At our last YMCA preview service I preached on one of our core values: gospel-centered. We looked at this passage from Colossians 2:1-5
“I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.”
Because I only have a limited amount of time, and I try to have one major point for each sermon, I wasn’t able to discuss the relational component of the passage. Instead I’ll be highlighting that core value this Sunday when I preach on Ecclesiastes 4. But one aspect of this passage that struck me was the relational prerequisite if folks want to get to a deeper understanding of the gospel. For instance, Paul’s goal that the recipients of his letter “be encouraged in heart and united in love” was “so that they may have full riches of complete understanding.”
You cannot get very far in understanding the gospel without healthy Christian community. In fact, what this verse tells us is that a Christian community who doesn’t love each other well, will miss out on understanding the riches of the gospel. If they are not united in love, they will miss out on experiencing love from each other and experiencing the love of Christ. Divisive folk get a little relationship and consequently only experience a little of Christ. Not that He loves less, but we may experience His love less.
The final goal of Christian community is not Christian community but Christ. It’s not less than a community united by love, but a community that is growing in love of its Savior. You can have a community that loves each other and yet does not grow in love of Christ. Relationships are not a gospel substitute but should point you to the gospel. If you demand relationships to be the bottomless treasure that only the gospel is, you will be extremely disappointed. You’ll think something is wrong with the relationship. Yet the problem is that you have made the relationship the main thing. You will become frustrated and angry. Relationships should point us to Jesus, who is the “lovely source of true delight.” If your relationships point you to Jesus, you’ll find satisfaction in both relationships and in Christ. If you use Jesus as a means to get relationships, you’ll find satisfaction in neither. If you value church community more than Christ, you’ve reversed the order. Many people taste and experience the community of Christ before they experience Christ. That is beautiful and we should expect any missional oriented community to expect this. But it is never loving to leave people in such a place.
Personal gospel study and prayer is required but is not sufficient in itself to fathom depths of gospel. In other words, you can’t simply go off and study the bible and other helpful books by yourself, and expect to go all that deep into the gospel message. It’s like having one hand tied behind your back. If you’ve ever been in a good community group, you know that others bring out riches that you had forgotten or didn’t know existed. More often than not I walk away from teaching and leading a group with greater knowledge simply because I’ve listened to people give different answers to my questions than I had anticipated.