17 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.
“whatever you do” has served in some cases as a justification for claiming Gospel-centric efforts in every sphere of life. In general, the Christian culture of the western church has used this phrase to point the church to consider everything they do as an opportunity for the gospel. Indeed, “whatever” describes any activity in which one engages. This word can be interpreted very loosely as a simple phrase meaning that any and all activity can be made to be holy. However, considering the context of this particular chapter, “whatever” seems to be a reference to that which was stated in verses 12-16.
As noted in earlier entries on Colossians, verse 12-17 provide an explanation of the marks of a Christian. Paul establishes that the new nature has come and is being conformed to the image of its creator in verse 10 and then explains what Christians do that evidence this reality. In other words, a Christian pursues holiness. Taken in this context, the “whatever” that Paul is speaking of is closely linked to a pursuit of holiness. So it is here that we should take a moment and ponder the divine truth that God begins and completes the work in His people and that the people of God actively pursue a holy life in obedience to His word.
Philippians 1:6 asserts that God began the work of sanctification and that God will complete the work. In Romans 6:16 Paul praises God that the Roman Christians have become obedient from the heart (the obvious implication being that God has wrought that obedience). Yet, the exhortation to pursue holiness remains in Philippians 2 and 3 as well as Romans 6:19-23. The work of sanctification is decisively a divine work that results in human effort. True Christians have been made holy and true Christians pursue becoming holy.
So, whatever actions a believer may undertake in pursuit of that holiness, as they strive to be more Christ-like, it ought to be done in the name of Jesus.
Names matter. When someone knows your name, they know something about you that is a unique identifier. Unlike simple descriptors of appearance, a name offers some modicum of identity and personhood. When we identify someone by another moniker, we de-humanize them. When someone is referred to as “that man” or “the one with brown eyes,” we strip them of their persona and individual uniqueness. Likewise, when we give someone a new name like “Little-John” or “Scrappy,” we are adding to their identity by granting them a new name that is perhaps more fitting. So Paul calls for Christians to find their personal identification in Jesus Christ our Lord.
A believer’s identity is wrapped up in the name and nature of Jesus. When people encounter a Christian, that believer should be so immersed in the pursuit of holiness that people cannot help but associate them with Jesus. In every activity and every discipline that a Christian pursues, a pursuit of living like Jesus must be apparent. Christian, you have been changed! Now live like it.
Some preachers enjoy waxing eloquently that you should be doing all your tasks “as unto the Lord!” Implying that somehow you could drink coffee in your half-awake stupor to the glory of God! While it may be true that you can pursue all activities with holiness as a motivating factor, it is a bit hyperbolic to apply every menial task to the glory of the Almighty. Though in some sense it may be true that believers bring honor to God by living a peaceful and quiet life, it is also true that one could over-think what it means to do everything in the name of the Lord. In short, God is less concerned with whether or not you decide to drink a Dr. Pepper over a Coke than He is that you actually engage your neighbors with the Gospel. So consider what you are actually doing to pursue holiness as you consider this verse. Remember that you have been made holy and are empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to accomplish the work.
Finally, all is to be done with gratitude. The heart of Christian obedience is gratitude. Thankfulness is so critical to the sanctification process that Paul mentions it three verses in a row. In 15-17 Paul inserts the necessity of gratitude in a Christian’s life at the end of each exhortation. True believers do not pursue holiness out of obligation or requisite demand, but out of gratitude for what has already been accomplished. Indeed, this gratitude is precisely what drives a believer to live a holy, gospel-centered life.
Further, when a Christian considers the nature of grace and the mercy of God, they cannot help but be grateful. Such gratitude levels the playing field of community. When life is lived with a full understanding of what God has accomplished in the lives of those who love and serve Him, then there is no basis for arrogant self-exaltation. Understanding that grace is a continuous gift of God in the sanctification of the believer further diminishes any and all self-righteousness. When a person understands that their identity is wrapped up in Christ and that they are empowered by His working in their hearts, then there cannot be a “better than” mentality. Morality becomes something that is a delight for the individual, not an imposition on the community. Do you know this grace? Have you grasped the depth of what Christ has done for you? O Christian, grab hold of this great truth: God has made you holy, is making you holy, and will make you holy. You get to delight in the pursuit of holiness!