Colossians 3:5-11

 |  October 13, 2017

  1. Locate the Passage

3:5-11 is a paragraph of specific exhortation flowing out of the general exhortation in 3:1-4 to seek what is above. The oun (“therefore”) in 3:5 marks this as a distinct paragraph from the previous one. Similarly, the oun in 3:12 signals the beginning of the next paragraph, thus denoting 3:5-11 as a coherent unit.

  1. Identify the Genre

The macro level is epistolary. The micro level is hortatory.

  1. Determine the Structure of the Passage

The use of oun (“therefore”) in 3:5 marks the beginning of an amplification of the exhortation in 3:1-4. Having given the Colossians a generic exhortation to seek the things above in 3:1-4, Paul begins to define exactly how to do so in 3:5-11. Paul gives two distinct exhortations in 3:5-8: “put to death” (3:5) and “put away” (3:8). Each imperative verb is followed by a series of accusative nouns defining what the Colossians are to put to death and what they are to put away, the first set describing sinful desires and the second set describing sinful actions. They are to put to death “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” They are to put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language.” Several sins in this second set of nouns tend to deal with the tongue, and Paul adds one more to the list, though he puts it in verbal form: “do not lie to one another.”

Paul, as is his practice, gives grounds for his exhortations. For the command “put to death,” Paul gives the grounds in 3:6-7, “because of these things, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient.” For the command “put away,” Paul uses two participles in 3:9-10a that serve as grounds for the command: “having put off the old man” (3:9) and “having put on the new man” (3:10a). 3:10b-11 gives the result of their having put on the new man: they now are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of their Creator, and they are now part of the one new people of God where there is no Greek or Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.

  1. Exegete the Passage

3:5-11 is an amplified exhortation toward Christ-likeness. The passage hinges on the two major commands to “put to death” and “put away.” The command in 3:5 to put a list of evil desires to death is a visceral picture. The Colossians should not allow their sinful desires to have breath. In vs. 5, Paul lists five specific sinful desires that should be killed: sexual immorality (porneian, a general word used for immorality that was sexual in nature), impurity (akatharsian, the negation or absence of purity), lust (pathos, passion/lust), evil desire (epithumian kaken, wicked longings), and greed (greed is put in apposition to “idolatry;” Paul is defining greed as being idolatrous in its very essence).

3:6 serves as a strong warning that functions as grounds for this exhortation: “Because of these things, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient.” God’s wrath is intended here as a motivator for continued faithfulness. If the Colossians fail to put to death these evil desires, they can expect God’s judgment with certainty.

3:7-8a contains Paul’s second command. Despite the fact that the Colossians once walked in this pattern of sin (3:7), they are to “put away” or “cast off” certain sinful actions. Paul lists six sinful actions in vs. 8b-9a that they are to put away. The first three address their attitudes (anger, wrath, malice) and the second three address their words (slander, filthy language, lies).

3:9b-11 gives the grounds for this exhortation: the Colossians have put off the old man and put on the new man. Paul alludes here to the kind of clothing with which the Colossians clothe themselves. They have taken off the old man like an old set of clothes, and they now wear the new man. A common interpretation of these verses is that Paul is saying the Colossians have two natures – an old and a new – and Paul is appealing for them to live according to their new nature. While there is certainly nothing deficient in this view, the connection between vs. 10 and vs. 11 point to something else. Likely, Paul is contrasting their identity before Christ (they were part of the old man with its practices) and after Christ (they are part of the new man). In Christ, it is not merely that the Colossians have a new nature, they in fact are part of the new humanity (His new people as described in vs. 11). The “new man” they have begun to wear is the new humanity that God is “renewing” (vs. 10) into His image. This new humanity is marked in vs. 11 by 1) the erasing of racial, cultural, and sociological differences (no more Jew or Greek, circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free); and 2) unity in Christ (“Christ is all and in all”). Paul is saying, “Christ is all that matters, and He is in all of us, despite our differences.” Thus, the Colossians have a new status in Christ that transcends their differences. Paul is appealing to their new status as members of God’s people as cause for their obedience to his command to put away their sinful actions.

This exhortation to put to death and put away these sinful desires and actions should be set in contrast to the legalistic commands Paul decries in 2:20-23. Paul is not creating a similar list of legalistic expectations. Rather, Paul is exhorting the Colossians to consider their new status as members of God’s people and live according to that status. This is wholly different than the legalists who were putting the burden of law-keeping upon them. Paul roots the imperatives of obedience in the indicatives of the gospel.

  1. Let the Structure of the Text Drive the Structure of the Sermon
  1. Put to death sinful desires (3:5)
    1. What: Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed (3:5)
    2. Why: These things incur God’s wrath (3:6)
  2. Put away sinful actions (3:7-9a)
    1. What: Anger, wrath, malice, slander, filthy language, lying (3:8-9a)
    2. Why: You are part of God’s new people (3:9b-11)

Category: Sermon Structure
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