My wife and I rarely buy new clothes, not for ourselves and not for our children.
New clothes are reserved for Christmas and birthdays. For the most part, our children spend their growing years wearing hand-me downs.
Maybe some of you had the same experience when you were growing up. Some people hate hand-me downs. We like them.
This morning, I would like to present you with some hand-me downs from Scripture. These clothes come from Jesus Himself. He wore them when He walked the earth, and now He wants you and me to put them on.
This brings us to our text in Colossians:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. —Colossians 3:12-14
If we are believers in Christ, if we have become Christians, a change has taken place. We have said goodbye to the Old Man, to Mr. Wrong and all the habits, passions and practices of the past. And because Jesus has restored our life, because He has given us abundant life, we are new creations, made in His image.
In our text, we are told how to live the new life in Christ and what that new life looks like. A certain and undeniable change should have taken place. This change is not something we have done; rather, it is something Christ has done for us, in us and through us.
The command in verse 12 is clear. We are to “clothe” ourselves with new clothes – not new as in never have been worn before, but new because they are new to us. We are to dress ourselves in the wardrobe God has laid out for us.
In order to successfully conquer an old habit, it is necessary to put a good habit in its place. It is not enough to take off the old, smelly and dirty clothes.
Without putting on new clothes, we would be naked and cold, and would soon pick back up our old familiar clothing. It doesn’t matter how ugly or nasty our old clothes are. Unless we put on new clothes, we will always resort back to wearing our old clothes.
If we have truly submitted ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ, then we will gladly wear the wardrobe He has picked out for us. Let’s take a closer look at each piece of clothing we are to put on:
Compassion or Mercy
We are not to be cruel, harsh and cold toward one another. Compassion is when we forget about ourselves long enough to meet the needs of someone else who is really hurting. Compassion sees a need and seeks to alleviate the pain and suffering surrounding that need. Compassion is the attitude of the heart that seeks the best for those around us.
The opposite of compassion would be someone who is cold and heartless, someone who is concerned only with himself. Think of the character Scrooge, a man who, for a while, was too busy balancing his own checkbook to notice the needs of other people.
A compassionate person is someone who wants to help the people around him. He says to himself, “What’s going on with the people at my church? What’s going on with my family? What’s going on with the people at work? My neighbors? My friends? Is everything OK? What can I do to help them?”
The more compassionate we are the more Christ-like we are.
A person who is kind has good things to say about others and is considerate of the feelings of others. Their words are tempered with grace and tenderness. A kind person is not abrupt or harsh but is soft-hearted, and genuinely cares about other people.
Kindness includes not only saying nice things, but doing nice things. It is not any good to have compassion for people if we never do anything about it. Kindness is love in action. Kindness is going above and beyond the call of duty to help someone out. Kindness is looking for things you can do to be a blessing to others.
To be kind, you have to take the initiative to do things, knowing that others may not even be appreciative of what you’ve done. In going to the cross and dying for us, Jesus did a kind thing. He knew most people would never say thank you or even care. But His love moved Him because His kindness is a part of who Jesus is.
If someone followed you around for a day, would they consider you a kind person? I’m not talking about being a nice enough person, but a kind person who goes out of his way to do good things for others.
Will you clean up a mess that you find somewhere at home, on the job or at the church just because you see it and it needs to be done? What about your grocery cart, are you kind enough to walk it back to the gathering area or do you simply leave it in the middle of the parking lot and go about your business?
Kindness is measured in terms of things we actually take the time to do. The natural thing is to say, “Well, you didn’t do it for me, so why should I do it for you?” Have you ever said that? Do you think those words came from God or from self?
When you and I are kind, we are being the type of witness Jesus told us to be. The kinder we are the more Christ-like we are.
Humility means we recognize our weaknesses, we don’t have all the answers and we have a proper estimation of ourselves.
We don’t think about how great we are; rather, we submit to one another, putting others ahead of ourselves. It has been said that “humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Humility means we are lowly. It is the lowly who are exalted and the proud who are brought down.
Jesus humbled Himself, even to death on the cross, and we too must humble ourselves. On the way to the cross, He was called all kinds of names. He had people spit on His clothes and into His face. At the blink of an eye, Jesus could have destroyed them all, but instead He chose humility. He didn’t even open His mouth to respond to their accusations.
The opposite of humility is pride. We live in such a prideful society. In the world and in the church, there is a great scarcity of humility, and an over-abundance of pride. Fewer and fewer people are willing to take orders. There are more and more wars for independence. There are more and more family conflicts and broken marriages. It is difficult to get people to work together when neither the leaders nor the followers are humble.
Pride creates all sorts of problems. Many people think the world revolves around them, and when it doesn’t, they try to make it revolve around them through intimidation, aggressive behavior, smart remarks, yelling, crying or some other means.
Have you ever met someone who thinks they know it all? It doesn’t make any difference what the topic is, they always have the answer (or at least they think they do). And they never really listen to anybody else because in their mind they already know everything. Pride provokes arguments. If you put two people together who think they know it all, then you have two irresistible forces, two immovable objects who will not back down, or admit they might be wrong.
As Christians, this type of arrogant attitude should never possess us. The more humble we are the more Christ-like we are.
Gentleness or Meekness
This is the opposite of road rage. It is the opposite of ranting and raving at the customer service counter in the store. It is the opposite of demanding my rights. Gentleness is choosing to step aside, so that someone else can go ahead.
The world sees meekness as weakness, but it is not weakness; it is power under control. The meek person does not have to fly off the handle because he knows everything is under control.
Jesus was meek, and He certainly was not weak. It takes greater strength to exhibit meekness than to burst forth with anger and lose control. If Jesus had focused on demanding and asserting His rights, He would have never died for our sins. Gentleness or meekness is a willingness to suffer injury instead of inflicting it.
So, when you are driving your car, are you an “assertive driver” or a “gentle driver?” Do you blow your horn and speed up when someone is trying to cut in traffic or do you slow down and wave the other car into the lane? At the grocery store, do you race ahead to cut someone off in line when you’re both going to the same cashier or do smile and slow down so the other person can go ahead of you? When playing a game, do you insist on going first or do you give the other person the option?
The gentler we are the more Christ-like we are.
Patience or Longsuffering
Patience is the ability to accept delay or disappointment graciously. It means waiting a little longer. Patience is self-restraint which does not retaliate against a wrong. It is marked by the ability to respond in love when others treat us poorly. The short-tempered person speaks and acts impulsively and lacks self-control, but the patient person can put up with provoking people or circumstances without retaliating.
Patience is not something the world teaches us to practice, nor are we born patient. Think back to when you became a new parent. When your baby woke up in the middle of the night and was hungry, or his diaper was wet, she didn’t lie there and think, “I know mom and dad are tired, so I’ll just wait until a more convenient time to let them know I need something to eat or my diaper changed.” No! Your baby cried impatiently and continued to cry until he received the attention she demanded. Some adults even throw temper tantrums until they receive the attention they demand.
But patient people are willing to wait and delay gratification. The more patient we are the more Christ-like we are.
This literally means “to hold back.” God is forbearing toward sinners in that He is holding back His judgment (Rom. 2:4; 3:25). Forbearance means to put up with, tolerate, or endure one another. The idea is that we are to make allowances for the faults and weaknesses of others. We are not to be easily provoked with the shortcomings of people. Sometimes we really have to endure abuses and wrongdoing of fellowmen for the glory of Christ.
I am sure we all know people who make this command to forbear difficult. Being around them is never any fun; it is never a joy or pleasure. But we are told to tolerate, to have patience with, to endure, and to forbear these people. There can never be unity in the church unless we are willing to tolerate one another. The more we forbear the more Christ-like we are.
It is not enough we endure grief, tolerate other people, and refuse to retaliate; we must also forgive the troublemaker. I know people who call themselves Christians, but they have unforgiving spirits. Their pride and ego is easily wounded and they cannot bring themselves to forgive other people for any offenses against them.
We must be willing to forgive, even as Christ forgave us. To forgive someone means to forego the right of striking back. It rejects the urge to repay evil with evil, gossip with gossip, pain with pain. It means replacing the feelings of resentment and anger with love that seeks the other person’s welfare, not harm. It means the forgiving person takes steps to restore good relations.
Forgiveness may not be easy, but it is not optional either. It is an essential characteristic of the transformed life that God wants us to live. If we do not forgive, then feelings of anger and malice will develop in our heart; and this can lead to even greater sin. Forgiveness opens the heart to the fullness of the blessings of God.
The more forgiving we are the more Christ-like we are.
This is the most important of the Christian virtues because it holds all the others together. Without love, all the other virtues would fall apart. The Greek word for love is “agape.” This is a special kind of love; it is unconditional and one-way. In other words, you love me, even if I don’t love you back. You love me, even if there is nothing good about me; even though she might not say thank you; even though he doesn’t appreciate what you do; even though there are a million reasons to not love someone, God says to love them anyway.
This is the kind of love that God has shown the world. Even though the world didn’t love God, He loved the world, and sent His son to die for our sins. That’s the kind of love we are to put on.
Nothing is acceptable to God if it is not motivated by love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). To try to practice these virtues and wear Christ’s clothes apart from love is legalism. Everything we do must be motivated by love, just as Christ loves us. The more loving we are the more Christ-like we are.
All the virtues we mentioned are foreign to the wardrobe of most people. Spirituality is not withdrawal from the world, but is living like Jesus in the world. The more we wear the clothes of Christ the more people will see Jesus in and through us as we interact with them. And the opposite is also true: the less we wear the clothes of Christ the less people will see Jesus in and through us.
So, if I am always the mean, aggressive, proud person, how can I suddenly throw away those old clothes and put on these new clothes and attitudes of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and love? How can I fulfill these eight virtues? Here is the answer: by letting Christ change me.