- Locate the Passage
Like the previous paragraph, 3:12-14 is a paragraph of specific exhortation flowing out of the general exhortation in 3:1-4 to seek what is above. The oun (“therefore”) in 3:12 serves to distinguish this paragraph from the previous one. There is some question as to the terminal boundary of the paragraph. There is a conceptual unity in 3:12-14 under the main verb “put on” or “clothe yourselves,” with a shift taking place in 3:15 with a new verbal command. Thus, while it is not wrong to extend the section, 3:12-14 serves as a good preaching unit.
- Identify the Genre
The macro level is epistolary. The micro level is hortatory.
- Determine the Structure of the Passage
The oun (“therefore”) in 3:12 signals a conclusion based on the previous paragraph. Paul is building his exhortation in 3:12 regarding the putting on of compassion, etc., on his statement about the unity of God’s new people in 3:11.
There is one main command in this paragraph: “clothe yourselves” (endusasthe) in 3:12. This is followed with five accusative nouns describing that with which the Colossians are to clothe themselves: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 3:14 assumes the verb from 3:12 and adds “love” to the list.
This command is modified by two phrases. First, Paul introduces a clause using the conjunction hos (“since” or “as”): “as God’s chosen ones (eklektoi), holy, and dearly loved…” This describes the motive for the command he gives. Second, Paul uses two participles in 3:13 (“bearing with” and “forgiving” one another). This describes the manner in which they are to carry out the command he gives. Paul then uses the conjunction kathos (“just as”) in 3:13 to introduce a comparison that modifies the participial phrase. Paul says that the Colossians should bear with and forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven them.
3:14 is a continuation of the command in 3:12 to clothe themselves. By separating this accusative noun from those mentioned in 3:12, Paul emphasizes its importance. “Love” is “the perfect bond of unity,” the unity Paul described in 3:11.
- Exegete the Passage
This paragraph of specific exhortation flows from the generic exhortation in 3:1-4 to seek what is above. The use of oun (“therefore”) in 3:12 connects this to the previous paragraph. Paul concluded the previous paragraph with a statement of the unity of God’s new people. Based on their status as those who are one in Christ, Paul is now going to instruct them to clothe themselves with the kind of character qualities that allow for that unity to flourish. Thus, 3:12-14 is a continued amplification of exhortations toward Christ-likeness.
3:12 contains the main command to “clothe yourselves” and. The command to “clothe yourselves” provides a powerful illustration of Christian sanctification. The previous paragraph describes a “putting off” and “putting on.” This paragraph describes specifically what the Colossians are to put on. The five accusative nouns Paul uses in 3:12 could best be summarized by the accusative noun in 3:14, “love,” which is the one thing that binds the other virtues together. The Colossians must clothe themselves with the robe of love, which binds the other virtues (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience) together. Paul says that love is the “perfect bond of unity.” The unity of God’s new people that Paul describes in 3:11, where racial, cultural, and sociological differences are transcended, is only possible in a community where love is the rule. In 3:14 Paul stresses the importance of love in the list of virtues by saying that the Colossians should clothe themselves with love “above all.”
3:12 also contains the motive for completing the command to “clothe yourselves.” Paul says that the Colossians are “God’s chosen, holy, and dearly loved people.” That is, their status as God’s people should drive them toward the virtues associated with love. The Colossians should have a solidarity not on the basis of common language, geography, or culture, but on the basis of their having been chosen by God as His holy and beloved people.
Paul uses two participles in 3:13 to describe the manner in which they are to carry out the command to clothe themselves with love. They are to do so, “bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another.” In a church made up of such racial and cultural diversity, grievances were bound to happen. When they did, the Colossians were told simply to put up with one another and forgive as needed. This they are to do “just as (kathos) the Lord has forgiven you.” That is, the basis of the forgiveness they extended to each another was the forgiveness they had received from the Lord. The reconciliation the gospel brings is not merely “vertical,” but also “horizontal.”
- Let the Structure of the Text Drive the Structure of the Sermon
- The Mandate (3:12b, 14) “clothe yourselves with…”
- The Motive (3:12a) “as God’s chosen, holy, and dearly loved people”
- The Manner (3:13) “bearing with and forgiving one another…just as the Lord has forgiven you”