Fashions for the Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
Spring Break has just ended for most of us, so it must indeed be Spring. With the new season comes the new season’s fashions, or so I hear. One website says, “This year’s look is flirty, fun and fabulously feminine. Have it both ways with trim, tailored silhouettes or soft, flowing lines and indulge yourself with a little fresh couture with all the frills.” I don’t even know what any of that means. And I have no idea how to say “couture.”
Not to be deterred, I asked Minni to help me find Janet a new spring wardrobe. She located an Oscar de la Renta beaded dress for $3,800.00; a “turquoise stone tote” for $1,975.00; and “leather espradrille sandals” for $937.00. What is “espradrille”?
By contrast, a website for men’s spring clothing says, “The classics still hold sway when it comes to men’s fashion.” I think that means that nothing changes for us. Since I’m wearing the same kind of suit I’ve worn all my married life, I guess that’s a good thing.
Last week, Paul showed us the winter clothes our souls are supposed to strip off if we want to experience all of God there is. Now he displays the spring fashions we are to put on. How we are to be with others, and with ourselves. This is a crucial conversation, for the health of our souls and the salvation of our society. It’s my privilege to explain why this subject matters, and how it applies to our lives and souls today.
Why relevance is so relevant
You and I no longer live in a world which believes it needs what the church provides. We can be “spiritual” without being religious. I can believe in Christ without going to church. Most non-churched people say that’s exactly their position on the subject.
Only two percent of Americans are afraid of going to hell. So long as I’m sincere in my beliefs and tolerant of others, my spirituality is as good as yours. “The Bible says” is no longer the answer; for many, it’s not even the question. We must show that our faith is relevant, before anyone will consider the fact that it might be right.
This is precisely how it was in first-century Colossae. Paul doesn’t quote much of the Old Testament in his letter to this Greek culture, because they wouldn’t care any more than you care what the Koran or the Book of Mormon says on today’s subject. If the Colossians cannot prove the relevance of their faith in their relationships and their own character, their witness is lost. But if they can, they can reach their world. So can we.
What follows is one of the most complete descriptions of external and internal spirituality to be found in all of God’s word.
At issue is not our salvation. We are already “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” He has already “chosen” or “elected” us to be his children. We are “holy,” set apart for him as his special people. We are “dearly loved” by our Father today. All that was true of Israel in the Old Testament is extended to these Gentiles in Colossae, and to you and me today.
So we are not learning how to merit his favor, but exhibit his grace. Measure yourself by these standards. Then we’ll learn how to put on the spiritual clothing our Father offers us today.
How to be spiritual with us (vs. 12-14)
Here’s what is in style with God this spring: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v. 12).
“Compassion” means to “feel with,” to empathize with others, to put ourselves in their position. “Kindness” refers to kind deeds and actions. “Humility” requires that we serve others, not because they are superior to us or we are superior to them, but because we are their brother or sister. “Gentleness” is strength under control, submitted constantly to the Spirit. “Patience” means “long-suffering,” refusing revenge or retaliation.
Now comes the test: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (v. 13).
“Bear with each other” means to endure one’s sins against us. “Forgive whatever grievances” means to pardon whatever has been done to us. We cannot forget it, but we can choose not to punish it. Do this to the same degree that Jesus has forgiven you, without condition.
How? “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.” Love is to be the outer garment which “binds together” all the others, which protects them and keeps them in place. “Agape,” selfless, sacrificial love which puts the other first, is the foundation virtue of all the rest.
There appears to be a progression here in our relationships. Think of the person who last hurt you, or who has hurt you the most. Have that person in mind, and think about what he or she did to you.
Begin your response with “compassion.” Ask God to help you feel what they feel, to see things as they do. Why did he do this to you? What insecurity, false information, or past experiences motivated him to act in this way? Let’s assume that he mistreated you out of his own need to feel secure.
To respond unkindly, returning hurt for hurt, only makes things worse, reinforcing his insecurity. Kindness means that I find ways to help him feel secure. I look for actions which respond to his need in grace.
Humility means that I do so while understanding that I am an insecure person as well, that my needs are no greater than his. There but for the grace of God go I.
Gentleness means that I submit to God, asking him to help me give this person the security and compassion he needs. I seek God’s leading and strength continually.
Patience means that I do this for a long time, whatever the person’s response. I am not responsible for what he does to me, only for what I do to him.