And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, 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. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
This text is about what it's like to live together as a church when Christ is all and in all. But to see that, we have to back up to verse 9 and work our way forward.
Working Our Way Forward from Verse 9
In verse 9 Paul says that Christians have "laid aside [or have taken off like a garment] the old self with its practices." That's what happened at conversion: our old unbelieving self died and we sloughed it off like a butterfly sloughs off its old wormlike cocoon when the springtime of salvation comes.
Then verse 10 states the positive counterpart to this sloughing off of the old self. It says that Christians "have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." So in conversion what happened was that we sloughed off an old self and we put on a new self.
We did not just decide to do this, to make it happen ourselves. Verse 12 makes clear who was the initiating power behind this metamorphosis or new birth. Paul refers to believers as "those who have been chosen of God, holy and loved." The reason we experienced the sloughing off of our old self and the putting on of a new self was that God loved us and chose us and set us apart as holy to the Lord. We are elect, holy, and loved. In other words God took the initiative with us. God elected, God sanctified, God loved.
Now that's important. Because God was up to something when he did this. What he was up to was this: in creating new people in his own image by his own power he was obliterating distinctions in which we could boast. Distinctions that separated us and made us suspicious and distrustful and jealous and puffed up. His aim in creating new people was that they would stop boasting in their distinctives (that separated them) and boast in Christ (who united them).
No Distinction, but "Christ Is All in All"
That's the point of verse 11: referring back to verse 10 where the new self has been put on and is being renewed, Paul says that in the fellowship created by these new people who are chosen, holy, and loved, "there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all."
In other words, God is creating a new community out of people who have sloughed off their old selves and put on their new selves. And the mark of this new (chosen, loved, holy) community is [first] that the people in it stop cherishing the things that separate Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman. The new people in the new community do not boast in ethnic distinctives or language or intellect or culture or race or homeland or social status. Those things have passed away. And the number one, primary mark of newness in the new people and the new community is that Christ is all and in all. Don't miss that all important climax at the end of verse 11: "But Christ is all and in all."
What's New About the New Self and Community?
If you ask, "What's new about the new self of verse 10, and what's new about the new community of new persons?" the answer is, "For them Christ is all." In all of them Christ is all.
Once we boasted in our culture and our intellect like the Greeks. But now CHRIST IS ALL. Once we gloried in our tradition and our religious rigor like the Jews, but now CHRIST IS ALL. Once we got our strokes because of our ethnic pedigree. But now CHRIST IS ALL. Once we reveled in not being like the barbarians and the shabby Scythians, but now CHRIST IS ALL.
Once we struggled to find our significance and our happiness and our security in what we were in relation to other people—we're Jews, we're Greeks, we're circumcised, we're free, we're American, we're rich, we're smart, we're strong, we're pretty, we're witty, we're cool. But then we sloughed off that old self. We put on the new self. And the core essence of the new self is that CHRIST IS ALL. "It is no longer I who live but Christ lives" (Galatians 2:20).
The Banner Flying over a New Series of Sermons
Next week we begin a twelve week series of messages on the new community that Christ is creating through the creating of new people. We will deal with some very practical questions about our life together here at Bethlehem, and what it means to be the church, the body of Christ. But I want to paint, this morning, over the archway that leads into this series of messages, a huge banner. And on the banner are the words, CHRIST IS ALL.
No matter what the issue is. No matter what the activity is. No matter what the idea is. No matter what the subject in school is. No matter what the vocation is. No matter what the TV program is. It exists for Christ, or for nothing. It rests on Christ, or it rests on nothing. Because CHRIST IS ALL.
He is all that matters about everything.
Why Stress so Heavily That Christ Is All?
I stress this because we are about to enter a series of messages in which we will talk a lot about human relationships in the body of Christ. And I admit very candidly that I tremble at the thought that Christ could be swallowed up in an extended focus on relationships, when the truth is that our relationships should be swallowed up in him, so that CHRIST IS ALL and in all.
I stress it because the world never stresses it. And you spend most of your time in the world. And there is a lot of world in the church.
I stress it because it is the very heart of the Bible and the heart of the new community and the heart of the new creation in Christ, the new Christian self. Isn't this flow of thought here magnificent and compelling? In verse 9 we put off the old self. In verse 10 we put on the new self. And in verse 11 we stop getting our meaning by comparing ourselves with others. Why? Because CHRIST IS ALL!
Which means that the new thing about the new self is that Christ, and not self, is all. And what is so precious about the new self is that for the first time in our lives we can forget ourselves and be swallowed up in Christ. For the new self and for the new community Christ is our success. Christ is our significance. Christ is our fulfillment. Christ is our satisfaction. Christ is our security. Christ is our peace. Because Christ is all.
In spite of my trembling at the pitfalls, I really look forward to the next twelve weeks, Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings, exploring God's Word with you for our life together as a church. We have much to learn and much to change.
Christ Is All That He Might Become All in All
It is not enough to simply say, Christ is all. If that were enough, then the rest of Colossians would not have been written. God might have done it that way. He might have created in you a new self that was so complete and so perfect that you would intuitively act in purity and love and justice without ever praying a prayer or ever reading the Bible, and never having to be in process.
The new self could have been created with such an unbroken focus on Christ as all that it would have no need for a preacher to cry out, CHRIST IS ALL, and no need to belong to a small group where you struggle with questions such as, How is Christ our all when the baby dies? How is Christ our all when the marriage is tottering? How is Christ my all when I keep on doing what I hate? How is Christ my all when I tremble that God is calling me to leave my security for a full-time ministry? The new self could have come into being with no need for preaching and no need for small groups. It could have come with all its garments in place. But it didn't.
Instead it comes (as verse 10 says) in the process of "being made new." It is born becoming. It is new in order to become new. Christ is all that he might become all—in all.
And so verse 12 says to those who have "put on" the new self, "As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on . . . [the garments of your newness]." You have come to know and experience that Christ is all. Now show how people relate to each other for whom Christ is all. Confirm that Christ is your all by what you become for others in the new community.
Community Life When Christ Is All
Verses 12–14: "Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against any one; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." When Christ is all, that is the way we will live with each other. And people will know that Christ is all when they see us living that way with each other.
It is not easy to live out such precious realities with each other when we are disconnected from each other. Small groups exist at Bethlehem because we think they are increasingly crucial in being the new community Christ is calling us to be. Daniel Runion is an elder at Bethlehem and is Overseer of Small Group Ministries.
I have much more to say on this text in this evening's service as I challenge Greg Dirnberger to "Tend the peace of Christ" in his flock. But now here is Daniel to help us think and pray about our involvement in small groups.