Note to the reader
I preached this sermon on Thursday, September 27, 2018 in the chapel on the L.T. Marangu campus of Africa Nazarene University (Ongata-Rongai, Kenya).
N.B. – All Scripture references are from the Common English Bible.
Text: Colossians 3:12-17
Have you ever had an earworm? You know what I mean by that. Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head? Maybe it was the first song you heard when you woke up, or the last song you listened to before going to sleep at night. However it happened, it’s stuck in your brain and you can’t get away from it. At first, it was pleasant, but how that you’re hearing it for the 57th time, it’s just plain annoying. In fact, if you don’t get the song out of your head soon, it’s going to drive you crazy! What do you need? A new song, a better song. To drive out the old, find something new.
II. TRANSITION TO COLOSSIANS 3:12-17
In Colossians 3:16, Paul invites us to sing a new song, a better song. He writes:
The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
III. THE OLD SONG
Earlier in chapter 3, Paul details the sour notes of the old song. These are the dischordant strains, the off-key melodies of the life of sin and selfishness. Verse 5 lists these practices: sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed. Then v. 8 adds anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Verse 9 wraps up the list with a simple command: “Don’t lie to each other.”
These 11 practices, this dirty laundry list, make up the old song we used to sing before we came to Christ. But now, God has given us the Holy Spirit. The Lord has put a new song in our hearts, a better song. Verse 2 puts it this way:
Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (CEB).
If we continue in our old ways, in the ways of sin and disobedience to God, there will be a price to pay. I’ve never met a person who practices the 11 sins Paul enumerates who in the long run is well-adjusted and who lives in peace and contentment. And the reason is simple: Every one of the practices mentioned – in one way or another – destroys community.
This is Africa, where Ubuntu teaches us that “I am because we are.” Yet greed, moral corruption, rage, and slander (to mention a few) push others away. And in the end, this old bitter song on our lips will have people plugging their ears so they don’t have to listen to it. You will be singing off-key, all alone.
IV. THE NEW SONG
There is a better song, a new song! Verse 9 – “Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it.” Verse 12 – “Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Paul goes on to say that love and forgiveness should be the characteristics of God’s people.
Two little boys had quarreled. But the next morning, Otieno took his soccer ball, tucked it under his arm and headed for Omondi’s house once. Otieno’s older brother teased him: “What! Are you going to play with him again? I thought you quarreled only last evening and were never going to have anything to do with each other again. Funny memory you have!” Otieno paused for a second, then smiling, replied to his big brother:
Oh, Omondi and me, we’re good forgetters.
That’s what forgiveness is all about. Because God is a good forgetter, he calls us to be good forgetters, too.
Besides forgiveness, what are some of the other sweet notes of this new song that we sing? Verse 15: “The peace of Christ must control your hearts, a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people.”
Turn to you neighbor and say: “May the peace of Christ be with you.” Now, say back to your neighbor: “And also with you.” This is an ancient tradition in the church. At some point in the service, we “pass the peace of Christ.” In my life, one way I know if I am on the right track is whether I am at peace. When we’re living in a way that pleases God, God gives us peace. But when what we are doing is not pleasing to God, we are ill-at-ease, troubled in our spirit. Let me ask you today: Do you know God’s peace? When you lay your head on your pillow at night, do you sleep in peace?
Finally, this new song has one additional component that is so vital. It appears in the last 3 words of v. 15: “Be thankful people.” Verse 16: “Sing with gratitude in your hearts.” Verse 17: “Give thanks to God the Father, through the Lord Jesus.”
Leprosy was a terrible skin disease. In the ancient world, the only recourse was to quarantine lepers. If they saw anyone coming near them, they were required to cry out: “Unclean! Unclean!” Because the disease could sometimes be transmitted by touch, no one touched lepers. Yet in Matthew 8:3, Jesus touched and cleansed a leper. (Jesus didn’t accept that anyone should be an outcast). Then in Luke 17, Jesus healed 10 lepers. All 10 had gone to the priest, which is what the Law of Moses required, but only 1 leper returned to thank Jesus. The Lord asked: “Weren’t 10 lepers cleansed? Where are the other 9?” In my life, I want to be the 1 leper who thanks Jesus.
They say when you’re having trouble sleeping, you should count sheep. But there’s an old song that says instead of counting sheep, fall asleep counting your blessings. Here are 6 quick things that I’m grateful to God for:
- I’ve been married to an amazing woman for 33 years.
- My Dad is 89 and my Mom is 84. They’ve modeled for me and my 5 brothers what married love should be.
- God gave me and Amy 2 wonderful sons, and now we also have a daughter-in-law.
- God saved me when I was just 7 years old. It was at the end of a concert by the Cathedral Quartet, and my pastor invited people to come pray at the altar. I went forward, and my Dad came and knelt beside me to pray with me. That was the day I decided to follow Jesus. I was spared from scars I would no doubt have known if I had lived decades without knowing Christ.
- When I contracted a severe case of malaria in Benin, West Africa in 2001, I nearly died. I’m thankful for God’s healing touch, and for the doctor who treated me. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here speaking to you today.
- I’ve had the blessing of living in 4 African nations and now am blessed to serve at ANU and invest myself in Africa’s future leaders.
And what about you? Has Jesus saved you? Has he cancelled out your old, sour song of sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, obscene language and lying? He can do that for you if you ask him. He can change you, make you clean, make you new. God can give you a new song, a much, much better song, a song of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Where you once were troubled, let Christ give you his peace, and be thankful.
The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Whatever you do, whether in speech of action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.”
— CLOSING PRAYER —