Menu Close

“The Centered Community”

Colossians 3:12-17
Bob DeGray
October 20, 2002

Key Sentence

The attitudes I wear to church determine the depth of my community.


I. My Clothing (Colossians 3:12-14)
II. My Community (Colossians 3:15-17)


        Everyone knows surgery is not done casually. No surgeon would walk into your living room in his T-shirt and jeans and perform heart surgery between halves of the ball game. Surgery requires a carefully crafted team of people. The surgeon, the nurses, the anesthesiologist, the assistants and equipment operators are all chosen for the part they will play. Yet they have this in common: they scrub and dress alike. They wash carefully, put on special surgical clothing, and don a mask to keep them from breathing germs into the clean air of the operating room. Only after they’ve clothed themselves do they enter that room and begin to perform the well-orchestrated dance of the surgery, working as a team to bring the most benefit to their patient.

        In the same way, in the Body of Christ, we have the same clothing to put on - the basic attitudes of our hearts toward one another. But we do play our own roles in a community focused on serving the God who saved us. The attitudes we wear are preparations for the work of a focused and centered community.

        This is the fourth week in our series on ‘one anothers’ in the New Testament. We’ve looked at the basic command of Jesus to ‘love one another’ in John 13 and at the practical outworking of that command in Romans 12. We’ve thought about the need to accept one another as laid out in Romans 14 and 15, and we’ve added from Galatians 5 that in serving one another those set free by Christ avoid the dangers of legalism and license. In two weeks this series will end, on the Sunday we move into the new building. This week we’re going to talk about several one another commands that prepare us for life as a church community.

I. My Clothing (Colossians 3:12-14)

        Colossians 3:12-17 is one of the great ‘one another’ passages in the New Testament because it bridges the gap from inward attitudes to community behavior. It tells us to clothe ourselves in ‘one another’ attitudes and then bring them into the life of our community. Let’s begin with verses 12 to 14: Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

        When a passage begins with ‘therefore’ a good Bible student will always look back to see what led to this conclusion. In Colossians 3 Paul is giving very practical instructions for Godly living, and in verses 5 through 11 he has told the Colossians to put to death the attitudes and behaviors that characterized them before they believed in Christ. In verse 9 he tells them to take off this old self, like a set of dirty clothing.

        The therefore in verse 12 is the next step: put on Christlike attitudes and behaviors. Paul first clarifies who can do this. “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves.” The ‘one another’ commands of the New Testament can only be lived if you first have a relationship of dependence on God. The people of Colossae were chosen by God for salvation. We’ve often discussed the fact that though we are responsible and must chose to trust Christ for salvation, yet God is sovereign, and chooses those who will be saved. These two truths are not contradictory but complementary and compatible, each showing part of the picture. Here, God has chosen us. Our salvation and life in Christ are dependant on Him.

        In fact, we’ve already been made holy by God. In calling us to Christlike attitudes, Paul is simply counseling us to be what we already are. ‘You have been declared holy and blameless, through Jesus. Take that holiness as your standard, and live up to what he has made you.’ You are also dearly loved. You are God’s beloved. He has loved you from all eternity, with an incomparable love so strong, so desperate that to ensure a relationship with you he was willing to suffer the shame, the punishment and the separation of the cross. God has literally loved you with the Christlike love of verses 12 and 13, with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. He has put up with you and forgiven his grievances against you in Jesus.

        The critical question that must precede all attempts to love and serve one another is this: Are you trusting Christ for your salvation? Have you given up on yourself, admitted your need and your sin, and thrown yourself onto his mercy, believing that he loves you and died on the cross to make you new? Only after you give yourself to him will you be clothed in Christ and enabled to live in his community.

        What do Christlike attitudes look like? “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The word ‘compassion’ is actually two Greek words which would literally be translated ‘a gut of mercy’ The first word refers to your guts, the place where the Greeks felt emotions were located - a gut feeling. The second word is the common New Testament word for mercy, the mercy God shows us. Put together, the two words mean ‘a gut feeling of mercy’ – thus compassion. You and I are called to have a gut feeling of mercy for other people.

        The same word is used of Jesus over and over in the Gospels. Matthew 15:32, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days with nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry.” Mark 6:34 “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” To be like Jesus is to feel compassion, and then to act on your compassion by meeting the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of others in your family, your church community and around you in the world.

        We’re also to clothe ourselves with kindness. This word kindness is not as common a Greek word as compassion, and so is a little harder to define by Biblical example, but I want to give you a DeGray definition. Kindness is being nice to people. It’s doing nice things for people, being polite to them, seeing where they need help, thinking of their convenience. It is meeting the daily needs of others not with harshness or indifference, but with a loving heart and attitude. Third, we are to clothe ourselves with humility. We’re going to focus on that next week. As with all these qualities, we’ll see that Christ is the definition and standard of humility. We’ll see that humility means letting others have the credit, the honor, the starring role, the last word. It means recognizing I might be wrong, not jumping to conclusions, not forcing compliance in gray areas, not putting myself above others.

        Compassion, kindness, humility. To these add gentleness, especially gentleness of speech. The same words which spoken gently can build up, spoken harshly can destroy. The same actions which antagonize can attract if done with gentleness. Jesus said of himself: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Are you considered gentle and humble, one that others can go to and find rest for their souls? Such is Christlikeness.

        The last quality in this verse is patience. Patience is always at the end of these lists, because it doesn’t mind waiting to be talked about. But it is critically important. Patience is being willing to wait. If you want a Biblical example of patience, consider the relationship of Jesus and Peter. No matter how often and how badly Peter blew it, Jesus kept patiently correcting him, forgiving him, loving him, and testing him until finally, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter began to change.

        Was someone in your home impatient this morning as you got ready for church? Did that impatience make the waiting better? Impatience leads to angry words, raised voices, and frustration. Patience is willingness to wait in these daily moments. It also goes beyond that and waits willingly for change. Your family members and your fellow believers are all works in progress. Maybe one of them is harsh, maybe one has a short temper, or is self-centered - but God is at work. Remember, change is hard, and your impatience won’t help them get there any faster. Think of how patiently God nurtures you toward change. Can you show the same patience to others?

        So your role is to clothe yourself in Christlike qualities. Perhaps the most important is forgiveness. Verse 13: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” To bear with each other means to put up with each other. In any relationship there are going to be some things about others that grate against us, annoy us or make us uncomfortable. Paul tells us to stand firm, without faltering, when we encounter these irritations in fellow believers.

        We need the wisdom of overlooking. We need to ask whether someone’s behavior hurts them or others, and if it is clearly sin that needs to be confronted. Often we will find that the behavior that irks us is neither hurtful nor sinful, in which case we need to be able to overlook it, remembering that we are not this person’s God nor this person’s Holy Spirit - they are ultimately accountable to God, not us. If God can put up with their quirks and foibles, we should do so as well.

        Some times what’s really needed is forgiveness. This is a core Biblical discipline for each of us. Relationships in churches and families are often wrecked because of an unwillingness to ask forgiveness, an unwillingness to forgive, and because of incomplete forgiveness that festers into bitterness. Look again at what the verse says: “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The Greek is structured so as to explicitly assume that there will be issues between believers. There will be many times we need to forgive, or to ask for forgiveness. Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother not seven times but seventy times seven. He told the parable of the unmerciful servant to show that as we have been forgiven greatly, so we must forgive greatly. Time after time he told us to forgive - and he modeled forgiveness, even to the thief on the cross.

        Verse 14: And over all these put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Paul wrote to Timothy that “the goal of our instruction is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Certainly the goal of the instructions we’ve been studying is love, a Christlike, active love, that binds all these other things together. Each one of these things is an attitude that leads to loving actions, to behaviors that show we care. That’s what compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness are all about. Like facets on a diamond, they combine into a love of perfect unity and beauty.

II. My Community (Colossians 3:15-17)

        I believe it’s possible for each of us to begin to live this way. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is at work in those whom he has chosen, made holy, and dearly loved. When we are made new in Christ, the Spirit gives us this clothing we are to put on, the clothing of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love. But dressing takes place in the dressing room. The surgeons, doctors, nurses and technicians scrub and cloth themselves not so that they can remain in the scrub room, but so they can go into the surgery and focus on the reason they are there. Clothing myself is only preparation for participation in a community focused on Christ. Let’s read verses 15 to 17: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The church is a community focused and centered on God. As individuals we are part of that community, focused on Christ, filled with the love he has given us and marked, first of all, by his peace. Verse 15: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Our ‘one another’ clothing is critically important to the peace of our community. If we haven’t clothed ourselves the way Paul described, our church community will not know peace, and we will not be able to focus on the one who is our center. I’m going tomorrow to a District Board meeting, and among the materials sent out in preparation was a very sad set of letters from two factions in a Texas Evangelical Free church. One faction was for the pastor, one against, but the sad part was the immature and unbiblical way this conflict was being handled, and the turmoil it has caused. Unless we clothe ourselves in Christ, we will not know peace, individually or as a body.

        The second mark of community in these verses is intentional nourishment by Scripture. Verse 16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” The word of Christ, of course, is the Scripture itself. When Paul wrote this he may have been thinking of the Old Testament, and also of his own teaching and the teaching of the other apostles, the verbal communication of the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. But as that first generation who walked with Jesus began to pass away, the time came when Paul’s words, John’s words, Peter’s words, the Gospel accounts were written down. Those writings, along with the Old Testament, became the Scriptures we have, ‘the word of Christ’, which tells of his coming, reveals him, and explains and applies all that he has done. It is this word, this Scripture, that ought to dwell in us richly.

        How can it do that? In our family we have a favorite chicken fajita marinade recipe. The ingredients are simple: lemon juice, oil, water, garlic, salt and pepper. Yet the chicken that marinates in this mixture tastes great. Why? Because the marinade dwelt richly in the chicken. How do we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly? By soaking in it. There is no substitute for time spent in the Word. I’ve been waiting for months for a good chance to tell you about a study I read while at the Free Church conference last summer. Someone was trying to see if length of time as a believer correlated to maturity. Not surprisingly, they found it didn’t. But they did find something that did: length of time spent in the Word. People who had spent three years or more in consistent daily Bible time were higher in every measure of spiritual maturity used in the study. Just because they soaked in the Word.

        As a community the Word dwells in us richly when we soak in it during our worship, during our teaching, in our men’s groups, our women’s groups, our small groups. If we want to be a Christ centered community we need to be a Scripture centered community, because as Jesus told the Pharisees, ‘These Scriptures testify about me.” We need to avoid taking Scripture lightly or relegating it to the lives of our children. Instead we need to allow the Scriptures to dwell in us richly.

        Furthermore, God’s word has a community function. By it we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. You may be gifted as a teacher. You may not. But when you have the word of God in your hand, you have the source of wisdom, and whether you do it gracefully or clumsily, you have a duty to share the wisdom you have seen there so that others might be built up and cared for. The word of God is to be the standard by which we measure all things, and the textbook of right living in our community. We are to neither go beyond it in legalism nor ignore it in license, but apply it to ourselves in love in all situations.

        The third element of a Christ centered community is worship: “singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God.” Worship needs to be a central focus of the church. If our goal is to glorify God and to be a God-centered community, we must gather in worship and draw each other into worship. Often that happens through music. Worship and music have been inextricably tied up since the time of David. That’s not to say there isn’t worship without music: there is worship in meditation on the Word of God, in prayer, and in praise. But the Psalms of David, the choruses of the temple singers, the poetry of Mary and Simeon and Zechariah at Jesus’ birth, and the music before the throne in Revelation, these are a special part of worship.

        Notice that Paul says specifically to sing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. These words overlap each other in Greek, but a few simple distinctions can be made. Psalms, of course, would be music based directly on the text of Scripture, ‘Hymns’ were used in many Greek religions to denote songs sung to or about a god. Here they would be sung to or about the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ‘Songs’ in Greek denoted a wide range of music, from idolatrous to ribald, and so the qualifier ‘spiritual’ has been added to guard and describe the content. Our songs are not focused on lower or earthly things, but on heavenly, spiritual themes.

        Let me say what I’ve said often before: I believe this verse gives relative freedom of style with significant restraint on content. The Bible simply doesn’t say whether organs, guitars, cymbals or flutes are the right way to accompany worship. It doesn’t forbid the use of any of these, either. What this verse does imply is that Christian music must have a Godward focus and a Scriptural basis. That usually requires words. I believe that music without an understandable text, whether heavy metal or classical, is inherently inferior to music that either has or evokes in us words of Scriptural truth. Music without words is like creation without revelation. We can sense God in it, but it takes Scripture to complete the revelation of his creative power, his love and redemption. The purpose of the music is to move Scriptural truth into your consciousness on a different channel than the intellectual: on the emotional and spiritual level. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs should catalyze your worship of God, should draw your heart into an appreciation of who God is and what he has done. Worship is one of the key marks of a church that is really centered on God.

        The fourth mark of community is mission. Verse 17: And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. The Puritans used to say “all of life is God’s” They said that everyone had a calling, a divine assignment in life, which might be either preaching or plumbing. That’s still true for us as individuals, and as a community. We know that everyone has different gifts and serves in different ways. That’s what makes us a body, many parts working together to glorify God. What this verse adds is a sense of whole-heartedness, sold-outness that makes Jesus the center of what we do. I was talking to someone on the Men’s retreat and I said that what really fires up a pastor is to see someone who has Jesus at the center of their life so that nothing else is as important as living for him. I think that fires up the heart of God too, both when he sees it in us as individuals and when he sees it in our church community.

        The final mark of community is thanksgiving. This is mentioned three times. Verse 15: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Verse 16: sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Verse 17: do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. A centered community will be a thankful community. A community that sees the tremendous provision God made for us in all things, but especially in Christ will naturally give thanks. A community that has discovered the peace of Christ will give thanks. A community that lifts its heart to God in worship will inevitably give thanks. A community that is whole-hearted for Christ, doing everything in his name, will give thanks in His name.

        You and I don’t want to miss the blessing of this Christ centered community. First, we need to put off the attitudes and behaviors that characterized us before Christ and to put on the ‘one another’ clothing of those who are in Christ, who love as Christ commanded. Second, we need to join with the community of the church in a Christ centered focus, knowing the peace of Christ, richly sharing the Word of Christ, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs in praise of Christ, living wholeheartedly the mission Christ gives and being filled with thanksgiving.

        The centered community is made up of those who have clothed themselves in Christ. This is very different from the surgery the doctors and nurses clothed themselves for in the opening illustration. There the focus was on what they did together to solve a problem. Our community is more focused on what we do together to celebrate the solution. We’re not dressing for surgery, but for a party. In our informal culture dress occasions don’t happen very often. But when they do we put on our best suits, or dresses, maybe even rent a tux, and we celebrate. We become a community centered, for a time, around whatever this party is for - a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday, some event in some person’s life. But as we clothe ourselves with Christ we become a community centered on him for all eternity. Let’s not miss the celebration. Let’s put on his attitudes and thankfully focus our hearts on him.