The Foundation for Spiritual Growth. Colossians 3:12-14
By the time Paul gets to the core of his challenge to the Colossians we see that his emphasis is on first and foremost understanding who we are as believers, and this transformational event is what occurred at the instant that we trusted Christ as saviour. That event is described in Scripture by the term "being baptized by means of God the Holy Spirit." There are other phrases used by Paul in this section to express that idea, one of which is "we have died with Christ." Another is that we are now "alive in Christ." And this is the essence of what occurs in the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit, especially as described in Romans chapter six that when we trust Christ as savior we are identified by God the Holy Spirit with Christ's death, burial and resurrection; so all that we were before we were saved was dead. There is a separation that occurs—one of the core ideas in the word "death" or "dying"—a permanent and final break that occurs at the instant of salvation with all that we were before we were saved. Before we were saved we were spiritually dead, we had no hope, we were controlled by the sin nature, and at the instant of salvation we were identified with Christ's death which was the payment for sin, that break with all that we were as fallen, condemned individuals prior to that. We are identified with His burial, which indicates that break, and the resurrection to newness of life so that we have new life in Him. This is the reality of who we now are.
But even though we are now positionally in Christ, we have died with Him, we are alive in Him, we do not always live as if this has occurred. We are to realise in our day-to-day experience the truth, the reality, trueness of this shift that occurred when we were saved so that we recognise we are in a new position, we have a new family, we have a new authority, and we have a new relationship with God that is to be characterised by what we have called a new dress code. That nee dress code is basically a new code of conduct, a new code of behaviour that is to be a part of every believer's life. This doesn't happen instantaneously, it doesn't happen as the result of a one-shot decision to commit one's life to Christ, or any of those things which have sometimes been taught; it is the result of day-to-day ongoing decisions.
Again and again we see, especially in Colossians, that this is directed to the believer. The commands are directed to our volition. In Romans, Ephesians and other passages that are parallel Paul brings in the emphasis on God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is conspicuously absent in his injunctions here in Colossians because the problem there was fundamentally the problem of volition; the people were not making the choice. Even though when we walk by the Spirit or we are filled with the Spirit the Spirit never overrides our volition. He doesn't make decisions for us. The filling of the Spirit is where He influences our thinking with the Word of God, as we will see in Colossians 3:16 with the command to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within us. And it is through that indwelling of the Word in our soul that God the Holy Spirit uses that as the tool for life transformation. But we have to make those choices and so these imperatives that we see through here are addressed to us and we have to engage our volition.
Colossians 3:12 NASB "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
When we recognise that how this is activated in our soul is through bearing one another and forgiving one another we see that the core foundational issue in this whole section is going to be the attribute of humility.
The first phrase that is mentioned here, "chosen [elect] of God," is a phrase that is loaded with a lot of theological mind, as it were. Whenever people mentioned the concept of election or predestination they tend to start vibrating and having a mental melt-down in the pew on one side or the other. It is a simple term that simply means those who are chosen by God, those who are the select of God, those who one writer puts it, "the choice ones of God." It doesn't say anything about how we became that way. That is the first thing to remember. Election, the fact that God chooses who will be saved, is clearly taught in Scripture. What is not clearly taught in Scripture is the basis on which God made that choice. In fact, nowhere does it say that other than one verse in 1 Peter 1:2 that talks about "we are elect according to the foreknowledge of God." That means that God made this choice not on the basis of just some sort of arbitrary whim but on the basis of His knowledge.
We have two choices here. Either God made a choice and His knowledge of all things had no role to play—which would make it purely arbitrary—or God took into account His knowledge of all things, His omniscience, and that means that God knows everything that could be, everything that would be, and all the relations, causes and consequences; something that is absolutely beyond our comprehension. God's knowledge is immediate and intuitive. God has always known all that can be known; His knowledge never increases and His knowledge never diminishes. His knowledge is always the same: He never learns anything; He never forgets anything. It is impossible in the mind of God to set aside His knowledge of all things.
So the fact that the Scriptures never clearly say what the basis for God's choice is, it doesn't mean there is no basis for the choice. God makes the choice on the basis of something in His knowledge but we are not specifically told what that is. Since we are told that it is part of His proginosko [proginwskw] or foreknowledge then that is not just a part of His gnosis [gnwsij] or knowledge but His pro or previous knowledge, knowledge of something beforehand. So this indicates that He is taking into account factors within human existence.
Does that mean that if He is taking into account human choice that that is the cause of His choice? No, the Bible never ever talks about faith, which is what He would be knowing, as a cause of something. But it can be a component of the criterion that God uses to make a choice.
God choses people for a lot of different reasons. When He chose Abraham in Genesis chapter twelve and calls him out from Ur of the Chaldees He is not choosing Abraham for salvation. Abraham is already saved or justified. He is choosing or selecting Abraham for a specific purpose within human history that his descendants would fulfil. Later on with Abraham's two grandsons Jacob and Esau, who are selected by Paul as an example of God's choice in Romans chapter nine, Paul uses a phrase he quotes from Malachi: "Jacob I have chosen, Esau I have hated." But these kinds of expressions are idiomatic. It as not that God hated Esau but that God was not selecting or choosing him for something. What was it that God chose Jacob for and did not choose Esau for? Was it eternal life? No. He is selecting Jacob as the one through whom the seed promise and the seed blessing will go, and that had nothing to do with justification or eternal life. It had to do with his role within human history.
So in the Old Testament we have this terminology "the elect of God" used of the Jewish people in that dispensation because they have been chosen by God to fulfil a specific role within human history. So that is one group of those who are elect. Those who are believers in the church age are also called elect because we have been chosen by God for our role in Jesus Christ. And the basis is not stated but it is understood by putting passages together that the foundation for this is that we beli9eve that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. So all those who believe in Jesus Christ are chosen on that basis, or through that. Not because of that but through that.
Then the term is applied to another group during the future Tribulation period, and that refers to the Tribulation believers/saints. So the term "elect of God" is not a term that relates to Israel or only to the church or only to the future Tribulation saints; it is a term that is used to describe those (depending on the context) who are selected or chosen by God for a specific role.
Paul uses this terminology that comes with all of this significant background to refer to us as believers. We are chosen by God for a destiny; that is the idea. There is a destiny, a plan, a purpose in being the choice ones of God. And because we are the choice ones of God we are set apart to that purpose. That is why he brings in that next word "holy," a word that means to be set apart to the service of God. That is part of why we have been called as believers: to be set aside for that specific purpose. We are called "beloved," a word from the verb agapao [a)gapao] which is the word for "love." The noun form is agapetos [a)gaphtoj], meaning those who are the beneficiaries of God's love.
We are commanded to put on "a heart of compassion" [tender mercies]—aorist active imperative. In an aorist imperative it means that this is supposed to be a priority. A lot of things have been done over the years in different contexts by people who have massacred the Greek because they haven't really studied it. There have been certain ideas that have influenced or entered into the stream of Greek grammar that have been demonstrated today to not be true—certain myths about language. One of these is that an aorist imperative—an aorist tense in a regular verb sort of summarises the action, and sometimes grammarians talked about that as punctiliar action, being like a point in time—wrapped everything up into one point in time, and so an aorist imperative has the idea of a one time decision. That is not true at all. Because when you get away from the indicative mood of the Greek verb, which is the main verb of reality, time really doesn't really have anything to do with the nature of the tense, it has to do with the idea of aspect. While the word "punctiliar" is adequate it is really the idea that maybe a whole series of actions over the course of a lifetime are just being talked about as being summed up in one perspective. So it doesn't mean it is a one-time thing, it just means it summarises it as a single event, not as a continuous event.
Aorist imperatives emphasise priority, something that is supposed to be a standard operating procedure. An aorist imperative may be used to command you to do something, and that is because you need to make it a priority due to it not being present in your life. That verb and that idea is being used in addressing you because you need to hear that this needs to be a priority. But it may be talking about the same thing using the same verb in talking to another group, but because the context of the group is different they don't need to be reminded that this is supposed to be a priority, they need to be reminded that this is to be part of their everyday life. The same command would be used but this time using a present tense verb to emphasise the fact that this needs to be standard operating procedure in their life. They are not contrastive of one another, they are simply emphasising different aspects as you are making a command.
So we are to put on these five attributes. It is not a one-shot thing; we don't just put them on like suit of clothes one day and that's it. It is really a process of spiritual growth that these attributes become a part of our life. The first attribute as translated in the NKJV is "tender mercies." In the NASB it is translated "a heart of compassion." In the NET Bible it is translated "a heart of mercy"—the word "heart" isn't there in the Greek, but that is a good translation. The word that is there in the Greek is splanchna [splanxna] which actually means your inner parts, often "your inner bowels." The way the Hebrews looked at emotion was that this impacted your gut. They would often associate emotion with certain physiological parts of the intestines. But often even those words like splanchna would be used to refer to the mind, so it is really important to understand these kinds of figures of speech. For example, in John 7:38 Jesus said NASB "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" Some versions use the word "heart," but the word for heart, kardia, is not there is the Greek; we have the word koilia [koilia] which is the word for womb. All of these are just used often to express the idea of the innermost part of man or the immaterial part of man, and frequently they are used to describe thinking.
There are a number of passages in the Old Testament that clearly use the word "heart" also to refer to emotion because literal meaning of heart is the physiological organ that pumps blood through the body, but the Bible never uses the word "heart" to describe that physiological organ. It is always used in a metaphorical sense to refer to the innermost or core or central part of an individual. In Genesis 6:5 NASB "Then the LORD saw … that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." There is one passage where it talks about thinking. Psalm 4:4 NASB "… Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still." Other passages, such as Psalm 13:5, that talk about "joy in your heart" and "my heart shall rejoice"; others that express these terms related to emotion.
The idea there in Colossians 3 is to put on a heart or a mindset of mercy. Mercy is the application of grace toward other people; people who don't deserve it. The essence of grace is an undeserved kindness, underserved favour. The word for "kindness" is the Greek word oiktirmon [o)iktirmwn]. Other words here are "kindness, humility, meekness"—emphasising not having a self-absorbed or self-oriented approach to things; it is not about me, not about what you did to me, not about what you deserve to happen to you because of what you did to me; it is about the fact that I need to be serving God. The past one is patience, longsuffering; and that leads into the participle that follows in verse 13, "bearing with one another." This leads ultimately to putting on love in verse 14.
There is an important connection between humility and love. Humility is not being self-absorbed, and more than that it is being oriented to the authority of God. In Numbers 12:3 God said that Moses was very humble, more than all men on the face of the earth. Moses was not a door mat or somebody who could just be run over by anybody else's agenda. Moses was a very firm, strong leader. Nobody took advantage of Moses. So the idea of meekness and humility that we often have in English is not part of either the Hebrew or the Greek concept. Part of the Greek and Hebrew concept is that humility means humility towards God. If we don't have humility towards God we really can't have humility towards other people. Humility towards God is being oriented to the authority of God and being submissive to His authority.
Deuteronomy chapter six is at the heart of anyone you talk to who is Jewish. In Jewish belief it is called the Shamah, which is based on the initial word "hear." But "hear" doesn't mean just have your auditory nerves stimulated, it means to obey. We use it that way a lot. If you are a parent you say, "Listen to me." That did not mean just to hear physically what you said but to do what you said. In English we have the same idiom, that hearing means not just listening but doing what you are told to do. So the command here is "Hear, Listen," or a paraphrase might translate it, "Obey." Deuteronomy 6:4 NASB "Hear [Obey this], O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" "The Lord is one" has been taken historically by many to be a verse emphasising monotheism. We would agree with the 1985 Jewish Publication Society translation that this has nothing to do with monotheism. The word echad, translated "one," doesn't mean a singularity. When Moses said that when a man and a woman become one flesh, they do not become a singularity, they become a unity of parts. The word also has the idea of distinction, uniqueness, or alone. So the Jewish Publication Society translation from 1985 translates it, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone." This is written in the context of Israel having to deal with polytheism. The issue here isn't strict monotheism, the issue is Yahweh, Yahweh alone is their God, no other gods." That relates to the first of the Ten Commandments that "You shall have no other gods before me." The Lord was God alone for Israel.
So there is this command here, and the statement begins with "The Lord our God, the Lord alone," and then the first command is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. The first focus is on "heart," and then the second "soul," which is a broader term. Then the last one is a kind of funny idiom in Hebrew because it really doesn't say "strength," it says, "with all your maoz, which is usually "very." It was an idiom that would express everything you have, so it starts with "all your heart" in the sense of your mind. In other passages it brings in this idea of mind, with all your heart, i.e. with all your thinking. That is where it starts is in your mind. And then "with all your soul," and then "with all of your being"—everything you have, all of your possessions, all of your time, all of your hobbies; everything that you are involved in is to come under the authority of God. And this is expressed as the love of God.
We think of love today often as an emotion. But love is not an emotion. You cannot command an emotion. When we look at how the word love is used in some of the ancient covenants, especially when a large empire has conquered a smaller country and they would enter into a covenantal agreement, and in the country had been defeated the king would have to swear a loyalty covenant to the conqueror in which he swore to love the conqueror. Usually that didn't mean that they were going to have warm fuzzy feelings and that they were going to have all of this sentimental warmth toward the conquering king. That would be both unrealistic and almost impossible. What it meant was that the vanquished king was to now give all of his loyalty and obedience to the conquering king. This is the picture because the Mosaic covenant is formed, shaped, structured according to one of these suzerain vassal treaty forms, and so the command here is to "love the Lord your God" to give Him all of your loyalty, to completely subordinate yourself to the authority of God.
Deuteronomy 6:6 NASB "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart"—in your thinking.  "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." The main idea here is for parents who are going to teach this diligently to their children. Not just at one set time. Your are not going to have Bible story time before you go to bed at night, not a time in the morning where you might tell them a story, especially before they are old enough to go to school. This would mean that as you go through life there are a thousand teaching moments every day, and parents need to be there to instruct the children as to how they are to think and react to these kinds of circumstances on a biblical basis. Often this is done by the mother because she is the one who is at home.
But when we get into the New Testament (and we will see this in Colossians chapter four) the responsibility for that is given to the father. The mother in our culture is often the one to whom this is delegated, and that is probably a temporal necessity, but too often where that has led is to fathers who have abdicated that responsibility. Mothers are a vital part of that.
In Mark chapter twelve one of the scribes came to Jesus and asked Him, "What is the most important commandment?" Mark 12:29 NASB "Jesus answered, 'The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD." He starts with God. And that is what we always have to start with.
We have to get to these attributes. We have to be able to bear with one another and forgive one another. We have to have grace orientation and humility in order to do that. That is our foundational idea.
Romans 12:1, 2 are foundational verses for the spiritual life. It comes at a shift in Paul's argument in Romans. In the first eleven chapters he is talking more about specific doctrines related to justification and the spiritual life and God's righteousness in relation to Israel. Now he is going to draw some really practical conclusions. NASB "Therefore I urge you …" It means, 'I challenge you'—present active indicative of the word parakaleo [parakalew]. It is an exhortation. He is confronting them, as it were, with the implications of everything he has said already. On the basis of what? "… the mercies of God." The foundation for our life, for grace orientation and humility, is to start with an understanding of God's mercy. Then we have the command, "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice …" The word "present" here is an aorist imperative. It is not a one-shot decision, it summarises it as a priority that in actuality we are to do this all the time. Paul uses the same word in Romans chapter six, "We are to present our members (body) as slaves of righteousness. This idea goes throughout the New Testament. "a living and holy sacrifice" means that we are giving up control of our lives to God. We are recognising He is the boss, not us. "Our bodies" means everything that we are. Everything that we are is to come under the authority of God. If we don't start there as our foundational attribute then we are going to see a lot of problems crop up throughout our lives that are the result of having a split allegiance. Our allegiance is to us and our own agenda and part of our allegiance is to God. We are ultimately saying God's agenda is good when it is convenient for me.
When we have a choice in life, that choice has to come under the authority of presenting your life as a sacrifice to God. That is the umbrella, the foundation, because that is authority orientation. That brings into play certain promises such as Proverbs 3:5, 6 NASB "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding.
But when we spend the next thirty or forty years after we are saved trying to decide whether we really want to trust God with our life, what is going to happen is that there is going to be a cluster of problems and calamities that occur because we are still trying to follow our agenda. That doesn't mean that when we consistently make decisions in our life that make the Lord the number one priority our agenda doesn't get in the way. We think of David. David is called the man whose heart was after God. That is the priority that shaped his life. But what about Bathsheba? Well, we all fail. But that was an aberration, not the norm. The norm was, his heart was for God; the norm was he was doing what Romans 12:1 says, presenting his life as a living sacrifice, something that was a worship of God. When we make that priority it doesn't mean we are not going to sin and that our agenda is not going to get in the way at times, but we know that that is something that is set and it is within that framework that we are growing. But until we get that figured out in our mind we continue to just play games with God, and we will never see the fulfilment of these character changes in our life as God transforms us until we get the basic right, which is that we have to submit to the authority of God and realise that He is the controlling authority for everything in our life.