How in the world are you to decide if something is really a big deal with God or a minor offense? It is not only true that we tend to make some sins far more serious than others, it is true that God sees somethings very differently than others. Jesus made a big distinction between blaspheming him and blaspheming the Holy Spirit. He said one was pardonable and the other wasn’t. He told Pilate that the Jews who delivered him to Pilate were guilty of the “greater sin”. When he was asked what the greatest command was, he didn’t hesitate and say all commands are the same, but unequivocally said the greatest command was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and the second was like it to love our neighbor as ourselves. He told the Pharisees they had been so careful to pay tithes of the herbs in their garden but had ommitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith. So, without question some commands are more important than others and some sins are worse than others. Looking at Acts 5 one can’t doubt that lying to the Holy Spirit about something we pretended to give to God was taken rather seriously by the Lord.
So how do you decide what is a big deal and what is not only much less important, but sometimes insignificant? I want to suggest three test of religious matters given by Paul in the Book of Colossians that I think are extremely significant on this topic. The first is at the end of chapter two. He had made the strong point that we aren’t under the Old Testament Law any more and that we shouldn’t be disqualified on the basis of insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind. (2:18). He said those things kept us from “Holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Vs. 19) Then he challenged the church not to get caught up in regulations such as “Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch.” “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” ( Vs. 23)
So here is point one, in religious matters there are those things that have the appearance of value and seem right and good to people, but aren’t of any value in helping us avoid the indulgences of the world. So, one way to determine if a thing is important in spiritual life or religion is to question what it’s value is in living for God each day. Lots of rules that arise in the spiritual world about what cannot be done and still be right with God appear really good and important, but when it gets down to their affect on our spiritual life or our avoiding the influence of the devil in life they aren’t worth anything. Think of all the things in your religious rule book and question how many of them appear great and important but don’t really help at all in either living for God or abstaining from sin. There are literally tons of information in the religious world that seems good and might help in playing Jeopardy or Bible Trivia but aren’t of the slightest value in living right and fighting wrong.
The second point Paul makes is in Colossians 3:17. It says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Notice the sentence begins with “And” indicating it is part of some things that have already been said. This thought actually started back in verse 12 when he started the discussion of things they should “Put on” as God’s chosen one, who were living as holy and beloved people. He told them to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you. He said, “Above all put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body and be thankful.” It was as part of that charge that he said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Then we have the big, “AND” “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything ing the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Do you suppose that the challenge to do all in the name of the Lord actually fits with the whole segment? I think so. The “And’s” in the segment should prove such to be the case. All of it is tied to what we should put on as Christ followers and each is tied to the godly life we are to be living. It seems to me that most of the time when I hear this verse quoted and applied it is pulled out of its context and applied to what we do in the Sunday morning worship gathering rather than to the kinds of things Paul had been talking about in the whole segment. Most likely he really intended the point to go all the way back to the beginning of the chapter when he said if we had been raised with Christ to seek the things above and not those things on the earth. He told them things they should lay aside or take off in their life all the way from moral sins like sexual immorality to murder but then turned to things like anger and lying or using obscene language. So when he told them to do all things in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father in his name, I don’t think it meant that anything that wasn’t specifically authorized by the Lord was wrong in our time nor did he mean that everything we do in our work for God must be followed with the statement that this was done in the name of the Lord. Our lives and service to God should be based on Jesus and taking on His nature and heart for life.
Finally, Paul gave the third test of religious practice in verse 23 of Colossians three. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for me, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” It is amazing that this was in the context of talking about slavery and telling the slaves how to act as Christians when they were at work for the Master. He will turn in chapter four and verse one to tell Masters how to conduct themselves as Christians. He isn’t authorizing slavery. His point was that even in horrible situations such as being a slave one who is a follower of Christ still must live as the Lord would have him to live. Even as a slave the challenge was for a Christian, “Whatever you do, work heartily as to the Lord.” That certainly doesn’t fit what I would have thought in this case. I would likely have thought if you are a slave, you are being mistreated so do everything you can to mess up the whole process. God’s way was to, even in such a time and situation show them the difference if one is a follower of the Lord. Do your best. Work with all your heart. If one has a Christian working for them in any capacity, it should be the case that they are the most honest, caring, helpful, hopeful, and hard working people you could ever imagine having. Our witness for Jesus can’t ever out reach our influence as people. You can’t leave your Christianity at the church building and expect to be seen by others as a true follower of Jesus. It shouldn’t matter whether we are the customer, the clerk, the neighbor, the player on the opposite team, the coach or the cheerleader our faith should be showing in the kind, caring and forgiving way we treat others.
So, three test for our faith. 1. Does it make a difference in how you live? If it doesn’t help you do right and resist the devil it isn’t worth having. 2. Is it in the name of the Lord? Our lives should change when we start following Christ in what we take off and what we put on. Our character and outreach to others must be in His name so that we would never be ashamed for another to learn that we are Christians because of how we are acting. 3. Does it lead to my giving whatever job I have everything I’ve got because I belong to Jesus? Nothing shouts insincerity louder than a lazy Christian.