Passage: Colossians 3:12-17
I was recently bought a new sweater for Father’s Day. It’s a great colour, fits perfectly and looks good (according to my wife, who bought it!). I love my new sweater. But in my cupboard, there’s also a very old sweater. The colour has gone, the sleeves are worn through, it’s lost its shape (the sweater not me) and it looks messy. What I should do is just throw it away, but I haven’t. Why? Because I’ve become so attached to it. So, I have two sweaters in my cupboard to choose from, the old and the new. One looks great and the other should never see the light of day again. Maybe you can relate to this. It might not be a sweater but a dress, a shirt or a pair of slippers. I’ve begun with this illustration, because this is the metaphor that the Apostle Paul uses to describe our old life (pre-Christ) and our new life (in Christ). In v1-4, he makes clear that Christ is now our life and then in v5-11, Paul negatively describes the old clothes that we’re to metaphorically take off- sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed (idolatry), anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lying. Then in v12-17, he positively describes the new clothes that we’re to put on in their place.
What are the new clothes? (v12-14)
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Not surprisingly, these are the opposite of the characteristics of the old nature. Although this is true for the individual Christian, the thrust through the section is on the community of believers, ie the local church. You see, the old clothes of v5-11 destroy community. Where there is sexual immorality, greed, anger, bitterness, back-biting, gossip and lying, then that community of believers will be sowing the seeds of its own destruction. But the new clothes of v12-14, only serve to foster community. As we are compassionate to one another; kind and think well of each other; humble and willing to serve one another; gentle, not over-bearing and patient towards each other, then that community of believers will prevail. That’s what Paul wanted for the believers in Colossae, and it’s what the Lord wants for Ashford Cong. But Paul is not under any illusion. He is fully aware that although chosen, holy and dearly loved by God, we remain sinners and things will sometimes go pear-shaped. Hence v13- “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” From time to time, we will do things as Christians that hack each other off. We’ll say things that are insensitive or harsh. We’ll fall into the trap of judging one another. Welcome to the local church. But the crucial thing is this- what do we choose to do when these things happen? Remember both sweaters are in the cupboard. Will we choose to put on the old sweater and get angry, bitter and begin to draw up battle lines? Or will we choose to put on the new sweater and respond with grace and compassion. Will we look to the Cross of Christ and be humbled by our unmerited forgiveness and in the light of that, choose to forgive whoever has hurt us. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The clue is in the tenses!! “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (v14) The unique thing about a local church is that we did not choose each other, but God chose us for each other. His is a love that breaks through all human barriers, divisions and disappointments.
How do we put them on? (v15-17)
Paul then gives us four actions on our part that as we practice these things, we will discover that God is working in us and amongst us as a local church.
Action 1- Let the peace of Christ rule
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (v15) Through Christ, we have peace with God, but we also have peace with one another. When it says that the peace of Christ rules, the original word for rules is to control, like a referee controls a match. So, whenever there’s a dispute, the ref’s decision is final, the peace of Christ wins. When Christians throw their toys out of the pram in a dispute and push off to another church, they’re raiding the cupboard for the old sweater. The peace of Christ is not something we establish but it is something that we work to keep.
Action 2- Let the word of Christ dwell
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (v16) False teachers in Colossae were telling the Christians that Jesus was a good place to start, but they needed more than him to have a full relationship with God. The antidote to such false teaching is the gospel. This is what we’re to teach and admonish one another with and to sing praises to God for, both individually and collectively.
Action 3- Let the name of Christ motivate
“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.” (v17) The name of Christ is not what he’s called but is the Bible’s way of summarizing his whole nature and character. For us to act ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’ is to live in unison with him. When we do this, we’re bringing glory to Him. So whether it is raising our children, doing our jobs, spending money, posting on social media, choosing what to wear, or whatever we do, we do it all to glorify Jesus.
Action 4- Be continually thankful for Christ
“Be thankful” (v15); “with gratitude in your hearts to God” (v16); “giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (v17) A heart of thankfulness makes all the difference. This is not merely thankfulness for circumstances (job, money, home etc) although these are things to be thankful for. It’s thankfulness to God for what he’s done for us in Christ. I once had a post-it note on my computer which read- ‘I am accepted by God, not on the basis of my personal performance, but on the basis of the infinitely perfect righteousness of Christ.’ The gospel truth we need reminding of daily. Amen