Colossians 3:14: Love Brings All Other Virtues Together

February 20, 2015

And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:14

Paul continues his theme with the “layered look” of spiritual dressing. Imagine yourself putting on a patience undershirt, and then a kindness button-down oxford. Pull up those meekness jeans, and compassion socks. Bring it all together with a humble sweater. But now, Paul says, the entire ensemble is tied together with an overcoat of love. It is intriguing imagery, particularly contemporary. What Paul is saying here is that love (and he uses the term agape, unconditional love) is the all-encompassing virtue. Love is the general “rule” and the fruit of the Spirit (for instance) are ways that it is embodied in actual attitudes and behaviors. Love is expressed through patience, humility, and kindness.

As Dallas Willard remarked, “Love, as Paul and the NT presents it, is not action—not even action with a special intention—but a source of action. It is a condition out of which actions of a certain type emerge.” [1]

We live in an age and environment that is a bit mixed up about what love is. We confuse love with desire. We say we fall into it. Or it is strictly a feeling we cannot control. And yet, Paul in this passage (and others, such as Romans 13:19 and 1 Corinthians 13) writes about love from a completely different angle. We are to put it on over everything else good and virtuous, because love brings it all together as one piece.

But what is it, this agape love? Dallas Willard offers a definition he thinks covers the ground:

Love is an overall condition
of the embodied, social self
poised to promote the goods of human life
that are within its range of influence.
Willard—“Getting Love Right”

Love is a disposition or character that makes one ready to act towards and for another in a way consistent with the gospel (God’s love for us). Willard often said it is misplaced effort to try to love a person. Rather, our prayer should be that we become the kind of person who would love that person. “The kind of person” who can do this is “possessed by love as an overall character of life,” regardless of what is going on. So, “I do not come to my enemies and then try to love them; I come to them as a loving person.” This is why John said, “God is love.” This is God’s identity, “a loving person.” It explains why he can and does love me, even when he is not pleased with what I am doing. Love is God’s general condition, out of which comes his promotion of what is good and right and life-giving for me.

So when Paul says to “put on love,” he is asking us to enter into the state of being possessed by love. “We love, because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Knowing we are loved by God, allowing that “we are not our own; we were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19f), we are possessed by love. As we surrender our wills to God and remain open to his transforming power, he will make us loving persons from the inside out. This is a work of the Spirit, requiring our willingness and availability, and the sort of practice that demonstrates we really do want to change clothes from “unloving” to “loving.”

The question for your consideration is not, Whom should you be loving? but What are the obstacles in your heart to becoming a loving person: selfishness? pride? anger? competitiveness? indifference? impatience? hurry?

[1] What follows are some thoughts heavily relying on Dallas Willard on the subject of love, as presented in his Fuller lectures (when I took a two-week intensive with him in June 2007) and a presentation he made in September 2007 called “Getting Love Right.” I am quoting him freely.



One Response to “Colossians 3:14: Love Brings All Other Virtues Together”

  1. Jodie Gallo Says:

    Now you are cooking! 🙂

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