Colossians 3 is one of my new favorite chapters in the Bible - I just taught a Bible study on it last Saturday to the ladies' group at church - and I still don't feel like I've begun to explore the depth of this chapter. We studied vs 12-14, but I focused in particular on vs 12:
As women, we are often concerned with what we wear and pay significant attention to how we dress ourselves when we go out, especially if we are out on a date with our husbands, going to church, attending some sort of function, etc. The same is true for women here - only most times they leave the home, they are dressed to the hilt. They spend quite a bit of time preparing and clothing themselves... even if it is just to run to the post office, pick something up at the "grocery" store, stopping in for a doctor's appointment. A single outfit might cost more than a week's wages, they wear perfectly coordinated heels that would throw my back out for a week if I tried to walk in them, and a beautiful scarf/head covering that ties the whole ensemble together. I used that idea to give these mostly illiterate ladies a way to remember the verse: Just as we pay much attention to our physical clothing and our physical appearance when we are out in public, God commands us to make our spiritual "clothing" a top priority. An interesting note about the command to "clothe yourself" - it has a sense where in the beginning, just like an infant, we need someone to first clothe us, but as we grow, it is something we learn to do ourselves: first we need help physically/mechanically. Then we need help learning how to match things together in a pleasing combination. Finally, we need help selecting what is appropriate for what occasions; one of the commentators I read said that in the original language this verb “clothe yourself” includes that same progression. When I get dressed, the first thing that goes on are my undergarments... spiritually, the first thing I need to put on is patience. An underlying attitude of long-suffering and forbearance, regardless of what others do and say, will go a long way in empowering Biblical reactions and responses to others and to the Lord throughout the day. Thus, that attitude needs to under gird and support - all the time. Secondly, I put on my clothes. Often, clothing is the first thing others notice, especially from a distance and before getting close enough to really see details. Does it match? Is it pleasing to the eye? Is it neat? Is it loud? Is it expensive? Is it timeless and classy? Is it faddish?... etc. And, like it or not, we often make judgments based on this very first thing we see. If I'm walking down the street with a couple of my children and notice a group of guys dressed in their baggy, droopy pants with bandannas tied on their arms and shaved heads, I'm inclined to keep my distance. Spiritually, compassion is like our "outfit." Compassionate love and generosity demonstrated tangibly to people, being available to serve regardless of cost in time and effort, acceptance of those not typically welcomed - those are all things that people can see clearly from a distance and help them to decide if they want to approach more closely, or if they want to cross to the other side of the street. After putting on my clothes, I tend to fix my hair. Here, women braid or pull up their hair and then put on a scarf or head covering. Wearing a head covering says many things - that you are submissive to your husband, that you respect the office and position of those around you, that you are concerned about the reputation of whom you serve, that you are modest, that you respect and appreciate the W. African culture... Spiritually, covering the head can be an outward sign of inward humility, or recognizing our position relative to both God and others. Right before I walk out the door, I put on my shoes. My shoes “carry” me when I approach other people or move near them to interact with them. And as I move into closer contact, I occasionally step on others' toes - most of the time on accident. Sometimes inevitable contact will occur. The shoes I'm wearing affect my walk, or how I approach - do they lead to a "strut" that says, "Hey, look at me?" Do they cause a swagger that indicates pride and self-centeredness? Are they big and clumsy, making it easier to smash someone else's foot (or the flowers in their garden)? Are they running shoes so that I can keep moving fast and never stop to give someone the time of day? Or could they be spike heels that painfully stab others when I'm not careful where I'm going? My spiritual shoes, I compared to kindness in all my dealings with others - regardless of how they interact with me. When I respond with kindness, I am recognizing the value God places on each life. I must determine to be kind if I want to serve as a channel of His kindness and grace in the lives of others. An attitude of kindness can also protect me when I respond to the actions and words of others towards me. Here, if I forget to put my shoes on and run out to the door, I end up with burnt feet because the sand gets so hot. It is easy to get burnt by others in this world in which we live. But when I remember those shoes of kindness, I see others similar to the way God looks at them - sinners, fallen people in need of grace, just like me. Finally, the last thing that I must remember to put on as I leave my house is a smile. I can get preoccupied with my business and forget that as people near, a smile - or the lack thereof, either encourages or discourages final approach. That smile, I compared to the spiritual characteristic of gentleness. In French, this same word is translated "sweetness." It can also be "mildness" or "a desire to humble oneself and to serve so that others can be lifted up." It is a "lack of resistance while maintaining an attitude of confident trust" as God changes us and works in us. It is a teachable spirit that does not bristle at criticism (constructive or otherwise) but accepts and then seeks to change becoming more like the Savior in that change. And I know when I look to initiate interaction with someone else; I look for the person (clerk at the grocery check out, line at the bank, taxi driver I flag down, person on the bench I might choose at church, etc.) with the smile that touches not just their mouth, but their eyes too. In a world where power and might are thought to be the only way to "achieve," gentleness is a sweet, cooling breeze that brings refreshment to all who feel it. Of all the characteristics described in vs 12, this is the one I find the most compelling... It is what "I want to be when I grow up." When I remember that my true life is hidden with Christ (vs 3), that Christ in me is my hope, and that this world is fleeting - what is it, the extra effort needed to properly spiritually clothe myself, as God instructs me to? A proverb I recently heard for the very first time:
More flies are drawn to a single drop of honey than to an entire barrel full of vinegar.
It is easy to treat the people we brush shoulders with in life as "flies" - buzzing irritating nuisances interrupting the things that I have on my agenda to be brushed away, dirty disease carrying creatures who might ruin my testimony or sully my image to be avoided or swatted, or little black bugs to be ignored as they go about their business. Even if we don't blatantly think those thoughts, how often do we act in such a way that our actions communicate them? True, in some ways, compared to God’s holiness we are like flies. Any value in us comes only from the value that God has placed upon us, certainly not on anything inherent within. But the fact that God has placed a value on each person makes us infinitely more valuable than I can comprehend - and God asks that I attract and draw others towards me, towards the Light he has placed within me, not that I avoid, ignore, brush away, repel or mortally injure. People's souls are His priority. In how I spiritually dress myself, have I made them my priority? Have I set my mind on things above, or am I focused on the things of this world?(photo by Jan Thompson)