Christian life in the world. 3:12-17
As is typical of Paul's letters, he concludes with a section on practical Christianity. He has detailed matters of theology and he now follows these up with applied ethics. He presents this ethical teaching in the terms of abandoning the evils of the past and of adopting the new life-style of a believer. The believer must "put off" the old cloths of their past life of sin, 3:5-11, and "put on" the new garment of a follower of Christ, 3:12-17. It is his exhortation to "put on" which serves as our passage for study.
v12. Through faith in Christ a believer gets to stand before the living God as one of his "chosen people." God's intention is to gather to himself "a people for his own possession out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth". This chosen, called, elect, people of God, now takes shape around the one faithful child of God, namely Jesus. In Christ they stand before God as his "holy" (perfectly pure) and dearly loved" "chosen" people; they stand by grace through faith. Paul's encouragement to "God's chosen people" is that they shape and exhibit, in their lives, the holiness they possess in Christ - that they "clothe" themselves with the qualities of holiness, qualities such as compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and long-suffering.
v13. Mutual tolerance and forgiveness are also essential qualities in the life of the Christian community. In the same way that God in Christ has forgiven us, so we should strive to forgive one another.
v14. The greatest of all qualities we are to "put on" (as one puts on a piece of clothing) is that of love. "God is love" and so love is a natural fruit for those who have found their new standing before God, by grace through faith, Gal.5:6, 22. Love has the power to unite God's people.
v15. Paul goes on to link peace with love. Through Christ the believer has peace with God - we are no longer rebels before him, but rather friends. This reality should be exhibited in the Christian community. Paul adds to this, "be thankful." Let us recognize the one who is the source of all our blessings, both spiritual and physical.
v16. In this verse Paul encourages two activities of Christian fellowship, first "teaching and admonishing (instructing)", and second "singing". Although Paul may be encouraging personal study of God's word, it is more likely that he is asking his readers to give the greatest opportunity for the instruction of Christian teaching in their gatherings. Such teaching must be based on the "word of Christ", ie. it must be based on the teachings of Jesus. The congregation is to let that word "dwell in you richly". They are to hear it, give heed to it, accept its authority and apply it in their daily life. As for singing, the link with teaching may be that the songs should teach scriptural truth.
v17. Paul ties up this subsection with a basic principle of Christian conduct which can be used to cover all ethical situations, particularly those which arise within the Christian fellowship. It is similar to his word to the Corinthians when he told them to act "to the glory of God." Our actions, or words, should be done "in the name of the Lord Jesus". We are to test our behavior to see whether it affects the reputation of Jesus.
Does this action of mine bring dishonor to my Lord? Our behavior can bring dishonor to our Lord in the same way as a child's behavior can bring dishonor to a home. So, Paul has given an ethical rule-of-thumb for the Christian fellowship - an ethical principle rather than a set of rules.
Caring for the Christian community
Theology is the determinate of our behavior; what we believe to be true dictates our actions. Most often we do not actually work through the right or wrong of our actions, we just live them out, guided by our predetermined views.
How we function in church, and how we expect others to function, is determined by our theology of church. For example, if we see church as primarily an evangelistic organization, then our behavior and expectations will be colored by this view; we will expect the services to be primarily evangelistic, and we will expect the organizations of the church to support this function. If this expectation is not realized, we end up frustrated and angry.
Today there is great confusion as to the function of the church. Believers are often not quite sure what church is and what it is supposed to do. As far as the New Testament is concerned, a church is a worshipping community. Put in other words, the church is a fellowship of believers meeting with Jesus and recognizing his presence in their midst. Of course, we can perform this function using many different styles, from devotional to celebratory.
Our passage for study focuses on relationships within the church. It tells us how to get on together, and in doing that, it tells us something about church. Church is primarily a community, a fellowship of believers. Elsewhere Paul will call it "the body of Christ", a people "growing up into him who is the head, that is Christ." We are reminded how important it is to express this reality in our love for one another - that we realize body-life. And second, we see again the purpose of our coming together, that we meet with Christ, recognize him, worship him, that we hear him and praise him. This is the center from which the community will grow, the center from which love will flourish.
So then, church is a worshipping community of believers, a loving community gathered to hear and praise Christ. Let us never forget the worth of our gathering.
1. Discuss how the exhortations to right living are related to the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.
2. Give a practical example of the exhortation to "bear with each other".
3. We are to "let the peace of Christ rule in" our hearts. How does this exhortation affect the Christian fellowship?
4. What is the importance of teaching within the Christian fellowship?
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