Formations 10.25.2020: Stumbling Forward

Colossians 3:12-17, 23-25

Paul calls the Colossian believers to lead holy lives. In chapter 3, he lists numerous virtues they are to embrace, love above all.

It’s one thing to list these virtues, but what do they actually look like when we live them out in the real world? My experience is that I can know intellectually that I’m supposed to be compassionate, kind, humble, etc., but that doesn’t guarantee that I’ll always make the kind and compassionate decision. Maybe you know what that’s like, too.

We do the best we can. We try to lead lives that show the love of Jesus, and sometimes we succeed.

But rarely do we have one hundred percent certainty about which is the right way to go. I only have a limited amount of time. How should I spend it best? How do I balance taking care of myself and my family with needs in my community: the poor and the marginalized, the hurting and the lonely?

And of course, it’s not just time. How can I be the best steward of my material resources? Knowing that I can’t do everything, what are the best things I can do to advance God’s kingdom?

The truth is, we almost always have to live with the possibility that we could have done something different, we could have done something more. But Paul won’t let us wallow in self-doubt. I find great encouragement in his summary in verse 17: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

That exhortation speaks first of freedom. We have the freedom to choose (“Whatever you do…”), even perhaps to choose a non-optimal path. Even—dare I say it?—the freedom to mess up. We certainly have the freedom to make our own decisions; it isn’t up to Paul or anyone else to decide for us. It’s not his or anybody else’s job to micromanage our lives.

But that exhortation also speaks of constraint: “Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” I’m convinced there are some things that cannot authentically be done in the name of Jesus. You can’t shame or ridicule others in Jesus’ name. You can’t “punch down” from a position of privilege in Jesus’ name.

That means that “whatever you do” is bounded by an outer limit: Strive to be like Christ. Do what would make him proud. Make the kind of decisions he would look upon and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

What does Christian virtue look like in the real world? Searching for the one right answer—the right path, the right decision—is rarely the issue. There are almost always options…and uncertainties.

Let’s agree that, by God’s grace, we’ll always aim to stumble forward in Jesus’ name.

Discussion

• What resources do you call on when you have a hard decision?
• How do you respond to uncertainty? Are you able to deal with doubt and press on, or does the fear of choosing wrongly paralyze you? Explain.
• What is the role of worship and scriptural teaching in clarifying your decisions (v. 16)?
• How can we better appreciate that everything we do is service to the Lord?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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