New Hearts (Colossians 3:12-17)

 

May 12, 2019

What should a Christian look like? If we are looking at a crowd of people, how would we know the Christian from the non-Christian? There ought to be some distinguishing characteristics of true Christians. There ought to be something about them that stands apart from the world around them. Christians should be different in the way that Jesus was different. In John 15:18-19 Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Jesus said we would be different and so does Paul.

The last time Paul told us to put to death what is earthly in us. He told us to reject the ways of the world. The earthly things include sexual immorality, passions, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, and many others. We hate these things and this makes us different from those around us. But that is not the end of Paul’s admonition. That is only half of it. In the text we will study tonight Paul tells us what needs to be the distinguishing characteristics of a Christian. He tells us some attributes that we need to put on. Let’s start by reading Colossians 3:12-13.

What Are Christians?

Colossians 3:12–13 (ESV) — 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. 

7 Attributes of a God’s People

First notice the description Paul gives God’s people. He tells the Colossians to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” I love how Paul does that. He makes little side comments that are powerful and weighty. Often, I would overlook these statements. But when we look at what he said we find great encouragement and a reminder that we are the chosen people of God. All of us who have been “raised with Christ” (3:1) are chosen, set apart, and beloved in God’s sight. Here we find the motivation to put off what is earthly in us and to put on something greater, something heavenly. 

What does Paul want us to put on? Verses 12 and 13 give us seven attributes that represent the way of life for a Christian. The first is compassionate hearts. Do we know anyone who has a compassionate heart? What does that look like? A compassionate heart is a heart that looks at people differently than people in the world typically look at people. A compassionate heart longs to serve and care for those in need instead of longing for others to serve them. This attribute is connected to the rest of the attributes. Kindness is an outward act of the compassionate heart like the Good Samaritan. Humility and meekness show a focus on someone other than self and a willingness to give yourself to serving others. What is patience? Patience is giving people time to adjust and change instead of selfishly demanding change to serve ourselves. Then he points out a willingness to bear with and forgive those who are wrong because we have been forgiven. These attributes all paint a picture of what a Christian does that makes them different. But then Paul gives the characteristic that is above them all. 

Above All, Love

Colossians 3:14 (ESV) — 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

After giving this list he says love binds all of these things together. It is the belt that binds all of these characteristics together to us in order to make us perfect or completely mature. Without love we will fail to consistently be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, long-suffering, or forgiving. We need love to successfully become who God has called us to be. Love is given great importance throughout scripture. It is listed as being even greater than faith or hope. It is the key word in the two greatest commandments. But what is it? Our society is completely lost when comes to this word. Everyone knows how to say they love someone, but no one really knows what it means to actually love people or God.  Watching any kind of romantic movie gives you the impression that love is some instinctual feeling that we have for people that lets us know this person will always make us happy. If we base our understanding of love on these feelings we will be miserable because no one will make us happy all the time. We can’t make someone else happy all the time either. So how should Christians understand love? I’m glad you asked. Paul does not attempt to fully describe love in this chapter (see 1 Corinthians 13), but he goes on to describe how we can grow in our understanding of love and put it on. 

How Do We Put On Love?

1. We Need The Peace of Christ Ruling Over Our Hearts

The first thing that Paul points out to help us put on all of these attributes is that we need to pay attention to what guides our hearts. Look at 3:15.

Colossians 3:15 (ESV) — 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

What is the peace of Christ and how can it rule our hearts? The peace of Christ is the peace that Christ has made between us and God. Paul spoke of this peace in Colossians 1:20.

Colossians 1:20 (ESV) — 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The peace of Christ is the peace that Christ brings to the world through his crucifixion. His perfect and precious blood paid the ransom and made the atonement for our sins. Does that rule our hearts? Paul says that the suffering of Christ is not supposed to be something we come together to remember one day a week. The weight of what Jesus has done for us is supposed to be on the throne of our hearts. We live in light of this great act of love and it governs every action we take. His cross is where we go to free our hearts from anger. His cross is where we go to free our hearts from covetousness. His cross is where we go to find peace. His cross is where we go to understand love. Jesus going to the cross was not just a sacrificial act. It was the ultimate showing of love. Jesus held nothing back from us and he held nothing back from the Father. He gave up everything to serve his friends and his enemies. 

We let the peace of Christ rule our hearts by meditating on this one act of love and accepting the gift of his blood to remove our sins. That one act is enough to change our hearts. I’m afraid it is too easy for us to leave this place and take the peace of Christ off of the throne of our heart. We put ourselves on the throne, thinking about what we must do to please God more than we think about what God and Christ have done to make peace with us. This is why we don’t love as we should. Paul is encouraging us to remove whatever we typically put on the throne of our heart and put the peace of Christ there. This is our motivation and our drive. This is where our desires must come from and where a genuine love comes from. 

2. We Need The Word of Christ Dwelling Inside of Us Richly

In verse 16 Paul again helps us to put on all of these attributes by talking about what is inside of us. 

Colossians 3:16 (ESV) — 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.

Paul says that, in addition to the peace of Christ ruling our hearts, we need the word of Christ dwelling inside of us richly. Now let’s think about this phrase because it is deep as well. The word of Christ is not a singular word, but a way of saying the totality of Christ’s word. This would include all of the words spoken by Christ himself and all of the words spoken by Christ’s apostles and prophets. This includes both the Old Testament and the New Testament. As Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15 that, “The sacred writings… are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ.” Christ is himself the word of God according to John. So everything revealed about Christ is revealing the image and the glory of God (1:15). By having the word of Christ dwelling in us we have an understanding of God in us, specifically God’s steadfast love for his people and mankind in general. 

How much do we need to understanding the word of Christ? He says to let it dwell, or take up residence, inside of you richly. Paul wants us to make room inside of us and accommodate the coming of the word of God so that we can fit as much as possible inside of us. The picture is that there is more to understand about God than we can fit in one body, but we need to have as much as we possibly can inside of us. I like what John MacArthur said, “When they cut us we will bleed Bible verses.” The more we understand who God is and what God has done the more spiritual we become and the less earthly we become. If we fill our minds and our hearts with earthly things we will be like this earth. But if we fill our hearts and minds with spiritual things we will become like God. This is how we come to know love. Love is difficult for us to fully explain or fully describe because to love is to be like God. We want what God has done through Christ and what God has revealed about himself through Christ to be inside of us as much as possible every single day so that we love like he loves us. 

What Can Help Us Learn To Love Like God Loves?

At first glance, verses 15 and 16 are just additions to the command to put on love. But when we consider them more closely we see that they are actually giving us a better understanding of what it means to put  off what is earthly and put on love. But they also reveal how we can put love on that is like God. We put on love by letting the peace of Christ govern the thoughts and intentions of our heart. We put on love by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly. The knowledge of who our God is and what Christ has done renews our hearts and our minds to be like our creator. This is exactly what Paul said back in verse 10. We must know who God is and what God has done. This is the only way we will become like him and be who he is calling us to be in the body of Christ. This is the only way we can develop hearts and minds that serve him faithfully. But that’s not all that he tells us in these verses. Look again at verse 16. 

Colossians 3:16 (ESV) — 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.  

In this verse he tells us how the peace and word of Christ get inside of us. We have to 1) teach and admonish each other with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and we have to 2) become thankful in our hearts to God. 

We Sing With Our Hearts and With Understanding 

It could be said that our songs have a big impact on our hearts and minds. Like sermons and Bible classes, singing is the word of Christ. This is an encouragement to take singing seriously. The message of our songs go deep inside of us and they linger long after we sing them because we sing them over and over again. We need to view our songs as a condensed version of profound truths that are easy to memorize. I don’t think many songs have had a greater impact than Amazing Grace. If we understand the words of this song we understand the peace that Christ brings and the word of Christ gets inside of us. These words form our character and our beliefs. They can help us see things in a whole new light. I remember debating online when I was younger and I was making some self righteous kind of point. But the guy’s response was essentially to quote the lyrics of a well known song I have sung in the past, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and his righteousness.” That made a profound impact on me. That’s all he had to say to help me see what I was missing. I had been singing that song without understanding all of the implications of what I was singing or understanding the truth it was proclaiming. 

We have to sing with knowledge and understanding. The more we know God’s word the more those songs impact our heart. The words of our songs often reflect the deep things of the scripture and they only have a great impact on our hearts when we understand the truth the song reminds us of. They are like a mini commentary that is presented in a way that we can understand and remember and they help us put on a love for God. 

We Become Thankful In Every Situation

The second thing he mentions in verse 16 is thankfulness. The gratitude we feel has a major impact on our ability to love others. Thankfulness puts the focus on God and not me. If we find that we are failing to love our neighbor as God has loved us, we may be putting something or someone on the throne of our heart. The more the peace of Christ and the word of Christ are inside of us the more thankful we become and the result of this gratitude is a life that expresses love. 

Conclusion

Colossians 3 gives us a picture of what a Christian life is supposed to look like. Those who have been raised with Christ to walk in new life are supposed to be different from the world around them. They put to death what is earthly and bring to life what is heavenly. To finish this section of Colossians 3 let’s read verse 17. 

Colossians 3:17 (ESV) — 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.

When Christ is our life the peace of Christ is on the throne of our heart, the word of Christ is richly dwelling in us, and the name of Christ is proclaimed in how we live. Verse 17 says that whatever we do must be done as he would want us to do it. We are good to our spouse as Jesus would want us to. We do good to our children because Jesus would want us to. We do good to our employers and employees in light of what Jesus has done for us. This is what makes Christians different. The world shouldn’t hate us for doing evil but for doing good and showing the world that evil is condemned by God. That’s what Jesus did and they killed him for it.