Colossians 3.12-17: On with the New

colors 098We belong to the new self; that is, the new humanity that has been established in Christ.  So, in addition to turning away from the characteristics associated with the old self, followers of Christ must also embrace the practices and characteristics of this new creation, “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3.10).

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (TNIV).

God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…  This would be a typical way to describe Israel (see e.g., Deut 7.6-8), but what used to apply to Israel now applies to those in Christ—the church has become the New Israel.  Before we cry foul and say that’s not fair, remember a couple things: (1) God can do whatever he wants with his clay, the people he created (See Isa 45.9; Jer 18.6; Rom 9-11); (2) Jesus served as the faithful Israelite by doing what the Jewish people themselves were supposed to have done in the first place: be a light and blessing to the nations.  As a result of Jesus’ faithfulness to Israel’s calling, the Gentiles may be included in the people of God.

Interestingly, the Colossian believers’ status as God’s elect people serves as the grounds (“therefore”) for putting on the virtues of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Reflect on these virtues… seriously, meditate on them.

Notice that they are all “other-centered” virtues or graces.  Dunn recognizes the incredible amount of strength and dependence on God that it takes to practice these graces.  He also remarks, “And without such an attitude toward others no group of individuals can become and grow as a community, with a proper care for others and a willingness to submerge one’s own personal interests” (230).

I also don’t think it’s accidental that these qualities remind us of Jesus.  Since we belong to the “new self” that is Christ, it’s necessary to put on his characteristics.  And if we emulate him and seek to grow into him, we will flourish as a faith community—as his body (3.15).

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Let’s face it, there are many people, even those inside the faith community, who we would prefer not to have any association or interaction with whatsoever.  But our calling demands that we “put up” with one another.

This entails “valuing each other beyond individual hurts and faults” (Dunn, 231).   This is essential because we all mess up and need to be shown grace in our imperfect moments.

Jesus is again the pattern (cf. also Eph 4.32; 5.2).  We’re called to demonstrate to others the same forgiveness that Jesus gave to us on the cross, forgiving us while we were still sinners (cf. Rom 5.8).

Value the person above the hurt.  And forgive as the Lord forgave you.

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Love completes the ensemble. J  Paul most likely has Christ’s sacrificial love in mind.  Commenting on this verse, Dunn aptly states, “It is love (and only this love) which is strong enough to hold together a congregation of disparate individuals” (Dunn, 232; cf. Eph 4.1-3).  While the teaching’s more explicit in Ephesians 4, I think the point is the same here: God’s people are to be united in love.  This is to be the hallmark of the Christian body (cf. John 17).

Can you see it?  Can you see how beautiful and wonderful our society would be if we put these virtues into practice?  Father God, your people cry out and long for the completion of the new humanity.  May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Verse 15: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Generally speaking, peace represents the absence of hostility and the state of well being.  This is the state believers find themselves in Christ, which has already been spoken of in Colossians 1.20-22; 2.15 (Dunn, 233).  This represents the realization of the Jewish hope, the fulfillment of the promised covenant of peace (see e.g., Isa 9.6-7; 54.10; Ezk 34.25-31; 37.26).

However, this peace is to “rule” in our hearts.  By this, Paul means that “the peace that characterizes the “new self” should be a ruling principle or virtue in our innermost being that it should affect all our relationships—and, in this context, our relationships with one another” (Moo, 283).  That is, the peace that we’ve experienced in Christ should be our guide for all that we do, overflowing from our hearts into our relationships with one another.  As those reconciled in Christ, our relationships will look different from the world’s because they will be marked by peace, as opposed to violence per se.  This is the peace to which we are called.

And be thankful. Again, a spirit of thankfulness is to be the basic attitude of the Christian (See 1.3, 12; 2.7; 3.15, 16, 17; 4.2).

16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly… What is the message of Christ?  It’s everything that has been spoken about him in the first two chapters of the letter: his superiority, the reconciliation that’s occurring in him, and the hope that we have in that victory.  This message about Christ must remain at the center of the faith community and its worship… as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

The more mature I become, the more I value Christian hymns and praise to God through song.  In the first century, hymns were in all likelihood “a necessary and invaluable means of implanting Christian teaching” (Dunn, 237).  But I believe that songs sung from the Spirit can have similar effects today.  A friend turned me onto the St. Olaf Choir… beautiful stuff.  You can browse through their cd’s here.

Finally, verse 17 gives us the all encompassing catch all phrase, And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians has provided us with a beautiful picture of how God is forming a new community through Jesus Christ.  But, in a way, the success of this project depends on us.  We must continue to grow into him.  For as it is written, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (2.6-7).

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