Could They Tell?
Reflecting God in the New Community
What would happen if a person that had never heard the gospel followed you around at church? Would a person be able to sense the beauty and preciousness of Jesus simply by walking through these doors and observing our life, our worship, and our love? Would they see a picture of the grace of God in the way you interact with other believers, or would it be no different than the world? Would they notice compassion or self-absorption? Would they be blown away by kindness and gentleness or feel right at home amidst the gossip, slander, and back-biting? Would the glory of God shine through our humble obedience or would the stench of pride cause this person to reckon that the church is no different than the world?
I would say that Colossae was quite a bit like FBC New London. The unbeliever would see a touch of humility but still smell pride. There would be more compassion but still quite a bit of self-absorption. So, Paul in this section has the task of encouraging believers to look like they have been saved. He points out the work of God and admonishes them to start looking like children of God. I want you to notice how he encourages believers (the Colossians and us) in this section. Listen as I read Colossians 3:12-17
Paul could have done several things to encourage the Colossians. He could have chided them (beat them up). He could have reminded them how much they were blowing the Christian walk and threatened them with punishment if they did not start growing more. He could have given a riveting “just do it” type of speech; encouraging them to pull themselves up by the power of the human will. He could have given examples of people (maybe even himself) that are “getting it” and encourage them to reflect that. But here he does not; he motivates them with grace—sovereign unadulterated love and grace.
Notice how Paul motivates the Colossians (and us) to exhibit kindness and compassion: patience, love forgiveness, gentleness and humility. He does it by reminding them of God’s amazing love and grace. When Paul says, “as God’s chosen ones” that is jam-packed with deep doctrinal truth. Paul is using the same language he used in Ephesians 1:3-10. I will read verse 3-7. What Paul is saying is that before the foundation of the world (before anything was even created), if you are a believer, God decided to pour out mercy upon you. He decided, even before He said, “Let there be light”, that he would shine the light of the glory of Christ into your heart and bless you with every spiritual blessing in Christ. As verse 5 says in love He predestined that we, believers, would be adopted and brought into His family. In eternity past knowing that we would turn away from Him, knowing every sin that we have committed, knowing that we would never on our own choose Him—He chose us. That is what it means when Paul says in Colossians, “as God’s chosen ones”.
In other words Paul is saying: “Put on the, as those God has plucked out of darkness and brought into the light…” Then he adds to this by saying that we are holy and dearly loved. Holy means called out—separated from corruption for the purpose of God. God has plucked us out of darkness and brought us into the light so that we might be set apart for His glory. But this is not some cold and calculated plan. This is not some random lottery drawing in Heaven. This is not a heavenly chess game. This is based on love. Paul uses here the strongest word for love that there is: “Beloved”. Love, even “agape” love is not enough. He strengthens it with the deepest form of agape—which means dearly loved, or as we have it in the ESV, “beloved”. Deeply, dearly, intimately loved; that is the way that God views you whether you feel it or not. God loves you believer in a deep way.
Now in light of that great truth Paul says, “Reflect that”. Remember the first part of Colossians 3. God has taken you out of sin—throw away the garbage. Cast off all the earthly junk. But do not just stand there naked. God has also provided you with new, beautiful clean clothes—put them on. God has called you into His family, therefore put on clothes that reflect that. But put extra heavy emphasis on that first part, “God has called you into His family”. That is the grounds, the universal truth that gives fuel for the fire of reflecting. May the truth of God’s sovereign love and grace motivate and secure for us lives that reflect living in this new community. That is what Paul is saying here to the Colossians and us. God has transferred you into a new community. In this new community you cannot wear those dung covered garments of the old community but you must put on the new holy, beautiful, precious, joyous, grace-filled garments of the new community.
That is what we will look at tonight—our new garments. These garments reflect the King of the new community—God Himself. They are characteristics of God. Humility belongs first to God. Kindness is an attribute of God. Gentleness, Patience, Compassion all of these belong to the Lord first—and He clothes us with them in His grace. So, we will look first at the way God exudes these characteristics and then we will look at how we ought to reflect them.
The Greek word translated compassion is a really fun one to say: it is the word splangchna. Another form of it is the very splangchdzomai. Your splangchna are your guts, your entrails, your bowels. In the ancient world they believed that your bowels were the seat of emotion—not so much the heart. Can’t you imagine some of the love songs of the day; Olivia Newton John’s, “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Bowels”. Billy Ray Cyrus’ country hit—“Don’t tell my bowels my achy breaky bowels”. Elvis is lonely at the Gut Break Hotel. And oh how it changes our worship songs, “Open the Eyes of My Entrails”. But we digress.
This word is actually very important and a passionate word. To try to salvage it from confusion and laughter we will go ahead and translate it heart. What this word compassion means is a deep-seated heart of mercy that results in action. We see this in action in the life of Jesus. It is splangchna that causes Jesus to heal the sick. It is this tender compassion that Jesus has for those who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd—and so he tends to them. And it is splangchna that causes Jesus to do the unthinkable—touch a leper. God is filled with compassion. It is his compassion, in part, that brings about our salvation.
God is filled with compassion do we reflect that? Ask yourself this key question: What do you do when somebody is hurting? The lonely kid at school—do you sit by him? The kid getting picked on—do you stick up for him? The impoverished kids in Africa do you do something? The single mother, the alcoholic hitting rock-bottom, the confused, the hurting, what is your response to them? Do you have compassion? Remember it’s not compassion unless it results in action. I will say that again. It’s not compassion unless it results in action.
What about within the community of believers? This is really where Paul is talking about in this context. These characteristics ought to be most present within the new community of believers. Our compassion should be most evident with those who are our spiritual kindred. When a fellow Christian is hurting what do you do to alleviate their suffering? And not just your friends—the ones that you don’t even know. It may even be those that you know but do not like particularly well.
God has had and will continue to have a tremendous amount of compassion. May we open up our eyes and reflect the Lord with unbounding mercy and compassion.
I think we all know what kindness is. It is, in a sense, treating others how you would want to be treated. Luke 6:35 actually extends that. It shows us the unbelievable kindness of God; He has kindness even on the unjust—on those that hate Him and His beloved people. Could you be kind to someone that beats your son? Yet, God does this through the common grace of such things as sunshine. God is very kind. If you are a believer you know of an even deeper kindness. God was kind towards us when we were still sinners and He displayed this kindness through the greatest act of kindness in history by sending His Son Jesus to die in our place.
Do we reflect Him in our kindness? How do you treat your worst enemy or maybe your perceived worse enemy? The teacher that is unfair to you and does not like you—do you respond in kindness? Do you have kind words for others? Do you do acts of kindness? Somebody drops their books in the hall do you help them pick them up?
What about within the community of believers? Are you more apt to edify (build up) or tear down? Are you welcoming to other believers of a different background or different community? Are we as a local community of believers marked by kindness or jerkiness? Are our words dripping with kindness or sarcasm? Are our actions clothed in kindness or selfishness?
We talked a ton about humility during VBS—so we will only speak on it a little here. When we look at Christ being humble one place we can look is Philippians 2:6-11. But let me mention that Christ in his humility is unique. Remember that we defined humility as a “proper estimate of self in light of our sinfulness and God’s holiness”. Christ is unique in that He is sinless and He is absolutely holy. How Christ shows humility is that He thinks about and looks out for the interests of others above His own. Now, of course the best thing he can give us is Himself—which also makes Him unique. But Christ was indeed humble. He didn’t come in pomp and authority. He was not born in a castle or mansion but a lowly cave. He lived as a lamb though in actuality a lion. He rode on a colt instead of a regal horse. Christ exemplified humility.
Do we reflect that? Or are we consistently driven by competition and pride to be number one? Are we unbelievably self-consumed or others-oriented? Is it our goal to exalt the name of Christ and to exalt others above ourselves? That is true humility. What is your response when another is exalted? That is how you can tell if you really have humility. If someone is given props when you should have gotten the glory? What do you do when somebody shows you up?
Within the community of believers are we lifting up others? Do we go out of our way to compliment our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we welcome and take rebukes from other believers? Do we have a woe is me attitude—that too is prideful and not living in light of God’s grace. Is our community humble or prideful? Are we self-absorbed as a church?
I like what Jonathan Edwards said about humility: “True humility is not putting ourselves down but rather lifting up others. If we concentrate on lifting up others, putting down ourselves will take care of itself. As we go through life exalting Christ and others, then genuine humility will be inevitable. If we exalt ourselves then God will take care of our humiliation for He promises to humble the proud. It is much less painful to do it the first way.”
D. Gentleness (Meekness)
When you think of this word you typically think that a synonym is weakness. You think of the guy that never stands up for anything. You think of the gentle little woman that becomes everybody’s door mat. Even when we think of gentle Jesus meek and mild it’s in a tone that makes him out to be a mama’s boy. He’d never hurt a fly would he? We know he was a carpenter but I wonder if he was even strong enough to lift those boards. I bet he hammered really softly too. No, that is not meekness or gentleness. Do you want to see meekness? Look with me at Luke 23, where Jesus is being spit upon, mocked, stripped naked, and beaten. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. That is meekness: power under control. At any moment Jesus could have came down from the Cross. At any moment Jesus could have called upon legions of angels to wipe out everybody there and he could have saved Himself. But he didn’t. He chose gentleness. He chose meekness.
What happens when you are dishonored and insulted? Do you reflect the gentleness and meekness of Jesus? Do not measure this by whether or not you open up your mouth. Some people are perceived to be gentle and meek but they are just passive. Their insults are within their own mind. The daggers are not with words but with deep-seated bitterness. You silently ignore the person you are mad at. That is not gentleness and meekness. True gentleness and meekness will have a soothing quality; a spirit of grace and forgiveness. Are you gentle?
Within the community of believers are we marked by our meekness or are we hungry for power and control? When you do not get your way what is your response? Do you lash out? Do you stop coming to church? Do you silently plot people’s destruction? Do you manipulate to get your way? What is your response when another brother or sister is not exhibiting these characteristics? What do you do when someone within the church slanders your or treats your poorly? What is your response if the adults in the church do not accept you quite like they ought?
I like what David Fairchild says about gentleness: “It is a heart that doesn't need vengeance because it has been altered by grace. God's grace invades the heart and causes it to be aware of what price Christ paid for our own sin. This frees us to then respond with gentleness even when someone is harsh.” Does this reflect us as a community of believers?
D. Patience (Forbearance)
The idea behind patience is restrained wrath or anger. It is not necessarily a character trait but a way of life. God’s wrath is righteous—ours often is not. Yet, even His righteous wrath God restrains. Why are any of us saved? One reason is because of the perfect patience of God. The second we sin God would have been just to pour out His wrath—but He restrains it for the sake of our redemption and His glory. Have you ever wondered why Jesus has not yet come back? According to 2 Peter 3:9 it is because there are still some that are going to be saved—all the elect are not yet gathered—therefore, God continues to restrain His wrath; he continues to have patience. God is actually so patient that sometimes it ticks of the saints of God. Look at the example of Jonah. He thought that God should have destroyed Nineveh. God called him to preach to the Ninevites and Jonah refused. Why? Because Jonah knew that God was patient and He did not want to see God restrain His wrath towards them. Sometimes we want justice quicker than God is willing to give it. That is how patient God is. And we ought to be very thankful for His patience with us.
Do we reflect such patience? What is your response when something really ticks you off? Road-rage is not a Christian grace. Flying off the handle in anger (even if it’s in an argument about the Bible) is not a holy thing. Are you patient with idiots? Can you handle being around a little child? What is your response to a lost person’s sinfulness? Is it patience or is it wrath?
Within the community of believers or text gives us an extended meaning of patience, “bearing with one another”. That essentially means put up with one another’s faults. It does not mean dust them under the rug—but it does mean to endure with them. It means to struggle with them instead of against them. Also notice the “one another”. That kind of means that you probably grate other peoples nerves as well. You are not perfect. But people need to put up with you. Endure your faults and pray for grace. Does that sound like us at FBC New London? Are we a patient community?
I was convicted on this one by 2 Timothy 4:2 which says, “preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching”. That means whenever I am preaching and teaching and people just do not “get it” or change as fast as I think they ought—do I have patience? Or even with myself do I have patience with myself and with God in growing me or do I have a microwave spirituality that wants it done now?
God is forgiving. This is really the verse that helps us to see what Paul is doing here. He is reminding them of the action of God—because God forgave you, you should reflect that and forgive others. There is a parable in the Gospels that reflects this. Jesus tells the store of a guy that was forgiven a huge debt and then goes out and kills a guy that owed him a very small debt. That is a picture of the forgiveness of God and a picture of what Paul is saying here. If God could forgive you the massive heap of your sin don’t you think you ought to forgive others? Who are you to withhold forgiveness from someone that God has forgiven? Such an attitude is prideful and reflects none of these characteristics. It does not belong in the new community. We will come back to forgiveness in a moment.
The thread that holds every one of these together is love. This is really simple to see. If you do not have love there is no such thing as compassion. If there is not love then you will not see kindness. Humility is impossible with love for Christ and others. Gentleness comes from love. Patience stems from love. Forgiveness is the essence of love. Love holds it all together. If you get love, chances are you are going to reflect all these other things, it is the thread that holds it all together. It is the glue that keeps these things (and us) from unraveling. And God is indeed love. It is His love that He has given us that enables us to love each other and to love Him.
We need to define love because our view of love in this day and age is all jacked up. We think of love as this mooey-gooey emotional roller-coaster ride. Something you fall into and out of. Romantic Hollywood love is not what is being talked about here. That garbage does not hold a candle to the deep love that is being spoken of here. But what is funny is that the way we would define love would be to look back over these characteristics. You could go back to 1 Corinthians 13 and see that love is patient, but we have that quality here. Love is kind, but that quality is here. It does not envy or boast—we have humility here. It’s not arrogant or rude—humility and gentleness covers this. You get the picture. It is all a big circle that is held together by love.
So, lets try to get a little more practical and apply these principles. Paul kind of does that in Colossians 3:13, we will look at his example and provide a few of our own. Here is the way I would think of this. Draw a circle. Put the word Love in the middle. Then put Compassion, Kindness, Humility, Gentleness, Patience, and Forgiveness around the circle. Now let’s look at Paul’s situation in verse 13. Somebody has a problem with somebody else in the church, “a complaint against another”. Sally dislikes the way that Clyde teaches his Sunday School class. Molly does not like the carpet that Hank picked out. Clem is ticked off that young Billy wears a ball cap in the youth building. Billy is ticked off that Clem is acting like an old coot. What do you do?
Let’s run this through our questions. We’ll just look at Clem and Billy. The compassion question: Am I motivated by and exhibiting compassion? Does Clem consider that Billy was not raised in church so he does not know that this is perceived as disrespectful? Does Billy not know that Clem comes from a different generation that had different views?
The kindness question: Am I reflecting a spirit of kindness; treating them as I would want to be treated? Would Clem appreciate being called out in front of everyone for his hideous looking tie? Would Billy like for other people to roll his eyes at him when he expresses concern?
Humility, Gentleness, Patience, Forgiveness, and Love: You get the picture. Now it’s your turn. Let’s see if you can come up with situations that should be run through this.
What happens if you are really blowing it? I want to exhort you in a couple of different directions. 1) If you are not a believer then you will not be reflecting any of these. You do not belong to God’s kingdom you have not had the old clothes taken off and you will not be able to put on the new clothes. The first thing that needs to happen in your life is that God must save you. Earlier we talked about something that might seem strange to you when we talked about God choosing people to be saved. Sometimes people take that truth and they distort it. They take it passively and say things like, “Since God chooses who will be saved I will sit here and wait for Him to choose me” or “If God doesn’t choose me then I’m in trouble anyways so I might as well live like I want”. Neither of those responses is biblical. The Bible calls you to repent and believe in Jesus. If you do not then it’s because of your sin and stubborn heart. What you need to know is that you are being called to repent and believe in Jesus. The Bible says that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. You don’t need to go around trying to figure out if your “chosen or not”. The Bible never encourages unbelievers to do that. The Bible commands unbelievers to repent, believe, and call upon the name of the Lord. If you do so, then you can have assurance that you are saved.
2) If you are a believer and blowing it then I want to encourage you with two things. First of all you need to follow Paul is saying. Don’t be passive, don’t sit around waiting, don’t assume that you can’t do it—“Put on these clothes”. It’s an active imperative. It means put it on now! Pursue God and as you pursue God, pursue these qualities of God. Secondly, I want to point you back to verse 13. It says “as the Lord has forgiven you”. Trust in that. Even though you are blowing it God has forgiven you. Certainly, you do not take the grace of God as a license to sin—but as a motivator to holiness. God has changed you. He has transformed you. Live like that. It really is true. Because you have been transformed by God and His grace you can be humble, gentle, kind, loving, compassionate, etc. Exhibit those things. Stop feeding the flesh, throw away all the garbage and put on these things. Don’t question it just do it. Do it in light of the Cross and what God has done. He has secured all of these blessings—and is giving you the power to do them—so do it.