In a powerful section, the Apostle Paul describes the focal activity of a believer’s life. The commands of the passage are received by the believer as exhortations to live according to the lofty values of God’s kingdom. The believer should strive to live by the “things above” in this life.
Where should I look? (Colossians 3:1-4)
Paul commands the believer, whose destiny is eternity with the Lord, to focus on “things above.” The giving of the command twice underscores its importance. The command first is applied to “hearts” in verse 1, then to “minds” in verse 2. Hearts are centers of will and desire. Minds are places of thought, pondering and reason.
Since believers have died to the world (v. 3; also 2:20), and have been raised to a new life in Christ (v. 1), they must invest their new lives pursuing heavenly things. The activities of the heart and mind must be focused on things above. Having a transformed nature as believers, we should notice that our hearts and minds have natural interest in “things above.”
For the believer, these commands help us check our spiritual pulse. Are we thinking about “things above?” Are we desiring “things above?” Are we straining with our life’s activities for “things above?” Paul declared his focus on “things above” in Philippians 3:7-14 (especially verse 14).
Verses 3-4 emphasize the status of the believer’s life. The believer is hidden with Christ in God. This is reminiscent of John 10:28-29 where Jesus states his sheep are in his hands and his Father’s hands. God alone has power to give life. The believer has not merely been made alive and raised with Christ, as if these were simple things, but the believer also is hidden in Christ, to be protected for eternity from the forces that oppose God and life. With life for eternity in God’s intimate presence, upon what should a believer set their heart and mind?
What should I bury? (Colossians 3:5-11)
A second command governs the next section in Paul’s letter. Believers must put to death (v. 5) things of the earthly nature. Verses 5 and 8 each list five undesirable items associated with the earthly nature. Lying is listed in verse 9. These 11 items are the physical, mental and heart pursuits of an unbelieving lifestyle.
The command in verse 5, with its restatement in verse 8, is a parallel, negative version of the command in the previous paragraph. This command also provides a spiritual pulse check. Believers should not desire, think about or practice the things of the earthly nature. One pursues what one is focused upon. The “proof” of one’s believing status is seen in one’s character traits and pursuits. True believers will cease practicing earthly ways.
Verse 10 states the believer has put on a new self. They no longer do what they once did (see v. 7) but are be renewed in the knowledge of the image of the Creator. Believers must strive to live according to the image of God which was built into their design as humans (Genesis 1:27). As believers learn more about God, they seek to be more like him.
Verse 11 indicates worldly status symbols have no bearing on one’s behavior in Christ. No matter what worldly status a believer has (Jewish or Gentile, slave or free, etc.), the believer must put to death the practices of the earthly nature and pursue the things of their status in Christ.
What should I display? (Colossians 3:12-17)
Paul now describes a believer’s life. To be focused on “things above” is not simply eliminating worldly practices from one’s life. A believer actively must practice the virtues and character traits of his or her Lord. Paul lists many such things in verses 12-17.
The emphasis in this section is on actions, not descriptions. Paul wants the heart and mind producing actions in line with “things above.”
Eight commands reveal the activities with which Paul’s readers must be busy. The eight commands are: “clothe yourselves” with Christian virtues (v. 12); “bear with each other” (v. 13); “forgive” (v. 13); “put on love” (v. 14); “let peace rule” (v. 15); “be thankful” (v. 15); “let Christ’s message dwell among you” (v. 16); and above all, “do all in the name of Jesus” (v. 17). These activities are foreign to the nonbeliever. The commanding of such activities also is distasteful to the nonbeliever. Yet for the believer whose heart is set on things above, these commands become expressions of God’s will and are worthy of diligent attention and practice.
The “clothing” of the believer (v. 12) relates to the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23 and Paul’s comment that believers have crucified the flesh in v. 24.) “Bearing” with one another describes our duty to minister to one another (Romans 12:15). Forgiveness is the central hallmark of Christianity, practiced by God and expected of his followers (Luke 6:37; 23:24). Love is the chief virtue of God and his people (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 John 4:8, 16). Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The character of his relationships with people is peace.
God’s kingdom is built on these lofty concepts and practices. The eight actions are practiced with distinction by God himself. Thus these commands give the believer plenty of productive and rewarding actions upon which to focus their minds and hearts.