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Colossians 3:1-4 Biblical Commentary
The Apostle Paul and his coworker Timothy wrote this letter to the church at Colossae (v. 1), a small city in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Paul had not visited Colossae, but had received reports from Epaphras, the missionary who most likely founded the church there (1:7).
Paul speaks positively of the Colossian Christians’ faith, love, and hope (1:4-5) and acknowledges that the Good News is bearing fruit and growing in them (1:6). However, Epaphras has apparently brought Paul news of serious problems at Colossae—problems with false teachings that some scholars today have labeled “the Colossian Heresy.” Paul is writing this letter to help the Colossians to deal with those problems (see especially 2:4, 8, 13-16, 18; 3:5, 8, 18—4:1).
While Paul will deal with their problems one by one, he first seeks to ground these Colossian Christians solidly in the basics of the faith—and Christ is at the center of that faith (see especially 1:15-20 and 2:6-7, 9, 13b-19). If these Colossian Christians can better understand the nature and mission of Christ—who Christ was and is—and what Christ came to do for them—that understanding will give them a firm footing to deal with the problems with which Paul is concerned.
In chapter 2, Paul told the Colossian Christians that they had been buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him (2:12). They had been dead in their sins, but Christ “made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (2:13).
Now he spells out some of the implications for their lives. Since they have been raised with Christ:
• They need to seek the things that are above (vv. 1-3).
• They need to put to death their worldly behavior, such as sexual immorality and covetousness (v. 5).
• They need to put away such things as anger, wrath, malice, slander, and shameful speaking (v. 8).
• They need to speak truthfully to each other—truth rather than lies (v. 9).
• They need to remember that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek—neither circumcision nor uncircumcision—neither barbarian nor Scythian—neither bondservant nor freeman—for “Christ is all, and in all” (v. 11).
COLOSSIANS 3:1-2: SEEK THE THINGS THAT ARE ABOVE, WHERE CHRIST IS
1 If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth.
“If then you were raised together with Christ“ (v. 1a). In chapter 2, Paul told these Colossian Christians that they had been buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him from the dead (2:12). That verse parallels what Paul said in Romans 6:3-5, where he portrayed baptism as a burial and resurrection with Christ—the burial of the old before-Christ person and the resurrection of the after-Christ person to new life.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul spells this out in more detail:
“I have been crucified with Christ,
and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me.
That life which I now live in the flesh,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
“seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God“ (v. 1b). The word “seek” is present tense, which in the Greek indicates continuing action. In other words, Paul is telling these Christians to seek and to keep on seeking the things that are above. It is a lifetime quest.
As a consequence of their new life in Christ, these Christians need to lift their eyes from the mud at their feet to the stars above. They need to leave behind their concern with kosmos worldly things so that they might focus their concerns on “the things that are above.” Above, after all, is where Christ now lives and reigns—the same Christ with whom they were joined in baptism and resurrection. He is “seated on the right hand of God”—the place of greatest honor.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says that, because Christ Jesus was obedient even to death on a cross,
“God…has highly exalted him,
and gave to him the name which is above every name;
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
“Set your mind (phroneite) on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth“(v. 2). In verse 1, Paul called these Christians to “seek the things that are above.” Now he calls them to “set their minds on the things that are above.” The Greek word phroneite has to do with our understanding—attitudes—mindset.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul called them to take upon themselves the mind of Christ, who was equal with God, but didn’t consider that equality something to be grasped. Instead, Christ emptied himself, came to earth in human form, and was obedient to death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8). Therefore, God has highly exalted him.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul said:
“Don’t be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing,
and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
Many people think of “heart-religion” or an emotionally-based faith as superior to “head-religion” or faith with less emotional content. While passionate faith can be a good thing, the Bible speaks much more frequently of what we might call “head-religion” than it does of “heart-religion.” While “heart” is a literal translation of the Greek word kardia, the people of Biblical times thought of the heart as the center of the intellect and will rather than the emotions. The Bible calls us over and over again to believe—a head-based activity.
We should not wonder why the Bible places such an emphasis on the mind—the intellect—our beliefs. People tend to act based on their beliefs. If they believe things that aren’t true, they will act on those false beliefs and will suffer the consequences. If they have been well taught, so that they believe what is true, they will benefit immeasurably by their teaching—and by their true beliefs.
Furthermore, faith is rooted in believing, and faith is key to discipleship and salvation (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5, 11-16; 5:1-2; 9:30-32; 10:6; Galatians 2:16; 3:8ff; 5:5).
In this verse, Paul contrasts “the things that are above” with “the things that are on the earth.” While he doesn’t define either of those, his comments in verses 5-9 give us a good deal of insight into what he would categorize as “the things that are on the earth”—sexual immorality, uncleanness, and all the rest.
COLOSSIANS 3:3-4. YOU WILL ALSO BE REVEALED IN GLORY
3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory.
“For you died“ (v. 3a). Death is a serious transition. It brings everything to an end. In this case, these Colossian Christians have died to the old order. Their old selves no longer exist. But, for them, death has not been the end. They have been “raised together with Christ” (v. 1)—raised to a new life.
“and your life is hidden with Christ in God“ (v. 3b). There is a good deal of hiddenness or mystery associated with God. After all, God says,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways….
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
How could it be otherwise! How could we, the created ones, plumb the depths of the one who created us?
However, we have not been required to plumb the depths in order to know God. God has revealed himself through the law and prophets—through his long history with the people of Israel—through Jesus Christ (John 14:9; see also Matthew 16:17)—and through the work of the apostles (Ephesians 3:8-9).
Nevertheless, the things of God remain unknown, except to those who have chosen to believe. To those without faith, the divine secrets are as impenetrable as ever (1 Corinthians 2:7-8, 14-15; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
It is in that sense that the lives of these Colossian Christians are “hidden with Christ in God.” Having been born again through their baptism—their death and resurrection with Christ—they have become different in ways that unbelievers cannot understand. Like the divine secrets, these Christians are “hidden with Christ in God”—a double hiddenness.
“When Christ, our life, is revealed“ (v. 4a). The first thing to notice here is that Paul says that Christ is “our life.” In his letter to the Philippian church, he said, “For to me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). In his letter to the Galatian church, he said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me. That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Now he suggests that what is true for him is true for every Christian—that Christ is their life.
What are the practical implications of Christ being our life? For one thing, Christ makes us privy to eternal life, which involves the life we live here as well as the life we anticipate living in the hereafter. In his high priestly prayer just prior to his death, Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). Eternal life has as much to do with the quality of life as with its quantity—although both quality and quantity are involved. Eternal life begins in the here and now, and stretches beyond time.
This means that the Christ-centered life takes on a new character that is far more positive than the life we lived prior to knowing Christ. Like a navigator who possesses a compass that always points to true north, we can live with confidence that Christ is leading us aright. We might not be able to see around the next corner—and our lives will include hardships—but our goal and direction are certain. We live with the promise that “it is (our) Father’s good pleasure to give (us) the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
“is revealed“ (v. 4a). This revelation will take place at Christ’s Second Coming. At that time, everyone will see him for who he is—the Messiah (the Hebrew word)—the Christ (the Greek word)—the Son of God—the Savior of the world (2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 13). Then “at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth” (Philippians 2:10).
“then you will also be revealed with him in glory“ (v. 4b). When Christ is revealed in glory, he will share that day with his disciples—those who have believed in him and tried to follow his lead. We, too, will be revealed—revealed in glory, just as Christ was revealed in glory. John confirms this when he says, “We know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him” (1 John 3:2).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2013, Richard Niell Donovan