In Colossians 3:12–14, the apostle Paul presents a list of Christian virtues that demonstrate the gracious character of Jesus Christ. Believers are to put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” as if those virtues were articles of clothing (verse 12). Paul also urges, “Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . as the Lord forgave you” (verse 13). Finally, above all these things, Paul tells them to “put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (verse 14, NKJV). Other translations render the phrase as “perfect harmony” (ESV, NLT), “perfect unity” (NIV), and “perfect bond of unity” (NASB, CSB).
Love is the most essential garment for Christians to don because it acts as a binding agent, holding all the other virtues together in perfect harmony (1 Corinthians 13:1–13). In the original Greek, the term translated as “bond” in Colossians 3:14 means “that which fastens together separate items into a unity.” “Perfection” refers to a state of completeness or wholeness without defect or blemish. This bond of perfection is the beautiful harmony and cohesive union that believers experience when love rules in their hearts and they treat one another with Christlike graces born of spiritual maturity.
Jesus prayed for His disciples and all future believers to experience the bond of perfection: “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. . . . May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:20–23, NLT).
Most of us understand perfection as a state of complete, flawless, and faultless wholeness and purity. Only God can be described in such perfection of nature and character (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Samuel 22:31; Matthew 5:48; Job 37:16). But the Greeks had a different understanding of perfection, framing it more in terms of being “mature and complete,” and this is the idea behind Paul’s use of “the bond of perfection.”
The Christian’s ultimate aspiration is to grow into full spiritual stature (Colossians 1:28; 4:12; Hebrews 6:1). Paul constantly pushed himself and others toward Christian maturity (Philippians 3:12–14). He earnestly appealed to his brothers and sisters in Christ “to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10, NLT). “Always be humble and gentle,” Paul pressed. “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (Ephesians 4:2–3, NLT). Only as we develop Christlikeness can we experience peaceful, harmonious fellowship in the body of Christ. And then, as Jesus explained, our perfect unity becomes a testimony of God’s love for the world.
The apostle John taught, “As we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world” (1 John 4:17, NLT). God is love (1 John 4:8). As our relationship with Him develops and deepens, we mature in our ability to understand and give love: “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (1 John 4:18, NLT). As we aim to strengthen the bond of perfection by loving one another, God Himself abides in us, “and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12, NLT).
Paul prayed for strength from the Holy Spirit and deep-rooted love for Christ to enable the believers in Ephesus to understand and experience the bond of perfection: “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:16–19, NLT).
We will never be perfectly faultless in this lifetime. But Scripture urges, “Let love be your highest goal!” (1 Corinthians 14:1, NLT). Love is the glue that holds us together in spiritual unity. As we allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:8–10), we will grow more mature and complete in our love for God and our fellow believers in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 6:6).