Chapter 13 Practical Holiness by Conformity to Christ in Relation to Others

Colossians 3:12-17

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (vv. 12-17)

We now come to consider our new clothes, the garments of the new man—these things that we are to put on in place of the old habits which have been discarded. It is a striking thing that both in the Scriptures and in our ordinary Anglo-Saxon speech we use at times the same words for clothing and behavior. We speak of a riding habit, a walking habit, habits of various descriptions, meaning of course, the clothing worn on particular occasions, and we may speak of our behavior as our habit. When in the Old Testament Solomon says, “Let thy garments be always white,” we understand him, of course, to mean, let your habits or behavior be pure and righteous. The wicked are depicted as clothed with filthy garments, and self-righteousness is described as but filthy rags. The characteristics of the newborn man are garments of glory and beauty.

It is a common saying that you judge a man by his clothes. It is true that this is not always just. Many a princely character has, through poverty, been obliged to dress in worn and unbecoming garments, while rascals of the deepest dye have been arrayed like princes of the blood. But the same is true at times in regard to children of God and the unsaved. There are wolves who come in sheep’s clothing, there are ministers of Satan who appear as ministers of righteousness, and, alas, there are real believers whose garments are often badly stained and rent by failure and sin. But, in the ordinary course of things, it is true that men are largely estimated according to their appearance, and Christians are expected to be adorned with good works and thus justify before men the profession they make of justification before God by faith in Jesus Christ. These are the two sides of truth emphasized by the apostle Paul in Romans and by James “the Lord’s brother” in his intensely practical letter.

Let us see just what kind of habits or behavior should characterize the man in Christ, with what beautiful garments he should be arrayed. First of all we read, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies.” The elect of God are those whom He has foreknown from all eternity and who are manifest in time as believers in His Son. “Holy and beloved” is what they are as before God. They have been set apart in Christ. Sanctified by the blood of the everlasting covenant, they are dear to God because they are His own children, partakers of the divine nature. How unseemly if such are ever found stern and unfeeling toward others, recipients as they are of such grace themselves.

The ancients used the term bowels very much as we do the word heart to express the deepest feelings of humanity. We might read, “emotions of pity.” While this may not be exactly a translation, it at least expresses in English the thought of the original. We are called upon to have hearts readily stirred to compassion and, like God Himself, delighting in mercy. Where it is otherwise, we may well question whether one has been born of God. Harshness in dealing with failing brethren, on the basis of the necessity of maintaining righteousness, is anything but the spirit of Christ. Yearning love that would lead us to go to any possible length without contravening God’s righteous claims should ever characterize us in our dealings one with another. “Be pitiful,” writes another apostle, and how much we need to take such an exhortation to heart. The crudest things have been done in the name of Him who is the incarnation of infinite mercy. How He has been misrepresented in His attitude toward sin and sinners by many who profess to be His followers.

The next word is in keeping with this—kindness. It is quite impossible to maintain fellowship with God and not show the kindness of God toward others. There may indeed be a rigid, legal type of piety which leads one to imagine that he has been appointed of God to demonstrate His justice, but this is far from the godliness that is inculcated in the New Testament. Macaulay said of some of the sterner Puritans, “As one reads their writings he wonders if they had ever read a little volume called the New Testament.” The loving-kindness of the Lord will be manifest in our kindness one to another. These two garments, emotions of pity and kindness are, we might say, inner vestments.

The next one is a cap for the head, humbleness of mind. Pride is of all things to God most hateful: “The proud he knoweth afar off.” “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” The realization of one’s own weakness and natural tendency to err will lead to low thoughts of self, and will make it easy to don the vesture of meekness. This is composed of rarer material than is often supposed. Our Lord was adorned with it. He could say, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” How beautiful He appeared as thus arrayed. And Moses had a garment of this excellent texture, lawgiver though he was, for we read, “The man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” But so rare is this grace that in the prophet Zephaniah, we are told to “seek meekness” (Zeph. 2:3), and this is after he has said, “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment.” So delicate is this fabric that it might readily wear away in the stress and strain of the trials of this life.

One needs therefore to be constantly in the presence of God seeking for this grace, which can be found nowhere else than in communion with Him. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” suggests the necessity of coming under His control if we would be adorned with meekness. The world will never understand the value of this lowly spirit. Our own lionhearted Theodore Roosevelt said once, “I hate a meek man.” He probably did not realize that the boldest man, the most utterly unafraid man ever seen on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, was in the fullest sense a meek man. Meekness is not inconsistent with bravery, and enables one to suffer and be strong when the world would “turn aside the way of the meek” (Amos 2:7).

Closely associated with meekness is the grace of “longsuffering,” the readiness to endure grief suffering wrongfully. It is so natural for us when falsely accused to feel we must defend ourselves or to resent such treatment, but of our blessed Lord we read that when false witnesses had risen up against Him He answered not a word. When the adversary taunted King Hezekiah and his officers, charging them falsely and threatening severe treatment, the king’s command to his people was, “Answer him not a word.” God can be depended on to vindicate His own if they do not attempt to vindicate themselves, and so as they learn to commit their reputation, as well as all else that they once counted of value, to Christ Himself, they can patiently endure without resentment, praying for those who despitefully use them and who persecute them. In this they become consistent followers of the Man of Sorrows who could say, “They laid to my charge things I knew not.”

We next read, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” This is in exact accord with Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake (or, in Christ) hath forgiven you.”

When teaching His disciples to pray our Lord told them to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and He added, “When you stand praying, forgive: for if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you” (author’s translation). Some have thought the earlier passage is on lower ground than the later ones, but it does not seem necessary to put the one in any sense in opposition to the others. The forgiveness of which our Lord was speaking to His disciples was not the forgiveness of a sinner, but the forgiveness of a failing saint, one who could address God as “our Father,” whereas the forgiveness spoken of here in Colossians and also in Ephesians is that of the sinner. Addressing His disciples our Lord says, as it were, “You are failing from day to day. You constantly need your Father’s restorative and governmental forgiveness, and yet you cherish feelings of malice and enmity and an unforgiving spirit toward your brethren who offend you. If you do not forgive them you cannot expect your Father’s forgiveness when you come to Him confessing your failures, and as long as this spirit of malice is cherished by you, you cannot really pray in faith.”

Here Paul takes it up in another way. He says, as it were, “Think how freely you have been forgiven; think how much God has cast behind His back. In the light of this how can you hold hard feelings or maintain an unforgiving spirit toward those who have sinned against you? If God had dealt with you according to your offenses, how fearful would your judgment be, yet He in Christ has graciously forgiven all. He has put away every sin, thus making you fit for His holy presence. Your responsibility now is to forgive as you have been forgiven.”

Some of you will remember the striking incident of the conversion of Macdonald Dubh, as narrated by Ralph Connor in “The Man from Glengarry.” I understand the incident is not merely fiction, but is founded upon actual fact. The black Macdonald, a powerful, burly Highlander, living in Glengarry County, Ontario, had suffered untold anguish for years because of an injury inflicted upon him by a French Canadian some years before. He had nursed the desire to take a fearful vengeance upon his foe until k became a perfect obsession with him. Neither God nor eternity had any place in his life. It was in vain that the minister s wife tried to get him to forgive his enemy. She sought to have him repeat the Lord’s Prayer, but he always balked at the words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

But God wrought in power in the Glengarry country, and there was a great revival, in which real Christians were aroused, and Christless men and women reached and saved. The black Macdonald heard the story of the cross told forth in living power in the Gaelic tongue, from the lips of the venerable Highland minister. It broke his heart and bowed him in penitence at the Savior’s feet. When next the minister’s wife went to visit him and tried to stress the necessity of forgiveness, he sobbed out, as he joined with her in what is generally called the Lord’s Prayer, “Oh, it’s a little thing, it’s a little thing, for I have been forgiven so much!” It is this that grips the heart and enables one to bear in patience the ill-doing and evil-speaking of others and preserves from bitterness of spirit or any desire for vengeance. How can one, forgiven so much, ever hold an unforgiving spirit against any?

And now turn to verse 14 where we have the girdle that holds all our new garments in place. It might be rendered, “And over all these things put on love, which is the girdle of perfection.” Just as the Oriental binds his flowing robes about him with a girdle, or sash, so the new man binds his new habits with the controlling power of love. Whatsoever is contrary to love is contrary to Christ. No amount of sophistical reasoning can make anything pleasing to God which is opposed to that divine love that He Himself sheds abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us.

It would be well for some of us who are possessed with the idea that our great business on earth is to carry out what has sometimes been called Pauline truth, to remember that Pauline truth does not center in 1 Corinthians 5 but rises to its highest, experimentally, in 1 Corinthians 13. We are not to neglect the one in order to fulfill the other. Both are right and proper in their own places. In the portion we have been looking at we have had what should express our attitude toward our brethren in Christ and toward men of the world.

Now in verse 15 we get that which is distinctly personal: “Let the peace of God,” or, as some manuscripts read, “the peace of Christ”—the same peace that ever filled His breast when here on earth. The peace that is His on the throne of God in heaven, where He sits far above all the storms of this lower scene—let that peace bear rule, or umpire, in your hearts. It is to this you are called in one body. We are to seek the things that make for peace as members of that body, and things whereby we may edify one another. But what is distinctly emphasized here is daily abiding in the blessedness of communion with our risen Lord, so that our hearts, like His own, may be kept in peace despite all we may be called upon to pass through, and thus we can fulfill the brief injunction, “Be ye thankful.” Of the many sins of the unsaved not the least is unthankfulness. We are called upon to give thanks in every circumstance, “Giving thanks always for all things,” knowing that nothing can ever enter into the life of the believer but what infinite love allows.

In the next two verses, which are very intimately linked with Ephesians 5:18-20, we read,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

As punctuated in the King James Version, verse 16 does not bring out the three admonitions clearly and distinctly, but as given above each one stands out separately and in its place. First we are told to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. This is the only place in the New Testament where this particular expression, “the word of Christ,” is found. It is most suggestive. The actual teaching of Christ, whether personally here on earth or by the Spirit since He has ascended to heaven, is to dwell in full measure in each believer. Thus equipped and controlled by the truth we will be able to bless and help others—in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another. What we have is not given for ourselves alone. We are to be ready to communicate. Then, in the third place, as thus controlled by the Word of God, our lives will be lyrical and our hearts filled with melody, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. We read in Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Holiness and happiness go together. Judah won a great victory when Jehoshaphat put the singers in the forefront of the army. Depend upon it, something is radically wrong with the Christian when he can no longer praise and rejoice.

Then, lastly, the entire life of the believer is summed up as subjection to the Lord. Whatsoever he does, whether in act or speech, all is to be in the name of the Lord Jesus, through whom he gives thanks to God, even the Father. There is no room whatsoever for self-will, for self-assertiveness here. As Christ in His humiliation could say, “I came … not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me,” so the Christian, the new man, is left on earth to represent Christ, to do the will of the Lord and not to please himself.

By comparing the Ephesian passage with this it will become evident that we have the same results from being filled with the Spirit there, and filled with the Word here. A Word-filled Christian is a Spirit-filled Christian, that is, a Christian who is so controlled by the Word of God that it dominates his entire life and manifests that he is filled with the Holy Spirit. A careful consideration of these two passages might save from a great deal of fanaticism and misunderstanding in regard to the fullness of blessing that every truly converted soul cannot but crave.