If then you have been raised up with Christ (3:1a)
If denotes reality, as in 2:20, and is better translated “since.” Believers having been raised up with Christ is not in doubt. The verb actually means “to be co-resurrected.” It is an accomplished fact. Believers spiritually are entered into Christ’s death and resurrection at the moment of their salvation. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” In that verse, the apostle shows the union of the believer with the Lord, so that they have a shared life. Romans 6:3–4 teaches the same truth: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
The “baptism” here is not into water, but an immersing into the Savior’s death and resurrection. Through their union with Christ, believers have died, have been buried, and have risen with Him. By saving faith they have entered into a new dimension. They possess divine and eternal life, which is not merely endless existence, but a heavenly quality of life brought to them by the indwelling Lord. They are thus alive in Christ to the realities of the divine realm.
Consequently, Christians have an obligation to live consistently with those realities. Paul delineates the specifics of that obligation in Romans 6:11–19:
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
This new life is real and powerful, but so is remaining sin. Though it no longer is our master, it can still overpower us if we are not presenting ourselves to God as servants of righteousness. (For a fuller treatment of this rich teaching, see my comments on Romans 6–8 in Romans 1–8, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1991].)
Spirituality, as Paul says in Philippians 2:12, is working that inner life out, the process of living the reality of our union with Christ. In Him we have all the resources necessary for living the Christian life (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3). Paul emphasizes the centrality of Christ throughout Colossians 3:1–4. By using such phrases as with Christ (3:1); where Christ (3:1); with Christ (3:3); when Christ (3:4); and with Him (3:4), he stresses again Christ’s total sufficiency (cf. 2:10). Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand and pursue the fullness of Christ. Consequently, because of not knowing what Scripture says, or not applying it properly, they are intimidated into thinking they need something more than Him alone to live the Christian life. They fall prey to false philosophy, legalism, mysticism, or asceticism.
Paul reminds the Colossians that they have risen with Christ. This is the path to holiness, not self-denial, angelic experience, or ceremony. They are no longer living the old life they lived before their salvation, but possess the eternal life of Christ and have been raised to live on another plane. They must not be ignorant or forgetful of who they are and how they are to live. All sinful passion is controlled and conquered by the power of the indwelling Christ and our union with Him.
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. (3:1b, 2)
The present tense of zēteō (keep seeking) indicates continuous action. Preoccupation with the eternal realities that are ours in Christ is to be the pattern of the believer’s life. Jesus put it this way: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Paul is not advocating a form of mysticism. Rather, he desires that the Colossians’ preoccupation with heaven govern their earthly responses. To be preoccupied with heaven is to be preoccupied with the One who reigns there and His purposes, plans, provisions, and power. It is also to view the things, people, and events of this world through His eyes and with an eternal perspective.
The things above refers to the heavenly realm and hones in on the spiritual values that characterize Christ, such as tenderness, kindness, meekness, patience, wisdom, forgiveness, strength, purity, and love.
When believers focus on the realities of heaven, they can then truly enjoy the world their heavenly Father has created. As the writer of the hymn “I Am His, and He Is Mine” expressed it,
Heav’n above is softer blue
Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.
When Christians begin to live in the heavenlies, when they commit themselves to the riches of “the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:26), they will live out their heavenly values in this world to the glory of God.
In 3:2, Paul gives instruction on how to seek the things above. He says, Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Set your mind is from phroneō and could simply be translated, “think,” or more thoroughly, “have this inner disposition.” Once again, the present tense indicates continuous action. Lightfoot paraphrases Paul’s thought: “You must not only seek heaven, you must also think heaven” (St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [1879; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959], p. 209; italics in the original). The believer’s whole disposition should orient itself toward heaven, where Christ is, just as a compass needle orients itself toward the north.
Obviously, the thoughts of heaven that are to fill the believer’s mind must derive from Scripture. The Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge about the character of God and the values of heaven. Paul describes that preoccupation as being “transformed by the renewing of [your] mind” (Rom. 12:2). In it we learn the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and praiseworthy things our minds are to dwell on (cf. Phil. 4:8).
Such heavenly values dominating the mind produce godly behavior. Sin will be conquered and humility, a sacrificial spirit, and assurance will result.
where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (3:1c)
The believer’s resource is none other than the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge: the risen and glorified Christ, seated at the right hand of God in the place of honor and majesty. The Bible speaks often of Christ’s exalted position. Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.’ ” Jesus told the accusers at His trial that “from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33). Peter and the other apostles described Jesus to the Sanhedrin as “the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior” (Acts 5:31). As he was being martyred, Stephen cried out, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Paul describes Jesus as He “who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34), because God “raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20). The writer of Hebrews says of Christ, “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Because of that, “we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb. 8:1). He is the One “who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22).
Because of Christ’s coronation and exaltation to the Father’s right hand, He is the fountain of blessing for His people. Jesus told the disciples, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14; cf. 15:16; 16:23–24, 26). Believers can be assured that what they seek is there, “for as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (2 Cor. 1:20).
1 Having reminded the Colossians that they have died with Christ (2:20; cf. 2:12), Paul now reiterates that they have been “raised with Christ” (cf. 2:12). Unlike Christ, they have not been raised bodily. Nevertheless, Paul insists that they have been raised (synēgerthēte, GK 5283, is a liquid aorist passive compound verb [second person plural]) spiritually with Christ by God. Their baptisms served as vivid, tangible reminders of this vital theological principle. If they truly have been raised with Christ via conversion as imaged in baptism, then they should seek “the things above.” They should not devote their attention to the earthly things that characterized the “philosophy”; conversely, they should quest after (“set [their] hearts on”) heavenly things. (“The things above” is synonymous with heaven [so, rightly, Lincoln, 637].)
Why does Paul counsel the Colossians to keep seeking the things above? Is this not dangerous advice with which the promoters of the “philosophy” would agree? Paul does not employ such spatial imagery to affirm the “philosophy” or to encourage visionary activity among the assembly; rather, he commands the Colossians to pursue the things of heaven precisely because this is where Christ is. He is not one among a panoply of heavenly dignitaries; Christ occupies a place of primacy and sovereignty. The resurrected Christ is the ascended Christ who is “seated at the right hand of God.” This depiction of Christ’s session is drawn from Psalm 110:1 (cf. Ro 8:34; Eph 1:20). (To take this metaphoric description literally is a misconstrual of the text.) In enjoining the church to seek the things above and thereby Christ, Paul is encouraging them “to give Christ [who reigns as Lord] an allegiance that takes precedence over all earthly loyalties. His ends are to be their ends; and it follows that the means by which those ends are attained must be his means” (Caird, 202).
1 The readers knew (in theory, at least) that, like their fellow-Christians throughout the world, they had been brought to new life with Christ when they were spiritually dead, that they had been “raised with him through faith in the power of God” (Col. 2:12). On every occasion when they recalled their baptism and its meaning, they ought to be impressed afresh with the reality of their participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and draw the logical and practical conclusions. If their death with Christ severed the links that bound them to the old world-order, which was trying to impose its dominion on them again, their resurrection with Christ established new links, binding them to a new and heavenly order, to that spiritual kingdom in which Christ their Lord was sovereign.
When Christ’s present position of supremacy is described in the Pauline writings as being “at the right hand of God,” the apostle is usually echoing the language of some primitive confession of faith, presumably familiar to his readers. Christ’s ascension to the right hand of God was an essential and constant element in the earliest apostolic preaching.3 It goes back to the messianic interpretation of Ps. 110:1, one of the most primitive of Christian testimonia. There we find reproduced an oracle of Yahweh addressed to someone whom the psalmist calls “my Lord”: “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.”
In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus refers to this oracle on two occasions. During his debate with the scribes of the Pharisaic party in the temple precincts he asked them why they should call the Messiah the son of David since in this psalm David speaks of him as “my lord” (Mark 12:35–37). It is presupposed that they would agree that the person addressed in the divine oracle was the Davidic Messiah. Again, during the inquiry before the high priest and his colleagues which followed his arrest in Gethsemane, he was asked if he was the Messiah, “the Son of the Blessed,” and he replied: “I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61–62). The form of his reply may suggest the sense: “If ‘Messiah’ is the term you insist on using, then I can only say ‘Yes’: but if I am to choose my own form of words, then let me say that you will have the answer to your question when you see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” It was his own chosen form of words—and perhaps in particular his apparent self-identification with the “one like a son of man” who, in Dan. 7:13–14, receives eternal and universal dominion from the Ancient of Days—that enabled his judges to pronounce him guilty of blasphemy. He was claiming, they held, to be the peer of the Most High. But after his resurrection the apostles proclaimed that the enthronement to which he looked forward had actually taken place: Christ was now reigning as king from the right hand of the Almighty, and would continue so to reign until all opposing forces in the universe had submitted to him.7
The apostles knew very well that they were using figurative language when they spoke of Christ’s exaltation in these terms: they no more thought of a location on a literal throne at God’s literal right hand than their twentieth-century successors do. The static impression made by conventional artistic representations of the heavenly session of Christ obscures the dynamic NT picture of the exalted Christ going forth by his Spirit in all the world, conquering and to conquer. What Paul understood by the heavenly session can be gathered from other terms used in his writings to convey the same idea: Christ has been given “the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10–11): he has “ascended high above all the heavens, in order to fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). Because he has been elevated to the position of highest sovereignty over the universe, he pervades the universe with his presence.
This reference to the exaltation of Christ, the seal of divine approval on his saving work, is not introduced here for an ornamental purpose. Paul is about to commence the paraenetic section of his letter, and his paraenetic sections regularly presuppose the content of the apostolic preaching. What God has done for his people in Christ is the grand argument and incentive for Christian living. The apostolic teaching or didache may be distinguished from the preaching or merkabah kerygma, but it is founded on the preaching—and in any case the distinction between the two should not be pressed too sharply. Whatever affinities may be traced between Paul’s ethical exhortations and those of contemporary moralists, their whole emphasis in Paul’s writings depends on their arising directly out of the work of Christ. It is because believers have died with Christ and been raised to new life with him that their conduct is henceforth to be different.
What, then, are the practical implications of being raised with Christ? In the first place, believers have now no private life of their own. Their life is the life of Christ, maintained in being by him at God’s right hand and shared by him with all his people. Their interests must therefore be his interests. Instead of waiting until the last day to receive the resurrection life, those who have been raised with Christ possess it here and now. The new creation12—the “regeneration”—has already begun in them. Spiritually—that is to say, “in Christ”—they belong already to the age to come and enjoy its life.
3:1 Before Paul and Timothy give the exhortation, they provide the theological grounding: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ.” While “since” in the NIV is entirely appropriate in that the condition expresses an assumption, “since” rhetorically diminishes the exhortation dimension of this verse and renders it more into a theological proposition.294 The unit from 2:20 to 3:4 is baptismal theology—in their baptism they were dipped into the death of Jesus and arose from the water in union with him in his resurrection. Baptismal theology cannot be reduced to picturesque language (an inner spirituality) but instead expresses an embodied, washed, sacramental reality.
The core gospel of the apostles was the four-line story of Jesus found in 1 Cor 15:3–5: Christ died, was buried, was raised, and appeared, and one could “double-click” on “Christ” or “died” to find a fifth line, that “he lived.” The apostolic gospel noticeably opens up the gospel, not at the second but at the third “chapter” in that story, that is, at his resurrection (e.g., Acts 2:24, 31, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:31). The declaration of Jesus’s resurrection leads in gospel preaching to its implication: repent, believe, be baptized, and now walk in the newness of life. The gospel declares these four or five events in the life of Jesus, and the gospel also summons us to enter into the death and the resurrection of Jesus: into the death in order to die to sins, and into the resurrection in order to walk in new-creation life. We are summoned to enter into what has already happened, as in Eph 2:4–6: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
Scholars have raised more than a question or two about the presentness of resurrection in Colossians and Ephesians, suggesting in fact that the difference between the present realization in the Prison Epistles and the future resurrection of the earlier Paulines (e.g., 1 Corinthians) indicates different authorship. The emphasis in Colossians and Ephesians is noticeable. However, Romans (which we think is written after Colossians) also has co-resurrection in the making (Rom 6:4, 11). Few doubt Paul wrote Philippians—some would agree it is from the same time period as Colossians—and there is precious little difference between the theology of Phil 3:19–21 and our text in Colossians. Furthermore, even in Colossians 3:4 we have an indication of a future glorious transformation. So I agree with Wilson, who writes, “If our author has indeed gone beyond Paul’s own teaching, he has not gone very far.”298
The exhortation based on co-resurrection is now given: “Set your hearts on things above” (3:1b), and then “above” is defined as “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (3:1c). Far from a summons to an un-or otherworldliness, this exhortation calls the Colossians to live in the world on the basis of the rule of Christ over all the powers. That is, as F. F. Bruce wrote, because they have been raised with Christ, “the believers have now no private life of their own.… Their interests must … be his interests.”302
As Paul sought, following a vision, to cross the Aegean Sea (Acts 16:10) and as the Athenians sought for God (17:27), so Paul believes followers of Jesus ought to seek: not for their own glory (Gal 1:10; 1 Thess 2:6; 1 Cor 10:33; Phil 2:21) or their own way (1 Cor 13:5) but instead for justification in Christ (Gal 2:17), for spiritual gifts so they can build up the church (1 Cor 14:12), for “glory and honor and immortality” (Rom 2:7), and in our paragraph, for “things that are above” (Col 3:1). The NIV adds heart in “set your hearts on things above.” If in reading the NIV one distinguishes seeking with the heart in this text from seeking with the mind in 3:2, one has inferred too much. This text summons the believer to seek or to set one’s will/mind/heart on things above, but the NIV’s “heart” is not in the text. By making it the object of the imperative, it makes the focus fall on what is not there and on us instead of what is there and what is not us—“things above.” Furthermore, adding “heart” here runs the risk of rendering the meaning as an affection or an emotion, when will (Rom 2:7) and mind (cf. 1 Cor 1:22; Rom 10:3) are just as likely at work. Rather than “set your hearts on” I prefer it be rendered “seek,” as in the Lord’s words in Matt 6:33.
Vexing many interpreters is the precise meaning of “things above,” a spatial equivalent of “heaven” or “sky” (e.g., Acts 2:19). Jewish apocalyptic literature, such as 2 Baruch, uses “above” in a similar manner (4:2–7; 51:8–12; cf. 4 Ezra 7:26; 13:36). Parallel to this apocalyptic literature sits Paul, who can speak of a “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26) and an eschatological vocation for those who are faithful (Phil 3:14: “heavenly call”). Now to Colossians 3:1, 2: the first instance refers to where Christ rules, whereas the second is a stark contrast to the earth, where the powers of sin rule. As such, the term takes on three dimensions: cosmological (the present heaven, sometimes called paradise, is above and counters the earthly as in v. 2; cf. 1:5, 16, 20, 23; 4:1), eschatological (the heaven above will be the kingdom of God on earth; cf. 1:22, 28; 3:3–4, 6, 24; Rev 20–22), and ethical (a life shaped by the rule of Christ; cf. Col 3:5–17; Phil 4:8). There is evidence for each dimension in Colossians itself, and it is therefore highly likely that, by “things above,” Paul means a way of living constituted not by the stoicheia and skia but by the rule of Christ above, whose rule will become a reality on earth in the future. But we need to be reminded, as Andrew Lincoln has observed, that instead of beginning where his opponents began (on earth) in order to get into the heavenlies, Paul begins in the heavenlies and reconfigures the earth. In other words, Paul reconfigures the heavenlies around Christ—who created them and now rules over them (Col 1:15–20)—and this reconfiguration has at least one foot standing on apocalyptic beliefs. As such, the command urges a profoundly countercultural posture in the world because it taps into a new kind of power, thus contradicting the “self-help schemes the ascetics are offering.”309
In “seated at the right hand of God” we enter into the profundity of early Christian Christology. Two options need to be considered: first, Christ rules at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33–36; 1 Cor 15:25; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 10:12, 13; 1 Pet 3:22; Rev 3:21; 22:1–3), and from that location he also intercedes (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; 1 Pet 3:22). Which option is in mind in the “set your hearts on things above” in Col 3:1? The former is widespread in earliest Christian thinking and makes far more sense of Colossians. “Seated at the right hand of God” evokes rule and takes us to Dan 7 (Matt 19:28; 25:31), Ps 110:1 (cf. Mark 12:36 and pars.), and 1 Cor 15:25. It is clear that this text, at least implicitly, critiques the rule of Caesar; it is not so clear that the author explicitly has Caesar in mind. Christ seated as ruler evokes Col 1:16, 20 and 2:10, 15 (cf. 1 Cor 15:20–28), and it also implies that Jesus conquered the powers. It is possible that this expression also evokes deity, since no one but God sits in the heavens (cf. Dan 7:10).
To back up now: on the basis of their co-resurrection with Christ, the Colossians are to seek to participate in new-creation life by directing their faith and lordship toward the Christ, who rules all of creation. That rule is not yet visible to all but someday will be (3:4). To seek the things above, then, means to live a life on earth under the resurrected King Jesus as the Lord of all creation, with the implication that Caesar is not their true lord.
New position (v. 1)
The Colossian believers have died positionally in Christ. This happened at conversion. The verb expresses what has already taken place: ‘if then you were raised with Christ …’ Believers on conversion are transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God (1:13) and now belong under its kingdom laws, partake of its kingdom privileges and are possessors of its God-given gifts. Conversion begins the process of sanctification. After conversion holiness is not optional. With ascension theology comes the ascension life of holiness (v. 5ff.) with its accompanying humility (v. 8) and honesty (v. 9), etc. Believers share fully in the resurrection life of our risen Lord Jesus Christ and his victory over the flesh, the world and Satan.
3:1 / As with a number of other “ethical” sections (cf. 3:5; Rom. 12:1; Eph 4:1), Paul begins with the word “therefore” (oun). The niv since, then, has the similar effect of tying Paul’s ethical instruction and theological thought together. These believers have been raised with Christ. On the basis of that fact they are to set their hearts on the things above. The verb set is a strong imperative and is a good translation of zēteō, which means to seek, examine, or search something out with the desire to possess. Those things above, both here and in 3:2, are not identified. They may be the virtues of the Christian life that Paul commends in 3:12–16 in contrast to the “earthly” things mentioned in 2:20–23 and 3:5–9 (cf. Phil. 3:19).
Above (i.e., heaven, cf. gnb), where Christ is seated at the right hand, should not be understood as some geographic place in the cosmos. The language here, as elsewhere (Matt. 6:20; Eph. 1:3; 2:6; 3:10), is figurative rather than literal; it designates a quality of existence, not a place of being. By above, Paul means that unseen realm of spiritual reality, the eternal world in contrast to a world that is earthly and transitory.
Through baptism into Christ, the believer participates in that spiritual and eternal realm in which Christ has been exalted and enthroned (Eph. 1:20; Phil. 2:9–11). This reminds the Colossians that they already share this exaltation with Christ. It is not merely a future inheritance, because “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
1. Consistency requires that believers live in conformity with the fact that they were raised with Christ, who is not only the Object of their faith (chapters 1 and 2) but also the Source of their life (chapters 3 and 4). Of course, the line between these two divisions is not sharp. There is considerable overlapping. There is, however, a difference in emphasis.
Between Colossians 3 and that which precedes there is a close connection. The opening words of Col. 3, If then you were raised with Christ, resume the thought already expressed in 2:12, 13, “raised with him … made alive with him,” and are the counterpart of 2:20, “If with Christ you died to the rudiments of the world.…” The Colossians, it will be recalled, were beset by the danger of relapsing into paganism with its gross sensuality, etc., as is clear from 2:23 and 3:5 ff. The wrong solution of their problem was refuted in chapters 1 and 2, especially the latter. It was indicated that there is no material cure for a spiritual ill, that neglect of the body will never heal the soul’s sickness but will aggravate it, that heaven-born individuals cannot gain satisfaction from earth-born remedies. Christ, he alone, is the answer, Christ in all the fulness of his love and power, as already implied in both chapters 1 and 2, and set forth with even greater clarity and directness now (chapter 3), in a series of pastoral exhortations. If, then, the Colossians were corporately raised when Christ was raised and with him, as previously explained (see on 2:12, 13, 20), why should they seek salvation or fulness anywhere apart from him? Why should they resort to broken cisterns when the Fountain is at hand? Christ’s resurrection, followed by his ascension and coronation, guarantees their pardon and provides for their purity. To this Savior they had surrendered themselves when they had embraced him by faith. The cleansing power of Christ’s blood and Spirit had been signified and sealed to them in baptism. The supply of grace remains plentiful. Right now—they need not wait until the day of the Parousia!—they are raised with Christ. They possess within themselves the life of the resurrection. Let the power of Christ’s resurrection, therefore, be experienced by them in an ever increasing degree. Let their union with the exalted Christ transform their entire life: mind, heart, and will (Phil. 3:10). Let them seek the things that are above, where Christ is. The verb seek implies persevering effort; hence, the rendering, “Be constantly seeking,” is not incorrect. This seeking, moreover, is more than a seeking to discover. It is a seeking to obtain (cf. Matt. 6:33; 13:45). The emphasis, though, is not on the seeking but on the object sought. A precise rendering would be, “the things that are above [placed forward for emphasis] be constantly seeking.” Seeking to obtain is a common activity, but seeking to obtain the right treasures is not nearly so common, and therefore requires emphasis. These things that are above are the spiritual values embedded in the heart of the exalted Mediator in glory, whence, without loss to himself, they are bestowed upon those who humbly ask for them and diligently seek them (Matt. 7:7; 1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 1:3; 4:7, 8). As the context indicates, the apostle has reference to such realities as tenderheartedness, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, patience, the forgiving spirit, and above all love (3:12 ff.). Surely, if the hearts of believers are filled with such bounties there will be no room for fleshly indulgence. Here, then, is the true solution.
The Colossians can be assured of the fact that their exalted Christ has both the right and the power to bestow whatever gifts are needed, for he is seated at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1, a phrase applied by Christ to himself in Matt. 22:41–46; 26:64; Mark 12:35–37; 14:61, 62; Luke 20:41–44; 22:66–70), clothed with majesty and honor.
This comforting truth of the ascension of the Lord and his coronation at the Father’s right hand, as a Fountain of blessing for his people, was foreshadowed in the Old Testament (Ps. 8, as interpreted in Heb. 2:1–8; Ps. 68:18, as explained in Eph. 4:7, 8; Ps. 110:1, as has been shown; Isa. 53:12). It was frequently referred to by the Lord himself (see, in addition to the Gospel-passages in the preceding paragraph, John 14:1–4; 14:13–18; 16:7; 17:5; 20:17). It was from the very beginning one of the basic themes in the preaching of the church (Luke 24:50–53; Acts 1:6–11; 2:33–36; 3:21; 5:30, 31; 7:56; Rom. 8:32–34; Eph. 1:20–23; 4:7, 8; Phil. 2:9–11; 3:20, 21; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1–3, 13; 2:1–8; 4:14–16; 8:1, 2; 9:11, 12, 24; 10:12; 1 Peter 3:21, 22; Rev. 1:12–18; 12:5–12).
Those that seek to obtain these “things that are above” are not chasing phantoms but are gathering priceless treasures. They are not the kind of people who forget about their duty in the here and now. On the contrary, they are very practical, for the graces that have been enumerated enable them not only to gain victory upon victory in their struggle against fleshly indulgence but also to be truthfully “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14).
3:1. Colossians 3:1–4 is a hinge between the primarily doctrinal section of chapters 1–2 and the primarily practical section of chapters 3–4. These verses conclude the polemic against the false teachers with further exaltation of the supremacy of Jesus, and they provide the starting point for the alternative to the false teaching with exhortation to make Christ central in all areas of life.
The false teachers at Colosse have attacked the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. They have made him less than fully God and have attempted to seduce believers into thinking that genuine spirituality is to be found in obtaining more knowledge, keeping more rules, or having more experiences. In chapter 2, Paul told us the truth about Christ (he is fully God) and Christians (we are given fullness in him). Now we learn the truth about Christians and spirituality.
Genuine spiritual experience begins with understanding our identification with Christ. Paul tells believers that they have been raised with Christ. The believer eagerly anticipates the future bodily resurrection mentioned in Romans 8:11 and 1 Corinthians 15:22–23, 50–55. This is not, however, what Paul has in mind here. This reference to resurrection refers to a past event: we have been raised. The reference is to our identification with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection. Paul referred to this earlier in 2:12–13 and in Romans 6:1–10. He means that because of our identification with Jesus we have been granted new life which gives us the capacity to live a new kind of life. That new kind of life will be described in detail in the following verses.
The reality of our resurrection with Jesus should produce in us new motivations and new minds. Paul tells us that since we have been raised we are to set [our] hearts on things above. Believers are being urged literally to seek, pursue with diligence things above.
Paul continues his Christ-centered focus by assuring us that Christ is above, seated at the right hand of God. In contrast to the false teachers who demoted Jesus, Paul reminds us that Jesus is seated in the position of honor, majesty, and authority.
3:1. Since believers have not only died with Christ but have also been raised with Christ (cf. Rom. 6:8–10; Col. 2:12–13), they should set their hearts on things above. That is, believers’ lives should be dominated by the pattern of heaven, bringing heavenly direction to their earthly duties. “Set” (zēteite) means “to seek or strive for earnestly” (cf. Rev. 9:6; 1 Cor. 7:27). Fixing their attention decisively toward “things above” involves centering their lives on the ascended (Eph. 4:10), glorified (John 17:5; Phil. 2:9) Christ, who is seated at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). This is His seat of divine authority because He has defeated the forces of evil and death (Heb. 2:14–15).
3:1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. The If of this verse does not express any doubt in the mind of the Apostle Paul. It is what has been called the “If” of argument, and may be translated since: “Since then you were raised together with Christ.…
As mentioned in chapter 2, the believer is seen as having died with Christ, having been buried with Him, and having risen with Him from among the dead. The spiritual meaning of all this is that we have said goodbye to the former way of life, and have entered upon a completely new type of life, that is, the life of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Because we have been raised with Christ, we should seek those things which are above. We are still on earth, but we should be cultivating heavenly ways.
3:1. Paul’s letter to the Colossians may be divided into two parts: chaps. 1 and 2 which deal with doctrine, and 3 and 4, which deal with application. The first of the commands given in the application section is, seek those things which are above. To do this, one must turn away from the things which are below or here on earth (see v 2). Paul has in mind the worldly principals of men he has just highlighted in chap. 2. The things … above are naturally found in Christ, who is now sitting at the right hand of God. Reminding the Colossians of where Christ is right now, Paul is again showing the falsehood of the view that angels are somehow closer to God the Father than the Son is.
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