Before we begin, I always like to review a little to bring our minds back to where we left off the topic. We need to be reminded that Paul’s letter to the Colossians is unlike his letter to the Philippians, which was a free-flowing letter to his friends, a church he himself had planted. Colossians was written with a more polemic agenda to tell the truth to a group of Christians that were being set upon by false teachers and teaching in the form of Gnosticism, in 4 primary forms:
- Philosophical heresy, including the idea that all matter is evil and that God could not have possibly created it, nor would or could he save us from that part of our lives.
- Ritualistic heresy, including the idea that only a few certain masters knew the truth about how to free ourselves from our evil chains and that an initiate had to undergo certain rites to earn the knowledge (we see this today also), which rites were probably painful and very expensive.
- Visionary heresy, which included worshipping greater-than-human beings called Aeons (who were angels of some kind?) in an effort to make ourselves worthy to worship God. (Um…we can’t make ourselves worthy.)
- Ascetic heresy and practices, based on the philosophy that all matter is evil, and therefore the only way to deal with it is as harshly as possible short of killing yourself.
I’m not really doing the topic justice, but that’s a barebones summary. Paul began to address this all in chapter one by describing the Lord Jesus Christ and how He created everything, and considered it very good. In fact, this same Jesus, Paul tells us in last week’s chapter is actually the fullness of the Deity (or KJV Godhead) in bodily form. He is literally the God-man. And He became Human for the sole purpose of dying on the cross, one of the most painful deaths ever devised, to pay the price for our wrongdoings before God, so that He could redeem us, dying as a substitute in our place.
This is all in direct contradiction to everything the Gnostics were teaching. One didn’t need to pay huge sums of money or injure or torture oneself to be saved from our sinful flesh, but instead God did it for us. And we can know Him directly, because He is the mystery that has now been revealed, not simply restricted to a few so-called ascended masters or Aeons, and we may worship Him directly, not through some interposed intermediary. That’s called idolatry.
Paul concludes last week’s chapter with a couple of hard questions that I can sum up like this: Why are you listening to these individuals that are telling you that you need to pay money or injure yourselves to gain peace with God? You can simply ask God, and if you will turn from your sins and believe that He has indeed paid the penalty for you personally, God will pardon all your wrongdoings (as opposed to just accept your parole) and give you peace and will even adopt you as his dear children?
With all of that as review, let us get into the chapter.
1: Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
- The chapter begins with my favorite word, “therefore,” so let’s see what it’s there for! The context of this pretty much always comes from what immediately preceded it, so let’s have a look. This was the warning about people that teach as doctrine the traditions of men. These people made up a religion that you may recall was “alongside the truth” or false logic. (Remember, just because logic is used, doesn’t mean it is true.) That religion was full of special rites, which I am certain were both painful and expensive to adherents. Paul had told them otherwise, that they were indeed buried with Christ and raised with Him to newness of life.
- THEREFORE, if that’s true, if you have been raised with Christ (and note here Paul is not assuming that is a fact), then KEEP SEEKING [zeteo, to seek specially, to worship, be about, desire, enquire after, require] the things that are above, Where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Those of you where were with us in Ephesians will remember when one gets to “sit down…” when the work is done! We want to be about looking towards, desiring, and even requiring the completed work of Jesus Christ.
2: Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
- The margin renders this “Be intent on” things that are above, not on things on the earth. Proper intention should always be seeking a heavenly goal, not an earthly one.
3: For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
- Why not earthly priorities? Well, it says we have died. I like the way a friend of mine put it, speaking of his past non-Christian life: “I don’t live there anymore.” It goes on to tell us that not only have we died (buried with Him, of which baptism is a symbolic thing), but that our lives are now hid with Christ in God! An exchange of sorts has taken place. The old mess we called our lives has been exchanged for His new life.
4: When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
- This even has a purpose in the grand scheme of things! Because we are hid with Christ in God, when God finally reveals Christ to the world, We will be revealed with Him! Peter, in his second general letter, calls us partakers if the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4). What? That’s amazing!
5: Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
- Look, there is my favorite word again! What is it there for? Again, the context comes from the text that immediately precedes it. If this is true about you in Christ, then in this light, or therefore…
- In fact, the translators of the NASB are too gentle in their translation. The seek to convey the meaning, “consider the members of your earthly body as dead to…” so that Paul can be understood, but Paul isn’t saying consider it dead, he’s actually saying to the Colossians, to PUT them to death themselves. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between self-denial and the denial of self is? I think it’s here. When we deny ourselves, we are often simply talking about delayed gratification, so that our temporary self-denial can turn into enjoyment at a better and more convenient time. And let me say, that in the right context, there is nothing wrong with that. But this is more. Whenever the things Paul describes here come up, we are to deny our old nature, our earthly, fleshly selves. This is nothing like delayed gratification. This is character choice. When we choose to deny ourselves like this, we are choosing to respond to them as Christians, little Christs.
- And what are we to deny? Let’s unpack that. Immorality [porneia, sexual sin]. Think about this for a second. Is sex impure? My wife and three children say no. But this is sex outside of its proper context. Deny your own desires regarding sexual sins. Paul tells Timothy to flee youthful lusts. This is part of that.
- Impurity [akatharsia, impurity]. This is the negative of the Greek katharsia, which is a term from Greek drama. The audience of the drama sympathizes with the hero, and it was said that when the zenith of the drama is reached, the audience feels a “catharsis,” that is, an emotional cleansing and release. This is the opposite of that. We allow ourselves to retain all that unhealthy garbage.
- Passion [pathos, that which befalls one, a suffering]. The suffering that comes from retaining all the emotional garbage perhaps. Pathos is the root word where we get our English word “pathetic.” And frankly, that’s as descriptive of the emotion as I can give. You literally feel pathetic.
- Evil [kakos, bad or evil] desire [epithumia, passionate longing, lust, impulses]. Not all desires are evil. We are to put to death the evil ones. And don’t kid yourself – you already know what they are.
- Greed [pleonexia, coveteousness, that is, wanting more than your rightful share, or wanting more than anyone else]. Paul here just tells the truth – this is nothing other than idolatry. I define idolatry as fear or reverence of the WRONG god. These are the things that whenever they appear to us, we are to PUT IT TO DEATH, as Paul says.
6: For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience,
- Why should we? Read that verse again. It is because of these very things that the WRATH OF GOD will come. I should point out here that two very early manuscripts do not include the phrase “on the sons of disobedience.” Doctrinally, I’m not sure that makes a difference, because the WRATH OF GOD is COMING in either case. The theological debate then becomes who will have God’s wrath fall on them, and frankly, I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out the hard way by having it fall on me, so I’m going to do as Paul suggests and put that stuff to death when it arises.
- An important point here – Paul directly says that WRATH is coming FROM GOD. From my reading of Scripture, this is not God’s normal state, but He can get angry and He can be filled with wrath. Please let me take this opportunity to tell you that you do not have to have it fall on you. I personally think the questionable phrase is the majority phrase and should be included. You do not have to be a son or daughter of disobedience. Repentance is possible. How do I know? Paul’s very next verse.
7: and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.
- If I may offer a personal testimony here, I walked in all of those things. I walked in immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry, the fear of the wrong god. I won’t go into detail here, but I knew I was a sinner, and I was hopelessly broken by sin in all its forms, the world, the flesh, and the devil. My girlfriend dumped me just before Christmas, I was a tremendously angry and overly emotional young man, and the enemy of my soul had used these things to drive me to the very brink of suicide. I walked in those things. I know them intimately. And in the middle of my hopelessly broken life, Jesus came and found me when I was 18 years old. I truly turned from those things, and I believed that Jesus paid the price for my wrongdoings, and that God raised Him from the dead to prove it! And when I did that, God removed the weight of the world from my shoulders. I didn’t know then what happened, but 33 years later, I know, and I can tell you, because we have been reading about it here. I died! And I was buried with Christ in the tomb. And I was raised with Him to new life in Christ! And in doing so, I escaped the wrath of God that is still waiting to come on all those who will not obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My friend, Jesus is calling you right now. Turn to Him. Tell Him you submit to Him. Accept the payment He made for you! He will save you from your broken life just like He did me! That’s where *I* walked when I lived in those things. And now, because He has made me to be alive in Himself, He has given me the ability to choose what pleases Him instead of wandering aimlessly and hopelessly in despair. He will do the same for you. Let’s go on.
8: But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.
- Paul is continuing here to list all the behaviours and attitudes that are expressed because of the attitudes he has mentioned in verse 5. It’s a simple but powerful list, and it bears closer examination.
- Anger [orge, wrath, impulsive emotional outburst]. I know, and so probably do most of you, know exactly what that means, and more, how it feels. Have you ever been told you have anger issues or told you need anger management classes? This is what they were talking about. I’ve personally spent a long time and a lot of effort to come to terms with this. You can’t just stifle it either, because that doesn’t work. You actually have to own it and acknowledge it before you can work on improving it, and I’m not talking about just behaviour modification. It is this way with all of these things. Let’s move on.
- Wrath [thumos, outburst of rage, passion in the sense of elevated breathing rate]. I have felt this. It’s like your jaw clenches and your chest tightens, and depending on just how mad you’re getting, a red haze starts to surround everything (that’s happened with me occasionally). What’s worse, you can’t seem to stop, you can’t control it, and when it becomes really dangerous is when you don’t WANT to control it. I’ll continue.
- Malice [kakia, wickedness; badness, depravity; actively, malignity; passively, trouble; malicious]. As a part of the definition in my Lexicon, it says, “…ill-will, desire to injure, a wickedness that is not ashamed to break laws.” I have been here too. Believe me when I say I have no desire to go back to engineering political traps for people that don’t agree with me. I was very good at it, and I don’t want to do that anymore.
- Slander [blasphemia]. To speak lies about someone. Libel is its written form. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – speaking lies about Him, or speaking about Him in a defamatory manner…Yeah, let’s not go there.
- Abusive speech [aischrologia, abusive speech]. This isn’t just about curse words, although it includes them. This includes intention, not just vocabulary. Insults directed toward someone also count as abusive. If we are hurling abusive and aggressive challenges to each other’s theology, I believe that fits into this category too. Whatever happened to “instructing with patience those who are in error,” like Paul told Timothy? Anyway…
9: Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,
- Paul literally says “Stop lying to one another.” Why? Ostensibly because you are to have laid aside the old practices that we have been considering. Literally, Paul is saying that we must lay aside the “old man [anthropos],” that is, our old selfish nature, with all of its evil practices. Hudson Taylor, considered to be the father of modern mission work learned this spiritual secret – he called it the “exchanged life.” Paul talks widely about this in other places as well as this verse. Galatians 2:20 perfectly sums up this concept: “For I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. This is the very first part of learning to walk with the Lord – laying aside that old nature. As it turns out, you can order Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret from Amazon.
- I believe it is chapter 5 or 6 where he talks about this concept of the exchanged life. Romans 6 is a treatise by Paul on the subject. Those circle diagrams I draw to explain them are just visual aids, and there is a lot of information that can be conveyed on one of those diagrams. Maybe I should go through them for everyone sometime. It’s a whole course in itself. I need to think about how best to display this all for everyone. For now, we’ll move on.
10: and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—
- See? Here is the other side of that exchange – we put on the new man, the new mindset, the new worldview according to the truth as it is in Jesus. That new self is being “renovated,” according to the margin in the NAS, to a true knowledge [epignosis, recognition, full discernment, precise and correct knowledge] (as we have seen before in Colossians) according to the image [eikon, literally statue, representation] of the One who created him…
- Paul is telling us that since our death, burial, and subsequent resurrection with Jesus Christ, we are being “renovated” or remade into Christ’s image! He already told the Colossians that Christ was the individual that created all things. And now, those who believe that He has paid the penalty for their own wrongs are being made into His image? Uh…pause and calmly think on that! If you can! Friends, that’s amazing! And Paul is about to describe this image of the new nature!
11: a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
- Notice here, Paul says there is no distinction between Greek and Jew – no nationalistic or intellectual differences. Circumcised and uncircumcised – no legalistic religious differences. Barbarian and Scythian – no differences of RACE! Slave and free – no economic differences! Why? Christ is all! And He is in all! I don’t say this to be critical, but Paul told us in Ephesians that he broke down the wall between the Jewish and Gentile worlds and made one new man out of them. How is it that we try to reintroduce these things into our gatherings? Isn’t it better to have many nationalities inside one congregation? Why should this make anyone afraid? Christ is in it!
12: So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
- Gee, it’s almost like Paul understands that if you are trying to change your behaviour, you have to replace old responses with new ones. He points out that those who have been chosen by God have a new set of behaviours. I’m not going to debate the five points of Calvinism here, and try to tell you about God’s “elect” that He chose from before time began. (Ephesians 1 sums that up nicely if you wonder what that’s all about.) It isn’t Paul’s point.
- Paul is telling God’s people that first, they are holy [hagion] and beloved [agapao, it is a love from God, it is self-sacrificing and self-giving]. You know, I talked earlier about being hopelessly broken. One of the reasons for that is because I really believed nobody loved me. My Dad didn’t. My mom might have, but who could tell with all the screaming? My ex-girlfriend sure didn’t, and made it very plain. Well, God DOES love you. However, he doesn’t love what you perhaps used to do, so Paul continues with a list of behaviours that it’s worth unpacking.
- Compassion [oiktirmos, pity, mercy] This is a heart that understands that everyone is hopelessly broken and at the edge. It takes pity on, and has mercy on such a one, and dare I say, talks about the solution Christ has for them with them?
- Kindness [chrestotes, goodness, excellence, uprightness]. It does something because it is the right thing to do.
- Humility [tapeinophrosune, lowliness of mind]. This is the heart that puts the needs and interests of others ahead of its own in priority. And more, it is a willing thing. It is happy to do so.
- Gentleness [prautes, meekness]. This is not the knuckle-under kind of weak that has come to be associated with the word meekness but is better suited to the word milquetoast. Prautes is power under control. It is the one who realizes that just because they have the ability to respond in devastating fashion, does not mean that they have to responds like that, because they have the ability to choose to moderate themselves. It chooses diplomacy over violence any day of the week.
- Patience [makrothumia, forbearance, fortitude, longsuffering.] There is always a quality of suffering with this word, whether it means “putting up with the way things are” or being calm in the face of formidable opposition. It is slow to avenge itself.
13: bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
- Now after reading that description of the behaviour of that new nature in Christ, I have to ask myself how I measure up. If I’m being honest, and I know what goes on in my head where even my wife doesn’t always, I don’t measure up very well at all. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief…
14: Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
- Love [agape]. Divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. That Love. It is, according to the literal rendering in the margin of the NAS, the “unifying bond of perfection.” The reference here is not to church unity so much as the thing that holds it all together – love. We give ourselves away in this spirit of love. We sacrifice our own will for the good or benefit of others. God is THIS love. He showed it in Jesus. And that love keeps us all together. That’s unity. That’s perfection. Not what the world defines as unity, meaning no one can tell you your beliefs are incorrect. But this love speaks up to benefit others – and shares Christ, who is God, who is Love, who is mighty to save.
15: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
- You know what you get when you get a bunch of people that want to give to others, and want to put the welfare of others first? You get a loving community, and that’s what Christ has called us into. It says we were called in one body. That body has a name we all know. If you are a real Christian, you cannot “go to church.” You are a part of the church. And for that, and this community of life and light in the midst of this larger community of death and darkness, among other things, we should be thankful.
16: Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
- To gain that, and because of that, we need to let the word of Christ dwell in us. We need to read it. We need to ponder it. Meditate on it. Digest it. Pray over it. Let is live in us – richly. How?
- In all wisdom [margin] teaching and admonishing one another, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs… you know, a spiritual song is one that can turn you to Christ. Listen very carefully to the words of “Desperado” by the Eagles. It sounds like an altar call. “Desperado – why don’t you come to your senses? // You’ve been out ridin’ fences for so long now… // Oh, you’re a hard one – I know that you got your reasons… // But these things that are pleasin’ you will hurt you somehow. Chorus: Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy, she’ll beat you if she’s able. // You know, the Queen of hearts [I would say the King of hearts] is always your best bet. // Now it seems to me some fine things have been laid upon your table – but you only want the ones that you can’t get… Oh, that sounds like a bit of a gospel message to me…and I’m only halfway through the song. The final lines say, “You better let Somebody [capital S] love you – before it’s too late.” Spiritual song. I wonder if Don Henley and Glen Frey ever thought about that. Moving on…
17: Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
- To bring us back to our main point, Paul is talking about our conduct. Whatever it is that you are doing, do it in Jesus’ name. If you’re cleaning out your van, then clean it out to the best of your ability in Jesus’ name. If you’re crocheting winter clothing for the homeless, do it in Jesus’ name. If you’re playing your guitar – do it in Jesus’ name.
- And while you do whatever it is you are doing, and doing it in Jesus’ name, make sure you give thanks through Him to God the Father. Please note, I think this is important, You should always pray to God the Father, you should always do it through Jesus or in His name, and you should always do so in the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit. I won’t unpack that here, but maybe we could look at that sometime. Maybe in Discipleship 101 in the section on prayer? [grin]
18: Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
- This is almost concept for concept right out of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Wives are to be subject to their Husbands. This DOES NOT MEAN that a woman has to take any guff from the guy! Ideally, you should be pulling together. That’s all this is saying – let the guy lead. There are reasons, Paul doesn’t get into them here, so I won’t either. This is what the text says. But hang on, there’s more coming.
19: Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
- In light of the previous verse, this one is CRITICAL. Husbands, you are to LOVE [agapeo] your wives! Paul doesn’t go into this here a lot, but I pretty much have to. In Ephesians 5, Paul talks about how the husband is to love his wife LIKE CHRIST LOVES THE CHURCH, in other words, He gave up His life for the Church. Husband, you must do likewise. God have mercy on you if you won’t.
- …and do not be embittered against them. I may shock my wife here, and I’m sorry if I do that, Love. I used to be a little bitter when we were first married about how I now had to think about, care for, and provide for more than just me. If I wanted that nice [inset name of item here], I had to talk with my wife about it, and I had to make sure there was enough money to buy diapers and formula for the kids. Don’t get bitter, husband. In reality, whether you knew or intended this (and I did) or not, this is what you signed up for. Do it in Jesus’ name, from verse 17.
20: Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.
- Paul even spoke directly to the children. (Remember, this letter was being read aloud to the assembled congregation. The kids were included. I know this isn’t what Paul intended to write about, but there is a small window into early church life here. The kids were in the meeting with their parents, not down in the church basement and learning how to stand little felt Jesus on his head so the sheep could bite his nose. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but the kids should be in at least part of the service. You know, when Israel appeared before God, they appeared by FAMILIES.)
- Paul instructs the children to be obedient to their parents. Then He says that this is well-pleasing to the Lord! Wow, that’s right out of Exodus 20:12. ““Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Paul says in the equivalent passage in Ephesians, that this is the first commandment with a promise! And it was made to the kids! My whole line of thinking here is that our children are not little creatures to be shoved into the corner because the adults are busy. There may be a time where they don’t believe – but it is our job to help them believe as much as possible.
21: Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
- Here’s one for the all the dads in the audience. The word for exasperate in Greek is erethizo, meaning to stir to anger. Try to avoid making your kids angry for no reason. They’re going to be angry sometimes, because you’ve had to discipline them, but make sure you tell them that you love them, and don’t EVER discipline them in anger. You’re the adult. Act like it. We’ve been describing it earlier in this chapter.
22: Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.
- Paul talked about this in Ephesians as well. For those who work for an earthly employer – do what they tell you, unless they’re telling you to break the law. And do it joyfully, knowing that you give an answer to your heavenly Father for it. However, don’t be a yes man. Use your brain a bit. If they are telling you to do something that clearly breaks the law, hurts another person (even a competitor), or even just feels wrong, then ask your boss to clarify what they mean. If they are doing something bad, you will know from their answer. And if it is something bad, fear the Lord and not men. And tell them no.
- WARNING! This may cost you your job. It has cost me one once. One of the local papers wanted me to sell advertising to call girls. I told them I couldn’t sell ads for pornography or prostitution. Needless to say, I didn’t have a job after that conversation. But you know what? I probably didn’t need it anyway. Not at the price of my soul. How could I sell advertisements that promote things that I KNOW will destroy lives? Not yes men.
23: Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,
- Do whatever you do from the soul, the margin says. This means you should engage all of your personality, emotion, talents, etc., in doing the best job you can. Why? Well, you really aren’t doing it for your boss or your paycheck, are you? No, you’re doing it for the Lord.
24: knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
- Paul is explaining why here. We do things from the Lord because it is from the Lord we have our reward. According to this verse, it consists of the inheritance [kleronomia, inheritance]. What is that inheritance? Well, according to the Olive Tree Bible Dictionary article, it is what is given one as a possession: The eternal blessedness of the consummated kingdom of God, which is to be expected after the visible return of Christ, or the share which an individual will have in that eternal blessedness. Somehow I think this is more than sitting on a cloud playing a harp, don’t you?
- It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. This is to remind us that HE is our master, not the guys that sign our paychecks. Interestingly, the title given here is somewhat unique in that it appears without the name of Jesus. I think this is saying (among other things) that we are not serving a human master. I also think that this places emphasis on the Divine aspect of God the Son. We serve God. Don’t forget that, in other words.
25: For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
- Many would give a gospel emphasis here, but I’m not so sure. Who was the letter of Colossians actually written to? It was the believers at Colossae, was it not? I believe that Paul is warning fellow believers that it is still possible for them to do wrong, that this must be guarded against, and for those that fail in keeping the faith, there are divine consequences, and that God does not play favourites. Peter says in his first letter (1 Pet. 4:17) that judgement begins at the house of God. That’s the Church. Think about that for a second. I don’t know about you, but when I see the state of what I will call “churchianity” masquerading around as the true church, I become VERY afraid of those consequences Paul is speaking of in verse 25.
- There is a thought that the 7 letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 are (among other things) a kind of future history about different church ages. I am not certain how true that is, but if there is even any symbolic truth to it at all, we are doubtless living in Laodicea (which I might add was very near Colossae!). Where is Christ in relation to the Laodicean church? Kind where I see Him today – outside the building, knocking on the door. Wake up, Church. Answer the door.
We’ll close the chapter with that.