Looking in the Right Direction
Study #18 Colossians 3:1-4
by Bob Burridge ©2022
Learning complex things starts with understanding the parts that make them up. Once we’ve learned the basic things God provides for us in his word, we need to move on. The milk makes us ready for the real meat. We first need to be sure we’ve mastered the fundamentals so we can better behold God and his wonderful works.
As little children we had to learn to read. To begin with, those little squiggles need to be recognized as letters of the alphabet. Then we learned the sounds each one represents, and that the same letter can often have several sounds. We also learned that the context changes the sounds like when P and H come together. Or when T and H come together, some times like in “THat”, or in “THing”.Then we learn that those vowels can have long or short sounds, or can be totally silent. Those sounds become words, which become sentences that describe things, actions, relationships, and ideas. Complex! But even little children learn to do it. Once the first principles are learned we can read whole books!
I’d always wanted to play the guitar. I learned the basics of music on the trumpet in Jr. High. When my mom gave me the guitar she had when she was young I bought a guitar chords book. First I had to learn to tune it up, and where to put my fingers to play basic chords. It took lots of work for my fingers to automatically go where they should. Then I had to learn how to strum and pick with different styles. I carefully watched experienced guitar players at a local coffee house. After a lot of practicing I could actually play tunes and sing along with my guitar. First I had to learn the basics and how they fit together. Then it all came together and I loved it!
This is also the way we learn the more advanced things about living for God’s glory. In this next section of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church, we learn to move on beyond the basics, the fundamentals in God’s word. They point ahead to how they’re fulfilled in Christ, and how our lives are fulfilled as we master the basics and move on to realize all they enable us to be.
To prepare us to appreciate the work of the Messiah and the life we have in him, God gave us a whole era of symbols, rituals, and ceremonial regulations preserved for us in the Old Testament. When Jesus our Savior came and the New Testament was completed, we learned the meaning behind all those symbols and rituals, and how they fit together into something greater.
God no longer expects us to stay limited to those basic first lessons. They laid the foundation for understanding and experiencing the bigger truths. They prepare us to move on and more appreciate God’s Amazing Grace and Wonders.
So Paul tells the Colossians where
they ought to focus their thoughts:
1. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
There’s a pre-requisite to the progress we should be making. It can only be accomplished by those who first have been raised up with Christ.
Jesus was raised from the death he suffered in place of his people. He paid the debt of their sin so that sin’s penalty would no longer apply to them. He satisfied Divine Justice on the cross, and demonstrated his victory by being raised from the dead.
One of the basics we need to master is to understand death. Basically, death is some kind of “separation”. God’s word teaches us about two kinds of death. The concept of “resurrection” then is when that separation is ended.
1. there is physical death and resurrection. Physical death is when our bodies stop functioning and our soul is separated from that body. Physical resurrection is when our bodies are raised up in some glorified form and reunited with out souls. The resurrection of Jesus represented the promise that those redeemed will be raised up after their death too. Their bodies and souls will be re-united to live in eternal glory in God’s holy presence.
2. Second, there is a spiritual death and resurrection. Spiritual death is our separation from our union with God as our Father. In spiritual resurrection, the spiritually dead person is re-united with God by salvation. The offense of sin and guilt that once separated them from God was removed on the cross. The redeemed person is raised up to walk in restored union with his Creator and Redeemer.
For believers, this spiritual resurrection is a fact we can count on. We grow by resting in this promise of God with our minds focused in the right direction.
We’re to be setting our minds on are the things above. So what are those above things we should be seeking? Paul explains: They are the things that are where the resurrected Christ is, in contrast with things on earth,
We have to be careful not to separate the physical and spiritual worlds too sharply. One of the problems Paul was dealing with in Colossae and Galatia was the idea of dualism. This has been a popular but dangerous heresy all through history. In dualism, physical and spiritual things are treated as separate realities.
The result goes to the two extremes we learned about earlier in this epistle:
Some tried to avoid physical things and most of their pleasures as if they were evil. They believe that by condemning material things they become more spiritual. They tend to be abstainers from, and disdainers of, normal human pleasures. They might take vows or sign pledges condemning as sin certain things not forbidden by God.
While sometimes we all have material weaknesses we have to avoid, it’s dangerous to condemn the natural things God built into his creation and in us
Some dualists excuse physical indulgence as if they were unimportant spiritually. They might do what they see as worship and engage in rituals they see as spiritual, but then justify all sorts of unethical and immoral attitudes and behaviors. They imagine that if they have a spiritual dimension in their worldly lives, and do some good, it will make them acceptable in God’s eyes.
These are both very dangerous errors. God made the world so that the spiritual and the physical are parts of the same whole. We need to live for God’s glory, all the time in every area of our lives. We should understand that our physical desires can only be really satisfied in ways that please God.
In our fallen nature we tend to be either materialists – denying the spiritual altogether, or dualists – separating the physical and spiritual in totally exclusive domains. These both lead to an unhealthy set of ethical standards. As a result this world seeks its pleasure in the things God made rather than in the God who made them.
Its not getting things, or doing things, that makes our souls content. We can only be truly satisfied with a lasting, and guiltless pleasure when we find our satisfaction in the ways God made us to be satisfied. It’s God’s action on our soul that teaches us to discover real contentment in this physical world.
So Paul isn’t telling us to turn our backs on all physical things on earth and live in a detached spiritual reality as if we were in heaven with Christ. God put us here in this physical world to live for his glory, and to be active as agents of his kingdom.
So then, what could Paul have meant here in contrasting the above things with the earthly things? We have to go back to the context from the end of chapter 2, Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
The worship and daily life restrictions given in the era before Christ were mere shadows of what was to come. They were lessons to prepare us to understand a more complete reality. But once the reality came, the preparatory exercises no longer serve the same purpose. They were only shadows showing the form of the substance that cast the shadows.
The earthly things in verse 2 are the shadows that teach us the basics so we can move beyond them. Now that we know the work of our Savior, the first lessons have served their purpose. We look to the substance itself, the rock that had cast the shadows. We see the King, who rules over the realm we see partly here on earth. We can more appreciate the purpose behind the law, not merely the regulations themselves. We’re enabled to see why the ceremonial regulations were given, and how we should live today in light of the greater reality we learn from them.
What Jesus accomplished for us
should help us toward a great confidence:
Colossians 3:3, For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
There’s another kind of death that applies specially to us as believers …
True believers are dead to sin … separated from it’s dominion by the work of Christ.
Paul referred to this in Romans chapter 6:2,11 …
2 “… How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
11 “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Those raised up to now life in Christ are separated from sin’s former blindness, dominion, and bondage. So as we persevere to overcome its effects and habits, with our eyes fixed on the greater truth of the victory of Christ, we have this promise that the dominion of sin is an illusion, a lie. We are made able to appreciate and pursue the Lord’s honor, as we enjoy this physical world.
This hope is hidden with Christ in God. It’s guarded so that it can’t be stolen from us. We have signs along the beaches warning people not to leave valuables in their cars. If you bring something valuable, lock it in the trunk or out of sight. This is why you don’t leave your phone, wallet, or purse sitting out in the open in public places.
But, no matter how hard we try, there is no perfect security system. Cars can be broken into. Even pockets can be picked and safes can be opened.
But this valuable hope we have in Jesus Christ is secured perfectly! No man, no devil, no calamity, sin or catastrophe can take away our life in Christ. And it’s the greatest valuable of all!
John Newton wrote a hymn based on Colossians 3:3: “Rejoice, believer, in the Lord, Who makes your cause His own; The hope that’s founded on His word, Can ne’er be overthrown. Though many foes beset your road, And feeble is your arm, Your life is hid with Christ in God, Beyond the reach of harm.”
We teach the elementary facts to our children: that God is all glorious, powerful, and sovereign over all. And we teach about grace that makes us undeserving sinners into children of the living God. The truth is so comforting. Nothing can steal away our new life in Christ! It’s hidden with him in glory where no enemy can reach.
There is a future hope attached to this amazing truth:
4. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
We have a future hope greater than what we can fully comprehend today. One day, no one knows when, Jesus will come again! He’ll then be more fully revealed in all his glory. If you’ve trusted in him, you’ll be there with him in that state of glory!
This is one of those greater truths we need to better to understand. It can shape the way we see the things we concern ourselves with every day. It explains some of the restrictions and symbolisms of the Old Testament way of life. It teaches us what they stood for, what they predicted, and what’s now fulfilled by our Savior.
When children don’t understand the dangers of being hit by a car, we tell them not to go out of the yard alone. When they get older and understand the danger better, the restrictions can be lifted.
In a similar way we no longer need the golden decorations of the temple to encourage us. We now have a more full understanding of the glories of heaven that await us. We no longer need a festival Day of Atonement, and daily sacrifices, when the actual atonement of the Messiah has taken place and has been explained to us. Many of the other feast days taught about the deliverances of God’s people, and how the Lord is with us even through the difficult times. Now, knowing that the resurrected Christ lives in us, we have a greater assurance from our Intercessor and Good Shepherd. The strict dietary laws and restrictions upon the Jews taught how we need to be holy. We know more today about how to please God and abandon our sinful thoughts and behaviors. These first lessons prepared us to be ready to go on to the greater truths now revealed in Christ.
In this chapter of Colossians
Paul challenges us to grow up in the Lord.
We should be progressing on toward a greater heavenly hope.
First we need to be sure we have the basics down well. God made babies to be fed by milk produced by its mother. The elementary teachings about God are often compared with milk in Scripture: Hebrews 5:12-14 warns the spiritually immature to first master the basics. The milk of the ceremonial laws provides the basic nutrients needed for growth. 1 Peter 2:2 reminds us that a baby takes in milk to grow — but it’s not to be content with just milk forever, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation–”
We also need to be growing up in the Lord, not being like babies any more. Hebrews 6:1-2 says, “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”
Many believers in Corinth were in an immature stage when Paul wrote to them. Instead of behaving as spiritual adults they were acting as if they were still just spiritual babies. 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,”
The first principles are to ready us to move beyond them, to learn greater things. They are our teachers to enable us for the more mature lessons. We shouldn’t be satisfied with just the milk.
But the false teachers in Colossae and Galatia were stunting the growth of believers. They demanded believers to cling to the Old Testament symbols after they had become obsolete in Christ. In Galatians 3:24 Paul called the law our “guardian” or “tutor” to lead us to Christ.
It’s important to get beyond just the stories in the Bible and its elementary lessons too. We need to know them well. They’ll always be precious to us and are absolutely necessary places to begin. But we need to dig into God’s word, study how the Old Testament is further explained in the New Testament. We should come to God in prayer to put the lessons to work in our lives.
We need to be growing to know our Savior better and personally. In times of calamity or temptations we shouldn’t be just searching for rituals or emotional feelings. We need to learn to to rest as loved children at the feet of our Savior resting in all he accomplished. We need to know what pleases our Heavenly Father and love not offending him. When we make decisions, observe the wonders of Creation, work to provide for our daily needs, we should be sure that our most important and central motive is the Glory of our God and King. Even when economies and nations falter, when societies crumble and leaders stumble, we have a hope hidden in Christ, our eternal King, a hope in heaven that will never fail.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.