Question: "What does it mean to put on love (Colossians 3:14)?"
Answer: In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul celebrates the new life believers have in Christ, and he challenges believers to live according to that newness of life, especially encouraging them to “put on love” (Colossians 3:14).
Paul reminds the Colossians of the supremacy of Jesus (Colossians 1:13–20) and of the believer’s new life in and through Jesus. The believer has died (Colossians 2:20) and been buried with Christ (Colossians 2:12). Jesus is the source of the believer’s new life, and Paul exhorts those who have believed in Jesus and thus received this new life to walk in Him in the same way they received Him—in faith (Colossians 2:6–7).
By faith we have been saved, and by faith we are built up in Christ. Not only have we died with and been buried with Christ, but we have also been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). Paul emphasizes that, if we have been raised with Christ, we should be focused on Christ. We ought to keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, and have our minds set on those things, because our lives are in Christ (Colossians 3:1–2). Based on these remarkable facts—that the believer has died, been buried, and been raised with Christ to a new life—Paul encourages believers to an ethic that reflects that newness, epitomized by putting on love (Colossians 3:14).
Believers have new life in Christ, and the glory of that new life will one day be revealed when He is revealed (Colossians 3:3–4). Until then, we ought to consider our bodies as dead to the things of the old life and focus on the things of Christ instead (Colossians 3:5). The believer should put aside the idolatries that characterized the old life (Colossians 3:6–7). We should put aside the old sinful, destructive ways, including poor attitudes and improper speech, because our old selves have been laid aside (Colossians 3:8–9). In short, it makes no sense for believers who have died to sinfulness to live in sinful ways.
Because we have put on the new self, receiving new life in Christ by belief in Christ, we are being renewed—we are being transformed and are growing (Colossians 3:10–11). As part of this new life, believers ought to put on various characteristics, including love. In the same way we might put on clothes, believers should actively and attentively put on (from the Greek enduo) certain characteristics and attitudes toward one another, including compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience (Colossians 3:12), and bearing with and forgiving one another (Colossians 3:13). But, “over all these virtues,” Paul says, “put on love” (Colossians 3:14). This is the perfect bond of unity. Believers have all been given new life in the same Lord, which makes them a brotherhood, and they should demonstrate Christ’s love toward each other.
These new expectations may sound incredibly difficult, if not impossible, but Paul reminds his readers that, if they are keeping their priorities straight—being focused on fellowship with Christ—then putting on love is not too difficult. Believers ought to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts with thankfulness (Colossians 3:15) and let His Word richly dwell within them—being at home in them (Colossians 3:16). If we are focused on these things—the things above—then we can do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17), including putting on love toward each other.