By Ed Little
A Reading from Colossians 3:1-17
1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 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.
Even adults can play dress-up. In the 1940 comedy, Brother Orchid, Edward G. Robinson plays a gangster on the run. He takes refuge in a monastery, pretends to be interested in joining the order, and enrolls as a novice. Inwardly, he chuckles. These monks, he thinks, are “the biggest chumps in the world.” But something begins to happen to him. Clothed in monastic garb, immersed in Christian community, he changes. Dress-up leads to transformation.
St. Paul begins the Letter to the Colossians by outlining the basics of the faith — who Jesus is, what he does for us. Finally, in chapter three, he turns his attention to our behavior, with the image of clothing: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self.” And then he gets down to specifics: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” The entire passage is a list of dos and don’ts, of behaviors which drive a wedge between ourselves and God and behaviors which reflect God’s character. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” When we “dress up,” when we try on behaviors as though they were natural to us, we can be transformed — like Brother Orchid.
“Very often the only way to get a quality in reality,” C.S. Lewis says, “is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups, playing shop.” And so, Paul tells his readers in Colossae, act as though you are filled with compassion and a host of other virtues, as though you are indeed clothed with love. “And whatever you do, in word or deed,” Paul concludes, “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Do this, and you will become what you are pretending to be.
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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