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Nov 19, 2017

Dressed to the Nines

Passage: Colossians 3:12-15

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Colossians

Keywords: beliefs, Character of Christ, compassion, consequences, forgiveness, gentleness, holy, humility, kindness, love, loved, patience, character of christ, character clothing


While previous to this Paul has encouraged us to "take off" the behaviors and desires of our old fleshly nature, this passage speaks to us about what to "put on" in its place in terms of things that show the character of Christ in us. This is the wonderful new life we get to experience as God's children by faith in Jesus.


Dressed to the Nines

Putting on the Character-Clothing of Christ

Colossians 3:12-15

November 19, 2017

INTRO:  A couple of weeks ago, Russia marked the 100th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution on November 7, 2017. What had happened 100 years ago was that Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks had stormed the Czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the second of two revolutions in 1917. Combined, those revolutions ended Tsarist rule and set the stage for the creation of the Soviet Union.

Lenin died 7 years later in 1924, but his Marxist-Communist legacy and image have lived on for nearly a century. Thanks to Joseph Stalin’s ruthless nearly 30 year savage rule of Russia following the Lenin, the actual working out of communism cost over 20 million Russian lives through murder and starvation and brought on the world’s worst man-caused famine in human history.  In the winter of 1932-33, Stalin confiscated all food in the Ukraine.  Their grain was shipped to Europe (including Nazi Germany) and from 4-8 million Ukrainians were starved to death that winter.  (Russians didn’t keep records like the Nazis or Chinese communists.) 

            Hard as it is to imagine, Communism’s legacy got even worse the farther into the 20th century we go. Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China, qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history.  During the time that Mao was enforcing the Great Leap Forward in 1958-1962, in an effort to catch up with the economy of the Western world, he was responsible for overseeing the elimination of at least 45 million Chinese, mostly peasants, who were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years.  During that time, a third of all homes were destroyed and turned into fertilizer. 

Communism has been single-handedly responsible for more brutal deaths in this world than any other single ideology.  94 million people have been killed under the atrocities of Communism in places like the Soviet Union, China, North Korea and Eastern Europe.  (That is almost as many people as were killed in both WWI and WWII combined.)  And curiously, all of the world’s worst famines during the 20th century were in communist countries: China (twice!), the Soviet Union, and North Korea. 

            So why do I belabor this as an introduction to our passage in Colossians today?  Because the church, God’s people, need to be the voice of truth and the salt of goodness in a world that is always teetering on the brink of collapse into utter evil. 

If you doubt that, then go onto any college campus and ask them what they think of Marxist socialism compared to Capitalism.  According to a Rasmussen 2011 poll of likely U.S. voters, 11% of our fellow Americans think that communism is morally superior to our democratic republic and free-market system.  How many of you were actually taught in school and college that communism delivered more suffering on humanity than any political system in the history of mankind? Schools should not be the only place in which history is taught. 

            But whether it was Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot (Cambodia) or Mao Zedong (China) or Kim Jon Un (N. Korea), communism has consistently led to some of the most horrible human suffering in history.  It matters what we teach the next generation about God and atheism.  It matters when people live consistent with their belief that there is no God.  It has consistently had deadly consequences. 

            But the opposite is also true.  Wherever the life, love and leadership of Jesus Christ has captivated the hearts and minds of people around the world, regardless of the race or culture, some of the greatest good has been showered on this world.  We tend to take it for granted having been the recipients of almost 400 years of wide scale Christian values, thinking, education and compassion in American culture. 

  • Virtually all the leading educational institutions in the nation grew out of devout Christians valuing the Gospel and education.
  • The vast majority of hospitals in this nation have Christian roots.
  • There are some 385,000 Christian churches that dot this nation and are calling the faithful to live with everyone around them as Christ did—serving, not subjugating; ministering rather than murdering; giving rather than grabbing; loving, not liquidating.
  • Even take the recent and frankly surprising (but refreshing) condemnation being given to the ill-treatment and sexual-harassment of women by so many men in our culture. As flawed as America is, why do we hold to the value of the equality and dignity of women when billions of women around the world suffer daily indignities and never will have this conversation in their nation?

            While not all Christians live out such a dramatic contrast as history has shown between communist countries and Christian churches, our behavior and our life in this world, even in post-Christian America, is to be markedly different than our good, upstanding even moral or religious neighbors. 

            As we have talked about the past few weeks, the Holy Spirit and life of Christ in us as definitely hard at work helping us rid ourselves of the old-nature hang-ups and sins.  From sexual sins to sins of thought and speech, God is at work in every one of us who have embraced and trusted in Jesus helping us dispose of the old life and put on the new. 

            If the last few weeks in Colossians were like driving your mud-stained car through a car wash to remove layers of grime, today’s text is more like taking your old beater of a car to the body shop for a complete restoration and repaint job.  Taking off old nature actions calls for putting on new nature character—Christ’s nature. 

This is not something that can be done by will power.  It is something that requires God at work in and over us.  Which is precisely what His Spirit is always striving to do, 24-7, in our lives.  We have different as well as deeper desires for godly thoughts and actions than people without Jesus.

Paul employs clothing imagery in this passage to help us think about HOW these qualities of Christ become what people around us experience on a daily basis. 

Most if not all of us are drawn to clean, attractive clothing.  We have a preference for clothing that is clean vs. dirty, whole vs. holey, attractive vs. unflattering.  Only when life circumstances or injustices or grinding poverty take away the possibility of clean, attractive clothing do we even settle (not even willingly) for poor clothing. 

God has given us spiritual longings for attractive, beautiful character clothing too.  But it isn’t quite as simple as going to Walmart or Fred Meyer and grabbing a shirt or dress or pair of pants off the shelf and putting it on.  The qualities God calls us to “put on” are more like going into JoAnn’s Fabric or Michael’s or Hobby Lobby and seeing beautiful bolts of fabric but having to figure out a pattern for a style we like, get the fabric, cut out the pattern and cloth and sow it to size.  It’s a process that sometimes takes a whole lot of work.  But once we’ve done the work, it becomes easier to just select that piece of clothing at any given moment to wear in any given life experience.  And everyone around benefits. 

ILL:  David taking up sowing in flight school and sowing Olivia, his wife to be, a dress!  Women, assuming that the product was something you liked, how would you feel every time you wore that dress?  Who would you want to give the credit to every time someone complemented you on it? 

            That’s what each of these qualities is like.  Not only does “wearing them” make us feel loved and remind us of what an amazing Master Seamstress we’re related to in Christ; Every time someone else takes notice and expresses how nice that behavior is, we get to brag on Jesus.  “Glad you like it.  My Savior gave me that kindness/patience/love/peace & I love to share it with others.”

So let’s look at the raw cloth that God says we can choose to fashion into behaviors that touch people with the life of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Colossians 3:12-15

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 

            Notice that there are (roughly) nine different life/character qualities (whole cloth) that we can “sow” into actions. (Thus today’s message title, “Dressed to the Nines.”)   Every one of them is something that must start in our hearts either as a desire, feeling or impulse. 

Wicked people don’t long to show kindness or gentleness.  They may, in fact, feel better beating someone than blessing them.  They may prefer inflicting pain on someone rather than giving sacrificial love. 

            This is where vs. 12 is instructive.  It begins with a reminder of several internal spiritual realities from which this “clothing” flows.  Were it not for what Christ has done in every child of God who puts their faith in Him, these qualities would be hopelessly out of reach for every one of us.  But simply because we ARE the kind of people Paul describes in vs. 12, we CAN put on these 9 Christ-sharing qualities. 

            Verse 12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved….”  That little word “as” might be better translated “since”:  “…since you are God’s chosen people….”  WHO we are is meant to determine WHAT we do. 

  • If I consider myself a beekeeper, I will raise bees.
  • If I embrace my role as a father, I will raise children.
  • Since I am a pastor, I should actually be found pastoring—counseling, praying, teaching, visiting the sick, sharing Christ, etc.

God wants to remind us that belonging to Christ means we ARE “God’s chosen people.” 

ILL:  There is just something amazing about being “chosen” by someone who genuinely cares for or loves you. 

  • Being “chosen” for a team as a kid?
  • Being chosen to be invited to that party?
  • Being chosen to go into a trade school or college?
  • Being chosen for a job you’ve always wanted?
  • Being chosen as a girlfriend/boyfriend…and later a spouse?

When we are chosen for something good and wonderful, that “choice” that someone else made over us can shape and mold us for a season, a year or a lifetime. 

And I can put up with all kinds of grief and disappointments in a day as long as I know there is a wonderful woman, my wife, Sandy, who loves me and has chosen me out of all the men in the world.  At the end of the day, I will go home, shut the door on whatever else has happened that day and enjoy her love.   If this is what we can experience on the imperfect plain of marriage, how much more can being chosen by God cause the rest of life’s disappointments to fade when we learn to just enjoy His loving presence? The greatest Lover in the world has “chosen” us to be His, “His people,” “His family,” yes, even “His Bride.”   

God gives us 2 more realities of belonging to Jesus that make putting on Christ possible:  “…holy and dearly loved….”  That new spirit/nature that God gave us is HOLY.  Rather than being mired in those unholy behaviors of sexual immorality or evil speech that we used to be before Christ, our new nature loves to live in holiness—purity at every level and turn that separates us from sin and binds us to the blazing glory of God and His holiness.

            That last word “dearly loved” has the implied agent of God himself.  Reading it, “those on whom God has set his love” might capture the sense better.  We’re talking agape love here—the deepest and most sacrificial form of love available in the universe. 

God has set His love on us in such a way that He will never lift it.  His love rests on us no matter what.  Nothing in life nor in death will be able to separate us from this love (Romans 8).  And it is with the one Being in the universe we don’t ever have to wait until the end of the day…or an hour…or a second…before we can be refreshed and renewed in that love. 

This is WHY it is so crucial that we are all flooding our thoughts and brains with the TRUTH of who we actually are “in Christ.”  [See Search for Significance and “Victory Over the Darkness”.]

So let’s try on these 9 QUALITIES we have in Christ here.  As we do, here’s my challenge today:  choose 1 or 2 of these 9 sometime today and start asking the Spirit of God to make that godly longing/quality into something you will wear comfortably in every situation that calls for it.

#1.  “Clothe yourself with COMPASSION….”

The word here is always in the plural in the N.T.  It literally means “entrails,” “inward parts,” “affections” as in the seat of the emotions.  It is a quality of inner being, not some specific action or concrete expression of something. 

  • It’s what a good parent feels when he/she sees their child suffering.
  • It’s what we talk about when we say we are “heartbroken” over some event or the loss of someone we deeply love.

It may not even have all the resources or answers to the need it feels compassionate about.  But it will DO something, even if that something is just sitting with and sorrowing together with someone in need. 

ILL:  Story read recently in Our Daily Bread about the author’s open heart surgery.  He came to from the anesthetic terribly uncomfortable and agitated with the ventilator down his throat and the pain he was in.  Even with pain meds, he had to be restrained so he wouldn’t yank out IVs and airways.  But when a compassionate nurse simple sat there and held his hand, his whole body relaxed and stopped fighting. 

Compassion can always show caring concern even when we have nothing else to give but our presence. 

#2.  “…clothe yourselves with…KINDNESS”

This is a term (Gk. chrestotes) that is used of the whole gift of salvation that flows from God’s nature to lost people (Rm. 11:22; Titus 3:4).  It’s often associated with the redeeming nature of Christ.  This is God’s love showered on us working itself out kindly toward people around us. 

Think of Jesus and the dozens of good things he did for people in the course of a day because he wanted to help them out of things they could not help themselves out of.  Kindness does have some resource or capacity that someone else needs.  It could be food or money.  I could be knowledge or counsel.  It could be healing or a helping hand or a piece of clothing. 

Being a “kind person” means being a person who takes what resources you have and applies them to alleviating the suffering of other people.  You can be kind to your animals by feeding them and not beating them.  But honestly, you could actually hate your animals and as long as you give them the basics for sustaining life, they’ll think you’re god! 

But people are, thankfully, more perceptive.  You can give a child food, water, a clean house, clean clothes, etc. that keep them alive, but if there is not a heart of compassion when they are hurting, those children will know it, they will suffer more because of it and they will be damaged neurologically as well as emotionally and psychologically.  [See https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-politicization-of-motherhood-1509144044 for neurological development related to a mother’s compassion, etc.]

APP:  Who are the people you see in the course of a week whose needs you could meet?  Imagine how different a week might be if we got up every morning asking God to take us to someone who has a need we can meet?  Imagine if we decided to not put our head on the pillow until we had shown kindness to someone in some practical way?  There is no shortage of opportunity in our city…or your building…or your school/workplace…or your family…to demonstrate kindness. There’s just a shortage of people wearing that character clothing. 

#3.  “…clothe yourselves with…HUMILITY”

As with all the others, this one must start in the heart and head.  But it cannot stop there.  Phil. 2:3 which exhorts us to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves….”  Humility is the taking on of the servant class role in relationship to others. It sees one’s life as something to be spent for the benefit and advancement of others rather than one’s own quest for power, wealth, significance or standing. 

            Give some examples of how Jesus “clothed himself with humility” from the Gospel stories you know.

  • Submitting to and honoring imperfect parents.
  • Being born into poverty and obscurity.
  • Being a lowly traveling “teacher” rather than the smartest Rabbi that every lived.
  • Eating with sinners/prostitutes/tax collectors.
  • Touching leapers.
  • Talking with an immoral woman at the well in Samaria.
  • Choosing disciples to pour into who were no-name working class people.
  • Washing feet in the Upper Room.
  • Providing food for the 3,000 and 5,000.
  • Hiding His glory under his humanity.

Humility requires taking a position of service to others that requires setting aside something you would rather hang onto like position, power, prestige, honor, safety, security, etc. 

#4.  “…clothe yourselves with…GENTLENESS”

The less-used term of “meekness” perhaps makes it more difficult to grasp.  We know a gentle person when we meet them, don’t we?  What are their presenting qualities? 

  • NOT…pushy, demanding, violent, high pressure, rough, rowdy, tense, stern, forceful, etc.
  • ARE…strong, considerate, calm, caring, understanding, thoughtful, supportive, safe, etc.

WHEN do people need gentleness? 

  • Wounded
  • Hurting
  • Agitated
  • Belligerent

Got any of those kinds of people in your life?  Any that God is particularly asking you to lean into? 

#5.  “…clothe yourselves with…PATIENCE”

Some versions translate this “long-suffering.”  This is the ability to suffer or just sometimes live with life when it isn’t what you wish it was.  It’s the same with people:  suffering extra with people whose presence in your life is taxing in some way. 

            Again, what does LACK OF PATIENCE look like:  rushed, hurried, impatient, critical, demanding, frustrated, anxious, worried….

            Patience has to do with time frame.  It usually requires more time than we want to give it.  If you pray for patience, expect things to take longer, cost more, take more from you in terms of effort and plans. 

  • Patience stops watching the clock…or calendar. It makes more of watching God’s face and heart. 
  • It makes less of demanding from others and spends more energy asking of God.
  • It looks inside and asks more about what God is trying to grow in me while looking less outside of oneself and demanding that externals change.

#6.  “BEAR WITH each other....” 

The sense here?  “Just put up with difficult people!”  There are times in every relationship of any depth (and sometimes of no depth) that we just have to “bear with” someone.  Bearing with means we just need to stop judging them by how difficult they are being in the moment.  We need to take the LOOONNNNG look.  We need to realize we are in this for the long haul, not the short sprint. 

STORY:  In the days when smoking was permitted on airliners.  One man, sitting just ahead of the smoking section in the back started to light up his cigar.  The stewardess stopped him and informed him he would only be allowed to do so if it was alright with the passengers sitting next to him.  She asked the man on this man’s right if he minded.  He didn’t.  He asked the woman on his left the same.  She protested loudly that she “detested cigar smoke.”  Another passenger in the smoking section heard the exchange and offered to switch with the cigar smoking man.  As he made his way farther back, the boisterous woman confided in the stewardess, “In 32 years of marriage, I still can’t gotten used to my husband’s awful habit!”  She had apparently learned to “bear with” him. 

            Bearing with is needed when you just don’t like what someone is doing or how they are acting.  It doesn’t mean you are sanctioning their behavior.  It certainly doesn’t mean you like it.  But “bearing with” is love with endurance.  It let’s go of preferences so you can hang onto the person. 

            How often…and how long… does God “bear with us”?  Our whole lifetime?  He has eternity in view.  So he bears with us our entire life…and asks us to bear with others sometimes an hour, sometimes a month, sometimes a few years…and occasionally a lifetime. 

APP:  How much longer friendships would last with this quality.  How much less flitting from one church to another would happen… or one marriage to another. 

Closely related to this divine quality of “putting up with” someone you would rather not is the next one:

#7.    “…and FORGIVE one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Is there anything harder than forgiving?  Forgiving presupposes that someone has sinned against you, harmed you, hurt you, wounded you, abused you, damaged you, stolen from you, destroyed a part of you or someone you love. There is no end to the things people do that need forgiving…yes, even God’s people The greater the loss, the harder it will be to forgive. 

            But this is NOT OPTIONAL for the people of God.  God finds it so absolutely critical that he told us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  If God’s measure of forgiveness of us were only to the level we forgive others, how much of a relationship would we have with Him? 

ILL:  John Perkins, an African-American pastor who ministered Mississippi, shared how he learned to forgive and the power of forgiveness to connect us to Christ when he was beaten in a Mississippi jail.  He was repeatedly kicked and stomped on as he lay in a fetal position on the floor for protection.  The beating went on and on as he writhed in a pool of his own blood as inebriated police officers took turns, using their feet and blackjacks.  At one point an officer took an unloaded pistol, put it to Perkin’s head, and pulled the trigger.  Then another bigger man beat him until he was unconscious.  As the night wore on, it got worse.  During a conscious period, one officer pushed a fork down his throat.  That kind of torture and abuse breeds bitterness and hatred by the bucket.  [See Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down, pp. 162-166.]

            But listen in his own words to what happened to this brother. 

   The Spirit of God worked on me as I lay in [my] bed.  An image formed in my mind.  The image of the cross—Christ on the cross.  It blotted out everything else in my mind.  This Jesus knew what I had suffered.  He understood.  And He cared.  Because He had experienced it all Himself.  This Jesus, this One who had brought good news directly from God in heaven, had lived what He preached.  Yet He was arrested and falsely accused.  Like me, He went through an unjust trial.  He also faced a lynch mob and got beaten.  But even more than that, He was nailed to rough wooden planks and killed.  Killed like a common criminal.  At the crucial moment, it seemed to Jesus that even God Himself had deserted Him.  The suffering was so great, He cried out in agony.  He was dying.  But when He looked at that mob who had lynched Him, He didn’t hate them.  He loved them.  He forgave them.  And He prayed God to forgive them.  “Father, forgive these people, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  His enemies hated.  But Jesus forgave.  I couldn’t get away from that….It’s a profound mysterious truth—Jesus’ concept of love overpowering hate.  I may not see its victory in my lifetime.  But I know it’s true.  I know it’s true, because it happened to me.  On that bed, full of bruises and stitches—God made it true in me.  He washed my hatred away and replaced it with a love for the white man in rural Mississippi.  I know it’s true because it happened to me.”  [Perkins, pp. 205, 206] 

It’s a forgiveness that should know NO end with anyone.  Jesus made that clear in Matthew 18:21ff when Peter asked him if forgiving someone 7 times was enough.  Jesus kicked that number into space with his reply, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  Then he went on to tell the parable of the unforgiving servant. 

            We are all servants whose sin debts to God outstrip anything we will ever have to forgive others on this earth.  Why do we choose bitterness and grudges over relatively petty things between us when Jesus offers the freeing and restoring clothing of forgiveness? 

APP:  Anyone God is reminding you that you need to forgive in order to put on Christ?  Don’t delay making that choice another hour.  And decide you’ll do it a million times if necessary in order to “put on” the beauty of Christ’s forgiving heart. 

#8.  “And over all these virtues put on LOVE, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (vs. 14). 

This is the “belt” of character clothing that keeps our pants up and our shirt tucked in.  It is the love of God that enables us to keep putting on every other Christ-like quality.  It is love that keeps them in balance and keeps us growing closer and closer to Christ no matter what the challenges in and around us.  Every one of these aforementioned qualities is a subset of the love of Christ.  And that’s why it is absolutely not human; it’s divine. 

All of these qualities God expresses towards us…all the time…to an immeasurably greater degree than any of us will be asked to do towards others.  That is why our own, individual experience with Christ must be getting deeper and richer every day.  Without experiencing these things from God, we will not be able to pour them out on others.  But experiencing each of these from His hand will equip us to do the same in any and every relationship here.   

It’s interesting how all of these qualities will cost US/the giver something (willingly) whereas most of the practices of the flesh will cost OTHERS something (unwillingly).  How amazingly more life-giving and life-experiencing freely giving is from forcibly taking from others.  The Spirit of God offers us this most beautiful cloth from which we can construct, sew and put on life-giving character clothing that may just cause some to say, “That’s beautiful!  Where did you get that?”