A study of Colossians 3:1-4 covers the desire for Godliness, making an intentional decision, and anticipating a future life with Christ.
A study of Colossians 3:1-4. The desire for Godliness
If then you have been raised with Christ…
Paul uses baptism in Colossians 2:12 as a picture of how followers identify with Christ. “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith.” And he explains the symbolism behind it. “In Christ you died” (Colossians 2:20) is symbolized when a new believer is submerged in water. And is “raised with Christ” when raised back to the surface, Paul then asks a question: “If you died with Christ, why do you return to your old ways?” He answers that question in 2 Corinthians 5:17 where he calls them new creations. Rather than turning back they should move forward in their new life.
Seek the things that are above…
And moving forward in that new life in Christ considers what’s ahead and above. The Greek word for “seek” is zētĕō, which means to seek, to worship, to desire. In other words, your new life in Christ seeks a life OF godliness. And that begins with a desire FOR godliness. It doesn’t passively wait for God to shower down his blessings. But rather, willfully and actively seeks to please God.
A study of Colossians 3:1-4. Making an intentional decision
Set your minds on things that are above…
Following Jesus begins with an intentional decision and a step of faith. But it doesn’t stop there. It requires many intentional steps of faith. And your mind is pivotal in the direction you take because it’s a primary target of Satan’s attacks. So you must take charge as the captain of it.
“Set your minds” comes from the Greek word phrŏnĕō, which means to exercise the mind, to interest oneself in. It moves beyond desire of the heart to intentionally controlling your thought life. In short, what thoughts do you let into your mind? Which ones do you entertain and which ones do you discard? And how do you manage them to shape your decisions? But most importantly…what is the starting point for your thought life? Paul has a clear answer: Start with an intentional focus on the things of God. He offers practical suggestions in Philippians 4:8 and 3:12.
Not on things that are on earth.
The Greek word for “earth” is gē, which means soil, ground, world, the solid part or the whole terrestrial globe. Of course, as earth residents, we must attend to matters of this life. Earn a living. Navigate the relationships among family, friends, and career. Take out the trash.
They all demand mind space and time from our schedule. But they shouldn’t preoccupy or replace our thoughts for God.
Anticipating a future life with Christ
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Paul explains the reason we should set our minds on things above. Because in dying with Christ, we died to our old self and the things of this world. We still live in and engage with the things of this world. But we don’t let them dominate our thinking. Because our true life and final home is with Christ. Although what that actually looks like is hidden from us for now.
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Christ will “appear” and we will “appear” translates the same Greek word, phanĕrŏō. It means to manifest, show, render apparent, and declare. In other words, when Jesus returns to earth what was hidden will become apparent. Because Jesus will visibly manifest in his glory and his followers will share in it. And it’s this eternal perspective that fills us with enduring hope.
A Study of Colossians 2:20-24 covers the submission to religious regulations, human precepts and teachings, and the attraction of self-made religion.
A study of Colossians 2:20-24. The submission to religious regulations
V.20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world…
Paul asks a rhetorical question because he already knows the answer. And it goes back to those “elemental spirits” (Greek = stŏichĕiŏn) he mentioned in 2:8. They were possibly the pagan gods from Greek culture the Colossians followed in their lives before Jesus Christ. He is presenting a challenge to them regarding their new faith. In Christ they have died to their former life. So why go back to it? Paul affirms this new life in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…
The Greek word for “regulations” is dogmatízō, which means to establish a decree and what seems to be right. In other words, why do you let things with no power over you, control you anyway, because they sound right?
It’s also a fair question for today. Are there extra regulations you follow because they sound right, but actually enslave you?
A study of Colossians 2:20-24. Human precepts and teachings
21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”…
Paul doesn’t specifically mention the regulations, but points out their controlling features. And he does so in a sarcastic tone that increases in its level of exaggeration. Don’t handle, taste or even touch. In a modern context, he might add: perhaps you should wear a hazmat suit to avoid all contamination!
However, this was not a completely new teaching. Jesus addressed this subject with the Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23. Certainly, there are people, places, and things we should avoid. And practicing regular spiritual disciplines will promote a holy life. But following Jesus Christ is more than a list of “do’s and don’ts.” It’s a life meant to set us free, not weigh us down.
22 Referring to things that all perish as they are used—according to human precepts and teachings?
Paul disqualifies them for two reasons: First, they are temporal in nature. Food that disappears because it is either consumed, or eventually goes bad and is thrown out. Secondly, they are based on strictly human instructions. Here again, Jesus speaks on this matter.
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (ESV, Matthew 15:8-9)
The attraction of self-made religion
The self-help section of every bookstore tells a story. Humanity has an insatiable appetite for self-improvement, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. Is it any wonder we also seek a self-made religion?
V.23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body…
The Greek word for “self-made religion” is ĕthĕlŏthrēskĕia, which means voluntary and unwarranted piety. In other words, false humility. We want to look good to other people. In physical attractiveness, perceived character, and moral uprightness. Although outward appearance doesn’t always reflect the condition of a person’s heart. But it’s God’s primary concern and how he sees us.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (ESV, 1 Samuel 16:7)
The futility of external controls
But they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
The Greek word for “indulgence” is plēsmŏnē, which means gratification and satisfying. In other words, external restraints don’t satisfy fleshly desires so they won’t control human passions. It is a battle all Christ-followers face in this life. Paul admits his own struggle in Romans 7:15-20.
But we are not powerless.
When tempted by Satan, Jesus answered by quoting scripture. It is our most effective defense too. In addition, since desires and passions take root in our mind, we should saturate our minds with scriptures. And rather than NOT think certain thoughts, purposefully guide them towards positive ones.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (ESV, Philippians 4:8-9)
A Study of Colossians 2:15-19 covers disarming the rulers and authorities, avoiding disqualifications, and holding fast to the head.
A Study of Colossians 2:15-19. Disarming the rulers and authorities
V.15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
This verse continues Paul’s thought in V.14 where he talks about “cancelling the record of debt” and “nailing it to the cross.”
The Greek word for “disarmed” is apĕkduŏmai, which means to divest wholly oneself, put off and despoil. It also includes the idea of stripping away. The Greek word for “triumphing” is thriambĕuō, which means to conquer, give victory, and to make an acclamatory procession.
And it presents a familiar picture to the Colossians. When Roman generals returned home after winning a war, they paraded through the middle of town followed by their spoils of war: loot and captured prisoners. It was a public declaration of victory.
Who are the rulers and authorities?
Who Paul specifically means by “rulers and authorities” is unclear. Is he alluding to the Roman authorities and Jewish religious leaders who collaborated to arrest and crucify Jesus? They abused their power and initially won. But in the end, the tables were turned and Jesus was the real winner. Because his death set mankind free from sin. An eternal victory and inspirational, underdog story for sure.
However, Paul more likely means the pagan Gods and spiritual beings he alluded to earlier that the Colossians used to follow. That held them captive. Their power over the Colossians was now stripped away. Although the “who” may not be clear, the point Paul’s making is. Jesus has triumphed, over these rulers and authorities, removed their power, and set the Colossians free.
V.16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
Now that Paul has established their sins are forgiven, debt cancelled, rulers and authorities disarmed and Jesus triumphant, he moves forward with a conclusion. And he starts with a “therefore.” In other words, here is what’s next now that these things are settled.
The Greek word for “pass judgment” is krinō, which means to distinguish, decide, to try, condemn and call into question. Apparently, part of the false teaching involved regulations and observances related to Old testament, Jewish law around diet and Jewish holy days. And Paul reasserts they are not required to follow these religious practices. And not to let others condemn them for not doing so because Christ has established new covenant.
A Study of Colossians 2:15-19. Avoiding disqualifications
V.17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
In this verse Paul positions the words “shadow” and “substance” in contrast to one another. The Greek word for “shadow” is skia, which means shade or a shadow. The Greek word for “substance” is sōma, which literally means body. And Paul’s using them to make a distinction. A shadow offers an obscure view and anticipates what is to come. But Jesus is clearly visible and a present reality. Other verses on “shadow” include Hebrews 8:6 and 10:1.
V.18 Let no one disqualify you…
The Greek word for “disqualify” is katabrabĕuō, which means to beguile of reward and defraud of salvation. In other words, Christ alone is sufficient. He provides full qualification and is all you need. So don’t let others distract you and lead you away from him by adding extra provisions.
Paul describes these extra provisions.
Insisting on asceticism…
The Greek word for “asceticism” is tapĕinŏphrŏsunē, which means humiliation of mind. Asceticism was an outward expression of humility that involved practices of self-denial, like fasting. They were meant to control fleshly appetites.
And worship of angels…
Rather than an outright, worship of angels, the false teaching was more likely an unhealthy preoccupation with the angelic and spiritual realm. And anything that replaces the true God as the one we worship is idolatry.
Going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind…
Throughout the Bible, God spoke through dreams and visions. Once, even through a talking donkey. And we hear modern stories of this too. Okay, maybe not with talking donkeys. But today, we also have God’s written word. And it is our “go to” source for discerning God’s will. Any modern dream or vision that contradicts scripture should be disregarded.
The Greek word for “sensuous” is sarx, which literally means flesh and meat of the body. But it’s often used figuratively to imply sinful humanity with its carnal passions. Perhaps a little more sarcasm from Paul? He’s describing people who are outwardly spiritual, speaking about spiritual matters, but with a mind focused on fleshly passions.
In other words, these teachers presented themselves as “super Christians” but their humility was really pride in disguise.
A Study of Colossians 2:15-19. Holding fast to the head
V.19 And not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments…
Now Paul returns to what he says in 1:18. Jesus is the head of the body. The church. And these religious teachers and supposedly super Christians with their spiritual talk and practices were not holding fast to that head. But then, there’s also the body. Because Christianity is not practiced in isolation, but in community. This is where we find support, encouragement, and accountability.
Grows with a growth that is from God.
The presence of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit empowers the church. And together, the members of that body grow together as disciples of Jesus Christ in God’s power.
A Study of Colossians 2:10-14 presents Jesus as the sovereign God who spiritually circumcises, the one who replaces the law, and baptism the symbol of a new life in Christ.
A Study of Colossians 2:10-14. Jesus is the sovereign God who spiritually circumcises.
V.10 And you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority
Paul says in V.9, the whole fullness of deity dwelled bodily in Jesus and in V.10, the Colossians were filled in Jesus. Although “fullness” in V.9 and “filled” in V.10 use the same root Greek word, their meanings are different. To be filled in Jesus doesn’t mean Christ’s divinity or his perfection is passed on to us. But that in him all our spiritual needs are met. Paul says more about this “fullness” in Ephesians 1:23 and 3:19.
The Greek word for “rule” is archē, and means rule, power, magistrate and chief in order, time, place, or rank. “Authority” is the Greek ĕxŏusia, which includes mastery, power, right and strength. In other words, Jesus is God and therefore, sovereign. He rules over all and therefore, all spiritual requirements are met in him alone.
The old and new
V.11 In him also,you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…
Genesis 17:1-14 records the covenant God established with Abraham. And it included circumcising all Jewish males. So if some of the false teachings the Colossians faced included converting to Judaism, it meant circumcision too. Perhaps he was warning them of what following such a teaching involved.
Putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ…
Paul differentiates between the Old covenant practice of circumcision and the New covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. What he calls a circumcision made without hands. One is physical and the other is spiritual. Circumcision of new Gentile believers was a controversial topic in the early church. And Paul addresses it more fully in Galatians 5:1-13 and Romans 2:25-30.
A Study of Colossians 2:10-14. Baptism symbolizes a new life in Christ.
V.12 Buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith…
Baptism is a symbol of the New Covenant. It pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and publicly demonstrates a new believer’s faith in Jesus Christ. And a symbol of identification, not a qualification for salvation. But an act of obedience that follows the example of Jesus. However, it’s not simply punching an entrance ticket to heaven. But the public declaration of an intent to follow Jesus’ example of dying to self. The shedding of a sin nature and the start of a new nature in Christ.
The powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Salvation comes through faith in Jesus. Yet, it’s because of a powerful work of God. Therefore, baptism symbolically pictures the Gospel story. But it was through an actual historic event. God physically raised Jesus from the dead. And He spiritually raises those who follow Jesus.
A Study of Colossians 2:10-14. Jesus fulfills and replaces the law.
V.13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…
Paul also discusses circumcision in Ephesians 2:10-13. And it helps further explain his meaning here. In short, as uncircumcised Gentiles, but more importantly guilty sinners, they were spiritually dead. However, God made them alive by forgiving those sins through Jesus’ sacrifice. Today, we likewise experience forgiveness and spiritual life through Jesus.
V.14 By cancellingthe record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
God forgives sin because Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law. And through his sacrifice for sin, he cancelled the debt. The cross is where he completed that mission. The instrument of his death. And the provision that sets us free.
A Study of Colossians 2: 6-9 includes walking in Christ and in faith, avoiding capture by human devices and the fullness of Christ’s deity.
A Study of Colossians 2: 6-9. Walking in Christ and in faith
V.6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…
The Greek word for “walk” is pĕripatĕō, and means to live and deport oneself. Specifically, Paul means their Christian conduct. We sometimes treat the Christian faith like a two step process. First we receive Christ and then we follow in discipleship. But here, Paul links them together as one continued action. If you receive Jesus Christ as Lord, a Christian lifestyle naturally follows and visibly demonstrates it.
So what does this look like?
V.7 Rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…
The Greek word for “rooted” is rhizŏō, and means to root and become stable. It suggests the picture of a tree with roots planted deeply and permanently in the ground. “Built up” is the Greek ĕpŏikŏdŏmĕō, and means to build upon. The word is used in present tense and indicates an ongoing process. It brings to mind Matthew 7:24-27 where Jesus relates the wisdom of building a house on the foundation of rock.
“Established” is also translated “strengthened” and is the Greek word bĕbaiŏō, which means to confirm as in something certain and reliable. And “faith” is the Greek word pistis, which means conviction of and system of Christian truth. The “strengthening” and “establishing” Paul speaks of takes place in those convictions and within that system of Christian truth.
A Study of Colossians 2: 6-9. Avoiding capture by human devices
V.8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit…
Now Paul warns them about several things that might take them captive. The Greek word for “captive” is sulagōgĕō, and was commonly used to indicate war captives. It means to lead away as booty or spoils of war.
“Philosophy” is the Greek word philŏsŏphia, and literally means the love of wisdom. As a branch of the Humanities, philosophy is not inherently bad and Paul doesn’t suggest it. But it covers many areas and depths of thoughts. Some that offer “empty deceit.” The two respective Greek words, kĕnŏs, means empty or in vain and apatē, means deceit and delusion. In other words, philosophical ideas that lead you away from Gospel truth are empty and delusional. And Paul goes on to describe them more specifically.
According to human tradition…
“Human traditions” are the Greek words anthrōpŏs, which means human being and paradŏsis, which also means transmission. It suggests the passing down of stories orally from one generation to the next. Not exactly like the campfire stories your parents told you and you told your kids, but a similar idea anyway. Paul might mean Jewish oral traditions that were tacked on to the written law or pagan ideas that were floating around during this time.
According to the elemental spirits of the world…
The Greek word for “elemental spirits” is stŏichĕiŏn. It literally means something orderly in arrangement and is translated element, principle, and rudiment. Scholars differ on Paul’s specific meaning. The false teaching may have included angel worship, a form of astrology, or other spiritual deities. The point is, your sole focus should be on Jesus and not Jesus plus something else.
REFLECT & RECORD
Describe what it means to walk in Christ?
What does this look like in your life? Does it align with what Paul describes?
Who is someone you know that you think has a strongly rooted faith? Why do you think that is?
A Study of Colossians 2: 6-9. According to Christ and the fullness of his deity
V.8 And not according to Christ.
Paul begins V.6 by telling the Colossians to walk in Christ and ends V.8 by reaffirming Christ alone. The capturing philosophies he identifies in between that include empty deceit, human tradition, and elemental spirits of the world are additions and therefore, “not according to Christ.”
V.9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…
This phrase is essentially a repeat of 1:19, except Paul adds the word “bodily.” It’s from the Greek word sōmatikōs, which means physically, bodily, actually, and in solid reality. It foils any attempt to describe Jesus as some kind of spirit being, John 1:14 uses a similar expression to describe Jesus in human form. “Deity” is the Greek word thĕŏtēs, which means divinity and godhead. “Dwells” is the Greek katŏikĕō, which means to reside and house permanently, In other words, God in his complete divinity was present in Jesus’ physical body. Although it is beyond our comprehension, we accept it as Biblical truth.
REFLECT & RECORD
What teachings have you encountered that represent empty deceit, human tradition, and elemental spirits?
How have you navigated them?
Why do you think the incarnation of Jesus into human form is a critical teaching? How has it impacted your faith journey?
Join my list and I'll notify you of new blog posts and send you a monthly newsletter. It features inspirational thoughts, writing tips, and a peek into writing projects. I'll also include my article: Exaggerate to Make Your Presentations Funny. It shows you how to punch up presentations with humor and make them more compelling.