Colossians 3

Devotional Thoughts from the Chapter

3:1-2

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

This is the second half. The first is 2:20-23 – how I ought to think and live as a result of my having died with Christ: dead to the stoicheia of the world, the foolish ways of legalism and rules. As a “dead” man, I must not submit to these.

But here the argument is from life, not death. I have been raised with Christ to a new life:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:6

Therefore I am to replace the earthly thoughts of my old man (crucified and dead) with the new thoughts befitting a new man. I am to set my heart (my affections, my longings, my desires) on “things above.”

This instruction can only mean the Scriptures, my only source of information about “things above,” the life to come, the inheritance, the fact of Christ’s intercession for me (Hebrews 7:25), and his seat at your right hand, O God.

Instill in me a deeper love for your word and your truth.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

2 Peter 1:3-4

May I take opportunity to read and review and memorize your great and precious promises, that I may escape the corruption of the world.


 

3:3-4

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

When Jesus died on the cross, 2000 years ago, I died with him. When he rose, I rose with him. My life is in his life. While I still drag around this “body of death” and all the habits of my old life, the owner of that old life is dead. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” – and I live in him.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

You, O Lord, in your sovereign wisdom, chose this as the way of redemption. You would not accept mere offerings of appeasement. You would not be honored by granting sinful man a reprieve or a pardon without a metamorphosis. You have taken my old self, the self-regarding, self-reliant, self-glorifying one whose own imagined brilliance was insufficient to save, and you have nailed that person to the Cross of Jesus. You have given me a new life, a resurrected life, which is “hidden” (kekryptai) with Christ in you. Hidden means protected, like an inner-courtyard garden, safe from the ravages of the outside world. Until you send Jesus to come for us (v.4, cf. 1 Peter 1:5 — “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed…”), my life is protected and nurtured, as the life of Christ, the life of the vine (John 15) becomes more and more manifest in me.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit;apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

John 15:1-6


3:5-8

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality,impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

 

While the “old man” has surely been put to death long ago, his habits remain as “muscle memory” or mental patterns, well-traveled avenues of thought that are easiest and most natural still. In fact, behind all habitual sin is a sense of laziness, that this mental pattern is not to be challenged or resisted: “This is what I want to do, and there is no way to change that!”

I too once walked in these ways. I too still do, in some. The lustful habits of an unsaved 15-year-old boy still feel like the “natural” thing for me. Thought patterns of desire and envy and covetousness still exist in me. My responsibility, by your grace, O Lord, is to put these things to death. Give me your wisdom to recognize when these habits are active, and give me the courage to put them to the sword at that time. Prune from me every branch that does not bear fruit; trim clean so that I may be more fruitful: more generous, more of a positive influence on others, more devoted to the mission of Christ in this world. Forgive my laziness, my acquiescence to an unacceptable status-quo in my thought life.


 

3:9-10

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Lying is an attribute of the old self. I always claim that I am not a “good liar.” I cannot sustain the tension of untruth for very long. And yet in some areas that is untrue – I enjoy false adulation or recognition or pity that results from a well-crafted, self-serving lie. My old self, in fact, love to lie. He loves to embellish and tweak stories to make himself the hero, the center of attention, the noble tragic combatant whose great thoughts go unrecognized by a cruel and shallow world.

But I have taken off that self, as a snake shedding its old skin. Those lies were comfortable; they felt good – but like the snake, there is growth inside. That skin has to go. In its place is a new skin, raw and sensitive, uncalloused by protective lies, closer to the real core of my being. I am being “renewed in knowledge in the image of [my] Creator.” Teach me how to shed the old skin, the skin that the world sees on me. the skin that is natural and comfortable and easy, the skin of lies, of self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, self-pity. Show me how to live honestly before you and before others, that I might walk in integrity and truth.


 

3:11

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised,barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

The barrier, the “dividing wall of hostility,” has been removed in Christ. You are all and in all. When I worship with a non-English-speaking Asian believer, we are demonstrating to the world that the fleshly distinctions* are made trivial in Christ, in whom we both live and who lives equally in both of us.

You transform everything and everyone into your likeness – even the dreaded Scythians! What groups do I fear the most, as the Levantine people feared the Scythians? Feminists? Strongly-opinionated militants of any sort? All those fears, those hostilities, those attitudes, are products of the flesh, the “old self.” Here, in this new place of peace and renewal and freshness and purity, the old animosities feel wrong, like bringing the wrong kind of food to a party, or the wrong tools to a worksite. I must drop them. I must acknowledge that I am present in a place of fellowship. Purge from me, O Lord, any vestiges of hostility or prejudice, and may I come to love and accept and treasure your people as I should.

* Modern sociology constantly divides and distinguishes people along conflict-ridden fault lines of race, class, and gender. These distinctions, according to the New Testament, are transcended and abolished in Christ:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26-28

Note the key points that Paul enumerates:

  • “Jew nor Gentile” – race
  • “slave nor free” – class
  • “male nor female” – gender

Christians are Christians – little Christs – without a prefix, an adjective, or (worst of all) the use of “Christian” as the adjective and another word (“socialist,” “feminist,” “libertarian,” etc.) as the noun.


 

3:12-14

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Because we are “chosen and dearly loved” by you, O Lord, we respond with renewed attitudes toward one another in the church. We have all been rescued form the darkness (1:13), from alienation (1:21), from deadness (2:13), and from the wrath-inviting old life (3:6-7). As believers we all share these experiences. No one of us arrived here on our own, or by our own merits or goodness, to boast to the rest of us that he or she needed no help from you, O Lord. We all arrived on the same rescue ship, refugees from the same pestilential land.

Because of your great love we are not consumed; your compassions never fail, they are new every morning.

Lamentations 3:22-23

So, as a consequence, I choose to clothe myself with compassion for others (generic concern for their welfare, especially in difficulties, for you have compassion for me), with kindness (chrestos, goodness, mercy, treating others in a way that is right and honors the person), with humility (in full recognition of my status as a recpient of your favor, undeserving, treating others as through I were their servant), with gentleness (caring for others, being harmless to them, understanding the frailty as you understood mine), and with patience (allowing you to do your work in others, listening to them, allowing time for processing).

I am to forgive others as you forgave me — that is, WITHOUT MY ASKING! You canceled my debt before I acknowledged it. This is how to forgive others: to do so because of my own forgiven state, to do so unilaterally, to cancel the debt and nail it to the Cross (2:14).

Love binds these virtues together. All of them are the outworking of love. How deficient I am in love! How weak and thin my love is! I am self-regarding, self-aggrandizing, self-promoting (though I deny that one, it is a consistent thought-pattern) — all seeking to elevate and justify myself.

Love is not proud,
   it is not self-seeking.

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth
   so that you have sincere love for your brothers,
   love one another deeply, from the heart.
For you have been born again…

1 Peter 1:22-23

May these truths become more and more real in my own walk.


 

3:15

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

“Let the peace of Christ rule…” The Greek word for “rule” is not the same as “reign” (2 Timothy 2:12); that word is the root of “king” (basilos) and has to do with authority. Here however, the word is the verb meaning to act as umpire or judge, to “rule” as a court issues a “ruling” deciding an issue. Your peace, O Lord, is to be the decider, the adjudicator in my heart (my motives, my desires), the referee.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

Isaiah 26:3

This verse from Isaiah changes up the logical order a bit: it implies that the peace is generated by you as a result of a steadfast, trusting mind. And yet the principles all hold together the same way: A heart that trusts you, that refers all questions and decisions to you, that eschews the turmoil of self-directed decision-making and simply trusts, is a heart ruled by peace. I should be seeking “peace in my heart” about decisions, as is commonly said. “Do I have peace about that?” If not, then I can be fairly confident it is not of you. Show me, O Lord, how to live by peace.


 

3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” — what is “richly”? For the past 32 years* I have followed you, O Lord, and I have sought you in your Word, the inspired text of Scripture. Does it dwell in me “richly”?** The Greek word used here is plousios (from which we get “plutocrat,” “plutarch,” etc. – signifying wealth and abundance). A rich person in his home is comfortable – he has servants and conveniences that make his life easy. In this analogy I am the house, not the rich person. The Word of Christ is the resident. Over 32 years how well has my “house” adapted to its new owner (the Holy Spirit, see Ephesians 5:18)? The rich person snaps his fingers and a servant appears, or a device comes to life. Everything about the house revolves around its owner. Your Word, O Lord, should fill my life and be comfortable in it. The truth and clarity and perspective you bring should affect all my thinking and all my doings, and it should overflow in expressions of praise and gratitude. Thanks to you, my life has changed in 32 years – the Word is central to my thinking (usually), and I do sometimes burst forth in spontaneous praise and rejoicing. Continue to be free to roam in my house, and may your Word dwell here “richly,” without limitation or hindrance.

* note: this post was authored on 08 April 2014, 32 years to the day after my conversion.

** I fully recognize that the pronoun “you” is plural in this verse; i.e., this verse is intended to relate how the word of Christ is to dwell among the believers as a corporate body, and not necessarily as individuals. This distinction is also evident from the context. But as Pilate said, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:22)


 

3:17

And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Everything is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” and for his glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31).

What does it mean to do things or to pray “in Jesus’ name”? It must be more than a simple tacked-on formula at the end of a prayer. When you instructed the disciples, O Lord, you specifically returned to this idea of “in my name” several times:

  • John 14:13 “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do…”
  • John 16:24 “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive…”
  • John 16:26 “In that day you will ask in my name – and I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf…”

The prayer “in your name” is promised to get a ‘yes’ answer – just as is the prayer offered by the one who “remains in you”:

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7

To act “in your name” must mean (taking John 16:26 into account) that I am “in Christ” when I ask, not acting out of fleshly, old-man motives and thoughts, but abiding in you, under the banner of your name. In this way you present yourself less as an intermediary and more as the vessel, the flagship, the authority, whose NAME is acknowledged by God. It is the key to access to the Father, the secret password that opens the door, the ID card that grants entry. I am to do everything in this name – to live a life “in Christ” and not in my flesh.


 

3:18-4:1

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

You speak to me here, O Lord, of my behavior at work – am I doing “eye-service” (man-pleasing)? Am I lazy when alone, and trying to look busy or committed when authority figures are present? May I always remember that you see everything, even what is done in secret. My motivation must come from you and the everlasting reward
that is my inheritance, and not from the earth-bound, temporary rewards that incentivize the world. Doggie treats. Fish for performing porpoises. It comes down to living my life in the light of eternity, with all things illuminated by that light, revealed by that light.

For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

Psalm 36:9

In that light I am permanently forgiven and justified before you – the reward is sure. Show me how to order my work-day in accordance with your mighty truth.

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