The Habits We Form

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Life is tough enough without adding to its difficulties with our own bad decisions and actions. These are the result of habits that we have formed over our lives. Habits come in two forms: good and bad. It is generally our bad habits that cause most of our difficulties. Paul understands this too and is challenging the Colossians in this passage to recognize those things in their lives that they need to let go of, or to change.

What are some of the old, bad habits we develop over a lifetime? Paul tells the Colossians: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” Then he gives a fair list of the things that our earthly nature often turns into idols: “sexual immorality, evil desires of all kinds, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.” (verses 5&7) The problem with these habits, better named, vices, is that their focus is exclusively on the self. They are the products of self-centeredness and they are largely focused on the things of the material world, not on the things of God.

When we recognize, either by self-reflection, or by unwanted experiences, that our problems are the result of our own bad habits, we have a choice; remain stuck in that bad habit, or replace it with a new one, a good habit. What are some of the habits that we could develop to replace the vices listed above? Paul helps us here too. He writes: “Therefore…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forgiveness and above all, love.” (verses 12-14) We can see, immediately, the difference between these habits and those listed above. These are all outward oriented actions. They are the actions of love, rather than of selfishness. These habits are more properly called virtues. What Paul is counselling here is the development of moral character. It is these virtuous habits that are proper to our spiritual nature.

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We are to encourage one another as Christian brothers and sisters in this life long effort. A wise, Russian Orthodox philosopher, Nicolai Berdyaev, once wrote: “The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question.” If our focus is always on the earthly, the material things, greedily pursuing them for our own aggrandizement, we will find ourselves in a living hell. On the other hand, if we develop the habits of recognizing and responding to the very real and great needs of others, for even a simple crust of bread, and if we respond to their suffering out of our love for God, we will be living in accord with our spiritual nature and we will find ourselves living lives filled with joy and gratitude. This kind of act is an act of love. It is a habit of the spirit. This is living the Christ life in this earthly world. In such things God’s grace abounds. Thanks be to God!

Paul encourages us to, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…” (verses 15-16) How are we to do this? By developing the habits of prayer and communal worship, and active service. “And whatever you do , whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Lord, help us to develop the habits of love in our lives. The world is in great need. Give us the courage and the strength to turn away from any habits that prevent us from being able to love others as you loved us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.
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