I have come to the point where I just don’t like to wear ties to church. They are so INCREDIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE!!! I have a closet full of them, and don’t get me wrong – I certainly will wear a tie on a special occasion or to a church where it is generally expected of me. But that doesn’t mean I have to LIKE it! Now even though I don’t like ties, I still like to “dress up.” I enjoy wearing nice clothes and shoes/belts that match (thanks to my wife, because without her, I would be hopeless). I like the feel of looking excellent to meet my God in worship. I know that not everyone shares my sentiments, and I am okay with that. My choice of attire on Sunday mornings is about me – no one else. And if you are okay wearing shorts (modest ones, ladies) and a T-shirt to church, I’m good with that. There is also the truth that many people in church expect me, as one of their pastors, to dress the part. When they come to church, they expect me to look a certain way. And if I don’t meet those expectations, something feels awkward, dysfunctional, or “off.” There is nothing wrong with these expectations, and I am happy to meet them.
In Colossians 3, Paul talks about how all believers should dress. This attire is not something you’re going to put on just for Sundays or Wednesdays, and it’s not something you’re ever going to take off, either. In fact, Paul says that we are to put on these things “as” God’s chosen ones, holy, and beloved.
Something we often miss in this passage is in Paul’s addressing the audience. He calls his readers, “eklektoi tou qeou, agioi kai hgaphmenoi,” or “chosen ones of God, holy and beloved.” All three of these Greek words, “Chosen ones,” “holy,” and “beloved” were words that originally belonged to Israel. But when Paul transfers that terminology to the Gentile believer (Colossae had a Greek/Gentile population), he is doing something amazing… There is no longer one specific nation or group of people that God favors or blesses more than others. In fact, in verse 11, Paul explains that there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, circumcision and uncircumcision for those who are in Christ. “Christ is all and is in all.”
Christian, do you realize that you are God’s “eklektoi?” Have you thought about the fact that you are loved of God? That He has set you apart and made you holy? When we hear the great stories of miraculous things God did for the nation of Israel, there is something childishly exciting that stirs within us. Know what?… God does the same for you. You are just as holy, just as loved, just as chosen as the nation of Israel ever was. You are chosen, holy, and beloved of God.
Paul’s use of “wj,” (translated “as”) as an adverb of comparison, implies that the outward identity of the born again Christian should be fitting to the calling and election he has received. The word we translate “holy” in verse 12 is the same word we translate “saints” in 1:2. As a child of God, you are a saint. And because of that calling on your life – because of your calling in Christ Jesus – because of your redemptive status with God Almighty – you should look the part!
Paul says in verses 5-9 that we should put off the clothing which is fitting for an unbeliever: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, greed, anger, wrath, malice, lying… What do you think of when you see someone wearing all that stuff? You certainly wouldn’t expect that person to be a Christian.
Conversely, Paul encourages us to “put on” heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and forbearance. These articles of clothing are not only fitting for the believer, they are expected of the believer. But there is one piece of clothing that must go on top of all the rest:
“Above all, put on love, the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:14)
Now I’ve been studying this passage for about six weeks… and if I’m honest, the hardest question I had to ask myself about this text is this: “What exactly does ‘love’ unify?” There are many theories and interpretations out there. But after looking into most of them, I believe Paul to be writing that love, or “charity” as your translation might say (the Greek noun here is “agaph” – you might recognize it as “agape” love – it is an active, self-sacrificial love, so “charity” is also an acceptable translation) is the outer garment that holds all of these in place. It’s like a belt or a girdle. It keeps everything else where it needs to be.
Cross-referencing 1 Corinthians 13:1, you’ll find that all of these articles of clothing, when worn without love, are as “resounding gongs, and clanging cymbals.” I imagine this kind of embarrassment to be like putting your pants on in the morning, but leaving them unbuttoned. I hate it when that happens… Paul says, “On top of all these things, make sure to put on love, which will hold them all together and keep them from shifting or falling off.”
Just as you expect me to look a certain way as one of your pastors, God expects you to look a certain way as one of His children. Put on the things that are exemplary of a Christian. Clothe yourself with the characteristics of a life saturated with and immersed in Christ Jesus. I don’t expect you to wear a tie or a dress every Sunday morning… but I do expect you to dress up in Christ every day.