If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 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. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison– that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 3:1-4:6)
God willing, this Sunday I will deliver the last lesson in a 13-week series on the book of Colossians at Christ Presbyterian Church. While my co-laborer and I will repeat the course in the spring (fall and spring adult Sunday school at our church currently consists of two classes—one from the Old Testament and one from the New—which are repeated so that people can attend both), having finished all of my notes I am experiencing an understandable sense of completion at this point. The staff at CPC titled the course on Colossians “Is Jesus Really Enough?”
The occasion of the Apostle Paul’s writing to the believers at Colosse was that corrupted teaching had been introduced to the church there by folks suggesting that religious activities, rituals, and even appeasing of angelic or demonic powers were necessary addenda to Christ’s work on our behalf. Then, as now, man always wants to “do something” in order to reconcile himself to God, refusing to accept that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 KJV) before a perfect and holy God, that we can add nothing to the finished and perfect work of Christ. Paul therefore devotes the first two chapters of this short letter to opposing this teaching, emphasizing the completeness and sufficiency of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. If we are truly in Him, we don’t need anything else—Jesus really is enough.
In the final two chapters Paul turns his attention to practical matters. Since the added rituals and practices suggested by these false teachers are unnecessary at best and deleterious at worst, how are Christians to live? The answer Paul gives is sometimes controversial, particularly among American Christians who have a seemingly inborn aversion to suggestions of hierarchy or submission of any kind. There are, of course, good answers to the questions raised about wives submitting to husbands and the whole subject of slavery as addressed here and elsewhere in scripture, but for today I’d like to set those questions aside and look at the passage as a whole. To put it briefly, Paul says that the Christian’s responsibility in this world is to be kind, honest, chaste, wise, compassionate, a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good spouse, a good parent, a good child, a good employer, a good employee, and a good churchman or churchwoman. He nowhere suggests that Christians are promised or should necessarily pursue “the good life,” but we are to pursue a life lived well, even if—perhaps especially if—that life is a rather ordinary one. This idea was poignantly presented in the second-century Epistle to Diognetus:
“For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life…For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. The live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.”
In other words, while the faith of Christians will necessarily set them apart from society in certain respects, on the whole our lives will be unremarkable compared to our counterparts in the wider society. Paul presented this even more succinctly when writing to Titus:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1-2)
Paul’s message to the Colossians was that in Christ we already have everything we need for life and godliness, both in this life and in that which is to come. We gain no extra favor with God through religious-looking works that are impressive to men’s sensibilities but could never be salvific. Instead, for most of us the practical outworking of Christianity in this world will be a life that is unremarkable on the surface, but imbued with purpose and significance as we do all things for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. In so doing, we fulfill those commandments our Lord identified as greatest:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
As is my usual practice, I will be taking a break from blogging during the month of December. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you again beginning sometime in January.