“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). 

Paul continues his list of character traits that the new man should put on. The climatic quality is now addressed. It is the crowning jewel, the foundational grace of Christ-likeness. It is love. But the word “love” as it is used Biblically is much richer, deeper, and more profound than the way the world uses, overuses, and abuses the concept. We hear the term spoken of so loosely – we love ice cream, love movies, love sports or it is used as a synonym for lust – that it is easy to miss its true spiritual meaning and significance. God-like love is not even similar to those kinds of superficial “likes” and that is why the Greeks used at least four different words to describe idea.

The Greek word used here is agape and is used to describe God-like love that demonstrates sacrificial, gracious, unselfish goodwill and benevolence. This is why the Word can describe God as the embodiment of love (see 1 John 4:16). It is love as revealed in Jesus, seen as divine and selfless, and a model for humanity. It is not eros (erotic), which is sexual or romantic love, philia (philanthropy), which is a brotherly love toward someone we like, or even caritas (charity), which is a love for people in general. Agape is the deepest type of love; it is “true” love. And yet, despite popular opinion, this word does not always connote the idea of “unconditional” love (the excpetion being Gods’ love toward His chosen children).

In Colossians 3:14 we see this God-induced characteristic as “above all” in the sense of its supremacy among Christ-like virtues. Other passages bear this out:

  • “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). 
  • “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). 
  • Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in  this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8-9). 
  • Martin Luther, I believe correctly, deduced that love was the root or seed that precedes all the other fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22). 

Again Paul, reminding us of Jesus’ own words, says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). Love of God and our fellow-man is the essence of all Christian virtue. When asked by a religious scholar what he must do to inherit eternal life Jesus said, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:26-28). 

And it is in this sense that this true love, “binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Another, and I believe preferred, way to render this phrase is, “that produces maturity (or completeness).” So it seems clear that love is the catalyst for the other virtues listed in Colossians 3:12-13. In other words, without God-like, Christ-imparted love none of these other virtues will become a complete reality in and through us. Certainly their fleshly mimics have no real value. The same thought is found is Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). 

Additionally, this binding function of love may speak to its corporate influence, its role in harmonizing and unifying disparate individuals that make up a local congregation and His universal church. Without love, and the fruit that blossoms from it, there is little hope of coherence and maturity within the localized and universal body of Christ. The church of my childhood used to often conclude our services with a musical benediction that captures this idea nicely. The lyrics are by John Fawcett:  

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above. 

So let us, above all,  love Him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind, and our neighbor as our self. Let us look to Jesus, the perfect picture of love and draw from His limitless well-spring of selfless, God-exalting, and man-edifying agape. The kind of true, divine love that bears witness to a God of unimaginable grace who, “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).