Put On Love
Colossians 3:12-14 – Colossians: Made Alive in Christ
10th Sunday after Pentecost – July 29, 2018 (am)
In our passage this morning Paul turns his attention to the positive qualities we will press toward as we seek and set (our) minds on things above (1-2).
Last week he told us what we turn away from, what we put off (9), put away (8), put to death (5), sins of the mind, and the body: sexual immortality, impurity, (lust), evil desire, and covetousness (greed [niv]), which is idolatry (5), sins of the heart, and the mouth: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk (8), (lying) (9). And we put these things to death because in Christ we have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator (9-10). We died with Christ to the (ways) of (this) world (2:20) and we have been raised with (Him) (1) to a whole new life! We’re no longer enslaved to sin (Rom.6:6). Indeed, we’re dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom.6:11). So, we do not present (our) members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but we present (ourselves) to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and (our) members to God as instruments for righteousness (Rom.6:12-13). That’s where Paul goes in today’s text. God has done this good work in us, so we respond by pressing on to live in light of who we are in Him!
This is a passage that tells us what it looks like to live like a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, what we’re freed to do and to be by His death, what the power of His resurrection enables in us. Paul begins here by reminding us of the amazing sweetness of our relationship with God in Christ, then he goes on to describe how we’re to live in light of that. And, friends, this is what the church is supposed to look like, and act like. These are the qualities that should be characteristic of us. They should describe our disposition toward each other and also toward those outside the church. This is what people should see as they enter the church. This is how the people they meet should be dressed, so to speak, should look. Let’s explore this text in three sections.
The Ones Being Outfitted – 12a
12 … As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, Paul wrote. This slips past our ear pretty quickly, but if we let it sink in it’s breathtaking! First, we’re God’s chosen ones. He picked us, not vice versa. He selected us to be recipients of His grace, even His saving grace. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him. And he predestined us for adoption to himself… through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will (1:4-5)—He did it for His own purpose, and we’re just the beneficiaries! He chose to express His love to us in Christ even while we were still dead in our sins! (Rom.5:8)
When I was young I read a story about a child in an orphanage who would be on his best behavior and try to look as pleasant as possible whenever visitors were onsite. And even as he did he wondered what they were looking for, what qualities drew their eye, or affected their choice of a boy or a girl to take into their home. And as he grew he increasingly lost hope that he embodied any of those qualities. This is almost too painful an image to ponder. But when we consider our own adoption by God, we’re comforted by the assurance that nothing in us had to draw His eye or win His heart—nothing could. In this scenario we have nothing; we’re dead, not just powerless. But even so, God’s boundless love and His perfect will conspired to raise us to life, grant us His name, and bless us with an eternal inheritance in His Son!
And Paul says here that we’re His beloved! We’re dearly loved (niv), as if we were always a member of His family!
He even declares us to be holy before Him! Blameless! (1:22; Eph.1:4) We’re granted the family likeness so that no one can pick us out in the family pictures as not belonging! Holiness is the defining characteristic of God. And His glory is the visible manifestation of His holiness. Now Paul identifies us as holy and beloved before God in Christ. And in Him our eternal future, our promised inheritance, is now summarized as the hope of glory (1:27)—a certain hope!
The Wardrobe, with Accessories – 12b-13
12 Put on then…, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Act like you belong, we might say. Choose to look like the family! Your adoption is a blessing! It’s a privilege beyond description and a delight beyond comparison! Enter into it with your whole heart! Sure, you still have hindrances from your old life: a sin nature. Temptation still wins at times; discouragement can prevail. But that’s only for a moment, until you’re reminded by God’s kind and gracious Spirit who you are, and where you’re headed, and what you possess in Christ. And then it becomes an absolute joy just to throw yourself into the part, to abandon yourself to these qualities: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (niv), Paul’s latest list of five. But this time he presses right on to include even more qualities that grow directly out of these.
We’ll get to those in a moment. But first, let’s make sure we know what he’s calling us to pursue here, what he’s calling us to put on as if it were clothing, what qualities should be so characteristic of us that they stand out like a red shirt or a purple dress or anything else that might be used to point us out to someone who doesn’t know us. Can you imagine being identifiable by your compassion…?
Compassionate hearts, two words that might literally be translated bowels of mercy (ylt), could mean pity or under-standing sympathy (Wright 146). Compassion feels the needs of others in its gut, then intentionally acts to meet their need in love. Compassion is not just passive empathy, it’s active intervention. It’s stopping on a rainy night to help someone change a flat tire. Ultimately, it’s Jesus taking on flesh to provide a sacrifice for our sin.
Kindness is just what it sounds like. We don’t really need to define kindness; we use kindness to define other words, like gracious, tender, loving. One writer said kindness is the art of being dear (Lord Hailsham in Wright 146). And if compassion is moved to a loving expression by sympathy or pity, kindness is moved to loving expression for no discernible reason at all! Or better, if compassion is moved by seeing an external need, kindness is moved by sensing an internal impulse. You’ve seen refrigerator magnets that speak of random acts of kindness. As we understand how kindness works, that phrase might sound redundant. God’s steadfast love is often translated loving kindness (niv).
Humility means thinking oneself small. It serves others gladly. It honors others over self at every opportunity, and looks for more opportunities (Rom.12:10). If ‘kindness’ is a Christlike attitude towards others, humility is the Christlike attitude towards oneself (Wright 146). It thinks of self in ways that please Christ, even imitate Christ Who emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death… on a cross (Phi.2:7-8). Humility genuinely elevates others even if it costs me something. Can you imagine what it would look like if GCD were filled with expressions of compassion and kindness born of Christlike humility?
Meekness, gentleness, someone has defined as grace of the soul toward God, or accepting what God gives as good—not demanding (our) own way (Still 332). When comforting the weary and burdened, Jesus said of Himself: I am gentle and humble in heart (Mat.11:29 [niv]). I believe gentleness is the bull’s eye in the target of Christlikeness.
Patience is often equated with longsuffering; it endures with people. Whereas gentleness is the effect of meek humility on one’s approach to other people, patience is the effect of that humble kindness on one’s reaction to other people (Wright 146 edited). We endure with them. But it’s more than that. Commenting on the exegesis of the Church Fathers, Robert Louis Wilken wrote: For Tertullian the singular mark of patience is not endurance or fortitude, but hope. Patience is grounded in the Resurrection. It is life oriented toward a future that is God's doing, and its sign is longing, not so much to be released from the ills of the present, but in anticipation of the good to come (The Spirit of Early Christian Thought 284). Do you hear that? We’re patient not just hoping to be done with this world, but we’re patient in hope of heaven. It’s not mere escape we’re desiring, or relief from undesirable circumstances in this life. We were made for a different life altogether, and we’re patient awaiting that life. We’re patient with others sin like God is patient with ours. 2Pe.3:9 The Lord is… patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. We’re patient in hope of heaven!
There’s the list of five. But Paul continues on to amplify the list—and especially, I believe, to expand on patience (Still 332): 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Forbearance and forgiveness are two key ways we display patience. They can be the face of patience.
To forbear means to restrain your natural reaction towards odd or difficult people (Wright 146). John Piper says we forgive sin in others and forbear strangeness. And it’s not always easy to tell the difference! God (bears) with our strangeness. And by His grace we, too, forbear, imitating Him. And, like Him, we don’t just endure others’ strangeness, with gritted teeth. We love them even in their strangeness.
Forgiveness means to pardon, cancel a debt, show favor; to absorb the cost of another’s sin against us. Again, can you imagine GCD characterized by God-enabled, Christ-modeled forbearing, forgiving patience—where we truly do look past the oddness we see in others, not just because we’re supposed to but because we love them so deeply it just doesn’t make a difference to us? This can happen in marriages over the years, though it surely doesn’t always: that little habit or expression that really annoys you early on actually becomes dear over the years, and is missed when absent. Sometimes those displays of strangeness are the things one misses most after a spouse dies.
Can you imagine us embodying biblical forgiveness with one another—where we really do absorb the cost of each other’s sin, or offense, against us? We release them from responsibility to repair the offense themselves, knowing that Christ on the cross not only absorbed the cost of our sin against God, but the cost of others’ sin against us. We’re not just freely forgiven for our own sin, we’re set free to forgive others for theirs! We don’t just (bear with) them, we continue to (believe) the best about them. And even when repeatedly disappointed we continue on in (hope), (believing) the best and entrusting them to the Lord for that to be done. And we (endure) in that (hope) by God’s grace, just like 1Co.13:7 says love does (Carson Showing the Spirit 63).
The Finishing Outerwear – 14
And that is just where Paul goes next. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. We can see that love uniquely unites all these qualities into a singular, (harmonious) whole. And when we read 1Co.13:4-7, we also see that each of these qualities are part of essence of love. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is what Christians look like!
Increasingly, they look just like their Savior! They’re outfitted to look like Jesus in the content of their character. They love, and so they increasingly embody the qualities of (compassion), kindness, humility, (gentleness), and patience—forbearance and forgiveness. And this character is unleashed in us because in Christ we 9 … have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. As John put it: We love because he first loved us (1Jo.4:19).
Can you imagine GCD embodying Paul’s teaching here in Col.3:12-14? Can you imagine what it would be like to worship and serve here if we actually trusted God to enable our obedience to His Word in this call to put on, to clothe (ourselves) (NIV), in these character qualities of God Himself, of Christ, in (whom) all the fullness of God (is) pleased to dwell? (1:19) The work has already been done for us. These qualities are our inheritance in Christ. He bought them with His blood and secured them with His resurrection. So, they are ours! Shall we pick up this pursuit together?