Colossians 3:12-17

Paul mentioned the new self in verse 10 and said it was being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.  He also said that Christ is all and in all.  In light of those truths, he now explains what the new self looks like.  If our identity is in Christ and we are  becoming conformed to His image, we should take on His characteristics.  We are to become what we are – new creatures in Christ identified by our Christ-likeness.  He already told us what we must put aside – anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying.  Now he tells us what we must put on.  We must appropriate the virtues of our new identity.  We must become like Christ.

It is not enough to put off the characteristics of the old self – immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying (5, 8-9).  We also must put on the virtues of the new self.  The new self is being renewed to the image of Christ – renewed to being an image-bearer of the One who created it (10).  So putting on the virtues of the new self is really putting on the virtues of Christ.  And when we put on His virtues we become what we are – new creatures in Christ.

The virtues Paul lists in verses 12-13 are effectively the opposite of what he told us to put off in verses 8-9.  Instead of anger and wrath we are to have a heart of compassion (bowels of mercy – KJV).  Instead of malice and slander we are to put on kindness.  Instead of abusive speech we are to take on humility (different from the self-abasement of the false teachers – 2:23 – which is centered on self – this is a spirit that comes from a full view of God).  And instead of lying to one another we are to be typified by gentleness and patience.  We are to put off the characteristics that are based in selfishness and put on those that are based in Christ.  Our identity is in Him so we act like Him.

All these have a direct effect on our interpersonal relationships.  They flow directly out of verse 11 where he said that we are united in Christ and Christ is all and in all.  All followers of Christ have their identities in Him so there are no longer differences between us – we are the same in Christ.  Thus we treat others as co-image-bearers of Christ.  We treat them as we would treat Christ and as Christ would treat them.

Notice that we put on these virtues because we are chosen of God and are holy and beloved.  Earlier Paul told us that when we were alienated from God and hostile in mind toward Him and engaged in evil deeds that He reconciled us through the body of the Son and presented us before Him blameless and beyond reproach (1:21-22).  Our salvation is all of Him.  He loved us and chose us to be His holy people – set apart for Himself (Since God chose you to be the holy people whom He loves – NLT).  He loved us, redeemed us, and now has us.  Thus we take on the virtues of the One to whom we belong.  Our response to His love and redemption is to put on what makes us more like Him.

That Paul tells us to put on these virtues implies effort.  We do not just wait for these to characterize us.  We work to set our minds on things above and seek the things above (1-2) and walk in a manner worthy of Christ (1:10), but do it all in His strength according to His glorious might (1:11).  Thus we strive but strive in His strength.  It is ultimately His Spirit that brings these virtues to fruition in our lives.  We walk by the Spirit and bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-24).

As part of putting on these virtues we bear with one another and forgive each other.  We are tolerant of each other’s faults and are not easily offended.  We are sympathetic and forgiving to our brothers and sisters who share the same identity with us.  Even when they wrong us we forgive them because we know all that Christ has forgiven us.  We are not intolerant of those who are different from us or with whom we share little in common.  We see everyone through the lens of our own redemption.  None of us is superior to any other because all of us were dead in our transgressions and the uncircumcision of our flesh when He made us alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions (2:13).

When we understand God’s mercy in the gospel and how much we have been forgiven, it will cause us to be merciful to others.  When we appreciate all that we take to God for forgiveness even now as His children, it will make us forgiving of our fellow children in Christ.  When we realize that He not only forgives but also restores us to fellowship, it will cause us to forgive and restore those who have wronged us.  And when we understand that He does it daily, repeatedly, continually, it will cause us to repeatedly forgive those around us.

What underlies all the virtues is love.  Love binds them together in a perfect bond of unity (this could also mean that love binds the believers together in unity, but the context seems to imply that love binds the virtues together).  Paul already said that he heard of the love the Colossians have for all the saints (1:4).  Now he commands them to make love the overriding characteristic of their lives.  Without love there is no compassion, mercy, etc.  We are chosen, holy, and beloved.  Thus love marks us as His.  And if we are marked by His love, then we should be marked by our love shown to others.  This is exactly what Christ told His disciples (Jn 13:35).  The greatest love of all enabled us to live in Christ (Jn 15:13), and as we walk in the One who expressed that love we cannot help but take on His love in our actions toward others.  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might love through Him.  In this is love, not what we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (I Jn 4:7-11).

Another characteristic that should govern believers’ actions toward each other is peace.  The peace of Christ is not an inner peace that comes from obedience; it is the peace that must rule the body of believers (the second part of the verse establishes its context).  The body lives in love and unity (11) and so must have peace within the community because its members were called (chosen of God) together in peace.  Christ made peace with God through the cross (1:20), and it is His peace that must govern the hearts of His followers and rule their relationships with each other.

A spirit of thankfulness must also pervade the community and govern relationships.  The thankful person is focused on God rather than himself.  Thus he is not petty or critical or sensitive.  A body made up of thankful disciples is one that exists in peace and unity because thankfulness precludes dissension.  Conflict and thankfulness cannot coexist.

Just as we are to let Christ’s peace rule in us, we are to let the word of Christ richly dwell within us also.  The word of Christ could refer both to the teachings about Christ as well as Christ’s own words.  Perhaps the best way to think about it is the gospel message (the word of truth – 1:5).  It is through the gospel that we are to see all things and all people.  This goes right along with loving others and forgiving others as we have been forgiven.

That it is to richly dwell within us means it is to be at the core of every activity of the body.  It is to penetrate the worship of the community through psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  Everything about community life is to be centered on Christ and the gospel.  The message about Christ should take up permanent residence among the Colossians; it should be constantly at the center of the community’s activities and worship.  “Richly” suggests that this constant reference to the word of Christ should not be superficial or passing but that it should be a deep and penetrating contemplation that enables the message to have transforming power in the life of the community.  (Douglas J Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon; The Pillar New Testament Commentary: 286.)

It is through gospel-centered worship that we are to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.  Earlier Paul said that these things make up his ministry as an apostle (1:28).  But here he says that teaching and admonishing in all wisdom are the responsibilities of all believers.  All image-bearers are to teach and admonish one another regardless of office or gifts.  We are united in Christ and governed by love and peace.  Thus we will not let a brother or sister stray from the truth without going after them.  Love dictates that no one is allowed to fall without someone else coming alongside.  Members of one body do whatever is necessary to preserve the body.  We teach, admonish, encourage (I Thess 5:11), and spur one another to good works (Heb 10:24).  We continually set Christ at the center of the community and lovingly preserve it through ministering to each other.

We worship with and minister to each other in a spirit of thankfulness.  We sing with thankfulness in our hearts to God.  As mentioned above, thankfulness establishes the right focus for community life.  Thankfulness precludes dissension and so enables teaching and admonishing.  It spurs worship.  And worship centered on the word of Christ teaches and admonishes and preserves the body.  Thus thanksgiving preserves the body.  It is the right response to the word of Christ.

Verse 17 summarizes what it means to live as the new self identified with Christ.  EVERY activity of the one who lives in Christ – every word or deed – is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.  This is logical.  If our identity is in Him and He now lives in us and we are becoming more and more like Him by taking on His virtues, then it follows that everything we do has His name on it.  How can it be any other way?  His word richly dwells within us.  He is all and in all.  His peace rules our hearts.  He chose us and set us apart for Himself.  He created us for Himself.  We are being renewed to His image.  His love permeates everything about us and governs our relationships with others.  We are nothing without Him and everything IN Him.  How can anything have value apart from Him?  And why would we do anything without doing it through Him?  Our lives are entirely wrapped up in Christ; thus every activity of our lives must be done in His name.

Not only do we do all things in His name – we do them while giving thanks through Him to the Father.  Even our thanksgiving to God is done through Christ and in His name.  We give thanks because God qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light and delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:12-13).  If we truly understand that – and that is the message of the word of Christ – then our response will be thankfulness.  Thus the summary statement on how to live as a new creature in Christ includes the command to give thanks.  A life without thanksgiving is a life apart from union with Christ and apart from an understanding of His word.

This verse somewhat returns to the message of 2:6-7.  There Paul encourages the Colossians to walk in Christ as they received Christ.  They are to live firmly rooted in the gospel.  The same word of Christ is to provide the basis of their lives and lead to being built up in Him.  Just as this text says – their lives are to be all about Christ.  And he ends both texts in the same way – believers are to be overflowing with gratitude.  The one firmly rooted in the gospel overflows with gratitude because he understands all that Christ has done.  And a life based in Christ does all things – all words, all deeds – in His name.

Concluding Thoughts
So what does the life that is being renewed to the image of the Son look like?

  • It is compassionate.
  • It is kind.
  • It is humble.
  • It is gentle.
  • It is patient.
  • It is tolerant.
  • It is forgiving.
  • It is loving.
  • It seeks peace.
  • It teaches and admonishes.
  • It is saturated with the gospel.
  • It does all things in the name of Christ.
  • It is thankful.
  • It is thankful.
  • It is thankful.

None of these characteristics comes about from a focus on anything or anyone other than Christ.  The self-centered man is completely incapable of appropriating them.  If our eyes are on ourselves we appropriate the characteristics of the old self – anger, wrath, malice, etc.  That is what we are apart from Christ and so that is what we become when we lose sight of Him.  It is only when we live in Him with our eyes set on things above that we cultivate His virtues and become characterized by what we are in Him – the new self.

Notice too that the items on this list are not dependent on others.  They govern relationships with others but they are not dependent on their actions.  These are not responses to in-kind actions toward us (it is notable that justice is not mentioned in this list or in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5).  We are not to be kind only to those who are kind to us.  We are to be kind – no contingency.  We are to be gentle and patient.  We are to be all these things because they characterize the One who lives in us and who lives INSTEAD of us (Gal 2:20).  And we are to return to others what God has given us.  In that sense, they are responses – but responses to God rather than to others.  God acts, we respond to God’s actions.  Others act, we respond to God’s actions.

It is also worth noting the emphasis Paul puts on thankfulness.  As pointed out in the notes, the thankful man shows he has a right understanding of both Christ and the gospel.  He understands where he is in the world and sees things through eyes full of Christ rather than himself.  Thankfulness is the right response to the gospel and is a clear sign of one being renewed to the image of Christ.  An ungrateful man cannot claim to be firmly rooted in the word of Christ or have it richly dwelling within him.  And if that is the case, then he will almost certainly not be characterized by the virtues listed above.  Thankfulness is both cause and effect.  It causes us to appropriate the virtues of Christ by focusing on Him and is the effect of the virtues that are appropriated from that focus.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  (Ephesians 4:31-32)

 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.  (Ephesians 5:18-20)

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