In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul presents practical teaching on the believer’s transformation from the old life before salvation to the new life that is now “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). He likens this “putting to death” or discarding the old sinful way of life to the process of removing old clothes (Colossians 3:5–11). In exchange for their old rags, believers put on new garments: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with 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” (Colossians 3:12–14, ESV).
Every article of newly donned clothing (compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, etc.) relates to the believer’s interpersonal relationships in the Christian community. Paul understood the nearly impossible challenge of developing a peaceful, harmonious coexistence among human beings—between slaves and masters, between Jews and Gentiles, between rich and poor. For the church to truly be the body of Christ on earth, a genuine spiritual revolution must take place within the hearts and lives of its members.
Christ-honoring fellowship is only possible when believers bear with one another in a spirit of love. The word for “bear” in the original Greek means “to endure something unpleasant or difficult.” Bearing with one another implies willingness to endure with other believers, despite differences and frustrations. We are to live in a spirit of humility and treat one another with patience and compassion. Real relationship, especially in a community as diverse as the church (Colossians 3:11), will always require forbearance. But this isn't just putting up with each other or glossing over difficulties while harboring bitterness or allowing sinful behaviors to run rampant (Colossians 3:5–11; Galatians 6:1–5; James 5:19–20). We are to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3, ESV). This is based on the work of Christ and grounded in the truth of who God is and what He has done (Ephesians 4:4–6; John 17:20–23). To that end, believers are called to forgive one other as the Lord forgives us (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus Christ is our standard in bearing with one another and demonstrating forgiveness (Colossians 2:13). He never compromises truth and He always acts in love (Ephesians 4:15–16).
Paul saves the most crucial garment to put on for last: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14, NLT). Self-sacrificing, agape love is the type of love Paul speaks of here. Only unconditional love can spin a thread strong enough to stitch the tapestry of believers together in perfect unity. Paul issues a similar admonition to the Ephesian church: “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:2, NLT).
Paul also prays for the believers in Rome to bear with one another: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:5–7). Our readiness to accept one another with patience and to live together in peace and harmony brings praise and glory to God.
Bearing with someone, or forbearance, is a character quality of God that humans have benefited from: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4, NLT; see also Psalm 103:8). God calls us to be holy, like He is, in all we do (1 Peter 1:15), but we all fall short. Since God’s nature is to be tolerant, gracious, and longsuffering with us, we must be the same with others. As we cast off the old sinful self and put on the holy attributes of God, we are transformed into His image. We become “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
As members of Christ’s body, “each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). We endure difficulties and unpleasantries with one another because we are all one—parts of the same whole. We bear with one another when we forgive, when we allow love to cover a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12), and when we reach out to a brother or sister who is caught in sin and restore that person gently (Galatians 6:1). Only when we “let the peace that comes from Christ” rule in our hearts can we bear with one another and live in unity as we are called to do as members of one body (Colossians 3:15).