There’s a stereotype that Christian ethics is just about “how great it would be to be nice to people for a change”. But as we consider our statement about what we are about as a church, focusing on the line “Growing together as the family of God”, I think it would be helpful to look at Colossians 3:12-17, one of the classic “be nice to people” passages, and see why it isn’t just about being nice to each other.
- It is rooted in what God has done for us. It begins with “therefore” – looking back to chapters 1 and 2. Specifically, that we are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved – therefore we don’t need to try to impress others or bolster our own sense of identity, and we can look at each other as chosen, holy and dearly loved too – hence all the qualities that follow are about our attitudes to other people.
We see the same in v14, 15, 16 and 17 – it’s all about responding to what God has done for us. Paul’s argument is “this is who God is; this is what he has done for us; this is who he has called us to be. Therefore this is how we should live.” So if we want to grow in those qualities, we do so by coming back to what God has done for us and for others.
- It recognises that it is hard. v12-13 shows it as a deliberate process, with lots of elements to pay attention to – like getting dressed up really smartly for church. In v13, we see that it is often difficult and we need to “bear with each other” and show grace to each other, just as God does to us.
That doesn’t mean for a second that we just ignore sin or fail to speak out to protect others; it means that even when we correct and discipline people, it is done in a genuine spirit of love and grace, just as God does with us.
- It’s all about Jesus. It’s about present relationship with him. So in v12-14, our character comes to reflect Jesus’ character more and more. In v15 we let peace rule – that’s not the peace of sweeping things under the carpet, it’s the peace of submitting it all to Christ who loves us. It’s the word of Christ too in v16, that we’re called to let dwell in us and transform us, leading us to be able to teach and admonish one another.
How do you feel about sharing God’s word with other Christians? Maybe it’s saying something that helped us in the last week, or something we were struck by as we read the Bible. Maybe it’s asking questions about something we don’t understand, or helping other people understand when they ask us. That’s partly why homegroups are really important – it’s hard to do the horizontal dimension of church well with current restrictions.
That’s especially true when it comes to singing. Our songs are meant to be so saturated with the Bible that singing them is sharing God’s word with people (v16). It’s meant to be a corporate activity of together offering our thanks and praise to God, so that the word of God dwells among us as well as with us, and we can’t do it together at the moment.
It’s also about doing everything in Jesus’ name – doing them as his representatives in this world. Everything we do, whether it is picking up litter on a Saturday morning or getting a vaccination to protect other members of society, or trying to shop more ethically, we do it as representatives of Jesus, as people who show the world what he is like.