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Colossians 3:12-14 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:48 mins 59 secs

New Identity-New Dress. Col. 3:12-14


One of the things we have focused on is the key verbs that are used in this whole section—starting in 2:11 and moving through the last part of the second chapter and into the third chapter—related to two ideas. One was the commands related to things that we have already done, things that have already taken place. This relates to two basic commands. One is that we have already put to death the old man—everything that we were before we were saved, and we have already put off, taken off or removed that old person, the trappings, everything related to that old identity—and that everything has been replaced by a new identity. So there are passages here which talk about what has taken place already, what has been accomplished already because we have died with Christ (2:20) and we have been raised with Christ (3:1). Because we have died with Christ we are expected to now put to death the members of our body, which are basically tools for expressing our sin nature. That is parallel to the imagery that we find that because we have already put off or taken off like a garment the old man we are to put on the new man (3:9). That is something that happened at the time that we were saved: the identity change that took place at that instant of faith alone in Christ alone.

2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, {he is} a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."

Our new identity carries with it new priorities, new characteristics, basically a new dress code. We become a new person, and that new person is going to dress differently. There is a new dress code, but unfortunately too many Christians are spiritually AWOL. In the military not being AWOL is defined as being in the right place at the right time in the right uniform. A lot of Christians might be in the right place at the right time, but they are out of uniform. They haven't put on the clothes that are to be characteristic of the new man. To use another metaphor according to Paul they are children of light but they are not walking like children of light; they are walking as though they are still in darkness, still members of the world system rather than thinking, acting and living as a believer.

When we get into this section of Colossians chapter three Paul draws a conclusion, indicated by the first word in verse 12, "Therefore" or "So." This begins a significantly impressive section of Scripture. What Paul does is hit in bullets key principles for how we are to live and how we are to think. But if we read it just as a grocery list it is a short grocery list. It is easy to think that all this is, is just a list of moral precepts.

One of the most difficult things for Christians to grasp and understand is that Christianity is not simply a moral or ethical system. It includes that but unbelievers can be moral. A lot of very religious people who have no understanding that they are sinners or that Christ paid the penalty for their sins are very moral people, and they are trying to work their way to heaven. And they are very intent on that, but it doesn't get them anywhere. Morality isn't the same thing as spirituality because as the Bible defines spirituality it has to do with a person's relationship with God. Spirituality is not a matter of feeling, of having a sense of somehow feeling tranquil or peace with the world, or some other emotion. Spirituality is one of the greatly abused words of our culture. All kinds of people are involved in spirituality and it has almost redefined culturally (i.e. in a worldly sense) as basically being self-actualised. In other words, it is nothing more than the maximisation of self-absorption—being what you think you ought to be and being so focused on you that you're doing well, and since you have this sense of wellbeing you've become very spiritual. And that can be expressed in a lot of different ways.

But the Bible never deals with these issues on the basis of these subjective ideas of how we feel or emotional stability or things of that nature; it always grounds things on some external objective reality.

In Colossians 3:12-14 we are moving to the end game of a discussion about, and a reference to, love. It starts with Paul's command: "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things {put on} love, which is the perfect bond of unity." This is a fascinating section of verses.

We are to "put on." That is our main verb. Then we are given this list of five character qualities or virtues: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and longsuffering. Notice that back in Colossians 2:5 there is a command to put to death, just the opposite, to remove something: put to death your members which are on the earth, and then there is a list of five—fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire and covetousness which is idolatry. Those are all oriented towards overt sins or the overt expression of a mental attitude sin of sexual lust, even though they may be expressed in some other areas of life as well. Then there is another list in Colossians 3:8 NASB "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, {and} abusive speech from your mouth." Again, a list of five things. There are certain things that in part of our new identity are not part of the dress code. We don't dress like that anymore. Then in contrast we are to dress a certain way. 

The whole idea of dress code started getting a lot of bad publicity back in the 60s with the self-absorbed, narcissistic baby boom generation. There were a lot of things that happened as a result of that. We don't want to create the idea that it was so simplistic that with the change of dress code all these other things happened. They were all basically manifestations of other things that shifted, so there was a sort of attendant circumstance idea that dress code was part of the result of something greater, but it also tended to be part of a movement away from certain historical absolutes that gave a stability to culture.

This idea that we see here in Scripture of a dress code is part of recognising that there is a code of conduct and a way of dressing that is typical of the world, and that when you change the identity of who you are and the way you think that there is a consequent change of dress code and code of conduct that goes with being a Christian. These are identified with these five characteristics here. At the very core the one thing that these all have in common is a foundation of not being self-absorbed. These are all gracious expressions of a non-self-based, non-arrogant mind set.

The command, though, is just "put on." The next action is "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other." We have to ask the question" How does bearing one another or putting up with one another and forgiving one another relate to putting on these things? It is interesting that among a majority of theologians who are knowledgeable in the Greek want to argue that these are also basically imperatival participles (ending in ing) and they should be understood to be just another part of the list. That is not right. Then there is a subordinate conditional clause: "whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." In verse 14 the verb "put on" is in italics (it isn't there in the Greek); it isn't repeated. It is assumed to be there but Paul, as he typically does, leaves it out because the main clause goes back to the beginning (v.13), He says, "Beyond all these things love, which is the perfect bond of unity." So we are to put on "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience," that is our main verb, but it governs this last phrase as well. This idea of "put on" controls the whole idea of this section that we are to be clothed differently.

Colossians 3:8 expresses the experiential idea that we are to put off all these things mentioned in chapter two, even though positionally it has already been removed. Experientially we still have the sin nature and we still sin, and in contrast to putting off certain things we are to put on the new man. The same idea, the positional idea, same verb is used in that action known as the baptism into Christ we put on Christ. It is a positional thing. There is an identification and a unification with Jesus Christ that occurs at the instant of faith in Christ. Understanding this is just the foundation for understanding everything that Paul says in Colossians 2:11 through chapter three. When most of us think about how we should live the Christian that the place, our thinking goes is to our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. And yet every time Paul talks about this in Romans 6, in Ephesians 4 & 5, and here, that is where he goes.

So that ought to tell us something about how we ought to be thinking about these things: that this isn't just some nice doctrine, it isn't just something that theologians talk about, but this for the apostle Paul is foundational to our own understanding and motivation for the Christian life. Baptism has the idea of identification but it is more than just getting a new ID card, there is an inherent transformation that occurs in that act of baptism. Baptism is not only a picture of identification, but it is identification for a reason and that identification is to positionally cleanse us and apply that forgiveness that is now ours in Christ. We have positionally put off the old man and put on the new man—we have the ID card, we have a new family, a new relationship with God—but now we have to see that in action, and that is the walk by the Spirit.

What Paul is saying isn't put on these characteristics, he is saying put them on by forbearing and forgiving one another. So the forbearing and the forgiving tell us in a very practical way how we put these characteristic qualities into action. It is not just lists of these are things that should characterise your life, including bearing with one another and forgiving one another; but the bearing with one another and the forgiving one another tells us how we cloth ourselves with these character qualities. Because as we looked at those qualities and talked about the fact that the are involved with tender mercies or compassion, compassion isn't just a feeling of care for someone or concern about their circumstances but with compassion there is going to be the fact that we will bear with them. This is the same word that is used in 1 Corinthians 13 when it talks about the characteristic of love is to bear all things, to put up with all things. Bearing one another has the idea that we are going to put up with the other person and we are not going to maximise their flaws and minimise their strengths. We understand that the person we love and care about has flaws, but we are not going to dwell upon those. So how do we put on compassion? By bearing with one another.

Humility is an expression of our obedience to God. Humility and meekness are not this kind of emotional sort of wimpy mentality that often comes across in the modern usage of these terms. Moses was considered the most humble man in the Old Testament. Humility is ultimately orientation to authority. Somebody who will do what they are told to do is a humble person. They are not asserting their will over against the will of the person in authority. So someone who is humble and someone who is meek is someone who is under the authority of God and isn't asserting their own agenda but carrying out God's agenda. Longsuffering is makrothumia [makroqumia] meaning you put up with something for a long time. So how do we do that? We do it by putting up with one another, bearing with one another, and by forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave us. And the word there isn't the word there for forgiveness isn't apheimi [a)fihmi], which is the word used in, for example, 1 John 1:9, it is the word charizomai [xarizomai] which means we are going to deal with a person in grace.

"so also should you," v.13, is only three words in the Greek. The first word is hout­os [o(utoj] which is the same word used in John 3:16 where we read, "For God so loved the world…" Same here: "so also should you." The word has the idea of "in this manner." In John 3:16 it would be: "For God loved the world in this manner, that He gave His unique Son …" It gives us a picture in John 3:16 of how God loves. Here the picture is of forgiveness as Christ forgave each one of us, "in that same way you also."

Then in the 14th verse, "Beyond all these things love …" No verb, but the verb is implied there. The only place we get a finite verb is by going back to the idea of "put on." So Colossians 3:14 is an extension. Therefore put on these five things, and then he talks about how we do that—through forgiveness, bearing with one another, etc., and then he says, "And beyond those five things put on [picking up the same idea, the main verb in v. 13] love."    

"which is the perfect bond of unity." What in the world does that mean? When we look at what the Greek says, it is a phenomenal statement. He says, "put on love." Then he is going to say something about love: "which is," and then we will define love here and the role of love in all of this. And then there is the word sundesmos [sundesmoj]—the root word there, desmos, has to do with chains or, if you were in prison, put in bonds, the idea of being chained or joined to something. The prefix sun means "with." That word is also used in medical text to refer to ligaments, that which joins muscles and attaches muscles to the joints and pulls things together. So the idea there is that something holds all of these things together, something enacts and energises these things. And that is the idea of love. Love is what pulls it all together. Then the final phrase is not "the bond of perfection ['unity' in NASB]." It is the ligament or connecting device, and then the last word is a form of the Greek noun teleios [teleioj] which doesn't mean perfection in the sense of flawlessness in its use in the New Testament. It always relates to maturity.

If we retranslate that: "But above all these [the five things just mentioned] put on love which holds together everything toward maturity." So if we want to grow to maturity it is love that is pulling all of these things together that pulls us into maturity. It is not that you can't love as an immature believer. If we are not putting on this new set of clothes related to an other-centered mentality—not a self-centered mentality, where we are concerned about our problems, pain and difficulties, our agenda and the details in our lives—we are not going to get anywhere. We have to replace that, put on a new set of clothes, which is completely concerned and focused on God's agenda. Frankly, every decision we make in life as believers needs to be made in light of that decision of what is best in terms of God's purpose in my life. The focus has to be upon God.