September 9, 2018
Steven Lee (North Campus) | | Colossians 3:12-17
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 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.—Colossians 3:12–17
We’re taking a short break from our series on divorce/remarriage. A few weeks ago I mentioned that we have three areas of focus this year here at the North Campus. First, we want to grow as a community that shares the good news of Jesus. We looked at Luke 19 and the story of Zacchaeus and his encounter with Jesus; Jesus has come to seek and save the lost. Today, I want to preach on our second area—our community life together, which includes small groups, but isn’t limited to it.
We currently have about 66 active, official small groups here at the North Campus. So, if I assume we have 10 adults in each group, that covers about 660 people, which means the other 800 of you aren’t in a small group community. Maybe some of you are in a Sunday school class, but I’m guessing that many of you are without meaningful regular gatherings with fellow believers. So I want to wave a flag for us to be in intentional, Christian community with one another, and to call us to live in that manner. Join me in prayer as we ask God for help.
You have probably heard the saying, “Don’t be so heavenly minded, that you’re of no earthly good.” The idea behind that phrase is to not have our minds set on heaven and spiritual things that we aren’t any use to those around us. That statement assumes that someone who has their mind set on heavenly things is increasingly useless on earth to those around them.
This is precisely the opposite of what Paul writes in Colossians 3. Paul writes, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Why does Paul write this way? Because for Paul, only those who are heavenly minded are useful and fruitful on earth. Only those whose identity is rooted in Christ—with a heavenly mindset—can live as the family of God here on earth. Paul calls believers to stop living like they used to, but to instead live as they now are, according to their new identity in Christ.
The main point in our passage is let your new identity as a child of God shape your relationships in the church. Because you’re a new person in Christ, act like it in community. Very simply, Paul is telling us what the church should look like.
So here’s our plan. We want to answer the question, how should we relate to each other as members of Christ’s family? What should be different about how we relate to each other? How is being a member of the family of God change how we think and act towards one another? There are five answers to that question in our passage.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Earlier in chapter 3, Paul has told them to “seek the things above” and to “set your mind on things above.” You have a new heavenly identity, so stop living like someone who is merely earthly. You’re an eternal, embodied soul that is destined for life with God forever. Just earlier, Paul calls the Colossians to “put off” their old way of life. So how should Christians relate to one another now?
Put on new attitudes of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Paul uses the metaphor of “putting on” and “putting off.” This is taking off the old self with its behaviors and putting on the new identity with its new behaviors. Another way to say this is 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Paul draws out a list of five characteristics or attitudes of a believer that relate to how one interacts and views others.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather a summary list that paints a picture of the attitudes and characteristics of a member of Christ’s body.
In verse 14, Paul then illustrates what those attitudes and characteristics look like in action: “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
The evidence of whether or not you’re humble, kind, compassionate, or gentle is whether you’re willing to put up with difficult people. This is important in the church because the church is full of people you wouldn’t otherwise associate with. The church—and very likely your small group as well—is full of quirky and awkward people. If you don’t have any of those people in your group, then you might be that person.
But Paul goes further. We are to not only put up with one another, but go the next step in forgiving one another. We no longer have any right to be angry or to withhold forgiveness because God has freely forgiven you of all your sins. Christ not only provides us the pattern of forgiveness, but also gives us the power to forgive.
If those closest to you were being honest, would they say that you exhibit any of these five qualities? Paul is suggesting that these characteristics ought to characterize the family of God. Or perhaps a better question is, are you willing to bear with one another? Are you willing to extend grace to others? Are you willing to forgive past hurts and wounds, even if the other party doesn’t necessarily exhibit remorse?
Could it be that our small groups or Sunday school groups lack this type of characteristic? Do we exhibit humility or theological arrogance? Are we patient with one another or quick to give up on each other? Do we bear with one another in community? Or do we selectively choose only those we like and interact only with those just like us?
In the church are a lot of hurt people. People who are sinners, and people who have been sinned against. Are you willing to forgive others and bear with one another, and lean back into community again? I know there are people who have been hurt in small groups. You’ve felt judged, shamed, belittled, or patronized by others. This passage calls us to forgive. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t appropriate times to seek reconciliation, or to engage in a peacemaking process, or to raise a grievance with someone else. But the mark of believers is to not hold grudges because Jesus doesn’t hold grudges. Jesus forgives even while we were yet sinners.
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
This verse is closely connected with verses 12–13, and logically goes with it. The picture is still of the metaphor of a garment, and love is the super-virtue that binds everything together. It’s like the jacket or big warm fleece blanket that wraps all those characteristics and attitudes together. The idea is similar to 1 Corinthians 13 where without love—even if we can exhibit all manner of spiritual gifts—is still empty and lifeless. Let love be the lubricant (like WD40) that smooths all the friction and tension.
The picture that Paul is painting for us is that we need hearts that are fundamentally different in their orientation. We can try to fake humility, kindness, or patience, but what Paul is calling for is love that comes from the heart. Practically, if you see a difficult person and you think, “bear with him/her” and so you try your best to smile, you try to nod your head to show that you’re listening, you try your best not to roll your eyes, and you walk away with a big exhale. That is different than seeing someone you know is difficult, and you proceed to pray to ask God for patience, to have a heart of love and understanding, to invite them over, and to search for how they have been uniquely made and gifted by God.
Stepping into community at church is an opportunity for you to love fellow believers. To lean into community so that you can learn who is battling cancer and needs help, or who needs a ride to and from church, or who needs a meal, or who needs a friend, or who needs a place to live for a while, or who needs prayer.
But I’m afraid that there are multiple myths at work with our North American, individualistic mindset. People mainly think, “What I can get out of it? Is it worth my time after doing a cost-benefit analysis?” That’s not how the church works. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul saying, “Is it worth it to me to write this letter, to risk my life in travel, or to be beaten to encourage your faith?”
Myth 1: I don’t get anything out of Bible study.
Myth 2: I don’t need socializing to experience more of God.
Myth 3: I’m doing fine on my own without community.
Myth 4: It’s too inconvenient to gather with other Christians.
The truth that combats each and every one of these myths is that this is not something I’ve made up. The church of God is what Jesus himself died for. Community is a means that God uses to bring about transformation and sanctification in his people.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
We not only have peace with God, but the greater emphasis is that we can live in peace with one another. We are one body, united and at peace with one another. In verse 11, Paul tells us how the gospel tears down all divisions, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). No ethnic distinctions, no socio-economic distinctions, no cultural distinctions anymore—we’re one. Live in peace. Be united and at peace with each other. There is no infighting and competition or undercutting in God’s new covenant people.
Have you ever been in the room when someone else is arguing with their spouse? You can feel the tension in the room and it’s palpable and thick. The awkwardness is overwhelming and you just want to get out of there. Here, Paul is saying that there should be no trace of that in the room among the family of God. Peace rules in our hearts and it becomes the principle that affects all our relationships with one another.
The best thing we can do is to continue to welcome one another—especially those different from you into your homes to learn about each other. Whether its different socially, economically, ethnically, background, disability, young or old, singles or mega-homeschool families, get to know them, and love them.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
The wording here is parallel with what came before. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” and now, “let the word of Christ dwell in your richly.” What Paul has in mind is that the “word of Christ,” namely the gospel, is to dwell in the body richly. The word is the centerpiece in the house of God, and determines the actions, motivations, and decision of the group.
What Paul has in view is that Christian can allow God’s word, at work in each and every member, to be used to teach and correct one another in all wisdom. The word is wisdom and that teaching and admonishing reveals itself in the singing of God’s people of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Those three designations essentially say there is a diversity of songs that the church of God can use to teach and admonish its people. Worship songs and hymns are biblical truths set to music in order to teach the church about God. This is why it’s so important that we sing together because that is a form of discipleship, and why we are careful in our song choices.
Utilizing song to teach and admonish is one way to practice these truths. We sing our faith. The lyrics we employ are important. Paul sees music as a vehicle and medium by which a congregation is taught and instructed in the things of God. Music points us to the truth and encourages and exhorts believers in their faith.
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.
Now verse 17 ties everything together with a general exhortation to that whatever is done—in all of life, word and deed—believers are to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve seen thanksgiving earlier in verse 15 which followed letting the peace of Christ rule our hearts and to “be thankful.” Then again in verse 16, we see that we are to let the word dwell richly, teaching and admonishing one another through singing, “with thankfulness in our hearts to God.” This repeated emphasis on thanksgiving reminds us that thanksgiving is a tool to combat divisiveness and disunity.
When thanksgiving fills your heart and mind, the thoughts of divisiveness, bitterness, anger, frustration, anxiety, and fear shrink and dissipate. Thankfulness is like the insulation in a house that doesn’t allow the cold or hot air into the home.
Only when we’ve been transformed and changed can we live in this way. We cannot put on or put off if we God hasn’t first put his Spirit within us. This call for us to live in community together in this manner isn’t something that is mainly “do more” and “try harder,” but it’s a call for us to live as we’re truly meant to live.
Everything is grounded in our new identity: “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” Paul employs OT language to remind his audience that we are God’s people. We are chosen. We are set apart, holy, for God and his purposes. Don’t forget your fundamental identity in Christ. You’ll miss everything in this sermon if you just think “try harder” and “check the boxes.” These behaviors flow out of our new identity, our new values, and our new life in Christ. The power is present now—live like it as a follower of Jesus.
This picture that Paul paints for us of Christian community, the body of Christ, is what we will enjoy in heaven for all eternity. Heaven is heaven because God is there, but heaven is heaven because all those called by God will also be there. If you’re an introvert, get ready for heaven. It will be a place where we will fully enjoy fellowship with one another. In that day, love will flow freely, and thanksgiving will be like the air we breathe.
If you find yourself noticing that these virtues are strangely missing from your life, I want to ask if you have truly surrendered to Jesus. Do you believe that your sins are what keep you from God?
They keep you estranged because God is holy, and we fall short of his perfect standard. And the only hope for people who fall short of God’s standard is a Substitute. Someone who will take our sins and give us righteousness so that God counts what was against us as no longer against us, and counts what doesn’t belong to us—namely a holy, righteous and perfect life—as to us. That’s what Jesus does. Oh that you would lay down your burdens, your shame, your brokenness this morning and come to Jesus. Come as you are. In Christ, there is hope for the hopeless. Jesus calls you to come and taste the grace that is offered to you and let all your sorrows find healing in Christ.