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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 3

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Colossians 3:0


The New Life in ChristNot Carnality but ChristThe True Christian LifeDying and Living with ChristLife-Giving Union with the Glorified Christ
(Colossians 2:20-4)(Colossians 2:20-4)
Colossians 3:1-11Colossians 3:1-4The Old Life and the NewColossians 3:1-4
General Rules of Christian Behaviour
Colossians 3:5-11Colossians 3:5-11Colossians 3:5-7Colossians 3:5-11
Colossians 3:8-11
Character of the New Man
Colossians 3:12-17Colossians 3:12-17Colossians 3:12-17Colossians 3:12-17Colossians 3:12-15
Colossians 3:16-17
Social Duties of the New LifeThe Christian HomeThe Christian's DutiesPersonal Relations in the New LifeThe Morals of the Home and Household
(Colossians 3:22-1)(Colossians 3:18-6)
Colossians 3:18-19Colossians 3:18-1Colossians 3:18-19Colossians 3:18Colossians 3:18-21
Colossians 3:19
Colossians 3:20-21Colossians 3:20-1Colossians 3:20
Colossians 3:21
Colossians 3:22-1Colossians 3:22-1Colossians 3:22-1

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Colossians 3:1-4 is the theological basis for Christian ethics and lifestyle. Believers must live out of their new spiritual lives in Christ. They are co-buried and co-raised with Christ (cf. Colossians 2:12-13; Romans 6:3-11). His life flows through them.

B. Paul lists the things to be shed (put aside, Colossians 3:8-9) and incorporated (put on, Colossians 3:10) which form a balanced admonition to godliness. Paul often made lists of sins (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-5) and virtues (cf. Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:18-20; Philippians 1:4-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22). In many ways these lists parallel the Greek moralists of Paul's day. But the motive and mechanism was Christ/Spirit, not self effort. See Special Topic at Colossians 3:5.

C. Paul's powerful call to unity because of the Trinity's unity, so beautifully spelled out in Ephesians 4:1-10, is paralleled in Colossians 3:12-17. Also, Paul's powerful demand for each believer to be filled with the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:18) is paralleled in Colossians 3:16. This parallel is not a word parallel, but an outline parallel. Remember that Colossians and Ephesians are based on almost exactly the same outline.

D. Paul's admonitions on the family (Col. 3:18-14:1) show how believers' new lives in Christ must impact every area of life. Biblical faith is a radical break with the old nature (fallen nature). The evidence of the change is that we no longer live for self, but for others (cf. 1 John 3:16). This emulates Jesus' life. This totally new orientation is the evidence that we have been redeemed!

Chapter 3 (Colossians 3:18-1) is one unified context (cf. Ephesians 5:22-9).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How have we died with Christ? What does this mean in our daily lives?

2. Why are verses Colossians 3:11 and 17 so important in the Christian faith?

3. Define "submission." Does it speak of inferiority? Why or why not?

4. Why is the Christian home used as an example of reciprocal submission?

Verses 1-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 2:20-4 20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21"Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with using)- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. 3:1Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Colossians 2:20 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which was assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Believers are united with Christ and should be separated from the powers and structures of this fallen world system.

"you have died" This is an aorist active indicative. This death is symbolized in baptism (cf. Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:4), and is an image of the believer's death to the old life and the resurrection to the new life of God-eternal life. Baptism, like circumcision, is an outward sign of an inner spiritual reality (cf. Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:13).

Daily death to personal ambition and personal preferences is a mandate of effective ministry (cf. Romans 6:7; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 3:16). However, this is not a legalism of rules, but a freedom from the tyranny of the fallen self! Daily spiritual death to self brings true life!

"with Christ" This is another use of the Greek preposition syn, which means joint participation with. These three grammatical features: (1) syn compounds; (2) the aorist tenses of Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:12, Colossians 2:13, Colossians 2:15, Colossians 2:20; and (3) the first class conditional sentence of Colossians 2:20 show what believers already are in Christ!

NASB"to the elementary principles of the world" NKJV"from the basic principles of the world" NRSV"to the elemental spirits of the universe" TEV"from the ruling spirits of the universe" NJB"to the principles of this world"

This term (stoicheia) is defined as

1. fundamental principles (cf. Hebrews 5:12. Hebrews 5:6:1)

2. basic elements of the world, such as earth, wind, water or fire (cf. 2 Peter 3:10, 2 Peter 3:12)

3. elementary spirits, (cf. Galatians 4:3, Galatians 4:8-9; Colossians 2:8; Ephesians 6:10-12)

4. heavenly bodies (cf. Enoch 52:9-10 and the early church fathers who thought it referred to the seven planetary spheres, cf. Baur, Arnt, Ginrich, Danker's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 776)

The basic etymology was "something in a series" or "row." See note at Colossians 2:8.

Paul viewed life as a spiritual struggle (cf. Ephesians 2:2-3; Ephesians 6:10-18). Humans were beset by evil from within (a fallen nature, cf. Genesis 3:0), by a fallen world system (cf. Genesis 3:0) and by personal evil (Satan, the demonic and the stoicheia).

James Stewart's, A Man in Christ, has an interesting comment:

"Sin was not something a man did: it was something that took possession of him, something the man was, something that turned him into an open enemy of the God who loved him. It brought outward penalties: 'whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.' But far more appalling than these were its inward results. It tormented the conscience: 'O wretched man that I am!' It brought the will into abject slavery: 'the good that I would, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.' It destroyed fellowship with God: men were 'alienated,' 'without God in the world.' It hardened the heart, and blinded the judgment, and warped the moral sense: 'God gave them over to a reprobate mind.' It destroyed life itself: 'the wages of sin is death.'

Such is the apostle's estimate of sin's overwhelming gravity. And through it all, even where sin is regarded as an external force waiting to take advantage of human nature in its frailty, he will allow no blurring of the fact of personal accountability. Principalities and powers may lie in wait, but in the last resort man's is the choice, man's the responsibility, and man's the doom" (pp. 106-107).

For "world" see Special Topic: Paul's Use of Kosmos at Colossians 1:6.

"decrees" This term has the same root as Colossians 2:14. Christ did not release believers from the Mosaic Law to become entangled again in Gnostic rules or any humanly mandated requirements. Oh, the freedom believers have in Christ! Oh, the pain of well-intended religious legalists!

Colossians 2:21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" This series has no verbs and no connectors, which makes it emphatic! It may have been a slogan of the false teachers. These are examples of human religious rules which did not bring true righteousness. Humans have always had an ascetic, legalistic tendency (cf. Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:10-12; Mark 7:19; Romans 14:17, Romans 14:21), but it is a hollow religion of self effort, self glory and self sufficiency (cf. Colossians 2:22-23).

Colossians 2:22 "(which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)" In Matthew 15:7-20 and Mark 7:6-23 Jesus discusses this same type of issue in relation to the food laws of Leviticus 11:0.

"perish" See Special Topic below.


Colossians 2:23 "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and the severe treatment of the body" This was Jesus' condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees (cf. Isaiah 29:13).

Paul describes the false teachers religious practices by three terms:

1. NASB "self-made religion"

NKJV "self-imposed religion"

NRSV "self-imposed deity"

TEV "forced worship of angels"

NJB "The cultivation of the will"

This term is used only here in the NT. It may have been coined by Paul or earlier Christians. The NASB seems to have caught the essence of the term, "self-made religion." TEV assumes that it reflects Colossians 2:18.

2. NASB "self-abasement"

NKJV, TEV "false humility"

NRSV "humility"

NJB (combines the second and third terms)

This same Greek word is used in Colossians 2:18. Literally it means "humility," but the context favors the NKJV and TEV translation.


TEV "severe treatment of the body"

NKJV "neglect of the body"

NJB "a humility which takes no account of the body"

This reflects the ascetic religious view that to deny one's bodily needs showed or developed religious piety. Examples are (1) denying the body food; (2) celibacy; (3) lack of clothing in winter, etc. This followed the Greek view that the body (matter) was evil.


Verses 5-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 3:5-11 5Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him- 11a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Colossians 3:5

NASB "consider the members of your earthly body as dead" NKJV"put to death your members which are on the earth" NRSV"put to death whatever in you is earthly" TEV"you must put to death the earthly desires at work in you" NJB"you must kill everything in you that is earthly"

This is an aorist active imperative which denotes urgency (cf. Colossians 3:8, Colossians 3:12). It begins a section which emphasizes the need for believers to strip themselves of evil once and for all (Colossians 3:5-11). Paul often used clothing as a metaphor for the spiritual life (cf. Romans 6:6, Romans 6:11; Romans 8:13; Ephesians 4:22, Ephesians 4:24, Ephesians 4:25, Ephesians 4:31, possibly from Zechariah 3:0). Believers are to die to self, to sin, and to worldliness. The next section emphasizes that Christians should put on Christlike virtues (Colossians 3:10-17).

Paul often characterized the sins of the old life and old man in lists which in many ways were similar to the Greek moralists (like the Stoics) of his day.


"immorality, impurity" This first Greek term (porneia) originally meant "harlot," but it came to be used for sexual immorality in general (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9). We get the English term "pornography" from this word. The second term "impurity" (akatharsia) was also a general term for sexual immorality, though it was originally used in the OT in the sense of ceremonial uncleanliness or moral uncleanliness. Paul intended the second connotation.

"passion, evil desire" These two terms are also used together in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 and translated "lustful passion." The first term, "passion" (pathos), is used in two very different senses: (1) of suffering and (2) of sexual desire.

The second term, "evil desire" (epithumia), is also used in two very different senses, a strong desire for something (1) good or (2) evil. Context must determine which aspect of a word's semantical field is meant by the author.

This list of sexual sins may be related to the false teachers. Gnostic false teachers were of two types: (1) those who lived ascetic lives of self-abasement and (2) others who viewed the body as irrelevant to spiritual life and indulged the body's desires. Often sexual and financial exploitation characterize false teachers.

"greed" This term is usually used of desire for things, but in a context of sexual exploitation, it may have meant more and more sexual pleasure at any cost! Some see others only as objects for personal, sexual gratification.

"which amounts to idolatry" Anything that dominates, controls, or demands allegiance becomes an idol which replaces God. For some, sexual pleasure becomes the focus of their lives, thoughts, and plans.

Colossians 3:6 "the wrath of God will come" In many ways this is similar to Paul's discussion in Romans 1:18-16. God's wrath was viewed in two time frames in the Bible: (1) sin resulted in punishment now, in this life (temporal) and (2) God will judge all mankind one day (eschatological).

There is a Greek manuscript variant at this point. The longer text, which includes the Semitic idiom "upon the sons of disobedience," is in the uncial MSS א, A, C, D, F, G, H, K, L, and P. It is omitted in MSS P46 and B. The longer reading is found in every manuscript of Ephesians 5:6 which may be the source of this addition (see Bruce M Metzger, A Textual Commentary On the Greek NT, p. 824).

Colossians 3:7 "in them you also once walked" The background of the Colossian believers was paganism (cf. Romans 6:19; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:3). These believers used to think and live these kinds of sins.

Colossians 3:8 "But now" Notice the contrast (old man vs. new man).

"put them all aside" This is an aorist middle imperative which denotes urgency. Believers must be different. Paul used clothing as a metaphor for a person's lifestyle choices. Believers are encouraged to take off the old life and lay it aside like a garment (cf. Colossians 3:8, Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:22, Ephesians 4:25, Ephesians 4:31; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1). They are to put on Christ (cf. Colossians 3:10, Colossians 3:12, Colossians 3:14; Ephesians 4:24: Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). These believers were once controlled and dominated by their evil desires, but now, through Christ, they can turn from them (cf. Rom. 5-6).

"anger" This term means continuing, long-lasting, simmering anger (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 4:31).

"wrath" This term means fast-burning anger or outburst of rage (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 4:31).

"malice" This term means "vicious thoughts" (cf. Romans 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:8; Ephesians 4:31). It implies a desire to hurt others.

"slander and abusive speech" People are listening; our speech reflects who we really are (cf. Matthew 12:34-35; Matthew 15:11, Matthew 15:18; Mark 7:20; Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 5:4; James 2:3-12).


Colossians 3:9 "do not lie" This is a present middle (deponent) imperative with negative particle which meant stop an action in process. The Greek sentence runs from Colossians 3:9 to Colossians 3:11. Christian speech must be true, honest, edifying, and spoken in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15).

Colossians 3:10 "the new self who is being renewed" This is a present passive participle with the implied agent being God or the Spirit. The Christian life is both a state (Ephesians 2:5, Ephesians 2:8) and a process of development (1 Corinthians 1:18). Its goal is Christlikeness (cf. Romans 8:29; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:4), being restored to the image of God. This "renewing" (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16 and the noun in Romans 12:2 and Titus 3:5) is a work of God that each believer must allow, and must cooperate with God to perform it in them (like the "filling" of the Spirit, also a present passive participle in Ephesians 5:18).


"a true knowledge" This is literally "in full knowledge" (epignôsin). In contradistinction to the false knowledge of the Gnostics.

Colossians 3:11 This verse expresses the same truth as Romans 3:22, Romans 3:29; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 2:11-22. All human barriers and distinctions are removed by the gospel. This does not remove all biblical distinctions, for example, the relationship between husbands and wives (cf. Ephesians 5:21-31) or the rich and poor (cf. James 1:9-10), but it does remove all inequality!

"no barbarian, Scythian" This referred to cultured and uncultured Gentiles. The onomatopoeic term "barbarian" originally referred to the way that people of the Greco-Roman Empire heard the European tribes speak which they referred to as "bar bar bar." Greco-Roman society considered the Scythians the most uncivilized and barbaric national entity.


"Christ is all, and in all" Jesus is the leveling influence and sphere. In Him all human distinctions are removed in the love of God! All may come, all are welcome, all become family (cf. Galatians 3:28). Salvation in Christ is the reversal of the Fall (cf. Colossians 3:10, "image") and the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 10-11, division of people).

Verses 12-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 3:12-17 12So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:12 "chosen of God, holy and beloved" These terms were used to describe Israel (i.e., Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 10:15), but now they describe the church (cf. Galatians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). See Special Topic: Holy at Ephesians 1:4.

Notice that the goal of the People of God is holiness by election (cf. Ephesians 1:4), not a privileged standing. Israel was chosen as a tool to reach all humans made in the image of God. Israel missed her evangelistic mandate (cf. Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5). The church has clearly been given this assignment (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8). Believers are called to be holy and to be witnesses. See Contextual Insights to Ephesians 1:1-23, C.

Also notice that election cannot be isolated from a believer's responsibility to act. God's sovereignty and human free will are united in this concept of "covenant." God initiates and sets the condition, but humans must respond and continue to respond!

"put on" This is an Aorist middle imperative which denotes urgency. This is the continuing use of clothing as a metaphor and mandate for the Christian life (i.e., Colossians 3:8, Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:22, Ephesians 4:24, Ephesians 4:25). It is even possible that this was baptismal terminology (cf. Galatians 3:27). This context, starting with the "take off" (Colossians 3:8-10), parallels Galatians 5:19-21 ("the deeds of the flesh") and 5:22-25 ("the fruit of the Spirit"). Eternal life has observable characteristics!

NASB"a heart of compassion" NKJV"tender mercies" NRSV, TEV"compassion" NJB"heartfelt compassion"

This is literally "bowels of compassion" (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:12; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1; Philemon 1:7, Philemon 1:12, Philemon 1:20). The ancients believed the seat of the emotions was located in the lower viscera (abdomen).

"kindness" This should be the Christian's response to others (cf. Romans 2:4; Romans 9:23; Romans 11:22; 2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12; Titus 3:4).

"humility" This is a uniquely Christian virtue (cf. Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3). The Stoics viewed meekness (humbleness) as weakness and did not include it in their list of virtues. Only two people in the Bible are called humble, Moses (cf. Numbers 12:3) and Jesus (cf. Matthew 11:29; Philippians 2:8). This characteristic is the will of God for every believer (cf. Matthew 18:4; Matthew 23:12; James 4:6, James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5, 1 Peter 5:6). This term is used in a negative sense in Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:23.

"gentleness" This originally referred to domesticated animals (horses, camels, donkeys) whose strength had been channeled for their master's purpose. God does not want to break us, but direct His giftedness to His glory. Paul often uses this metaphor for the Christian life (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 10:1; Galatians 5:23; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:25).

"patience" This is often used of God's patience with people (cf. Romans 2:4; Romans 9:22; Titus 3:2, 1 Peter 3:20) or Jesus' patience (cf. 1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Peter 3:15). It is used to exhort believers in their treatment of one another (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:2; 2 Timothy 4:2).

Colossians 3:13

NASB, NKJV"bearing with one another" NRSV, NJB"bear with one another" TEV"be tolerant with one another"

This is a present middle participle (used as an imperative), which implies voluntary non-retaliation (cf. Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3-4).

"forgiving each other" This is a present middle (deponent) participle. It is from the same Greek root as grace, "freely forgive." One sign of believers being forgiven is that they forgive others (cf. Matthew 5:7; Matthew 6:15; Matthew 18:22-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36-38; Ephesians 4:32; James 2:13; James 5:9). Forgiveness of others is not the basis of forgiveness, but it is its fruit.

"whoever has a complaint" This is a third class conditional sentence, which meant probable future action. There will be complaints! Christians will be at odds with other Christians, but Jesus' cross should put a stop to it (cf. Romans 14:1-13).

"just as the Lord forgave you" This is the basis for believers' actions toward others (cf. Ephesians 4:32; Romans 15:7).

There is a Greek manuscript variation between "Lord," "Christ," "God" and "God in Christ." "Lord" is found in the ancient Greek manuscripts P46, A, B, D*, and is probably original.

Colossians 3:14 "put on love which is the perfect bond of unity" Love, which issues in unity, is the distinctive mark of the Christian (cf. Ephesians 4:2-3; Ephesians 1:0 Cor, 13; Galatians 5:22).

Colossians 3:15 "Let the peace of Christ" This term originally meant "binding together that which was broken" (cf. John 14:27; John 16:33; Philippians 4:7). There are three ways the NT speaks of peace.

1. as the objective (doctrinal) aspect of our peace with God through Christ (cf. Colossians 1:20)

2. as the subjective (experiential) aspect of our being right with God (cf. John 14:27; John 16:33; Philippians 4:7)

3. as God's uniting believing Jews and Gentiles into one new people (body) through Christ which is the mystery of God (cf. Ephesians 2:14-17; Colossians 3:15)

See Special Topic: Peace at Colossians 1:20.

"rule" This is a Present active imperative. In contrast to the false teachers acting as umpires in Colossians 2:18, Christ is our only judge, guide, and arbiter.

"heart. . .hearts" See Special Topic: Heart at Colossians 2:2.

"you were called" God always takes the initiative in calling, electing, and wooing believers to Himself (cf. Colossians 3:12; John 6:44, John 6:65; Ephesians 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:11). The term "calling" (kaleô) is used in several theological senses.

1. sinners are called by God through Christ to salvation

2. sinners call on the name of the Lord to be saved (cf. Romans 10:9-13)

3. believers are called to live Christlike lives (cf. Ephesians 4:1)

4. believers are called to ministry tasks (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

See Special Topic at Ephesians 4:1.

"in one body" This speaks of unity amidst diversity (cf. Colossians 1:18, Colossians 1:24; Ephesians 4:4-6)! Notice that the emphasis is not on personal election, but corporate election. Salvation is corporate, not just individual.

In reaction to the abuses of power in the Roman Church, the Protestant Reformers emphasized the rights and responsibilities of the individual before God. However, their formulation became a biblical overstatement. The Bible does not teach the "priesthood of the believer," but "the priesthood of believers." It is not a doctrine which emphasizes the freedom of the individual, but the (1) body-life responsibility of each believer (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7) and (2) Great-Commission Christianity (cf. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8).

"be thankful" This was a Present active imperative, "keep on always being thankful." Thankfulness is a sign of Christian maturity, of the Spirit-filled life (cf. Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is not a resignation to determinism (Islam), but a biblical worldview that God is with us and for us even amidst the difficulties and circumstances of this fallen world!

Colossians 3:16 "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you" This is a present active imperative second person plural. "The word of Christ" can refer to (1) the gospel; (2) His personal presence; or (3) the Spirit. Notice that this indwelling is not automatic (neither individual or corporate). Believers must co-operate in the Christian life as they do in salvation.

There is another Greek manuscript variation here which is similar to that in Colossians 3:13 and 15. Scribes tended to unify Paul's expressions. The phrase "word of Christ," is a unique expression found only here in the NT. Therefore, it was changed to "word of God" (MSS A, C*) or "word of the Lord" (MS א*). By far the best Greek manuscripts, P46, א2, B, C2, D, F, G, and most ancient translations have "word of Christ."

The outlines of Ephesians and Colossians are very similar. The parallel to this verse in Eph. is 5:18! The Spirit-filled life is daily Christlikeness or allowing the word of Christ and the mind of Christ to guide in every area, especially interpersonal relationships.

There is an ambiguity in this verse concerning the Greek preposition "in" (en). It can also be translated "among." "In" would have an individual focus, while "among" a corporate focus (cf. Colossians 1:27).

"with all wisdom" This is a play on the false teachers' overemphasis on human knowledge. The word of Christ (the Spirit-filled life) is true wisdom. Wisdom is a person (cf. Proverbs 8:22-31) and a lifestyle, not isolated truth or creeds.

"with psalms" The NKJV and NASB translations imply "teaching with songs," but the NRSV and NJB imply "teachers with songs in their hearts." TEV implies worshiping God with songs.

The modern controversy over musical preference in worship could be addressed by this verse (and Ephesians 5:19) in that several different types of music are mentioned: (1) psalms; (2) hymns; and (3) spiritual songs. Although we cannot identify all the types it is obvious that the early church used several different forms of music. The key is the heart of the worshiper, not the form of the music (cf. Colossians 3:17).

Colossians 3:16-17 There is a theological and structural parallel between Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:16-17. In Ephesians there is a present passive imperative, "ever be filled," while in Colossians there is a present active imperative, "let the word of Christ dwell within you." Also in Ephesians the imperative is followed by five present participles which describe the Spirit-filled life.

(1) Colossians 3:19, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (present active)

(2) Colossians 3:19, singing (present active)

(3) Colossians 3:19, making melody (present active)

(4) Colossians 3:20, always giving thanks (present active)

(5) Colossians 3:21, be subject to one another (present middle)

In Colossians some of the same participles also occur.

(1) Colossians 3:16, teaching (present active)

(2) Colossians 3:16, admonishing in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (present active)

(3) Colossians 3:16, singing (present active)

(4) Colossians 3:17, giving thanks (present active)

Colossians 3:17 "Whatever you do in word or deed" This is a major spiritual truth. Believers must relate all their motives and actions to God through Christ. Every aspect of our lives is "as unto the Lord." Believers do not live for themselves (cf. Colossians 3:23; Romans 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Ephesians 6:7; 1 Peter 4:11). This truth could revolutionize the modern, western, individual-focused church.

Verses 18-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 3:18-21 18Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

Colossians 3:18 "Wives, be subject to your husbands" This is a present middle imperative. When the word of Christ (i.e., the Spirit-filled life, cf. Ephesians 5:18) indwells a believer it impacts every area of life! The parallels are Ephesians 5:21-22; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, but remember Colossians was written first. Ephesians expresses the universal principle of submission for all believers in Ephesians 5:21 (present middle participle) and uses the Christian home as a three-fold domestic example of how the "Spirit-filled" life works in daily life: (1) husbands-wives, 5:22-31; (2) parents-children, 6:1-4 and (3) masters-slaves, 6:5-9. This discussion seems negative to us today, but in its day it was strikingly positive. The three groups that had total cultural control (husbands, parents, and slave masters) are equally admonished as were those with no civic power or rights (wives, children, and slaves). This selfless mandate is an example of the reversal of the Fall. What a difference Christ makes. See Special Topic: Submission (hupotassô) at Ephesians 5:21.

Colossians 3:18-19 In this context and its parallels, submission was between married couples, not men and women in general. The principle of male headship is stated throughout the Bible, from Genesis 3:0 onward. However, Christian male headship is characterized by, and commanded (present active imperative) to be, sacrificial, self-giving, Christlike love (cf. Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:28-29). Headship in the NT is servanthood (cf. Matthew 20:25-27; Matthew 23:11) with Christ as the model.

In our day "submission" is a negative, sexist term. Originally it was a military term that related to obedience based on the chain of command. In the NT, however, it was often used of Jesus' attitude toward His earthly parents (cf. Luke 2:51) and His heavenly Father (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:28). Paul was fond of this term and used it 23 times. Ephesians 5:21 shows it is a universal spiritual principle connected to the Spirit-filled life. Submission goes against our cultural, western, individual focused mind-set. Selfishness is so ingrained (cf. Romans 12:10; Galatians 5:13; Philippians 2:3; 1 John 4:11)! See Special Topic: Submission at Ephesians 5:21.

"as is fitting in the Lord" The Ephesian parallel has "as to the Lord." The TEV translates the phrase as "for that is what you should do as Christians" (cf. Colossians 3:20). Believers should treat others in loving, submitting ways not because others deserve it, but because they are Christians (cf. Colossians 3:23). The Spirit allows fallen mankind to redirect his self-centeredness into others-centeredness, as Jesus did (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 3:16).

Colossians 3:19

NASB"and do not be embittered against them" NKJV"and do not be bitter toward them" NRSV"and never treat them harshly" TEV"and do not be harsh with them" NJB"and do not be sharp with them"

This is a present middle imperative with a negative particle, which usually means to stop an act in process. "You, yourselves, stop being bitter." There is no direct parallel to the phrase in Ephesians 5:0, but Col. 3:28-29 express the same truth in a positive sense. In the biblical context of "one flesh" (cf. Genesis 2:0) marriages in which husbands treat their wives in loving ways, they bless themselves and vise versa. Loving one's spouse is, in one sense, loving oneself. In the Christian home our love for family reflects our love for God and is a powerful witness to a confused and hurting lost world.

Colossians 3:20 "Children, be obedient" This is a present active imperative, "continue to be obedient." In Ephesians 6:1-4, this mandate is expanded to relate to Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16, "Honor your father and mother." In this context, "for this is well pleasing to the Lord" relates the command to Christian children.

Notice that children are commanded to be obedient, but wives are commanded to submit. In both cases it is Christian families that are addressed. One issue that is difficult to reconcile between this and our day is "How old are children?" In Jewish culture a boy became responsible to the Law and was marriageable at age thirteen, a girl at twelve. In Roman culture a boy became a man at age fourteen and in Greek culture at age eighteen.

Colossians 3:21 "Fathers, do not exasperate your children" This is a present active imperative with a negative particle which means stop an act in process, "stop exasperating your children." The reciprocal responsibility is clear (cf. Ephesians 6:4).

There has always been a generational barrier. Christians (both parents and children) should handle relationships differently because of their ultimate commitment to Christ. Paul's discussion of the appropriate relationships in the home were radically different from the cultural norm of his day. Paul directly addressed the person with cultural power and authority (husbands, parents, and slave masters) and admonished them to treat those under them (wives, children, and domestic servants) with dignity and Christian love (much like Philemon). Believers are stewards of God, not owners! How we treat each other is meant to demonstrate the new age to a lost world.

Verses 22-25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 3:22-1 22Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. 4:1Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

Colossians 3:22 "Slaves, in all things obey" There should be no paragraph break at Colossians 3:22. This is a present active imperative, "keep on obeying." This is the third example from the Christian home (cf. Ephesians 6:5-9). In our day this might relate (i.e., apply to) to Christian employers and employees. In Ephesians, and probably also here in Colossians, it refers to both saved and lost masters.

I personally do not believe this "in all things" refers to evil or sin (cf. Acts 5:29). This is a general statement admonishing obedience, not a license for believers to participate in things which are excluded by Scripture. This is also true of wives (cf. Colossians 3:18; Ephesians 5:22). See Special Topic: Paul's Admonitions to Slaves at Ephesians 6:5.

"sincerity of heart" See Special Topic below.


Colossians 3:23 Serving the Lord is the motive for all Christians in all their activities (cf. Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 6:7; 1 Corinthians 10:31)! Believers should be daily, living witnesses of the redeeming power of God!

Colossians 3:24 In the ancient world slaves had no inheritance rights. But now, in Christ, they do! God is going to reward those who love, worship, and serve Him (cf. Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:8).

Colossians 3:25 Divine judgment is dispensed without partiality (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 2:9; Ephesians 6:9; 1 Peter 1:17). This principle is expressed clearly in Galatians 6:7. Even believers will give an account unto God, not for sin, but for stewardship (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). Sin has consequences in time and in eternity!

Colossians 4:1 This shows the reciprocal responsibility (cf. Colossians 3:19, Colossians 3:21). Unlike Ephesians, this text speaks to Christian slave owners (cf. Philemon). The NIV Study Bible (p. 1817) adds an interesting comment: "The reason Paul writes more about slaves and masters than about wives, husbands, children, and fathers may be that the slave Onesimus (cf. Colossians 4:9) is going along with Tychicus to deliver this Colossean letter and the letter to Philemon, Onesimus' master, who also lived at Colossae."

This verse contextually should go with chapter 3. It concludes Paul's domestic example of Christlike living. See Special Topic: Paul's Admonitions to Slaves at Ephesians 6:5.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Colossians 3". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/colossians-3.html. 2021.
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