Colossians 3:1-4


The  Gospel selections  for Easter in the three-year series stress the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. We need to preach that plainly and loudly because, in our day, many have denied this great resurrection. The  Epistle selections  for Easter in the three-year series stress the meaning and effect, for us, of Jesus' resurrection.

Furthermore, Jesus Himself foretold His resurrection at least three times (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; and 20:18) but His disciples' reaction was always one of sadness. In His final words to His disciples (John 13-17) He constantly speaks of going away and coming back. Again they were sad.

The  Gospels  stress the historicity but not to the exclusion of the effects of Jesus' resurrection. In John 5:25 Jesus speaks of conversion and in verses 28-29 of the general resurrection on the last day. Neither would be possible apart from His resurrection. The  Epistles  stress the fruits of Jesus' resurrection (cf. Romans 4:25) but not to the exclusion of the historicity thereof. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:20 where we have both the historicity and the effects of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus wants us to be joyful.

In some cases Scripture speaks of Jesus' resurrection as the cause of our  justification. Compare Romans 4:25. Then again it speaks of Jesus' resurrection as the cause of  sanctification.  Compare Romans 6:1-11.

Our text for today, Colossians 3:1-4 has been called a summary of the Christian's life. It stresses both what Christ has done for us and what is now required of us, though even that is supplied for us by Christ.

In Colossians the first two chapters are doctrinal and the last two practical or parenetic, which means that it tells us how to live. Our text is the bridge between the two sections, looking both backward and forward. It is time well spent by the preacher to read all of chapters 1-2.

The Colossian Christians were being undermined by a very subtle heresy which was a combination of false teaching of the Judaizers and a deadly form of work-righteousness. Colossians 2:9-10 is a good summary of Paul's thrust: "In Him (Christ) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and in Him you are complete."  You need nothing more than His death which paid for your sins and His resurrection which has made you alive. Don't ever follow anyone who says that you need more than Christ.

Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

This verse is a complex sentence with two subordinate clauses. The first subordinate clause is the protasis of a fact or particular condition. The second subordinate clause, which begins with an inferential particle, meaning "therefore" goes back at least to Colossians 2:12.

In baptism we've been buried with Christ. By faith, which is a gift of God's working we've been raised from spiritual death just as Christ was raised from the dead. He has made us alive by forgiving us all our sins (verse 13). That is further explained in verse 14. Jesus completely conquered all the forces of hell (verse 15). Verses 16-19 are a warning against work-righteousness, false piety, and letting go of Christ. And verses 20-23 are a warning against the vapid, empty teaching of those who try to supplant the blessed Gospel with the mere teachings of men.

The sentence means:  "If (as is truly the case) you have been raised with Christ."  Christ's resurrection is the cause of my resurrection from spiritual death, by faith which He Himself produced and worked.

Now comes the apodosis:  "Set your minds on things above."  Paul is speaking to people who already have forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Heaven is already theirs. It means to cling to all the things which they already have by faith in Christ. Furthermore,  "above" does not denote a place but the state of exaltation. Christ's human nature was highly exalted and now fully uses all the qualities of the divine nature.

The right hand of God is found in the Gospel and wherever it is used and believed. The ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father means that His redemptive work is completed as was prophesied in Psalm 110:1. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes much of this.

Lenski: Two things must be noted: 1) death, entombment, resurrection, sitting at God's right (all of them possible only for the human nature) and equally soteriological. 2) The absolute extent of Christ's saving power, above everything in nature and above all spirit beings. This the Judaizers did not perceive.
NIC: It is because believers have died with Christ and risen with Him that their life henceforth is to be different.
Bengel: Christ, after the resurrection, immediately turned his thoughts towards heaven. John 20: 17. And so do believers, Ephesians 2:6.

What kept Job going in his hour of deepest grief?  "I know that my Redeemer lives and that He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another."  Job 19:25-27, NKJV. And Paul:  "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better."  Philippians 1:23. And John:  "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"  Revelation 22:20. And Simeon:  "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace."  Luke 2:29.

Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

This verse is a compound sentence. First a command, then a prohibition.

Kretzmann: The things of this world are at best only a means to an end, namely, to support this earthly, physical life, to enable us to perform the work which was given us by the Lord to perform. In the right use of the earthly things entrusted to us, we really mind and seek heavenly things.

Well said. Marriage, money, innocent pleasures, owning property, etc. etc. are gifts of God. But, they dare not become gods or tools of Satan. They dare not rule us. We are told to be good stewards, Luke 16:1-13. Luther's explanation to the fourth petition to the Lord's Prayer and the last stanza of A Mighty Fortress is Our God must always be kept in mind.

Paul is not saying that they should strive to attain heaven. They already have it by faith in Jesus. Nor is he saying that they should give up all earthly things as the Judaizers told them. But he IS saying: "Live your life by the faith in the Son of God Who loved you and gave Himself for you."  The wealth of Abraham and Job did not make them godless. Abraham proved that he was of the true faith when he called himself a pilgrim and stranger in this world. Job proved his faith by saying: "The Lord hath given. The Lord hath taken. Blessed by the name of the Lord." 

Colossians 3:3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

"For" is explanatory "you see."  Note the repetition from 2:20 in a fact condition:  "If (as is truly the case) you have died with Christ from the elements of the world (work-righteousness) etc." 

Note Philippians 3:19ff and Romans 6:2ff. In what sense has the Christian already died? Paul is speaking of conversion. At conversion the individual dies to sin, to the demands of the law, to the vain pursuit of saving oneself.

 "Life" , spiritual life, comes to us when our sins are forgiven. The Christian is spiritually alive. It is  my  life because Christ has given it to me. And He never asks that His gifts be returned as though He never gave them.

Rienecker: The idea of life being hidden in God suggests three thoughts, i.e., secrecy, where the believer's life is nurtured by a secret spring;  safety , 'with Christ in God' marks a double protection; identity, the believer is identified with the risen Lord.

Well said. Though the world, nor even I myself, cannot  see this life, it is there. It is true. Though I often have fears about losing my soul, I must look to Him who says:  "Fear not,"  and  "trusting this very thing that He who began a good work in you will continue to do it until the day of Christ Jesus."  Finally, there are many times when I fail to identify Christ's  "life"  with my own. But I must think on John 6:47.

Lenski: 'You died' by means of that death, which connected you with the saving death of Christ, you became like a dead man as far as religious response to human tradition and decrees about earthly material things is concerned.
Bengel: The world knows neither Christ nor Christians, and Christians do not even fully know themselves.
NIC: You know your life to be safely hidden with Christ, although in the eyes of the world you are, spiritually speaking, without visible means of support.

My faith in Christ, nurtured by the Word, protects me from myself, from Satan, from the world and from mere men. Can you interest a corpse in the things of this world? No. Not even the beautiful flowers around it. Some people are never better dressed than when they are in their caskets. But, they have no interest in their fine apparel. Likewise, the Christian is dead to the world insofar as it is sinful, work-righteous and detrimental.

Colossians 3:4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Here we have two correlative adverbs of time; "when" and "then."  One answers to the other. The subordinate clause introduced by  "when" is indefinite only with reference to the exact time. The main clause introduced by  "then" is definite in all respects. Note that there is no conjunction at the beginning of this verse.

Bengel: It is doubtful whether 'and' or 'but' should be supplied.

LB and TEV supply "and."  JB supplies "but."  On this word Rienecker quotes Lohse:  "Here it refers to the coming of the Lord at which time the veil will be removed so that the things which are now hidden from our eyes will be illuminated in a bright light." 

Look at 1 John 3:2:  "Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be. We know that when he appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is."  As in Colossians 3:4, in 1 John 3:2 forms of  "appear"  appear twice.

And it is remarkable that the expression "your life" is repeated from verse 4. In verse 3 it is hidden. It is still by faith. In verse 4 it will be by sight. We shall actually see Christ, our Life.

"Glorified"  tells us how we shall appear. Note Philippians 1:21 and the passages noted there. My true self is hidden even from me now. But when I die and meet Jesus I shall be like Him and see my true self, glorified. Why? Because He died for me.

Lenski: In this first paragraph Paul sums up the whole Christian life in a comprehensive and a fundamental admonition.
NIC: You know your life to be safely hidden with Christ, although in the eyes of the world you are, spiritually speaking, without visible means of support. ...That glorious liberty will be manifested on the day of their revelation, for the day of the revelation of the Son of God is also the day of the revelation of the sons of God -- His by victorious right; theirs by His grace which unites them with Him.

Today is Easter. Every Sunday is Easter. And what else is Easter, what else is every Sunday but preparation for everlasting life?


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 105-107. Used with permission.

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