Colossians 3:23 tells us “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Yet I title a blog what seems to be the opposite. How can that be? Believe it or not, these two statements are not in conflict with each other.
One of the most important points of Paul’s entire mission is to emphasize the power and importance of grace. If there was anything we could actually DO to earn eternity with God, then the sacrifice of His Son on the cross would have no purpose. The cross only has purpose because there is nothing we can DO, He has DONE it. However with such a strong message of grace, Paul still seems to periodically fall ‘under the law’. Doesn’t this contradict his overall message?
The subtlety between these seemingly opposing views is small but important and can be found in several places along Paul’s journey. Today we find it in a conversation with James in Jerusalem near the end of his journey. Despite the success that Paul has had, James seems to be chastising Paul for his lack of respect for the law and requests that he correct this. “Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.” (Acts 21:23-24)
James even goes on to give more instructions for the Gentiles who believe, that they too should practice certain parts of the law. Why would James be so focused on the law and why would Paul then immediately follow these instructions? Hasn’t he even debated Peter in the past about his over emphasis of the law over grace?
The difference between Paul’s debate with Peter and Paul following the instructions of James, comes to the heart of why follow the law. Even just a few chapters back we saw Paul have Timothy circumcised. How can it be that an apostle that preaches so strongly on grace, would occasionally have these significant times of emphasis on the law? The reason can actually be summed up by Paul’s own words to the church on Philippi. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Phil 1:27)
What Paul’s concern was with Timothy a few chapters ago is the same thing that James is concerned with now. If the desire is that the audience hears you and respects you, then insuring you are still living under the law helps to earn their ear, before you can win their heart. This is the significant different. In these cases, the actions under the law are not to win over Jesus, but to win over other men.
So in the end, these actions are not contradictions to the teachings of grace. If we were doing the things of the law to win Jesus, then we would be missing the boat. However if we are doing the things of the law to win over men’s ears… to eventually win over their hearts, that is another matter all together.
So as you go throughout your day, working ‘heartily, as for the Lord’, you are not doing so to earn favor with the Lord, but serving Him by earning favor with His lost sheep.
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