Last post we looked at the first two of the four imperatives of Christian spirituality that are found in Colossians 3:1-8 Paul began by encouraging the church to “seek the things above,” and then to, “set your mind,” on the things from above. The first imperative is a call to have a personal devotion to Christ while the second imperative encourages a growing understanding of the will and purpose of Christ for the Christians life.
The third imperative is a call to, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5 A Christian who has chosen to follow Jesus and put his attention on spiritual things should have no place for harboring such unspiritual characteristics and traits as the ones listed in verse five. Yet, every Christian knows this is easier said than done. Our sinful natures rise up time after time to try and thwart our desires to follow Christ and we stumble and fall over temptation.
So, what is Paul telling us in this call “to put to death” these evil conditions that humanity thrives upon? It is the attitude of a Christian that is being addressed and for each of us who professes to love Jesus and be His follower these evils have no place in our life. Paul is not demanding perfection of the Christian, but what he is calling for is a consistency between our belief and our actions and thoughts. Just because we stumble, doesn’t mean that we are not to take seriously Paul’s admonition to “put to death” these sins. We are to resist the Devil and stand firm on our trust in Christ.
John Stott commenting on this verse writes, “Licentiousness and avarice were the marks of human society in Paul’s day. And, as the power of Christian truth declines, so they resume their ancient sway in our own society. These are still the forces by which people rule their lives. What reason, then, have we to cease to listen to the apostle’s teaching? Does not Paul still speak exactly to our need?” The Message of Colossians and Philemon, pg. 143 As Christians our hearts are with Christ and not on the things of this earth and how we live out our lives reflects what is in the heart.
Paul now states the fourth imperative, “But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.” Colossians 3:8 The third imperative had to do with the evil that comes from within, now Paul addresses the pagan lifestyle. Stott puts it beautifully when he states, “the old way of life is to be decisively challenged and the old way of life is to be decisively changed.” Pg. 143
Christians need to make a clean break with their past and yet it is one of those things that trip us up over and over. Old lifestyles and habits have no place in the life of a born again Christian. A Christian, regardless of their intentions, cannot spend the evening sitting in a bar with old friends drinking and acting the fool. It is not easy but as followers of Jesus our life changes. This is not some legalistic demand to make you separate from everything you love, but the natural result of a changed heart that is now focused on Christ and His redeeming love. (See Ephesians 4:17 and 5:14)
Before we leave this little study in Colossians it is interesting to look at the five things that Paul wants the Colossians to put away. They are anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk. What is interesting about this list is they all relate to our speech that destroys relationships. How many homes, relationships, friendships and church families have been destroyed because our old ways of thinking have been allowed to express themselves through our speech?
As Christians we are to relegate anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk to the world of our former life and leave it there. As Christians we are not called apart to destroy each other but to edify and uplift the love of God to a lost world. How do we do that? We are to seek spiritual lives and set our minds upon what is good and uplifting. We are also to put to death the sins that hold sway over the heart and keep us from a deeper relationship with God. And, we are to put away the speech of separation and pain that divides and destroys our relationship, not only with God, but also with each other.
“And you who were dead in trespasses and the un-circumcision of your flesh, God, made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands: this He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Him.” Colossians 2:13-15 This is the power of God that leads us to turn our back on the past and its sinful ways and put our trust in the power of God.