Explore the Bible Series
May 15, 2011
Lesson Passage: Colossians 3:1-17
From the outset of this lesson, I must again acknowledge the debt owed to the exposition of Colossians, by the late Dr. Curtis Vaughan. In the first four verses of this chapter, Paul expounded one of the great themes of his theology, the believer’s union with Christ. Indeed, I have concluded that this doctrine is the central theme of Paul’s theological understanding. This paragraph outlines two central appeals and three motivations for carrying out these appeals (See Vaughan’s helpful discussion).
Paul taught that all human beings are born “in Adam”, united with our first father in a fallen, sinful state, alienated from Christ and hostile to the things of God (See Romans 5: 12-21 and I Corinthians 15:20-34). Union with Adam identifies all with sin and death, and rendered all people under the dominion (rule, governance) of sin. Faith in Christ unites the believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of the Savior, thus reordering one’s mind, affections, and behavior. Baptism serves as a symbol of this union, as a snapshot of this fundamental change in the believer’s orientation. This union underlies Paul’s ethical system. For Christians, therefore, ethical behavior does not focus on mere resolutions to live by high moral standards, much less unadorned rule-keeping. That kind of mundane legalism never captured the theological imagination or affection of the apostle. Instead, Paul advocated an ethic that results from the believer’s mystical identification with Christ.
I. Union with Christ (vv. 1-4)
A. Two appeals (vv. 1-2)
1. “seek the things that are above” (v. 1): “It is to see to it that our interests are centered in Christ, that our attitudes, our ambitions, and our whole outlook on life are molded by our relations to him.” (Vaughan, p. 90)
2. “set your mind on things that are above” (v. 2): This phrase indicates an inward disposition, a mindset that places paramount value on a divine, heavenly perspective. “Included is the obligation to make sure that the bent of our inner nature, the tendency of our thought and will, is toward God.” (Vaughan, p. 91)
B. Three motivations for these actions (vv. 1, 3-4)
1. Our union with the resurrection of Christ (v. 1): Our identification with the resurrection of Jesus has reordered the entire orientation of the believer’s life and conduct.
2. Our union with the death of Christ (v. 3): Christians have died to their previous allegiances, affections, and patterns of conduct.
3. Our union with the future glory of Christ (v. 4): This phrase anticipates the return of the Lord and the glory believers will share with Christ.
II. Guidelines for Christian Conduct (vv. 5-17)
A. Earthly passions to be put to death (vv. 5-9): Note Paul’s language, in the center of this paragraph. He anticipates God’s judgment on such behavior; therefore, Christians must “put off” these old patterns of conduct, like one would discard an old, filthy garment.
1. Sexual immorality: Translates Paul’s most general term for sexual misconduct. Porneian described the conduct of pagan prostitution, but, in Paul’s day, denoted any form of sexual misbehavior, especially fornication and adultery.
2. Impurity: Reflects a disposition of the mind that centers the thoughts on uncleanness.
3. Passion: Denotes uncontrolled desires—often carries the connotation of violent emotions.
4. Evil desire: Controlling passions that dominate the heart and mind.
5. Covetousness: Burning desire for material possessions or power
6. Anger: “settled felling of anger” (Vaughan, p. 96)
7. Wrath: Sudden, violent outbursts of anger.
8. Malice: “A vicious disposition” (Vaughan p. 96).
9. Slander: Insulting, demeaning language, blasphemy
10. Obscene speech: Filthy or abusive speech, “foul-mouthed abuse” (Vaughan, p. 96).
11. Lying: Paul singled out this vice, perhaps as a reference to the false teacher who troubled the Colossians.
B. Virtues of the new life (vv. 10-16): As the new man puts off the old garments of sinful behavior, he must put on new moral clothing, befitting the resurrection life. This is true holiness, not grounded in ethnic identity, but in Christ, chosen and beloved.
1. Compassion: literally “bowels of mercy”—reflects the ideas of pity and tenderness
2. Kindness: kind graciousness—sweetness of disposition
3. Humility: lowliness of mind
4. Meekness: consideration of the rights and feelings of others
5. Patience: longsuffering, self-restraint
6. Forbearance: willingness to forbear the insults and misbehavior of others—this includes the willingness to forgive others and refraining from complaining
7. Love: Paul highlighted the quality of love.
8. Peace: This word denotes an inward disposition of tranquility that seeks unity and harmony in the church. It seems fitting that Paul would, in light of this admonition, mention the proper attitude of worship: hearing the word of God and singing God’s praise, with thankful hearts. Appropriate worship, therefore, includes a suitable disposition toward fellow worshipers.
C. A final summary (v. 17): Paul concluded this section with a general plea to do all things for the glory of Christ.