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Lesson 22: The Priority of Love (Colossians 3:14-15)

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May 1, 2016

A little girl stayed for dinner at the home of her first grade friend. The vegetable was buttered broccoli and the mother asked if she liked it. The child politely replied, “Oh, yes, I love it!” But when the broccoli was passed she declined to take any. The hostess said, “I thought you said you loved broccoli.” The girl replied sweetly, “Oh, yes ma’am, I do, but not enough to eat it.”

Do you love your fellow Christians in this church? “Oh, yes,” you say, “the Lord commanded us to love one another. I love the Lord’s people!” Well, then, why are you and that brother not on speaking terms? “Him? He ripped me off in a business deal. And he calls himself a Christian!” I see.

Why are there hard feelings between you and that sister over there? “Her? She’s a gossip. Do you know what she said about me behind my back? The Lord knows that I’ve tried to be nice to her, but there has to be a limit on how much you do for someone like her.” Okay.

Yes, we love broccoli, but not enough to eat it. We love the brethren, but not enough to work out our differences. Like Linus, we love humanity; it’s people we can’t stand!

Have you ever thought about what it would have been like to have been a part of the first century church? We often glamorize it, thinking how wonderful it must have been. But remember, there was only one church per city. If you lived in Colossae and became a Christian, you were a member of the church in Colossae. In Colossae, there wasn’t a church for Jewish Baptists and another for Gentile Presbyterians and another for Scythian charismatics. If you didn’t like the church or had a falling out with someone in that church, you were stuck. You couldn’t jump in your chariot and commute to another church down the road that you liked better. You either had to work out your problems or stop being a Christian. Those were the only options.

Today, Christians who get their feelings hurt just move on to another church. Why go through the effort, the bother, and the pain of working through relational problems? Just go to another church where the people are more loving. And when you get hurt there, don’t worry—there are dozens more churches in town. You can go for years without ever needing to work through hurt feelings and damaged relationships. All the while you can smile politely and say, “I love broccoli, but not enough to eat it.”

But if that’s the way you choose to deal with relational problems, you’ll never learn the reality of practical Christian love. The truth is, we’re a lot like porcupines. As long as we keep our distance, everything is fine. But when we start getting close to one another, someone’s going to get stuck! If every time you get stuck you move on, you’ll never know the joy of true Christian love and the testimony of the Lord’s church will suffer.

In Colossae, false teachers were promoting their philosophy and knowledge. They emphasized certain legalistic rules as the way to spiritual growth. But such things always lead to pride, strife, and division. So Paul is showing the church that true Christianity means being identified with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection. We have put off the old man with its immorality, anger, and lying. We’ve put on the new man, Christ and His church, in which the old distinctions that divided us no longer matter, but Christ is all and in all. And, in this new man, as those chosen of God, holy and beloved, we also must “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).

And as the uniting bond of maturity, we are to put on love—not in word only, but the kind of love that eats the broccoli—love that shows itself in peaceful relationships in the church. The practical implication of putting on the new man in Christ is that we work out our relational problems in the body of Christ.

Practical love shown in peaceful relationships must be our priority in the body of Christ.

Here’s an expanded paraphrase that gives the sense of these two verses:

Around all of these character qualities (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness), wrap love, the ligament that links mature members of the body together. And let the peace which Christ secured at the cross, which broke down the barrier and made all you different people into one new man, be the deciding factor in your hearts in any conflict. And be grateful, both toward God and toward one another, thankful that God chose you and called you to be members of Christ’s one body.

1. Practical love must be a priority in the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Note four things:

A. Paul’s command would not be needed if love were automatic or effortless for believers.

Sometimes we idealize the church, thinking that it’s all one big, loving family where there are no conflicts or hurt feelings. Everyone just gets along and you can feel the love the minute you walk in the door of the church. But I don’t know of any happy families where there are never any conflicts or misunderstandings. If there is love in a family or in a church, it’s the result of deliberate effort to work through disagreements and hurt feelings.

We wouldn’t need to be kind and patient, bearing with one another and forgiving each other (Col. 3:12-13) if we all got along all the time. Paul assumes that in the church, there will be complaints against one another (Col. 3:13). So the command to put on love above all of these other virtues assumes that life in the church will be less than perfect. We will need to work at maintaining and restoring loving relationships with one another. We can’t just move on to the church down the street.

B. Love is not an optional or minor command for believers.

There are at least 55 direct commandments in the New Testament telling us to love one another, plus many other exhortations to practice loving qualities (like compassion, kindness, and patience). We can’t look at them all, but I want to read a few so that you see the strong emphasis God’s Word puts on love.

Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies.”

Matthew 22:39: After stating that the greatest commandment is to love God with your entire being, Jesus added, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 15:12, 17: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you…. This I command you, that you love one another.”

Romans 13:8, 10: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law…. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love ….” Moffatt translates, “Make love your aim.”

1 Corinthians 16:14: “Let all that you do be done in love.”

Galatians 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”

Galatians 5:13b-14: “Through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love ….”

Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

Philippians 1:9: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment ….”

1 Thessalonians 3:12: “may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you.”

These are just a few of the references. Love is a major theme throughout 1 John, where it is a test of true Christianity. So love is not optional or minor. It’s absolutely essential for all Christians!

C. To obey the command to love one another we must understand what biblical love means.

If you think that love is a warm, fuzzy feeling or that it means always being nice, you’re missing the heart of biblical love. It involves the emotions, but it isn’t primarily a feeling. If it were, it couldn’t be commanded. You can’t work up warm, fuzzy feelings for someone at will. But you can love others. To see love personified, look at Jesus. Sometimes He spoke harshly to His disciples: “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matt. 16:23). He blasted the Pharisees as hypocrites and a brood of vipers (Matt. 23:33). He deliberately provoked them by healing people on the Sabbath, when He could have been “nice” and waited until the next day. Yet, Jesus always acted in love.

Here’s my definition, which I derived from several texts, such as Ephesians 5:2 & 25): Love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment which shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.

The core of love is not emotion, but commitment. It’s not a commitment to make the other person immediately happy, but rather to seek the person’s highest good. Glorifying God is the highest good for every person. Thus, sometimes love has to gently confront the other person, seeking to help him or her grow to be more like Christ.

Biblical love is also self-sacrificing. Christ loved us by sacrificing Himself on the cross. To love another person means that you lay aside your rights and your comfort by doing unto him what you would want done for you if you were in his situation. Convenient “love” is not love at all.

Biblical love is also caring. This is the emotional side of love. If you must confront the person, you do it with genuine concern for his well-being. You don’t blast him, but rather speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). “Love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4).

That biblical love shows itself means that it’s not empty talk. It takes action. It’s not enough, husbands, to say with kindness and sympathy, “I’m sorry, honey, that you’ve got to do all those dishes, get the kids bathed and into bed, and finish doing the laundry. I’ll pray for you!” Rather, you get up and help! The goal of love is always to present every person mature in Christ (Col. 1:28), so that God may be glorified through each person.

D. Biblical love is the basis for mature Christian unity.

Some commentators think that when Paul calls love “the perfect bond of unity,” he means that love binds or ties into one all of the virtues mentioned in verses 12 & 13, much as a belt or sash in that day held together all the other pieces of clothing.

But others say that Paul means that love is the quality that binds the various members of the body of Christ together in perfect or mature unity. (“Perfect” means “mature”; see Heb. 6:1). “Bond” is the same word translated “ligaments” in Colossians 2:19. The ligaments hold different body parts together. Since Paul’s concern here is not so much the unity of the various virtues, but rather the unity of the Greeks and Jews, barbarians, Scythians, slaves and freemen in the one body (Col. 3:11), I understand him to mean that biblical love is what binds us together as we grow to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:13-16).

While we must hold to the fundamental doctrines of the faith, we need to remember that love is a fundamental practice of the faith. To hold to fundamental doctrines in an arrogant or unloving manner is to violate this supreme virtue, which is the basis for mature Christian unity. Paul goes on to show how biblical love works in the church:

2. Practical love is shown in peaceful relationships in the church.

Colossians 3:15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Note four things:

A. To let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, you must have the peace of Christ in your heart.

The peace with God that comes from trusting in Christ as your Savior and Lord is the basis for peace with other believers. As Paul says (Eph. 2:14), “He Himself is our peace, who made both groups [Jew & Gentile] into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” Outside of Christ, the Jews and the Gentiles despised each other. There was mutual contempt. So to have peace between these culturally diverse groups, not just a tense cease-fire, but peace on the heart level, these very different groups had to have hearts that had been changed by Jesus Christ. In other words, true conversion that brings peace with God is the basis for peaceful relationships on the heart level with others, even with others who are very different than you are. Outward “peace” is only superficial if your heart is not right with God.

B. To have the peace of Christ rule in your relationships, remember that God called you to Christ, which includes being a member of His one body, the church.

“Calling” refers to God’s effectual call to salvation, based on His choosing you (Col. 3:12; 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Rom. 8:30). The Spirit baptizes all who are called into the one body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Just as you don’t have the choice of picking your natural brothers and sisters, so you don’t have the choice of picking your spiritual brothers and sisters. The Lord picks them and you’ve got to get along with them.

The fact that God called you and placed you in the one body of Christ means that being a Christian means being committed to a local church. Just attending church occasionally but not getting to know others in the body and not serving in some capacity is increasingly common in American Christianity. But that is foreign to New Testament Christianity. If God called you to Himself in salvation, He called you into the one body of Christ.

C. To have peaceful relationships, you must let His peace be the deciding factor in how you relate to other believers, especially when there is a conflict or misunderstanding.

Colossians 3:15 is one of the most misused verses in the Bible. I’ve heard some respected Bible teachers pull this verse totally out of context and say that it’s teaching that an inner feeling of peace is a major factor in how you determine God’s will for your life. While that may be a factor (2 Cor. 2:12-13), that’s not even close to what Paul is talking about here.

The context of verse 15 is corporate—he’s talking about love and peaceful relationships in the one body of Christ (that phrase even occurs in the verse). There is nothing in the context about how an individual determines God’s will. The peace he’s talking about isn’t primarily inner subjective peace, but rather the objective peace which Christ secured at the cross. He broke down the barrier between hostile groups of people, such as Jews and Gentiles, “so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph. 2:15; cf. Eph. 2:14-18; Col. 3:11).

The word translated “rule” means “to act as umpire.” It focuses on making a decision in a given situation. So Paul is saying, “When you’re faced with a potential or real conflict, decide how you act or what you say based on the peace Christ secured on the cross between you and the other person, no matter how different the two of you may be. You are now one body in Christ. Let preserving that unity be the deciding factor in how you act.” He makes a similar point in Romans 14:19: “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

You put love into shoe leather by seeking peace in difficult situations, realizing that we were not called to be individual Christians; we were called to be one body. If, in a fit of anger, you cut yourself off from another Christian, whether in the church or in your own family, it’s like amputating part of your body. So your words, your attitudes, your nonverbal communication, your actions—whatever you do—must be aimed at peace and biblical unity with the other person.

D. To have peaceful relationships in the church, you must be thankful for your salvation and for your brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

Paul was not stupid; he knew human nature. He knew that we all would be inclined to skate around his command by giving a grudging “peace.” We’re all wired to look out for our own interests by saying, “I’ll meet him in the middle, but I’m not going to go all the way. I’ll grant him peace, but he’s got to do his part.” So Paul pulls the plug on that kind of attitude by adding, “And be thankful.” Grant the peace that you give with a heart of overflowing gratitude to God who has forgiven all your sins and made you a part of the body of Christ even though you didn’t deserve it.

So, when you’re wronged by a fellow Christian, don’t focus on your rights that were violated. Don’t gossip to others about what that person did to you, trying to line up people on your side. Don’t throw a pity party and adopt a martyr complex. Rather, seek and extend Christ’s peace between you and the one who offended you with a thankful heart as you realize how gracious God was to call you to salvation and to place you in the body of Christ. Thankfulness focuses on God and His blessings, not on me and my offended rights.

And such gratitude toward God never stops there. It always slops over onto my brother as I remember that God graciously has saved him, too. God is at work in his life, in spite of how he may have wronged me. So I can extend grace to him and use our common bond in Christ as the basis for working on reconciliation over whatever has divided us. Your desire should be for him and you to grow through this conflict, so that his life and yours would bring more glory to our Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Practical love demonstrated in peaceful relationships must be our priority in the body of Christ.

Conclusion

Jerome, the fourth century Bible scholar, says that when the apostle John was in his extreme old age, he was so weak that he had to be carried into the church meetings. This was the man who, with his brother, was so hotheaded that Jesus nicknamed them, “the sons of thunder.” But as he grew in Christ, he became known as “the apostle of love.”

At the end of the church meetings, the old apostle would be helped to his feet to give a word of exhortation to the church. He would always say, “Little children, love one another.” After many weeks of this same message given over and over, the church grew weary of hearing it. It was as if the old man’s brain had stuck on this one thing. So they asked him why he constantly repeated the same message. The wise apostle said, “Because it is the commandment of the Lord and the observation of it alone is sufficient.” (Cited in Clarke’s Commentary [Abingdon-Cokesbury Press], 1:628.)

Do you love broccoli—enough to eat it? Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ—enough to work through relational hurts so that the peace of Christ in His one body will shine through to a lost world that is marked by broken relationships? Practical love shown in peaceful relationships is of prime importance for everyone who calls Jesus Lord.

Application Questions

  1. Some Christians emphasize unity above sound doctrine. Yet to deny essential doctrine is to deny the faith. Where is the biblical balance?
  2. How has our cultural idea of love hindered or affected our obedience to biblical love?
  3. Does loving my brother mean that I must like him and want to spend a lot of time with him? Does love require being good friends?
  4. How can you love someone who has deeply hurt you? What does that look like? Is it always possible (see Rom. 12:18)?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Relationships

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