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We all, at times, fall under the spell of thinking we are somehow better than others that we are in some way wiser, more spiritual, or somehow superior. Many churches in the past and even today arrogantly proclaim that they are the only "true" Christians. In the past century, when the non-instrumental churches of Christ split off from the Disciples of Christ, a few of the churches of Christ changed the Restoration Movement slogan from "Were not the only Christians, but Christians only," to "Were the only Christians"! It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the way we do things is somehow superior to everyone else. But this is not the way its to be in Gods kingdom.
We sometimes have an elevated opinion of our worth. A minister sent me this appropriate story on the ministers Internet discussion list last week.
Two men were waiting in line at the Pearly Gates the first a disheveled looking individual in jeans and a dirty T-shirt, the second a distinguished looking man wearing a long clerical robe with a silver cross hanging from his neck. Peter asked the first man his name and occupation. He gave it as John Smith, New York City taxidriver. After looking up his name in the book, Peter handed the man a silken robe and gold staff and ushered him into heaven. When it came the second mans turn, he didnt wait for the question, but boomed out in a confident voice, "I am the Reverend Archibald Snow, minister for 43 years at St. Matthews Parish." Peter once again looked in the book, and then handed the man a burlap robe and a wood stick. "There must be some mistake the minister protested. That taxidriver was given a silk robe and a golden staff, and this is all I get?" To this Peter replied. "We go strictly on results around here. When you preached in the church services, people fell asleep. But when the taxi-driver drove people through the city, they sure prayed."
Paul addresses this problem of feelings of superiority in the church in Colossians 3:10-14, and teaches us the correct attitudes we need to have.
And have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
When we become a Christian, we take on a new nature. Have you ever noticed after a product has been around a while, the manufacturers have to change it? Then they advertise the product as new and improved. Thats what we are when we become a Christian a new and improved version.
Beare comments, "The new nature is not static, but is continually being renewed. It does not grow old or decay, but takes upon itself more and more the image of its creator. As man was made in the image of God, so when he is restored to true fellowship with God in Christ, the divine image which had been effaced by sin becomes ever more clearly visible."
We gain a new understanding of our Creator and how humanity has been made in Gods image. We no longer see people as different, inferior, or beneath us. We gain a new love and compassion for others. One of the most famous phrases from the Declaration of Independence is "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator...." As Christians, we have been set free to see people as individuals instead of members of a segment of society.
Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.
Paul argues that all are equally welcome in Christs church. That there is no difference among Christians. First he mentions differences of nationality Greek and Jew. No matter what nationality, all are welcome in Gods family. We used to sing a childrens song, "red and yellow, black and white, theyre all precious in Gods sight." God does not care about our race or our nationality. He only cares if we have accepted Christ as our Savior.
Next Paul talks about spiritual arrogance circumcised and uncircumcised. There is no question that some of the Jewish Christians of that day considered themselves spiritually superior to the gentile Christians. Many of the Jews had been serving God all their lives whereas the gentiles were new believers. But I wonder if some of the gentile Christians didnt also feel superior to the Jews. After all, the gentile churches were on the cutting edge of growth. They were rapidly becoming the new center of Christianity, and the old ways of doing things in Jerusalem were soon becoming passť. So maybe many of the new gentile believers had their own problem with spiritual arrogance. But Paul tells us that there is no room for any kind of spiritual arrogance in Gods kingdom.
Paul then mentions two categories of people the barbarians and Scythians. Not only did the Jews look down on the Greeks, but the Greeks looked down on the barbarians, who were defined as any non-Greeks. The Roman Empire, and the Greek Empire before it, considered themselves more enlightened, educated, and civilized than the surrounding nations. But Paul says this kind of prejudice is not allowed in the church.
The Scythians were considered the worst of the barbarians. They lived in the lands of the Mongols and Tartars. Barnes remarks, "...they were regarded as a wild and savage race. The meaning here is, that even such a ferocious and uncivilized people were not excluded from the gospel, but they were as welcome as any other, and were entitled to the same privileges as others." And finally Paul mentions two social categories slave and free men. Even though much prejudice based on race and nationality has been eliminated in America, it is sad that socio-economic prejudice is so common. We need to learn to accept people from all walks of life, no matter what their vocation, financial situation, or where they live.
So who should we welcome into our churches? We need to welcome all people no matter what nationality, no matter how spiritually mature they may seem to be, no matter how crude or uncivilized they may appear, and no matter what their social or economic situation might be. God loves all people equally. If we are his people, we need to do the same.
Carson writes, "This spirit of divisiveness and hatred showed itself on a large scale in the ancient world in the religious, cultural, and social barriers which divided nation from nation, and man from man. But, for the regenerate man, while these distinctions exist as a fact of experience, they have no real significance, and certainly no religious sanction. ... In a world still bitterly divided by race, colour and social status, and in which the Church too easily succumbs to conventional attitudes, here is a truth which needs to be constantly recalled."
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience,
The Greek word used here < endusasqe > endusasthe means specifically to put on a garment. Gower points out, "The wardrobe of a person living in Bible times was fairly basic. A loincloth (maybe) was worn beneath a tunic, and there was some form of headwear. Footwear and coat were options. ... clothes of this kind were best for a relatively hot climate. Paul uses the tunic, held in at the waist by a girdle, as a metaphor for the life-style of Gods chosen people (Colossians 3:12), and everyone would have understood that he was talking about basics."
So this list of character traits Paul gives would have to be considered the basic and common garment of the Christian compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience. Lets look at each of these five characteristics.
Compassion is the ability to understand when others are suffering and going through a difficult time. This will naturally cause us to want to reach out and help. Kindness is the manner in which we should treat all people. Lowliness is the ability to understand that we are not above anyone else nor more important than others. It is a willingness to put others concerns above our own. Meekness is the demeanor which allows us to give a soft answer even in the midst of anger and turmoil and not respond in like manner. Patience is what helps us to not give up on others and continue to hope the best for them.
Forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
As part of the family of God, we are told to do two things forbear one another, and forgive each other. Forbearing means to be willing to put up with others. Sometimes other Christians can rub us the wrong way or cause us to become frustrated by their misbehavior or slow spiritual growth. But we are to forebear one another. This means holding others up, supporting them, and encouraging them even when we may feel like giving up. Patience and endurance are important qualities that Christ wants to see displayed in our lives.
There also will be times when we have to forgive each other. None of us are perfect, so we can count on being offended by others from time to time. But when we truly understand that we are all imperfect Christians striving to live a godly life, we will gain compassion for the weaknesses, failings, and struggles of others in our church family. When we are wronged, we need to learn to forgive, just as God has forgiven us for Christs sake.
Carson remarks, "The believers are to bear with others and they are to forgive any injuries or slights received. This forgiveness is to be extended graciously even though the recipient may be unworthy."
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
This verse shows us the secret to overcoming our differences. Above all we are to clothe ourselves with love. When we do this our differences will disappear. Notice Paul says that love "binds everything together in perfect harmony." When we have love for each other, we can overlook many things. We can overlook differences, we can look past wrongs, and we can see Christ in others. As we do these things, we will find our community of faith growing in harmony with each other in spite of our differences.
I have always been amazed that God can bring together a diverse group of people from all different walks with a diversity of views and philosophies and unite them to form a vibrant and growing church. It is something beyond our human ability. It is supernatural. Gods spirit binds us together. Let us be willing to welcome all into Gods family. Let us put on the clothing of love.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Let us learn to practice love.
This study on Colossians 3:10-14 © 1999 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.
All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version © 1971, A. J. Holman Company
Beare: The Interpreters Bible, vol. 11, pg. 216 © 1955, Abingdon Press
Declaration of Independence: The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America made in Congress, July 4, 1776
Barnes Notes on the New Testament (unabridged reset into one volume) pg. 1074, Kregel Publications
Carson: Tyndale New Testament Commentary, vol. 12, pg. 85-86 © 1960, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Gower: The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times pg. 12 © 1987, Moody Press
According to You from Knights Master Book of New Illustrations pg. 67 © 1956, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Carson: Tyndale New Testament Commentary, vol. 12, pg. 87 © 1960, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted in the Wall Street Journal, November 13, 1962