Continuing his discussion of what the new humanity in Christ is supposed to look like, Paul in today’s passage gives the chief virtue that we are to display. In keeping with Scripture’s emphasis, this virtue is love (Col. 3:14). How could it be anything else? God is love (1 John 4:8). The world will know we belong to Jesus because of our love for others (John 13:35). Therefore, the chief virtue of the Christian must be love.
Love is primary because it is the impetus for the kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness to which we are called (Col. 3:12–13). Authentic pardon of another’s sin—the refusal to feel ill will toward an offender and the determination never to hold the offender’s sin over his head—is possible only through love. It was love that moved the triune God to provide a way for human beings to be forgiven and reconciled to Him (Deut. 7:6–8; John 3:16; Rom. 5:6–8), and if love drove Him to absolve us, nothing less can make us extend true forgiveness to others.
Kindness, meekness, patience, and so forth are praiseworthy only if they are not merely outward qualities but are the very disposition of the heart. Anyone can show kindness or patience externally while inwardly hating the object of one’s good will, but it takes love to ensure that the virtues we display outwardly match the thoughts and desires that no one but God can see. John Chrysostom writes, “Whatever good thing it is that you mention, if love be absent, it is nothing, it melts away. . . . Whatever good our deeds possess will vanish completely if they lack love” (ACCNT 9, p. 49).
In Colossians 3:15, the apostle follows up on his assertion of the primacy of love with a call for us to “let the peace of Christ rule” in our hearts. This is an oft-cited passage when we are considering the topic of personal decision-making, and it is common to hear believers say that they chose to do something because “God gave me a peace about it.” Of course, the Lord does sometimes settle our hearts in one direction and not another when we must choose between two or more godly options. Yet the apostle is not speaking about personal decision-making in verse 15 but about life in the church. Note that the verse describes the “peace of Christ” as that to which we are called in one body. Paul is exalting peace as the goal of all the church’s deliberations insofar as it does not require the compromise of the gospel.
When church elders, committees, and other bodies need to make a decision, their choice should in large measure be based upon what will bring peace to the church in the matter without compromising the gospel of Jesus Christ. Similarly, as individuals in the body, we are to make choices about what we do and say based on whether or not these actions will bring peace or create unnecessary conflict.