First Sunday after Christmas – Epistle

by Crossings

First Sunday after Christmas
Colossians 3:12-17
Analysis by Bruce T. Martin

Colossians 3:12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

[Note: Colossians is a general letter, and the text before us does not have a specific problem or diagnosis. A variety of problems are being addressed to the church (1:2), more or less indirectly, but for simplicity we will refer mainly to the preceding 3:1-11.]


Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Good Enough
What is so wrong with a world without Christ? We presume too much if we think that the world does not know right from wrong; or that sin and misery are defined strictly in terms of “fornication,” “evil desire,” and “malice” (3:5, 8). For people who do such things the normal remedy is to try to do better. What’s more, such sins do not readily apply to billions of people of all religious stripes; surely we (the “holy and beloved,” chosen ones of God, v. 12) are disinclined to apply them to ourselves!

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Set on Earthly Things
The problem is, while we may be able to do better or be acceptable in earthly terms, neither the world nor we is ever good enough as God measures good. Strangely, it is not good enough to be nice to one another, no matter how nice we are. For, in a world (or, for that matter, a church) without Christ, there is always “idolatry” (3:5), the failure to return “thanks” to God (1:15), and a lack of “love” (v. 14). Both the world and we ourselves may try to assert otherwise, but in our heart of hearts we know better (compare the use of “mind” in 3:2 with “heart” in v. 15). If we were to be honest, we would admit that being good by worldly standards is not good enough. And persisting in the illusion that we are good enough betrays our innate idolatry (original sin): We are supremely self-assured in “earthly” matters (3:2), even with our so-called good works, so that we do not trust in God our creator. And because God cannot be found at the center of our selves, we really have no life.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Wrath!
Indeed, not only is God absent from our inmost being–so that we cannot do that which God considers good, e.g., to trust in God (First Commandment)–but God is set against us on account of it all! Consequently, all that we have heretofore considered to be good is finally destined for death (the “wrath of God,” 3:5) including ourselves. A world without Christ, even including the earthly world of Christians, is ultimately miserable because it is without hope.


Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Forgiveness
The wrath of God is real, but God mercifully has clothed us with his: crucified and risen and promised to return. Because of Christ we are “chosen, holy, beloved” (v. 12). Our old innermost selves have indeed died, but that death is in Christ. That means that we are “forgiven” (v. 13) and “raised with Christ” (3:1), and our new life is “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Set on Things that are Above
The hiddenness we experience in Christ is a new world of faith destined for glory when Christ comes again (3:4). The goodness of faith-in-Christ surpasses any measurement of goodness we have apart from Christ. It is the “putting on” of Christ, the “new nature” (3:10; see NRSV “clothe yourselves,” v. 12), which counters” the old nature” destined for wrath (3:9). The new world of faith to which we are called includes “forgiveness” (v. 13) in various and creative ways, “setting your minds on things that are above” (3:2), and “letting the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (v. 15). And this “new self” of faith is renewed “according to the image of its creator” (3:10) and the “word of Christ” (v. 16).

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Love
Therefore (and here our text comes into full blossom), having been clothed with Christ himself, we are called to “clothe” ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and . . . love (v. 12ff). Love includes all the unseen goodness done in the name of Christ in a dying world–goodness that is visible only through faith in Christ. Such love is visible only in “cruci-form” (in as much as it resembles the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross) and in thankfulness (vv. 15, 16, 17). It therefore can never be the kind of good that the world values; but it is woven of the same fabric as faith-in-Christ and life-in-Christ, and therefore it is “perfect” to God (v. 14).


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