Friday, August 22, 2008

Colossians 3:9-14

9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

In v10, when Paul speaks of the new self, he is speaking of the character of God, which arguably, is what it means for us to be made in the image of God. Thus Paul adds that this “new self” is “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (v10). In a parallel passage, Paul writes, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). The procedure deals with spiritual knowledge, attention, and attitude, thus it is decidedly intellectual and intentional. True spirituality is a product of an application of sound theology by the Holy Spirit through education and exercising of the intellect, which is then transferred to the heart from the mind, a progressive internal transformation. When Jesus said, “I am making all things new,” He is speaking of recreation in the sense of restoration – and it starts with the hearts and minds, the character, of His people (Romans 12:1-2). And this process, rightly described as sanctification, happens “naturally” as the believers grows “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

In v11, Paul points out the unity of all kinds of people in Christ. The false teachers were causing cultural division, which is anti-Christ, who “is all and is in all.” A Barbarian was simply a person who did not speak Greek, and thus was deemed uncivilized. A Scythian was the Barbarian’s barbarian. They were outcasts, a group of uncultured slaves from the Black Sea area. The distinction of slave and free is important, especially in this letter, which was likely delivered by Tychicus and Onesimus, the former slave of Philemon, along with Paul’s letter to Philemon, who was from Colosse. But Paul includes the union of various social positions, as those social classes enabled Christian love to cross all boundaries per Christ’s example. But this congregational unity only works when the people embrace the call to individual growth in righteousness by the word of God. That was Jesus’ prayer, and so it’s something that God must do in us, in His Church.

V12-14 are a summary of Christian obligations to one another. Paul says that the Colossians, a small group of Christians from mixed people groups, are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” They have no need to fear cosmic powers, since God has a firm grasp on them. He chose them before creation, loved them beyond measure, and even predestined them to be holy, conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). What a difference from what they were! Consider the “But God” of Ephesians 2:4. Paul explains what they ought to do since that is the case. He lists 5 inseparable “virtues” (v14) – compassion, which is an emotional caring relationship with those who are hurting, kindness, which readiness to do relational good, even when undeserved, humility, which is simply lowliness and servanthood, gentleness or meekness, which includes non-coercive efforts to better the lives of others, especially spiritually, and patience, which is a willingness to bear with human frailty in hope (forbearance) – that are all interwoven fruits of the Holy Spirit united by love. When the Holy Spirit works in people, these are some of the qualities we see in them.

V13-14 are tied closely to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:32-5:2. The new man can forgive others as the Lord forgives (v13), and can exercise a love that binds the people of God “in perfect unity” (v14). Vincent Cheung says, “Therefore, on the basis of our new ‘vertical’ relationship with God, now we may live out this true spirituality in our ‘horizontal’ relationship with men.” Impressively, our forbearance, forgiveness, and love are grounded in the redemptive pattern of Christ’s love. And this continues into the relational aspects of life as well. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. But again it is love (charity) that binds all the virtues Paul mentions together in perfect unity. Individually taken, the virtues are not virtues; love unites with them to make them virtues. Virtues are built up under love, which is the bond of perfection.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Colossians 3:5-8

5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices...

Paul issues a challenging command in v5: Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature. The Puritan, Richard Baxter, said, “Kill sin before it kills you.” Don’t be passive in your Christian life. The idea for Paul in transitioning from v1-4 to v5-11 is that the hope of Christ’s return, and the revealing of fullness of new life in glory, leads believers to put to death earthliness (the world and the flesh). Paul explains what that looks like. He lists 5 vices in v5, four dealing with sexual sin and one with coveting. The four sexual sins listed touch every aspect of our humanity – our behavior (sexual immorality), our mind (impurity), and our will (lust and evil desires). And greed, or covetousness, is idolatry, because covetousness is worshiping your own will. We should “want” or “covet” God Himself and His kingdom. John Piper’s ministry is called “Desiring God” for this very reason. “Wanting” or “coveting” or “begin greedy for” anything else proves our idolatry. Paul categorizes these vices as immorality and idolatry, and it is because of these things that the wrath of God is coming and has come (v6). Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness (idolatry) and wickedness (immorality) of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” We looked closely at that passage when we studied Romans.

Consider how you used to live. Compare v7 to Ephesians 2:2, 4:22 and Romans 6:17-19. Vincent Cheung says, “It is necessary to acknowledge the extreme filth and baseness of a non-Christian’s condition in order to honor the greatness of God’s grace in saving us from it. To beautify the non-Christian’s condition is also to insult God’s grace and devalue Christ’s sacrifice. Because of the evil qualities and actions of non-Christians, ‘the wrath of God is coming’ (v6).” Really, if we consider this chapter as a whole, we’ll find that Paul gives instructions on the Christian’s relationship with God in v1-8, with other believers in v9-17, with our family in v18-21, and with those in our work environment in v22-4:1.

In v8, Paul lists 5 more vices, all easily categorized as anger meted out in abusive speech. He doesn’t just say, “Rid yourselves of sin,” but he gets specific. Anger refers to a burning hatred for other people. Rage in this context refers to those outbursts of passion, that ungodly wrath that we have for others. Malice refers to ill-will towards one’s neighbor. Slander refers to railing or defaming another’s character, and abusive speech refers to those destructive words that we use to tear people down. Paul says people who are captured by sin are people who are internally conflicted. A person characterized by ungodliness and by the grip of Satan on them is filled with anger, bitter inside, and it exits their heart through the mouth, in their speech, in general and in abusive speech toward others. Paul says that we used to be that way, but now, as new creations, we are to rid ourselves of that behavior, including lying (v9) (deception in general). So to conclude v5-9, we could say that contentment and right speech are important signs of a spiritual maturing believer in Christ.

Comparing this message of Paul to the Sermon on the Mount of Jesus, we find that they teach the same way. In Matthew 5:21-32, Jesus’ primary concerns are sins of anger, including verbal abuse, and sexual immorality. Thus we see that Paul and Jesus are united in their understanding of man’s greatest problems. And their solutions are the same: we do not tackle the disobedience, as it is a mere symptom of the problem, which, of course, is the condition of the interior of mankind. The heart and mind must be changed. Once godly character is established, the behavior flows out of that. A good tree produces good fruit; a bad tree produces bad fruit; out of a man’s heart wicked things come (Matthew 12:33; Mark 7:20-22; Luke 6:45).

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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Colossians 2:16-23

16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21"Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

In v16-23, Paul is returning to the negative theme of v8. It is suggested that Paul, in v16-17, refutes the idea of special days that were regarded in Colosse as “Sabbaths” to the stars, which aligned to determine one’s destiny. It makes about as much sense for the Colossian Christians to add this type of practice to their Christianity as it would for us to daily read our horoscopes in hopes for something special. Paul has discussed circumcision as the foremost evidence of legalism amongst false teachers, and now he moves to other legalism concerns, such as Sabbaths, food, and drink. None of these “shadows” touches the “reality” – Christ is all and is in all. Romans 14 Yet, sadly, many Christians today prefer the “shadows” of Easter and Christmas to the reality, Christ Himself. Should we not celebrate Christmas and Easter as such, based on the text here? Perhaps Jehovah’s Witnesses have it right when the refuse to note birthdays and religious holidays based on a sound reading of this passage. Vincent Cheung notes, “For one to persist in a religion of shadow when God commands a religion of reality means that this person has no spiritual reality, and no true contact with God.”

In v18, we read first of delighting in false humility and the worship of angels. Paul explains that folks who go into great detail about their visions are puffed up by their unspiritual mind with idle notions. Elsewhere Paul says that knowledge puffs up (self), while love builds up (others). These folks are in a sense boasting in their experiences, thinking themselves humble, so that others will think them to be super-spiritual. In fact, they are unspiritual, delighting in a false humility that is oftentimes prouder than pride, and their idle notions are nothing more than conjuring up essential doctrine out of dreams. And even more, they judge those as inferior and unspiritual who have not experienced the same things as them. We can liken this group of people to our own extreme Pentecostals, who claim that two experiences of the Holy Spirit are necessary to be the most spiritual kind of Christian; those who lack two experiences may still be Christians, but they are second-class ones at best. Now this is not to say that visions and spiritual experiences are worthless; rather, they are not something to hold over the heads of others. Nor should they been seen as somehow adding to one’s own spirituality, which is made complete by faith in Christ alone and in His supremacy and sufficiency. Paul effectively tells the Colossians that they are not “disqualified” for the prize, despite these seemingly super-spiritual authorities purporting the inadequacy of the Colossian believers. Rather, in Christ, they are qualified (Philippians 3:14).

We also read in v18 that the worship of angels in Colosse was expected to bring one closer to God. Interestingly, Orthodox Judaism at the time had a practice of worshipping with the angels, a form of ecstatic prayer and asceticism that was meant to accomplish the same thing. Thus it appears to be the case that false teachers of Colosse did indeed combine Judaism, Christianity, and pagan rituals as their vain and deceitful philosophy. Another viewpoint of this idea is that the Colossian false teachers were encouraging the people to let the angels teach them how to worship. And even that would be wrong, because God is the One who teaches that.

In v19, Paul says that the one who is seeking favor with angels is not only reducing Christ’s sufficiency in principle, but also, in practice, decreasing his own joy, which is made complete in Christ. Paul’s mention of Christ as “Head” looks back at Colossians 1:18 and looks forward to the application Paul will draw out in relation to church membership in Colossians 3:1-4:6. Why would the body try to flee from the governing of the head? It’s silly.

In v20-21, Paul again speaks of the “principles of this world” and its “rules,” and he lists a few with which the Colossians may have been familiar. These manmade regulations take away from Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency (Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 6:13; Matthew 15:6-11). Having died to the world in Christ, we, though still in the world, are no longer of the world; and He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. Calvin says, “The sum is this – that the worship of God, true piety, and the holiness of Christians, do not consist in drink, and food, and clothing, which are things that are transient and liable to corruption, and perish by abuse. For abuse is properly applicable to those things which are corrupted by the use of them. Hence enactments are of no value in reference to those things which tend to excite scruples of conscience.” Derek Thomas says that Paul is referring to the ABC’s of worship, which are based on Scripture; in fact, the ABC’s of worship are Scripture! Biblical worship should consist of reading the Bible, hearing the Bible, singing the Bible, praying the Bible, preaching the Bible, and teaching the Bible. Anything else is manmade, which is Paul’s focus in v23.

In v23, Paul speaks of the self-made worship regulations having an appearance of wisdom, but lacking any ability to restrain sensual indulgences (Proverbs 3:5-6; 1 Timothy 4:1-3). We must worship God according to His regulations as set forth in Scripture, not ours, no matter how “wise” they may seem. In fact, the things that Paul says here are worthless are actually harmful, a form of indulging the flesh rather than restraining those desires (Romans 13:14; Luke 16:15). Vincent Cheung says, “These human commands and teachings that are so restrictive and dominating to the one who observes them in fact prevent the person from obeying God’s commands and teachings.” Derek Thomas says, “Paul is drawing a very direct line from worship to sanctification; that when you get your worship wrong, your holiness will go wrong with it. In other words, Paul is saying that one of the distinguishing features of holiness and godliness and Christ-likeness is our attitude to corporate worship.”

Monday, August 18, 2008

Colossians 2:9-15

9For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature [or flesh], not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature [or flesh], God made you [or us] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Paul again says that Christ is sufficient. In Him are fullness, fellowship, forgiveness, and freedom, and these themes will be noticed throughout v9-15, which is a continuation of the thoughts of v6-7. We need to remember who Jesus is and who we are in Him. Calvin comments on v9, “God has manifested Himself to us fully and perfectly in Christ.” Just as Christ is the fullness of God, so we are made full in Him. He has authority over all. And on v10, Calvin says, “As to God’s dwelling wholly in Christ, it is in order that we, having obtained Him, may posses in Him an entire perfection. Those, therefore, who do not rest satisfied with Christ alone, do injury to God in two ways, for besides detracting from the glory of God, by desiring something above His perfection, they are also ungrateful, inasmuch as they seek elsewhere what they already have in Christ. Paul, however, does not mean that the perfection of Christ is transfused into us, but that there are in Him resources from which we may be filled, that nothing may be wanting to us.”

In v11, Paul introduces circumcision to the conversation. While the Galatian Judaizers were demanding circumcision, that was not necessarily true of the Colossian false teachers. He is showing that power over the flesh – something the false teachers offered – was already theirs in Christ. He is also showing that physical circumcision by the hands of men is unnecessary, because spiritual circumcision by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is what matters. Calvin says, “Circumcision was given to the Fathers that it might be the figure of a thing that was absent: those, therefore, who retain that figure after Christ’s advent, deny the accomplishment of what it prefigures. Let us, therefore, bear in mind that outward circumcision is here compared with spiritual, just as a figure with the reality. The figure is of a thing that is absent: hence it puts away the presence of the reality.” Paul says that we who have been circumcised by Christ have put off the sinful nature (Romans 6:13).

In v12, Paul clarifies the concept of spiritual circumcision with the image of baptism. Someone might argue with Paul, asking, “Since Abraham received both inward and outward circumcision, why shouldn’t we?” Paul answers that Christ accomplishes in us spiritual circumcision, not through means of that ancient sign, which was in force under Moses, but by baptism. Baptism, therefore, is the sign of the circumcision of Christ, the reality presented to us, which, while absent, was prefigured by circumcision. Gentiles did not need the sign of the old covenant to be Abraham’s offspring. So God essentially replaced circumcision with baptism. As in Romans 6:4, Paul declares, according to Calvin, “By baptism, therefore, we are buried with Christ…that the reality (His efficacious death and burial) may be conjoined with the sign (our death and burial in baptism).” And Paul does not leave us buried in baptism; he magnifies the grace that we obtain in Christ, as being greatly superior to circumcision, by declaring that we are raised to newness of life through faith in the power of God (the message of the cross, the gospel – 1 Corinthians 1:18), who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:4, 8:11). Ligon Duncan, a PCA Minister, can’t help but point out here that infant baptism makes perfect sense according to Paul. Baptism comes before faith in Paul’s language here. So Paul, according to Duncan, is saying that baptism is “a sign of God reaching out to us when we could not reach out to Him… God reaches out and sets a sign on us so that when we grow and once embrace Christ personally through faith, we can look back and see that before we loved Him, He loved us in Christ.”

Vincent Cheung makes the connection: “No doctrine of physical circumcision can add anything to the believer. Christians have experienced spiritual resurrection (v12-13). All unbelievers are dead in sin, but we have been made alive in Christ. A person is either spiritually dead or alive. Nothing could be done to make us more resurrected. The idea itself is senseless. Christians have received complete forgiveness. God has forgiven all our sins, canceled our debt, and nailed the note to the cross (v13-14). The language is final, and there is no room for improvement or for more forgiveness. Christians have attained complete victory. Christ has triumphed over all powers and authorities, and by our union with Him, we share in His triumph (v15). We should stand firm in this, but there is nothing that needs to be done or that could be done to gain additional victory. Christ’s work is complete, and we are complete in Him.”

V13 and the surrounding context corresponds to Ephesians 2:1-18. See also Ezekiel 37 (The Dry Bones). Paul’s point here is that sin is the cause of death and that uncircumcision, while not the cause of death, is the outward sign that the sinner is indeed dead. Thus the remedy is the righteousness of Christ and forgiveness of sins, bringing life, bringing freedom, and circumcision of the heart (regeneration) as the sign of life and freedom. Paul usually speaks of justification, rather than forgiveness, so it is thought that he is emphasizing Christ’s overcoming sin not merely as a general power but as the removal of guilt from particular sins – forgiveness and freedom.

Ligon Duncan offers an explanation of Christ’s “public spectacle” of the powers and authorities: “If you had been in the Roman world in the times that the generals were going out and conquering the far-flung nations, you wouldn’t have had CNN to tell you about the great victories that were being won on the frontiers. So the only way a Roman general could show you that he had really won a great battle was to parade all the captives, all the prisoners, in front of your eyes. He would put them in shackles and march them back into the hometown. The great soldiers would come first, the conquering king would then come, and behind him all of the captives, imprisoned. Paul is saying that is what Christ has done to the spiritual forces arrayed against you. He has led a triumphant procession in which they are brought along behind Him in the train as slaves. Now Paul asks, if Christ has done that, what are these teachers doing telling you that they can give you authority over these people? Christ has already exercised this authority over everything that is arrayed against you and your freedom is assured because of His victory. You are not a victim in this world of demonic forces. You are not a victim in this world of the alignment of the stars and planets. You are not a victim in this world of fate and the outrageous claims of fortune, because Christ rules the world for the sake of His people. Because Christ is Lord, you are free.”