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Seek the things above (Colossians 3:1-17)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1. Everything must change

There are moments in life where everything changes for a person.

When you get married

When you get married you can’t just go on living as though you are still single. You have another person to consider and to take account of. If things don’t change you probably won’t remain married for very long. You can’t just go back to your single life doing whatever you want whenever you want because you are now committed to living life with another. It’s a life that is shared with another, that lived together.

When you have a child

If a child comes along for a couple everything changes. Life can’t go on as it was. It must be different to what your life had been. You have new responsibilities that you just can’t ignore. You have another who, at least for the first part of their life, completely depends on you for their life, for their existence. You have to feed them, change them, comfort them and its 24/7. But that change doesn’t stop once they old enough to take care of themselves. Your life changes forever for you will always be someone’s father or mother whether they are three years old or an adult of thirty-three.

When you become a believer

When you become a believer and are united with Christ in his death and resurrection life just can’t go on as it was. In the letter to the Colossians the apostle Paul explained to the believers at the end of chapter 2 that if they had died with Christ then they couldn’t go on living as though they still belonged to this world (2:20-23). Instead, since in chapter 3 he told them that having been raised with Christ, they now must seek the things above. Life couldn’t go as it once did.

Today, being the Sunday after Easter, I want us to think about the difference that the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus ought to make to the way that we are living our lives as we wait for his coming. The fact that we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection ought to completely change the way that you and I think and behave. If it doesn’t or if it hasn’t so far then there is something wrong with the way that we are thinking about our faith. The danger is that we are completely deceived about it. In chapter 3 of his letter to the Colossians the apostle spells out for the believers the difference that the death and resurrection of Jesus ought to make to their lives.

2. Our mindset

The first thing the apostle makes clear is that if we have been raised with Christ, we ought to have a different mindset. They way we think about life ought to be completely different.

Colossians 3:1-4

So, if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory[i].

For Paul the death and resurrection ought to change the way that we see life. It ought to change the way we think about life. This is because of where our life is now found. Paul explains in verses 3 and 4 that our life is now hidden with Christ in God. Paul explains in verse 9 that they have put on a new self. They are part of a new creation, and our life is now found and lived in God as part of his kingdom.

2.1 Seek the things above

We are therefore those who are to seek the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Seeking thing things above is a way of talking about our orientation in life, or our focus or direction.

We are not seeking for something that we are lost like me always looking for my keys or glasses. But here the seeking is more about the orientation or the direction of our live. It’s about what we are pursuing in life. We are to be continually looking to the Lord Jesus and his kingdom to direct our lives. Our thoughts and behaviour are continually be shaped by the awareness that we belong to this heavenly kingdom where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father reigning and ruling over our world. We are to continually looking upward to Christ our king seeking to honour him, putting his kingdom and his interests above any earthly ambitions or interests.

2.2 Set your minds on the things above, not earthly things

This idea is qualified further in verse 2. We are to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. Paul makes it clear here not only what we are to do but what we are to not be doing.

We are to not set our minds on earthly things. We are not to live as though we still belonged to this world (see 2:20). It isn’t that the things of the earth have no place in our lives, but they aren’t to govern the way that we think and behave in this world. As Paul says to the Romans “we aren’t to be conformed to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). We aren’t to let this world and its ideas take us captive again (2:8) so that we act and behave like we still belong to it rather than Christ and his kingdom. As Paul told the Colossian, in chapter 2 and verse 6, just as they had received Christ as Lord, they were to continue to live in him (see 2:6). The Lord Jesus and the kingdom of God is to shape everything that we do in this world now as we wait for him to appear in glory. Paul makes this clear at the end of this section.

Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If you have been raised with Christ, then can’t go on living as though you still belong to this world. You must continually look to Christ and his kingdom. And it’s not something you that do once and then forget about. You don’t set and forget like turning on the dishwasher which you leave and forget until the dishes are clean. The form of the Greek words translated to seek and to set indicate the apostle is talking about “a continual ongoing effort in our lives”[ii]. We are to be constantly asking ourselves how does this serve him and his kingdom? How does it honour him? How can I do what I do in a way that honours Christ? How can I advance his kingdom?

3. Our behaviour

Of course, our thinking shapes the way that we behave whether we realise it or not. In verses 5 to 17 Paul makes it clear that if we are setting our minds on things above then that shapes our behaviour in this world. We live in this world, but isn’t the world that lives in us, it is Christ.

In verses 5 to 14 Paul has explained that this means two things. Firstly, in verses 5 to 9 he says that it means putting death (v5) or putting away (v8) those vices or practices that belonged to our old earthly nature. Then, secondly, in verses 12 to 14 he says that it means putting on those virtues (or ways of behaving) that are consistent with being renewed in the image of our creator. For that is what is going in our lives if we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are part of a new creation and Paul explains in verse 9 to 11 that since we have put off the old self (literally = old man or perhaps humanity) and put on the new self (literally = new man or humanity) the believer is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of our Creator. The new man that we have become is the man or woman that we are in Christ.

Colossians 3:10b-11

You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. 11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

3.1 Put to death (put away)

For those who are being renewed in the image of their Creator it means putting to death (v5) or putting away (v8) those things that belonged to our old way of life. I don’t think there is any significant difference between the two commands. Paul is just saying that we are to have done with these things and to work on getting rid of them in our lives. Paul provides two list of vices or practices that we are to continually put aside and have done with.

Sexual immorality

The first list of five seems to concentrate on sexual immorality and those hidden inner thoughts and desires associated with it. The word that our English Bibles have translated “sexual immorality” covered all kinds of sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman whether it be extra marital affairs or sex before marriage. But Paul not only told the Colossians to put to death any of these sexual immoral acts but also the evil thoughts and desire that give rise to these acts. We are to put to death impurity, lust, and evil desires and greed. While the word “greed” or “covetousness” (as it is sometimes translated) is often associated with the love of material things, at the heart of greed is the attitude that “everything, including people” is there for us to manipulate and exploit for our own selfish desires. As David Garland says, “Essentially it turns our own desires into idols”[iii].

Anger and wrath

These are all things that are inappropriate for God’s people for these were associated with our old life and God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things (3:7). Paul second list of vices or practices that we are to put way are those that are best regarded as destroying our relationship with others.

Colossians 3:8

But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.

All these things are usually directed towards others, our anger and wrath, malice and slander and filthy language. Later Paul will call the Colossians to let the peace of Christ rule their hearts because as he explains we as God’s people have been called to peace.  These things that they must get rid of hurt and tear down others and cause division and disunity. As believers we are called to not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths but only that which builds up and strengthens others and that is for their good and their benefit (see Eph. 4:2). We are to not lie to one another since we have put off the old self and put on the new.

3.2 Put on Christ

The new self that we are is the one that we are in Christ and so we are to clothe ourselves with his garments, his virtues rather than this world’s vices or practices. Paul, in his letter to the Romans uses the same words for “putting off” and “putting on” that he uses here and he told the Romans “to put on Christ” (see Romans 3:11-14). This is essentially what he is calling us to do as God’s chosen, holy and dearly love people.

Colossians 3:12-14

Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

All these virtues are qualities that the Lord Jesus exhibited in his life, and they are to mark out those who are in Christ and who Christ is in, God’s chosen and holy people. All of these are essential for maintaining peace within the body of Christ and they work out of love. That’s why love is over all in verse 14 and binds them all together in perfect unity.

It’s love that makes all these virtues the garments of Christ. Compassion without love isn’t from Christ. Kindness without love does spring from him. Love is the thing that makes all these virtues the genuine article. Love is the label of Christ. Without love it isn’t genuine. It’s just a cheap copy of his kindness or humility. It isn’t the apparel of the Saviour.

You are to be image bearers in this world

If we have our minds that are set on the things above, we will be seeking to be like the Lord Jesus in this world. At the start, the beginning of this world, the Lord placed the Adam and Eve in the Garden to be his image bearers and that is what God is calling us to be in Christ. You are being renewed in the image of your Creator. Just as we saw in the gospels the Lord Jesus graciously had compassion on the crowds who were helpless and harassed, we are to have compassion on the people around us. We are not to be harsh and judgmental but humble and gentle and patient with them as we bear with one another and forgive one another.

Cultivate these virtues and weed out the practices of the old life

These things are things that we are to cultivate in our lives while we wait for Christ to appear. Our lust and greed or our  harsh or lying tongue or our pride and anger that separate us from one another are the weeds that we must keep pulling out whenever and wherever they spring up in our lives. We are to always keep on getting rid of them for we don’t belong to this world, we belong to the one who sits at the right hand of God in heaven. Until he comes and we appear with him in glory and are made completely like him we must keep pulling out the weeds just as we must do in our gardens.

At the same time, we are to look to Christ and seek to cultivate his attitudes and virtues in our lives. We are to supplant the weeds with his virtues. We are to learn to be patient with one another, not being harsh and judgmental but gentle and kind. We are to do this is because this is what the Lord is like. As Paul says, we are to forgive just as the Lord has forgiven us.

4. Christ’s rule

Friends if our minds are set on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, then it is Christ who must rule our hearts and lives. In verses 15 to 17 we see this happen in three ways.

4.1 His peace

It’s his peace that must rule among us as his people (v15). Through his death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus not only brought us peace with God, but peace with one another. As Paul said, “In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11). We have peace with one another in Christ and so we are called to live at peace with one another (see 1 Thessalonians 5:13). You have been called to maintain the unity of the body of Christ and it will take compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and above all love. Never give up on the body of Christ.

4.2 His word

Secondly it his Word that must rule among us. Paul calls the believers in Colossae to let the word of Christ to dwell among them richly in all wisdom as they teach and admonish one another through spiritual songs, psalms, hymns as we sing to God with gratitude in our hearts (see 3:1) We are to be shaped his Word learning Christ so that we might become like him in every way.

4.3 His name

Lastly it is his name that we are to bear as those who belong to him. It is his name that we are to honour here and now. We are to do everything in his name for he sits at the right hand of God in heaven. He is the one who rules alongside his Father.

We are not talking about doing a few special things from time to time that we can tick off and say that we done our duty. Our lives are to be lives of thanksgiving always lived to the glory of God through him as we do everything in his name.

Colossians 3:17

17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him

We are to do everything in a way that reflects the Lord Jesus and acknowledges his reign over our lives. Life can’t go on as it was. You don’t belong to this world anymore. You belong to him who died for you and rose again so set your minds on the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Seek the things above.


[i] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture reference have been taken from the Christian Standard Bible (2020). Holman Bible Publishers.

[ii] Peter O’Brien, “Colossians” New Bible Commentary, 1272.

[iii] David Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Colossians and Philemon, page 204.