Putting on Love
Colossians 3:14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
We are still in the practical section of Colossians, and Paul is telling the Colossians and all believers how we are to live as God’s children. In verse 9 Paul says that we took off the old self with its practices. That’s what happened at our conversion where we cut our relationship to Adam. Then verse 10 states that we “have put on the new self.” So in conversion, our identity with Adam ended, and we were united to Jesus Christ.
We did not just decide to do this and make it happen ourselves. Verse 12 makes it clear that this happened because we “have been chosen of God, holy and beloved.” In other words, God took the initiative, He chose, He sanctified, and He loved. And because of God’s love, we live for Him. In verse 12 and 13 Paul tells us that we need to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; and bear with one another, and forgive one another.
Does that describe us? If it does not describe us, then it should certainly be our goal, praying that God would grant us the grace to be more like this. Paul goes on in verse 14 to give us the chief virtue:
Colossians 3:14 (NASB) And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
I read a comment on this verse that was very interesting. The author said “Doesn’t forbearance or putting up with one another seem like a strange concept for a believer to be directed towards when love seems to be the aim of following after God? Love accepts men and women as they are, forbearance puts up with them. Love seeks out people who don’t fit in and puts its arm around them, forbearance smiles at them and hopes they don’t come any nearer.” Love gets involved in the trials and tribulations of the unlovely, forbearance wishes them well from a distance.
Paul says that we are to “bear with one another” and to go beyond that also, and to love one another. I hope you see how love goes well beyond putting up with one another. Love is the sixth item or attitude we are to put on. And Paul emphasizes that it is the most important one.
Believers are to enjoy mutual fellowship through compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; and bear with each other or forgive each other. But none of these things will occur unless there is love for one another. To try to practice all these things without love is called legalism. Unless what we do flows out of our love for the Lord and out of love for one another, then it is simply legalism. When we do things for God that are not motivated by love, then these things are not from the heart, and we have become like the Pharisees.
Love is the chief of all character traits that we have in Christ. If we try to think of one word that describes who Jesus Christ is, what would that word be? I think that “love” would have to be the word that describes Him. Every other characteristic of our Savior seems to pale in comparison to the perfect, unending, deep, deep love of Jesus for His sheep. It was the love of Jesus that caused Him to suffer more than our minds have the ability to understand. No other characteristic or attribute of Jesus affects more than His great love for us.
Paul goes on in vs. 14 to say that love is “the perfect bond of unity.” The word “bond” means: “to bind together, to unite.” In this context, “bond” refers to a girdle or belt that people in the first century would wear on the outside to hold together all their clothes. And just as the “bond” or girdle held all the clothes together, love holds all these other Christ-like behaviors together, that Paul had mentioned. Love binds all these characteristic behaviors together in their proper place, so that we might be clothed in Christ-like clothing.
But we haven’t talked about what exactly this term “love” is. We know we are to put it on, as one would put on a coat, but what is “love”? In our culture, the word love means anything except what the Bible says it is. So Christians are easily misled into thinking love is just a feeling, or something we can fall into or out of. The Greek word eros is used to describe sensual love, what you feel when you “fall in love”, or it describes having a sexual attraction to a person. But that word does not even appear in the Bible. And the word here is not phileo, which means: “feelings of warmth and affection toward another person, close friendship”
The word Paul uses for love is agape. This Greek word was rarely used in literature before the New Testament. And in the New Testament, agape took on a special meaning; it was used to designate a self-sacrificial love, a love naturally expressed through the Holy Spirit, but not by the flesh.
Agape is a one-way love. In other words, you love me, even if I don’t love you back and even though there is nothing good about me. Even though you didn’t ask for it, Jesus loved you and died for your sins on the cross. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That is the outworking of God’s love for us.
Agape love came through the cross. It proceeds from the one who loves, and is not based on anything in the person that is loved. It is the only word ever used to describe God’s love for His people. Agape love is a decision, and a commitment that you make to treat another person with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another. That is what love is.
You might be tempted to think that this Biblical love is a nice thing, and someday you’ll try to do it. You’ll try to grow into it. You’ll work on making it a part of your life, but right now you’re just too busy with so many other important things that you just don’t have the time to worry about it.
You know what Paul says about love in 1 Cor 13?
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Paul says that if a believer does not have this agape love, he is nothing! Here is a math problem for you. What does life minus love equal? NOTHING! Life without agape love is meaningless, and it amounts to a great big zero. Do you think Paul says agape love is important?
Even under the Old Covenant the love of God and love of one’s neighbor were viewed as the greatest and second greatest commands. So we know it is important.
But how do we love God? If it is not just some feeling we can cause to grow within us, then how do we love?
John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”
John 15:10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.
Based on those verses, what would love mean? Love reveals itself in obedience to Jesus Christ. Love is at least partly defined as keeping the commands of Jesus.
1 John 2:3-5 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
The most visible characteristic of love is obedience, and love, itself, is a desire to obey Jesus. Now most of the time when people hear the word “commandment” they automatically think of the 10 Commandments. But that is not what Jesus is talking about. He didn’t tell us to obey Moses. He didn’t tell us to obey the 10 Commandment. He asked us to keep His commandments. But did Jesus give us any commandments? He certainly did. And in order to distinguish his commandment from Moses commandments He calls it a new commandment.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
And this commandment is repeated in John 15 as well.
So the new command we have from Jesus is that we love one another. But Jesus goes beyond that, so that we can in no way miss what He is saying. The love we are to have for one another is based upon and modeled upon the love Jesus has for us. He says “as I have loved you.” Our love for one another is not based on how we feel, or what we think love is. We are commanded to love, as Jesus Himself loved us. There is no greater love than this, is there? There is no better example of love than that of God’s own Son, who died in our place.
Another point about agape love. Agape love does not exist in a void. In other words, agape love is demonstrated in action. Jesus didn’t just say He loved us, but He went to the cross for us. He didn’t just tell us that we are condemned sinners, but He went to the cross and in His body He removed that condemnation.
So how do we show this agape love to God? Jesus makes it clear: we show this agape love to God by exercising this agape love to one another. The Bible makes it clear that our love to God is validated by our love for others:
1 John 4:20-21 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
Lest we be tempted to understand the word “commandment” as the 10 Commandments, John tells us in 1 John 3:23:
23 And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
John is taking the words of Jesus, when He gave us the new commandment, and applying them to all his teaching and letter writing to the churches. And John is saying that these 2 commandments are required for all men. The first commandment is from God the Father and it requires all men to believe in Jesus Christ. “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ” is what it literally says. That is the starting point of life. That is the most important thing anyone can do their entire life. Nothing else can compare to the importance of believing in Jesus Christ. In Mt 17, at the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father shows us that Moses and Elijah have faded away, and all that is left is Jesus, His Son. And He tells us to “listen to Him.” And we listen to Jesus, we believe in Him, and trust in Him.
The second commandment John tells us is that we should love one another, just as Jesus commanded us. We cannot truly love God without loving one another. To not be a loving person is not some small character flaw, it is to break the only command our Savior gave us; To not be a loving person demonstrates that we do not love God.
If love is preeminent, if life minus love equals zero, if to not be loving is to not love God, if love is that important, then we should all desire to manifest love in our lives, shouldn’t we?
When Paul tells us what the fruit of the Spirit is, he mentions love first. Without the Holy Spirit, we are unable to love. It is the first and most important fruit of the Spirit.
Notice the effect of love in vs. 14 – “Which is the perfect bond of unity.” I think this refers not only to the other graces Paul mentioned in Colossians 3:12-13, but to the power of love to “bind or hold together” the church. All the different personalities that make up the church are all bonded together by the active love of the body for one another.
Are we growing in love? As we grow in Christ, are we more compassionate, more patient with one another? Are we growing in kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; are we more forgiving as we understand more and more how much we were forgiven in Christ?
Love is demonstrated by action. Jn 13:35 says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Do people see us and see our lives and know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ?