Treating People Like They're People

Colossians 3:1-17 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I have figured it out. I now know which spot in Aiken has the highest incident rate of road rage. It’s that spot on Whiskey Road just across from the Fermata Club where the road narrows from two lanes to one. That’s where it all hangs out. I read a Talk Back about that spot in the Aiken Standard soon after we moved here and then experienced it earlier this week. I was driving north in the left lane and I was packed in tightly with one car in front of me and one car behind me. We were like sardines. And the car ahead and to my right had nowhere to go as his lane ended. The driver of the car tried to merge in front of the car that was in front of me and that driver didn’t let him. And I saw rage boil. There was vicious tailgating, and scary acceleration right in front me - you know - basically all the road raging stuff that we know too well.

But now let’s admit something: road rage is a weird phenomenon. I’ve seen lanes narrow from two to one in Food Lion, but I’ve yet to see anybody aisle rage with their shopping cart. It just doesn’t happen. You know why that is? It’s not because people don’t experience frustration and annoyance in Food Lion. It’s that they know they can’t express it there. They know they can’t get away with it. Unlike the person who feels anonymous behind the wheel, social norms force people in Food Lion to contain what they’re feeling.

Which, of course, leads to a key question. How do we change not only the way we treat other people, but how we feel about other people? How do we live with peace in the world and brotherhood in our hearts? That’s exactly what John Lennon was wrestling with in his mega hit called Imagine. He struck a worldwide nerve with that song. We want a world where people are treated like people. We want a world where people are considerate, kind, giving, and compassionate. We want a world where the weak get helped, and the strong think it’s worth helping. We want a world where power serves and money gives. In short, we want a world where people treat people like people. We’re just not sure how to get there.

We’re rightfully cynical of John Lennon’s ideas. Remember what he said? He said, “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky. Imagine there’s no countries. It’s not hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. No religion too.” Do you see what he’s saying? John Lennon’s saying, “You know what our problem is? It’s religion. It’s country. It’s property owning. That’s our problem. If that would all just go away we’d all live in peace and harmony.” We’re rightfully cynical of that because we all sense that neither country, nor religion, nor property owning caused that person to act so dangerously earlier this week on Whiskey Road. Lennon didn’t identify the problem correctly and, therefore, he doesn’t have the right solution either.

Paul points out what the real problem is. He says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (v. 5) The problem wasn’t who owned the car, or the religion the driver had, or what country the cars were in. The problem was what was the earthly nature of the driver. Now notice what Paul said about that earthly nature. He gave a list that worked from the outside of a person to the inside. Sex immorality is something you do with your body. So is impurity. Then Paul goes after what’s beneath the skin. There’s lust there, evil desires and finally covetousness, or, the desire to take what’s not yours. Paul calls that idolatry.

Why’s that idolatry? If you think about it, the entire list Paul gives is a list of things you take from other people. Sexual immorality is the wrong use of some else’s body. So is impurity. Evil desires and covetousness come with how you look at someone. It’s using them or objectifying them with the eyes. At the end of the day, it’s treating people like they are there to serve you, make you happy, and give you what you want. That’s the very definition of idolatry. If you think about it, that’s what Paul’s next list is about too. He says, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (v. 8) Think about that. Why does a man get angry with his wife? He’s not getting from her what he wants. Why did that guy road rage in front of me? He didn’t get the piece of pavement he thought he deserved. Why does a person slander another person? It’s so that the slanderer can rise in power and might over the person being slandered. Everything Paul lists comes from the idolatrous idea that other people exist to serve me.

You know what the scary part is? Idolatry resonates powerfully with the earthly part of us. I still remember the day the trailer came out for a movie called 50 Shades of Grey. My Facebook feed lit up with it - even Christian people were sharing it. The main character’s name is Christian - an awful twist of irony for sure! The whole concept of the movie is that Christian can use his female companion however he wants. He even forces her to sign a contract that says he has the right to hurt her in whatever way he wants. According to the blogs, he does just that and buys her jewelry to cover up the bruises. Christian brutally uses her, objectifies her, and ruins her. It’s pure idolatry. And you know what? The word on the street is that advance ticket sales for this movie are booming.

Honestly, I don’t like talking about it anymore than you like listening to it, but these are the ideas that Paul talks about here. Why? Because Paul wants us to grapple with the ugliness of sin and idolatry. He wants us shake off the excuses and see the earthly part of us for what it is. Ugly, messy, and destructive. That’s why Paul says, “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (v. 6) Think of how offensive all this must be to God. God made people to be in beautiful, loving relationships with each other. He made us for harmony and brotherhood, for sharing and humility. And then we use each other to get what we want. It’s ugly and it’s why God’s wrath coming.

You know what’s also true? It’s why God sent Jesus. It’s why he sent his Son. God knew it was bad. He saw it clearly. That’s why he didn’t send us a teacher. We need a lot more than the right set of instructions. It’s why he didn’t set up a reform school. We needed a lot more help than a strict regimen. It’s why he sent us a Savior. He sent us a Savior who absorbed all the wrath that was looming. He sent us a Savior who took and took and took for all our taking. He sent us a Savior who was used and used and used for all our using. He sent us a Savior who for the first time in world history treated everybody like they were people.

Did you notice what Paul said about that Savior here? He said, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (v. 1) Did you catch it? Paul said that Christ is seated. You know why he said that? Because his work of saving you is done. I was watching guys work their tails off in my neighborhood the other day. They were building a fence. That is some hard work - especially post holing. They went after it for hours. They dug and nailed and then dug and nailed some more. They just went after it. They never sat down once. Until they were done. Christ is seated. The work of saving us in done. There’s nothing more to be done for us to get in with God. Nothing. You know what’s left to do?

Enjoy the victory. That’s what Paul is saying here. “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.” (v. 2-4) Do you see what Paul is saying? He’s saying, “Be like a dog gnawing on the world’s juiciest bone.” He’s saying, “Be like a rabbit that just can’t get over carrots.” He’s saying, “Be like the ridiculous husband who 10 years later still can’t believe that he married the most wonderful, beautiful woman in the world.” He’s saying, “Think about the gospel. Gnaw on it. Go back to it. Be ridiculous about it. Ruminate on it. Mull it over. Enjoy it. Spend time with it. Set your heart on it. Get all bound up in it.” And why? Because it tells you who you are. You are a person who died with Christ and who now has a life that’s hidden with Christ in God.

You’re hidden. There’s a reason why a dog will go and dig a hole and hide his bone. It’s so that’s he can keep it. It’s so that the bone will be safe. You do something similar in other parts of life. You hide and lock your social security cards, your birth certificate, the titles for your cars, and your treasury bonds. Why? So that they’re safe. We do that with people too. When the Nazi’s were coming to kill Jews, people hid them to keep them safe. Do you see what the gospel is saying here? Your life is hidden with Christ because it’s safe there. And it will be kept safe there until it needs no safekeeping because Christ has finally appeared.

And no, I didn’t get off track. You may think I did, but I didn’t. We’re still talking about how we treat people like people. We’re still talking about how we become the person God wants us to be. We’re still talking about moving to a place where - to use Paul’s language - we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, and patience. We’re still talking about getting to a place where we see others not as a wallet to open, or a body to look at, or a lightning rod to strike. We’re still talking about getting to a place where we see people as beings to be loved and served, forgiven and helped. You know how get there? It’s so counterintuitive - the gospel always is - you set your mind on things above. You gnaw on the Jesus’ love. You ruminate on your life that’s kept safe hidden in Christ.

You know what the flipside to that coin is? You don’t ruminate on what’s earthly. You kill it. You murder it. You put it to death. That’s what Paul told us to do. Think of how important this is for the health of your soul. You can glance at a certain magazine that objectifies people and then turn away, or you can buy it, take it home, and spend time looking at it. You can let an angry thought enter your mind and you can send it packing, or you can ruminate on it, nurse that grudge, and turn it into full-blown hatred. Which one gives you life and health? You tell me. And, yes, it has to be a violent and quick death that you deal to earthly stuff. Letting the earthly part of you ruminate on earthly stuff is like putting yourself in a cage with a hungry tiger and you’re the raw meat. You don’t get into that cage and say, “Nice kitty. Nice kitty. Please don’t eat me.” You shoot it dead on the spot. You run from them and you run to Jesus in your thinking. When you set your mind on Jesus and the life he’s given you, the flipside is that then you won’t think about how to use people. You’ll treat them as people.

I’m sure a lot of you know this already, but 50 Shades of Grey is opening this weekend. What do you think should be done about it? And, no, I’m not asking anyone to think in an activist way right now. It’s worth thinking about joining the Facebook effort that’s trying to get people to boycott the movie. It’s worth listening to the people Time Magazine is reporting about who are telling us to give donations to domestic-violence shelters instead of paying to watch domestic violence saying, “Hollywood doesn’t need your money; abused women do.” I’m not bringing this up in an activist sense just a fully Christian one. Here’s what I mean: this Valentine’s Day, do the opposite of 50 Shades of Grey. Find a way this weekend to really see someone - I mean see them and care for them - instead of objectifying them. And do that because you’ve set your mind on the thought that Jesus saw you already in eternity and cared for you. Or, if you end up coming north on Whiskey Road this coming weekend and you’re at that spot by Fermata Club, let a driver in. Do that because you’ve set your heart on the idea that Jesus let you in on so much more than a chunk of pavement, he let you into heaven. Setting the mind on things above is the secret sauce. It’s what sets us free to finally treat people like they’re people. Amen. 

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