“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Colossians 3:1 NLT).
Like many of the God-inspired New Testament books authored by Paul the Apostle, the Biblical book of Colossians follows a distinct pattern. That pattern is expressed within this Epistle in two prominent sections: doctrinal and practical. The doctrinal portion of Colossians includes most of chapters one and two, with Colossians 1:15-20 serving as a focal point. These opening chapters establish a number of important truths regarding the Person and work of Christ. They also provide us with a God-honoring foundation that will help us live the kind of life that glorifies God.
Beginning here in Colossians chapter three, Paul will continue by emphasizing the practical application of the doctrinal truths he has worked to establish over the preceding chapters of this letter. To accomplish this, chapters three and four will shift our focus to several different human relationships to illustrate the way these truths function in daily life.
This relational emphasis is important because a proper understanding of our relationship with God is something that should impact the way we relate to others. For instance, a person who prayerfully observes the doctrinal truths established in the preceding chapters of Colossians is someone who will not act dishonorably (Colossians 3:5). In addition, he or she will not act inappropriately (verse 8), unethically (verse 9), or disrespectfully towards other human beings who have been created in God’s image (verse 11).
Instead, a person who has been raised to new life in Christ will reflect the positive characteristics of mercy, kindness, and genuine humility (verse 12). He or she will also exhibit the qualities of wisdom, love, forgiveness, peacefulness, and thankfulness (verses 13-16). Finally, he or she will follow a God-honoring work ethic that instills genuine meaning and purpose into the tasks of daily life (verse 17).
The remaining verses of Colossians chapter three will then finish with some guidance for family and business relationships. While the instructions found in Colossians 3:18-22 are certain to offend the beliefs and attitudes of many modern-day audiences, we’ll find that there is more to this passage than a superficial reading might suggest. When viewed in their complete Biblical context, the guidelines that close this chapter will promote a number of positive (and perhaps unanticipated) results that we’ll examine in greater detail when we reach that portion of Scripture.
“Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1 NET).
Whenever we see the word “therefore” within the pages of the Bible, we would do well to pay attention to the portion of Scripture that immediately follows. You see, this word indicates that a Biblical author is ready to summarize the content of a preceding section and present us with a plan of action to implement that message. As one source observes, the use of this word “…links the doctrinal section (i.e., chapters 1-2) with the practical section (i.e., chapters 3-4). This is a standard literary form in Paul’s writings (cf. Rom. 5:1; 8:1; 12:1; Eph. 4:1; Phil. 4:1).” (1)
Here in Colossians 3:1, the word “therefore” also serves to alert us to the existence of a cause and effect relationship. The NIV translation of this passage emphasizes this idea by rendering this verse in the following manner: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above…” So in view of the fact that we have been raised with Christ to a new life (the “cause”), we ought to view the affairs of life from a heavenly perspective (the resulting effect).
Jesus illustrated this concept in a familiar passage from His Sermon on the Mount…
“Don’t worry and ask yourselves, ‘Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?’ Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well” (Matthew 6:31-33 CEV).
Paul the Apostle reiterated this idea in a practical manner as well…
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:6-8 NIV).
If we prayerfully apply the counsel found in Colossians 3:1 and seek those things that are above, then we are certain to benefit from the resulting effect in our daily lives.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Colossians 3:1 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL08/VOL08A_02.html
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).
Most people are unlikely to read obituary notices unless a friend, loved one, or famous individual has recently passed away. Nevertheless, a glance at an obituary notice presents us with a historical record that documents the lives of those who are deceased. In addition to the surviving family members, an obituary often provides us with a list of career achievements, social activities, hobbies, and other interests that characterized those who have passed from this life.
While it may not be pleasant to consider, it might be said that we spend our lives writing the content of our obituary notices. For instance, think about our financial statements, leisure pursuits, social media posts, and other activities. These often serve to reveal the things we really care about. Much like the biographical sketch contained within an obituary notice, these records document the interests and affections of our lives. In other words, they help identify the things we set our minds upon.
One author has made an interesting observation in this regard: “Sometimes we say of a man, ‘Music is his life—Sport is his life—He lives for his work.’ Such a man finds life and all that life means in music, in sport, in work, as the case may be. For the Christian, Christ is his life. Jesus Christ dominates his thought and fills his life.” (1)
Jesus spoke about the importance of what we set our minds upon in the context of His second advent…
“Constantly be on your guard so that your hearts will not be loaded down with self-indulgence, drunkenness, and the worries of this life, or that day will take you by surprise like a trap, because it will come on everyone who lives on the face of the earth” (Luke 21:34-35 ISV).
We can help “set our minds on the things above” by asking the following questions in the daily decisions of life…
- “Is this appropriate from God’s perspective?”
- “Am I making the best use of the talents, skills, and abilities God has given me in this situation?”
- “Am I handling these circumstances in a God-honoring manner?”
These questions offer a vertical perspective that can help us act on the counsel given here in Colossians 3:2. As one commentator states, “As a compass points N, the believer’s entire disposition should point itself toward the things of heaven. Heavenly thoughts can only come by understanding heavenly realities from Scripture (cf. Ro 8:5; 12:2; Php 1:23; 4:8; 1Jn 2:15–17…).” (2)
Image Credit: Glgy Mag 1919 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Colossians 3”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-2.html 1956-1959.
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Col 3:2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3 NET).
One of the more famous incidents involving the Old Testament nation of Israel concerned a woman named Rahab. Rahab lived within the ancient city of Jericho, the first military target for the people of Israel as they entered the land of Canaan. The inhabitants of Jericho responded to the threat posed by the advancing Israelites by sealing the entry points into the city to prevent anyone from entering or leaving (Joshua 6:1).
However, two Israelite spies had already penetrated the city and established a residence within Rahab’s home. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t long before the authorities arrived…
“…someone informed the king of Jericho that two Israelis who were suspected of being spies had arrived in the city that evening. He dispatched a police squadron to Rahab’s home, demanding that she surrender them. ‘They are spies,’ he explained. ‘They have been sent by the Israeli leaders to discover the best way to attack us.’
But she had hidden them, so she told the officer in charge, ‘The men were here earlier, but I didn’t know they were spies. They left the city at dusk as the city gates were about to close, and I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them!’ But actually she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath piles of flax that were drying there” (Joshua 2:2-6 TLB).
So what does this have to do with the passage from Colossians quoted above? Well, much like the spies who were safely hidden from certain death within the confines of Rahab’s home, Colossians 3:3 tells us “…[as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God” (AMP) (see 1 John 2:17). One commentary builds upon this idea with the following question and answer: “What does it mean that a believer’s life is ‘hidden with Christ’? Hidden means ‘concealed and safe.’ This is not only a future hope but an accomplished fact right now.” (1)
Jesus also offered the following encouragement for whose lives are “…hidden with Christ in God”…
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29 NLT).
(1) Life Application Study Bible [Colossians 3:3] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).
Whenever a Christian acts in a manner that seems inconsistent with his or her profession of faith, there are often some who are quick to follow with a charge of hypocrisy. That’s because Christians and non-Christians agree that there should be a discernible difference in the conduct of those who claim to follow Christ and those who don’t. In other words, a genuine relationship with God should produce the kind of lifestyle that honors Him. Beginning here in Colossians 3:5, Paul the Apostle will furnish us with a list of behavioral characteristics that have no place in the lives of those who claim to be Christians.
Now before we continue, we should note that this is not the only time Paul has referenced such behaviors. For instance, Paul made the following statement to the church at Corinth: “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT).
He also sent this message to the regional congregations of Galatia: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT).
We also have the following directive issued to the church in the city of Ephesus: “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (Ephesians 5:3-5 NLT).
Why did Paul encourage his readers to take action against such behaviors? Well, as one source has observed, “It is necessary to mortify sins, because if we do not kill them, they will kill us.” (1) We’ll take a closer look at these individual behaviors (and why we’re counseled to avoid them) over the next few studies.
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary [3:5-11] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=51&c=3
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 ESV).
Colossians 3:5 offers several examples of the types of inappropriate behaviors that have no place in the lives of those who claim to follow Christ. With this in mind, let’s consider the first item given to us in the passage quoted above.
The phrase “sexual immorality” is derived from the word porneia in the original language of this verse. As you might suspect, “porneia” serves as the foundation for the modern-day concept of “pornography.” In Biblical terms, this word is associated with various forms of inappropriate sexual conduct. These behaviors would include adulterous relationships, sexual relationships between unmarried couples, and same-sex relationships, among others. Jesus later expanded this definition to include internal expressions of sexual immorality as well (see Matthew 5:27-28).
In a general sense, the idea of “sexual immorality” encompasses any type of sexual activity that exceeds God’s intent for human relationships. Jesus identified that intent with a reference to the creation account given to us in the Biblical book of Genesis…
“…at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Mark 10:6-9 NIV).
Its important to note that Jesus directed our attention to God’s design for sexual expression within this quotation from the Gospel of Mark. He established those parameters through these references to Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24: a monogamous relationship initiated by God between one man and one woman who are legally and exclusively committed to one another as husband and wife. Physical relationships that fall outside these Scriptural parameters come under the general definition of “sexual immorality.”
While this standard is often ignored, rejected, or ridiculed today, it may come as a surprise to learn that this is nothing new. In fact, God’s model for human sexual relationships was as foreign to the social customs of first-century Colossae as it is today in much of our 21st century world. As one author observes…
“Chastity was the one completely new virtue which Christianity brought into the world. In the ancient world sexual relationships before marriage and outside marriage were the normal and accepted practice. The sexual appetite was regarded as a thing to be gratified, not to be controlled. That is an attitude which is not unfamiliar today…” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Colossians 3”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-2.html 1956-1959.
“Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 HCSB).
In addition to sexual immorality, Colossians 3:5 continues with a few additional traits that are inconsistent with God-honoring character. One such quality is impurity (ESV) or uncleaness (ASV). In a Biblical sense, these terms serve to identify those who possess immoral motives. While this idea primarily involves our internal thought life, it can also apply to the words and actions that proceed from those thoughts as well.
Another example is “passion” (RV, ESV). Unlike the romantic passion that often exists between young lovers, this characteristic is associated with an uncontrolled and illegitimate desire. (1) Other translations use phrases like “inordinate affection” (KJV) or “shameful passion” (NET) to differentiate this illicit form of passion from its healthy and appropriate alternative.
Next comes a related term: evil desire. This phrase is closely associated with the word “lust” as seen in the passage quoted above and identifies a craving, urge, or longing for something forbidden. (2) In a general sense, “lust” describes the mindset of a person who uses someone else to fulfill his or her desires. Lust differs from love in an important respect: love involves giving and selflessness (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7), while lust involves exploitation and selfishness (1st Thessalonians 4:3-5). Since God is love (1 John 4:8), lust is incompatible with His character.
Finally, this verse references greed or covetousness (ASV). This refers to an exorbitant drive to accumulate financial or material wealth or an intense desire to possess something (or someone) that belongs to someone else. According to one source, this word is used to identify one who is eager to have more, especially what belongs to others. (3) It also implies an attitude of jealousy towards those who seemingly possess something more or better than what we already own.
Colossians 3:5 associates this attitude with idolatry. Although we often associate the concept of idolatry with the worship of false deities, an idol can represent anything that takes the place of God in our lives. For instance, an idol can take the form of a person, a cause, a material object, or anything we love, fear, respect, or depend on more than God. Once something becomes more important than God in our lives, that thing (whatever it is) effectively becomes an idol.
As Jesus reminded us in Luke 12:15, “…Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
(1) Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon, pg. 158, quoted in Notes on Colossians 2019 Edition Dr. Thomas L. Constable (2:9-10a), https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm#_ftn258
(2) G1939 epithymia https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g1939
(3) G4123 pleonektes Thayer’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g4123
“Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them” (Colossians 3:6-7).
Much like the gathering clouds that signal the approach of an oncoming storm, the ungodly behaviors referenced in the preceding verse of this chapter are certain to lead to a response from humanity’s Creator. We can look to a few Old Testament events from the past to illustrate the warning given to us here in Colossians 3:6.
For instance, Genesis chapter eighteen records a meeting between God and the Old Testament patriarch Abraham just prior to the destruction of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 18:20-21 documents a portion of that conversation: “Then the LORD said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know’” (NiV).
Genesis chapter nineteen then goes on to identify the immediate cause of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction: an attempt by the citizens of that area to sexually assault God’s angelic representatives. However, the book of the Biblical prophet Ezekiel provides some additional information that helps explain why God took action against those cities: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).
Leviticus 18:26-28 provides us with another example. When God directed the Israelites to destroy the inhabitants of ancient Canaan, He did not instruct them to do so without cause…
“You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you.”
Genesis 15:13-16 indicates that the behaviors referenced here (including, but not limited to incest, bestiality, and child sacrifice) had been practiced for hundreds of years before the wrath of God caught up with the residents of that area. This was far from an impulsive act of vengeance undertaken by a capricious God. Instead, it represented a judicial response to those who engaged in acts that are still recognized as criminal behaviors.
In a similar manner, “It is because of these sins that God’s anger comes on those who refuse to obey him…” (GW).
“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).
While the list of inappropriate behaviors referenced earlier in Colossians 3:5 was primarily internal, the second list given to us in here in Colossians 3:8 is mainly external. Despite these differences, these characteristics are alike in one respect: they each have the potential to be highly destructive.
The first among these behaviors is anger. When it comes to feelings of anger, there is a common denominator that exists for virtually everyone: people usually get angry when they sense an injustice has been committed. With this in mind, let’s look at an expression of anger from Jesus’ life and see what we can learn from His experience…
“Now He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a paralyzed hand. In order to accuse Him, they were watching Him closely to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath.
He told the man with the paralyzed hand, ‘Stand before us.’ Then He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent.
After looking around at them with anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, He told the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Immediately the Pharisees went out and started plotting with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:1-6 HCSB).
If we accept the premise that people often respond in anger to the presence of an injustice, then what sort of injustice might have occurred in the Scripture quoted above? Well, it seems that these religious leaders were more concerned about maintaining their traditional interpretation of the Law than they were about freeing this man from his physical disability.
You see, there was no question that Jesus was a legitimate miracle-worker, even among his opponents. But Jesus also represented a threat to the authority of these leaders. In response, they placed an unjust priority on maintaining their position of leadership (and the system of tradition that sustained it) at the expense of meeting the human need that was set before them.
This unjust lack of consideration for the suffering and pain associated with this man’s physical condition led to Jesus’ angry response. However, there is one important difference between the anger displayed by Jesus in this passage and the anger that many experience today. We’ll consider that difference next.
“But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language” (Colossians 3:8 CEB).
While people may often respond in anger when confronted by an injustice, there are certainly many who are indifferent to presence of injustice in its various forms. However, we can rephrase this idea in a way that encompasses virtually everyone: people usually become angry when they sense an injustice has been committed against themselves.
This illustrates the difference between the type of anger that Jesus experienced in Mark 3:1-6 and the anger that most people experience today. The difference was that Jesus wasn’t angry over an injustice that had been committed against Him. Instead, He was angered over an injustice that had been committed against someone else.
The fact that the spiritual leaders of Jesus’ era were prepared to deprive someone of a healing for the sake of their tradition provoked Jesus’ angry response. In fact, Jesus was not only angered, but emotionally pained (or “grieved”) by the callous disregard of those who were willing to prevent someone from receiving the benefit of what He could do.
In light of this, we can say that anger may represent a legitimate and appropriate response in certain situations. Nevertheless, the New Testament book of Ephesians tells us that all anger (even justifiable anger) must be handled in a manner that demonstrates respect and reverence for God…
“And ‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT).
A God-honoring person knows that it’s not wrong to become angry when an injustice has occurred (especially when that injustice has been committed against someone else). Even so, we should also recognize that anger can turn into sin if we do not address it properly.
You see, the form of anger referenced here in Colossians 3:8 can be defined as “an abiding, settled, and habitual anger that includes in its scope the purpose of revenge.” (1) People don’t usually respond in such a manner unless they have let feelings of anger build up inside over a period of time. Therefore it is important to prayerfully manage this emotional response as soon as possible. As we’re told in the New Testament epistle of James…
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:18-20).
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on Colossians 3:8] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“But now you must stop doing such things. You must quit being angry, hateful, and evil. You must no longer say insulting or cruel things about others” (Colossians 3:8 CEV).
We’ll conclude our brief look at the subject of anger from Colossians 3:5 with some strategies for managing anger in a way that honors God.
When confronted by anger (legitimate or otherwise), its often helpful to disengage from the situation and respectfully approach God in prayer. We should be honest with God about the people and/or circumstances that have angered us and the reasons why. We can then ask for help in expressing those emotions constructively. We can do this as often as necessary, secure in the knowledge that God never tires of hearing from us even if it may seem as if we are discussing the same subjects repeatedly.
We might also ask for help in applying Scriptures like these…
“Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper–it only leads to harm” (Psalm 37:8 NLT).
“People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness” (Proverbs 14:29 NLT).
“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25 NIV).
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing” (Mark 11:25 CSB).
“Let there be no more resentment, no more anger or temper, no more violent self-assertiveness, no more slander and no more malicious remarks, Be kind to each other, be understanding. Be as ready to forgive others as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 Phillips).
Finally, there are several key questions that can help us recognize and distinguish between a legitimate expression of anger and something else…
“While an offending spouse, rebellious teen, or unfair boss can tempt (not cause) an anger response, you must ask yourself some key questions: Are you angry because of what the person did to you, or what he or she did to your Savior? Whom do you regard as the one most offended—you or Jesus?
In the midst of your heated emotion, are you consumed with yourself or with your God? Does your indignation arise because God’s name is dishonored, or because your pride has been hurt? Righteous anger arises because of the other person’s sin against God, not because of your personal hurts or vengeful desires.” (1)
(1) Robert D. Jones, Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem [Pg 39] P & R Publishing, 2005
“But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8 HCSB).
The next item on the list of behaviors given to us in Colossians 3:8 is wrath (KJV), fury (NABRE), or rage (NIV). This word signifies an intense form of anger characterized by a violent, explosive outburst of emotion. One source associates this response with “…a blaze of sudden anger which is quickly kindled and just as quickly dies. The Greeks likened it to a fire amongst straw, which quickly blazed and just as quickly burned itself out.” (1)
The New Testament book of Galatians correlates this behavior with a work of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-21) In fact, that portion of Scripture is followed by a passage that forms the basis of an ideal prayer request for those who are struggling in this area: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Another negative characteristic is malice. Malice refers to a vindictive desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering upon another. This word carries the idea of ill-will, spitefulness, and a malevolent attitude that takes pleasure when others suffer pain or loss. If we were to express this idea in terms of an athletic competition, we might say that a person with malice is not simply content to win; he or she wants to see an opponent lose in a painful or humiliating fashion.
Slander is is a related concept that involves the intentional communication of a false statement that is designed to injure another person’s reputation. Its interesting to note that “slander” is translated from the word blasphemia in the original language of this verse. If this word looks familiar, it may be due to the fact that blasphemia serves as the foundation for our modern-day word “blasphemy” and signals an attitude of contempt and/or disrespect for someone else.
Finally, its important to recognize that these characteristics are more of effect than a cause. The cause is traceable back to an internal attitude that generates such conduct. Jesus identified that cause for us in the following passage from the gospel of Matthew…
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person…” (Matthew 15:18-20 ESV).
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Colossians 3”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-3.html 1956-1959.
“But now rid yourselves [completely] of all these things: anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene (abusive, filthy, vulgar) language from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8 AMPC).
The Biblical prohibition against slander is something that is found in both the Old and New Testaments. For instance, Psalm 101:5 tells us, “I will not tolerate anyone who secretly slanders his neighbors…” (TLB). We then go on to read the following in the New Testament epistle of James…
“Brothers and sisters, stop slandering each other. Those who slander and judge other believers slander and judge God’s teachings. If you judge God’s teachings, you are no longer following them. Instead, you are judging them” (James 4:11 GW).
We should note the correlation between slander and judgment here in James 4:11. Remember that slander involves an intentionally false assessment of one’s character or motive. Therefore, we can view slander as a form of judgment. So in addition to the Biblical prohibitions given to us above, we can say that an act of slander also violates the standard given to us by Jesus in John 7:24: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24 NKJV).
We can avoid slandering others by making an effort to separate an individual from his or her actions. For instance, let’s take the example of someone who has made a foolish decision. While we might choose to refer to such a person as a fool, it is far more preferable to separate the individual from his or her decision and say, “You acted foolishly.” In this manner, we limit our judgment to the action of the person involved and avoid judging (and potentially slandering) another human being who is made in God’s image.
This verse then closes with a reference to “obscene talk” (ESV). Translators have employed a number of word-pictures to help communicate this idea for the benefit of modern-day audiences including…
- shameful speaking (ASV).
- foul talk (RSV).
- filthy language (CSB).
- abusive speech (NASB).
- insulting or cruel things about others (CEV).
This general directive would include things like immoral jokes, suggestive comments, or double entendres that are unsuitable for a person of God-honoring character. So in considering these prohibitions against malice, slander, and filthy language, we would do well to consider the warning issued by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew…
“I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37 NET).
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:9).
It seems that lying is so commonplace in modern-day society that people have almost come to expect it. For instance, some take a pragmatic approach to lying and simply view it as a way to get things done. For others, lying represents an effective way to avoid conflict, punishment, or an uncomfortable exchange with someone else. Then there are those who see lying as a valuable tool that can be used to advance a preferred narrative.
Of course, no one likes to be defined as a liar so we often invent ways to distance ourselves from the fact that we aren’t being honest. For example, politicians, salespersons, and interest groups are often skilled in framing “a” truth but not “the” truth. An employee who is asked to lie might respond by saying, “It’s just a part of the job.” Or perhaps we might justify a falsehood with the rationalization that it will somehow serve a greater good.
If our consciences begin to bother us regarding our lack of truthfulness, we can always excuse ourselves by explaining that our lie was small or inconsequential. However, there is a problem with that approach: if someone is untruthful in small things, then he or she is likely to be untruthful in larger matters as well. As Jesus noted in the gospel of Luke, “Anyone who can be trusted in little matters can also be trusted in important matters. But anyone who is dishonest in little matters will be dishonest in important matters” (Luke 16:10 CEV).
While lying often seems easier than then telling the truth, there is a penalty for taking the path of least resistance. That penalty takes the form of distrust in our relationships and leads to doubt and uncertainty in our interactions with others. This is one reason why Colossians 3:9 tells us, “Don’t tell lies to each other; it was your old life with all its wickedness that did that sort of thing; now it is dead and gone” (TLB).
We can honor God and gain the respect of others if we develop a reputation for honesty. In a world where straight answers are hard to come by, we should make it our aim to “…speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT).
“and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).
In today’s age of mass produced apparel manufacturers, it may be difficult to appreciate the clothing challenges faced by the populations of the ancient world. Since every garment in the Biblical era was essentially hand-crafted, wardrobes of that period were often limited for all but the most affluent. This meant that basic clothing often represented a valuable commodity.
For example, the gospels of Matthew and John tell us that the Roman soldiers who were stationed near Jesus during His crucifixion gambled for His clothing prior to His death. While it’s unlikely that a modern-day soldier would have much interest in the garments of a condemned prisoner, John 19:23-24 offers the following account…
“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. So they said, ‘Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.’ This fulfilled the Scripture that says, ‘They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.’ So that is what they did” (John 19:23-24 NLT).
We have a further example in one of Paul the Apostle’s Biblical letters. In the epistle we know today as the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians, Paul told the church at Corinth, “…often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm” (2 Corinthians 11:27 TLB). These examples indicate that it could be difficult to acquire something as basic as sufficient clothing in the days of the first century.
Since laundering capabilities were limited and the garments of the ancient world often had to double as sleeping blankets, a modest supply of clothing might quickly become dirty and worn. Paul made use of this imagery to illustrate the sin nature here in the book of Colossians. Just as we might strip off a filthy and deteriorated set of clothes, Paul encouraged his readers to put off the behaviors of the old nature and put on the fresh, clean behaviors associated with a God-honoring life.
One source illustrates this idea with the following observation…
“Paul’s point, then, is that Christians should take off their dirty clothing (inappropriate behavior) and put on clean clothing (behavior consistent with knowing Christ) because this has already been accomplished in a positional sense at the time of their conversion (cf. Gal_3:27 with Rom_13:14).” (1)
(1) NET Bible Notes. Scripture and/or notes quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved. http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Col&chapter=3&verse=10&tab=commentaries
“where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
Consider the things that compel us to make distinctions among various groups. Those distinctions might include differences in culture, age, social stranding, nationality, race, language, personality, and a host of other dissimilarities. Judging from the passage quoted above, it seems that such distinctions were as common in the ancient world as they are today.
Colossians 3:11 lists several groups of people from varying backgrounds, each with their own distinctive qualities. For instance, the Greeks and Jews of the first-century era generally represented the upper-classes of that period, each in their own way. However, the uncircumcised, the Barbarians, and the Scythians were a different story.
To the Jewish mindset, the uncircumcised were outside the covenant that God established with Israel as His special people. To the Greeks, the Barbarians were foreigners who had failed to adopt the customs and practices of a civilized society. Their unintelligible speech sounded like babbling among the intellectual and sophisticated, hence the name bar-bar-rian.
Scythians were thought to be among the lowest of the barbarian nomads. One source identifies the Scythians as “…an uncultured slave class drawn from tribes around the Black Sea. Scythians were lampooned in Greek comedy because of their uncouth ways and speech, and the first-century Jewish historian Josephus called them ‘little better than wild beasts.’” (1) Another source tells us that the Scythians were more barbarious than the barbarians and goes on to elaborate further…
“To the Jew the whole world was divided into Jews and Greeks, the privileged and unprivileged portions of mankind, religious prerogative being taken as a line of demarcation. To the Greek and Roman it was similarly divided into Greeks and Barbarians, again the privileged and unprivileged portion of the human race, civilization and culture being now the criterion of distinction.
Thus from one point of view the Greek is contrasted disadvantageously with the Jew, while from the other he is contrasted disadvantageously with the Barbarian. Both distinctions are equally antagonistic to the spirit of the gospel. The apostle declares both alike null and void in Christ.” (2)
So despite these differences, Christians then and now are one in Christ. These divisions no longer exist for it is Jesus who forms the thread who unites us together. While we may differ in racial composition, cultural upbringing, age, gender, experience, and personality, every genuine Christian is a part of “…the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2126). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on Colossians 3:9-11] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12).
As mentioned in a previous study, the word “therefore” should alert us to pay close attention to the passage of Scripture that follows. The presence of this word tells us that a Biblical author is ready to summarize the content of a preceding section and present us with a call to action. In this instance, that call reflects the qualities that distinguish a God-honoring man or woman.
Here in Colossians 3:12, “therefore” also indicates a shift from the list of negative behaviors that appeared earlier within this chapter. You see, Paul the Apostle has already told his readers that the qualities of anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language should not characterize a Christian’s life. But just as we should expect from a good teacher, Paul will not only tell us what we shouldn’t do- he will now go on to tell us what we should do.
To accomplish this, Paul will return to an illustration he has used three times in the previous four verses: the idea of putting off ungodly behaviors and putting on the characteristics that are associated with those who honor God. The contrast between these negative and positive characteristics has led one commentator from another generation to make the following observation…
“We must not always live in the negative of avoiding wrong, the positive has a clear claim on us; and in each circumstance of trial or temptation we must advance to meet it, arrayed in Christ. As the Lord acted, so must we. We must partake of the family likeness.” (1)
Another source identifies the common denominator that unites these God-honoring qualities: “Each one of the qualities mentioned in this passage express themselves in relationships. A significant measure of our Christian life is found simply in how we treat people and the quality of our relationships with them.” (2) Nevertheless, its important to recognize that the nature of those relationships will impact the way we express these characteristics.
For instance, the interaction between two long-time friends will surely differ from those who have a passing acquaintance. The same is likely to be true of differences in age, gender, and authority, among others. Nevertheless, the qualities of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience mentioned here in Colossians 3:12 are applicable to any relationship. We’ll take a closer look at each of these individual characteristics over the next few studies.
(1) Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. “Commentary on Colossians 3:12-17”. “F. B. Meyer’s ‘Through the Bible’ Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbm/colossians-3.html. 1914.
(2) David Guzik Colossians 3 – Put Off, Put On © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/colossians-3/
“You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 GNB).
Colossians 3:12 identifies compassion as the first characteristic that should be associated with those who claim to follow Christ. This word refers to the qualities of pity and mercy as well as the ability to sympathize with others in their sorrows. Romans 12:15 reinforces this idea by encouraging us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
The second characteristic is kindness, a word that reflects the qualities of benevolence, graciousness, and good will. This word describes the type of person who is always doing good things for others, much like the Biblical example of a woman named Dorcas in the New Testament book of Acts (see Acts 9:39)
Next comes humility. Humility can be defined as, “A freedom from arrogance that grows out of the recognition that all that we have and are comes from God… Biblical humility is not a belittling of oneself, but an exalting and praising of others, especially God and Christ.” (1) Humility represents a positive personal characteristic that involves courtesy, respect, and a modest self opinion. We act in our own best interest when we practice humility for the Biblical book of Proverbs tells us, “Humility and reverence for the Lord will make you both wise and honored” (Proverbs 15:33 TLB).
Humility is then followed by meekness (ESV) or gentleness (HCSB). This characteristic refers to “…a humble opinion of one’s self, a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness, modesty, lowliness of mind.” (2) While meekness is often equated with weakness, it is more accurately defined as “power under control” and describes a person who chooses to defer to an authority instead of insisting on his or her own way.
Jesus serves as the personification of this quality for He, “…being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-9 NIV).
Meekness is a characteristic that stands in opposition to the negative qualities of egotism, arrogance, and/or self-centeredness. To such people, Jesus makes the following promise: “Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
(1) Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on Colossians 3:12-13] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“Put on therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;” (Colossians 3:12 RV).
The final characteristic given to us in Colossians 3:13 is longsuffering. A look at the original language of this passage defines “longsuffering” in the following manner: “Longsuffering is that quality of self restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish; it is the opposite of anger, and is associated with mercy, and is used of God…” (1)
Another source associates longsuffering with this idea of patience under provocation: “This denotes restraint which enables one to bear injury and insult without resorting to retaliation. It accepts the wrong without complaint. Long-suffering is an attribute of God (Rom 2:4) and a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22).” (2)
This quality is reflective of a person who holds the power to strike back against others but chooses not to do so. It describes a person who does not seek to get even or take revenge upon those who have done them wrong. Instead, this characteristic is associated with someone who bears patiently with those who are argumentative, bad tempered, or easily offended.
This type of person is someone who follows Jesus’ good example…
“God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Christ never verbally abused those who verbally abused him. When he suffered, he didn’t make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly” (1 Peter 2:21-23 GW).
Of course, it can be difficult to maintain this attitude in light of our natural desire to retaliate against those who hurt us. But as 1 Thessalonians 5:15 reminds us, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (NIV). Jesus also directed His followers to adopt this way of thinking in a well-known portion of the Beatitudes…
“But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Taken together, these passages tell us that our actions must be balanced by our responsibility to accurately represent God regardless of how we feel.
(1) makrothumia (G3115) Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words with Topical Index, W.E. Vine, © 1996, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.
(2) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2464). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“Be patient with one another. If any one has a complaint against another, forgive that one. Christ forgave you. So you should forgive each other” (Colossians 3:13 WE).
Patience is closely related to the concept of longsuffering that appeared earlier in Colossians 3:12. While these words may seem interchangeable, “patience” is somewhat more nuanced: “Patience is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial; it is the opposite of despondency and is associated with hope…” (1)
This characteristic becomes important when we acknowledge the fact that there are other Christians who differ from us in terms of personality, maturity, and/or emotional makeup. These other members of God’s family may not process information as we do or communicate in a way we can easily understand. They may hold different attitudes or opinions or make decisions that may seem inexplicable to us. Because of this, there may be some (or perhaps many) who respond to us in ways that test our patience.
We might find a Biblical example of this idea in two of Jesus’ original twelve disciples. The first is Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:13-15). The word “zealot” probably means that Simon was a member of a first-century political party known by that name. The Zealots vigorously opposed the Roman occupation of Israel during that time and actively sought to overthrow the Roman government.
But this selection becomes even more intriguing when we stop to consider another member of Jesus’ original group of twelve disciples: Matthew the tax collector (Matthew 9:9-12). You see, tax collectors were considered to be among the very lowest members of society during that period. If that wasn’t bad enough, Matthew had previously served as an agent for the same Roman government the Zealots were trying to overthrow.
While Simon and Matthew probably disagreed in political matters, there is no mention of any rivalry between them in the Scriptures. From this, we trust that they patiently endured with one another and put Jesus’ message from John 13:34 into practice: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (NIV).
Finally, one source leaves us with an important observation on this subject…
“Bearing with one another describes the patience we should have with the failings and odd ways of our brethren. In living with others, it is inevitable that we will find out their failures. It often takes the grace of God for us to put up with the idiosyncrasies of others, as it must for them to put up with ours.” (1)
(1) Forbear, Forbearance Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words with Topical Index, W.E. Vine, © 1996, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.
(2) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Colossians 3:13, pg.2011
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).
Forgiveness is “the act of excusing or pardoning others in spite of their slights, shortcomings, and errors.” (1) Since God has forgiven us in Christ, we ought to follow His good example and “Forgive others because the Lord forgave you” (ERV). One source addresses this subject in a manner that is well worth our consideration…
“The key to forgiving others is remembering how much God has forgiven you. Is it difficult for you to forgive someone who has wronged you a little when God has forgiven you so much? Realizing God’s infinite love and forgiveness can help you love and forgive others.” (2)
Another commentator makes three important observations that merit a lengthy excerpt on this subject…
“It is helpful to remember that forgiveness means at least three things. First, it means that we are not to bring up to the person whom we have forgiven the thing we forgave. We are to treat him as though it did not happen. We are not to constantly harass him or her with reminders of the evil things they did in the past… God does not do that. How terrible it would be if he did—if we had constantly to face reminders from him of the awful things of our past!
The second thing forgiveness means is that we do not tell anybody else about the matter that is forgiven. We do not gossip about it to others. It is not that we actually erase it from memory—we may think of it from time to time—but we are not to dwell on it. We are not to allow it to take over again, to awaken feelings of resentment and unfairness and play it all over again. We can do that because we ourselves have been forgiven. Let us remember how graciously God has set aside our own failures.
Then the third thing forgiveness means is: you do not remind yourself of what has been forgiven! Even in your private thoughts you never allow the offense to come up and to color your attitude toward the one you have forgiven. If it does come up, you must put it away and remind yourself that you too need to be forgiven. You do not want people mulling over your sins and dredging them up all the time. No, forgiveness means to put it aside even to yourself because that is what Christ has done for us.” (3)
(1) Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
(2) Life Application Study Bible [Colossians 3:13] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
(3) Excerpted with permission from Put On The New © 2010 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13 NIV).
Colossians 3:13 forges a critical link when it comes to the importance of forgiving others: “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive” (CSB). Jesus once illustrated the consequences associated with an attitude of unforgiveness by way of the following parable…
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart” (Matthew 18:23-35 NLT).
As one source has observed, “We often hear the complaint: ‘But he was the one who offended me…’ That is exactly the type of situation in which we are called upon to forgive. If the other person had not offended us, there would have been no need for forgiveness.” (1)
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Colossians 3:13, pg.2011
“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14).
The word agape is the most commonly used word for “love” in the original language of the New Testament Scriptures. It is also the word translated “love” in the passage quoted above.
The type of love referenced here in Colossians 3:14 is not necessarily reflected by a feeling, emotion, or external display of affection. Unlike other some forms of love, agape is not inherently dependent on the way we feel towards someone else. Instead, it is characterized by a willingness to love and a commitment to act in the best interest of others, even in the absence of an emotional feeling.
We find the best illustration of this type of love in God’s love towards us. For instance, the New Testament book of 1 John tells us that love is an intrinsic part of God’s nature for “…God is love” (1 John 4:8, see also 1 John 4:16). Unfortunately, there is nothing inherently lovable within human beings who have chosen to reject their Creator. Therefore, God chooses to love by His will. In other words, He determines to love because it is His nature to love.
We can also associate agape love with the kind of love that continues without a request for something in return. Because of this, agape love is very different from the type of “love” we often experience in our fallen world. For example…
- Human expressions of love are sometimes manipulative but agape love seeks to bless others.
- Human displays of love may arise out of a hidden desire for self-gratification but agape love seeks another person’s highest good.
- Human love is sometimes based on the attraction of money, success, or physical appearance but agape love is not dependent upon any of those things.
- Human demonstrations of love may be temperamental or impulsive while agape love is stable, devoted, and unchanging.
Because of this, the selfless nature of agape love will likely be unfamiliar to those whose understanding of “love” has been shaped through television, movies, social networking platforms, or other forms of mass media. Therefore, God gave us Christ as an example. There may be no greater summary of God’s love towards us than the one found in John 3:16…
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
Colossians 3:15 is a portion of Scripture that merits close attention, for a proper understanding of this verse may save us from decisions that seem right but may not be right.
For instance, it is not uncommon for those facing an important decision to base their determination on the presence or absence of “peace.” Since Colossians 3:15 advises us to “…let the peace of God rule in your hearts…” we can say that there is some definite validity to this approach. With this in mind, let’s consider the role of “peacefulness” in our decision-making process. We can begin by examining the context of this passage to help make the right application.
The word “context” can be defined as “the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.” (1) In other words, the surrounding chapters and verses of the Scriptures help determine the meaning of each individual passage. This is important because it is possible to make the Bible say some very unbiblical things if we don’t establish a good contextual basis first.
In this instance, the immediate context of Colossians 3:15 involves our personal conduct with others. That framework was established earlier in Colossians 3:5-12 with a list of inappropriate behaviors that were to be “put off” in favor of God-honoring behaviors that were to be “put on.”
That brought us to Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV). That portion of Scripture serves as the launch point for the directive given to us here in Colossians 3:15: “…let the peace of Christ be the ruling principle in your heart” (Mounce). In other words, we are instructed to allow the things that make for peace to guide us in our personal relationships with others.
In practical terms, this sometimes means that we must overlook faults, ignore slights (intentional or otherwise), or accept a personal loss if it becomes necessary to maintain peace with others. In commenting on this idea, one source offers the following insight…
“Although living with other Christians may try our patience at times, yet God in this way can develop virtues in the Christian’s life which He could not produce in any other manner. So we should not shirk our responsibilities in the local church, nor give them up when we are annoyed or provoked.” (2)
We’ll continue our look at the proper context for this passage next.
(1) “Context” American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language 3rd Edition © 1992 Houghton Mifflin Company
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (p.2011) Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 ESV).
For some, the measure of a good decision begins and ends with the degree of peace they experience. By “peace” we often mean that we feel little or no emotional anxiety regarding a particular decision. However, “feelings” are a notoriously poor foundation for good decision-making and it is possible to feel peaceful about a decision that is far outside the will of God.
For instance, if we are to let the peace of God rule in our hearts (as we’re told here in Colossians 3:15), then what are we to make of Jesus’ statement from Matthew 10:34-36…
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’”
We should also consider Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane…
“And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will’ (Mark 14:36).
In light of these things, it is important to recognize the difference between “feeling peaceful” about a decision and “being at peace” with a decision. Jesus clearly did not feel peaceful at the prospect of going to the cross as evidenced by His agony in prayer over what lay ahead for Him. Nevertheless, His willingness to set aside His preference to answer God’s call on His life enabled Him to be at peace with that decision despite the physical, spiritual, and emotional trauma that was sure to result.
This reminds us that the context of Colossians 3:15 helps determine the right application for this verse: “…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (emphasis added). To put it another way, the peace of God should arbitrate in those areas of conflict that develop with others.
So while “peace” does not necessarily serve as the final measure of a good decision, it does have a role to play in our overall decision-making process. This is especially true of our relationships with others. If we seek to implement the things that make for peace in our personal relationships, we can live out Jesus’ message from Matthew 5:9…
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (NET).
“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 NLT).
It is often difficult to feel thankful in a world filled with annoyances, inconveniences, trouble, suffering, pain, and loss. One approach that can help us maintain an attitude of thankfulness is to prayerfully recognize the good things we have received as gifts from the Lord that merit our appreciation.
You see, we possess nothing that God has not allowed us to have. Once we recognize that every good thing we possess has been granted to us by God, it becomes much easier to maintain an attitude of thankfulness. Jesus once had an experience that illustrated this idea…
“As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, he went along the border between Samaria and Galilee. He was going into a village when he was met by ten men suffering from a dreaded skin disease. They stood at a distance and shouted, ‘Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!’ Jesus saw them and said to them, ‘Go and let the priests examine you.’
On the way they were made clean. When one of them saw that he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself to the ground at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. Jesus spoke up, ‘There were ten who were healed; where are the other nine? Why is this foreigner the only one who came back to give thanks to God?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Get up and go; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:11-19 GNB).
Consider how Jesus took note of those who received His blessing but neglected to express their appreciation. It’s clear that Jesus missed those individuals and He wondered why they failed to convey their gratitude for what He had done for them. This reminds us that God notices when we neglect to thank Him for the good things He has done, just as we would look for an expression of appreciation from someone we have helped.
Therefore, we should not neglect to be thankful and express our gratitude to God for the good things we possess. As we’re told in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy…
“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 NIV).
“Let the peace of heart that comes from Christ be always present in your hearts and lives, for this is your responsibility and privilege as members of his body. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 TLB).
The realities of life in a fallen world can often make it difficult for us to enjoy the good things God has given us. We fix one problem only to be presented with another. We devise “work arounds” to do what needs to be done in order to complete a task. We finish unraveling one of life’s complications and immediately start upon the next. As Jesus Himself once observed, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34 NIV).
For some, the challenges, difficulties, and complexities of daily life can dampen their appreciation for the blessings they have received. Its easy to get so caught up in anticipating the problems of tomorrow that we miss out on the good things that God has given us today. It’s also possible to become so accustomed to the blessings we already enjoy that we begin to take them for granted.
Because of this, we would do well to observe the reminder given to us at the end of Colossians 3:15: “…never forget to be thankful for what God has done for you” (Phillips). The Biblical book of Philippians provides us with a strategy that can help us maintain an attitude of thankfulness…
“…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy— meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
While we can’t always explain the painful things we encounter in life, we can rest in the assurance God has a definite purpose behind them. As we’re reminded in the New Testament book of Romans: “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Even when the circumstances of our lives appear otherwise, God is able to make all things work together for our ultimate benefit. Therefore, we should prayerfully adjust our focus to concentrate on the priorities that Jesus presented to us in Matthew 6:31-33…
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (NLT).
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).
While there are many areas of the world that prohibit access to God’s Word, it is also true that the Bible is more widely available today then it has been at any other point in human history. Yet despite this abundance of Biblical access, there are many 21st century Christians who are no more Biblically literate than those of past generations where access to the Scriptures was greatly limited.
To illustrate this unfortunate reality, we can look to many well-known “Biblical” axioms that do not appear within the Bible. For instance, can you identify which of the following sayings appear within the Bible and which do not?
- God helps those who help themselves.
- God is love.
- Money is the root of all evil.
- Trust your heart.
- Do to others as you would have them do to you.
- Live and let live. (1)
A person who struggles to distinguish between Biblical and non-Biblical counsel illustrates the importance of knowing what God’s Word really says. You see, Colossians 3:16 instructs us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” In commenting on this passage, one source offers an observation that should encourage us to pursue the study of God’s Word…
“Many have the word, but it dwells in them poorly; it has no power over them. The soul prospers, when we are full of the Scriptures and of the grace of Christ.” (2)
Another source makes a similar point in a more direct manner…
“Many saved people cannot honestly say that God’s Word dwells in their hearts richly because they do not take time to read, study, and memorize it.” (3)
This brings us face to face with a challenging and uncomfortable truth: people make time for the things they feel are important. If we truly desire to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, then we will make the time to read and meditate upon God’s Word.
If we find that we are lacking the desire to read the Scriptures, then we should be honest with God (and ourselves) regarding our lack of motivation. In such instances, it is appropriate to prayerfully ask God to instill a desire to read His Word within us and then set aside a dedicated portion of each day to study and reflect upon the Scriptures.
(1) Number 2 (1 John 4:16) and Number 5 (Luke 6:31) are verses from the Scriptures. Number 3 is a common misquotation of 1 Timothy 6:10: “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” The others do not appear within the Scriptures- especially number 4 (Jeremiah 17:9).
(2) Henry, Matthew. “Concise Commentary on Colossians 3:4”. “Matthew Henry Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/colossians-3.html. 1706.
(3) Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary [2:140] quoted in Notes on Colossians 2019 Edition Dr. Thomas L. Constable [3:16], https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm#_ftn285
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16 ESV).
Why is it important to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…”? To answer that question, it helps to know a little about what the Bible claims for itself.
For instance, the New Testament book of 2 Timothy tells us that all Scripture is inspired by God (see 2 Timothy 3:16). Furthermore, we’re told that the Bible’s human authors spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). In other words, God “carried along” the Biblical writers so they went exactly where He wanted them to go, much like the wind carries a sailboat across the surface of the water.
We also have Jesus’ word on this subject as well. For example, Jesus taught that the Scriptures were the command of God (Matthew 15:3-4), contained no mistakes (Luke 16:17), were reliable (Matthew 26:54), and could not be broken (John 10:35). He also promised that the Holy Spirit would guide His disciples into all truth and remind them of the things He said and did (John 14:26, 15:26-27). This explains why Paul the Apostle (1 Corinthians 14:37) and the Apostle Peter (speaking of Paul in 2 Peter 3:15-16) each referred to the God-inspired nature of their Biblical letters.
Because of this, a person who reads the Scriptures has an opportunity to receive God’s counsel whenever he or she opens the pages of His Word. But spending time in the Scriptures is important for another reason. You see, a person who is unfamiliar with God’s Word may be susceptible to various forms of deception. That deception might take the form of a spiritual belief that seems reasonable on the surface but may be opposed to genuine spiritual truth.
He or she might also be vulnerable to “spiritual leaders” who speak convincingly but actually seek to take advantage of those who don’t know any better. Others may fail to achieve their full potential because they don’t know what the Bible says about handling the problems and difficulties of life when they emerge.
We can avoid many of these issues simply by making a prayerful commitment to spend time reading the Scriptures every day. As Psalm 119:105 tells us, “Your word is like a lamp that guides my steps, a light that shows the path I should take” (ERV).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16 NET).
The reference to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in the passage quoted above brings us to the potentially controversial subject of music. This topic merits our attention because the music we listen to may have a greater influence upon us than we realize.
We can illustrate this idea with a simple question: how often have you gone through a day with a popular song or lyric repeating itself over and over in your mind? If you are like most people, you’ve probably had a similar experience and are already familiar with music’s ability to embed itself within us.
This explains why advertisers often use catchy songs to promote their merchandise. You see, advertising professionals know that a song with a memorable riff or clever lyrics will help us remember their product. It also explains why students sometimes turn important facts into musical lyrics to serve as a memory aid.
In this respect, a good song is much like an attractive motor vehicle that catches our attention. Once we get into that vehicle, the lyrics are like a driver who takes us on a journey to a particular destination. Depending on the lyricist, that journey might be a virtuous trip to a God-honoring destination or it may be something else.
Here in Colossians 3:16, Paul the Apostle recommended three different “drivers” to his audience: “…psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” One source provides us with a good definition of these musical forms…
“‘Psalms’ clearly refers specifically to the psalms in the Old Testament, which were commonly sung both by the pre-Christian Jews and by the early church, as well as in many churches ever since. Note also Ephesians 5:19…
‘Hymns’ is descriptive of songs similar in content and motivation to the psalms, but not taken from the divinely inspired psalms of the Old Testament…
‘Spiritual songs’ refers to songs with a Biblical theme but with a more popular style tune than the others. The Greek for ‘song’ is ode, which is a generic term for any kind of song. The adjective ‘spiritual,’ however, delimits it to songs with Christian content.” (1)
A song that fits into one of these categories should feature good theology that helps the word of Christ dwell in us richly. But how does this passage apply to music that falls outside those parameters? The answer to that question will occupy the focus of our next few studies.
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes [Colossians 3:16] https://www.icr.org/bible/Col/3/16
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God” (Colossians 3:16).
Does this reference “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” in Colossians 3:16 preclude us from listening to various forms of secular music? To answer that question, it may be helpful to start by defining our terms. For the purpose of our discussion, we can begin with the assumption that “secular music” does not refer to a particular style of music but to any type of music that is not specifically intended to praise, honor, or worship God.
Although a case could be made to support the idea that Christians should only listen to music that’s designed to honor God, we may wish to reflect on what it would mean to adopt that standard. For instance, a person who held to that standard could never listen to most classical or instrumental music. Nor could he or she listen to any number of other songs with completely unobjectionable lyrics.
Nevertheless, we should also consider an important directive from 1 Corinthians 10:31: “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (NIV). In fact, the verse that immediately follows Colossians 3:16 reiterates this idea as well: “And whatever you do, in word or in act, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving praise to God the Father through him.”
So a good answer to this question may not be as easy as it seems. Therefore, we would do well to step back and employ some Scriptural principles to help us make good decisions in this area.
For instance, the Biblical book of 1 Timothy tells us that God has given us all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). “All things” would certainly include music produced by gifted musicians who use their God-given talents to produce compositions that we can enjoy without objection.
We also have the example of the Apostle Paul who quoted from the work of at least one non-Christian poet in the New Testament book of Acts. In that passage, Paul said, “…for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’…” (Acts 17:28 emphasis added). This tells us that Paul must have had some familiarity with the work of these secular artists. Because of this, it is difficult to issue a blanket prohibition against all forms of secular music.
There are some strategies we can use to make good decisions in this area and we’ll consider some of them next.
“Let the word of Christ be in you in all wealth of wisdom; teaching and helping one another with songs of praise and holy words, making melody to God with grace in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16).
While it may be inappropriate to eliminate all forms of secular music from our playlists, we should be aware of the need to be selective about the music we listen to. For instance, its important to distinguish between a musician’s God-given talent (a gift that can prompt us to praise and honor God) and the way that he or she lives or employs that talent. Of course, the same holds true for all artists whether they are musicians, performance artists (like actors or dancers) or fine artists (such as painters and sculptors).
Because of this, it may be possible for Christians to honor God and enjoy the skills and talents He’s given to certain musicians even if they produce music that falls outside the realm of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We can ask two important questions that can help determine what’s appropriate and inappropriate in regard to secular music…
- What does this song say and mean?
- What message or worldview does this song communicate to those who are listening?
If we receive negative answers to those questions (even a few) then it would probably be wise to delete that song or artist from our playlists.
It’s also important to be sensitive to other Christians who may be uncomfortable with the idea of listening to music that is not specifically designed to worship or honor God. For example, the person who only listens to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” and the person who listens to other types of music can both point to the same portion of Scripture to support that decision. That passage is found in the Biblical book of Romans…
“You may know that there is nothing wrong with what you do, even from God’s point of view, but keep it to yourself; don’t flaunt your faith in front of others who might be hurt by it. In this situation, happy is the man who does not sin by doing what he knows is right.
But anyone who believes that something he wants to do is wrong shouldn’t do it. He sins if he does, for he thinks it is wrong, and so for him it is wrong. Anything that is done apart from what he feels is right is sin” (Romans 14:22-23 TLB).
We’ll close our brief look at this subject with some final thoughts next.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:16-17 KJV).
When it comes to those who listen exclusively to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” and those who enjoy other forms of music, its important to recognize that there are differing opinions on this subject. Therefore, it becomes our responsibility to “…give preference to one another in honor” (NAS) as we’re told in Romans 12:10.
We should also remember that musicians earn their living by creating and selling their music to those who are willing to buy it. This has implications that extend beyond the purchase price of each song. You see, whenever we download a song, purchase an album, or attend a concert, we are effectively telling an artist that we support his or her efforts. It also tells the artist that we are likely to purchase more of his or her work if he or she continues to produce it.
This means that the music we purchase and the videos we watch are much like a vote for the music and musician who produced it. If we stop to ask, “Is it right for me to support this person and his or her work?” before downloading a song, it should help us make good, God-honoring choices.
Another key to making good decisions in this area lies in the words of 1 Corinthians 10:13: “All things are lawful for me but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me but all things do not edify.” In other words, it may be permissible to listen to a certain song or artist, but it may not be a good idea. The question is this: “will this build my faith or weaken it? Does this support those things I believe in or attempt to tear them down?” Or as 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 tells us, “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (NIV).
Finally, many musical artists enjoy a huge circle of influence by virtue of their creative talents. These groups or individuals impact millions of people and communicate their beliefs through concerts, videos, downloads, and radio airplay. If we view our music and entertainment choices through the lens of God’s Word, we will be well-positioned to live out the message of Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them” (Colossians 3:18-19).
As we approach the end of Colossians chapter three, Paul the Apostle will draw our attention away from the general directives that appeared earlier within this letter to focus upon three different types of relationships. Those relationships involve husbands and wives (verses eighteen and nineteen), parents and children (verses twenty and twenty-one), and concludes with masters and slaves (verse twenty-two).
Before we consider these verses in greater detail, it may be helpful to view them from a historical perspective. While many 21st century audiences tend to view the teachings of these verses in an unfavorable light, that was not always the case…
“This discussion seems negative to us today, but in its day it was strikingly positive. The three groups that had total cultural control (husbands, parents, and slave masters) are equally admonished as were those with no civic power or rights (wives, children, and slaves). This selfless mandate is an example of the reversal of the Fall.” (1)
Another source reminds us that these guidelines are not entirely one-sided…
“The Christian ethic is an ethic of reciprocal obligation. It is never an ethic on which all the duties are on one side. As Paul saw it, husbands have as great an obligation as wives; parents have just as binding a duty as children; masters have their responsibilities as much as slaves.” (2)
With respect to husbands and wives, we can begin our exploration of this passage with a look at the origin of the marriage relationship…
“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’ …And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:18, 21-24).
We’ll continue to build upon this foundation as we consider the proper application of these verses next.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Colossians 3:18 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL08/VOL08A_02.html
(2) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Colossians 3”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-3.html 1956-1959.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:18-19 NIV).
For many, the directives contained within these verses may seem remarkably backwards. For instance, some may dismiss these instructions as little more than the vestigial remains of an ancient culture where gender roles and societal responsibilities were rigidly determined and enforced. Others may prefer to reinterpret these guidelines to accommodate the sensibilities of modern-day society. Then there are those who struggle with the use of an emotionally-charged word like submit in the context of a marriage relationship.
In considering these verses, we should begin by noting that humanity’s Creator took the initiative in establishing the concept of marriage. As mentioned earlier, the conceptual origin of marriage began in the Garden of Eden: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone…’” (Genesis 2:18 NIV). God addressed that deficiency in the following manner: “…the LORD God made a woman… and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22 NIV).
This tells us that the institution of marriage is not a human construct- it is ordained of God for the benefit of His human creation. That benefit is revealed in Genesis 2:24: “…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (NIV). The term “one flesh” expresses the fulfillment, satisfaction, intimacy, pleasure, enjoyment, and unity that reflects God’s intent for a marital relationship.
Because of this, it is inappropriate to associate the word “submit” in Colossians 3:18 with the concept of forced servitude. It is also improper to link this verse with the idea that a wife is obligated to comply with any mandate a husband might seek to impose upon her. It is crucial to note that this requirement is contingent upon an important qualification: “Wives, submit to your husbands in a way that is appropriate in the Lord” (CEB, emphasis added).
One source clarifies these parameters with the following observation…
“Of course there are moral limits to this submission; it is only as is fitting in the Lord. Just as obedience to government is commanded (Rom_13:1; Tit_3:1; 1Pe_2:13) but only insofar as government takes its place under God (Exo_1:1-22; Dan_3:1-30; Dan_6:1-28), even so a wife’s submission to her husband is only ‘in the Lord.’ That is, she is not obligated to follow her husband’s leadership if it conflicts with specific scriptural commands.” (1)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck Bible Knowledge Commentary [note on Colossians 3:18]
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them” (Colossians 3:18-19 NET).
We should guard against the tendency to superimpose an alternative view of “submission” that is not supported by the context of the passage quoted above. For instance, the instructions given to wives in this passage carry some important implications for the husband as well…
“The text does not call on wives to render blind obedience to their husbands but rather to offer submission to the husbands’ leadership consistent with the ethical demands of the gospel (‘as is fitting in the Lord’). The result is a form of male leadership that did not conform to the patriarchal patterns of the day but instead was modeled on the servant leadership of Christ.” (1)
Its also important to note what this verse says and what it doesn’t. For instance, this passage does not compel one gender to submit to the other. Instead, this verse tells us that each wife is entrusted with the responsibility to apply this principle solely within the context of her marital relationship with her husband.
In addition, each marriage partner carries an equal responsibility to acknowledge the other’s God-given abilities and voluntarily submit to one another in recognition of those qualities. This general principle is expressed in the New Testament book of Ephesians where we are told, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
For instance, a wise and conscientious husband will assess the areas where God has gifted his marriage partner with skills and abilities that exceed his own. He will acknowledge her God-given proficiency in respect to those areas and customarily defer (or submit) to her judgment in the decision-making process. In doing so, he will allow “…reverence for Christ” to guide and direct the daily decisions of life. This should help enable both partners to experience the satisfaction that comes through the fulfillment of their individual roles.
Finally, one might object to the use of the term “submit” with the claim that it undermines the equality of the marriage partners. While this may seem to be a legitimate objection, it suffers from at least one critical flaw. While each partner assumes different responsibilities within their marital relationship, this does not necessarily make them “unequal.” Instead, it is more appropriate to view this passage in relation to the roles and functions that exist among co-equal marriage partners.
(1) Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1786). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:18-19 ESV).
To grasp the historical significance behind the instructions given to husbands in this passage, we can look to a source who alerts us to the impact of this message upon the cultural environment of first-century Colossae…
“This was an entirely new thing… Under Jewish law a woman was a thing, the possession of her husband, just as much as his house or his flocks or his material goods. She had no legal rights whatever. For instance, under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause, while a wife had no rights whatever in the initiation of divorce; and the only grounds on which a divorce might be awarded her were if her husband developed leprosy, became an apostate or ravished a virgin.
In Greek society a respectable woman lived a life of entire seclusion. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go marketing. She lived in the women’s apartments and did not join her menfolk even for meals. From her there was demanded complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he chose and could enter into as many relationships outside marriage as he liked without incurring any stigma. Under both Jewish and Greek laws and custom all the privileges belonged to the husband and all the duties to the wife.” (1)
With this in mind, we can say that these four words (“Husbands, love your wives…”) are far more significant then their brevity might suggest. They also carry important implications for God-honoring men of every generation.
For instance, the husband is responsible to ensure that his marriage partner is loved, honored, and secure. He is accountable for establishing and maintaining a Godly relationship. He must take the lead in identifying and meeting his wife’s needs within their marriage. He must also be mindful that his wife is a daughter of the God he serves. Any authority he possesses within their relationship is inherited from Him; therefore he must exercise that authority in an appropriate and considerate manner that reflects well upon Christ.
In this respect, we can find an excellent guideline for husbands within the New Testament epistle of 1 Peter…
“If you are a husband, you should be thoughtful of your wife. Treat her with honor, because she isn’t as strong as you are, and she shares with you in the gift of life. Then nothing will stand in the way of your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7 CEV).
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Colossians 3”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-3.html 1956-1959.
“Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them” (Colossians 3:18-19 HCSB).
Two people who enter the initial stages of a dating relationship are usually on their “best behavior” as they each seek to impress the other. Unfortunately, “best behavior” is not always synonymous with “normal behavior” and those who subsequently enter a marriage relationship may eventually begin to wonder what happened to the person who first attracted their interest as they get to know each other better.
For some, this may lead to an erosion of respect as the couple becomes better acquainted with their individual faults and idiosyncrasies. Or perhaps a sense of monotony, tedium, or apathy may gradually settle into a long-term marital relationship. From a husband’s perspective, these attitudes may lead to a number of negative effects.
For example, a husband may begin to exhibit a thinly veiled sense of acrimony toward his wife as his perceived grievances against her start to accumulate. That internal sense of bitterness might then be expressed though antagonistic comments, sarcastic observations, or a subtle demeanor of annoyance. He may become easily exasperated, withdrawn, impatient, or overly contentious with his spouse.
The problem is that a husband who succumbs to these negative behaviors often forgets that he and his wife have become one flesh (Mark 10:6-9). Because of this, a husband who develops a bitter attitude towards his wife damages himself in the process. Fortunately, Colossians 3:19 provides us with an advance warning that can help a Godly husband avoid this trap.
While a husband may feel as if his wife has given him a reason to justify a sense of bitterness towards her, that does not relieve him of the responsibility to maintain a God-honoring example within his marriage relationship. Remember that God desires the marriage relationship to serve as an illustration of His relationship with His people (Ephesians 5:31-32). That may sometimes require a husband to exhibit the same kind of self-sacrificing kind of love that God demonstrates towards us.
Finally, a God-honoring man can benefit by following a piece of common-sense wisdom from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes: “Enjoy life with your beloved wife during all the days of your fleeting life that God has given you on earth during all your fleeting days; for that is your reward in life and in your burdensome work on earth” (Ecclesiastes 9:9 NET).
“Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).
The word “obey” is a phrase that often generates a great sense of internal resistance. Yet there are several instances where God ordains a commitment to obedience in our relationships with others. Colossians 3:20 offers one such example.
When used in this context, this reference to “children” serves to identify a son or daughter who has progressed beyond the infant/toddler stage but has not yet reached adulthood. While this word carries a broad application, it might be best to think of this idea in terms of a youth who is transitioning to adult responsibilities but has not yet gained the experience necessary to consistently make good decisions.
When it comes to a child’s responsibility in this area, we should note that this commitment extends to both mothers and fathers: “Children, obey your parents…” The Biblical epistle of Ephesians offers a similar exhortation…
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:1-3).
There are several important factors to consider in looking at these instructions. First, “Children, obey your parents…” represents a command from God through the pages of His Word. When a child obeys his or her parents, he or she is obeying God as well, Next, there is a personal incentive that accompanies this call to honor and obedience: “…so that all may go well with you…” (GNT). Finally, a child who is obedient to his or her parents is someone who follows Jesus’ own youthful example: “So Jesus went back with (Joseph and Mary) to Nazareth, where he was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51 GNT).
Of course, we might question the all-encompassing nature of this directive with the following question: “What if a parent asks a child to do something illegal, immoral, or unethical- is the child still obligated to obey?” Well, the answer to that question is clearly “no” when we consider this message in relation to other New Testament teachings.
Remember that Ephesians 6:1 instructs children to “…obey your parents in the Lord…” In addition, the New Testament book of Acts tells us that “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In this context, the word “everything” assumes that parents are offering God-honoring direction for their children. A parent who demands obedience in an area that is contrary to Biblical teaching would justify an exception to this rule.
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20 ESV).
A youth who experiences difficulty in his or her relationship with a parent may object to the counsel given to us here in Colossians 3:20. Those objections might include some or all of the following…
- My parents are too strict.
- My parents won’t listen to me.
- My parents don’t trust me.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume those characterizations are accurate. In this situation, a youth with these objections might benefit by considering the answer to the following question: “Does that therefore make it right for me to treat my parents impolitely or disrespectfully?” You see, a youth who is tempted to push back against a parent in that manner would do well to remember Jesus’ counsel from Matthew 7:12: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…” (NASB).
Here’s another useful exercise: If you’re a youth, consider the things you dislike about your parents. Once you’ve identified those things, ask yourself a second question: “Am I duplicating those same behaviors in my relationship with my parents?” In other words, is it possible that a problem has developed because you are interacting with your parents in the same way they are interacting with you? For instance…
- “My parents are so stubborn!” That may be true, but have you acted in a similar manner? Is it possible that you are demonstrating the very same trait you dislike in them?
- “My parents never listen to me!” That’s possible, but is it also possible that you are are not listening to them as well?
Could it be that a conflict has developed because you and your parents are more alike than you think? Before you come down too hard on your parents for their perceived faults, perhaps you might look inwardly first…..
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Mattthew 7:1-5 NLT).
If we are not careful to seek God’s help, we may end up duplicating the same negative characteristics we disapprove of in our parents. The following verse will illustrate the need to be alert to this danger.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21 HCSB).
While children are given the responsibility to obey their parents, parents also carry several important responsibilities as well. For instance, Colossians 3:21 tells us that a God-honoring father must take steps to avoid provoking his children. One version of this passage clarifies this responsibility in a manner that is easily accessible to 21st century audiences: “Fathers, don’t over-correct your children, or they will grow up feeling inferior and frustrated” (Phillips).
This wisdom behind this passage predates similar modern-day conclusions by thousands of years. But perhaps even more surprising is the cultural environment that served as the backdrop for this message. While Colossians 3:21 may appear to represent some common-sense instruction, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children…” was a revolutionary concept for its time.
You see, children had very few rights in the Greco-Roman culture of first-century Colossae. For example, a parent could legally abandon an unwanted child or sell a child into slavery during that time. An infant born with a birth defect might be killed without fear of legal reprisal. Furthermore, a newborn child had no legal recognition in that era unless the father officially recognized that child as a son or daughter. This may explain why this admonition is specifically directed to fathers.
Three sources discuss some other important aspects of this passage…
“Fathers exasperate their children by: being inconsiderate, being too demanding, being over-corrective, and being unjust and severe. Parents also provoke their children by continual faultfinding, always frowning, never smiling, and holding other children up as examples. The twig is to be bent with caution, not broken.” (1)
“While children must obey both parents, the father (pateron) has the primary responsibility for his children as head of the household. For this reason Paul addressed the ‘fathers’ here. What is in view here, with the words ‘do not exasperate,’ is the habitual provoking of children by insensitive parents, especially fathers. ‘Since like begets like, a parent who provokes will produce a child of strife. Such provocation makes unreasonable demands on the child, humiliates him, and manifests no loving understanding of his unique personality. It is marked by constant nagging.’” (2)
“Parents, and specially fathers, are urged not to irritate their children by being so unreasonable in their demands that their children lose heart and come to think that it is useless trying to please their parents.” (3)
A father who follows this exhortation is someone who builds the right kind of example for his child to follow. He will help instill positive characteristics for his children to reproduce in the lives of their own children and establish a good foundation for them to follow Christ.
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2465). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) Constable, Thomas. DD. and Gromacki, Robert G. Stand Perfect in Wisdom. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984, pg. 150, quoted in Notes on Colossians 2019 Edition Dr. Thomas L. Constable (3:21), https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm#_ftn306
(3) Bruce, F.F quoted in Guzik, David Colossians 3 – Put Off, Put On © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/colossians-3/
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).
It is an unfortunate reality, but some children spend their lives desperately trying -and often failing- to live up to the unrealistic expectations of a parent. Other children are teased, mocked, or treated cruelly in one form or another. Then there are those children who fall victim to hurtful jokes or comments, destructive sarcasm, undue criticism, or other, similar interactions with various family members.
Colossians 3:21 warns against engaging in this type of behavior and specifically instructs fathers to avoid exasperating, provoking, or irritating their children. In practical terms, a conscientious parent can implement this guidance in several different ways. For example, a wise father will take a child’s age, personality, and emotional makeup into account when interacting with him or her. While there is no guarantee that the actions of a father will not irritate his child, it is important to avoid intentionally doing so.
A father can also implement this directive by ensuring that other family members do not establish an environment where smaller or weaker children are habitually irritated, provoked, or similarly afflicted.
In addition, we can expand this idea to include the need to avoid setting unrealistic expectations for a child. While it is good and appropriate for a father to encourage his children to pursue excellence in developing their God-given abilities, it is important for a father to avoid being overly ambitious in his assessment of them. In other words, a discerning father should avoid setting his expectations so high that his children will never realistically achieve them.
Some other potential dangers may include some or all of the following…
- Living vicariously through a child’s accomplishments.
- Pushing a child toward greater achievement because it reflects well upon the parent.
- Living in a manner that is habitually inconsistent with what the parent professes to believe.
Finally, it is probably fair to say that most parents do the best they can in raising their children. Yet even if a father has failed to set the right example for his children, this should not prevent him from seeking God’s empowerment to overcome the mistakes of the past. A father who seeks to restore or establish a God-honoring relationship with his children should make the following passage from the New Testament epistle of James a foundation of his daily prayer life…
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5 NIV).
“Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord” (Colossians 3:22 HCSB)
While there are many different types of working arrangements today, the predominate business model of the first century involved the master/slave relationship. At the time of this epistle to the Colossians, there were approximately 60 million slaves throughout the Roman Empire, a number that may have represented up to half the total population of the Empire during that period.
Thankfully, the master/slave relationship model is virtually unknown today. Therefore, we can turn our attention to the proper way to interpret Colossians 3:22 in a modern-day culture where slavery no longer exists. Since this arrangement is no longer applicable. we can take the Biblical teaching on this subject and apply it to the next closest relationship model that currently exists.
In this instance, the closest parallel to the working relationship described in this passage is the employer/employee business model. As we consider the proper application of this passage in the context of a 21st century labor relationship, we should first recognize that there is an important Biblical principle behind this verse. That principle tells us that Christian workers must honor God in their labor and demonstrate respect for supervisors. managers, foremen, business owners, and others who serve in similar oversight capacities.
This principle (like all Biblical principles) remains consistent at all times but is adaptable to meet the needs of various societies and cultures. For example, we can put this teaching on slaves and masters to use in any working relationship, no matter what the time or place. However, there is an important consideration involved when it comes to adapting a Biblical principle like the one found here in Colossians 3:22.
You see, its important to recognize that this approach does not allow us to change or alter a Biblical principle to suit our preference. Instead, “adaptation” means that we must adjust our attitudes and behaviors to reflect the principle in question. When applied in a modern-day labor relationship, this verse tells us that we are not simply working for a manager or supervisor. Instead, we are working for that supervisor’s ultimate Supervisor as well.
One commentator offers a timely reminder in regard to this idea…
“The Christian who is a dishonest, lazy or unreliable worker has something far worse to deal with than a reprimand from his earthly supervisor. His heavenly supervisor may prepare a reprimand as well.” (1)
Does The Bible Teach That Slavery Is Acceptable? http://traed.net/philemon/philemon-part-ii/
How The Scriptures Worked To Undermine The Slave/Owner Relationship Model http://traed.net/philemon/philemon-part-iii/
(1) Guzik, David Colossians 3 – Put Off, Put On © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/colossians-3/
“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
While many of us look forward to Friday and the end of a typical work week, we often greet Monday and the beginning of a new work week with a sense of dread. But if we take the time to consider that Monday-morning response more closely, we may find that it is not “work” that disheartens us. Instead, it is the drudgery and toil associated with an occupation we dislike. You see, we rarely object to working at a task we enjoy. The problem is that most of us must labor at an occupation that generates a paycheck and not the kind of work we’d prefer.
But what if we changed our perspective regarding the work we perform? For instance, what if we were to view our work responsibilities as assignments from God? How would our attitude towards life and work change if we viewed our occupations as duties that have been entrusted to us?
No matter how difficult, tedious, or menial our work may be, we can find meaning and fulfillment in our labor if we view it as a responsibility that has been conferred upon us by God. Consider the following observation on this subject…
“If we could regard our work as an act of worship or service to God, such an attitude would take some of the drudgery and boredom out of it. We could work without complaining or resentment if we would treat our job problems as the cost of discipleship.” (1)
However, there is a subtle pitfall to avoid as we follow this directive to “…work heartily, as unto the Lord” (ASV), That danger materializes when others fail to recognize or commend us for the quality of our work as we put forth our best efforts on behalf of the Lord.
While it is certainly discouraging when others fail to notice or appreciate our work, its important to remember that we do not labor exclusively to obtain the approval or acknowledgment of others. Instead, we perform quality work (regardless of our occupation) because it reflects well upon the Lord and the name we carry even if others dismiss our efforts.
If we maintain this perspective, it should help us avoid the disappointment that may result when others fail to affirm or commend our work. Sometimes we must be content in the knowledge that God is aware of our commitment to honor Him in our labor even when others are not.
(1) Life Application Study Bible NKJV Colossians 3:23 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
Image Credit: Clara E. Atwood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Its interesting to note that Colossians 3:24 is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is addressed as “the Lord Christ.” While the Scriptures acknowledge Jesus as a friend (John 15:15), counselor (Isaiah 9:6), servant (Mark 10:45) and one who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15), it is important to remember that He also carries a royal title that commands reverence and respect: “the Lord Christ.”
One commentator offers some additional observations regarding this passage that we would do well to consider…
“The principles of this passage apply to all workers. (1) You are working, not merely for your employer but for the Lord.
(2) Your employment is an opportunity to bear witness to the sovereignty of Christ in your life.
(3) Your inner attitude (the heart) is expressed in the quality of your work.
(4) The Lord will recompense you fairly and generously for your work, even if your employer does not.
(5) There is no excuse for wrongdoing (e.g., thievery) in the workplace, even if you are ill-treated and underpaid.
(6) Remember that you are serving the Lord Christ, so your work should reflect your reverence for him—wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, whatever kind of work you do.” (1)
This approach is one that should produce a number of positive effects. For instance, it is often tempting to “pay back” an employer in an unethical manner as a way of compensating for a perceived injustice. However, a God-honoring man or woman who is working “…as to the Lord and not for people” (NET) can be secure in knowing that God will repay for any wrong that has been committed against one of His employees.
A person who views his or her job responsibilities in this manner will also avoid two extremes. First, he or she will never give an employer less than an employer pays for. Next, a commitment to honor God in our work also means that we will not permit our job responsibilities to overshadow other areas of life.
For example, some allow the demands of work to take priority over family relationships, church attendance, Bible study, or other areas where Christ should have preeminence. However, a person who works “as unto the Lord” will not allow such responsibilities to assume priority over other areas of life where he or she is responsible to serve the Lord to an equal degree.
(1) McCown, Wayne. “B. Social Duties Within Christian Community (3:12-4:1)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1091. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
“But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality” (Colossians 3:25).
As we consider the final verse of Colossians chapter three, there are two key words that should command our attention. Those words are repaid and partiality. Both words carry positive or negative implications based on the choices we make.
As mentioned previously, this verse assures us that God will compensate for any injustice we may endure over the course of our working lives. The fact that “…there is no partiality” assures us that every genuine wrong that has ever been committed against a God-honoring employee will be repaid. This should serve as a great encouragement for any Godly employee who may be overworked and underappreciated in his or her position.
Nevertheless, Colossians 3:25 communicates this idea in a primarily negative sense: “…the one who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there are no exceptions” (NET). In other words, God will show no favoritism, either for the unfaithful slave or for the unjust master. (1) Thus, this passage represents a cautionary message for employers and employees alike.
For instance, it is often discouraging to see examples of such partiality in the workplace. Mediocre employees are sometimes promoted while better qualified workers are left to toil in obscurity. A “well-connected” friend or family member may secure a lucrative position as more seasoned employees are overlooked. Supervisors may reward favored subordinates with preferred assignments while others struggle to succeed.
While these improprieties are distressing, they should not come as a surprise for the Scriptures warn us to expect such things in this life…
“I also saw something else here on earth: The fastest runner does not always win the race, the strongest soldier does not always win the battle, the wisest does not always have food, the smartest does not always become wealthy, and the talented one does not always receive praise. Time and chance happen to everyone” (Ecclesiastes 9:11 NCV).
Despite these unfortunate realities, we can be comforted in the knowledge that God will address any such discrepancies fully and completely without partiality. As one commentator has observed…
“For ancient Christian slaves and for modern Christian workers, there is no guarantee on earth of fairness of treatment from those whom they work for. Sometimes partiality means that bad workers are unfairly rewarded and good employees are penalized or left unrewarded. Paul assures both our ancient brethren and us that there is a final rewarding and punishment, and with this there is no partiality.” (2)
(1) Charles C Ryrie, Ryrie Study Notes [Colossians 3:25]
(2) Guzik, David Colossians 3 – Put Off, Put On © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/colossians-3/