In the Scriptures, we are given a high theology, a high Christology. Christ has ascended into the highest Heaven. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and He is Himself the infinite waterfall of holy pleasure that cascades at that right hand (Ps. 16: 11). That waterfall of infinite joy has no top, no bottom, no sides, no front and no back. Christ is all, and Christ is all in all.
But this is not the kind of high theology that puffs up. Quite the contrary. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Is. 57:15). As we shall see, we should measure the height of our theology by how low it can stoop.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God . . . (Col. 3:1-17)
Summary of the Text:
So if you have been raised with Christ, you ought to yearn to be where Christ actually is, which is at the right hand of God (v. 1). Set your affections where you actually are (v. 2). This is because your earthly identity is dead and your heavenly identity is alive (v. 3). When Christ—our life—appears then we will also appear with Him in shared glory (v. 4). Because of that, it is necessary to mortify your members which are on the earth, and which can generally be described under the one word lust (v. 5). These are the desires that the wrath of God rests upon (v. 6), and you used to walk in those desires yourselves (v. 7).
So take off the coat of all foul attitudes (v. 8). Stop lying to each other, since you have taken off the coat of the old man (v. 9). But it is not enough to take off the foul coat, you must also put on the coat of the new man, the Jesus coat (v. 10). When we wear that uniform, previous differences fade—Jew, Greek, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free (v. 11), and Christ is everything. Putting on the Jesus coat means putting on a number of other things as well—mercy, kindness, meekness, forgiveness, all of that (vv. 12-13). And don’t forget to put on love, which is the bond of perfection (v. 14). What do you do when this is all done? You let the peace of God rule—among all of us—and you are to show gratitude (v. 15). Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly—teaching and admonishing one another through the means of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (v. 16). And whatever you do, remember whose coat you are wearing, and be grateful (v. 17).
Mortify Your Members:
Now remember that Paul began this letter by saying that the Colossians were “saints and faithful brethren” (Col. 1:2). These saints and faithful Christians—like all Christians since—were summoned up into the heavenly places. They are called to straddle Heaven and earth. Just as the great angel in Revelation had one foot on the land and one of the sea, so we also have one foot on the rock of the heavenly places and one foot on the miry clay of this earth and its lusts. So Paul tells these saints to put their leprous passions to death. Now there are two things we can derive from this instruction. One is that true Christians can be (and are) afflicted with such lusts. The second is that true Christians are instructed to execute them. And if you have to do it again, well, then, do it again.
We have nothing to complain about against one another if we have something to deal with here. We do have something to object to if someone refuses to deal with it as instructed.
Remember the three stages of mortification, which means “putting to death” or “executing.” The first stage is what all true believers have done, which is putting yourself to death to the world and the world to you (Gal. 6:14; Rom. 6: 3). The second is found here in Colossians 3, and it refers to the putting of significant sins to death, and it is a definitive event. The third is an ongoing task, a daily task, and refers to the mortification of the deeds of the body, and it is an ongoing responsibility (Rom. 8:13). It is like weeding your garden every morning at 5 am. You will always find something, but if you are being diligent it will presumably be a small weed.
Slave or Free:
We live in a time when racial animosities are festering and growing. They are doing so because we are feeding them with the Miracle Gro of humanist wisdom. Just the other night I saw a candidate for president saying that we needed to pay reparations for slavery. What this must mean to us is really straightforward—these people plainly need Christ. The slavery of two centuries ago was an awful reality. In fact it was so awful that nothing devised by the wit of man can even come close to dealing with it. Roman slavery was even more atrocious, and so when believers put on the Christ coat, what does Paul say about it? He says that the slave/free distinction becomes meaningless. The fact that we are still trying fix slavery a century and a half later is a testament to our apostasy from Christ, and our hatred of gospel liberation. We are a lost people—not because we want racial reconciliation, but rather because we cannot obtain it through our own wisdom, not for love or money.
The Devil in Your Mouth:
The sins of verse 5 are the really corrupt and grimy ones, the ones we rarely mention at church. As professing Christians, we are ashamed of them. That’s good, so long as we make sure to go on to slaughter them as instructed. But the sins of verses 8 and 9 are often the sins that are committed at church. To be sure, when we do this kind of thing, we have decorate our anger, our malice, our accusations, and we have even gotten adept at making it all seem like a zeal for righteousness. But nevertheless, whether decorated or not, or renamed, or placed in a theological context, the devil in your mouth must be repented of.
Dwell in You Richly:
And as this section closes Paul says that we are to have the word of Christ dwell in us richly, and there is a particular kind of overflow that results from it. The overflow is musical—he mentions psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. This is place where we can profitably compare the parallel passages in Ephesians and Colossians because Paul says something very similar in both places, at least in terms of the fruit. By “fruit” here I mean the psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.
In Ephesians this overflow is the result of the filling of the Spirit. Many translations make this sound like the Spirit is the “fluid” we are filled with, but a better translation would be “filled by means of the Sso pirit.” He is the agent, the one doing the pouring, not the one being poured. And what is being poured? We see the answer to that here in Colossians—it is the word of Christ. So put this all together. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly through the agency of the Holy Spirit, resulting in a musical and scriptural gratitude.”
One last comment. This passage makes plain that all Christians are to be musical. Music is not optional for us because gratitude is not optional, and a grateful people sing. But stack these things in the proper order. I say this because I am addressing a congregation that contains a great deal of musical talent, and we are going to be tested in this area, particularly as musical literacy spreads in our midst, becoming commonplace. There will be additional tests as we move into a more acoustically rich environment. The Spirit leads necessarily to music, but it not the case that music leads to the Spirit. You can be a Christian and you can be a musician, and yet not be a Christian musician. If you are ungrateful, or unkind, or sour, or critical, or competitive, or envious, or conceited, or vain, then you might be a musician . . . but not Christian in your music.
Christ is all, and is in all. And this means that He is in all the music. And if gratitude is not the spiritual pitch you are matching, then we are flatting and sharping our way up to the heavenly gates. Always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:20). That is the pitch.