The Church of Jesus Christ is marked by certain virtues, and when these virtues are applied to the relationships of the church they hold those relationships together. This is brought out very clearly in Colossians 3:12-14 where Paul lists these virtues and tells the church that they are to “put on” certain things that are indicative of the New Man, Jesus Christ, the last of which is love, which holds everything together.
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, forgive each other, as the Lord has forgiven you so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love that binds everything together in perfect harmony.
The overarching themes found in the letter to the Colossians are the supremacy and the sufficiency of Christ. Paul was writing to this young church because there seems to have been teachings cropping in the Lycus valley region that were acknowledging Jesus as an important element to spiritual fulfillment but were offering other mystical solutions to true spirituality (2:18,19). He, therefore, writes to them and confronts those errors by putting forth the deity of Christ and thus the supremacy of Christ over all of creation, and particularly over the Church (1:15-20), the new creation. Jesus is not merely the supreme ruler over everything, he is also the only sufficient Savior of mankind (2:9-14). As a result of this knowledge of Jesus’ supremacy and sufficiency, the Colossians are to live a certain kind of lifestyle that Paul begins to talk about in detail in the third chapter.
Paul uses the imagery of clothing when he talks about those vices which the Colossians are to “put off” and the virtues they are to “put on”. The reason that they are to put off certain behaviors is that those behaviors reflect the covenant head they are represented by. He does this by talking about the “old man” and the “new man” (3:10). That is to say that Christians should be a people who are putting off those vices which are distinctive of the old man (3:5-9), which is Adam, and they are to put on those virtues that are distinctive of the new man, Jesus Christ (3:12-14). In other words, Paul expects the Christians in Colossae to live lives that reflect the One whom they are united to, which is Jesus.
What we see in the passage we are looking at is that when these virtues are applied to the life of the church, they result in love, which binds the church together in perfect harmony. This is important for us today because we live in a very self-centered culture that extols the virtues of selfishness and teaches the dogma of self-esteem rather than humility and selflessness and those vices have no place in the life of the church. Paul tells the Colossians they are to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient and forgiving, and he anchors those virtues in love, which binds everything together. Think of love as the last garment that is put on that holds all the other garments in place. Love allows us to be kind and humble and meek with our brothers and sisters in the church; out of love flow the virtues of forgiveness and compassion and patience. I would go so far as to say that without love none of the virtues that Paul has listed are able to be rightly practiced in the church. There can be a superficial and shallow exhibition of these virtues, but nothing that can be described as coming from the heart, which is our innermost being where all of our intellect, volition, and affections flow from.
The love we have for one another is foremost due to those who gather in our local church being “holy and beloved by God”. Paul reminds them in verse 12 that they are a people set apart by God and loved by him. This view of other believers should be the motivation for us to exhibit the loving acts that are described in this passage. When the church practices these virtues from a genuine and sincere heart in the recognition that those who sit in the pews next to us on Sunday morning are holy and beloved by God, then the church finds unity–it comes together in perfect harmony.
Those united to Jesus comprise one Body, and that Body is made up of many members, and those members gather together for the purpose of worshiping the One who redeemed them from slavery to sin. This passage is a wonderful reminder that we are to also love those members of our local church, as obvious as that sounds, and to not simply have a superficial exterior towards them. But perhaps we need to do some searching of our thoughts and motivations and examine how we view those in our local congregations to see if we are genuinely being compassionate and kind and humble and patient and forgiving with them, and if we are not, then maybe it is because we do not love them as we should and repentance needs to take place.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20