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. – Colossians 3:12-14 (NLT)
I grew fast in junior high school. Puberty, right? My body didn’t bulk up, but it shot up. I was always the skinny kid, but in those years, I became the tall, skinny kid.
This became a problem. I kept outgrowing my pants. Mom was an amateur seamstress, good with a sewing machine, we were poor, so the solution was to let out the cuffs of my pants to make them longer. When we went shopping for clothes, fit was not the main criteria – it was how much extra fabric had the manufacturer left hemmed up in the pants legs?
And, of course, once mom had lengthened my pants out as far as they would go, I would often just wear them anyway, the cuffs gradually rising up above my ankles. It was somewhat embarrassing, but then, junior high was one big humiliation after another, so what did it really matter? (Not that I had that perspective back then!)
Paul talks about fashion in Colossians 3 – God’s fashion. He talks about the clothing of character. Put on mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, he says. Meaning that to some extent, we choose to live this way instead of being cold-hearted, uncaring, self-centered, aggressive, and demanding. But such things are habits of the mind and heart, so we can’t really slip into kindness as easily as putting on a robe.
Love, he says, binds us all together in perfect harmony. There’s love again. The servant-like and self-denying love that Jesus had when he allowed himself to be nailed to the cross is the very same transformative quality that takes root in us and makes all of the rest possible, if we are willing to yield to him, walk with him, be changed by him, be taught and guided by the Holy Spirit each day in every circumstance we find ourselves.
Then, with the love of Christ at the center rather than our demanding egos, we are able to put on and live out mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. And as we do so, we transform the landscape we live and walk in.
But we don’t always – often? – live into that reality. I’ve been listening to Christianity Today’s excellent and disturbing podcast on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, the Seattle megachurch that became a sensation under the leadership of Pastor Mark Driscoll. At the heart of all of the failures and excesses and tragedies of that church, and a great many others like it, are leaders whose arrogance and narcissism lead them to put on clothing that exalts themselves and diminishes God. It’s heartbreaking because of the destruction that comes so predictably when Christian leaders are led by their egos rather than the humble servant God-man Jesus Christ.
And yet, if we point the finger at these headline-grabbing abuses of Christ, we only minimize the everyday and more common ways that we, you and I, let our own egos run roughshod over our children, our spouses, our colleagues at work – pretty much anyone who dares to get in the way of what we want. We strip off mercy, kindness, gentleness, and love with ease and stand naked in our selfish desires to get what we want and to demand what we believe we’re due.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
Harmony, unity, peace, Christ-likeness: All of these are the fruit of love. Lord, let me be clothed in your love today.