Reprinted by permission from Joseph Bwanah, Director of Dream of a Child Learning Center (DACODEP) in Bondo, Kenya. Joseph shares a wise perception of what ails some churchgoers.
A little girl stayed for dinner at the home of her first grade friend. The vegetable was buttered broccoli and the mother asked if she liked it. The child politely replied, “Oh, yes, I love it!” But when the broccoli was passed she declined to take any. The hostess said, “I thought you said you loved broccoli.” The girl replied sweetly, “Oh, yes ma’am, I do, but not enough to eat it.”
Do you love your fellow Christians in this church? “Oh, yes,” you say, “the Lord commanded us to love one another. I love the Lord’s people!” Well, then, why are you and that brother not on speaking terms? “Him? He ripped me off in a business deal. And he calls himself a Christian!” I see.
Why are there hard feelings between you and that sister over there? “Her? She’s a gossip. Do you know what she said about me behind my back? The Lord knows that I’ve tried to be nice to her, but there has to be a limit on how much you do for someone like her.” Okay.
Yes, we love broccoli, but not enough to eat it. We love the brethren, but not enough to work out our differences. Like Linus, we love humanity; it’s people we can’t stand!
Have you ever thought about what it would have been like to have been a part of the first century church? We often glamorize it, thinking how wonderful it must have been. But remember, there was only one church per city. If you lived in Colossae and became a Christian, you were a member of the church in Colossae. In Colossae, there wasn’t a church for Jewish Baptists and another for Gentile Presbyterians and another for Scythian charismatics. If you didn’t like the church or had a falling out with someone in that church, you were stuck. You couldn’t jump in your chariot and commute to another church down the road that you liked better. You either had to work out your problems or stop being a Christian. Those were the only options.
Today, Christians who get their feelings hurt just move on to another church. Why go through the effort, the bother, and the pain of working through relational problems? Just go to another church where the people are more loving. And when you get hurt there, don’t worry—there are dozens more churches in town. You can go for years without ever needing to work through hurt feelings and damaged relationships. All the while you can smile politely and say, “I love broccoli, but not enough to eat it.”
But if that’s the way you choose to deal with relational problems, you’ll never learn the reality of practical Christian love. The truth is, we’re a lot like porcupines. As long as we keep our distance, everything is fine. But when we start getting close to one another, someone’s going to get stuck! If every time you get stuck you move on, you’ll never know the joy of true Christian love and the testimony of the Lord’s church will suffer.
In Colossae, false teachers were promoting their philosophy and knowledge. They emphasized certain legalistic rules as the way to spiritual growth. But such things always lead to pride, strife, and division. So Paul is showing the church that true Christianity means being identified with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection. We have put off the old man with its immorality, anger, and lying. We’ve put on the new man, Christ and His church, in which the old distinctions that divided us no longer matter, but Christ is all and in all. And, in this new man, as those chosen of God, holy and beloved, we also must “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).
And as the uniting bond of maturity, we are to put on love—not in word only, but the kind of love that eats the broccoli—love that shows itself in peaceful relationships in the church. The practical implication of putting on the new man in Christ is that we work out our relational problems in the body of Christ.
Practical love shown in peaceful relationships must be our priority in the body of Christ.
Here’s an expanded paraphrase that gives the sense of these two verses:
Around all of these character qualities (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness), wrap love, the ligament that links mature members of the body together. And let the peace which Christ secured at the cross, which broke down the barrier and made all you different people into one new man, be the deciding factor in your hearts in any conflict. And be grateful, both toward God and toward one another, thankful that God chose you and called you to be members of Christ’s one body.
1. Practical love must be a priority in the body of Christ.
Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Note four things:
A. Paul’s command would not be needed if love were automatic or effortless for believers.
Sometimes we idealize the church, thinking that it’s all one big, loving family where there are no conflicts or hurt feelings. Everyone just gets along and you can feel the love the minute you walk in the door of the church. But I don’t know of any happy families where there are never any conflicts or misunderstandings. If there is love in a family or in a church, it’s the result of deliberate effort to work through disagreements and hurt feelings.
We wouldn’t need to be kind and patient, bearing with one another and forgiving each other (Col. 3:12-13) if we all got along all the time. Paul assumes that in the church, there will be complaints against one another (Col. 3:13). So the command to put on love above all of these other virtues assumes that life in the church will be less than perfect. We will need to work at maintaining and restoring loving relationships with one another. We can’t just move on to the church down the street.