Colossians 3:1-17 (click to display NIV text)
November 11, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Why does Paul write about the quiet virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience? I am aware that our culture does not really promote these virtues, that the culture is more interested in aggressive, goal oriented people hurrying on to their full potential. But we see enduring value in the quiet virtues, and sometimes that makes us seem out of step with the life that whizzes by us.
Did these virtues speak to Paul’s personal experience? I think so. I think Paul really discovered them after his conversion. Prior to Paul’s conversion in Christ, he placed zeal as the highest quality in life. The most important thing in life was to serve God with all one’s strength, and that meant the willingness to be violent if needed. It meant a willingness to persecute people so they would see the error of their ways. It meant the willingness to put Christians in jail or to see them stoned. After Paul’s conversion, he replaced zeal with love as the highest priority. In I Corinthians 13 Paul calls love “the most excellent way.” He still served with zeal. He still gave his energy, his best thinking and his full attention to his task as an apostle to the Gentiles. But now love always had priority over zeal. Because of that, the quiet virtues of compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility and patience came into his life in a much deeper and fuller way. If love is to be the highest priority, then these are necessary in one’s personal life.
Did these virtues also speak to the experience of the Colossian church? I think so. Paul sees their background of a culture of idolatry. David Garland writes, “The chief purpose of idolatry was always to get some material advantage for yourself from the gods.” Idols are prayed to and appeased and given gifts so that one might be enriched, blessed with good health, and victorious over the enemy. So the moral practices of an idol-worshipping society are self-exalting. You seek to fulfill personal desires, you experience pleasures, you do what gains you wealth, and you impose your power over others. That is why Paul mentions sexual immorality, lust and greed. They are woven into the fabric of idol worship. Anger, malice and slander are all short-term strategies to get what you want in life. Paul wrote to people who had an old life. The old life is driven by internal desires and self-indulgence. Paul encourages them to shut the door on the old life and live completely in the new.
Paul calls these people to be alive in Christ. I know a man who got caught up in sexual sin that became habitual. He refers to the day when that sin was exposed as the day he came alive. From that day he began a process of restoration and healing that he describes as life itself. That is how Paul saw it. These sins that squeeze the life out of you must be put to death, so that you can live. You put them to death by bringing them into the light. Sexual sins and sins of greed are usually hidden, they are kept secret. When you become honest to God and to other people about them, when they come to the light, they lose their power. It often takes time, but such sins cannot live in the light. Your life begins again when it is lived in the light.
Paul must also have seen the prevalence of anger, malice, and slander in that society. These are actions taken for short-term gain. They are abusive and harmful to others and to the angry person. He mentions “filthy language,” which is abusive language used to hurt others. He mentions lying, which Garland says is the attempt to gain advantage over others. Paul says these practices need to be removed in order for the virtues to take hold and grow. Slander and compassion cannot live together. The compassion becomes phony or simply a cover-up. Paul writes in chapter 2, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him.” The Colossian Christians know Christ as Lord. Now Jesus requires that their conduct be consistent with his lordship.
The new life in Christ is to be clothed with the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. In our society we tend to idealize these virtues but actually live in a very different way. A person might think of himself as being compassionate, but not actually give much evidence of compassion. We also might misunderstand these as being very passive qualities, a description of a non-offensive person. David Garland helps by giving some definition to the words.
“Compassion” is a quality of concern and involvement when the rest of the community is callous to the needs of the poor. Thursday Evening the Fireside Dinner Fellowship heard a speaker from PADS. He explained how difficult it is to care for growing numbers of homeless in Lake County with funding cutbacks. He said the most typical homeless person today is a 12-year-old child. There is a PADS facility for homeless mothers and children in Waukegan, and they are about to lose their lease on the building. As they investigate possible new locations, they encounter the same reaction: people do not want to have a homeless shelter, even one for women and children, located near where they live. Compassion is the virtue that gets involved with the cause of the homeless, that does something to help the poor.
“Kindness” is defined as “gracious sensitivity towards others.” A few weeks ago Tricia Sorenson got a request for a Love INC. “Starter Kit” for a man and his two children living in Lake Villa. When she and Bob contacted the man they found out that his wife had recently died, and that they had lost their home due to the expense of medical bills and the stresses of the time. He now has a job and a nice but small apartment, with no furniture and nothing to make a home with, and two pre-teen children. So Bob and Tricia got Bob and Martha Peterson to go with them and deliver the boxes of household items, and the Petersons gave some of Eric’s clothes to the boy. Then on Saturday the furniture team paid a visit and furnished the apartment – beds, tables, couch, and chairs. The only thing we did not have was a microwave oven. But it just so happened that Caren Vollrath had a microwave to give, so that got delivered too. As we left the home, after praying for them, we shook hands and the man’s eyes were brimming with tears. A simple act of kindness, brought together by the Lord to give help to a man in a time of trouble.
“Humility” is a much misunderstood quality. In the ancient world there was an incessant quest for honor. Everyone wanted to be recognized and rewarded. This led to much self-boasting and arrogance. Humility is a distinctively Christian virtue that is found in doers of the Word who don’t care who gets the credit.
“Gentleness” is the willingness to make allowances for others. Tillie Lathrop was the cook for many years at the Cromwell Children’s Home in Connecticut and then at Camp Squanto in New Hampshire. She was a hard worker, and a no nonsense type of person. When you worked for Tillie, you really worked. But, she understood the struggles of young people. She said when a child would misbehave at the Children’s Home, they would sometimes be sent to the kitchen to be put to work. She did not know what to have them do, so she would cut them a piece of pie and have them sit down for awhile. She knew the turmoil of their lives and was gentle with the vulnerable, making allowances for those who were hurting.
“Patience” in this sense means refraining from revenge. The example is Jesus. This is a quality that comes from the cross.
Paul’s heart for the church was not that they become what we would call “perfect Christians.” Rather he desires that they be honest, with God and others. He wants them to admit where the trouble in their lives really is. Then he wants them to be committed to life in Christ. Verse 10 says, “You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator.” The renewal is not complete, it is ongoing. What he longs for is that they be Christ-centered. He wants the peace of Christ to rule in their hearts. Garland says, “The peace of Christ rules where the word of Christ dwells.” He want to see a consistent life, not trying to serve two masters, not acting one way in the church and another in daily life. Rather, “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”