“Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness”, Col. 3. 14 R.V.
Of this verse Conybeare says, “Above all in the sense of over all” —“over all the rest put on the robe of love, which binds together and completes the whole”. Love is the final, completing garment that unites and completes all other Christian graces. “Overall” is defined as a protective garment worn over ordinary clothes for dirty work, which is true of the overall of the workman on the shop floor, and which gets dirty in the exercise of his employment, being essentially a utilitarian garment. But the overall donned by the housewife, although designed to protect her ordinary clothes, can be, and usually is, an attractive garment in its own right. So is the “overall” of love.
Paul, and to a lesser extent Peter, used the metaphor of donning and doffing garments to illustrate the shedding of sinful habits and the assumption of Christian graces. In this they borrowed from the Old Testament. Such Scriptures as “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness … he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” and “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was as a robe”, Isa. 61. 3, 10; Job. 29. 14 R.V., were doubtless in their minds. So also must have been the incident recorded of Joshua the high priest in Zechariah chapter 3. Joshua “was clothed with filthy garments”. Those who stood by were instructed, “Take the filthy garments from off him”. Furthermore, God said, “I will clothe thee with rich apparel”, vv. 3, 4. R.V. Doubtless Joshua’s experience was symbolic of the nation’s in a future day, “I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day”, v. 9. The “filthy garments” recall Isaiah’s word, “all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment”, 64. 6 R.V. The words of Isaiah 61. 3, 10 were surely in Zinzendorf’s mind as he wrote his hymn:
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
This spotless robe the same appears,
When ruined nature sinks in years,
No age can change its glorious hue,
The robe of Christ is ever new.
Although the apostles made use of Old Testament metaphor, they clearly regarded it as signifying much more than merely the changing of one garment for another. To shed sinful habits and to assume Christian graces goes much deeper than changing one’s coat. A person may change his political allegiance, or even his denominational associations, but these may mean little more than changing a coat, a matter of expediency rather than of conviction. Not so the change from an unconverted to a converted state, for this involves a change of nature, which expresses itself in changed ways. Paul wrote “ye have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man”, Col. 3. 9, 10. The “old man”, or old nature, reflects Adam’s sinful “image”; the “new man”, or new nature, reflects Christ’s sinless “image”, for it “is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him”, R.V.; cf. Eph. 4. 22-24. The “new man” transcends all earthly distinctions; “there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all”, Col. 3. 11 R.V. Racial, religious, cultural and social distinctions are all effaced in Christ. The old Adam is “put off” and the “new man”, which is Christ, is “put on”, Gal. 3. 27.
In Colossians 3. 12, 13, Paul enumerates seven Christian graces. Taken together, they constitute a moral portrait of Christ. To “put (them) on”, is virtually to “put on Christ”. The first is “a heart of compassion”, or “tenderness of heart” (Conybeare). Hardheartedness is a relic of pre-converted days; cf. Eph. 4. 18 R.V. Then follow “kindness”, which we ourselves have been shown by God,,see 2 Sam. 9. 3; Eph. 2. 7; Tit. 3. 4; “humility”, which was considered in the previous paper; “meekness”, of which the Lord was the outstanding example, Matt. 11. 29, 2 Cor. 10. 1; “longsuffering”, which God has exercised toward us, Rom. 2. 4; 1 Tim. 1. 16; 2 Pet. 3. 9, 15; “forbearance”, which means “to hold self back”, see Rom. 2. 4; 3. 25, and forgiveness, “forgiving each other … even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye” r.v. All these graces are seen in perfection in Christ, but only in measure in ourselves.
Before these graces can be “put on”, the sinful habits that marked our unconverted lives must be “put off”. Paul lists six of these in Colossians 3. 8, 9, “anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking” and lying. Such belong to the “old man with his doings”, R.V.
For good measure, and in addition to those graces to be “put on”, “above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness”. Love “binds together and completes the whole” (Conybeare). But it is relevant to ask if these precedent graces could exist at all without love. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches that some of them, at least, are the qualities of love. In Colossians 3 Paul wrote of “longsuffering … kindness … humility” and forgiveness. As affecting these, in 1 Corinthians 13 he wrote, “Love suffereth long … is kind … is not puffed up … is not provoked”, vv. 4, 5. Love is the catalyst, the grace that informs and completes all other graces, without which we are “nothing”, and achieve nothing worthwhile.