In the early verses of Colossians 3, we are told to seek those things which are above, and in verse 2 of the chapter we are instructed to “set our affections” (our thoughts and desires) on things above. The “things of earth” (verse 2b) are the trivial toys which sometimes grip our affection—the material things, the accumulation of wealth, the madness surrounding Christmas, etc. The “things above” (in verse 1 and in verse 2) speak of eternal things—the redemption of the body, meeting with loved ones in Heaven, fellowship with God, etc. Think of taking hold of a hand and finding it God’s hand! Or of looking into the eyes of Jesus! Or of stepping on shore and finding it Heaven!
Verse 3 (of Colossians 3) says that we are dead to the old life of sin, and that the secrets of our new life in Christ are not visible. They are hidden with Christ in God. What are the invisible secrets of the Christian’s new life? What is it that drives you on and makes you the kind of new person you are? The invisible secrets of the new life in Christ include the following:
- a) A fear of God (a fear of offending Him).
- b) A simple faith in the Lord Jesus (the blood that He shed).
- c) Confidence in the providence of God (all things are working together for good).
- d) Finding food from the Word of God (the Bible is a living and meaningful book).
And then verses 5-11 (of Colossians 3) name some old rags which must be discarded, and verses 12-14 describe the new garments which should be part of our wardrobe. In verse 15-17 we are given some guidelines designed to regulate the new life in Christ.
Notice briefly a description of the “old rags” which are to be put off. The word “mortify” (verse 5) means to “put to death.” The Greek word implies a vigorous determination to wipe out the old way of life. It means literally “to exterminate” or “to flatten” like a man who gets his fingers between the rollers of a press. To mortify the deeds of the body requires a conscious daily decision to live according to God’s values. There are a number of old garments that need to be cast aside.
- “fornication” — illicit sex relations on the part of unmarried persons. God’s standard for sexual conduct is chastity before marriage and loyalty after marriage. Fathers and mothers ought to sit down with their sons and daughters and explain the wonders of human reproduction—and give them some decent teaching concerning sex and morals and marriage. (Two useful tools to help with that task are Almost Twelve by Kenneth Taylor, and Sex is a Lot More Than Fun by Elisabeth Elliot).
- “uncleanness” — dirty-mindedness (Phillips translation). Unclean thoughts and desires are stimulated by abbreviated dress, obscene pictures, and dirty stories.
- “inordinate affection” — uncontrolled perverted passion. The phrase speaks of free love, trial marriages, promiscuity, incest, lesbianism, sodomy, prostitution, and all the other related ugly sins.
- “evil concupiscence” — strong sexual lust. It speaks especially of the public display of the evil acts mentioned above—indecent exposure, nude bathing beaches, and massage parlors, etc.
- “covetousness (which is idolatry)” — speaks of preoccupation with sexual immorality; it refers to the undue desire to have and to get what is really prohibited.
Verse 6 says that because of these things “the wrath of God comes upon the disobedient.” The sexual sins mentioned in verse 5 call forth the wrath of God. These things are raw, naked sin. And even though innocent people sometimes contract the AIDS virus, I am convinced that the AIDS epidemic is just one demonstration of God’s wrath against the immorality all around us.
Paul says in verse 7 that we used to live in this looseness and disobedience—but not any more! And then beginning with verse 8, we are given another list of vices that are to be put off and discarded like old, worn-out clothing. (We are going to talk about “A Description of a Well Dressed Christian,” but we must get rid of the old rags first!)
Verse 8 says, “But now . . . put off all these.” The sins named here are not so much the gross sins of the flesh, but rather, the subtle sinful tendencies of the spirit.
- “anger” — a deep-seated ill-will. Most anger is really a display of bad attitudes—a selfish, smoldering resentment. We must cast it aside like an old worn out garment.
- “wrath” — speaks of storms of uncontrolled temper; an outburst that quickly flares up, and just as quickly dies down. Wrath is anger with the lid off. It involves slamming doors and loud yelling and kicking things around. (You may have heard the little quip which says, “The smaller the pot the quicker it’s hot.” The person who is quick to get angry reveals that deep down within he is a person with a small immature character).
- “malice” — speaks of holding grudges and harboring spite and ill-will. It is our duty to be forgiving and forbearing, as we shall see very shortly.
- “blasphemy” — is to speak disrespectfully and irreverently of divine things. And to take God’s name in vain is a form of blasphemy; it throws the name of God in the mud.
- “filthy communication out of the mouth” — speaks of low, obscene, and dirty talk. It is the kind of filth you hear at work or in the barber shop. The story is told and then the crowd sits back and laughs hilariously.
Verses 9 and 10 admonish against being untruthful and then tell about the contrast between “the old man” (the old self) and “the new man” (the new self). The “old man” represents all that we formerly had been—our sin nature—that which has been inherited from Adam. The “new man” represents our new life in Christ. We need to feed, nurture, and encourage the new nature—so that by constant renewal—it will take on more and more the image of its Creator.
Verse 11 says in essence that those who are bound together in Christ find that the old barriers that broke down good relationships between persons, no longer have meaning. The distinctions are still there, but we make no issue over them. Christ is equally available to all persons (as the LB translates the last part of the verse). This means God’s people guard against speaking of other persons as “niggers” or “wops” or “Pollocks.” The obliteration of ugly attitudes toward those of differing cultural and social backgrounds is one of the amazing achievements of the Gospel.
Then beginning with verse 12 (of Colossians 3) we are given new patterns of behavior which should characterize the lives of God’s people. These are qualities that are to be cultivated in the Christian life. Eight virtues are listed in Colossians 3:12b-14.
Two qualities deal with our treatment of others.
Two qualities deal with our estimation of ourselves.
Three qualities speak of our reaction to ill-treatment.
One quality is an all-pervading principle which should characterize our conduct. We might call these eight qualities A DESCRIPTION OF THE WELL DRESSED CHRISTIAN. There are eight beautiful garments which every Christian is to wear. Verse 12 says that we should clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
1. Tender Mercies
The phrase speaks of a sympathetic heart that feels concern for the needs of others. The NJB translates it “heartfelt compassion.”
The genuine Christian tries to understand and to enter into the feelings of those who experience pain in body, those who are lonely because death has taken someone they loved, and those who have tried but failed in life.
We must cultivate the art of trying to enter into the feelings of others. The girl in high school whose mother died, came back to school after several days of absence. She cried much of that first day back. One of her close friends that evening was telling her mother about Sue’s hard day at school (after the death of her mother), and how she tried to console her. The mother said, “And what did you say to Sue?” The reply was, “Nothing; I just cried with her.” That was compassion. That is a virtue we are to cultivate in the Christian life.
Kindness is the act of being generous and thoughtful toward others. Kindness is the unselfish act, the thoughtful word, and the courteous gesture. It includes the common laws of politeness. It includes even waving the hand to a passerby at appropriate times.
It is not certain who first said it, but it is worth repeating: “I expect to pass through life but once; if therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do for a fellow human being, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.” Or as one little proverb says: “It’s never too soon to show kindness, because one never knows how soon it will be too late!”
3. Humbleness of Mind
Humility speaks of a modest opinion of oneself. One who is “humble of mind” is aware of his own human limitations.
Humility is the exact opposite of arrogance and pride, and of being cocky and overconfident. We don’t need more cleverness and selfish ambition. We need humility, meekness, kindness, and love.
Humility was one of the virtues most emphasized by Jesus. He said, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). There is a proverb which says, “Great men never feel great; small men never feel small.” Humility is the opposite of self-glory. It avoids putting oneself on a pedestal above others. Remember that the most important light in the house is not the big lamp in the living room, but the little night-light in the hall (that keeps you from breaking your neck on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night).
Meekness accepts without murmuring whatever God chooses to place in our lives. It accepts God’s providence without resistance.
When cancer strikes or accident comes—the human tendency is to say, “Why did it have to happen to me?” The mature Christian does not ask “Why?” (“Why did you do this to me Lord?”)—but instead, asks “What?” — “What do you want to show me in all this, Lord?” Meekness speaks of “quiet submission” to the providences of God. It avoids becoming bitter toward God when hard places come our way.
Ross Stull and his wife were pioneer missionaries up the Amazon Valley in South America. One year a young couple came to join them in the work, but within a few weeks, the young man took sick from a fever, and within a few days he died. Here was a young wife—thousands of miles from home; in a strange and hostile land; her husband dead of a fever—but after weeping and sobbing for a while, she was able to accept the great sorrow as coming from the hand of God. They laid his body in a crude coffin; they put the lid on it and nailed it down; they lowered the body into the grave. She had written on the top of that crude box with a wide felt pen: HIS WAY IS BEST.
Meekness is not weakness. Meekness is quiet submission to the will of God. It takes a strong person to do what that young missionary-wife did!
One who is longsuffering exhibits a spirit of patience even with obnoxious people. The longsuffering spirit is the quality that doesn’t let us lose patience with our fellowmen. We must not respond to others by clobbering with words or retaliating with bad attitudes, no matter how repulsive their approach toward us might be.
I read about a bunch of drunks who were boasting to each other in the wee hours of the morning. One claimed he had the best dog; another claimed that he had the best children; but one of the drunks made the boldest claim of them all: He said, “Boys, I’ve got the best wife!” He said, “I could take this whole gang to my house even at this early hour of the morning, and awaken my wife, and demand that she get a good hot breakfast for all of us, and she would do it without a word of complaint.”
There was an uproar of wild laughter and they accused him of just plain lying. He said, “Follow me, you stumblebums, I’ll show you that I’m not lying.” They all staggered into the man’s house. A vigorous call brought the wife downstairs, and that drunken husband said to his wife: “I want you to cook a hot meal for all of us, and let’s see how quickly you can do it!” The wife softly agreed, and soon she was serving those drunken men a wholesome hot meal. They sat with amazement, and then later wended their ways to their own homes. The writer of the account vouches for the truthfulness of the event and declares that later every one of those drunks was converted to Christ.
6. Forbearing One Another
The word “forbearance” means “to put up with, to bear with, to endure.” Forbearance is really an expansion of the spirit of longsuffering.
The phrase “forbearing one another” suggests that each of us is apt to try the patience of others in one way or another. We come from differing backgrounds. We don’t always understand each other, nor agree with each other on every detail, but we are to bear with each other and to manifest a spirit of self-restraint.
The word “forbearance” has in it an element of leniency. It suggests putting up with some things we dislike in others . . . just for the sake of harmony. Sometimes we would rather see something done in another way, but for the sake of peace and unity, we say nothing. Forbearance is the translation of a word which more literally means “holding everything back.”
7. Forgiving One Another
Forgiveness means “holding nothing against.” It comes from the base word “give.” When we forgive, we give release from the wrong done to us.
God forgives us graciously and completely when we come to trust in Christ as Savior. He wipes out the record and restores us to a right-standing with the Heavenly Father. Now we are asked to forgive others who wrong us. Certainly that is not asking too much.
To “forbear” is to hold everything back. To “forgive” is to hold nothing against. We are to clothe ourselves with these garments.
8. Above All Things, Put On Charity
Love (charity) is the deliberate effort to seek the well-being of others. It suffers long and is not puffed up. First Corinthians 13 describes love as patient and kind, never jealous, not boastful or conceited, never rude. Love does not seek its own advantage. It is not quick to take offense. Neither does it store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rather finds joy in the truth. Love is ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope, and to endure to the end.
Love is not necessarily a feeling. Rather, love is a decision of the mind to try and help meet the needs of others. This includes spiritual needs as well as physical needs. Real love is the deliberate giving of oneself to try and benefit another.
Paul listed seven garments in verses 12 and 13 that we are to put on. Now he says that the final garment (the overcoat) is “love.” Love is the ingredient which holds all the other virtues in place.
If we clothe ourselves with the eight beautiful garments described in Colossians 3:12-14, we will be well dressed! We will be in fashion—in the fashion of Christ!! The items of clothing are compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love. Living for Christ is a life-long process. We must never cease learning, and never give up seeking to apply the truths of Scripture in our daily lives.
In verses 15-17 (of Colossians 3) we are given some guidelines which should help to regulate our new life in Christ. The four guidelines are: the peace of God, a spirit of thanksgiving, the word of Christ, and the singing of hymns.
The “peace of God” should “rule” in our decision-making. The place I want to visit; the letter I want to write; the gadget I am planning to buy—will I have peace if I go ahead with these activities?
The spirit of “thanksgiving” (verse 15) means that our first waking moments each morning should find our spirits breathing out gratitude to God, and our last duty at the close of each day should be to give thanks to God for the blessings of the day.
The “word of Christ” should make its home in our minds and hearts. We should discipline ourselves to memorize key portions of the Bible. It is our duty to read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy.
The spirited “singing of hymns” (verse 16) is like a tonic to the soul. In moments of discouragement, one can find new inspiration by singing the words, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
To do things “in the name of Jesus” (verse 17) means that we are to do them in such a way that they will meet with His approval.
Colossians 3 is a call for God’s people to grow in Christian holiness. Verses 5-11 tell us about old rags which should be discarded. Verses 12-14 describe garments that every one of us should be wearing (the Christian’s wardrobe). And verses 15-17 give us guidelines that are intended to help regulate our new life in Christ.