Lesson Focus: Who Christ is and what He has done for us should shape our character, guide our homes, and direct our interactions with those who do not believe.
Cultivate a Christ-Centered Character: Colossians 3:5-10, 14-17.
 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.  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.
[5-7] We who have died  because of our union with Christ are to become dead to sin in the realities of everyday life. 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 command put to death must be viewed as a call to respond to, and cooperate with, the transformative power that is already operative within us. The first three of the five specific manifestations of the earthly nature that Paul enumerates probably have to do especially with sexual sin. This is clear with the first of the terms, sexual immorality, which refers to any kind of sexual sin. The second, impurity, refers more generally to any kind of moral corruption, but it is applied quite often to sexual sins. And the third, passion, refers to sexual sin in its two other New Testament occurrences [Rom. 1:26; 1 Thess. 4:5]. The last two sins in the list of five appear at first sight to have a more general meaning. Evil desire can refer to the basic human tendency toward sin. Covetousness, the last item in the list, likewise usually has the general sense of an inappropriate desire for more. In this context of sexual sins, it could refer to the uncontrolled desire for more and greater sexual experiences which Paul here associates with idolatry. Putting some other “god” in the place of the true God of the Bible leads to the display of sexual sins and perversions that characterized the Gentile world. Paul reflects this tradition here: sexual sins arise because people have an uncontrolled desire for more and more experiences and pleasures; and such a desire is nothing less than a form of idolatry. Vice lists in the New Testament often conclude with a reminder that God will judge the kind of conduct outlined in the list. The warning of judgment in verse 6 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 scriptural notion of God’s wrath is tied directly to the holiness of God and depicts the necessary reaction of a personal God to any violation of His character or will. God’s true people are guaranteed deliverance from wrath, but, at the same time, they are repeatedly warned that persistent sinful behavior will bring God’s judgment. Relating these two clear biblical principles to one another is an ongoing theological challenge. But it is at least clear that 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. Paul’s point here is that the final outpouring of God’s wrath is on its way, it is imminent, in the sense that God has predicted it and it could arrive at any time. 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.
[8-10] 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 verse 8 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. Anger and wrath are often used virtually interchangeably in Scripture, and they probably cannot be distinguished here. Malice translates a word with a very general meaning, and receives its specific meaning from the context. 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 hasty and nasty speech. Jesus reminds us what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person [Matt. 15:18], and it is this principle that undergirds verse 8. The things that come out of the mouth in this case are slander and obscene talk. Slander refers to defamatory speech directed to fellow humans. Obscene talk, used in combination with slander, refers to the use of coarse language when defaming another person. 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 in verse 9. 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-11 provide the basis for all the commands and prohibitions in verse 5-9a. Christians are to avoid the vices listed in verses 5, 8 and 9a because they have put off the old self and have put on the new self. A change of clothes (put off … put on) is a rather natural symbol for a change in life or situation. We have been brought into a new realm of existence, a realm in which the old self no longer dictates our thinking or our behavior. 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 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. This knowledge is an understanding of who God 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. However, as Paul has made clear earlier in the letter by praying that the Colossians might be filled with this knowledge [1:9-10], we do not gain this knowledge automatically.
[14-17] The clothing imagery that is picked up from verse 12 suggests that love is being pictured in verse 14 as a garment that is to be put on top of the other items of dress that Paul has enumerated 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 verse 14 Paul asserts that love binds everything together in perfect harmony. Love is viewed as that virtue without which others cease to have the value they are meant to have. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience attain their full power only when they are unified by and empowered by love. Paul’s concern for the unity of the body becomes explicit in verse 15. Paul highlights peace as one of the key blessings of Christian experience. The transition from love to peace is a natural one. Rule translates a Greek verb that refers to the activity of the umpire who renders verdicts in contested situations. In general, then, Paul wants the Colossians to make peace the arbiter, the factor that should be given preference over competing concerns and interests. And in the context it is in their relationships with each other that the peace of Christ should play this role. Without sacrificing principle, believers should relate to one another in a way that facilitates and demonstrates the peace that Christ has secured for them. And this peace should rule in your hearts. Paul is saying that the peace that characterizes the new self should be a ruling principle or virtue in our innermost being and that it should affect all our relationships. Paul frequently uses the verb called to denote God’s gracious and powerful summons to human beings, by which they are transferred from the realm of sin and death into the realm of righteousness and life. And Paul will sometimes, as here, specify particular virtues or blessings to which believers have been called. God has chosen His people not simply to be His people but to live a certain kind of life. In one body indicates the mode of our calling. The gospel is inescapably individual in its focus: each of us is called by God and responds in faith on our own. Yet, at the same time, the gospel is inescapably corporate: we are called along with other people, with whom we make up one body. As Christ’s own body we belong inextricably to one another, and the pursuit of peace as a reigning principle follows naturally from that corporate reality. Believers who are full of gratitude to God for His gracious calling will find it easier to extend to fellow believers the grace of love and forgiveness and to put aside petty issues that might inhibit the expression of peace in the community. Paul uses the phrase, word of Christ, to summarize the authentic teaching about Christ and His significance. Dwell in you indicates that Paul is urging the community as a whole to put the message about Christ at the center of its corporate experience. The message about Christ should take up permanent residence among the Colossians; it should be constantly at the center of the community’s activities and worship. Richly suggests that this constant reference to the word of Christ should not be superficial or passing but that it should be a deep and penetrating contemplation that enables the message to have transforming power in the life of the community. The rest of verse 16 is governed by three participles, the first two or which are clearly coordinate: teaching and admonishing; singing. Teaching and admonishing are two of the modes in which the word of Christ establishes its central place in the community. Teaching refers to the positive presentation of Christian truth, while admonishing refers to the more negative warning about the danger of straying from the truth. These two activities are to be done in all wisdom; that is, that those doing the teaching and admonishing do them in appropriate ways, governed by insight into the situation and the people being addressed. Another way we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us is by singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. This verse is one of the very few that provide us with any window at all into the worship of the earliest Christians. It does make three points that are worth emphasizing. First, the message about Christ was central to the experience of worship. Second, various forms of music were integral to the experience. And, third, teaching and admonishing, while undoubtedly often the responsibility of particular gifted individuals within the congregation were also engaged in by every member of the congregation. Paul concludes this paragraph of exhortations focused on community life with a general command. The combination of word and deed is a common way of referring to the totality of one’s interaction with the world. Everything, including what we say and what we do, should be governed by the consideration of what it means to live in the realm of the risen Christ. To do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus does not mean simply to utter Jesus’ name but to act always in concert with the nature and character of our Lord. The concluding clause again highlights thanksgiving as an important component of Christian obedience and, at the same time, an important source of that obedience. Thankfulness for what God has accomplished for us in Christ is an obvious and powerful stimulus to live under His Lordship.
Have a Christ-Centered Home: Colossians 3:18-21.
 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. [ESV]
[18-21] Paul begins by exhorting the wives to submit to your husbands. The wife submits to the husband by recognizing and living out a marriage order established by God Himself within the marriage relationship. This submission of the wife can take the form of obedience. But two qualifications at this point must be introduced in order to strike the right balance in Paul’s teaching. First, it is probably significant that the household code here in Colossians urges wives to submit to your husbands but children and slaves to obey their fathers and masters, respectively [3:20,22]. Obedience naturally fits a situation in which orders are being issued and in which the party obeying has little choice in the matter. Submission, on the other hand, suggests a voluntary willingness to recognize and put oneself under the leadership of another. To submit is to recognize a relationship of order established by God. But submission to any human is always conditioned by the ultimate submission that each believer owes to God. This means, then, that a wife will sometimes have to disobey a husband (even a Christian one) if that husband commands her to do something contrary to God’s will. Second, the submission of the wife to the husband is inevitably and necessarily conditioned significantly by the demand that husbands love their wives, and, in so loving them, will often “submit” to their needs, desires, and wishes. The mutuality implied by the one-flesh union of husband and wife and the husband’s love of the wife must be given full weight, even as the need for wives to recognize the headship of their husbands is upheld. The last clause of verse 18 does not limit the submission of the wife but explains why it is necessary. She must submit not because it was necessary for the order of society or because it was appropriate to that time and place but because it is the kind of behavior that is fitting to those who live in the sphere of the Lord. It is this theme of what is required of those who belong to the Lord that undergirds the household behavior Paul requires in this passage. And it is this same theme that suggests that these admonitions are of permanent validity for the people of God. As is fitting for such a list of rules for the household, Paul turns quickly from wives to husbands and the command to love in verse 19. The word for love here is agapao, the distinctly Christian word for the kind of sacrificial, self-giving love whose model is Christ Himself. But why are only husbands urged to love their wives? The pattern of requiring submission of the wife and love of the husband is consistent in the New Testament [see Eph. 5:22-25]. Whatever the reason, the command that husbands love their wives introduces a somewhat revolutionary note of reciprocity that is a hallmark of this household code. If, positively, husbands are to love their wives, negatively, they are commanded to not be harsh with them. Be harsh translates a verb whose basic sense is “make bitter.” Thus husbands are urged not to act with a heart of bitterness toward their wives. The leadership that husbands rightly exhibit in marriage is not to be carried out harshly or selfishly, but lovingly. To love one’s wife therefore will often mean to put her interests ahead of the husband’s. In verse 20, Paul addresses the children. Obedience implies a relationship in which one party issues commands to another, a circumstance generally incompatible with a husband’s love for his wife but fitting for the relationship of children with their parents. Paul emphasizes the absolute and sweeping character of this relationship by adding that children must obey their parents in everything. This obedience pleases the Lord, that is, the obedience of children is appropriate behavior within the community that acknowledges Christ as their Lord. As children are to obey their parents, so fathers are not to provoke their children. The reason why Paul instructs fathers not to provoke their children is lest they become discouraged. Paul does not want to see the children of Christian families disciplined to such an extent that they lose heart and simply give up trying to please their parents.
Be a Christ-Centered Witness: Colossians 4:5-6.
 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. [ESV]
Having asked the Colossians to pray for the evangelistic efforts of himself and his co-workers [3-4], Paul naturally thinks of the Colossians’ own involvement in evangelism [5-6]. Outsiders refers to people outside the Christian community. With respect to these outsiders, Paul says, the Colossian Christians are to be wise in the way they act. Paul again employs the widespread biblical idiom of walking. Believers should govern their conduct with unbelievers on the basis of biblical wisdom. Just what this conduct will look like specifically is left unsaid. Wisdom is a very broad concept, occupying in biblical thought a crucial intermediate stage between thought and action. As believers immerse themselves in the life of Christ, having put on the new self [3:10-11], their minds are renewed by God’s Spirit [Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23]. Wisdom will enable us to determine just how, in given situations, our new way of thinking, our new set of biblical values, should be put into effect. Paul’s concern at this point makes very good sense in a letter that focuses so much on the need for Christians to distance themselves from certain kinds of outsiders (the false teachers). While resisting the wrong kind of outside influence, the Colossian Christians nevertheless need to stay engaged with their fellow citizens and seek to win them to Christ. An important aspect of wise living is to use the time God has given us to best effect. In this context, because of the focus on outsiders, this will refer specifically to making the most of the “open doors”  that God gives us to evangelize. Acting wisely toward outsiders includes speaking to them in the right manner. But what kind of speaking does Paul refer to here? Paul is exhorting Christians to exhibit in all their speech a gracious and attractive tone. Seasoned with salt is a metaphor for wise speech which connects with wisdom in verse 5. The goal or result of the speech that Paul is calling for is that believers would be prepared to answer unbelievers which requires wisdom. Paul assumes that unbelievers will be raising questions about the faith of the Colossian Christians, questions that may be neutral or even, perhaps, hostile. An appropriate Christian response will, of course, communicate the content of the gospel, but it will also be done in a manner that will make the gospel attractive.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What does Paul mean by the command to put to death … what is earthly in you? Where does the desire and strength to do this come from? How do we connect with this power?
2. Why is love the supreme virtue? What role does peace play in striving for unity in your church. What are some practical ways you can show this peace in your relationships?
3. What insight does 3:16-17 give us into early Christian worship?
4. What instructions does Paul give us for a Christ-centered home? For a Christ-centered witness?
The Message of Colossians & Philemon, R.C. Lucas, Inter Varsity.
Colossians, Philemon, Richard Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman.
The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, Douglas Moo, Pillar, Eerdmans.