Colossians 3-4

The high Christology of Colossians 1-2 was written to fortify the church against those who propagated a ‘Christ-plus-x’ message.  Their aim was to rob the Colossians of their eternal inheritance—secured by none other than Christ Himself—by enslaving them to a syncretistic system of Judaism and Roman paganism.  In chs 3-4 Paul wrote that the blessing of an eternal inheritance in Christ is accompanied by demands for Christian behavior on earth.  That ‘task’ so naturally results from ‘gift’ is displayed in the first four verses of ch 3, which begins with the transitional sentence: “So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God” (v. 1).  Since the Colossians had died, and their lives were “hidden with the Messiah in God” (v. 3), their earthly relationships were to be marked by ethical norms that were of Christ, not paganism, Judaism, or their sinful past;

  1. Since the Colossians had put off the old man and put on the new, they needed to put to death any worldliness among them (3.5-17).  In light of all that Paul had written about the indicative state the Colossians enjoyed in Christ, he said: “Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry” (v. 5).  Beyond this, Paul said, “put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouths” (v. 8), since in conversion to Christ they had “put off the old man with his practices” (v. 9).  This “old man” was Paul’s term for describing the corporate ethical norms of their pre-Christian days—life in Adam (cf. Rom 5.12-14; Eph 4.22).  Since they had identified with Christ, “put on the new man” (v. 10; cf. Eph 4.23-24), they needed to set aside their carnal pride and selfishness—especially regarding social classes (v. 11)—and experience true community in the church.  This “new man” was to be displayed in the Christian virtues of “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 12).  Their forgiveness of one another was to resemble the forgiveness they had received in Him (v. 13), and love was to bind this diverse community of Greeks and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slaves and free together as one (vv. 11, 14).  Their mouths were not to speak selfishly, but songs of praise and thanksgiving for “the message about the Messiah” (v. 16)
  2. Household relationships likewise needed to conform to Christ (3.18-4.1).  Similar to Paul’s counsel to the Ephesians, he urged men, women, and children to live in a way that showed a ‘heavenward’ view of the home (3.18-21; cf. Eph 5.22-6.4).  Further though, Paul urged both slave and slave-owner to relate in light of Christ—and the eternal inheritance that awaited them (3.22-4.1)
  3. The Colossians needed to devote themselves to prayer for the advance of the gospel (4.2-6).  In the midst of teachers who were trying to enslave them to the ‘Christ-plus-x’ philosophy (cf. 2.8), Paul urged the church to devote themselves to prayer concerning both their situation (v. 2), and his imprisonment (v. 8).  Ultimately his concern was that the gospel would advance in both situations (vv. 4-5)

The final section of Colossians displays again Paul’s administrative and people skills—and bears resemblance to the closing paragraphs of Romans.  While at the time of writing to them, Paul had not personally been to either the Roman or Colossian congregations, he nonetheless greeted and commended several people by name (4.7-18; cf. Rom 16.3-16).  Noteworthy in Colossians is the fact that things had already been patched up between he and Mark (v. 10; cf. Acts 13.1-3), and that Colossians—although a situation-specific epistle—was meant to be passed on and read in Laodicea (v. 16).

The latter half of Colossians displays clearly that Christian ethics should be guided by identification with Christ.  Because of a relationship with Him, believers are given lists of what was acceptable and unacceptable (3.5-9, 12-14).  It is interesting that Paul nowhere in these chapters quotes from the Law of Moses, especially the book of Deuteronomy.  The reader must conclude that while the law was formative in Paul’s thinking, it was not a necessary source of ethical instruction for the congregations under Paul’s care.  They had been transferred into Christ (1.13); they had been circumcised with Him (2.11); they had been buried with Him (2.12); they had been raised with Him (3.1); their life was hidden with Him (3.3); it is altogether valid to expect that their daily behavior needed no other source of instruction.  As the blessings Paul described are distinctly of Christ, so also the commands he set out are of Christ.  In a coherent summary of Christian ethics Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (v. 17).  

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