The Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians
(Part 4) Interpretation of the Epistle
7. The new life we acquired through death and resurrection with Christ (3:1-4):
St. Paul resumes his epistle, demanding the Colossians to remain cognizant both of the rights they acquired through Christ, in Whom they believed, and of the obligations of that Faith. He thus says: "If then you were raised with Christ" in a new life, having died with Him (through baptism), and having died to the evil world, your primary obligation is to "seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God." It is imperative that there be a clear difference between life before and after acceptance of the Lord as the Savior. Worldly and carnal preoccupations, destined to perdition, thus retreat, giving way to focusing on those things which are above. Preoccupation is redirected to imperishable heavenly matters: the eternal destiny, obedience to Christ's commandments, worship, and praise; hence, replicating life in this world as it is in heaven. Thus we become a light to the world, salt to the earth, and we see Christ in everyone around us.
Through our death with Christ, our life has become shrouded with Him in God - this is as if we "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Ro. 13:14) and He is transfigured in us. We lose Him, once we attempt to replace Him in eminence. In this world we are concealed in Christ; but on the Last Day, when the Lord comes in all His glory, and when Christ reveals our life(1), we will also "appear with Him in glory." On His second coming, God will grant us a measure of His glory commensurate with the extent of our exalting His glory on earth ("He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30))
8. The new life necessitates death to sin (3:5-11)
St. Paul continues to direct believers to other obligations of the Faith, namely, exploiting the Spirit-sanctified will to reject the old life and carnal matters; through Christ, believers acquired the power to resist the lure of such temptations. As mentioned previously, death with Christ constitutes death "from the basic principles of the world." (2:20) Consequently, a believer is required to struggle, with the Spirit's help (i.e. the Grace), to "put to death the members which are on the earth(2). St. Paul chose the best-known Gentile sins: fornication, uncleanness, passion, and other despicable, wanton lusts, plus insatiable greed for wealth and material acquisitions - since this latter quest represents essentially "idolatry," wealth being the idol. That was the path they followed before accepting Christ.
Chastity was hitherto unknown to the Gentiles. Pre- and extra-marital sexual freedom was practiced shamelessly, since they considered it normal to satisfy their instincts. Wealth was worshipped and sought by all, as an extension to their idolatry. That was why St. Paul composed the previous list: he considered it the first line of attack. He then proceeded to add the common sins which abound in people's day-to-day dealings: A- anger (a deeply-rooted vice which does not subside, and from which evolves other vices such as verbal abuse and aggression), B- wrath (this refers to sudden reaction and agitation which is extinguished as burnt straw), C- malice (deviousness and wiliness in all aspects of life), D- blasphemy (bearing false witness and slander), E- filthy language (foul language and verbal abuse), and F- lying (deviation from the truth or hiding it in any way). St. Paul warns that practicing any of the above incurs God's anger, reminding us that, having believed, we have put off the old man with his deeds (meaning we have left behind our gloomy past with all its iniquities), and we have put on the new man (the new enlightened life) which is renewed in knowledge throughout our lifetime - the model being "according to the image of Him Who created him."
All barriers between humans are thus eliminated in Christ Jesus, and we become the image of the One Christ, through the single unified Faith. Hence, "...there is neither Greek [Gentile] nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all." How great then is the glory we have all acquired through Christ's salvation, that restored to humanity its lost brotherhood!
9. The virtues of holiness adorn the new life (3:12-17):
Having forbidden committing immoralities, St. Paul proceeds to urge the Colossians to adorn themselves with the Christian virtues, given that they as believers were "...the elect of God, holy and beloved..."(3) (Such gifts were hitherto exclusive to the Jews). These virtues address directly the relationships between believers, their brothers and sisters, and the rest of humanity. St. Paul uses the expression "put on," implying that these virtues become like a garment: physically adhering to them and, at the same time, visible to others through their day-to-day dealings. He starts with "tender mercies," meaning clemency, sympathy, pity, service, and help, especially to the infirm, the disadvantaged, the weak, the handicapped and the needy. This is followed by "kindness," in other words, being gentle, understanding and agreeable. Next come "humility, meekness" which go hand-in-hand, and which characterized our Lord "...learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, ..." (Mt. 11:29) Our Lord required us to follow His example; since, being God, He condescended to become a Human, it is incumbent on us to appreciate our true worth, and to realize that nothing of what we have can be imputed to us - rather, we are all God's creation, and we are all equal. There is thus no room for pride and boastfulness, however endowed we may be with gifts which we do not own. God's overflowing grace over us is proportional to our humility; conversely, God will intervene to rectify our haughtiness, since "...whoever exalts himself will be humbled..." (Mt. 23:12, Luke 14:11 and 18:14) and "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5) "Meekness," humility's companion, embodies calm, peacefulness, tranquility, and serenity. This, however, does not means weakness; our meek Lord stood before His adjudicators, strong, calm and composed. In "longsuffering," we also follow the example of our God, Who tolerates our weaknesses and shortcomings; in return, it is improper for us to be impatient in our dealings with others. Treating others painstakingly could save the stray, and help them return to the right path. Along the same vein, since God has forgiven us and pardoned our iniquities, it behooves us to tolerate one another, and forgive each other, remembering our Lord's words: "Forgive, and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6:37) He also said, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Mt. 6:14 & 15)
The crowning virtue, "but above all these things," is love. St. Paul demands that we "put on love, which is the bond of perfection." Furthermore, in another epistle he says "love is the fulfillment of the law." (Ro. 13:10) Love is considered to be inclusive of all the commandments, since it implies committing no evil against your neighbor. St. Paul concludes this part by entreating that "the peace of God rule in your hearts" - which is what we would enjoy, were we to obey the grace, walk in the fear of God, and live those virtues. Only then, will our hearts and minds overflow with "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding..." (Phil. 4:7) In turn, this will extend to the entire Church "to which also you were called in one body." The Church will thus bow down before God, giving Him thanks for His bounties, which delivered the Church from darkness and estrangement, and rendered it a part of those who were saved, "the elect of God, holy and beloved," and who acquired the crown of life.
As far as the domain of work and education is concerned, St. Paul advises that "the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom;" they would thus all participate in teaching one another, to warn each other against weaknesses, and to assemble to praise God in "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." These songs should not be chanted simply through the lips, rather, "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Overall, "...whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, ..." Thanksgiving is a principal element in glorifications and praise, since it constitutes a proclamation of our infinite indebtedness to the grace of God.
10. Commandments to Church members, with respect to the new life (3:18 - 4:1):
Here, St. Paul commands family and society members to behave in accordance with the Gospel of Christ, awarding honor and equality to: A- women who, according to Jewish law, had no rights and were susceptible to divorce for the most trivial reasons; in Greek society, whereas an honorable woman led a chaste life in complete isolation, the husband had full freedom outside the circle of wedlock; the commandment thus ensured mutual obligations on both man and wife; B- parents - similarly, according to Roman law, parents had rights while children had obligations, giving parents full mastery over their children; in this case also, the commandment ensures that obligations are mutual for both parents and children; C- slaves - they used to be objects with no rights whatsoever; they even had no right to marry, and slaves' illegal children became the property of the master; slaves could be disciplined, tortured, and even murdered, with no punishment for the perpetrator - the master alone had all the rights; since all, in Christ, have now become God's children, St. Paul calls for mutual obligations for masters and slaves.
If, on the one hand, wives are expected to submit to, and obey, their husbands "as is fitting in the Lord," husbands, on the other hand, are required to love their wives, treat them with all tenderness and consideration, and not, under any circumstance, use cruelty or harshness - which was the case prior to the Faith. A wife is the husband's life companion and the mother of his children who looks after everyone - each of them complements the other. In this way the family's foundation and peace are preserved.
As the apostle addressed his commandment to wives first then to husbands, he directed it first to children then the parents. He requires children to be obedient "in all things" (as the boy Jesus submitted to His parents - Luke 2:50); in so doing, they would be pleasing God. At the same time, he directs parents to treat their children in a balanced way - hence, tenderness with neither harshness, cruelty nor being overly critical, which will tend to make them feel guilty and inadequate, leading in turn to their straying, rebelling and ultimately, failing in their lives. Hence, parents should exercise conservative love, which embodies, on the one hand, tenderness, care and encouragement and, on the other, rebuke and correction without harshness - since, finally, a parent only desires his/her child's well-being and proper upbringing; in this way parents, while exercising their mandate, would be pleasing God while ensuring their children's salvation.
We subsequently come to the master-slave relationship ... (To be contd.)
(1) Here, St. Paul establishes, once more, the tie between our life and Christ, as he did in his epistle to the Philippians: "...to live is Christ, and to die is gain..." (Phil. 1:21) and earlier to the Galatians "...it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..." (Gal. 2:20) Christ is, therefore, not only the source of life, but also life itself.
(2) "...but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Ro. 8:13) This conveys the same meaning which Christ intended when He said: "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you..." (Mt. 5:29 & 30)
(3) In his first epistle, St. Peter also tells believers: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, ..." (1 Peter 2:9 & 10)