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.
13 As with the vice lists in v. 5 and v. 8, Paul turns now to expand and expound, albeit briefly, on the final item (i.e., “patience”) of his truncated catalog of Christian graces (cf. Vaughan, 215). (This is not to deny, however, that the other four virtues set forth in v. 12 might also be in view in v. 13.) The Colossians should put patience into practice by “bearing with” (lit., “enduring”) one another (cf. 1 Co 4:12; Eph 4:2). When complaints and grievances arise among church members, they should “forgive” one another. (“Paul is too much of a realist to imagine that the renewal he has been describing will produce faultless men and women” [Caird, 207]. He encourages believers, therefore, to cultivate a Christlike character, which will enable them to deal redemptively with one another.) Even as “the Lord” (likely “Christ” is meant here, as the variant reading suggests [so Dunn, 231; Moule, 123]) has forgiven Christians all their transgressions (cf. 2:13), so also believers should extend forgiveness to one another (Eph 4:32; cf. Mt 6:12, 14–15; 18:35). “Knowing oneself to have been forgiven by Christ should release the generosity required to forgive others” (Lincoln, 648; cf. Dunn, 231).
13 Mutual forbearance, mutual tolerance, and mutual forgivingness should mark all their relations with one another. Did not Jesus himself inculcate the principle of unwearying and unceasing forgiveness, until “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22)? More than that, had they not received his forgiveness, in far greater measure than they were ever likely to have to emulate in forgiving others? For he taught the lesson of unlimited forgiveness by example and not only by precept. In his teaching, too, he made it clear that those who seek the forgiveness of God must be ready to forgive others. Not that human forgiveness is a work that earns the divine forgiveness—the initiative in forgiveness lies with God—but an unforgiving spirit is an effective barrier to the reception of his forgiveness. So, in the parallel passage in Eph. 4:32, the readers are directed to be kind and tenderhearted to one another, “forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” In fact, Paul reproduces Jesus’ insistence on the close relation between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others in a way that suggests he may have known the Lord’s Prayer.
13 This verse now clarifies and supplements the list by shifting toward bearing with or, better yet, devotedly caring for and forgiving one another (or showing grace to one another).129 Again, the priority and circularity of the Lord’s own love and grace come to the fore: as the Lord bears with humans (Rom 3:25) and shows grace (Eph 4:32), so the Colossians are to do the same with one another. The term Paul uses is distinct to him and is not often used of forgiveness: charizomai, which describes an act of grace (charis) shown to another (Eph 4:32; 2 Cor 2:7, 10; 12:13). A remarkable feature of the earliest Christian movement was its commitment to graciousness prompted by God’s grace (see Matt 6:12, 14–15; 18:15–35; Rom 12:9–13:10). I am content to argue that the word charizomai in the Pauline letters is short-circuited when it is translated as “forgive.” Rather, the term means “show grace” or “be gracious” to someone else, even to those who have offended. The typical words for “forgive” (aphiēmi, aphesis) are not used in this verse, and so I suggest charizomai is used intentionally to evoke being gracious to another person, which naturally enough will be displayed in forgiveness but is wider than that term.
Forgiveness, C. S. Lewis once said, is a lovely idea until you have something to forgive; what he said in the middle of the twentieth century is no less true of all ages in the history of humans. Paul was headed toward this graciousness in his “clothe yourselves” virtue list (3:12). There was much to forgive and much to learn about forgiveness in Paul’s churches, as there is for any close fellowship. The process of forgiveness, which aims toward reconciliation as part of Christ’s cosmic reconciliation (Col 1:20), begins with knowing the offending matter at hand: “if any of you has a grievance against someone.” As with Jesus (Matt 18:15–20), the cause for the complaint must be aired, admitted to, dealt with honestly—not dismissing or minimizing the offending act or the offended—and then confessed before the choice to forgive comes into play. But forgiveness, as I said above, short-circuits the term, and we need to apply this to more than forgiveness. The social tensions of a typical Pauline church, with its mixture of Jews and Gentiles, males and females, slaves and free, along with the social tensions of barbarians and Scythians—all this tossed into a new kind of family surely produced tension where grace would be needed.136
Yet again, there is a theological/christological priority: “Forgive [or be gracious] as the Lord forgave you [showed grace to you].” The correlation creates a tidier theology than it does a tidy reflection in actual praxis, but the model is established by God’s revelation in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (see Matt 5:43–48; 6:12; Rom 15:7, 8; Eph 5:2, 25, 29): as they have been shown prior and superabundant grace, so they are to extend grace. Here we have a good example of the circularity of grace. It is possible, first, that our text is an allusion to the teachings of Jesus (Matt 6:12, 14–15; 18:23–35); second, it is almost certain that “Lord” refers to Jesus as the one who shows grace (Rom 15:7; Eph 4:32; 5:2, 25, 29) and not to the Father.
Forgiveness: a new ability (v. 13)
‘Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another’. The point here is that of keeping oneself in check even when irritated by others, and the forgetting of offences personally received. We have to do so looking to Christ as our example: ‘even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do’. Believers can, and must, be a forgiving people (Matt. 6:14–15). Peter was told to forgive up to seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22). Note that Paul is still discoursing on Christian freedom! The antinomians will not like this clear and unequivocal exhortation from Paul because they consider themselves not under the law of obedience. However, a forgiving attitude marks out a true Christian from a false one.
3:13 / There are bound to be conflicts (grievances) within the church. When this occurs, says Paul, bear with each other forgive … one another. Tolerance and forgiveness should not be regarded as two additional virtues but rather as explanations of how gentleness and patience are to be exercised in the body. To be tolerant is to be patiently forbearing of others with the idea of forgiving them. Paul appeals to his readers’ experience of forgiveness in Christ. They are to forgive because of and according to the example of the Lord.
12, 13. Put on, therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved. “Put on” is repeated from verse 10. And the word “therefore” means (amplified), “Since you have in principle taken Christ into your hearts, therefore actually be in practice—yes, be fully—what you have professed to be, and what I, Paul, actually believe you have begun to be.” Be this “as God’s elect.” For a twelve-point summary of the doctrine of election in the epistles of Paul see N.T.C. on I and II Thess., pp. 48–50. Note especially the following statements, taken from points 7, 10, and 12: “Election affects life in all its phases, is not abstract. Although it belongs to God’s decree from eternity, it becomes a dynamic force in the hearts and lives of God’s children. It produces fruits. It is an election not only unto salvation but definitely also (as a link in the chain) unto service. It has as its final aim God’s glory, and is the work of his delight” (Eph. 1:4–6).
In apposition with the expression “God’s elect” are the ascriptions “holy and beloved.” As God’s chosen ones, these people, both individually and collectively as far as they are true believers, are holy, that is, “set apart” for the Lord and for his work. They have been cleansed by the blood of Christ from the guilt of their sins, and are being delivered, more and more, from sin’s pollution, and renewed according to the image of God (see on verse 10 above). They are, moreover, “beloved,” and this especially by God (1 Thess. 1:4; cf. 2 Thess. 3:13).
Thus, the qualifying designations of honor that were formerly applied to the ancient covenant people of Israel (see 1 Peter 2:9; then Isa. 5:1; Hos. 2:23; cf. Rom. 9:25) are here used in connection with the members of the church of the new dispensation. The church is the new Israel. Paul continues. (Put on) a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering. It is immediately evident that these qualities overlap. A person with “a compassionate heart” will also be “kind.” One who is lowly or humble in disposition will also be “meek,” etc.
The expression heart of compassion indicates a very deep feeling, “a yearning with the deeply-felt affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8). As to the depth of this feeling one thinks of the reaction of Joseph upon seeing Benjamin (Gen. 43:30), or in revealing himself to his brothers (Gen. 45:1–4). Another example would be the tender relationship between David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:1; 20:4, 17).
The next quality is kindness. This is Spirit-imparted goodness of heart, the very opposite of the malice or badness mentioned in verse 8. The early Christians by means of kindness commended themselves to others (2 Cor. 6:6). God, too, is kind (Rom. 2:4; cf. 11:22), and we are admonished to become like him in this respect (Luke 6:35). Examples of human kindness would be the same persons already mentioned in connection with “heart of compassion.” To avoid repetition, let us add the Good Samaritan of the well-known parable (Luke 10:25–37), Barnabas (Acts 4:36, 37; 15:37), and the apostle Paul himself (1 Thess. 2:7–12).
Lowliness or humility—a virtue despised by the heathen (as noted earlier)—is also mentioned as a quality which believers should more and more strive to acquire. The person who is kind to others generally does not have too high an estimate of himself. A happy condition arises when in a church each member counts the other to be better than himself (Phil. 2:3). Of course, there is also such a thing as “feigned humility” (see on 2:18, 23). Good examples of true humility would be the centurion who said, “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof” (Luke 7:6), and the publican who, in a striking parable, pours out his heart by sighing, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13). According to the entire context, however, it is modest self-appraisal in relation to the neighbors, especially to fellow-believers, that Paul has in mind. Of course, these two—humility toward God and the same disposition toward men—far from being mutually exclusive, belong together.
Meekness, mentioned next, is definitely not weakness or spinelessness, the characteristic of the person who is ready to bow before every breeze. It is submissiveness under provocation, the willingness rather to suffer injury than to inflict it. A striking example is Moses (Num. 12:3).
For longsuffering see on 1:11. What a longsuffering hero was Jeremiah during his lengthy period of prophetic activity. Think also of Hosea who, instead of rejecting his unfaithful wife, slips away to the haunt of shame, redeems Gomer with fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley, and mercifully restores her to her position of honor!
Continued: enduring one another. The Colossians are urged to bear with one another in love (cf. Eph. 4:2). Paul was able to say, “Being persecuted we endure” (Cor. 4:12). The example of Job comes to mind (James 5:11). Paul adds, and forgiving each other if anyone have a complaint against anyone. Just as the Lord133 has forgiven you, so do you also. For the divine forgiveness see on 2:13. Christ, while on earth, had taught his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). It is possible that the expression “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so do you also” is a conscious echo of the just quoted petition of the Lord’s Prayer, showing that Paul knew that prayer. Anyway, it is identical in spirit and meaning. Jesus had also instructed Peter to forgive “not up to seven times but up to seventy times seven times” (Matt. 18:22), and had added a touching parable ending with the words, “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from the heart” (Matt. 18:35; cf. Mark 11:25). Moreover, the Lord had underscored these precepts with his own example. While being crucified he had implored, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). When Stephen, while he was being stoned to death, prayed “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” he was following the example of Christ.
This would seem to be the proper place to point out that Paul here links his admonitions to Christ’s person and work, as has been indicated also in connection with Col. 1:28. See the three columns there. The qualities which, according to Paul’s teaching here, mark the new man are also ascribed to Christ. For his “heart of compassion” and his kindness see Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34. His lowliness and meekness are exemplified in Matt. 11:29; 21:5; John 13:1–15; Phil. 2:8; his longsuffering and endurance or forbearance, in Matt. 17:17; John 14:9; 1 Peter 2:23; and his forgiving spirit, in Matt. 9:2; Luke 7:47; 23:34. Accordingly, when a believer manifests these virtues in his association with his fellow-men he has “put on” Christ (Rom. 13:l4). And it is comforting to know that he who has seen Christ has seen the Father (John 14:9; cf. 1:18), and that he who is an imitator of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Thess. 1:6) is also an imitator of God (Eph. 5:1).
3:12–14. Verses 12–17 contain the virtues that stand in contrast to the vices mentioned in the preceding verses. With the old discarded, the character of Christ is to be displayed in its place. The transformation process includes more than don’ts. There are some dos as well.
Since the old humanity has been put off and the new community has been put on, believers are therefore to clothe themselves with the kind of behavioral apparel that fits their new life. The famous story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen has many possible applications for believers. One of them would be the simple lesson that we are not to be foolish like the emperor and take off our old clothes and put nothing back on. Before listing the appropriate attire, Paul reminds believers that they are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. These are exalted titles formerly used as designations for the nation of Israel (Deut. 4:37; 7:7–8) but now applied to the new community in Christ (1 Pet. 2:9–10).
William Barclay has an insightful comment on the nature of the virtues listed now:
“It is most significant to note that every one of the virtues and graces listed has to do with personal relationships between man and man. There is no mention of virtues like efficiency, cleverness, even diligence and industry—not that these things are not important. But the great basic Christian virtues are the virtues which govern and set the tone of human relationships. Christianity is community” (Barclay, 188).
The first piece in the believer’s fashionable wardrobe is compassion, which refers to “heartfelt sympathy for those suffering or in need.” The next item in the believer’s wardrobe is kindness, the friendly and helpful spirit which meets needs through good deeds. This is the concrete action of compassion. If the believer is to be fully dressed, other Christlike characteristics are to be worn as well. The believer is to be clothed with humility, which is a proper estimation of oneself (Rom. 12:3). Humility is not a self-debasing attitude (like the “false humility” of 2:18 and 2:23) but an attitude that is free from pride and self assertion. The believer is to be clothed with gentleness, sometimes translated “meekness.” Gentleness has been described as “power under control”; the picture of a powerful horse under the control of its master is a helpful image. The attitude behind gentleness is an attitude of refusing to demand one’s rights. The believer is to be clothed with patience which is the capacity to bear injustice or injury without revenge or retaliation.
The idea of putting up with the abuses and offenses of others continues with Paul’s call to bear with each other. Believers are to go beyond quiet resignation positively to forgive whatever grievances [they] may have against one another. Believers have been fully forgiven by Christ (2:13–14), and the forgiven are obligated to become forgivers. The standard for this forgiveness is Christ himself.
Paul saves the most important item of clothing for last. Without love, all the other virtues may amount to mere moralism and little else (a thought found also in 1 Cor. 13:1–3). When love is present, there is harmony and unity in the community. It is not clear whether love binds the virtues together, completing a lovely garment of Christlike character, or whether love binds the members of the community together in mature oneness. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional. Both ideas make good sense.
Ver. 13. Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.—
Forbearance:—To forbear is not only freely to forgive, but to meet half way, with extended hand (E.T.E.B.). During the celebrated John Henderson’s residence at Oxford, a student of a neighbouring college, proud of his logical achievements, was solicitous of a private disputation. Some mutual friends introduced him, and having chosen his subject, they conversed for some time with equal candour and moderation; but at length Henderson’s antagonist, perceiving his own confusion inevitable, in the height of passion threw a full glass of wine in Henderson’s face. The latter, without altering his features, or changing his position, gently wiped his face, and coolly replied, “This, sir, is a digression. Now for the argument.” A greater victory than any controversial success could have given him. (Cottle.)
Divine forgiveness admired and imitated:—
- Study the pattern of forgiveness. 1. What is this forgiveness of Christ? (1) He forgave offences most great and grievous. Men did all they could against Him. Say not that you have never thus transgressed. “He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” These offences were unprovoked. Towards no man had He acted harshly. Such is human depravity that His very virtue provoked hostility. “They hated Me without a cause.” He continues to forgive causeless wrong. (2) He forgave the most unworthy persons. None deserved such kindness; in fact, to talk of deserving it is a contradiction. If He had left us in our sin we could have brought no complaint against Him. (3) He had always power to execute vengeance. Some pardon because they cannot punish. Half the forgiveness in the world comes from weakness of hand rather than forgiveness of heart. 2. How did He forgive? (1) Unsolicited. Before we had thought of mercy He had thoughts of mercy toward us. “I have blotted out … return unto Me.” Pardon is not first as matter of experience, but it is as matter of fact with God. (2) Heartily. Forgiveness when it cornea from human lips in studied phrase is not worth the having: but when Jesus absolves it is from the heart, and sin is put away for ever. (3) Completely. He keeps no back reckonings. “I will not remember thy sins.” Even fathers, when they have forgiven a wayward child, will, perhaps, throw the offence in his teeth years after; but Christ says, “Thy sins shall not be mentioned against thee any more.” (4) Continuously. He forgave us long ago. He still forgives. It is not a reprieve, but a free pardon. (5) Graciously. Some people make it appear as though they were coming down from such awful heights. You never feel that about Christ. He never scalds the sinner with scornful pity. (6) Greatly. The offence had brought trouble into the world, and He bore that trouble. Some people hand us over to consequences; Christ delivers us from them. (7) Consciously. There is a theory abroad that we may be forgiven and not know it. But the Holy Spirit writes forgiveness on our hearts.
- Copy it for yourselves. 1. This precept is universally applicable. It is unqualified in its range. It is not put that superiors are to forgive inferiors, or the less are to forgive the greater. The rich are to be forbearing to the poor, and the poor to the rich; the elder is to forgive the junior for his imprudence, and the junior the elder for his petulence and slowness. 2. This forbearance and forgiveness are vital. No man is a child of God who has not a likeness to God; and no man is forgiven who will not himself forgive. 3. Gloriously ennobling. Revenge is paltry; forgiveness is great-minded. David was greater than Saul, and Saul acknowledged it. To win a battle is a little thing if fought out with sword and gun, but to win it in God’s way with love and forgiveness is the best of victories. A nation in fighting, even if it wins the campaign, has to suffer, but he that overcomes by love is all the better and stronger for it. 4. Logically appropriate to all. If our Lord has forgiven us ten thousand talents, how can we take our brother by the throat for one hundred pence. 5. Most forcibly sustained by the example in the text. “Even as Christ.” It is said (1) “If you pass by every wanton offence you will come to be despised.” But has Christ’s honour suffered? Far from it. It is His glory to forgive. (2) “If we overlook offences, other people may be tempted to wrong us.” But has any been tempted to do so because Christ has forgiven you? Why, that is the very groundwork of holiness. (3) “I know several pious persons who are unforgiving.” But that proves their impiety; and if it did not, the Master is your example, not your fellow-servant, particularly in his faults. (4) “These persons would not have forgiven me.” Just so; but you are a child of God, and must not lower your standard down to that of publicans and sinners. (5) “I would forgive him, but he does not deserve it.” That is why you are to forgive him; if he deserved it you would be bound to do him the justice he could claim. (6) “I cannot forgive.” You “can do all things through Christ that strengthens you.” (C H. Spurgeon.)
Human forgiveness:—The world is rife with human quarrels; families, neighbourhoods, Churches, have their quarrels. They arise from many principles in the depraved heart besides misunderstandings. Hence forgiveness is important. The text suggests two things concerning forgiveness.
- The duty. Here it is urged as well as in other places (Rom. 12:19). Besides this there are two reasons. 1. You desire forgiveness yourself. Who would like to have the vengeance of a man always in his heart towards him? If you would like forgiveness, you must do as you would be done by. 2. You need forgiveness yourself when you have offended. He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself has to pass. Besides, an unforgiving spirit is an injury to its possessor.
- Its model. “Even as Christ.” 1. How did Christ forgive? Promptly, generously, fully, without any reflection upon past offences. 2. Examples: The woman taken in adultery. His enemies—“Father, forgive them.” The dying thief. (D. Thomas, D.D.) Forgiveness implies—1. The remission of the right to retaliate when safe and proper. 2. The dismissal of the revengeful feelings which injury may have excited. 3. The revival of those feelings of goodwill which it becomes us habitually to cherish. (W. Fleming.)
Forth-giving:—To forgive a thing is to “forthgive” by your own act and freewill, to give it forth from you that it may go clean out from you—out of sight and out of mind.
Forgiveness a distinctively Christian virtue:—We cannot say that it was unknown to the ancients; under certain conditions, no doubt, it was very common. In domestic life, in which all the germs of Christian virtue are to be found, it was undoubtedly common. Undoubtedly friends fell out and were reconciled in antiquity as among ourselves. But when the only relation between the two parties was that of injurer and injured, and the only claim of the offender to forgiveness was that he was a human being, then forgiveness seems not only not to have been practised, but not to have been enjoined nor approved. People not only did not forgive their enemies, but did not wish to do so, nor think better of themselves for having done so. That man considered himself fortunate who on his deathbed could say, in reviewing his past life, that no one had done more good to his friends or more mischief to his foes. The Roman Triumph, with its naked ostentation of revenge, fairly represents the common feeling of the ancients. Nevertheless, forgiveness even of any enemy was not unknown to them. They could conceive it, and they could feel that there was a Divine beauty in it, but it seemed to them more than could be expected of human nature, superhuman. (Ecce Homo.)
International forgiveness:—Is that which is right between individuals wrong as between societies? Am I to forbear and forgive when acting alone, but when associated with two or three others am I to manifest a different spirit? Is my individual conscience to be merged in the associated conscience, and does the Christian law for a society differ from the law for individuals? Enlarge the society till it becomes the nation. Is the law of Christ abrogated? It would seem to be so considered by the “Christian nations” of the world. Why is Europe in time of peace an entrenched camp? Why are millions of the strongest and healthiest men withdrawn from productive labours and domestic life to be trained in the art of killing, while the people groan under the burden of a taxation and a poverty God never sent? Because in international law there is so little recognition of the Divine precept—“forbearing one another and forgiving one another.” Because many who in their private relations manifest meekness and gentleness, as politicians and statesmen seem to think the old Pagan law is unrepealed. How few of the wars which have desolated Europe during the last thousand years would have been waged had it been more than nominally Christian! If instead of resenting every supposed affront, of vindicating on every petty occasion what is called the honour of a flag, of supposing the dignity of an empire precludes all forbearance, patience, and concession, there had been even a little of the “bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering” enjoined in our text, the history of the world had been differently written; heathen nations would have said, “see how these Christians love;” instead of the flags of Europe inspiring terror in distant regions, they would have been everywhere hailed as symbols of peace; and the old prophecy would have had a fulfilment in the case of Christendom—“the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion.” (Newman Hall, LL.B.) A quarrel.—A quarrel: Both sides wrong:—In most quarrels there is a fault on both sides. A quarrel may be compared to a spark, which cannot be produced without a flint as well as a steel; either of them may hammer on wood for ever, no fire will follow. (R. South.)
Quarrels prolonged:—“I have seen in the south of France a row of beggars sitting on the side of a bridge, day after day, winter and summer, showing sore legs and sore arms; these sores never get well, they were kept continually raw with caustic in order to excite compassion and obtain alms. And the most bitter jealousy reigned between these beggars as to the size and irritability of their respective sores. The man with only an inflamed knee burned with envy of the man whose whole leg was raw. Not for all the world would they let their wounds heal, as that would cut off from them a means of livelihood. I fear a great many people love their grievances against neighbours much as those beggars loved their sores. They keep them constantly open and irritable by inventing and applying fresh aggravations. They are proud of them, they like to expose their wrongs, as they call them, to all their neighbours.” (S. Baring-Gould.)
 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, p. 332). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (p. 155). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 McKnight, S. (2018). The Letter to the Colossians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (pp. 323–324). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 McNaughton, I. S. (2006). Opening up Colossians and Philemon (p. 66). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (p. 79). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (Vol. 6, pp. 155–158). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, pp. 330–331). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Philippians–Colossians (Vol. 2, pp. 229–231). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.