The Performance of the New Man
And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, 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. (3:12–13)
In 3:5–9a, Paul told believers what to put off, while in 3:9–11 he describes the believer’s new identity in Christ. In 3:12, Paul begins to tell believers what to put on. In 3:9–11, Paul describes what God has done for the believer. In 3:12–17 he describes what God expects of the believer in response. A righteous identity must issue in righteous behavior. Such behavior is the outward manifestation of the inward transformation, and it is the only sure proof that such transformation has taken place.
No one becomes a Christian solely by their own choice. Rather, believers are those who have been chosen of God. The truth of divine election is clearly taught in Scripture. Ephesians 1:4 says that God “chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” Paul was confident of God’s choice of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:4) and thanked Him for it: “We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). God did not call us because of our good works, “but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9). Believers’ names have been written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world (cf. Rev. 13:8; 17:8). Underlying our response to God’s free, sovereign grace is His plan and initiative.
Because of God’s election, believers are holy and beloved.Hagios (holy) means “set apart,” or “separate.” God chose believers out of the mainstream of mankind and drew them to Himself. They are different from the world. When believers fail to act differently from the world, they violate the very purpose of their calling.
That believers are beloved of God means they are objects of His special love. Election is not a cold, fatalistic doctrine. On the contrary, it is based in God’s incomprehensible love for His elect: “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:4–5).
Chosen (Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 1 Chron. 16:13; Ps. 105:43; 135:4; Isa. 41:8; 44:1; 45:4), holy (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 19:2; Jer. 2:3), and beloved (1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chron. 9:8; Hos. 11:1) are all used of Israel in the Old Testament. A change has taken place in the economy of God. What was once true of the elect nation is now true of all who come to faith in Christ. Israel has been temporarily set aside and Gentiles grafted in (cf. Rom. 9–11). The saved in the church are chosen by God. We are called “the chosen” (cf. John 15:16; Rom. 8:33; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). Acts 13:46–48 speaks of those ordained by God to eternal life:
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For thus the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that You should bring salvation to the end of the earth.’ ” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Romans 9:13–16, 19–22 expresses God’s sovereignty in choosing whom He will:
Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
Romans 11:4–5 speaks of “God’s gracious choice.” Ephesians 1:4 affirms that believers were “[chosen] in Him before the foundation of the world.” The Thessalonians were “chosen from the beginning for salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13). Perhaps 2 Timothy 1:8–9 sums it up as well as any text: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”
The doctrine of election crushes human pride, exalts God, produces joy and gratitude to the Lord, grants eternal privileges and assurance, promotes holiness, and makes one bold and courageous, for one who has been chosen by God for eternal life has no need to fear anything or anyone.
Put on is from enduō, which means “to put on clothes,” or “envelope in.” The qualities that follow are to cover the new man.
A heart of compassion is the first character trait that is to mark the new man. Heart translates splanchna, a Hebraism that literally refers to the inward parts of the human body (heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc.). As already noted in the discussion of 2:2, however, it is often used in the New Testament to speak figuratively of the seat of the emotions. That is its use here. Oiktirmos (compassion) means “pity,” “mercy,” “sympathy,” or “compassion.” Taken together, the phrase could be translated, “put on heartfelt compassion,” or “have a deep, gut-level feeling of compassion.” That divine quality (Luke 6:36; James 5:11), so perfectly exhibited by Jesus (Matt. 9:36), was sorely needed in the ancient world. For example, sick, injured, or elderly people were often left to fend for themselves. As a result, many died. Believers must not be indifferent to suffering, but should be concerned to meet people’s needs.
Kindness is closely related to compassion. The Greek term refers to the grace that pervades the whole person, mellowing all that might be harsh. Jesus used the word when he said, “My yoke is easy” (Matt. 11:30), not harsh or hard to bear. The kind person is as concerned about his neighbor’s good as he is about his own. God is kind, even to ungrateful and evil people (Luke 6:35). In fact, it was His kindness that led us to repentance (Rom. 2:4; cf. Titus 3:4). Jesus’ kindness was expressed in His invitation to “take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matt. 11:29–30). Kindness was epitomized by the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), whose example we should follow.
Tapeinophrosunē (humility) and its related words always have a negative connotation in classical Greek (cf. H. H. Esser, “tapeinos,” in Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977], 2:259). It took Christianity to elevate humility to a virtue. It is the antidote for the self-love that poisons relationships. Paul advocates genuine humility, in contrast to the false humility of the false teachers (cf. 2:18, 23). Humility characterized Jesus (Matt. 11:29), and it is the most cherished Christian virtue (Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3ff.; 1 Pet. 5:5).
Prautēs (gentleness) is closely related to humility. It is not weakness or spinelessness, but rather the willingness to suffer injury instead of inflicting it. The gentle person knows he is a sinner among sinners and is willing to suffer the burdens others’ sin may impose on him. This gentleness can only be produced by the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22–23) and should mark the Christian’s behavior at all times, even when restoring a sinning brother (Gal. 6:1), or defending the faith against attacks from unbelievers (2 Tim. 2:25; 1 Pet. 3:15).
Patience translates makrothumia. The patient person does not get angry at others. William Barclay writes, “This is the spirit which never loses its patience with its fellow-men. Their foolishness and their unteachability never drive it to cynicism or despair; their insults and their ill-treatment never drive it to bitterness or wrath” (The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians [Louisville: Westminster, 1975], p. 158). Patience is the opposite of resentment and revenge. It was a characteristic of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). Were it not for God’s patience, no one would ever be saved (2 Pet. 3:15).
Bearing with one another means “to endure, to hold out in spite of persecution, threats, injury, indifference, or complaints and not retaliate.” It characterized Paul, who told the Corinthians, “when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure” (1 Cor. 4:12). It did not characterize the Corinthians, who were actually taking each other to court. Paul exclaims, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7). Believers are to exhibit forbearance (Eph. 4:2). Such were the Thessalonians, of whom Paul wrote, “We ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure [anexomai, the same term used here in 3:13]” (2 Thess. 1:4).
Believers are to be marked not only by endurance, but also by forgiving each other. The Greek charizomenoi literally means “to be gracious” and the text uses a reflexive pronoun, so it literally reads, “forgiving yourselves.” The church as a whole is to be a gracious, mutually forgiving fellowship. By including the phrase just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you Paul makes Christ the model of forgiveness. Because He has forgiven us, so also must we forgive others (Eph. 4:32; cf. Matt. 18:21–35). The phrase whoever has a complaint against anyone refers to times when someone is at fault because of sin, error, or debt. The Lord Jesus is our pattern for forgiveness, because He forgave all our sins, errors, and debts. He is also the model for the rest of the virtues discussed in this section.
12 According to v. 11, the Colossians now belong to a new race of people in which differences do not ultimately define them and cannot be allowed to divide them. Moreover, v. 12 describes this (Gentile) congregation with labels that describe Israel. (Garland, 210, cites the following OT parallels: Dt 4:37; 7:6–8; 14:2; 26:18–19; Ps 105:43; 135:4; Jer 2:3.) Although these people once dwelt in darkness and did dark deeds (1:13, 21), by virtue of their having been redeemed by and reconciled to God through Christ, they may now be called “God’s chosen [or elect] people, holy and dearly loved” (cf. Ro 1:7; Eph 5:1). They constitute and participate in, if but in part, not only a new humanity but also a new Israel (cf. Caird, 207). Election in Christ, the Chosen One of God (cf. Lk 9:35; 1 Pe 1:20; 2:4), is not meant to devolve into a theological talking point or a personal entitlement. Election is better viewed as a vocation one has embraced in Christ and a mission in which one is engaged for Christ. Moule (“New Life,” 491) aptly states, “To be called out is really to be sent in.”
A privileged spiritual standing before God entails ethical responsibilities to God. As those who have been grasped, graced, and gifted by God, believers are to clothe themselves with Christlike qualities (cf. “the fruit of the Spirit,” Gal 5:22–23). The five ethical attributes listed here, which stand in contradistinction to the ten (two sets of five) moral vices cataloged in vv. 5 and 8 respectively, are: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” It has been noted that the virtues advocated here (as well as in vv. 13–14) “are those gentle traits that would ease the common life of a close and intense community” (Meeks, “ ‘To Walk Worthily,’ ” 49; cf. Wilson, 248; Moule, 123; Lincoln, 647). These named attributes, which are supposed to characterize Christians, merit additional consideration.
The list of virtues believers are meant to put on commences with “a heart of compassion” (v. 12 NASB; splanchna oiktirmou, GK 5073, 3880). Paul also pairs splanchnon (“heart” or “affection”) with oiktirmos (“compassion”) when admonishing the Philippians to unity and humility in Christ (Php 2:1; NIV, “tenderness and compassion”). Paul perceived God as “the Father of compassion” (2 Co 1:3; cf. Ro 12:1). Furthermore, Jesus’ earthly ministry was characterized by compassion, i.e., a pity for and mercy on others, particularly those in need (Mt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Lk 7:13). Likewise, Christians should be marked by compassion as they relate to one another and to unbelievers.
In addition to compassion, Christians are called to “kindness” or “goodness” (chrēstotēs, GK 5983; i.e., “a gracious sensitivity toward others that is triggered by genuine care [for them]” [so Garland, 210]). Among other things, love is kind (1 Co 13:4). Paul declares that God is kind and maintains that it is “God’s kindness [that] leads [people] toward repentance” (Ro 2:4; cf. Lk 6:35). Furthermore, the apostle enjoins (Gentile) believers to continue in the kindness of God made manifest in Jesus Christ (Ro 11:22; cf. Tit 3:4). Paul regarded kindness as one of the qualities that typified his own ministry (2 Co 6:6), and he encouraged believers to cultivate this spiritual fruit in their lives (Gal 5:22; cf. Mic 6:8). Christians are to “be kind … to one another” (Eph 4:32) and to outsiders (Ro 12:17–18, 21; 1 Th 5:15).
The third quality with which the Colossians were to clothe themselves is “humility” (tapeinophrosynē, GK 5425). If there is a (false) humility (or self-abasement) that Paul condemns (2:18, 23), there is also a (true) humility that he condones. Even though humility was not considered a virtue in Greco-Roman antiquity due to its association with “contemptible servility” (Lincoln, 647; cf. Meeks, “ ‘To Walk Worthily,’ ” 49; Dunn, 229), early believers were called to emulate Christ, who was “gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29) and who “humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death, even cross-death” (Php 2:8, my translation). In humility they were to consider others as more important than themselves (Php 2:3; cf. Ro 15:1–2).
The people of God in Christ are also meant to don “gentleness” or “meekness” (prautēs, GK 4559; cf. Gal 5:23; Eph 4:2; Tit 3:2). In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus depicts himself and his rule as meek (i.e., as one considerate of other persons and their concerns and not demanding of his own way [11:29; 21:5]), and pronounces a blessing on those who are the same (5:5). Paul appeals to the “gentleness of Christ” when instructing the Corinthians and indicates his desire to relate to the assembly in such a manner (2 Co 10:1–2; cf. 1 Co 4:21).
The last quality specified in v. 12 that the Colossians were meant to put on is “patience” (makrothymia, GK 3429), i.e., “the ability not to become frustrated and enraged but to make allowances for others’ shortcomings and to tolerate their exasperating behavior” (Lincoln, 648). In the Pauline letters, both God (Ro 2:4; 9:22; cf. 2 Pe 3:9) and Christ (1 Ti 1:16) are described as patient. Love is also depicted as patient (1 Co 13:4). Believers should not presume on the patience of God, but they should practice patience or long-suffering in relating to one another (Gal 5:22; Eph 4:2; 1 Th 5:14; 2 Ti 4:2; Jas 5:7–8). Paul sought to exhibit patience as he worked among his churches (2 Co 6:6; 2 Ti 3:10), and he prayed that the Colossians might be steadfast and patient in their received faith (1:11).
Election: a new realization (v. 12a)
Christians are defined here as ‘the elect of God, holy and beloved’. This means that God has chosen them from eternity for salvation (Eph. 1:4–5; 2 Thes. 2:13; Rom. 9:6–13; 1 Peter 1:2). Once saved, Christians are holy before God, being set apart in Christ by the Holy Spirit who indwells them. Election is not arbitrary or random. It is not some show of pride by God, nor a display of his power, but an act of divine love that flows from his heart (Rom. 9:13a). God loves the elect enough to give his only Son for them (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; Eph. 5:25).
Conversion: a new look (v. 12b)
The Christian wardrobe contains garments that were bought by Christ when he died on the cross. This collection of spiritual apparel, tailored by his Spirit, needs to be searched daily in order that garments appropriate for the moment are chosen and worn. The resulting ‘new look’ and behaviour will bring praise and acclaim to the head of the church. With this holy fashion, new behaviour will display the believer’s new life in Christ. The new wardrobe is not for special occasions only, but for everyday use, and when it is put on it also ‘feels’ good.
The beloved people of God are to ‘put on’ new attire, clothing themselves with five holy ‘garments’: ‘tender mercies’ means ‘a heart of compassion’, and indicates deep feelings. ‘Kindness’ is the desire for another’s good, and shows sweetness of disposition (Titus 3:4; 2 Cor. 6:6). ‘Humility of mind’ speaks of lowliness (Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3–5) and allows us to recognize that we have no reason or right to be assertive. ‘Meekness’ is the opposite of self-interest and reveals itself in gentleness. It is a spirit of quiet submission, not weakness but rather a spirit of Christian courtesy. Thomas Watson once said, ‘Meekness is a grace whereby we are enabled by the Spirit of God to moderate our passions’ (see 2 Cor. 10:1). ‘Longsuffering’ is patience in the face of provocation and suffering. This is a divine attribute (Rom. 2:4; 9:22). It is the opposite of anger and ‘it is associated with mercy’. Possession of this grace stops us being angry with God (Heb. 6:12, 15).
3:12 / Verses 12–17 are a continuation of Paul’s discussion of those who are baptized. He already has dealt with the negative side by showing that those who have died to their old life are to put off those vices that characterized them as pagans. In this section, Paul turns to the positive side by listing a number of virtues that are to characterize their new or resurrected life. The therefore indicates that what follows is linked to the previous ideas on the new self (3:10, 11).
There are several features of this list of virtues that are worth noting: First, as already explained, this list is part of a body of traditional material that was transmitted in the early church (cf. disc. on 3:5). The language “put on” (clothe yourselves) shows that this belongs to the context of baptismal instructions. Second, these virtues are very similar to the “fruit of the Spirit” mentioned in Galatians 5:22, 23. Three of the “fruit” (compassion, kindness, humility) are directly in the list, while “love” and “peace” are picked up in 3:14 and 3:15 respectively.
A third characteristic of these virtues is that they are “godly qualities,” which are used to describe either God or Christ. Many references in the nt, for example, talk about the mercy or compassion (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 1:3), kindness (Rom. 2:4; 11:22; Eph. 2:7), humility (Phil. 2:5–11), meekness (2 Cor. 10:1), and long-suffering (Rom. 2:4; 9:22) of God and Jesus. The application of these virtues to the Christian would follow naturally from the call to imitation, union, or likeness with Christ. Believers are to act toward one another as God and Jesus act toward them.
Fourth, these virtues are social in nature, that is, they describe attitudes and actions that are important for healthy personal relationships. As the Christian has emptied (put off) his or her life of harmful and selfish vices, he or she now is instructed to fill (put on) that void with virtues that have the well-being of others as their prime goal. These virtues are lived out in the context of the local church (body, 3:15) where the Colossians are members with each other (3:13, 16). Their relationships with each other, including worship (3:16, 17), should bear witness that they are new people in Christ.
In verse 12, the believers are identified as God’s chosen people, literally, the hagioi, “saints,” “holy ones” (1:2). This was made possible, Paul tells his readers, because of God’s love and election. Their status had nothing to do with their own striving; it was God’s choosing. All three concepts (saints, love, election) are reminiscent of ot descriptions of Israel but are taken over and applied to the new Israel, the church (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).
The Colossians are instructed to put on a number of virtues: Compassion is a translation of two Greek words, splanchna and oiktirmos, literally translated as “bowels of mercy” (kjv) because the bowels, or inner viscera, of a person were regarded as the seat of emotions. As such, the term denoted compassion that comes authentically from the heart and that is translated into corresponding action toward another person.
Kindness (chrēstotēs), with such corresponding concepts as goodness, generosity, or courtesy, describes an individual whose life and relationship with others are gracious and empathetic—genuinely concerned for the feelings of others. Humility (tapeinophrosynē), when properly directed (i.e., not false humility), is a spirit of modesty and disregard for status. It is that quality of Christ that best describes his willingness to become incarnate and suffer for humanity (Phil. 2:5–11).
Gentleness (prautēs), which appears in the rsv as “meekness,” sometimes has been taken as a sign of weakness, particularly by the Greeks. In the nt, however, it is a disposition characterized by gentleness, consideration, and submissiveness—just the opposite of arrogance, rebellion, and violence. Patience (makrothymia) is a passive virtue, amplified by additional concepts such as endurance (cf. 1:11), forbearance, and steadfastness. In personal relationships, it is the grace of one who may have the right to retaliate but who chooses to exercise patience instead.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 153–157). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 331–332). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 McNaughton, I. S. (2006). Opening up Colossians and Philemon (pp. 64–66). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 77–79). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.