12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:12-17ESV
In verse 5, Paul tells the Colossians to put to death (nekroō) give things: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. Now, in verse 12, he tells them to put on (endyō) five things: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. The first list was meant to represent the traits that characterized their old natures, prior to their salvation. It was not intended to be an exhaustive list and Paul was not suggesting that each of the Colossian believers had been guilty of all of these vices. He was simply pointing out the kinds of immoral behaviors that characterized their lives before coming to faith in Christ.
The first list seems to focus on sins that are particularly self-centered and focused on satisfying sexual passions or ungodly desires.
Sexual immorality (porneia) is a rather broad term that can refer to illicit sexual intercourse but was also used to cover such things as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, and intercourse with animals
Impurity (akatharsia) refers to uncleanness in any form, but in a moral sense: the impurity of lustful, luxurious, and profligate living.
Passion (pathos) was a word the Greeks used that had both positive and negative characteristics. But its presence on this list suggests that Paul is referring to depraved or vile passions.
Evil desire (epithymian kaken) is a craving for that which is forbidden. It is a legitimate longing that chooses an illegitimate object as its focus.
Greed (pleonexian) is the desire to acquire more by fraudulent means. It is a form of dissatisfaction that constantly craves more, even at the expense of others.
Not only are these traits earthly and immoral, but they are also self-centered and completely devoid of concern for others. They represent a blatant disregard for God and others and fly in the face of the greatest commandment as described by Jesus.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39 ESV
Paul’s first list describes the me-focused state of fallen humanity. All those who have not experienced a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ are incapable of loving God and others because their sinful natures are driven by an uncontrollable and insatiable love of self. But even followers of Christ must recognize that the sinful characteristics that marked their pre-salvation state have not all been eradicated. The old sin nature remains and must be dealt with decisively and repeatedly.
“The Christian must kill self-centeredness; he must regard as dead all private desires and ambitions. There must be in his life a radical transformation of the will, and a radical shift of the centre. Everything which would keep him from fully obeying God and fully surrendering to Christ must be surgically excised.” – William Barclay, The Letter to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. Daily Study Bible series
But there is more to the process than simply removing past bad habits. In a sense, Paul is telling the Colossians, “out with the old, in with the new.” They must replace the traits that characterized their former lives with healthy and godly alternatives. And Paul provides them with a list of five non-optional qualities that should mark their lives as God’s chosen people.
compassionate hearts (splagchnon oiktirmos) can be literally translated, “bowels of mercy.” In the ancient world, compassion was associated with the bowels but in our modern context, we associate that characteristic with the heart. It expresses a deep concern and care for those who are suffering.
kindness (chrēstotēs) is a form of moral goodness that expresses itself in acts of selfless sacrifice on behalf of others.
humility (tapeinophrosynē) refers to a humbleness of mind. It is to hold a humble opinion of oneself. Paul expressed it this way: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 ESV).
meekness (praotēs) is another relational word that conveys the idea of gentleness toward others. It is the opposite of arrogance or self-assertiveness.
patience (makrothymia) is “slowness in avenging wrongs.” It refers to one who willingly endures injustice and ill-treatment for the sake of others.
All of these traits are other-focused. They are relational in nature and intended to put the needs of others first. And Paul provided concrete examples of what these godly characteristics should look like in everyday life.
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:13 NLT
Notice his emphasis on others. The Christian life is not intended to be a solo sport, but a team activity where brothers and sisters in Christ are expected to operate in a spirit of unity and cooperation so that, together, they reflect His goodness and glory. Paul was writing to a diverse congregation made up of Gentiles and Jews, the rich and the poor, slaves and freemen. But they were all one in Christ. And, as Paul told the congregation in Ephesus, their ability to achieve unity even in the face of diversity was a reflection of God’s work among them.
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. – Ephesians 2:19-21 NLT
And for Paul, the greatest proof of the Colossians’ Spirit-empowered transformation would be their love for one another. Rather than reverting back to their former self-centered and selfish lives, they were to love as they had been loved (1 John 4:19). God had sent His Son as a tangible expression of His love for them, and He ordained that His Son would sacrifice His life on a cross in their place. And that selfless act of love was to be emulated and passed on from one believer to another.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:14 NLT
Love would be the glue that bound the body of Christ together. But it would have to be a selfless, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love that expected nothing in return. Jesus had clarified to His disciples the kind of love He expected them to have for one another.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 ESV
And Paul is passing on that command to his flock on Colossae. Their lives were to be marked by love. But not only that, they were to be a people characterized by peace.
…let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. – Colossians 3:15 NLT
The Colossian believers were surrounded by a constant state of turmoil that was producing in them a sense of anxiety. False teachers were causing them to question their faith. Daily battles with old habits were tempting them to question their salvation. Infighting and disunity marked their fellowship. But Paul called them to live in peace – a particular kind of peace – that came from Christ Himself. And Paul must have had in mind the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples not long before His death.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27 ESV
This promise was made in conjunction with His promise to send the Holy Spirit. One of the primary functions of the Spirit of God would be to bring peace to the hearts of Christ’s followers upon His departure. The Spirit’s presence within them would provide a sense of continuity and calm assurance that they had not been abandoned. Christ was still with them in the form of the Holy Spirit.
And Paul wants the Colossians to know that the Spirit was an ever-present reality in their lives that was intended to be the source of their peace and tranquility, even in the midst of turmoil and distress. And they were to be constantly thankful for the peace-producing presence of the Spirit of God. Not only that, they were to keep their hearts and minds focused on the truth regarding Jesus Christ.
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. – Colossians 3:16 NLT
That message needed no additions or addendums. The good news regarding Jesus required no “new” editions or updates. They were to teach it, sing about it, rest confidently on it, and constantly express their thanks to God thanks for it.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.