“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience …” (Colossians 3:12)

From this fount of grace (“as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,” see the previous post) the believer is to “put on” five graces.  These five stand in contrast to the socially destructive vices of verse 8 and mark those qualities which make actual the unity in the midst of diversity that characterizes the body of Christ (v.11).

The first is “a heart of compassion.” The first word, when used literally, refers to one’s “bowels” or the inward parts located in the belly (Acts 1:18).  Metaphorically, however, it referred to the seat of one’s deepest emotions and for that reason is often rendered in English as “heart.”  Paul uses the word in eight of its eleven New Testament appearances.  Interestingly, four of those are in his correspondence with those in Colossae (Col. 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20). The second word (“of compassion”) is described as “a motivating emotion” such as pity, compassion, mercy, etc.[1] Moving out from this inward disposition the other graces are enumerated.

Next is “kindness.” The word is used only by Paul in the New Testament.  It refers to goodness, kindness and generosity, either of man (2 Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22; Col. 3:12) or of God (Rom. 2:4; 11:22; Eph. 2:7).[2] Naturally man has no such “kindness” in himself (Rom. 3:12).  It can only describe him as God produces this “kindness” in him (Gal. 5:22).

After this comes “humility.” Paul uses the word five times, three of which appear here in Colossians (2:18, 23; 3:12).  The word is generally used in a positive sense, as it is here, to describe “a quality of voluntary submission and unselfishness humility, self-effacement.”  But, again interestingly, in both Colossians 2:18 and 23 it was clearly used in a pejorative sense, meaning “a misdirected submission in cultic behavior self-abasement, (false) humility, self-mortification.”[3] In those cases it described the misguided practices taught by the false teachers at work in Colossae.  But clearly in this case Paul has in view the possibility of a right, godly, Spirit-produced practice of humility.

The next grace to be “put on” is “gentleness.” It points to a humble and gentle attitude which bears up under offense with patient submissiveness and without a move toward revenge.[4] Such “gentleness” is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in an individual’s life (Gal. 5:23).  Paul uses it in regard to confrontation or discipline (2 Cor. 4:21; 10:1; Gal. 6:1) or in general instructions about avoiding difficulties in relationships (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; Titus 3:2).  It is usually set as the opposite of harsh, divisive, defiant, brusque attitudes and actions.  It speaks of humility, courtesy, considerateness and meekness, in the sense not of weakness, but of power under control.[5]

Finally, there is “patience.” The word is used by Paul in ten of its fourteen New Testament appearances.  It is often used of human patience (2 Cor. 6:6; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 3:10; 4:2), but also of God’s (Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 1 Tim. 1:16).  Such patience is produced in us only by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).  The word generally refers to a longsuffering endurance in the face of indignities and injuries by others.

This grace for living is only possible because God’s grace first lives in us.  From “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) made actual within us by His electing grace (“chosen by God”), His justifying grace (“holy”), and His benevolent grace (“dearly loved”) we are able then to extend outward toward others the grace of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

In short: because God has put us “in Christ” we are able to “put on” His character!

[1] Friberg, ?

[2] BAGD, 886.

[3] Friberg, 375.

[4] Rienecker, 485.

[5] BAGD, 699.