Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rethinking “Things”: Dismantling our Compartments

How we think about things makes all the difference in the world.

Paul thought so when he wrote:

"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." (Colossians 3:1-4)

Because of our many “things,” we tend to compartmentalize our lives to cope. We have our family “things,” our business “things,” our job “things,” our school “things,” our sports “things,” our social “thing.” and our secret "things." We also have our religious “things,” including our “Christian” things. While there is some interaction between these things, typically one of these things will receive most of our attention. What we focus on says a lot about what we value.

Churches too have compartmentalized "things." We have our children's department, our adult department, our worship department, as well as our missions department, and perhaps a myriad of other departments into which we try to arrange and manage ministry. This leaves us with divisions in a body that is supposed to be one.

What compartmentalization does is systematize our lives, and our churches, allowing us to neatly order our lives, at least make that attempt, in such a way that we think we can better handle all the things” of our busy lives, or so we think.

You may be a fan of compartmentalization but the thing is that compartmentalization is not Biblical. It’s rather Greek actually. Ancient Greek philosophers spoke of compartmentalizing life into five realities: physical, mental, social, financial, and spiritual.  It's not Biblical because it's not Hebraic and the Bible must be read through a Hebrew worldview, or we lose sight of the “things” Paul is telling us here.

The idea of compartmentalization, while it may comfort us or trick us into thinking we have "things" under control, is antithetical to a Biblical worldview. While we may relentlessly attempt to organize everything into manageable intellectual blocks and structures we too often live lives of stress and anxiety, judgment and criticism, wondering why we lack peace.

The compartmentalized life is opposed to the very nature of how God has wired us to live, who we are in Christ, and how we can obtain peace, the shalom, of Christ we know is so missing from our lives and culture.

Paul tells us to set our hearts on "things above," not as an escape from this world but rather as a reality where Christ is ever present. But what has your hearts affections - earthly things or "things above?" When we compartmentalize our lives, the affections of our heart is divided, so we're without peace, the peace that Jesus promised he left for us (John 20:21).

Paul in addressing the Colossians, in the passage above, gives us three mission critical ways toward eliminating this compartmentalized thinking, toward achieving the shalom life, a peace that surpasses understanding, that is meant to be ours in Christ. 

1. Our mind is to be fixed on Jesus. Paul says, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." This does not mean we're to develop systematized theologies and complex doctrines of heaven, who’s in and who’s out, or about how to get there. Rather simply our minds are to be renewed by the reality of the very present God. The "things above" should inform us that there is a better way to live today, a higher reality - a Kingdom life - not simply find some solace in getting to heaven one day. The question, we need to repeatedly ask ourselves, is what direction am I thinking my life toward this very moment? (Romans 12:1-3, 2 Corinthians 13:5)

2. Our life is to be concealed by Jesus. Paul says, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." We do not create a new religious compartment when we come to faith, adding Jesus as just another thing to our other "things." That is in fact polytheism. Rather we have a brand new life in Christ. The old has gone and the new has come. The continuous question we must ask is who do others see more of in me? (2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 4:24)

3. Our reality is to be found only in Jesus. Paul says, "When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Christ is our life right now, right here and always, if we are in Christ. The word ‘life’ here is the Greek "zoe" which means the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God. This is to be our present reality. The very idea that Christ is our life should eliminate the compartmentalization that causes us to worry about tomorrow and lack the peace he promises.  The question we must ask is who's life am I now living? (Galatian 2:20, Galatians 5:24)

 In our culture, we have compartmentalized everything, including Christianity. But Jesus is not just an idea we add to our lives, but the "all" of everything who defines who we are and how we are to live - in Christ. The Gospel is that this life is now available for all, by faith. We are to repent from our own “things.” We are to put on Christ, as our “all.” This speaks to a Biblical worldview where everything in our lives is conformed or being conformed to Christ – his life, his mission, his purpose, and his peace – for “Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

Paul goes on say, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature..." (Col 3:5). That includes the compartmentalization of our lives. In so doing we can, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." (Col 3:15).

Do we ever get this perfect? Well Jesus did say, "be perfect even as your heavenly father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48)), right? Does he ask us to do anything impossible – for him? Such is to be our pursuit for  Living Sent Today. 

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