In the second chapter, Paul attacked the false teachings of the Gnostics. He specifically mentioned four things about their teaching that the Colossians should avoid: (1) delusion by plausible arguments – Colossians 2:4, (2) philosophy and empty deceit – Colossians 2:8, (3) letting others judge you in matters of the law – Colossians 2:16-17 and (4) being disqualified by false doctrines such as asceticism, angel worship, etc. – Colossians 2:18-19. He ends the chapter by describing these things as having the appearance of wisdom and promoting self-made religion, asceticism and severity to the body but having “no value” when it comes to stopping the indulgence of the flesh – Colossians 2:20-23. In the third chapter, Paul will point out the Christian answer to the moral dilemma that each person must face. In Colossians 3:1-17 he offers seven specific components as the Christian answer to the moral dilemma. These are followed by a set of applications. The seven components are:
“Seek the things that are above” – Colossians 3:1
“Set your minds on things that are above” – Colossians 3:2
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” – Colossians 3:5
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones….” – Colossians 3:12
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” – Colossians 3:15
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” – Colossians 3:16
“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” – Colossians 3:17
We will look at each of these in detail as we explore the text of Colossians 3.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Notice that Colossians 3:1 begins with the word “if.” It is evident from what follows and from the construction in the original language that Paul is not asking a question. He is really making a statement that possibly could be better understood if the word “since” was used. In other words, he is saying that since the Colossians have been raised with Christ, they should be expected to behave in a certain way. Remember that in Colossians 2:12, Paul had pointed out that as a part of the symbolism found in baptism by immersion, the Colossians had been “buried” and “raised” with Christ. This being the case, Paul urges them that the first application of the changed life is to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). When discussing this new, raised life with the Romans, Paul declared “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13). Since our lives have been changed to be like Christ and those who are baptized are in him, for Paul, what we should be seeking is what Christ would seek, not the indulgence of the flesh.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
The second description of the way those who have been raised with Christ will act is described in Colossians 3:2. They are told to “Set your minds on the things that are above.” This is another way of saying, “take over your thought-life.” Thinking on the “things above” is contrasted with “things that are on earth.” The reason for this difference in thinking is tied to two things that have happened. The first is that “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Paul has already explained to them that they have put off the body of flesh, died and were “made alive together with him” (Colossians 2:11-13). Paul asked the Romans, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). It makes no sense to continue thinking about the earthly if you have died to it! The second reason is that, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). Paul affirms to the Romans that if we are children, then we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. This is prefaced upon, “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). One of the beautiful statements of the Bible is the one found in this passage: “Christ who is your life.” To the one who has been made alive, Christ is not just a part of his/her life— Christ is that ones’ life.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
In addition to taking control of one’s thought-life by moving it from an earthly center, Paul’s third component for dealing with the moral dilemma is that the person also takes control of her/his actions. He summarizes the thought in Colossians 3:5 when he says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” He gives specific examples in the last part of verse five and again in Colossians 3:8 and warns that, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:6). There is the reminder that, “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away” (Colossians 3:7-8a). The reason for this change of behavior is “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10, see also Colossians 2:11-13). As Paul ends this thought, he makes another one of those beautiful statements, reminding us that there is a oneness in Christ that transcends race, education, financial, or social standing because “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11, see also Galatians 3:28).
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 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. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
In the Christian life we are expected to give up certain immoral things as Paul has suggested above. However, we are not left with emptiness. Paul gives the fourth remedy for the moral dilemma by instructing them to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones….” (Colossians 3:12). This imperative is followed by a long list of essential characteristics that followers of Jesus should acquire ranging from personal character traits (e.g., holiness, compassion, kindness, patience, etc.) to attitudes toward others (e.g., bearing with one another, forgiving, etc.) while giving the overarching requirement that “above all these put on love” (Colossians 3:12b-14). The reason that love is so important is that it “binds everything together in perfect harmony.” We see by the two contrasting lists above that the Christian life involves removing certain items from our lives while adding others back in.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
The fifth remedy for the moral dilemma is a straightforward charge to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). The word for “rule” is a word that was used to describe the decisions made by an umpire in athletic events. In other words, when a decision is to be made, let that decision be made using the peace of Christ as the decision-maker. This is similar to what Paul told the Philippians when he talked about how the peace of God would guard their hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7) and that the God of peace would be with them (Philippians 4:9). This is the peace that Christ promised his followers in John 14:27 and 16:33.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
The sixth action that Christians should take because of the resurrection is to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Notice that the dwelling of the word is to be “richly” (cf. I Timothy 6:17), not just a little bit. The effects of the word dwelling richly within a Christian are described as (1) “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,” (2) “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and (3) “with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
A seventh and final response to being raised with Christ is a broad sweeping statement that says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). The emphasis in both of these final two is that having been buried and raised with Christ we are made alive to a whole new way of life. It affects the way we think and act at all times and in all situations. When one lives by the seven components suggested by Paul in these verses, there will be no problem “in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23).
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
After describing the seven responses to having been raised with Christ, Paul spends the next several verses giving examples of how this relates to being a Christian wife, husband, child, father and slave (Colossians 3:18-22). Not forgetting the point he had made about those belonging to Christ having put off the old self, he reminds us that, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (Colossians 3:23-24).
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