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The old year is almost over. There are just a few hours left. The new year is about to start. If you could look at the new year as a clean slate, a fresh start, what would you do? What would your priorities be? What would you do differently than you did last year?
The context of these words of God through Paul provides a fitting answer to these questions. His encouragement is to put off the old and put on the new. By the old, he means the old man, the sins of the past. By the new, he means the new man, the things that are pleasing to God, that reflect his image, his holiness and unselfish love.
Paul understands that’s a tall order. He understands what it means to struggle to put off the old man and put on the new. You know what he shared in Romans 7 about sometimes doing the evil he didn’t want to do and failing to do the good he wanted to do. That’s why he starts this section by reminding us of what God has made us in Jesus. He says, Therefore, as God’s elect, holy and loved.
He reminds us that, in eternity, even before we were born, God elected us. He chose us to be his dear children. Because Jesus came to earth and lived a holy life in our place and then paid for all our sins by his death in our place in the cross, He considers us holy. Through baptism and the hearing of the word, he has brought us to know and believe that he loves us more than anyone else in the world, for who else would sacrifice their only perfect son to save a sinner like us? Knowing who we are, elect, holy, loved children of God; knowing what God did to make this happen; that’s our motivation, our reason for struggling, for doing the hard thing, for putting off the old and putting on the new.
When people make resolutions for the new year you know what usually happens. They start out like gangbusters, but after a while, maybe a month, or a few weeks, or even a couple days, the resolution goes by the wayside and they are back to old habits again. The guys I swim with over lunch joke about it. In January the pool is full, it’s hard to get a lane. We look at each other and say, wait a few weeks, it will be just us again.
We laugh about it when those resolutions are about earthly things that really don’t matter all that much in the great scheme of things, but it’s not a laughing matter when in comes to spiritual things and where we spend eternity. So, how do we keep from losing our motivation to put off the old and put on the new? Paul says, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
It is the word of Christ, the good news of our forgiveness in Jesus, that provides us with the motivation we need. So, Paul says, let it dwell in you. Have it become a part of you so that every time you face a decision, no matter how big or small, a word of Christ comes to mind. When you find yourself worrying about something, the word of Christ I am with you always comes to mind. When you are faced with some temptation, the word resist the devil and he will flee from you, and he who stands firm to the end will be saved, comes to mind. When you face a difficulty, a medical crisis, and you wrestle with God in prayer, the word of Christ yet not my will but thy will be done comes to mind. When people seem to laugh at you, or you suffer loss because of your faith in Jesus, the word take up your cross and follow me, and whoever confesses me before men I will confess before my father in heaven comes to mind.
In order for this to happen, in order for the word of Christ to dwell in you richly so that his words come to mind when you need them, you have to be in contact with the word richly. That doesn’t mean putting a Bible under your pillow, or on the coffee table, and hoping the word will transfer to you by osmosis like a phone on a wireless charger. It means actually plugging in to the word. It means coming to worship regularly, and actually listening and maybe even reading along and taking notes. It means being involved in some kind of regular Bible study, with a group at church, on your own, using the online Bible studies, so that you aren’t just reading words but actually thinking about what they mean for you. And, people like to down-play it in our world today, but the best way to have the word of Christ dwell in you is to memorize parts of it, and richly means more than just John 3:16. When you face trials or temptations in life the first line of defense and comfort will be those words that you memorized, either because you heard or read them so often, or because you memorized them on purpose. As I have told some of you before, when my dad was totally incapacitated by polio, in an iron lung, unable to move, what gave him strength and encouragement were the hymns and Bible passages he had memorized in his Lutheran Grade School and Catechism class.
What will happen as the word of Christ dwells in you richly so that you are reminded constantly of how much he loves you, and so that you think about what he says about every situation you face in life? The peace of Christ will control your hearts. You will experience what the world is looking for but can’t find because they are looking in all the wrong places. You will experience a peace that passes understanding, a peace the world can not give because only Jesus can give it. It’s peace with God that comes from knowing your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life because of what Jesus has done for you.
When the word of Christ dwells in you richly and the peace of Christ controls your heart, it changes the way you interact with others. It enables you to be filled with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience as you deal with others, whether in your family, at work, or at school. It enables you to bear with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint against anyone else. You are able to forgive, because you know that Christ has forgiven you, and has payed for that person’s sins too, even if they don’t realize it. And when it comes to your fellow Christians, especially the members of your own congregation, you are reminded that you are one body, so that, whatever you say or do to another you are doing to yourself, to a part of your body. As Paul wrote by inspiration in the previous verses, here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
When the word of Christ dwells in you richly and the peace of Christ controls your heart, it changes the way you look at worldly things. It helps you set your sights on things above instead of on earthly things. It helps you fight against greed and coveting and moves you to be thankful. It puts a song in your heart so that you, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. It moves you to do everything you do, whether in word or deed, … in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We had a wonderful example of what happens when the word of Christ dwells in you richly in our Gospel lesson today. God’s word was dwelling in Simeon richly. Through the word he learned about the coming of the promised Savior. Through the word he realized his personal need for a savior. He longed for that savior to come. He prayed for that Savior to come. He watched for him. And, in some way we are not told, God not only let him know that the Savior he longed for would come in his life time, but enabled him to recognize him among all the other babies who were brought to the temple courts that day. When he saw Jesus and held him in his arms he was filled with the peace that passes understanding. He was ready to depart this life, confident that he had eternal life because of what God had done for him.
The start of a new year seems like a clean slate, a fresh start. What will you do with it? I pray you will take Paul’s advice and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Hear the word, read it, study it, meditate on it, take it to heart. Let the Spirit use the word to point out your sins, and then point you to Jesus for forgiveness. Then you will have peace that passes understanding, a peace that the world and all it offers cannot give. Then you will find that your new nature wins its battle with your sinful nature more often. Then you will find that your words and actions are more often filled with kindness, gentleness, humility and forgiveness. Then, no matter what happens, even if you face sickness or death, you will find yourself giving thanks to God the Father because of Jesus.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in this new year.