Colossians 3:1–17comment (0)
May 12, 2011
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Colossians 3:1–17
Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
In the last two chapters, Paul spelled out the gospel’s practical implications.
Principle of the Christian Life (1–4)
Not only had the Colossian Christians “died with Christ” (Col. 2:20), but they also had “risen with Him.” If “death and resurrection with Christ” are facts of life for a believer — and they are — then they are THE facts of life.
The safeguard against seeking things below, i.e., earthly things, is to seek things above, i.e., heavenly things. To “set the mind” on things above does not mean a Christian should become so heavenly minded that he or she is of no earthly good. Rather it means a Christian will no longer live as if this world was all that mattered but will see this world in the light of and against the backdrop of the world to come, i.e., eternity, and live accordingly. To make material wealth, earthly power, human pleasure and so on the goals of life and the stuff that occupies the mind is unworthy of a person “in Christ” who has died with Him, risen with Him, is hidden with Him in God and will be gloriously revealed with Him.
Practice of the Christian Life (5–17)
How is this principle lived out? The passage’s main message centers on two appeals: Abandon the old life’s vices and cultivate the new life’s virtues.
The thoughts in the passage hang on three commands.
“Put to death,” the “members which are upon the earth.” These “members” Paul defined with a list of sins. It is not the physical body that must be slain but the passions and evil desires that make use of the body for sin. “Fornication” is a broad term for sexual immorality of any and every kind, including adultery, homosexual activity and sex with animals. “Uncleanness” here refers to sexual impurity, even “dirty-mindedness.” “Passion” means uncontrolled desire of all kinds, even so-called “good” things; “evil desire” is similar but specifically indicates strong desire for wrong things. “Covetousness” is just the desire to have more, a greed that puts lust for material things in God’s place. These things bring a person under God’s judgment. Also they mark a part of life that, for a Christian, should be done with.
“Put away” sins of attitude and speech. If there is a difference in the first two terms, then “anger” is the settled feeling of anger, while “rage” is a sudden outburst of anger. “Malice” is ill will, a hateful disposition. The fourth term in the list means “slander.” “Shameful speaking” may be either filthy or abusive speech or both. “Do not lie.” In the original language, this verb form forbids an action in progress, i.e., “Stop lying!”
The Christian has “taken off” (like dirty, worn-out garments) the “old man,” i.e., inappropriate behavior, and “put on” (like fresh, clean clothes) the “new man,” i.e., behavior consistent with knowing Christ and becoming like Him. In the realm of the new man, distinctions of race, class and culture no longer matter.
Paul based his appeal on a threefold fact: The Colossian believers were “chosen” of God, “set apart” by and for Him and “loved” by Him.
“Put on” “a heart of compassion,” i.e., pity and tenderness for the miserable. “Lowliness” and “meekness” are humility and gentle submissiveness. These were not considered virtues in the ancient world — nor in the present world outside Christian circles. “Longsuffering” means patience or restraint. “Forbearing” involves putting up with things one dislikes in others; “forgiving” carries the idea of freely and eagerly giving up the right to get even with an offender and getting rid of the bad feelings the offense provoked. Like a belt over these new clothes, believers must put on “love” (agape).
“Let the peace of Christ rule” probably means something like “let a peace-loving Christian temperament govern actions and words.” The Christian message must be so deeply implanted in a Christian’s consciousness that it controls all thinking. In all of life’s relationships, a Christian must act “in the name of Jesus,” i.e., with an awareness that he or she represents Christ.