We are following a very short precious letter of Colossians and I think we have been greatly blessed by our study of this Letter because the temptation which comes to all of us to feel that we are hard done by and that our Christian life could be better, richer, easier, happier or whatever is really answered by Colossians when the Apostle tells us because the Lord tells us that if you belong to Jesus Christ you have in fact incredible wealth – and all the riches of Christ.
You remember the way the Apostle Paul talks about how the believer is planted in Christ and so if you think of yourself as being a small sapling planted in the great gardens – Botanical type gardens – and down, down you go to receive all the riches which are from him to you.
One brother wrote me an email this week – being grateful for the Letter of Colossians and he said ‘the church I grew up in had so much else that was central and it made the Christian life tough and tiring’. Understanding the centrality of Christ is uplifting and quite frankly a relief. I think the Apostle Paul would rejoice.
I am not sure whether he knows the Colossians as seeing as clearly – so he writes the Letter of Colossians to rejoice that they have believed in Jesus, he prays that they will grow in Jesus, he then gives a tremendous picture of Jesus, urges them to put their security in Jesus and to focus them minds and hearts on the things and the priorities of Jesus. That’s where the Letter has gone so far, and we come now to chapter 3 verse 12.
And this little section is moving to the church. Now it will be the danger of a preacher/pastor to now say all the things that he wants to say about the church, but that’s illegal. It’s time to look and see what Paul is saying about the church in this Colossian Letter. And he’s not moving to a separate topic because part of the Christian life is the fellowship of God’s people. We have all been planted in Christ.
And it is easy to have a hard done by mentality when it comes to the church. It’s easy to think, isn’t it that somewhere out there is a better bunch of people. You know we turn up Sunday by Sunday, we look around, and we think we know these people, I know what they are like, surely there is a better bunch of people for me – you know somebody delightful and intelligent like me! But God’s plan is that we would find our satisfaction and our ministry in a sense in the fellowship here of his people. And the idea that we would distance ourselves from the people is completely foreign to his plans – rather that we should commit ourselves to the quality of God’s people.
So this is a tremendous principle emerging from Colossians that not only are we not short changed because of our relationship with Christ, but we are not short-changed by the fellowship of God’s people in Christ. And those who are spiritually superior (and we don’t know whether those spiritually superior people had moved into Colossae) but spiritually superior people do infect churches, and I remember having a good bunch of them in my previous church who had a kind of an “A” Grade group and they were always trying to get people from the “B” Grade into their “A” Grade, and it had a terrible effect on the church – caused terrible division.
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Those who have that kind of superior spirituality may think that there is a better group to be part of, but God’s plan is that you and I would be part of his people – the people he has chosen.
So I want to think about these six verses this morning under three headings:
- The Privilege of Being Members of God’s People. That is a tremendous privilege (verse 12)
- The Opportunities we have as God’s People – (verses 13-14) – tremendous opportunities
- The Policies of our Fellowship – (verses 15-17).
So what we are going to do now is we are going to do what is “expounding” the six verses. And I say that because in the Bulletin Letter this week I mention that God speaks to us – therefore we expound his word. And there is a little typo there which says “that because God’s speaks to us, we expand his word” but we don’t expand his word. We don’t increase it; we don’t add to it.
It is a mystery how these typos appear because I give the Bulletin Letter in my handwriting to the office and those of you who have seen my handwriting know that it is a combination of sort of calligraphy perfect and copperplate beauty! It’s like a manuscript, and it’s a miracle that any word appears in the Bulletin as it’s meant to be. But I want you to know that we are EXPOUNDING not EXPANDING.
So (verse 12) “Being members of God’s people” – see what the Apostle Paul says. He refers to the Christians in chapter 3 verse 12 as God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved. And as I read that verse you would tune out and say – ‘well I don’t know really what that means – I am not sure that is very significant’. But it is very significant. These are remarkable words.
Imagine the Lord Jesus could stand up on this platform and speak to you this morning and looking at you say –
“BECAUSE YOU HAVE PUT YOUR FAITH IN ME
YOU ARE THE
DEARLY LOVED PEOPLE
OF THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSE”
That’s what he is saying. They are remarkable words. And they are unbelievable to us except that God is serious about what he says here.
And this is how he describes all his people – around the globe. This is not some sub-set of superior Pastors or famous or extra talented. No – this is how he describes his people. It’s the way he used to speak of Israel in the Old Testament. He called the people of Israel
- “The chosen people” – because they were chosen to bless the world
- “Holy people” – because they were appointed to a task
- “Dearly loved” – because he is a great lover – not because they were so lovable but because he is a great lover.
And this is God’s decision of Israel that they would be his chosen, holy, dearly loved people and he declared it to be so. Again I say it’s not because Israel was particularly cute or wonderful or even faithful. We know in fact that they failed in their role. And so the task of this was taken up by the true Israelite who is Jesus Christ.
How does God describe Jesus Christ in the Scriptures in the New Testament? CHOSEN, HOLY AND DEARLY LOVED.
And he fulfilled what the Father asked him to do. He brought light to the nations, and he has brought salvation to the world. And if you belong to Jesus Christ, if you put your faith in Jesus Christ you become part of the chosen, holy dearly loved who are in Christ.
And the estimate of God for you is of inestimable value. It is. This is where the self-esteem movement ultimately fails because the self-esteem movement says that “I should have a high esteem of myself”. But what happens if I am deluded in my estimate of myself, which I will be? Or I come into a collision course with other people who think that they are the centre of the universe when I think I am the centre of the universe? It’s completely arbitrary.
And those in the self-esteem movement who say that you pick up your self-esteem from others – well what’s to say that the person who says ‘you are wonderful, or you are terrible’ is right? And why should they hold sway over the people who say the opposite to what they are saying? You see this picking up yourself esteem from yourself or others is just a wind that blows over the place but to get God’s esteem where he says ‘this is factual, objective, authoritative, decisive, comforting and liberating’ – it’s wonderful. It means you walk out of here, and you say this is what God says, and it’s got nothing to do with me being cute or wonderful or excellent – it’s got to do with HIM declaring this and proving it in the words of the Scriptures and the cross of Christ.
So we have to learn to say to ourselves when we put our faith in Christ something like this: – You know we have to say
‘Behind my faith the God of grace drew me to Christ.’
‘I have put my faith in Christ and behind that he drew me to Christ.’
And we have to say to ourselves
‘You know my role in the world would be pretty ordinary but because he has made me His instrument – it won’t be ordinary’.
And we have to say
‘I couldn’t possibly attract his love to me, and I couldn’t keep it on me but he has declared it to be so, and he has proved it in the person and work of the Lord Jesus’.
So because of Jesus Christ, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you, are one of the chosen, holy and dearly loved. This has nothing really to do with your performance – it’s got to do with his grace and his goodness. But it’s his esteem and his view of you and it’s for all of his children.
And only God can do this, only God can make us his people, and only God can bring us together you see. If you go back one verse to verse 11 that Paul describes the people of God, and he lists some tensions, and he says all those tensions disappear in Christ. That is, they are non-issues as far as Christ is concerned, and they learn to become non-issues as far as we are concerned, but CHRIST IS EVERYTHING.
That’s one of the wonderful marks of the local church. We really couldn’t care two-hoots in our best moments about skin colour or background or race or class or possessions or intelligence or non-intelligence. The great beauty of the work of Jesus is that he brings us together, and we rejoice.
So the categories of this world fall away in Christ and although the world is hopeless at solving problems like racism, sexism, ageism and all those division – in the church Christ works to solve those problems. He can do what we are not able to do.
And that’s why we are very realistic about politics. You don’t get cynical about politicians, but we are realistic about politicians – there is a limit to what they can do. They cannot promise utopia, but Jesus Christ can bring a profound change in the relationships.
And I think this is obvious in our Fellowship. Is there anyone here this morning who cares two-hoots about skin colour or the car you drive, or your background or your school or your IQ? In the end, all those things drop away, don’t they? And we need to get used to talking to the unbeliever who is extremely stirred up about things like – racism, and sexism and all those sorts of things and say to them “I agree with you completely – these sort of divisions are terrible, you know they fall away in Christ”. When people come to Christ, they drop away. And I have experience, you can say, of dropping away of those things.
So that’s the privilege of being members – it is a privilege.
Don’t fall for your feeling on this.
Don’t fall for the views of other people.
Think about what God himself says.
CHOSEN, HOLY AND DEARLY LOVED.
Keep preaching that to yourself
The second point this morning is The Opportunities we have as God’s People. You see in verse 12 Paul says “as God’s people clothe yourselves (or put on) and then he lists five graces:
These are all examples of the way the Lord Jesus has treated you and me. He has been compassionate to us. He has been kind, humble and gentle and patient. And now he works those graces IN US and THROUGH US.
Now, why do I call this an opportunity? Well because when you come to gather with the people of God instead of coming with a sense of disappointment which it is easy to do and especially if you belong to a church in the outback of Australia where 6 people gather or 8, and they are elderly, and everybody knows everybody, and you know the foibles and the faults and all the lack of gifts in that little church – it’s not easy to be impressed. It is easy to be disappointed.
But instead of being disappointed the Apostle Paul has another plan for us. And instead of coming for entertainment (as it is so easy to do) (here I am – I am in my seat – I’ve paid my $1 – please impress me!) we are not very good at doing that – the Apostle Paul has a better plan for us. It’s not that we are disappointed by the local church, it’s not that we are entertained by the local church – it is that we contribute to the progress of that local church – that is a tremendous opportunity that we have.
And it’s the sort of thing which will appeal to us when we take a more mature view of why we have gathered. And we see the significance of why we have gathered and the worthwhileness, and so he says ‘when you come, put on your uniform’. And your uniform is not that I am the King here, or I am the Queen here, or I am wearing my Lord uniform or my Lady uniform – but I have come to be in the glad service of the Lord Jesus. That’s the uniform that I have put on.
Now we have heard this a thousand times about being a servant, but I would say to you this – it’s not a natural mindset isn’t it? I don’t think anybody this morning came in thinking ‘I have a tiara, a spiritual tiara or a crown on my head’. I don’t think anybody came in like that but do we come in thinking ‘my uniform is domestic; I am part of the serving’. Because if you don’t think like that, the Apostle Paul says in chapter 3 verse 12 ‘remember your uniform’, that’s your opportunity to come and make a contribution to the progress of the others in the church as well as your own.
There’s another opportunity in verse 13 where he says ‘keep going with the sinfulness of the church’. He says ‘bear with each other and forgives each other’.
Let me tell you friends this church at St Thomas is going to give you tremendous opportunities for bearing with one another and for being forgiving.
You are going to have to put up with your weird pastor
You are going to have to put up with weird members
You are going to have to forgive again and again
This is your opportunity to bear and to forgive.
Now superior people, of course, will give up on difficult people. They will say something like this:
“Why should I have to persevere with these people – they are not helpful – I don’t particularly find them helpful. So I am going to distance myself from the riffraff”.
But you see the direction that the real believer goes in. The real believer says “Christ has forgiven me – I am going to try and pass that on. Christ has born with me – I am going to try and pass that on. By the grace of God what I have received is going to be what I pass on”.
It is a terrible thing, isn’t it and we are all capable of this to have a sort of a wall that goes up between us and someone else in the fellowship?
I was talking to a pastor in Scotland earlier this year, and we were talking about a couple of people who virtually make it impossible to have fellowship once you have crossed them. And he said this – ‘they will never forgive because they don’t believe you have apologised to their satisfaction’. That’s a terrible thing. You just don’t see that in the father of the Prodigal Son – he runs down the road saying ‘don’t a say a word, I want to be in fellowship with you.’
And you think of the forgiveness exemplified in an extreme way by that Missionary lady Gladys Staines back in the early 2000’s when she went over to India with her husband Graham and their two little boys. And some extremists discovered her husband and her two little boys in their car and set alight to the car. Her husband and two boys were burnt alive in the car.
And she then by the grace of God forgave the people, and she continued the work, the ministry even though her husband and boys had gone. That opened massive doors through India for the spread of the Gospel of Christ – what she did.
So Paul’s logic, you see in these verses is that we join the fellowship by faith in Christ, we discover that the people who are in the same pew as us have been chosen by God, and they are holy, set apart for a task and they are dearly loved by him and we put on our uniform as we come and it’s the uniform of being in service and we can’t possible say when frictions arise (and they will arise), and we can’t possibly say ‘I am never forgiving that person, I will NEVER forgive that person’ – we can’t say that. We can’t say I can’t bear these people. No – what we have received is to be passed through us – the forgiveness is to be extended, and the bearing is to be extended.
Now I am not saying this is easy. I know that forgiveness can be very, very difficult. Some people have been damaged very badly. I imagine almost everybody in this building has been damaged by somebody very badly so I am not pretending this is easy.
And we may not have the wisdom, the grace, the strength; the resources that we need to free ourselves of this issue let alone build a bridge which requires two people for restoration – that’s impossible. You know it needs two people to come together with the same willingness. But even in ourselves as we seek to forgive some people we may feel it’s too difficult for us, but we can ask for help in this – can’t we? We can ask for grace from the Lord Jesus. We can say to Him:
“I know you have done this for me, and I know it’s your will
but I will do it for someone else
and I am asking that you would help me
because I just don’t have the strength and the grace to do this.
I am asking that you would help me”.
And Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Christ is at work in his people to will and to work his good pleasure. So we can say to the Lord – ‘you’ve asked me to do this, I am now asking that you will enable me to do this’.
St. Augustine said once in his prayers
“Lord ask what you will and then give what you ask”
“Ask whatever you want and then provide what you are asking”.
So that may be the way that we need to go. One more opportunity in verse 14 is to put on the overcoat, says Paul of love. We serve, we forgive, and we love. This is our overcoat – the big overall. It says a lot, doesn’t it? What’s the main big picture of the church? The main big picture of the church is to be loving – truthful and loving.
When you see the overcoat of the matron in the hospital, you know it looks efficient.
When you see the overcoat of the soldier, it looks like sort of smart uniform – protection.
When you see the uniform of the business man, it often has style and is classy
When you see the overcoat on the little kid, it looks like it is designed for warmth
When you see the overcoat on the believer, it’s the policy of our fellowship – to be loving.
Those are the opportunities we have. I think it is very striking in Ephesians 3 (not Colossians 3) but Ephesians 3 that Paul says that the believers will learn a lot about the love of Christ from the people of Christ. He says in Ephesians 3 that we will learn the height, the depth, the length and the breadth of the love of Christ by immersing ourselves in the people of Christ.
And I have noticed in my ministry that people who are immersed in the fellowship know the love of Christ better but if you have distanced yourself from the people and you say I’ll have a very limited role in the church, in the fellowship, those people have got a very insecure grasp of the grace of God. We do grow in our knowledge of Christ’s love as we share with the people of God.
The third and last point – The Policies of our Fellowship.
I wasn’t planning on a 3 point acronym this week. You know previous Sundays we have had “KFC”, we have “ICE” and I chose the 3 points this morning – the Members of God’s People – the Opportunities for God’s People and the Policies of God’s People because I thought that they were an accurate description of the verses but it won’t be a bad thing for us to remember “MOP” ! It’s not a bad way of remembering the domestic serving around the local church – MOP.
And the first policy is in verse 15, and this is “Let Christ’s peace rule in your hearts”. Now he doesn’t mean YOU individually. These are all plural words; these are corporate words. He is saying “Let the peace of Christ rule amongst you”. He says “Let the peace of Christ be the referee, be the umpire, be the decision maker”. So this is not a private word. It is true that the Bible says that the peace of Christ can enter and rule in the heart of the individual. But this verse is talking about the peace of Christ amongst us corporately.
And this is very practical because you just imagine that at the Parish Council Meeting in a few weeks’ time we decide to discuss the heating of this building which is a real challenge. We have decided to provide some colourful rugs for you so that if you come in, and you are feeling cold you can pick up one of the colourful rugs.
How do you heat this building? It’s a big challenge. A lot of hot air just goes straight to the roof. Imagine we are having a discussion about this at the Parish Council, and somebody comes, and they are, let’s say heated up about this, they are fired up about the coldness of the church. And they come into the meeting, and they start to basically spew forth their opinions, and they are throwing a whole lot of reckless words around, they are criticising everybody else, they are talking about how nobody cares, but they do care, and pretty soon there is a whole lot of destructive speech that has been thrown around the table.
It would have been good, wouldn’t it if that person had said ‘the policy in the discussion of the heating of the church is the peace of Christ’. So that whatever I say and whatever people respond to or don’t respond to – the peace of Christ rules in our Parish Council.
And I hasten to say that that’s always the way the Parish Council works. It is always peaceful. But this is what the Apostle Paul is calling us to – the peace of Christ is to be our policy.
The other policy (verse 16) is that the Word of Christ is to dwell among you all as you teach and admonish – you notice the Apostle Paul has given YOU the job of teaching and admonishing one another. It’s not a bad thing for you to teach another. It’s not a bad thing for you to admonish lovingly, using the Word of Christ. The Word of Christ is to be the Compass in our church. It’s to be the Sat Nav; it’s to be the textbook of our church – the Word of Christ.
And even, he says, in our singing, we are to sing true things. It’s not enough for us to have tunes we love but words that are confusing, misleading. We need to sing true things as well as say true things that spring from the Word of Christ. He says in verse 17 “with grace in our hearts”.
So you notice the Word of God is to drive our praise, work hard at having songs that merge from the Word of Christ.
The third policy (verse 17) is that whatever we do – do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through him. This was our wedding text many years ago (41 years ago) and it has stayed with me, it’s a wonderful verse. It tells us that the Lord Jesus sits enthroned above everything. He rules everything. There is no secret place; there is nothing under the Lord Jesus that is irrelevant to him. There is nothing under the Lord Jesus that we can secretly remove from him. There is in a sense no secular – there is under him sacred.
So if you are finding a parking space, you do it as a believer.
If you are in a queue in a supermarket, you are a believer.
If you are filling in your tax form, you are a believer.
If you are teaching, nursing, making decisions, trying to be patient with small children, waiting for work, it’s all under the Lordship of Christ.
DO EVERYTHING IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS
Nothing is irrelevant, and nothing is outside his dominion.
So those are the policies.
The peace of Christ in our fellowship.
The word of Christ in our fellowship.
The Lordship of Christ in our fellowship.
Last week I bumped into a couple I hadn’t seen for a long time – maybe 20 years – and they had come to St Thomas in the past for a certain family ceremony. They have no link to any church. They mentioned to me that they didn’t go to church, their children now in their teenage years are at one of the High Schools nearby and she said I’ve told the children you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian (it’s always a dangerous thing to say to a clergyman!).
And in a sense, she is right. You do not become a Christian by walking into this building. But when you put your faith in Jesus you do have an obligation to join the people and serve the people and love the people.
Little did she realise as she said this to me that what she was saying is “I don’t have the life or the love of Christ in my heart”. That’s why I don’t have anything to do with the people of God because there’s no life or no love there. No I am not the judge, and I can’t decide exactly where she stands, but that’s the general thrust of that type of thinking, isn’t it? I don’t have to do that, but when you put your faith in Christ, it becomes a new choice, a new delight and a new desire from Christ himself.
And the more we grow in Christ, the more we value his people, the more we grow down, the more we value the fellowship of God’s people. CS Lewis said in one of his books ‘that hell is going to be living in a very dark and dull place where everybody moves progressively further and further away from everybody else’. But under the inspiration of the Spirit and the leadership of Christ and in the direction of the Word of God, we come, and we appreciate one another, and we look at one another, and we say ‘you are members of God’s family chosen, holy and dearly loved’. ‘We have great opportunities together to grow, and we have policies of peace and the word and the Lordship of Jesus’.
Let’s pray –
Our gracious God we thank you for the incredible grace of making so many here this morning into your chosen, holy and dearly loved people. We pray that these words would impress themselves upon our minds and hearts more and more.
We ask that you would give us your grace to take up the opportunities of caring and bearing with one another and we pray that these priorities of peace and truth and your Lordship would mark this church today and every day to come.
We pray this so that you would be greatly honoured, that many would be helped to believe and that we would be filled with thanksgiving.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.