Colossians 3:12-17 (EHV)
12 Therefore, as God’s elect, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint against anyone else. Forgive, just as Christ forgave you. 14 And, in addition to all these things, put on love, which ties things together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ control your hearts, to which you were also called, in one body. And be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And everything 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.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may live holy lives as you have made us holy through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It seems we’re being asked to ‘put on’ or ‘clothe’ ourselves with many things these days.
For example, we’re being told to ‘slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide’ on such things as sun cream, sun shirts, broad brimmed hats, sunglasses and so on during these summer months to protect ourselves from skin cancer.
More recently, we’re being told to wear masks indoors to keep ourselves, and those around us, safe from the most talked about virus in the world.
In response to growing frustrations and outbursts of anger, we’re also being told to put on some patience and understanding when we’re dealing with health care professionals, police, and people behind the counter, after all, they’re not always the source of all our problems. They shouldn’t have to be the ones who ‘wear’ the results of our anxious and frustrated emotions.
But even though we’re told to put on these items and behaviours, most of these can also be taken off again and don’t have to be worn all the time.
For instance, you wouldn’t normally wear sun cream, hats, and sunglasses indoors. They’re for outdoor use. You know you can take them off when you’re inside and put them on when you’re outside.
Similarly, you don’t have to wear masks all the time. When you’re at home, outside or by yourself, you may choose to take off your mask.
Although, in regard to well-mannered, compassionate, and thoughtful words and actions, these should be worn all the time, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, and this is part of the point St Paul is getting at today when he tells us as Christians to put on certain attributes and qualities.
You see, the problem is, we may choose to wear such attributes as compassion, kindness, humility and patience for a while on Sunday morning, or when things are going well for us, but there may be other places or other situations where we might wear something different.
We’re likely to put on such things as impatience, cynicism, criticism, and nastiness when the shopping lines are getting long, or when children (or parents) are testing our patience, or when someone cuts us off at a roundabout, or when our spouse upsets us, or when someone lets us down, or when we don’t agree with the measures introduced to keep us safe, and so on.
But for us as Christians, St Paul describes the ‘clothing’ all people of God are to wear every day and in everything we do.
For Christians there’s no question about what to wear, or how long we’re to wear such things. It’s the same clothing for every person for every day and every occasion, whether we’re indoors or outdoors. Christians are to continually put on the set of qualities which we’ve received from Christ himself.
But we also need to understand we can never put on the good, wholesome, and spiritually mature attributes by ourselves. It’s simply not in our power or abilities to make ourselves good. We also can’t just cover up and make out Christ has given us a holy façade to wear on special occasions. St Paul knows our problem isn’t just what we’re wearing or with our words and actions alone. Because sin has affected us so deeply, St Paul reminds us how God treats our sinful nature in a wholistic way.
For starters, St Paul reminds us that we’re God’s chosen people.
Just like we don’t always know how to make the right choices in our words and actions, we also can’t, or won’t choose to submit ourselves under God’s rule and authority. We didn’t choose God. He chose us.
God chose you before the world was made. He chose you even though you can’t make yourselves good. He chose to love cantankerous, recalcitrant, and obstinate people like you and me. He chose to send his own Son into this world as a human in order to save humanity. He chose to punish his own dearly loved Son instead of you and me. He chose you to be his dearly loved children who would receive the innocence and purity of Christ. He chose to offer you eternal life with him. He also chose you to faithfully receive and put on Christ.
God has chosen you to put on Christ because Jesus is the only One who has a pure heart of compassion. Only Jesus is always kind. Only Jesus is purely humble. Only Jesus is constantly gentle and patient. Only Jesus puts up with stubborn and recalcitrant people and forgives you for all the sins you do and say and think.
In this way, you’re not to be compassionate, gentle, patient, humble, or forgiving by your own strength or power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, who is Christ’s enduring presence with you.
Now, you may be wondering how you can possibly do this. How can you put to death the old sinful qualities? How can you keep putting on these holy attributes and qualities if they only come from Christ?
Well, St Paul goes on to give us a couple of hints.
He tells us to let Christ rule in our hearts and to dwell on the word of Christ.
In a sense, he’s telling us we become what we worship.
For instance, if you keep thinking about, dwelling on, and focusing your attention on yourselves and satisfying your own fears or desires, you’ll naturally become selfish and self-seeking and will be willing to sacrifice anyone and everything around you in order to get what you want. That’s when people will see that you’re not wearing Christ because it’s all about you.
You see, while you serve your own fears and desires, you’re enslaved by them and their defensive behaviours. You’ll find yourselves doing things which hurt others, and you’ll feel like you have no control over your emotions and responses.
While people may still try to love you, be kind to you, and forgive you, they may not respect or look up to you because the words and actions you wear aren’t always worthy of respect and thanks.
On the other hand, the more you keep thinking about, dwelling on, and focusing your attention on the Word of God and trusting he satisfies your deepest longings of love, acceptance, and security, you’ll learn to be more like him in word and deed and so you’ll naturally bear the same spiritual fruit of compassion, mercy, kindness, humility, and patience that Christ himself bears.
As you keep dwelling on who Jesus is and what he does for you, the more willingly you’ll pass on what he does and says so that you love as you’ve been loved, forgive as you’ve been forgiven, and serve as you’ve been served by Christ.
And Jesus Christ does love you. Jesus Christ does forgive you. Jesus Christ does hear your prayers. Jesus Christ is with you always, no matter what you’re going through. Jesus Christ has prepared a place for you and me to dwell with him in his kingdom of grace and truth and light and love.
You see, as you submit to, and trust in, God’s Word, the word of Christ will rule in your hearts; you may be surprised by the compassion you feel, the patience you experience, the grace by which you respond to difficult people, and the willingness to forgive even the most hurtful of actions. You may be surprised people will respect you, not because you’re a good person, but because people see Christ at work in you.
Whether they realise it or not, they may come to see your patient ears as the ears of Christ, your caring actions full of the compassion of Christ, your long-suffering for others as the patience and gentleness of Christ, and your gracious words as the loving words of forgiveness from Christ himself.
In other words, if you become what you worship, then when you truly worship your Lord Jesus Christ and trust his words and work, then you’ll naturally become more like him and bear some of his attributes and qualities.
It’s in this way, as you constantly look to your Lord Jesus Christ and receive his gifts of grace upon grace, that the peace of Christ will rule in your hearts, rather than what you fear or desire. As you keep on receiving forgiveness and mercy and compassion from him, your hearts will be filled with thanks and praise.
The best way to look constantly to your Lord Jesus Christ is by dwelling less on what you want, or fear, and instead let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. This is done through constantly reading and meditating on the Word of God, responding to the Word of God through prayer, and by singing the Word of God through hymns and songs.
Because there’s a natural resistance to the Word of God, he places us in a community called the Church to encourage and support us in this endeavour. This is why gathering regularly with God’s holy people, even with masks on, isn’t an option for the Christian. It’s absolutely vital to our spiritual health and maturity!
By regularly, and repeatedly, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly we’ll soon find that everything we do (whether in word or deed), and no matter what day it is in the week (and whatever clothes we’re wearing at the time), we’ll be wearing the compassion and humility and patience of Christ and will give constant thanks to God the Father through him.
This is because, the more central the word of Christ is in our life, the more we take on the clothing and nature of Christ.
For this reason, I wonder what clothing you’ll display to each other as you gather for your chats with others after worship?
Will you continue to talk about the weather or sport or the virus or whatever you normally talk about in your conversations after worship, or will you instead consider what word of encouragement, compassion, gentleness, patience, or forgiveness from Christ you might wish to share with your fellow believers?
How might you as a community become more intentional in your dwelling on the Word of God and use it to encourage, instruct, and teach each other in all wisdom?
Who knows? Maybe, as you all learn how to encourage fellow believers with a Word of God, you may also learn how to have courage to do the same with those who don’t yet believe in Christ during the week as well.
After all, with God’s help, as the Word of God dwells in us richly, this congregation of God’s holy people may be a place where people see the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts; and not just here in this place, but also in our daily lives at home and at work.
Therefore, as we all put on Christ…
…may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.