The apostle Paul is teaching his readers what the Christian life looks like. Those who have been raised with Christ have put to death everything that steals our affections away from Christ. Our life is hidden in Christ and we have eliminated anything that is not part of our pursuit of Christ. In Colossians 3:12-17 Paul is continuing to show what a life raised with Christ looks like. In verse 5 Paul gave a list of things to put to death. Beginning in verse 12 Paul describes what spiritual clothing followers of Jesus must wear. The motivation is set out earlier in this paragraph as to why we must take off the earthly life and put on the spiritual life. Paul says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” The motivation that Paul has used in the first two chapters of this letter to the Colossians is used as a reminder in Colossians 3:12. You are God’s chosen people. You are God’s holy people. You are God’s beloved people. Recognize who you are and recognize what God has done for you. We so easily forget who we are. We see ourselves through the lens of our occupation or our relationships. Paul says that you are God’s chosen people, holy and beloved. Never forget who you are so that you will continue to be renewed in knowledge after the image of the Creator (3:10). Clothe yourselves with spiritual attributes not earthly attributes.
Christian Character (3:12)
Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are characteristics that are to be our clothing. Just as people see the physical clothing of shirts and pants they should see our spiritual clothing of these characteristics. How do we develop these characteristics? The theme that we have seen through this letter is that God has shown us these characteristics. God has been compassionate toward us. God has been kind toward us. He showed us humility and meekness. He has shown us patience with us our sins. Only when we see what God has done for us through Christ can our lives be transformed into these spiritual attributes. To say this another way, when we forget and refuse to acknowledge what God has done through Christ then we fail to wear these spiritual attributes. I lose patience when I forget the patience God showed me. I lack compassion when I forget the compassion God showed me. You are God’s chosen ones. Put these spiritual clothes on because you understand what it means to be his child. This knowledge and acceptance of what God has done for us and who we are in Christ allows us to bear with each other. When we see how God has accepted us, welcomed us, and picked us up when we fell short we will be willing to do the same with each other.
Forgiving One Another (3:13)
Forgiveness is something that is misunderstood and often improperly taught that it is important for us to consider what Paul teaches here about forgiveness. We are commanded to forgive in the way God forgave us. Paul is asking us to think about what God’s forgiveness looks like. Is there any place in the scriptures where we see God forgiving with there first being repentance? Did God ever forgive someone without that person showing repentance and desiring forgiveness? The answer is clearly no. God does not forgive us until we come back to him in repentance desiring to restore the relationship. We have rightly pointed out that it would be wrong and unjust of God to forgive unilaterally. We need to think about what we have done by suggesting that there is no repentance required. We are not helping the wrongdoer but sending that person to eternal punishment. It does not help the person to forgive while sin is being committed. We want to call them to immediate repentance. Why does God give us the process of restoring a brother or sister if we are supposed to immediately forgive? The purpose of Matthew 18 teaching that you go to the person who has sinned, and then you take witnesses, and then you take it to the church is that repentance can be provoked. We do not just forgive. The church is not commanded to forgive unconditionally without repentance. God does not forgive unconditionally. Restoration of a relationship cannot be unilateral. Both must want to restore the relationship.
Now, understanding this often leads to the other sin which brought about the false teaching in the first place. Just because we do not immediately forgive does not mean that we are not actively seeking reconciliation. God is repeatedly pictured as willingly offering restoration and seeking reconciliation. God is pictured as having his arms open to all who will come back to him. We also must be willing to receive a person back and reconcile with those who desire it. We are not allowed to hold on to bitterness. We are not to retaliate. We are not to repay evil for evil. We do what is right and good even in the face of evil. Another person’s sin against me does not give me license to sin against them. We are to be willing forgivers, seeking restoration when the person is repentant. Throwing around forgiveness devalues the meaning of the concept. Forgiveness can only come from repentance.
We have a saying about “forgiving and forgetting.” Sometimes people will declare that I forgive but I will never forget. We need to examine what this means. Sometimes we are saying that we are still going to hold it against the person when we say I will forgive but not forget. But then you really have not been forgiving at all. Forgiveness means the restoration has occurred because repentance has been seen. The other side of the coin is something that often bothers us. We have forgiven and the relationship has been restored, but we remember what the person has done. It is not like we have a memory erase button that we can forget all that has been done against us. A spouse is not going to be able to forget that adultery was committed against him or her. I remember hurts from decades back done against me, and I am sure you do also. When the scriptures tell us that God will “remember our sins no more” (Hebrews 10:17) I do not believe God is saying that he has a magic erase button either. The meaning is that our sins are no longer held against us or brought up against us. The offense is not brought up again and are no longer held against us. This is what we should mean by “forgiving and forgetting.” Just as God has forgiven and no longer holds our sins against us, so we forgive others and no longer hold those offenses against them.
Love and Peace (3:14-15)
Above all these, we are to put on love. Love is the umbrella that generates these actions. We are seeking out the best interests of others. We are concerned about others ahead of ourselves. Love binds everything in perfect harmony. Love is what will prevent splits and strife. Love will seek restoration and unity with one another in Christ. Unity will exist where loving the soul of another exists.
Further, the peace of Christ is to rule our hearts. Paul again is reminding us about what God has done for us. Through Christ we have peace with God. We were separated from God and enemies of God. But through the blood of Christ we have peace and do not have wrath against us. The peace of Christ ruling our hearts is living with the understanding that I am on Christ’s team and must be following his rules. Christ has purchased my life and my life is hidden with him. Therefore my life purpose and my decisions are based upon living under his rule and not my own. We will let Christ call the shots and make all the decisions. You are part of his body, his family.
The Word of Christ Dwelling In Us Richly (3:16)
What a beautiful picture! Let God’s word soak in your heart. Let God’s word live richly and deeply in your heart. We will not be content with spiritual snacks but want to immerse ourselves in God’s word. Notice how we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. Teaching and admonishing, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and having thanksgiving in our hearts. But there are two words I want you to underline. The two words are, “One another.” The picture Paul paints for those who are God’s chosen ones is that they are getting together to teach one another. They are getting together to admonish one another. They are getting together and singing to one another. They are getting together and giving thanks to God for everything. It is interesting that Paul does not say that you let the word of Christ dwell in you richly by avoiding other Christians, getting in a closet and studying alone. The word of Christ dwells in us richly when we are teaching each other and admonishing each other. Our teaching must come from the word of God and the word of God alone. No one should want Brent’s word. We must all want an exposition of God’s word. So many are interested in sermons like, “Seven Ways To Be A Better Man,” “Five Tips For Financial Security,” or “Leaving A Legacy.” Take the word of God and teach the word of God. The word of Christ dwells in us richly when we are singing to each other. If you are new here I want you to know that this is the reason we do not use any musical instruments in worship besides our voices and our hearts. It is not because we can’t afford a band. It is because the word of Christ will dwell in us richly when we are singing God’s word to each other. Paul says what we need to do with one another is teach each other, admonish each other, singing to each other, and give thanks to God with one another. We are doing those things this very morning. We must take advantage of this opportunity to engage in these acts with our hearts so that the word of Christ dwells richly in us.
Everything By Christ’s Authority (3:17)
In summary, everything we do and say but must be done by the authority of Christ. This is the mark of the life hidden in Christ. Everything we do represents Christ in our lives. Everything we do is based on the authority given by Christ because we follow him. Your identity is in Christ and everything you do is for Christ. The Christian life is living as God’s chosen ones, wearing spiritual clothing so that people see Christ in our lives. We will have forgiving hearts desire to reconcile with those who want to restore the relationship. Love will be the power by which we have unity in Christ’s body as we live under his authority and dwell richly in his word. Let us actively put on these spiritual clothes and put off the earthly clothes so that we show we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.