Little Church, Big Lie – Part 9: Life in the New Humanity: Colossians 3:12-17

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. i

Last week, we saw the apostle Paul tackle one of the basic questions of the Christian life. If all the spiritual gurus’ self-improvement programs were worse than useless (because they merely offered a way for the flesh to organize its sins), then how does the Christ follower deal with sin?

Paul told us to act decisively to see sin for the heart-level idolatry, the self-absorbed condition it is. He tells us to see it from God’s perspective, to call sin what it is without rationalization, and to understand such evil required God the Son to suffer and die for it. Finally, he bids us understand something of the new humanity God is creating in Christ Jesus because “Christ is all, and in all.ii

If Christ Jesus lives unashamedly in each believer, then self-focused idolatrous thoughts and actions such as “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talkiii aren’t simply our private, personal “concerns,” they are our rebellious attempts to deconstruct the New Humanity, the Church in whom Christ dwells.

If YOU are sovereign in all things, then you are perfectly justified to be as angry, wrathful, malicious, and as vocal as you need to be to get your way and accomplish the goals of your lordship. But if the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely, totally and completely sovereign in all things, then you have no right to any of your sinful self-worship in thought, word or deed. Period. No exceptions, no “concerns,” no self-justification. Your self-focus is an attempt to deconstruct what Jesus is building – a new humanity.

The Colossian believers had been eager to breeze past the fundamentals of their new-found faith and rush on to the really good stuff that would bring them a sense of personal spiritual achievement. But in breezing past the fundamentals, the Colossians had missed a very basic truth: sanctification is personal, but it is not individual. Self-improvement is not the goal of the believer; the building up of the new humanity, the church, is the goal. It is a collective process for a collective purpose.

In last week’s passage, Paul gave us a list of anti-virtues: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatryiv and “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”v In vs. 12-17, he gives us a list of virtues reflecting some of the characteristics of the new humanity living in the gospel culture. Both the anti-virtues and the virtues flow from the inside out. The bad flows out of the Old Adam, the sin nature; the good flows outward from Christ in us, the hope of glory (1:27).

Last week, Paul told us to reckon (our self-focus) as dead (3:5) and to put …away our self-worship that demands everyone act in ways that please me and complains when I am not being served according to my wants. But the killing and putting off only leave a void of bad thinking. It’s only half the solution. Positive action is commanded; certain traits must be put on because of the negation of outward acts of sin, he wrote in 2:23, “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.vi

So far in this chapter, Paul has told us we need to have a grasp of our new identity in Christ (3:1-4) and a stand against the me-centeredness of the Old Adam (3:5-11). The graces of the Lord Jesus Christ must displace the traits of the flesh because we have (3:10), “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.vii

RENEWED LOVE (3:12-15a)

Renewed Israel (12a)

This new humanity, the church, is God’s renewed Israel where both Jew and Gentile are engrafted into Christ by means of their God-given trust into the person and work of Messiah Jesus. So, it should come as no great shock to us that the things Paul commands of the Colossians are the things God commanded for the Children of Israel; and the descriptions Paul uses come straight out of OT scripture.

Paul writes, “12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts….”viii The descriptions chosen and beloved (having been loved) are assurances that believers have a membership in the new humanity. The word holy means we are set apart for God’s service (see 1 Peter 2:9; then Isa. 5:1; Hos. 2:23; cf. Rom. 9:25). ix Membership in the new humanity comes not from our goodness but His grace, not from our lovableness but from His love.x God promised Old Covenant Israel he loved them: I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you (Jer. 31:3).xi

These titles (chosen, holy, beloved) are not only descriptions of God’s people, they are also NT titles used to describe Messiah Jesus. Jesus “the ‘chosen’ one (1 Pet. 2:4, 6), the holy one (John 6:69; Acts 4:27, 30, etc.), the one supremely beloved by the Father (Matt. 3:17; Eph. 1:6, etc.).”xii Because believers find their identity in Christ, what Paul has said of Jesus personally in chapters 1 and 2 applies corporately to his people, to all those united to him by trust into him.

New Garments (12b-15)

Having the fig leaves of the Old Adam stripped away, believers are dressed with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience….”xiii Think of the prodigal son, returning to his father in soiled, tattered garments with a proposal to earn wages as an employee. Instead, the father adorned him with the family’s signet ring as a symbol of authority and the best robe as a sign of sonship and inheritance (Lk. 15:22).

Of course, these descriptions of the new humanity run deeper than clothing. What the ESV renders as compassionate hearts is literally “guts/bowels of compassion” from the ancient idea that the seat of one’s innermost intense feeling was in their gut. Paul is describing “an understanding sympathy with others that affects one’s innermost being.”xiv Do you see how these characteristics of the new humanity are personal to you but not private, not individual? These new affections are Christ’s affections for his people. We see them countless times in scripture:

15 The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place (2 Chron. 36:15).xv

36 When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).xvi

14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick (Matt. 14:4).xvii

13 And when the Lord saw [the widow who had lost her only son], he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”xviii

Sanctification” is not about your getting better and better; it’s about being more and more set apart for serving God through service to others. It’s impossible for you to insist on your personal “holiness” while at the same time holding on to offenses you believe others have caused you, demanding apologies, keeping score, keeping up appearances, seeking relative morality (“I’m better than that person”). Compassionate affections breed kindness, Christ’s attitude toward others. Since Christ has given me his humility, then I have been freed from my demands that others act according to my wishes. Because I am united with Christ and possess all his benefits, I am free to act according to the mind of Christ for my neighbors:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:4-8).xix

Sin is inward-facing. Holiness is outward-facing to God and neighbor. When I am exercising gospel sanity, I have a proper view of myself in relationship to Jesus’ humble service enabling me with gentleness (meekness) and patience that bears with the sins of others and eagerly forgives them as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven me. How presumptuous of me to not forgive someone whom Christ has completely and eternally forgiven!

When I am exercising gospel sanity, I throw away my scoreboards – the one that tells me how much good stuff I’ve done AND the one that tells me how much bad stuff you have done to me. Gospel sanity only keeps track of what Jesus has done – not just for me, but for all his people. Jesus’ forgiving grace displaces my scorekeeping (3:13). A tiny view of God’s grace produces a constant focus on who owes ME an apology rather than on who I must forgive.

The apostle sums up these graces by writing, “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.”xx Love is that fundamental link in the chain of graces binding the entire congregation together in perfect harmony as one body.

There is no “I love you but…” in the sanctified culture of the new humanity. In the South, we don’t say “I love you but….” Instead, we say “Bless your heart….” It sounds polite, but the intent is the same because it spills out of the abundance of a self-focused, scorekeeping soul. When we are being renewed in knowledge after the image of Christ (3:10), then we focus on the love of Christ.xxi Remember how John described Jesus’ love right before the cross?

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.xxii

If you haven’t been convinced by this point, Paul again shows us what Jesus is doing in us individually, he is doing for a collective purpose of the new humanity. “15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”xxiii Paul isn’t speaking about your personal peace. He is speaking about the collective peace, the shalom that is to rule the body of Christ. And it does rule when we toss out our scorecards and look outward to God and neighbor. Are you a gift to God’s people or are you a thorn in the flesh of the body of Christ?

RENEWED THANKFULNESS (3:15b-17)

The renewed humanity is governed by the peace that overflows out of gratitude to God in Christ. “And be thankful.” Thankfulness for the Lord Jesus – for his grace, mercy, and peace – is the umpire of the congregation. It moves us to be thankful for one another. If there is any score to keep in the Christian life besides what Jesus has done for us, it is what he does for us through our brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you prize those in your congregation? Are you thankful for them regardless of their social status (3:11, “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free”)?xxiv

How does the new humanity practice compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness? Where does it find love? How is it bound together in peaceful thanksgiving? The apostle has an answer for that. “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.”xxv

Is the word of Christ an alien, an occasional visitor, or the chief citizen of your life? Paul’s command is more than a personal one, however. He is commanding the entire Colossian congregation to be absorbed with the Word. Scripture should be evident in the way they deal with one another. They should teach one another the Word. They should correct the ones running around the congregation waving their scorecards and demanding apologies and commanding self-serving performance because those things are destructive to the new humanity. They are thankless, not thankful.

They are to speak the words of God to one another. They are to sing with and to one another the great truths of scripture. He is commanding them to be in constant collective reflection of the things he wrote (or perhaps ‘sung’) in 1:15-20 of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The treasure of the church is not in its budget; the treasure of the church Jesus, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell….xxvi As one of my fellow ministers used to say, “Why do I need the bank? I have Jesus!

Notice Paul bookends this section (15b-17) with “15And be thankful…16with thankfulness in your hearts … 17giving thanks to God the Father.” What is the opposite of thankfulness? The opposite is: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk.xxvii The opposite of thankfulness is keeping score and getting even.

The new humanity understands that God has a score to settle against all human beings. They know that God will either settle that score by pouring out his wrath upon his thankless creatures, or he has already settled it by pouring out his wrath upon his own innocent Son. Those trusting into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the risen man in heaven, have EVERYTHING for which to be thankful and absolutely NOTHING over which to be disappointed, angry, or bitter.

If you are in Christ, God is not building you up to be a better you. God is remaking you to serve the Body of Christ in peace out of thankfulness because the word of Christ dwells richly in you. Sanctification is personal, but it’s not individual. You are part of God’s new humanity. Thanks be to God!

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.xxviii

i The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12–17.

ii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:11.

iii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:8.

iv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:5.

v The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:8.

vi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:23.

vii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:10.

viii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12.

ix William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 156.

x N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 145–146.

xi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Je 31:3.

xii Wright, Id.

xiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:12.

xiv Wright, Id.

xv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Ch 36:15.

xvi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 9:36.

xvii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 9:36.

xviii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Lk 7:13.

xix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:4–8.

xx The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:14–15.

xxi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:10.

xxii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 13:1.

xxiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:15.

xxiv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:11.

xxv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:16.

xxvi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:19.

xxvii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 3:8.

xxviii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 1 Pe 2:1–5.