Colossians 3:12-17: Living together in Christ's Church - 8th March 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible Reading: Colossians 3:12-17

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One of my favourite football chants is one that Leeds United sing. It’s called “We are Leeds”. Do you know the one? It goes “we are Leeds, we are Leeds, we are Leeds, we are Leeds…” and so on. It’s brilliant. It says it all. For the fans who are singing that song, there’s not the slightest doubt about who they are. Imagine meeting a Leeds fan in full cry. “Who are you?” “We are Leeds, we are Leeds...” “No, no you don’t understand, I want to know about you, what makes you who you are.” “We are Leeds, we are Leeds…” “no, I don’t want to know about them, I want to know about you, what makes you tick?” “We are Leeds, we are Leeds…”

You see for that fan the most important thing that makes him who he is is not something about him in isolation. A thing that marks him out as being different to the other fans. The thing that makes him what he is is the fact that he’s part of them. It’s not his individual successes or failures that make him who he is. He and all the other fans are joined to that football team: when they win, they win together; when they lose they lose together. He’s one of them, and together they are Leeds.

Well what about us? Who are we? What makes us who we are as Christians? Well there’s a similarity isn’t there. We too are tied up with the success of another. We are in Christ. His story is our story. His defeat and victory is our defeat and victory – do you remember the pencil in the bible? We saw a couple of weeks ago that because Christians are in Christ, what happened to Christ has happened to us: Jesus died, and so we died – our self against God died, our sin died in Jesus when he died. And Jesus rose to new everlasting life, and so we rose too – we have new life with God in Jesus. That’s what makes us what we are, isn’t it? We’re joined on to him. Like James read for us before from Colossians chapter 3 verse 1 those verses which are in ever way the engine for all that follows in the rest of the book, Paul says “Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your minds on things above where Christ is…” Or verse 3 “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” What has happened to Jesus has happened to us; where Jesus is so are we. In Jesus. With Jesus. In today’s reading we’ve already heard in verse 17 we’re identified with Jesus – doing all we do in his name; carrying his name. We are all about Jesus. If we were like the Leeds fans singing who we are, we’d have to sing “We are Christ, we are Christ, we are Christ.” Wouldn’t we? We are who we are because of who he is and what he has done.

And that just underlines the fact that being in Christ, being Christian is a together thing. Like the Leeds fans: not “I am Christ” – that’s blasphemy – but “we are”. Have a look at verse 9: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator.” That’s who we are as Christians. We have a new self, a new risen self in Christ, a self which is being made to reflect the image of Jesus. That’s who we are. But notice how many selves get mentioned. Look at that verse again. You – that’s you plural, all of you Christians – have put on the new self. Not new selves. The new self. There is one new self. We are not little Jesus reflectors; we are one big Jesus reflector. That gets made even clearer in the next verse when he talks about “here” i.e. in this new self “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.” This new self is all about Jesus Christ and it is a together thing. Regardless of whatever other things about us would carve us up into different groups, in Christ we have a new joint identity. Back to the bible and the pencil, perhaps a better illustration would not be one little pencil in the bible, but a whole pencil case. We died with Christ. We are raised with Christ. We are in Christ. We are who we are in Jesus together.

I’m underlining this because it’s totally against our instincts. We always think individually. We talk about “my relationship with God” in a way that makes it sound like my relationship with God doesn’t involve you. Doesn’t involve other Christians. We all too easily think about “me and God” without thinking about “us and God”. There are still people who say things like “I’m a Christian, I just don’t go to church that often” or “when I do go to church I just want some time alone with the Lord, I don’t want to have to talk to all those other people.” Do you see? It’s mad isn’t it? Or, to put it more charitably, it’s a terrible misunderstanding of the gospel which has grown up in our society and which we can easily get used to.

This whole series is about growing together in Christ, isn’t it? Do you remember the motto? Well today imagine that word ‘together’ in massive block capital letters. We are in Jesus Christ. Growing in Christ is not me on my own in the gym with my headphones on trying to improve my personal best for godliness in my own little world with the Lord. It’s a team sport. That means it’s complicated, it’s messy, it’s sometimes frustrating. Training on your own is a lot more straightforward than working with a team. But it’s much much better. And it’s how God wants it.

Verses 12 to 17 is all about how we actually live the Christian life in practice. In real life. And as you look at them closely you can see that it’s all about Jesus, and it’s all about each other. Everywhere you look you see that dual focus – Jesus and what he’s done; each other. Jesus, each other. Jesus, each other. Everywhere. If you want to know how to be you as a Christian, think about Jesus; think about each other.

So, OK, how do we get on with growing together in Jesus? How do we let this new Jesus-reflecting self shape who we are together?

Verse 12-14: Be clothed in Christ’s character

If you sincerely want to imitate someone, you dress like them, don’t you? I think of our wonderful son Tom dressing up in his Spiderman outfit whenever he gets chance because he just wants to be Spiderman. We have this new identity in Christ, so we need to dress like him. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves…” It’s because we are who we are in Christ that we put on these clothes. We who believe in Jesus are chosen, holy, dearly loved, that’s who we are because we’re in Christ and Christ is those things. We’re not dressing up in disguise, pretending to be someone we’re not, we’re putting on the team kit. The uniform that identifies us as belonging to Jesus. Like football fans putting on the team strip. We belong to that team, so we look like we belong to that team.

And what is it we put on? Well it’s his characteristics. Jesus’ characteristics. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Those are Jesus things aren’t they? Jesus was compassionate: he was moved when he saw people in need of his mercy, he reached out to them. He was kind. He humbled himself. He was gentle with the bruised reeds. He was patient. Those are Jesus things. Dressing like that looks recognisably like Jesus. But they’re also together things, aren’t they? Each of these characteristics is about how we are with each other. None of them are individual things alone. You can’t be compassionate on your own. You need someone to be compassionate to. It’s a weird thing, but take these wonderful characteristics out of any sort of social interaction and they just break down, don’t they? Christlikeness always reaches out to other people. Virtue on its own easily descends into smug self satisfaction. Real Christ-like genuine spirituality isn’t sitting in contented isolation like a Buddhist monk. It’s being kind to people. It’s humbling yourself for others. That’s life together in Christ.

This is real, down to earth, dirt under the fingernails stuff. And it’s essential for a church to work. Look at verse 13: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” Churches are made up of saved sinners aren’t they? Not perfect people. We have a new self in Christ but there’s still plenty of the old dead self hanging around. There will be grievances. Patience will be called for. Bear with one another. That’s real, isn’t it? How many times have you wanted to not have to bear with someone? “Oh come on!” you might think. Can’t you see?! We want to fix each other. When other people don’t match up to our expectations we want them to feel the force of our displeasure. Paul says ‘bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.’ That’s not easy is it?

But remember, we’re putting on the team kit, which God has provided us in Jesus. We don’t have to make our own clothes, we put on the ones he has made for us. We will not treat each other in a Christlike fashion unless we see ourselves and one another through the lens of Christ. Unless we see ourselves and each other as we are in Jesus. Have you seen how that verse, verse 13 ends? “Forgive as in the Lord God forgave you.”

Treating each other rightly as Christians is about believing the gospel. We know don’t we that when we become a Christian we do so by believing the gospel, by trusting what God has done for us in Jesus. We don’t become a Christian by our own efforts, our moral performance, it’s all about believing the good news of Jesus. But I think often we then foolishly think that how we go on as Christians, especially how we go on together as a church is about our moral effort. How nice we are and how hard we try to be like Jesus. Grit your teeth and force yourself to love one another. No, says Paul, it’s still all about believing the gospel. The gospel says we are forgiven if we are in Jesus. Already today I have run up a debt of sin, of ungodliness, and so have you, but Jesus has paid my debt. I am forgiven in Jesus Christ. Whenever God looks at me he looks through the lens of Christ, he sees me as forgiven because of Jesus, he every moment is forgiving me because in Jesus I am forgiven. We need to see one another through that same lens, don’t we? We need to believe the gospel about ourselves and about one another. You may have offended me, but in Jesus Christ if we’re both believers then the gospel says I am forgiven and you are forgiven. Me forgiving you isn’t about how nice I can be or how tolerant I can be or how well you can earn your way back into my good books. It’s about me believing what God has said about you. It’s about believing the gospel.

Do you see how that might help? Do you see how in this way we’re not just trying to stir up virtue in ourselves, we’re clothing ourselves with what is already true in Jesus? Putting on the royal robes that we don’t deserve but which Jesus has given us. We’re believing the gospel about one another. That’s why we can forgive, and bear with each other, and be patient and kind.

That’s all summed up in the next verse isn’t it? Verse 14: “over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Christian love for one another which, as we heard right back in chapter 1 verse 5, flows from the gospel. Love which springs out of the truth of what God has done for us in Christ. We are loved in Christ; so we love. Love which binds, it’s not just an occasional warm feeling, it’s a personal commitment to someone which will not let go when things are hard. That’s Christ’s love. We who believe are loved with that love. So we can love with that love. Believe the gospel about one another.

Do you see that? As we believe it we do it. As we do it, well, we believe it more. Be clothed with Christ.

 

Ok more quickly, verse 15: be ruled by Christ’s peace. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body we were called to peace. And be thankful.” It’s ‘believe the gospel about one another’ again, isn’t it? The gospel says we are one body. Jesus died and rose for us so therefore if we believe in Jesus then we are one body in Jesus. Peace between believers is an objective fact. When God called us into Christ, he called us into a state of peace with one another. So again, we need to believe that. We need to believe what God has said about one another in Christ. And we need to let that fact govern what we do when the fall outs happen. Where it says “let the peace of Christ rule” it’s the word for ‘govern’ it’s about letting this peace decide what you do. It’s not just talking about a pie-eyed placidness when we look at each other. Rather when disputes or difficulties arise the peace of Christ must be what decides the course of action. You persist in fellowship, you’re going to continue to love one another, because of the objective fact of your peace in Christ. You are one body, like it or not. That is your starting point. The gospel says that. We need to believe the gospel about one another.

Be clothed in Christ’s character, be ruled by Christ’s peace, verse 16:

Be filled with Christ’s word.

“Let 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.” It’s a really simple thing, but if growing together in Christ is to do with believing the gospel about ourselves and about one another, then that gospel has to be going in to our hearts. And where does the gospel come from? It doesn’t come from our hearts, it comes from outside. The gospel is the word of Christ. It’s a message from God which reaches us through other people. Don’t listen to your heart, whatever Roxette said all those years ago. Whatever you do, don’t follow your heart. Listen to the gospel.

So a massive, massive part of growing together in Christ is being channels of this gospel to one another. That, to a very large extent, is why we meet at all. So that we can speak and sing this gospel word to one another. So that we can remind each other of who we are in Jesus Christ. So that can tell each other our story, the story of what Jesus has done for us. Do you see that? It’s one of the reasons why Christians are like coals in a fireplace – when you take one of them away from the others it goes cold. Because growing together in Christ is about speaking and singing the gospel to one another.

Do you get that? Do you see that? If so, speak the gospel to one another. Churches are to be groups of friends, aren’t they? Friendships are so important, as we go through all the experiences of life we need friends, we need people to go through those experiences with us. But actually, more than that, we need people who, as we share those experiences will say things to us like “remember who you are in Jesus Christ.” “Remember what God has done for you in Christ.” People who will speak the gospel to us when we’re in the right and when we’re in the wrong. When we’re feeling fragile and in need of encouragement and when we’re getting too comfortable with the world. That’s what we need.

Which brings the obvious question: what relationships are you in where that happens? Where you speak the word of Christ to each other? Are you in a housegroup? Housegroups are great for this. Talking together honestly, going through life together and centred on the word of Christ, every time you study the Bible. If you’re not in a housegroup, you should be. One to one? Is there a friend with whom you meet to read and talk and pray with? So helpful? What about coffee time at the end of the meeting today? The coffee questions on the sheet are meant to help in this. People sometimes find that difficult because there’s not really a culture of speaking the gospel to each other during the social times. We tend rather to make ordinary small talk. Well a culture grows when a number of people start doing the same thing. So here’s the challenge: why not try it today. Talk about a coffee question together as a starter. Just give it a go, you can blame me if you find it awkward. As an aside: if we ever want to get better as sharing the good news with non-Christian people around us, one of the keys to that is getting better at talking about Jesus with each other. If we can do it here, we can do it out there.

But also, notice that Paul doesn’t just say that we talk this good news to each other, we sing it too. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Do you ever think of this when you sing? The fact that you singing this morning is there to help each other? It’s not how nicely or otherwise you can hold a tune that matters. Some people don’t sing because they’re embarrassed about their singing voice. Like this is meant to be an episode of ‘the Voice’ or something. Rubbish. Believe the gospel about each other; believe the gospel about your singing. You singing your heart out is a good thing because it helps me and others here to believe that gospel. To take it to heart so that it goes in. Football fans know that, don’t they? Being Leeds is big enough for them to sing about. It’s not enough for them simply to walk up to each other and shake hands and say “Leeds?” “Yes, Leeds.” “Good, good.” They sing it. We sing the gospel to the Lord, yes. But to each other as well.

When I was at Bible college we did an experiment. For one of the terms we turned all the seats in the chapel round so that we were in rows facing each other. So that when we sung, we were looking at each other. And for the first week it was really awkward. But do you know, in the long run it was brilliant. It was a fantastic way of being reminded that we were in Christ. That life, the gospel, our singing was not just about “me and God.” It was about growing together in Christ. So will you give it a go? We can’t turn the seats round in here, more’s the pity. But we can sing our hearts out. However well you hold a tune or not. Will you have a go? Not for your sake, for each other? Because you’re in Christ together.

Believe the gospel. Remember what Jesus has done for us. Remember who we are in Jesus. Believe the gospel about each other. Let’s pray.