Letters from Prison
Paul starts out Colossians 3 with an explanation of not only “the new self” (3:10), but how our individual lives that are “now hidden with Christ in God” (3:3) make up “God’s chosen people” (3:12) … keep reading. Through the power of the resurrection, the Colossians, and us as well, have new life in the risen Jesus (3:1). The old self has been put to death (3:5) and taken off (3:9), and the new self is continually being “renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator” (3:10). We are continually being remade to look more like him.
Signs of the old life, or “whatever belongs to our Earthly nature” (3:5-11): sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, idolatry (desiring anything/anyone more than God), anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lying. These are broken up into two chunks. “You used to walk in these ways… and now you must also rid yourselves of such things as these” (3:7-8). As Christ followers, there will always be areas that we look back on and say “I used to walk in that way,” and areas that we look at and say “now I must also rid myself of such things as these.” All of these areas come up again and again throughout our lives, but this is different from “walking in these ways,” or making a daily practice of these things without inviting God to heal us. Look at this list and pray over which areas you are no longer “walking in” and which areas God is calling you to “rid yourself of.”
Note that “since you have taken off your old self… and have put on the new self” is in the past tense. That old humanity died with Christ, and when we sin we are now actually acting out of character. This is not who we are anymore, this is not our new self and our new identity. This perspective helps us “bear with each other and forgive one another” (3:13), and gives us the joy and motivation we need to turn to God for healing, knowing that he sees our sin as out of character for us as well. Our new life is Christ, and each day that we choose to live into that new life, we appear more and more like him. One day we will “also appear with him in his glory” (3:4).
Signs of the new life: setting our hearts on things above, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, unity, peace, thankfulness, wisdom, worship. In other words, Heaven is here now! And we get to experience it through putting these things into practice, living into who we know we will be in Heaven. I actually got to see this play out this week in one of you! It surprised you at first and you weren’t sure why your anger, rage, slander was replaced with everything under the new life, but this is what God does in us when we seek further depths in our relationships with Him. Seeing these miracles in each other’s lives is seriously the best!!
Finally, this new humanity erases all ethnic and social boundary lines we’ve created on Earth. The Messiah is all and is in all people (3:11).
I think the biggest stand out for Colossians from the other books is Paul’s encouragement of their gratitude and thanksgiving (1:3, 1:12, 2:7, 3:15-17, 4:2). Reading over Paul’s words on thankfulness paints a picture of a much more communal God, revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. He wants us to move away from an image of God as a dictator demanding all these things of us and evaluating our performance, and to move towards an image of a generous Father. For the Colossians, God now has not only created them, but He has rescued them and will continue to transform them. This is so worthy of celebrating and worshipping, and we do this through a lifestyle of thanks-living. The mark of the Christian is one who is thankful for everything, despite everything, because he/she is keenly aware of all that God has done, will do, and is inviting us into every second.
Transformation of the Household Structure
Colossians 3:18-4:1 can appear controversial at first read without background. Clarifying these verses is so important, it’s impossible to do it justice in a few sentences. That being said, I will summarize a bit here, but point to two places that give valuable information.
Overall, it is key to remember when reading these verses that they were very controversial and offensive during Paul’s time in the opposite way than they are now. This description of the Christian household is almost unrecognizable in comparison to the normal family system back then, which was a highly authoritarian institution. Husbands and fathers had total control over the life and death of their children, slaves, and wives. Paul encouraging husbands to love their wives, and not embitter their children, and to remember they too have a master in Heaven was very radical and began the cultural changes that have formed Christian families today. These verses are short points of Ephesians 5:21-6:9. The midweek study I did on these verses really fleshes out the beauty of what Paul is saying here. Click the link below to read more of Paul’s amazing and sanctifying analysis of marriage and parenthood.
Paul ends Colossians with the praise of Onesimus, who is present with everyone hearing the letter. He’s a runaway slave of Philemon, a man from Colossae. Sean will address this more next week, but here in Colossians it’s important to note that Paul asks everyone in the church to greet him as a “faithful and dear brother” (4:9). A beautiful ending to illustrate the united family of God under the banner of Jesus that Paul is so willing to die for.
Matt Tuggle gave the best sermon I’ve ever heard about a month ago. It was on Ephesians 6:5-9, but would still perfectly apply to Paul’s words on slavery in Colossians. He mentions Onesimus and Philemon. It brought me so much clarity on how the Bible talks about slavery when it used to make me so uncomfortable and concerned. And he draws the connection to present day brokenness in the workplace and how we attribute more value to some people and kinds of work than others. Somehow one of the choir members is falling asleep behind Matt. Not sure how cause this was riveting for me.
Questions for Comments
I would love to hear y’alls thoughts on the questions below, or any others that came up for you, in the comment section! And don’t forget to log on to our virtual midweek Bible study, today, and each Monday at 4, to go even deeper.
- When we sin, we are acting out of character, out of our old self, and that is not truly who we are or how God sees us in the light of Christ. How does that impact that way we should view sin, ourselves, God?
- What is it about thankfulness that changes our hearts and our lives so drastically?
- Have Paul’s teachings on marriage, parenthood, and slavery ever made you uncomfortable? What has your studying of the meaning behind these verses looked like?