Don’t Forget Your Belt! (Colossians 3:14)
I’m not sure I understand the whole belt thing. A guy can wear the nicest clothes, perfectly pressed, creases sharp, necktie perfect, shirt crisply starched, shoes polished to a high gloss, but if he forgets his belt, he looks half-dressed. Something about a belt makes the outfit complete, and when forgotten, the missing belt stands out.
My son is a willowy ten-year-old. My wife bought him a new belt, which he was naturally anxious to wear. The only problem was that the belt was too big. He somehow managed to weave it through the belt loops and get it buckled, but there was visible space between the belt and his pants. It just didn’t look right. As we pointed out to him, your pants aren’t supposed to hold your belt up. Your belt should be holding your pants up.
The belt completes the outfit. It ties all of the parts together. It is odd that this one piece, when missing, makes us look half-dressed. If a man dressed in a belt only, we certainly wouldn’t say that he was half-dressed. But with the belt missing, that little part makes us look only half-dressed. Incomplete.
In Colossians 3, Paul compares Christian living to the daily exercise of getting dressed. We have clothing to put off (v.8), and clothing to put on (v. 12ff). In the fourteenth verse, he tells us that there is something we must put on over all of our clothes, in order to bind them all together. We generally refer to this article of clothing as a belt. “Above all these things,” Paul says. The word above is the Greek preposition epi – which is most often translated “upon.” The idea is that you put these things over top of all your clothes. But not like a jacket or a cape. Because we put this one thing over top of all our other clothes in order to bind them together — charity is the bond of perfectness. The word for “bond” refers to that thing which binds all the other things together. In the apparel industry, that is commonly referred to as a belt.
So, in the Christian life, Paul says, “don’t forget your belt.” In another place, Paul urges the Christian soldier to gird his loins with the truth. Isaiah says that righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins (Isa 11:5). But here, Paul says that all of these garments that we must put on, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, and forgiveness, all of these garments are held together by love. Charity is the bond of perfectness. So, charity completes the outfit.
We should know this. Though we bestow all our goods to feed the poor, and though we give our bodies to be burned, without charity it profits us nothing. Without charity, our kind words are like banging a gong. Without charity, all our gifts and understanding and knowledge and faith amounts to nothing. The greatest of these is charity. A Christian may be kind, humble, meek, patient, even forgiving, but without charity, none of these things matter. Our charitable contributions are hypocisy without charity. In other words, we can easily manufacture kindness. But genuine kindnesses come out of a heart full of love.
What then is this “charity,” that ties all of the other good things together? Before I answer, I hope you won’t mind if I recommend to you the commentary series of Dr. James Qurollo. He does an excellent job of pure exegesis, and offers some outstanding helps for understanding why the KJV translates words a certain way. He is also my Greek teacher, for which I am very grateful. In his commentary on Colossians, he gives a wonderful explanation for why our Authorized Version uses the word “charity” rather than “love.”
Occassionally, someone will argue that the KJV uses “charity” rather than “love” simply because that is the way they spoke in Old English. But agape is actually translated “love” more often than it is translated “charity.” According to Strong’s, out of 116 occurances of the Greek word agape, the KJV translates it as “love” 86 times. So, our Authorized version must be using charity on purpose.
Dr. Qurollo argues that the word charity, if transliterated into Greek, becomes the Greek word that means “grace” or “favor” – xaris. He argues that the translators of the King James used the word charity in order to emphasis that this love was shown as a favor, or as a grace. In other words, this love is given as a gift, unmerited and undeserved. Charity was given without regard for whether or not it would ever be returned.
This kind of love, Paul says, is the bond of perfectness, the belt that completes the outfit, tying everything together. Without this kind of love, our bowels of mercies are lacking. In another place, Paul said, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” When love is offered as a grace, as John Gill said, it adds a glory, lustre, and beauty to all the other virtues that Paul urged us to put on.
And in addition to that, charity binds the members of our local church together as well, knitting their hearts as one, completing the union that we have in Christ. Truly then, charity is the bond of perfectness.