Living in Harmony with the People of God (Colossians Sermon 13 of 21)
December 09, 2007 | Andy Davis
Brotherly Love, Church Membership, Fullness in Christ
A Tragically Divided World
As the Sun makes its incredible 24-hour journey around the Earth, one time zone after another, as people are gathering to celebrate the Lord's Day, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead which is never far from our thoughts and never should be. Even as we celebrate the birth of Christ we always think about the empty tomb and the victory that He won. And so this is the Lord's Day and as the Sun makes its 24-hour circuit, and shines its light on one timezone after another, a miracle is taking place. Now I'm not saying that healings are taking place, or people are being raised from the dead, and that may be happening, it may not, all kinds of discussions go on over those kind of things, the sign gifts. I'm talking about something far more significant than that. I'm talking about the miracle of Christian Fellowship, genuine Christian Fellowship. And I'm even highlighting this morning the miracle of surprising Christian Fellowship. Something that cannot be explained any other way.
I think we saw a little of it in the interview today as you have Ron and Genara, standing side by side. So very different, and yet I know them both and in their hearts a love for Jesus Christ characterizes them, and how sweet is that. If you don't know either one of them or both, you're missing a treat, get to know them. They are your brother and your sister in Christ. But how could it be that they would be in such close fellowship with each other? Now these gatherings that happen around the world fly in the face of all human logic. They supersede any efforts at diplomacy, any economic care packages, any political solutions. There are trouble spots all over the world that will actually only get worse and worse, but in the center of it, there are these gatherings, house churches, small groups of people gathering together defying all logic, transcending all human hatred, be it ever so deeply rooted in that surrounding culture. And they love each other, and they're gathering to worship.
I've met missionaries that are working in Central and Eastern Europe, and they testify to this. They talked about pockets of peace in the Balkans, where Serbs and Croats get together. They've already met because the sun's already passed them by in terms of Sunday morning worship, but they'll be gathering again later today. And they'll be worshipping together and they defy all human reason. They love each other deeply from the heart. There's not a lot of them, but they're there. So also in Palestine there are Lebanese Muslims and former Jews who had rejected up to that point the gospel, who have come to faith in Christ and are actually worshipping together. There's your Middle East solution. I don't know what the American government's planning. I don't know what Condoleezza Rice is going to do. I'm not here to talk about politics, but I tell you there is your Middle East solution, right there.
The peace that only Jesus can bring. And it's happening all over the world. I've talked to people in the Czech Republic and in Romania and they testify to this, that guards that were working under the communist regime that beat them and tortured them, now worship with them in house church places and other small church gatherings. And it was hard to forgive, but they were enabled to forgive, you know how the Lord takes our arm and twists it behind our back with the parable of the 10,000 talents, and says in effect, how dare you not forgive the 100 Denari when I have forgiven you so much. And so the hatred just melts away. The antipathy just melts away, and true genuine fellowship occurs. It's going on all over the world, and even here in America. When former racists can get together and worship in the true peace that only Jesus can bring, black racists and white racists, they can actually get together and drop that aside, and there can be an open visible display of the unity that only Jesus can bring.
Racial, National, Religious, and Socio-Economic Divisions
Brothers and sisters, I yearn to see it more here than we see it now. So you want to know where I'm going with this sermon? I want to see an open clear display of how Jesus melts human divisions, and I find it right in the text we're looking at this morning, Colossians 3. Amen? Pray for it. Yearn for it. Yearn to see more and more Kazakhs and international students, people from India, people from China coming to embrace Christ as a result of our international student ministry. Yearn to see more and more African Americans coming and worshipping here as a result of our growing urban ministry, yearn for it, pray for it, that's the application today. And where do I get it? You look at Colossians 3:11 it speaks there of “Greek or Jews, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free”, we live in a world torn by divisions, and it's amazing how in these few names here, Paul covers four of the major ways that people have tended to have divided, one from another. For example there are racial distinctions. Greek or Jew. America is a nation with a history of racial division, segregation and racial hatred. But it's not just here in America, it's all over. It's in South Africa, even beyond apartheid it's still there. It's in India, in Pakistan it's there, it's in Malaysia.
Racism is a problem all over the world. And then there's nationalism which is just kind of racism organized along political lines, and so people tend to see themselves as proud to be whatever country they're from and to speak of their nation as the greatest nation on earth and to forget that our citizenship is in Heaven, Philippians 3 teaches. But we saw rabid nationalism right before World War II when the National Socialist Party in Germany, the Nazis, organized that whole nation around nationalism, and they took it to invading other countries and dominating and liquidating the local populations in the name of Germany.
And then there's religious divisions, you see it as well, circumcised or uncircumcised, that has to do with religious regulations. Some of the bitterest divides in the world are over religion, certainly the Palestinian Israeli conflict, that's got ethnic and nationalistic overtones, but it's at heart a religious division. So also during the time of the partition, the Indian subcontinent mingled Muslims and Hindus. I can't imagine two religions more different and they were living in very close quarters and horrible riots broke out, and thousands of people were killed, and they were religious discrepancies at the core, and it's not just out there, but the Christian Church has been rent by these kinds of wars. The 100 Years War and all the religious wars that followed the Reformation. Protestants and Catholics killing each other. And then there's socio-economic divisions, slave or free which plagues it as well, the division between classes of people, rich and poor, nobility and the peasantry, and the middling sort and all of that, the whole class structure, and it's still there and it's there all over the world.
But in our hearts I think human beings yearn for peace and unity. We don't live for strife, most of us don't, and we want it and we see secular efforts guided by human wisdom at trying to bring about solutions and peace to areas. And I don't know what the motives are, maybe they want to win the Nobel Peace Prize, or be established as political leaders, who knows what their motives are but there's a bent in that direction, a bent toward peace and toward unity but I tell you it will fail. History has proven it will fail. There's only one true Concord between nations, between people, and that's through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that's what this text testifies to.
Now the context of Colossians 3, as we're looking at here, was a heresy that was rife in the Colossian area. I don't know that it had taken root yet in the Colossian church but it was coming, and so I think it was Epaphroditus that came and spoke to Paul of a church he'd never visited, a local church, and of the problems that were going on there, and of the threat of this heresy. And so that's the context, but in the midst of it we have some transferable truths, some things that are true no matter what kind of issues we're facing.
The Glory of Christ
They're always true and they have to do with the glory of Jesus Christ, and the glory of the gospel that He came to purchase by His own blood. You see the glory of Christ in Colossians 1, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for by Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things are created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together." The glory and the majesty of the person of Jesus Christ. This is the one we celebrate at Christmas time and year-round. He is the center of the gospel, the center of the universe, the glory of Christ. But we also see the glory of the gospel, look at Colossians 1:19-22, these verses are very relevant for what we're looking at today. The glory of the gospel. Colossians 1:19-22, it says, "For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death." Look at those relational words, look at how intensely relational the gospel is. Reconcile, peace, alienated, enemies, reconciled again, these things have to do with relationships, and so there was a significant problem vertically between us and God, whether you felt it or not. At one time, Colossians 1 says, you were enemies, all of us were enemies because of our evil behavior, in our minds, our hearts, because of our evil behavior. But now we've been reconciled through the blood shed on the cross, once enemies vertically alienated, needed to be reconciled, then Jesus did that.
All of the horizontal problems come from that. All of them. We have problems one with another because we have problems with God. Therefore once we have been reconciled to God, then we have firm ground under our feet that we might be reconciled one with another, and that's what these verses is talking about, the power of the gospel to bring about reconciliation with God, Almighty God first, and then with one another, secondly. Now the Colossian heresy gave a different gospel which is no gospel at all quoting Galatians, it's no gospel at all. But in Colossians they were offering a religious concoction, a kind of a bubbling mess in some kind of cauldron of human philosophy, and Jewish legalism, and mysticism with the worship of angels, and with the harsh treatment of the body, asceticism. If you do these things then you can get beyond where Jesus left us, He only brings you so far, but He's insufficient, you have to go beyond. Oh, what a heresy. Christ is sufficient for us, He's sufficient for full reconciliation with God and sufficient for full reconciliation with one another. And so it’s a false gospel and it was a false teaching and it could not bring about what Colossians 2 discusses, true holiness.
The Glory of the Gospel
But then he goes, Paul goes in Colossians 3:1-17 to describe elements of a truly healthy Christian life. And as I said before these are verses well worthy of your memorization and meditation. Colossians 3:1-17, and first he gives us a heavenly mindset, verses 1-4, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated”. That is your heavenly home. I just love that song that Michael Card sang on Friday and that Eric sang a few weeks before that, the New Jerusalem. I can't listen to it without crying, because I want to be there! I mean it's not bad here, and you folks make it better, but I want to be there. I want to be there with you too. We're going to be there. I'm yearning, I just have that yearning, set your hearts and things above. Secondly, as we talked about for two weeks. Battling indwelling sin. We've gotta fight sin and put sin to death, mortification of sin.
Do get that John Owen book. If you don't have your free copy, please pick it up at the back of the church, and if they run out, which they probably will, then call the office, we'll get some more. Today we're talking about walking together in the new self and a new community, and then the fourth step is saturating your hearts with Christ. “Letting the peace of Christ rule in your heart”, “letting the word of Christ richly dwell” “in your heart”. Letting the name of Christ be the sole motivator for everything you do, the name and the glory of Christ. And thanks to Christ constantly given by our hearts. That's the four part outline of next week's sermon. What do you think are the odds I'll finish that in one week? You're shaking your heads, probably not, alright but that's where we're heading. But you do all of these things in Colossians 3:1-17, you will be healthy as a Christian, you will be fruitful as a Christian, you will be happy, your household will be well ordered and so will the Church. These are good things, so let's zero in on that third major category, and that's walking together in the new self and a new community.
The Old Self and the New
Moral Commands Based on New Status
And so we come to the doctrine of the old self and the new self. Moral commands in the New Testament are based on a new status. Look at verse one of Colossians 3, "Since then you have been raised with Christ," “you have been raised, it's a settled status if you're a Christian, you have been raised with Christ.” Verse three, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God," it's a status, dead and now alive. Again verse four, "When Christ, who is your life, appears," “Christ is your life, that's a new status.” And then verse five, "Put to death therefore", because of this new status then you're going to mortify sin, that's how New Testament ethics is taught. On the basis of what God has done for you, on the basis of the change in your life, on that basis then you move out, and you do some things differently. Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature, we have a new status. Through union with Christ, in His death and in His resurrection. At one time we were an old person in Adam, now we are new in Christ. And I tell you, we talk about people being black or white, they see everything as black or white and all that, see everything binary, yes-no etcetera. God sees the human race that way, He either sees you in Adam or you're in Christ and that's it. There's no third option. You're either in Adam or you are in Christ.
The Puritan, Thomas Goodwin put it this way, there are but two men that are seen standing before God, Adam and Jesus Christ and these two men have all other men hanging from their belts. So you're either seen in Adam or you're seen in Christ. Now if you've come to faith in Christ, that old person you were in Adam is dead, forever. And now you have a new identity in Christ, it's a decisive act in history, Jesus talks about being born again. “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he has been born again” or “born from above, born by the Spirit.” Has this happened to you? Has it happened to you? We're going to talk about harmony, we're going to talk about unity, we're going to talk about racism, we're going to talk about ministries and different things like that but put all that aside, how does God see you? Are you in Adam, or are you in Christ?
Oh, please hear me, you're going to die, I don't know when but someday you're going to die, and when you die you will stand before Almighty God and as you heard in my prayer, nothing is hidden before Almighty God, He sees everything, “everything's uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” Are you ready for that day? Are you ready to die? It might be today, are you ready? Are you in Christ? Have you been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought over into the kingdom of the beloved Son? Has that happened? Are you born again? You may say "I don't know how to know. I don't know if I'm born again." There can be no more significant question for you to resolve today than that. Please don't walk out of this place without having it resolved. If you're hearing His voice in your heart and you don't know whether you're following Him, and you don't know whether He's your good shepherd, then come talk to me or just find a brother or sister in Christ and say "I need to know if I am born again".
Christians Called to be a Holy, New Creation
All the other things were interesting, harmony, unity, Scythians. Boy, it's interesting to learn who the Scythians were, that's all interesting. It's not going to save your soul. Whether you're in Adam or Christ, now that's the issue. Come to Christ, look to Him, look to His blood shed on the cross, as sufficient for all your sins, trust in Him, now. Call on Him, even in the quietness of your heart. But if that's happened to you, if you have been rescued and brought over into the kingdom, you are a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "If anyone's in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone, behold everything is become new." And that new creation God has committed to “upholding by the word of His power” for the rest of your existence, and do you know how long that is? It's eternal. That new creation self inside you will survive all of the temptations you will face the rest of your life.
Satan can't touch it, he can't kill it, he can't extinguish the light that was kindled inside your heart. He can assault you, he can make you miserable, he can reduce the number of good works you have to show at the end of your life, he can do those things, but he cannot touch the new creation. Because Almighty God upholds it by the word of His power and it will survive all illnesses, it will survive all the twists and turns of providence, it will survive your final trip to the hospital, your two weeks in the ICU when with labored breath, you make your way out of this world, it will survive your physical death, the new creation, and it will survive when God has you stand before Him spiritually and give Him an “account of everything done in the body, whether good or bad”. It will survive the torching of your works, “the gold and silver and costly stones and the wood and the hay and the straw”, your new creation self will survive all of that. And it will go on into eternity, and your new creation self, which is inside you now, predates a new heaven and new earth which will come someday, and the “old heaven and the old earth will be wrapped up like a garment and thrown away.”
So I believe your new creation self will survive the Grand Canyon, it'll survive the Pacific Ocean, it'll survive the constellations as they presently are arrayed, it will survive every natural thing that surrounds us. That's how powerful is the work that God's done in your soul. And He will make a new earth and I don't know if there'll be a new Grand Canyon, I don't know what, that's up to God and He is creative and it's going to be beautiful and spectacular. I know it says there'll no longer be any sea but Randy Alcorn says there will. I don't know who you're going to go with on that, Apostle John or Randy Alcorn? But I have no idea whether there's going to be a sea or not, whether there's going to be mountains or not. I know it's going to be beautiful.
Only Put On Deeds Fitting of the New Creation in You
It's the new creation that's coming. But you have a new creation self inside you and because that's true, then you're commanded to be sanctified, and the essence of sanctification is "Put off the old and put on the new." That's what he's teaching you here. Put off the old and put on the new. Negatively, you are to “put off these sins of perverted love”, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry,” put them off. It's like putting on a dead carcass of a human being. I mean covered with maggots, I want you to be grossed out by sexual immorality and lust and greed, they're filthy. Put it off, it's part of an old way of life, it's not part of who you are. It will not be part of who you are in heaven. So put it off and put off those sins of broken relationships, anger and rage and malice and slander and filthy language from your lips and put off lying. Stop lying to each other. That's all part of the old self. That's negative, that's what you put off. But now you're also commanded to put on some beautiful things. Oh! How sweet is this? Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. These things shine with radiance. They characterized Christ, they characterize Him still. And it's part of your new nature.
Old Self Crucified, New Self Constantly Renewed and Put On
And so verse 9 says, "Do not lie to each other since you have taken off your old self." It's permanent, it's done. You have a new identity now, it's gone forever. Galatians 2:20, "I've been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me,” “I died”. Well you've taken off the old self but the practices still remain, in the body of sin, the body of death, it's still the habits are built, it’s a momentum, an unholy momentum. Put those practices off too, that's what he's saying.
But then you've got this new self which is constantly renewed and you are to put it on. You have put on the new self. Now, what does it mean to put on Christ, or to put on the new self? I think there's just some practical thing, it's got to do with a mindset. Self-talk, preach to yourself, okay? "I am a Christian, I am to be like Christ, I am to imitate Jesus in everything I do, I want to be like Christ," you're talking to yourself, it's a matter of prayer, "Lord, I praise You that I'm a new creation, I praise You that I can imitate You in every way. I trust in You now, please live through me by Your Spirit." Moment by moment, pray without ceasing for these kinds of prayers. Put on Christ. And it's a matter of learning. It says it's “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Don't stop listening to good preaching. Don't stop listening to the Word, don't forsake your quiet time. Saturate your mind in the Word of God, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly so that this new self can be renewed in knowledge. Renewed means it's like a constant new creation work going on inside you to sustain what God began. There's a renewing, it means we're constantly dependent on the Father, constantly. And He will uphold it for all eternity. So it's renewed in knowledge, in the image of its Creator, and how sweet is this. It goes back to Genesis 1:27 it says, "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female, He created them” “in the image of God.” But how is that marred through sin? How filthy has it become? Jesus means to have it clean again. And so it is renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator, the new self, that's what you put on. An imitation of God. This is the essence of sanctification, put off and put on. And the result is heaven on display. Heaven on display! Wouldn't it be sweet to say to a non-Christian friend, come to a church where you can see heaven on display. "Oh, I'd love to see that, where's that?" "Well, it's at First Baptist Church in Durham." "In Durham? Can anything good come out of Durham?" they might say. And you'll say, "Absolutely, lots of good things come out of Durham. 400 Christians come out of the doors of a church in Durham and go out and change their world, and then they come back and they get renewed in knowledge and they go back out and change the world. All kinds of good things come out of Durham. Absolutely, heaven on display."
Heaven on Display: Perfect Unity Amid Astonishing Diversity
Sin’s Fragmenting Effect: The Human Race Divided
Now sin has fragmented the world. As I've mentioned, racism, I think all of it is a form of self worship. You get down to it, it's self worship, racism, nationalism, religious fanaticism, these kinds of things, a form of self worship. In the image of its creator, I might say, because Satan is the ultimate self-worshipper. And the result is the human race is likened in Daniel's vision to this huge statue with a head of gold and a chest and arms of silver, and a belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron. And then there are those feet, remember? Feet of clay. We talked about that. Partly iron, partly baked clay. And you know what? They don't adhere together. They don't mix well. They don't stay together. They just fragment and the whole thing comes crumbling down as the rock cut out of a mountain strikes the feet of clay and the whole thing, human history, empires and all, it just smashed because of our weakness that we cannot stay together because we hate each other. Because of racism, because of nationalism, because of socio-economic divisions, because of religions divides, because of the work of Satan.
So Paul mentioned these groups in verse 11, ”Greek or Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, Barbarians, Scythians, slave or free”. The Greeks and Jews hated each other. Hated! It was a hatred and animosity there. The Jews, when they would return from a Gentile country, would shake the dust off as they entered in and would give themselves ritual baths, to just get all the Gentile-ness off themselves. And they would never go in a Gentile home. Big problem in Acts 10 when Peter went to preach the gospel to Cornelius, that he would step across the threshold into a Gentile home. They hated the Gentiles.
And the Gentiles for their part thought the Jews were pretty odd too. And there was some hatred there. And there was a division because of the law of Moses and circumcision and all kinds of things, and Jesus has destroyed it all. He's taken down the barrier. He's taken down “the dividing wall of hostility”. Ephesians 2:13, I'm following, read it, "By abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body, to reconcile both of them to God through the cross by which He put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away,” “Gentiles,” “and peace to you who are near,” “Jews,” and brought the two together sweetly into one new person. Jesus can do that. The cross has the power to kill hostility. And so it has. And then there's the barbarians. The word in the Greek kind of like the word in English, is a kind of an imitation that the elite cultured Greeks had of the languages of those unwashed pagans out there. "Barbarbarbarbar". That's how they talk. Mocking their language and their culture.
That haughty arrogance is removed forever in Christ. And then there are the Scythians. I told you a moment ago, you'd learn about the Scythians. I didn't know who the Scythians were. They were nasty apart from Christ. Scythian Christians, wonderful. But Scythians were dreaded and hated among all barbarians by the Greeks. They were nomadic, war-like people dwelling in the Caspian region. And they would frequently invade the Fertile Crescent, and they would come down there and Herodotus said this, "They ruled Asia for 28 years, and the land was wasted by reason of their violence and their arrogance. They drank the blood of the first enemy killed in a battle. Made napkins of the scalps and drinking bowls of the skulls of the slain. They had the most filthy habits and never washed with water." That's Herodotus. They smelled, Scythians. Josephus put it this way, "The Scythians delight in murdering people. And are little better than wild beasts." Alright, so a fellowship between Jew, Greek and Scythian. Come and see it at the church near you. How could it be? How could such divisions be melted away, except by Jesus Christ? Except by the work of the gospel. It's a picture of Heaven.
Equality and Unity Celebrated in Christ
And so it says, "Here is heaven." And that includes slave and free. According to Aristotle, the slave was little more than a living tool. But in Christ, both slave and freemen became brothers forever. I love the story of Perpetua and Felicitas, two women. During the time of the Roman persecution of the church, around 202 AD, Perpetua was a young woman from a noble family, and Felicitas was a slave girl and they faced martyrdom together for their faith in Christ. And as they faced the wild beasts, whose ravening ways would end their lives, cruelly, they held hands and prayed together and worshipped Christ as they died. Very different socioeconomic backgrounds, holding hands together and dying together for Christ. Those distinctions are all destroyed. Here, there is no Greek or Jew. Here, there is no barbarian. Here, there is no circumcised or uncircumcised. Here, there is no slave. Here, there is no free. Where? Where do I go for that? Here is heaven. Here is the gospel. Here is, it should be, the local church. Here is where you find it, a picture of heaven. And what is heaven going to be like? Well, let me engage in a little speculation with you. You may come afterwards and you may say, "I don't agree."
Christ’s Prayer for Unity
But you know very well in Revelation 7, it says that, "There's going to be a multitude greater than anyone can count, from every tribe and language and people and nation, standing around the throne and they'll be dressed in white, and they'll be singing praise to Jesus." We all know that. But I believe that they'll maintain their amoral distinctiveness from one another. They will maintain the emblems of their racial distinctiveness. They will maintain the stamp of who God made them to be but not immorally, I mean. They will be different from one another. So I believe that there will be astonishing diversity in heaven. But perfect unity. Astonishing diversity in perfect unity in Heaven. And it is a unity, I believe, the Scripture teaches that is based on the Trinity. Jesus said in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one." So you maintain the person of the Father, the person of the Son but they are mystically, mysteriously one. We don't even have the first idea how one that one is. Perfectly one. But then Jesus prays in John 17, will you turn there in your Bible, John 17, look with me. In John 17:11, I've alloted 20 seconds for page turning. I'm just kidding. John 17:11, "Jesus prayed, “Holy Father... '", this is His highly priestly prayer the night before He died and He's praying for the church, He's praying for the believers, for the elect, and He says, "Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Me so that they may be one as we are one." He's praying for unity. Friends, do not misunderstand. I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. I believe that everything that Jesus, the Son of God asks of His Father, He gets. We don't need to pity poor Jesus in His prayer for unity. Like poor Jesus' prayer isn't going well, we need to help Him out. Do not think that way. Everything the Son ask His Father for, He gets. And He's praying for a unity that is absolutely perfect. Do you see it? "That they may be one as we are one."
Look at verse 20 and 21, "My prayer is not for them alone, I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message." Who's that? That's you and me as believers in Christ. "That all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us." My first insight that I have in reading this, is this is talking about a perfect heavenly unity. 1 Corinthians 1:10, "Perfectly united in mind and thought," absolute conformity one to another. We think every thought alike, we agree about everything, like that. Alright, heavenly unity, we're going there. But that's not the end of the prayer. Look what He says beyond that.
In John 17:23 He says, "I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me." That is process language, friends. It's perfecting language. May this unity be ever more clear to the watching world, so that they can believe the gospel. What's my application on that? If a local church is segregated, and racist, and people are not welcome, and all that and etcetera, it is not a testimony to the gospel. But if there is a surprising unity worked in that local congregation, the gospel is greatly enhanced, and more people get saved. And that's what Jesus is praying for. "May there be an open visible display of unity among My people so that those who are watching may believe the gospel, may believe that You sent Me. And that that You have loved them even as You have loved Me." Oh, how sweet is that?
So how do we do it? Well, can I start by urging you to be dressed for the occasion. You may wonder what that means. We've become increasingly informal. We're a very informal culture. I always love reading about encounters between the Queen of England and Americans. We're very informal. Just like Jim Thorpe who was a native American who won some gold medals at the Olympics and the King of Sweden gave him the medals and he said, "Thanks, King", you know that kind of thing. That's just so American. But we need to learn how to be dressed for the occasion in this sense at least. It says in verse 12, "As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with", so we're talking about clothing. First of all we have to show our status.
Dressed for the Occasion
In Roman society, only the Emperor could wear a purple toga. Only the Senate could wear a toga with a broad purple stripe along the arm. Only the Equestrian class could wear a thin stripe of purple around. It all had to do with purple, purple was a sense of royalty, and so you could kind of tell where someone was at in a class by the clothes they wear. But brothers and sisters in Christ, we are children of the King, we need to dress like it. And it has nothing to do with the clothes you wear. It has to do with these virtues as “God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Now, it starts with God's election as God's chosen people.
This is the doctrine of election, it's the doctrine that God before the foundation of the world, chose His children. And it has a tremendous leveling effect on the human race. The more you study it, the more you realize just how level we are in the doctrine of election, we're just as level in the election as we are at the foot of the cross. We are leveled by election. Because you learn very plainly, first of all, it happened before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1, it says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Jesus Christ who has blessed us from the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ for He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight". And then Romans 9 teaches us that the election is not based on merits or works, "Before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose in election might stand, not by works but by Him who calls. She was told the older will serve the younger."
Just as said later in Romans 9, "I'll have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." By God's sovereignty, He chooses. And that has a tremendous leveling effect. How can you boast in the face of that? We are chosen in opposition to what we deserve, not because of our deserts. And that levels it. It says we are holy, that's set apart from the world, purified from evil, and dearly loved, we are “written on the palms of His hand”, all of us, every Christian. We have been loved, it says in Jeremiah 31:3, "With an everlasting love, holy and dearly loved", alright, then clothe yourself properly. Be dressed for the occasion.
Now I want to give you a little parable. Suppose one of your best friends, or your best friend got elected President of the United States. "Never going to happen", You say, "You don't know my friends." You're right, I don't. Probably won't happen, but suppose it did. And that friend invited you to be his guest for all of the inauguration and the inaugural ball, the whole day. And you're going to sleep in the White House. He's getting re-elected so he's got the freedom to do that, and he gives you a room in the White House and you walk in there, and there laying out on the bed is the most exquisite set of clothing you've ever seen in your life. Spectacular. Beautiful. You've never seen anything like it and you put it on, and it fits perfectly. It's literally tailor made, and expensive. You can tell and it's just looks beautiful. And a little note from your friend says, "These are to wear at the inaugural ball. Enjoy". And it's signed. So you spend the night in the White House, you wake up the next morning, you put on the clothes you walked in with. Oh come on, it's your best suit from Walmart, that polyester thing you wore in there.
Or maybe it's what you were wearing the last time you went hiking or did some work out in the yard. You chose to wear that that day. And you show up at the inaugural ball and the Secret Service just won't let you in. You're not dressed for the occasion. By the way, Jesus told a parable like this, where the master of the banquet found somebody who wasn't dressed for the wedding feast and threw him out, because he wasn't dressed. And that parable I think, refers to the righteousness of Christ. If you're not clothed with the righteousness of Christ, you get thrown out. You have to have imputed righteousness. But here, this verse is talking about an imparted righteousness where we're actually acting like Jesus. And so you wear those clothes and the Secret Service will not let you in. And your friend that night calls you and says, "Where were you? I was looking. I wanted to introduce you to people. Where were you?" And you tell him the story. How much pity do you think he's going to have on you? I tell you none. He has laid out for you everything you need to be well dressed for that occasion.
And so also Jesus has laid these things out on the bed and He does so every morning and says, "Put them on. Wear them. Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Compassion means you actually genuinely care what's going on in the life of someone else. You care as though it were happening to you. Kindness. You find ways that you can use your body, your money, your time to bless someone else. And you do it with a sweet disposition, kindness. Humility. You actually think of someone else as better than yourself. I mean, genuinely think of them as better than yourself. You're not just playing a game. You actually think they are. If they knew you, and they are better, and their needs are more important than yours. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, like a gentle spring breeze that barely lifts the leaf of a new flower. Something like that, gentleness. A gentle answer turns away wrath. Jesus says, "I am gentle. And you'll find rest for your souls." The gentleness of a true Christian. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Forgiveness is Essential
Patience. Long suffering. We do make each other suffer, you know. I know you probably don't make your loved ones suffer, but you know very well that they make you suffer, and so you need to bear with them. And He says, "Bear with one another and forgive." There's forbearance and there's forgiveness, alright? What is forbearance? It's an amoral issue. It's not a sin, but you go to the men's retreat, and your bunkmate snores like you have never heard before. It's terrible. It's not a moral issue. Put up with it. Or maybe there's a physical problem. Maybe he stutters. Maybe she has a laugh that stops a party, you know one of those shrieking weird kind of gulping laughs. There's nothing that can be done about it. It's not a moral issue, bear with it, put up with each other.
And then concerning those moral issues, they have spoken harshly to you. They have broken some law of love. They have violated some Christian commandment. You need to forgive. And this is where as I said, Jesus takes your arm and twists it behind your back and says, "Don't come and tell Me about the 100 dinari. I'll talk to you about the 10,000 talents. You owed Me everything, and I forgave it all, and I did it freely and richly. And you would ask, it says, "Forgive as the Lord forgave you." How did Jesus forgive you? Fully, freely, gladly forgave you! Completely forgiven! Oh, let that run in this church. Let there be genuine forgiveness in this church and over all of these things “put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity”. Love really encapsulates them all. Alright, what application do we take from this? There are tons of applications, but not time. Just read them.
Summary and Application
The whole sermon's an application, very practical. We're in a practical part of a Pauline epistle. Application's easy, do these things. Want a good marriage? Do this. As a matter of fact, if you're a married person I would challenge you. Memorize Colossians 3:12 and do it, every day and you'll have a good marriage. 3:12. "So you keep shrinking it, Pastor. It was 3:1-17, now we're down to just one verse." I'm just saying, if you're not doing anything, please memorize Colossians 3:12. It will sweeten your relationships. Alright, but can I urge you concerning this corporate witness in this community. We are really close to some incredibly needy people and they're not here right now. They're not worshiping with us. Haven't been for decades. I'm talking about the urban community that surrounds us, and they're not well represented here, and I think they should be. And I don't think that it's a journey that's easy to make, but I'm talking about urban ministry. And so we have the beginnings I think, of an urban ministry. When I say beginnings, please don't misunderstand me. I know that there's some saints here that have labored on urban ministry before, and they have done good works and those things are stored up in Heaven, and they're kept there and nothing can take them. There are some people that have been brought to faith. But all I'm saying is that it got reduced to a very low level a few years ago, and now it's starting to grow again. We've got Jobs for Life. We've begun to touch the lives of some people and get to know just how much they need Christ and how much they need the gospel.
It's not an easy ministry and there's some that really, really labor to make it happen and in effect, we're walking through a garden and you can see a tiny, little green thing shooting up into the ground, shiny little green leaves. Can I ask first and foremost that you not step on it? Please, can we start there? Don't say, "Well, we don't really want that kind of ministry we're not called to do that kind of thing," etcetera. We are right here, friends, where we have to give an account, I believe, for this neighborhood because they're right here. Well, but maybe you could do more than that. Maybe you can enrich and fertilize the soil around it. Maybe you could pray for it. Say, "God, give us a healthy urban ministry here, so that when people walk in on Sunday morning, they can see a surprising unity and the gospel might be advanced, like it says in John 17.
But it could be more than that, maybe you can actually tend the soil and do some work. Maybe God might be calling you. I don't believe everyone who's listening to me is called to Urban Ministry, I'm not saying that. And it's not just Urban Ministry, there's also International Ministry. We have international students that come here, and it's growing and it's strong, getting stronger all the time. You may be called to do that. At least don't step on that plant either, talking against it, "Why do those folks come?" and all that kind of thing. Don't talk against it, but could I urge that you fertilize the soil around it with prayer, and with tears, and care about it at least. Even if you're not called to it, can you pray for it? But it could be maybe you are called to do it. International Wives, Conversation Corners, ESL, reaching out. I think that this church could be a spectacular display of the Gospel of Christ. Let's see if God will do it here in our midst. Close with me in prayer.