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Rules for Holy Living October 20, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Colossians 3:1-17.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Colossians – as they have been resurrected with Christ – to concentrate their thoughts on their heavenly lives, where they are seated (since Christ is seated). He exhorts them to think heavenly thoughts. This stems from the fact that in their spiritual baptism, they died to the world, and they were buried out of sight. Their new life is Christ, and when He appears, their life will be revealed to the world.

Paul then exhorts the Colossians to kill all aspects of their sinful nature, including:

  • uncleanness
  • base passions
  • covetousness – as the soul can be devoted to greed.

These aspects of their sinful nature actually establish the certainty of the final judgment. They had indulged these sins when they had not died to the world. Now they must kill all vices, including:

  • settled feelings of hatred
  • tumultuous outbursts of passion
  • having a vicious nature bent on doing harm to others
  • evil speaking.

Also, they should not tell each other untruths, as they have already 1) died to the world and 2) been regenerated by Christ unto perfect knowledge after God’s image. In their regenerated lives, there are no distinctions based on:

  • religious privilege by birth
  • religious privilege by adoption
  • civilization and culture
  • economic status

since Christ has obliterated all of these distinctions – He occupies the whole sphere of human life.

Now in light of the fact that Christ occupies the whole sphere of human life, Paul exhorts the Colossians – as elect ones of God – to:

  • have right relationships with others
  • have a right estimate of themselves
  • avoid rudeness
  • avoid resentment.

They should forgive those who have debts to them that need to be remitted. Over and above all these exhortations they should love each other – this is the bond of perfection.

Paul then exhorts the Colossians to let Christ’s peace be their umpire – as they are called as members of one body and should have one spirit animating them. They should have the presence of Christ in their hearts, especially as they sing spiritual songs, giving thanks to God in the process. Paul concludes by exhorting them to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Thoughts: The analogous passage in Ephesians is Ephesians 4:17-5:21, which I’ve blogged about. Now in this passage, we see that the world does not know believers in the way that they will be known when Christ returns. Lightfoot offers some intriguing thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

The apostle’s argument is this: “When you sank under the baptismal water, you disappeared forever to the world. You rose again, it is true, but you rose only to God. The world from then on knows nothing of your new life, and (as a consequence) your new life must know nothing of the world.”

Initially, I found this note by Lightfoot to be rather confusing; if believers declare themselves as Christians, how can non-believers (i.e. “the world”) not know this? I then looked more closely at Lightfoot’s note, which includes the point that “your new life must know nothing of the world.” Now I understand Paul’s argument as follows: there are two distinct spheres of existence – one pertains to the world and is characterized by sin, while the other pertains to heaven and is characterized by righteousness. These two spheres are immiscible. Clearly, it follows that believers “have disappeared forever to the world”; while they live in the world, they do not belong to its sphere.

In verse 11, we see that Christ has obliterated the distinctions between people that would lead some of them to refer to others as barbarians. Lightfoot offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

“Not until that word ‘barbarian,'” writes Professor Max Muller, “was struck out of the dictionary of mankind and replaced by ‘brother,’ not until the right of all nations of the world to be classed as members of one genus or kind was recognized, can we look even for the first beginnings of our civilization. This change was effected by Christianity…”

If Muller is correct in this regard, he presents a powerful testimony of the transformative power of the Gospel message. He implies that people from more “civilized” societies, including those of Greece and Rome, regarded other cultures as barbaric – where those “barbarians” spoke inferior tongues. One must wonder if these supercilious attitudes pervaded Colosse before Epaphras preached the Gospel in the Lycus River Valley; did the Colossian believers formerly view Scythians as dunces who spoke a base language? Now this should also remind modern-day believers that all languages have inherent worth; we must not glorify our mother tongue at the expense of other languages.

In verse 16, we see that Paul exhorts the Colossians to display the presence of Christ in their hearts via singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point:

Psalmody and hymnody were highly developed in the religious services of the Jews at this time. They would thus find their way into the Christian church from the very beginning. For instances of singing hymns or psalms in the apostolic age, see Acts 4:24; 16:25; 1 Corinthians 14:15, 26. Hence even in St. Paul’s letters, especially his later letters, fragments of such hymns appear to be quoted; for example, Ephesians 5:14.

Tracing the progression of Christian liturgy from the apostolic era to the modern era would be a fascinating exercise. Indeed, Christian worship traditions have evolved through the centuries – and in many instances individual congregations have sought deeper meaning and closeness to God by reviving older traditions. It should also be noted that the introduction of new worship styles is generally met with opposition from well-meaning believers. Perhaps the main message of this verse is this: one important function of worship is the revelation of Christ in each believer. Of course, seeing Christ in others can be a difficult endeavor, as we do not yet have His mind.

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