Teaching series from Colossians

Building Unity with Other Christians

Colossians 3:12-16

Teaching t23039


Remind of setting (MAP) and Paul’s passion to help them/us toward spiritual maturity (1:28). Remind of the two main aspects of this path: increasing our understanding and appreciation of what we have received through Christ (3:1-4), and embracing a lifestyle of love that is consistent with God’s love for us (3:5-17). This lifestyle has three foci (LIST). We look today at the second focus.

Read 3:12-16. You can see by the usage of “one another” and “each other” (3:13,16) that Paul is referring to Christians relating to other Christians. In this case, “put on love” is connected to “unity” between Christians (3:14). Likewise, “the peace of God” (3:15) is here a synonym for unity between Christians, not psychological peace within Christians. Paul is teaching that embracing a lifestyle of love involves building unity with other Christians. Let’s ask the same three questions that we asked last week about thankfulness: What is this unity? Why is it so important? How can we cultivate it?

What is it?

The New Testament speaks of different kinds of unity between Christians, so it’s important to understand which kind of unity is in view here.

There is collaboration unity between churches – as when different Christian churches collaborate functionally on a project. Paul called the Gentile churches he had planted to collaborate in giving money to help their Jewish brethren in Jerusalem (cf.1Cor.16; 2Cor.8,9). Our church collaborates with many other churches and ministries on many different projects (EXAMPLES). But this kind of unity is not in view here – Paul makes no reference to it.

There is also organizational unity within a local church – the formation and maintenance of leadership structures and other church policies that enable the church to function in an orderly way. Paul reminds Timothy of the need for organizational unity in his letters to him (cf.1Tim.3,5). Our church has developed these structures and policies over the years, and they are very important. But this kind of unity is not in view here – Paul makes no reference to it, either.

The unity in view here is personal, relational unity between Christians in the same local church – the development of the local church into a network of Christ-centered friendships. This kind of unity is what the New Testament speaks about most often, and it is the foundational unity that enables the other two kinds of unity to develop and flourish. One of the futile projects of the contemporary western church is relying on organizational unity or collaboration unity to accomplish its mission, instead of giving primary attention to relational unity.

Why is it so important?

Why does God make such a big deal of this kind of unity? Why does every single New Testament letter emphasize this, while only a few talk about the other kinds of unity?

Because effective evangelism is impossible without it (read Jn.13:34,35). Notice that Jesus doesn’t call this “one of many options;” He calls it His mandate to us. What does it take to convince people that Jesus is a living Person whose leadership can change their lives (“you are – not were – My disciples”)? Of course, we need to tell them this and give them reasons why we know this is true. But this telling must be accompanied by observable love between Christians – the same kind of love that Jesus showed the disciples – if it is to be persuasive. Just as the lyrics of a song often get our attention only after the melody has drawn us in, so the message of Christianity often gets people’s attention only after this loving unity has aroused our curiosity and interest.

“God's plan is that local bodies of believing Christians... (become) a dynamic community in which (evangelism) becomes intensely productive. The church that convinces people that there is a God is a church that manifests what only a God can do, that is, to unite human beings in love...There is nothing that convinces people that God exists or that awakens their craving for Him like the discovery of Christian brothers and sisters who love one another...The sight of loving unity among Christians arrests the non-Christian. It crashes through his intellect, stirs up his conscience and creates a tumult of longing in his heart because he was created to enjoy the very thing that you are demonstrating.” For how many of you did this play a key role in your conversion? (75% - 80% is what I have noticed)

The numerical decline of true Christians in America is a well-documented fact. Devout Christians rightly lament this fact, and promote many projects, seminars, crusades, etc. in the hope of arresting this decline. Some of these efforts are very good, some are not so good, and some are counter-productive. But even the best of these efforts will never turn the tide. We will never be able to out-market, out-entertain, or out-argue our culture. We have the message of God’s grace and we have real loving unity – and that’s it! This is why the lack of loving unity in American churches is mandatory for the harvest of souls that God desires.

Because spiritual maturity is impossible without it. Remember that spiritual maturity is increasing in Christ-like character (name fruits of the Spirit). What context is necessary for character development in children? Would we expect to see this in children who live 24-hour day-care centers? Or would we expect to see this in children who lived in families? Character requires nurture, modeling, personalized instruction, loving discipline, appropriate responsibilities, supervision, etc. – and this is what only a family context can provide.

Some of us have had the good fortune of growing up in healthy families. Most of us did not have this opportunity – and our characters are under-developed as a result. But thank God that He has provided us with a new family in which we can develop Christ-like character (read 1 Thess.2:7,11,12)! That family is called “the local church,” and that healthy, character-developing family life is called “unity.” But if the local church is to develop maturing members, each of us members has to make the building of unity one of our highest priorities! That is exactly what Paul is calling for in this passage! He describes two key ways to build unity...

How to build it

By helping one other be filled with the Word of Christ. Read 3:16. We covered this verse several weeks ago when we studied 1:28,29 – so I will just review it briefly. “The Word of Christ” refers especially to “the things above” – all that God has freely given us through Christ (EXAMPLES). It also refers to rejecting a self-centered way of life and embracing a lifestyle of love. We are not to live on a subsistence intake of the Word of Christ. God wants it to “richly dwell within us” – to be so at home in us that it increasingly dominates our thinking and our decisions – because this is what unleashes the Holy Spirit to transform our lives.

The point here is that we cannot be filled by the Word of Christ in isolation. No amount of private reading and study can take the place of regularly sharing Christ’s Word with other Christians – teaching (reading, explaining, reminding) one another, admonishing (counseling, warning, correcting) one another, and praying out loud (especially thanking) with one another one another.

This kind of interaction is different from large meetings like this one, which is not conducive to doing these things with one another. This involves initiating and maintaining a network of Christ-centered friendships. This is best facilitated by being in a home group: home group meeting discussion & prayer & before/after interaction; cell groups; discipleship; prayer meetings, etc.

This is a super-important way of building unity. What step in this direction is God putting before you? Is it to investigate a home group? Is it to commit to a home group? Is it to ask someone in your home group about getting together to do this? God always gives us a (scary, but) doable step in this direction! If you are doing this, it will lead you into the second way to build unity...

By persevering with one another despite our messiness and sinfulness. Read 3:12,13. Paul is totally realistic here in his description of Christian unity. We are really broken people, we have really messy lives, and we have lots of sin. For this reason, we need to commit ourselves to one another for the long haul, and we need to love each other in ways that don’t come naturally to us.

We need to express compassion for one another person’s suffering, rather than be cold and insensitive. We need to express kindness (positively blessing the other person), rather than being passive or demanding. We need gentleness (strength under control to help), rather than run over one another with the truth. We need patience (literally “long-suffering”), rather than “moving on” when things get difficult. We need to bear with one another, rather than to withdraw because we’re fed up with one another’s idiosyncrasies and besetting sins. We need to forgive one another when we get sinned against, instead of paying back or rejecting. Undergirding all this, we need humility (a servant attitude), rather than being boastful or self-absorbed or demanding our rights or “I didn’t sign up for this!.”

How can we do this? Where does the motivation for this kind of commitment come from? It comes from remembering and focusing on the fact that this is the way we have been loved by God (3:12a,13b)!

3:13b – Even though I deserved God’s judgment, He forgave me at the cost of His own Son’s death. On that same basis, God continues to forgive me and bear with all of my weird idiosyncrasies and besetting sins. In view of this, how can I not extend forgiveness and forbearance to my Christian friends?

3:12a – While I was still rebelling against God, He humbly took the initiative toward me, He set me apart as His Child, and He continues to pour out His love on me. In view of this, how can I not extend compassion and kindness and gentleness and patience to my Christian friends?

The key to building unity in this way, then, is not how messy your Christian friends’ lives get, or how badly they treat you. It is whether you let their messiness and/or sins deepen your appreciation of God’s love for you in spite of your messiness and sin!

This is a super-important way of building unity. What Christian friend is God asking you to hang in there with? What expression of persevering love is He asking you to express to them? How is He asking you to appreciate how He loves you in this same way?


NEXT WEEK: We’re going to take a one-week break from our series to study a remarkable Old Testament book: Jonah

DISCUSSION: Let’s have some questions and/or comments about the above two ways to build unity.

John White, The Fight (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979), pp. 149,150.