In chapter 3 of Colossians, the apostle Paul takes up the subject of practical living for the believer in Jesus Christ. He then moves from doctrine to practice, that is, how we can apply these truths to our daily life. Following this, he outlines the Christian’s fundamental family relationships and he concludes this section by stressing the importance of these relationships in the family life by comparing them to our relationship with Christ.
Colossians 3:1-4: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."
Paul reminded them of their union with Christ. He also urged them to continue living in a manner in keeping with their position in Christ and to turn away from the false teachers.
Paul’s thought about the believer's union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection presents two imperatives that are the Christian's responsibilities: "seek" (verse 1) and "set your mind on" (verse 2). First of all, since God raised us with Christ and we are already as good as seated with Him in heaven, we should "keep seeking" heavenly things.
Second, we should continually "set" our minds on the things of heaven such as our spiritual blessings and hope, and on our Savior's desires, rather than on the things that are only physical and temporal. They should occupy a large place in our thought lives. We need not only to look forward to heaven but to also think about heaven. That way the Christian will see everything in the light of, and against the background of, eternity. We will no longer live as if this world were all that mattered; we will see this world against the background of the larger world of eternity. The Christian will see things, not as they appear to men, but as they appear to God.
The Christian will still have his feet on the earth, but his head will be in the heavens. If we are heavenly-minded here on earth, it will help to make earth more like heaven.
The difference between the two commands is that the first emphasizes the more practical pursuits of life whereas the second stresses the whole object of the life. The first is outward and the second inward.
Jesus Christ's present rule over the church from His Father's throne is not the same as His earthly rule on David's throne over David's kingdom, which will begin when He returns to earth.
Verse 3 states that the life of the believer is hidden in Christ, that is; the believer died with Christ in the past tense but continues to live with Christ in the present tense. Our eternal life is safer than a deposit locked in a bank vault and our life is one with Christ who is in the bosom of the Father. It is no longer a factor in our new way of life.
For the false teachers, their wisdom was hidden in their secret books, but for believers, Christ is the source of our wisdom and our life is hidden in Him.
Sometimes we say of someone that something like music, or sports, or his work is his life. We mean that he finds all that life means to him in one of those things. For the Christian, Christ is our life. Jesus Christ dominates our thoughts and fills our life.
In verse 4, "when" indicates the return of Christ in the future is certain, but its time is unknown by man. When He comes at the Rapture of the church, our lives will no longer be hidden in Him. The Rapture will be a glorious revelation of Him to us in our new glorified bodies. Now our eternal life is hidden (verse 3), but then it will be manifest.
In this letter to the Colossians, “When Christ who is our life appears” needed to be asserted repeatedly to warn those who were interested in the heavenly realm but who had false notions about it, believing it could be reached by legalistic observances, knowledge, visionary experiences and the like. But the emphasis on the "when" of the believer’s glorification still needed to be mentioned as it was in verse 4. “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
As believers in Jesus Christ, we don’t need to pursue another system that claims to provide more than we have in Christ. God has provided all we need for acceptance with Him and godly living in Christ. All we need to do is act on these truths, which Paul proceeded to help his readers do.
On the basis of their position in Christ, Paul advised his readers to separate from the practices of their former way of life. This would enable them to realize all that Jesus Christ could produce in and through them. Some of these main points are brought out in verses 5 through 9.
Verse 5: “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
In view of our actual position (verse 1) we should adopt a certain attitude toward our present experience. While we are on this present earth, try as we may, we will not reach the full potential of our position in Christ, but the progress we do make will help us to better understand our position in Him while we are still here. Despite the power of being identified with Christ in His death, there are still things that are a part of our old lives which tie us to the earth and hinder us from having our 'mind set on what is above.'
Verses 6-9: “Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7: in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. 8: But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9: Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds...,”
These activities normally characterize the unsaved, and behavior such as is listed here will bring God's wrath eventually. That is, God will discipline Christians as well as non-believers who practice these things so Christians are to lay them aside.
Self-centeredness and all private desires and ambitions must be regarded as dead. Everything which would keep the believer from fully obeying God and fully surrendering to Christ must be “put off.”
The "old man" is the person the Christian was before God united him with Christ. Verse 10: “and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,” 11: “ where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”
Verse 10 describes the process of individual sanctification. The "new man" describes the Christian in his union with Christ. It does not refer to the church, the body of Christ. Knowledge here is the full knowledge of God and His will. Sanctification results in increasing likeness to Christ and it is only by sanctification that people attain to the full image of Christ that God created them to bear. Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...:”
There is no national or racial distinction that determines one's acceptability to God nor is there any religious, cultural, or social distinction. Jesus Christ is all that we need for the new birth. He indwells every believer and is with us in all the relationships of life. "In all" means that Christ is everything. Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
At the time of this writing, a barbarian was one who didn’t speak Greek. Scythians originated from the Black Sea and Caspian Sea area and were thought of as the lowest type of barbarian.
As the “new man,” we live in a new environment where Christ is all that matters and He is in all who believe in Him.
He is everything in salvation; there is no place for any other mediator in God's redemptive plan. He is everything in sanctification; legality and worldliness are out of place in the Christian life. He is our life (Verses 3-4). Finally, He is everything necessary for human satisfaction; there is no need for philosophy or the accomplishments of the old man. He fills the whole life, and all else is a hindrance.
Verses 12-14: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13: 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. 14: But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”
This is a wonderful but difficult list of the things the believer can do. Without the Holy Spirit indwelling us we would be unable to accomplish much if any of them.
In order for the Colossians to have a complete understanding of their responsibilities as Christians, Paul urged them to forsake the behavior that is inappropriate in their union with Christ and to clothe themselves with attitudes and actions that are appropriate to that union.
The motive for putting off the old way and taking up the new way is spelled out in Romans 6:4: "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Paul even cited several motives that ought to encourage us to walk in newness of life. But first, he reminded the Colossians of who they were because an appreciation of who one is affects how he behaves. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering...;” (Verse 12)
God has set the believer apart for great things and has made them the object of His love. In view of this privilege, the characteristics listed here are only reasonable. They deal with a believer's treatment of others, with his estimate of himself, and how he reacts to his treatment by others.
“Tender mercies” can be translated “compassion.” The believer is to shows sensitivity to those suffering and in need. “Kindness” manifests itself in thoughtfulness when dealing with others who might be in need of encouragement in the form of a listening ear or a pat on the back. “Humility” is having a realistic view of ourselves. We should think lowly of ourselves because we are lowly. “Meekness” is not behaving arrogantly or self-assertively but with consideration for others. “Longsuffering” means having patience. I personally believe that lack of patience is the prime fault found in humanity today. As one example, be careful of what your bumper sticker says. As a Christian you may have to explain some embarrassing questions to a traffic policeman about believing what it says. Love means doing what is best for another person. I like the King James usage of the word “charity” where some read “love.” True charity is love in action.
All these features deal with the believer's personal relationships with others. The life of Christ should be visible in us especially in this area of life.
Verse 15: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
Paul made it plain that when Christians need to make choices, the peace that Christ produces in our heart should be a determining factor. We should choose what will result in peace between us and God, and between us and one another, as long as it lies within God's moral will. The witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit is the most important principal of guidance in the Christian life, and the unity of the body and the peace of Christ result in thankfulness as another mark of our behavior.
Verse 16: “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."
We are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, but this can only be by submitting to the demands of the Christian message and let it become so deeply implanted within us that it controls our thinking. Many saved people can’t honestly say that God's Word dwells in their hearts richly because they don’t take time to read, study, and memorize it.
I’m sure this applies to all the Scriptures and that "Psalms" was Paul’s way of referring to the Old Testament. The passage here in Colossians is parallel to Ephesians 5:18-20. In that passage the hymns and songs are the result of the filling of the Holy Spirit, while here they are the result of the understanding of the Word of God. In other words, the Word filled Christian is a Spirit-filled Christian.
Verse 17: “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.”
This verse covers a multitude of our thoughts and actions. It is the basic principle, as opposed to a set of specific rules, for the Christian. We should speak and act in harmony with and under His authority as His followers. And, we are to do all things with thanksgiving to God.
When faced with a question about what the Christian should do, Paul taught that we should simply ask ourselves what conduct would be appropriate for someone identified with Christ. "What would Jesus do?" This approach is not the approach you will find among those outside of Christ in the world today and it is a far cry from the Law that provided a specific command for every situation. This is the basic difference between the New Testament grace and the Old Testament Law.
Starting with verse 18, Paul takes up the subject of the relationship between members of a family.
Verse 18: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fit in the Lord.”
As we explore these Scriptures on the headship as God has ordained it, we’ll see that far more of the responsibility and obligations are aimed at the man than at the woman because of the position of authority entrusted to him by God.
Paul didn’t say all women should be subject to all men, only that wives should be subject to their own husbands. In no way are women inferior to men in the eyes of God. God has an established order in all things. In the case of the believer, Christ is the head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman. 1 Corinthians 11:3. “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
Paul's point was that a wife should always relate to her husband as her God appointed leader in all things. Ephesians 5:24. “Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” I take Paul's phrase "in everything" to mean "in every sphere of life" such as domestic life, church life, and in civil life.
The thought of this passage is really one of respect for the position and place of another, not in the realm of their inferiority or superiority. Submission is the attitude that recognizes the rights of authority. The thought here is that the wife should be willing to accept her husband’s authority.
God does not intend for a wife to yield to a husband who abuses her or orders her to do things contrary to God's will. She should maintain a submissive attitude toward him but she need not subject herself or her children to danger.
Verse 19: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be bitter toward them.” Husbands have two responsibilities toward their wives. First, they must love them rather than treating them as subjects. Loving here involves doing what is best for the loved one, such as giving up self-interests for those of the loved one and behaving unselfishly. This "love" is the "all give" type, not the "give and take" type, nor the "all take" type. Furthermore, husbands should not develop a bitter attitude toward their wives because of the their failure to submit, nor for any other reason.
Under both Jewish and Greek laws and customs, all the privileges belonged to the husband, and all the duties to the wife; but here in Christianity we have for the first time an ethic of mutual obligation.
Verse 20: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” Children are to obey both parents, to listen to and carry out parental instructions. Every Christian is responsible to the Lord first, of course. Consequently if the parent required the child to disobey God, the child should obey God rather than man.
The reason children should please their parents by obeying them is because this behavior pleases the Lord. This is brought out in the only commandment of the Ten that promises something in return for obeying it. Exodus 20:12: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land..;”
Verse 21: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
Children are to obey both parents, but, as head of the household, the father has the primary responsibility for his children’s behavior. That’s why Paul addressed the fathers here.
I think what is in mind here is a parent who sees his child as an extension of himself and requires unrealistic performance in something like sports or academics, probably feeling it reflects on him when his child exhibits above average performances. In a case like that, the child may see himself as an extension of his parent rather than as a separate individual and may develop a low esteem of himself and become discouraged.
Some provocation is necessary in disciplining, but irritation without a let up causes children to become discouraged, angry, and even hateful.
Verse 22: Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God...:"
In spiritual matters the slave and his master are equal brothers in Christ. Paul sent this letter to Colosse along with the letter to Philemon with Onesimus, Philemon's run-away slave. Onesimus had gotten saved and Paul trusted he would return to his rightful master and that he would deliver the letters safely and he did so. Paul considered it more important for a Christian to carry out his mission as a Christian, regardless of what social position he may find himself in, than it is to make changing or escaping those conditions his primary concern.
Verse 23: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24: knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. 25: But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.”
We are to do our work primarily for the Lord regardless of who our employer is. A Christian worker's attitude and performance should reflect his dedication to Christ. That way, even the most servile work becomes a ministry and an act of worship. In the working world, this means “Don't keep your eye on the clock. Keep your eye on Christ. He is the One you are serving.”
The Lord will reward such service with an inheritance. 1 Corinthians 4:5: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God."
Imagine a slave receiving recognition and praise from God! All believers will receive an inheritance simply because God chooses to bestow it on all who believe in His Son. Scripture sometimes describes these honors as “crowns.”
Believers who faithfully serve the Lord will receive many crowns and an even greater inheritance of praise and honor from Jesus Christ and God the Father. There can be no greater reward for the believer in Christ than to be recognized and rewarded by Christ Himself.