Teaching series from Colossians

Spiritual Renovation and Love Relationships

Colossians 3:12-17

Teaching t21069


We are in the middle of Paul’s description of Christian spirituality.  If you belong to Jesus, God has initiated a major, ongoing renovation project to make you what he created you to be (3:10).  He will finish this project when Jesus returns, and until then he will keep renovating.  But in the midst of the mess and chaos, understanding what he is building helps you to embrace his plan and cooperate with the process.

3:12-17 describes a key aspect of God’s renovation plan (read).  There is a lot here, but it all has to do with love relationships: UPWARD with God, INWARD with other followers of Jesus, and OUTWARD with people in our families, at work, etc. who don’t yet believe in Jesus (3:17 is the title sentence for 3:18-4:6).  It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s renovation project centers around teaching us to love him and other people.  Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  We will be looking at these OUTWARD love relationships in detail in the next few weeks.  This morning we will focus on the UPWARD and INWARD relationships.

UPWARD: our love relationship with God

What does it look like to develop your love relationship with God?  It involves many things, but three times in three verses (3:15b,16b, 17b) Paul says it involves being thankful to God.  He included this in two of his previous snap-shots of this renovation project (1:10-12; 2:7).  He will emphasize it again in his description of healthy prayer (4:2).  God doesn’t need our thankfulness so that he can feel OK about himself; we need to be thankful to God because this is at the heart of who we were created to be—humbly grateful for God’s goodness.  Conversely, the most basic manifestation of sin is ingratitude (Rom.1:21).

Thankfulness for what?  Certainly we should thank God for the many temporal blessings that he grants us (e.g., HEALTH; PROSPERITY; FAMILY; etc.)—because every good gift comes from his hand.  But these should not be the focal point of our thankfulness.  In a fallen world, these blessings are radically insecure.  Fixation on temporal blessings both expresses and reinforces idolatry (loving the gifts more than the Giver).  Temporal blessings should be peripheral—the focal point of Christian thankfulness is the gospel, God’s undeserved gift of salvation.  Ajith Fernando puts it this way:

“• We believe that God loves us and that in love he gave us his Son to die for us.

• We believe that he has made us his children and looks after us and that he's for us so that no one can stand against us.

• He lives in us, banishing loneliness.

• He turns the bad things that happen to us into good things.

• He loves us more than the unkindness that we experience in life, and he is able to comfort and to heal us when we are wounded.

• He has prepared an inheritance that we will receive after this life that is more wonderful than anything we could ever imagine.

These wonderful truths and many, many others are the basis upon which we have built our lives... We can cling to them when everything about us seems gloomy... (Thankfulness) arises out of a deep and unchanging reality that undergirds our lives—namely, that the almighty God loves us and looks after us.”

So in what matters most, we have it all!  And this in spite of the fact that we deserve God’s condemnation!  This is why we can be genuinely thankful even when bad things happen to us—as Paul was when he wrote this letter (even though he was unjustly imprisoned).  This is why a slip into ingratitude or negativity or self-pity or cynicism for a Christian signals temporary spiritual insanity, and why a chronic posture of chronic ingratitude signals a heart of toxic unbelief.

If all this sounds totally foreign to you, it is almost certainly because you have never personally received God’s mercy and grace.  Would you like to?  Here’s how...

Paul’s exhortations in 3:15-17 (present tenses) mean that we need to cultivate thankful hearts.  Thankfulness is not primarily a feeling that results in a choice; it is a choice that results in a feeling.  We will feel more and more thankful as we choose (often against our feelings) to be thankful.  Briefly, here are three biblical ways to do this:

Learn and sing gospel-centered songs (3:16).

Choose regularly to recall and write down how God has blessed your life.

Hang around thankful Christians.  Their example is contagious.  Give them the GREEN LIGHT to remind and challenge you to be thankful.  This leads us to the INWARD aspect of our renovation—our love relationships with other Christians.

INWARD: our love relationships with other Christians

Notice how often Paul uses the phrase “one another” in this passage (3:9,13,16).  This phrase emphasizes reciprocal, interdependent relationships.  This is why one of Paul’s favorite illustrations of the church is the “body of Christ” (3:15b).  Christ is the Head—he is the Source of our spiritual life and love, and we are each to individually depend on him for this.  But we are also connected to each other, so that we must regularly receive his love from one another and give his love to one another (2:19).  What would you think if your liver and heart decided that they only needed your brain, but not one another?  But what we instantly discern as fatal insanity in human anatomy, we dismiss in our spiritual lives.  Such is the pervasive influence of our individualistic culture.

This kind of loving community is what Paul calls “the peace of Christ” (3:15a).  “Peace” here refers not to individual peace of mind, but to the shalom that the Old Testament said Messiah would bring.  Shalom means the health and beauty come from the harmonious integration of different parts (e.g., HEALTHY FAMILY).  When Jesus returns, he will bring complete shalom—perfect harmony with God, with all other people, and with nature.  Until then, Christian community is to be a foretaste of this future shalom.  This is why we are to let it “rule”—to let it act as an umpire in our decisions, to make it a huge priority in our lives and ask: “How can I contribute to building and maintaining this shalom?  This kind of community results in health for us and attractive beauty to outsiders.  Conversely, churches that lack this kind of community result in members who stagnate spiritually and offer no attractive alternative to our culture’s relational isolation and superficiality.

What does this look like in real life?  Paul speaks of three key expressions of Jesus’ love that should characterize our relationships with one another:

“Compassion, kindness, gentleness” – This kind of love presumes pain and injury and crushing burdens that come from living in a broken world.  It expresses empathy and provides nurture, understanding, and encouragement.  It is the opposite of harshness, insensitivity, machismo, etc.  This is the kind of love Jesus showed me when I was lost.

“Patience, forbearing, forgiving” – This kind of love presumes irritation, frustration, disappointment and offense from relating to sinful people.  It is committed for the long haul, working to resolve conflicts.  It absorbs relational pain and keeps moving toward the other person.  It is the opposite of writing people off, paying them back, freezing them out, etc.  This is the kind of love Jesus shows me every single day.

“Teaching and admonishing” – This kind of love presumes ignorance, forgetfulness, and even rebelliousness against biblical truth.  It is bringing God’s promises and commands to bear in ways calculated to get through to the other person in a redemptive way (“with wisdom”).  It is the opposite of neglectful “tolerance” or impersonal lecturing.  This is the kind of love Jesus shows me throughout my life.

This is the difference between “going to church” and “being in fellowship.”  If you’re only “going to church,” I appeal to you to get involved in fellowship.  Yes, it is scary to open your life up to other Christians in this way.  Yes, it is sacrificial work to invest in others in this way.  Yes, it requires giving up time that you may be spending on career and/or entertainment.  But it is so worth it!  Your own spiritual life will flourish in ways you never imagined possible.  Helping others to flourish will result in deep joy and satisfaction.  And seeing others drawn to Christ through this kind of community is wonderful beyond words!

How is God asking you to cooperate in this part of his renovation project?  What step is he asking you to take toward this?  Is he asking you to get involved in a home group—a practical context for building these kinds of relationships (EXPLAIN HOW)?  Is he asking you to open up to another Christian friend?  Is he asking you to start giving this kind of love toward others?  Who else can confirm that it’s worth it to prioritize this way of life?

Ajith Fernando, The Call to Joy & Pain (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), pp. 22,23.