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by describing what the Scriptures proclaim to be God’s vision for his children – that is, to be conformed to the image of his Son Jesus Christ. Each one of us, every believer is to be a mirror reflecting the character of our Lord. We are to put aside the tendencies that come naturally to us in a fallen world – sexual immorality, rage, deceit, greed, filthy language from your lips. We are instead to put on the character of our Lord – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We noted that just as the characteristics of our fallen nature is to be self-interested, driven by gratification, the character we gain through Christ – the character of our new nature that is part and parcel of our life in Christ – is others-interested, driven by service and considering others better than ourselves. In other words, driven by love. That, in a nutshell, is the Master’s vision for the life of every believer. This morning, we take up the Master’s vision for his people – in other words, how we reflect the image of Christ in our relationships to other believers. To put it in the form of a question, “Is our life in Christ evident in the way we treat our brother’s and sisters in Christ – not only in our local church, but throughout the Body of Christ?” How are we at being the Body of Christ? To get a grip on what God envisions for his people we return to Colossians chapter 3 vv.12-17. We’ll pick up where we ended with the last sermon. The holy nature that is
imparted to us in Christ – the nature we are called to bring expression to, that demonstrates that we belong to Christ – is more than just an ideal we strive for. I was flipping through the channels Thursday night and came across The Simpsons. Bart Simpson, the irrepressible, irreverent son of Homer and Marge Simpson suddenly began worshipping Homer because he became part of a freak show that traveled with a major music festival. When the festival came to Springfield, the Simpson’s home town, father and son had a chance to catch up. Bart begins plying Homer with questions, ostensibly for a homework assignment. One of the questions that Bart asks Homer is what religion does he practice. To which he replies, “You know, the one with all the nice ideas about being good that never really work out in real life … um, Christianity, that’s it!” The holy nature that is ours in Christ is more than simply a nice set of sentimental virtues. Putting on the holy nature has real and practical implications for life. Last week we said that Paul wanted the Colossian Christians to know – wanted us to know – that life in Christ is a new life, with a new set of values we are to embrace and manifest. Being a new creature in Christ means that our behavior undergoes a Spiritdirected change. But even though it is Spirit-directed, we said that for change to come takes effort on our part, we must use our freedom in Christ to choose to act in accordance with the new nature. One of the primary places that the new nature finds expression – in particular, the key place where we can practice bringing the new nature into practice – is in the context of our spiritual family, the Body of Christ, the Church. And so Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, defines for us what the new nature looks like when it is
manifested inside the Body of Christ. Look with me at just the first few verses of our text, vv.12-14. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Before get to the explanation of the text, let me say a little more about the practicing this nature in the context of the church. Brethren, it should be a foregone conclusion that the church is the safest place in the world to make mistakes. Unfortunately, we often fail to make it a safe place because of judgmental attitudes and a quickness to complain or grouse about the fallibility of others. Many of the Reformers, John Calvin among them, held firmly to the adage “If God is our Father, the church is our mother in the Christian life.” In God’s economy, that is, in his plan for our redemption, particularly our sanctification – being conformed to his image – the church was meant to an instrument for nurture and change. In the same way our biological family is meant to teach, socialize, and equip a child to grow up into a responsible functioning adult, the church is meant to teach, encourage, and equip the Christian into becoming a responsible disciples of Christ. It is here, in this assembly, among these people, that each of us – you and me – are meant to practice the virtues and values of the new nature so that they are perfected in our lives. Here, where mistakes can be received with grace, is the place where we are to hone the graces of the Christian life
so that when we move among those who still walk in darkness we are channels of grace, lights in a darkened world, salt in a decaying society. That should tell us something. If we are to be effective, faithful disciples of the our Lord, gathering for fellowship, education and edification in our faith is not an option. We should lunge at every opportunity to be in the presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ – to edified and strengthened in our faith. We must make the most of every opportunity to minister within the Body of Christ so that we are prepared to minister to those who have yet to embrace our Savior. Now, returning to our text. As we said earlier, all the attributes of the new nature that is ours in Christ are others-oriented, that is directed toward others. Jesus taught in Luke 12 that the person who exalts himself will be humbled and the humble will be exalted. He also taught his disciples that if any wanted to be great in the Kingdom of God, they must become the servant of all. In the teaching of the apostles it is clearly mandated that we are to consider others more important than ourselves. Paul caps his discussion on the subject in Philippians 2 by pointing out that Christ took on the very nature of a servant, exhorting us to have this same attitude as basic to our nature. How do we practice that within the context of our spiritual family? What can we do that will help prepare us for being effective, faithful disciples around those who are yet outside of Christ? The first is to bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances one of us may bear toward another. This is no small matter because some of the grudges, hurts and wounds have been with us for sometime. They have become grafted to our hearts,
inseparable from our identity. We have nursed them carefully, lest they heal without us exacting reciprocation upon the offender. Our pride has been sorely stricken, we know we should forgive, but anger feeds our fear that if we do without making them pay in some way we will become a doormat – a victim of continued offense. But we are called to bear with one another. In other words, we are to regard one another with tolerance, granting allowance for another’s weaknesses. We are to accept our flawed and deficient brothers and sisters in Christ without condoning or encouraging their feebleness. We are to accord them the respect and dignity in keeping with their standing in Christ as God’s beloved children and image-bearers, forgiving them where we must and instructing them where we may. Again, this is no small matter. The exercise that most clearly mirrors the new nature at work in us is forgiving as God forgave us. Just as God delighted in showing us tremendous favor through Christ, canceling our debt of sin – really our debt of obedience squandered in sin – we are to delight in showing favor toward those who through offense have become indebted to us. Just as the love of God is made evident in Christ giving himself up for us, the love of Christ that is infused into our hearts when we received him as Lord is to be evident when we give away our rights for retribution, in surrendering our pride – which is always self-interested – and freely forgiving our brother or sister in Christ, even before they ask for forgiveness. Genuine love is always pointed toward another. Its very definition is self-giving – giving yourself away for the sake of another. Jesus, in John 15:13 says that man has no greater love than when he is willing to lay down his life for his friends. It is this genuine
love that draws all of the attributes of the new nature into one unified whole. Love is the root of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. It is out of love that the attributes of the new nature spring. When we show the sort of unconditional love that forgiveness requires, it is manifested in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Think about it! Here, with the people who are sitting on your left and your right, God has provided the means for perfecting the way you manifest the new life, the new nature. He provides you with us – this imperfect, maddening group of people who challenge your patience, who stretch your capacity for kindness, enflame your selfrighteous anger, and provoke you to heartless, ruthless responses. He gives you us, because as people called to image him, we can absorb your anger, your bent for vengeance, your self-indulgent grudges – we can bear with you, even as you bear with us – as we are trained and changed to make love our first and most basic response. And when love becomes our most basic response, the weaknesses of others become less important us. As Rabbi Julius Gordon says, “Love is not blind—it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less.” Jesus said that the
world would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another. That’s the Master’s vision for his people – a loving witness. The second way that we prepare to be effective and faithful disciples is by letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. What is meant by the peace of Christ? We often hear it described as the peace that passes all understanding. We have this view of it that it 1Tan, Paul Lee, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, (Garland, Texas: Bible Communications,
is this zen-like tranquility. A detached calmness that sweeps over us and allows us to ignore all the hardships and afflictions of life. But that is really too mystic an
understanding. If I may say this from the pulpit, it is almost too spiritual. The peace of Christ that is to rule in our hearts is the peace that the Scriptures describe for us – peace with God and peace with each other. Now, I am sorry if this takes all the mystery out of the peace of Christ, but simply stated Jesus’ work on the cross destroyed all reason for enmity. It removes the enmity of God against us by atoning for our sin. God’s wrath, his anger toward us is appeased. He no longer has reason to destroy us. We who were far off are drawn near in Christ. We who were objects of wrath are now the objects of his affection, we are God’s children. We have peace with God. That my friends, is the thought, the concept, the reality that is to rule in our hearts. And by rule I mean it should be the controlling interest in our decision making. In every consideration, the fact that we are bought with a price should be the governing thought. But the work of the cross – the peace of Christ – went further than that. In dying and rising to newness of life, Christ inaugurated the new humanity, the new people of God. Ephesians says that in Christ God took Jew and Gentile, bondman and free and combined them into one new man. That is, we were and are united in him. We are not the bodies of Christ, we are the Body of Christ. All reason for enmity between us is removed because in Christ all are equal. We are all children of God; we are all co-heirs with Christ. All other social and biological factors fall aside when we become members of Christ.
This is why Paul tells the Colossians that we were called to peace. And beloved, this is a reason to be thankful. The peace that we have in Christ is beyond all
understanding. Its magnitude and pervasiveness stagger the imagination. It is more than maintaining a clam, angelic demeanor when the world is collapsing around us. It is the pervading realization that all is cool between God and us. The more real that is to us, the less dependent we are on the esteem and estimation of others. The peace of Christ frees us to live as Christ would have us live. And the more we live as he commanded, the greater peace we experience, particularly in the Body. This, too, is the Master’s vision for his people. The third and final way that we prepare to be effective and faithful disciples is by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly. Henry M. Stanley, who uttered the famous quote, “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” found Livingstone in Africa serving as a medical missionary and continuing his search for the headwaters of the Nile. Stanley then lived with him for some time. Here is his testimony concerning the impact of Dr.
Livingstone’s life of faith on him: “I went to Africa as prejudiced as the biggest atheist in London. But there came for me a long time for reflection. I saw this solitary old man there and asked myself, “How on earth does he stop here—is he cracked, or what? What is it that inspires him?” “For months after we met I found myself wondering at the old man carrying out all that was said in the Bible—“Leave all things and follow Me.” But little by little his sympathy for others became contagious; my sympathy was aroused; seeing his piety, his gentleness, his zeal, his earnestness, and how he went about his business, I was converted by him, although he had not tried to do.
2Tan, Paul Lee, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, (Garland, Texas: Bible Communications,
David Livingstone had the word of Christ dwelling in him richly. He himself said, “God had an only Son, and He was a missionary and a physician. A poor, poor imitation of Him I am, or wish to be.” It was his intention to image Christ, to evidence the new life and attributes of the new nature in his living. What David Livingstone did in isolation – remember, he was a missionary in darkest Africa in an age when traveling into the interior of that continent meant almost certain loss of life – God desires for his people. He wants the word of Christ to dwell in us richly, not only as individual believers, but as a body. He wants us to know and experience the word of Christ abundantly, exceeding the normal experience. He doesn’t want us to have just an adequate amount, his desire for us is to have the word of Christ overflowing, spilling over the rim of our lives together and out into our community. What exactly is the word of Christ that it should dwell in us so richly? It is the teaching of and about Jesus Christ. In other words, it is the whole of the Scriptures – transmitted orally in the day of the Colossians, but written down for us and contained in the pages of the Bible. It is this Word that is to dwell in us richly, finding expression in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. It is this Word that we are to have stored in
abundance in our heart so that we may teach, encourage and admonish one another with all wisdom, overflowing in gratitude. And why this Word? Because when this Word dwells in us richly, it changes us – renews our minds – so that our most basic response is love, the evidence of the new nature at work in us. It is this Word that will teach us and leading us to embrace the Spirit’s leading, enabling us to bear with one another, forgiving
long held grievances. It is this Word that will so shape our lives together, that whatever we do in word or in deed, will be done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, with a spirit of gratitude. This, too, is the Master’s vision for his people. People of God, this is our training ground. The place where we are to be shaped for service – where we can safely make mistakes and experience the first thrilling victories in Christ. Here, in the midst of friends – of our spiritual family really – we can risk much and receive much. Here, we can go though the growing pains that will prepare us to bear the image of Christ among those who are yet strangers to the promise. Here, we can be molded into effective, faithful disciples. Here, we can learn what it means to manifest the new nature we receive in Christ. But for all that to happen, we must be here – not in this building necessarily, but part of this assembly. This is not my vision – although I share it, it is not original with me. It is the Father who desires to see Christ in us, his peace ruling us, his word abundantly inhabiting our congregation. It is the Master’s vision for his people.
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