"A Royal Wardrobe"
(Delivered Sunday, June 10, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
My wife and I occasionally go shopping together for clothes. It's good that we go together; because she brings a little objectivity to my choices. She knows what looks good on me, and - of course - what doesn't. And I've learned to trust her judgment. After all, she loves me, and has my best interest in mind. She truly wants me to look good.
And so, if a really bad choice of shirt or jacket attracts me - as sometimes happens - and I pull it off the rack, or hold it up to myself, she'll shake her head and say, "No; ... that's not your color". Or, "No; ... it won't work for you. It's just not your style." Or sometimes, it's, "No; ... you're not a teenager anymore." A particular garment may be nice in every other way; but, as she sometimes sums it all up by saying, "It's just not 'you'."
But when we find something together that has potential, and I come out of the dressing room with it on - something that's just right, and fits correctly, and really makes me look my best - she'll nod approvingly and says, "Yeah. Get that one. That's 'you'."
God has made some "wardrobe selections" for His children, too. Except in our case, it's not clothing. It's certain attitudes, and certain behaviors, and certain types of practices toward others - things that 'look good' on His children. There are attitudes and practices from our old life before we placed our trust in Jesus Christ that, like particular choices of clothing, are no longer appropriate to who we are. They're just no longer our style. They just aren't 'us' anymore. What God has in mind for us is a whole new wardrobe that's in keeping with our new identity - the new 'us' that He has made us to be in His Son Jesus Christ.
If you have heard the message of the gospel, and have placed your faith and trust in the sacrifice of God's Son Jesus Christ; then through the gracious work of God, you too have a brand new identity. By faith, God has caused you to be crucified with Jesus to your old way of life - with all the sinful behaviors and practices that went with it; and He has resurrected you up from the dead with Him to a brand new life - and, with it, a whole new life-style. He has made you into a brand new creation in Jesus. The old ways of living are no longer appropriate to who you now truly are, and should be taken off and discarded like old clothes that are dirty, thread-bare and out of style. They just aren't "you" anymore. A whole new "royal wardrobe" of behaviors and attitudes must now be put on by you - attitudes and behaviors that conform to the image of God's Son, Jesus Christ - attitudes and behaviors that suit the new "you".
Paul speaks of this new wardrobe in the passage before us. He writes:
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful (vv. 12-15).
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This passage reminds me of an interesting incident in the life of Victoria, the Queen of England, that I once heard about. When she was a little girl, she was told that she was destined to be the queen. She didn't have to earn that privilege; it was hers already. And when she was told that she was the future queen, the little girl made this resolve: "If I am to be queen, then I shall be a good queen." She began immediately to behave like what she was.
If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, then you are already His beloved child - already fully acceptable to Him in Christ. "... As many as received Him," the Bible tells us, "to them, He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12). As Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthians, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). One day, you will be fully glorified; and all of heaven will see you clothed in the royal majesty you now share with Jesus Christ. For now, however - from this day forward - you are to work at behaving like what you truly are. It may take a while to conform in practice to what God has already made you to be. But you are to now begin "putting on" the practices and behaviors that are appropriate to what you are. You are to begin wearing the "royal wardrobe" of attitudes and actions that now befits you.
What does this passage say is true of you? What does Paul affirm that you now are in Christ? He begins by telling you precisely what you now are in God's eyes through faith in Jesus. "Therefore," he says, "as the elect of God, holy and beloved ..." (v. 12).
Look carefully at what Paul says. When writes "therefore", he's pointing back to all that he has already said in this letter about your union with Christ's death and resurrection, and your renewal as a brand new Creation in Him - especially what he says in 3:1-11. When he calls you the "elect of God", he's pointing to the gracious work of God to save you - not on the basis of your good deeds or personal worth, but merely on the basis of His love and grace. When he calls you "holy", he's identifying your true character in God's eyes as someone He has rescued from His wrath and from the wretchedness of sin, and set apart as His own precious possession. And when he calls you "beloved", he's telling you how God already feels toward you as a result of your union with His Son Jesus.
Dear brother or sister in Christ; you and I are - at this moment, by faith in Christ - the elect of God, chosen by Him for salvation. We have been crucified with Jesus, and have been raised to new life with Him. When God the Father looks upon us, He no longer looks upon objects of His wrath. Instead, He looks upon people that He has set apart for Himself as holy; and who are eternally beloved to Him. If we are in Christ, we are as much loved by the Father as His Son Jesus (John 17:23); and nothing will ever separate us from that love (Rom. 8:38-39).
Aren't you grateful to Him for that? Doesn't that make you want to behave - out of love and gratitude to Him - like what He has made you to be? That's what this passage is meant to encourage you and I to do.
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In the original language, the word "elect" is in the plural form. Paul is speaking to the collected assembly of believers in this passage; and though these principles certainly have a bearing in all our relationships, Paul's primary focus in describing these behaviors is our conduct toward one another within the church. Our renewal in Christ sets us free to "put on" Christ-like behaviors toward one another in the household of God - believer to fellow believer.
What are those behaviors? What does our "royal wardrobe" look like? First, notice that Paul speaks of ...
I. A GRACIOUS ATTITUDE TOWARD ONE ANOTHER (v. 12).
He says, "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering ..."
My two sons and I recently saw one of the current animated movies that's playing in the theaters. The main character is a grouchy, mean-spirited ogre who has a talking donkey as an unwelcome traveling companion. The ogre is trying to scare people away so that they'll leave him alone; while the poor donkey keeps trying - unsuccessfully - to be on friendly terms with him. But the big green ogre just doesn't seem to want to get close to anyone - especially this annoying donkey. And when the donkey asks why; the ogre snaps back that he's like an 'onion' - an answer that confused the donkey until the ogre explained; "An onion has layers."
Many people are like that. They have built up layers to protect themselves from other people - layers of hardness, arrogance, impatience; all designed to prevent people from getting close. We build those layers around ourselves as a sinful way of keeping other people out and preventing them from drawing close to us. But the Bible tells us that all those things are to now be put aside as behaviors that are inappropriate to who we truly are in Christ.
Paul tells us that we're to "put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another ..." (vv. 8-9). And the behaviors Paul tells us that we're now to put on can be thought of as "anti-layer" behaviors. They make it possible for our brothers and sisters in Christ to draw close to us. They are "welcoming" attitudes and behaviors. They make for the kind of fellowship that God is pleased to see among us.
Paul tells us, first, to put on "tender mercies"; or, as it's more accurately (if not more poetically) translated in the King James Version, "bowels of mercies". It's a word that's formed by putting two Greek words together - the one for compassion, and the other for ... well ... intestines.
It's not really so gross, though, when you think about it. When you truly feel compassion for someone else, where do you feel it? The cartoons and valentine cards make it seem as if we feel it "in our hearts"; but we all know that that's not where the action is. When you really "feel" about someone or something, don't you usually feel moved deep within your stomach? ... deep within your bowels?
Paul is telling us that, when it comes to our attitude toward one another in the body of Christ, we're not to be hardened toward one another; rather, we're to be of such a frame of mind that we can "feel" for one another - that we can hurt for one another and are vulnerable in the area of our compassion for one another - that we are willing to be "tender" and "sensitive" in the area of our deep feelings for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul also tells us to put on "kindness"; which, in the Greek, is very practical. It's related to the word for "usefulness". "Kindness", as God wants us to demonstrate it toward one another, is an attitude of readiness to be whatever each other needs - a readiness to be of use to one another in whatever way we can - a readiness to meet one another's needs in practical ways.
Then, Paul speaks of "humility"; which means, being of a lowly mind toward one another. Paul used this same word - and, I believe, captured the practical spirit of it - when he told the Philippian believers; "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interest of others" (Phil. 2:3-4).
Paul next speaks of "meekness". This isn't a call to be "spineless jellyfish" toward one another; as if we're to wring our hands in great weakness and fear while in one another's presence, and duck if the person next to us should happen to scratch his nose. Rather, "meekness" - as the Bible presents it to us - is a characteristic that springs from strength. It means that we are capable of an intimidating display of strength and an exhibition of power; but that we refrain from doing so because of the harm it would cause to another. We're to be forbearing with one another, and become "gentle giants" in our manner toward one another.
Finally, Paul speaks of "longsuffering". This simply means that we have a long fuse. There are some people that are 'hair-trigger' in their anger toward one another; and are ready to blow a gasket anytime anyone looks at them wrongly. But here, we're commanded to be slow to get angry with one another. We're to be patient with one another; easy to work with; very, very slow to take offense.
You can easily see how putting on these attitudes and behaviors would make us gracious, delightful people to be around. They would peal away the layers. They would help us to welcome one another into our lives. They were the characteristics of Jesus when He walked upon this earth; and they explain why even hardened sinners felt loved and welcomed in His holy presence, and why little children loved to play in the lap of the mighty King of kings.
I want those characteristics to be true of me. Don't you want them to be true of you? God, our Father, wants us to be that way too. He has saved us to be like Jesus. And as His children - holy and beloved - He calls us to now begin to put on these behaviors - wear the "royal wardrobe" - and act like what we are.
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Next, we see that another piece of the wardrobe God calls us to put on is ...
II. A READINESS TO FORGIVE ONE ANOTHER (v. 13).
Paul says that we're to be "bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do."
There's two verbs mentioned here. The first one - translated "bearing with" one another - means to regard one another with tolerance; to be ready and willing to put up with little failures and faults in one another. It isn't, of course, a call for us to tolerate open sin in one another's lives; because that wouldn't be either loving or holy. Rather, it's a call to accept the fact that we all have little faults; and to be broad in our willingness to overlook those faults as much as possible.
The other verb that Paul uses is one that's translated "forgive"; and this is a word that particularly spotlights grace. The word refers to a kind of forgiveness that is granted as a particularly free favor - a particularly gracious gift.
Paul says that this forgiveness should be something that we're ready to give to one another for any offense. He says to forgive, "if anyone has a complaint (or "quarrel") against another." That pretty much takes care of all the petty little things, doesn't it? Have you ever seen those small-claim court shows on television? "Small" is a good name for them. It's amazing how many of those shows would vanish from the airwaves if people would be willing just to forgive one another for their little, minor differences. That's what we're to be ready to do in the body of Christ toward one another. We're to be quicker to forgive than we are to take offense.
Paul also gives us an example. He says, "even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do." If anyone should ever say, "Why should I be the one that has to be so 'forgiving'?", well - here's the answer.
Jesus told a parable to help illustrate this. Peter once asked the Lord how many times he should forgive someone. "Seven times?" he asked ... thinking that was pretty magnanimous. And Jesus answered:
I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, "Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all." Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay me what you owe!" So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you all." And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?" And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (Matthew 18:22-35).
Jesus has forgiven and personally paid the debt for every single one of our sins - which is a far greater debt than anything anyone could ever owe to us. His free, unmerited, unconditional forgiveness of our sins clearly obligates us to forgive the offenses committed against us. A readiness to forgive each other is yet another piece of the royal wardrobe that God calls us to begin to "put on" in Christ.
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Another piece is ...
III. A BOND OF LOVE TOWARD ONE ANOTHER (v. 14).
Paul says, "But above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection."
"Love" (or "charity", as it's translated in some of your Bibles), refers to a very high kind of love. It's not love in a mere "friendly" or "affectionate" sense. Rather, it's love in a self-sacrificing, self-giving sense. It's a love that seeks the best and highest good of the one being loved. Paul says that, above all the other things he has mentioned - that is, taking the place of priority over all these other things we're called to put on toward one another - is this love that is willing to give of one's self in order to bring about the highest good and blessing of one another.
And notice the reason why. It's because this kind of love is "the bond of perfection". The great theme of this whole letter is that we have been made "complete" or "perfect" in Christ. He is everything that we need; and when we're in Him, we have it all. He is "all and in all" (3:11). And our great longing for one another, and our great labor toward one another, is to see that each one of us is presented "perfect in Christ Jesus" (1:28). A great way to objectify "love", then, is to think of it as the willingness to do whatever we can to see each other become all that God has saved us to be in Christ. Our mutual sense of completeness in Christ, and our mutual goal of seeing each other enter into the full experience of that completeness, is the "bond" - the spiritual glue, if you will - that binds our hearts to one another in a deeper way than any other earthly thing that could bind people together.
God commands us to love one another, because that mutual love is a critical part of His program of growth for the church. Paul once expressed his own personal prayer for the church; what we,
...speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes the growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:15-16).
It's a work of love - from beginning to end. Peter likewise said, "And above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins'" (1 Pet. 4:8; see also Proverbs 10:12). Jesus Himself so loved us, and so desired to perfect us, that He sacrificed His life for us. And one of the things our risen Savior commands us to do in response is to "put on" love for one another - to love each other as He has loved us (John 15:12).
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Another thing that we're called to "put on" is ...
IV. A COMMITMENT TOWARD PEACE WITH ONE ANOTHER (v. 15a).
Paul says, "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body ..."
I believe this has been a very misused passage among professing Christians. It has been used by many as a principle of guidance and decision making. Someone will be on the verge of making a very foolish and unscriptural decision; and if someone else should try to warn them, they'll say, "But I've prayed about this decision that I'm going to make, and I feel peace about it." And of course, the reality is that it doesn't matter how much "peace" we feel about something that God says we shouldn't do; we'll still bring suffering upon ourselves if we do it.
But that's not what Paul is talking about - some inner sense of "peace" about a decision we're going to make. This verse is dealing with the matter of how we manage our relationships toward one another in the body of Christ. The verb that Paul uses here - translated "rule" - is one that described the act of someone presiding over public games; someone who had to make a decision in a contest. What Paul saying that, when there's an issue of controversy among us, and a decision must be made about what to do when all things seem equal, the ruling factor - the arbitrating and decisive principle - is the answer to this question: "What will most advance the cause of peace between us?" We're to let the peace that God is seeking to establish between us "rule" in the decision.
This is a very practical exhortation when it comes to our relationships with one another, because it addresses how we're to handle "gray areas" and matters of disagreement between us. In Paul's day, one of the most pressing of "gray areas" was that of eating meat. One brother who felt at liberty before God to eat anything he wanted, chose to enjoy any kind of meat that looked appetizing to him; while another brother who had scruples against doing so chose not to partake, because the meat was ceremonially 'unclean' and because he had doubts about his liberty in Christ to eat it. The "rule of peace" meant that the 'free' brother was not to jam his liberties down the throat of the 'doubtful' brother. Doing so would definitely not make for peace between them. In fact, the 'free' brother was to go so far as to be willing to forego exercising his liberties out of a desire to pursue the greater cause of peace with his 'doubting' brother. Paul wrote;
I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another" (Rom. 14:14-19).
This pursuit of "peace" is to be something more than simply a willingness to "give in" so that the fighting would stop. It's not something to be done bitterly and begrudgingly. Rather, it's to be the expression of a desire deep within us - a sincere longing to pursue what edifies our brother or sister, and builds him or her up in Christ. It's to be a peace of God that rules us "in our hearts". We're to genuinely desire and seek this peace between us because it's something God Himself wants and longs to see between us.
And notice the reason why we're to do this. We're to pursue this "peace ... to which also you were called in one body ..." We're to show such a mutual care for one another, because God has called us to peaceful coexistence as members together of the single body of Christ.
And so, we're to put on a willingness to give up our own rights, and forgo our own privileges, if it will help advance the cause of peace between our brother or sister and ourselves. It's a crucial part of the new "royal wardrobe" God calls us to wear in Christ.
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Finally, we're to put on ...
V. A GENUINE GRATITUDE FOR ONE ANOTHER (v. 15b).
Paul simply says, "And be thankful ..." and in the context of all that he has said, we can take his words to mean, "Be genuinely thankful for one another."
I believe that there are two ways to understand this. On the one hand, it may be that we're being called to give genuine thanks to one another for the things that we do in one another's life. One of the most bonding things that we can do toward one another is to sincerely express our gratitude to each other for the ways we bless one another's lives. We should never let acts of love, kindness and service from one another go unthanked.
And on the other hand, it may be that we're being called to give thanks directly to God for one another. This would be a recognition that God Himself has given us to one another, and has wisely and sovereignly formed us together into one body for the mutual blessing of all.
In either event, we're to put on a genuine spirit of thankfulness for one another. Our gratitude toward God for one another, and our genuine expression of thanks to one another for the blessings we receive, is one of the greatest ways to prevent a spirit of bitterness and resentment from spoiling our fellowship with one another. How can we be grouchy toward our brother, and thankful for him at the same time? This is yet another of the new attitudes and behaviors God calls us to put on in Christ.
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Now; someone might object to all of this by saying, "All of this sounds nice; but I don't feel those things that these verses are talking about. It says to put on 'tender mercies, kindness, humility,' and so forth. But when I face certain people in my life, I don't feel any such thing toward them. It says to be 'forgiving'; but I don't always feel so forgiving. Or there's that one about 'love'; but I don't always feel so loving toward some people. It says to pursue peace; but a lot of the time, I just don't feel like giving up my rights to make that happen. And it says to express my thanks; but I don't feel so thankful for certain people. Now, wouldn't I be hypocritical if I tried to behave in all these ways, if I really didn't feel them?"
Perhaps you're thinking that way right now. Perhaps you're even thinking of someone this very moment that God is bringing to your mind; and you're concerned that you would be hypocritical if you were to try to behave toward them as this passage commands, because you know that you don't 'feel' sincere about those things toward them. Perhaps you feel as though you'd be trying to behave like something you're not.
First, I would like to remind you that this passage isn't really commanding that you to "feel" anything. The things in this passage have more to do with actions and ways of thinking toward other people in the body of Christ, than with how you "feel" toward them. This passage is telling you what to "do"; not what to "feel". And doing what God says - even when you don't feel like it - isn't being 'hypocritical' at all. Rather, it's being 'obedient'.
And second, this passage isn't really asking you to behave like something you're not. If the Bible were telling you to act like something you're really not, then it would be commanding you to be hypocritical. But the situation here is quite the opposite. God is here commanding you to behave like what, in fact, you truly are - the elect of God, holy and beloved. It assumes that you have Christ living in you; and that you are God's redeemed child - crucified to the old ways of life; and resurrected into a whole new life. It's calling you to begin behaving like the new creation that you are in Christ. What's hypocritical about that?
And by the way; my strong suspicion is that, if we begin to do what God tells us to do in this passage, and behave like what He says we are, we won't have to worry about "feelings". It won't be long before we'll soon begin to "feel" in conformity with our behavior. We'll eventually begin to feel tender-hearted toward one another, and kind, and humble, and mild, and longsuffering toward one another. It won't be long before we'll soon begin to feel truly willing to forgive and pardon one another's faults; and genuinely loving toward one another in a self-sacrificial way. It won't be long before we'll soon begin to feel a heart-felt desire to pursue peace with one another; and a genuine sense of gratitude for one another.
So, dear brother or sister; let's not bother to wait around for our "feelings". Let's begin now to behave toward one another like what we truly are in God's eyes. Let's start putting on the "royal wardrobe" of men and women who have been made new in Christ. After all, it's truly "us".
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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