Have you ever noticed how many analogies there are in the Bible about plants or farming? Quite a few, but being the black thumb that I am (think seven dead basil plants since the beginning of the year), I really appreciate the clothing metaphor in Colossians 3. It literally starts in verse 12 with “clothe yourself.” Oh yeah, this is something I can get behind, Paul. Please continue.
Right after “clothe yourself,” he gives you the most fascinating list of things to “put on.” While looking at this list, I thought of how transformed our relationships would become if we took these words to heart:
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with…”
Tenderhearted. It’s easy to get hardened towards others when exhaustion takes over, apathy knocks at our door, or hurt has built up over the years. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” God can give you a new heart for your spouse, your kids, your neighbor, your friend, heck, even your enemy—at any point! Being tenderhearted instead of callous or uncaring is so countercultural. It costs us absolutely nothing to change our actions and focus on someone else’s happiness rather than our own. This change of heart can improve the lives of all involved.
John Gotten is a psychologist who has devoted most of his life to studying why some relationships work and others do not. “Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”1 When you stop showing kindness, things take a downward spiral. My cousin went to a work conference last week, and one of the challenges was to be the best version of yourself at home. It’s so easy to give those closest to us our leftovers. But these are the most important people in our lives! In the days of showing the shiniest version of ourselves online, the challenge to be our best at home where the cameras are off is a timely one.
I woke up a couple of mornings ago to my husband listening to a sermon in the living room on Luke. The pastor was describing how Jesus was stripped with His back, shoulders, and buttocks exposed. He was then beaten with a whip that ripped through His flesh. He was spat upon and mocked. I thought of His shame, His pain, and how that was my beating He took. My only response was to kneel with tear-filled eyes and thank Him for paying for my sins with His very life. To thank Him for giving me an eternity with Him that I could never earn and for taking my guilt and my shame. It cost Him everything. If I could remember that every day, then I wouldn’t be so high and mighty when it came to disagreements. I would have a spirit of deep humility and gratitude and remember I am a sinner who was saved and shown infinite mercy, love, and grace, and it is my duty and privilege to extend that to everyone else.
Our words are powerful. We can hurt or help, build up or tear down. Treating others with gentleness in both word and deed is one of the most effective and loving things we can do. I also think it’s one of the most Christ-like. He is the most powerful of all yet Matthew 21:5 says, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey.”
How would extra patience toward our loved ones affect our relationships? My guess is…a lot! I know. Very profound. But think of how you have responded to others who have shown patience to you in your past. Did it not endear you to them? Did their grace not wash over you like a much-needed shower after a long day? When we take a moment to remember every breathing person is someone made in God’s image and loved by Him and remember that we are just as flawed as the next, extending patience is a natural outflow.
Aren’t these just the most lovely garments imaginable to put on? Anthropologie and Nieman Marcus don’t hold a candle to them. Paul doesn’t end there though.
Verse 13 says: “Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you.” Again, gospel. Let the gospel infiltrate every cell of your being. We can’t possibly hold a grudge in light of the cross.
Last but not least, verses 14-15 say, “Above all, clothe yourself with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”
Forgiveness, love, peace, gratitude. The four horsemen of successful relationships. Love binds all of this together. It’s the perfect and most important accessory that takes the outfit from mediocre to extraordinary. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35. Our actions are what makes us stand apart, and the action of love is the single greatest thing we can do to share Jesus with others
There is always something for which we can be thankful! Start writing the most basic things down and watch how long that list becomes. Hot showers, food in your fridge, clean water, healthy kids, breath in your body, grass under your feet, your car that started this morning, the clothing you have for yourself and your family, the fact that you have more than one pair of shoes (or shoes at all!), access to medical help, friendships, family…you get the drift! Doesn’t matter how big or small, write it down! See how differently you feel afterward.
Want to be an overachiever and put on your smartypants along with all those other clothes? Make a list of things you are grateful for in the person who you are struggling with right now in your life.
Now let me end with this warning.
If you try and put on these clothes by yourself, you’re going to end up looking like my two-year-old. He either has just a shirt on and no pants, my husband’s shoes (and nothing else), or is just plain naked all the time. #truestory. Just like this toddler, we don’t have what it takes to consistently dress appropriately. Left to our own devices, we put on selfish sweaters and judgmental jeggings. Or we simply walk around naked. We need our Heavenly Father to loving dress us as a parent dresses a helpless child. It’s only by His power and grace that we can be clothed in a way that will bless others. Ask Him to dress you and watch your relationships change before your eyes as He lovingly works out these characteristics in your life.
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