Wearing Filth or Righteousness (Colossians 3:8)
“But now, you must take off—even you—the whole: wrath, anger, evil, blasphemy, obscene speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8 )
Oh, the follies of youth. Sometimes, in looking back on some of the things that I did growing up, I groan a little—and sometimes I groan a lot. I remember one summer evening, I had just gotten home from doing something with my friends Heath and Jason, and the three of us got to talking and then we got to boasting. As I remember it, it was Heath who boasted that Jason and I could not wrestle him down—it was not long before the three of us were on the ground, in the dark, wrestling about. And had things ended there, the memory of the event would have faded into obscurity. The reason the evening has remained in my mind all of these years is because of what Heath did next.
As we were wrestling about, Heath reached out his hand for balance and put it in something soft and mushy—a pile of dung left behind by one of the neighborhood dogs. And with the kind of logic that only makes sense to the teenage mind, deciding that if he had it on him, we might as well have it on us as well, it was not long before he started smearing it wherever he could get it on us. Oh, the exclamations of surprise that came from the two of us! When everything was said and done, Jason fared the worst, but we all reeked of something that we ought not to have reeked from. Jason’s mom made him hose off before he was allowed in the house. When I got inside, I could not get out of my soiled clothes and into the shower fast enough. I wanted to get that stench off of me and fast.
Now what does having dog poop smeared all over you have to do with what Paul is talking about in this verse? The word that Paul uses here, translated as, “you must take off,” is the Greek word ajpoti/qhmi (apotithami). Literally, this word refers to the taking off of one’s clothing. But Paul adds force to this word by using the imperative, saying you must take these things off! In the larger context of the passage, Paul is saying to us, “look, you have been born again, you have been made into a new person because of the work of Jesus Christ—get out of those dirty, wretched, filthy, smelly clothes that you have been wearing and put on the righteousness of Christ!”
Clothes are a common metaphor in scripture, and are used to convey the idea of status and righteousness. Our own righteousness is as soiled rags, horrid, wretched things deserving of nothing other than to be burned up in the fire (Isaiah 64:6; Philippians 3:8). Yet, the wonderful blessing of God’s grace is this, if we are born again believers in Jesus Christ, having repented of our sins and come to Christ in faith, when we stand before God in judgment, we will not stand on our own merits or, to maintain the metaphor, in the clothing of our own righteousness. As believers, we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ. Oh, what a wonderful gift we have been given as believers—and how that should spur us on to get out of our own stained and smelly rags as fast as we can with the Lord’s help.
Beloved, one of the difficulties of this life is that even though we have put on Christ, we so often drift back to the rags of our own life. It is almost as if we, after having been given new garments, have saved the old soiled ones, putting them away even without washing them so that every once in a while we might get them out to see if they still fit. Loved ones, the things of your old life—the things that belong to this world—should not be clung to, but should be burned! Friends, let your mouth and your actions reflect the one who has saved you—the one whose garments you wear. One of the arguments that is made for making children neat, clean uniforms to school is that children tend to behave better when they are dressed better. While I am not entirely sure just how true this is, Paul is applying a similar principle to believers. Beloved, work to make your behavior match the clothes that you wear; in doing so, you will glorify the one who has saved you and draw others to his wonderful presence.