How We Live (part three) | Colossians 3:12-17

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17 ESV

This section of text is a continuation upon the rest of chapter three; thus, we must read it within its given context. Verses 1-4 gave the thesis for chapter three, explaining that Christ is now our life and we must live lives pleasing to Him. Paul told us to do this by seeking things above rather than earthly things. The rest of the chapter shows us exactly what Paul meant by seeking heavenly things. Verses 5-11 described the things of earth that we must “put to death.” The apostle is insistent that all Christians must kill their sins. Our present text is the mirror opposite of the previous. If we are to put to death all things mentioned in those verses, we are commanded to put on the attributes listed in these verses. It is a wondrous thing that the God never tells us what not to do without also instructing us in the correct path.

PUT ON THEN // VERSES 12-14

Just as Paul told us to put away immorality in verse 8, he now urges us to “put on” the righteousness of God. The imagery of these words is of dressing and undressing. We are being encouraged to put away immorality just as one puts away dirty clothing. Likewise, we are meant to clothe ourselves in righteousness just as someone dresses in clean garments. This is an excellent metaphor for the work of Christ upon us. Throughout the Old Testament, we find God comparing the effects of our sin with stains upon clothing and with good reason. After winning the 1966 World Cup, the English team captain went to receive the trophy from the Queen of England. Upon seeing the queen, the captain began to desperately attempt wiping the mud off of his hands. Because his queen was wearing white gloves, he was terrified of soiling her pristine clothing with his dirt. The presence of her royalty and spotlessness made him fully conscious of his own filth. So it is with our sin. We tend not to notice how dirty our sins have made us until we come into contact with the holy and perfectly good God. Receiving a glimpse of the spotless majesty of God is enough to make even rugged fishermen collapse like a dead man (Rev. 1:17). We also find a wonderful example of this picture in the book of Zechariah. In the third chapter, Zechariah receives a vision of the high priest, Joshua, being accused by Satan before the angel of the LORD. To Zechariah’s dismay, Joshua was “clothed with filthy garments.” This meant that Joshua was unworthy to be in the presence of the LORD. This was a gigantic problem because as the high priest, Joshua was supposed to represent the people before God. Fortunately, the angel orders that the filthy clothing be removed from Joshua so that clean garments could be given to him. In doing this, the angel states, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zech. 3:4). This is the work that Jesus has done for us. He has taken away our filthy garments and given us spotless clothing.

This phrase (as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved) is the reason that we are to “put on” righteousness: we have been chosen by God. This is an amazing statement! Before we ever beginning to be compassionate, kind, and humble, God chose us, loved us, and made us holy. Yes, each day we are to walk in holiness. Every day we must kill sin within our hearts. However, we have already been sovereignly declared holy and beloved by God. The end result is already accomplished. Therefore, we do not work in order to be good enough for God; that is an impossible task. Instead, we are called to act like what God has already made us. By saying that we are holy, Paul means that we are reserved exclusively for God. We are no longer common or ordinary. God has made us His people to accomplish His purposes. Even more, we are called beloved. Through the blood of Christ, we are no longer God’s enemies but rather His children. This means that God dearly loves us as His sons and daughters. Recall Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration. During both events, the Father declares Jesus to be His beloved Son (Matt. 3:17, 17:5). The same term of endearment the Father uses for the Son is now applied to us as well!

Paul then lists several qualities that should mark the Christian life: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. These are each complete opposites of the list of sins in verses 5 and 8. In fact, if we are living out these characteristics, we will not commit those vices. For instance, if we clothe ourselves with meekness, we are not going to be given to anger, wrath, and malice. If we are kind, we will not slander one another. If we are humble, we will not covet what others have. If we are compassionate, we will be given to sexual immorality, which always harms another person. We must then ask: do we exemplify this characteristics? If we do, Paul’s next exhortation will be quite natural.

In verse 13, Paul acknowledges the difficulty of living together as the body of Christ and exhorts us to bear with one another and forgive each other. If life as the church was easy, denominations would not exist, church hopping would not be a thing, and no one would ever be burned by a church. The reality, however, is that life is hard, and we are sinful. The chosen people of God is composed of sinners. In this life, we are not perfected in Christ. Thus, at times, it is necessary that we bear with one another and forgive one another. Notice that forgiveness is a command. “You also must forgive.” Forgiveness is not an option for Christians. We cannot truly believe the gospel, while still grasping bitterness. The two are incompatible. Jesus forgave us of a far greater debt than anyone else could ever gain with us.

The parable of the unforgiving servant illustrates this principle (Matt. 18:21-35). In the parable, a king brings in a man who owes him 10,000 talents. Because that was a ridiculously large sum of money, the man could not pay, and the king resolved to make the man his slave until the debt was worked off (which would have been impossible to do fully). The man, however, begs for mercy, and the king gives it by forgiving the debt. The man then immediately went out and found another man who owed him 100 denarii. The second man begged for mercy just like the first man did before the king. Yet the man did not forgive the debt and had the second man thrown into debtors’ prison. The king heard of this and jailed the first man because of his lack of compassion after being shown compassion. So it is with us.

The final virtue that Paul urges us to put on is love. Love holds a special role in Christianity, which is clearly seen from the apostle saying that it is above all the other virtues. The reason for love’s great predominance is its binding nature. We read in verse 11 that the church will be composed of all types and manners of people. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or Gentile or any other kind of divisions. However, the sheer weight of that diversity could easily cause the church to collapse upon itself. Love flowing from Christ is the only means by which we can be bound together in perfect harmony. In fact, love is so crucial for the Christian life that Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have love you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Our Lord has commanded that we love each other as Jesus loved us. There is no escaping the depth and meaning of Jesus’ words. One of the primary markers of us as Christians should be our love for one another.

LET THE PEACE OF CHRIST RULE // VERSE 15

Next, Paul urges us to let Christ’s peace rule our hearts.  Peace is one of the most important virtues of Judaism. Shalom, the common Hebrew greeting, means peace. For ancient Jews, shalom was a reconciled status with God. They recognized the sinfulness of humanity and the goodness of God, so true peace was the reconstruction of the relationship between God and man. Of course, we understand now that shalom only comes through Christ. He is the only mediator between us and God. Yet we are not meant to simply have the peace of Christ; we are to let it rule our hearts. We should be governed by the peace of Jesus Christ. It should act as the umpire or definitive judge for all of our emotions and actions. This is crucial for the message of Colossians because Paul has already emphatically urged us to not let anyone pass judgment upon us about religious observances (Col. 2:16). Indeed, when the peace of Chris is ruling in our hearts, there is no judgment that anyone else can bring upon us.

The word translated “rule” is an athletic term. It means “to preside at the games and distribute the prizes.” Paul used a variation of this word in his Letter to the Colossians: “Let no one declare you unworthy of a prize” (literal translation, Col. 2:18). In the Greek games, there were judges (we would call them umpires) who rejected the contestants who were not qualified, and who disqualified those who broke the rules.

The peace of God is the “Umpire” in our believing hearts and our churches. When we obey the will of God, we have His peace within; but when we step out of His will (even unintentionally), we lose His peace.

Wiersbe, 139.

If the great marvel of possessing the peace of Christ were not enough, Paul emphasizes that we have been called to that peace. When using the word “called”, the New Testament most often refers to our salvation. God’s calling us to salvation emphasizes His performing of the work. We did not seek God; rather, He called out to us. As Christians, that is each of our stories. We have all been called by God to enter into His peace and His body, the church. Notices that Paul continues to stress the importance of the church. Every follower of Christ is called to experience the peace and forgiveness of Christ within the context of the church. There is no avoiding that fact. To be fair, we should not seek to avoid our faith within the context of the church because it should make us thankful. We should rejoice that in Christ we have peace with God, but we should also celebrate that God is doing to same work in others’ lives. The cherry on top of our salvation sundae is that God is still saving others.

LET THE WORD OF CHRIST DWELL IN YOU RICHLY // VERSE 16

The apostle now stresses the Christian reliance upon the Word of God. It is Paul’s hope that the Scriptures would dwell in the heart of the believer. Dwelling means to find residence within a place. It would be prudent then to ask: how does the Bible dwell in our hearts? Paul lists his own means of dwelling in the Word, but would like to add three very practical means of placing the God’s Word within us.

First, we should read the Bible. Whether slowly or quickly, for long or short periods of time, it does not really matter. Just read the Bible. Find a reading plan, or simply commit to reading ten minutes a day. We cannot know the Scriptures until we actually read them for ourselves.

Second, memorize the Bible. The psalmist writes, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). Once again, there is no special formula for memorizing the Bible, but we should commit ourselves to memorizing the Scripture.

Third, meditate on the Bible. Biblical meditation bears little resemblance to Buddhist meditation. Whereas most Buddhists meditate in order to empty their minds, Christians meditate to fill our minds with the Bible. Biblical meditation is really only possible with memorized Scripture because after memorizing, we simply ponder the text. Paul further instructs us to teach and admonish one another. Make note that teaching and admonishing is not merely the role of the pastor or deacons. Instead, we are all called to help each other grow in the Word of God.

Next, Paul tells us to express our thankfulness in song. I find it fascinating that Christianity so full of singing. If we take a step back from how normative church services are in the United States, we can consider the oddity of our liturgy. What other religion gathers together in the morning to sing together and listen to a lecture? What we do is very odd from a worldly point of view. Yet Christianity has a rich heritage of singing praises to God. There are many references throughout the Old Testament to singing praises to God. Martine Luther is known to have called music the second greatest gift that God gave humanity behind the Scriptures. Indeed, nothing is quite as good as stirring our emotions as music. Therefore, when used wisely, music can be a magnificent tool for igniting our affections for God. In regards to music, Paul lists three kinds of songs.

First, we have psalms. The book of Psalms is a Holy Spirit inspired hymnal for worship. One of the great detriments of our time is that we do not employ the Psalms for worship nearly as much as we should.

Second, there are hymns. These are likely song-poems written to God that resemble the Psalms.

Third is spiritual songs. This is likely a junk drawer category for any other sort of God-glorifying music. In fact, it is worth noting that many Christian musicians today produce great music that benefits the soul even though it is not worship music. God-glorifying music does not have to be worship music.

It is interesting to see that from the beginning the Church was a singing Church. It inherited that from the Jews, for Philo tells us that often they would spend the whole night in hymns and songs. One of the earliest descriptions of a Church service we possess is that of Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, who sent a report of the activities of the Christians to Trajan, the Roman Emperor, in which he said, “They meet at dawn to sing hymns to Christ as God.” The gratitude of the Church has always gone up to God in praise and song.

Barclay, 159.

WHATEVER YOU DO // VERSE 17

This is probably one of the biggest verses of the Bible in terms of its impact. The words “whatever you do” are infinite in scope. Paul aimed to leave no room for loopholes. Everything that we say or do must be done in the name of Jesus. The Lordship of Christ is not something that only affects how we spend our Sundays; rather, Christ impacts every facet of our existence. From impactful events to everyday habits, everything we do should be in the name of Christ. Because we do all things in Christ’s name, we are representing Him in everything that we do and say. This means that we do work for a paycheck alone; instead, we are ambassadors of Jesus in our workplace. In a restaurant, we are not merely customers; we are displaying Christ with our words and deeds. In all conversations, at sporting events, when dealing with customer service representatives, cashiers, bank tellers, repairmen, on the road, on social media, at family reunions, we represent the name of Christ. There is nothing in our lives that Jesus does not impact. As with the previous two verses, we are to live this way with a thankful heart.

Ultimately, everything that we do is for the glory of the Father through Jesus Christ. Like putting on clean clothing, we must be vigilant to clothe ourselves with the virtues of our Lord. Out of our gratitude for God’s grace, we will then live lives of love toward one another with compassionate hearts, humility, and patience. And it is only from this Holy Spirit-given love that the church, with all of its diversity, is able to function as one body.

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