On with the New

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Colossians 3:12-17

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Living the Christ-Centered Life, and together we are learning what it means to live life with Christ at the center. Last week’s message was called “Off with the Old” and today’s message is called “On with the New.” Last week we learned what we are to remove from our lives as Christians, and this week we learn what we are to put on instead. (Read Colossians 3:12-17 and pray.)

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Is there such a thing as a Christian dress code? Well, it depends on what you mean. If you’re talking about what you wear to church on a Sunday morning, the answer is no. But if you’re talking about the old things you remove from your life as a Christian and the new things you put on in their place, then the answer is yes.

That’s what our passage in Colossians this morning is all about. You have been given new life in Christ, and so you should dress up your life with the types of attitudes and actions that are appropriate to your new life in Christ.

It’s like in sports when you switch teams, you change uniforms. Your old uniform identified you with your old team; your new uniform identifies you with your new team. It’s the same way when you become a Christian. You’ve switched teams! Your old practices identified you with the world. Your new practices identify you with Christ and his church.

Last week’s passage told us about the old practices you are to put off in your life. This week’s passage tells us about the new things you are to put on in their place. And Paul tells us three things you should do now that you have received new life in Christ. 1) You should clothe yourselves with Christ-like qualities. 2) You should live as members of one body of Christ. And 3) You should do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus. So let’s look at all three of these together.

I. Clothe yourselves with Christ-like qualities (12-14)

First of all, as people who have received new life in Christ, you are to clothe yourselves with Christ-like qualities. Look at verse 12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Notice Paul is talking to believers here and he addresses us as God’s “chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” The word “chosen” has to do with the doctrine of election, not as in voting but rather the Biblical teaching that God chose us before the beginning of time to belong to him. The word “holy” means that we have been set apart for God and should live accordingly. That fact that we are “dearly loved” also relates to God’s choosing, in that God chose us not because of anything good in us but simply because he loved us. What a wonderful thing to know that you are dearly loved by God!

All three of these terms were also used of God’s chosen people Israel in the Old Testament. For example we find all three words together in Deuteronomy 7:6-8 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you … because the LORD loved you.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) And so it is not surprising that we find them used again of the church in the New Testament as the new chosen people of God. We find them here in Colossians 3:12 and again in Ephesians 1: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)

So what should we do as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved? We should clothe ourselves appropriately. You have been given new life in Christ, so clothe yourself with those things that are appropriate to your new life in Christ. Clothe yourselves with Christ-like qualities.

   A. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience (12)
      – Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Ephesians 1:4-5; Galatians 5:22-23

Paul gives us a list of five virtues that we are to put on in our lives. Last week we got two lists of five vices each of the things that we are to put off in our lives. Now we get a list of five virtues to put on, what William Barclay calls “the garments of grace.” Back to Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

So what are these five virtues? First of all we are to put on compassion, literally a heart of compassion, that is, a compassion or caring that comes deep from the inner heart or emotions. Secondly, we are to put on kindness. This refers to good or kind deeds, the very opposite of the attitude of malice described back in verse 8. Humility is having a true estimate of yourself, not thinking too highly or lowly of yourself. Gentleness is being submissive to God and others. Patience refers especially to being patient in suffering or when being attacked by others. Notice that many of these overlap with the fruit of the Spirit that we find listed in Galatians 5: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

   B. Bear with and forgive each other (13)
      – Matthew 18:21-22; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 2:13

And then Paul continues with another essential virtue in the Christian life, that of bearing with and forgiving each other. Look at verse 13: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

The phrase translated “bear with each other” in this verse means “to continually bear with each other, to be continually putting up with each other.” And the word for “forgive” is not the normal word for forgive but a special word that means “to graciously forgive, to freely or readily forgive.” It’s the same word that was used back in Colossians 2:13 where we were told that God “forgave us all our sins” at the cross. Notice that you are to forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Just as God forgave us all our sins, so we are not to pick and choose what sins to forgive in others.

The word translated “grievances” in this verse refers to any complaint that you might have against someone else. Do you have any grievances this morning? Do you have any complaints you would like to register against someone else? Most likely we all do. Now, ask yourself this next question. Does God have any grievances with you this morning? Does God have complaints he could make about you or your life?

Because that’s where the next part of the verse comes in. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” It is because Christ forgave us that we can forgive others. And just as Christ forgives us readily and repeatedly, so we are to offer the same type of forgiveness to others. Remember when Peter came up to Jesus and asked him: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” What did Jesus answer? “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven!.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Ephesians 4:32 says: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) So that’s the next Christ-like quality we are told to put on: bearing with and forgiving each other.

   C. Over all these put on love (14)
      – John 13:34; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:22

And then finally in this section Paul tell you over all these put on love. Back to Colossians 3 now look at verse 14: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14) The word translated love in this verse is the Greek word “agape.” Agape love is that beautiful self-sacrificing, unconditional love with which God loves us in Christ. I once heard a preacher say that back in the 1960’s people wore hippie clothing, in the 1970’s they wore preppie clothing, and in the 1980’s they wore yuppie clothing. Now Paul tells us that we should all wear “agappie” clothing! Over all these virtues put on “agape” – love – which binds them together in perfect unity.

Love is the virtue which unites and holds everything else together in perfect harmony. Continuing with the clothing imagery here, love is like the belt which holds all the other items in place, or love is like the outer garment which is worn over all the rest. One person translates verse 14 this way: “And over all these robe yourselves in love; for this is the garment which binds together all the graces of perfection.” (Lightfoot) Like a belt or an outer garment, everything else falls apart without love.

And so love is not just another virtue to put on along with the others. Rather it is the supreme virtue that binds all the other ones together. Or another way to look at it is love is what is common to all these virtues. It is what unites them. It is what runs through all of them. It is no accident that the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 begins with the word “love.” (Galatians 5:22) Or that 1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Love is what makes you truly like Christ rather than just fulfilling some moral duty. Jesus told his disciples in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) So now we have two commands. Forgive as Jesus forgave you. Love as Jesus has loved you.

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love. These are all qualities that Christ demonstrated in his own life. And so Paul is saying if you want to be fully dressed as a Christian, make sure you put all of these on. That’s our first instruction this morning. Don’t just put off the old sinful practices in your life. Also clothe yourselves with these Christ-like qualities. Off with the old, on with the new!

II. Live as members of one body of Christ (15-16)

The next instruction on living your new life in Christ is to live as members of one body of Christ. In other words this dressing up with Christ is not just for your benefit alone but for the whole body of Christ. And Paul gives us two specific instructions here. We should let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. And we should let the word of Christ dwell richly in us. The peace of Christ and the word of Christ are both essential to unity in the body of Christ.

   A. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (15)
      – Ephesians 4:3-4

So first of all, the peace of Christ. Look at verse 15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15) The peace of Christ refers to the peace that Christ alone gives. Peace is another fruit of the Spirit. And in the context of this passage it refers especially to the peace that Christ brings to relationships within the body of Christ.

The word translated “rule” in this verse is the same word that was translated “judge” back in chapter two where Paul said, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink.” Colossians 2:16) We saw there that this was an athletic term that meant “to judge or rule as an umpire.” So what Paul is saying here is let the peace of Christ be the ultimate referee or decision maker in your relationships with other believers. Let the peace of Christ be the deciding factor. Or as one person put it: “When disputes arise, the believer is to let the peace of Christ make the call.” (Max Anders)

A body cannot live in conflict with itself, and so as members of one body we are called to peace. That word “called” here relates back to the word “chosen” in verse 12. God has chosen you not only to be his people but also to live as his people in such a way that brings glory to Christ. We find something similar in Ephesians 4: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” (Ephesians 4:3-4)

And then at the end of verse 15 Paul reminds us once again to be thankful. You could even translate this phrase: “Be continually thankful.” An attitude of gratitude works both ways. Peace in your hearts will lead to praise and thanksgiving from your lips, and an attitude of continual thankfulness to God promotes peace in the body of Christ.

So that’s Paul’s first instruction on living as members of one body of Christ: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

   B. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (16)

And then secondly, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Look at verse 16 now: “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.” (Colossians 3:16) The peace of Christ and the word of Christ work together. The peace of Christ may be the umpire in your relationships, but the umpire’s got to know the rule book before he can make the call. And so we can never legitimately separate the peace of Christ from the word of Christ.

This is the only time we find this particular phrase “the word of Christ” used in the Bible. (Romans 10:17 uses a different expression in the Greek.) The more common phrase is “the word of God.” Paul continues to equate Christ with God in this letter, and this phrase is especially appropriate here in keeping with his overall theme of Christ at the center.

Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” That word “dwell” means the place where you live. And so Paul is saying let the word of Christ live in you richly. Let God’s word find a home in your heart. Don’t make it a temporary visitor. Don’t treat it like a house guest. But let God’s word live there, let it take up permanent residence day in and day out.

And let it dwell in you not just a little bit, but richly, abundantly. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message: “Let the Word of Christ have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives.” (Colossians 3:16)

How would you describe the word of God in your life? Is God’s word at home in your heart? And if it is at home, how much is it there? Would you describe your life as having a lot of word or little word?

This teaching applies to us not just as individuals but also as a church. As the body of Christ we must also let God’s word dwell richly in us as a church. Just as Christ is central, so the word of Christ must be central to all that we do as Christians and as the church of Jesus Christ.

      1) As you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
         – Colossians 1:28

And so that’s what Paul does next. He tells us how the word of Christ is to be central in our lives. First he says, “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” Teaching refers to positive instruction, whereas admonishing refers to warning and correction. Together these words especially refer to the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.

Now we’ve seen these two words together before in this letter. Remember Paul’s mission statement back in chapter one? “We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) Back in chapter one it was Paul and Timothy admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom. Here in chapter three it is the believers in the church who are to teach and admonish one other.

      2) As you sing songs with gratitude in your hearts to God
         – Ephesians 5:18-20

So let the word of God dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one other with all wisdom – and then also as you sing songs of gratitude in your hearts to God. Look at the rest of verse 16: “… and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

“Psalms” refers to psalms in the Old Testament. “Hymns” refers to songs of praise to God. Spiritual songs are just general songs with reference to spiritual matters. There is no clear-cut distinctions between these categories. There is plenty of overlap, and there are some songs that would fit all three!

But what is important here is that the content of our songs should come from the word of God. The singing in the church should not contradict the teaching of the church. And both should be firmly rooted in the word of God. The word of Christ should be central in our singing and worship.

And then we should also put on a new attitude in our singing. We should have an attitude of thanksgiving, singing “with gratitude in your hearts to God.” We find similar instructions to the church in Ephesians 5 which says: “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

We have an early description of a church service from a letter written by a Roman governor to Emperor Trajan back around 111 A.D. The governor, named Pliny, writes about the Christians: “They meet at dawn to sing a hymn to Christ as God.” (Pliny, Letters 10.96-97; 111-113 A.D.) What a beautiful description of what we do in worship! We sing songs of praise to Christ as God. Once again, the word of Christ must be central in all our preaching, teaching and worship.

And so this is Paul’s second instruction when it comes to taking off the old and putting on the new. As members of one body of Christ, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

III. Do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus (17)

And then his final instruction comes in verse 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.” (Colossians 3:17) The very best way of taking off the old and putting on the new is doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus.

   A. Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed (17a)
      – Colossians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 10:31

And all things really means all things. God says whatever you do, whether in word or deed. There is no sacred or secular distinction here. You don’t do Christ-centered things at church and then me-centered things at work or home. The command is all-encompassing and covers all of life. It covers all things because Jesus is Lord of all things. Remember Colossians 2:6? “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him.” (Colossians 2:6) You received Christ Jesus as Lord, now continue to live in him as Lord – all you say, all you do, all in the name of the Lord Jesus. We find a similar command in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

So what does it mean to do something in the name of Jesus? It means that whatever you do, wherever you go, whatever you say, you bear the name of Jesus in all that you say or do. When our children were younger, we impressed on them the importance of the family name. We had high standards as a family and we would tell them, “You are Fowlers, and you need to live as Fowlers.”

Well if you are a Christian this morning, you need to live as a Christian. I read a comment earlier this week: “Calling yourself a Christian while living in constant disobedience is like calling yourself a vegan while you’re halfway through a steak!” (https://twitter.com/thejgravitt/status/778014199393812480) Remember, if you’re a Christian, you’ve switched teams! You’ve got a new uniform, and that uniform proudly states: “property of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

To bear Christ’s name is both a great privilege and a great responsibility. When you call yourself a Christian, your reputation becomes Christ’s reputation. Here’s a thought exercise for you. Picture yourself wearing a Christian t-shirt wherever you go, whatever you do. Would you live your life differently, would you treat the people around you differently if you were bearing Christ’s name at all times? That is what Paul is talking about here.

   B. Giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus (17b)
      – John 14:6; Colossians 1:3,12; 2:7; 3:15,16,17; 4:2

And then finally, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus – “giving thanks to God the Father through him.” This is the sixth time out of seven in this letter that Paul mentions giving thanks. (Colossians 1:3,12; 2:7; 3:15,16,17; 4:2) But the emphasis here is on giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus. Everything goes through Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

So be thankful to God through Jesus in all that you do. There is no such thing as a non-thankful Christian. As you seek to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, a good test question is this: “Am I able to thank God through Jesus for giving me the opportunity to say or do this?” (adapted from F.F. Bruce) And if the answer is no, don’t say or do it!

Worship is more than just preaching, teaching and song. Colossians 3:17 teaches us that everything we do should be worship. As Peter O’Brien writes: “Every activity is to be done in obedience to the Lord Jesus and accompanied by the giving of thanks to God through him.” “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 3:17)

CONCLUSION: You have been given new life in Christ, so off with the old, on with the new! Or as Paul puts it in Romans 13:14: “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 13:14) Because that’s what this is really all about. Here is the ultimate test question. When people look at your life, do they see Jesus?

Christ is central. And so as one who has received new life in Christ, you are to put on Christ-like qualities. Forgive as Christ forgave you. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and the word of Christ dwell in you richly. And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.

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