The goal is not for us to look at some truths in Colossians 3 verses 1 through 4 so that we can walk away and say I am glad that I learned that. The goal is not for me to tell you a couple of stories and entertain you for a half hour and then we go back to life as normal. The goal is for us to walk away from our time together this morning and be able to teach the truths of the Gospel so at the end of this sermon; the whole church family will be equipped to not just know what it means to be Raised in Christ, but to lead others to be Raised in Christ as well.
And so we are no longer receivers. We are producers. The Word is not stopping with us. It is spreading through us. That it will spread into our work places, our classrooms, our families, and our relationships. The goal is that we would be equipped after our time together. The goal is not for us just to learn the truths. The goal is for us to be able to teach these truths tomorrow as the Gospel spreads through us into this community.
Exegesis: The foundation principle of Christian living (3.1-4)
This fundamental section marks an end to Paul’s warnings of false teachers and is a bridge to his appeals for the Colossians to live in a manner pleasing to the Lord. Chapters 1 and 2 had very little instruction but rather information. From this point on in the letter, however, the majority of the verses are dedicated to instruction on how to live, intermingled with motivations for this behavior. And this is what we find in our passage today. We get two instructions, to seek the things above and to set our minds on the things that are above. And then, we get the motivations on why we should do so in verses 3 and 4. Today we will learn how to adopt a mind-set that reflects our new identity in Christ.
1. Seeking the things above (3.1)
What does Paul mean when he says we have been raised with Christ? Our Baptisms serve as vivid example of what he means by this. When we go under the water is symbolizes death. We are buried, dead to our old life. However, when we come up out of the water we are symbolizing the victory Christ won when He came out of the grave. We too have been raised to a newness of life.
Because we have been raised with Christ, our lives are to be different: we have no life of our own since our life is the life of Christ. So, our interests must be His interests. Therefore, if we are truly followers of Christ, then we will, as the passage says, seek the things that are above. Paul encourages us to live like resurrected new creatures and not like those who belong to the old world.
As we become more like Christ, our desires should become more like Christ’s desires. And what did Christ desire more than anything? To glorify the father, therefore, we too should be finding ourselves living a life that does everything for the glory of the Lord, rather than fulfilling our fleshly desires.
We must mind the concerns of another world more than the concerns of this world. There is one guarantee way to waste your life, and that is to spend it on yourself. However, there is one guarantee way to make sure that your life counts, and that is to sacrifice it for the glory of the one true living God, and for the good of others. We know this to be true, not only by our own experiences, but because the Bible says in Mark 8:35 that For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Not only do we know this to be true through scripture and our experiences, but look at our heroes of the faith.
Suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia , killed by a sword wound.
Died in Alexandria , Egypt after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead.
Was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous preaching to the lost.
Faced martyrdom when he was boiled in huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution In Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death.
John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison Island of Patmos ..
He wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to serve As Bishop of Edessa in modern Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully.
He was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross.
According to church tradition it was because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die In the same way that Jesus Christ had died.
The leader of the church in Jerusalem , was thrown over a hundred feet down from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller’s club.
* This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.
James the Great
Son of Zebedee James was ultimately beheaded at Jerusalem.
Bartholomew was martyred for his preaching in Armenia where he was flayed to death by a whip.
Was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony.
He continued to preach to his tormentors For two days until he expired.
Was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church in the Sub-continent.
Was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
The apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded.
Was tortured and then beheaded by Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment, which allowed him to write his many epistles to the churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire .
We even see this in our modern day heroes.
Gave his life to the people of Burma, he translated the Bible into Burmese, spent 21 months in a brutal prison, and buried 2 wives and more than 5 children.
Spent 15 years as a missionary to China before he was brutally murdered as a martyr.
Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint
They were attacked by 10 Indian men that brutally murdered them and sent their bodies a float downstream. There was not funeral, no tombstone for a memorial.
Lottie Moon died a God glorifying death at the age of 72 at a frail 50 pounds, refusing to eat her food portion so that it might go to others. She knew that she was dying and saw it as wasteful for her to eat to prolong her ending life when that same food could be given to someone that depended on it for life. On her deathbed, speaking to her friend and fellow missionary worker, Lottie said, Jesus is here right now. You can pray now that He will fill my heart and stay with me. For when Jesus comes in, he drives out all evil. And she died singing, “Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong.” (Akin, 2008)
Lottie Moon just like many of the other missionaries I mentioned, died without any money, possessions, died without fame, they never saw mass conversions of that like of Billy Graham, they never packed out churches just to hear them speak, they died without a their spouse and children, and died thousands of miles from family.
And I ask you are these lives tragic?
NO, these are the examples that we as Southern Baptist hold up as what it looks like to not waste your life. We as Southern Baptist hold them up and say this is what it looks like to spend your life for Christ, and then we ask, who is next?
Why are they success stories? Well, take the example of Lottie Moon one last time: 20 years after her death, Chinese women in remote villages would ask, “when will the Heavenly Book visitor come again?” Their testimony about her was, “how she loved us.”
And I pray that those that God places in your life will say the same thing about you. That you are a man or woman of God’s Word and you will be known for your love for them.
If these are not tragic lives, then what is?
I tell you what a tragedy is. I will read to you from Reader’s Digest (Feb. 1998, p. 98) what a tragedy is: “Bob and Penny… took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” The American Dream: come to the end of your life – your one and only life – and let the last great work before you give an account to your Creator, be “I collected shells. See my shells.” THAT is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I am pleading with you today, especially the youth: don’t buy it. Do not buy that dream. The American Dream nice house, nice car, nice job, nice family, nice retirement, collecting shells as the last chapter in your life before you stand before the creator of the universe to give an account with what you did here it is Lord, my shell collection, look Lord at my boat. Do not Waste it. Do not waste your life. (Piper, 2000)
Therefore, instead of seeking ways to meet our fleshly desires we are to be seeking ways to bring glory to God and to seek after things that He delights in. And as a result, we will not only live a life that was not wasted, but we will live a life full of joy, not only here on earth, but for all eternity. Do not waste your life trying to satisfy something that is dying, but invest into the heavenly kingdom that lasts for all eternity. (Henry, 1960)
Therefore, we can summarize verse one by saying, that we should seek the things above by deliberately and daily committing ourselves to the values of the heavenly kingdom and living out of those values.
2. Setting the mind on the things above (3.2)
In this verse, Paul encourages us not only to seek after God, but to Set our minds on Him as well. The main point of this verse is that we are not to have our minds set on earthly things, but of the things of heaven. The false teachers have their minds set on the things of this world. The mind set on the flesh is death, but the true believer will have a mindset on the Spirit and will experience life and peace. Spiritual thoughts are to be characterized by that which is true, honorable, pure, lovely, attractive, excellent, and praiseworthy.
Just like how a compass always points north, our lives should be pointing to Christ. Our entire disposition should point itself toward the things of heaven. Heavenly thoughts can come only by understanding heavenly realities from Scripture. (MacArthur, 2005)
3. The motivations for these actions (3.1a, 3,4)
a. The believer’s union with Christ
– illustration of fruit tree
b. The believer’s death and life hidden with God in Christ (v.3)
We too, just like the people of Colossians need to be reminded that we have died with Christ, been raised with him and have been given new life with Him. He has done all that was necessary. So we are to zealously pursue the things of that new life, centered on the exalted Christ. (O’Brien, 2000)
The main point of this verse is also the main point of the entire passage that we were dead and now we are alive because of Christ; we have no other hope besides Him; He truly is our life. This verse is here to answer the question, Is it truly necessary or even possible to truly seek and think about heavenly things when we still live on earth surrounded by fleshly and worldly desires?
It is necessary because our union with Christ means we no longer belong to the realm of this earth but to the heavenly realm; and it is possible because our union with Christ severs us from the tyranny of the powers of this world and provides us with all the power needed to live a new life. (Moo, 2008)
When Christ died, He died to do two things. First, He died for the penalty of sin. Second, He died to give us power over sin. Jesus Christ died to overcome the penalty of sin and to overcome the power of sin. And so when you trust in Christ and you die with him that means you no longer have to pay the penalty for sin, and the power of sin is no longer in your lives. And not only did you die with Him, but we live in Christ.
However, it is important to point out that no one can rise again with Christ, unless they have first died with Him. And this is the picture Paul is talking about here, Your life is now hidden with Christ in God, and Christ is your life. This is the beauty of what it means to be a follower of Christ. We are in Christ.
Jesus is our life now. You heard Paul, he said in verse 3, Your life is now hidden with Christ in God. This rich expression has a threefold meaning. First, believers have a common spiritual life with the Father and Son. Second, the world cannot understand the full import of the believer’s new life. And third, believers are eternally secure, protected from all spiritual enemies, and with access to all God’s blessings. (MacArthur, 2005)
Basically, it means you have life right now in Him. It is not that we are sitting here as a group of people waiting on eternal life, we are experiencing eternal life now. This is what Paul said in Philippians 1:21, For me to live is Christ. My whole life is summed up in who Christ is now. At the same time, the beauty of it is this is not all there is to it. There is coming a day when our life in Christ will be complete, totally complete. Christ is our life now and He is our life forever.
You see here is the deal, yes, we have eternal life right now, but at the same time now, Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God. But there is coming a day, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 18, when He will descend from heaven with a trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will be raised, and we will be caught up with Him, and we will go to live with Him forever. Christ is coming back for you and Christ is coming back for me. He is coming back for us as followers of his, and we will live with Him forever.
Jesus Christ frees us from finding our sufficiency in relationships with others. He frees us to find our sufficiency in a relationship with Him. We have entered into the beauty of a relationship with Christ where He is literally our everything. He frees us from the wounds of the past and even the wounds of the future. He is our everything. His is our total sufficiency.
There should be no competition for our love for Jesus. We should love him better than life itself. And you will find that you love others in your life far more when you put them in second place than if you were to get it out of whack and put them in first place and put Jesus second. I often say to Kaley your my number 2, and she knows that is the most loving thing I can say to her, because if I was to put her number 1, then I would be putting on her unrealistic expectation to fulfill my joy. If I put her number 1, she is going to fail me. And I will live a life in constant resentment because I put someone number 1 that continually fails me.
Likewise, anything that you are putting number one is going to fail you too. People will disappoint you, other people change, other people will die, and if you have put them first in your life you are going to find it hard to live after betrayal or loss. Jesus will never betray you and Jesus has already died and risen from the dead so He will never forsake you.
You put him first and you will never be disappointed. Christians will let you down. We are not perfect, but here at this church, we do not worship the church members, we worship the one that is the Lord, Jesus Christ and I point you to him. Likewise, I will let you down and the new pastor will eventually let you down, but remember it is not the pastors you are worshipping it is Jesus Christ and He will never let you down.
This is the beauty of our passage today, Christ makes you whole. Christ makes you whole. It does not seem like it sometimes, but the beauty of Colossians 3 is that Christ makes you whole. (Platt, 2007)
Therefore, Paul suggests, at the present time our heavenly identity is real, but it is hidden. Verse 4 affirms that this will one day change. In the meantime, our true status is veiled; and, though we may not look any different than those around us, Paul’s point in this passage is that we certainly need to behave differently. (Moo, 2008)
c. The believer’s prospect of future manifestation with Christ in glory
Our identification with Christ, now real but hidden, will one day be manifest. Our hope is in the future. We should long for the manifestation that will take place in glory. We long for the receiving of our glorious resurrection bodies. Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Theological Reflection: Justification, Sanctification, Glorification (What Does This Teach Us About God?)
This small passage gives us insight on three great theological doctrines. And that theology is of Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. These terms help us answer the question, are we truly saved?
- Justification (v.3) is the past reference to Christ’s perfect and finished work for us.
- Sanctification (v.1b-2) is the present ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in us as God applies the gospel to our lives and conforms us more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. Spiritual growth comes only from Christ, so it is naturally unavoidable on us to focus on the place where He is.
- Glorification (v.4) is the future promise of what is going to happen in us when Jesus Christ returns. God will conform us perfectly to His will, and restore us in fellowship with Him, like it was before sin entered into the world. What I most look forward to in Glorification is complete freedom from sin. Not that we just happen to be free from sin, but that we will be so satisfied in the presence of God that we will not want to sin, that we will not even want to want to sin. Sin will literally be unthinkable to us. Sin will ultimately be undesirable to us.
Application: In order to not waste our lives we need to mind the concerns of another world more than the concerns of this world. Heaven and earth are contrary one to the other, and the prevalence of our affection to one will proportionally weaken our affection to the other. This is because:
- We are dead to present things.
- Our true life lies in the other world.
- At the second coming of Christ, we hope for the perfection of our happiness.
For too long, churches in our land have been guilty of letting people think they are saved when their lives clearly demonstrate otherwise. Consider carefully that our passage today is not pointing to some super-spiritual Christian. It simply defines what it means to be a Christian. To misunderstand this may be to misunderstand altogether what it means to be a Christian. Setting your heart on things above is not just what those really strong Christians do. Putting lust to death and ridding yourself of slander are not just the extra practices of mature Christians. Displaying compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience is not just the job of especially fruitful Christians. Those qualities are typical of Christians. None of us produces them perfectly. We are all painfully aware of that. But they are typical of us nonetheless. (Dever, 2005)
However, this is not just a modern day problem. Many of the problems dealt with in scripture arise from a failure to apply the Gospel to a certain aspect of life. You see the problem is that we stop too soon with the Gospel, we stop at justification. However, The Gospel is not, “You must be born again!” The significance of the doctrine of personal regeneration in the New Testament is not the main thrust of the evangelist’s message to unbelievers. Paul in this letter is speaking primarily to believers so that they might understand what a radical and life-changing thing faith in Jesus Christ really is.
And that is my prayer for you all today. That you will experience and see that full Gospel in your life as you leave here today. Therefore, Colossians 3 verses 1 through 4 are calling us to restore the Gospel to its rightful place at the center of our thinking and doing. And for some of you it might be for the first time and others, you might be finding that your desire for the Gospel has faded. Today, is the day to cry out to God because only He can bring new life back into us.
Therefore, as we conclude, we are to seek the thing above because our life is now in Christ and He will be revealed on the last day. The greatest incentive for righteous living is the fact that Christ will in fact return and return as Judge of all people. So verses 1 through 4 give the explicit command to do what is logical for us to do – seek completely the ways of Christ not of the earth because He is our life and will be revealed as such one day soon.
Akin, Daniel. (2008). Five Who Changed the World. Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dever, Mark. (2005). The Message of the New Testament. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Henry, Matthew. (1960). Matthew Henry’s Commentary (L. F. Church, Trans.). Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library.
MacArthur, John. (2005). MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.
Moo, Douglas J. (2008). The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Nottingham, England: Apollos.
O’Brien, Peter. (2000). WBC Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 44). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Piper, John. (2000, May 20). Boasting Only in the Cross [Sermon]. Retrieved April 5, 2013, from Desiring God Web site: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/boasting-only-in-the-cross
Platt, David. (2007, October 28). The Disciples’ Relationships [Sermon]. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from Radical.net Web site: http://www.radical.net/media/series/view/161/the-disciples-relationships?filter=book&book=439