Love Binds Us Together in Perfect Harmony
on a sermon by Rong-Yu Ho—Singapore
Paul wrote his Epistle to the
Colossians to refute the diverse heresies that had crept into the young church
of Colossae. A key theme of this epistle is thus the sharp distinction between
the supremacy of Christ (cf. Col 1:15–20) and the futility of human
philosophies and of self-imposed religious rituals (cf. Col 2:16–20). In
Colossians 3–4, the apostle sets out how we can live a more meaningful and
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender
mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a
complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in
one body; and be 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 whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
According to Paul, we—the holy and beloved chosen people of God—must
clothe ourselves with perfection and the willingness to forgive others. As the one
body of Christ, we ought to treat each other as part of the same family. This
can only be achieved through love for each other (Jn 13:34–35). Christian love should
not merely be an ideal captured in beautiful but ultimately empty prose.
Instead, we must realize and demonstrate love in everyday life in emulation of
Jesus Christ; we must strive to be a disciple of love.
What does it take to have Christ’s perfect love?
GIRD OURSELVES WITH LOVE
First of all, we need to have the correct mindset. Paul tells
us that God has specially chosen us to be His holy and beloved people. Though
we were unworthy, God has approved us (cf. 1 Thess
2). Henceforth, we ought to live up to God’s expectations of us, which is to be
different from the world. Colossians 3:12–13 lists ten different virtues that would
make us different from the world. Paul encourages us to “put on” these virtues
as if we were putting on clothes. Originally, these clothes did not belong to
us, but now that we have put them on, they have become ours.
A critical part of our new garments is love, the bond of
perfection. Traditionally, the Jews wear long robes with belts. Without the
latter, the loose-fitting garments may make the wearer look unkempt. Analogously,
we have to clothe ourselves with virtue and gird our waists with the belt of
love. Girded thus, we have strength to walk in God’s word and work for Him.
However, when we practice love, we should “do it heartily, as
to the Lord and not to men” (Col 3:23). The purpose of our good deeds and
virtues is to please the Lord, rather than to garner men’s praise. Things done willingly
are sincere and proactive demonstrations of love. Therefore, the starting point
of perfect love must be the right attitude of love—we are determined to love
willingly because God first loved us, and He wants us to love others; we serve
God and help man willingly because this is the conduct that will earn us God’s
approval and praise.
FORGIVE ONE ANOTHER
As Christ Forgave Us
… bearing with one
another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another;
even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. (Col 3:13)
Second, love entails mutual forgiveness. It may be relatively
easy to overlook and forgive a minor hurt, but as Christians, the bar is set
even higher for us. Just as the Lord has forgiven us, we should forgive each
other willingly and wholeheartedly. The word “complaint” (Greek: μομφήν [momphēn])
occurs in no other part of the Bible except for Colossians 3:13. It refers to a
quarrel or an incident that has caused much discontentment or grumbling. Such
conflicts among men are often the result of misunderstanding or a lack of
Regardless of the reasons for our conflicts, we should always
strive to bear with one another and forgive others if they have hurt us. We
need to remember how often God has already forgiven us, and how He has taught
His disciples to forgive others seventy times seven. It does not mean that we
literally keep count of the number of times we have shown forgiveness. Instead,
this number symbolizes complete forgiveness where we neither harbor a grudge
against those who have offended us nor seek revenge. On the cross, Jesus
epitomized such complete and unconditional forgiveness, praying for those who
had crucified Him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Conflicts or disputes are inevitable in any family, including
the large family in Christ, the church. The closeness within the family may
mean that we are even more vulnerable to hurt in the same way that our teeth
occasionally and accidentally bite our lips or tongue. In addition, when wounds
are inflicted by the people closest to us, they take even longer to heal,
causing us much discomfort. But endure we must, or else the family will be
ripped apart. Endurance does not mean grudging tolerance, where we do not
actively seek revenge but cannot bring ourselves to be on speaking terms with
those who have offended us. True forgiveness is a sincere bearing with our
brothers and sisters in the Lord with the love of Christ.
Among the most difficult problems to solve within the church
are disagreements among the believers. Misunderstandings or mutual complaints arise
because everyone thinks that he or she is right. And when everyone clings
stubbornly to their stand, problems will never be solved. Only unconditional
love and forgiveness such as that shown by Jesus will heal existing wounds,
removing the threat to the harmony within the church. Therefore, forgiveness is
a very important expression of love and a prerequisite for church unity.
God Be Our Umpire
But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of
perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you
were called in one body; and be thankful. (Col 3:14–15)
The peace of God refers to the unity that we have in the Lord. With
such unity, there is both peace with men as well peace with God. In order to enjoy
such peace, we must have Christ as our Lord.
Apostle Paul urges believers to allow the peace of God to rule
in their hearts. The verb “rule” (Greek: βραβευέτω
[brabeuetō]) means “to umpire.” In competitive
sports, the umpire’s role is to ensure that the players follow the rules. For
some sports, the umpire may even have to decide which competitors to award points
to. Not surprisingly, some competitors blame their loss on biased umpiring. So
there is often tremendous pressure on the umpire. On the other hand, it is
understandable why the competitors are so particular about umpiring standards. Very
often, the difference of one point can determine whether someone will receive
the gold or the silver medal.
Paul tells us that we need to have Christ as our umpire and
allow Him to rule over us. We need to have no qualms about this umpire, for He
is just, omniscient, and ever-present. Whether we meet with complaints,
difficulties, or setbacks, we can and should ask the Lord to arbitrate for us. However,
we must also be ready to accept the Lord’s judgment, for His decisions are
always right (Deut 32:4).
As human beings, we are wont to think we are always right (Prov 16:2; 21:2). However, when we are wrong, we must
accept the ruling of the Divine Umpire. This is the only way to obtain peace
between God and man as well as unity within the church. In worldly tournaments,
we occasionally see players who refuse to accept the umpires’ call, losing
their temper on court or in the field. Some stomp off angrily, others verbally
abuse or even physically assault the umpires. When such things happen, the entire
game or competition will be marred, and even the results may be compromised.
Similarly, no true believer who loves the household of God would want to see his
brethren seeking arbitration from secular authorities against each other (cf. 1
Cor 6:1–7). Therefore, in the church, instead of insisting that we are right, we
need to ask God to be our Lord and umpire. Only in this way will God’s peace
come into our lives, for He is the only righteous judge.
GIVE THANKS TO GOD
Be thankful. (Col 3:15)
The third aspect of perfect love is thanksgiving. In His love,
God has given us an abundance of spiritual and material blessings. We ought to
be perpetually filled with gratitude toward Him (cf. Ps 118, 136; 1 Thess 5:16–18). However, without love, we will not feel
grateful to God. Instead, we will only see the adversities that befall us and
constantly grumble about our poor lot in life.
In order to become a more thankful person, we need to put down
all our burdens, lay aside murmuring and unhappiness, and submit to the Lord. Once
we have put aside these encumbrances, we will realize that the Lord is actually
training us through these adversities; strengthening our character and faith,
making us more thankful people. Once we have learned how to be thankful to God,
our hearts will change. Instead of focusing myopically on our suffering and
lamenting our situation in self-pity, we will be able to perceive the Lord’s great
mercy upon us and acknowledge that all things, whether good or bad, come from
Him (Job 1:21).
For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you
did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you
had not received it? (1 Cor 4:7)
The believers at Corinth had a variety of talents. Many of them
were well-educated and enjoyed a certain status in society. However, they could
not clearly see that they had received all these things from God. Instead, their
God-given gifts became a source of comparison, dispute, and eventually division
in the church. Therefore, Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to learn from
him and Apollos “not to think beyond what is written,
that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other” (1 Cor
When man gains wisdom or status, his perspective often changes.
He may compare himself with others or even start despising those with less
knowledge, wealth, or position. He may forget that his achievements are the
result of the Lord’s blessings and not entirely his own effort. He may believe
more in himself than in Jesus. Pride and self-righteousness grow in his heart, and
these can easily destroy the church’s unity and fellowship.
Therefore, Paul reminds us to have a heart of thanksgiving. We
must learn how to be thankful to the Lord for all His blessings, including the talents
that we have been given to serve Him. We must also thank God for all the setbacks
and conflicts in our lives. It is only when we meet with adversity that we
realize how difficult it is to practice the teachings in the Bible. As we learn
to be more thankful, we will become more humble, forbearing, and loving towards
others. Therefore, a heart of thanksgiving also helps us to increase in love.
LET GOD’S WORD DWELL IN YOU
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly …. (Col 3:16)
Last but not least, we can only grow in true love for God and
man if we allow God’s word to dwell in us. We must not have a sojourner
attitude towards the word of God —cursorily “visiting” the word of God once or
twice a week in church. Instead, we should constantly study God’s word and allow
it to fill our hearts. This has become even more pressing in the selfish world
we live in today; only the truth can help us to live a life of love. When God’s
word dwells in us, it will touch and motivate us to practice love as well as to
abound in works of love, even when the world does not reciprocate with love.
Whatever you do in word or
deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father. (Col
Since we rely on the name of the Lord, we are in actual fact representing
the Lord Jesus. Hence, all our words and actions must bring glory to the Lord
instead of shaming Him. Once others can see Jesus in our conduct and our love, Christ
and His word truly live in us.
LOVE, PERFECT UNITY
Love can overcome all hurt and prejudice. In our church life, we
can practice love by forgiving others just as Christ forgave us, allowing
Christ to be our umpire, and giving thanks to God. Doing these allows us to
live in peace and harmony with our brothers and sisters. In addition, God’s
word must be planted deep in our hearts so that we can practice His love in our
daily lives and reflect the image of Christ. Since we have been chosen, we must
strive together to build up the body of the Lord, making it one through the
perfect bond of love.