When we turn the pages of scripture, we see pictures of our ancestors, pictures of what the family of faith looks like. The book of Colossians has one of the most striking of such pictures:
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” ~ Colossians 3:12-14What a picture. What a family! God’s holy people, clothed in kindness, bound together in love.
When I read this passage, when I see this picture, I find myself considering a question: do I resemble my family before me? Do I look like that? Could my picture fit there? Is there a family resemblance?
There are so many details of church life and church culture that we rightly talk about, read about, think about. As an example, it is a mark of wisdom for a multi-generational church to carefully ensure that traditions of generations both past and present are represented in church life and practice. But somehow it can become all too easy to become caught up in the physical features of church life.
Atop the portrait of the family of faith that we see in Colossians 3, Paul writes this caption in the previous verse: Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
Unlike those family portraits where the whole crew is dressed in matching clothing, we, the family of faith, look as different as could be. From generation to generation, from culture to culture, from church to church, and even—and perhaps most wonderfully!—within the same local church, we dress differently, we speak different languages, we cherish different traditions, we prefer different styles of corporate worship, we sing different songs… the list of physical differences (within the pale of orthodoxy) could go on and on. Yet despite all these physical differences, we are identically clothed. Christ is all that matters, and He lives in all of us. The family resemblance, far from being physical, is a spiritual one.
We’re to come and gather as a church family dressed in a way that fits with the picture of Colossians 3. In this new life, it doesn’t matter whether or not we’re wearing an elegant dress or casual jeans or a traditional saris. Since God chose us to be the holy people He loves, we come together clothed in mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
And when we do disagree—as all true families surely will!—we make allowance for each other’s faults. We forgive, and in doing so resemble the Father. Above all, we clothe ourselves in love, knowing that it is Love which binds us together in perfect harmony. Christ is all that matters.
It’s an album of family portraits that was first handed over from one sister church to the next, and then from one generation to the next. Bound within the covers, we see pictures of a family of faith that, though far from perfect, was clothed in gentleness and humility and love.
I turn the pages, I examine the details, and the question lingers: if an outsider met me, would they see the family resemblance?