Some words for “God’s chosen, holy and beloved.” Yes, that’s how Paul addresses his fellow believers in Christ, and that’s how I address you this morning. What a privilege! But it is not a privilege in the way that human beings privilege themselves to the exclusion of others. These three epithets in Greek, ἐκλεκτοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιοι καὶ ἠγαπημένοι, are not meant to make us proud or boastful. They describe what is our standing before God, how God sees us. And they have consequences: “as God’s chosen, holy and beloved” put on….the five attributes that Paul singles out. If you are God’s chosen, holy and beloved, it follows that you will have a compassionate heart, that you will be kind, humble, meek and patient. And I love the symbols that this slide uses to accompany each of those qualities.
σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ is best translated not as “compassionate hearts,” but rather as compassionate guts! The compassion Paul is talking about is not just an emotion: “Oh, I feel so sorry for that poor child.” No, it’s compassion that stirs you in the depths of your being and leads to action and personal involvement in the other person for whom you feel pity. Every time the Gospels describe Jesus as having compassion on someone it’s the verb that comes from σπλάγχνα that is used to describe his reaction. Jesus didn’t just feel an emotion, he was stirred in his guts to acts of compassion.
The compassionate person is also kind – χρηστότητα is Paul’s word here, which also means goodness. Just as God is kind and pours his goodness on us, so also we show goodness to those we encounter. Paul is not talking about emotion of pity which might last for a few seconds or a minute before we move on. Anyone can feel pity. But the true Christian response to suffering is not pity but gut-stirring compassion that arises from the goodness/kindness within that reflects God’s goodness to us. Paul is never superficial. He never deals in slogans. He used words carefully, making full use of the rich meanings that these ancient Greek words had.
True compassion comes with humility, meekness and patience. Many times we reach out and help someone while silently also passing judgment on the person, thinking he or she is lazy, or wondering whether drug use brought him or her to such a bad state or illness. Sometimes pity is little more than an expression of judgment of the person we are pitying, and even a sense of superiority to that person. So Paul connects the attributes of humility, meekness and patience to compassion and kindness so as to prevent judgmental pity that comes so easily when we label others. The Christian who is humble, meek and patient is far less likely to show judgmental pity on someone. If you know your own lowliness, your own neediness for God’s compassion and goodness, you will not be arrogant; you will be meek in your attitude to life. And if you have had to be patient in your own life to reach a certain goal or to overcome a sickness or a temptation, you will be less likely to judge the other person. If it took you time to overcome something, you can hope for time in the other person; and you will be patient in your estimation of the other person.
So you see, Paul is not just piling on good words here. He has thought this through; maybe not exactly the way I’m thinking it through and almost certainly far more profoundly than I am capable of connecting the meaning of these beautiful words. Perhaps I can conclude my short exploration of this verse by quoting the rest of the paragraph that begins with this verse in Colossians. It is all a further expression of what it means to be “God’s chosen, holy and beloved”:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 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. (Colossians 3:12-17, RSV)