We have come to our fifth and final movement in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (3:1-4:18). Up to this point, the letter has been dense and deeply theological. However, at the beginning of the third chapter, the apostle pivots and the remainder of the letter is very practical in nature. In these last two chapters, Paul paints a picture for the Colossians of what it looks like to live as new creations in their everyday lives.
We are going to look at this part of the letter in three sections:
1. The resurrection life (3:1-17).
2. Instructions for Christian households (3:18-4:1).
3. Paul’s final instructions (4:2-6) and closing greetings (4:7-18).
Overview of Verses 1-11
In this passage, Paul instructs the Colossian church to live into their identity as those who participate in the resurrection life of Christ (3:1-4) and urges them to leave behind their old ways of thinking and living and instead live as their new selves, who are being continually renewed to become more like their creator (3:5-11).
Break it Down: Verse-by-Verse (ESV)
v1-2: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Paul challenges the Colossians to live according to their new identity as those who have been raised with Christ. Those of us who are in Christ participate with him in his glorious resurrection life and are empowered to live in new ways that we were not capable of before.
The first thing that Paul addresses is their desires and their thought-lives, for we are shaped by what we seek and molded by the focus of our minds. As we fix our eyes on Jesus 1 and on the glory that will be revealed to us in the Age to come, we find our minds being renewed by God,2 and the cares of this world fade into obscurity. We must choose to no longer put ultimate value in our earthly comforts and instead seek the things of his kingdom.3 Through the power of the Holy Spirit, those of us in Christ now have access to his mind.4 We can think God’s thoughts after him; we can see things from his perspective. As Paul tells the church in Rome: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” 5
v3-4: “For you have died, and your life is with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.”
The apostle wants the Colossians to focus on things above rather than earthly things because they have already been crucified to the world 6 and are awaiting their glorious life of resurrected bliss, which will be theirs when Christ returns and transforms their bodies to be like his glorious post-resurrection body.7
Setting our minds and deepest desires on the glories of the Age to come not only gives us hope for the future but also enables us to live as resurrection people right now. In the verses that follow, St. Paul is going to give very practical examples to the Colossians that show them what it looks like to die to their old sinful natures (3:5-11) and live as people of the resurrection (3:12-17).
v5-7: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.”
This first list of vices focuses on sexual sin. Paul uses very strong language, urging the Colossians to put to death the things of their old nature.
Jesus taught that the two central commands of the Hebrew Scriptures are to love God with your entire being and to love your neighbor as yourself.8 The problem with sexual sin (and all other sin) is not that it breaks arbitrary rules but that it is a result of not loving God and others wholeheartedly; of attempting to turn good things into ultimate things and seating them upon the thrones of our hearts, where God alone should dwell; of not properly valuing others as God’s image-bearing human beings, but as objects that exist for our pleasure.
In his most famous sermon, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”9 This is the heart-posture Paul wants the Colossians to cultivate and that Jesus expects of each of his disciples.
v8: “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
In this second list of vices, Paul addresses sins that come from an angry and enraged heart. In the same sermon mentioned above, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”10 Again, sins of rage are the result of not loving God and others as we ought to. God is the judge, not us. As Paul tells the Christians in Rome: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”11
v9-10: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
The Greek words translated here as having put off and have put on are words used to describe a person changing their clothes.12 13 The word-picture is clear: Those of us in Christ are called to discard our old earthly nature as if it were outworn, dirty clothes and instead clothe ourselves in our new nature, which as we grow in our knowledge of God, is continually being transformed to look more like Jesus.
This is why we should always tell the truth, for we represent One who never lies 14 and is the embodiment of truth itself.15 We lie so that we can manage others’ perceptions of us.16 But as those who cling to the mercies of God, there is no need to be scared of the truth, for we know that knowledge of the truth is what sets us free.17
v11: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
This idea was shocking in the first century and is still a challenge to us in the twenty-first century: in God’s new creation, the ethnic and cultural barriers that divide humanity have no place. Indeed, this is the promise of the entire biblical story. God promised Abraham that through one of his descendants, all nations would be blessed.18 This promise is the hope of prophet and psalmist alike 19 and is finally fulfilled by Abraham’s descendant, Jesus, who now calls his Church to make disciples of all nations 20 and to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.21 And in the closing book of Scripture, a picture is painted for us of the new creation: “…there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”22
~Father, we want our lives to be a demonstration of the power of the resurrection. Please help us as we abandon everything that keeps us from wholeheartedly loving you and our neighbors; we want to live as new creations. Break down any artificial barriers that separate your Church and help us stand united so that we can give the watching world a foretaste of the Age to come. Amen.
1. Are there any parts of my old self that I need to throw away?
2. What would it look like for me to live as a new creation in my present life circumstances?
This is the tenth part of our series on Colossians.
Previous: Shadow and Substance: Colossians 2:16-23
1. Hebrews 12:2
2. Ephesians 4:23
3. Matthew 6:33
4. 1 Corinthians 2:16
5. Romans 12:2a ESV
6. cf. Galatians 6:14
7. Philippians 3:21; cf. 1 John 3:2
8. Matthew 24:34-40; cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18
9. Matthew 5:27-28 NIV
10. Matthew 5:21-22 NIV; cf. 1 John 3:15
11. Romans 12:17-19 NIV; cf. Deuteronomy 32:35
12. Bible Hub – Greek Concordance: Strong’s Greek 554
13. Bible Hub – Greek Concordance: Strong’s Greek 1746
14. Numbers 23:19; cf. Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18
15. John 14:6; cf. Ephesians 4:21
16. Tim Mackie – Jesus, Truth, and Spin
17. John 8:32
18. Genesis 22:18
19. cf. Isaiah 49:6; Psalm 67
20. Matthew 28:18-20
20. Acts 1:8
22. Revelation 7:9a NIV
23. N.T. Wright – Colossians and Philemon: Tyndale New Testament Commentary
24. A.B. Simpson – Wholly Sanctified
25. BibleProject – Overview: Colossians
26. The Naked Bible Podcast – Colossians Series
27. St. John Chrysostom – Homilies on Colossians
28. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible – Colossians