One Another: Colossians 3:12-17

nativity painting of people inside a dome

Overview of Verses 12-17 

This is a continuation of the flow-of-thought from the previous passage (3:1-11). Paul is still teaching the Colossian church to live as their new selves. The previous passage focused primarily on the old ways of life Paul is calling the Colossian Christians to leave behind. Now, the apostle paints the church a picture of what it looks like to live together as people of the resurrection. 

Break it Down: Verse-by-Verse (ESV)

v12-13: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

It is important to keep in mind that Paul is not writing this letter to an individual. Rather, the apostle is writing to a church community seeking to follow Jesus together. While it is true that Christian faith is very personal, it is never private. 

For those of us living in the modern Western world, this can be difficult to understand; we live in individualistic, self-focused cultures. Regardless of the cultures we find ourselves in, the church is called by God to live as a community. The different parts of Christ’s body need each other. 1 It is in the context of a loving, Jesus-centered community that we grow in Christ and learn to live as people of the resurrection

Here the apostle calls the Colossian church to live into their identity as God’s chosen, set-apart people whom he loves. The virtues listed here are things God has already shown us in Christ; we are simply called to deal with others as God has dealt with us. 

While it is true that we grow in Christ in the context of a community, we should not romanticize the church as if it were free of challenges. This side of glory, relationships will always be messy and difficult. The goal of the Christian community is not to be perfect; our goal is to reflect Christ to one another. In a healthy church community, we can expect to find forgiveness from our brothers and sisters when we make mistakes, which points us to the radical forgiveness of God that is ours in Christ. Jesus taught his disciples to pray like this: “…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” 2 and explains that if we don’t forgive those who have sinned against us, our Father in the heavens won’t forgive us of our sins. 3

v14-15: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

Earlier in the letter (2:2), Paul prayed that the Colossians would be knit together in love, which makes this the second time in the letter the apostle has connected love with unity. 

It is important that we understand that Paul is using the word love in a very different way than we use the word in our modern English. As Paul means it here, Love is primarily a commitment, not a feeling. Imagine a church community made up of people more concerned about the interests of others than their own. 4 How could this community ever not be unified? How could they be ruled by anything other than the peace of Christ? 

It is important to Paul that the Colossians cultivate a heart-posture of thankfulness toward God, for he always thanks God (1:9) and instructs them to do the same four other times in this letter (1:27; 2:7; 3:17; 4:2). 

v16-17: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Here the apostle gives the Colossians instructions for when they gather together. They ought to teach each other and warn of the dangers of sin, keeping the teachings and story of Jesus at the center of their message. Paul calls the church to sing songs of thankful praise to God, and to do all things as people who represent Jesus. This is a spectacular vision and a mighty calling. We must make every effort to live in a manner worthy of the calling God has given us. 

~Father, thank you for calling us into the community of your people. We know that we can’t walk the narrow path alone and we repent of all of our self-reliance. We ask that you would bind your Church together in perfect harmony. Empower us through your Spirit, that we might embody this vision. Work in us and help us become a people who display Jesus in everything we do. Amen.

Reflection Questions

1. How can I better engage with a church community?

2. What would it look like for me to consider other people’s needs more important than my own?

This is the eleventh part of our series on Colossians.

Previous: Put On The New Self: Colossians 3:1-11

Referenced Sources

1. See 1 Corinthians 12:21

2. Matthew 6:12 NIV; emphasis added

3. Matthew 6:14; cf. Luke 17:3-4

4. cf. Philippians 2:1-14

5. N.T. Wright – Colossians and Philemon: Tyndale New Testament Commentary 

6. Jean M. Twenge – Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before 

7. BBC Future – How East and West think in profoundly different ways 

8. Sharon Hodde Miller – Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You 

9. Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Life Together

10. BibleProject – Overview: Colossians

The Naked Bible Podcast – Colossians Series

11. St. John Chrysostom – Homilies on Colossians 

12. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible – Colossians 

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