Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:12-14)
In Christ we stand righteous and holy. But, the state of our lives doesn’t always match our standing in Him. As church leaders, we need to help people understand the effects of living contrary to who God called them to be, on themselves and on the church as a whole. If they refuse to listen and learn, sometimes it might require bringing them under church discipline.
As church leaders, we likewise need to approach church discipline from our standing in Christ as His holy people. The above verses prescribe the way His holy people are to respond to those whose state does not match their standing — “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. … And over all these virtues put on love”.
Application of Colossians 3:12-14 to How we Exercise Church Discipline:
These verses do not specifically reference church discipline but they do suggest how we are to relate to Christians who have done wrong which might imply the following when it comes to the church disciplining erring believers.
1) Just because we are disciplining someone doesn’t mean we have the right to lash out at them.
So often people think of God’s holiness as the harsher side of God and justify the need to be harsh and punitive with people when they don’t live up to His standard. Revisit the post, Church Discipline Must Exemplify God’s Purposes, which looks at other Scripture specifically dealing with church discipline that support the same kind of expression of holiness as seen in Colossians 3.
Love might demand that we be firm with people but that is not the same as harsh and punitive. We can be firm but still compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. We can exercise church discipline and still demonstrate these qualities. And, if we are going to match our standing as God’s holy people, we must reflect these qualities.
2) The entire church discipline process should be embedded with the qualities defined in Colossians 3:12-14 of those who are His holy people.
The phrase “clothe yourselves with” suggests that we have to put on these qualities whether we feel that way or not. We, as “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”, aren’t automatically compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. If we were, we wouldn’t have to “clothe” ourselves with these traits. Our human nature may be prone to getting impatient with people along the way. We might find it hard to bear with people who belligerently continue down the wrong path. We might want to forever wring our hands of the person, even if they later come back repentant. Where are the loopholes in Colossians 3 for a church leader to be a “Jekyll and Hyde”?
3) We discipline from a level plain not from a position of superiority.
Colossians 3:12 begins with the word “therefore” which means we must look at the context for a fuller understanding. The previous verse says, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Because we are on the same plain in Christ, we must treat each other as described in verses 12 and 13. We are all on the same journey together, learning and growing. If Christ is all and in all, then we must all be holy as He is holy. We must bear with one another, and above all, love one another.
When we remember what comes before the “therefore”, we will not let our role as a leader justify a less than holy approach to disciplining others. We will remember the adage that “there but for the grace of God go I” and will be humble, not treating the erring believer as inferior but as a fellow Christ-follower who also needs His grace and forgiveness and empowerment to “go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:3-11).
Let’s help people understand that how they live does matter. But, let’s make sure we follow God’s prescription for getting there.