On the last Sunday of each month, we typically take a break from our current series to talk about what we might do as a church, and as a people to truly make this church a hub for ministry. The building, so to speak, is the hub, and we are the spokes that go out, as the church, to live to bring glory to God.
And although the effects of church have changed greatly over the past four months, the essence of the church has never changed. And yet, even discounting COVID, many have left the church, left this church, for a variety of reasons.
And, truth be told, a part of the reason is me. And a part of the reason is us.
Perhaps if we had been more faithful they had not gone out from us. Of those whose names remain on the roll – how is it with us? And what are we doing? Some have moved away into other states or counties. The have been gone – some of them – for years; their names remain upon our rolls as members – to swell the numbers thereof. In reality they are not members. As to the life they are living, God knows. Some of us yet residing here want ourselves members. But we never, or scarcely ever, attend the services of the church. We manifest no interest in its welfare. We take no part in its work. The Sunday school, the prayer meeting, have no existence in our lives. We are strangers to self-denial and sacrifice. And some, a few, are toiling on, as best we can, perhaps; our prayers cold and almost lifeless; yet God in infinite mercy, we trust hears and our answers. Our works imperfect and inefficient, yet the loving Father in infinite mercy as before accepts and blesses to the account of His beloved Son…. (1)
Those words were written about this church in October 1900. They are still true today. But this church overcame the challenges then, and I believe we can overcome the challenges now. How did they do it? I am sure a part of the reason has to do with love.
But before I get to our primary text in Colossians 3, I want to move well ahead in Romans – to chapter 14. We will get to Romans 14 soon enough (next summer?), but while the issues Paul wrote about were different, the premise of his argument is the same. And the premise of that argument weighs heavy on the church today.
Christians within the same church were arguing over what they could eat and when they should worship. Paul says the strong Christian should exercise their freedom knowing they can eat anything and can worship any day of the week. But the weaker Christian feels bound to tradition and thus will not eat meat and must worship on a particular day.
The stakes for the church in Rome were immense. In today’s terms, we would likely be talking about the possibility of a church split. Now, when doctrine is involved, it is necessary to hold the line and if that creates a divide in the church because some do not believe according the to the teachings of the Bible, well, that is an issue that must be addressed.
And frankly, the weaker Christians in Rome (in this case, mostly the Jews) had a point. God said to keep the Sabbath and restricted His people from eating certain types of food. That information was in their “Bible” – they did not have the NT yet, and perhaps only one or two of the Gospels had been written, and they would likely not have had any way to know all of the teachings of Jesus.
So, Paul wrote that the stronger Christians, those who exercised freedom in their faith on what they ate (meat) and when the worshipped (any and every day), should not cause a fellow believer to stumble. Read Romans 14.14-16.
Don’t take verse 16 out of context. Some things are evil. Eating certain types of food is not. But if we feel free to eat something and doing so may cause another to have doubts about faith (in general, or in specifics), then we should refrain. And it is precisely our freedom that allows us to refrain.
Notice verse 20. “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.”
Let me update that to our world in July of 2020: “Do not, for the sake of wearing a mask, destroy the work of God.”
If you saw my Friday preview video, I touched on this, so I will not spend much time here. But let’s face it, in our world today we will argue about anything, and much of what we argue over relates in some way to our freedoms. But we have a false understanding of freedom. Or, at least, most do not have a biblical understanding of freedom.
As Paul wrote in Romans 14.1, these are matters of opinion. All of the individuals involved were living faithfully to the Lord (as they saw it, and Paul did not rebuke them for that thought here). They were dedicated to the Lord, and nothing Paul mentioned here was breaking any commands. It was opinion.
Thus, to be free biblically, is not to feel you must exercise your beliefs, if it causes hurt to another. In fact, to take it further, Paul says to show true freedom is to not exercise your beliefs if it causes someone else to stumble in their faith.
In other words, rather than exercising your beliefs (i.e. what you believe are your rights), exercise love.
And that brings us to our text for today in Colossians 3.12-16. I am not going to exposit the full text, but I want to highlight what we can do. However, let me share that this chapter begins with the command to seek what is above (that is, in the heavenly realms) and to focus our minds on living with a kingdom mindset, rather than an earthly one.
To do that, Paul lists five sins that should be put to death and six others that should be set aside, some of which might be pertinent for our discussion today. But I want to focus on the positives beginning in verse 12.
As God’s chosen people, who are holy and dearly loved, we are to:
Have compassionate hearts. This begins towards those in the church. The word compassion means to share in the suffering. Suffering can take many forms, but for now just think of the mental suffering people are experiencing due to uncertainty and doubt. We need to set aside our “rights” to help those who are suffering more than we are.
Have kindness. I have shared many times before that the words kind and nice are different. Nice is passive. We can do nothing and be considered nice. Kindness requires action. We must choose to be kind.
Have humility. As it relates to expressing our Christian freedom, here is the hammer. The greatest passage in the Bible about humility is Philippians 2.5-11. Jesus could have demanded His rights as the perfect Son of God, but in His humility, He took time to care for us. We are to have humility as well, loving and caring for others.
Have meekness. I like the definition of controlled power. If meekness is controlled power, then we have the power to do what we want, but we can choose not to exercise that power if holding back will benefit others. That is to live in true freedom.
Have patience. Well, our patience is being tested during this season. But it is showing us that we are not in control – God is. We may not know when this challenge will end (can we be sure it will?), but God is still out in front of this. Maintaining a larger perspective (Colossians 3.1-2) will help us be patient ourselves and can allow us to show patience to others.
Bear with one another. This command is not about others bearing with you, it is about you bearing with others. Yes, that should go both ways. But we cannot control if people will bear burdens with us. And again, this relates to freedom. We have the opportunity to bear or not to bear – regardless of what others choose. But do we do so?
Forgive each other. Uh hum. Church? Do you want to be free? Forgive! When we don’t forgive, we are the ones who are trapped. A lot of times other people do not even know they have offended us – and yet we hold a grudge. That is imprisonment. Forgive and be free.
Put on love.
That is really the essence isn’t it? To love someone is to receive them or to accept them. To do that requires not only us to exercise freedom, but to allow others to do the same. Again, Paul is not talking about sin. Sin should be confronted, but many of the matters we make a big deal about (like whether or not to wear masks) are not sinful. And some that are inherently sinful (racism) get little attention in many churches.
Ultimately, Paul says we’re to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. That word rule has the idea of an umpire making a call in baseball. That is, a pitch is a ball or a strike. A runner is safe or out. Etc. The idea of being in the middle does not exist. The same is true here – Christ either rules or He doesn’t. We are to make the choice to allow Him to rule.
So, is the peace of Christ ruling in your heart?
Now, having Christ’s peace does not mean everything is perfect. It does not mean that we do not struggle in life, with people, etc. It does not mean we will always get along. But, if we are to love others, then we focus on forgiveness, and patience, and meekness, and kindness, etc. We need to have conversations with people to try to understand their perspective (bearing one another’s burdens) rather than just thinking we are always right (i.e. we need humility).
So, on this Hub Sunday, what can we do?
Well, if you have watched my videos over the past few months, I have suggested that we need to do, or maybe that is be, M.O.R.E. Let me use that idea as it relates to Colossians 3.
We need to be:
MOTIVATED. We need to be motivated to love our neighbors within and without the church.
OBSERVANT. We need to be observant of the needs around us in order to know who has burdens, what burdens they have, and how we can help bear them.
RESPONSIVE. When we know what others need, we need to lovingly respond. Perhaps the response can be made by one person, perhaps it takes the entire church, or a combination of the churches.
ENGAGED. This last word is the difference maker. We can have proper motivation. We can see what is going on around us. We can make plans to respond, or even begin to respond. But if we are not engaged, then what does it matter? Being engaged is the difference between having good intentions and being intentional.
Church, if we are going to be a church that brings glory to God, then we must be intentional. We must do, and be, more.
Let me end with a reminder. Early this year, before COVID, I asked us all to consider the following question: Who’s Your One?
Who is that one person for whom you will pray, for whom you will love, for whom you want them to either know Christ or to have that person return to faithfully following Him?
As I mentioned then, I am not asking you to even talk to them – yet, at least not about that. If God wants you to do so, by all means, do so. But based upon today’s message, I am simply asking you to do a little bit M.O.R.E. and love them.
A day will be coming, and reasonably soon, that we will have a conversation with them and that we will invite them to church. But for now, it is simply a matter of being motivated, being observant, being responsive, and beginning to be engaged – all for the purpose of love.
Because to truly love is to be free. And as we love others, we can help them to be free as well.
So, who is God calling you to love – and specifically, to love freely? That is, Who’s your one?
As you consider your one, let me read the remainder of the paragraph from RM Rhodes wrote. May this paragraph be an encouragement for all of us to do the work God has for us to do.
Some of us whose names remain, with tottering limbs and stooping forms are nearing the western horizon of life, looking forward with some degree of anxiety, without the sense of fear or dread, to release from life’s toils and cares and burdens. Earth has lost its charms. Its pleasures, its pursuits, its ambitions have all passed away. Waiting – patiently waiting – the summons, “Child, come home.” Not only has earth lost its charms; but the grave has lost its dread. In the bosom of mother earth there is sweet repose for the weary body. In the arms of the loving Father there is heaven for the tried spirit. In the coming of the blessed Christ there is reunion of the body and soul glorious, incorruptible and immortal. (2)
(1) Elder R. M. Rhodes (two-time leader of the church – excerpt from History of the Baptist Church of Fairfax, probably written in October 1900. Copied verbatim, including punctuation.
(2) This part was the remainder of the paragraph.