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Summer Quarter: Justice in the New Testament
Unit 3: Paul Teaches About New Life in Christ
Sunday school lesson for the week of August 26, 2018
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Scripture Lesson: Colossians 3:5-17 (CEB)
Background Scripture: Ephesians 4:25-5:2; Colossians 3:1-17
“Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
Purpose: To exemplify the love and life of Christ in our daily lives.
Setting the Scene
The Adult Bible Studies Summer 2018 Series
’ author begins our last lesson in the summer series with Paul’s letter, Colossians, to the church of Colossae. It is plausible that Paul had not visited the church because of his writing in Colossians 2:1: “I want you to know how much I struggle for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who haven’t known me personally.” Another consideration that Paul had not visited the church is that the letter was probably written while he was in prison in Rome. Some Bible scholars believed that he wrote some of his other letters while in prison (Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians). The writer also cites Colossians 4:10 where Paul refers to his circumstance: “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner,” and in verse 18, he states, “Remember that I’m in prison.”
Nevertheless, Paul’s writing was essential to the church regardless of his circumstance. The author says that letters were a significant way to communicate and the next best thing to being in person, conveying messages to the church or a group of churches. Paul’s letters always had a purpose, and the author says the purpose of his letter to Colossae was to teach the people about the good news of Christ.
The Text in Context
As we have examined in our other lessons, Paul began his letters with a brief greeting followed with a prayer for the church. In this particular letter, he included a hymn about Christ’s work. Next, Paul confirms his ministry and establishes what the writer calls his “apostolic authority” (1:24-2:5), and refers to Galatians 1:11-24 and Romans 1:5 as other examples. Then, Paul establishes his “apostolic credentials” and addresses the purpose of his letter. The author says that from Colossians 1:24-3:4 Paul addresses the issue of heresy that was also destroying and decaying the church’s “doctrinal purity.”
Moreover, Colossians is a short epistle, but the author notes that our lesson, Colossians 3:5-17, is a lengthy section that closes at 4:6, outlining Christian conduct and encouraging prayer. Paul ends the letter with a personal message from his co-laborers in Christ, “Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas, who all said “hello” (4:10-14), a final greeting, and his signature.
The Bible Lesson
Put to Death
Paul describes the ritual of baptism as symbolically “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). The author says the meaning is that when the person comes out of the baptismal water, it is symbolic that the baptized is “looking up for the things above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side” (3:1). Another baptismal symbolism the writer conveys is that in the early church the person’s pre-baptismal clothing was exchanged for new clothing symbolizing the “new birth – the old had died, and new was born.” Also, there are several Greek words in the epistle referring to the “taking off and putting on clothing,” used as figurative baptism language.
The writer connects Colossians 3:1-4 to our lesson, Colossians 3:5-17, as an extension of the “Christ in baptism” which carries ethical implications, meaning those things that are earthly and not Christ-like should be put off, and the new should be put on. To this point, verse 10 is referenced as an example of “putting off the old,” to becoming a new creature in Christ through baptism: “And put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it.” In other words, the resurrection is symbolic of the restored sinful nature of human beings reunified with Christ: “So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)” (verse 5). Paul not only conveys to us the sinful nature but also provides the consequence for those that remain disobedient: “The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things” (verse 6).
The Old Versus the New
Paul’s point is that those ways of living (verse 5) are the earthly activities, but when persons put on the new clothes and the new living, those sinful ways that once disconnected them from Christ are now put off for a better way of living. In verses 8-9, he provides a list of those things: “But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Don’t lie to each other.” To put aside those things is the renewal of our nature and knowledge by conforming to Christ’s image (verse 10).
The author notes that Paul’s writing in Galatians parallels our lesson’s verses in Colossians 3, and that in Colossians 3:11, Paul’s tone is similar to what he wrote in Galatians 3:26-28: “In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.” The author defines the following language:
- The term “Greek” refers to all Gentiles as contrasted with Jews.
- Scythian refers to an uncultured person mainly from around the Black Sea.
- These different descriptors indicate the entire world in its sections, which stand in contrast with Christ, who is the only reconciler for all.
However, the writer says within the baptized community, the church, those earthly divisions should no longer exist such as racial and social barriers because we are all one in Christ. Those divisions are now dead and replaced with our new creation in Christ that includes treating each other as sisters and brothers.
The New For You
“Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other.” Paul is expressing to us what our newness looks like by naming those five virtues that will allow us to live as a beloved community. Contrarily, the writer conveys that in the Greco-Roman world humility would be an undesirable trait, implying weakness, but it is here a positive characteristic as those baptized are made strong in character and the image of Christ. Our treatment, respect, acts of gentleness, tolerance of others’ imperfections, accepting and forgiving are all the image of Christ.
Paul, here, as he has in some of his other writings, continues with love as the greatest quality and the image of Christ. In verse 15, he writes, “And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” The author points out that the “putting on” is a recurring phrase used by Paul as in verses 12-13. In verse 16, Paul expresses the attributes that make for faithful people and a blessed community: the “peace of Christ” and “thankful people.”
In the concluding lesson’s verses, Paul’s statement to the people is: “The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.” Likewise, as it is today, Paul conveys that worship is experienced through songs and is an important part of the people’s spiritual experience that expresses the gratitude in our hearts. Our speech and action should be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” making us the people of God.
What a powerful and fitting ending to our lesson and the summer series about our earthly transformation into spiritual beings through the baptism in Christ. Paul leaves us with many examples of the “Old versus the New,” and how this transformation is a personal, community, and widespread experience treatment of love, care, acceptance, and forgiveness.
- What measure or accountability can we use to ensure that our actions and speech are reflective of Christ’s image?
- How can we encourage each other that may struggle with living out the “old versus the new” in Christ?
- As the baptized in Christ, how can we impact the world to make it a better place? The scripture reminds us: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Father, we pray that we take hold of our lesson’s purpose statement, to exemplify the love and life of Christ in our daily lives. May we be faithful in fulfilling the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Summer 2018, Justice in the New Testament” is used for the content of this lesson.