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Grace-Filled Community

July 15, 2018 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Colossians

Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 3:12-14

 

Introduction

As most of you know, I grew up in a small farming community in Illinois, and small towns typically are unusually warm and friendly. For example, when we drove through town, we would wave to just about everyone we passed, and they would wave back. If you did that in the city, people would wonder if you are getting ready to shoot them.

And then I left the farm and went to a small Bible college in the boonies of Northern Wisconsin. I was far away from the city, and again, Northland was extremely friendly. When people passed each other on sidewalk, we almost always made eye contact and said “hi.” Therefore, all I knew was that small town feel.

Therefore, when my college society took a trip into Chicago I was in for a surprise because I was going into a world that I had never experienced. And so on the first day, we got on the “L-Train,” which is the Chicago version of a subway and headed into the city. I happened to sit down by a guy in his 20s, and I was hoping to strike up a gospel conversation. And so I did what I was used to doing and said, “Hi, how are you doing today.”

I assumed he would be glad to carry on a little conversation. But instead, he gave me an annoyed look and said, “You must not be from around here. People don’t talk on the train.” He then put his face back down in what he was reading and ignored me. I was stunned by his response and turned away quietly.

I doubt anyone would disagree with the fact that we live in an increasingly rude and cold society. For a variety of reasons we have lost our sense of community, and with it our sense of duty to be polite and kind to those around us.

But while life out in the world often feels cold and harsh, God challenges us in the text before us today that life in the community of God’s people must always feel warm and compassionate (Read). The emphasis of this text is obvious. The church must be marked by the same grace that we received from our Savior and that he continues to extend to us every day of our lives. We must be a “Grace-Filled Community.”

I am so thankful that one of the most common observations we hear from visitors is that Life Point is friendly, but this text calls us to a standard of grace that Christ set, and none of us have mastered his standard. And so we need to hear the challenge of this text, and we need to consider how we can better honor Christ in how we love each other. My outline is built around 3 major truths that are presented in this text. The first truth is…

 

I.  God has called us to a higher standard (v. 12a).

Notice that Paul frames the command to put on gracious characteristics with the fact that Christians are “the elect of God, holy and beloved.” All three of these terms speak of our special standing with God and the fact that this standing requires that we exhibit a special care for each other.

These 3 ideas frequently appear together in the OT to describe God’s relationships to Israel. Of course, the church is not Israel, but Paul is almost certainly drawing on his OT background when he uses these terms (Deut 7:6–8).

Elect of God: This passage emphasizes God’s election of Israel. God is clear that his love for Israel was not based on something in them because from a human perspective Israel was “the least of all peoples.” They didn’t choose God; God chose them out of sheer love and in keeping with his promises.

It’s the same for us. Election reminds me that I am not a Christian because I am so wise or so good. No, you could say that God picked me out of a pile of rubbish based solely on his goodness, and he showed me incredible grace because he is good, not me. We have been granted a wonderful gift.

Holy: Verse 6 also calls Israel “a holy people to the Lord your God.” When the OT describes Israel as holy, the emphasis is typically not on their ethical character but on the fact that they are set apart to God as his special possession. And we can assume that Paul intends the same emphasis in our text. God has set the church apart from the rest of humanity to be his special people. We belong to God. Therefore, we aren’t just any people, and the church is not just another social club. We are God’s special possession.

Beloved: Verse 7 also adds that God “set his love” on Israel, and again the focus is on God’s initiative. In our text, we are called “beloved.” The idea in both contexts is that we are loved by God, not based on anything in us but based on his goodness and his purpose.

Therefore, if you are a Christian, your faith is not a testimony to your discipline but to the wonderful mercy of Christ. And in both contexts, it’s not just that God has done this for you; rather, 11 of our text is clear that Paul is thinking in terms of community, so the idea is that God has done this for us. We are together in the church an elect, holy, and beloved people.

This fact adds serious weight to our conduct in the church. Throughout Deuteronomy, when these ideas are used together, it is usually in a context that calls for obedience. God was telling Israel, “You are my people, so you better act like it.” And this is exactly what Paul is doing here. The fact that we are God’s elect, holy, and beloved people means that we must conduct ourselves together in a way that clearly demonstrates who we are.

In this context, this especially means that our relationship in the church must not be marked by the petty childishness that defines so many people. So many people blow up at each other, hold grudges, or cave to petty division, but this must not happen here.

No, we are God’s elect, holy, and beloved people, who in the words of vv. 9–10 have “put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man.” And we must live up to who we truly are. In light of this notice the exhortation that Paul goes on to give. The second major truth in the text is…

II.  We must extend grace to each other (vv. 12b–13).

“Put on”: We have already seen the idea of putting clothing on or off a few times in the context. Verse 8 commanded us to put off 5 sins that destroy relationships. And the reason we are to do this is because vv. 9–10 state that we have “put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man.” Now v. 12 tells us to put on 5 positive virtues.

I want to highlight the tension between vv. 10 and 12. Verse 10 said that if I am in Christ, I have put on the new man. God has changed me. But this doesn’t mean that I have arrived spiritually. Verse 10 goes on to say that God is renewing me or changing me. And now in v. 12 God says that even though I have put on the new man, I must work to put on the qualities that mark the new man.

Therefore, God does not intend for me to use the fact that I am a new man as an excuse to sit back and be lazy. Rather, the fact that I am a new man, who is “elect, holy, and beloved,” means that I must work hard to put on the qualities that are consistent with the new man. As I said two weeks ago, I must be who I am becoming.

And so Christian, as we go forward in this text, God is saying to you that these qualities are the nonnegotiable requirements of your new life in Christ. You must get rid of the vices of v. 8 and put on the qualities of vv. 12–13. And praise God that because you are a new man who enjoys the power of Christ, you can do this. This being said, notice the 5 virtues of v. 12.

Tender Mercies: The KJV says “bowels of mercy” because Paul uses Greek word for bowels. As strange as it seems to us, the Greeks believed that our emotions are seated in our bowels. We use heart very similarly. And so the idea is that Christians must put on a type of mercy or compassion that isn’t just a matter of duty or appearance. No, we must put on a compassion that penetrates to the very core of our being. We must be full of mercy toward those who are weak or struggling.

This quality needs emphasis in our culture, because America was built by people pulling up their bootstraps and making something of themselves. This is obviously a good thing, but unfortunately it often means that we are short on mercy toward the weak. Someone is struggling, and we think, “They made this mess, so they need to fix it.” And people often need tough love, but sadly, oftentimes, tough love is just our excuse for being wrapped up in ourselves. God is clear that our brothers need our mercy. Second…

Kindness: Our challenge with kindness is not that we don’t know what it is or that God requires it. Rather, our problem is that too often we are selfish, impatient, and even malicious even after God has demonstrated incredible kindness to us. Folks, it is vital to our life as a church that we are not rude but kind in our normal conduct ouselves toward each other and that we show kindness in how we care for each other through the struggles of life. Third…

Humility: I thought it was fascinating when I read this week, that we have no examples of this term ever being used positively in secular Greek writings. Humility is always condemned weak and cowardly. But humility was an outstanding quality of our Savior. He came to serve, not to be served because from God’s perspective humility is a mark of true greatness. Humility is vital to our life as a church. If we are going to be unified and pursue God’s mission, we can’t fight for the limelight or our personal rights. We must clearly see ourselves as sinners saved by grace, we must see ministry as a privilege, and we must humbly serve for the glory of Christ, not ourselves. Fourth…

Meekness: Meekness is another biblical quality that the world tends to discoun Meekness is a humble spirit that results in a gentle manner. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:1, “Now I, Paul myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.” Paul wasn’t a weak leader by any stretch. Both Jesus and Paul could be very direct and strong leaders. But Paul didn’t strut around with his chest out dominating the churches with his intellect and personality or manipulating them to right actions. No he spoke the truth, and stood firmly for the truth, and let God do the rest.

Again, this is so important to our life as a church. The manipulative person who shouts the loudest shouldn’t be the one who always gets his way. If God has given you a sharp mind and a strong personality, be very careful that you use them wisely for the good of the body, not to push people around.

Longsuffering: Longsuffering is such a wonderful description of how we must live with each other. Sometimes we get so frustrated with each other’s quirks and faults that we just want to be done with people. And we forget that we’ve got our own problems, and life with me isn’t as grand as I like to think it is either.

There’s no such thing as a perfect church or a perfect family where you will never be mistreated or neglected. And if you ever find one, you will ruin it the moment you walk in the door. Therefore, we must be patient with each other. Then in 13 Paul expands on ways in which we must practice patience, and really all five of the virtues in v. 12.

Bearing with One Another: Again this phrase gives such a wonderful description of life in community, whether with the church, your spouse, your family, or your friends. Again, we’re all sinners, and we all have problems, and we will let each other down. And life with sinners will require bearing the load that comes with our mess.

And it’s not just sin that creates a load. Based on v. 11, there should be people in the church with different backgrounds and different preferences for music, dress, and even the temperature of the auditorium. And these kinds of differences create tension, which is why we tend to cluster with people who come from a similar background, share similar interests, and who are in the same life stage.

But the NT says repeatedly that the church should resist that kind of clustering and instead move out toward every race, socio-economic group, and age group. And when we face the challenges of people’s sins, quirks, and different preferences, and we bear with each other, God is honored and we are blessed.

And there are so many applications we can make. I’ve heard people say they don’t go to church because they don’t want to get hurt. And Paul says that you probably will get hurt. But we must not run from the pain but toward it because we love each other, and we love the church.

I’ve also heard many people express frustration when the church doesn’t match their narrow preferences. They want a church that sings the songs they like and only those songs or where everyone dresses a certain way or holds to a very narrow theological perspective.

I read a tweet a couple of weeks ago where a pastor said, “I’m thankful for traditional churches because they give me a place to send all the old people when they complain about our music.” How sad that churches would push away a generation of saints because they only are willing to sing songs they like. Sadly, it happens the other way too. There are churches that are dying because a group of powerful old people refuses to do anything different from how it’s always been done. We have to bear with each other.

I’ve also seen people leave a church because someone said something mean or the church failed them in some way. And it wasn’t some systemic problem; it was one or two comments or one or two failures. People are going to let you down, no matter where you go, so learn to bear with them.

And I’ve also seen people shrink from the church because they are too proud to let people bear their own faults. It’s not that other people have problems; it’s that they are ashamed of their own. They say that they don’t want to be a bother or take people’s time, and so they pull away from the church rather than let the church bear their faults.

But that’s our job, and Jesus said it is more blessed to give than receive. And so if you have needs and refuse to let us serve you, you are robbing us of a blessing. And most likely, you are not being considerate; you are being proud. We must bear with each other. And closely related is the next action.

Forgiving One Another: Paul mentions a scenario that happens all the time. We have a complaint against someone that is tied to a sin. Someone did something unkind or unthoughtful. Maybe they said something inappropriate. And very often, we hold onto that pain, and our hearts burn with bitterness and anger. Sometimes we find subtle ways to make a jab, or we just ignore the individual. Or we just fold our arms and wait for them to apologize. We definitely aren’t going to forget. And sometimes even when the person apologizes, we refuse to really forgive.

But notice the standard of forgiveness that we are to pursue. God says we must extend the same forgiveness that we have received. Maybe you are holding onto some hurt today. It could be that the person has asked for forgiveness or not. But regardless, ask yourself, has this person hurt me as badly as I have sinned against Christ?

No matter what that person has done, I guarantee that you have sinned against God infinitely more. In light of that, what right do you have to withhold forgiveness? Of course, I’m not saying that there aren’t consequences to sin or that you shouldn’t confront a pattern that needs to be stopped. But it is never right to hold onto bitterness or to withhold Christian love because of how someone has hurt you. Christ demands that we extend the same forgiveness we have received.

And if you have never received Christ as Savior, then I pray that you will see today that you need forgiveness from God. You are sinner, and you fall short every day. But through the cross, Jesus offers complete forgiveness. He can take away your sin, and the Scriptures teach that all you must do to receive his forgiveness is to repent of your sin and believe on Christ. If you have never done that, I pray that you will come to Christ today for forgiveness.

And so in light of our standing as God’s people, vv. 12–13 call us to extend grace to each othe The gospel demands that we are a people who are full of grace. The church must provide a safe context for people to work through their struggles openly and honestly because people know there is grace and acceptance even while we push each other to a high standard. May God help us to live up to our calling as God’s elect, holy, and beloved people. And then notice a 3rd major truth in v. 14.

III.  We must put on love (v. 14).

Notice first of all in this verse…

The Supremacy of Love: Paul says that above every other quality, Christians must put on love. Love is the supreme quality that must provide the foundation for all our relationships. Of course this is the consistent teaching of Scripture. Jesus said that the entire biblical ethic is an expression of how we rightly love God and love each other. Love binds together everything that the Scriptures say about how we are to behave toward our neighbor.

And I want to park for moment on what this love really is because our culture has completely distorted a biblical understanding of love. Our culture equates love with passion. If I feel passion toward someone, we assume we love them regardless of whether or not we are obeying Scripture.

But when Jesus said that the whole law hangs on loving God and loving neighbor, he didn't mean that as long as I feel passion toward someone, I can ignore the rest of the law. Rather, he meant that the only way I can express true love that honors God and serves my neighbor is by obeying the biblical ethic.

So what does it mean to put on love for your spouse? Does it mean that you always feel these incredible romantic passions? Passions are great, but they aren’t the definition of love. No, loving your spouse means obeying vv. 12–13 and extending grace even when he or she is a jerk and lets you down.

And the same goes for the church. Love doesn’t mean high stepping into our services every Sunday on cloud nine. No, it means taking a phone call from someone who is hurting late at night or moving furniture even when you’ve had a long and stressful day. It means singing the song that someone else loves with gusto, even though it’s not your favorite. It means overlooking a harsh comment and instead praying that God would give grace for whatever has that person in a bad mood. Love is a stance of selfless humility that puts others ahead of myself. Our standing as God’s elect, holy, and beloved people demands that we put on this kind of love. And then notice…

The Effect of Love: This is an important phrase in context, but the meaning is not immediately clear. First, we have to ask ourselves what is being bound together. Is Paul saying that love binds together Christian virtues or that love binds together God’s people? Both are ultimately true, but in this particular context, Paul is saying that love binds together the people of God. I say that because v. 11 makes clear that Paul has the community in mind. And Paul used the same word in 2:19 to describe how the church is “knit together” through Christ.

And so the church is not united by the fact that we are all the same or that we are all naturally likeable and all have our act together. No we are bound together by Christian love that serves like our Savior.

And then the other question with this phrase is what does perfect mean. It can be understood as an adjective giving the sense of “the perfect bond.” But the word translated “perfect” typically describes maturity or completion; therefore, the idea is that love binds the church together resulting in or leading to a mature, complete unity.

And folks this is where we need to get if we want to be a grace-filled community. We’re never all going to be the same, and we will always have burdens whether spiritual or physical. But by the grace of God, we can extend the grace we have received to each other, and we can enjoy a deep bond that flows from a mature expression of love and grace.

 

Conclusion

We are the elect, holy, and beloved people of God, and by the grace of God, let’s live up to our calling.

More in Colossians

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Real Fellowship

September 16, 2018

Stories of Faithfulness

September 9, 2018

Relational Evangelism