CHRIST IN THE LIFE Colossians 3–4
“As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).It’s easy to recognize Christ in another person’s life—and even easier to recognize Him in your own.
Review and preview.
Paul began his letter by affirming the superiority of Christ. He then showed that our union with Christ is the key to a vital Christian experience. Because we are “in Christ,” His power can flow through us. We were saved by faith in Christ, and we must live by faith in Him. Alone. Now Paul went on to describe Christ in the Christian’s life. How do we recognize His presence? Paul earlier rejected the notion that spiritual reality is found or displayed by following religious rules or self-discipline’s “harsh treatment of the body.” Now he showed that spiritual reality is experienced and expressed in rejection of evil and a transformed character. We recognize Christ in the Christian’s life by the love and mutual submission expressed in every relationship. What a thrilling book Colossians is. And what wonderful assurance it provides. Christ is supreme. We are in Christ. And Christ now lives out His own holy and dynamic life through us.
Christ makes us new persons, who reject evil (3:1–11), live holy, loving lives (vv. 12–17), and express our faith in relationships rather than by keeping rules (v. 18–4:1). Paul concluded with several instructions (vv. 2–6) and lengthy greetings (vv. 7–18).
Understanding the Text
“You have been raised with Christ” Col. 3:1–4.
It’s easy for us to feel down. When we do, Paul has a suggestion. Look up. Look up, and see Christ seated at the right hand of God. And then realize that you are up there too for “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” In Tarpon Springs, a little city about 10 miles from where we live, one of the major occupations is sponge diving. The sponge diver puts a helmet on his head, drops into the water, and as he gathers sponges he breathes through air lines fed by pumps in a boat far above him. Without that connection to a source of life far above him, the diver would be unable to survive. Paul is telling us that we too live this life in a dangerous and deadly environment. But we too are connected to a source of life far above us. Whenever we feel down, or get discouraged, or feel endangered, we’re to fix our minds not on what surrounds us, but on what sustains us. The very life force of Jesus flows into and through us. Because we are connected to Him, we will not only survive. We will triumph. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” Col. 3:5–11. The Christian’s greatest enemy is not outside, but inside. It is the “earthly nature” which struggles to express itself in our attitudes and actions. We need to be alert, recognize that nature for what it is, and deal with its appearance immediately. How can you recognize the earthly nature? It’s that nature that has crept out whenever you sense yourself feeling anger or malice, whenever your thoughts wander to the impure, or your imagination to what you would do if you had a million dollars. And the time to deal with it is as soon as the first thoughts and feelings drift across your consciousness. How? Paul said, “Put [it] to death” (v. 5), and he further explained with the image of “taking off” the old self and “putting on” the new. My wife likes to try on clothes. She prides herself as a teacher in looking professional, and is very conscious of how she dresses. And she’s very critical of what she tries on. What looks good on the rack may not hang just right, or be cut just right, to fit her well. This is a picture of what Paul is telling us here in Colossians. Take a good look in the mirror, and when you sense anger or impurity or evil desires in yourself, decisively reject them. Such things simply don’t fit the Christian! God has a much better looking set of clothing for us, one that fits and flatters us. And also honors Him. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” Col. 3:12–14. How does Christ express Himself in the believer’s life? First, He clothes us in His own character, filling us with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. He gives us grace to forgive as we have been forgiven, and fills us with love. Then He calls us to live out His character in our relationships with others. This is true spirituality. It is not found in rules that we follow, or in rigorous self-discipline. It is found instead in simple and pure expressions of compassion and love for others (see DEVOTIONAL). “Let the peace of Christ rule” Col. 3:15–16. In the Old Testament peace is shalom, which conveys a sense of well-being, of harmony within and without. When Christ has drained us of our selfishness and competitiveness and given us His own deep love for others, peace will rule in our hearts, and in our congregations. Then we will be able to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” and will worship together with joy. True spirituality is Christ living out His life through the individual believer, and through a united Christian community. “Whatever you do” Col. 3:17. The false teachers at Colosse had impressed everyone with their rigor and the many rules they proposed for spiritual advancement. Paul shrugged all that aside, and replaced every do and don’t with one instruction. “Whatever you do . . . do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This is really the only rule required by those who wear the new man, and in whom Christ is being formed. “Lord, can I do this in Your name, rejoicing and thanking God for the opportunity?” If you have put off the old man, and the answer to this question is “Yes,” rules and regulations are irrelevant. “Wives, submit” Col. 3:18–4:1. If Christians don’t need rules, why did Paul go on immediately to instruct wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters? We see a similar pattern in the Old Testament. In Exodus 20 God gave Israel Ten Commandments expressed as principles: do not do this, or that, or the other. Then in chapters 21–23 a number of specific cases are discussed. This “case law” illustrates how the general principles are to be applied. In the same way Paul now illustrated how the qualities he had described, and the general principle of acting in Christ’s name, will be expressed in the most intimate personal relationships of the first-century world. Paul’s choice of illustrations brings home a telling point. Those who will really know if Christ is in our lives are those who know us best—our families, and people we work with every day. A spirituality which does not find expression in these relationships is empty indeed. “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly” Col. 4:2–6. Expressing Christ in our lives is vital to an effective witness. But it is not enough. The Gospel is a message delivered in words, and authenticated by life. Both word and life must be shared.
The Emperor’s New Clothes(Col. 3:6–17)
You remember the story. The fast-talking tailor convinced the emperor he was preparing a magnificent suit from cloth so special that only an honest man could see it. The emperor couldn’t see it, but he was too embarrassed to say so. His courtiers couldn’t see it, but since they didn’t dare appear dishonest, they loudly praised it at every fitting. And so when the special occasion came for which the suit was being made, the emperor proudly marched down the avenue—in his underwear. Only the snicker of a little child, the only one truly honest, brought the fraud all knew about into the open. Colossians has been something like this story. Paul had taken an honest look at the “superior” religion of false humility, ritual, and rigorous self-discipline promoted by some at Colosse, and exposed it. Folks who struggle to put on this suit find that, like the emperor, they have nothing on at all! All they have done has no spiritual value at all. But Paul did go on to describe clothing fit for an emperor—clothing you and I are to wear. It is not the cloaking of ourselves in pious appearing actions. It’s putting on the new self we have in Christ and reflecting His image. Our new clothes are not seen in the rules we keep, but the love we express. The marks of reality in the Christian life are a warm compassion, a responsive kindness, an unself-conscious humility, a gentleness and patience, that well up in our lives as we love, worship, and respond to Jesus. The mark of reality in the Christian life is Christ’s likeness, as Jesus expresses Himself through us in every relationship. Don’t worry about looking pious, or even feeling pious. That’s as useless as the emperor’s invisible suit of clothes. Love Jesus, let His love fill your life, and “whatever you do” do it thankfully, in Jesus’ name. Then you’ll find that you are clothed with a compassion and kindness fit for a child of the King of kings.
Let Christ show Himself to the world in your life.
“The person who has the abundance of life Christ came to bring us can spend virtue lavishly because his resources are plentiful. He can care for people unreservedly, the people near him and all over the earth, people of his own creed, color, and nationality and those of other faiths, races, and nations, because his resources of care are attached to the limitless reservoirs of God’s care. “He can afford to be slighted, shunned, hurt, because he has enough forgiveness in his heart for any crisis that comes his way. He can squander love upon the undeserving and the unresponsive because he knows there will always be more love where the last love came from.”—Harold E. Kohn