"All that Matters is You, O Lord!" (Colossians 3:11)December 1, 2006 Biblical Studies, Biblical Studies
We who happily call ourselves Evangelicals are good at proclaiming the gospel and insisting on the doctrine of justification by faith. We defend the inerrancy of Scripture and look forward to the Second Coming of Christ. In a word, we excel in our emphasis on the theological fundamentals of Scripture and the vertical dimension of our relationship with God.
But we don’t do nearly as well when it comes to the horizontal implications of what Christ has accomplished. By “horizontal” I have in mind our ethical and social obligations to those around us, such as the pursuit of justice, opposition to racial discrimination, ministry to the poor and homeless, etc.
Sadly, many Christians view such things with more than a little suspicion, fearful that too much involvement outside the four walls of the church building will eventually undermine or dilute our commitment to the centrality of saving souls. But the apostle makes it inescapably clear that our new life in Christ must issue not simply in personal purity but also in public righteousness. Often we pride ourselves on having conquered the sins in Colossians 3:5, 8, and 9, all the while harboring prejudice and disdain for people of another color, another race, a lower social status, an inferior educational degree, a less affluent economic stature.
Paul simply won’t stand for it. “Here,” that is to say, within this new humanity, this new life, this new identity that we have in Christ, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). How so? Because “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks; slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Again, and yes, it needs to be stated again and again lest we dismiss it as secondary or unimportant, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Paul’s point is quite simple. He isn’t saying that Gentiles literally become Jews or vice versa. Nor is he suggesting that slaves are no longer responsible to their masters or that women are now men (cf. Gal. 3:28; although at least in the case of slavery the application of certain biblical principles would lead to its demise). These ethnic, cultural, sexual, and social distinctions don’t automatically disappear. They just don’t matter anymore when it comes to our spiritual standing with God or the blessings and promises we inherit from him. In the body of Christ ethnicity is irrelevant. In the Church economic achievement is irrelevant.
All these folk are now “brothers” (Col. 1:2) because they are united in Christ. Paul denounces all such discrimination on the single ground that the only thing that matters anymore is Christ. The same Jesus with whom you died and were raised and now enables you to live as the new man that you are, indwells both Greeks and Jews, both educated and barbarian, both slave and master, both male and female.
Let’s be clear about one thing. Paul isn’t talking about our merely believing this to be true. You can “say” that we are all one in Christ all the while you retain prejudice against a person of another race or fail to fight against efforts to perpetuate the old stereotypes. Our responsibility, indeed our joy, isn’t simply to declare this truth but to work diligently in the church and in society to embrace and affirm and liberate those who’ve suffered from the lingering effects of these divisions and the discrimination that energizes them.
Again, we evangelicals grew up singing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world: red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” At the same time, many still wonder if perhaps he loves some more than others. Perhaps the red are more precious than the yellow. Maybe the white get spiritual perks withheld from the black. Paul’s not talking about singing a song but living a life, perhaps demanding, sacrificial, and painful, that reflects the truth of what has been accomplished in the work of Christ.
So, if these factors don’t matter anymore, what does? Jesus! This is the apostle’s point in saying that “Christ is all and in all.” The latter phrase (“in all”) is not an affirmation of divine omnipresence, nor a declaration that Christ is “in all” circumstances providentially speaking (although he certainly is). Rather, Christ is “in all” who know him, regardless of ethnicity or social standing; he is no less in believing Gentiles and Scythians than he is in believing Jews; he indwells and abides fully with slaves no less than he does with the freeman.
The phrase “Christ is all” is not an endorsement of pantheism, as if Christ were indistinguishable from what he has made. Rather, Paul is stating in no uncertain terms that Christ is all that matters; something along the lines of our saying, “You’re everything!” “You’re the tops!” Jesus Christ, wrote Murray Harris, “amounts to everything and indwells all – without distinction – who belong to his new people” (155).
My good friend Daniel Brymer once wrote a song entitled, “All that Matters is You, O Lord!” He’s right. Can you honestly say that? Or does the pigmentation of a person’s skin matter more? Or their ancestry? Or the year and make of the car they drive? Or where they work? Or the size and diversity of their portfolio?
Let us never be so arrogant to say that we know and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ if we cannot also say that in him there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, rich nor poor, American nor Russian. And we will never be able to say it, or happy about doing so, until we can fully grasp that “Christ is all, and in all!” All that matters is You, O Lord. Really!
Embracing the Full Gospel,