Last week we started talking about compassion as part of the clothes the Christian is to wear. Before we continue in that, I want to ask you something. How do you choose what you will wear? I have a clear routine when it comes to choosing which clothes I will wear. I have a two week rotation for what I wear to work each day and know Sunday night already what I will wear each day that coming week. For Sunday mornings, I work off a three month rotation and I have my shirts in order in my closet and follow that order. As a result, when I get dressed, there is usually no thought as to what I will wear on that day. I go to the closet, get it and put it on. I’m weird. What is your process of choosing what clothes to wear?
How do we decide what Christian clothes to wear each day? I believe that when it comes to our “clothes” as Christians, it should be as natural and almost effortless as my getting dressed. It is what we are and what we do. We are clothed with Christ. God does that by giving us the righteousness of Christ. But God helps clothe us in how we are to live each day as well. That is what Paul is talking about in Colossians 3:1-14. We are to be clothed with these virtues, including the virtue of compassion in verse 12.
One could say that the recipients of the clothing are the “therefore” people. Since Jesus died and rose again, and since we believe that his death and resurrection are for us, therefore, we are to be entirely different from people in the world. It’s not that we decide we are going to be different or better or more virtuous. It is only because of the saving work of Jesus that makes it possible for us to be different and makes it possible for us to be clothed in these things.
Paul says that as God’s “therefore people,” we are different from others in the world. Paul calls Christians “God’s chosen people.” This reinforces once again that we do not become Christians on our own efforts or by our own works or even by our own desires, but rather because God chooses or elects us. We may make a decision to accept Christ, but what brings us to that point is the power of the Holy Spirit. God makes us Christians by choosing us. Paul also calls Christians “holy.”
We often think of the word “holy” as being pure and innocent. There is that aspect of purity but it is only part of what being holy means as it applies to us. When we are called “holy” it means that we have been called and set apart by God. For example, you could possibly have a rack full of shoes, but only one or two pair are the ones you wear when you go to church. To be holy means that something is set apart to be used for God’s special purpose. God chooses us to be something holy and to do something special for him.
Finally, Paul says that we are dearly loved. Think again of Psalm 103 and how vast God’s love is for us, but he loves and has compassion on us like a father has compassion on his children. God doesn’t draft you into his army of servants to just use you; he dearly loves you.
Paul is saying that Christians should try to be loving like the One in whom they believe. How do they do that? By putting on these things that follows in these verses. We take on these characteristics as we live for our loving and compassionate God. We are to put on or literally we are to “clothe ourselves” with these things. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are the clothing that others should see us wearing.
Now let’s remind ourselves once again where these clothes come from. God clothes us with these things through the working of the Holy Spirit. I emphasize this simply because as we look at these virtues, it can become very easy for us to try to assume control of attaining these things. We may start to think, “I’ve got to working harder at becoming more humble or gentle or patient.” Now while that is true to some extent, the way we clothe ourselves is by submitting to God by asking him to fill us with that nature so we can become more the way God wants us to be.
How are we clothed practically? We should cultivate and manifest the qualities of the one whose name we bear: Jesus Christ. We should have the model of Jesus in front of us and pray that God will clothe us with him. That is reflected in Colossians 3:10 which says that we are to put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its Creator. And while we must be willing to put off the old and put on the new, this happens only through the renewing that God is doing in us through the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps it is helpful to think of it in this way. When you were a young child, your parents dressed you, like my parents dressed me. I didn’t decide that I would wear the adorable little suit; my mother or father decided what I would wear. As Christians, we should be like little obedient children and ask every morning that God will clothe us with the clothes he wants us to wear.
God also wants to clothe us in humility. This was not a virtue that was highly thought of in Paul’s day in the Greek world. Much like today, humility was seen as a sign of weakness or an ineffective person. Biblical humility means viewing other people as being better than yourself. When you think of your relationships with others, you place others ahead of you. We can be confident in ourselves, but we should think of others as even better. That means we respect others and don’t assume that we are always right.
God also wants us to put on the clothing of gentleness. This is the virtue that enables a person to control his or her anger, even when his or her rights have been violated. This virtue says that even if someone has done you wrong, you do not give in to anger but rather you pray for that person. Jesus is the best example of this in that he suffered the greatest wrong, was condemned to death even though innocent, and yet he prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing him. We can become angry when others are hurt but we must be gentle when we are persecuted.
Finally, God wants us to wear the clothing of patience. Literally this means suffering a long time with others who may have offended or hurt you. Even though a person may be most frustrating or exasperating, we must be patient and endure it a long time.
III. In the next few Sundays, we want to focus on the clothing of compassion.
Let’s review what compassion means. Remember that compassion is that deep-seated feeling for others that then translates into compassionate action to others; it is that feeling deep inside in our very innards. Compassion is showing and acting on these inner feelings of love by actions of care and concern to those in need. Compassion is knowing that someone needs encouragement and out of a deep love for that person, you go and encourage that person. Compassion is knowing that a person is lonely and out of a deep love for that person you visit them and relieve their loneliness. Compassion is seeing a need and then acting on it by reaching out and doing something to help them in that need. Compassion is getting dozens of shoes for refugee families in Tusculum School so that they have good shoes to wear.
Remember that compassion is a gift from God, part of the virtues we receive from the Holy Spirit. And we should want to be compassionate because God is compassionate to us. Sometimes we think that compassion is merely a duty. We see a need and we feel obliged to meet it. We must model ourselves after Christ’s compassion shown to us when we don’t deserve it.
So how does wearing compassion become more natural? First, have faith that what God says in the Bible is absolutely true for you. Believe that God loves you more than you can possibly imagine with a love that is beyond our grasp to understand. Believe that it really doesn’t depend on you to earn your salvation. Believe that God has redeemed you and is sanctifying you to be more and more like Jesus.
Second, read and study the Scriptures. If we are going to clothe ourselves with the character of Jesus, we have to know more and more of who Jesus is and what he is like. We need to know the compassionate character of God as shown through all of history. We need to know the way God wants his children to live.
Third, we need to listen to God in prayer. Through the Holy Spirit, God will convict us in areas in our lives where we need to change. In prayer God will shape you and clothe you to be more compassionate, particularly in challenging situations.
Finally, remember that we do this in community. We need to encourage each other, admonish each other, challenge each other and serve as models for each other as to how we can wear the clothes God is putting on us. We can encourage each other to make sure we have the right priorities in our lives.
Lamott continued, “Pammy died seven years ago. But I still live by her words: You don’t have time to live a lie. You don’t have time to get the world to approve of you. You only have the time to become the person you dream of being. You only have the time to clean out your mean and ugly spots, areas that drag you down and hurt other people. You only have the time to accept yourself as you are and start getting a little bit healthier so you can be who God needs you to be. In a way, it’s exhilarating to say, ‘This is really who I am, and I’m not going to pretend just because I have the sneaking suspicion I’m not good enough.’ God meets you where you are.”
We need others in our community to help us to reduce our wardrobe malfunctions so we can show the kind of compassion God, who has crowned us with compassion, wants us to show. What will you do this week to wear the clothing of compassion more for those around you?