Meditations in Colossians: 8. Visible Love
Col 1:3,4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints
We went to some lengths in the previous meditation to point out that the faith of the Colossians was visible; it wasn’t just words, it was seen in action. Now Paul continues the verse to include, “the love you have for all the saints.” You don’t say of someone, ‘we have heard of the love you have for people’ if that love isn’t clearly visible, that it is seen in practical ways, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to say that.
Now before we move on to consider how this love is seen, we need, I believe, to pick up on two things: a) what love means and b) what the New Testament teaching is about it in our lives. You may think this unnecessary but it is to easy to take some of these things for granted.
First of all, what ‘love’ means. Two definitions I have used elsewhere are first of all the dictionary definition: “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for someone or something.” When it comes to God we may add to that, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards others.” Look at those two definitions carefully and take them in. ‘Love’ has a meaning.
Then comes the basic teaching of the New Testament in Jesus words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ….. and …`Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mt 22:37-39) Love is at the heart of godliness. But then Jesus taught his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) That was sacrificial love and a love that accepts others as they are and seeks their blessing at all times. (For a wider study on the instructions to love in the New Testament, look up the following: Jn 15:12,17, Rom 13:8, 1 Thess 3:12, 4:9, Heb 13:1, 1 Pet 1:2, 4:8, 1 Jn 3:11,23, 4:7,11,12, 2 Jn 1:5)
So there we have the basic teaching, what love means and how we are to have it as the foundation in our lives. We are what we are because God has loved us and as a response to that we love others. But now here comes the crunch: this love is not merely words, it is practical actions, actions that can be seen and spoken about so Paul could say, “we have heard ….of the love you have for all the saints..”
Now the Greek word for God’s love for us is so often the same word used as the love we are to have for one another so our second definition above can be used for the love we are to have for one another: “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards others.” Because many Christians have not thought down this path, I suspect that, if we are honest, this is not the quality of relationship that we find in most churches between all the members.
Selfless means we put others first. Sacrificial means we give up claims to our own wellbeing (and leave it in God’s hands). Unrestricted means that with the enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit there will be no limit to how we love one another. Good will means we are looking out for one another, seeking the best for one another, caring for one another, encouraging one another. If we look up the words ‘one another’ or ‘each other’ in the New Testament we will see a whole variety of ways that this is to be worked out practically: honouring one another (Rom 12:10), living in harmony (Rom 12:16), accepting one another (Rom 15:7), instructing one another (Rom 15:14), agreeing with one another (1 Cor 1:10), serving one another (Gal 5:13), being patient with one another (Eph 4:2), bearing with one another (Col 3:13), being kind and compassionate with one another (Eph 4:32), being forgiving of one another (Eph 4:32), submitting to one another (Eph 5:21), encouraging one another (1 Thess 5:18), spurring one another on (Heb 10:24), offering hospitality to one another (1 Pet 4:9), fellowshipping with one another (1 Jn 1:7), being kind to one another (1 Thes 5:15), and so on. All of these are very practical ways that we show love to one another. The comment was made of the early Christians, “See how they love one another.” May that we a comment heard again today.
Now we may confuse all this with having nice feelings towards other people but in any reasonable sized church it is not possible to have ‘nice feelings’ about everyone; it is difficult to have such feelings about people you do not know. This is the value of house groups or home groups that tend to be much smaller where you can have the opportunity to get to know each person in the group. However in a larger church the call is still to love all the saints which means whenever you encounter another believer express love towards them. This means paying attention to them, showing interest in them, being there for them and, as the opportunity arises serve and minister to them. It means being openhearted to them, whoever they are. When we have churches like this we will be part way there to having people flock there to find this alternative community expressing something that is so rarely found in reality in the rest of the world. This is Jesus’ design for his church; let’s conform to that design.