Friendship, and Futures

Scriptures: Colossians 3:12-17; Philippians 1:3-11

We continue our sermon series, “On Being the Church.” If you remember, we had portions on edification and education, as we lift each other up by what we say and what we teach. We had portions on being the community, what it means to be a family. We had a couple of lessons on admonishment and accountability, as we care for one another enough to bring those who might be straying back to the Word. And we had a discussion last week of forgiveness.

All these things on being the church really kind of culminate in the passage today in Colossians 3:12-17, as Paul brings all those things together in this passage to describe the Christian believer. In our text, the Bible describes what God expects of the believer in response to what He has done for us by His amazing grace. Because God has made us righteous in Christ, He expects us to live righteously, or with right behavior.

Such behavior is the outward manifestation of an inward transformation, and the only sure proof that such inner transformation has taken place. In fact, the emphasis in this section is on the inner motives of the heart. Why should we put off the old deeds and put on the qualities of new life in Christ?

There are motives explained that ought to encourage us to walk in newness of life. For if we receive the grace needed to walk in newness of life and heart, Christ will transform our hearts, and we can become these things that are mentioned in here. Basically what we can become is good friends.

There are lots of songs out there, in country music in particular. One of them is “Find Out Who Your Friends Are,” and there are others like that. It talks usually about times of trial and tribulation. And those are very important times, as I’ll mention a little later, to be a friend to somebody who’s in need. But we also want to be consistent. We want to be as caring and as friendly during good times as well.

The Bible tells us to clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, to bear with one another. And if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you.”

Kindness is closely related to compassion. It is, as I saw in one commentary, “benevolence in action.” The Greek term refers to the grace that seeks to touch the whole person, taking the edge off of their harsh reality. Jesus even used the Greek word when he said, “my yoke is easy.” Not harsh or hard to bear.

The kind person is as concerned about his neighbor’s good as he is about his own. God is kind, even to ungrateful and evil people. Kindness, of course, was exemplified, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, by the Good Samaritan, who bound the wounds of an enemy, took him to an inn, and spent a good amount of money so that the man could be cared for properly. And as much as possible, we want to show kindness to one another.

Humility enables kindness, for it allows us to accept people as they are. Humility has had a negative connotation in New Testament times, and it still does to the prideful and domination-pursuing age of ours. But humility comes from experiencing the greatness of God, and realizing that we become who we need to be only by His grace.

Christ and Christianity have elevated humility to a virtue. It is the antidote for the self-love that poisons relationships. A lot of people mistake humility for weakness, but it is not weak to be humble. Instead, it is to have a perspective that recognizes that everyone is equal.

No one is better than another person, even though we’ve been chosen by God. No matter how capable we are, there are other people that will be more capable than us in other areas, and probably our own. Humility reminds us that, while we have a sense of self-worth, nevertheless, we need to esteem others highly.

Patience, or forbearance, translates makrothumia, which means self-restraint, a steady response in the face of provocation. The patient person does not get angry at others. It is the spirit which doesn’t let mankind’s foolishness and unteachability drive it to cynicism or despair, nor let their insults and ill-treatment drive one to bitterness or wrath.

Patience, we say, is a virtue. It’s one of the hardest, as I’ve mentioned before, to learn. Bearing with one another means to endure, to hold out, in spite of persecution, threats, injury, indifference, or complaints, and not retaliating. It characterized Paul, who told the Corinthians, “when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure.”

Believers are to be marked not only by endurance, but also forgiving each other. The Greek charizomenoi literally meant to be gracious, and the text uses a reflexive pronoun, so it literally means “forgiving yourselves.” The church as a whole is to be a gracious, mutually forgiving fellowship.

This is important, and all too often, in today’s society, it seems to be absent. We have our opinions. We don’t want to hear the other side. We un-friend people, rather than debate, on Facebook. Sometimes we un-friend people in real life, rather than face them and reconcile. Even if it means to agree to disagree on something. It’s too easy to leave and forgo the commitment that we made when we became members.

The way we treat each other tells the community who we are better than anything else. For the folks that aren’t familiar with us, they want to know what kind of friend we will be as a church. Is it a place of safety and care? Can they set aside their masks and be vulnerable with us, particularly as we worship God?

It isn’t just being a friend in emergencies, though that is incredibly important, and by the way, I think that is something that we as a church and as a small-town community do very, very well, being a friend in times of emergency. It is how we care for each other and bear with each other in the ordinary times that lays a foundation for a closer relationship.

In a day and age where going to church is no longer a cultural norm (the average attendance in a church is twenty-seven to thirty percent of the membership in mainline denominations), we must strive to reach within our own church family, and be the one who encourages the rest to come.

If there is something to celebrate, we need to encourage them to come and share, so that we can celebrate together. If there is something devastating or tragic, then we need to encourage them to come so that they can share and lighten their burdens, and they need to know that it will be safe to do so here. If someone’s afraid, then we need to encourage them to come to a place of safety, where they will be loved, and can love in return.

The congregation’s success at this will determine the future of the church, in many ways. We make a way for the future by how we love now. We must look to the Holy Spirit to give us insight, as well as a heart full of love, so that we may produce the harvest of righteousness that brings praise to God and allows for the continuing growth of His kingdom here on Earth.

That is what is pointed to in Philippians. Paul thanks God for the Philippians, talking about how they shared the Gospel. But what struck me was, he says, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. And it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart. For all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”

He is sure, not just because of God’s power, which he had spoken of earlier, but because he knows that they hold him in their heart. They are a friend, even though there is a distance between them, even though Paul is in jail, they continue to offer whatever kindness and support they can.

He goes on to say, “For God is my witness, how I long for you with the compassion (of love) of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer,” he continues, “that your love may overflow more and more, with the knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced a harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Being a friend can be a tough go. Because in many ways, it’s easier to leave than with a family. They say you can choose your friends but not your family. Here you got both. They’re family, but they’re also supposed to be your friends. We need to be a friend to one another.

And then as we are a friend to one another and care for one another, we automatically become appealing to those outside the church, and we can begin to be friends with them. And as we are friends and we love one another, we set up that kingdom, that community, that God intended us to be.

In order to do that, we have to trust one another. It’s very difficult to trust someone who is not a friend. So I would encourage you, that you would clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness (which is strength under control), and patience, forgiving one another. Be BFFs, whenever and wherever you can.

And the kind of bonds that we have here will be so winsome to those outside the church, that as we share and overflow from here out into the community, they too will be drawn to the joy that you experience with each other. And to God will go the glory, for the great things He has done

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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