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Colossians

Set Your Mind

Colossians  2:13 - 3:4

It is sometimes unfortunate to see our system of chapters and verses. Once in a while you come upon a passage with a chapter break and ask, “Why?” That is the case here. There is a distinct difference in style between ancient commentators (who didn’t have the numbering system) and modern. The numbers divide the text; that makes it easy to find – but also implies that the thought in the original was organized that way. When you see a chapter that begins with the word “since” or “therefore,” you should realize that Paul was just pausing for breath, not changing the subject. That said, we begin by picking up the point from the last lesson.

What God has done for us

The Holy Bible, New International Version

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,£ God made you£ alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.£

Colossians 2:13 through Colossians 2:15 (NIV)

See with what power God has worked on our behalf!

Our condition

Paul seems redundant when translated here; that’s because English has no distinction between the instant and continuous form of verbs.

  • We are dead in our sins. Each of us can point to specific actions we have taken that we know are not approved by God. We can, if need be, give chapter and verse of what we have done wrong.
  • We are also those of a “sinful nature.” We naturally have the disposition of sin. If you wait long enough, you’ll see it come out.

So it is, then, that any system of governance must include both penalty for sin – and provision for forgiveness, lest we all be locked up.

God’s wonderful response

Look what God has done for us, in our sins:

  • We are now “made alive with Christ.” The Greek words here mean that this happens jointly; when Christ was raised, so were we. The Scripture frequently uses this method; we proclaim something which God has ordained for the future by putting it in the present tense. So it is here with the resurrection of the dead. Christ was raised; we will be raised – by the same power and authority.
  • He forgave all our sins. How is this possible? He cancelled the written code which accuses us by nailing it to the Cross, Paul says. The matter is simple, really – and therefore quite deep. If there is no accusation, there can be no conviction. He has removed the basis of the accusation.
  • He triumphed over “powers and authorities.” There are two ways for the sinner to be declared innocent. One is to remove the accusation, which we have seen. The other is to remove the accuser – Satan, and all his demons. He has disarmed Satan, taking away his strongest weapon – death.

“Therefore”

The Holy Bible, New International Version

16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Colossians 2:16 through Colossians 2:23 (NIV)

Do not let anyone judge…

Notice what Paul does NOT say: he doesn’t tell the Colossians not to observe the Jewish law. There would undoubtedly be Jewish Christians here; many of them would consider the dietary laws sacred, and still (to them) in force. Paul does not forbid the keeping of the laws; he forbids judgment on that basis. It may seem this is a long dead dispute, but consider the state of Christendom today:

  • How many Christians still judge their fellow believers because of what they drink? It is not so common in our church today as it once was, but there are still many congregations which consider drinking wine (for example) as sinful.
  • How many Christians still judge their fellow believers because of how they worship? Some hold that only a formal liturgy tells the truth of Jesus Christ. Others call such a liturgy “empty ritual.”
Disqualification

How could anyone disqualify you for the reward God has in store for you? Simple. Divert you. Every marksman knows that to hit the target precisely in the center requires concentration and a precision of mind. The reason is simple: the slightest deflection at the point of aim can be a huge miss at the target end.

So the question, then, is how does someone divert your aim? By encouraging the worship of anything or anyone else.

  • The “outside” examples of this include the strange selection of angels (and other such) found in the Mormon faith. Mormons consider themselves Christians – a thought without much support among the real thing. Does this mean that Mormons are “not good people?” On the contrary; they are noted for just the things we’ve mentioned – no alcohol, no coffee, mandatory periods of service and good works. Such a deflection often carries the air of piety.
  • The “inside” examples are perhaps more grievous. The largest, of course, is the Roman Catholic church. The object of worship (they call it veneration, but just look at it and see) is often Mary, accompanied by a host of saints (in the capitalized sense). We are told that the Pope (infallible) is hoping to announce Mary as “co-redemptrix with Christ.” When I mentioned this to a Catholic friend (and a stout believer) she said, “He does, and watch the American Catholic Church fall apart.”
Recognition

It’s easy to point at the Mormons or the Catholics. The hard part is recognizing those within our particular group. What kind of “anyone” are we talking about here? How do we know who’s who?

  • First, look for the false humility. It’s very difficult to maintain the appearance of humility around the clock. In fact, it just might be easier to be humble. One test that may help: how does he treat the invisible people? Invisible people – waiters, flight attendants, others whose occupation it is to serve – must bear with rudeness and disdain while smiling.
  • Next, expect (in great detail) to hear about his direct input from God – “visions” as Paul puts it here. Whether or not these are visions or simply “direct revelations from God,” you can expect to hear just how wonderfully spiritual he is.

How can such things happen? Can people really deceive themselves into thinking such things. Quite easily, in fact. The major qualification seems to be a good imagination. Rudyard Kipling, commenting on Mormonism, said that Joseph Smith “had the same problem all writers of Biblical fiction have – he ran out of good names early.” A great imagination commenting on a lesser one.

Why?

As in, why would anybody fall for such things? Good question. Paul gives us a little list here, as if to say, “Why would you be so dumb?”

  • This is a matter of first principles. Either you’re in the kingdom of God, or you belong to the kingdom of this world. Pick.
  • But if you pick the world, remember: it’s not eternal. It will pass away, and all that you have from it will go with it.
  • Among the things that will therefore disappear are:
    • That appearance of wisdom that comes from being one who knows all the details.
    • All the rigor of self-imposed worship – vigils, lighting candles, etc. – will disappear too.
    • More important, the false humility will evaporate in the glorious light of God.

But then, all this falsehood never did have any real power to restrain human beings from sin. It just channels the sin into a different river.

Set your mind on things above.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your£ life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1 through Colossians 3:4 (NIV)

You have been raised

Here again Paul makes use of that literary device. He proclaims that we have already been raised with Christ! Symbolically, of course, we have – through Christian baptism. His use of the present tense indicates to us that our resurrection from the dead is absolutely sure – for God cannot lie.

Set your…

In this little passage, Paul gives two commands beginning with “set your”:

  • He tells us first to set our hearts on things above. The phrase in the original is hard to translate; it means something like this: always have your mind inclined to think favorably about the things of God. It’s a habit God wants you to form.
  • He then tells us to set our minds on things above. The phrase implies that we are to seek after, strive for those things.
Hidden in Christ

Here is the key: we are hidden with Christ in God. The Greek phrasing could be translated more literally “your life hath been hid with the Christ in God.”[1] We are hidden from view as Christ is; when the Father sees us, He sees Christ. But that is only temporary; the time is coming (even so, Lord, come soon) when we will appear as he will appear – be “made manifest” as the King James had it. On that day our appearance will be as Christ’s. We shall be seen in the glory he has given us as he returns to claim his own and judge the earth.

There it is. You have been given warning. You have also been promised blessing IF you will be faithful to the end.


[1] Young’s Literal Translation

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