How Christians are to Live in Difficult Days

Colossians 3 v 12 – 17

12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

A church once put this notice in their weekly bulletin like we do here, they put this notice in: ‘The Reverend John Smith will be our visiting preacher on Sunday, after which the church will be closed for necessary repairs.’ That’s a joke friends! So I’ll try not to do too much damage here today. We’ve got enough problems with this Covid regulations and everything.

It’s probably a trite saying, but the times in which we are living are difficult. I suppose that’s putting it mildly. The economy is in bad shape, there are regulations on how we ought to go about our daily lives, crime and corruption are never ending, women and children are abused, the future is uncertain and political instability is around us. There are many philosophies and religions making inroads in what used to be – in our land-and in the Western World generally – the Christian Consciousness. So how then is a Christian to live in these kinds of days; the days in which we are living? We mustn’t forget of course that the first century Church was living in even more difficult days. They didn’t have our mod cons and they certainly didn’t have a large Church behind them; established and set, but there was this difference and we have a difference to the rest of the world. We are in the church we in the – the Greek word Ecclesia – the Assembly of God. I don’t know whether that thrills you my, dear friends? We’re the called-together ones. That’s basically what Ecclesia in the Greek means. And so Paul is very determined here in this passage -and of course elsewhere in his letters too- to make sure that we live properly together in the church. Yes, the world is going nutty outside there, but how are we going to live in the church with one another in these difficult days? So this is Paul’s emphasis as he writes the second part of his letter to the Colossians – this local church. He writes, he mentions chapter 1 verse 2. He’s writing to the saints and the faithful brothers. Wow, what a beautiful description of you and me! We’re the saints and faithful brothers – and by the way brothers include sisters. The Greek word ‘adelfoi’ has that understanding and in particularly in chapter 3 verses 12 to 17, his focus is on how the Saints and faithful brothers are to live. What is to characterize our lives and how should we think? Well, at least three things come out in this passage. Remember you are God’s elect, Render obedience as God’s elect, Rejoice with God’s elect.

  1. Remember you are God’s Elect
    Look how he puts it in verse 12: ‘Put on then as God’s chosen ones.’ Man, what a title! What a title to bear: God’s chosen ones! In the original Greek there is, as in the King James Version – (The King James Version often gets it right) It’s the elect of God. And how often are you told to think about that, my dear friends? That you’re your God’s chosen one and the person sitting next to you if he or she is a believer, they’re also God’s chosen ones. Surely such a thought should thrill our hearts, even as we go through difficult days that we are living, as it probably thrilled the lives of the first century AD Christians there in Colossi and elsewhere. Now someone will say of course, ‘I was chosen because I belong to a certain racial group; I was chosen because I belong to high strata of society. I’ve got a wonderful family pedigree and so on. Right? Wrong. Look at verse 11. Oh what a bunch of people were in that church! Listen to this: “Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.” None of those things that I mentioned were the cause of your election or mine. This diverse collection of people that he mentioned in verse 11 – there in the church, chosen by God. Oh, well, of course another person will say well, of course, I was chosen because I’m such a good person.  You know I pay my taxes, I never really do anybody any harm, you know, I never do this. Right? Wrong again, because look how Paul describes what these believers were like before they came to Christ in chapter 3 verse 5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you, sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these things the wrath of God is coming and in these you too once walked when you were living in them.” That verse there and elsewhere in chapter 1 verse 21 also he puts it like this: “And you who were once alienated and hostile in mind doing evil deeds.” So the election was not on the ground of what they were like: good, holy wonderful people. It was Grace alone; election of Grace. Remember this is how he put it to the Romans: “And if it is by Grace, it’s no longer on the basis of works. Otherwise Grace would no longer be grace.” And where did we find out about the grace of God; the undeserved, unmerited favour of God? Well, in the preaching of the Gospel. That’s the only time you’re going to hear about it; in the preaching of the Gospel; the good news of Christ’s saving work. This is what had happened to them. Look at this chapter 1 verse 4: ‘Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the Gospel which has come to you as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing as it also does among you since the day you heard it and understood” (what?) – “the grace of God in truth.” Any preaching that does not emphasize the grace of God to sinners in Christ is not Gospel preaching. So you are chosen by grace. ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.’ Can you say that today? ‘Amazing Grace, I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.’ The election of Grace from first to last; the undeserved favour of God. Somebody said: ‘Wait a minute Mel. You sound like John Calvin, you know.’ O, do I? I thought I was sounding like Paul – and of course the great French Reformer of the 16th century, he taught that, because his teaching was Biblical. And be very, very thankful today friends that you hear, and have heard down the years from this Pulpit, about the grace of God.
    Well, okay, if we were only chosen by grace alone, what are we now? That’s a stunning description of us in verse 12: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”. Wow, but wait a minute Mel, if I’m holy why did I have to be chosen?  No, no, no – you’re not holy yet in the sense of being perfect, sinless, pure. So he can’t be using that word in this sense, because he’s urging the believers here to be holy, you know to get these things into your life. The writer to the Hebrews says you have got to strive after holiness without which no man will see the LORD. No, the meaning of holiness here; of being holy is that we set apart unto God, chosen in eternity, set apart unto God in time. As the Hebrew nation, of course – the people of Israel were a chosen people, but they were far from perfect. But they were holy in God’s sight. You read it in Leviticus 19 and so on. And then what the Apostle Peter does in his letter is that he applies the Old Testament view of the people of Israel being holy to the church when he writes in 1 Peter 2: ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.’ He is talking to New Testament Gentile believers, as well as Jews; a people for His own possession – God’s possession – “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you’re the people of God”, holy in that sense. And then that other second word, which always almost brings me to tears: Beloved; beloved by God! You who were such a rotten, filthy, dirty sinner as he described in this passage. God set His love upon you. Oh, what a thing this is! How can we go through life: ‘ooh, o, what now?’ We’re chosen by God and we’re holy – set apart unto Him and we’re beloved by God. Let that lift our hearts friends! I know that we’re going through difficulties, but let this lift you above the earthly. Look how he starts this chapter of course: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God; set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (chapter 3 verse 1 and 2). So remember you are God’s elect.

  2. Render Obedience as God’s Elect
    From verse 12 the Apostle puts before us the virtues, or graces that should characterize our lives as God’s chosen ones. In a sense of course, they’re commands to be obeyed. That’s why I’ve said you can render obedience as God’s elect, but also these graces are growing attitudes and actions as Peter put it also again to quote Peter: ‘Grow in Grace and knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Now, this is where the rubber of election in Christ hits the road of living in this world as God’s elect. This is how we ought to be. There are 10 graces mentioned in verses 12 to 15. And obviously we can’t consider them in any detail here this morning. If you want, of course to get more detail, you’ve got to come to my Wednesday morning Bible study, because we did this, but we can’t look at all these things. But verse 14 is crucial. It highlights the central Grace, which is how Paul puts it here ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ What is that grace? Love. The Greek Agapé. What is the proof that you are elect of God? Well, in chapter 1 verses 3 and 4 we get two pointers to how you know you are elect of God. Paul says he thanks God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you since we heard (of what?) – your faith in Christ Jesus. That’s the first bottom line truth that you are elect of God when you have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. But secondly, love for all the saints; love for others in Christ. That’s the virtue they God engenders in every believer. If you don’t have love for the other Saints, I’m sorry to have to say my dear friends and I always hesitate to say a thing like this. But you’re not a Christian. You’re certainly not one of God’s chosen, because in those classic words from the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:5: ’God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us…’ through faith in Christ. And love of course is the fruit of the Spirit and it’s very interesting that the only mention of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Colossians is connected with love in chapter 1 verse 8. So he said: you have learned a lot from this faithful brother Epaphras. ‘He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.’ Why is the Holy Spirit mentioned only once in Colossians? Because you see the Holy Spirit is doing His work here. Do you know what His work is? As the Lord Jesus Christ described it in the upper room to His disciples in John 16: ‘He, the Holy Spirit will glorify Me.’ That’s what the Holy Spirit is doing in Colossians. If you read it through; it’s some of the greatest descriptions of what our Lord Jesus Christ is, given by the Holy Spirit to the Apostle Paul to give to us. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or authorities–all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” and so forth. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work; working in Paul to give us this truth. So He doesn’t have to mention Himself – the Holy Spirit – often. He’s doing His – what James Packer called the ‘floodlight work.’ You don’t look at the floodlight, you look at what it’s showing; what it’s displaying. And He is displaying Christ. So nevertheless, this grace of love has been put into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us and it’s His work. And that is the binding factor of all these graces. A great – sorry he’s Presbyterian – 19th century writer, Robert Murray McCheyne, he died just before he was 30 years of age, but he did more than I did in my 83 years. He wrote this: ‘Chosen, not for good in me; called by grace from wrath to flee; hidden in the Saviour’s side, by the Spirit Sanctified, help me Lord on earth to show by my love how much I owe.’ So all these graces that he mentions here in this passage may be said to be expressions of love. Love connects them all; binds them together as Paul puts it. That which binds things together of course must touch both sides; both things. So all these virtues are loving virtues and we can only go through them very quickly, dear friends.
    I know I can spend much time on it.
    (i) Compassion and kindness .These things go together and they seem to follow a logical progression: compassion and kindness. Compassion of course is the feeling; kindness is the action – acting on that feeling. Do you have compassion for your fellow believers? Our prayer list is one way. You can pray for them, possibly visit them and so on. Compassion and kindness.
    (ii) Humility, meekness and patience. This trinity of virtues must go together in somebody who’s been saved – chosen by God, not because of what he’s done or what his racial group or anything like that is concerned. So we have to be humble, don’t we friends? And we have to be meek and patient and logically following on from that:
    (iii) bearing with one another and forgiving one another. I was about 26 years in the ministry; pastoral ministry – actually bit longer than that as an ordained pastor – and I can echo the words of Dr. Jay Adams after his many years (more than mine) of counselling, that 85 to 90% of the problems in counselling is that you can’t get on with somebody: either your husband or your wife or your child or your neighbour or your work colleague or somebody and in the church. So this is necessary for Paul to bring this in of course, ‘bearing with one another and forgiving’ because of the background of these people. They had wrath and anger and slander and obscene talk and so from the mouths, so we’ve got to be patient, the person is growing, you know. And then you must forgive when they wrong you. It’s one of the major characteristics of being a Christian: that you can forgive. Again, let me say – and again I hesitate to do this, but if you haven’t got a forgiving heart my friends, examine your faith. Have you become a Christian? Why is this the major characteristic? And it’s interesting you know, that the Lord Jesus Christ picked up on forgiveness when He gave us the Lord’s Prayer. The one item He picks up from it to expand on was forgiveness in Matthew 6, but why is this so important? Well, because as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive others. So if you don’t know how to forgive, then you haven’t been forgiven by the Lord – that’s bottom line. And then
    (iv) let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. One commentator put it like this. He says the peace of Christ must act as an umpire (skeidsregter, the referee). He must have the last word in your relationships, because that’s what this passage is about: relationships here in the body, we’re going to see that in a second. And then Paul adds the beautiful words: be thankful, be thankful for the grace of God and His love to us; grateful that we have been called in one body as he puts it here – the church. I mean friends in what association would you rather be than in the Church of God’s elect: chosen, beloved, holy ones! What other organization do you want to be in – or association – than the church, rubbing shoulders (or rather rubbing elbows) with the elect of God?

  3. Rejoice and Live as God’s Elect
    Verses 16 and 17 cover a lot and I’m not going to cover it, but they seem to picture the corporate life and worship of the church. ‘Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.’ It mustn’t be an occasional visitor. The Word of Christ is got to be a permanent dweller in the church: and that means you and me. It must not be an occasional visitor. The Word of Christ is also called in this letter the Word of Truth (chapter 1) and also the Word of God. In our preaching, counselling, witnessing and worship, the Word of Christ must be heard – as we heard it this morning. As someone said: ‘this is what we should do in the church: We read the Word, we sing the Word, we preach the Word and we display the Word’ – of course in the sacraments – ‘and then when we leave this building, we live the Word.’ Live as God elect with thankfulness in our hearts to God.

Yes, the days in which we live are challenging. But oh, we may go through them and rise above them as we follow our Lord’s Word to us here: ‘Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’ Oh, my dear friends, let us adorn these things. That’s what Paul said when he said to put on these things. Let us clothe ourselves with these graces in the strength that God gives to us through the Holy Spirit and let us live as God’s elect, holy and beloved.