Whenever we are about to travel overseas, it is only wise to refer to the weather forecast and then pack accordingly so that we can be adequately prepared. Similarly, we need to turn to God’s wisdom to understand how we are to “clothe” ourselves in order to be prepared for the passing showers and occasional tempest in our relationships with others.
When the Apostle Paul urges Christians to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience” (Col 3:12-13), it is because he understands why such clothing is needful for God’s people. If anything, it is because God desires us to be prepared to demonstrate such qualities whenever we are gathered as a community of believers. After all, when we have put our faith in Christ and are “rooted and built up in him” (Col 2:6-7), we should be increasingly bearing fruit of such qualities.
On the other hand, if you think about it, it means that the community of God’s people is far from being perfect. Indeed, it would suggest that God’s people are in need of a generous amount of those various qualities to be shown towards them.
For those of us who have participated in the life of a Christian community for an extended period of time, we would have invariably experienced frustration, discouragement, disappointment or hurt. While we are not to condone certain attitudes and behaviour amongst Christians, neither should we idealistically come into a Christian community expecting everyone to be the nicest person on earth. Considering that only one out of the ten lepers who were healed returned to thank Jesus (Luke 17:11-19) and Paul himself was forsaken by his close associate (2 Tim 4:10), it should not surprise us that sometimes people would rather withdraw themselves from a Christian community.
Yet, it is precisely because Christians are all work-in-progress that we are exhorted not to give up on each other but to put on those qualities which Paul listed out. Thus, we are to put on compassionate hearts and kindness because those who are sincerely making efforts to resist temptation and yet find themselves giving in to temptation again and again need us to understand where their area of weakness is. We should be prepared to journey with them, holding them accountable while offering them words of encouragement and pointing them to the hope found in Christ. It is most unfortunate that sometimes we merely appeal to them with a “If I can do it, so can you” approach or worse, snub them with a self-righteous rebuke.
Likewise, we are called to put on humility, meekness, patience and forbearance because when an offence is committed against us or a quarrel is about to erupt, we are ready to forgive and choose not to pick a fight since “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov 15:1).In fact, there may be situations when one layer of clothing is not enough. This may explain why Paul concludes with the reminder “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).
Admittedly, it is never easy to love others. Even amongst blood relations, there have been grievances and disputes that have sadly led to the severance of ties. But as God’s people, we thank God that the blood of Christ which has been shed for us is much more precious and runs far deeper in a liberating manner that enables us to love others. Indeed, we love because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
To be sure, there will be occasions when we fail to demonstrate love or love poorly. But we need not lose heart or be overwhelmed with guilt. Neither should we remain in our comfort zone or blame others for their miserly response towards us. Instead, we ought to humbly confess our failings and in sincere repentance continue to rely on God’s grace to love as God has called us to.
As God’s people, we are called to obey God. And as we enter into 2016, obedience demonstrated through loving God and loving others is certainly a good place to start. Beyond those New Year resolutions about reaching certain milestones, let us take practical steps to cultivate habits of loving God and loving others.
The community of God’s people may not be perfect but it can still be remarkable to the world. After all, God has a great purpose for His redeemed community. It is meant to be a place where lives are transformed and a beacon of hope through which the power of the Gospel is revealed as we earnestly seek to love one another. Since God has graciously clothe us with the righteousness of His Son (2 Cor 5:21), it will be to the blessing of others that we be dressed for the community.
Rev Edwin Wong
January 3, 2016