Exegetical Notes: Colossians 3:1-17

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.

“If then you have been raised with Christ” – because of our identification with Jesus we have been granted new life which gives us the capacity to live a new kind of life. That new kind of life will be described in detail in the following verses.

Sanctification belongs to the children of God-alone. Self-betterment is only heading full speed down the wrong road.

“seek” – Since we have been given the ability to live a new life, we should SEEK eternal things.

Set your hearts (zeteite) literally means “seek” and has a broad range of meanings: trying to find the location of something or someone (Mark 1:37), trying to find information by careful investigation (John 7:52), desiring something (Rom. 9:6), or attempting to obtain something (Mark 8:11). This context certainly points to an attempt to obtain the virtues which Paul will set forth as belonging to the things above. The emphasis of this entire chapter is on the changed lifestyle that should grow out of identification with Christ.

Theologically, the pursuit of The Lord is known as vivification. (v1-4).

See Jeremiah 29:13. This seeking should encompass all effort. He is the treasure hidden in a field. He is the pearl of great price.

“at the right hand of God” –A position of honor. Showing completed work.

2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

This does not mean that believers are to live in a kind of mystical fog or neglect the affairs of earth with endless contemplation of eternity. This means that believers are not to be concerned only with the trivialities of the temporal.

Heavenly values are to capture our imaginations, emotions, thoughts, feelings, ideas, and actions. The believer is to see everything, including earthly things, against the backdrop of eternity. With a new (resurrection) perspective on life, the eternal is to impact the temporal.

This is largely a cognitive process – “set your mind”

3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Believers have “died to sin” (Rom. 6:2), which means that the believer is no longer under the influence of sin’s dominating power. Paul told the Colossians one chapter earlier that they had died with Christ to the basic principles of this world (Col. 2:20), which means that the believer is not subject to the cosmic powers of darkness. The old order of things (slavery to sin and evil forces) is gone.

“hidden with Christ in God” – We are both safe and secure with Christ.

4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

“is your life” – Not only is life shared by identification with Christ; Christ is life itself (Phil. 1:21; Gal. 2:20). For the believer, life isn’t merely activity, details; life isn’t acquisition or accomplishment. Life is Christ. He is the focus of our aspirations, the reason for our existence.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Christ changed our life (3:1–4); therefore, it is up to us to change our lifestyle. Change starts with discarding the old. Paul employs two graphic metaphors to convey his ideas: (1) putting to death, and (2) putting off old clothes and putting on new clothes.

In telling believers to put to death certain behaviors, Paul is calling for complete extermination, not careful regulation. What must go? Paul gives us an “outside in” perspective. He starts with external actions and then moves to the internal drives which cause the conduct. In his “vice lists” Paul mentions three categories of behavior: (1) perverted passions, (2) hot tempers, (3) sharp tongues.

Sanctification also includes the theological process of mortification of the flesh. (v5-8).

“put to death” – Sin is put to death through the Word of God according to Eph. 6:10.

Seeking the things that are above, setting your mind on what is above, and putting to death what is worldly in us should be an exhausting work. A God-glorifying exhausting work.

“sexual immorality” – (porneia), a broad, general term for all kinds of illicit sexual behavior.

APP: God created sex to be enjoyed by one woman and one man in the confines of marriage. Any sexual activity that does not fit that definition is not to be part of a believer’s life.

“covetousness” – The Greek pleonexia means “a desire to have (echein) more (pleon). “Greed is the assumption that all things and passions exist for our own benefit.

“idolatry” – Greed is the internal, sinful desire to satiate ourselves with more, more, more. Paul equates greed with idolatry.

QUES: What does greed worship?

To act as if everything exists for us is to place ourselves in the place of God himself. All things were created by him and for him (Col. 1:16), not for any of us
. To make the acquisition of things or the satiation of desires our ambition is to demonstrate that our aim is too low—earthly things rather than things above.

6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

God does not share his glory with another.

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.

“renewed in knowledge” – This is something done for us by the Holy Spirit. It is His job to renew. It is our job to be in God’s Word so that we don’t hinder or prevent the Holy Spirit’s renewal in our lives.

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

“but Christ is all, and in all” – We as believers are defined by Christ’s redeeming work, not by ethnicity, or socio-economic status.

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

Verses 12–17 contain the virtues that stand in contrast to the vices mentioned in the preceding verses. With the old discarded, the character of Christ is to be displayed in its place. The transformation process includes more than don’ts. There are some dos as well.

“holy and beloved” – These are exalted titles formerly used as designations for the nation of Israel (Deut. 4:37; 7:7–8) but now applied to the new community in Christ (1 Pet. 2:9–10).

“compassionate hearts” – Notice: the following all deal with our relationships with fellow believers.

APP: our relationships with other believers is a priority.

See John 17. (unity)

 heartfelt sympathy for those suffering or in need.

“kindness” – the friendly and helpful spirit which meets needs through good deeds. This is the concrete action of compassion.

“humility” – a proper estimation of oneself (Rom. 12:3). Not self-debasing.

“meekness” – The attitude behind gentleness is an attitude of refusing to demand one’s rights.

“patience” – believer is to be clothed with patience which is the capacity to bear injustice or injury without revenge or retaliation.

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.

“so you also must forgive” – APP: the forgiven are obligated to become forgivers.

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

“And above all these put on love” – The key for practicing the above characteristics.

15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

“rule” – Rule means “act as umpire”


APP: Whatever will lead to peace must be the deciding factor so that peace will be preserved

16 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. 

The parallel between Colossians 3:16–4:1 and Ephesians 5:18–6:9 must not be missed. The structure and terminology are almost identical. The Ephesians passage exhorts believers to be filled with the Spirit, whereas the Colossians passage exhorts believers to let the Word of Christ dwell in them. The two concepts must be synonymous.

17 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.

The life transformation process is to include any and all areas and activities of life. In all places, in all ways, the believer is to honor the name of the Lord Jesus. Genuine spirituality is not found by following false teaching which leads away from Christ. Genuine spirituality is found in having our lives transformed into the character of Christ.

APP: don’t separate life into spiritual and non-spiritual events. Everything is worship.

“giving thanks to God the Father through him” – APP: become an expert in how God has been good to you.