Colossians 3




Rules for Holy Living (3:1-17)

1 The raising of Christ from the dead was an amazing event. But just as amazing is the fact that we believers are also raised! (see Romans 6:8; Colossians 2:12). And having been raised, we receive new life, life that will never end. Through faith in Christ, we are translated from death to life, from darkness to light, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. Therefore, Paul says here: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above—that is, on things of the kingdom of God. Especially, let us set our hearts on Christ. Let us not love this world, nor worldly pursuits and possessions, because the more we love the world the less we shall love God. It is not possible to love both God and the world at the same time (see Matthew 6:19-21,24; 1 John 2:15-17 and comments).

2 Having received new life in Christ, we need to receive a new mind also. We must no longer think as we once did, when we belonged to the world. When we belonged to the world, we walked according to our old worldly nature. But now, Paul says, having received a new spiritual nature through the Holy Spirit, we must walk according to that new nature (see Galatians 5:25 and comment).

3 Does a dead man have any desire or longing for the things of the world? No, he doesn’t. And neither should we. For we too have died to the world. Therefore, we must not set our minds on the things of the world. Our old sinful life has ended; now we have received a new spiritual life, which is hidden with Christ in God.

Paul says that our new life is hidden with Christ in God. Spiritual things are “hidden” from worldly men.10 Worldly men cannot see Christ, and they cannot see our new spiritual life in Christ. But they can see the fruit of our new life; that is, they can see our good works, our love, and our joy.

Worldly men cannot see Christ, but we can see Him (see John 14:19-20 and comment).

4 Christ is now hidden from men’s physical eyes; but one day He will come again, and at that time He will appear to all men (see Mark 13:26; 14:61-62 and comments). And we, too, will appear with him in glory. After that, nothing will be hidden (Romans 8:18-19).

Christ is our life, says Paul here. Christ is the source of our life; He is the goal, the purpose, the fulfillment, the blessing of our life. Our life is in Him; His life is in us.

If this is so, then let us set our hearts on Him! Our Lord, our eternal home, our inheritance and reward are all in heaven. Therefore, let us set our hearts and minds on things above. Why look to earthly things? (verse 2).

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature—that is, “put to death” your old sinful desires and actions. Sin begins in our hearts, in our sinful natures. But then the various members of our bodies actually carry out the sin. Therefore, most important of all, we must “put to death” our sinful nature with its passions and desires (see Galatians 5:24 and comment). But we must also restrain and subdue our members; we must, in a sense, “put them to death” too. Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43). Thus Paul’s meaning here is that we must subdue or “put to death” every part of us that is leading us into sin.

Our members once did evil; they were used to serve Satan. But now we have been called from the world into the kingdom of heaven. Our old self (verse 9) has died with Christ (see Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22 and comments). Therefore, if our old sinful self has died, our old passions and actions should be put to death too—that is, they should be subdued (see Mark 9:43-47; Romans 6:11-13; 8:13 and comments).

Paul mentions here some of the major sins. He says that greed is the same as idolatry, because to be greedy for something means that we love that thing more than we love God; and whenever we love a thing more than God, that thing becomes for us an idol (see Ephesians 5:5).

Here a question arises. In verse 3, Paul says: For you died. But in verse 5, he says: Put to death … whatever belongs to your earthly nature. If our earthly nature has died, how can we then “put it to death”? Why does Paul tell us to subdue something that is supposed to be already dead? In verse 3, our old self has died; in verse 5, it is committing all sorts of sins! One moment it is dead; the next moment it seems very much alive. Is that possible?

Yes, both things are true. In one way, our old self has died; we have been forgiven; we have received salvation and have been delivered from Satan’s kingdom. But even though this is all true, our physical bodies remain on earth until we actually die. Thus we continue to be surrounded by sin on all sides. Sometimes we fall into sin. Temptation comes. Satan is always trying to defeat us; we are in a battle. In a sense we are in two worlds at once: the spiritual world, or kingdom of God; and the physical world, or kingdom of Satan.11 In a bodily sense, we are part of the physical world. But the main thing is that, in a spiritual sense, we are alive in Christ; we have become a new people; we are citizens of God’s kingdom; we have been made children in God’s family.

Therefore, if we are indeed citizens of God’s kingdom and children in His family, then we must behave like His citizens, like His children. True, Satan will keep trying to lead us into temptation, and he will try to make our bodies do evil. But we must not submit to him; we must resist him (see James 4:7 and comment). Instead of submitting to Satan, we must submit to God. We are God’s children, and God’s children must reflect the nature of their Father (see 1 Peter 1:15-16).

The story is told about an English king some years ago, whose somewhat rebellious son wanted to go and have fun with his friends and do all the things they did. The king, when he heard about it, called his son and said to him just one thing: “Remember who you are.”

Likewise, we who believe in Christ need to remember who we are. We are the children of the Great King—the King of kings! Are we acting like His children?

6 … the wrath of God is coming. We Christians like to talk mostly about the love of God; and that is perfectly proper, because God is love (1 John 4:8). It was because of His love that God sacrificed His own Son for us (John 3:16). But let us not forget about the wrath of God. Because the wrath of God is coming upon all those who are disobedient, who do evil, who refuse to believe in His Son (see Ephesians 5:6). God will certainly punish all these people.

7 We, too, were once disobedient, and used to engage in the sins mentioned in verse 5 (see Ephesians 2:1-3 and comment).

8-9 But no w you must rid yourselves of all such things (verse 8), because you have taken off the old self (verse 9). According to verse 8, we must rid ourselves of the ways of the old self; but according to verse 9, we have already put off the old self. What Paul means here is that because we have put off the old self, we must now put off its bad deeds also.

10 Our old self has died with Christ. Now we have become new people, new creations; that is, we have put on the new self (see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24 and comments). Our new self is to be renewed … in the image of its Creator—that is, in the image of both God and Christ.

As in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul here describes our daily behavior as a set of clothing. Just as we take off dirty old clothes and put on clean new clothes, so we must “take off” our old behavior and “put on” new behavior. Our new behavior is to be like Christ’s behavior; in other words, we are to clothe ourselves with Christ (see Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27 and comments). When men look at our lives, they must be able to see Christ.

Our new self is being renewed in knowledge. A “new man” not only needs new clothes and new behavior; he also needs new knowledge. After becoming Christians, we do not think like other people; not only is our outward behavior changed but our inward attitudes are changed as well. Not only is our outer self changed, but our inner self—our mind—is changed also. When we clothe ourselves with Christ, we also clothe ourselves with His mind and with His knowledge (see Romans 12:2 and comment).

11 After we have put on our new “clothes” (new behavior and new mind), we believers will to some extent all look alike. We will look like Christ, because our new clothes are, in fact, His clothes. Because of our old clothing we were divided: high caste and low caste, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, male and female. But after we have clothed ourselves with Christ, we will no longer be divided by these things. We will all be as one, united together in one family. Among Christians there are no divisions (see Galatians 3:26-28 and comment).

How amazing is our unity in Christ! In Paul’s time, great distinctions were made between different classes of people: between circumcised (Jew) and uncircumcised (Gentile), between slave and free, between the highly civilized Greek and the uncivilized barbarian12 and Scythian.13 Furthermore, there was much ill feeling between these groups. How, then, can such different classes of people be united together in one family, in one body? How can such great divisions be removed? Only through Christ is it possible. It is Christ Himself who unites us. Christ is all—that is, Christ is all one body. And Christ is in all—in all the members of the body. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. Therefore, we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

But even though we are one in Christ, equal and united members of one family, and even though the divisions that once existed between us have been removed, we are, however, not all exactly alike. We each have been given different gifts and different responsibilities. Our situations are different also. Indeed, among Christians there are some who are rich and some who are poor; some who are educated and some who are uneducated; some who are men and some who are women. However, these different groups are not divided; there is no elevating of one group over another. Spiritually they all have equal standing in the church and before God; they are all one in Christ.

When we look at our own church, what do we see? Are there divisions? Are there divisions in our hearts between one another?

12 In verse 10, Paul says that we have put on the new self. Now in verses 12-17, Paul describes this “new self.”

Notice that the qualities of the new self listed here in verse 12—compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience—are the opposite of those qualities of the old self that Paul listed in verse 8. These new qualities are the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). These new qualities are essential for preserving our unity; they are essential for our church (see Ephesians 4:2-3 and comment).

Why should we Christians clothe ourselves with these qualities? Because we have been chosen by God to be His holy and dearly beloved people. God chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4). Let us not refuse what God has chosen for us!

13 Each of us has some bad qualities which others have trouble tolerating. Do we want others to tolerate us, to bear with us, to accept us? Yes, of course we do. Well, if we want them to bear with our bad qualities, we must be willing to bear with theirs (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Do we want others to forgive us? Of course, we do. Well, if we want them to forgive us, we will have to forgive them. Forgiveness is not given with the lips alone; it is given from the heart. After we have forgiven our brother for some wrong, does the matter still linger in our hearts? Do we remain a little angry, a little hurt? If so, then we have not completely forgiven our brother.

When we refuse to forgive others completely, we are really hurting ourselves. Instead of peace, there is anger and bitterness in our hearts. Not only that, if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us (see Matthew 6:12,14-15 and comment).

Think for a moment: How many times has God already forgiven you? How many more times do you want God to forgive you? Well, as many times as you want God to forgive you, that many times you must forgive your brother! (Matthew 18:21-22).

Let us not forget how much mercy God has shown to us. Let us show, then, that same mercy to others. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (see Ephesians 4:32).

14 And over all these virtues, put on love. Love is like a “rope” that binds [these virtues] together. In other words, all the qualities of the new self (verses 1213) are included in love. Love is the chief quality of God and of Christ. All other virtues flow out of love; love is the source of them all. Likewise, the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31), and from these two commandments all other commands are derived (see Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14 and comments).

15 Like love, peace is a “rope” that binds us together in unity (Ephesians 4:3). Wherever there is love, there will also be peace. If there is a lack of peace in our church, there must be a lack of love as well.

Peace is also a freedom from worry and fear. Peace is a gift of Christ (see John 14:27 and comment). If the peace of Christ “rules” in our hearts, then worry, fear, and strife cannot arise.

And be thankful. Why should we be thankful? Because of all that God has done for us! He has given us new life; He has given us grace, love, peace, forgiveness, salvation. But more than all these, He has given us His one and only Son Jesus Christ, and with Him, He has given us every spiritual blessing (see Romans 8:32; Ephesians 1:3 and comments). Therefore, how can we not thank God?

16 In this chapter, Paul has described the “new spiritual man.” But a spiritual man needs spiritual food. What is spiritual food? It is the word of Christ—that is, the word of God, our Bible. How can we let the word of Christ dwell in us? By reading and studying the Bible (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2). Through studying the Bible, we will be able to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.

Here we see how our church services and house fellowships should be! Not only are we to teach and admonish one another, but we are also to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude … to God (see Ephesians 5:19-20).

17  Paul says to the Colossians: And whatever you do … do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. “Whatever” we do means “everything” we do. That is, we must not only pray in Jesus’ name; we must do everything—whether in word or deed—in His name. (Except, of course, we must do nothing that will dishonor His name!) Our entire lives must be worthy of His name.

… in the name of the Lord Jesus. This is not some kind of magic formula. “In the name of the Lord Jesus” means “for the sake of Jesus,” and “with the authority of Jesus.” Remember, all of us who believe in Jesus are His ambassadors or representatives here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). Jesus has given us full authority to do His work in His name. Just as any ambassador must do everything in the name of his king or president, so in the same way must we Christians do everything in the name of Jesus.

In verses 12-17, we are given a description of the “new man,” the man raised with Christ. Are we like the “new man” described here? Let each one examine himself.

Rules for Christian Households (3:18-25)

18 See Ephesians 5:22-24 and comment.

19 See Ephesians 5:25,28 and comment.

20 See Ephesians 6:1 and comment.

21 See Ephesians 6:4 and comment.

22-24 Just as we obey the Lord Jesus, so we must obey our earthly masters—the authorities and employers whom God has placed over us. The Lord sees everything we do. It is no advantage to do good only when our “earthly master” is looking—because our heavenly Master is always looking! Therefore, let us always do everything with all [our] heart, as working for the Lord (see Romans 12:11; Ephesians 6:5-8; Titus 2:9-10 and comments).

Slaves in Paul’s time had no rights and no property; they received no inheritance. But here Paul gives them a great promise: If they will serve their earthly master faithfully, they will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Though they have no inheritance on earth, they will receive from God an eternal inheritance in heaven.

Here a question arises: Why didn’t Paul more clearly oppose the custom of slavery in his writings? We can be sure that Paul was personally opposed to slavery. However, Paul’s main goal was not to change society, but to change people’s hearts. If people’s hearts are changed, their society will be changed too. Therefore, Paul was mainly concerned that masters treat their slaves with kindness and fairness (Colossians 4:1), and that slaves serve their masters faithfully and with sincerity of heart (verse 22). Paul knew that if the relationship between master and slave were based on mutual love and respect, the custom of slavery would soon come to an end (see 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10 and comments).

25 God will judge all men equally, whether husband or wife, parent or child, master or slave. In Christ we are all equal, and we shall be repaid equally by God. With God, there is no favoritism. We shall be repaid not only according to the good we have done (Ephesians 6:8), but also according to the wrong we have done.