We are in the practical section of this wonderful book. Paul is telling the Colossians and all believers how we are to live as God's children.
In verse 9 Paul says that Christians have "laid aside (or have taken off like a garment) the old self with its practices." That's what happened at conversion: our old identity with Adam ended when we died with Christ at Calvary.
Then verse 10 states the positive counterpart to this putting off of the old self. It says that Christians "have put on the new self." So in conversion what happened was that our identity with Adam ended, and we were united to Jesus Christ.
We did not just decide to do this and make it happen ourselves. Verse 12 makes clear who was the initiating power behind this change of identity. Paul refers to believers as "those who have been chosen of God, holy and loved." The reason we experienced the putting off of our old self and the putting on of a new self was that God loved us and chose us and set us apart as holy to the Lord. We are elect, holy, and loved. In other words, God took the initiative with us. God elected, God sanctified, God loved. And because of God's electing love, we are to live for Him. In the following verses he tells us what we are to put on:
Colossians 3:12-13 (NASB) And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
Do these describe you? They should. If you are not living up to these qualities, I hope that working on it, desiring it, and praying that God's grace would enable you to live this way. Paul goes on in verse 14 to give us the crowning virtue:
Colossians 3:14 (NASB) And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Looking at verse 13 and 14, does anything strike you as strange? Verse 13 says, "bearing with one another" and then verse 14 says, "and beyond all these love." Doesn't
forbearance seem like a strange concept for a believer to be directed towards when love seems to be the aim of following after God? It strikes me as a little strange. Maybe it's just me, but forbearance and love seem to be quite different. Let's look at some contrasts between the two differing concepts in a series of statements.
Love accepts men and women as they are, forbearance puts up with them. Love seeks out people who don't fit in and puts its arm around them, forbearance smiles at them and hopes they don't come any nearer. Love wants to get involved in the trials of the unlovely, forbearance asks them how they are and hopes they don't take the question seriously or take too long in answering. Love reaches out a hand to touch the unclean, forbearance puts out a hand, even though it wishes it'd remembered its gloves. Love draws together the diverse into a unity, forbearance praises God for men's diversity.
Since we are told to "bear with one another" and to love one another, they must not be mutually exclusive. But in my mind, if I love someone I don't have to bear with them. Those are just some rambling thoughts of mine.
Colossians 3:14 (NASB) And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
The sixth expression of the new nature, which can be understood as needing to be "put on" is love. The translators supply "put on" from the previous verse. The emphasis is placed on the word "love." Literally, it reads, "And above all these things, love." Love is the priority of all the graces in this list. Love ties all other virtues together and is, therefore, the most important grace.
Believers will never enjoy mutual fellowship through compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience; they will not bear with each other or forgive each other unless they love one another. To try to practice the virtues of 3:12,13 apart from love is LEGALISM. They must flow from love, which in turn is a fruit of the Spirit-filled life (Gal. 5:22). Nothing is acceptable to God if not motivated by love.
Vines says, "Love is the power which holds together all the other virtues." The key to everything is love. Having the kind of love God has will be essential. It alone will empower us to treat other people in the ways we have been discussing. Love is the chief virtue of the new life we have in Christ.
Love is "the perfect bond of unity."The word "bond" means: "to bind together, to unite." In this context, "bond" has the idea of a girdle or belt. This is not the kind of girdle that we think of today. In the first century, both men and women wore girdles. Among people of the Near East, the final piece of dress was the girdle or sash. Every soldier wore this belt to hold his clothes together and a scabbard to hold his sword and other things. There he carried his rations and breastplate. The "bond" or girdle was a foundational garment that holds all garments together. Love holds everything together. Love binds all the graces together and holds them in their proper place like a broad belt or girdle.
What exactly is this "love" that we are to put on? Our culture uses the word love to mean just about everything except what the Bible means by it. So Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling, something we fall in or out of. We equate it with lust or sex, we talk about "making love." The word "love" used here is not the Greek word eros. That word is used to describe erotic love, sensual love, what you feel when you "fall in love," a passionate attraction to another person. That kind of love is not even mentioned in the Word of God, though it is a common form of love today. And the word here is not phileo, which means: "affection, friendship, a feeling of warmth toward someone else." Phileo is a two-way kind of love. That's where we get "Philadelphia" from the city of brotherly love. In other words you love me, and I'll love you back. I love you because there are certain things that are good about you. And you love me because there are certain things that are good about me. A two-way love. This is not what is mentioned here.
The word Paul uses here is agape. This Greek word was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the New Testament. In the New Testament, the word agape took on a special meaning; it was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love); a self-sacrificial love, a love naturally expressed by divinity but not so easily by humanity. It seems as though the early Christian church took this word out of its obsoleteness and made it a characteristic word for love.
Agape is a one-way love. In other words, you love me, even if I don't love you back. You love
me, even though there is nothing good about me. It's a supernatural kind of love; the kind of love
that God has shown to the world. Even though the world didn't love God, God loved the world
and sent his son. Even though you didn't ask for it, Jesus loved you and died for your sins on the
cross. God loves us, even though there isn't anything good about us to love.
Agape love is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave his son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were his enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make, and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another. That is what love is, and this is what Paul is talking about.
Just how important is it that we love one another? Paul answers that question in:
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NASB) If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
If a believer does not display agape, he himself is nothing! The Greek text at the end of verse 2 does not say that he is nobody, that would be strong. But the Greek text says he is nothing! From this text, we could draw this equation, life minus love equals zero. The loveless person produces nothing, is nothing, and gains nothing. That's how important love is in your life and mine. Do you think that maybe that is overstating it a little bit? Is love really that important?
Mark 12:28-31 (NASB) And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' 31 "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
So, Jesus is saying that the greatest commandment is to love. Paul says the same thing in Romans in a little different way:
Romans 13:8 (NASB) Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Peter puts it this way:
1 Peter 4:8 (NASB) Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
Look at what God told the children of Israel, about 3500 years ago:
Leviticus 19:18 (NASB) 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
Those verses ought to make it clear enough that love is preeminent. Above everything else, we are called to love God and one another.
What does it mean to love God? If we want to know what it is to love, we must go to the Scriptures:
John 14:15 (NASB) "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:21 (NASB) "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him."
John 15:10 (NASB) "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love.
Based on those verses, what would you say it means to love God? If love here is not formally defined as "obedience," it is so closely connected with it that there seems to be no room for anything else.
1 John 2:3-5 (NASB) And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
1 John 5:2 (NASB) By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
It seems that the visible characteristic of love is obedience, and love, itself, is a desire to obey. The Scriptures also make it clear that our love to God is validated by our love for others:
1 John 4:20-21 (NASB) If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
We cannot truly love God without loving one another. To recognize that there is someone I do not love is to say to God, "I do not love you enough to love that person." Love is truly preeminent - I hope that you see that. To not be a loving person is not some small character flaw, it is to break the greatest commandment; it is to not love God.
If that is in fact true; if love is preeminent, if life minus love equals zero, if to not be loving is to not love God, if love is that important, then we should all desire to manifest love in our lives, shouldn't we?
All believers have the capacity to act in love. We all have the capacity to love, but do we all love? No! Why? Because love is a product of a Spirit controlled life. Galatians 5:22 says, "The fruit, or product, of the Spirit is love..." The fruit of the Spirit, like all of spiritual living, comes only from living a Spirit controlled life or walking in the Spirit.
Galatians 5:14-16 (NASB) For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
Apart from the control of God's Spirit, we cannot love. I can't love my neighbor, no matter how hard I try. How then can we love? The key is in the saying, "the law is fulfilled" (verse 14).
Romans 8:4 (NASB) in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
"The righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us" - this is the same word pleroo, used in Galatians 5:14. What is it that the law requires? It requires love:
Matthew 22:37-40 (NASB) And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' 38 "This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' 40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
In Romans 8:4, in the phrase "might be fulfilled in us," the verb is in the passive voice. It does not say, "that we might fulfill the law," but "that the law might be fulfilled in us." Agape love is divine love; God is it's source, and God loves through us as we walk in fellowship with him. Our obligation is to stay in fellowship with him:
1 John 1:6-7 (NKJV) If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
The unsaved man can no more experience this kind of love than can a marble statue! It takes the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the life, and the empowering of that Spirit for anyone to display this kind of character in daily life.
What we are really talking about here is practical sanctification. Practical sanctification is spiritual growth, it is conformity to Christ likeness. It is becoming a loving person.
1 John 2:6 (NASB) the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
How can we learn to live like Christ lived? How do we do it? God does not call upon us to love with our own anemic, synthetic, saccharine, imitation love. He calls upon us to love with his love, out of his love.
How do we become sanctified? How do we grow into Christ likeness? How do we learn to love? These are really all the same questions with the same answer. Sanctification is a matter of "dependant discipline." Dependant emphasizes our need for God's power to work in us.
John 15:5 (NASB) "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.
Discipline sums up our responsibility to grow in sanctification, in love. What is our part, what do we need to do? We need to apply the means of Sanctification. Let me give you the mechanics of our part in sanctification. We are responsible to discipline ourselves toward spiritual growth, all the while trusting God to work in us.
Perhaps the analogy of a farmer will help us understand this. Consider the farmer and his crops. There are certain "disciplines," or tasks, he must do. He must plow, plant, fertilize, and cultivate. In some areas, he must irrigate. But he cannot make the seed germinate and grow. Only God can do that. The farmer, whether he recognizes it or not, depends on God both for the physical and mental ability to do his tasks and for the capital to buy his supplies and equipment. And he obviously depends on God for the growth of his crops.
In the same way, the Christian depends on God to enable him to perform his disciplines. What are the disciplines of the Christian life? Bible study, prayer, fellowship. But the performance of the disciplines does not itself produce spiritual growth. Only God can do that.
Growth in sanctification, in love, is not then a matter of personal discipline plus God's work. It is a matter of dependant discipline, of recognizing that we are dependant on God to enable us to do what we are responsible to do. Then, it is a recognition that even when we have performed our duties, we must still look to Him to produce the growth. Paul put it this way:
1 Corinthians 3:7 (NASB) So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
Let me add something here, I really believe that sanctification is a family matter. That is, it involves the whole family of believers in a local church. I don't believe that we are sanctified in isolation from other believers. Sanctification takes place within the framework of relationships we have with one another in the church. Guy Appere has expressed this clearly: "By God's deliberate choice, sanctification is a collective process taking place in a community, and, apart from special circumstances, the Christian's way to sanctification is in company with other Christians and with their help." [The Mystery of Christ, 107]
This is quite apparent in the language used by the Apostle Paul, in our text, as he exhorts us corporately to a life of spiritual progress.
Notice the effect of love - "Which is the perfect bond of unity." I think this refers not only to the other virtues mentioned in Colossians 3:12-13, but to the power of love to "bind or hold together" the community of believers. The implication is that the very different personalities that make up the church are held together by the active love of the body for one another.
Have you asked yourself the question lately, "Am I growing in love? Looking back over a year, are you easier to live with now? Are you able to handle people more graciously, more courteously? Are you more compassionate, more patient? These are the measurements of life. This is why we were given life, that we might learn how to act in love. Nothing else can be substituted for it. There is no use holding up any other quality we possess if we lack this one. It is the paramount goal of every human life, and we do well to measure ourselves by it.
Next, the apostle moves beyond our lives as individuals, to the church, and how the body ought to function:
Colossians 3:15 (NASB) And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
The word "peace" comes from the Greek word eirene, its Hebrew equivalent would be shalom. It refers to: "the absence of conflict, tranquility, serenity."
What is this "peace" implied in the text? He calls it, "the peace of Christ," which is uniquely used here, though we see the "peace of God" used in numerous places (e.g., Rom. 1:7; I Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2).
Two specific areas must be considered when thinking of the peace of Christ. First, we must think of Christ in His person:
Ephesians 2:14-18 (NASB) For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
The emphasis in this passage is how, in the person of Christ through the offering of himself at the cross, Jews and Gentiles who have been at enmity with each other are now brought into the same family through Christ. Rather than the open and even secret hostility in their relationships, through Christ the "enmity" has been removed, the wall separating us racially, socially, and culturally has been broken down. We are now "one new man" in Christ. Therefore, we have peace in relationships to each other due to the person of Christ in his mediatorial office. The peace of his presence continues to establish our relationship with one another.
Secondly, we have peace in relationship to God that is described in the term "justification." It is through the accomplishment of our Lord, in bearing the judgment of God against us, that we now have peace with God. This is a peace that is a gift through Christ:
Romans 5:1 (NASB) Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
We are no longer enemies of God, but His children. We no longer are under divine judgment, but under his blessing and care.
It is this "peace of Christ" that is to "rule in your hearts." The consciousness, that we are at peace with God through Christ and at peace with one another through Christ, must dominate our thinking. It is to affect our decisions. It is to alter the way we think, live, and interact with others. Notice that the peace of God is to rule in your hearts (plural). You (together) were called in one body to peace and thanksgiving.
It's the peace which comes from Christ's work, then, which Paul urges his readers to allow to "rule" in their hearts in order that peace between the brethren might also come about as a consequence and an overflow. The NIV translation is clear at this point, even though they add quite a bit to the Greek that's there. They translate that the peace of Christ should rule in the believers' hearts "...since, as members of one body, you were called to peace."
The appeal, therefore, is that, just as God has reconciled them to Himself through Jesus and has dealt with the problem of enmity which existed between them, so too should they allow the realities of that peace to overflow from them that they might welcome and receive all who come with the name of Jesus upon them.
If we know Christ's peace, we know that God accepts us by his grace. This knowledge gives us a disposition of peace. The more the person and work of Christ dominate our thinking, the greater peace the Christian will have in himself.
To "rule" is an athletic term meaning: "to act as an umpire." In ancient Greece, the umpire presided over the Olympic games and the Isthmian games. He discerned the athlete's qualification to take part in the games. He determined whether the winner violated any rules during the contest. He enforced the rules and awarded the prizes.
The Christian is to let the peace of Christ arbitrate, or decide, all matters in his heart. The peace of Christ should direct, control, or rule in our hearts. This peace gives us correct judgment and decision when we let God's rule govern our lives.
When Christians need to make choices, the peace that Christ produces in our hearts should be a determining factor. We should choose what will result in peace between us and God, and between us and one another, if such a course of action lies within God's moral will.
Colossians 3:15 (NASB) And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Notice how Paul ends this verse, "...and be thankful". What is it that they are to be thankful for? The Greek word translated "thankful" is eucharistos. This word occurs only once in the New Testament and is found in the LXX again only once in:
Proverbs 11:16 (NASB) A gracious [eucharistos] woman attains honor, And violent men attain riches.
It's this idea of "graciousness" which lies at the foundation of the word, and I find it difficult to understand why most translations render the word in Colossians 3:15 as "thankful," rather than as appears to be necessary from the LXX, "gracious." If this were done, the exhortation: "Be gracious [towards the brethren]" would be much more in keeping with what's preceded it, where relationships between believers are being defined. Why commentators take the phrase as denoting a response of thankfulness, I have no idea.
The Greek says, "become gracious." It does not mean to "be" something; it means: "to become something that we were not before." It is a continuous obligation."Become" indicates that the Colossians were not gracious before this challenge from Paul.
Thankfulness is a constant theme in Colossians (cf. 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3: 16,17; 4:2) but it seems to me, like in this text, the idea is more of "becoming gracious." Thayer's Greek dictionary defines this word eucharistos as:
1) "mindful of favors, grateful, thankful."
2) "pleasing, agreeable."
3) "acceptable to others, winning, liberal, beneficent."
If we use the last two, Paul is saying, "Become pleasing, agreeable, acceptable to others, winning, liberal, and beneficent." Do you think an attitude like this would promote peace among the community of believers? You bet it would.
So, Believers, we are to put on love. We are to let Christ's peace reign in our hearts, and we are to be gracious to each other. When the church begins to live this way, we will have a very positive effect on the world in which we live. May God help us to understand and flesh out these qualities in our lives.
|Continue the Series|