Summary: A description of the characteristics of the Christian discipleship, and those things on which it rests
As we listened to that passage from Colossians this morning, the first thing we heard Paul telling his readers to do was to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, goodness and patience.. As we listened to that list of qualities various things could have gone through our minds. We may well have listened to the list and thought; "Yes, that’s the ideal character. That’s the sort of person I’d like to be".
Some may have thought, "Well! That is me! That reflects me; that really is me!" If you thought that you’ve probably got something of a problem.
Or you could have thought: "Well, that’s a weak kind of character. That’s not the sort of person who’s going to cut any ice in today’s world. To get on in today’s world you’ve got to show very different sort of characteristics. There’s no point in being compassionate. We’ve got to push ourselves forward. We’ve got to be hard. We’ve got to be go getting." Isn’t that the way so many people think today? They probably look down on those sorts of characteristics, sadly.
I hope not many of us were of that last line of thinking. It’s the way the world thinks. That’s the way that God’s enemies think. That way of pushing myself forward, pushing myself forward is really the very essence of sin. We have to remember whom Paul is writing to. Because he begins by saying As God’s chosen people. In other words these aren’t very natural characteristics. In fact Paul had to tell even his Christian congregation, his Christian readers to clothe themselves with these qualities.
If we go one step further back, Paul is addressing them as God’s chosen people. Christians are Christians because God has chosen them. That’s something that’s not very clearly taught or understood today. It’s a myth that a person decides to become a Christian. Of course it’s true, we do have to make a decision. But it’s not something that comes out of our human nature. It’s something we’re stimulated to do in the first place by the Spirit of God working upon us. It’s something we do as God’s chosen people. That can banish any sort of pride, any sense of superiority. If we are Christian, it is only because God’s Holy Spirit has brought out spirit to life.
Then as Christian people we have to ’clothe ourselves’; clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, goodness and patience. These are qualities we have to ’put on’. like we put a suit of clothing on, or something that we wrap around ourselves. Not as a sort of exterior veneer, but qualities that we put on so that they may grow to become part of what we really are. And qualities which can only grow thus because the Spirit of God is within us. If we compare that list with the one Paul makes in Galatians as the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace. patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control we see the same sort of character don’t we because it’s the character of Jesus Christ himself.
If we go back to verse 10 we would have read that Paul tells his readers at Colossae to put on the new self which is being renewed in the knowledge and image of its creator. Christians are being made anew in the mage of their Creator. We all are made in the image of God; that image is marred by sin, ruined by sin. But as we come to Christ, as we become Christian then that image is renewed and restored in us. The Holy Spirit endues us with these qualities, which se still have to actively put on. Being a Christian, living a Christian life is not something which occurs spontaneously or automatically. It doesn’t just happen. We don’t just sit back and do nothing about it. Rather, we do have to actively strive to be compassionate, kind and so on.
And the other things which Paul mentions too: Bear with each other, he says, forgive each other, and what greater motive is there to forgive each other that Jesus Christ himself has forgiven us. Because he has forgiven us so much. How can we refuse to forgive our brother or sister their small and trivial offences? And over all these virtues, says Paul, put on love which binds everything in perfect unity.
The American commentator John Macarthur says this:
Love is the beauty of the believer dispelling the ugly sins of the flesh that destroy unity.
"Love is the beauty of the believer". And there should be something of that beauty of Christ (the ’fragrance’ of Christ as Paul puts it somewhere in his letters) in every believer or else there is something seriously wrong.
One of the best-known and best-loved passages of the Bible Paul says that without love then anything we do, anything we are is worth nothing. Paul says he could have all knowledge, that he could prophesy, he could move mountains, he could give his body to the flames, but without love that entire impressive list is valueless.