In Summary: How far removed from modern day life is Colossae? Not very far. Taking a look at Colossians 3 reveals that Paul was addressing problems that are just similar to our modern day, but are the same. Let us consider what we see brought up here: selfish behavior like impurity and greed; community-destroying behavior like wrath, malice, and abusive speech; culturally destructive behavior like lying, prejudices, and racism. That’s just verses 5-11!
Paul explains to the Colossians how the Gospel addresses all of these issues. While his explanation pushes against all of these as symptomatic of the problem, he opens the chapter with the cure for the root problem.
That cure is what we frequently call the Gospel, or at least the final portion of the Gospel. Jesus, Eternal Son of God, co-equal with the other two members of the Trinity, emptied Himself (Philippians 2) and died on a cross to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), and is exalted to the Name above all names, the only Name by which man can be saved (Acts 4:12).
And because of this, Colossians 3:1 can be presented as a conditional clause and assume the primary condition is satisfied: we have been raised up with Christ. Therefore we should seek the things above, the things of Christ. We should treat the problems of this world appropriately, as a doctor treats a disease: alleviate the symptoms while applying the cure. Certain measures of social action alleviate symptoms, and open the door to apply the cure of the Gospel.
In Focus: Of course, this reads fairly generically, doesn’t it? Focus your eyes on Colossians 3:1-3 again. There are two words that describe you and two words that command you. You are, if a believer in Christ Jesus, raised up with Christ and you have died. That’s Paul’s order, and I’ll retain it here: the focus is on what you are now, raised up, which is necessary because you have already died—in truth were already dead.
The words that command you are to keep seeking and to set your mind. On what? The things above, the things where Christ is. We need to not Americanize the word “things” here: it’s an English rendering of an indefinite, neuter pronoun. It’s not about stuff like we use “things,” but about stuff and spiritual beings and knowledge and wealth and relationships. Keep seeking these matters, with your mind set on them.
In Practice: When we have that as our viewpoint, we find three things to do with ourselves:
First: we let the peace of Christ dwell richly within us. Doing so elevates our eyes, focused on who Jesus allows us peace with. In Paul’s day, that abrogated the hostility between Jew and Greek, Barbarian and Scythian. In our day? It should drive us to seek peace with people of all races, tongues, and tribes. Especially we should find the church working to rise above racial divisions. If one of your descriptors of church is “this race” where “this race” is anything but “human race,” the peace of Christ does not dwell within you.
Second: we let the word of Christ dwell richly within us, teaching it. We sit on the answer to the fundamental social problems of our day, the answer to the interpersonal relationship problems of our day, and we do what with it? Tell no one? Our goal should be to remind one another of what God has done for us, and what we ought to do with it.
It is noteworthy that until one is raised with Christ, the Gospel looks toward that point. After that point, the Gospel looks back to that point and lives out the implications of it. We cannot hope to see the unraised act like the raised, especially on a continual, voluntary basis, and woe unto us if we think that compelling it is always a great plan.
Third, we sing. That’s it. Songs, though, are memorable ways of encoding information as well as emotional vehicles. Carry the Gospel in song, remembering it letting its beauty shine through.
In Nerdiness: Colossians 3 ends with a section on relationships not unlike Ephesians 5 & 6. I think it is important to not separate out Colossians 3:17 from this section. Every interaction we have as Christians is a reflection on Jesus. It’s either a reflection that we hold Him in high regard and want others to do so, or that we hope to keep others from thinking about Him.
What about your interactions?