This paper has been written by me in the course of my theological studies at European Nazarene College (www.eunc.edu). You may use this text as a part of your work provided that you give credits to its author – Petar Neychev. If you have questions – please, leave a comment or contact me through the Contact Us page.
The implications of Jesus’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection are the ultimate central point in Christianity. One can elaborate on various topics concerning the biblical text, its context, today’s translations, etc. ,etc. but if the question “So what?” is omitted, then Christianity would become a mere scientific and religious exercise – something Christians are obligated to avoid. This is also what Paul is trying to communicate to the first century church in Colossae – Christ has died, you have been saved, live like it! A message no less valid for the church of God today. The New International Version of the Bible entitles the bigger passage of Colossians 3:1-17 “Rules for Holy Living”. However, I would dare to re-caption this as “Living Out the God Who Lives In.” In the following pages I will attempt to discuss the passage of Colossians 3:15-17 and its meaning within God’s call for all people.
The context of these three verses is crucial to understanding them properly. So far in the letter Paul has portrayed Christ’s magnificence and how believers are made alive in it. Verses 15-17 from the third chapter are a part of a passage in which Paul begins to explain what is to be removed from the believers’ lives – Col. 3:5-9, and why – verses 1-4. From verse 10 and on Paul gives a quite literal and detailed guidelines as to how a believer should live, in order to reflect what Christ has made them in his death and resurrection, or at the moment of conversion of the non-believer. This makes the discussed passage a description of the results of one’s faith. This is, one cannot be a believer and not live as shown. This is not optional – it is the only possible way to live.
After writing about the foundational and uniting power of love – of Christ, for Christ, as well as for others around us, and the rest of creation, Paul goes on to explain how the peace of God is to be the driving force of the Christian community. Lincoln comments on that phrase: “They are to let this peace have its sway and take control both at the center of their individual lives and in the one body that their calling had in view” (Lincoln 648). Paul makes clear the calling to peace, but this in the context of being united – a call to being one body. What I find is the most amazing about this passage is the final phrase, often missed for the sake of the bigger concept – be thankful. Considering the difficulty of being in unity with others this command Be thankful! can cause quite some struggle. One is not instantaneously thankful for the people they have to be united with. For Paul, however, the case is that thanksgiving goes hand in hand with answering God’s call, living in Christ and for Christ. The theme of thankfulness in Colossians comes up over and over – before, within, and after the discussed passage. Knowing of the sincerity of the thankfulness Paul is talking about, as well as his call to live “overflowing with thankfulness” from chapter 2:7, I would suggest that this could be seen as an expression of what we would call today integrity, or authenticity – being devoted to God no only in receiving, but also in giving. Not only when it is easy, but also when it is difficult – as is the case with building each other up in unity.
The second keyword in the passage is “word.” After writing on peace, Paul turns to explain that the Gospel itself is to also rule among the believers. As Thompson suggests that “the Colossian believers are to allow the word to continue to guide, direct, and shape them. Paul envisions this taking place in quite specific and concrete ways…” (Thompson 86). These ways are what to today’s believer would perfectly describe a regular worship service – “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing…” (Col. 3:16, NIV). Biblically, Paul’s reference can be tracked to his own words from chapter 1:28 – his proclamation and admonition for the sake of people being presented perfect in Christ. What Paul is saying here to the church is that they should continue on teaching, correcting, etc. each other. However, not rigorously, but in all wisdom – as an expression of worship to God,, and what is crucial – for building each other up.
Paul’s third point in this short paragraph serves as a conclusion of the said so far, as well as a transition to what is to come – “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed” (Col. 3:17, NIV). It is not difficult to figure out that the ways one communicates are by speaking and doing things. Thus, what Paul says here actually concerns the whole life of the believer. He also claims that the whole life of the believer is to be lived in the name of Christ. This is only the beginning statement supporting this claim – in the following nine verses every other call Paul does is for the sake of Christ. This sets a proper understanding of why one should do what they are called to do. Christians should serve because they are serving the Lord, they should love because they love the Lord, they should obey because it pleases the Lord…
Paul strongly ties the life of the believer with Christ. In fact, he does it so, that he absolutely ignores any instance of saying or doing something that is not in the name of Christ! And if one thought this is a revolutionary statement, then they should continue reading the last words of the paragraph – “giving thanks to God the Father through him”, meaning through Jesus. Garland, in his conclusion on the passage nicely formulates the message of Paul for today: “Only giving ourselves completely to Christ and allowing his transforming power to fumigate and permeate our thoughts and actions will solve the sin problem in our lives. Because we have been raised with Christ and renewed by Christ, living a life pleasing to him is the fruit of our new nature” (Garland 222).
In conclusion I would like to point out the strong relevancy of Paul’s message for today’s church. As sure as it can be, God’s call is still valid – the church has to be united in Christ, in love. In addition, believers today, even more than in Paul’s days are to submit all their lives unto God. This means that one can only apply Paul’s image in the complete surrender and dedication to God in Christ – especially in the time of communal worship. Paul’s last word, however, remains – in applying all of this, be wholeheartedly thankful!
Being taught when you think you know it already is an issue I am still dealing with. In that sense, Paul’s call for teaching each other in all wisdom, and edifying one another challenges me a lot to become more open for accepting correction, as well as criticism. In addition to this, I would say that the attitude of Paul towards God’s peace in this paragraph really impressed me. It helped me have an “a-ha” moment where I realized that the members of one body can only keep together when they are at peace with each other. This makes me think of whether I actually contribute to the body in peace or not? Am I a kind of Christian that edifies, or not? Often the answer for me is negative, but Paul’s testimony is powerful.
In addition to all this I would like to emphasize the application of Paul’s verse 17. It strikes me with the clear concept of holiness, as understood by Wesleyans, but also with its simplicity. I believe that today quite a number of Christians have not even come to the realization of the fact that each and every area of life is to be lived in Christ and for Christ. I guess the relevant question to ask myself is what did I do today that did not lead to Christ? Or what did lead to him?And how shall I allow God to perfect me in doing the latter?
I would hesitate to point out only one aspect of Paul’s message as relevant for the Church of God today, but I would emphasize the Word of Christ dwelling richly as we teach and admonish each other… with all wisdom. It often is scary to see how much heresy there is today, simply because the Word does not dwell in the Church as it should. Proclaiming the gospel does not only include a preaching plan, but also a life-time modeling plan. Leaders in the church of Christ are to become what they preach and show it to the people they preach to.
In addition to this, worship in the communal sense of it, I feel like, today is experiencing more low’s than up’s. Worship is created with God at the other side – He alone is the aim. I believe that once this idea is communicated, modeled, and emphasized more, less and less people will experience disguise during the regular Sunday service by simply looking at the people they’ve argued with during the week. Worshiping the same God together, just as prayer, is a unique and powerful unification tool… Unfortunately not optimally used today.
Whatever the approach, however, I would say is predestined unless it is founded on Paul’s words from verse 14 in chapter 3: “put on love.”
Garland, David E., Colossians/Philemon, NIV NT Application Commentaries, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1998
The Holy Bible: NIV, NASB, Bulgarian Contemporary Translation
Lincoln, A.T., “The Letter to the Colossians, in New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 11, Nashville, Abingdon, 2000, pp.551-669
Thompson, Marianne Meye. Colossians and Philemon. Two Horizons Commentary. Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 2005