Paul has been writing and exhorting the believers with many instructions to do & not do (see Colossians 1:1-13). But all get brought together by one exhortation – to love!
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 in NIV)
This makes me think of a piece of power cord transmitting power from some power generation plant thousands of kilometres away to my laptop via a wall plug and this power cord – allowing me to write to you.
That short power cord is made of multiple thin strands of copper wire that on their own would be of no use to me. Because on their own, none of them would be sufficient to transmit the electrical power current needed to run this laptop. More than that, if they were on their own trying to transmit electrical power, they would be more unsafe than helpful putting my household at risk of electrocution and or fire.
But when bound tightly together and ensheathed in a protective outer layer of insulating plastic, they are not only able to transmit the power needed but also are enabled to do so safely!
Similarly, Paul seems to be saying that in all these diverse exhortations he is making for godly living (Colossians 3:1-14), there is one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) that binds them all together.
And that one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) makes all the other exhortations work together, enabling them to transmit something greater and to do so safely!
‘Single issue Christians’ are like exposed copper wires in a power cord without the necessary insulating covering. Have you ever met one of these people? They are fixated on one issue or command or instruction in Scripture and seem almost always to be lacking the protective binding of love for other people!
Take, for example, the very clear command in this passage for believers in Jesus to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality’ (Colossians 3:5). This is like one copper strand of the power cord of this whole passage.
Now a single issue Christian would be 100% right that God’s will is abundantly clear all through Scripture that sexual sin is serious and that it is ungodly and unbefitting for God’s children to engage in ANY sexually immoral behaviour. That strand on its own can transmit the full force and power of that command.
What the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality is not hard to understand – i.e. no sex before or beyond sex with the man or woman you are married to as a believer. Despite the fact that modern sensibilities have changed, God’s commands have not changed one iota and God’s commands need no updating and never will!
Therefore someone who makes much of this one strand of teaching is 100% right, but as Dallas Willard famously said; “It is possible to be right and to be unlike Christ” This single strand of teaching on its own can hurt and damage people if not encased in God’s love!
In this fallen world, living amongst people who are messed up and have messed up and are still messing up, this Scriptural exhortation ought not to be watered down even 0.5%. It is still relevant and still needs to be applied to peoples lives, however, it ought to be done so with the insulating protective cover of God’s love.
So the command of God to remain sexually pure, exclusively faithful to and having sex only with your spouse, and waiting until they are your spouse before you do so – is still to be taught and obeyed.
But it is done best when this teaching is intertwined with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and then encased in God’s incredible love. When that command is in that biblical power cord, the full power of the command can be at work without fear of fire or electrocution – harm being caused to anyone.
Don’t for a minute think I’m advocating some lax sexual ethic! After all, it is not loving to affirm someone in their lifestyle or behaviour when you know that their actions are in direct defiance of our Holy God and Father.
Many times in life, the most loving action is to stand up to someone, to risk offence and to tell them the truth but to so with all the imperatives in Colossians 3:12-17 tightly bound together and all of them encased, bound together in the insulating protective cover of love.
Brothers and sisters let us love one another not with the weak soppy ungodly modern idea that love = affirmation but with the transforming power of God’s word & God’s love.
- Who do you know you might need to challenge about one of the lifestyle sins described in this passage (or elsewhere in Scripture)?
- Pray now and ask God to tightly wrap all the head/heart/attitude directing imperatives around the strand of rebuke you know is needed from Scripture
- Then pray that God would encase everything in God’s love before you speak or act.
Words have value and power. When spoken words can heal, restore and build. Conversely, they can be used to cause pain, bring down and tear apart. All words have power. However, the words that matter the most to us are the words that come from the people closest to us. The value of these words comes from the value that we hold for the people that are speaking. The people closest to us hold our affections, passions and commitment. Therefore they’re words represent a communication of they’re heart towards us.
Throughout this book I have found the intimate relationship of Paul and Timothy beautiful. It has endeared my heart and warmed my soul, because the relationship is a beautiful model that is so tragically missing in many churches today. In our devotionals we have already seen how this relationship has been leveraged to encourage and strengthen Timothy. Paul has been pouring himself out onto paper, with the desire of equipping his spiritual son. In secular places we would call it ‘mentorship’, but we can call this ‘fathering’. The active, on-going, ‘doing’ of a strong and loving father figure towards his children.
We see throughout 1 Timothy, but I highlight this now because Paul seems to get personal. Beautifully personal. Lets remember two things at this stage. Firstly, Paul has given Timothy a challenging assignment. Going to Ephesus without backup, confronting the established, power-hungry, leaders. Correcting behaviour from church members. Secondly, Paul has been writing about holiness, and the need for the Ephesian church to reclaim godliness as a means of displaying the power of the Gospel.
We should remember these two things as we enter this part of the chapter, because it explains why Paul gets personal with Timothy. After admonishing and encouraging the church towards holiness, Paul turns his focus towards his son-in-the-faith Timothy. He strengthens Timothy towards strong and brave leadership when others might look down on him (verse 12). He encourages Timothy towards practicing leadership gifts wholeheartedly (verse 13). He reassures Timothy that his leadership is based on grace gifts given by God and recognized by church Elders (verse 14). Finally reminds Timothy to intentionally steward these grace gifts as well as his own holiness (verse 15 & 16).
Paul’s words are a blindingly bright display of his affection for Timothy. Look at Paul’s desire to see Timothy pursue holiness and live out the gospel. As Matthew Henry says, “Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life.” Look at the desire to protect and strengthen Timothy’s leadership; to see him thrive and establish himself. Look at how specific he gets. Paul knows what to check, what to encourage and what to challenge. The church today is meant to be filled with these discipleship relationships. It will advance the kingdom, transform the church and bring glory to the one we are all imitating (1 Cor 11:1).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- How does Paul guide Timothy in this passage?
- What do you think are Paul’s main concerns for Timothy?
- How are you being a Paul or a Timothy in the church today?
- How has this passage challenged you to grow your personal leadership gift?
Paul strikes a great balance in this book between guiding Timothy, and letting him discover and develop himself as a leader. Paul gives some instructions, some pointers, but he isn’t in the trenches with Timothy in Ephesus. Timothy has to build the strategy himself. Have the confrontational conversation himself. Change procedures and disciple new leaders himself. The ‘discipler – disciplee’ relationship is a balance, and this passage can be instructional for both roles. Invest the time. Commit to the challenge. Raise new leaders. Be transformed.
I was just 12-13 at the time, Dave was probably 25. It’s strange but I can’t even remember especially how I got to youth each week (thanks Mom and Dad I am sure it was you!), but I do remember how I got home. It was Dave’s Kombi! That Kombi was a loud fun place to be, we used to get rowdy at times and even used to sneak up behind unsuspecting pedestrians on Main Road in Cape Town, going really close the the pavement and then suddenly at the right moment all hang out the windows bellowing out our best barking impersonations and then delighting in the heights people would jump to in their moments of sudden terror!
I have etched in my memory a moment driving in Dave’s car when he said something like; ‘I’d like to get to know you better…spend time with you and some other guys to help you grow in God.’
That moment, that short invitation changed my life forever!
Now, unlike the majority of young South African men today, there was nothing lacking in my family, no deficiency in my own dad but Dave’s invitation and the constant commitment to me and the intentional friendship that followed had both a formative and transformative impact on my life.
And so we started meeting as a discipleship group – normally about 4-5 guys and Dave. Our normal rhythm was to meet early in the morning before school and after school before varsity, once a week. We would most often gate-crash the Lautenbach families home, sometimes having to wake family members by knocking on their windows because Phil enjoyed his shuteye! We’d talk rubbish, make a noise, read the bible, pray and share life together often by answering Dave’s questions which often seemed to get right down to the marrow of life. The last question was often; “Have you just lied to me?”! We were mates, Dave was our mate although he was different, he was friend and a father in God.
We got drawn into whatever Dave was up to and loved to just watch him do it, do it with him, have him let us do it and in time feel the release and the encouragement from him to do it on our own. This happened as we became youth leaders, leaders at Summer Camp and on the men’s discipleship hikes that were so formative in all our lives. We read the books Dave had read, and ended up learning to fast and pray and grew in our desire to give our lives for something that would last forever.
I know that those years in Dave’s discipleship groups have been the single biggest reason why I believe that I am today at age 42 still walking in the purposes of God, those years formed me, formed my love for God, my desire to live for His purposes and formed my character.
In his letter to Titus Paul says; “To Titus, my true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4). When I read this I thought of Dave and how he could say to me, say to many like me; ‘my son in the faith’.
I’ll never forget the one meeting we had when Dave got a serious look on his face, opened the bible to 2 Timothy 2:2 and having read it declared that if we did not begin to pass on to others what He had been giving to us he would have to cease to meet with us! We were given 6months to find someone else, other younger guys or lease mature believers to then gather around our lives. Our assignment was to simply do what Dave had done with us again and again.
When I read Paul’s greeting to Titus I felt challenged again, and it’s a challenge that I believe every Christ follower who has known Christ for more than 2years should feel; “Who are your spiritual sons/daughters?” Who have you, who are you pouring your life into? Who would call you ‘Dad’ or ‘Mom’ in God?
Dave was that guy for me. But the challenge is who can say that I, that you have been that guy, that woman for them?
Discipleship is an intentional relationship, it requires effort to start and effort to keep going. Discipleship has aspects of friendship, teaching, imitation, accountability, equipping & release for the purpose of stimulating greater love & devotion to Jesus and His mission in the lives of others.
To disciple is to develop LOVE for Jesus, FAITH, CHARACTER, GIFTING in another and then RELEASING them to do as you have done with them.
At the moment I have three young guys who call me; ‘Dad’. Two of them have their own dad’s, but it is my joy to know that Dave’s fathering of me, Dave’s challenge to reproduce what he had deposited in me and modelled to me has in fact happened.
In South Africa, we live in a fatherless generation, we have a crisis! Who can honestly call you ‘dad’ or ‘mom’ in the Lord? I urge you to take this to heart, to share your life intentionally with others, to ask God to open your eyes to those around you who’s lives will be transformed like mine was if only you’d take the initiative and invite them to share life with you. Will you?
By Gareth Bowley