Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Colossians 3:1-4

Paul here lays out not so much “rules for holy living,” as your Bible heading may declare, but more like “various qualities of genuine spirituality.” He offered some examples of false spirituality at the end of chapter 2, specifically speaking against 5 practices of false teachers (persuasive speech, false speculation, legalism, angel worship, and abuse of the body, or asceticism). In chapter 3, Paul picks up where he left off, now revealing the route to spiritual maturity. Contrary to the false teachers of Colosse, who advocated a path of secret revelations and self-punishing disciplines, this path is simply understanding and living on the basis of union with Christ. The threat here is that a false notion of the kingdom of heaven leads to a fruitless earthly existence. And the refutation of this threat involves showing how true spirituality leads to abundant life, a fruit-filled life on earth. This chapter, like so much of Colossians, is quite similar to Paul’s writings elsewhere, namely Ephesians and Philippians. Let’s take a look.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Paul begins to lay out the characteristics of spiritual maturity in Christ. This section is application of union with Christ, and it really extends through v6 of chapter 4. Paul commands believers to set their hearts and minds on things above (desires and attitude) (v1-2), to put off the old self and put on the new (behavior) (v5,9-10), to pray with thanksgiving (4:2), and to be a humble witness to the world (4:5). It has been said that Christians in the world have three roles: to evangelize and disciple by word and by deed, to love your neighbor as your self, and to be a steward of God’s creation. Paul touches on all of these topics in this letter, and his main point might be that obedience is the result of union with Christ and not the means of obtaining union with Christ. He contrasts the new self and the old self and tells the Colossians how to live as new creatures in, by, with, and for Christ. And Christ, though seated at the right hand of the throne of God, is not far off. Rather Paul intends for His majesty to excite us wholly to reverent obedience.

Paul spoke at the close of chapter 2 of a system of false spirituality, involving 5 common practices (persuasive speech, false speculation, legalism, angel worship, and abuse of the body, or asceticism); and now he’ll show what a system of true spirituality looks like (increasing knowledge, leading to right desires and a right attitude, leading to right behavior, prayerful thanksgiving, and humble witness). After explaining how we were buried with Christ in baptism, Paul, although he mentioned being raised with Christ to new life in spiritual circumcision, did not elaborate much on that new life, and so he does that here. Calvin says, “No one can rise again with Christ, if he has not first died with Him [leaving the earthly life behind]. Paul here exhorts the Colossians to meditation upon the heavenly life. And what as to his opponents? They were desirous to retain their childish rudiments. This doctrine, therefore, makes the ceremonies be the more lightly esteemed. Hence it is manifest that Paul, in this passage, exhorts in such a manner as to confirm the foregoing doctrine; for, in describing solid piety and holiness of life, his aim is, that those vain [displays] of human traditions may vanish.”

Again, Paul is being Paul; he’s told the believers in Colosse who they are – in this case, they have been raised with Christ – and now he moves to tell them to be who they are – in this case, they are to set their hearts and minds on things above. It’s as if he’s saying, “You are XYZ, so start displaying XYZ and continue to display XYZ in an increasing manner.” Believers, having died to this world (the kingdom of Satan, the dominion of darkness) and now newly alive in the kingdom of light, the kingdom of the heavens (though still in this world), are to be different. It begins inside, not by behavior, but by attitude and character and desire (Romans 12:1-2). This (internal focus / Christ accomplished), as you can already see, is completely the opposite of what the false teachers were prescribing (external focus / self accomplished). Therefore, a system of true spirituality begins with the mind and heart. Knowledge and doctrine are one side of the coin of Christianity; applying those things in life is the other side of the coin.

In v3, Paul speaks of our lives being “hidden with Christ in God.” He is saying that our new life is secure in Christ as an irrevocable unmerited gift of God, but that it is not revealed in fullness yet. Thus we wait in hope of Christ’s coming (v4), so that we will be clothed in glory with Him, and the fullness that is ours will be fully realized. In Ephesians 2:6, Paul says that we are already “seated with Him in the heavenly realms.” According to Ligon Duncan, Paul is also saying, “Though who you are is hidden before the eyes of men right now, you are the body of Christ. Though that may be hidden from others and even from your own sight as you see your imperfections, your failings, and the weakness of the church of God, our sinfulness, our foolishness, the tragic way that we fail to bear witness to who God is in this world with our lips and our lives, your life is hidden with Christ in God. Who you are is absolutely apparent to the heavenly Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ.” And since you will one day stand before the Lord spotless, with no moral impurity, no imperfection, absolutely complete in Christ, you ought to go ahead and set your mind on that.

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