Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. (Colossians 3:11-14 BSB)
If this were the only verses that spoke of the Christian life, we might falsely assume that it was merely one of performance. But we need to back up a few verses to see these words first: “you have been raised with Christ” (Col. 3:1), “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), “Christ…is your life” (Col. 3:4), and “[You] have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10).
The Christian life begins with and is sustained by the work of God’s Spirit in our innermost being – our spirit – to bring new life into existence and to indwell us with His presence. Then and only then and only by God’s power are we able to put on the new self, or to put on Christ in our thoughts and actions.
Beware of a disconnect between the life of God and your actions. I fear that too often, though we may know that we have a new heart and mind in Christ, we act and react on our own, in our own fleshly habits, or by copying the world around us. In other words, there is a disconnect between the new spiritual reality of the believer and our actual actions and reactions. We live in the Spirit but act and react in the flesh.
So Paul is writing, as the Spirit inspired him, to instruct us in the practical application of the life of Christ. The Spirit must transform our thoughts and our actions. He must flow through us completely, and just as take off the works of the flesh one at a time, like dirty clothes, so now we put on the clothing of Christ, also one at a time, as the Spirit inspires us. Really the question is: How does a Spirit controlled heart think and act and speak?
We should ask ourselves daily, am I acting and reacting in the Spirit or in the flesh. Three things are the Spirit’s concern for us to know in these verses above:
Clothe yourself with kindness
Five traits are mentioned in this general category: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Compassion is the capacity to care about the other person and consider his or her perspective. Kindness is to desire to bless and help another. Humility is the opposite of pride, and means not to think of our selves as “too good” for others, but willingly associate with them.
Gentleness is the divine capacity to navigate difficult discussions and interactions with grace and sensitivity. Patience is the passive capacity to both endure difficult interactions and circumstances, and the active capacity to persist in doing what is right.
There is a great deal of speaking in today’s world of “just being yourself” and of demanding that others “accept me for who I am.” There is some good in this of course, for we all must accept our limitations, as John the Baptist said, “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). Lustful and selfish ambition does much harm to the church (James 3:16). Each of us should appreciate and respect our individuality as a believer in Christ.
But this is often taken as an excuse for anger and sinful interactions. “This is just the way I am,” we can say, blaming God for our own weaknesses. If we will just “be ourselves” in our interactions with others, then we should be the new self in Christ. We should think and react with one another as Christ would, for that is who the Christian is in his new character. Depend on Him daily and let His kindness soak into you and into your conversations continually.
Bear with one another
We do not need to react to everything that is said to us. We can be patient and considerate. It was said of Christ:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
If Christ could endure such mistreatment, surely with Him in us, we can in His grace endure one another. “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11).
There are rules in scripture of how to deal with conflict. We ought to be proactive in settling matters when there is a larger conflict or the suspicion of anger or distrust (Matt. 5:23-25 and Matt. 18:15-17). We should be kind and not argumentative (2 Tim. 2:24-26). But there will never be a church family, or even another Christian who we will know very well, where we will not need to exercise this trait of “bearing with” – and the same is true about each of us. They will have to “bear with” us as well.
Put on love
“Over all these things” means that love is both the source of our transformation and love should penetrate all the characteristics of Christian character. And it is love that brings about Christian unity, the “bond of perfect unity” (BSB) or “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (ESV) or the “bond of perfection” (KJV).
Love (agape) differs from kindness and patience in that it is pro-active, like the love that Christ has toward men (2 Cor. 5:14). Rather than trying to punish one another into submission — we usually do this in a passive aggressive fashion and avoid them or “give them the cold shoulder” — we should actively love them. Love is transformational in our deepest being.
Love must be shaped for the needs of the moment, and especially by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The diversity of human personalities being what it is, love may be expressed toward one by being with him, and toward another by leaving him alone. Love take into account the life and needs of the individual, and it is to do something gracious for another.
Because the source of the Christian life is no less than the Spirit of God, we should have the highest standards and expectations of what He will do in us. These traits are like the fruit of the Spirit, and the root of God’s work is in Himself. He does not begin with us and our weaknesses when He seeks to determine our fruit. He starts with Himself and His power.
Let His kindness, His forbearance, and His love determine your kindness, forbearance, and love toward others.
- Can you relate to the idea of there being a “disconnect” between the life of Christ in the innermost person and the daily words and actions of the Christian?
- The disconnect is resolved only by (a) being aware that it exists and (b) going back to the basics of our life in Christ. Where does this disconnect exist in your life? Where does the Spirit need to exercise control of your thoughts and words and actions?
- Too much worldly entertainment is one of the problems in our lives. How much worldly entertainment do you expose yourself to each day?
- Can you name a person who has been kind to you? How did their kindness touch you?
- Can you name a person who has exercised forbearance and patience toward you? Can you do that toward another person this week?
- Loving others is more than just thinking kind thoughts about them. What actions can you take to help someone know that you love and care about them?