Colossians 3:1-4:6-The Practice of the Supremacy of Jesus
Colossians 3:1-4-In the context of spiritual growth
Colossians 3:1-2-Paul now tells us the correct way to grow spiritually..."keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated...Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." These people were trying to use earthly (human, physical) means to accomplish spiritual growth and Paul reminds them that spiritual growth is the result of a developing relationship with Christ, not the product of rituals. Having come to this awareness, they have “died” to the false conceptions that bodily exercise will accomplish spiritual growth (they no longer trust in its effectiveness). It is so easy to be deceived into believing that because I am going through the motions of religious activity that I am automatically growing spiritually, or that such activity is in fact itself spiritual growth. These activities can be good things such as attending church, reading my Bible, and being involved in service. But they are the tools that God uses for the process of spiritual growth…not the goal, itself; not the spiritual growth, itself. If they become the goal, and not the process…then they will be unproductive. Just adding another Bible study class, attending another prayer meeting, or giving more money will not necessarily produce spiritual growth. As Paul says, I must not set my mind on these things…i.e.-trust that increased involvement in these activities is spiritual growth. I must realize that they are tools that God uses in the process to help me set my mind on the “things above”…on Christ, Himself. These activities align me in the process that the Holy Spirit uses to transform my life, to produce spiritual growth. They position me in the Holy Spirit by focusing my mind on Christ more intently so that He can now accomplish spiritual growth in me.
Instead of being influenced by superstition regarding earthly elements and observing silly human decrees (2:20, etc.) Christians put off all the vices of the old man and put on all the virtues of the new, spiritual life. Note that, like the vices, the virtues here listed by Paul pertain to the second table of the law. Our relation and our devotion to God ever show themselves in our attitude and our conduct toward our brethren and our fellow men. 1 John 4:20, 21. Our love to God is attested by our love to men in Christ Jesus. Away with the philosophy, tradition of men, decrees about material elements (2:8), all of which are an empty show of wisdom (2:23)!
Lenski, R. C. H. (1937). The interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (p. 169). Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, Logos Bible Software
Colossians 3:5-7-In the context of moral practices
Paul admonishes them to make a decision ("consider") to be dead to the temptations of their earthly body. The Greek literally says, "5. put to death therefore the members of you on the earth...". The verb tense of "put to death" is 1 Aorist…meaning that it is an action that they have already done in the past, once and for all, that has on-going results. And, it is in the Imperative Mood…meaning that it is a command. Paraphrase, "Since you have already put your old nature to death, do not allow it to come back to life again and have control over you." Paul gives a list of behaviors that are characteristic of the old nature. He says that they result in wrath, God’s judgment. If indeed, you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then He should reign supreme over all of your life…including your moral practices. You have decided that you are “dead” (:5) to these unrighteous practices and you have “put on the new self” that is being constantly shaped into the image (character) of Jesus (:10).
Colossians 3:8-17-In the context of personal relationships
Colossians 3:8-11-This is the way that they once related to other people (anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, lie to one another). But now, they are commanded to "put them all aside"…to stop behaving that way and to never do so, again. They have "put on the new self" and they are "being renewed". A close study of the verbs in these verses (“put them all aside”-:8, “laid aside”-:9, “put on”-:10) in the Greek language reveals that these actions (verbs) are in the Middle Voice...meaning that we are working together with someone else in this action. The Holy Spirit is working with us in this process. We cannot do it alone. And then, we are being “renewed”. This is a Passive Verb…meaning that we are not doing anything, but something is being done to us. This is the work that only the Holy Spirit can do. He is renewing us.
Renew, Renewing (Verb and Noun):
"to make new" (ana, "back" or "again," kainos, "new," not recent but different), "to renew," is used in the Passive Voice in 2Cr 4:16, of the daily renewal of "the inward man" (in contrast to the physical frame), i.e., of the "renewal" of spiritual power; in Col 3:10, of "the new man" (in contrast to the old unregenerate nature), which "is being renewed unto knowledge," RV (cp. No. 3 in Eph 4:23), i.e., the true knowledge in Christ, as opposed to heretical teachings.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G341&t=KJV
So, as we have “laid aside” the old self and “put on” the new self (we take responsibility for what we can do)...it positions us in such a way that God can now renew us. This is a renewal to a "true knowledge" that is in keeping with the revelation of Jesus (as opposed to the teachings of the other people that Paul has mentioned)...and, it is the same for all people.
Colossians 3:12-17-Paul says that since we are the chosen ones of God...as a result of God's action we are "holy and beloved".
Choice, Choose, Chosen:
Elect, Elected, Election:
lit. signifies "picked out, chosen" (ek, "from," lego, "to gather, pick out"), and is used of
(a) Christ, the "chosen" of God, as the Messiah, Luk 23:35 (for the verb in Luk 9:35 see Note below), and metaphorically as a "living Stone," "a chief corner Stone," 1Pe 2:4, 6; some mss. have it in Jhn 1:34, instead of huios, "Son;"
(b) angels, 1Ti 5:21, as "chosen" to be of especially high rank in administrative association with God, or as His messengers to human beings, doubtless in contrast to fallen angels (see 2Pe 2:4; Jud 1:6);
(c) believers (Jews or Gentiles), Mat 24:22, 24, 31; Mar 13:20, 22, 27; Luk 18:7; Rom 8:33; Col 3:12; 2Ti 2:10; Tts 1:1; 1Pe 1:1; 2:9 (as a spiritual race); Mat 20:16; 22:14; Rev 17:14, "chosen;" individual believers are so mentioned in Rom 16:13; 2Jo 1:1, 13.
Believers were "chosen" "before the foundation of the world" (cp. "before times eternal," 2Ti 1:9), in Christ, Eph 1:4, to adoption, Eph 1:5; good works, Eph 2:10; conformity to Christ, Rom 8:29; salvation from the delusions of the Antichrist and the doom of the deluded, 2Th 2:13; eternal glory, Rom 9:23.
The source of their "election" is God's grace, not human will, Eph 1:4, 5; Rom 9:11; 11:5. They are given by God the Father to Christ as the fruit of His death, all being foreknown and foreseen by God, Jhn 17:6; Rom 8:29. While Christ's death was sufficient for all men, and is effective in the case of the "elect," yet men are treated as responsible, being capable of the will and power to choose. For the rendering "being chosen as firstfruits," an alternative reading in 2Th 2:13, see FIRSTFRUITS.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1588&t=KJV
Therefore, we are to "put on" a lifestyle that is in keeping with that character. Paul lists several qualities of this lifestyle. We should “put on a heart of”…
- “compassion” (pity, mercy-:12)
- “kindness” (:12)
Good, Goodly, Goodness:
akin to A, No. 3, denotes "goodness"
(a) in the sense of what is upright, righteous, Rom 3:12 (translated "good");
(b) in the sense of kindness of heart or act, said of God, Rom 2:4; 11:22 (thrice); Eph 2:7 ("kindness"); Tts 3:4 ("kindness"); said of believers and rendered "kindness," 2Cr 6:6; Col 3:12; Gal 5:22 (RV; AV, "gentleness"). It signifies "not merely goodness as a quality, rather it is goodness in action, goodness expressing itself in deeds; yet not goodness expressing itself in indignation against sin, for it is contrasted with severity in Rom 11:22, but in grace and tenderness and compassion." *[* From Notes on Galatians, by Hogg and Vine, p. 292.]
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5544&t=NASB
- “humility” (:12)
- “gentleness” (:12)
- “patience” (:12)
- “bearing with one another” (:13)
- “forgiving each other” (:13).
- We are to “put on love”...that will result in unity (:14).
- We are to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”...that will maintain us as one body (:15).
- We are to let the "word of Christ richly dwell" ("dwell" means to inhabit) in us…through wise teaching and admonishing, and through music that elicits thankfulness for all that God has done (:16).
Everything should be done in light and reference to Jesus.
Colossians 3:18-21-In the context of family relationships
If Christ is supreme in our lives…then that supremacy certainly is active in the family. Jesus has the sovereign right to determine how we relate to one another…husbands and wives, as well as parents and children.
Colossians 3:22-41-In the context of the slave/master relationship
servants and masters (3:22–4:1)
The guidelines for slavery were more complex than any of the other relationships. At the same time, they reveal the heart of the matter that underlies these commands. They are perplexing because it seems that Paul should have written to undermine the institution of slavery or at least to encourage the revolt of the slaves. On the one hand, to do so, would have caused significant difficulty in the first-century setting, and undue persecution would result. Besides, Christians could do little by force. On the other hand, the teaching of the apostle here and elsewhere clearly sowed the seed for the emancipation of slaves and the end of the institution. Paul did what he could in the best way possible.
Most slaves (douloi, sometimes translated “servants”) found themselves in situations of hopelessness. Slaves were, generally speaking, victims of war. The slavery was political and economic, not racial. Similarly, virtually every class of person lived with the realization that war could cause them to lose everything and be sold into slavery. Those who revolted, seeking to use power to gain freedom, found themselves in a worse position than before. It simply would not do for Paul to advocate slaves walking away from their masters. That would endanger many innocent lives and frustrate the spread of the gospel.
This penetrates to the heart of the entire “house-table” section. How could slaves respond positively as Christians within their circumstances? Surely they could make a valid response to the gospel that would produce a better situation for them now and in eternity. Paul, in fact, presented the appropriate response. He called them to acknowledge and accept the fact that God knew their situations and that he rewarded them for how they acted in those situations.
Paul said more to the slaves than to any other group in this context. This may have been the result of several factors. First, there may have been a large number of slaves in the congregation at Colossae. Second, there may have been trouble among the slaves. Possibly some slaves were encouraged by the successful escape of Onesimus from Colossae to Rome. Perhaps he became a kind of folk hero, the idol of the downtrodden. Clearly, there is some reason so much attention is placed on Onesimus in Paul’s writings. Therefore, Paul may have been concerned to promote harmony in the church and the home. Third, Paul may have been troubled in general by the institution of slavery. His associations with Onesimus in Rome perhaps reminded him of the atrocities of the institution even when the slave had a Christian master. The Epistle to Philemon reveals that Paul advised Onesimus to return at some risk and, no doubt, only after a renewed consideration of the implications of his words. Such human relationships bring home the personal dimensions of an otherwise theoretical theology. Paul’s emphasis on the Lord as the master surely reveals his dislike of human masters in any form…
3:23 Paul continued the command to genuine service by urging slaves to work “with all your heart” (Col 3:23). Recalling the general admonition of 3:17 (“whatever you do, whether in word or deed”), Paul applied the principle to the slaves’ work. The command involves the imperative form of the word “work.” Even work for someone else was to be heartfelt. Literally, Paul stated they should work “out of soul.” The phrase occurs synonymously with the word “heart,” but if there is a difference, perhaps it is in the fact that “soul” stresses the life principle and expended energy, rather than the pure choice which comes from the heart. Thus one may choose to work from the heart, but the actual work done comes from the life source itself.92 The point is that the Lord concerns himself with the expenditure of energy and choices made with the life. He is the real Master.
3:24 Three motivations for such service are given in vv. 24–25. The first appeals to the motive of reward, “You will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” Paul introduced the idea by appealing to what they knew already. They knew the doctrine of rewards and punishments; now they were to count on it with their lives. As slaves, they could look forward to little on this earth. Perhaps some rewards were given for good work, but there was no inheritance. In speaking of rewards, Paul challenged them to consider the fact that their rewards were spiritual. Such rewards could not be taken away, and the real Master would pay them what really matters. The reward and inheritance seem to have involved the presence of the Lord himself. Thus, the motive was faithfulness to the Lord in the circumstances of life. Being a Christian meant that the concerns of heaven were to occupy the thoughts and energies of those on earth. This motivation strengthened many slaves on earth. In it, those called to be slaves have taught the free that real freedom is internal, rather than external. They have also shown that real riches may be found in the midst of earthly poverty.
The second motivation was the sovereignty of the Lord: “It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (3:23b). The emphasis is clearly on the Lord. The rather unusual combination of “Lord” and “Christ” without the term “Jesus,” points to two titles which were applied to the risen Jesus. “Christ” (Christos) referred to his messianic work; “Lord” (kyrios), to his sovereignty. Perhaps the combination served to remind the slaves of one of two truths, or both. The first was that they were to be conscious of their salvation, which came from the same one who was their Master. If he cared enough to save, he could care for all their needs. The second was that the combination stresses two aspects of the Lord’s work which apply especially to slaves. His work of salvation was a total redemption. They knew that they served a Redeemer who is sovereign. He could deliver them in time, and he would deliver them in eternity. If, therefore, he allowed them to remain in slavery, he had some other plan for their lives. His plan temporarily overrode his deliverance. Whichever of these seem appropriate, the slaves were reminded that the Christian slave really serves the Lord.
3:25 The third motivation is given in v. 25: “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.” Here Paul reminded them of God’s justice. Some commentators think Paul changed subjects in this verse and began his address to masters. They base the interpretation on the difficulty of conceiving that slaves could do such wrong, especially since it is heartfelt work that is the subject. Surely, they say, Paul warned the masters that God is also a God of vengeance and will repay justly. On the other hand, the principle of justice could have been a comfort for the slaves themselves. Some were mistreated, and their hope of vindication lay in the hands of God. Paul reminded them that God sees and judges according to perfect justice. A third possibility is that Paul had both parties in mind, and this general statement was applicable to all. If slaves did wrong, they would be punished by their heavenly Master. If earthly masters did wrong, they too would be punished by the Lord. However, the connective “for” (gar) makes this statement dependent on what preceded, and the flow of thought continues well without changing subject. On the whole, it seems that Paul comforted and motivated the slaves by appealing to God’s justice.
The judgment of God occurs frequently in the Scriptures. Here Paul seems to have based his statements on the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye,” indicating that God would judge accurately. The justice of God is further indicated by the word “favoritism.” The Greek term actually means “partiality,”95 and three of the four times it occurs in the New Testament it refers to God’s impartiality in judgment (Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25). The other time it calls for believers to be impartial in their treatment of others (Jas 2:1). In each case, it suggests that judgments should not be based on external matters, but on what really is. One of those externals clearly identified is economic status (Jas 2:1). Here, then, the word applies to the master/slave relationship.
It may seem strange that the judgment applies equally to believers and unbelievers. Christian slaves took comfort in knowing that their unjust, unbelieving masters would face judgment day. The statement is almost proverbial. Surely Christian masters came under the judgment of God. God’s righteousness demands that any injustice be punished.
4:1 No doubt these last words led Paul to address masters in terms of justice to their slaves. If they were to avoid judgment, they had to have a concern for fairness. Paul might well have inserted another proverb at this point: “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” Although slaves did not receive salaries, their basic needs were to be met in keeping with the value of human effort, time, and life. Such considerations would radically change the attitude of slaves to masters and of masters to slaves.
Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, pp. 317–319). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, Logos Bible Software
For additional information on what the Bible has to say about slavery see:
Prayer: Father, teach me to recognize when I am allowing my old self, my own desires, to have control over my life. Help me to put those things off...to not give them control. Help me to constantly give control of my life to You.