There is no such thing as the perfect church. We might long for it, but we won’t find it this side of heaven. The reality is that churches can experience tensions and disagreements amongst their members. Yet church is important. Jesus said, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). Paul, and Peter too, had every expectation that ‘church’ should be a good experience for us.
In Colossians 3:12-17 Paul points to attitudes and actions we need to work at in our relationships, so that instead of walking away, we might find a way to keep the peace. He writes:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
If we are to experience the peace of Christ in our relationships, we need new attitudes. Instead of indifference – compassion and kindness; instead of pride – humility and gentleness; instead of impatience and resentment – patience.
Above all, Paul says: Forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven you. Designed by God to love him, we have turned our love inward. However, God is prepared to pardon and deliver us through the death of Jesus Christ, when we turn to him in repentance and faith. Paul is saying, because God is prepared to forgive us, we should be prepared to forgive those who wrong us. Paul knows how easy it is for us to be divided and the corrosive effect of wounded feelings. But he also knows of the one force that can heal, and enable us to grow into maturity – love.
Churches ought to be different from the wider society for they are the one place where the ethics of the kingdom should be evident — love, mercy, and reconciliation rather than revenge or personal retribution. ‘Pray about your attitude towards those who have wronged you’ says Paul. ‘Will you forgive them? Do you care for them? Above all will you love them?’
Keeping the peace doesn’t mean simply sweeping our differences under the carpet or putting on an artificial smile. Paul advises us to act on three principles:
Bible. By coming to the Bible together we can instruct and help one another, and even correct one another (3:16). We need to learn to bring our minds under the direction of the Lord’s mind and the way we do this is by coming to the Bible together. Furthermore, we are to read the Scriptures with wisdom. There is no place for uninformed Bible study, reading into the Bible what we want it to mean. Rather, we need to discover its plain meaning together, text in context.
Music. Most of us think of singing in church as simply a way to praise God. But Paul suggests there is another purpose: instruction and exhortation. We do not have to address God every time we sing, for it’s also important we speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. It’s one reason we should sing songs that are not insipid or soppy, but strong on Bible. Singing is an important way of building relationships.
Gratitude. Discontent often creates tension and division amongst us. Usually our discontent springs from ingratitude. A thankful heart trusts God in every situation, knowing that the Lord Jesus is in control. Thankful people are usually joy-filled and encouraging people.
You may want to consider:
1. your attitude to someone who has hurt you or someone you resent: is there anything in your life that needs to change? Are you prepared to forgive?
2. the way that Paul puts God’s Word, the Bible, at the heart of our relationship with one another: what lessons can we learn from this?
3. three people / things in your life for which you can thank the Lord.
Let me encourage you to pray
© The Rev. John G. Mason