“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
“In the event of my death, celebrate.” You know, as a pastor, I spend a lot of time with people who are sick and dying and very rarely do I come across a person who is genuinely excited about their impending death…especially when the person dying is younger, at least in a relative sense. We have become accustomed to speak about heavenly things with anticipation but when we face the reality of heavenly things, it seems that we cling to earthly things with vigor…just the opposite of our Lord who did not heaven as something to be clung to but abased himself and became man. While we affirm intellectually that heaven is a far better place for us than earth, our hearts don’t often embrace that intellectual reality.
I believe that our problem with genuinely embracing the second half of this statement stems from our problem with embracing the first half of the statement, for until you become so focused that everything you do in this life is for Christ and to His honor, then the thought of ending those labors here, where we do things imperfectly, and beginning them in glory, where we will do things perfectly, just does not resonate with us. Yet, for Paul, this mindset — that all I do is for Christ — is the only way to live…or die.
As people, particularly in the western world, we have become jaded, self-centered, prideful, narcissistic, greedy, sensualistic, and focused on personal gain. Life, we are often taught, is about what I can achieve, accumulate, and experience. Those things that do not meet our personal “needs” are cast to the side as unnecessary and irrelevant. Striving for virtue has been replaced with striving for vainglory and “Self” has become the Baal and the Ashtoreth of our generation. And, as a result, the culture is collapsing all around our ears.
The solution: Christ and Christ alone! Living for Christ in all things puts the things of this world in their eternal perspective and shows them to be the pale and fleeting things that they really are. Living for Christ and seeing His glory in all things is also the corrective to our view on death. For the believer, indeed, our death is gain, for it is being ushered into the presence of our risen Lord. Yet, we also long to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For that we must embrace a life that is lived not for self and selfish things, but for Christ and for Christ alone. Then again, for whom better can we live?
“But now, you must take off—even you—the whole: wrath, anger, evil, blasphemy, obscene speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8 )
Oh, the follies of youth. Sometimes, in looking back on some of the things that I did growing up, I groan a little—and sometimes I groan a lot. I remember one summer evening, I had just gotten home from doing something with my friends Heath and Jason, and the three of us got to talking and then we got to boasting. As I remember it, it was Heath who boasted that Jason and I could not wrestle him down—it was not long before the three of us were on the ground, in the dark, wrestling about. And had things ended there, the memory of the event would have faded into obscurity. The reason the evening has remained in my mind all of these years is because of what Heath did next.
As we were wrestling about, Heath reached out his hand for balance and put it in something soft and mushy—a pile of dung left behind by one of the neighborhood dogs. And with the kind of logic that only makes sense to the teenage mind, deciding that if he had it on him, we might as well have it on us as well, it was not long before he started smearing it wherever he could get it on us. Oh, the exclamations of surprise that came from the two of us! When everything was said and done, Jason fared the worst, but we all reeked of something that we ought not to have reeked from. Jason’s mom made him hose off before he was allowed in the house. When I got inside, I could not get out of my soiled clothes and into the shower fast enough. I wanted to get that stench off of me and fast.
Now what does having dog poop smeared all over you have to do with what Paul is talking about in this verse? The word that Paul uses here, translated as, “you must take off,” is the Greek word ajpoti/qhmi (apotithami). Literally, this word refers to the taking off of one’s clothing. But Paul adds force to this word by using the imperative, saying you must take these things off! In the larger context of the passage, Paul is saying to us, “look, you have been born again, you have been made into a new person because of the work of Jesus Christ—get out of those dirty, wretched, filthy, smelly clothes that you have been wearing and put on the righteousness of Christ!”
Clothes are a common metaphor in scripture, and are used to convey the idea of status and righteousness. Our own righteousness is as soiled rags, horrid, wretched things deserving of nothing other than to be burned up in the fire (Isaiah 64:6; Philippians 3:8). Yet, the wonderful blessing of God’s grace is this, if we are born again believers in Jesus Christ, having repented of our sins and come to Christ in faith, when we stand before God in judgment, we will not stand on our own merits or, to maintain the metaphor, in the clothing of our own righteousness. As believers, we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ. Oh, what a wonderful gift we have been given as believers—and how that should spur us on to get out of our own stained and smelly rags as fast as we can with the Lord’s help.
Beloved, one of the difficulties of this life is that even though we have put on Christ, we so often drift back to the rags of our own life. It is almost as if we, after having been given new garments, have saved the old soiled ones, putting them away even without washing them so that every once in a while we might get them out to see if they still fit. Loved ones, the things of your old life—the things that belong to this world—should not be clung to, but should be burned! Friends, let your mouth and your actions reflect the one who has saved you—the one whose garments you wear. One of the arguments that is made for making children neat, clean uniforms to school is that children tend to behave better when they are dressed better. While I am not entirely sure just how true this is, Paul is applying a similar principle to believers. Beloved, work to make your behavior match the clothes that you wear; in doing so, you will glorify the one who has saved you and draw others to his wonderful presence.
“Whom he established as heir of all things…”
Loved ones, not only is Christ the means by which God has spoken, but the writer of Hebrews further asserts that Christ is the heir, the beneficiary, of all things. Everything that is, that was, and ever will be is made and given to Christ—Creation is bowed before him and is laid at his feet for His glory and honor! Not only is all of scripture designed to point to Christ, but all of the created order is also designed to point directly to our risen Lord! What a wonderful statement of truth!
Yet, this raises an important point that must be addressed. If we take this statement seriously, and we ought, then not only must our theology and reading of the Bible be Christological, but , so too must our reading of all life! In other words, our science, must be Christological; our history must be Christological; our sociology must be Christological; our philosophy, our psychology, our mathematics, our literature, our grammar, our engineering, our biology—all these disciplines are given to Christ for his glory and honor, thus all these disciplines, to be rightly pursued, must be pursued in such a way as that they give Christ glory and honor! Oh, what a wonderful testimony and reminder that Christ is the center and focal point of all things in creation, yet oh, how far short we often fall from this great and lofty end! Beloved, shall we aim for the glory of Christ? Shall we aim to see Christ honored in every academic subject and in every endeavor known to man? Indeed, if we believe this passage to be true, we must, for all things have been handed over to Christ as the great heir, and to fail to do so, is to fail to honor him as the ruler and heir that he is. Ask yourselves, dear friends, what it is that you are doing to deliberately point every area of your life to the glory of Christ.