Marriage Garments (Colossians 3:12-19)

Wedding couple


By Spencer D Gear

This is the message that I presented when I married a Christian couple. I have changed their names to preserve their privacy.

I know this is a very personal question, Bill and Cindy. What clothes will you be wearing for the very first night of your marriage? If you are only thinking of skimpy negligee or sexually stimulating undies, you may be very disappointed by your first night. In fact, those kinds of clothing are designed to bring a bit of spice into the relationship, but you will need more than that for a lasting marriage.

If your clothing is from the list I am about to read, it will:

  • give you a magnificent start to your marriage;
  • be the greatest gift you can give to each other for a lifetime of marital bliss–and I mean that. If you put on these clothes,
  • it will guarantee that your married life will be like heaven on earth.

I do not have time to talk about the ragged clothes that you need to discard. These are the clothes that build a magnificent marriage:

Are you ready?

As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity… 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:12-14, 17-19 NIV)

That’s not the normal list of clothes for your honeymoon. This spiritual clothing is critical, not only for a dynamic fellowship of Christian believers, but also for a marriage that has the blessing of God himself.

In your marriage, both of you need to put on,

1. Compassion.

Being able to feel with somebody who is experiencing joy or sorrow and then act show identification with joy and to bring comfort for those who are injured. “Compassion, pity, mercy.”[1] The “oh, no” that comes when you see another’s misery. 2 Cor. 1:3, God is called the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

God and Christ are like this. In Jesus’ parables, certain key people show what God’s compassion/mercy is like.

  • Take the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matt. 18:27, “The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.”
  • Luke 10:33, “But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.”
  • The parable of the prodigal son (the lost son), Luke 15:20, the prodigal concluded, “So he got up and went to his father. `But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”[2]

Each of you, Bill and Cindy, may have times of sickness, injury, or feeling down. As believers in marriage, you must not be indifferent to suffering. You should be concerned to meet one another’s needs. This is compassion

Another piece of clothing that is related to compassion is:

2. Kindness

“The radical idea of the word is profitableness. Compare have become unprofitable. Hence it passes readily into the meaning of wholesomeness.” It is the opposite of being abrupt and severe in your words and actions. “Gentle, gracious and kindly.”[3]

Christ called the weary and burdened to come to him for rest. “Take my yoke…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “Easy” is the related word to “kindness.” It does not mean “easy” as we understand it. The idea is that Christ’s yoke is “good, serviceable.” Luke 5:39 says the “old wine is better.” “Better” is the same word. It means “good, mellowed with age.” It is hard to get an English word that conveys the idea. Christ’s yoke is “wholesome, serviceable, kindly.”[4]

“A gentle, gracious disposition.”[5]

Again, this is a quality which God demonstrates in very specific ways. It expresses “the abundance of his goodness which he displays to his covenant people–indeed to all men as his creatures. His constant mercy and readiness to help are essential themes of the psalms (Ps. 25:7; 31:19; 65:11; 68:10; 85:12). We see it with the prophets where the “kindness of God is all the more amazing in the face of his people’s sin (Jer. 33:11).” “As a response to God’s merciful kindness the person who has put on the new man, the Lord Jesus Christ, is to show kindness to others. This does not come naturally; nor can it be produced from one’s innate ability. Along with `patience’ it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and according to I Corinthians 13:4 is a direct outworking of love (itself a fruit of the Spirit): `love is patient and kind.'”[6]

John MacArthur says that “kindness” is “the grace that pervades the whole person, mellowing all that might be harsh”. A kind spouse is as concerned about the other spouse’s good as about his/her own. God is kind, even to ungrateful or evil people. Jesus said, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back, then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).

3. Humility

“Having a humble opinion of one’s self, a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness, modesty, lowliness of mind.”[7] In the NT, this word speaks of the “lowliness” with which one serves Christ. In Acts 20:19, in his farewell to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.”

This lowliness causes us to be “submissive to other Christians” (Eph. 4:2; 1 Peter 5:5). Phil. 2:3-4 beautifully summarises what this clothing should look like in the Christian church and in marriage,

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”[8]

“Humility” is clothing that must replace the self-love and selfishness that will poison your relationship.

4. Gentleness

Closely related to humility. This word needs to be understood against its OT background. This word in the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX) was “used to designate the poor in Israel, those without … property, many of whom were victims of unscrupulous exploitation (Isa 32:7; Ps 37:14; Job 24:4. The `poor’ are the defenceless, those without rights, who are oppressed, cheated and exploited (see Psalms 9 & 10). However, Yahweh is the God of those without rights (Ps. 25:9; 149:4; 34:2); he comforts those who find no mercy from their fellow-men (Isa 29:19; Job 36:15) and will finally reverse all that is against them (Isa 26:6; Ps 37:11; 147:6).

“Meekness” is another translation and it is one of the marks of Jesus’ ministry. This is how Jesus treated people when he was on earth (Matt 11:29).

Gentleness/meekness if the way Christians are to treat fellow-believers who have sinned (Gal 6:1-2) by bearing one another’s burdens and thus fulfilling the “law of Christ.” This is also the way we are to treat outsiders (Tit 3:2; cf. Phil 4:5, “let your gentleness be evident to all”). One of the fruit of the Spirit.

We must not confuse this gentleness with weakness. It contains these two elements:

  • consideration of others, and
  • a willingness to waive one’s rights.[9]

“An inwrought grace of the soul, that temper of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting… Does not fight with God… or struggle to contend with Him.” It is “first of all a meekness before God… In the face of men, even of evil men, out of a sense that these, with the insults and injuries which they may inflict, are permitted and employed by God for the chastening and purifying of His elect” (Trench).[10]

This is not spineless Christianity. Instead, it is the “willingness to suffer injury instead of inflicting it. The gentle person knows he/she is a sinner among sinners and is willing to suffer the burdens others’ sin may impose on him/her. This gentleness can only be produced by the Holy Spirit” (cf. Gal 5;22-23).[11]

5. Patience

Long-suffering. “The patient person does not get angry at others.” If you are injured by your spouse by words spoken or actions against you, you do not allow yourself to be provoked by him/her or to flare up in anger. “Patience under ill-treatment of others.”[12]

We see this with God himself and His people. Ex. 34:6, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” God’s patience with people means that we ought to act in a similar way to others. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. You can’t generate it yourself from your own resources.[13]

Bill and Cindy, your clothes of “patience” endure wrong and put up with exasperating conduct of others rather than flying into a rage or wanting to get even.[14] It’s the opposite of resentment or revenge.

This is the way all Christians are to treat others, especially believers.

6. Bear with each other

“Holding yourselves back from one another.”[15] It simply means to “endure,” “bear with,” “put up with.” Present tense means it is continual, but it is also reciprocal, “one another.”[16]

“To endure, to hold out in spite of persecution, threats, injury, indifference, or complaints and not retaliate.” It is what Paul meant when he told the Corinthians, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly” (I Cor 4:12-13). It did not characterise the Corinthians who were taking each other to court.

“`To bear with’ suggests the thought of putting up with things we dislike in others.”[17]

7. Forgive as the Lord forgave you

What did Jesus say in Matt. 6:14-15? “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

You will only receive the forgiveness of God if you forgive others.

Here in Colossians, this is not the most common word for remission, forgiveness. The usual word (aphiemi) means to cancel, remit, pardon. This one emphasises the “gracious nature of the pardon (at Luke 7:42 in our Lord’s parable of the two debtors, the KJV translates the word, “frankly forgave.” It is elsewhere in Paul’s writings, speaking of “God’s gracious giving or forgiving” (Rom 8:32; I Cor 2:12; Gal 3:18; Eph 4:32; Phil 1:29; 2:9; Col 2:13).

Again it’s the present tense. This forgiveness is “to be unceasing, even unwearying (a point which Jesus himself taught when instructing his disciples that forgiveness ought to be `not seven times, but seventy-seven times’ or `seventy times seven.’[18]

Built on God’s “grace”, so it means “to grant as a favor.” Sometimes this special word was used for the cancellation of a debt (Luke 7:42-43).[19]

Within your marriage (and the Christian congregation), “there will be grounds for grievance from time to time” of one person against another. Whenever these grievances arise, Bill and Cindy, you are to forgive. How often? Seventy times seven–an endless number. In the church, in a Christian marriage, it ought to be a mutually forgiving fellowship.

Why should we do this? The example that has been set for us: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” “God did not love us, choose us, and redeem us because we were deserving, but purely because He is gracious.” Rom 5:8, 10 reads, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us… When we were enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” “If God is so gracious to us, how much more, then, should we be … forgiving to fellow-sinners, especially to one another.”[20]

If we harbor bitterness or are driven by an unforgiving attitude, we ignore what Christ has done for us. Can we do less than forgive one another when we have been forgiven so much by God?

“Leonardo da Vinci was one of the outstanding intellects of all time, for he was great as a draftsman, an engineer and a thinker. We’re told that just before he commenced work on his`Last Supper’ he had a violent quarrel with a fellow painter. So enraged and bitter was Leonardo that he determined to paint the face of his enemy, the other artist, into the face of Judas. In this way, he would take his revenge and vent his spleen by handing the man down in infamy and scorn to succeeding generations. The face of Judas was therefore one of the first that he finished, and everyone could easily recognize it as the face of the painter with whom he had quarrelled.

“But when Leonardo came to pain the face of Christ, he could make no progress. Something seemed to be baffling him, holding him back, frustrating his best efforts. At length he came to the conclusion that the thing which was checking and frustrating him was the fact that he had painted his enemy into the face of Judas. He therefore painted out the face of Judas and commenced anew on the face of Jesus, and this time with success the ages have acclaimed.[21]

The lesson? Cindy and Bill, you cannot at one and the same time be clothing yourselves with the features of Christ in your own life and at the same time be putting on other clothing of animosity and hatred. Whenever there are spats in your marriage (and they will come because of your sinful natures), forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you.

8. Love, which binds them all together in perfect unity

The image is of loose eastern garments. “Put on love as the binding factor, which will hold them together and make them useable… When these virtues are practiced without the accompaniment of divine love, they are as sounding bras and a tinkling cymbal.”[22]

Love is the garment that produces these qualities and unity in marriage and the church. Bill and Cindy, you will never have a magnificent marriage of superb Christian fellowship through compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other and forgiving one another, unless you love one another with a truly, self-sacrificing, giving kind of love that only God can give. We can sum up these commands in Colossians 3:12-14 by “love one another.”

Paul, to the Romans (13:10) said, “Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”

To all Christian believers, not just this Christian couple entering marriage, “love is the beauty of the believer, dispelling the ugly sins of the flesh that destroy unity.”[23]

If your life is clothed with these garments, Cindy, you will find no difficulty in submitting to Bill, your husband.

Bill, if you put on this attire, you will “love your wife, Cindy, and not be harsh with her.” You will love her as Christ loved the church.


[1]Kenneth S. Wuest 1973. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament (Colossians), Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 224.

[2] Based on Peter T. O’Brien 1982. Word Biblical Commentary, Colossians, Philemon. Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, p. 199.

[3]Marvin R. Vincent 1887. Word Studies in the New Testament (The Epistle to the Romans), vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 335.

[4]Vincent, vol 1, p. 70.

[5]Wuest, p. 224.

[6]O’Brien, p. 200.

[7]Wuest, p. 224.

[8]O’Brien, p. 200

[9]O’Brien, p. 201.

[10]Wuest, p. 224.

[11]John F. MacArthur Jr. 1992. Colossians & Philemon (New Testament Commentary). Chicago: Moody Publishers, p. 156.

[12]Wuest, p. 224.

[13]O’Brien, pp.24-25.

[14]O’Brien, p. 201.

[15]A.T. Robertson 1931. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Epistles of Paul, vol 4. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, p. 504.

[16]O’Brien, pp. 201-202.

[17]Frank E. Gaebelein (gen ed) 1978. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians – Philemon, vol 11 (Curtis Vaughan: Colossians). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 215.

[18]O’Brien, p.202.

[19]Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 201.

[20]John F. MacArthur 1986, Ephesians (New Testament Commentary). Chicago: Moody Publishers, p. 190.

[21]Gene A. Getz, Living for Others When You’d Rather Live for Yourself (Studies in Ephesians 4-6), Regal Books, 1985, p. 82.

[22]Wuest, p. 225.

[23]MacArthur, Colossians, p. 157.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 January 2014.