"Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory." (Col. 3:1-4, NASB)
1. Summarize the original situation and the meaning of the text for the biblical audience.
Paul wrote the letter to the Colosse church during his imprisonment in Rome, somewhere between the late 50’s and early 60’s AD. One of Paul’s converts, Epaphras, requested Paul’s help in dealing with a dangerous threat to this young, but vibrant fellowship. It is said that Paul didn’t establish this church but rather Epaphras (1:7, 2:1). Paul’s relationship with the church at this time would’ve been strictly by way of letter (probably the letters to the Ephesians and Laodiceans) and fellow laborers in the ministry (Epaphras, Archippus, Philemon, and Onesimus). This letter is the response to the problem within this church. The Colosse church of Paul’s day was a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Jews had ventured to this province of Phrygia two centuries earlier. So Colosse was a melting pot of religion, philosophy, and Gentile practices; this in turn being the problem for the young Colosse church. The dilemma was known as “syncretism”—combining ideas from other philosophies and religions with Christian truth. In light of the mixture of cultures within the church, there were various Jewish teachings and the early hint of what later became known as Gnosticism taking root. Paul calls out the outbreak of the heretical teachings in the Colosse church particularly in chapter 2, but uses both chapter 1 and 2 to target what actually to believe. Thus by the end of chapter 2 those listening had sat through a serious heretical gut-checking. They were then ready to hear how they are to respond to this blessed information (chapters 3 and 4). In verses 1-2 of chapter 3, Paul starts with a conditional charge to the believers in Colosse on what he previously explained in chapters 1 and 2, (“If then you were raised…Seek those…Set your…”). In verses 3-4 Paul sums up the “why” for the influence behind what is to be their new way of living and thinking—which is to follow in the remaining verses and subsequent chapter.
2. What are the differences between the biblical audience/situation and us today/our situation?
There are three noticeable differences between us today and the church of Colosse in the first century. One, we are in America not first century Asia Minor. Two, we are not made up of first century Jew and Gentile believers, nor are we struggling with legalistic Judaism and early Gnosticism. And three, we are not all young Christians or members of new-found churches. Despite these three, the river separating them from us is not that wide. We today continue to struggle with heretical teachings, some lingering from Judaism (Sabbath and dietary observances) and Gnosticism (mysticism, new-age spirituality, etc.). Greek philosophical thinking and teaching is still prevalent. The denial of the humanity and deity of Jesus (Modalism) and the worship of other beings as mediators between us and God (Catholicism) carry on today as back then. This letter from Paul is just as much for us now as it was for the Colosse church.
3. What are the timeless theological principle(s) communicated in this passage?
The theological principles in this text are “seek those things which are above where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God”, and “set your minds on things above, not on things on the earth” like traditions and deceptive philosophy (knowledge for knowledge sake).
4. How should Christians today apply the theological principle(s) in their lives?
The theological principles found in this text are for every Christian facing teachings (e.g. rejection of the humanity and/or divinity of Jesus, knowledge is enough for salvation, etc) and traditions in opposition to Christ (e.g. the worship of angels, circumcision, etc). Since our day in age is similar to the time when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, as far as the heavy presence of religious traditions and philosophy, we can take hold of these principles immediately in just about any situation where tradition or philosophy opposing the truth in Christ is present. Some of our workplaces function in ways contrary to Christ, we then can set our minds on things above and not be persuaded to conform to those things on our job. Or for students who are facing secular philosophies in high-school and college, praising knowledge and science and belittling faith in Christ, we can seek those things which are above where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God and not be deceived with persuasive words or empty philosophy. Some may be caught up in traditionalism at their place of worship or in their family, but these traditions are not in accordance with the truth we have and know in Christ. In this we can seek and set our mind on things above where Christ is and not be cheated through the traditions of men, which have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion. These principles can be applied to any area that is attempting to get us to view or accept Christ less than what He truly is.