Colossians 3:12-17

This lesson continues the discussion on Christian ethics and how various elements come together to establish a Christian "Standard" for life and morality.
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Let's focus on where we are in this letter. Paul, in response to false teachers who are trying to undermine Christ's position and teaching, demonstrates that Jesus' life, ministry and teachings:

  • place Him at the right hand of God as a divine being
  • over all creation as the creator
  • savior of all humanity
  • head of the church
  • victor over demons in the underworld

From this primary or "pre-eminent" position flow the teachings which supersede any other teachings (especially those of the false teachers). And these teachings form the basis upon which we decide what is good, what is right, what is from God and what is not from God.

This is where we left off in our previous chapter. Paul explained what kind of lifestyle flows from the teachings of Christ and how it is superior to the lifestyle that is being imposed upon them through the teachings of the Judaizers. In his explanation Paul says that those who have responded to Jesus' command of baptism have cut away the old man of sin or the old "standards" by which they formerly lived. Not just the low human standards of immorality, worldliness and lack of love, but also the earthly standards of "religion" built around laws on food and religious ritual as well as custom symbolized in circumcision. Now, he says, they live according to Christ's standard which He conveys through His teachings. In the previous chapter Paul describes the various elements of this new standard by which we live.

The first element of Christ's standard is personal holiness. The next section contains several other elements that come together to establish the Christian standard.

Elements of the Christian Standard - continued

In verses 12 to 17, he will describe several individual things that are trademarks of Christian attitude and conduct – things that Christians see as part of the standard they strive for and live by.

Vs. 12a – So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,

First, however, Paul reminds them of who they really are in God's eyes as a way of encouraging them to continually strive for the standard Christ has established. The Judaizers have made them feel inferior, incomplete, lacking in what was necessary to be equal to themselves and thus worthy before God. He refers to them with three terms that were originally applied to the Jewish nation in the Old Testament but now are applied to the Christians at Colossae, a direct response to the false superiority claimed by the Judaizers.

A. Chosen of God

The Jews were the people of God, the chosen because they were descendants of Abraham who had been chosen by God to establish a nation. Genesis 12:2: Their "chosen" status was based on their relation to him.

Christians were the chosen of God because they were united to Christ by faith and Christ had been chosen by God to save mankind and establish the church. I Peter 2:4: their "chosen" status was based on their relationship to Christ.

B. Holy

The term "Holy" means to be separate. God had separated the Jews from the rest of the nations for a special purpose. They were to be the nation/people through whom the Messiah would come. Their religious practices, their history (i.e. Exodus), their lifestyle (all given to them by God) made them stand apart from the other nations. Christians, in the same way, were also to be "separate."

They were separated from the world by faith, separated from their sins by the blood of Christ, separated from death by the Holy Spirit. Christians were separated from the world in order to glorify God and prepare the world for the return of Christ. (Jews prepared for the first coming / Christians prepare the world for the second.)

C. Beloved

The Jews were beloved by God in that He sent them prophets, gave them His Word, protected them and promised them salvation. Christians were also beloved of God because they received fulfillment of all the promises God had made to the Jews.

Once he has reminded them of their true standing with God on account of Christ, once he has reassured them that they are not second class citizens in comparison to the Judaizers, Paul continues to set forth the different elements of the standard of Christian living.

1. A Loving Attitude – vs. 12b-14

Next to personal holiness, another distinguishing mark that sets the Christian apart is the loving attitude that he strives for. No other religion has as its key doctrine the forgiveness and love of enemies. No other religion portrays God as a God of love who demands love above all else.

Love and the evidence of love within the individual and among the group is another basic element in the standard for Christian living established by Jesus through His teachings. For example: John 3:16 – God loves, John 13:35 – we love.

In these few verses Paul will describe the nuts and bolts of the loving attitude. In other words, what does Christian love look like? He gives the nuts and bolts first and then summarizes in the end.

Vs. 12b-14
In the second part of the verse, he mentions seven attributes of a loving heart.

Vs. 12b-13 – put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

Notice that he says to "put on a heart…", this is suggesting that these things do not come naturally, we have to make an act of will – we have to make an effort.

  • Compassion – a tender feeling towards those who are suffering, who are in need.
  • Kindness – the same tender feeling but extended towards all, whether they are suffering or not.
  • Humility – Pagans sought the upper hand, power and domination. Love requires Christians to recognize their sinful state and realize that they are sinners among sinners. Christians know who they are.
  • Meekness – Not self-willed, desiring one's own way.
  • Patience – The willingness to put up with suffering or trials without losing faith, love, joy, confidence.
  • Longsuffering – Bearing with one another and the ability not to be provoked by another's weakness or insult.
  • Forgiveness – Giving up the right to receive justice or restitution for a wrong done.

Paul gives a little more detail here by describing a typical problem between two people – one person is upset with another and has a cause to complain. He says we should have the attitude with one another as Christ had with us. Don't continue to complain, don't look for a judge or arbitrator – simply forgive and move on.

N.B. Note he said a complaint, not a crime or sin against.

Vs. 14 – Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

In this verse Paul summarizes these things by saying that love is the crowning glory of all. In other words, love is beyond these individual things because it is the fulfillment of them (e.g. love is kind, love is patient… I Corinthians 13).

Even though these individual things bring Christians together, love serves as the glue that truly cements the relationships that Christians have.

2. A Thankful Heart – vs. 15-17

Personal holiness is the standard of conduct in the world, a loving attitude is the standard of conduct in the church, and a thankful heart is the standard one strives for before God. We can't impress God with our holiness because we are sinners. Our conduct is an attempt to put distance between ourselves and the world.

Loving attitudes maintain the unity in the church; we can never "out-love" God or make up for His love with our own. But a thankful heart, now there is something that is uniquely ours, that we have control over and that we can legitimately offer to God in good conscience. Paul mentions three ways we can express and experience gratitude as Christians before God.

Thankfulness for a peaceful mind

Vs. 15 – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

The word "rule" refers to a judge or a referee, an arbitrator. The Christians were being judged by the Judaizers who wanted them to submit to their standard (law, circumcision, etc.) in order to be "good enough." Paul tells them to allow the "peace" that Christ brings to their hearts be the thing that decides if God loves and accepts you or not. He adds that everyone was called to experience this peace, and the sharing of this peace is the unique feature of those who are in the body (church), not circumcision or food laws or slavish submission to certain teachers.

Be thankful that you have the peace of Christ in your heart and this peace is the assurance, the judge that you belong to God.

Worship with Thanksgiving

Vs. 16 – Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

A heart that is thankful ultimately expresses itself, and so Paul describes the natural progression from feeling to expression. This peaceful assurance in Christ should lead to expressions of thanks – how should this be? Certainly not as the pagans celebrate. And not as the Judaizers express the feelings of their hearts with empty ritual and self-abasement. A thankful heart…

  • Drinks in the words/teachings of Christ and allows them to permeate the entire person.
  • It shares the peace, the message, the wisdom with others in teaching and encouragement.
  • It praises using spiritual words and ideas provided by God just for such occasions.

If God is the one that sent Jesus to create the peace Christians feel, then it is only natural that the praise and thanksgiving for this return to Him and Him alone.

N.B. Note that in his only reference to public worship Paul uses the word sing (meaning sing without instrument), denoting the kind of praise that is acceptable.

3. A Life Motivated by Thanksgiving

Vs. 17 – Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

A heart that feels thankful will eventually begin to express thanks and this expression of thanksgiving will find its way into every day life. The Christian lifestyle is filled with actions great and small, the difference is that the motivation for life is Christ and His service. This motivation completes the cycle of thanksgiving:

  • We experience the peace of Christ in our hearts.
  • We are moved to give thanks to God for this.
  • We are motivated by gratitude to live and serve in His name.
  • This reinforces and deepens the peace we feel and keeps the cycle turning.


We are not finished with the elements of the Christian standard Paul outlines in these verses. So far, however, he has said that Christians live by Christ's standard, not the false one promoted by the Judaizers. This Christian standard has several elements. The ones Paul has described so far are:

  1. Personal holiness
  2. A loving attitude
  3. A thankful heart

Discussion Questions

  1. Answer the following questions from Colossians 3:12-17:
    1. Vs. 12 – What expression does Paul use to describe how we are to have these characteristics in our lives and what does this bring to mind?
    2. Why does Paul say we are to put on these elements?
    3. What is the nature of our position as those chosen by God compared to the nation of Israel?
    4. What does the term, "Holy" mean and how does it apply to us?
    5. How does the term, "beloved" apply to us in comparison to mankind in general?
  2. Vs. 12b-14 – What should be our attitude as God's chosen people and why?
  3. Vs. 14 – What is the result of putting on love and what does this mean to us?
  4. Answer the following questions from Colossians 3:15-17:
    1. What should rule in our hearts and what does this mean to you?
    2. Vs. 16 – What is the sign that God's word dwells richly within believers?
    3. Vs. 17 – What is the outcome on our everyday life as a result of our thanksgiving?
  5. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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