MAINTAINING A HEAVENLY FOCUS

 

Week of August 13, 2006

 

Bible Passages:  Colossians 2:20; 3:1-10, 12-14, 17.

 

Biblical Truth:  Giving appropriate attention to heavenly treasures helps believers live godly lives on earth and influences the world for Christ.

 

Focus on Things Above: Colossians 2:20; 3:1-4.

 

[20] If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees. [1] Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [2] Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. [3] For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.   [NASU]

 

[20-23]  This short but powerful paragraph ends the warning section that began at 2:8. It forms the climax of Paul’s appeal to the church at Colosse to have nothing to do with the ideas and teaching of the newcomers. The theme concerns slavery and freedom. Paul always saw the gospel as bringing people from slavery to freedom. And he saw the visitors’ influence as putting Christian people back on the road from freedom to slavery. Paul says to be glad that, with Christ, you have for ever been set free from this world’s ideas of religion. The only safety seems to lie in a faith which glories only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. To trust only in that cross for the forgiveness of our sins, to know only Christ crucified as our message to the world, and daily to take up our cross, is to live as those who no longer belong to the world, nor expect to be honored by the world. The religion of the false teachers is a religion of numerous regulations. Spirituality was now defined as submission in everything to these new spiritual masters. How burdensome the rules and traditions of men have proved to be in the history of the church. But in Christ the Colossians have been freed from all this. How then can they return to such sore bondage?

 

[1]  The Colossians were not to lose their freedom by submitting to the new teachers. On the contrary they were to find and keep their freedom by submission to the rule of Christ. The first imperative, to seek Christ, is grounded upon the fact that the Christians have been raised with Christ. The Christian is one who has been granted a relationship with the exalted Christ at God’s right hand. This relationship the Christian is vigorously to pursue and develop by seeking the things above. In biblical teaching there is no human search for God; the story is, from the beginning, that of a divine search for those who hide from their Maker. When men and women begin their search for God and His forgiveness, it is evidence of a prior work of God. In this verse, seeking the things above is a result of having been raised up with Christ, which is regeneration. The verb (have been raised up) is in the passive indicating that it is God who is doing the work and the Colossians are the ones receiving the benefits of God’s work. To seek the things above, then, takes us to the very summit of Christian experience in this life. It is daily to hold fast to Christ as the center and source of all our joys.

 

[2-4]  In these verses Paul tells of the need to use the renewed mind. He calls Christians to come to a true understanding of the heavenly Christ, so that they may discern His will and purposes. The earthly things must certainly include the sins that are to be mortified. And the first step in such mortification is not to set the mind upon them. It is fundamental to apostolic teaching that we cannot set our minds on Christ and sin at the same time, and that to concentrate on such earthly things is seriously to weaken, and even threaten, our fellowship with Christ. Instead Christians are to set their minds on the things above. This is the call for the use of the Christian’s renewed mind in the continued contemplation of the ascended Christ. He is the one whom now we must get to know. What are His likes and dislikes? What pleases Him [1:10]? Who is He and what does this mean for the world, and for us [1:15-22]? What is there about Him that we need to know if we are to grow to maturity [1:28]? By setting our minds on the things above, we begin to know our Lord so well that it becomes increasingly clear how to live worthily for Him in the world of affairs. Verse 3 describes the great change that has taken place for the Colossians through their regeneration. It is in union and fellowship with the exalted Christ that they have found the great secret of the knowledge of God. Why is this new union with Christ said to be hidden? The reason for this is that the perfect union between Christ and His people is a heavenly union, and therefore is hidden from man’s observation. The result of participating with Christ in His death and resurrection is also to appear with Him in glory. The future manifestation of glory will be the full realization of what God has promised His people on earth.

 

Shed the Old Ways: Colossians 3:5-10.

 

[5] Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. [6] For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, [7] and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. [8] But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. [9] Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, [10] and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.  [NASU]

[5-6]  Paul now asks the Christians what it is they discover when they search their hearts. The result of this self-examination is disconcerting, and necessarily leads immediately to a third imperative. Seeking the Lord and mortifying what is earthly in us go together. Paul says that the roots of these gross sins lie so deep in all of us that they cannot wholly be eradicated, even from the hearts of the redeemed. Paul tells the Christian, rejoicing in a new relationship to Christ, that if he looks within, he will discover just what is earthly in him, that is, the seeds of evil, vile things. Even in the heart of the established Christian are the makings of an idolater. What Paul demands is that the Christian deal so ruthlessly with these things, in thought and deed, that no unworthy actions mar his testimony.

[7-8]  The fourth imperative has to do with evil ways inherited from the past, the pagan lifestyle from which the Colossians had been redeemed. The force of this final imperative of Christian spirituality may be better appreciated if set out in two propositions: (1) the old way of life is to be decisively challenged; (2) the old way of life is to be decisively changed. The serious consequences of not challenging their past will be the almost unconscious assimilation into the life of the church of parts of their pagan inheritance. Paul is constantly impressing on the young churches the need to have done with the old non-Christian ways of life. People never face a bigger moral revolution than when first they acknowledge Christ. What then are the young Christians to put away so decisively? Five sins are catalogued in verse 8. They are precisely the sins of speech that make harmonious human relationships impossible. Such evils were at the heart of pagan society, as it is these very things which destroy every dream of human brotherhood today. This theme is beautifully chosen to conclude the first section (1-8) and introduce the second (9-17). The four imperatives of Christian spirituality focus around the Christian's relationship to Christ himself. But such a relationship never stands alone. By being drawn close to Christ, the Christian is drawn close to all others who love and seek the same Lord. Union with Christ must lead to unity in the congregation: and to that great subject the apostle is now to address himself

[9-10]  Lying was the next matter Paul addressed. This sin represents the ultimate violation of trust. No community can exist without its members telling the truth. This particular command seems to continue what has preceded and to introduce what follows. The Christian community is to be characterized by truth and truthfulness. Three verbs in these verses describe Christian character. The first two look back to the time of salvation; the third looks to the present process of renewal. In the metaphorical language of changing clothes, Paul explained that the old self had been put off, the new self had been put on, and the new self was in process of growth toward a new goal. The three dimensions presented describe a Christian’s standing before the Lord. Paul used the terms old self/new self in three important texts: Eph. 4:20-24; Col. 3:9-11; and Rom. 6:6. The closest parallel to this passage is Eph. 4:20-24. The Romans passage contains the most extensive explanation of the relationships between the two. In Rom. 6:6, Paul explained that the old self was crucified at the time of salvation. That parallels Col. 3:10, which says that they put off the old self indicating a past event.

In each of the three primary passages, both the old self and the new self stand alone. The old goes so the new can appear. Since the new replaces the old, they do not coexist. This usage points to a clear definition. The old self is the pre-Christian state. The new self is the Christian state of the believer. The terms are descriptive and historical, not psychological. In other words, Paul used the term “old self” as synonymous with unregenerate, while “new self” pointed to conversion and regeneration. The believer will sin, but that is not attributed to the old self. Sin happens because of the imperfect process of growth in the new self.

The second concern was the time of the change from old to new. According to Rom. 6:6, the change occurred at the time of the believer’s conversion. The task for believers is to stop living like the old self which has been put off and to develop actions in accord with the new self which has been put on.

The third concern is the process of growth. Paul wrote in both Ephesians and Colossians of the new self being renewed. “Renewed” describes the process of change in the salvation experience. In Col. 3:10, Paul made it clear that the goal of renewal is the image of the Creator. What was lost in the fall into sin is gained through the application of grace. Through this process of renewal, individuals corrupted by Adam can gain what Adam lost for himself and his offspring.

The next concern is the goal of growth which is knowledge. Paul stressed genuine knowledge attained through Christ in the process of renewal. This is progressive, not instantaneous. It comes through Christ, not some other flash of insight as, perhaps, the false teachers were saying at Colosse. The measurement of growth is the restored image of God in people.

One final concern in the passage is the prominence of knowledge. Paul explained that the knowledge was of the renewed image of God in the believer. Knowledge is essential to the process. This statement recalls the frequency of references to the mind in Scripture. One of the clearest statements of it is Rom. 12:1-2, where Paul located the growth of a Christian in the renewing of the mind. Thus, knowledge is a significant component of Christian growth. Knowledge is produced as one walks in the will of God [1:9-11], is transformed by the power of God, and is the restoration of the image of God once distorted by sin.

 

Put on the New Ways: Colossians 3:12-14, 17.

 

[12] So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; [13] bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. [14] Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. [17] Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.  [NASU]

 

Continuing the metaphor of changing clothes, Paul turned to the new look of the believer. Paul had said the believers had put on the new self. Now he said they were to put on specific characteristics of the Christian; presumably these are characteristics of the new self. This represents the tension between the position and practice of the believer. The Christian is a new self, but he must learn to act like it. Paul began with individual qualities [12], moved to interpersonal qualities [13], and concluded with one indispensable quality [14].

 

[12]  The new clothing of the Christian begins with personal attributes; compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness (meekness) and patience. Their inclusion suggests the need for long-suffering with others in the group. The entire context is slanted toward harmony in the church. Significantly, Paul focused on the individual who is to have patience, rather than the one who caused a problem. The place to begin in any group tension is with oneself rather than others.

 

[13]  These five attributes are followed by two others: enduring and forgiving. Enduring is putting up with others even when they fail or act differently from what is expected. Forgiving is based on the root word for grace. It carries the idea of a free forgiveness. These two qualities are especially appropriate when one is offended. It obviously speaks to the offended party, not the offending one. The offended should take initiative in enduring and forgiving, rather than waiting for the offended to apologize. By enduring and forgiving, the conscience is cleansed and the matter forgotten. Harboring resentment and ill will toward another does little good, and to do so is beneath Christians.

 

[14]  Paul singled out one characteristic above all others: love. Paul advocated love as the fulfillment of the Mosaic law. It contrasts with the immorality of 3:5, which characterizes blatant lawbreakers. Two qualifications reveal the primacy of love. First, Paul urged the Colossians to put on love above all these other things. It was uniquely important to their social well-being. Second, Paul stated that love uniquely tied them together. The expression means that mutual love would bring the group to perfection. Paul expressed his conviction that the many dimensions of love could be understood only by observing its operation in the group. By this expression Paul meant that the love would bind them together unto completeness. The word completeness (perfect) in Greek has the basic idea of bringing things to an appropriate and logical end. God’s design for His Church is the perfect unity of love.

 

[17]  Paul summarized the paragraph in this verse. Notice first, the centrality of Christ, as throughout this subsection where both peace and word are Christ’s, when they might equally well have been God’s. Absolutely everything that is said and done must be in the name of the Lord Jesus. This is the name that unites. Next, notice that whatever we do takes in our words, which must include our teaching, as well as our deeds, that is our plans, decisions and activities. Finally, the duty of giving thanks to God the Father through Him, so often emphasized in this letter, takes us straight back to 1:12. Once again thankfulness is Paul’s chief protection against the spiritual ills that followed in the wake of the false teachers. The wisdom of this Pauline advice is easily verified. Those Christians who exercise themselves in thanksgiving soon come to possess a much vaster appreciation of the great salvation that is theirs in Christ. And this must also draw them into more appreciative fellowship with all those for whom Christ is the center of all their hopes.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1.   Note the logic of Paul’s argument in verses 1-4, with the use of “if”. The two commands, keep seeking and set your mind, are a result of or flow out of the “if” statement. Why must this be true and how does it work out in the believer’s life?

 

2.   What is the relationship between position and practice in the Christian life? Paul always has the imperative (practice, commands about how to live the Christian life) flow out of the imperative (position, statements of truth about who we are in Christ). In verses 5-17, see how all of his commands flow out of the two imperative statements: consider the members of your earthly body as dead and those who have been chosen of God. Why does he do this? What does this say about the importance of teaching Christian doctrine? Why is it necessary that we first know who we are in Christ before we attempt to live as we should?

 

References:

The Message of Colossians & Philemon, R.C. Lucas, Inter-Varsity Press.

Colossians, Richard Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman Press.

Colossians & Philemon, Robert Wall, Inter-Varsity Press.