Colossians 3:1-17

Col 3:1-17

This week we encountered a major division in the structure of Colossians. The first two chapters covered doctrine. These last two chapters cover the practical application of that doctrine. The main idea of Colossians still holds throughout the last two chapters. That is the idea of Jesus’ preeminence and sufficiency in all things. As we hold on to this idea of His full and complete sufficiency we can apply this to our lives in practical ways. (Remember that while Colossians talk overall of Christ’s preeminence, I’m going to focus on the aspect of His sufficiency which is a part of His preeminence.)

As we read through the practical applications Paul commands in these last two chapters of Colossians it is critical to keep in mind Christ’s sufficiency. Think of having to keep these commands in these last two chapters on our own. How difficult would it be to do these things in our own power? I believe it would be impossible or at least impossible for the long term. But as Paul has pointed out throughout the first two chapters, Christ is sufficient in all! Not only that, but as we are raised up with Christ in newness of life, we also have Christ’s sufficiency within us. We do not have to rely solely on our own strength to submit to Christ’s commands.

Colossians 3:1–2:

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. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

This word “Therefore” is the fulcrum on which balances the first two chapters against the last two. Without the first two chapters we only have a bunch of commands we are required to carry out. Without the last two chapters we have only doctrine without any concrete applications that we are to follow. Both sides of this letter are necessary for our edification. Doctrine to understand Christ and His sufficiency in everything and application to put Christ’s sufficiency to work in our lives.

Ephesians, which we just studied, is organized in this same manner. The first half is doctrine and the last half is practical application. For a comparison of how Paul organized Ephesians in a way similar to Colossians see:

Notice that Paul is using another rhetorical literary device here in verse 1. Paul says, “if you have been raised up with Christ…”. This is very similar to what he said (rhetorically) back in Colossians 2:20:

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,…

Verse 1 could also be translated with a “since” as in “Therefore since you have been raised up with Christ…”. In fact this is closer to how the NIV translates this verse.

Since this section begins the practical application of what we studied in the first two chapters we should immediately see some commands or direction from Paul. Indeed we see something repeated in these first two verses…”seeking the things above”.

Let’s break this down further. What are we to do with the things above? Well, the verbs tell us. They are commands to continually seek and continually set our minds on (or meditate on) the things above. The Greek and English verbs here both indicate that this is a continuous and ongoing action.

But what are the things above? These two verses give us a general idea. The things above are found with Jesus. The same Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of God the Father, showing that Jesus is king, ruler, and has authority over all (sounds a lot like preeminence to me). But Paul contrasts this with the things below, earthly things, that are human inspired and are not the things above. More to the point of what these things are can be found at the end of Colossians 2:1–3:

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Christ is our sufficiency! All we need is Christ! There is nothing else! Keep seeking diligently Christ and continually meditate on Christ and His word. This is to be our mindset as believers. But we don’t have to do this alone, we have Christ in us, His sufficiency is ours.

For more details on seeking and meditation on the things above Re-read: (open the section entitled “Feb. 6 – Matt. Chapter 6” and read through it). This covers our previous study on Matthew 6:33 where we read:

33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Which meshes nicely with verses 3:1-2 here in Colossians.

Colossians 3:3–4:

3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

This sounds a lot like the baptism that Paul was just walking us through last week. We have died with Christ and to sin. Now we are raised (revealed) as a new creation, a child of God.

The word “For” that begins verse 3 reveals that verses 3-4 further explains verses 1-2 where we were commanded to set our minds on Christ. Why do we set our minds on Christ and why are we now enabled to set our minds on Christ? The answer is because we have died with Christ to sin and are now a new creation that is hidden with Christ. That is we are concealed, secretly hidden away with Christ. Therefore, from now on others will see not us, not our old selves, but Christ in us. Furthermore, when Christ returns at His second coming verse 4 states that we will be revealed as God’s own. In other words, what is now hidden in Christ will be revealed at His second coming.

Colossians 3:5–11:

5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 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— 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.

Since we are hidden in Christ and have all the sufficiency of Christ within us we are to put to death sin that is in ourselves. This sin, as Paul rightly states, amounts to idolatry against God. If we do not put to death sin then it becomes what we worship and desire. We should not put these evil things above our worship of and desire for God.

Remember back in 1 Samuel 15:7–9:

7 So Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as you go to Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 He captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

Here Saul spared king Agag and took the best of the animals from the Amelekites even though the Lord told Saul not to spare anyone or anything. Saul disobeyed as the spoils of war became his idol. An idol that Saul placed above the Lord’s own words. Because of this the Lord says in 1 Samuel 15:10–11:

10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.

The Lord regretted that He made Saul king and sent Samuel to chastise Saul. It was Samuel who killed Agag by hacking him to pieces. Something that Saul failed to do and was still not willing to do.

Additionally, remember back in 1 Samuel 28:4–7:

4 So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. 6 When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.”

where Saul consults the witch at Endor. This became Saul’s idolatry as well, and the final straw for the Lord. The Lord would cause not only the battle to be lost for Saul’s army, but also Saul would die in that same battle. Saul’s example should be a warning to us all to put to death all idolatry in us.

Since Colossians was written around the time of Ephesians we can see some similarities in Paul’s commands for us. Take, for instance, Ephesians 5:1–11:

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

For a deeper discussion of this see: where Ephesians 5:1-11 is discussed verse by verse.

Paul ends this section in verse 3:11 in Colossians with a plea for unity in the church. As we put on Christ and put off the old self we are all renewed in such a way that there is no distinction between all of us who are in Christ. That is not to say that there is no diversity among believers, but that all of our differences should be set aside and we should view each other with renewed eyes that see only Christ in us all. For He is our complete sufficiency…Christ is all and in all (remember that this letter was addressed to the believers at Colossae and, as such, the phrase “in all” is appropriate here).

For more discussion on putting on the new self and putting off the old self see:

Colossians 3:12–17:

12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 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. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and 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. 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.

This section begins with the word “So”, which is the same Greek word that is sometimes translated as “Therefore”. Some Bible translations do use “Therefore” instead of “So” in this verse. Either way, this word points us back to the previous section where Paul initially talked of putting off the old self and then in verse 10 begins to discuss putting on the new self. In this section Paul deals deeply with putting on the new self.

The comparison between this section (putting on the new self) and the previous section in verses 3:5-11 (taking off the old self) are drastic. We are to remove the old self with its immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. Replacing these with our new self, which consists of a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Not to mention love and forgiveness!

Verse 13 continues with how we are to act as we put on this new self. We are to bear or endure difficult situations with each other. Paul knew that the NT church with its diverse members would naturally disagree and argue about matters of salvation, holiness, and doctrine. Therefore, he added that in our compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience we are to endure in a likewise manner with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Of course, bearing with one another would naturally require forgiveness. Here Paul does not simply limit forgiveness to the human equivalent to “I’m sorry”. Rather, he points us to the ultimate forgiveness bestowed on us by Jesus Christ our Lord. Who forgave us even though we were the most wretched of sinners. This is the ultimate forgiveness; a self-sacrificial forgiveness that we need to mirror to others. If Jesus forgave that brother or sister that annoys you, argues with you, and makes it all around difficult to endure with, know that we are called to forgive them as Jesus would have forgiven them. Sometimes this will require a lot more of the humility that we are commanded to put on in verse 12.

In verse 14 Paul commands us to put on the last thing, which is love. This love is what unifies believers into a single body attached to the head, which is Christ. Next week we will read more about how Paul would have us express this love toward one another in very practical ways. (Spoiler alert: we studied this at length in Ephesians 5:19-69).

Finally, in verses 15-17 Paul writes something reminiscent of Ephesians 5:19-20:

19a ddressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

As we learn to let the peace of Christ and His word dwell within us, producing the fruit of righteousness we do so with unity, wisdom, singing praises, and thankfulness. This is what will come from the overflow of our hearts as we do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.