Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Living the New Life - Love
We?ve talked about how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in ridding yourself of the dominance of the old nature. We nail it to the cross, strip it off, treat it as a foreign intruder and cut off its supply lines. Then, like putting on a new set of clothes, we put on the character of Jesus?but what does that look like? Beginning here in Colossians 3:12, Paul explores more what it means to ?put on? this new character.
Verses 12 ? 17 speak generally about how we are treat each other in the body of Christ?and how we act as Jesus? disciples in the world. Then beginning with verse 18, Paul gets more specific with different relationships, and how this new character can be applied in those situations.
Finally in the beginning of Chapter 4, Paul admonishes us to keep sight of the bigger picture?that we are here with a job?to spread the gospel of Jesus?the good news of great joy that there is eternal life in the Messiah.
In this study we are just going to look at verses 12 through 14 of Chapter 3, as Paul talks about the core character that we use when it comes to dealing with others.
Paul begins the subject with another ?therefore.? Because we are risen people and because we have a new character and have put off (or are in the process of putting off) the old character?Paul wants us to recognize our new place.
Our old wardrobe consisted of the things we ?lived? in (3:7), but the new clothes are the things we do with this new character. When the church appears in the Book of the Revelation?she is described this way:
Rev. 19:8 ?She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.?
So as redeemed people we are literally clothed with the new character in that we speak, think and act in different ways than before. Every time you reflect Jesus in what you think do and say, it is like getting a new outfit in the mail, a new pair of shoes, a ring or a new tie.
This new character puts us in a new position: as ?chosen ones, holy and beloved.? Yahweh speaks often of Israel as his ?chosen people.? For example: Isaiah 43:20 ?My chosen people. 21 The people I formed for Myself will declare My praise.? Now Jesus has become the true Israel, and the church, His bride, now the chosen people. Does this mean God turns his back on Israel? No. The Scriptures promise that Israel will turn and declare Jesus to be their Messiah as well?so it really all comes from Jesus.
We are ?chosen? and also ?holy.? That word means: ?to be set apart?. God chose us and now sets us apart for His purposes. Finally Paul says we are ?loved?. All these words are used of Jesus (chosen: 1 Peter 2:4,6; holy one: John6:69; loved by the Father: Mathew 3:17). It is in Jesus that we find our identity and our purpose.
Why start off this way? It begins to make sense if you turn the word order of the first words of verse 12 around: we are loved by God, made holy by the death of His Son?set apart and chosen by Him to represent Jesus in this world. Everything you think say and do should be a reflection of your Savior?your King. I know we will do that imperfectly, but it does not change our mission.
Paul brings five qualities of the new character to balance out the five qualities of the old life.
The first characteristic of this mission, this new set of character clothes that we put on, is ?heartfelt compassion.? The two Greek words refer to basically the same thing: a part of the human anatomy that was associated with compassion. Thayer?s Greek Dictionary defines it this way: ?a heart in which mercy resides.? N.T. Wright describes it as ?a deep sensitivity to the needs and sorrows of others.?
I think one of the main characteristics that separate ?this age? thinking with ?heavenly thinking? is this. As humans we have deep sensitivity to the needs and sorrows of ourselves?but only Christ?s agape love allows us to reach out with that same compassion to the needs and sorrows of others. It is a quality of love, which is other-centered, self-sacrificing affection. This is what Jesus did for us.
In Jesus? first public proclamation of His ministry He said:
Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord?s favor.
At the time Jesus said these words the focus of his life was not about kingdom and glory and power and rule. It was about reaching out to the poor in spirit with good news of a new life, to those in captivity to sin with freedom, to the blind spiritually with eyes to see the truth, and for those under the ruthless reign of Satan ? freedom! To bring God?s favor to those in need. Now that?s our job too?to reach out with heartfelt compassion to those in need.
Let me ask you?how do you react when you see someone hurting? Do you recoil, do you refrain, do you avoid? Jesus waded right into the midst of humanity?s mess in order to bring God?s love.
Further qualifying ?heartfelt compassion? is ?kindness?. Kindness is the shoe-leather of compassion. Compassion puts you in someone else?s shoes. Kindness moves you to walk in those shoes to help them. The root word means ?useable? or ?well fit for use? or ?for what is really needed.? Other-centered affection means you not only find out how another person is really doing, but then look for ways to benefit them, to help them?even if that means simply being present emotionally and physically with them as they walk through difficulty.
?Humility? is the idea of knowing our place. Sometimes when we look out at others we feel pity instead of compassion, and our kindness is more aimed downward at someone inferior to us due to their condition. Such is not the case with a redeemed person. We know where we stand in comparison to the Lord?and that realization gives us an accurate self-reflection leading to a modest opinion of ourselves rather than an overinflated sense of ourselves. We don?t reach down to help, we reach across, knowing that each of us struggles and no one is superior except the Lord.
?Gentleness? is literally ?strength under control? or ?power with reserve and gentleness? Often the word ?meekness? is used here in English. I see this as flowing beautifully in the verse: we have empathy for one another and determine to reach out in a meaningful way, knowing we are no better than the other person?and then using the appropriate level of response to provide the most help. Seeing someone in need could motivate us to fly into the rescue?trying to help him or her make massive changes over a short period of time. Gentleness means we try to figure out what level of involvement will gain the most for them, not us. Maybe just a gentle nudge in a direction is better than a push.
?Patience? is an interesting word. It literally means ?long-passion? or ?long-anger?. It?s the opposite of having a short fuse. How often do we go the extra mile and expect instant results? We want the problem fixed now! When dealing with broken people in the process of being changed, we need to exercise the same kind of patience God shows toward us. Are you in it for the long haul with someone or do you get frustrated when they don?t respond right away?
Verse 13 is a corollary to verse 12. Even as we look to others with compassion, service, and patience?we need to let go of our feelings about them from past history or even present difficulty. Sometimes we have difficulty letting go when we?ve been hurt or slighted or misjudged, misunderstood or left out. There might be underlying complaints between people from pre-Christian days, or even things that happen in the body of Christ. Use the same sort of standard that God uses for us: forgive.
I love how Jesus put it in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matt. 5:38 ?You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you, don?t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and don?t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 ?You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.?
Use even complaints and misunderstandings as an opportunity to go past their hurt (and yours) to show love and compassion. Often what a hurt or angry person really needs is for you not to react, but to be open and gentle in return for their anger. Proverbs 15:1 ?A gentle answer turns away anger.? This doesn?t mean you just let anyone do anything to you, but as it is up to you, choose to look past their outbursts to bring a greater good into their lives.
The overall goal here is to show God?s other-centered, self-sacrificing affection. This kind of love acts as a bond, or a glue, that holds the church together. The word ?bond of unity? can mean a cloak that holds the other pieces of clothing together, or a broach or clasp that serves the same purpose. Paul describes it as ?perfect?. The Greek word means ?complete.?
This stuff sounds great to talk about, but how do we put it into action? In reality, we wouldn?t really need these characteristics if everyone around us acted like the Lord. But we?ll face in our relationships people that get angry with us, don?t forgive us, are proud and arrogant, impatient and rough.
Our default human behavior is to react in the same way we are treated: if anger, then we get angry, if unforgiveness, then we don?t forgive, etc. The character we are putting on breaks that cycle?but it must be done both mindfully and in the Spirit.
Jesus told us to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). Be aware of how people are acting?but then don?t return blow for blow, but love for blow. Make it your mission to be nice to those who are not nice to you. It doesn?t make you a doormat anymore than Jesus was. He spoke the truth?but in love. Being ?sons of your Father in heaven? means our ultimate goal is to see others fall in love with our Savior?and if we can help that along by breaking the cycle of the flesh, so be it?even if we get hurt some in the process. It?s worth it!
Verses 12 ? 14 feature one of the five great principals that Paul lays out as foundations for the Christian life. They are love (12-14), which binds us together, peace (15) which controls us, the gospel (16) that fills us, the kingdom of Jesus (17) which gives us forward momentum, and a thankful heart (17) which permeates everything.