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What Does Christian Love Look Like? - Colossians 1:4

True faith in the Lord Jesus always results in love for His people.

Colossians 1:1-4,2:2,3:14; 1Jn 3:10,14,16,23; Colossians 4:12-16; 1 Corinthians 12:1-14:1

Feb 01, 2009 05:00 AM

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I want us to begin today by introducing our topic which we are taking from Colossians 1:4.  We have been looking at how the believers at Colossae were actually known by the apostle Paul to be true believers.  He had never met them, but he did have the testimony of his faithful co-worker, Epaphras.  Through Epaphras, Paul learned of several things regarding the Colossians that characterize true Christians, the most important being faith and love.

What is Christian faith?  Let’s be clear on what is not Christian faith.  Christian faith is not contentless.  Our faith is not a vapid, ethereal state that causes our eyes to glaze over into a mindless stare into the heavens.  Christian faith is not simply a belief in certain facts about God and Christ.  Christian faith is not faith in ourselves or in our ability to do what Jesus would do in any given situation.  Christian faith is not a set of political convictions, it is not tied to or dependent upon politically correct concerns about the environment, it is not merely an alternative to other religious faith systems.

The faith possessed by every true Christian is first of all granted by God.  It is a gift of grace.  It is not an inherent possession, but rather something foreign to us, given to us by the Holy Spirit.  God actually causes us to believe the message of the Gospel.  We are convinced and convicted of the truth of the Gospel message, and of our sinfulness and guilt.  But we do not come to that realization on our own.  The old Christian authors spoke of how men are “quickened” and made aware of their condemnation by God.  Spiritually dead men and women are made alive, and it is then that God grants faith and the ability to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  That is the first sign of true conversion: an acceptance of the truth of the gospel message as truth.  We agree with God that it is true, we repent, and we believe.

The second sign of Christian conversion which Paul speaks of regarding the Colossian believers is our topic for today: love.  I seriously doubt there is another subject (other than God) of which more has been said, written, sung, and celebrated than love.  In fact, as of January 1st, everywhere you go, in nearly every store, there are reminders of love and of your obligation to buy chocolate, flowers, cards, lingerie, you name it, for all the significant others in your life, all in the name of love.  Love is in the air.  Love is all around.  Neither mountains, nor valleys, nor rivers, nor oceans, nor earthquakes, pestilence, fire, nakedness, peril, or sword can stop love.  At least that’s what we’re told.

It is hard to know where to begin.  We could discuss the differences between true love and mere infatuation.  We should be sure to understand there is a distinct difference between love and the merely physical attraction between men and women.  Then there is the love of husbands, wives and family, love for pets, love of money, love for the weather, love of roast beef sandwiches, and love of country.  The word “love” is one of the most often used and misused words in the English language.  And in the Greek language, there are THREE words for love!

Where do you start?  As far as we’re concerned today, I want to start with Colossians 1 and discuss the subject of Christian love.  In Christianity, the subject of faith concerns what we believe.  Love is concerned with how we live.  True faith in the Lord Jesus always results in love for His people.  Real faith produces true love.  Epaphras saw both faith and love in the Colossians as evidence of their true conversion.  It is that love of Christians for fellow Christians that concerns us this morning.  Let’s read these first 4 verses again.

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,  4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints . . . .

When Paul speaks of the love the Colossians have for all the saints, he is speaking of something miraculous.  This is a love of supernatural origin.  As you may have suspected, the Greek word is “agape”.  Just as faith in Christ is a gift of the grace of God, so is this kind of love for all the saints.  One of the reasons why this kind of love is miraculous is because it is directed toward the people whom the world despises.  We love the people the world hates.  That is not normal.  That is supernatural.

The word “saints” is a synonym for believers, Christians.  It does not refer to some higher class of super-Christians that are holier than your average Christian.  “Saint” refers to those people whom God has chosen, called, and set apart as His own.  Every person who has saving faith in Jesus Christ can be legitimately called a saint in the biblical sense of that word: a sanctified one, a holy person who has been separated, saved out of the world by God, made a member of His family, one who has been granted eternal life.  A saint is a Christian.

Paul talks about the love of the Colossian believers for all the saints in the same breath as he speaks of their faith in Christ.  The two, faith and love, are part of the same salvation package.  Both are supernatural.  Both are the result of genuine conversion.  When one is “born again” or “born from above” or “born of God”, faith and love are characteristics of that new birth.  You cannot have one without the other and really be a Christian.  

Is that true?

Is it really true that one cannot be born again, be a real Christian in the spiritual, biblical sense, and not have both faith in Christ AND love for the saints?  Can a person have faith in Christ and not love fellow Christians?  Let me read a couple of passages to you, and you can turn to them if you’d like.  At least write down these references and read them:

1Jn 3:10  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.1

Now if I understand that correctly, John says here that the person who does not love his brother is a child of the devil.  The person who does not live a holy life and the person who does not love his brother are children of the devil.  In other words, they are not children of God.

1Jn 3:14  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.  15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

There doesn’t seem to be any neutral ground here.  There’s love, and there’s hate.  But where is that category named “Lukewarm Indifference”?  Someone claiming to be a Christian might argue, “I don’t really hate the brethren, I just don’t care about them.”  That doesn’t seem to be an option.  We know we’re saved because we love the brothers.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.  Murderers don’t get into heaven.  Those who don’t love the brethren are children of the devil. 

 1Jn 3:16   By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?

Apathy towards the needs of the brethren is evidence of a person still being unconverted.  How does the love of God abide in one who has no concern for God’s people or their physical needs?  Apathy is hatred.  It certainly seems to me John is making the case that the person who claims to believe in the Lord Jesus will love his fellow believers.

1Jn 3:23  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

Love for the brethren is not optional.  We are commanded by the Lord Jesus Himself to love fellow believers.  HE loves them!  He laid down His life for them!  We must also, unless we want to hate the people Jesus loves.  That could prove to be rather unhealthy, for eternity.  And it is part of the salvation package.  Both faith in Christ and love for the saints are marks of true conversion.  

So for us here in this room, the question we must ask ourselves is, “Aside from the things we say we believe, do we love the brethren?”  It seems that genuine love for the brethren is what validates our claim to believe the gospel.  If we don’t love the brethren, we don’t really, truly believe the gospel.  So how obvious is our faith?  Can it be easily seen in how we treat each other?  

The next natural, logical question you might ask me is, “Which brethren are we supposed to love?”  My question to you would then be, “Are there any you’d prefer not to love?”  I’ll answer that one for you: Yes.  There are some believers who come into our lives that are much easier to hate, or at the very least, ignore, than to love.  That’s why it is a command: “Love one another.“  But the question remains, who am I responsible to love in this way?  In the verse we read in Colossians 1, Paul spoke of the love of the Colossian believers for “all the saints.”  What did he mean by that?  There are only a few possibilities:

1.  Paul was saying the Colossian believers loved all the saints in the whole world.  Therefore we should also.  That can never be the case, practically speaking.  We’ll never meet or even know of all the Christians in the world.  That is not what Paul was speaking of.

2.  Paul was saying the Colossian believers loved all the saints in their region.  Colossae was located close to the cities of Laodicea and Hieropolis where other churches existed.  Paul speaks of those churches in chapter 4.

12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.  13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.  14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.  15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.  16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

So Paul could have been commenting on the love of the Colossians for all the saints in the various churches in the surrounding towns with whom they had dealings from time to time.  That is a possible interpretation.

3. Paul was saying the Colossian believers loved all the saints in their church fellowship, in their own local congregation.  Paul may have been speaking of their love and concern for everyone within that particular body of believers, and the fact that there were no exceptions.  Everyone within that church was loved equally, none were neglected.  That may be what he was referring to.

Then there is a fourth option.  When Paul spoke of the love of the Colossians for ALL the saints, I think he was talking about the same thing he said in 1 Corinthians 12.  Please turn there with me.

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Aside from the discussion about supernatural gifts in this chapter, what is the overriding point of this chapter?  What is he getting at?  Why is he even addressing these matters?  What is the purpose of all the rhetorical questions in verses 29 and 30?  What problem is Paul fixing here?

Before you answer, look at the next verse.  And just forget that it is in another chapter.  What does the very next verse say:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Christian love trumps spiritual gifts.  If you lack a certain spiritual gift, just remember no one has them all.  But if you lack love, it doesn’t matter what spiritual gift or gifts you have.  That love is most clearly manifested in a church body by its unity around the Gospel, in spite of its diversity in other areas.  In other words, if a black Christian and a white Christian cannot fellowship together because of racial hatred for one another, then are they really Christians?  Or to put it in the context of Paul’s day, if a Jewish Christian and a Gentile Christian continued in their natural animosity toward one another, what difference would it have made if one could miraculously heal the sick and the other could interpret tongues?  Without love for one another, the gifts are worthless.  Without love, our witness to the world is worse than worthless.

This 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is possibly the most misapplied chapter in the Bible.  It not was written in order to be printed in Valentine’s Day cards, or to be used as a token Bible text in order to “Christianize” a wedding ceremony.  1 Corinthians 13 was written to Christians who had trouble loving each other because of the glaring differences between them which they used as reasons to separate from one another and develop cliques and factions within the body.  One group of Christians was saying to another group of Christians, “We don’t need you.  You aren’t one of us.”

The Colossian believers loved ALL the saints.  The implication is that there was a unity among them, in spite of their diversity, that was remarkable.  And when I use the word “diversity” I do not mean to imply that the Colossians embraced diverse sinful lifestyles.  They embraced all their fellow believers.  In Corinth, they seemed to find every possible excuse to create division.  Thus the need for chapter 12 and chapter 13.

1 Corinthians 13:4  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

All the spiritual gifts are temporary and imperfect.  Love is endless and permanent and greater than the gifts.  Pursue that.  Then, notice the very next verse. Forget that it is in the next chapter.  Just read it as the continuation of what we just read:

1 Corinthians 14:1  Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

The word translated “pursue” is sometimes translated “persecute”.  As believers, we are to hunt down love, chase it until it drops and make it ours.  We cannot allow love for one another to escape us.  That is how important our love for the brethren really is.  All of this is written in the context of the local church! The Colossians’ love for each other was obvious which is why Paul was convinced by Epaphras that they were truly converted.  And if we get nothing else from this, please don’t miss the obvious.  This kind of love is not emotion-oriented.  It is work.  We MUST love one another, we MUST be patient and kind toward one another, we MUST not insist on our own way and be irritable or resentful of one another.  This requires effort on everyone’s part in order to preserve the unity God desires in His body, the church.

Colossians 2:2 - that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ,
Colossians 3:14 - And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

This is something the modern church still wrestles with.  This is undoubtedly the primary reason why we have so many different denominations: lack of love.  While this love for one another is a gift to us by God’s grace along with faith, it is also a responsibility that we have, a task we have been given.  The unity that results from love is one of the most beautiful things this fallen world can witness.  Grace Fellowship needs to be careful to work conscientiously for this kind of love for one another.  

When I was a teenager and a new Christian, our youth group often sang a song that I grew tired of, and I got to the point where I didn’t even pay attention to the words: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we pray that our unity may one day be restored.  They will know we are Christians by our love.”   We need to pay attention to those words.  We need to love each other.

Other supporting verses:
Joh 13:34 -A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Joh 13:35 -By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Joh 15:12 -  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Joh 15:17 -These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Ro 12:10 -  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Ro 13:8 - Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
2Co 13:11 -  Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Ga 5:13 - For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Eph 4:1 - I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
1 Thessalonians 1:3 remembering before four God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Th 3:12 - and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,
1Th 4:9 - Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,
2Th 1:3 - We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, AND the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
Heb 10:24 - And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
1Pe 1:22 - Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
1Pe 4:8 -  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1Jo 3:11 -  For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1Jo 3:23 -  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
1Jo 4:7 -  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
1Jo 4:11 -  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1Jo 4:12 -  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
2Jo 1:5 -  And now I ask you, dear lady - not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning - that we love one another.

1. All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.



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