What’s on Your Mind?

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about focusing our minds on Christ, removing from our lives ungodly thoughts and actions, and displaying godly character.

New Ways of Thinking: Colossians 3:1-4.

[1]  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [2]  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. [3]  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4]  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  [ESV]

[1]  Paul now draws positive conclusions from the same theological premises that he used in 2:8-23 to warn the Colossians about the false teaching. The rules of the false teachers, having to do with the things of this world, cannot subdue the power of the sinful nature [2:22-23] and serve, indeed, to sever believers from their head, the only true source of spiritual strength [2:19]. Therefore believers need to focus on what is above, where Christ is Himself to be found. The first of two parallel commands appears in verse 1: seek the things that are above. Paul grounds this command with a reminder of the believer’s identification with Christ’s resurrection. Paul asserts that those who belong to Christ have already experienced a “spiritual” resurrection with Christ. Because they are “in Him” and Christ has Himself been raised to sit at the right hand of the Father, so believers can be said to have been raised with Christ. Thus the reason why believers are able to seek the things that are above is because they have already received the new, resurrected life that comes from being united with Christ. We are not to strive for a “heavenly” status, since that has already been freely given us in Christ. Rather, we are to make that heavenly status the guidepost for all our thinking and acting. And, by using the present tense of the verb seek, Paul indicates that believers should be constantly occupied in striving for this orientation. Believers seek the things that are above by deliberately and daily committing ourselves to the values of the heavenly kingdom and living out of those values. Spiritual growth comes only from Christ, so it is naturally incumbent on us to focus on the place where he is seated.

[2-4]  Revealing just how important this perspective is for believers, Paul repeats the essence of his command in verse 2 with two slight changes. First, Paul shifts from seek to think (set your minds). This verb refers not to a purely mental or intellectual process, but to a more fundamental orientation of the will. It suggests the basic inner attitude that lies behind the seeking of verse 1. And, like seek, it is in the present tense suggesting a continuous thinking activity or a habit of the mind. But it is the second nuance added in verse 2 that is the real point of the verse: we are not to have our minds set on earthly things. Things that are above, Paul is making clear, are tied to Christ, enthroned above, and must reflect the values of the kingdom that He has inaugurated. Anything else is no more than “worldly” thinking. Following his typical pattern, Paul now grounds the imperative of verses 1-2 with an appeal to theology: you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. His readers have died not physically, of course, but spiritually; which includes our deliverance from sin and the bondage of the law. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are the essential moments of the climactic salvation-historical drama [1 Cor. 15:3-5], and they mark the transition from the old era to the new. By believing in Christ, the Colossians have identified with Christ in these events and so experience all the benefits they confer. Setting our hearts and minds on the things above and not on earthly things is both necessary and possible. It is necessary because our union with Christ means we no longer belong to the realm of this earth but to the heavenly realm; and it is possible because our union with Christ severs us from the tyranny of the powers of this world and provides us with all the power needed to live a new life. Paul takes the significance of our union with Christ two steps further here, referring both to our present status [3b] and to our future transformation [4]. Paul suggests that at the present time our heavenly identity is real, but it is hidden with Christ. Though we may not look any different than those around us, Paul’s point in this context is that we certainly need to behave differently. Paul could also be claiming that the lives of believers are now hidden with Christ in the sense that we are safe and secure in Him even in the midst of the sufferings of this present life [see Psalm 27:5]. The verb appears in verse 4 is the counterpart to hidden in verse 3. Our identification with Christ, now real but hidden, will one day be manifest when we will appear with him in glory.

New Ways of Behaving: Colossians 3:5-11.

[5]  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [6]  On account of these the wrath of God is coming. [7]  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. [8]  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. [9]  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices [10]  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. [11]  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.  [ESV]

[5-6]  Paul connects verses 1-4 with verses 5-11 with therefore. He is probably suggesting that, since we now have a heavenly mind-set, we should be eager to get rid of behavior that does not reflect that mind-set. Union with Christ, because it puts us in a new relationship to sin and brings us into the sphere of the Spirit’s power, will impact the way we live. Ultimately, then, the imperative put to death in this verse must be viewed as a call to respond to, and cooperate with, the transformative power that is already operative within us. Jewish writers habitually traced the various sins of the Gentiles back to the root problem of idolatry; and especially was this true of sexual sins. Putting some other ‘god’ in the place of the true God of the Bible leads to the panoply of sexual sins and perversions that characterized the Gentile world at that time. Vice lists in the New Testament often conclude with a reminder that God will judge the kind of conduct outlined in the list. The vice lists function to depict the lifestyle of people who are in enmity with the holy God of the Bible and who thus suffer eternal condemnation. The warning of judgment in this verse therefore underscores the need to take seriously the exhortation that Christians do away with such conduct. Putting to death sins like those mentioned in verse 5 is vital because God will visit with His wrath those who continue to practice them. And putting to death sins like these is possible because God has given His people, through His Spirit, a new power to conform their conduct to God’s holy demands. The warnings of verses such as this are designed to encourage God’s people to engage seriously and passionately in the process of divesting themselves of the attitudes and lifestyle characteristic of this world.

[7-8]  Verse 6 is phrased as a general theological principle: God’s wrath is going to be revealed in the last day because of all the sins that humans commit. Verse 7 now applies this principle. Paul reminds the Colossians that they were once people who were condemned to suffer this wrath because of their own sinful lifestyle. In verse 7 Paul, after inserting the general principle of verse 6, uses an emphatic construction to return his attention to the Colossians and how they once walked or lived. But now contrasts the former way of life of the Colossians with the action that they are now to take as people who have died to the powers and regulations of this world. Paul’s concern in this verse is especially that Christians would avoid unnecessarily critical and abusive speech. The first three sins in the list refer to those attitudes that give rise to such speech. Paul’s purpose is not to single out three specific sins but to use the three words together to connote the attitude of anger and ill will toward others that so often leads to slander and obscene talk.

[9-11]  The focus on sins of speech that comes as the climax of verse 8 is reinforced by a new command: Do not lie to one another. Paul forbids Christians from lying to one another because he is preeminently concerned in this context with the health of the Christian community. Verses 9b-10 form the ground for all the commands and prohibitions in verses 5-9a. Christians are to avoid the vices listed in verses 5 and 8 as well as the lying of verse 9a because they have put off the old self … and have put on the new self. A change of clothes is a rather natural symbol for a change in life or situation. The contrast of old self and new self alludes to one of Paul’s most fundamental theological conceptions: the contrast between a realm in opposition to God, rooted in Adam’s sin and characterized by sin and death, and the new realm, rooted in Christ’s death and resurrection and characterized by righteousness and life. Paul wants to remind us that we have been transferred into this new realm and that because of this transfer we are both empowered and required to live in a new way. The practices characteristic of the old self must be put off. And the practices characteristic of the new self must be put on. The need to work out in daily life the reality of our transfer into the new realm, or new self, reflects Paul’s typical “already-not yet” tension. While already detached from the old self and attached to the new self, we yet live in a time when the old has not been finally defeated and destroyed. The old realm continues to exist and to exercise its influence over us who still live in unredeemed bodies. Paul alludes to this tension when he goes on to say that the new self is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. The present participle makes clear that the new self, the new reality ruled by Christ, is not in its final state: it is in a state of becoming. Knowledge is the goal or object of the renewal rather than its means. This knowledge is, of course, knowledge of God, an understanding of who He is in terms of Christ and what that understanding means for living rightly. It is this knowledge that human beings lost in the fall into sin and that incorporation into Christ makes possible once again. Image of its creator draws our attention to being created in the image of God in Genesis 1:26-27. Since Christ Himself is the supreme image of God, He supplies the pattern for the renewal of the new self [see Rom. 8:29]. The renewal refers not simply to an individual change of character but also to a corporate recreation of humanity in the creator’s image. The corporate nature of the new self comes very much to the fore in verse 11. There are eight designations intended to accentuate the inclusiveness of the new humanity. Six of the eight form pairs arranged in a contrasting pattern: Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, slave, free. All three oppositions are very common in Paul. But barbarian, Scythian are two terms that are not in opposition to each other with a Scythian person being an extreme example of a barbarian. Paul concludes by showing that the polarities of worldly existence are overcome in Christ – the one who is all, and in all. Christ is all in the sense that He is the center point of both creation and redemption, the One in whom and through whom all things now hold together. Christ is in all in the sense that He indwells all who make up the new humanity, the redeemed.

New Ways of Relating: Colossians 3:12-14.

[12]  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, [13]  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.

[14]  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

[12-14] Then connects the paragraph that begins with verse 12 with what Paul has just said about the new self. The new self is the new Israel. This identification is clearly indicated in the description of the Colossians as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. All three are standard ways of describing Israel in the Old Testament and the church as the people of God in the New Testament. Chosen ones reflects standard Old Testament teaching that the existence and status of Israel depend on God’s decision to choose them and to form them as His people – which He does through the events of the exodus, the giving of the law, and the entrance into the promised land. The word holy suggests the notion of being set apart for God, and it often occurs with the idea of election. God’s love for His people is the fundamental basis for God’s election of the people. In this verse, then, as holy designates the result of God’s election, so beloved suggests its basis. Paul uses the clothing imagery that he has employed earlier to urge the community of God’s people in Christ to cultivate virtues that will foster that community in practice. Paul names five specific virtues, almost surely intentionally paralleling the five vices of verses 5 and 9. A significant aspect of these virtues is that they are often attributed to, or associated with, Christ. Having put on the new self, identified with Christ Himself, it is necessary at the same time to put on those virtues that characterize Christ. In verse 13 Paul indicates what this fundamental attitude should look like in action: bearing with one another … forgiving each other. Paul intends to present these actions as the natural outgrowth of the general attitude conveyed by all five virtues in verse 12. There is a progression in the two commands in verse 13. The demand to bear with one another acknowledges that every Christian fellowship is made up of all kinds of people and that we will accordingly sometimes find ourselves in close fellowship with people who are very different than we are. For the sake of maintaining community, we will sometime have to bear with people with whom we would not normally choose to associate. But, of course, more than this is ultimately called for. Not only must we bear with one another; we must also forgive each other. Forgiving translates a Greek verb that conveys the idea that forgiving others is an act of grace, freely offered, often not deserved. Paul frankly recognizes that in the Christian community there will be times when a person will have a complaint against another in the fellowship. In such cases, believers are to imitate their Lord, who has graciously forgiven them. Christ establishes not only the pattern but the possibility of forgiveness. The clothing imagery that is picked up from verse 12 suggests that love is being pictured as a garment that is to be put on top of the other items of dress that Paul has listed in verse 12. The implication is that love is not just another virtue to be added but the supreme virtue. In the second part of the verse 14, Paul asserts that love binds everything together in perfect harmony. Paul pictures love as a binding or unifying force. Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience attain their full power only when they are unified by and empowered by love which results in the perfect harmony of the community.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Paul mean by seek the things that are above and  set your minds on things that are above? How can you put that into practice in your daily life?

2.         What does Paul mean by the command: put to death what is earthly in you? Where does the strength come from that enables you to put off the old self and put on the new self? What can you do daily in order to draw upon this strength?

3.         List the five virtues we are to put on [3:12]. Note that these five virtues are expressed in the church by the two activities described in 3:13. Why does Paul separate the command to put on live from the other virtues? Memorize 3:12-14 and ask God to enable you to put these commands into practice this week.


Colossians, Richard Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman Press.

The Letter to the Colossians, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

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