I recently came across something that was a first for me. A silent disco! For those who don't know what that is let me explain: it's a party where everyone is listening to music on separate headphones and they can choose which DJ or playlist to tune into. Perhaps some were listening to classical music and others preferred something a little more contemporary. Well, each to their own. Other than that it's just like a normal disco. It's hilarious to watch because everyone is dancing but you can't hear any music. Everyone looked like they were having a great time and I almost considered joining in. If everyone was blindfolded I might have been brave enough!
Later, however, as I reflected on it I couldn't help but see a bit of a parallel between that room full of out-of-sync dancers and life in our west-European context. We long to connect deeply with one another. But we also want things the way we like them. Here is a powerful visual aid of the postmodern dilemma – a deep desire for genuine friendship yet a fierce independence: I can live my life any way I please.
That's very different to life as a Christian. Jesus assumed that his disciples would follow him in groups. Yes, we must all decide for ourselves to trust him, no one can do that for us. But that does not mean that following him is an individual, private thing. Followers of Jesus are, spiritually speaking a family.
We've just said to Cassie as she was baptised 'We welcome you into the Lord's family'. She, together with Ian, and others who follow Jesus as Lord, are now 'members together of the body of Christ'.
God made us to be relational so we should not be surprised that we all long for deep, loving relationships and a community to belong to. But what does it look like to be a church family?
That is what our current teaching series is all about. Our series title is 'Church life: how to love one another'. Each week we've been looking at a different aspect of our life together and learning from the Bible what Christian community looks like. Each aspect builds to paint a powerful picture of what healthy Christian life together looks like and tonight we come to Colossians 3:16 and the theme 'teach and admonish one another'.
Colossians 3.16 says this:
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
I have two points tonight.
First, teaching and admonishing one another is an essential part of the Christian life
And second, teaching and admonishing one another means taking God's true word seriously.
Teaching and admonishing one another is an essential part of the Christian life
Tonight's topic might not, at first glance, seem very appealing. Love one another – tick, yes, I'm up for that. But 'teach and admonish one another'. Hum. Not so sure about that one! To be corrected, told what to do, warned that the way I am thinking or acting is dangerous? Well that goes against our culture's values which teaches, 'If you love me, you will accept me and never question me'.
So before we look more closely at what it looks like to 'teach and admonish one another', I want to help you to see why it is so important. To do that, we'll look at three basic components of biblical, Christian community and consider what happens if any one of them is missing.
Imagine a triangle. Each side represents a different aspect of life together: shared life, shared vision, and shared commitment.
These guiding principles apply just as easily to churches as to a marriage or a friendship and they are crucial building blocks for a healthy and balanced community. Let's look at each on in turn:
1. Shared life. The key word here is 'love'. John 15.12
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
That's the first essential component. As we listen to and obey Jesus' commands and as we follow his example the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to love one another. To care for each other's needs, to share life/time/food/our possessions with one another, to form deep and loving friendships with those very different to you – in age, background and culture.
How do we build our common life? By spending time together – there's no shortcut. That's just as true for a marriage or a home group. Making the effort to prioritise time together builds up our common life.
2. Shared vision. The key word here is 'mission'. John 15.15-16:
"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you."
The second component is to join together to fulfil the mission God has given us: to bear fruit, to tell others about him, to be salt and light in a decaying and dark word, to care for those in need and the world that he has given us to look after. God is at work in our world and he wants us to join him in his work. We are to partner with him and with one another, with a shared vision. True – each of us will play a different role, but we are not individuals working on our own, rather a team working together on the Father's business.
3. Shared commitment. The key word here is 'truth'. The Bible often uses the metaphor of a race to describe life as a Christian. Not so much the kind of race where winner means coming first. But rather a race where the aim is simply to keep going to the end. There is so much that can stop you running the Christian race.
We've just encouraged Cassie, as she was baptised, to fight 'against sin, the world and the devil, and continue his faithful soldier and servant to the end of your life'. We do not run alone and we are supposed to help one another to keep running. That includes teaching truth to one another and admonishing when that's needed. We all need brothers and sisters who don't just stand by and watch us run in the wrong direction, or in the wrong way but who lovingly encourage us to keep running the race with them.
So: shared life, shared vision and shared commitment. How well do you think we do on each of these aspects as a church? What about your small group? Your closest friendships? Now, let's ask: what happens if one or more areas is weak or doesn't happen?
Without shared life, we'll be outward-focused and mission driven. We may be willing to say tough things to one another. But there will be very little love and very little joy. We'll feel driven and judged. Very few find that combination attractive. We need shared life.
Without shared vision, we may do well at looking after each other but there would be no partnership in ministry. We become ingrown, a clique, basically a social club. All our energy is focused on the group; none is focused outward. And that's not sustainable – eventually it will split over trivial issues or simply drift apart. Ultimate, the group has no purpose to being together. We need a shared vision.
And finally, without shared commitment, we may have a strong shared life and an outward focus in ministry yet we will lack accountability. We'd enjoy being together and throw ourselves into ministry together, but we're not involved in each other lives. Easy to get away with that for a time. But no one in the group gets the help they need. Caught up in the desires of the world, some fall into temptation and sin. Others are broken people whose brokenness is not obvious in 10-minute chats after the service. They remain in patterns of pain and discouragement because they are not given the accountability they need to take steps out of an unhealthy way of life. We need a shared commitment.
That's the big picture that we need to keep in mind because there are two big dangers we can run into when thinking about this theme of 'teach and admonish one another'.
The first is to for those who are – for some reason - more attracted to 'tough love' than they are to 'soft love'. 'Teach and admonish one another'. Fantastic! That's the job for me! When do I start?' If that is you, you need to see that any teaching and admonishing that we do needs to be set in a context of loving one another and our shared vision. We're not talking here of a spiritual 'hit them with the truth and run'.
The second is for those of us – and I suspect there's quite a few of us – who have absorbed from our culture the value that says 'Whatever you do, I will accept you'. Now don't misunderstand me, of course we want to be loving and accepting of others. But we must not ignore this command in God's word to love each other enough to say something when we see a Christian brother or sister caught up in sin, or hypocrisy. For many of us that might feel wrong. But without it we will never be the church family we were meant to be. If we want to truly love one another this aspect of our life together must not be neglected.
So next, we need to consider what it means to 'teach and admonish one another' and so my second point is Teaching and admonishing one another means taking God's true word seriously.
Perhaps the most important thing to grasp is that this is all about God's Word being at the heart of our life together.
Colossians 3.16 again:
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you"
That 'you' is plural by the way. And Paul is writing to 'God's chosen ones' as it says in v12. So the 'you' here means "all you Christians".
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
The Bible – described here as the word of Christ - is clear and true. The way we treat Jesus' word reflects the way we treat Jesus himself. They're not a suggestion for us to consider: listen and then take it or leave it. No! They teach us who God is and what we are like. We are to submit ourselves to God's word as the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct. That doesn't mean Bible as a source of authority but as the authority in everything we think and do.
The word of Christ needs to dwell in us, whether the 'us' is a Christian marriage, a small group, a church or even a denomination. The means it's not an occasional visitor or even a good friend who comes around a lot. The Bible needs to be at home here – saturating everything we do and say and believe. We need to know it – to read it, memorise it, sing it. We need to do that on our own and when we meet together. We need to understand it. And we need to submit to it. Not just the bits we like, but also the hard bits. The Bible needs to be at the heart of our life together.
That is important because when we share with a good Christian friend or our small group the struggles and temptations we face, asking for help and prayer we are not under their authority! We are not to judge one another. Ultimately, you are not under my authority and I am not under your authority. We are all, together, under the authority of the word of Christ.
That is why we are talking about a shared commitment. We have a shared desire to live in way that honours and pleases Jesus, who saved and loves us. We have a shared desire to trust what God says in his word and live in obedience to its truth. We want to help one another to hold to the values that we share. This is not about forcing someone to live in a way they have no intention of living! It is about helping one another to let the word of Christ dwell in every area of our lives.
Turn to Revelation chapter 2. What we have here is Jesus himself speaking to various churches. Look at what Jesus says:
"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."
"I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practise sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols."
Jesus loves us. And he accepts us! So how can he say things like that? Jesus says these things because they are true. They may not be easy to hear but they are true. As Jesus speaks those words, tough as they are he speaks in love. When someone is in danger, the most loving thing to do is speak the truth clearly and plainly with no room for confusion or misunderstanding to avoid the greater danger of living by lies. There comes a time when the truth needs to be told, and told clearly. Jesus was willing to do that.
I guess that some of you here tonight would not describe yourself as Christians. Maybe you've heard that Jesus loves you and you assume that means that he will never question anything about the way you live. On the other hand, maybe you think Jesus is all about making you feel guilty for doing things you enjoy.
The real Jesus is nothing like either of those. If you've never had a chance to meet Jesus for yourself then can I encourage you to pick up and read a copy of Mark's gospel and read for yourself what Jesus actually did and said? Or join one of our Life Explored courses.
The real Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to confront our rebellion against our creator. He loves us too much to allow us to continue on the path we had chosen towards destruction and judgement for that sin. He insists on truth no matter how painful that might be, and how much that cost him.
And it did cost him. He didn't just point out the wrong we had done, he died on the cross to take the punishment we deserved, to restore our relationship with God and to give us eternal life. He continues to guide us, protect us, comfort as well as challenge us through his word. He knows our heart and does not hesitate to tell us when he finds sin there. Not in order to judge us, but to save us.
In the same way, we need to face up to both the positive teaching in the Bible as well as the negative warnings. True – some may only ever focus on the negative. But my guess is that more of us are tempted stick to what is positive and are unwilling to ever say something like this to a Christian brother or sister:
'The way you are living is not good. I love you too much to watch you shipwreck your life, your marriage, your family, your job, your soul. So sit down and listen to me, because I'm going to say some hard things to you. I don't like doing this, but I must because these things are true and because I love you too much to stay silent when I see you hurting yourself'.
Hebrews 3.13 puts it like this:
"But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today", that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin".
We are to help one another, every day, to fight against sin not by saying 'don't do that', but by helping others to see the ways sin has deceived them down a path that leads away from God and his will. Sin tempts all of us and makes promises it cannot deliver. None of us are immune to that. But we do need to help one another to spot the lies and reject the false promises of sin.
Conversation like that are never easy! You'll never do it if you think avoiding tension or keeping things peaceful is more important than the truth.
And of course it should not be done insensitively or harshly. But do we really love one another if we never speak like that to one another?
Perhaps one of the reasons we avoid such a conversation is a fear that we'll lose a friend. That is a risk. Even when said carefully a conversation like that may not have the result you'd hope for. But unless we have such conversations with one another our life together will suffer.
American pastor Bill Hybels tells of a time he took a close friend out for a meal because he saw his life taking a bad turn. He gently said: 'I'm not trying to run your life, but I am so concerned about the direction it is taking'. His friend was so angry that Bill was afraid of being punched. So Bill said, 'Sorry. I'll never mention this again'. He didn't and his friend ended up a wreck. He now wishes he's said, 'punch me if you want, but I'm going to tell you again that I'm concerned about your future'.
Another reason we avoid saying hard things is because we know we struggle in the same way. I know you have this issue and I know I have this issue. So we keep up a conspiracy of silence and pretend it's not an issue. That's not taking God's true word seriously.
Can I also say from my own experience that sometimes our failings are clearer to everyone else than they are to us. How awful when you realise everyone knows and is talking about your weaknesses, but no one has said anything to you. Instead they talk to one another about it. A true and loving friend is the one who tells you have a problem and helps you with it. Proverbs 9.8:
"…reprove a wise man, and he will love you."
It's not easy but teaching and admonishing one another is an essential part of the Christian life. and it means taking God's word seriously. So how can we do better in this area as a church family?
We need to keep working hard at keeping the Bible at the centre of everything we do. And then we need to be willing to call one another to remain committed to the word of Christ.
We also need to build the kind of friendships where we can share struggles and confess sin.
How do we do that? Obviously that means being intentional about it. It won't happen by accident. We need to take steps to spend time with people in such a way that friendships can happen. If you're not in a small group, that is a good place to begin. Or maybe there are 1 or 2 others you can meet with regularly to pray for each other. And you need to make it a priority to meet together.
Beyond intentionality and commitment, the key is often being willing to be real with one another. I need to make the choice that, with a least a few trusted friends, I will reveal myself not as I wish I was, or how people expect me to be, but as I really am. Why would I do that? Because I want to take God and his word seriously.