“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
Significant work appearing in the introduction of this portion of Holy Writ! It has a twofold significance. On the one hand, it points to a conclusion, to something that follows out of something that precedes; and on the other, it calls for consistency, that is, if that which precedes is true then that which follows should be in harmony with it.
To apply this to the text and the context at hand, the argument of the apostle goes something like this: If we confess that we are Christ’s and are risen with Him, then our life and walk must be consistent with our confession. If we claim that in principle we are putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him, then we will be busy putting on bowels of mercies, etc.
Putting on Christian virtues!
As one puts on clothing wherewith to cover himself, and being covered to thus make his appearance before others; so must these virtues be donned, and without them we should not be seen!
Put on bowels of mercies!
The term “bowels” refers properly to the vital, internal organs of the body, such as the heart, lungs, liver, intestines, etc., which were considered by the ancients as the seat of all emotions and affections, of all passions, good and bad. Rightly considered, however, the term undoubtedly refers to the heart, out of which are all the issues of life, which is the seat of all our thinking, willing, all our emotions from a spiritual-ethical point of view.
When the apostle speaks of bowels “of mercies” he qualifies this seat of emotion and affection. The mercy here signifies compassion, pity, and sympathy, so that the seat of the affection is characterized as having the quality of sympathetic pity and compassion, and as such is considered by the apostle as the fountain and source of all the other virtues he here enumerates. That is, kindness, lowliness of mind, meekness, and longsuffering have their beginning in this seat of the affections. And the relation is such that there is graduation in these concepts. Each added virtue adds to the original mercy, and longsuffering, which is mentioned last, is undoubtedly that which makes up the fulness of the concept mercy.
A most beautiful word as it is the expression of a most beautiful grace! It is a grace that pervades and penetrates the whole nature, mellowing there all which has the natural tendency to be harsh and austere. It signifies benevolence and sweetness of disposition as shown in the intercourse with others.
Lowliness or humbleness of mind!
One who possesses this virtue has a humble opinion of self. Such an one has a deep sense of littleness. It springs from the sense of unworthiness, of dependence, and finds its first expression in the confession of sin. When it is displayed over against another, it always deems the other better than oneself.
So closely related to the preceding virtue because it is only the humble heart which is also meek. One who is truly meek does not puff himself up as being better than others, but confesses freely his own unworthiness. It desires to see the other exalted rather than self.
One who possesses this virtue is able long to hold out before he gives room to action or passion. It expresses the willingness to bear reproaches and all evil treatment of the object that is loved.
All these virtues are characteristic of the new man! They are the reflection of the image of Christ as it comes to manifestation in the redeemed and regenerated sinner. And strikingly all of these virtues are intended to be displayed by the child of God to others. His heart is full of mercy and compassion. His disposition is kindly and beneficently disposed toward others. He has a deep sense of moral littleness which esteems other better than himself. He is always ready and willing to confess his own sin first before he is ready to point out the sin in others. And he is ready to suffer abuse and reproach of others, so long as he may thereby show that he has been with Jesus, and show to those who bring the abuse and reproach that they are the objects of the love which dwells in the heart of the one who is longsuffering.
Putting these virtues on!
But how shall we put on what is principally and essentially spiritual and internal?
Surely all these virtues which the apostle enumerates here are spiritual, and as such are invisible qualities of the inward man. However, when the apostle says that these must be put on, he means that we are to allow them to become manifest in our conduct. Not, you understand in the sense in which we often speak of “put on.” For the apostle would never exhort us to hypocritically show off what really was not there; though it is possible that one with a vain show of piety can sometimes imitate these virtues, while in heart never mean them. But certainly no real child of God will merely show off or manifest what he really does not possess. Nay, rather, when he puts on these virtues it becomes outwardly seen what he already possesses inwardly and spiritually.
A continual act!
Indeed, the actual putting on of the new man takes place once, principally, when the child of God is regenerated, born again from above, when the Holy Spirit of Christ makes us partakers of the image of Christ, when our spiritually dead and corrupt heart is renewed, and we are changed from haters to lovers of God, His Christ, His people. But in the process of sanctification there is a continual putting on and putting off. When we are changed, we are changed principally, which means there is only a beginning of new obedience. But it lies in the very nature of this work of the Holy Spirit that it cannot stop with the mere implanting of the seed. The seed must grow, the new life must needs come to outward manifestation. It would be a contradiction to say that we have put on the new man, and not these virtues. The process must continue until the full new man is complete.
Forbearing one another!
Forgiving one another!
So this putting on of Christian virtues is brought to manifestation. In our Christian experience it is possible that offences will arise, though we should never seek them, and much less be the occasion for them. Offences may arise for many different reasons. Sometimes Christians because of their natures may become troublesome persons. They seem to delight in strutting about with a chip on their shoulder. They are often great fault finders. They are people you could wish were delivered completely of the old man of sin and translated to heaven, so that you would not have to deal any longer with them. Then again, often these offences arise out of misunderstanding, or perhaps through lack of tact. Then again, they may be occasioned through some physical condition or weakness. Perhaps one is run down physically, so that we say his nerves have run away with him, and he says more or less than he ought to say, and he may do or say things which in a more reserved moment he would never do or say. Consequently friction results, sparks fly, and when these sparks fly long and fast enough, the result is a huge conflagration. What then should the Christian do? How must he act when there is something between him and the other? Should the sparks be allowed to start a fire? Or, should there be a withdrawal, and the position assumed that gives the heated person a long time to cool off?
The apostle exhorts: forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ (or the Lord) forgave you, so also do ye!
Forbearing one another!
Longsuffering and forbearance are different. This is true especially as these two virtues are found in God Himself. Then longsuffering reflects His attitude over against His beloved people, while forbearance reflects His attitude over against the wicked. He bears with them just so long as He suffers with His people. He does not destroy them until they have served His purpose with them. But when these virtues are found in us, then we are longsuffering when we endure the reproaches of those whom we love, and we bear with their sin until they come to repentance, and seek for forgiveness. We do not condone their sin, but we bear with it, not returning evil for evil.
Forgiving one another!
That is, the grace that makes us willing to show kindness to the offending one, and the readiness to help him remove the offense so that it no longer exists.
Notice how the apostle stresses the mutual, the reciprocal nature of these graces. Forbearing one another. Forgiving one another. Forgiveness can never be the act of one alone. The offended must be willing to forgive, and the offender must seek forgiveness.
Only he who forbears and forgives, is putting on bowels of mercies. If we say we are putting on the new man, we must also be putting on bowels of mercies. And if we say we are putting on bowels of mercies, we must be willing to bear with one another and to forgive one another.
As Christ forgave you!
That Christ forgave us, we believe and confess. Therefore as He did so must we do. One who fails to forgive cannot say he has been forgiven. That is what Christ taught us. “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will My Father forgive your trespasses.” He taught us to pray: forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
As elect of God!
Holy and beloved!
You, the saints of Colossa! And you also who constitute the whole body of Christ! You have been chosen by God eternally, sovereignly. You were chosen in order that you should become holy, and because you were loved.
As a fruit of that election!
Put on bowels of mercy, all Christian virtues!
In order that you might appear without blame before Him, in love He has chosen you. In order that you may walk before Him without blame, He calls you whom He has chosen in love to be constant in putting off the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new man, which consists in putting on all these virtues.
That fruit which has its principle in election, must come to outward manifestation in our walk.
The seed always bears fruit!