Colossians 3: God’s Love
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People have significance in relation to Christ
Last week: the negative
Last week we talked about the things that characterized our life apart from God. And some of those things were kind of negative. Paul says to “put them all aside.” And “consider yourself dead to them.” These were phrases which said, “Make a choice. Are you going to be into these things or are you going to turn your life over to God.”
Let’s now look into what it is all about to turn your life over to God.
I said last week that where things start is in our relationships. When you look at the list of things that God would like to change in v.8, 9, they all have to do with relationships.
Paul goes on and says, “Put on your new self.” He is saying that there is a new life you can take up. You don’t just lay aside the old one, you take up the new one–a life that is intensely relational.
As Paul starts to explain how relationships in the Lord ought to work, one thing he sees as imperative is that we lay aside the distinctions and barriers that so characterize relationships elsewhere.
When we talk about distinctions, we are talking about something that is absolutely assumed and basic in the world around us. Everybody is part of a group. The whole thing in the world is being part of a group.
In fact, in your come-off to other people it is important to communicate that you are already part of a group, isn’t it? That’s what the cool come-off is all about. “I don’t need you, I already have a whole clique I’m a part of.”
And this attitude is extended even further when we get to some of the major distinctions we hold. There are major barriers where we wouldn’t even consider being friends with someone from the other side. So, our demeanor with these sorts is like they don’t even exist.
But here, Paul says that’s got to go. God may want you to have relationships with people who are very different from you.
A slave and a master
For example, he says here, slaves and master should comingle as if there were no difference! Here you could come into a church, and Paul is saying that a slave and a master should be buddies! A master might sit down, and have a slave stand up to do the teaching! Because there is no distinction.
This is so radical. These people are coming from two totally different backgrounds, and Paul is saying there is no distinction.
Example: To think of a contemporary example of such extremes, you would have to picture someone rich and powerful coming to hang out with some of us here. And not just hang out, like a visit from the president or something. But really make friends and have a peer relationship.
But this principle applies to the more subtle distinctions that exist right here already, between us. Because we do have distinctions and types of people we would just prefer not to associate with.
Let me say that this is OK, if you’re just trying to be a person in this world . . . But if you intend to grow spiritually, and you intend to learn what it means to have real love relationships with other people, then this whole idea of drawing lines and chosing who you will and will not associate with has got to go.
Example: I know this has been a big issue with me, since I can get real judgmental, stuck up and picky about people. And I consider myself fortunate in some ways to have come into a church where people were very different . . .
Some of you may like the fact that in this group you can find so many people similar. But let me say that may not be so good if . . .
What should we measure ourselves by?
Paul’s point is that people have significance because of their relation to Christ. That person over there is great because he has God’s Spirit.
Example: I remember one of the first people I really believed this about and started to have a relationship with was this guy I met at one of the meetings. And he was this tall, thin, hill-billy type of guy who smoked a pipe. I started up a relationship with this guy. And we would spend all kinds of time discussing the things of life. And I was always amazed, every time we got together I would come away with an idea or piece of wisdom that just really got me excited. He would sit back and say, “Now Buuuck, I don’t know too much but . . .” This guy was one of people in my life who really helped me to get on track with God. And he also helped to teach me that everyone has something to offer . . .
Here’s the fact: Since God works through people to help us, if you won’t associate with certain types in the church, you may be depriving yourself of what God has for you. You may miss out on the help and strength God has for you.
His love for us is the basis
Paul goes on here in v. 12 and talks about our relationship with God. Again, he calls to mind the relationship we have with God, as Christians.
It’s been interesting for me to speculate over the years why it is that some folks are sold on the idea of loving others and some folks aren’t. Because you see this. You see people who just aren’t really interested in doing anything for anyone. They don’t want to learn how even . . .
And the main point of distinction between those who do have a burden to love others and those who don’t, as I have come to see it, is because some have been stricken by the fact that God loves them. I say “stricken” because so many assume God loves them. Or, at least they believe it is more or less their right that he look on them favorably.
Example: It’s like one person you could go to and say, “God loves you,” and their answer would be, “No way!” Then another person you could go to and say, “God loves you,” and their reply would be, “Whew! That’s kind of what I had hoped.” In other words, that’s the kind of attitude they were counting on. You couldn’t really say that they felt they deserved it, but they were figuring on it nonetheless. They figured they probably deserved it as much as the next guy.
Now, which attitude do you think is the most frequent?
This is why people have such a hard time loving anyone. Once again, there is a difference between feeling like “I’d kinda like to help folks,” and “I must share this love with others!” We have to be stricken by God’s love for us. It is undeserved . . .
The Bible itself acknowledges this difference.
Example: Luke 7
Example: This was one of the reasons that Paul kept citing for his high motivation in serving others. He considered himself what he called, “the foremost of sinners.” He couldn’t believe that God had reached out to him to love him after he had actually killed Christians. So Paul even says in one passage that the love of Christ compels him to do the work he did. He had to give that love away.
So I really think that the Scriptures teach us that someone who is overwhelmed with God’s love feels a strong burden to love others.
In fact, this is true to the extent that in many places, the inner drive to love others is seen by the Bible as the identifying mark of a Christian. Jesus said it, John says it . . .
But the reason that love is the mark of a Christian is not because in order to be a Christian you have to love. The reason is that Christians have experienced something that makes us want to love. It is an experience is universal to all Christians, and you cannot even be a Christian without having it.
The Bible puts it like this: There must first be an awareness of our own sin. Because God’s position is that we need to be forgiven. It’s only when we have been forgiven for our sins that we can come into his presence.
And the net effect of this is that we become acutely aware of a love from God, which we do not deserve. In other words, to be a Christian is not just to say, “Yeah, God is a God of love and I believe that.” To be a Christian is to come to God and say, “I believe you love me, even though I don’t deserve it!” This is part and parcel of seeing our sin before God.
Example: As it says in Rom. 5 . . .
This, then, is why the Bible says of Christians that they have the quality of loving others in their lives. Because we’ve all experienced love that we don’t deserve.
Let me just say as a qualifier here that this does not always happen. Sometimes a Christian will experience God’s love, undeserved, and they will not make the connection to love others. I’ll tell you the reason I believe this to be: It’s because we forget. We quickly forget that we are undeserving. We quickly forget the real power of God’s love.
Example: The Bible tells a story about this in Luke 17 where Jesus healed 10 lepers. Here are 10 guys who were going to die. And they were going to die in the most gruesome manner. We don’t see it much today, but leprosy is pretty uncool . . . And so, they cry out for mercy from Jesus. And he tells them to go and be healed by washing and presenting themselves to the priests. On the way, they were healed, and only one of them turns back to give credit to Christ. The rest go their own way . . .
We’re so excited often to be forgiven by God and have his love. But then it’s also the first thing out of our consciousness sometimes too.
This is why it is, then, that some find it so hard to love.
The lessons we learn first
Paul goes into quite a few things that should typify our relationships with each other. I just want to take a few and look at them as we have time.
Heart of compassion
What this is is the new perspective we get on people as our attitude changes. It has to do with seeing weaknesses in people. Before, we saw weaknesses as something to be disdained and judged. But now, our heart goes out to people. We begin to see needs where before we saw glaring faults . . .
I want to tell you, this has been such a struggle for me. But this heart of compassion, for me, and and I think for others as well, is really an indicator of how we’re doing in this whole area of loving each other. Because you can’t talk about love unless you look out and you see the people who are having trouble, the people who are different than you, and you have a heart of compassion towards them.
This is absolutely basic.
Example: I said I’ve had trouble here. And I mean real trouble. I’m the kind of person who is naturally cruel and judgmental. I know it, no one has to tell me. In fact, in 7th grade, I was thrown out of school for giving an English paper in front of the entire class which ridiculed one of our classmates–a guy I constantly picked on.
So, this is an ability which, for me at least, has to come from God. Because what is natural is for me to be hard and uncompassionate with people. So this is why it is one of the first areas the Lord went to work on in my life, and the area he has kept up consistent pressure on ever since.
Example: I don’t think my experience is unsual. But when I first started coming around here, I felt like I was surrounded by people with a lot of problems. And the choice was clear to me, I either figure out how to care about people with problems, or I remain a little island.
Example: And I remember one conversation that still sticks in my mind that relates to this whole area of having compassion on people. You know sometimes when you find out about someone’s problems, and you’re amazed? You know when your mouth drops open? This happened one time, and I asked this guy I was driving with, “How will he ever overcome that!?” And he said to me, “You might find you’ve got a few of those yourself someday.”
This is at the heart of our ability to have compassion on people. We have to see what God has done with us. I have to say, “If God can work with me, and change me, then he can change anybody.”
The point is that you begin to see hope for people. You see your own sin and your own weaknesses, and you start to view others as people who also need help and compasion: “If they got it, they would change too!”
Another big theme we see here is the idea of forgiving each other and being patient with each other’s sins. There are few things that screw up Christians as much as this area. A failure in this area is like poison.
The very life-blood of the Christian life is love–love between us and God, love between us and others. And our lack of forgiveness, our intolerance of other’s sins is like poison in all that . . .
And we have so many excuses and rationalizations for basically an inability to forgive and tolerate other’s sins.
Example: Sometimes we’ll say, “There’s just a personality conflict between me and him.” What does that mean? Sometimes we speak of this as if it’s their smell . . . It’s that certain things he does bother me. I don’t want to forgive him and just tolerate his sins.
Example: Sometimes we’ll rationalize our failure to forgive by saying, “There’s no hope of resolution with him.” And the implication is that it’s his fault.
Example: “He doesn’t like me.” Here’s a real common one that’s just full of irony . . .
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. Forgiveness is not exactly easy. I have never been a great one for it. I’ve been more of a great one for revenge . . .
But true and genuine forgiveness is possible.
1. Realize how badly they’ve wronged you. Don’t fudge.
2. Start to pray about it, confessing this is hard.
3. Look to your own life, to see how you have hurt people similarly. If this is hard for you, then get some help here . . .
4. Try to do something positive and serving for that person.
All the while, keep praying to God for the ability to forgive and forget.
Let the word dwell . . .
Finally, one thing that should characterize the group as a whole is that God’s word should dwell among us. This is a verse that often is taken to mean that each of us as individuals should have the word of Christ deeply ingrained in us. But actually, this is something that should characterize the group as a whole. God’s word should be among us and characterize our relationships.
This is something for us to think about in our relationships with each other. What characterizes your conversations? What characterizes your thought life about others?
Example: After a whole night with someone, lots of folks have never said a word about God, about God’s will for us, about God’s word in any respect . . . (Need a real story about this.)
These are just examples
The kinds of things that are mentioned here are just examples of the type of things that we can do with each other. It says, “teaching and admonishing, psalms and hymns.” This is not to say that every times we come together we have to sing a song, we have to quote a psalm at each other, etc.
These are just ideas of how we can let God’s word dwell among us.
This kind of stuff is fun
Now when you talk about discussing God’s word with each other, most people think this is totally boring.
Example: Imagine the kind of guy who hangs around and talks about the Bible all the time . . .