Colossians 3:1-17 - EXEGESIS
Much like Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, the first half of Colossians lays the theological basis, while the second half provides practical instructions for Christian living. If you see this as New Covenant Law, then you're missing the point. Paul isn't giving us regulations, but guidelines that allow the Spirit to work in us and through us.
Set Your Mind on Things Above (3:1-2)
It all begins with an attitude of heart and mind.
"1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (3:1-2)
"Since then" (NIV) or "so if" (NRSV) refers back to Paul's teaching on baptism and being raised with Christ in 2:12-13. Paul grounds his ethical instructions in the regenerative work of God's Spirit in us -- "you have been raised with Christ."
Verses 1 and 2 call us to make conscious decisions about the way we think -- "set your hearts/minds" (NIV, NRSV), "set your affections" (KJV). The verb is phroneō, "to give careful consideration to something, set one's mind on, be intent." 1 Consider these uses of the same verb in the NRSV, which is fairly consistent in translating the word:
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:5)
"... Their minds are set on earthly things." (Philippians 3:19)
"Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law�indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8:5-8)
Part of discipleship, Paul tells the Colossians, is deciding where our minds will go and where they won't. We must make this conscious decision perhaps several times a day as temptations come up.
What are we to think about? "Things above," which is symbolic of heaven and God's way. If you have frequent thought temptations, in order to retrain your mind you might decide in advance what you'll chose to think about when that lustful or hateful or proud thought flashes into your mind. You Have Died (3:3-4)
Why should we control our thoughts and keep them focused in godly channels? Paul's answer is that we have changed. The "location" of our life is now different.
Your Life Is Hid (3:3-4)
"3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then
you also will appear with him in glory." (3:3-4)
"You died"2 refers to our new birth in Christ, symbolized by our baptism (2:12), when we were buried with Christ and raised with Christ. This is not just figurative language. Paul is speaking of actual spiritual changes that took place in us when we repented of our sins and received Christ into our lives. This concept of death with Christ occurs several times in Paul's letters:
"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules." (2:20)
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
Paul develops these thoughts most thoroughly in Romans 6:1-11.3
Why should you set your mind on the things of God? Because your old life is dead, and your new life is now found only in Christ. He is your present and your future!
"Hidden/hid" is kryptō (from which we get our words "crypt" and "cryptography"), "to keep from being seen, hide." 4 It may not appear to others that your life is in Christ. It is hidden. But it is still true! We are in a different realm -- with Christ, in God. The sooner we grasp this and begin to act accordingly, the easier the Christian life will become.
This hiddenness will finally be revealed when Christ returns in Glory. Hidden is just the opposite of "appear" or "revealed"5 in verse 4. The following verses also speak of the final revealing of our true state:
"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Phil 3:20)
"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)
Put to Death Your Old Practices (3:5-8)
Because our true identity is now in Christ and not in our old life, it makes sense that we begin to roll this truth into our whole lives. When a large chain of stores comes under new ownership, it may take a few months or even years to change over the signage and policies and culture to that of the new corporation, but eventually, it must take place for the new store to claim its rightful brand.
"5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immoral�ity, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." (3:5-8)
Paul uses two verbs to describe the brand-changing process: "put to death" and "rid yourselves."
The words are essentially used synonymously; Paul varies the verbs for the sake of variety. These words present a very active idea -- something we must initiate and carry out, aided, of course, by the Holy Spirit.
Sinful Behaviors (3:5-8)
We shouldn't feel insulted if Paul's instructions about sin seem pretty basic. Paul was writing to a primarily Gentile church in a culture that didn't have much concept of sin at all. Let's consider these sins one at a time:
Put to Death Sexual Sins (3:5-6)
"Sexual immorality" (NIV), "fornication" (NRSV, KJV) is porneia, from which we get our word "pornography". It means, "unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication." 8 A pornē was a prostitute or harlot. The KJV tends to translate porneia as "fornication," but this is too narrow. "Fornication" is defined in English as "consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other." 9 Porneia, on the other hand, includes not only fornication, but adultery, homosexuality, and any other kind of imaginable sexual perversion.
I once had a couple in my church who became fond of each other and then became engaged to be married. Both of them loved the Lord. Both were children of the '60s. The man had grown up in the California surfer culture and sex between two people who loved one another seemed right to him. She wasn't so sure. I patiently explained what the scripture taught from Old Testament to New, but he couldn't see it. His culture had blinded him. However, he said, "Pastor, though I don't see anything in the Bible against sex before marriage, I'll abstain because you say so. His bride looked relieved. And eventually they were married, and enjoy, I am sure, the joys of marriage together.
Paul is even more specific in 1 Thessalonians as he instructs a pagan culture in ways of holiness:
"It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)
This runs directly against our culture, which says that sex between consenting adults is okay. We don't have to condemn and put down all those around us who live loosely, but we need to hold high standards for ourselves, and see that our churches hold high standards for members.
"Impurity" (NIV, NRSV), "uncleanness" (KJV) is akatharsia, literally, "any substance that is filthy or dirty, refuse," figuratively, "a state of moral corruption, immorality, vileness," especially used of sexual sins.10
"Lust" (NIV), "passion" (NRSV), "inordinate affection" (KJV) is pathos, "experience of strong desire, passion." 11 The word doesn't have to refer to sexual sin, but does here and in its two other New Testament occurrences (Romans 1:26 and 1 Thessalonians 4:5).
"Evil desires" (NIV, NRSV), "evil concupiscence" (KJV) is epithymia. The word can be used for positive desire, but here it is, "a desire for something forbidden or simply inordinate, craving, lust." 12 In the context, these words probably have a sexual connotation.
"Greed" (NIV, NRSV), "covetousness" (KJV) is pleonexia, "the inappropriate desire for more." 13 In some contexts, this refers to the desire for more money, but in this context it could also refer to the insatiable desire for sexual pleasure, or greed for one more sexual conquest. Whenever we put sex (or wealth or anything else) on the pedestal of our greatest goal, it becomes a false god to us, and makes us guilty of idolatry.
In our world it is common to try to rationalize sexual sins as merely normal human desires. It is quite true that the desire for sex is a strong, innate drive. And surely God created this drive, for it fuels his command to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28).
But to suppose that God is neutral about how we exercise our sexuality runs directly in the face of Scripture. He has given us an arena in which we can exercise our sexuality freely -- the bonds of marriage. Outside of the bounds of marriage, sex can become destructive -- to children and families, for example. Sexual sins outside of marriage, both of the body and of the mind, can become compulsive and dangerous. So we are to put to death in us the permission to exercise our sexuality outside of the bounds of marriage.
Then, lest we rationalize our behaviors in order to permit ourselves these things, Paul reminds us:
"6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived." (2:6-7)
These sins belong to your former life, not your new life. Put Off the Sins of Anger and the Tongue (3:8)
The next list of sins relates to unrestrained anger and the damage it causes through our tongues.
"But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." (2:8)
Let's consider the words
"Anger" in verse 8 is orgē, the "state of relatively strong displeasure, with focus on the emotional aspect, anger." 14 Anger is a God-given emotion that moves us to action when we are treated unjustly. Without it we might be passive to great evil. There is "righteous anger," a correct response to injustice -- though often our anger is based more on selfish reactions that put us at a disadvantage, rather than based on a reaction to sin. It is also possible to experience the emotion of anger without sin. Paul writes to the Ephesian church (quoting Psalm 4:4):
"'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." (Ephesians 4:26-27)
So anger, in and of itself, is not sin. But anger has a way of loosening our inhibitions, making it much more likely that we will do something or say something that we will regret later. Paul warns us of unrestrained anger.
Anger can also dwell in us for long periods of time if we allow it to. Victims of sexual abuse or returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, can have their lives destroyed by anger. Sometimes we need help in how to let go of our anger so it doesn't poison our relationships and ruin our lives.
"Rage" (NIV), "wrath" (NRSV, KJV) in verse 8 is thymos, "a state of intense displeasure, anger, wrath, rage, indignation." 15 Vincent states the shade of difference between orgē and thymos in this way: " or gē denotes a deeper and more permanent sentiment; a settled habit of mind; while thymos is a more turbulent, but temporary agitation." 16 Perhaps rage or wrath describe us when our anger flares up and becomes loud and perhaps violent. "Rid yourselves" of this, Paul says. The Holy Spirit can help you tame your anger, but you must humbly allow him to work.
"Malice" in verse 8 is kakia, "wickedness," here, "a mean-spirited or vicious attitude or disposition, malice, ill-will, malignity." 17 You've seen this terrible motivation in others' behavior. Has it afflicted you -- especially in relation to certain people in your life?
"Slander" (NIV, NRSV), "blasphemy" (KJV) is blasphēmia, "speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander." 18 We get our word "blaspheme" from this Greek word. This could refer to using God's or Jesus' name in a curse. But more likely here it means the kind of terrible things we say about people when we are angry at them. In English we have three words which describe such behavior:
I've caught myself relaying information that puts someone in an unfavorable light, when I should have kept my mouth shut. But anger and unforgiveness often feed talk that defames and hurts. We are to rid ourselves of this destructive habit!
"Filthy language" (NIV), "abusive language" (NRSV), "filthy communication" (KJV) is aischrologia, "speech of a kind that is generally considered in poor taste, obscene speech, dirty talk," perhaps "scurrilous talk," especially since blasphēmia immediately precedes.20 This compound word is derived from aischros, "base, dishonorable, shameful"+ logos, "speech." This word covers all sorts of speech that is punctuated by sexual terms and bathroom language. This is the way the world talks, not we followers of Jesus Christ the Lord.
We must rid ourselves of this kind of language. When we slip into our old vocabulary, we stop, ask forgiveness of God and any who may have heard us, and then substitute a more appropriate expression. After a dozen or several dozen repetitions of this process, our vocabulary gets much cleaner. Oh, we may slip occasionally, but it will no longer be our normal manner of expression.
We can't isolate ourselves from people who talk this way, as if we are too holy to hear such words. Nor should we be constantly putting them down for their crude speech, as if we are the language police for our sector of the world -- in your home maybe, but not in the marketplace where you don't have the authority to set the rules. We live in this world, but are not of it. What's more, the people who talk this way need our Savior desperately. But our vocabulary needs to be cleansed so that it reflects well on our Master. They will notice. Don't Lie (3:9)
Next, Paul touches a problem that afflicts us Christians far too often. Lying.
"Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices." (3:9)
"Lie" is pseudomai, "to tell a falsehood, lie." 21 What makes lying wrong? Satan is known as "the father of lies" (John 8:44). Our God, on the other hand, is a God of truth. Our faith in God is based on us trusting him completely. Lying is utterly contrary to God's nature. And we have "taken off" our old self with its evil practices and are being renewed in God's image.
We know that trust builds community, builds marriages, builds relationships. Lying, by its very nature, undermines and explodes marriages and relationships. It destroys communities. Yes, there may be special circumstances in times of war -- or admiring a woman's ugly dress. But Paul is not speaking of the exceptions, but of the practice of truthful speech in contrast to angry, slanderous, abusive speech.
The New Self, Being Renewed (3:9-10)
Let's explore this idea of renewal further:
"9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." (3:9-10)
Paul's analogy in verses 9 and 10 is taking off22 and putting on23 clothing. In Christ we have changed clothes. But the change is not just external, but internal, in our spirit and in our character. No, it is not instantaneous. We are "being renewed," that is, literally, "made new again." 24 Praise God! This is the process of sanctification. We see several other uses of the word in Paul's letters:
"Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16b)
"He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5b)
"Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2b)
We are obviously to cooperate in the process of renewal, rather than thwart it by our obstinate rebelliousness. But ultimately it is God's work in us, the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God. The renewal involves our mind, as we take hold of and internalize God's truths (knowledge25 ). But the goal is far beyond ourselves; it is to restore God's image26 in us that has been marred and fallen through sin. God wants to renew us all the way back to his original creation: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27)
In a number of passages in the Bible, we see our final destiny to be found as restored to our original perfect state in the Garden of God (Luke 23:43 and 2 Corinthians 12:4, where "Paradise" means "garden"; Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19).
What are you doing that enables the process of renewal in your heart? What are you doing that hinders that process of renewal?
One in Christ (3:11)
We no longer lie to each other, says Paul, because we are one in Christ. People lie to protect themselves from those who are different from them, who might threaten them. But you are one, says Paul:
"Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." (3:11)
Greeks worshipped many gods, Jews worshipped one God. But now they are one in Christ. Jews took great pride in circumcision as a symbol of their distinctiveness as people of the Covenant. It separated them from all others. But now we are one in Christ.
"Barbarian" referred to a non-Greek, a foreigner.27 A Scythian lived in the region of the Black Sea and was viewed as the epitome of unrefinement or savagery.28 But Christ unites both! Slave and free were common divisions in the world of Paul's day. In fact, many Christians were slaves. But in Christ we are one! There are no divisions, nor may we allow divisions to arise.29
Cloth Yourselves with Virtue (3:12)
No longer divided by race, religion, geographical origin, social status, or gender, the church is special:
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (3:12)
See how we are described:
Because we are God's people, we are to clothe ourselves with the character of Christ. We are to take off the old clothes and to put on the new clothes, the Christian virtues that bring honor to our Savior.
"Compassion" (NIV, NRSV), "bowels of mercies" (KJV) is actually two words in Greek: splanchnon, "inward parts, entrails," thought of in the ancient world as the seat of the emotions," 32 and oiktirmos, "display of concern over another's misfortune, pity, mercy, compassion." The two words together might be translated "heartfelt compassion." 33 We are to be a people marked by a sincere and ready compassion.
"Kindness" is chrēstotēs, "the quality of being helpful or beneficial, goodness, kindness, generosity." 34 This is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
"Humility" (NIV, NRSV), "humbleness of mind" (KJV) is tapeinophrosynē, "humility, modesty," 35 "the having a humble opinion of oneself; a deep sense of one's (moral) littleness; modesty, humility, lowliness of mind." 36 We aren't to feign humility of the surface, self-deprecating Uriah Heep sort. Rather, we are to live in the knowledge that what we have received is a gift, not a reward for our greatness. Thankfulness is present in a humble person.
"Gentleness" (NIV), "meekness" (NRSV, KJV) is a related idea. The Greek word is prautēs, "the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness" in the older favorable sense.37 This is also a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). This doesn't mean a poor self-image. Rather it is the characteristic of a person who doesn't feel the need to impress others and force oneself on others.
"Patience" (NIV, NRSV), "longsuffering" (KJV) is makrothymia, from makros, "long"+ thumos, "passion." It means, the "state of being able to bear up under provocation, forbearance, patience toward others." 38 This is also a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
What a beautiful set of characteristics that adorn a person with the beauty of Christ!
Forgive Each Other (3:13)
Now Paul mentions two character qualities that are necessary for a healthy Christian community -- whether it be a church or a family: forbearance and forgiveness.
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances39 you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (3:13)
"Bear with" (NIV, NIV), "forbearing" (KJV) is anechō, "to regard with tolerance, endure, bear with, put up with." 40 We see a similar exhortation in Ephesians:
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:2)
Forbearance doesn't require forgiveness. It requires tolerance, patience, and love. We're all different. We have quirks and idiosyncrasies that can drive each other crazy. And so often we're blind to them ourselves. Forbearance is the willingness to put up with each others' differences.
"Forgive/forgiving," is used twice in this verse. It is the ability to forgive not just differences, but sins against us. The verb is charizomai, which we saw in 2:13, "to show oneself gracious by forgiving wrongdoing, forgive, pardon." 41 So long as we are constantly clamoring to be "right," we will destroy community. In our quest to be vindicated, we can easily destroy. Often, to preserve the community, the marriage, the family, we must forgive sins and refuse to hold them against the person any longer. God will bring justice in the end. It's not our job.
"And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." (3:14)
Verse 14 begins "upon all these things." Paul seems to be continuing his metaphor of putting on garments from verse 12 -- "clothe yourselves with...." So love42 would be the outer cloak or overcoat put on "over" (epi) all the others that unifies them. The phrase "binds together in perfect unity/harmony" (NIV, NRSV), or "bond of perfectness" (KJV) is two words, syndesmos ("bond")43 and teleiotēs ("perfection").44 Peace and Thankfulness (3:15)
The result of the Christian virtues capped by love is peace.
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." (3:15)
"Peace" is used twice in the verse, as if to emphasize it. "Rule" is brabeuō, not the usual word for "rule." Originally it referred to the referee or umpire who would "award prizes in contests." Here it means by extension, "be in control of someone's activity by making a decision, be judge, decide, control, rule." 45 Peace is to "call the shots." It is the standard of keeping unity within the body. We are different members of the body, but we are members of the same body, so we should not war with ourselves. God calls us to peace. In Ephesians, Paul put it another way:
"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)
The final virtue he mentions -- almost as an afterthought -- is thankfulness: "And be thankful." "Thankful" is eucharistos, an adjective "pertaining to being grateful, thankful." 46 We get our word "Eucharist" from this word, because the word was used in giving thanks or blessing God for the bread and cup in the Lord's Supper (Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:17, 19; 1 Corinthians 11:24).
Teaching, Exhorting, and Singing (3:16)
How are we to live? Not in legalism or in the flesh. Rather the Christian believers are to set their minds on the things of God, to live out and embody the Christian virtues, with peace in their community. Paul has given two exhortations for the community:
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (3:16)
"Dwell in" is enoikeō, "live, dwell (in)." 47 "Richly" is plousiōs, "richly, abundantly," 48 from ploutos, "wealth, abundance." Christ's words are to fill our mouths and be the center of our community.
"Teach and admonish" is a pair of words we saw earlier:
"We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ." (1:28)
"Teach" refers to the positive expression, "admonish" to the negative expression. "Admonish," noutheteō, means "to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct, admonish, warn, instruct." 49 Positive Thinking, championed by Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993) and later by Robert Schuller (1926- ), has downgraded the idea of warning and admonishing from the pulpit. This is probably in reaction to the harsh haranguing that sometimes characterized preachers of another era. But warning and admonishing -- as well as exhorting or urging or encouraging -- were certainly the practice of the early church in forming disciples. This was not only Paul's practice of training disciples (1:28). He also encourages it as part of their regular meetings together in conjunction with their singing.
Songs, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (3:16b)
"... As you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (3:16)
This trio of terms for songs is also found in Ephesians 5:19:
"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:19-20)
Do Everything in the Name of Jesus (3:17)
Paul sums it all up with a final statement, one that has served as a guiding verse for me in the earlier years of my ministry:
"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (3:17)
In our culture, "name" refers primarily to what a person is called. But in Hebrew thought that underlies Paul's usage, "name" can imply "something real, a piece of the very nature of the personality whom it designates, expressing the person's qualities and powers." 52 For an Old Testament prophet to speak "in the name of the Lord" implies that he speaks on a commission from Yahweh himself. In the New Testament, words and actions "in the name of the Lord" infer that the person is acting or speaking "in the sphere of power of" or "in the presence of." 53
So when Paul says "do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus," he is saying that we should speak and act in full consciousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. If what we are planning to do or say can't stand the test of Jesus' presence and approval without our being ashamed, then it isn't appropriate. Like Jesus' Golden Rule, this verse helps us evaluate our words and actions to see if they stand the test.
The second part of this verse asks us in all our words and deeds to act in a way that we are "giving thanks to God the Father through him." Does this deed represent thanks to God? Is this word spoken in thankfulness? If so, let it be done. If so, let it be spoken. Is this a new Christian Law? No, Paul is presenting guidelines for living as a Christian. Paul lays out the principles:
Col. 3:1-14 Commentary
Colossians 3:1 "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God."
"If ye then be risen" (or, "therefore, since you were raised"): This verb actually means "to be co-resurrected." Because of their union with Christ, believers spiritually entered His death and resurrection at the moment of their conversion (see notes on Rom. 6:3-4; Gal 2:20), and have been and are now alive in Him so as to understand spiritual truths, realities, blessings, and the will of God.
Those glorious benedictions (Eph. 1:3), are the privileges and riches of the heavenly kingdom, all of which are at our disposal. Paul called them "things above." To understand what these are (see note on 2:3).
The word "risen" therefore infers a corollary truth from 2:20 ("you died with Christ"), not only have the Colossian believers been freed from sin, they have also turned to a new life, leaving behind old ways, habits, values, vices, interests, and sins.
"Seek those things which are above": These "things" include deeper knowledge of Christ, closer fellowship with Him, experience of His resurrection power, victory over sin (verses 5-11); the development of godly virtues (verses 12-17); the fulfillment of domestic and social responsibilities (3:18 - 4:1); and effective prayer life (4:2); fruitfulness in witnessing (4:3-6).
"Sitteth on the right hand of God": The position of honor and majesty (Psalm 110:1; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:56; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 1 Pet. 3:22), that Christ enjoys as the exalted Son of God (see note on Phil. 2:9). That exaltation makes Him the fountain of blessing for His people (John 14:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:20).
In a word, the attainment of Christian maturity, and all the spiritual benefits God has for His people during their days on earth. To have been raised with Christ and not to seek these blessings, would be a contradiction.
Christians are in this world, but not of this world. Our home is in heaven. We are seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus. We are strangers in this land. We are foreigners, since our homeland is heaven. We are to lay up our treasures in heaven, not here on this earth.
We should get our eyes off the circumstances which surround us on this earth. We should keep our eyes on Jesus and heaven. The desires of this earth, and of our flesh, should be far from us. We should be looking to heavenly rewards. Jesus is seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father, because His work is done. It was done when He said, "It is finished", on the cross.
Colossians 3:2 "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."
"Set your affection on things above": The Greek word literally says, "Set your mind on things above."
This can also be translated "think," or "have this inner disposition." As a compass points north, the believer's entire disposition should point itself toward the things of heaven. Heavenly thoughts can only come by understanding heavenly realities from Scripture (Rom. 8:5; 12:2; Phil. 1:23; 4:8; 1 John 2:15-17; see note on Matt. 6:33).
The readers are not to be preoccupied with "things on the earth," such as current heretical philosophies (2:8), legalistic practices (2:16, 21-23), and vices (verse 5). Nor are they to dwell on things that are not wrong in themselves (houses, jobs, careers, ambitions, etc.), but can be wrong should they become priorities above Christ.
Our affections should be for our home in heaven. We should not love the earth.
Colossians 3:3 "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."
"Ye are dead" (see notes on Rom. 6:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:14). The verb's tense indicates that a death occurred in the past, in this case at the death of Jesus Christ, where believers were united with Him. Their penalty of sin was paid, and they arose with Him in new life.
"Your life is hid with Christ in God" (or, "Your life is deposited with Christ, who is in intimate relation with God").
This rich expression has a threefold meaning:
(1) Believers have a common spiritual life with the Father and Son (1 Cor. 6:17; 2 Pet. 1:4);
(2) The world cannot understand the full import of the believer's new life (1 Cor. 2:14; 1 John 3:2); and
(3) Believers are eternally secure, protected from all spiritual enemies, and with access to all God's blessings (John 10:28; Rom. 8:31-39; Heb. 7:25; 1 Pet. 1:4).
As all wisdom and knowledge reside in Christ (2:3), so the believer's new life is stored up in Him. This means that the Christian life belongs to the spiritual or heavenly realm.
Jesus is in intimate relation with God; they should seek those matters and interests pertaining to heaven and not to earth.
We are dead to this world, dead to fleshly desires, even dead to sin itself. We must be buried with Him, to rise to new life in Him. It is a mystery indeed, that we are in Christ and He is in us. We are seated in the heavenlies with Him, and yet He dwells within us here on the earth.
This has to be the omnipresence of God. This is saying that Christians are dead to the lusts of this earth, but alive to heavenly thoughts and deeds.
Romans 5:21 "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
Colossians 3:4 "When Christ, [who is] our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."
When Christ ... shall appear": At His second coming (Rev. 19:11-13, 15-16).
Paul says it best when he says, absent in body, but present in spirit. All of our hopes are caught up in Him. We are in Him and He is our life.
Colossians 3:5 "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:"
"Mortify therefore" (see note on Rom. 8:13; Zech. 4:6; Eph. 5:18; 6:17; 1 John 2:14). This refers to a conscious effort to slay the remaining sin in our flesh.
"Mortify" means to "put to death." By a figure of speech "members" is put in place of the various sins that exist in, and seek to express themselves through different "members" of the human body. Paul urges his readers to "put to death all sins residing in your bodily members."
"Therefore" looks back (to verse 3): Since they "are dead" to sin, they are to make this death to the old life a reality in daily living.
"Fornication": This refers to any form of sexual sin (see note on Gal. 5:19; 1 Thess. 4:3).
"Uncleanness": This term goes beyond sexual acts of sin to encompass evil thoughts and intentions as well (see note on Gal. 5:19; Matt. 5:28; Mark 7:21-22; 1 Thess. 4:7).
"Inordinate affection, evil concupiscence": Similar terms that refer to sexual lust. "Inordinate affection" is the physical side of that vice and "evil concupiscence" is the mental side (see notes on Rom. 1:26; 1 Thess. 4:3; James 1:15).
"Covetousness": Literally this term means "to have more." It is the insatiable desire to gain more, especially of things that are forbidden (Exodus 20:17; Deut. 5:21; James 4:2).
"Which is Idolatry": When people engage in either greed or the sexual sins Paul has cataloged, they follow their desires rather that God's, in essence worshiping themselves, which is idolatry (Num. 25:1-3; Eph. 5:3-5).
These things are earthly things. These are sins of the flesh. These things are no longer part of a Christian's life, when they become born of the spirit. "Mortify" means to totally do away with. These are all sins of flesh man. They are not part of the life of a spirit man. The desire to commit any of these sins must be put to death that the spirit might live.
I have mentioned so many times, that we are a spirit living in a body of flesh, and that one of the two will rule the soul, or will of man. If we follow the flesh, we are flesh man. If we do away with fleshly desires and let the spirit rule, we are spirit. If the sins mentioned above are active in your life, you are not spirit man. You are of the flesh.
Colossians 3:6 "For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:"
"Wrath of God": His constant, invariable reaction against sin (see notes on John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Rev. 11:18).
"Children of disobedience" (see note on Eph. 2:2). This expression designates unbelievers as bearing the very nature and character of the disobedient, rebellious sinfulness they love.
Notice the word children, in the verse above. This could mean then, that these are people who profess Christianity but are not Christians. Wrath is when God cannot look the other way any longer. His fury (wrath), comes up in His face, and He rains terror upon those disobedient. God will not overlook the sins mentioned in verse 5.
Colossians 3:7 "In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them."
"In the which ye also walked": Before their conversion (Eph. 2:1-5; Titus 3:3-4).
This is saying that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, when they were walking in the flesh, before they were saved. This is the walk of the flesh.
Colossians 3:8 "But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth."
"Put ... off" A Greek word used for taking off clothes. (Acts 7:58; Rom. 13:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:1). Like one who removes his dirty clothes at day's end, believers must discard the filthy garments of their old, sinful lives.
"Anger": A deep, smoldering bitterness; the settled heart attitude of an angry person (Eph. 4:31; James 1:19-20).
"Wrath": Unlike God's settled and righteous wrath (see note on Rom. 1:18), this is a sudden outburst of sinful anger, usually the eruption that flows out of "anger" (see note on Gal. 5:20; Luke 4:28; Acts 19:28; Eph. 4:31).
"Malice": From the Greek term that denotes general moral evil. Here it probably refers to the damage caused by evil speech (1 Pet. 2:1).
The normal translation when using the word "slander" when it refers to God is "blasphemy." But here, since it refers to people, it is better translated "slander." To slander people, however is to blaspheme God (James 3:9; Matt. 5:22; James 3:10).
All of these sins are part of that old flesh man that must be buried for the spirit man to live. All of the things above such as anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy communication should not be a part of the Christian.
The Christian is a new creature in Christ. The spirit is in control. The Life within them is Christ living through them. The words of our mouth speak what is in our heart. Filthy communication comes from the mouth of the lost.
Verses 3:9-10: Lie not ... put on" (see notes on verse 8; Eph. 4:24-25). These words are the basis for the command of (verse 8). Because the old man died in Christ, and the new man lives in Christ. Because that is the fact of new creation or regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17), believers must put off remaining sinful deeds and be continually renewed into the Christlikeness to which they are called.
Colossians 3:9 "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;"
"Old man": The old, unregenerate self, originating in Adam (see notes on Rom. 5:12-14; 6:6; Eph. 4:22).
"Seeing" means "since." The "old man", is all that a person was prior to salvation: his worldly thinking and sinful acts. Since all this was renounced at conversion, one should "lie not." Falsehood ill becomes the person claiming to be a disciple of Him who said, "I am the ... truth."
We can see from the following Scripture, where lies come from.
John 8:44 "Ye are of [your] father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it."
Look with me at the seriousness of lying in the next verse.
Revelation 22:15 "For without [are] dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie."
Colossians 3:10 "And have put on the new [man], which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:"
"The new man" is the person one becomes after conversion: he possesses a new nature, values, aspirations, and a new life-style. This "new man" is constantly being "renewed" or developed until he attains a mature "knowledge" of the God who (re) "created" him. The more a believer knows and understands of God, the more he will be like God in character and conduct.
The new, regenerate self, which replaces the old self; this is the essence of what believers are in Christ (Eph. 4:17; 5:1, 8, 15). The reason believers still sin is their unredeemed flesh (see notes on Rom. 6:6, 12; 7:5).
"Renewed" (see note on 2 Cor. 4:16; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). This Greek verb contains a sense of contrast with the former reality. It describes a new quality of life that never before existed (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:22). Just like a baby is born complete but immature, the new self is complete, but has the capacity to grow.
"Knowledge" (see note on 1:9). A deep, thorough knowledge, without which there can be no spiritual growth or renewal (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Peter 2:2).
"Image of him that created him": It is God's plan that believers become progressively more like Jesus Christ, the one who made them (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 1 John 3:2; see notes on Phil. 3:12-14, 19-20).
When we become Christians, we have turned our will over to the spirit and have taken all authority away from the flesh.
Romans 8:5 "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit."
God is a Spirit, if we are in His image; we are a spirit man, as well. Christians should be Christlike. We should reflect the Light of Jesus in our lives.
Colossians 3:11 "Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all."
Even as individual believers must discard old, sinful habits, the body of Christ must realize its unity and destroy the old barriers that separated people (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15).
"Greek": A Gentile or non-Jew (see note on Romans 1:14).
"Jew": A descendant of Abraham through Isaac (see note on Rom. 2:17).
"Barbarian" (see note on Rom. 1:14).
"Scythian": An ancient nomadic and warlike people that invaded the Fertile Crescent in the seventh century B.C. Noted for their savagery, they were the most hated and feared of all the so-called barbarians.
"Bond ... free": A social barrier had always existed between slave and freemen; Aristotle had referred to slaves as "a living tool." But faith in Christ removed the separation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Philemon 6).
"Christ is all, and in all": Because Jesus Christ is the Savior of all believers, He is equally the all-sufficient Lord of them all.
Not only is the "new man" to put sin to death, he is also to put away man-made barriers that divide people and that nourish the vices of the old life. Among renewed humanity there are no national, ceremonial, cultural, or social distinctions. To the redeemed "Christ is all;" that is, He is everything, and He is what matters most to them. And "Christ is ... in all;" that is, He dwells in all believers.
We find a companion Scripture to this (in Galatians):
Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
God looks on the spirit of mankind, and not on the flesh. All of the separations mentioned in both verses above are in the flesh. A spirit does not segregate because of nationality, or color, or gender. Circumcision is not even important in the spirit, because the flesh has been done away with.
Those who are free, are Christ's servants, and those who are slaves, are Christ's freeman. The Spirit of Christ is in all who believe.
Colossians 3:12 "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;"
In view of what God has done through Jesus Christ for the believer, Paul described the behavior and attitude God expects in response (verses 12-17).
"Put on" literally means to "dress oneself" (with clothes); here used metaphorically, it means to take on or assume certain virtues and qualities.
"Elect of God": This designates true Christians as those who have been chosen by God. No one is converted solely by his own choice, but only in response to God's effectual, free, uninfluenced and sovereign grace (see notes on John 15:16; Rom. 8:29; 9:14-23; Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:8-9; 1 Pet. 1-2; Acts 13:46-48; Rom. 11:4-5).
"Beloved": Election means believers are the objects of God's incomprehensible special love (John 13:1; Eph. 1:4-5).
"Bowels of mercies" means heartfelt compassion. It is a Hebraism that connotes the internal organs of the human body as used figuratively to describe the seat of the emotions (Matt. 9:36; Luke 6:36; James 5:11).
"Kindness": Refers to a goodness toward others that pervades the entire person, mellowing all harsh aspects (Matt. 11:29-30; Luke 10:25-37).
"Humbleness of mind" (see notes on Rom. 12:3, 10; Phil. 2:3; Matt. 18:4; John 13:14-16; James 4:6, 10). This is the perfect antidote to the self-love that poisons human relationships.
"Meekness" (see notes on Matt. 5:5; Gal. 5:23). Sometimes referred to as "Humility", it is the willingness to suffer injury or insult rather than to inflict such hurts.
"Longsuffering" (see note on 1:11; Rom. 2:4). It is also translated "Patience", the opposite of quick anger, resentment, or revenge and thus epitomizes Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:15). It endures injustice and troublesome circumstances with hope for coming relief.
This is describing the personality of those who have Christ living in them. These are really the gifts of the Spirit that come to us, when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit of God.
Paul is saying, you are the elect of God, now do your part by living like the elect of God. We are to be holy, for He is holy. These virtues of kindness, mercy, humbleness of mind, meekness, and longsuffering are descriptions of the Lord's personality. If we have taken on Christ, then they are our personality, too.
Colossians 3:13 "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye."
"As Christ forgave you" (see notes on Matt. 18:23-34; Eph. 4:32). Because Christ; as the model of forgiveness has forgiven all our sins totally (1:14; 2:13-14), believers must be willing to forgive others.
The fact of believers being urged to assume the virtues of (verse 12), signifies that none has yet "arrived" spiritually. As the believer is developing these virtues, he must be "forbearing" and "forgiving" toward his fellow church member.
For his Christian brother is also in the process of acquiring the virtues of (verse 12), and therefore retains some flaws, deficiencies, and weaknesses. Hence the need of forbearance and forgiveness.
God loves the unlovable, as He loved us while we were yet in sin. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.
Matthew 18:21-22 "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" "Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."
This is just saying, forgive him every time he asks for forgiveness. Don't let the sun go down on your wrath. Do not be angry without a cause.
Colossians 3:14 "And above all these things [put on] charity, which is the bond of perfectness."
"Bond of perfectness" (see notes on Eph. 4:3; Phil. 1:27; 2:2). Supernatural love poured into the hearts of believers is the adhesive of the church (Rom. 5:5; 1 Thess. 4:9).
"Charity" is love, here called the "bond of perfectness." Love is the crowning grace completing the list of virtues required for perfectness or spiritual maturity. As a "bond", it binds all other virtues together in harmony and unity.
The charity that this is speaking of is a Godly kind of love. This is love in spite of what a person has done to you, not because of what they can do for you. Jesus told the rich young ruler, if he would be perfect, to sell what he had and give it to the poor.
Charity covers a multitude of sin. God deals with us in the manner we have treated others with. There is no greater gift than Agape love.
EW: Colossians 3 - Put Off, Put On
A. Put off the old man.
1. (1-4) The basis for Paul's practical instruction.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
a. If then you were raised with Christ: Paul here begins a section where he focuses on practical Christian living, with the clear understanding that practical Christian living is built on the foundation of theological truth. Because we know that Jesus is really raised from the dead, then our identification with Him becomes real. It is only because we were raised with Christ that we can seek those things which are above.
iv. To emphasize it even more, Paul added the phrase, sitting at the right hand of God: "This phrase, particularly in its allusion to Psalm 110, focuses attention on the sovereign rule which Christ now exercises. The command to aspire to the things of heaven is a command to meditate and dwell upon Christ's sort of life, and on the fact that he is now enthroned as the Lord of the world." (Wright)
b. Set your mind on things above: The best Christian living comes from minds that are fixed on heaven. They realize that their lives are now hidden with Christ in God, and since Jesus is enthroned in heaven, their thoughts and hearts are connected to heaven also.
c. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory: The promise of the return of Jesus is not only that we will see His glory, but so that we also will appear with Him in glory. This is the revealing of the sons of God mentioned in Romans 8:19
2. (5-7) Put to death the things that are against God and part of this world.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
a. Therefore put to death your members: Therefore points back to our identification with the risen and enthroned Lord Jesus mentioned in Colossians 3:1-4. It is because we understand this fact that we can put to death the things in our life that are contrary to our identity with Jesus.
b. Fornication, uncleanness, passion and evil desire: Each of these terms refers to sexual sins. Covetousness is simple, but insidious greed, and nothing less than idolatry. There is no way that Jesus would walk in any of these sins, so if we identify with Him, we won't walk in them either.
iv. "Every godly man seeks his happiness in God; the covetous man seeks that in his money which God alone can give; therefore his covetousness is properly idolatry." (Clarke)
c. Because of these things: The sins mentioned previously are part of the way the world lives and not the way Jesus lives. Every Christian is faced with a question: "Who will I identify with, the world or with Jesus?"
d. The wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience: These sins invite the wrath of God. Because the world loves this kind of sinful lifestyle, they don't come in humility to Jesus. As they continue in these sins, it adds to their condemnation. One sin is enough to send anyone to hell (James 2:10), but there are greater levels of condemnation (Matthew 23:14).
i. In part, the wrath of God comes as God allows men to continue in sinful - and therefore self-destructive - behavior (as in Romans 1:24-32).
e. In which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them: These sins may mark a world in rebellion against God, but they are in the past tense for the Christian.
i. Simply put, the Christian should not live like the sons of disobedience. A true Christian can not be comfortable in habitual sin.
ii. Paul says that Christians once walked in these sins. It is possible - though tragic - that these sins should occasionally mark a Christian's life, but they must not be a Christian's walk, their manner of living.
3. (8-9) Removing other traces of worldliness.
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,
a. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: The sins Paul next lists (anger, wrath, and so forth) are regarded by many as "little" sins that Christians may overlook with little danger. Paul challenges us to put off the old man in every area of our lives.
i. "Put off all those old habits, just as you would discard an outworn suit of clothes which no longer fitted you." (Bruce)
b. Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie: Each of these sins are primarily committed by what we say. When Paul calls the believer to a deeper obedience, he tells us to bridle our tongue (as did James in James 1:26 and 3:1-9).
i. Nevertheless, it is also possible to lie to one another without words. "It is easy to distort the truth; an alteration in the tone of voice or an eloquent look will do it; and there are silences which can be as false and misleading as any words." (Barclay)
c. Since you have put off the old man with his deeds: The more notorious sins of Colossians 3:5 are easily seen as incompatible with the nature of Jesus. But these "lesser" sins are also incompatible, so put off these sins also.
i. In this section (Colossians 3:5-9) Paul showed two high priorities in Christian living: sexual morality connected with a right attitude towards material things, and simple getting along in love with one another. It is easy for a Christian community to compromise one for the other, but Paul (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) insisted that they both have a high place in Christian practice.
ii. You have put off the old man with his deeds means that in Jesus Christ, the saints of God are different people. Therefore, "When a tide of passion or a surge of anger is felt, it must be dealt with as the alien intruder it really is, and turned out of the house as having no right to be there at all, let alone to be giving orders." (Wright)
B. Put on the new man.
1. (10-11) As we put off the old man, we must put on the new man.
And have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
a. Put on the new man: The phrase Paul used was commonly used for changing a set of clothes. We can almost picture a person taking off the old and putting on the new man in Jesus.
b. Who is renewed in knowledge: Because the new man is renewed in knowledge, he is hungry to know what God says in His Word.
c. According to the image of Him who created him: Paul is clearly alluding to Genesis 1:27, where it is said that God created Adam in His own image. Nevertheless, now that the first Adam is regarded as the old man who should be put off and discarded, because now we are created after the image of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.
d. Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free: The new man is part of a family, which favors no race, nationality, class, culture or ethnicity. It only favors Jesus, because in this new family, Christ is all and in all.
i. This work of the new creation not only deals with the old man and gives us the new man patterned after Jesus Christ; it also breaks down the barriers that separate people in society. Among new creation people it doesn't matter if one is Greek or Jew or circumcised or uncircumcised or a Scythian or a slave or a free man. All those barriers are broken down.
ii. "He therefore adds to barbarian the Scythian as the extreme example." (Peake)
iii. All of these barriers existed in the ancient Roman world; and the power of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ broke them all down. Especially powerful was the barrier between slave and free, but Christianity changed that.
iv. "In times of persecution slaves showed that they could face the trial and suffer for their faith as courageously as freeborn Romans. The slave-girl Blandina and her mistress both suffered in the persecution which broke out against the churches of the Rhone valley in A.D. 177, but it was the slave-girl who was the hero of the persecution, impressing friend and foe alike as a 'noble athlete' in the contest of martyrdom." (Bruce)
v. "In the arena of Carthage in A.D. 202 a profound impression was made on the spectators when the Roman matron Perpetua stood hand-in-hand with her slave Felicitas, as both women faced a common death for a common faith." (Bruce)
2. (12-17) Life of the new man.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
a. Therefore, as the elect of God: The new man is elect of God. This means that God has chosen the Christian, and chosen him to be something special in His plan. "Elect" is a word that frightens some, but it should be taken both as a comfort and as a destiny to fulfill.
b. Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility: Each one of the qualities mentioned in this passage express themselves in relationships. A significant measure of our Christian life is found simply in how we treat people and the quality of our relationships with them.
i. "It is most significant to note that every one of the graces listed has to do with personal relationships between man and man. There is no mention of virtues like efficiency or cleverness, not even of diligence or industry - not that these things are unimportant. But the great basic Christian virtues are those which govern human relationships." (Barclay)
ii. Tender mercies: If something is tender, it is sensitive to touch. "The apostle would have them to feel the slightest touch of another's misery; and, as their clothes are put over their body, so their tenderest feeling should be always within reach of the miserable." (Clarke)
iii. Kindness: "The ancient writers defined chrestotes as the virtue of the man whose neighbour's good is as dear to him as his own... It is used of wine which has grown mellow with age and lost its harshness. It is the word used when Jesus said, 'My yoke is easy.' (Matthew 11:30)." (Barclay)
iv. We can say that humility (which was not considered a virtue among the ancient Greeks) is the "parent" of both meekness and longsuffering. Meekness shows how humility will effect my actions towards others; I will not dominate, manipulate, or coerce for my own ends, even if I have the power and the ability. Longsuffering shows how humility will effect my reaction towards others; I will not become impatient, short, or filled with resentment towards the weaknesses and sins of others.
c. Forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do: We are told to live forgiving one another, after the pattern of Jesus' forgiveness towards us. Understanding the way Jesus forgave us will always make us more generous with forgiveness, and never less generous.
i. When we consider the staggering debt Jesus forgave for us, and the comparative smallness of the debts others have toward us, it is base ingratitude for us to not forgive them (as in the parable Jesus spoke in Matthew 18:21-35). "The forgiveness they have received is used to enforce the duty of forgiving others." (Peake)
ii. When one thinks of how Christ forgave you it should make us much more generous with forgiveness.
iii. "Suppose that someone had grievously offended any one of you, and that he asked your forgiveness, do you not think that you would probably say to him, 'Well, yes, I forgive you; but I - I - I - cannot forget it'? Ah! dear friends, that is a sort of forgiveness with one leg chopped off, it is a lame forgiveness, and is not worth much." (Spurgeon)
d. Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection: Love is the summary of all the things described in this passage. Love perfectly fulfills what God requires of us in relationships.
i. But above all these things put on love: "Upon all, over all; as the outer garment envelopes all the clothing, so let charity or love invest and encompass all the rest... Let this, therefore, be as the upper garment... that invests the whole man." (Clarke)
ii. "All the virtues listed in vv. 12, 13 are, on the highest level, manifestations of love; but love is larger than any one of them, indeed, larger than all of them combined." (Vaughan)
iii. "The other virtues, pursued without love, become distorted and unbalanced." (Wright)
e. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body: The rule of the peace of God means that peace should characterize the community of God's people, and that peace is a standard for discerning God's will.
i. "The apostle says, Let it rule. The Greek word means arbitrate. Whenever there is a doubtful issue to be decided, and by one course your peace may be disturbed, whilst by another it may be maintained, choose the things that make for peace, whether for yourselves or others. Let God's peace act as umpire." (Meyer)
ii. "Let the peace of Christ judge, decide, and govern in your hearts, as the brabeus, or judge, does in the Olympic contests... When a man loses his peace, it is an awful proof that he has lost something else that he has given way to evil, and grieved the Spirit of God." (Clarke)
iii. Wright sees the context of community: "'Peace' here is not the inward, individual peace of mind which accompanies humble confident trust in God's love, but a peace which characterizes the community, the 'body' as a whole."
f. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs: The new man walks in the word of God and in worship with other believers.
i. Dwell in you: "There appears to be here an allusion to the Shechinah, or symbol of the Divine presence, which dwelt in the tabernacle and first temple." (Clarke)
ii. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs: This variety suggests that God delights in creative, spontaneous worship. The emphasis is more on variety than on strict categories. "We can scarcely say what is the exact difference between these three expressions." (Clarke)
iii. "The word of Christ is to dwell in them so richly that it finds spontaneous expression in religious song in the Christian assemblies or the home." (Peake)
g. Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus: The new man lives his life, all his life, for Jesus. He will only seek to do the things that he may do in the name of the Lord Jesus, and he will persevere in the difficulty of doing such things, knowing that he is doing them in the name of the Lord Jesus.
R. Bardsley: Colossians 3:1-17
In these verses Paul gives his final warning with respect to the false teaching that was troubling the Colossian believers. He does so by repeating or teaching a number of important truths, and bases his final exhortation on these truths.
The first truth, and the first reason for ignoring the false teaching: you have been raised with Christ. He has already stated this in two different ways in chapter 2 - in verse 12: raised with him, and verse 13: God made you alive with Christ. Because of this truth, Paul says: sets your hearts on things above.
The second truth, backing up and expanding on the first: 'where Christ is seated at the right hand of God'. This is the first time Paul has mentioned this truth in this letter. This position of authority is alluded to by the title 'firstborn' [1:15]. It is assumed in the fact that Christ is 'head over every power and authority' [2:10], but in this letter it is stated only here. Because Christ is seated at the right hand of God, believers are to set your minds on things above, and not on earthly things. The false teaching, as we saw in 2:16-23, forced the believers to look at themselves - their personal spirituality and their personal religious performance. It took their focus and their confidence away from Christ. It diverted their hearts and minds away from him in whom they had complete and multi-faceted salvation.
The third truth, which shows the foolishness of looking at and trusting in one's own spirituality and performance: you died. By this Paul wants us to understand that as far as the law is concerned believers are already dead. We, in a very real sense, are irrelevant. Our works, our performance of rituals, our spirituality - none of these can contribute anything to our salvation. It is no longer taken into account. We are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ.
The fourth truth: 'your life is now hidden with Christ in God.' Here is a further reason for setting our minds and our hearts on things above: Christ is there, and we are in him. Our life, and what we do in our life, has no say about whether or not God accepts us, or forgives us, or is reconciled to us. We have died. Our 'body of the flesh' [2:11] has been put off. We have been buried with Christ [2:12]. Our life - is hidden with Christ in God.
This statement contains the absolute in assurance and confidence and security. Nothing, not even the judgement of God, can touch us here. Our lives, with all of their sin, their lack of love, their imperfection, the ups and downs, ... everything ... are hidden with Christ in God. The believer is as safe in the presence of God as Jesus Christ is safe. Christ will never again have to bear the punishment for our sin: and because we are in him, we will never again have to bear the punishment for our sin. Christ will never again be forsaken and rejected by God the Father: and because we are in him, we will never again be forsaken and rejected by God. Our sin will never again separate Christ from the Father: and because we are in him, our sin can never again separate us from the Father. The believer is just as accepted by God as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is accepted by God the Father. This is the peace and the reconciliation of which Paul spoke in 1:20-22. We are now seated with Christ in the presence of God. Hidden forever from his judgement. Accepted forever in his Son.
In this is peace. In this is joy. In this is contentment.
The fifth truth: Christ is our life. Our life has been circumcised off. It has been discarded like a garment. It has died. It has been buried with Christ. It was most unsatisfactory, that life - it attracted God's judgement, it alienated us from God, it disqualified us from life with God, and so on. But God raised us up with Christ, God made us alive in Christ, God announces us complete in Christ. Christ died our death and Christ gives us his life: not his nature so that we become God, but his perfect human life, his righteousness credited to us just as our sin was debited to him. So Paul teaches us that Christ is our life. This is what God takes into account when he looks at us.
The sixth truth: 'when Christ ... appears, then you will appear with him in glory'. The false teaching, with its dependence on human performance, robbed the believers of their assurance and their hope. Paul has already taught them in 1:27 about 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'. He has taught them that God presents them 'holy in his sight, without blemish, and free from accusation' [1:22]. He has taught them that they are 'complete in Christ' [2:10]. Now he ends his exposure of the contrast between the true Gospel and the false teaching, by giving them this grand assurance: when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will appear with him in glory. The false teaching gives no such certainty, indeed it cannot. But this is the glorious hope, the sure and certain confidence of those who know Jesus Christ: We will not be rejected. We will not be condemned. Rather, we will appear with him in glory.
Having dealt with the false teaching about Christ and salvation, Paul now deals with the question of Christian behaviour - 3:5 to 4:6.
To some extent his commands are related to the false teaching in one of two ways:
The false teaching's emphasis on keeping rules, regulations and rituals, and on the perceived level of one's spirituality, had, like all legalism, the tendency to create divisions among believers based on their religious performance. Some of Paul's instructions address these inter-personal divisions.
Certain other aspects of the false teaching [where it expressed Greek ideas about 'matter' being insignificant] sometimes resulted in licentious living. Such ideas found fertile ground in the sinful human heart. Paul's instructions seek to correct both our sinfulness and our misconception that sin does not matter.
Paul's encouragement to the Colossian believers to get rid of sin and embrace and display Christ-like behaviour and attitudes is grounded in what he has already taught them about who Jesus Christ really is and what God has done for them in and through the death of Jesus Christ.
While Paul can't stand a bar of teaching that makes our relationship with God (our salvation) and with each other depend on our performance, he makes it quite clear that because we are saved, because we enjoy this amazing in Christ relationship, there is behaviour that is inappropriate and there is behaviour that is appropriate. There is behaviour that doesn't fit and there is behaviour that fits. There is behaviour that is wrong and there is behaviour that is right. He gives us a number of principles to guide and govern our choices about our lifestyle and behaviour.
Much of what he says is similar to his instructions in Galatians and/or Ephesians.
His instructions, particularly those in 3:5-17, are based on the two significant truths about salvation in Christ that he has been emphasising in the first two chapters. These instructions can be summed up by the following principles:
Principle #1: The Principle of union with Christ in his death and resurrection: Because we have died (in Christ's death for our sin) and have been raised with him, in such a way that he is our life (3:1-3) we should put to death (3:5), or get rid of (3:8) those behaviours for which God's wrath would fall on us if our lives were not hidden in Christ [3:5-10].
Colossians 3:5 contains 'therefore' - that is, because of the truth of our present union with Christ in his death and resurrection, and our future glory, there are behaviours that are totally inappropriate, and he commands us to personally deal with these behaviours just as decisively as Christ dealt with them legally as our substitute.
'Put to death' - Aorist Tense. This is a command to a decisive, immediate action.
In and through the death of Jesus Christ for us God has already decisively dealt with the legal aspects of our sin:
He set us free from it [1:14]. This is indicated by 'redemption' and 'forgiveness of sins'.
He removed the prohibitions and impediments caused by our sin [1:20-22].
Because of it he presents us to himself totally without sin - legally perfect [1:12,22; 2:10].
He put off 'the body of the flesh' - by Christ he 'circumcised' us [2:11].
He buried us with Christ [2:12].
In and with Christ we died - [2:20; 3:3].
Because the legal aspect of our sins is thus dealt with in the death of Jesus Christ, the spiritual impact of our sins has been reversed: spiritual death has been replaced with spiritual life [separation and alienation from God have been replaced with uninhibited access to God and relationship with God.] Just as our sins were counted Christ's, with the result that he died, cut off from God by our sins, even so the perfectly righteous life of Christ is counted ours, with the result that we now live, reunited to God by his perfect life.
God reconciled us to himself [1:20,22].
He established peace between us and himself [1:20].
He raised us with Christ [2:12; 3:1].
He made us alive with Christ [2:13].
He seated us at his right hand in Christ [3:1-3].
In addition, we no longer belong to the 'dominion of darkness'; we belong to the 'kingdom of the Son' [1:13].
So now Paul says 'put to death ...'. Where the NIV has ' ... whatever belongs to your earthly natures', the Greek text has 'put to death your members which are on the earth'. The word translated 'members' means 'a limb or part of the body'. In 2:11 Paul taught us that God, in Christ, had put off 'the body of the flesh' - the whole body. That is, figuratively, all that we are in ourselves - all that we do, good and bad, all that we are, all that we have achieved. God circumcised this off of us and dealt with it in the death of Christ. Now, Paul says, you take each individual part of what you are and what you do and put it off in an actual, practical, moral way.
'whatever belongs to your earthly nature' - that is, actions and attitudes that are characteristic of unredeemed human beings. He begins his list in verse 5 and completes it in verses 8 and 9. The first list is largely about our sexual values and standards. Here in verse 5 we are commanded to put to death:
'sexual immorality' - the Greek word is pornea - from which our English 'fornication' and 'pornography' are derived. In the Bible it refers to a whole range of sexual actions that God forbids. An extensive list of these actions is provided for us in Leviticus 18:1-30. All of the sexual choices listed here are described as utterly abhorrent to God. They include:
Adultery - a sexual act between a married person and a person to whom they are not married.
Incest - a sexual between close relatives of various kinds.
Homosexuality - sexual actions between persons of the same sex.
Bestiality - sexual actions between humans and animals.
Paul is telling us to 'put to death' all of these actions, and any other sexual actions outlawed by God. Kill them off. Get rid of them.
'impurity' - while 'sexual immorality' refers to our actions, 'impurity' refers to our inner thoughts, to our minds. Sometimes in our English idiom we might say that a person has 'a dirty mind'. 'Impurity' is a reference to 'uncleanness'. Here we are instructed to put all such impure thoughts to death. This necessitates a radical reformation of the mind and a radical and deliberate stopping of all those things that feed and encourage these impure thoughts. It means that Christina men and women will repent of and reject all involvement in and association with:
Pornography in all of its kinds and levels: magazines, cable TV, DVD, internet. Recent statistics indicated that at least 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women in the USA engage in pornography. This includes a significant percentage of pastors and church leaders.
Sexually explicit material wherever it occurs: books, songs, movies, sex-shops, dating sites. If we inadvertently buy, open, turn on, etc anything that feeds impurity into our minds we should immediately burn it, shut it, turn it off - do whatever we must do to get out of there fast. And also remember, and not buy, open, turn on, that particular thing ever again.
Dirty jokes and other impure speech - Paul specifically tells us to put these off in Ephesians 5:3,4, where he states that they 'are improper for God's holy people'.
Dating sites - some are not 'impure', but there are hundreds that contain extremely pornographic images and use extremely suggestive language. Their deliberate intention is sexual impurity and sexual immorality. I urge every believer to flee from these as if your very life depended on it.
[Involuntary exposure - our contemporary culture seems to be saturated with sexually explicit references - in everyday speech, in talk-shows, in various forms of advertising - print, billboard, TV, website. It is almost impossible to avoid some exposure to this material that can trigger impure thoughts and lust. We should do our best to limit this involuntary exposure.]
'lust' - Paul has commanded us to put to death sexual actions forbidden by God; he has commanded us to put to death impure sexual thoughts. Now he addresses our emotions. Our sexual feelings or passions. This is where thinking becomes desiring. And the desiring becomes so overwhelming that it transitions into imagining/doing the action in one's mind. And this is the grave danger of the things listed under 'impurity' above: that filling our minds and our thoughts will these things will inevitably lead to lust. Such is the nature of human sexuality in rebellion against the boundaries set in place by God. In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus made it clear that 'anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart'. This is what pornography, even of the 'soft' kind, generates.
'evil desires' - Greek: kakos = worthless, depraved, harmful; epithumia = longing, particularly for what is forbidden. [Notice the destructiveness of these desires inferred by the word kakos.] It does not necessarily refer only to forbidden sexual actions, thoughts and desires. But given that Paul has just been speaking of these, it surely must here include forbidden sex. In my lifetime I have seen the erosion of sexual standards and values as more and more people desire the legalization, or at least the acceptance, of sexual practices forbidden by God. This erosion has, in my observation, occurred in this order:
Divorce - when I was a child, it was extremely rare. Now it is basically expected. It is certainly considered normal. Here the God-ordained sacredness and permanence of marriage is rejected. This despising of the marriage vows, and the exclusive sexual union involved, has opened the doors for a whole range of sexual practices.
De facto relationships - the public acceptance, and government recognition, of long-term heterosexual relationships without the formal marriage union.
Pre-marital sex, free sex, etc - without any long term commitment. This has become the norm. Virginity is seen as something to get rid of as soon as possible, not something to guard and treasure. Parents and schools supply any child who has reached puberty with condoms or pills. Sex is just as much part of one's daily or weekly routine as eating and sleeping. People think they can't survive without it.
Homosexual actions - again, when I was a child, one only knew there was such a thing because the Bible mentioned it. Now homosexual actions and relationships are increasingly seen as one among many acceptable human 'sexual preferences'. They are legalized in many countries.
What is next? ... If one can believe what one reads or hears, some people are wanting to legalize polygamy, incest and paedophilia in some countries. We know that in private lives these are already being practised. As Francis Schaeffer points out in one of his books, [I think it is Whatever Happened to the Human Race?], that which is unthinkable today, is accepted tomorrow.
The lure of the 'forbidden' is great. The sinful human heart seeks it out. At a philosophical level, the absence of any perception of God [resulting from secular humanism and the evolutionary hypothesis] has left man unhindered by any thought of displeasing a supreme Judge. Man is also left unhindered by the high view of 'human' that was formerly held - robbed of the image of God because there is no God, the 'human' has become a sexual object to be used, misused, abused and thrown away. Destroyed. 'Moral' values have become relative to what the majority wants, and the majority is so very easily influenced by the media - print, video, audio and internet. At a popular level, working in tandem with the underlying godless mindset, the ever increasing acceptance of divinely forbidden sexual practices and relationships has been brought about in part, and maybe largely, by, for example, movies and soapies shaping public perception of what is 'normal'.
Our world and culture has become very much like the biblical world and cultural setting where sexual practices forbidden by God proliferated. God's people, the people of faith, the people God has set aside for himself, lived, and now live, in a world in which these things were quite 'normal'. But God puts a higher value on people, and has a higher standard for his people. This stuff, all this forbidden stuff that cheapens and destroys humans, including ourselves, we are told to put to death. Decisively. All of this does not fit with the reality of our death in Christ and our new life in Christ.
Help: To get a clear perspective on how secular humanism has corrupted western thinking, read Schaeffer's book mentioned above. For immediate help with sexual addictions go here - http://www.blazinggrace.org/ .
[Paul's reference to evil desires could refer to desiring any forbidden thing or practice, not just sexual practices. There are actions, other than sexual actions, that God has forbidden. Everything God has forbidden we are commanded to put to death.]
'greed' - ['especially greed' - according to the grammatical structure.] The Greek word is pleonexia; it is sometimes translated 'covetousness'. It is a different thing from the 'love of money' referred to in 1Timothy 6:10. It refers more to the total orientation of a person's mind towards getting and having what he does not have at the moment. It is a very self-centred attitude in which what I want I will get for myself regardless of how it affects others. As such it has a clear connection with the sexual sins identified in this same verse. But, it has a broader application. It is that self-idolizing attitude which will happily engage in fraudulent practices, or dishonesty and deception, or whatever it takes to get what one wants for oneself. Thus Paul adds the phrase 'which is idolatry'. This attitude puts self in the place of God: here personal avarice, personal wants, dictate my choices, rather than God dictating my choices.
Paul tells us two things about these behaviours:
 These are the actions and attitudes because of which God's wrath comes [present tense]. If believers were not 'in Christ' this wrath would be upon them. For them that wrath has already fallen upon Christ. That is how abhorrent these sins are in God's sight. This is how inappropriate they are. To continue in these sins is to stand at the foot of the cross as Jesus bore the wrath of God for these sins and say 'Thanks Jesus. I'm going to go and engage in sexual sin now!' Such an attitude to sin despises the death of Christ and makes mockery of any claim we might make to understand who it is who is there on the cross dying for us.
 That these behaviours 'used to' characterize believers, before they were saved by Christ [verse 7]. They were part and parcel of that 'body of the flesh' which was circumcised off in their union with Christ and his death. Christ is now their 'life' - verse 4 - and these things are totally incongruous with their new identity in Christ.
'But now you must rid yourselves of all things such as these ...' - Again the 'rid yourselves' is in the Aorist Tense, commanding yet another deliberate, decisive action. The word - apotithemi - means to 'put away': now you must put away. Just as in Colossians 2:11 Paul spoke of 'the putting off' [not the same word] of our 'body of the flesh' in our union with Christ in his death, so here he speaks of 'putting off' everything that is contrary to the perfection of Christ and the perfection we have been credited with in him. There is was God's action done to obtain our legal salvation; here is it our action done to achieve our moral sanctification. By God's action we are declared holy in Christ; by our action we are to be holy in ourselves. [As we have seen elsewhere, this inner transformation of our attitudes is being wrought in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit.]
Paul's second list, verse 8,9a, is about how we treat other people, particularly how we speak to other people. He lists a number of verbal sins that express our human divisions from each other and our human rejection of and disrespect for each other. [Compare Paul's similar list in Ephesians 4:29-31]. These sins that exalt ourselves and belittle the other also display a disrespect for God. He created humans 'in his image', and it is this truth that prohibits all actions, attitudes and words that despise our fellow man [see Genesis 9:6; Matthew 5:21-24]. In addition, as we will see shortly, such sins also ignore the union all believers have in Christ, and treat the work of Christ for them and in them with contempt. These sins destroy others emotionally and psychologically; they are also the sins that are fore-runners to physical abuse and murder, or express that same contempt of others that results in physical abuse and murder.
'anger' - Greek - orge. This refers to a settled angry attitude or disposition of the mind towards others, that simmers away inside. It includes displeasure towards others. It often includes the planning of revenge. It is long lasting.
'rage' - Greek - thumos. This is a more agitated and violent, explosive form of anger. It bursts forth. Iti expresses itself in fierce indignation.
'malice' = 'maliciousness' - Greek - kakia. Lightfoot defines it as 'the vicious nature which is bent on doing harm to others' [p214]. It contains a deliberate intention of harming the other.
'slander' - the Greek - blasphemia - refers to vilification. The word is most likely derived from blapto - to injure, and pheme - speech. Hence - speech that injures. [In respect to God, it is human speech that defames God.] But Paul is here listing sins that hurt other people. His meaning is then, that we should get rid of speech that vilifies, defames, injures other people, including their reputation. Character assassination is thus outlawed.
'filthy language' - Lightfoot translates as 'foul mouthed abuse'. The two concepts of 'abuse' and 'filth' are contained in the word. Paul is not speaking here of putting off dirty jokes and sexually explicit speech. He has already done that in verse 5. Here he is outlawing that verbal abuse of others that uses sexual references or terms, or any other foul or obscene terms or inferences, as part of that abuse and in order to abuse and belittle and shame and destroy. It includes abusing others in terms/words of sexual actions, body parts, excreta, and so on. This is very common in our contemporary culture. By using it the abuser feels great and powerful in his own eyes.
'do not lie to each other' - Paul here commands honesty and integrity in all of our dealings with each other.
Paul grounds his instructions about these verbal sins on two facts [verse 9b,10a]:
'since you have taken off your old self with its practices' 'and have put on the new self ...'
Both of these verbs are in the Aorist Tense. Both refer to what believers have done. 'Haven taken off', and 'having put on' - having totally divested themselves of their 'old self' and having clothed themselves with the new self. This total stripping off of the old self and putting on the new self was achieved by God in the death and resurrection of Christ [2:11-12]. It was God who did it, in Christ. But, this other fact is also true - that when they received Jesus Christ, they by that action of receiving Jesus Christ, deliberately put off the old and put on the new, acknowledging the vicarious death of Christ as their substitute, and embracing his gift of new life in him. They have put off themselves, and have put on Christ [see Galatians 3:27].
Paul then gives a third reason why such interpersonal verbal sins are outlawed: that the new self that they have put on '... is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator' [verse 10b] - Present Tense.
2Corinthians 3:18 teaches us that the Spirit of God is at work within the believer, gradually transforming the believer into the image of God as the believer contemplates Jesus Christ. Here he speaks of that same progressive, on-going, transformation. And again it is grounded in our knowledge of Christ. Some Christians believe that this transformation can and should be complete while we are still here on earth, and that this perfection [sometimes called 'eradication'] should be the expectation of every believer. However, 1John 3:1-3 makes it clear that in this interim period between our salvation and the return of Christ there is always a hiddenness, an incognito factor about believers - that this perfection, which we already possess 'in Christ', is never observable in us as we live out our existence here on earth. It will, however, be instantly observable in us 'when he appears'. Then, and only then, will we be 'like him'.
Nevertheless, although in its fullness this perfection is never attainable in this life, the fact that the Holy Spirit is continually working on renewing us is given by Paul as a motivation to get rid of these sins. He challenges us to work in tandem with the Holy Spirit, not contrary to the Holy Spirit. [In Ephesians 4:30 Paul states that these verbal sins that destroy people actually grieve the Holy Spirit.] God's goal for us is his image, his likeness, completely restored in us. This should govern and dictate all of our choices; all of our words. Each time we open our mouths we should first consider: will these words I am about to say reflect the nature of God my Saviour? Are they in sync with the quiet working of the Spirit within me?
Principle #2: The Principle that we are all complete in Christ: Because, by the grace of God, Christ is all and is in all - irrespective of race or religious background [verse 11], that same grace and acceptance which governs his relationship to us in Christ should govern our relationships with each other [3:12-16].
In 2:10 Paul taught: you have been given fullness in Christ - you are complete in him. This completeness in Christ means a total equality of all believers. This is what Paul is saying in 3:11. All things that commonly divide human beings from each other are removed: religious divides [Greek and Jew], ritual divides [circumcised or uncircumcised], cultural divides [barbarian or Scythian], social divides [slave or free], and, in Galatians 3:28, gender divides [male or female], no longer signify. All believers, irrespective of any of these things that divide people and distinguish them from one another, are one in Christ Jesus. Christ is all - for each one on either side of every divide, all that God requires of them they possess in Christ, they are complete in Christ. Lacking nothing. Totally accepted in God's presence. Totally acquitted of all that had previously held them bound in guilt and condemnation. And Christ is in all - in every believer the Spirit of Christ dwells. This grand equality in Christ, this incredible and perfect qualification possessed by all who are in Christ, excludes and outlaws a whole range of improper, sinful interpersonal behaviours.
Paul applies this principle in a number of ways:
 The verbal sins listed in verse 8 and 9 are contrary to the Gospel: they express our sinful human attempts to excuse, protect, save and justify ourselves in the presence of others, at the same time as belittling and destroying the others. When we engage in these sins we are forgetting our completeness in Christ, we are forgetting we have no need to promote ourselves. We are forgetting our equality and our shared acceptance in Christ. The person who knows Jesus Christ and his salvation is set free from this need to preserve himself. The person who knows that he, and his fellow believers, share in the same Christ, also knows that he does not have permission to verbally abuse and verbally despise those whom God has blessed with full acceptance in Christ.
 Our acceptance with God and our preciousness to God, and the amazing gift that he has given us in Christ should determine the way we relate to each other: Because we are 'in Christ' we are God's chosen people; he has declared us holy in Christ, we are dearly loved by him [verse 12].
God's chosen people - eklektos - Paul here describes believers as those who are God's chosen ones. We find a similar concept in:
1Corinthians 1:27,28 - 'God chose the foolish things ... God chose the weak things ... he chose the lowly things ... so that no one may boast before him'
Ephesians 1:4 - 'For he chose us in him before the creation of the world ...' James 2:5: 'Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith ...'
1Peter 2:9: 'But you are a chosen people ... a people belonging to God'.
holy - we have already looked at this in reference to 1:22. In Christ God sees us as 'holy in his sight' - set apart as his special possession, set apart by God for God, no longer 'ordinary'.
dearly loved - the Greek is simply 'loved - egapemenoi'. It is Perfect Tense - indicating previous establishment and on-going permanence of being loved; it is Passive Voice - it is done to us by Another. We are 'loved' by God.
Because all believers share this special identity there is are attitudes and actions that are appropriate for our interpersonal relationships with each other, and these attitudes and actions exclude their opposites as inappropriate.
Paul therefore commands us that:
That same compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience which God in the Gospel expresses towards us should characterize our relationships with others [3:12]. We should, Paul says 'put it on', 'clothe ourselves with' it. [The verb is Aorist.]
'compassion' - Greek = splangkhna oiktirmou : splangkhna means 'bowels'; oiktirmou means compassion, mercy. The Jews considered the 'bowels', not the 'heart', to be the location of our emotions. Hence 'bowels of mercy', 'bowels of compassion'. When Jesus looked on the crowds in their spiritual lostness [Mark 6:34] and their physical need [Matthew 9:36; 14:14], the Gospel writers use the verb splangkhnidzomai to report his attitude and feeling towards them. It is a deep-seated gut-wrenching feeling of tenderness towards them that recognizes their deep need and their own inability to save themselves, and then acts to relieve that need. In the parable of the unforgiving servant [Matthew 18:23-35] Jesus taught that this is how God has acted towards us - he was moved with compassion towards us - recognizing our deep spiritual need, knowing that we don't even understand the greatness of our spiritual destitution or realize our inability to ever make good, he himself has cancelled that debt. The punchline of this parable is: if that is how God has dealt with us, if God has acted towards us with this deep-seated compassion, that is how we should act towards each other. Indeed, Jesus said, if we don't, if we don't relate to others with this compassion expressed in forgiveness, then we do not ourselves have God's forgiveness. Paul's command here is thus extremely significant.
'kindness' - Greek - chrestotes - usefulness, kindness, gentleness, beneficence. From the derivation of this word it seems to refer to that aspect of kindness which recognizes and acts to meet the needs of others. It is a useful, practical type of kindness. It is used to refer to God's kindness or goodness towards us [Romans 2:4; 11:22; Ephesians 2:7 and Titus 3:4.]
'humility' - Greek - tapeinophrosune - This refers to that humility of mind in which we do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought [Romans 12:3], but are ready to put ourselves out in order to be of help to others [Romans 15:1-3; Philippians 2:3,4]. Lightfoot comments that it affects both our relation to others and our estimation of ourself. Note that Paul uses the same word here that he used in 2:18 and 23, where he described the humility encouraged by the false teachers. This should immediately alert us to the fact that the humility God requires is not a contrived, external appearance of humility that camouflages a hard, unloving, conceited heart. The key to developing this genuine humility is to take our cue from Jesus Christ, as Paul points out in Philippians 2:5ff, and as Jesus himself instructed in Matthew 11:29 - '... learn from me, for I am gentle [praos - see below] and humble [tapeinos] in heart ...'
'gentleness' - Greek - praotes - some translations have 'meekness'. The adjective 'meek - praos' - is used only once in the New Testament, and is referred to Jesus [see above]. However, the expectation or command that Christians should demonstrate or practice 'meekness - praotes' occurs several times: Galatians 5:23, where it is a fruit of the Spirit; Galatians 6:1, in the context of restoring a brother who is caught in a sin; Ephesians 4:2, where the context is similar to Colossians; 1Timothy 6:11, where Paul instructs Timothy as a man of God to pursue gentleness; and Titus 3:2 where the NIV translates it with 'humility' and Paul commands that it is to be shown to all.
'patience' - Greek - makrothumia. [See the note on Colossians 1:11 in the study on 1:10-14.] This 'patience' or 'long-suffering' is what Paul prayed for the Colossian Christians in 1:11; now he commands them to clothe themselves with it. As noted before, it is 'self-restraint that does not hastily retaliate' against a wrong.
Paul now sums up in one brief command all of these qualities that he listed in verse 12. That same patience and compassion that God exercises towards us when we sin we should exercise towards each other: we should bear with each other [3:12]. [Literally 'bearing with one another' - Present tense - something we are to keep on doing.] What Paul is saying is 'clothe yourselves with all these qualities, bearing with each other ...' The bearing with each is what will happen if we have clothed ourselves with these qualities.
Similarly, we will also be 'forgiving each other'. That same forgiveness that God granted to us should be granted by us to others when they offend us [3:13], regardless of whatever grievances we may have against each other. [Literally - 'forgiving each other' - Present tense - something we are to keep on doing.] Let us remember that God's forgiveness of us is massive, and we are here told to forgive others just like that. Paul here twice uses the same word for 'forgive' that he used in 2:13 - the concept of covering the sin with grace, instead of giving them what we think they deserve.
Bearing with and forgiving each other [3:13] are the outward evidence and expression of the inner qualities of heart and mind commanded in verse 12.
Paul commands that on top of all of this, we should dress ourselves with (put on) love - it is that same love with which the Lord loves us that will bind us all together in perfect unity [3:14]. Let us remember that God loved us while we were still sinners [Romans 8:8]. He did not wait for us to be acceptable first, and then love us. This is the kind of love which binds believers together: a love like God's, that knows the worst about us and loves us just the same. He loves us warts and all: even so should we love one another.
The false teaching with its perceptions of what Christians ought to do and the expectations it loaded upon Christians created divisions. Judgement, criticism, guilt, shame, superiority, inferiority - all of these pervade a group where acceptance is based on personal performance. There are those who 'have arrived' and there are those who have not, with the former being viewed as superior to the latter, in stark contrast to the unity described by Paul in 3:11.
Similarly, that same peace which characterizes our relationship with God in Christ, should govern our hearts and our relationships with each other [3:15]. We all belong to Jesus. We are all accepted by God on the same basis - not on the basis of performance but on the basis of Christ. There is no place in Christ for spiritual rivalry, for impatience, for revenge or retaliation, for superiority, for inferiority. There is no place for either the giving of threats regarding a person's relationship with God or the feeling of threat concerning one's own relationship with God. We have peace with God through Jesus Christ. This should empower us to let peace rule our hearts and our relationships with others, because we are called to peace. [See Ephesians 2:14,15.] Note that Paul is here stressing that it is 'as members of one body' that we are called to peace. Not just peace with God, but peace with each other within the body of Christ. This peace is to govern our hearts. The word Paul uses means 'umpire'. In other words this peace of Christ sets the boundaries, enforces the rules, keeps us in order in our interactions with each others, controls the game, resolves the conflicts.
In this context Paul commands 'and be thankful'. Be thankful that this is the way it is, not the way the false teachers were telling it and enforcing it. There was no peace of Christ in the false teaching: it judged [2:16], it disqualified [2:18]. It created divisions.
'Let the word of Christ' (that is the Gospel which Paul has been re-affirming to the Colossians both about who Jesus is and what Jesus did) 'dwell in you [present tense] richly' [Greek = plousios - richly, abundantly].
In the Greek text 'in all wisdom' comes next in the sentence. Some commentators and translators link 'in all wisdom' with the word of Christ dwelling in us richly. Others link it with the teaching and admonishing that follows. Hence, the NIV places this phrase after both of these, as the manner or content of the teaching and instruction.
Previously in this letter Paul has -
Prayed that God would fill the Colossians 'with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding' [1:9].
Said that he and his associates proclaimed Christ 'admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom' [1:28].
Taught that in Christ are 'all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge' [2:3].
The first and third of these would encourage us to link 'in all wisdom' with the word of Christ indwelling the believers; the second with teaching and admonishing. However, if we understand 'teach and admonish each other with all wisdom' to refer to the content, not the method, of teaching, then both suggested applications of this phrase end up meaning the same: that all the wisdom of the word of Christ is to dwell richly in our hearts, and is to be taught so that it continues to dwell richly in our hearts.
The word of Christ dwelling richly in our hearts with all wisdom will express itself by ...
Teaching each one another,
Admonishing one another, and
Singing with gratitude [Greek = grace] in our hearts to the Lord, and
Giving thanks to God the Father through him [verse 17].
This mutual support and encouragement expressed verbally is the very opposite of the verbal abuse outlawed by Paul in 3:8,9a. When the Gospel [the word of Christ] governs our choices the goal of our speech and conversation, will not be to promote and justify ourselves by destroying others but to support and encourage our fellow believers.
This impact of the 'word of Christ' in our hearts in Colossians 3:16 is the same as the impact of continually being 'filled with the Spirit' [Ephesians 5:18-21], where the expression of this filling is described as:
Speaking to each other is psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
Singing and making music in our heart to the Lord [compare Colossians 3:16],
Always giving thanks [compare Colossians 3:17], and
Submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ [compare Colossians 3:18].
Both commands are in the Present Tense. Both lists of outcomes or expressions are written in Present Participles. These two lists in their extended form contain very similar actions and attitudes. This similarity gives us an important insight into what Paul means by 'be filled with the Spirit' in Ephesians 5:18: it is not a mystical experience that divides believers into the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. It is a command to all Christians. Colossians speaks of being dominated/controlled by and submissive to the word of Christ; Ephesians speaks of being dominated/controlled by and submissive to the Spirit. They are one and the same thing. What the word of Christ does, the Spirit does - and of necessity this must be so, given the equality and unity of the Trinity.
'Whatever we do, whether in word or deed, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.'
Colossians 3:17 has been partly dealt with above as part of what happens when the word of Christ dwells in us richly. It also expresses a third principle related to the believers' union with Jesus Christ:
Principle #3: the principle of relating to God, to others and to ourselves, always and only in Christ. This is where God has placed us. This is how God relates to believers - never to us as we are in ourselves, but only 'in Christ' - on the basis of what he has done to us and for us in Christ. Because this is how God now relates to us, this is also the only basis on which we should live out our lives.
This verse means that everything we do and say, including our Christian proclamation, our Christian service, our Christian worship, our praying, our obedience to the Scripture, our secular activities - everything should be done in his name, and be true to his person and work. That is, from our secure, shared position 'in Christ' and grounded in the word of Christ. Individually, we each belong to Jesus Christ. Corporately, we all belong to Jesus Christ. It is his name that saves us. It is his name that unites us.
How will this affect us?
 It automatically outlaws and excludes some activities. There are things that we never could do in the name of the Lord Jesus because they are things quite contrary to his purpose, his character and his example. For example, in terms of what Paul has just been commanding, we could never speak with malice 'in the name of the Lord Jesus'. We could never indulge in lust 'in the name of the Lord Jesus'. Because we are 'in Christ' everything we do either exalts his name or dishonours his name. There is no way we can escape this fact unless we hide or deny our allegiance to him.
 It excludes all teaching and all actions that express or generate divisions within the body, the church. When we engage in such things we are hurting ourselves, for we are all members of the one body. We cannot 'in the name' of Jesus, teach salvation through ritual observance. We cannot, in the name of Jesus, promote a performance-based spirituality that divides believers. We cannot, in the name of Jesus, foster a mystical, experiential religion that depends on human emotions and not on the death of Christ.
 It reminds us that in ourselves we, along with our prayers and our Christian service, are totally unacceptable to God. Everything we do is imperfect. Everything we do is tarnished by our sin. It is only because we are in Christ that we have access to the presence of God in prayer; it is only because we are in him that our worship is acceptable. It is only because we are in him that our service and ministry in his church are acceptable to him. So we pray, not trusting in our own righteousness, but in his name. And we worship, not trusting in our own acceptability or the acceptability of our worship, but in his name. And we serve, depending on Christ alone for God's acceptance of our service and working through our service. We pray, we worship, we serve in the name of the Lord Jesus. Not in our own name. Not on the basis of our abilities or our spirituality or our credentials, but always, ever and only in his name, from our secure and perfect position in Christ.
Thus every thing we do should be done with thanks to God that our relationship with him does not depend on the perfection of our words and actions, but that these words and actions of prayer, worship and service also are covered by the cross of Jesus Christ, that in his name we, despite the imperfection and sinfulness of our actions and attitudes, find access to the very throne of God. There we stand, not in ourselves, but in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. In this truth, in his name, we are given, not the freedom to sin, but freedom from condemnation and rejection because of sin. In this truth, in his name, we are given, not the freedom to use, misuse or abuse each other, but the freedom to be for each other.