12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
(Colossians 3:12-14 NIV)
From our last time together, Paul gave us a list of things to “put off”, addressing sexual sins and speech-related sins. Today, Paul tells us what to “put on”, to clothe ourselves with.
Using verses 9-11 as his backdrop, Paul begins verse 12 with “therefore”. Having removed the old soiled garments of our sinful, selfish nature, Paul describes our new “wardrobe”.
Before we look at Paul’s wardrobe list, notice how Paul addresses the Colossian church (and us):
- God’s chosen people
- Dearly loved
Paul begins by reminding us that God loves us as we are, where we are. God’s love is not conditional based on having the new “wardrobe” that he is about to describe. Nor is God’s love based on our behavior, what we say, do, or think. As followers of Christ, God loves us unconditionally. And He not only loves us, He actually likes us as well, and wants to spend time with us.
Paul goes on to describe the new “wardrobe” that we are given as followers of Christ. What is our outfit?
These character qualities are given to us; they are also attributes of God Himself. Notice that these are both internal attributes (towards ourselves) as well as external attributes (toward others). These character qualities are both “being” as well as “doing”. The “being” happens first, in our inner life; the “doing” is then an outflowing or extension of our inner life to our outer (external) life.
Do these character qualities sound familiar? Paul shares a similar list in his letter to the Ephesian church:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
(Ephesians 5:22-23 NIV)
While Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, does not specifically call out these attributes as coming from the Holy Spirit as he does in his letter to the Ephesians, he implies that these attributes are gifts that come from God to us.
So what are we to do with these new “garments”? Paul says as we wear them, it changes how we interact with one another. Verse 13 reminds us to use these new garments to treat others as God has treated us – with forbearance, patience, and forgiveness. It’s easy to judge others when we lose sight of how much God has forgiven us. Paul makes it a point to keep our own past front of mind. He does not beat us over the head or judge us but shows us how much God loves us.
Last but not least, Paul reminds us to put on love, which ties all these other virtues together. God’s love provides unity through the Holy Spirit; our diverse interests and skills and abilities make us unique and specifically called into His service.
May we live out our calling, doing so with the love and character attributes that God gives us to do so. We cannot do it on our own power, nor does God expect us to. He provides everything we need; our part is our willingness to follow Him.