Posted on July 11th, 2016
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the disciples. And the disciples argued.
How quickly we can go from the Lord’s Table to the devil’s business! St. Luke tells us that they received Christ’s blood, then immediately quarreled about “which of them should be considered the greatest” (Lk 22.24).
These men were brothers twice. Sons of our first father Adam, they were now by His Supper blood-brothers with Jesus. Yet they fought.
The history of the world is the history of feuding brothers: Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and the eleven. “But not so among you,” says the Lord Jesus. His Father is our Father; He is our brother, making us all brothers and sisters of each other, not by blood alone, but by forgiveness. How then is it that you murmur and grumble about those whom Jesus has joined to Himself?
This morning’s remarkable reading (Colossians 1:1-14) has words easy to gloss over, a standard sermon opening we’ve heard a thousand times. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” Boring! Yet that greeting is the good news!
To whom are these words spoken? To saints. And not saints alone, but “saints and faithful brothers.”
That is who you are: holy ones, brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus, and so brothers and sisters with each other.
How then can we argue with and grumble about each other? St. Paul says in Romans, “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” We, together, belong to Jesus. So, the Apostle asks, “Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14). Whom Christ has joined as brothers, dare we put asunder?
Sometimes brothers can be united in the wrong way. James and John, the sons of thunder, were eager to call down fire on those who did not receive Jesus. Jesus told them, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” Will the Lord Jesus say this of us at our convention?
There must be divisions, the Scripture says, to show who is approved. But arguing in the church is like arguing in marriage: If you’re trying to win, you’ll lose even when you win.
Beware of loving the fight.
A wise pastor said to a young seminary student eager to bring change to the church, “Beware of loving the fight.” Conventions and debates are necessary, but the moment we love winning more than we love each other as saints and faithful brothers, we’ve lost even if we win.
This is what St. Paul wants for us: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Compare that with the man who said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12.13) The inheritance is shared; it is not mine or yours, something we can divide up or hoard for ourselves. It is the inheritance of the saints, and that only by virtue of being in Christ, the true Saint, the true Holy One. Jesus said to Peter in the Upper Room, Unless I wash you, you have no share—no part, no portion of the inheritance—with Me. Jesus does this, Jesus acts, Jesus performs, Jesus gives us the share of His inheritance.
Which is to say, our congregations, our districts, our Synod, our families, our own calling as disciples of Jesus – none of it is our own doing. The Father has qualified us, delivered us, transferred us to the Son’s kingdom, for He has redeemed us.
St. Paul continues this theme in the next chapter of Colossians, where everything is grounded in our new identity in Jesus:
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Col. 2:11-13)
In Him, with Him, with Him, with Him: Circumcised in Him, buried with Him, raised with Him, made alive with Him – all things are with Him and in Him and through Him.
The Father has delivered us from wars, strife, and contention. He has transferred us to Christ’s kingdom where forgiven brothers and sisters forgive each other.
We have one Brother from whom we derive our brotherhood.
This is why St. Paul can call us saints, holy ones, because Jesus takes sinners and calls them saints. We are faithful brothers, loyal to each other, for we have one Brother from whom we derive our brotherhood.
“We know that we have passed out of death into life,” St. John says, “because we love the brothers” (1 Jn 3.13). Over this week, we may disagree on some things. May it not be as sons of thunder, calling down fire or jockeying for positions of greatness. We are saints, made holy by the blood of the Lamb. We are faithful brothers, because we have a Brother who was faithful unto death. In Him will we live, in Him will we die, and His will we be forever.+INJ+