Notice how many active words Paul uses in Colossians 3:1-17 to describe what a Christian must be doing:
- "Seek those things which are above" (verse 1).
- "Set your mind on things above" (verse 2).
- "Put to death your members" (verse 5).
- "Put off all these" (verse 8).
- "Do not lie to one another" (verse 9).
- "Put on tender mercies" (verse 12).
- "Bearing with one another, and forgiving" (verse 13).
- "Put on love" (verse 14).
- "Let the peace of God rule . . . and be thankful" (verse 15).
- "Let the word of Christ dwell in you" (verse 16).
- "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (verse 17).
Paul makes sure we understand that we must actively participate in order to grow. When God talks about growth, He means increasing in His attributes, the qualities that will conform us to His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace
With admonitions like these, we step into the intimate personal relationships within a congregation or family. They show that unity depends more upon the exercise of the members' moral qualities than the structure of the institution. Paul shows in Ephesians that the life we are called to live is characterized by five qualities: humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and love, the last of which embraces the preceding four and is the crown of all virtues. Each of these qualities enables us to act in mercy and live at peace. God's Spirit empowers us to use these qualities to overcome the ill will and the bitter, passionate rages that lead to clamorous slander, destroying reputations.
Such ill will and rage hardly promote kindness, compassion, and acting in grace toward each other. "Acting in grace" is an acceptable translation of the Greek word, charizomai, rendered "forgiving" in Ephesians 4:32. Acting in grace catches the essence of how God has acted toward us and our sin against Him. And because He has forgiven us, we are commanded to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13).
Mercy begins with the way we feel about or toward each other and moves toward merciful acts. God loves us and has an outgoing concern for us. If God so loves us, then we ought to love each other (I John 4:11). Thus, we are bound to forbear with one another and act kindly, in mercy. Anybody focused on himself as the center of the universe will have a difficult time thinking kindly of others, and unity will be difficult, if not impossible. It is no wonder, then, why so much divorce occurs, as well as division in other areas of life. A focus on the self does not allow much room for humble, kind, and compassionate thoughts of service for others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 5: Blessed Are the Merciful
This is the practical application of "seek[ing] those things which are above" (Colossians 3:1). In effect, Paul is saying that, if we are seeking heavenly things, the resources to overcome these things will be available. They will be part of us because God responds to those who are truly seeking Him.
We must be patient. Our relationship with God is not magic. It takes work. Those of us who have had any of these problems understand that one must hold a tight rein on oneself to keep from doing the things that Paul says to "put off." They are so deeply ingrained within us that they want to break out all by themselves.
This is why Paul writes in Romans 7:15-23, "The things that I do not want to do, I do. The things I do want to do, I do not do." He concludes that two conflicting laws were working within him. There was the law of his mind, which loved God, understood a great deal about Him, and wanted to submit to Him, to sacrifice for His sake and in His name, and to discipline himself. But the law of his flesh—sin that dwelt within him—every once in a while reared its ugly head and broke out.
Thus, we must discipline ourselves. We know that we are to "put off" those things that do not reflect the image of God and to "put on" the characteristics that do. "Putting on" and "taking off" are not always easy. Sometimes, we can readily apply or overcome certain things; they seem to come easily to us. But other character flaws are thorns in the flesh, their barbs stuck deep within us, and they embarrass us from time to time and make us feel guilty. They make us wonder whether we will be acceptable before God. Seeing this, we realize that overcoming them will take a great deal of work—and work requires discipline.
One of the final things that Paul mentions in this passage is love (Colossians 3:14). Love is the crown; it tops off, as it were, all of the other virtues, tying them all together. A true love for God and love for others—not to mention a proper love for ourselves—will motivate us to transform into Christ's image.
The diligent "putting on" and the "taking off" will be the proof of our seeking God and the things which are above. When we understand this, we realize that even the ability to "put on" and to "take off" is a gift from God, as the resources to do this come from Him. God responds to those who make Him the focus of their lives, and this is who we exhibit. The evidence begins to show in the way we live our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Three)
When Paul speaks of putting on the new man here, he gives us several attitudes we need to emulate as followers of Christ. Most of them involve the way we deal with each other because a major part of what God is teaching us has to do with building and solidifying our relationships. As we see in the next few verses, he comments specifically on the husband-wife, parent-child and employer-employee relationships.
Why? Largely, our judgment by our Savior hangs on the quality of our relationships. We should never forget the principle found in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40, 45).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Road Less Traveled
Paul puts love "above all," showing that love is the epitome of virtues. Here, its importance is as "the bond," something that binds or holds things, like a congregation, together.
Eventually, all groups tend to fly apart. They do not remain united by magic. Generally, a group maintains its unity through a common cause. As each person contributes to attaining that cause, unity is generally served. However, even though individuals expend effort to achieve the cause, frictions arise from a multitude of reasons. Love is the supreme quality that enables the members of the group to maintain unity and keep it from flying apart. This is achieved by each person constraining or restraining himself to act in love.
Interestingly, qualities that we normally think of as being manly—like drive, courage, determination, and aggressiveness—are missing from this list in Colossians 3. Though they are not inherently evil, they play directly into the human ego, frequently resulting in crass individualism.
Because it tends to produce division, individualism is not what Paul is aiming for here. Without strong spiritual control, those traits tend to descend into competitiveness, anger, wrath, malice, dissembling, accusation, slander, and foul talk. These in turn are nothing more than unashamed self-seeking, traits that split and divide.
Each virtue Paul lists is actually an expression of love, traits that make it possible to live in a community. There is nothing weak and effeminate about them: It takes a strong person to resist what comes naturally and do what God commands rather than go along with urges of our carnal feelings. Paul lists love as a separate attribute here to show that it is not limited to the qualities he names.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Colossians 3:14: