- Locate the Passage
3:1-4 begins a new paragraph of exhortation based on what Paul has said in 2:16-23, signaled by the use of oun (“therefore”). This paragraph is a generic exhortation to seek the things above. Paul will give specific exhortations in 3:5ff that explain how exactly he expects the Colossians to seek the things above.
- Identify the Genre
The macro level is epistolary. The micro level is hortatory.
- Determine the Structure of the Passage
The use of oun (“therefore”) in 3:1 signals a shift from 2:16-23. Considering the warning Paul gives in 2:16-23, the Colossians are now exhorted to seek the things above. Paul uses two present active imperative commands that should be read in parallel: 1) seek the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (3:1); 2) set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (3:2).
Paul uses four indicative verbs that function together as three separate grounds for this exhortation. The Colossians should seek/set their minds on the things above, first, because (3:1) “you have been raised with Christ” (synegerthete, note this is an aorist passive indicative); second, because (3:3) “you died” (apethanete, this is also an aorist passive indicative) and “your life is hidden (kekruptai, note this is a perfect passive indicative) with Christ in God;” and third, because (3:4) “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear (phanerothesesthe, note this is a future passive indicative) in glory.” Put another way, Paul is appealing to what is true of the Colossians’ past (you have died and been raised with Christ), what is true of their present (your life is hidden with Christ), and what will be true of their future (you will appear in glory) as grounds or reasoning for his command for them to seek what is above.
- Exegete the Passage
3:1-4 is an exhortation toward Christ-likeness. This is stated by a dual command to “seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (vs. 1) and to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (vs. 2). These are present active imperatives, so they should be read in the sense “to be constantly seeking the things above.” That is, the mindset of the Christian ought always to be pursuing the things associated with who and where Christ is. This is in contrast to setting their minds on “earthly things,” possibly a reference to the elements of the Colossian heresy Paul mentions in 2:16-23 – human regulations, etc. The Colossians should lift their eyes from the temptations of the heresy that threatens their spiritual health and instead focus their gaze on Christ. The reference to Christ being seated at God’s right hand in vs. 1 is an illusion to Psalm 110, which describes the kingly authority of the Messiah. This is a strong motivation to seek the things of Christ. He rules above all earthly powers. Therefore, the Colossians should seek what is above, not what is earthly.
Paul reminds the Colossians of what Christ has done, is doing, and will do in them, as grounds for their continued faithfulness and pursuit of Christ. First, Paul appeals to what has happened in their past. They have “died” (vs. 2) and “been raised with Christ” (vs. 1). They have died to who they once were and Christ has raised them to new life. Therefore, they ought to seek the things above.
Second, Paul appeals to what is true of their present experience. They are “hidden with Christ in God” (vs. 3). Paul uses the perfect tense, emphasizing the completion of an action with important present results. Though they died, the life they now live is hidden, or covered, by Christ. This is a reference to their union with Christ and possibly a reference to the atoning (covering) work of Christ. They are hidden from the wrath of God because they are in Christ. This serves as a motivation for their seeking of the things above.
Third, Paul appeals to what will be true of their future. When Christ, who is their life, appears, they will “appear with Him” (vs. 4). The word for “appear,” phaneroo, refers to the appearance of Christ in the 2nd coming, a view strengthened by Paul’s use of en doxa (“in glory”). The relationship between Paul’s imperatives in vs. 1-2 and his indicative statement in vs. 3 is therefore seen as an ethical expectation on the basis of an eschatological reality. Because one day Christ will appear, and the Colossians will appear in glory with Him, they should live ethically in the present as those who are pursuing Christ and the things associated with Christ.
- Let the Structure of the Text Drive the Structure of the Sermon
Command: Seek the things above (3:1-2):
- Because of what is true of your past (3:1-2) “you have been raised…you died…”
- Because of what is true of your present (3:3) “your life is hidden with Christ”
- Because of what will be true of your future (3:4) “you will appear with Him”