Colossians 3:14 - And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Read Colossians 3:11-17.
The basic problem in any dysfunctional family is the lack of love. Behind the surface symptoms of dysfunction, invariably there is an absence of Christ-like love. The same is true of our church fellowships. These enlarged families can also be dysfunctional when the members do not show Christ-like love to one another. There may be all kinds of surface problems, but the root cause can be traced to a scarcity of love. Is it any wonder then that love is the focus of the list of virtues given in Colossians 3:11-17? Of all the positive ways in which brothers and sisters in God's family are to relate together, verse 14 indicates that love is to be "beyond all these." The phrase "beyond all these" can also be translated "above all these" and "over all these." The idea is not that the other virtues are comparatively unimportant, but rather that love holds everything together in perfect balance and unity. In the same way that we put on an overcoat above or over our other articles of clothing, we are to put on love over the other virtues we are wearing. It is the "glue" which holds everything together. Maybe an even better illustration is that of a football player putting on his outer identifying uniform over the various important pieces of equipment. The uniform not only ties all the pieces of equipment together, but it is also the true sign of a team member. It is the first thing that onlookers notice. In the same way, love not only ties all the other virtues together in unified balance, but it is also the identifying mark of a Christian. Are we wearing the virtuous "equipment" of Colossians 3? Have we put on the uniform of love "beyond all these?" The first two chapters of Colossians are primarily doctrinal, with the great theme being the supremacy and all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the young church at Colossae in order to preserve them from some false teaching that was threatening the church. The false teaching seems to have been a mixture of Judaism and what later became known as gnosticism. It involved a watering-down of doctrine concerning the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This false teaching proclaimed that Jesus was not fully God and that He was not totally sufficient for salvation and Christian living. Although this false teaching had not yet penetrated the church at Colossae, the apostle was both warning the Colossian Christians of the danger facing them and emphasizing the true doctrine of Christ. In fact, one of the clearest affirmations of the full deity of Jesus Christ in all of the New Testament is made in Colossians. In Colossians 1:19 we read, "...in Christ all the fullness was pleased to dwell." In Colossians 2:9 the even more explicit statement is made that, "...in Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." Concerning the great theme of Colossians, we see the supremacy of Christ emphasized in 1:18, "...so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything." And we see the all-sufficiency of Christ emphasized in 2:3, "... in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." While chapters 1 and 2 of Colossians are "heavy" in doctrine, chapters 3 and 4 are practical applications of that doctrine. The practical logically flows from the doctrinal. If Christ is indeed supreme and all-sufficient, then His supremacy and all-sufficiency should be seen in our everyday lives. Chapters 3 and 4 mention a number of areas in which the Colossian Christians were asked to demonstrate the supremacy and all-sufficiency of Christ in their lives. Gaining victory over personal sin is the subject of 3:1-5. Putting on the "new man" and putting off the "old man" is the next topic, covered in 3:6-10. In 3:11-17, the matter of properly relating to fellow-believers is discussed. Submitting to authority structures in 3:18-4:1, prayer in 4:2-4, and witnessing in 4:5-6 are all further areas where the supremacy and all-sufficiency of Christ must be seen in practical application in our lives. Now what about all those virtues of 3:11-17 for which love is to be the "glue"? These all describe the ways we are supposed to relate to one another in love. First of all, we are to relate to one another with unity (v11). All the barriers to Christian fellowship must be removed. There is to be no distinction between "Greek and Jew." Racial barriers must go. Is that true in your church or fellowship group? Furthermore, there is to be no distinction between "circumcised and uncircumcised." This means that different religious or non-religious backgrounds should not affect our new relationship in Christ. Neither should "Barbarian or Scythian" cultural differences hinder our fellowship. (The Scythians were considered to be the worst of the barbarians!) Think about the folks at your church whom you consider to be the most uncouth and uncultured. You know, the ones you don't like to sit with at the church suppers because of the way they eat, or the clothes they wear, or the fact that they always talk right in your face! We've got to remember that even those we consider "barbarians" are in God's family too--they are our brothers and sisters in Christ! While we may be able to help these "Scythians" get their act together, let's be sure to fully include them in the unity of the fellowship, even if they never "measure up" to our culturally-defined "standards." Finally, there are to be no barriers because of "slave or freeman." Economic and social status must not determine our unity in Christ. Our relationships with fellow believers should not be based on where they live or their income or position in this world. How do our "Christian cliques" or exclusive church circles measure up when we look at God's standard of unity in Colossians 3:11? In verses 12 and 13, we see that we should relate to one another with grace. While the word "grace" is not specifically mentioned in these verses, it is probably the best word to use in order to encompass the virtues listed here. Notice that the virtues of these two verses are sandwiched between two statements which emphasize God's grace to us. Verse 12 begins, "And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved..." There's only one word that adequately explains why each one of us was individually chosen of God, made holy before God and is dearly loved by God. That word is grace--God's unmerited favor toward us. The other side of the sandwich is the end of verse 13 which states, "... as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." Again we see the grace of God emphasized, here in God's forgiveness. How could God,who is infinitely perfect, forgive our many sins? Once again the only answer is God's grace--God's Riches At Christ's Expense. There's no better definition of the grace of God than this well-known acrostic. Because God's overwhelming grace has been directed our way, we in turn are to show grace to fellow believers. How? By exhibiting the graces of the "grace sandwich!" We are to show compassion to our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are hurting--even if we believe that they are "reaping what they have sowed." Showing compassion doesn't mean that wrong-doing will be condoned or swept under the rug. Remember the model of how God showed compassion to us! (See Romans 5:8.) We are to show kindness to one another--even to those who don't return our gracious gestures. Remember that if grace is based on returns, it's not really grace. We are to show humility and gentleness to our fellow believers--even to those who deserve to get "a piece of my mind" instead. We are to show patience and forbearance when dealing with one another--even when the situation seems unbearable. By the way, what is the difference between patience and forbearance? If we're in a trying situation with a fellow believer where we must "live with it" because there's not much we can do about it--that's patience or long-suffering. But at some point we may find ourselves in a trying situation with fellow believers where we hold the power and we could easily throw our weight around. If we choose not to, for the sake of Christ, that's forbearance--it's more than patience. Suppose, for example, you're directing a ministry or heading up a church committee where some of the members are bad-mouthing your leadership behind your back. If you continue to work with them rather than telling them to "get lost"--that's forbearance! And then, of course, we are to forgive one another--even when fellow believers hurt us deeply. The limit is no less than "as the Lord forgave you." It's usually a lot easier to receive the grace sandwich than to give it, but remember that the Lord Jesus said, "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Certainly our Lord's statement can be applied to the grace sandwich! The "beyond all these" love of verse 14 is no less than agape--the highest form of love which can be communicated by the Greek language of the New Testament. Agape is not an "if" type of love. "I will love my fellow believers if they see everything my way" is not agape. Neither is agape a "because-of" type of love. "I will show love to my brothers and sisters in Christ because they're always praising my work and giving me strokes" is not agape. Agape is the "in-spite-of" type of love that says, "I will show love to other members of the body in spite of the fact that they are immature or 'different,' or in spite of the fact that they don't support my position or approve of my way of doing things!" Agape is love that results from a determined will to love--not merely from an emotional or feeling response. Agape is the kind of love that God has shown us. It is the kind of love with which we are to relate to one another. It is the "beyond all these" love that should be the bottom line in our relationships. Because this "in-spite-of" type of love should characterize all our relationships, we are told to relate to one another in peace (v 15). We are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. The idea here is not that we should compromise in matters of doctrine in order to maintain a rule of "peace at any price." No, the concept is that of an umpire such as the umpires who ruled in the Greek games of the first century. Thus the idea is that peace should rule like a referee when it comes to those "close calls" in non-doctrinal matters that often tear our fellowships apart. When things don't go your way in decisions about the music and musicians or the youth program or the financial policies of your church or ministry, what do you do? Quit? Withdraw? Organize the opposition? Advocate a split? No! As in the area of athletics, we learn to "be at peace"--to live with the referee's decisions and continue to play the game. And who is to be the referee? It is the peace of Christ! When we let the peace of Christ referee in our hearts we find that we can live with decisions we don't like, and the unity of the body of Christ will be preserved. We are asked to relate to one another with Scripture in verse 16. As we teach and counsel each other (and at times even admonish one another), Scripture should be used. More of us need to get involved in using God's Word to counsel other Christians. It's not just the job of the "professionals." But our counsel or admonishing should not be based on what we think, but on what the Bible says! And let us remember two important qualifications that Scripture imposes on us before we run around telling others what the Bible says they should do or not do. The first is to "let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." We can't use the Bible very effectively to help a fellow believer if we don't know what it says! If we're honest, we must admit that reading a brief devotional "thought for the day" or quickly scanning a few Christian self-help/how-to books can't really qualify us as people in whom the "word of Christ dwells richly!" The other requirement is to make sure that we "counsel ourselves" before we try to be God's counselling gift to the Church! Remember that our Lord Jesus said that we should remove the log from our own eye first--before we try to take the speck out of our brother's eye. (See Matthew 7:3-5.) And again we must remember that the "in-spite-of" love, which is to characterize all our relationships, must accompany our counsel and advice from God's Word. Verse 16 also indicates that we are to relate to one another with singing. The point in not that we are to sing to one another to use our talents for the Lord, but rather that we are to sing together because of our unity and love for one another in the Lord. And we don't have to be able to sing well! It's hard for us to stay uptight with other Christians when we sing together. Singing scriptural songs together tends to remove hostilities--especially when we sing with "gratitude in our hearts to God." Did you ever try to tear down a fellow believer right after the whole congregation has joined together in singing "How Great Thou Art"?! In verse 17 we are told that whatever we do, in word or action, should be done in the name of Christ. In all our relationships with fellow-believers--all the ways we serve them in word or in action--everything is to be done with the name of Christ as our "signature." It's hard to be stingy with one another in the name of Christ. It's difficult to put down a brother or sister in the name of Christ. It's impossible to run away from the needs of other Christians in the name of Christ. How do we measure up? Do all our words and actions exhibit His signature--His "beyond all these" agape love? Finally, in verse 17 we see that we are to give thanks. In the context of this passage, we must conclude that we are to be thankful for one another! We are not only to be thankful in every circumstance of life (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but we are also to be thankful for all of our contacts in the body of Christ. This seems to be the primary focus of our thanksgiving in both verses 15 and 17. This doesn't mean that all of our associations in God's family will be pleasant. Let's face it, some brothers and sisters are easy to get along with, and some aren't! And some Christians just don't seem to know their function in the body of Christ, and they end up disrupting the function of other members. But even so, we can be thankful for each other, because we know that even the brothers and sisters in the family of God who are hard to get along with form a necessary part of the body of Christ and we also know that Christ is certainly in control of His own body. Therefore let's try to be more thankful for one another. An old saying goes, "To live with the saints in heaven, oh, that will be glory! But to live with the saints on earth--well that's another story!" The saying is meant to be humorous, but sadly it is all too true. So many church families are dysfunctional. God's family must not be a dysfunctional family! This is important not only for the health of family members, but also for our witness to those who aren't in the family. If Christ is supreme in our lives we'll obey His requests for unity and peace in the family--even with singing and thanksgiving! And since Christ is all-sufficient, He's able to help us develop the graces of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness. And, "beyond all these," He'll help us to put on His love, the in-spite-of love "which is the perfect bond of unity."