Grace is not merely something they heard about and signed up for. Rather, it was something they understood. They made an intellectual, cognizant decision to participate in the grace of God. It was something that was preached to them as truth, it was something they believed, it was something they comprehended, it was something they accepted and believed, and it was something they incorporated and practiced in their lives as believers in Christ. What defines us as Christians is not the mistaken idea that we have all the answers to life’s questions but rather that we are a people full of all sorts of questions. We have found the world’s answers lacking; we find grace filling. And this grace compels us, moves us, changes us. It causes us to love in ways we never imagined possible a people we could never get close enough to under our normal circumstances. Grace has that sort of power to enable us to love the unlovely, the unlovable, and the unloving. The irony is that God doesn’t even wait for us to go to ‘them’. Instead, he brings us all together in one place (‘in Colossae’) and plants us in one person (‘in Christ’). There, in Christ in Colossae, we learn how to love.
So love works itself outward towards others. In the context of the church: it IS worth talking about, love, that is. Jesus made it clear that when others see our love for one another demonstrated they would know beyond doubt that we belong to Him. And it is probably possible that the sort of love Paul is talking about is only possible within the context of congregation of grace, empowered by the Truth, and filled with the Spirit. If he mentions earlier that we are ‘in Christ,’ here he mentions that we are no less ‘in the Spirit.’ This prompts Dunn to write, “The love that mirrors the love of God in Christ can only be aroused and sustained by the Spirit of God. The phrase carries overtones of an inspiration that wells up from within, charismatically enabled, and that depends on continued openness to the Spirit if its quality of unselfish service of others is to be maintained.” (65)
This is what was being demonstrated at Colossae: A love for one another because of Christ and in the Spirit.
Sadly, Christians are known more for what they are against than for what they are for. We Christians make it impossible for ‘sinners’ to get near us not because we put up fences or walls or traps (even though we do!) but rather because we fail to love one another. Instead, we hold up placards denouncing one another, judging those for whom Christ has died, lambasting those who might otherwise have a heart or an ear towards the Gospel. In my estimation, the greatest single cause of unbelief in this world today, is the church because for all the church’s talk about love and compassion to the world at large, we fail to love one another sacrificially in the way Christ would have us to. Give away all the food you want, but who wants to be a part of a group that cannot love one another? No one will convince me that the proliferation of judgment ministries around the country via the Internet, radio, television is doing anything to attract people to the Gospel of God’s grace. Those ministries are not protecting the Gospel, they are cheapening it. Those ministries are not protecting the ‘saints,’ they are pushing away the ‘sinners.’
I am always amused by this story from Mark’s Gospel:
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39″Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. (Mark 8:38-41, NIV)
Or the Message:
38John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.” 39-41Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.
In our world, doing something in the Name of Jesus is not enough any longer. Nowadays, if it is not done in a manner prescribed by someone else (see my post on ‘modern gnostics’) then it is just not enough, not good enough, not holy enough. Nowadays in the church, love in the Name of Jesus is the last thing we ask of or see when we are considering someone else’s faith in Christ or their work in the kingdom. But this is what Jesus said: “Do not stop him.” Jesus told us not to stop the person doing something in His Name. Our problem is that we tend to act like his Name is somehow our name and that we must protect our name from any stains and blemishes that those a little less sanctified might taint it with. Love gets thrown aside, grace is cast out, in favor of protecting something that even Jesus didn’t protect (that is, he did not retain the exclusive rights to usage; he was happy that love and grace were abounding when power was recognized.) I suspect that those who used his Name knew about love and grace and had a burning passion to demonstrate it in the only Name that they could: Jesus’ Name. Thus, “Don’t stop them.” Jesus did not seem too concerned, did he? (This isn’t to say that every use of the Name of Jesus is righteous or valid or blessed. This isn’t to say that we should ‘take the Lord’s Name in vain’ which means a lot more than just uttering a curse when we hit our thumb with a hammer.)
My point is this: If Epaphras told Paul about the love the Colossians had in the Spirit then it seems rather clear to me that this was something Epaphras saw with his eyes. I do not imagine a scenario where Epaphras conducted interviews: “Well tell me, member of the Colossian church, do you love in the Spirit?” No. I imagine a scenario where this love was visibly demonstrated before his eyes. He saw it and when he told the apostle about it, it was no mere, “Oh, and by the way, they love in the Spirit.” I imagine an enthusiastic, ebullient, child-like explosion of, “Oh you cannot imagine how much they love! I saw it all over the place! It was everywhere! They withheld their love from no one! They love Christ the Lord! They love one another! They love their neighbors! Husbands love wives! Wives love husbands! Children love parents and parents children! You cannot imagine the love these people have!”
It’s that, isn’t it? He doesn’t specify who or what they were loving in the Spirit. It just says, “your love in the Spirit.” Truth be told, does it matter? Our love is not something we have to brag about to others, but if we love like Scripture says we should then it will be visible to others. “By this will the world know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Why? Because the world will see our love being demonstrated. Would that the Body of Christ could be marked by our love in the Spirit instead of marred by our hate and contempt.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS–If you would like to more fully appreciate what I have written here about love and grace, I would recommend you click this link and read the post. Here’s a taste:
I sit back a little stunned. I want to argue but can’t find anything that counters the simplicity and elegance of Papa’s words. “Okay, I think I get what you’re telling me; that we aren’t very good at loving, but a lot better at defending our turf.”
“See, another great reason for mystery. The ambiguity of belief, of doctrine, reveals the motives and the dark places of the heart…the places that need to be healed. Religious self righteousness and intellectual snobbery are kissing cousins. Intelligence was never created as a justification for the absence of kindness and respect and love. Do you remember the community of faith at Ephesus. I wrote a letter to them in which I commended their ‘orthodoxy’, that they wouldn’t put up with the Nicolaitans…”“Yeah,” I interrupt, “I have been meaning to ask about them…”
“Not important right now, “ she cuts me off and continues. “The point is that they were all about theology and doctrine, but I removed their light, their influence, their very life; not because of doctrine but because they no longer knew how to express the love who is Truth that indwelt them. Ambiguity and mystery constantly raise real questions. In the face of uncertainty and differences of idea and belief, will we stop loving? Will I descend to the acquisition and defense of territory and turf? Will I even stop loving my enemy, let alone my brother or my sister?”“How come I haven’t understood this?” I shake my head.
“Like you stated yourself, it is because love doesn’t come naturally to you. The closest you have is how you love your own children but even that is only a reflection of what love truly is. Turf and territory have always been about independence, while love is only present in dependence.”
We are silent for a few minutes while I try to organize the jumble of thoughts crashing around inside my paradigm. Papa, aware of my struggle, speaks first.
“Not everything is ambiguous or a mystery. There is much that is clear and evident. I even wrote it down for you. Very clear, very unambiguous. It is all over the scriptures. Start with I Corinthians 13…clear as the nose on your face. The question is why have you turned the clarity of love into something ambiguous?” (William Young)