March 14, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 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.
As we seek to “clothe ourselves” with a way of life that imitates Jesus, we are to put on love, most of all. Love has divine power to bind all people together in grace-filled unity. It may be easy to love people we find lovable. But our calling as Christians is to love everyone, even and especially those we find difficult to love. Jesus not only instructs us to love in this way, but also models that kind of love.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Live Who You Are.
If you were reading Colossians 3:14 out of context and in Greek, you’d be confused. This verse reads, translating very literally, “Above all these things, love, which is the bond of perfection.” Where, you would wonder, is the verb? The answer to this question comes from verse 12, which supplies the main verb for verses 12-14. You’ll remember that Paul tells the Colossians: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” The imperative, “clothe yourselves” carries all the way over into verse 14. When we come upon “love” without a verb, we understand that this is another garment we should put on, just like compassion, kindness, and so forth.
But love isn’t just like those other pieces of clothing. It is the most important one of all. “Above all,” Paul writes, “clothe yourselves with love.” More important than compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience is love. In fact, it “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
That’s how the NRSV translates the Greek that reads, “which is the bond of perfection.” It’s certainly possible that Paul means to say love “binds everything together in perfect harmony.” But there is good reason to believe a different nuance is at work here. You’ll notice that the Greek doesn’t specify that which is being bound together perfectly by love. It could be that love unites all of the “garments” in this passage, all of the virtues we should put on. But I believe Paul wants us to understand that love binds together, not the virtues, but rather the people of God. This is made clear in the New Living Translation, which reads, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14, NLT).
The importance of unity and harmony among God’s people is found throughout Colossians 3:12-17. Together we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (3:12). If we treat each other with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12), surely this will help to unify the church. So will putting up with each other and forgiving each other (3:13). Then, looking beyond verse 14 with its emphasis on love, verse 15 commends choosing the way of peace because we have been “called in the one body” (3:15). So, the context of verse 14 supports the notion that love binds all Christians together in perfect harmony.
At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I expect all of us can testify to the fact that this truth is not always experienced among God’s people. The perfect harmony of which Paul speaks seems to be quite elusive, at least in my experience of church. We Christians are quite adept at fostering disunity—whether it has to do with essential theology, or with inessential things like musical styles, political viewpoints, or, these days, opinions about COVID-19. We’re quite good at not clothing ourselves with the kind of love that binds diverse Christians together in any sort of harmony, let alone perfect harmony.
It’s easy to love those we find lovable. It’s easy to love those with whom we agree. It’s easy to love people who are on our side. It’s much harder to love the other people, the ones we don’t especially like, the ones with whom we strongly disagree, the folk on the other side of culturally divisive issues. Yet the real test of our love will be our ability to extend genuine love to those we wouldn’t choose to love were we not seeking to follow Jesus together.
Recently I watched all the released episodes of The Chosen, a multi-season streamed series about the life of Jesus. I’ll admit I was initially wary of this show, expecting it to be unhistorical and/or cheesy. But I was quickly won over by the fact that the creators of The Chosen had clearly done their homework. The world they portrayed and the characters in it made sense to me as one who has spent a great deal of my life studying the New Testament and its cultural context.
One of the things I like about The Chosen – and this is a tiny spoiler – is its portrayal of the disciples of Jesus. In particular, I appreciate how The Chosen portrays disagreements among the disciples. Though they are united in their desire to follow Jesus, whom they are trying desperately to figure out, they often have a very difficult time getting along with each other. This makes perfect sense if you think about it. After all, Jesus called Matthew/Levi to follow him. He was one of the most hated people in his culture, a Jew who was a tax collector for Rome. At the same time, Jesus also called someone named Simon (not Simon Peter) who is identified in Acts 1:13 as “Simon the Zealot.” Zealots, in the time of Jesus, were basically Jewish extremists who used violence in the hope of casting Rome out of Judea. Most of Jesus’s disciples would have been naturally inclined to hate Matthew; Simon would have been inclined to kill him.
Yet, these people, so diverse and conflicted in many ways, we called together by Jesus, who instructed them to love each other. Moreover, Jesus demonstrated love, not only for those who followed him, but also for those who didn’t, even for those who opposed him and ultimately crucified him. That kind of love has never been easy. But it is the kind of love to which we are called as followers of Jesus. And it is the kind of love that binds everyone together in harmony—by God’s grace, perfect harmony.
When have you seen people in your church exercise Christ-like love for others?
When you find it difficult to love a brother or sister in Christ, what do you do?
Can you think of someone you’re having a hard time loving right now? Why is this hard? What do you think God wants you to do?
Choose to love someone this week, someone you would not ordinarily love.
Gracious God, thank you once again for the clarity and power of this passage from Colossians. It speaks to us in ways that are both encouraging and challenging. We need to hear this!
Help me, dear Lord, to clothe myself in love. Teach me to love others, especially those I have a hard time loving on my own. May I act in a loving way toward them no matter now I’m feeling. Yet, by your grace, may my heart be filled with you love for them.
Today I pray for my church, that we would truly and consistently clothe ourselves with love. May we love each other. May we love our neighbors. Most of all, may we grow in our love for you, dear Lord. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: A Pleasure We Need Today
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.