Holy Living


Sunday School Lesson for November 23, 2003


Background Passage: Colossians 3:1-17


Focal Teaching Passage: Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17


Hidden With Christ  (3:1-4)


Verses 1-3

In verses 1-3, the apostle encouraged his brethren in Colossae to live out their lives as new spiritual creations characterized by radically new desires and ways of thinking.  Here he reminded them that they had, indeed, been “raised up with Christ” to new life in distinct contrast to what they were before they believed in Him.  In fact, the radical break they had made with their past way of living could only be spoken of as death—“you have died with Christ” (v. 3). At one time they were dead in their sins (2:13), but now they had come to know both the life and liberation found only by faith in Christ.


In verse 3, Paul further described the Colossian believers as those whose lives were “hidden with Christ in God.”  In other words, this new way of living was not seen or appreciated by the world in which the Colossian believers lived. Like the resurrected Lord Himself who was (and is) not perceived, accepted, or believed by the world, the life and identity granted to those who were united to Him by faith was also unseen, at least for the present moment.


Since these things are true, Paul exhorted his friends toward two specific actions or responsibilities related to their sanctification:


  • Keep seeking the things above” (v. 1)—This command has to do with what one sets his or her affections upon.  Paul meant that their desires should be consistent with their new lives in Christ.  As the Christian grows in his relationship to the Lord, he should learn to love those things that God loves and reject that which does not please or honor Him.


  • Set your mind on the things above” (v. 2)—This command has more to do with how one thinks and what one thinks about. Again, Paul meant that the believer in Christ is to think in a distinctively Christian way. The words “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” help to clarify what it means to think on that which is above.  The fact that Christ sits enthroned in the heavenly session at His Father’s “right hand” indicates His place of honor and unequalled sovereignty over all things. Thus, thinking about heavenly things means bringing every thought under the Lordship and reign of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 10:5). It means recognizing that even one’s thoughts may be instruments of the advancement of His glorious kingdom.


Verse 4

The incentive for having one’s desires and thoughts riveted to Christ is expressed here as Paul spoke of the coming day when “Christ, who is our life, is revealed.” Once more Paul employed the certainty of Christ’s Second Advent as a motive for holiness in life.  On that day “the Christ who is now ignored or rejected by the world, will be revealed in a blaze of glory in which the full splendor of His divine Being will be seen” [Carson, 80].  At that same instant all those who have trusted in Him “will also be revealed with Him in glory.”  In this event the believer’s faith in Christ will be vindicated before the world.



Chosen for Holiness and Love  (3:12-15)


Verse 12a

Next, Paul appealed to his brethren to live as consecrated followers of Christ and responsible members of the church by reminding them of their election to salvation.  Those who had confessed Christ as Lord, having experienced the resurrection life, had actually been chosen by God in eternity past (cf. Eph. 1:3-6).  Their salvation, from start to finish, was due to God’s sovereign mercies and not to any work on their part.  As far as God is concerned they are both “holy”—separated from the world for the service of Christ alone—and “beloved”—beneficiaries of God’s unfathomable love. This incredible blessing, therefore, was to be their prime motive for conducting their lives in holiness and love.


Verses 12b-13

In light of such grace, Paul called his friends to display kindness and mercy towards one another within the body of Christ. This Christ-like love was to be demonstrated in several practical ways within the church:


·        They were to “put on” a new “heart” characterized by “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v. 12b).   


·        They were to constantly be “bearing with one another” through the ups and downs of life (v. 13).


·        In the same way that Christ had forgiven them, Paul called the Colossians to be continuously “forgiving each other” for personal hurts, offenses, and complaints that would occur within the fellowship (v. 13).


Verse 14

However, as the preeminent proof of their salvation and spiritual transformation, Paul commanded that they “put on love” which functions as “the perfect bond of unity” among Christian brothers and sisters.  It goes without saying that the “love” implied here is that which is patterned after Christ’s sacrificial, self-giving love for sinners—a love personally experienced by every member of His body.  A love of supernatural quality and depth provides the only lasting foundation for authentic Christian unity.



Verse 15

Not only was the congregation of believers to be characterized by the manifestation of Christian love and unity, it was and is to be a body governed and controlled by peace. Paul’s command was that they “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” As each believer came to experience peace with God through Christ (Rom. 5:1), they would be enabled to enjoy peace in their relationships with others. Carson observes that Paul’s use of the word “rule” implies that peace was to act as the umpire within the body, keeping control of all attitudes, words, and accompanying actions [89]. In concert with a “thankful” spirit pervading the fellowship, the members of the church would more fully enjoy the oneness and authentic body-life to which they were “called” by God.



Filled with the Word   (3:16-17)


Verse 16

In this final section of the lesson passage, Paul enjoined his friends to experience the message of the gospel in its fullest. His admonition to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” may be understood as a call to focus upon Christ and those things that are revealed about Him in the gospel story.  Melick explains that the community was “constantly to recognize the reason for its existence by a continual concern for the gospel message and its implications in the congregation” [303]. In other words, Paul’s emphasis was on the corporate experience of the Word rather than that of the individual believer. 


With such focus upon the Word, the congregation would be able to serve the kingdom of Christwith all wisdom,” exercising its gifts to the glory of God. Specifically, the ministries of  teaching”—the orderly arrangement and communication of truth [Melick, 304]—and admonishing one another”—a form of encouragement characterized by the element of warning [Carson, 91]—would be accomplished in the fertile atmosphere of godly wisdom.


The phrase “with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” indicates that the primary vehicle for such instruction is music.  The three-fold reference to psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs might suggest three types of music to be sung in congregational worship.  The main focus, however, is on the fact that the church’s music should perform a didactic, or instructional function. Therefore, by definition, it should be thoroughly doctrinal in content and vertical in orientation. That is, it should clearly communicate the truths of the Christian gospel while directing the hearts and minds of the worshippers upward the One who is the sole focus of Christian worship.  


Additionally, Paul stated that such “singing” should be performed “with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The meaning is apparently that Christian singing should be engaged in with a certain energy and enthusiasm. It should be a kind of singing that is motivated by the richness of God’s grace toward sinners—a singing that “comes from those who know personally what grace means” [Melick, 306].



Verse 17

Finally, Paul indicated the all-encompassing atmosphere in which the believer was to conduct his life.  He must do all” things “in the name of the Lord Jesus” while “giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” The Christian, therefore, is to conduct the totality of his life under the Lordship and preeminence of Christ. The believer, through his actions, must demonstrate his belief that God’s sovereignty “embraces every aspect of life, not only the so-called ‘sacred’ but also the secular” [Carson, 91].