Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. … Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… —Colossians 3:12-15, NLT (the apostle Paul writing)
Back when I was a grumpy teenager, my mother would drag me endlessly from store to store trying to find a single pair of pants my size. I was a tall and skinny kid in a world designed for short and not-so-skinny.
I imagine clothes were more one-size-fits-all back when Paul was a kid. Paul’s mom probably strolled into the Jerusalem Bergdorf Goodman’s and just grabbed a robe right off the rack, and I’ll bet it fit him like a glove.
“Clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” he says. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love…”
Paul likes to use vivid verbs. What he is suggesting is that these qualities — mercy, kindness, humility, etc. — are not natural to us. In our naked naturalism, we are more likely to be vengeful, harsh, proud, brusque, and self-centered.
And yes, we like going nekkid. Make allowance for each other’s faults? We’d rather give someone a good pop in the mouth. Or, a bullet to the head. That’ll teach them.
According to Paul — and any sociologist worth his PhD — our most treasured human social behaviors are not genetic, but acquired. We dress ourselves in civility, but the fabric is thin and tattered.
The Mexican President Benito Juárez, Mexico’s Abraham Lincoln, once famously remarked: “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”
Yet here in Oaxaca, in Benito Juarez’s birthplace, his descendants have for months assaulted the inhabitants of this city through arson, vandalism, bullying, beatings and killings, all under the guise of pursuing justice.
Naked human nature has no respect for the rights of others. When push comes to shove (isn’t that a fine expression!) we humans prefer aggression to love.
Paul’s insight here is important. God created us. God knows us. And yet, God does not despair when he sees the evil we inflict on each other.
Rather, this merciful God has hand-tailored a new set of clothing for us — the very same clothing worn by Jesus Christ himself. And when we dress in this clothing, we forgive as Christ forgave, we love as Christ loved.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… — Colossians 3:15, 16 (ESV)
What does that phrase mean: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you”?
Genesis 1 speaks of God forming the universe with a word. The apostle John extends that idea by linking those God-spoken, creative words with the man Jesus Christ, whose life and death and very being were God-directed, God-infused, God poured-out-in-flesh and dressed in human clothing.
This word, or logos as Paul puts it in the Greek, is nothing so trite as the lessons and teachings of Jesus Christ. He is not talking here about memorizing a little red book full of the sayings of Chairman Jesus.
Logos is quite literally the tangible expression of the mind of God in the created world, including in his created beings — us, naked humanity.
Therefore, we are not merely to dress up in a costume and play at goodness, much as the little children will soon come to our doors pretending to be angels and devils and monsters of every description.
To cover our nakedness, God wants to join himself with us, pouring his mind and heart and soul in us and over us so that our very cells absorb his goodness and love, as a dry sponge fills with water. When the peace of Christ has dominion within us, when the Word of Christ super-saturates our being, we will no longer be naked.
In other words, this is not something we do by screwing up our faces and trying really, really hard to be decent human beings. Been there, done that.
We will live in love when we allow God to clothe us in the heart and mind of Jesus Christ. And then, we will be naked no longer.
Photo credit: Mark in Mexico