Legalism brings about Division, Love Knits Us Together in Unity

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV).
This part of the letter from Paul to the church at Colossae came immediately after Paul dealt with two attacks on the church there.  The first attack was one on the nature of who Jesus was.  The second attack was legalism in the form of philosophies, Judaism, angel worship, and asceticism.  Paul's remedy to legalism and losing focusing on Jesus was to seek Christ in the things that are above rather than the things of this world.  This echoes Jesus' teaching during the Sermon on the Mount: 
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt 6:33 ESV).
When I was a kid and would play hide and go seek, I always liked to hide with someone.  Although less effective, it made the game all that much more enjoyable.  Earlier (in Colossians 2:3), Paul wrote that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus.  Paul (in Colossians 3:3) is saying that we are hidden with Christ in God.  Unlike when I played hide and seek, hiding with Jesus is still enjoyable yet more effective for our life.  For us who are in Christ, the secrets that are hidden and do not make sense to the world are revealed.  If we live in that same mystery, our lives shouldn't make sense to the world around us.

We're supposed to set our mind on the things that are above, we're supposed to seek His kingdom and His righteousness, and we're assured by Jesus that if we seek we will find (Luke 11:9-10).  What if what is above is actually all around us?  What if His kingdom is here in our midst, yet we fail to see it?  What if finding Him is much easier than we thought?


Dr. Karl Menninger was a psychiatrist who was revolutionary for his time and his thoughts are still challenging to the psychiatric field today.  Before World War II, when mental asylums were overcrowded, conditions were terrible, and the mentally ill had a stigma with society, Menninger opened up a clinic that actually loved patients and cured them of their problems rather than just isolating them from society or medicating them like they do now.  

"Love cures people-both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it."

"Love is a medicine for the sickness of the world; a prescription often given, too rarely taken."

"Love is the touchstone of psychiatric treatment ... to our patient who cannot love, we must say by our actions that we do love him" (1).

When Menninger was asked, "If you knew for a certainty that you were going to have a nervous breakdown, what would you do?"

He replied, "I would close my house; I would move over onto the other side of the tracks; I would knock on doors until I had an opportunity to meet somebody who had more problems than I did; and then I'd spend my time helping them solve those problems" (2).
Meninger knew that loving others is the best cure for the problems we face.


Jesus taught:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,   I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,  you did it to me' (Matt 25:34-40 ESV).
It seems that I have taken a tangent from the idea that legalism brings division while love knits us together in unity, but Jesus' teaching that we love Him by loving the less fortunate isn't a tangent.  It's the cure to legalism.  Loving others, especially those who society deems unlovable, is exactly how we "seek the things that are above."  We can get hung up all sorts of crap when we are the church together.  We can get hung up on what music style we us, what songs we sing, whether we sit on pews or pew chairs, whether we have the lights dim or brighter, what programs we should or should not do, or one of the hundreds of other inane subjects.  But the real heart of our life together is love.  Love for one another and love for those around us.  When we let the other issues get in the way of us loving each other and loving those around us, we have become legalists.

A healthy family is not a family who always agree with one another.  A healthy family is one who works through their problems and disagreements because they love one another.  They don't give up on one another when times get tough or family decisions do not go their way.  "Hatred stirs up strife,  but love covers all offenses" (Prov 10:12 (ESV).  Hatred toward one another causes a family to disintegrate while love frees them to disagree.  The same is true of a healthy church.  We need to love one another through thick and thin because we have been knitted together in Christ.

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (Col 2:6-7 ESV).  This walk in him does not come through self-centeredness that manifests itself in us warping Jesus into who we want Him to be or morphing our walk into a series of legalistic obstacles that we expect others to traverse.  This comes from living a transformed life, a life that is focused on loving others no matter what others might think of us.  For we have been "knit together in love" and hold "fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God" (Col 2:2, 2:19 ESV).  

Legalism brings about division, but love knits us together in unity.


1. Quoted in "Menninger's long history began with a small idea."  Menininger Institute. Web. 27 Nov. 2010.

2. Quoted from Clarke's personal file in Clarke, J. Richard. "The Royal Road to Happiness."  Brigham Young University. 30 October 1979. Web. 27 Nov. 2010.