His People (Colossians 3:12-17)
The letter to the Colossians is quite short, only four small chapters. It might take only 10-15 minutes to read. You could comfortably fit it on the front page of most newspapers. But, while it’s short in length, it’s long on the supremacy of Christ. All four chapters highlight Jesus’ supremacy in terms of His Person, His cross work, and His exaltation as Lord. He has been exalted by the Father and now reigns over all things, including His blood-bought church, the one new man, as Paul calls it (Col 3:10). In the Old Testament, God had promised that He would have a people, in and through whom, and over whom, His Son would reign – a people that would take on His holy, loving, and wise character – and He has fulfilled that promise through Jesus and His new people.
In Colossians 3:1-17 Paul speaks to the reality of God’s new people who are in union with Christ and who together share in His death to sin and in His resurrection to life (cf. Rom 6:1-11). It is a life characterized by spiritual oneness which rests on the objective, peace-making, shed blood of Christ and the new spiritual fruit and way of relating that spring forth from this vital, life-giving union (3:1-4). Paul refers to Christ’s new community as one new man – an expression stressing our corporate unity (oneness) and our new spiritual life, united as we are to the resurrected Christ by the Spirit (cf. Col. 3:10, 12-17).
So, how does Paul teach us to work out our faith in Christ, i.e., to properly acknowledge the supremacy of Christ within the one new man? How are we to fittingly live as the new people of God? Should we continue to live according to the old man1 (3:9), that is, according to the vices outlined in 3:5: “sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry”? Should we continue in the vices further outlined in 3:8: “anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth”?
On the contrary, Paul says that we have been set apart to the Lord (i.e., holy) and “dearly loved” by Him (3:12). From this new standing in grace and privilege the apostle calls us to express Christ’s Lordship by (1) clothing ourselves appropriately, with various spiritual virtues held together by love, (2) by letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, (3) by letting the word of Christ dwell richly within us, personally and corporately, and (4) by doing everything, word or deed, in the name of Christ, giving thanks to the Father through Him.
Clothe Yourselves with Christlikeness
Paul begins in 3:12 by underscoring several spiritual, moral and relational virtues. He summons us to clothe ourselves with them. People should see and experience us with this new clothing, not the old clothing tattered and stained with vice. Christians should put on a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Paul enjoins us to forbear with each other and forgive each other, just as Christ our Lord forgave us, freely yet with great cost to Himself. These are the spiritual and relational virtues that ought to permeate the one new man. Though we ought, by the grace of Christ, express them all as they are needed, which one(s) is most needed in your life right now?
And just as Paul begins this virtue list with God’s for us (3:12), so He ends it with our love for one another (3:14). Self-sacrificial love, though rare nowadays, beautifully reflects the ethic of the cross and is therefore the perfect bond that holds every relationship together in its proper Christlike shape and form. Holy love is the sum of all the virtues and that which best echoes the glory of Christ and the reality of the underlying, spiritual oneness we as Christians share in Him. To acknowledge the Lordship of Christ in His church means that we take on His virtuous character by the power of the Spirit.
Let the Peace of Christ Rule
A second way to acknowledge and express the Lordship of Christ over your life and in the community of faith, is to seek peace with others. Unfortunately, there is often a good deal of strife among God’s people today, though it need not drag on and on in any particular situation. To be clear, we often face challenges in our fellowship with one another – conflicts stemming from personality differences, differences in our respective upbringings, from (often unreflective) expectations for others’ behavior, the particular season I may find myself in, i.e., suffering, etc. Any one of these, including a host of other realities, can lead to disruption and strife among God’s people. But, we must remember and pray through what He is teaching us here.
The Lord Jesus is teaching His church, that’s you and me – those who are supposed to have ears to hear – that by His cross-work He has created, not many – but one new man (3:10) and has established an eternal foundation of peace for us and in which we all share. To disregard this objective foundation by participating in the vices listed in 3:5 and 8, is to walk according to who we once were, the “old man” – not who we are now in Christ, the new man. God is jealous for His church and He will, as He alone sees fit, chasten us for such sin, regardless of what the watching world thinks. So, as you walk the Pathway with Christ, your Guide, let Him steer you away from those sins and into righteous, peaceful relationships with other Christians. As far as it depends on you, live in peace with all people, especially in the household of faith, the one new man.
Let the Word of Christ Dwell Richly
A third way to intentionally acknowledge the Lordship of Christ over our lives as individuals and within His church as a corporate whole, is to center our fellowship with one another on the gospel, that is, the word of Christ. Paul says that we should let this word sink deeply into our lives by teaching and exhorting one another in it and to do so with all wisdom. We must speak forth and receive God’s word in the gospel and all its facets, unpacking as it does, the grace of God in salvation (through the cross) and in the loving and holy, communal life that honors God.
Good preaching is required among God’s people, Christ-centered, animated by the Spirit, and coming from a holy, loving, and scripturally informed preacher. But, Paul’s point here in 3:16 goes beyond listening to good sermons; he wants the entire fellowship to teach and exhort one another. We all are to engage in thoroughly learning the gospel – now preserved for us in Scripture – so that it dwells richly, not sparingly, in our hearts and that we consciously and unconsciously operate out of it, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God.
Whatever You Do
Finally, Paul concludes his exhortation to the Colossian church and to us by encouraging us to bring our entire lives – personal and corporate – under the gracious, redeeming, and powerful name of Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him. This is the true way to move beyond lip service to the faith that continuously give thanks and honors our Lord Jesus in all things!
So, Paul says that when you trust Christ you become part of this one new man – his church viewed corporately and in vital, life-giving union with Him – we should seek to acknowledge His Lordship in and over us by taking on Christlike attitudes and relational styles, letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts and relationships, teach and admonish one another from the overflow of His gospel word dwelling richly within us, and by, in fact, doing all things to honor His name, giving thanks to the Father through Him.
- The expression “old man” refers to who we were “in union with Adam”, sharing in his fallen and corrupt nature, before we entered by faith into a new spiritual union with Christ. In short, our existence “in Adam” (i.e., corporately viewed as “the old man”) was characterized by complete bondage to sin and guilt, and was daily expressed in all sorts of sinful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, actions and relationships. E.g., anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive speech, etc. The contrasting expression, “in Christ”, refers to our vital, life-giving union with Christ in His death and resurrection – mediated by the Holy Spirit – and is expressed through faith, in self-sacrificial love, holiness relationships, gratitude, and deepening desires to please God in all things.