Lord not want everything to work for our good? So we take what He allows to come our way, not doing wrong just because we think someone did us wrong.
  • “They speak of the glory of your reign and tell of your mighty works, making known to the sons of men your mighty acts, the majestic glory of your rule.” (Ps 145:11-12). We focus on God’s work and continue to serve Him, especially in the proclamation of the gospel.

Still not convinced? Let us then go to Jesus’ sermon on the plain, as he speaks about the beatitudes. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.” (Lk 6:22-23). If you do good and serve the Lord, and still you feel unappreciated, discarded or even maligned, then this is your proper posture.

Don’t you see? Jesus allows you to be hurt, even by your brethren, so that you can have the privilege of growing in holiness by your right Christian responses. But if you respond in a worldly way, thinking you are justified in doing do, you are not following the way of Jesus. And you will be used by the evil one to cause strife and disunity.

Feeling hurt? Persecuted? Misunderstood? Maligned? Lied about? Jesus must really love you. Tell Jesus your struggles (and not your brethren and sympathizers). Leave everything up to him, and continue with your life and service in him, with great joy. Be assured: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:4).

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