Devotional # 161. 11/2/15. Colossians 3:12-17.
Intro. I love that Paul, having given us two lists of the “dont’s”, now gives us a list of the “do’s.” Why did he start off with the bad stuff? Because we always need to be cognizant of the bad stuff, the “sin” first in order to see the good, the “fruit.” I was reading a devotional by John Piper on “hating what is evil and embracing what is good” (read it here: http://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/abhor-what-is-evil-hold-fast-to-what-is-good-11600930.html ) and it stood out to me that “good” and “evil” are objective. God is above everyone so regardless of what a psychologist or comedian or dictator or Bible teacher says, if it doesn’t match up to the Bible and God’s definition of “good” and “evil” then it’s not true. The mere fact that I can say “true” in that last sentence shows that I believe in absolute truth, as taught in the Bible. So why did I just say that I loved Paul’s list of “do’s” here? Because it’s the perfect contrast. Having gone through the sexual “don’ts” (Col. 3:5-6) and what we may view as the “smaller sins” last week (3:8-9) Paul’s juxtaposition of the “do’s” makes it clear what side we’re on.
vv. 12-13. The things Paul is about to tell us is because we are “the elect of God” which means we’re not converted solely by our own choice but in answer to “God’s effectual, free, uninfluenced, and sovereign grace” (Source 1). So because God predestined us as “holy and beloved“* we are to have the following character traits. But first Paul tells us to “put on”. Last week we really looked into what it meant to “put off” – it means to “renounce” and remember I said it was like taking off a coat and throwing it off a cliff, on fire? It can’t be put back on. Now we’re told to “put on“. In the same way we were told to “put on” the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18, Devotional #119) we’re told to “put on” these qualities or fruits. But do we “put them on” like a coat which is very easily taken off? No. When these are “put on” it’s like stepping out in a new body. We are “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and in the same way that we can’t step out of our skin, when God has made us a new creation we have “put on” these things that Paul is talking about and they can’t come off. Now that we understand how we get these and aren’t able to take them off, let’s look at the “character traits” or “fruit” or “qualities” that every Christian has:
Tender mercies. In the past we’ve talked about how “mercy” is not getting the punishment that we deserve. In other words we deserve hell so God showed us “mercy” by not sending us there if we accept Jesus. Since we’re very well acquainted with this concept as freely given to us by God we need to extend that same “mercy” to the others that we deal with on a daily basis. But we don’t extend this “mercy” coldly or angrily. We also aren’t egotistical about it (we will talk about “humility” in a minute). Instead we are to do this “tenderly” and from my experience this is easier for ladies to do than men. Ladies, generally have the ability to show love and compassion especially when they’re being merciful. But guys act differently around “the boys” and although they may show a little bit more tenderness around ladies it’s not something that comes naturally to them. And that’s why I love that Paul tells us to show “tender mercies“. The whole point is that you can’t do this on your own, it doesn’t come naturally to you. So when you’ve prayed for this and you “put on” Jesus you start to be able to do this. I guarantee you that both men and women will look at you differently when you display “tender mercies” to them – they will see that it’s not of you but that it’s of Jesus.
Kindness. This isn’t a “kindness” that you can manufacture on your own, just like the “tender mercies”. Yes, you can show kindness to someone on your own but what differentiates this from your own kindness is a Spirit filled “kindness.” For example I can be kind and help an old lady cross the street and when that’s done in 5 minutes I walk away and feel good about myself. When we have a Spirit-filled “kindness” it costs us. We may be called to love the un-lovable. We may have to be kind to someone for years before they will even listen to the message of Jesus. Human kindness rarely acts out of self-deprecation and pure good-will but that’s exactly what the “kindness” we “put on” looks like: we could care less about ourselves and seek for the person to only see Jesus.
Humility. This is something in my personal life I’ve been realizing I really need to work on. Everybody has pride, some people are just better at hiding it than others. When we think of ourselves as having done great things we’re really stealing from how great God is. My son is running for Vice President at his school and he has to write a speech. I was telling him to mention some of the things that he’s done were good qualities about himself. As he was thinking about it he didn’t want to say any because he told me he would be afraid that it would sound like bragging. I had to explain that there are qualities that God has worked in to us and it’s OK to tell people about those as long as we give God the glory. So humility is recognizing our place on God’s earth, in God’s will.
Meekness. We’ve talked about “meekness” before, it means “strength under control.” So we may know everything a person is talking about but instead of interrupting them we let them finish. Or maybe we are able to easily “overpower” them but we choose not to for the glory of the kingdom. An example is when my son wants to arm wrestle me and I let him win. This is “meekness.” What would it accomplish if I ripped his arm out of its socket slamming it through the table? Would I prove that I’m better than him? Maybe, but can you imagine all of the negative things that would happen because of that? So instead I put up a good fight but have self-control. So obviously this isn’t the same as “weakness” and we don’t always have to let a person “win.” But in the same way as arm wrestling a kid, when we have the opportunity to build friendships with non-believers or to encourage other Christians sometimes we need to deal with them with “kid gloves” we need to have the patience and discernment to control the spiritual strength we have. Yes, we may be bored or frustrated but ultimately a person will see Jesus better because of our “strength under control.”
Long-suffering. As with many of these we’ve talked about “long-suffering” before. I love the verses in the Bible where God stretches out His hand (like Psalm 18:16: “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters”). The picture is painted that God “suffers long” waiting for us, helping us. In the same way, we should “suffer long” for those who don’t know God. I believe this comes with the “humility” that we just talked about. Many times we can power through a tough situation because we’re convinced that if we just suffer, God will reward us. But we’re not called to suffer alone. So we “suffer long” for a soul not because we’re so great but because the soul of a person matters to God and we realize the worth.
Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another. The importance of unity within the church cannot be overstated. I will be the first to admit I’ve thought about leaving churches before because people hurt my feelings or made me angry, thinking “this isn’t worth it…I’m done.” But I’ve read my Bible enough to know that Jesus’ main desire for the church is to stay united in Him through all adversity. If we had done this than there wouldn’t be so many denominations, but we’re humans and we get our feelings hurt or don’t have patience for others. So when we “bear with” each other and “forgive” each other we exemplify Jesus and He is glorified. If you noticed above what I wanted to do and what the Bible told me to do were two very different things.
Paul finishes his character traits, specifically about “forgiveness”, stating “if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” As always our model is Christ. I can’t explain any better than that!
*”Holy and beloved” – This “holiness” is something that is given to us by God. We can never be holy in the way that God is holy, but He makes us “set apart for his service” so the underlying meaning of “holiness” here is like “sanctification” (Source 2). And regarding “beloved”, MacArthur says, “election means believers are the objects of God’s incomprehensible special love” (Source 1). The understanding of “holy” and “beloved” is tied to the “elect of God” that we just saw.
vv. 14-15. Paul tells us again to “put on” but this time we’re told what the most important thing is: “love.” Is this “love” like “I love hotdogs”, or is it deeper? Does it mean commitment and showing favor to someone regardless of what they have done to you? I think it’s that one. And we’re told that, that kind of “love” is the “bond of perfection.” Another way to understand this is “perfect bond of unity” (Source 1). This makes total sense having just talked about unity in verse 13!
After we’re told about that “love” we’re reminded that the “peace of God” should rule our hearts. We can’t allow something to “rule our hearts” if we’ve never experienced it. This peace is a contentment with whatever happens to us. Knowing that God will take care of us no matter what is very reassuring. It allows us to keep the unity (“one body”) and the right mindset of being “thankful.” When we take a step back this section clearly states exactly what we need and what every human is looking for. We just don’t like what we have to do to get there. Let me break it down: we have to put off our old life (vv. 5-9) we put on the new character traits (vv. 12-13), we put on love (v. 14) and we let the peace of God rule our hearts (v. 15). At that point we’re too content to have disagreements so we recognize what God has done and we are thankful. When we’re kept busy with the things of the Lord we’re too busy to complain about what we don’t have (and really don’t need) instead we focus on how blessed we are.
v. 16. As I was reading through this verse I thought about Paul writing these words. And I thought about how I write words and a year later I’ll read back over them and I think “wow, I don’t remember writing that.” But these aren’t just Paul’s words, it was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). So although I’m not sure if Paul’s memory of everything he wrote was always written on his heart we know that the forty something writers of the Bible had a very unique ministry for the Lord. They were writing the words of God – something that we are told to write on our hearts.
We notice that when it is the “word of Christ” that dwells inside of us we are able to “teach and admonish one another.” We don’t need an apostle or angel or specially certified administrator to teach us. The dark ages were a very dark time because the church would only allow their teachers to read the Bible and since they were the primary ones teaching people how to read they controlled how much people heard the Bible. Sadly that meant that their doctrines were pushed on people more than the “word of Christ.” And so it finally took people standing up, learning how to read and securing Bibles for the masses to take the power back. To be honest, I understand why the church leaders at that time were concerned and Paul actually warns us about it here by using the word “wisdom.” If people are left up to their own devices and do not have wise biblical counseling and teaching they can come up with many false doctrines and spread much confusion. But the fear of what might happen cannot dissuade us from people being able to read the Bible. We must have faith that Jesus will keep His word intact and follow His directions to let it dwell in us “in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with Grace in our hearts to the Lord.”
Back in Ephesians 5:19 (Devotional #109) we were told to exhort each other with spiritual songs. There we were commanded to “speak psalms” to “one another” because it is the word of God. Isn’t it interesting that’s the same thing we just heard here?! Also we were told to sing “hymns and spiritual songs” to each other because the Lord’s truth is found in correct worship music. And here, as we sing that music “to the Lord” we keep “grace in our hearts.” Another way to translate this is to have “gratitude in our hearts.”
v. 17. We’re reminded that no matter what we do (whether “word or deed”) we do everything in the name of our Master Jesus. “Word or deed” encompasses everything that we’ve talked about in this devotional, and floods into every area in our lives. When it says we do this in the “name” of Jesus what does that mean? Well, the name “Jesus” is Yehowshuwa in Hebrew (Source 3) and Iesous in Greek but either way it means “Yahweh is salvation” (Source 4). And so we are supposed to act and speak consistently with “God who is salvation.” We aren’t messengers who preach our own wishes or gospel instead we preach the only One who can save – Jesus alone. And it is “through” Jesus that we and anyone else will have access to “God the Father.”
Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1838
Source 2: N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, p. 141.
Source 3: Yehowshuwa, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H3091&t=KJV