It has been a while since I last posted here. I am in some kind of blogging hiatus. Narlin is going home in two weeks to attend the Philippine Woman Missionary Union (PWMU) triennial Meeting in Davao. Our supporters back home are mostly women so we owe it to them to provide them information about what we are doing here in Mae Sai Thailand. I spend most of my time writing brochures, updates and make a movie presentation about our ministries here. Please pray for Narlin’s safe travel back home.
I am also posting a sermon I preached in our church here in Mae Sai many months ago. The church was on its second year when we came here and we have been a part of its milestone growth. The church will celebrate its fourth anniversary this Sunday and at the same time the ordination of the local pastor. He is our partner in ministry and a close friend. Please pray for his ordination as well.
I do not claim originality with my sermons. The exegesis and outline are mine, however, I also read and listen to sermons of other pastors and use their inspired ideas whenever it is appropriate.
Here it is…
Wherever we are in Chiang Mai we usually stay at our friend’s English Center. There are many reasons why we like to stay there. First, it is free. Second, we can be by ourselves and third there are lots of books in there and we love books. While browsing at the library I found one of Philip Yancey’s books and read it.
Anyway in his book Philip Yancey says that “Grace comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it and I am one of those people. I think back to whom I was — resentful, wound tight with anger, a single hardened link in a long chain of “un-grace” learned from family and church. Now, I am trying in my own small way to pipe…the tune of grace. I do so because I know, more surely than I know anything, that healing or forgiveness, or goodness, I have ever felt comes solely from the grace of God. I yearn for the church to become a nourishing culture of that grace”.
“A nourishing culture of that grace.” When I read that, I thought, “Isn’t it sad that people often find more grace and acceptance in places other than church?” Isn’t it tragic that people regularly enter churches and then leave again never finding grace? The sad reality is that churches and Christian groups are often known more for their rules and musty religious pretense than for being real grace-freed followers of Jesus.
It is common that those who believe in God’s grace most of the time are ungracious. It’s also common that those who preach grace, failed to extend it to others. As Christians, it is sad that we claim grace and forgiveness for ourselves, but we often demand performance from others.
As people who have been saved and chosen by grace we should be committed to a the gospel of grace — no one earns salvation in any way — we’re also committed to grace-oriented lifestyles and relationships. We avoid teaching and practicing legalism; we allow God the Holy Spirit to work in peoples’ lives, and we treat each other as God has treated us, with love, kindness, forgiveness and gentleness.”
Our human pride makes us legalists by nature. We need regular, repeated doses of the Truth of grace to wash out that garbage out of our thinking. We also want others to have a good impression of us. The result is a sort of Christian niceness, but it’s not real righteousness. Grace also will remind us that it is okay to let others see how much God still needs to work in our lives. Grace and authenticity walk hand in hand.
So what will characterize a gracious Christian? The passage we look at today helps us discover, how to put a “face on grace”. It helps us celebrate grace and in turn to be gracious to each other.
As I was thinking of a title for this message, I was led to a passage in Romans chapter 11 verses 5 and 6 saying: So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. And it is very appropriate here that as Christians, we are people chosen by grace.
Let us read our text this morning, Colossians 3:12 -17,
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Paul helps here see the relationship between God’s grace to us and ours toward one other. First, he says
1. As God’s chosen people we should not forget our heritage. (3:12)
The pattern here is common in most of the New Testament letters. First, comes the teaching of Truth — what God has done — then comes the urge to live by that Truth.
Let’s begin at verse 12. First, Paul describes the people he’s writing. If you’re a Christian, you can take these words as true about you. So, then as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved…. The NIV calls us God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.
In the Philippines when you call somebody “holy one”, they will laugh at you. But God’s Word uses precisely that language here and elsewhere in the New Testament, including in the letters to the carnal Christians at Corinthians. Before Paul calls us to be radically gracious to others, he reminds us of God’s radical grace that transformed us.
Who are we? First, we’re God’s chosen people. The Bible says God has set His love on us. He set His intentions on us as His very own. Israel was God’s single chosen people in the OT. He established a covenant with them to be His — He marked them out to be distinct and unique from every nation on the Earth.
God reminded Israel and he is reminding us right now that we are not chosen because we are better, richer, smarter or better looking than the others. I think it is more true to say that God has chosen for the opposite reason. But the truth is that God has chosen us by grace.
This reminds me of a passage in Deuteronomy chapter 7: 6-9.
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
Moreover, when Jesus died and rose, He established a new covenant with a new body of people — the Church, His Body. The Church is composed of Jews and Gentiles, from people of every tribe, tongue, nation and ethnic group. Every person, brought into a faith relationship with His Son is God’s chosen people. Paul is saying, like the Jewish nation was to be different from all others, holy and set apart for God’s purposes, we are God’s unique people today. Old Testament Jews had failed God and broke their covenant with God. That will not happen with us.
Why? It is because in the New Covenant Jesus met every requirement Himself. That is implicit in verse 12.
You are God’s chosen people, holy…. We don’t earn the description of holy and acceptable. If we’re in Christ, God declares, we are holy. We also don’t earn God’s love; we are God’s beloved, literally, the dearly loved ones of God — dear to the heart of God. You’ll never discover a more powerful and motivating personal Truth in life than that you are acceptable in Christ, and God’s beloved child. He loves you deeply. You can’t lose sight of that.
It’s foundational. You need to know who you are, what heritage you have in Christ. That new identity lays the foundation for how you relate with other Christians. The point is this: when you know God’s grace-work in you, you become free to express grace to others.
If you don’t know, or if you forget God brought you to faith in His Son, by mercy and grace, and forgave your sin, you won’t be forgiving and grace-filled with others. People who don’t understand grace are never free to pass it on.
And religion and legalism will never provide grace-filled relationships, because religious people are trying to earn or keep God‘s favor. Grace driven people remember their heritage, and celebrate God’s grace.
2. As God’s chosen people we reflect God’s grace. (3:12-14)
He says, because you’re God’s chosen and God’s beloved, verse 12: put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
He reminded us of our heritage, and in reality, of our resources. Then, Paul uses one of his favorite phrases: put on or clothe yourselves. And this is not put on like we mean in English, say as if we meant “fake it”.
Up in verse 10, Paul used the same phrase to tell us, God’s grace gave us a whole new self. If you’re a Christian: if God’s grace has invaded you life, you’re a brand new creation in Christ, you have a new personality, new character, power and resources to live out this new identity.
You also have new ways to extend yourself to others — and he describes it like a new wardrobe. God never makes an assignment without providing us what we need to carry it out. He’s said in chapter 3, put off the old man; that means lay aside, just like you’d put off some dirty old worn out clothing. Now he simply says, put on something to replace it.
It’s like getting up in the morning and going to the closet to make a choice. We’re free now to make a choice of what to wear: either the old nasty stuff or the new gracious stuff. Because God has been gracious and forgiving, because God has touched us, we’ll never be the same — we have new habits we put on as we interact with one another. We have new approach. Now this will be how we speak, react, and respond to others: our spouse, our kids, our parents, to anyone who is a fellow believer.
These characteristics contrast with what we used to be. The old ways were already mentioned in chapter 3. Paul said, lay aside, and take off, anger, rage, slander and filthy language.
We are told that believers, no longer lie to one another. We say old habits die hard. God says, by the power of grace, put them off! And put on some new ones. Sarcasm, cutting remarks, rudeness, sour attitudes don’t match God’s glorious grace work in us. Put them off.
Instead, put on new qualities. Let God’s transformation and power inside show up on the outside. Beginning in verse 12: Clothe yourselves with,
Put on a heart of compassion…
The Greek term is literally “bowels of sympathy.” Greeks thought that the emotions originated in the bowels. The English language come close with phrases like, “I’ve got a gut feeling.”
It’s a deeply felt heart of compassion God wants to be seen in us — to feel what others are feeling. Instead of assuming the worst, and jumping to conclusions, put on compassion. When you deal with your spouse or your kids, approach with compassion. When you come to worship, come ready to show compassion. The Bible says that God’s compassion toward us is like a mother who cares tenderly for her children. We are commanded to put on a heart of compassion.
Put on Kindness….
This is the act that grows out of compassion. Once in a while, we get the urge to have compassion with people. Those urges don’t come from us; they come from the Holy Spirit. The sad thing is, we often let them pass. Paul says, allow actions to flow from the Spirit’s work inside you, out toward someone‘s needs and hurts.
The New Testament calls us to kindness with the identical term it uses to describe God’s kindness. It says, God’s kindness draws us to repentance. Imagine how demonstrating that grace encourages and motivates people. You can be kind by just listening, sharing Truth from God‘s Word, praying with somebody, passing out hugs, offer to help someone in practical ways.
Put on humility….
Humility flows out of remembering God’s grace to you. In Romans 12, Paul says, through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. Don’t come at others in the body with an attitude, instead come humbly and be ready to serve.
This word is the same word as meekness — it‘s the opposite of rudeness and abrasiveness. It is strength under control, it is real strength, it doesn’t need to show off. Gentleness is willingness to waive your rights and your preferences, for the cause of Christ.
Put on patience…
Literally, that means putting up with people’s annoying conduct without responding back. It’s a negative term. It means holding back and restraining yourself from being upset or speaking harshly to people who, humanly speaking, deserve it! There will always be other Christians whose conduct you find annoying. Put on patience as you remember how patient God has been with you.
These graces toward others lead to two concrete actions — in verse 13: forbear and forgive. Forbear is an old word that we’d translate today with, put up with. As we get to know other Christians, things happen. We rub each other the wrong way. Rough edges show up. None of us always behave out of our grace identity. God’s Word has an answer for this reality. Forbear. Put up with them!
And forgive. Two reasons to forgive others: First Whoever has a complaint against anyone. Someone offended you, spoken against you, hurt or disappointed you? Forgive them. This is basic Christianity.
Forgiveness is distinct from confrontation. Confrontation may become necessary; sometimes it works, sometimes not. But forgiveness is always fundamental.
But forgiveness proves that you’ve been freed by God’s grace. That’s the second reason Paul gives us to forgive: If you’ve experienced God’s forgiveness, forgive like He did you: fully, freely, and graciously. Period.
Verse 14 says, over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. The precedent referred to by the pronoun “them” is hard to identify, but most probably it refers to the believers. It is the believers who become perfectly bound together by love. The commitment to love means we will go the distance in relationships; not write people off or avoid them.
This is where we have to get real and stop making excuses: the way other Christians act and relate doesn’t determine how I act and relate. When we know who God has made us to be, then our character can reflect Christ’s. Gracious Christian mirrors God’s grace.
3. As God’s chosen people our life demonstrates to whom we belong. (3:15-17)
There’s a lot in verses 15-17, but the context is still relating in the body. Look at the heart of three commands, each one of which relates to whom we belong: to Christ.
First, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Paul first talks about unity in the fellowship. To rule means to govern. Peace isn’t just an individual experience here, it’s corporate. The tone of our interactions as a body must embrace Christ’s peace. That describes then how we approach each other; talk to each other, and treat one another. Grace people choose to let Christ’s peace rule them.
Then, let the Word of Christ richly live in you. As Christ’s followers we should allow Scripture to saturate our lives and our community life. We need to know God’s Word well and we need to help each other live it. There’s no substitute for the Truth of Scripture, and our body life is dependent on how well we know it and live it. One overflow of knowing it well is that we will teach each other. We’ll remind, challenge, encourage and warn each other from it.
One role you have is getting His Word into you enough that you pass its wisdom and principles on to Christians around you. Paul relates the ministry of music to teaching one another. Worship music, should flow out of hearts filled up with Scripture. We encourage and lift and teach each other with that kind of truth-based worship.
Finally there’s the name of Christ. Whatever you do” — that means all of life — here, addressing how we treat each other — all of it should align with Christ’s Lordship in life. Christians don’t live in two worlds — our faith life and our social life — we are to be moved by the Truth that we are His, by His grace in our lives, and therefore, to honor Him in how we how we behave toward other Christians. Remember whom you belong.
Author Steve Brown writes, “Once you know two things — His unconditional love and the truth about yourself — you will rest easy.” In other words, you’ll be free to be who God intended you to be all along. I don’t know about you, but I get very weary when I do the “let‘s pretend to be religious”game. I get real tired when I try to keep a religious mask on tightly. Galatians says, Christ has set you free. Don’t let your freedom in Him be taken away from you.
Would you stop with the pretending and start letting grace press you toward faithfulness? Are you becoming a person of grace? Do you celebrate your heritage as God’s chosen people? Do you remember where you were when God found you? Does His costly grace toward you, when you did not deserve it, press you back to Him again and again? Would you mirror grace in your interactions and relationships with other believers?
I hope and pray that Mae Sai Grace Church is a place where we can feel God’s grace, a place where we can be real. Let’s help each other get there.