In Colossians 3:9-14, Paul calls on his readers to get rid of old clothes and to put on new clothes. The old clothes are sinful thoughts and actions and the new clothes are good thoughts and actions. We were born wearing the old clothes, and they are nothing but rags, but we can get a free set of new clothes from the heavenly store. The new clothes are fivefold – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, and they are worn long with love and forgiveness.
Sometimes, the owners of an earthly store arrange a special day when their privileged guests can observe a model wearing the latest designs and so give them an example of how to wear the attire. And if they need to consider the presentation in more detail, the owners will provide them with a DVD that they can watch at home in order to know how to best put on the new wardrobe.
Similarly, there is a model in the heavenly location and he is the Owner’s Son and he wears the attire all the time. In the heavenly store one will not find new fashions, but neither will one find dated items either. And the Owner provides an equivalent of the DVD, and that is the records of Jesus in the Gospels and we can go through each of them and discover how best to wear the heavenly wardrobe.
So how did Jesus wear the item of a compassion heart? On one occasion, he used his tongue to show compassion when he taught those he saw as sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). He also used his tears at times, as when he wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). And at other times, he used his hands as when he broke the few fish and rolls with which he fed the 5,000. There were many other ways by which he showed compassion, but these are three that we can imitate – we can tell the truth of the gospel to those who are deceived by sin, we can weep over the perishing, and we can use our assets and possessions to bring relief to those in need of it. And if we find ourselves forgetting how it should be done, we can take out the Gospels and see how Jesus did it.
Or we can look at some of the ways in which Jesus showed kindness. Kindness is the practice of goodness – it is the display of grace in all kinds of situations. A way of seeing kindness in Jesus is to focus on incidents when it was unexpected, when it was shown to those who would not have received kindness from others. One such person was the woman of Samaria – how kind Jesus was with her, a social outcast despised by her neighbours, but to whom he gave the water of life (John 4). Another was Simon Peter – how kind Jesus was to a failure when he restored Peter to the work of an apostle (John 21). Or we can think of the criminal on the cross – what kindness Jesus showed to him when assuring him of a place in heaven (Luke 23). Of course, we can see Jesus showing kindness in other ways than just to those who did not expect it. But you will see them in the Gospels.
Then Paul mentions humility. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus described himself as gentle and lowly in heart, and both these character traits are mentioned here by Paul. We see many example of humbleness of mind in the Saviour. His birth reveals his humble beginnings. Although all things are his, he made himself nothing. He identified with his people when he humbly went to the Jordan and was baptised. And the best-known occasion is when he washed his disciples’ feet in the upper room. Humility is the willingness to perform what others think is beneath them, and Jesus was constantly marked by gracious humility as he lived a servant lifestyle.
The fourth characteristic is gentleness. One way by which we can look at this feature in the life of Jesus is to consider his work as shepherd of his people. He gently guides them to waters of rest when they are struggling to cope with the pressures of life. When they fall, he gently restores them. The grace of gentleness is perhaps the hardest to live out in today’s pressurised world, but it is how Jesus expects his people to live.
The fifth aspect is patience (or long-suffering) and Paul connects it to bearing with one another and forgiving one another. How patient Jesus was with his disciples, and with us! We tend to confuse patience with placidity whereas it is better to link it with perseverance. How long are we to bear with one another? As long as we will know one another. Of course, it is easier to persevere with a person if we do not hold grudges against him or her. I suspect that the failure to forgive in the past is at the root of many church troubles.
Paul informs the Colossians of the level of forgiveness they have to show – ‘as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.’ That is a high standard, but I don’t think it should be a difficult standard to follow. How can one who is forgiven innumerable sins by Christ not forgive one or two faults in another Christian! What was the Lord’s forgiveness like? First, he desired to forgive – this was true of him before he came into the world and remains true of him. Second, he delighted to forgive; he fully forgave all who asked him for pardon, and he gave his forgiveness joyfully. Third, he forgives permanently – Jesus does not remind us of the sins he has forgiven. We will remember them with shame, that is true. Yet if we imitated Jesus in desiring to forgive, in delighting to give pardon, and in forgetting the faults of others, we would be very attractive.
I hope we are wearing our best clothes today, the attire of Christlikeness.