Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col. 3:12-15).
Knowing that I am forgiven and chosen in love by God to be holy, I can seek to replace my bitter tendencies with other practices, as this passage in Colossians instructs. I can put on a compassionate heart that recognizes the struggles and challenges of those who tempt me to bitterness. I can consider how to show kindness toward those people, thinking of small or large acts that could bless them. I can cultivate humility, instead of the pride that is so quick to take offense because I think I deserve better treatment. I can respond with meekness, a quiet trust in God instead of a brazen assertion of my rights. I can exhibit patience, graciously enduring the failings of others because I know that I too fall short. It’s helped me to take time to think of each of these traits and how I can apply them to each specific relationship where I struggle. How can I show compassion to this person? How can I be kind to that person?
All of the above – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience – I can fool myself into thinking I can behave in those ways self-sufficiently. But the call in the latter part of the passage confronts me with my need for the Spirit to do a dramatic work in my heart. Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are worthless without love. It often feels impossible to truly love those against whom I have been cherishing bitterness. I have to cry out to God to give me love for those people. But my blood-bought peace with Christ calls me to the peace of Christ with others. And when that peace rules in my heart, when I am held in sway by the gospel, then I have the best source of love.
These abstract (but not inconsequential!) thoughts get teeth in the last snippet of the passage: And be thankful. If, rather than rehearsing bitter complaints against certain individuals, I thank God for those people and even try to thank the people themselves for whatever I can, I will grow in love for them. Purposing to be grateful forces me to look for the good in people, which will weaken bitterness and water the seed of love.