“And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Colossians 3:14
A mark of the new nature created in the heart of believers by the Holy Spirit is “charity” — not just as we think of the word today, but in its older meaning: selfless love — the kind of love that God showed toward us in giving His only-begotten Son to die for us and redeem us.
The Greek word translated as “charity” in the King James Version and “love” in most modern translations is “agape.” The Bible speaks of such love when it says: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
This is the kind of love spoken of in what is often called the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13.
Paul calls this love the bond of perfectness (or completeness) because it is such love which God requires in the hearts of all, and it is such selfless love which moves people to obey God’s commandments.
Paul wrote to the believers in Rome: “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).
When asked what was the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus responded: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
Why is it that love for God and love for our neighbor are the greatest of the commandments and the fulfilling of the law? Simply put, love is the motivation of the heart — which God requires in us — which moves people to obey all of God’s commandments. If one loves God with all his heart, mind and soul, he will not have other gods or serve them. Nor will he neglect to set aside time to consider God’s ways and worship Him. He will gladly and willingly read and study God’s Word, listen to it and heed its message.
If one loves his neighbor — other people in this world — as he loves himself, he will not dishonor or disobey parents and authorities. He will not hurt or kill, adulterate God’s design for marriage, steal, lie, slander or covet.
The problem is that, since the fall into sin, people do not love the LORD God with all their heart, mind and soul. Nor do they love others as much as they love themselves. Thus, our lives and the lives of all people in this world are full of selfishness, rebellion against God, disregard for parents and authorities, abusive and selfish relationships, evil thoughts, murders, deceptions and thefts.
That is why God sent His only-begotten Son into the world to fulfill the law for us and to bear our punishment by suffering and dying upon the cross!
Make no mistake. The command to put on selfless love is not the gospel of salvation; it is the law of God. We sinners cannot hope to achieve God’s favor and be saved by putting on love; we put on love because God first loved us and sent His Son to die for us and win for us forgiveness and life everlasting. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Because God loved us and sent His Son, Christ Jesus, to die for us, and because He graciously brought us to faith in Jesus, washing away our sins in our baptism and raising us up to new life in Christ Jesus by the mighty working of His Holy Spirit, we seek to live for Him — indeed, to be like Him — and to love others as we have been loved by Him.
Thus, as we continually acknowledge our sinfulness and failures to love as God demands, as we put off our sinful and unloving nature which was punished upon Christ’s cross, we also put on the new and loving nature which has been created in us by God’s Spirit — a nature which loves God and others with His kind of love, a love which moves us to live in accord with God’s holy and perfect will revealed to us in His commandments.
As You have loved us, O Lord, and given Yourself to redeem us and make us Your Own, create in our hearts faith which receives Your merciful love and forgiveness; and move us to put on Your love so that we love You in return, and also love our fellowman and live our lives in accord with Your good and perfect will. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]