Colossians 3

Norman Anderson

Notes of an address

"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:"   (2:6)

I want to speak briefly on these two verses in chapter 2 and then concentrate on chapter 3. You will probably have noticed, dear brethren, that the verse I started with is presented in the form of a simile, "as ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him". Before we go into verse 7 let me ask you, 'How did you receive the Lord Jesus?' Thank God I received Him because I believed that He was absolutely all that I needed, and I still believe that. Thank God for the grace that has brought such a revolution in my soul, has "delivered [me] from the power of darkness, and has translated [me] into the kingdom of his dear Son" (1:13). Having received Him in this way, I repeat, dear brethren, how did you receive Him? Have you received Him in order that you might be linked with 'so-called brethren'? That would be a mistake. If you have not received Him as the absolute Governor of your life, you will not be satisfied at all.

"Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving"   (2:7)

There are at least two thoughts here, we are rooted in regard to fruit bearing, and built up in regard to witness bearing. So here we read "rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving". I wonder if I am as much in the good of this as when I first came to the Lord Jesus. May each one of us ask ourselves this question as being consciously before God, firstly, have you or I received Him, are we going on with Him in this blessed fashion established in the faith and abounding therein with thanksgiving? Are we a thanksgiving people or are we a murmuring people? There is a contrast between these two words, thanksgiving and murmuring. You and I have every reason to be a thanksgiving people. Let us now look at chapter 3.

"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God."   (3:1)

This is the 'if' of argument, it is not the 'if' of doubt. The apostle is going to present to us the blessed theme of Christian living, and so he starts in this fashion, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above." The believer is viewed in the Colossian epistle as being here upon the earth but with the capacity which sets him or her free to look up from where he or she is to where Christ is. So we "seek those things which are above where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God". Thank God that Christ is seated there, He has got every right to be there, He has rights because of who He is (chapter 1), and because of what He is in the moral grace, beauty and charm of His lovely pathway. He has got the moral title to be there, He has got redemption rights to be there, He has got every right to be there, not just because of who He is, not just because of His moral character, He has got every right to be there because He glorified God when down here, and He glorified God completely in His blessed, perfect pathway, never more so that when He was nailed between those two malefactors on Golgotha's tree. "I have glorified thee on the earth", He said in John 17:4 "I have finished the work which thou gavest to do", and now He is seated at God's right hand, evidence that the work which He undertook has been perfectly accomplished.

In Hebrews 10 the priests of the old economy never sat down because their work was never completed, the only seat in the tabernacle system was the throne of God, the mercy seat. The priests were always busy in the holy place. Once a year the high priest was busy in the most holy place, "offering often the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but this man when, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God" (vv.11-12). Just think of it, His work to establish the word of God and to secure the right for others to join Him in that most holy place was accomplished, was perfectly finished. This is what we read here, Christ is sitting on the right hand of God. Why the right hand of God? He is there because distinction has been conferred upon Him, He is there because He is so perfectly entitled to the pre-eminence that has been granted to Him.

"Set your affection [or 'mind'] on things above, not on things on the earth."   (3:2)

Where is your mind centred, dear brethren? One of the sad features of this Colossian assembly was that their minds were being distorted, perverted by a system of philosophy that discounted Christ and elevated the man who had been set aside judicially in the cross of that blessed Saviour. So here the apostle, writing in the energy of the Spirit of God, says to us all, "Set your mind on things above". In other words, 'You have got a heavenly uplook because you have got a heavenly destiny, and in consequence of that "as is the heavenly one, so also the heavenly ones" (1 Cor.15:48). The Lord Jesus Christ is the heavenly One, and those who belong to Him are the heavenly ones and so being thus minded, because we are heavenly ones, we are exhorted to set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth. "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord out of heaven" (1 Cor.15:47). The origin of the heavenly Man is heaven, the character of the heavenly Man is heavenly, and the destiny of the heavenly Man and His companions is glory, heaven with Christ above.

How much does the simple truth of this appeal to us? I know we are very familiar with Colossians 1, perhaps not quite so familiar with Colossians 2, but I wonder whether we are just as familiar with Colossians 3 as we are with the doctrine of the earlier chapters? It has been said, and rightly so, that every privilege carries with it a corresponding responsibility. If we get privilege in the doctrine of chapters 1 and 2 we get responsibility in the application of chapters 3 and 4. The application here is to be in the good of the position that is ours in Christ while we are here, and in consequence setting or mind on "things above, not on things on the earth". It is interesting to note that this Colossian epistle was to be read in Laodicea (4:16), because the Laodiceans' minds were absolutely taken up with this earth (Rev.3:17), they had no thought of that heavenly destiny because they were not enamoured with "the second man...... out of heaven" who has gone back gloriously to where He came from. So here, "set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth", the reason follows.

"For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."   (3:3)

Nowhere in Scripture is the believer exhorted to die, he is simply told that he has died. How and when did we die? We died in the death of Jesus. When He was put to death on that shameful cross God in infinite grace was pleased to associate us with Him who died that cruel death. Identification with Christ in His death must of necessity precede identification with Him in the triumph and the power of His resurrection. We commenced our meeting by singing the hymn, "Saviour we long to follow thee", and at the end it says that in the power of risen life this can be a possibility, indeed it will be a reality in the lives of those who are in the good of it. This is the way to get into the good of it. God teaches us here that Christ had died and our life "is hid with Christ in God".

"When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."   (3:4)

Are you looking for the glory? If your heart is taken up with the Man in the glory you will be longing for, looking for and waiting for Him to come in order that you might enter with Him into those courts of glory. What a contrast this is to the miserable world around us that is characterised by sin and death, where there is no fear of God before men's eyes. What we speak of as 'juvenile delinquency' is becoming accepted as a part of modern life, where vandalism is rampant, where thieving and violence and corruption abounds on every hand. Would we not rather to be with the Lord where He us? You can be with Him now in the practice of a heart and mind that is taken up with Him where He is while you are here. Thank God we will not remain here much longer, all the evidence in the Middle East points to the fact that the prophetic seeds are hastening to germination, when the sign of the Son of Man shall be seen in the heavens, then He shall appear in power and great glory, dealing with every contrary element, putting it down in the exercise of His power and in His own holy judgment in order that righteousness might spring up everywhere, and in consequence of His reigning in righteousness peace shall be enjoyed. There will be an end of open sin. Thank God that when our Lord Jesus Christ appears in glory He will put an end to all that. When He does appear we shall appear with Him. Just think of it, what a blessing for us! Are you looking for the coming of the Saviour? I am. He is coming for me, He is coming for us, the Christian company, in order that He might bring us with Him when He appears in power and great glory.

"Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:"   (3:5)

There is a practical influence exerted by the knowledge of this blessed hope.

"For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them."   (3:6-7)

These are very simple, but very telling words. As the hymn writer puts it: "By nature and by practice far, So very far from God". We have these two elements in these two verses, practice - "in the which ye also walked" - and nature - "when ye lived in them". We do what we do because we are what we are. God has dealt judicially on the basis of the work that Christ has done in offering Himself as the perfect offering for sin once for all when He went into death at Calvary. God is acting on that blessed basis the righteous claims of God have been settled once and for all by the sacrificial death of your Saviour and mine, and in consequence of that He makes this appeal to us, 'Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth in the which ye also walked when ye lived in them'. God never exhorts us to any kind of practice without giving us the power to comply with that exhortation. Things on this earth will not go on forever, thank God they will not, because it will be ended in the execution of His righteous judgment.

"But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds:"   (3:9-10)

We have put off the old man. When did we do this? We put him off in the day when we trusted Christ as our Saviour. The exhortation in this chapter is to put to death the members of that old man which are catalogued for us here. Let us all make it good in our lives, putting off these negative things, and with the power available in verse 10 to put on the positive things.

"And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:"   (3:10)

We are never exhorted to put on the new man, we have already put on the new man. I heard a brother speaking recently about Christ being the "new man", I immediately took him up, I said, 'My dear brother, Christ is not the new man because the new man is created, he is a creature, a new creation. Our Lord, while He entered into the creation, never became a creature'. He was "the firstborn of all creation" (Col.1:16), but He was not the first one born in all creation, it does not say that (although Jehovah's Witnesses blasphemously twist this passage to make out this is what it says). He was not the first one created, He was not a creature at all, He was the One who brought creation into being. He takes the first place in regard to creation on account of the greatness and glory of His Person and the product of the exercise of His glorious power. He was firstborn of all creation. So Christ is not the new man because the new man is a creation of God. But I would say this, while Christ is not the new man, the new man is Christ characteristically. The character, the moral grace and beauty of the new man, which is evidenced in the succeeding verses, is evidence to us of the charm and character of our blessed, precious Lord.

"Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is [everything] and in all."   (3:11)

In the new man there are no racial distinctions whatsoever (Greek or Jew), no religious distinctions (circumcision or uncircumcision), no social distinctions (Barbarian or Scythian) and no secular distinctions (bond or free). What is outstanding about the new man is his blessed character and the blessed fact that to the new man Christ is the entire absorbing object, Christ is everything and in all.

"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering:"   (3:12)

The moral beauty of Christ forms the character of the new man, and He addresses us as "the elect of God". We are "holy and beloved", which are also characteristics of our Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. Rev.3:7, Eph.1:6), and there are conferred in infinite grace on those who belong to this new man who has been brought into being consequent upon the crucifixion of our blessed, gracious Lord and His triumphant glorious resurrection from among the dead. We are the elect, the chosen ones of God. If you read John 6 you will find you reach a point where Peter confesses "thou art the holy one of God" (v.69). If you read 1 Peter 2:5 and 9 you will find that these expressions used of our Lord are also used of those who are living stones, the material of that building that Peter speaks so blessedly of.

These features - mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering - are not the features of the old man, they are the features of the new man, and they can only be possibly reproduced as we are brought under the power of the attraction of God in the exercise of His all conquering grace. Just think of it, dear brethren, these are the features that are so pleasing to God, features that have been seen in perfection already in our blessed precious Lord as He moved here on earth, the exercise of compassion, the activities of kindness, the activity of humility, meekness, longsuffering, they marked Him in all His doings.

"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye."   (3:13)

These features continue in verse 13. Is there a brother or sister who we cannot put up with or we have a quarrel with? Well, let me give you some advice, "forbear one another", "forgive one another", with this high standard, "even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye". The standard is very high because you and I through infinite grace have been given the ability by God whereby we can keep to the very letter of all these things.

"And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 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."   (3:14-16)

The apostle says elsewhere, "If any man think himself...... to be spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor.14:37). Here "the word of the Christ" carries with it all those blessed enlightening features of the teaching in regard to Him. Somebody has rightly said, 'Whatever enlightens us becomes law to us'. Let us lay hold of that, it is of first importance. In other words the truth that we receive from God is intended, where accepted, to govern us in every feature of our daily lives. So here, let it dwell in you, there is nothing spasmodic or casual about receiving the word of the Christ, it is not to be just a lodger, it is not something you take up today and put down tomorrow, the divine intention is that our lives will be formed by it.

Psalms speak of experience with God, hymns speak of songs of praise to God and spiritual songs speak of the embodiment in poetic form of the varied truths of God that are found in the word of the Christ. So I would say, dear brethren, that spiritual songs are the embodiment of what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12, "the present truth".

"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."   (3:17)

This expression "whatsoever ye do" is repeated in verse 23. All things are to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. You are a representative, dear brethren, of the absent Lord because you only act in a person's name when that person is not there. Our Lord is absent because He has been refused and crucified here, thank God He has been received, accepted and glorified in heaven, the chapter starts with this.

"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged."   (3:18-21)

There are five spheres here, first is the sphere of the assembly where Christ is everything and in all, there is our Lord Jesus Christ in whose name we are active giving thanks to God and to the Father by Him. Then there is the domestic sphere where wives and husbands live their lives. The force of this is, 'Wives, submit yourselves to that man who is peculiarly yours, your husband, as it is meet in the Lord', and you only do it in the exercise of that precious love that has filled your heart from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Then follows the instruction to husbands to love their wives and not to be bitter against them. Do you think this instruction is necessary? I do. So is the instructions to children and fathers.

"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men: knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ."   (3:22-24)

The service of bondslaves is spoken of, but true service in any direction is only carried out as it deserves to be carried out for the Lord if the eye looks on to the end of the path of service. The Lord Christ pays good wages, He even pays a bonus at the end of the path of service, the recompense of the inheritance. Just think of it, we are going to share with Him in that glorious inheritance which He is destined to take up in the day of His coming glory knowing that of the Lord we shall receive the reward of the inheritance.

"But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven."   (3:25, 4:1)

The words of Scripture are of first importance. So with our eye on the coming glory we serve the Lord Christ in sincerity and truth. If we break down we are to stand and confess our breakdown as will all the saints of God, before the judgment seat of Christ. Are we are going to be honoured there? or will you be ashamed of your service before Him? The only future possible for those who go wrong is that they lose their reward, and there is no respect of persons.

I trust we will all take these words to heart, the practical exhortations flow from the divinely bestowed privileges. The circle of the assembly is the closest circle of all and it is the first mentioned in regard to these practical matters, then we get details concerning the family circle. Do not forget, His eyes are upon us all, and not only upon us all, they are upon us all the time, and His ear is open to the things that we say. He sees the things that we do and He deals with us in government if needed. Think of that seriously, because family life is the mainspring of any sphere of life at all in this responsible work. All the breakdown that I am referring to is the product of breakdown in the family circle, and the only thing that can maintain the true character of family life is to be in the good of what Colossians 3 talks about, "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."