A Meditation on Colossians 3

One of the differences between Paul and Jesus is their presentation. Whereas Jesus tended to offer very little in the way of answers – many times answering questions with questions and more questions – and very little in the way of negativity (with the exception of being negative about religion and the religious), Paul on the other hand really likes to give answers and on many occasions he starts off with the negative and then moves into the positives.

            I’ve heard it said that Paul and Jesus have different theologies. Perhaps that is true and perhaps I am simply not trained enough or have enough understanding to really dig into that piece of it … but I definitely can see – and am struggling through – the differences in how Paul and Jesus approach what it means to be a follower or disciple of Christ... and it is at times hard to work through.

            As some of you may know, I grew up in a very conservative, legalistic religious atmosphere. My mom and dad were missionaries to Germany and from the time I was born, my dad was in ministry of some sort – starting as an assistant pastor and music director to then going on deputation and then the mission field. Women couldn’t wear pants. Men couldn’t have hair that hit their ears. No mixed bathing (this was the weird way us fundies described men and women swimming in the same pool together). No making out before marriage (and certainly no “heavy petting” – true story, this was an actual term used to tell us what NOT to do… to this day I still have never braved seeking out an in depth description of what “heavy petting” is). Shoot – I got busted once for holding my girlfriend’s hand.

            The hallmark of my religion growing up was not just the rules and regulations… but also the amount of time and energy spent discussing what we were against, what things we can’t do… instead of focusing on what we are for and what we love and what things we should do within the context of being a believer.

            So perhaps my struggle through the Paul and Jesus dynamic has more to do with how I’m reconciling my faith and my past, more than anything else. But there it is. That’s my stuff. But if I’m choosing between how I want to lead my life in leadership and in my marriage and in my life, I for sure tend to resonate more with how Jesus led than how Paul led. However, over the last couple of years as I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading and studying Paul’s writings, I find how much stuff Paul has for us today.

            Contextually, Paul was writing to the early church, helping these brand new groups of believers come together and figure out how to join together arm in arm, in community, around the shared belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior. So – while he goes to ‘here’s what you can’t do’ more than I probably prefer in how I desire to lead, I also understand that Paul was literally laying out the ground rules for the church. And when we dig into the stuff that he exhorts and encourages us with, we start to see a bunch of practical stuff on what it means to be a believer and a Christ-follower.


If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 


Paul really likes lists. I have this image in my head of Paul sitting in a modern church office, staring at a large white board filled with lists of things not to do. Timothy and Titus – Paul’s mentees – sit down the table from Paul staring at the same list. 

            Paul sits down, exhausted. “These lists. These freaking lists. Like… how do we tell Colossa the things not to do but bring some originality to the list. Someone pull up Thesaurus dot com.”

            Timothy cracks open his Macbook Pro and starts typing.

            Titus leans back, pipes up: “It just feels very … Romans. Like – this list is literally the same thing as Romans.”

            “And 1st Corinthians… well – minus the gay stuff,” Timothy says.

            Paul slams his fist down on the table. “Dangit, guys! There’s only so many ways you can tell people how NOT to be a Christian!”

            Paul gathers up his papers. “You know what, guys, you’re so smart – you work on these lists. And – once again – Romans 1 wasn’t just about the gays! I was talking about Caeser. Why can’t you get that through your head?”

            And he storms out.

            Titus shakes his head. “Come on, Timmy. You know he’s sensitive about Romans.”

            “Longing… craving… desire… libido…”

            Long silence. Titus stares at Timothy. Finally, “What?”

            “Synonyms for lust.”


And…. Scene.


It had to be hard to come up with all the lists Paul came up with. Colossians 3 is just one of the lists Paul wrote (both positive and negative) and he tended to come up with new and interesting ways to describe sin and then how to be a Christ-follower. Colossians 3 is one of my favorite lists because it takes an interesting turn.


12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.



So Paul starts Colossians 3 with this list of what not to do, then turns the corner into a list of what to do. And it’s a good list. Basically it’s this: because we’re God’s chosen, we need to have holy, beloved and compassionate hearts; we need to exhibit kindness, humility, meekness, patience (a re-telling of the fruits of the spirit – which by the way are all really just different explorations of Christ-like love); we are to work through problems with one another; we are to live in peace (echoing Jesus’ call to righteousness, peace and joy); and we are to be thankful and allow the word of Christ dwell in us.

            But here is where it gets interesting… we are to teach each other and admonish one another in wisdom. Okay – that makes sense… there are other calls to this type of Christian living. Part of putting on the New Self, living out the New Way (that we’ve talked about a few times now) is to be willing to teach (and in turn to learn) and admonish (and in turn be willing to be admonished) in all wisdom.

            But then… he tells us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts, and follows that up with an encouragement to do everything we do giving thanks.

            So, let’s break this down a tiny bit further – Paul takes the time to explain what it means to put on the New Man or our New Self. He starts by telling us what it means to do away with the Old. Then goes into a list of ways we put on the New. And at first it seems like the usual suspects. Seems like the normal list of stuff… then this curve ball that isn’t really a curve ball at all: worship through music is a part of become the New Us. 

            Worship through music is NOT just something we do to scratch a creative itch… it is not something we do because we like music or music is in our soul… it is not just a part that should be relegated to the back burner. Worship through music is quite literally a part of the sanctification process for us as believers. It is a valued, important part of what we see here as the corporate part of becoming made new.


23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Paul finishes out this chapter, by continuing to talk to families about how to live: wives, submit; husbands, love; fathers encourage your children; slaves, obey; etc. And he ends with this: “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men.”

            This feels pretty important, in the context that this is the second time within a few verses that he tells us that we should give our best for the Lord. And the wording here is interesting to me… the assumption is that we do things heartily for the Lord, not for men. 

            As we consider this idea that worship might be a part of the sanctification process then it is a natural progression to me to wonder why Paul follows that mildly interesting revelation with two encouragements to do everything we do to the best of our ability to and for the Lord, not for men. And what hits me is that perhaps this plays into the idea that New Way of worship. What if this whole idea of doing things excellently and focusing on excellence alone (outside or exclusive of passion and knowledge) is the Old Way?

            It’d make sense to me that as we do things heartily for the Lord (and not for men) that the focus becomes on excellence for something bigger, something better than just being good. It becomes about excellence for the sake of giving the Lord what is deserving of Him… not for the sake of excellence.

            And this – again – brings us back to the paradigm of Three-Dimensional Worship. When the focus is on all of those things, then doing things heartily for the Lord comes down to not simply performing well, but understanding more of who God is and how worship through music plays into that knowledge and understanding more of how our passion can encourage others towards the joy of engaging in worship through music as part of the sanctification process.