It is an unfortunate reality that, while vices have no virtues, virtues do border on becoming vices. The very best of human traits are only a step away from spiraling down into vices, made all the more sinister by our absolute oblivion to the subtle transformation.
Faithfulness can easily morph into stubbornness; gentleness can easily step across the border into laxity; patience can become paralysis of action; warmth can become a weak sentimentality; directness, arrogance. Who has not been exposed to the sweetness which borders on tasteless honey, or the courage which suddenly transforms itself into foolhardy arrogance? As sons and daughters of Adam, we possess the potential to make the best into the worst, to make the lovely into the hideous, and to make virtues into vices. Only One Man was full of virtue which never changed.
Paul addressed the believers in Colosse in his day, exhorting them to “put on” mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, and forgiveness (Col 3:12, 13, KJV). We would all certainly agree that the “well-dressed” Christian could not be better attired! A believer marked by these traits would be an asset to any company of Christians. And yet, Paul realized there was one essential part of the wardrobe which, if missing, could become fatal. Without it, the virtues, left to themselves, could descend into vices.
The crucial part of the garb is given in verse 14: “And above (or on top of) all these things put on love which is the uniting bond of perfectness.” (Newberry) Genuine spiritual love will serve to unite all the admirable traits and complete “the wardrobe” in such a way as to preserve it from ever becoming out of date or inappropriate for the occasion.
What is so essential about Christian love, and how does it balance and preserve all the virtues listed? Love, by its very character, will always seek and do the best for another, regardless of cost. It will not masquerade sincerity with honey-coated sweetness; encouragement will not descend into self-seeking flattery; fidelity to the truth will not become the excuse for bitterness in denouncing another. Love will always consider doing the very best for another believer, in the very best manner. It is selfless and does not consider itself – either its own reputation or honor. It always seeks another’s wealth and welfare.
Just as a well-dressed woman will look for the one scarf or article of clothing which will “tie together” her outfit, so Paul counsels them to put on love as an over-garment which will unite everything into one beautiful whole.
Beauty of character is not just the possession of a list of virtues, but it lies in the balancing of those virtues, and preservation from our tendency to rest on our “strengths” so they become liabilities. The love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts at conversion by the indwelling Spirit (Rom 5:5). We must allow that love to control and monitor every virtue of Christian character. “Well-dressed” believers are never out of style!