Mothering Sunday is a day to celebrate one of the most important relationships in our lives, certainly in our early years, that with our Mums. Like all our close relationships, it can come under strain at times, but today we want to celebrate that relationship and to give thanks to God for our mothers and for all they do for us.
In our New Testament reading yesterday morning (Colossians 3v12-17), the Apostle Paul tackled that thorny question of human relationships, in this case relationships within the family of God’s people, within the family of the church. If we think relationship with Mum can be difficult at times, imagine putting together a whole hotchpotch of different people, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, slave owners, educated, uneducated, men, women, young, old and you’ve got the New Testament church.
Our church family is not as culturally diverse as that, but it’s still quite a diverse group of people, spanning a wide age range with all the joys and strains that brings, and because we are a church potentially we could be even more diverse than we are because anybody, whatever their background, who truly believes and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ, is entitled to join our church.
Paul spells out the quality of relationships there needs to be within the Christian family. If we’re Christian, we belong to God through Jesus Christ, our life is hidden with Christ in God, to use Paul’s language in Colossians 3v3 – this then is how we should treat each other within the Christian family:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3v12 – NIV).
We’re going to look at this verse under two headings.
First, who we are as the church, our identity as the Christian family, and secondly how we should treat each other.
So first who we are as the church. As the Christian family, we are God’s chosen people. That is an amazing thing to be chosen by the great God of the universe, to be selected by him. In the Old Testament, God’s chosen people were the Jews, but now that Jesus Christ has come, now that the promised Messiah has arrived, God’s chosen people are the church, all believers in Jesus Christ whatever their cultural, social or racial background.
All believers in Christ belong to God’s chosen people and they are chosen not because they have been good boys and girls. Just the opposite – they are chosen because they are sinful and in need of salvation. God has decided to be loving towards them. So he has reconciled them to himself, he has taken away the sin that separated them from him through the death of his Son Jesus Christ on the Cross and has brought them to faith in him. To use Paul’s language from Colossians chapter one, God delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The ultimate free transfer.
What a privilege. What a special group of people the church is, not because we deserve it, but because God has decided to be loving towards us in Christ.
So that’s who are we are – God’s chosen people in Christ, a diverse, any background, any race, any culture group of people, set apart to belong to God and loved by him.
Secondly, in the light of who we are, how should we treat each other? In the light of the fact that in Christ cultural, racial and social divisions are broken down, how should we as God’s chosen people treat each other, what kind of relationships should there be within the family of the church?
Paul tells us in verse 12. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience should be the hallmarks of our Christian relationships. Those things don’t come easily, which is why Paul tells us we’ve got to positively clothe ourselves with these qualities. Put them on as if they were a new set of clothes.
It’s been said that you can tell when a man’s just got engaged by the clothes he’s wearing. What’s happened to that Kipper tie? What about that Carnaby Street jacket? Where are those bell-bottoms?
She wouldn’t be seen with me with that on so it had to go. And instead a whole new wardrobe had to be put on and I can assure you mine used to be a lot worse than it is now.
In a similar way, these qualities Paul lists here we need to be positively putting on in relation to one another.
God has treated us compassionately, in sending his Son to die for us when we didn’t deserve it. Compassionately is how we should treat one another within the Christian family.
God has treated us kindly – he lifted us out of the mess we were in because of our sin and rebellion against him. Kindly is how we should treat one another.
God has treated us humbly – his Son Jesus Christ humbled himself even to death on the cross for our sake. Humbly is how we should treat one another.
God has treated us gently – he didn’t unleash his full strength on us. Just the opposite – he gently invited into relationship with him and taught us the right way to go. Gently is how we should treat one another.
And God has treated us patiently – he has borne with our weaknesses and our sins. He’s forgiven us and keeps on forgiving us when we fail him. Patiently is how we should be treating one another within the Christian family, the family of the church. No grudges, no vendettas – forgive as the Lord Jesus has forgiven us.
No-one’s pretending this is easy – it doesn’t come any more naturally to me than it does to you. But when we think of all that God has done for us in Christ, with what compassion and loving kindness and patience he has treated us, it makes no sense to treat our fellow believers any differently. At the foot of the Cross the ground is level. We are all part of God’s family on that same basis, the death of Christ for our sins.
“As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” That’s how God has treated us, that’s how we should be treating one another within the family of the church, conscious of what an amazing privilege it is to belong to the living God through faith in Jesus Christ.