Colossians 3:12-17 (Week 9)
“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.“
Okay, so when we look at this section grammatically, we have four explicit commands and three implied commands. I’m sure that is confusing, so let me explain. In the original language, there are four actual imperatives: Clothe yourselves (or put on), Let the peace of Christ rule, Be thankful, and Let the word of Christ dwell. In our translations, we have three instances where the translators have supplied the English version with two more implied imperatives: Forgive, Put on love, and Do everything. Let me be clear about this, I’m not saying that the English version is corrupted, or that it is adding to God’s Word. What I’m saying is that for us to understand the intention of the original author, we have to supply the English word where the text simply implies it. We will explain all of this as we walk through it.
In the previous paragraph, Paul went into detail in some of the negative aspects of our sanctification. Meaning, he explained a host of things that we need to put off or destroy. Now he is explaining the positive aspect of our growth in Christ. These are things that we need to put on. I have summarized this by saying that we should put on holiness. Whoa?! That’s impossible, right? Yes, on our own, it is, but remember what we have been talking about: God has equipped us for this in light of the fact that we have died and been raised with Jesus.
As we talk about our responsibility in sanctification, we need to make sure that we don’t get the cart in front of the horse. Sanctification is a work of God that He is working in us. But more than that, He has invited us into this work with Him. We can’t get sidetracked into thinking that we are saved by grace but sanctified by works. That is not the case. We must understand the balance that God is sanctifying us and that we need to expend every effort in this work with all the strength that He is working in us (1:11).
WHAT IS THE TEXT SAYING?
This section begins with the last of our “therefores” in the book. Paul is following the same train of thought. All of this is coming from our union with Christ and is instructive to how we are to walk in Him (1:10; 2:6). It also follows logically from the last paragraph. He just told us all the things we need to put off, so now he is going to tell us what we need to put on. And let’s not forget, he just said that we have put on the new man. Now we are to clothe ourselves with the things that characterize this new man, just like we must take off the things that characterized the old man. See how we are still living in the “already, but not yet” tension?
SO WHAT ARE WE TO PUT ON?
1. Bowels of compassion… seriously.
This is one of those times when we see the differences between the ancient culture of the Bible and our own. We talk about our hearts being the emotional part of us, but for those living in the NT time period, it was their guts. It makes sense, right? After all, that’s where the butterflies live. The point is we need to have compassion for others.
He’s already used this twice in this letter highlighting false humility. The old man tries to manufacture a type of humility that points to itself (ironic, right?). For those of us in Christ, we are to cultivate a real humility that points away from us and to others… ultimately, Jesus.
4. Gentleness (this is also mentioned in the lists of fruit in Galatians 5)
Notice that there are five things listed here. For some reason, Paul likes the number five in this letter. He mentioned five things we need to put to death in 3:5, and five things we need to put away in 3:8, so it only makes sense to have five things to put on here.
CHOSEN, HOLY, BELOVED
Before we continue explaining what we are to put on, let’s take a break to focus on our new identity in Christ. It is easy to skip over words that we hear all the time in the Bible, but let’s not forget that everything there is from God and for our good. He calls the Colossians (and subsequently us): chosen, holy, and beloved. Wow!
If you are in Christ, then this is a providential work of God. He chose you before the foundation of the world to be his son/daughter. This parallels what we see in Ephesians 1:3-10 (which was written around the same time by Paul). You were not an afterthought. God wants you in His family so much that even before you were born before you could do anything worthy of anything, he chose you.
Since you are in Christ, He has clothed you with His righteousness. You are holy. We have already talked about this in this study, but since Paul mentions it again, it is worth the reminder. We are saints. Holy ones in Christ. When God looks at you, He sees the righteousness of His perfect Son.
You are loved by God. The Creator God of the universe, the One who spoke all of this into existence, loves you. What a wonderful remedy to loneliness and depression. God loves you, He chose you, and He made you holy.
BEARING WITH, AND FORGIVING
Now we’re back on track. These two participles come down off of the command and tell us what needs to characterize us as we put these things on. We need to bear with one another and forgive one another. This makes sense, but it is hard to apply. It is easy for us to sing, “He’s still working on me” to remind ourselves that God is going to finish this work in us (Philippians 1:6; 3:12-16) and to remind others that we are a work in progress. But do we show the same type of forbearance with others? Aren’t we quick to judge others and slow to judge ourselves? Yeowtch! Try extending the same benefit of the doubt to others as you would want them to extend to you.
This leads to the fact that we need to forgive others whenever we have any complaints against them. Grammatically this covers it all, “if any of you have a complaint towards anyone”… forgive them. If you are still holding back and waiting for someone to prove to you that they deserve your high and mighty forgiveness, look at how Paul grounds this statement. You should forgive “in the same way” that Christ forgave you. Whoa?! Strong words. Here we have what’s called a bilateral construction (you totally don’t need to know this, it’s nerdy but helpful). This is where the same proposition comes in between two other propositions functioning as either the grounds or result. Here it says “forgiving each other” because Christ forgave you, which in turn is why we are commanded to forgive. Get the point? Forgive others. This is also the first of our implied imperatives. Technically the text says “in the same way also you,” but if we are to understand the intention of the original author, we need to see this as a command to forgive. Whew!
PUT ON LOVE
This is the second of our implied imperatives. Technically the original text says, “above all these, love.” We have to go back to verse 12 to get the verb. Love binds all of these things together (the five things he mentioned), leading to our maturity and completion. If you have ever read 1 Corinthians 13, you already know that this is part of Paul’s theology.
None of these things matter if they aren’t fueled by love. Christians should be characterized by love (John 13:35).
LET THE PEACE OF CHRIST CONTROL YOU
This is such a difficult passage to apply. It is an interesting concept grammatically because it is a command for us, but it is in the third person. Wait, what? Yeah, so the subject of the verb is the peace of Christ, but we are the ones commanded to have the peace of Christ be what controls our decision-making.
This particular verb is only here in the New Testament and was used in the ancient world for something like an umpire for an athletic event. That’s why it is translated as “rule” in several translations. But let’s get practical. In a crazy world (like what we are living in), we need something to provide internal stability. We need the peace of Jesus to control us.
His peace needs to comfort us and guide us. Christ’s peace should be the decisive factor in all of our thoughts and actions. We have been given the mind of Christ, now we need to intentionally apply it.
If we are thinking and acting according to the peace of Christ, then we will be filled with gratitude. Paul has peppered this little letter with words from this family of words: grace, gracious, thankful, and forgiving. This specific word is only used this time in the New Testament. Christians are those who have been given grace, so we should be the ones most thankful/grateful.
LET THE WORD OF CHRIST MAKE ITS DWELLING IN YOU
This is another one of those commands in the third person. It is your obligation to give God’s Word residence in your heart and mind. This word is from the family of words used for household or dwelling place. It is used five times in the New Testament, most often used regarding the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of the believer (Romans 8:11; 2 Timothy 1:14), but is also for the Father’s promise to make His home in us (2 Corinthians 6:16).
But how do you let the Word of Christ dwell in you? You have to make it your ambition to read God’s Word, to study it, and to memorize it. As we do this, we are making God’s thoughts our own. Not just His specific thoughts but also His way of thinking. We want to do this so that it is dwelling in us “richly.”
Paul uses three participles to describe how this will flesh itself out in the way we live our lives: teaching, admonishing, and singing. These each highlight three different aspects of application.
First, when we fill ourselves to bursting with God’s Word, we will be teaching others. This will become a natural part of our conversation. So what is God teaching you? Not only that, but this teaching will be an actual conveyance of wisdom because it will be coming directly from God. This is the more positive aspect.
Second, there is a negative aspect. Not only will we be giving positive teaching from God, but we will be calling each other out. This word carries with it the idea of a warning to cease and desist from sinning (also look at Colossians 1:28 and 2 Thessalonians 3:15). Now, be careful because this must be done in humility and truth. You do not want to call someone out in their sin because it annoys or inconveniences you. You want to do it because you love them, and you care about their relationship with God.
The third result is that we will be filled with thanksgiving in our hearts to God that cannot be contained. It will result in worshipping God. We will be singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (literally “odes”) to God… and I think, to each other. Look at the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:19, where he actually adds “to each other.” Pretty cool.
DO EVERYTHING IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS
This is the last of our “implied imperatives.” If this were translated literally, it would be something like:
“and also all the things that you might do in word or in work do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
To understand what he is saying, we have to supply the command “Do.” What does it mean to do all things (our words and actions) in the name of Jesus? Don’t you think that this could be a restatement of 2:6 “as you received Jesus as Lord, walk in Him”? I do. We are called to live our lives in such a way that everything we say and everything we do could be stamped with the name “Lord Jesus” on it. And it is notable that here too he calls Jesus our Lord. If He is Lord of our life, He is Lord of our words and actions.
Finally, he adds one modifier to this. As we live this out in our lives, we should always be thankful to God through Jesus Christ. It is very important in Paul’s practical theology that we are thankful. It helps us remember who is actually Lord.
What Does This Mean for Me?
- Do you see yourself as chosen by God, holy, and loved by God? Does this form your identity? If not, meditate on these Gospel truths.
- Are you intentionally putting on:
- A heart of compassion?
- What about forgiveness? Are you a forgiving person? Do you hold things against others that God has forgiven them of? Do you hold your forgiveness out of reach? If so, you need to think through the amount of grace and forgiveness that has been extended to you and apply that to others.
- What about love? Are you a loving person? Remember that you aren’t just called to legalistically try to apply these things to your life. You must submit it all to God and let Him use you to love others.
- Is the peace of Christ ruling in your heart? If not, how can you internalize His peace in that way?
- Are you thankful? If not, you don’t understand the first thing about the Gospel. Meditate on it.
- Are you internalizing God’s Word? Are you reading? Studying? Meditating? Memorizing? Talk this out, put together a plan, and get accountability.
- Are you so filled with God’s Word that it’s coming out in your conversation with others? Share what you are learning.
- Is there something that you know needs to be confronted in someone’s life? If so, submit it to the Lord and be obedient in humility. You might be what God uses to bring about their repentance.
- Is your heart submitted to the Lord and overflowing in worship?
- Can you see the stamp of Jesus as Lord on your words and actions? If not, repent and daily submit them to the Lord.
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