James S. Stewart, the great preacher from Scotland, asked the question about what could explain the strange union of the twelve disciples (e.g. Matthew going hand-in-hand with Simon the Zealot). His answer, “They had each found Jesus” (The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ). All kinds of differences disappear when Christ is all, and is in all. These differences can be national or ethnic (Gentile or Jew), religious (circumcised or uncircumcised), cultural (barbarian—anyone not a cultured Greek or Scythian—wild or savage nomad), or economic (slave or free). Jesus both celebrates diversity and makes people one (Ephesians 2:14, 15).
In the more practical section of Colossians, Paul called the believers to set their minds on things above (3:1-4), to give no life to earthly desires (vv. 5-9), and to put on their new selves (v. 10). When Christians follow these admonitions, differences are swallowed up in the redefined family of God.
Differences Lost in Love
Embracing virtues and obeying imperatives help believers put aside their differences. The greatest virtue is love, and its greatest work is perfect unity. God’s elect people embrace seven Christian virtues. They embrace holiness (set apart for God’s purposes). They embrace brotherliness (beloved means an esteem for others by the direction of the will). They embrace compassion (pity or mercy). They embrace kindness (usefulness). They embrace humility (lowliness of mind that demonstrates a correct estimate of self). They embrace gentleness (meekness or the grace of the soul). They embrace patience (longsuffering or forbearance).
These virtues are employed by obeying seven imperatives (putting on love, mentioned earlier, is one of them). Paul called the church to clothe themselves with the above virtues. This is very much putting something on as one would a garment. Paul called the church to bear with each other. This means to hold back or restrain from hurting others. Paul called the church to forgive one another. This means to show favor or extend grace to someone. This only makes sense in light of Christ’s forgiveness of the believer. Paul called the church to let the peace of Christ rule everything. This means to allow God’s peace to be the umpire in all relationships. Paul called the church to let the message (word) of Christ dwell in the church richly. When the peace of Christ and the word of God have their way, the body will be edified through teaching, admonishment, and singing. The seventh imperative is the capstone. Whatever one does in word or deed, must be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. All of these imperatives take place in the context of gratitude (a concept mentioned three times in this text).
Differences Harmonized at Home
Since the Christian family is one’s first church, differences (just like in the church) are not a hindrance to unity but actually enhance unity. This household section contains vocatives and verbs that make home a happy place. Wives are called to submit to their husbands. This means that they are to yield in orderly fashion. Jill Briscoe called it, “Hilarious hupotasso” (Preaching Today). Jesus showed us the way to this (Philippians 2:5-11). This is said to be fitting (pleasing) to the Lord. Husbands are called to love their wives. This is benevolent good will toward one’s wife that goes beyond the show of mere emotion. When this is obeyed there will be no harshness (embitteredness or anger) toward her.
Children are called to obey their parents in everything. This means to hear or heed one’s parents. It is as deeply rooted in the faith as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5). Slaves are also called to obey their masters. Paul spends more time on this vocative and verb. Does this mean that there were many slaves in the church at Colossae? Slaves (and it might be stretching things to say “employees,” but the principle probably applies) are to have the integrity to work when the boss is watching and when the boss is not. Their motives are to be pure as they give evidence of their fear of the Lord.
Paul took an excursus at this point. Before addressing masters, he made a blanket statement about our work in the context of the ancient household. Our work is to be done with all our heart (soul). Ultimately, our work, as a slave does in a house, is to be done for the Lord. He who gives rewards punishes justly. He plays no favorites. Finally, Paul called masters to provide (hold out for) for their slaves. The sanity check for this command is remembering that earthly masters have a supreme Master. Differences disappear when love reigns and everyone is treated like family.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.