The Unity of the Church

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COLOSSIANS 3:14–17
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

The theme of this section is the unity of the church. Miss this, and you miss the main message. Throughout Colossians, Paul focuses on the divisive influence of false teachers. They taught the need of an extra spiritual work subsequent to one’s salvation to complete what Christ began in a believer’s initial conversion. Among other things, this work appears to have involved some special knowledge not received at salvation. Dick Lucas explains their message this way:

“Through this further crisis of faith, the believer leaves the barrenness and wilderness experience, and enters a new land of promise, flowing with milk and honey. After such an experience, fellowship with the local church seems tame and insipid. It becomes necessary to withdraw with like-minded ‘spiritual’ people for a ‘deeper’ experience of fellowship. Whatever form this search for ‘fullness’ took, there could not fail to be within it, perhaps hardly realized or recognized, an implicit criticism of the credentials of the local congregation.”[1]

Inevitably, if even a few Colossian Christians had adopted this false theology, the effect on the unity of their church would have been staggering.

Paul’s divinely directed theology was different. He emphasized our privileged position in being a part of Christ’s church. As God’s true representative on the earth, the local church has all its needs supplied in Christ. For believers to withdraw from the fellowship of the local church with the idea of trying to gain something richer and better is actually a terrible loss. Therefore, the apostle gives five commands to counteract the effect of these false teachers and to cultivate unity within the church.

Put on Love

COLOSSIANS 3:14
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

As we studied in the last chapter, Christians are to patiently treat one another with compassion and forgiveness. The church is a body of saved sinners. New Christians are spiritual babies who have lots of growing pains. (In fact, all Christians have lots of growing pains!) On many occasions, believers will have legitimate complaints against one another because of their immaturities and disobedience. However, these are the situations that God uses to develop true biblical love and the God-like qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Believers need the church to help bring them to spiritual maturity.

Paul concludes in Colossians 3:14 that love holds everything together in perfect harmony like a belt. Love is the crowning Christian virtue. Paul seems to imply that there are those who want to break away from the church in order to have a deeper spiritual experience with a more spiritually elite group. The reality is that they are missing the opportunity to be perfected by learning to love an imperfect body. Shortly before his death, Christ declared, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Christians should remain in their local churches and humbly accept the multiple opportunities to mature by learning to love different believers from diverse backgrounds. Only through love can a local church develop greater unity.

Let Peace Rule

COLOSSIANS 3:15
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

WORD STUDY

Rule — be an umpire; decide; direct or control

Second, God’s peace is to rule and preside over the church, Christ’s “one body” (3:15). This verse is often used as a proof text by those who are trying to determine God’s will. The idea is that God subjectively directs a believer’s life through an experience of inward peace. There is no doubt that God does give His peace to His children (Rom. 5:1; Phil. 4:6–7). However, Paul’s point in this text is that believers must make peace a priority in the church. The word rule indicates that peace should be the umpire, the deciding factor in our relationships with each other.

This command is rooted in the objective peace Christ has already achieved. He paid the price of His own blood to secure universal shalom (i.e., completeness, wholeness, wellness) by reconciling heaven and earth with their Maker (Col. 1:20). We see the significance of this peace when we consider the world of pain, violence and evil all around us and the guilt and fear within us. So thanks be to God who has “forgiven (us) all trespasses” (2:13) and reconciled us “that were sometime alienated and enemies … by wicked works” (1:21). The reality of our peace with God provides the basis of our unity with one another.

Christ is the Head of the church and reigns over a kingdom of peace (Isa. 9:6); therefore, it would be wrong for Christians who have been reconciled to God to be living with unreconciled relationships and unresolved conflicts within the body. Peace should preside over the church’s fellowship and rule against any attempt to destroy the church’s unity. The church is equipped to be an outpost of God’s peace, pointing ahead to the time when shalom will fill the entire earth.

Make the Word at Home

COLOSSIANS 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

WORD STUDY

Dwell — to inhabit; to dwell in one and influence for good

Richly — abundantly; copiously

Teaching — holding a discourse with others in order to instruct them; imparting instruction; instilling doctrine

Admonishing — warning; exhorting

Psalms — striking the chords of a musical instrument

Hymn — a song of praise

Songs — an ode or a song that is spiritual in nature

Third, the Word of Christ is to be the central focus of the church. Is this the word revealed by Christ or the word revealed about Christ? Probably both. Jesus is both author and subject of divine revelation (Heb. 1:2). God breathed out all of Scripture that His church may be “throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It is all profitable, and it all points to Christ (John 5:39). His life, His mission, His death and resurrection, His reign and His will are the foundation of the church (1 Tim. 3:16).

Paul exhorts us to make this message centered on Christ feel at home. God’s people, both individually and collectively, must give the Word of Christ ample room and free reign in the homes of our hearts. To “dwell … richly” does not convey the idea of hosting a guest only in certain rooms because we are embarrassed by the mess everywhere else! The revelation of Jesus Christ must inhabit every square inch of our lives.

How does this take place in the life of a church? Pastors are to enrich the congregation with an abundant supply of Christ-centered Bible exposition. Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” stated it so succinctly: “Let your sermons be full of Christ — from beginning to end crammed full of the Gospel.”[2] Preaching Christ is totally sufficient for the spiritual growth of the church. Paul has given us an example of this Christ-exalting approach in the first two chapters of Colossians. As the Word of Christ is preeminent in the ministry of the church, it becomes a mutual source of joy for the church and the glue that holds the community together. By growing in this knowledge of Christ and being faithfully warned about false teaching, we will develop a spirit of discernment. God’s Word enables us to detect teaching that is infiltrating and disrupting the congregation (Col. 2:8).

Instruction and admonition are not the responsibility of a pastor alone, however. We are to enrich one another through Christ-centered congregational singing. Music is a means for the message of Christ to take deeper root in the community. These types of songs include psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (3:16). It is difficult to be dogmatic as to the exact kinds of songs these include, but it can be said in general that they are songs of Scripture (psalms), songs of praise to Christ (hymns), and songs of personal experience and testimony (spiritual songs). The direction of the congregation’s singing is towards “one another” and “to the Lord.” This makes singing both prophecy and worship. Music becomes a form of prophetic communication when believers are engaged in singing truth to one another. “Nothing else teaches and admonishes others as well as the heartfelt, enthusiastic singing that comes from those who know personally what grace means.”[3] Music becomes a form of worship when the singing is a heartfelt expression of adoration and gratitude for the grace of Christ. Through both avenues, speaking and singing, oneness in Christ is cultivated in the community.

Do Everything for Christ

COLOSSIANS 3:17
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Fourth, the name of Christ is what compels the church. Perhaps it seems like it could go without saying that we should do everything for Christ’s sake. But Paul does not leave this fundamental command unstated. Nor does he couch it in tentative language but instead uses comprehensive terms, whatsoever and all. “The name of the Lord Jesus” is to be our all-consuming motivation. By our speech and our actions, we must show that He is our Lord. He opened the way to the Father with His own blood. In Jesus’ name is not just a prayer hashtag. It is the Christian life.

Keep Giving Thanks

COLOSSIANS 3:17
Giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

There is one more facet of these verses we should note. It is clear that we must keep our focus on Christ and that when we do, the church will enjoy unity. But how is this possible? At the conclusion of three consecutive verses Paul urges believers to express gratefulness: “and be ye thankful … singing with (gratitude) in your hearts to the Lord … giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (3:15–17). Spiritual unity is maintained through a continually thankful heart.

Paul’s theology can be summed up as grace and His ethics as gratitude. Gratitude is the only fitting response to God’s grace. What we deserve is eternal death, but we have received the exact opposite. Therefore, gratitude should be our default and touch every contour of our lives — relationships, worship and work. Being thankful for the church itself elevates its importance in our hearts and minds. Being thankful protects us from a complaining spirit. Being thankful nurtures a humble spirit. Those who are full of gratitude find it easier to extend the grace of love and forgiveness to fellow believers and put aside petty issues that might inhibit the expression of peace in the community.

Christian unity is vitally important. In fact, one way the world knows that the Father sent His Son to be our Savior is that believers are “one, even as we (the Trinity) are one” (John 17:22). Therefore, life in Christ is life together as His body. Paul’s commands in Colossians 3:14–17 are no small matter. We must put on love as the belt that brings Christian virtue together. We must let Christ’s peace rule among us. We must make the word of Christ the true homeowner of our hearts. We must do everything in His name. And we have more than enough reason to continually give thanks.

 

Notes

[1]R. C. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 152.

[2]C. H. Spurgeon, The Soulwinner (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 99.

[3]Richard R. Melick Jr., The New American Commentary: Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991), 306.

 

This post is from Seeking Things Above: A Study in Colossians by Steve Pettit. Copyright 2016 by Bob Jones University.


This post is part of the study designed to correspond with the 2021 Spring Chapel Series. Watch the chapel message below:

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Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.