Have you ever wondered what unified worship really looks like in a church? Does unified worship means singing the same style of songs, wearing the same clothes, and eating the same meal? Is it a removal of friction between individual members so that we can get along all the time? Does God intend to remove individuality in exchange for uniformity? To answer these questions, let’s look at Colossians 3:11-17:
“Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others. And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond. Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
If there will ever be unity in the body of Christ, it would be because Christ removed all boastings in our distinctives:
God now creates a new man or new race in Christ Jesus and as chosen ones of God from different ethnicities, traditions, education, and socio-economic status, we are called as one unified body because Christ is all and in all. But there’s no inherent evil in being a jew or gentile, a slave or a free man. In fact worship in Christ’s kingdom is diverse according to Revelations 7:9.
Take note of Paul’s conclusion in verse 12 “therefore clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness”, I call these “Christ like virtues”. It seems to suggest that our Jewishness or Gentileness will not be removed. Our differences will remain, we just have to deal with it by clothing ourselves with the virtues of Christ. The reason he says there is no longer such and such is because he’s indicting our boasting in human distinctives such as the traditions of men being imposed on Colossian believers in chapter 2. As what verse 17 says ,we must no longer do things based on our old distinctives but on the name of the Lord Jesus. We are first Christians before we are Filipinos, or Americans, before we are Presbyterians or Baptists, or those who have doctorates or those who never had a proper education.
But what does doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus means? We do all things in His name when we do all things through Him and thank God the Father for it. It is relying on Christ in every Christian duty. That way, our only boast is Christ and not our distinctives.
How then do we demonstrate our being part of the new race, as God’s elect?
Verses 12-14 is the answer. By clothing ourselves with a heart of mercy or literally bowels of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And the unifying virtue of them all is love. In Colossians 2:2 Paul says that his goal was to knit them in love.These are opposite to the things that we need to put off in 3:8-9.
Now the point of having all of these Christ like virtues is so that we would bear with and forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven us, because no one here is already perfect. All of us are still given to anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language, and lying. The fact that we are still being commanded to put these things off is proof positive that they exist inside the church. Remember that the church is comprised of sinners, with different clashing personalities, backgrounds, upbringing and there are times when we hurt each other. That’s why bearing and forgiving one another is necessary in order for us to have true unity as a new race in Christ.
Yes it’s hard but Paul did not leave us to ourselves without means. We can clothe ourselves with the virtues of Chirst by 1) Letting the peace of Christ control our hearts and 2) by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly.
First we are to be reminded always by the peace brought to us by Christ. We who experienced the peace of Christ must become agents of peace, not retaliation. We can easily sympathize with those who would hurt us since we are just like them without the grace and peace from Christ. Colossians 1:21 tells us that we were once strangers and enemies of God, but He made peace with us through His Son.
According to Ephesians 2:14-17 the Christ “is himself our peace” and he “proclaimed peace as good news,” thus “making peace” so as to “create in himself one new human being . . . in one body . . . by having killed . . . the hostility.” Hence in Colossians, closely related to Ephesians, “the Christ’s peace” means the peace that he himself is, that he proclaimed as good news, and that he made so as to kill hostility between Christians as members of his body, the church, and to substitute arbitration for hostility.
Notice also the grounds of the command to clothe ourselves with Christ’s virtues in verse 10. We have been clothed with the new man first. Same is true with the command to let the peace of Christ control us. This peace is already ours as one body in Christ.
Second, we clothe ourselves with the virtues of Christ by feasting in His word. The word of Christ can mean both the words about Christ and the words taught by Christ. We can only bear the fruits of love when we abide in Christ, and we abide in Christ by abiding in His word. But take note of the corporate nature of this command. We do this corporately by 1) teaching and exhorting one another, 2) by singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with grace to God.
Teaching and Exhorting
When we entered into covenant in a local body, we entered with wrong beliefs, misconceptions on certain doctrines and Christian duties. We don’t require perfect knowledge of the church’s statement of faith before you become a member. But to become an elder or a bible teacher we do require adherence to our statement of faith. In other words we join a church with the intention to learn and willingness to be rebuked and corrected. This is how we grow and mature. Not only with the members but also with those who lead. Leader’s must be patient and forgiving enough to deal with the errors of the members. We don’t learn in the same pace as everyone. Notice the prepositional phrase “with grace in your hearts”. I don’t think that it only modifies the singing but the teaching and exhorting too.
Singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
Not only do we learn from the didactics, but also when we sing biblically saturated songs to God and with each other. Letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly is both cognitive and emotive. Oh how important corporate worship is. Growth through the word is a community effort not just individual. Yes we want everyone to learn how to study the word of God privately, but we, most importantly, aim and strive to study it together, both through the teaching of the word and singing of the word.
Therefore Christ removed all boastings in our individual distinctives so that we would rely on Him for our unity despite our differences. It is not a removal of distinctives perse. If we’re all the same then unity is easy, and Christ will not get the most glory. But when we do our duties corporately, even though we have our differences and shortcomings, we glorify Christ because we rely both in his peace and his word for this unity to happen. Or to put it in Christian hedonistic terms, God is more glorified in us corporately when we feast in his words than when we do it alone individually.