Grace-Filled Marriage and Family
Topic: Topical Passage: Colossians 3:12–14
I don’t typically preach a Valentine’s Day sermon, but since it fell on a Sunday this year, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on biblical love in the context of marriage and family. I’d specifically like to focus on an important aspect of Christian love that is sorely lacking in our society.
Specifically, the Bible teaches that biblical love is full of grace and mercy. If you want to have a fruitful marriage, a joyful home, unity in the church, and healthy relationships in general, you must, among other things, reflect the compassion of our Savior. My favorite passage on this subject is Colossians 3:12–14.
It needs to be said that when Paul wrote this paragraph, he was primarily concerned with life in the local church. But this passage also has a lot to say regarding marriage, family, and every other relationship. I’m sure there’s at least one thing in here, maybe several, where you could improve. My outline is built on 3 major truths in this text. The first truth is…
I. God has called us to a higher standard (v. 12a).
I’m glad our passage begins here, because many things in this passage are not normal. Our society has come up with many excuses as to why you don’t need to practice them. As well, these things can be very difficult. You may believe it’s impossible to show grace to certain people.
However, notice that Paul frames his challenge with the weighty reality that Christians are “the elect of God, holy and beloved.” Together, these descriptions offer great hope that we can fulfill this challenge, but they also add great weight to God’s demands.
They frequently appear together in the OT to describe God’s relationships to Israel, and Paul is almost certainly drawing on his OT background when he uses them in our text (Deut 7:6–8).
God says he chose Israel, and our text says that Christians are “the elect of God.” But neither choice is because of anything in us. Israel was “the fewest of all people.” Therefore, God chose them out of sheer love and mercy.
It’s the same for us. I am not a Christian because I am so wise or so good. No, God chose me based solely on his goodness. Therefore, if you are a Christian, God has given you an amazing gift. The fact that I have received such grace provides an important foundation for what is to come in this text.
Holy: As well, like our text, v. 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, because Israel was anything but righteous.
Rather, the fact that Israel was holy means they were set apart to God as his special possession. We are emphasizing through our 2021 theme, “Devoted to God,” that he has done the same for us. He has set the church apart to be his special people. We belong to God, not to this world.
Beloved: Verse 7 also adds that God “set his love” on Israel, which corresponds with beloved in our text. Again, the focus is on God’s initiative. God’s love is not based on anything in us but on his goodness and kindness. He set his love on us when we did not love him.
Therefore, if you are a Christian, you have been blessed by the wonderful mercy of Christ. We are the elect, holy, and beloved people of God.
And Paul frames our text with this fact, because it adds serious weight to the challenge he is about to give. Throughout Deuteronomy, these ideas are typically used together, as a foundation for God’s call to obey his Word. God was telling Israel, “You are my people, so you must be different.”
And this is exactly what Paul is doing here. God demands that we are gracious and merciful and that we resist the harsh spirit of our culture. I must work hard to put on the qualities that are consistent with the new man.
So Christian, as we go forward in this text, remember that the qualities of vv. 12–13 are the nonnegotiable requirements of your new life in Christ. God demands that you practice them.
But praise God that these three descriptions also remind us that Christ’s compassions is in reach! The fact that you are “the elect of God, holy and beloved” means that you can do this.
Notice that Paul follows the three descriptions of our standing with the command to, “put on…” This language is significant, because v. 8 commands us to, “Put off....” And what is particularly significant is that you can do this, because vv. 9–10 state, “You have (already) put off...” In other words, if you are in Christ, God has already changed your nature. You are a new man.
Therefore, when v. 12 commands us to put on these 5 positive virtues, he’s not calling us to embark on some impossible climb. No, he is simply calling us to apply the transformation that has already taken place. All of these things are in reach. You can do this by God’s grace.
Therefore, as we work our way through this list, don’t be forlorn as if God is calling you to something impossible. As well, don’t cross your arms and make excuses like, “God didn’t make me a meek person, so people are just going to have to live with me being pushy and opinionated.”
Yes, God is sympathetic to how your past or the weakness of your flesh may make some of this difficult, but he doesn’t give any exceptions. As “the elect of God, holy and beloved,” you must go after this, and by God’s grace, you can do so confidently, knowing God will give all the grace you need to change. God has called us to a higher standard. Therefore, the second major truth is…
II. We must extend grace to each other (vv. 12b–13).
In these 2 verses, God commands us to put on 5 important virtues.
Tender Mercies: The KJV says “bowels of mercy” because Paul uses the Greek word for our bowels. As strange as it seems to us, the Greeks believed that our emotions are seated in our bowels. And it makes sense. Once when one of my kids was trying to describe his sadness, and he said, “My tummy was sad.” In other words, he felt it way down deep.
Therefore, God is not merely calling us to practice mercy; he is calling us to become merciful people. We must put on a compassion that penetrates to the very core of our being. And then it must translate into merciful responses to other people’s weakness and struggles.
Nowhere should this be more evident than in your home. However, our families often have to endure the worst version of us. They walk on egg shells, afraid to set us off, because they know us more for anger than for mercy. They’ve watched us blow up over the smallest matter.
If your spouse is having a bad day, you immediately give it right back. Maybe you look at every issue in your home through the lens of your own comfort and selfish interests. Nobody better dare to interrupt your quiet time or mess with your plans, or you lose it.
But v. 8 commands you, “Put off...anger, wrath, (and) malice.” And v. 12 commands you to put on “tender mercies.” Love your spouse and your family deep down in your heart. By God’s grace, develop a heart of compassion and generosity so that your instinctual response to problems is not to be harsh or to guard your turf but instead to care, to give, and to serve.
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 even after God has demonstrated incredible kindness to us, we are still selfish, impatient, and even malicious. But it is vital that we demonstrate the same kindness that we have received. It’s such a simple concept, but it has tremendous power to transform your home.
Humility: I thought it was fascinating when I learned, that we have no examples of this term ever being used positively in secular Greek writings. The Greeks always condemned humility as 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 not a mark of weakness but of true greatness.
Humility is vital to loving, healthy relationships, because it radically alters your perspective and expectations. If you view yourself as the center of your universe, you are going to be upset whenever someone gets in the way of your agenda and desires. But if you embrace the heart of a servant, you will find joy in being a blessing.
Don’t spend your days dwelling on everything that is great about you; instead, focus on the humble example of Christ and on the privilege of having the family God gave you. Embrace the role of a servant. Fourth…
Meekness: Meekness is another quality that the world tends to ignore. It’s a humble spirit that results in a gentle manner. Paul exemplifies meekness when he 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.”
We all know that Paul wasn’t a weak leader. He could be very direct and bold. But Paul didn’t strut around dominating the churches with his intellect and personality or manipulating their emotions. No, he spoke the truth, and stood firmly for the truth, and let God do the rest.
Again, meekness is such an important aspect of love. Men, God didn’t make you stronger so that you could bully your wife but so that you could protect her. And if God has given you a sharp mind and a strong personality, be very careful that you use them carefully and lovingly. Don’t push people around or manipulate them into giving you your way. Instead, be gentle like your Savior, and use those gifts to serve.
Longsuffering: Longsuffering is such a wonderful description of patience. Specifically, patience always involves a level of suffering. But a patient person doesn’t run from the suffering others cause. Instead, it endures and is willing to suffer long.
It patiently and humbly absorbs other people’s faults, and it continues to love, even when doing so is costly. It suffers long. Then in v. 13 Paul expands on ways in which we must practice longsuffering, and really all five of the virtues in v. 12.
Bearing With One Another: For those of us who are married or have been married, can you remember how you imagined marriage before your wedding? You felt like you knew this person pretty well and like you had a good sense of what marriage would be.
Then you got married, and you came to know your spouse in a whole new way. Most of that is positive, but there were probably some quirks or character flaws in your spouse that you didn’t fully appreciate until you were married. For example, Heidi didn’t store her hair straightener in my sink, before we were married. And she probably didn’t appreciate how I could get irritated over such silly things either.
Anytime you get close to someone, you see more and more of their faults. Sometimes they’re just funny quirks, but sometimes they are very costly.
Maybe your spouse has a mental disorder or borders on one, and it makes life hard. Maybe he or she continually struggles against a particular sin issue, ranging anywhere from substance abuse to laziness. It hangs like a dark fog over the spirit of your home. Maybe someone in your home has a life-altering health problem. It significantly complicates your life and hinders your freedom to do the things you enjoy.
And maybe you find yourself frequently thinking, “This is not what I signed up for. I got married and had kids, because I thought they would make me happy. Instead, I’m stuck in a very difficult, costly relationship.”
What do you do with that? God says in v. 13 that genuine love “bears with one another.” It doesn’t retreat from the struggles of those we love; it runs toward them with compassion and care. And it doesn’t set a timer for how long it will stay; it runs to meet the need, determined to “bear with” the loved one as long as necessary.
Maybe, you hear all of that and think, “Yeah, but what about me? This situation is really hard!” First, remember that you have your own problems and that life with you is not so grand either. It would probably do you some good to spend less time thinking about all that you are sacrificing and more about all the hardships you create.
Second, I’d loving urge you to embrace the difficult portions of God’s will. I feel for people who are stuck in difficult marriages or families. But remember that relations, including marriage, are not fundamentally for your happiness.
I really appreciate the subtitle to Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Marriage. He says, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” That is so true and so contrary to how we often think. We must learn to value holiness over happiness, because holiness is far more precious and rewarding.
And third, trust that the Lord is more than sufficient to carry you through that hardship. You are his “elect…holy, and beloved.” If you are in Christ, “You have put on the new man.” You can do this, and God can give you joy and contentment along the way. 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 as a result of sin. It hurts, and very often, we hold onto that pain, and our hearts burn with bitterness and anger.
Sometimes we make subtle jabs, or even worse in the context of marriage, we grow apathetic and cold. We aren’t going to pursue reconciliation. No, “He’s the problem, so he needs to come to me first. I’m not going after him.” But 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 from Christ. So, if you are holding onto some hurt today, please let it go. Bitterness will destroy your soul and your relationships.
Then 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 dangerous patterns. 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.
I know that can be extremely difficult, but v. 10 says that Christians have “put on the new man.” By the grace of God, you can do it, so don’t make excuses about why it’s too hard. Rather trust in the grace of Christ, and determine by his grace to forgive as you have been forgiven.
In sum, vv. 12–13 command us to extend grace to each other. The gospel demands that we extend to each other and especially those in our own home the same love and mercy we have received. 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, because love is the foundation for all our relationships. Of course, Jesus said that the entire biblical ethic is an expression of how we rightly love God and love each other. Love binds together everything the Scriptures say about how treat our neighbor.
Now, I do think it’s worth clarifying that 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 for God and others, I can ignore the rest of the law. Rather, he meant that the rest of the law is an expression of how I must love God and others.
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 every other relationship. 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. And then notice…
The Effect of Love: This is a tricky statement to understand. First, 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 is clear that Paul has the church in mind. And Paul used the same word in 2:19 to describe how the church is “knit together” through Christ. So, love binds the church together, and it should bind together every other relationship.
And then notice that this kind of love leads to “perfection,” or more specifically, maturity or completion. The idea is that love creates a mature, complete unity.
That’s where you want your home to be. Your spouse and other family members will never be perfect, you won’t always see eye to eye, and the curse means that loving them will require sacrifice.
But by the grace of God, you can extend the grace you have received, and you can enjoy a deep bond that flows from a mature expression of love and grace. How we ought to pray that love would create deep bonds in our marriages, our families, and in our church.
We are the elect, holy, and beloved people of God, and by the grace of God, let’s live up to our calling.