Proper Attire for Heaven, Colossians 3:5-14

Let’s turn to Matthew 22 and we’ll look at a parable of Jesus first before we get to our text in Colossians.

Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14)

Matthew 22 beginning at v1, Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3 And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. 4 Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”‘ But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, 6 and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. 7 But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. 11 But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Jesus often used the imagery of a great banquet feast as something that God and all His people will one day enjoy together in heaven. He said many will come from east and west and north and south and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 8:11-12; Lk 13:28-29). We use the image in that song we sing. “I’m going to sit at the banquet table… I’m going to feast on milk and honey one of these days, one of these days.”

The parable pictures how God throughout history has invited people to this feast through His servants, through prophets in ancient times and then through John the Baptist and Jesus and today through preachers and teachers of the gospel. The gospel today is God’s invitation to people to come join Him at the great wedding feast in heaven. And God invites everybody. In Jesus’ day He was primarily inviting the Jews, but as the majority of them rejected the invitation, He then invited the Gentiles. And not just those who seemed to be good law abiding folks, but even the evil, even the criminals were invited and are being invited. God invites everyone.

And the parable talks about how many are called or invited, but few actually taste of God’s dinner. Many just reject the invitation altogether. They are unwilling to step away from what they’re doing and change their clothes and get ready and head to the feast. And some not only reject the invitation but respond violently to it, like it’s somehow an interruption to their life or like it’s offensive to them to hear that the king is not just bringing the feast to them how they are and where they are. And then there are some who don’t totally reject the invitation, but don’t comply with the stipulations of the invitation. You know often for dinners and parties there are dress expectations. If it’s a costume party, the invitation will probably say, “It’s a costume party. Wear a costume.” If it’s a formal dinner, the invitation may say, “black tie”. That means you’re not supposed to show up in your shorts and t-shirt. Well, Jesus tells of this guy in the parable, who represents so many today, who decides to try to come to the feast without dressing as was expected. He decided not to come black tie to the black tie dinner. He decided not to come in costume to the costume party. He decided “I’m going to just dress how I like, how I find comfortable.” It was ungrateful and disrespectful to the King who had gone to great lengths and paid a great expense to put on the banquet and was very gracious to have invited him. And being there dressed the way he wanted would spoil the beauty of the occasion for everyone else. The king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Let me ask you a question. Are you dressed appropriately for heaven? Or have you looked at how God wants you to be dressed and said, “Nah, it’s not my color. It’s not my style. It’s doesn’t fit with my personality. I can just imagine the comments that the buddies are work will be making if they catch me wearing that,” or, “I really like the old clothes I’m wearing. They may not look that great but they’re sure comfortable”?

Well, how does the king, the gracious host, expect us to be dressed? What is appropriate attire for the great banquet in heaven to which we’ve been invited? Let’s let Paul tell us what that is. Let’s turn Colossians 3. Let’s read 3:5-14…

v5-9 describe the old smelly grimy filthy clothes that we must take off and lay aside. You probably noticed the language of taking off, riding yourself of, putting aside like you do with dirty clothes. Then 3:10-14 describe the clean clothes appropriate for heaven that we’re to put on. You find the language of “put on” or “clothe yourself” in v10 and v12 and v14.

Importance of “dressing” this way

I’ve met a number of folks who profess to be Christians and who attend a church, but who amazingly don’t seem to be in any hurry to end an immoral relationship they have going on with a girlfriend or a boyfriend, or who don’t seem to have any hesitation to curse somebody who crosses them and slander that person behind their back to other people or to carry a grudge or lie when it’s to their advantage. It’s like they see what’s commanded here as just a recommendation for a happy life now and as what’s good for your family and society as a whole, or that this is just like a request from Jesus of the way that He would like you to dress, but don’t really have to.

Now, just the simple fact that this is how our Creator who died for us wants us to live should be motivation enough for us to live this way. We should have such love and gratitude for the Lord that we make these changes He calls for in our lives just because He wants us to. But often people don’t have that level of love and gratitude for the Lord, and they need to hear that these changes are not optional. There’s been times in my life when my stubborn ungrateful heart needed to hear that making these changes in my life is a heaven or hell matter. Jesus knew that often people needed that kind of motivation and so often He would tell people, “The way that you are living now will lead you to hell unless you repent.” And Paul often did the same, and does here. Paul refers to heaven and hell as why this is so important.

Think about our context. 3:1-4 was about how we are to be heavenly oriented. We are to set our minds on and keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, not the things that are on earth. We’re to be like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob as Hebrews 11 describes them who lived out their lives in obedience to God because they were looking for that city that has foundations who builder and architect is God (Heb 11:10). They were seeking a home in the heavenly county (11:14-16). We are to be the same way. It is heavenly realities that we are to be after and that are determining how we live on this earth. And then Paul begins our text for this morning at v5 with the word “Therefore“.  I think the flow of thought is this. Be heavenly oriented (v1-4). Now, here’s more specifically what that means (v5ff). Here’s what you do and don’t do if you’re seeking the things above. Here’s how to be, as we sing, “Marching on to Zion, the beautiful city of God.” The free gift of heaven that we don’t deserve or earn or merit is a gift that God gives on the condition that we have real kind of faith that moves us to obey Him (Jam 2:14-26), that moves us to “change our clothes” in the way the Paul commands here .

And look at v6. After listing 5 descriptions of the stuff we need to be done with, it says, “it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience.” Why does he say that? Is it not to show how vital it is that we get rid of these sinful practices in our lives? These filthy rags incur the wrath of God. If we try to get into the wedding feast in heaven wearing this stuff, the king is going to say to His servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 22:13). I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have needed to hear that it is that serious that I make these changes in my life. Sometimes I’ve needed to hear Paul in I Corinthians 6:9 saying, “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” You can’t go in wearing that stuff. He doesn’t say that to be mean or make the Corinthians uncomfortable. He says it because he loves them and wants them to be saved. I’ve needed hear Paul in Galatians 5:19, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are, immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” I’ve needed to hear those plain statements from Paul that you cannot go to heaven sporting filthy grimy garments like those.

But let me clarify that Paul is not talking about being perfect in Colossians 3. He is not saying if you’re a Christian who struggles with controlling your temper sometimes, or being totally honest sometimes, or being kind and patient with certain people sometimes, that you’re unacceptable to God. He’s not saying that. He is saying that these sins, these filthy rags of v5-9, must not be characteristic of us. We must not go on willfully practicing these things. But he’s not saying you can’t fall short of the glory of God at all and be saved. James 3:2 says “We all stumble in many ways…” And the writer James includes himself in that. We all stumble. And Paul wrote in Romans 6:14 that we are not under law, but under grace, which means that we don’t have to live up to God’s law perfectly in order to be right with Him. There’s grace when we fall short, as long as we’re penitent and trying and not going on willfully sinning (Heb 10:26). You can notice in our text in Colossians 3:10 that the new self that we are to be wearing is not perfect; it’s not completely and exactly like Christ. The new self is being renewed, which means it’s being continually changed and formed into something better. It’s progressing, improving, developing, ever becoming more like the Lord. That’s what we have to be wearing, not perfection, not flawlessness, but growing and developing toward the image of Christ.

Let’s look at the….

Grubby Garments We Must Take Off and Lay Aside (v5,8,9)

Immorality

The Greek term is porneia, from which we get words like pornography and pornographic. It’s a general word for sexual activity outside of biblical marriage. Did you know only about 3-5% of Americans actually wait until marriage to have sex? And about 1/2 of all married individuals in the United States will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage? How lax our society is about this sin, how pervasive it is in our culture, how constant and glorified it is in about every television program on now, can make it appear like a minor issue. But this word porneia in the Greek text heads the list here, and heads the list in Galatians 5, the deeds of the flesh, and heads the list in I Corinthians 6, those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. It absolutely has to go from our lives.

The next 3 terms…

Impurity, Passion, Evil Desire

They would include porneia, the previous word, but more. They would also include to all the stuff that leads up to the final act of sexual immorality; before going all the way, the 3rd base, 2nd base, 1st base stuff, down to the entertaining of thoughts and imaginations about sexual immorality. J.B. Philips translation renders the word after immorality, “Dirty mindedness”.

Remember Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Then he followed that up saying, “If your right eye makes you stumble [if you have looking problem], tear it out and throw it from you [do whatever it takes]; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble [if you have a touching problem], cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt 5:27-30). Jesus said and Paul is saying we must keep our eyes and our hands and our imaginations on our own spouse. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus said, “for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).

And then the 5th description of what we must do away with in v5 is

Greed or Covetousness, which amounts to Idolatry

That’s really the root of sexual immorality. If you covet your neighbor’s wife or some other person’s body who is not your spouse. But of course there are many more things that you can covet. Exodus 20:17, the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Greed or covetous is just simply an inordinate desire for something. It is to so want something that you’d be willing to do something wrong or you’d neglect to do what’s right in order to obtain it or to keep it if you already have it. It’s when having something becomes more important to you than obeying the will of God or the best interest of other people. It amounts to idolatry. It amounts to violating the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods besides Me,” because it is in essence putting something else in God’s rightful place in your heart as the object of your love and devotion. We must have our priorities right, in other words. We must not desire the gifts over the giver.

Down in v8…

Anger

The emotional response of anger is not necessarily wrong.  But this is talking about a settled abiding kind of anger; an anger toward someone that you hold on to inside and you don’t let it go. Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” In other words, sometimes things just make you angry. That’s okay. It’s a natural response. But when we’re angry, he says, we must control it. We can’t make it an excuse to throw things and cuss and scream at people and break stuff. And we need to resolve it within a day’s time, not let the sun go down on our anger. So rather than stoking it and just replaying over and over in our minds what happened and how unfair it was and what that person who did it deserves, instead we go for a walk to cool off, we remember how forgiving God has been of us, and vengeance is the Lord’s, it is His to repay, and this anger is going hurt me more than it will ever hurt them, we think about those sort of things and we resolve it.

Wrath

Or rage; explosions of temper, outbursts of anger, punching walls, hurting people, cussing at people, kicking the dog, road rage, things like that.

Malice

Ill will; wishing evil on someone. It is wanting harm to befall them. It would make you happy to hear that something bad happened to them. It’s bearing a grudge against someone.

Slander

Any talk that’s intended to hurt, insult, defame or belittle someone, name calling, or telling someone how worthless they are or telling others about what a terrible person they are.

Abusive speech.

I think Jesus captured much of this when He said, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” “Blessed are the gentle… the merciful… the peacemakers.”

And Paul throws in here one more grubby garment to discard from ourselves, one that most Americans wear regularly…

Lying

Everybody does it. It’s viewed as a minor thing, especially when it’s to get out of trouble or avoid embarrassment or embellish our stories or to please people. But God is, as the Seraphim proclaim in the visions of God in the Scripture, holy, holy, holy, separate, distinct, not like us. He does not see sin and especially lying the same way we do. In Proverbs 6:16-19 in the list of 7 things that are an abomination to God, that just utterly abhorrent to Him, 2 of them have to do with dishonesty, “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who utters lies.” So lying has to be taken off.

But we can’t just take all that off and be naked in our character. We must put on some stuff in its place.

Attire for heaven (v10-14)

v10-11 summarize it. It’s called the new self. It’s a self that’s being renewed, that’s under constant development and improvement toward full knowledge and the image of the One who created him. Christ is the One who creates us into new people. He’s changed our hearts and motivated us. The new self is simply a self that is ever becoming more like Him.

The new self that God is looking for has nothing to do with race or nationality or circumcision or social status or cultural sophistication. He mentions it doesn’t matter if you’re barbarian or Scythian. Barbarians were those who didn’t speak the Greek language and were considered to be kind of uncivilized and culturally inferior. And Scythians were considered extreme barbarians. They were seen as wild uncivilized savages. You can be even one of those and yet be dressed acceptable for heaven. You can be a “back woodsy” Montana hillbilly or a yuppie, that’s alright.

Paul makes this statement, “Christ is all, and in all.” It think he means that for us Christians who are wearing the new self, Christ is all that we need. That’s been the main message of Colossians. We don’t need whatever credit before God observance of the Law of Moses or asceticism would get us. We don’t need to worship angels. Christ is all we need. He makes us totally acceptable to God. And Christ is in all of us if we’re wearing the new self. His mind, His character, His attitudes, His heart is within us and animating our bodies and running our lives. And that’s what God is really looking for. He is looking for Christ in you.

So more specifically, v12, “as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on…

A Heart of Compassion

It’s a heart that feels deep pity and sympathy for the needs and suffering of others. Not the heart of the 2 religious guys, the priest and Levite, in Jesus’ story who came down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and saw the poor guy lying in the road stripped, beaten and bleeding, and thought, “You know, it’s probably kind of his own fault. He should have known this was a dangerous road. He should have been more careful. Likely God let this happen to him because he deserved it. It’s not my problem. I bet somebody less busy than me will come down the road and help this man. I’ve got a schedule to keep and the wife is expecting me home in an hour. She’ll worry if I’m late.” And they walked on by. But it’s the heart the Samaritan. Jesus says when he saw the man he felt compassion. His thoughts were not just about himself and if he could be excused from helping him. He thought of how the man must be hurting, how desperate he was, how scared he must be that he may not make it through the night, how scared he must be that his wife and kids may never see him again and may not have anybody to take care of them. It stirred within him deep feelings of pity and sympathy and he did what he could for the man. What are our thoughts when we encounter people who are hurting or desperate or in need of something?

Kindness

Means goodness in action, describes one who takes initiative to be friendly and helpful to others. Kindness is Dorcas in Acts 9, who of her own initiative would make tunics and garments for the widows in her church. Kindness is Jesus at the last supper. It wasn’t His job, nobody asked Him to do it, nobody expected Him to do it, but He just got up from supper and He poured water in a basin and girded Himself with a towel and went around to each disciple, even Judas, and washed their dirty feet. Kindness is noticing good qualities in people or things they are doing well and complimenting them. Kindness is opening the door for people. Kindness is noticing somebody working hard and bringing them something to drink. Kindness taking your preacher out to lunch… It’s just taking initiative to be friendly and helpful to others.

Humility

Not so much to see yourself as a wretched unworthy sinner, though we may be. But Jesus was humble. And yet he knew He was perfect and worthy. It’s more to not thinking of yourself; selflessness. It is to decided to value and think of others over yourself. Philippians 2:3ff I think is probably the best commentary on it. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be held on to, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Gentleness

Or meekness; very similar to humility. The words are often used to together. Remember Jesus saying, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29). It has to do viewing your place on this earth as not one to be served and catered to, but to be a servant; that you’re here not for you but for God and others. And it’s exhibited in many ways. It’s exhibited in submission to authority, to God, to employers, to elders, to a husband, to parents. And those that have been placed under your authority you lead in a way not for your own advantage, but in a way for their good. You view yourself as a servant of your wife, your kids, your employees. It’s exhibited in not retaliating or seeking vengeance when wronged as a servant wouldn’t. It’s exhibited in talking respectfully to everyone as a servant would. So when you order lunch this afternoon you don’t say, “Gimme this, and go get me that.” It’s instead, “May have this… thank you.” It’s seeing yourself as here to serve.

Patience

We know what that is. That has to do with our reaction when we’re hurt or offended or disappointed or frustrated or irritated, that we don’t blow up in anger or retaliate or give up and leave. Patience means to suffer long before reacting negatively.

v13 speaks of these qualities in action. If we have these qualities we will be…

Bearing with One Another

Implies that we will annoy each other sometimes with our personalities and our opinions. But if we have these qualities we will just accept the stuff that bugs us about each other and put up with it and be good to each other anyway.

And these qualities will have us…

Forgiving Each Other

And he says “whoever has a complaint against anyone.” I take that to mean don’t just forgive those who have wronged you in small ways, just those who owe you small debts. He says, “just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” So the way the Lord forgave us is to be the standard we go by in forgiving those who have wronged us. How big was the debt He canceled for us? How many times did we sin against Him and He forgave us? So whoever has a complaint against anyone, forgive.

And then one more garment Paul mentions, v14, “Beyond all these things…” Or literally “upon all these” or “over all these things.” In other words like a coat that you put on over top of all the other garments, like the suit jacket of the suit. Put on…

Love

And love of course includes all the virtues listed before. What commandment sums up all that the Law and the Prophets say about how to be toward other people? “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom 13:8-10). This commitment from your heart to value others and give yourself to their highest good. And he calls it, literally, the uniting bond of perfection. I think he means it’s the glue that bind us together in unity, as the Lord wants us to be. If we love one another we will find a way to overcome the obstacles that would normally tear us apart. When churches divide, then on one side or both there was a lack of love.

Can you imagine what a beautiful occasion it will be at the great banquet when everybody around the table is dressed this way? When everybody is compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient; when everybody loves one another. By God’s grace we have been invited to have a seat at that table. And He’s provided us with the proper attire and given us all the help and power we need to put it on. Let’s make sure we’re dressed for the occasion.

– James Williams

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