Colossians 3

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set [to (continually) seek out with a desire to possess] your hearts [the center of one’s being; cf. Matt. 6:20-21] on things above [refers to heavenly things; make Christ’s interests our own; reflect Christ’s values in daily living], where Christ is seated at the right hand of God [cf. Ps. 110:1; Lk. 22:69].

Paul explained to the Colossians that prior to coming to Christ they had resided in the “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13). Satan is the ruler of this domain (1 Jn. 5:19) and those who reside there live under his influence. God however, had rescued them from the tyrannical power of darkness and transferred them to “the kingdom of the Son He loves.” Christ is the ruler of this kingdom and those who reside there are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:16) who live under His influence and authority. Our lives as new creatures are to be characterized by new ways of thinking, behaving, and relating.

3:2 [believers are to live their earthly lives as citizens of heaven] Set your minds [concentrate or focus on] on things [cf. Phil. 4:8] above [heavenly ideals and priorities], not [one reason is because thoughts influence actions] on earthly [transitory] things.

As believers, we are to focus our minds on Christ because what we think about influences how we behave and how we relate to others. Because we have been raised with the Messiah, we are to constantly seek what is above. As new creatures we are under no obligation to obey or even listen to our old master. However, we are obligated to seek continuously the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

To seek what is above means to make Christ’s interests our own and to live lives that reflect His values. We must and should want to think about Jesus daily and live in a way that reflects we are His followers. The professing Christian who consistently never thinks about or ignores Jesus in the course of a day may need to go back and examine his or her relationship with Him.

If our behavior is to reflect Christ’s values and priorities, then we must intentionally focus or set our minds on what is above. We must not allow earthly or transitory things to shape our behavior or shift our focus away from Christ. Instead, we must choose daily to focus our minds on Christ. One practical way to do this is by memorizing and meditating on God’s Word and praying those passages throughout the day.

Like the Psalmist, we should continually long for God’s Word (see Ps. 119:20). Prayer is another practical way we can focus on what is above. Together, meditation on Scripture and prayer can help us to daily focus on God.

3:3 For you died [when they placed their faith in Christ for salvation; they had died to personal desires and ambitions (cf. Rom. 6:2)], and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Paul explained that those who have placed their faith in Christ for salvation have died. When we placed our faith in Christ for salvation, we died “to the elemental forces of this world” (Col. 2:20) or to those powers and authorities that work against Christ. We have also died to sin and the old life. Old things have passed away (2 Cor. 5:16).

As followers of Jesus, we should have as little desire for the things of this world as a dead person would have. As we grow in our faith we should have a decreasing desire for “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Our spiritual lives are safely hidden with the Messiah in God. Therefore, believers should live every day in anticipation of Christ’s return when the riches of their lives in Christ will be revealed.

3:4 When Christ, who is your life, appears [cf. 1 Thess. 4:16-17], then you also will appear with him in glory [cf. 1 Jn. 3:2].

3:5 [cf. Rom. 6:1-11] Put to death [dead things are unresponsive], therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly [sinful] nature [the old self]: sexual immorality [Gr. “porneia”; our term “pornography” is derived from this Greek word; illicit sexual activity before and outside of marriage; indirect participation in immoral behavior by viewing it as a spectator; cf. 1 Cor. 6:18], impurity [Gr. “akatharsia” refers to moral uncleanness], lust [Gr. “pathos” refers to evil sexual passion], evil desires [Gr. “epithumia” refers to a desire to possess something evil in order to satisfy one’s desires (cf. Gal. 5:16)] and greed [Gr. “pleonexia” refers to the desire to get more of everything for oneself], which is idolatry.

The Colossians lived in a culture steeped in sexual sins and greed. Like our own culture, the people of Paul’s day were involved in sexual relationships before and outside of marriage. They were enslaved to lust and driven by evil desire. Their lives were marked by greed or the desire to possess more of everything, which amounts to idolatry.

Paul challenged the Colossian believers to think and act differently than their culture. We too, must think and act differently and consider ourselves dead and unresponsive to the temptation to live like the surrounding culture. Our lives should reflect that we have new ways of thinking.

3:6 Because of these, the wrath [God’s holy response to people’s disobedience and the kinds of behaviors listed in the previous verse] of God is coming.

New ways of thinking should result in new ways of behaving. Paul listed attitudes and behaviors that are not consistent with new life in Christ and which Christians must remove from their lives. He also mentioned a good reason for behaving in new ways or for avoiding the sins listed in the previous verse and the verses to follow. These sins provoke God’s wrath, which is His holy reaction to our disobedience. God’s final wrath against sin will be revealed in the future—at judgment day.

Although our culture tells us otherwise, God takes sin seriously. Therefore, we too should take sin seriously and understand that we cannot sin with impunity. When we sin, we will experience the consequences of our sin (Col. 3:25).

3:7 You used [prior to becoming Christians] to walk [they once habitually took part in] in these ways [destructive sensual sins listed in v. 5], in the life you once lived.

Paul mentioned another reason for avoiding the destructive sins of verse 5. These sins reflected the kind of behavior consistent with the lifestyle of those who reside in the domain of darkness. Prior to placing their faith in Christ for salvation, the Colossians had once walked in these things or behaved in these ways. However, as new creatures and citizens of God’s kingdom, they were to live by a higher standard. As believers we must understand that the world is watching. We must be careful that our behavior does not send mixed messages to others or causes them to stumble.

3:8 But now [because of their new life in Christ] you must rid [filthy, offensive garments must be removed before new garments can be put on; this is a key step in dressing for spiritual success] yourselves of all [do not leave any remnants] such things as these: anger [Gr. “orge” refers to smoldering ill will toward another], rage [Gr. “thumos” refers to sudden outburst of anger], malice [Gr. “kakia” refers to a vicious disposition that harms others and delights in the troubles of others], slander [Gr. “blasphemia” refers to evil and abusive speech; branding others with an evil reputation through the use of lies, rumors, gossip], and filthy [obscene and shameful] language [Gr. “aisxrologia” means “filthy language” and refers to crude and abrasive expletives that contaminate both the speakers and the hearers] from your lips.

Like the Colossians, we too must put away or remove the filthy garments we wore prior to our conversion and put on the garment of our new life in Christ. We need to make a deliberate, daily decision to remove anything that supports or feeds worldly thinking and desires. The behavior that characterized our lives in the domain of darkness is no longer acceptable.

New creatures must dress in new clothes. We must strip off the rags of abusive speech and outbursts of anger. Malice, the desire to harm or to delight in others’ troubles, has no place in our wardrobe. Slander and filthy language are not in fashion and do not fit well. These behaviors do not reflect the values of Christ.

3:9 Do not [a command to stop an action already taking place] lie [telling an untruth; deceiving others through a half-truth (which is a whole lie); exaggerating facts; people can lie with words and with conduct; lying to others destroys trust and unity; cf. Jn. 8:44] to each other, since you have taken off your old self [or old nature; the old life before Christ] with its practices

Paul also exhorted the Colossians to stop lying to one another. How sad that Christians have to be told to speak the truth. Satan, the ruler of the domain of darkness, “is a liar and the father of liars” (John 8:44). Lying is more than telling something that is not true. We can also deceive others through half-truths (which are really whole lies) and by exaggerating facts. We can lie with our words and with our conduct.

Practices like lying are not consistent with what Christ expects of those who follow Him. Those who have placed their faith in Christ for salvation have put on the new man and must behave in new ways. As believers, we “have died” (Col. 3:3) to sin in Christ. However, we must “put to death” sin in our lives. The standing we have in Christ must be transformed into actual life.

3:10 and have put on the new self [or new nature from Christ], which is being renewed [indicates an action that is constant and habitual] in knowledge [personal knowledge of Christ] in the image of its Creator.

3:11 Here [in Christ; in the church; Christianity destroys barriers to relationships and brings the most unlikely people together] there is no [national distinctions…] Greek or Jew, [religious distinctions…] circumcised or uncircumcised, [cultural distinctions…] barbarian [non-Greek speaking people], Scythian [a name synonymous with savage cruelty, was lower than a barbarian to the Greeks], [economic or social distinctions…] slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

God is committed to conforming believers into the image of His Son (see Rom. 8:29 and Phil. 1:6). Those who are becoming more like Jesus behave in new ways. Paul’s world was characterized by behavior that created barriers to relationships.

The Greeks looked down on the barbarians, those who did not speak Greek. The Scythian, a name synonymous with savage cruelty, was lower than a barbarian to the Greeks. The Jew looked down on anyone who was not a Jew. The freeman looked down on the slave, who had no rights.

Christianity destroys barriers to relationships and brings the most unlikely people together. Only in Christ can a barbarian be called a brother!

3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion [to have a merciful spirit; cf. Matt. 9:36; to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of others], kindness [goodness of heart that seeks the best for others; takes the initiative in responding to others’ needs], humility [to have a proper estimate of one’s self (neither prideful nor self-depreciating)], gentleness [submission to God and His Word] and patience [the ability to suffer long and withstand unpleasant circumstances and people without seeking to retaliate].

Paul described new creatures in Christ as God’s chosen ones — those who are holy or set apart and loved by God. Those who belong to God and live under the rule of His Son have new ways of relating to others.

In the previous verses, Paul had instructed the Colossians to strip off the filthy garments they had worn prior to their salvation. Those sinful behaviors created barriers to relationships. Here, Paul instructed the Colossians to put on a new wardrobe of virtues tailored by God Himself and consistent with new life in Christ. Each article of clothing would help the Colossians — and will help us — to relate to others in a Christ-like way.

3:13 Bear with [means putting up with those who are not easy to put up with] each other [to stand by another person even when they are wrong or we dislike something about them] and forgive [to extend grace to another; to put up with offensive people] whatever grievances [a just cause for complaint] you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you [cf. Matt. 6:14-15; Matt. 18:35].

Christian relationships are governed by the virtues Christ produces in us. We are to wrap ourselves in compassion, the garment worn by those sensitive to the needs of others. Kindness helps in dealing with others who wrong us. Humility is worn by those who regard others as more important than themselves. Gentleness is the attire of those whose strength is under control. Patience helps us deal with difficult people and circumstances.

We all know difficult people or those who are not easy to put up with. It might even surprise us to learn that others may find us difficult! At times it seems the easiest way to deal with difficult people is to avoid them entirely. However, we are to bear with one another or to accept others even when we dislike something about them.

Finally, we must always forgive one another. The failure to forgive others or to accept apologies is responsible for many ruined relationships. Forgiveness is one bridge we must never burn because sooner or later we too will need to cross that bridge. I am grateful that God has forgiven me. Because I am the fortunate recipient and beneficiary of God’s forgiveness, I have no right to withhold forgiveness from others. We must forgive others just as the Lord has forgiven us.

3:14 And over all these virtues put on love [the identifying mark of Christians], which binds [like a belt] them all together in perfect [mature] unity.

In a world that is unkind, we must demonstrate grace and extend kindness to others. Above all, we must put on love, the identifying mark of Christians. Love, like a belt, binds together all of the attire of new creatures. Love holds everything together — it is the perfect bond of unity.

3:15 Let the peace [should characterize both the corporate fellowship and personal lives of Christians] of Christ rule [like an umpire or referee] in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful [this is a command; a continual and habitual action].

3:16 Let the word of Christ [the gospel; the Bible] dwell [to reside permanently] in you richly as you teach and admonish [to reprove or to take corrective measures when someone is in the wrong] one another with all wisdom, and as you [note that music was used in the early church to instruct and encourage others to praise God…] sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

3:17 And whatever you do [cf. 1 Cor. 10:31], whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus [with a view to bringing honor and glory to Him], giving thanks to God the Father through him.

3:18 Wives, submit [does not mean becoming a doormat; does not mean that women are inferior to men; the kind of submission modeled by Christ and that reflects the essence of the gospel (cf. Phil. 2:5-8); voluntary submission] to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

3:19 Husbands [the spiritual head of the family], love [with the sacrificial, self-giving kind of love modeled by Christ (the kind of love that is concerned about the well-being and interests of others); requires putting aside personal interests] your wives and do not be harsh [or intimidating; as husbands of that day were accustomed to doing] with them.

3:20 Children, obey [listen attentively and respond positively] your parents in everything [the only exception is in the matter of doing anything that is clearly contrary to the teaching of Scripture], for this pleases the Lord.

3:21 Fathers, do not embitter [parents can embitter their children by: saying one thing and doing another; through inconsistent and unfair discipline; by showing favoritism; through humiliation, cruelty, and verbal or physical abuse] your children, or they will become discouraged [to lose heart or to become lethargic].

3:22 Slaves, obey [same word as in Col. 3:20] your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you [obey even when earthly masters are not watching] and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord [our relationship with Christ should raise our work ethic to a higher level].

3:23 Whatever you do [slaves performed a variety of tasks], work at it with all your heart, [note that Paul gave the work of slaves a new dignity…] as working for the Lord, not for men,

3:24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance [first century slaves not allowed to inherit earthly estates] from the Lord [the source of our ultimate inheritance] as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

3:25 Anyone [parent or child; master or slave] who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.

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