When two horses are harnessed together, they share the load. They “bear with” each other. If one stops or pulls away, they won’t get far. Rather than using their time, energy, and force to move the load forward, they’ll exhaust themselves pulling in opposition. This image may help us understand Gospel preacher Paul’s letter to the house churches in Colossae:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
(Colossians 3:12-14, emphasis mine)
The believers at Colossae were not so different from your local church body or mine. They believed in Jesus Christ, had turned from their sin, and were doing their best to follow Him.
The Colossians were imperfect humans, just like us. They had emotions, feelings, and thoughts. The believers at Colossae had histories, both shared and unique. They had distinct cultural and family customs. They likely had specific ideas about politics, medicine, family culture, and hundreds of other minutiae.
All those differences would have created a wide margin for disunity, wouldn’t they?
Add a heaping dose of false teaching to the mix, and it’s easy to imagine a firestorm of discord smoldering within a fellowship. Circumstances were ripe for believers straining against one another, each pulling away from the brothers and sisters with whom she disagrees.
In my experience, it’s far easier to walk in Christ’s grace toward unbelievers, but to believers? Woo. That’s a whole different matter.
But, Lord, they know better! They know You, so why should I have to put up with this?
Would a little smiting be too much to ask?
Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but I bet you know just what I mean.
The temptation to be self-righteous is strong and sneakily subtle, isn’t it? Every believer’s background and personal perspective may differ, but we all need to be reminded of Christ’s Gospel: we were all unbelievers once, marked for death by our sins. We are saved only by God’s mercy and grace.
“For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another.
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy – through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
This life in Christ is not for the faint of heart.
Just as Paul exhorted the Colossians, we are also called to “put on” our life in Christ as we “bear with one another”. We are called to walk as Christ’s ambassadors to unbelievers, yes, but also to our brothers and sisters in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20, Galatians 6:10) Clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace and thankfulness, we are called into deep, family-like community with other believers.
We are utterly incapable of fulfilling this call in our own strength,
but we are now in Christ if we have repented of our sins and accepted His gift of salvation and forgiveness!
Thank God! (2 Corinthians 9:15)
Through Him, we are able to respond in obedience.
While Paul exhorted the Colossians to live in peace, he didn’t advocate an absence of God-honoring challenge in believing relationships. In fact, he discipled the Colossians on how to sharpen and teach one another.
Paul directed every believer to “let the word of Christ dwell richly among you[.]” (Colossians 3:16) Paul called them up and out, directing them to choose to live soaked in the teachings of Christ. Paul explained only by living with an emphasis on Christ’s word would they be able to follow His instruction: to admonish, or teach and rebuke, one another in all wisdom.
Paul instructed the Colossians to allow the word of Christ to transform their lives.
To be a willing participant in the fellowship of believers.
To choose to live a life of willing responsibility and accountability.
Paul called the Colossian church, and us, to choose community life, to hold ourselves accountable to Christ’s word by leaning into wise vulnerability, and to lovingly point one another to the authority of His word.
There’s a subtle nuance here we must grasp.
It is transformational.
Jesus doesn’t force us to open our lives and hearts to others within the body. In the same way He will never force any person to put their faith and trust in Him, He will never force anyone into a life of mutual submission to other believers.
When we try to hold accountable, correct, or rebuke others without being teachable or honest about our own struggles, our relationships are imbalanced. This quickly leads to self-righteous hypocrisy while wounding other believers. We disobey Christ’s command to love one another; instead of sowing love, we are actively sowing seeds of discord and dissension.
Conversely, if we vulnerably allow other trusted believers to see, know, and disciple us to Christ’s way, but we are unwilling to invest in them in return, we still miss the mark. Instead of a holy, mutual willing responsibility to bear one another’s burdens, we instead become constant, self-centered receivers in relationships.
Neither picture lines up with God’s design.
Both indicate a required adjustment in our hearts and minds.
Christ will never force us to live in this kind of radically vulnerable, give-and-receive relationship within His body, but He does invite, enable, and empower us, if we’re willing! He will make His word dwell in us richly and transform us to live in willing responsibility to Him and one another by the power of His Holy Spirit!
Another Day 4
Paul’s words in Colossians are for us today, too. We are called to “put on” the clothing of life in Christ.
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