How Should We Respond? Colossians 3:5-17
Our nation is awash in violence. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen dozens of people killed and injured in mass shootings. Of course, there are undoubtedly countless others who have died due to acts of violence whose names we may never know. For our Los Angeles community, the shooting in El Paso, Texas hits close to home as that shooter was clearly motivated by white nationalism and a hatred for Latinx immigrants. Christians are (rightly) asking how should we respond? Paul’s letter to the Colossians provides a framework for answering this very question.
In Colossians 3:5-11, Paul describes the qualities and behaviors that the people must reject as followers of Jesus, like evil desire, greed, anger, lying, and abusive language. They are going to have to remove this old identity in favor of a new identity as God’s “chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:12). Paul then instructs the Colossian church to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). Some translations say “put on” instead of “clothe yourselves.” However, the most important thing in Paul’s estimation is to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). All of the virtues and behaviors to which Paul calls the people must be undergirded by love. It is the glue that binds together compassion, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.
How will we know what it looks like to put on love? Paul presents Christ as our model as he instructs the Colossians to “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly” (Col. 3:16). If you want to know what it looks like to put on love, you will have to know Christ. However, this is not just a matter of head knowledge. Paul is talking about more than memorizing the stories of Jesus. He wants the people to be so intimately acquainted with the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that those stories take up residence in their souls and seep out into their everyday lives, especially in their interactions with one another.
The question then becomes how do you and I live into Paul’s call to put on love? We have to practice. We have to practice being kind, compassionate, humble, etc. We have to keep putting on love everyday. There will be days that the garment of love seems ill-fitting or even a little itchy. There will be days that we would rather leave the garment of love hanging in our closet. But every day and in every place we go, we must put on love. Paul does not leave us any wiggle room on this. Verse 17 says, “whatever you do, in word and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
The day when there is an end to all death and violence is coming. Of that we can be sure. Until then, it is right to ask how Christians should respond to the violence around us. Whether you choose to respond publicly or privately, in big or small ways, first “put on love.” Allow everything that you say and do to flow out of an abiding knowledge of the love of Christ for all of humanity.