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Colossians 3



The New Life in Christ Not Carnality but Christ The True Christian Life Dying and Living with Christ Life-Giving Union with the Glorified Christ
(2:20-3:4)     (2:20-3:4)  
  3:1-11 3:1-4 The Old Life and the New 3:1-4
        General Rules of Christian Behaviour
3:5-11   3:5-11 3:5-7 3:5-11
  Character of the New Man      
3:12-17 3:12-17 3:12-17 3:12-17 3:12-15
Social Duties of the New Life The Christian Home The Christian's Duties Personal Relations in the New Life The Morals of the Home and Household
(3:22-4:1)   (3:18-4:6)    
3:18-19 3:18-4:1 3:18-19 3:18 3:18-21
3:20-21   3:20-4:1 3:20  
3:22-4:1     3:22-4:1 3:22-4:1

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. Verses 1-4 are 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. 2:12-13; Rom. 6:3-11). His life flows through them.


B. Paul lists the things to be shed (put aside, vv. 8-9) and incorporated (put on, v. 10) which form a balanced admonition to godliness. Paul often made lists of sins (cf. I Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5) and virtues (cf. Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:18-20; Phil. 1:4-7; I Thess. 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 3:5.


C. Paul's powerful call to unity because of the Trinity's unity, so beautifully spelled out in Eph. 4:1-10, is paralleled in Col. 3:12-17. Also, Paul's powerful demand for each believer to be filled with the Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18) is paralleled in Col. 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 (vv. 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. I John 3:16). This emulates Jesus' life. This totally new orientation is the evidence that we have been redeemed!

Chapter 3 (3:18-4:1) is one unified context (cf. Eph. 5:22-6:9).


NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:1-4 (Full paragraph division includes 2:20-3:4)
 . . .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.

3:1 "Therefore" This links the doctrinal section (i.e., chapters 1-2) with the practical section (i.e., chapters 3-4). This is a standard literary form in Paul's writings (cf. Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1; Phil. 4:1).

▣ "if" This is a First class conditional sentence which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Believers have been co-raised with Christ.

▣ "you have been raised up with Christ" This was a syn compound, "co-raised" (cf. 2:12,13; Rom. 6:3-11; Eph. 2:5-6). Believers have resurrection life now, so they must live like it! Verses 1-4 are the theological basis for Christian ethics and lifestyle.

"keep seeking the things above" This is either a present active indicative or present active imperative. Therefore, it is an admonition to pursue spiritual thoughts and things (cf. v. 2; Phil. 2:1-2; 4:8).

Verses 1 and 2 are parallel. Probably both are present active imperatives. Believers become what they think about. The eyes and ears are windows to the soul.

Some scholars think that this context is a contrast between who we are in Christ (indicative) and what we should be in Christ (imperative). Paul does often use this grammatical feature.

▣ "where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" This was an anthropomorphic phrase (Ps. 110:1), which Paul rarely uses, for Christ's authority and place of honor (Luke 22:69; Acts 7:55; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Pet. 3:22). Describing Christ as sitting at the Father's right hand is also a way of referring to His continuing ministry of intercession for the saints (cf. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24; I John 2:1). It is metaphorical for the throne room of a middle eastern king. I hope when you get to heaven you are not expecting to see "an older man, a young man sitting in a large chair with a dove flying around them!" The Bible uses human, physical terms to describe an eternal, spiritual, holy God. All terms used to describe Him are metaphors, analogies, or negations; they are true but not exhaustive.

SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS A HUMAN (anthropomorphic language)

3:2 "Set your mind on things above" This is parallel with v. 1 and is either a present active indicative or present active imperative. It is probably an imperative. Christianity is both knowledge and action (cf. I Pet. 1:13-21)! This verse is parallel to v. 1.

▣ "not on the things that are on the earth" This phrase defines Paul's intended contrast; believers are to think and live in the Spirit, not in the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:1-17). They have a choice and must set their lifestyle priorities. Being saved does not automatically issue in godly living, but it should.

Paul uses a dualistic contrast, but not between spirit versus matter like the Gnostics; rather, his contrast is between this world (age) versus the Kingdom of God (new age). Believers are citizens of two realms. This knowledge (worldview) gives hope, courage and peace amidst the trials of life (false teaching, suffering, imprisonment, persecution, etc.).

3:3 "you have died" This is another metaphor based on baptism to describe believers' new standing in Christ (cf. Rom. 6:1-11; Col. 2:11-12). Believers are dead to sin and alive to God! They were admonished to recognize their new standing in Christ (cf. v. 5; Eph. 2:5-6) and emulate Him (cf. II Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:1-2; I John 3:16).

▣ "hidden" This is a perfect passive indicative. Believers have died (in Christ) and have been and continue to be hidden in God. The Mystery religions of the Greco-Roman period used this word to refer to initiation rites. This concept of hiddenness could relate to (1) protection or (2) the fully shared glory of believers with Christ not yet visible to the world (cf. v. 4).

3:4 "Christ, who is our life" This reflects the theological concept of an "exchanged life" (cf. Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21).

▣ "is revealed" This refers to the Second Coming (cf. I John 3:2).

▣ "then you also will be revealed with Him in glory" Believers died with Christ, were raised with Christ, and will be part of His glorious return (cf. I Thess. 4:13-18). The "hidden" (v. 3) will be revealed (v. 4). See note on "glory" at Eph. 1:6 and Special Topic below.


 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.


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. 3:8,12). It begins a section which emphasizes the need for believers to strip themselves of evil once and for all (vv. 5-11). Paul often used clothing as a metaphor for the spiritual life (cf. Rom. 6:6,11; 8:13; Eph. 4:22,24,25,31, possibly from Zechariah 3). Believers are to die to self, to sin, and to worldliness. The next section emphasizes that Christians should put on Christlike virtues (vv. 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. I Cor. 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 I Thess. 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.

3:6 "the wrath of God will come" In many ways this is similar to Paul's discussion in Rom. 1:18-2:16. 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 Eph. 5:6 which may be the source of this addition (see Bruce M Metzger, A Textual Commentary On the Greek NT, p. 824).

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

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. 3:8,9; Eph. 4:22,25,31; James 1:21; I Pet. 2:1). They are to put on Christ (cf. 3:10,12,14; Eph. 4:24: Rom. 13:14; Gal. 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. II Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31).

"wrath" This term means fast-burning anger or outburst of rage (cf. II Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31).

▣ "malice" This term means "vicious thoughts" (cf. Rom. 1:29; I Cor. 5:8; Eph. 4:31). It implies a desire to hurt others.

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


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 v. 9 to v. 11. Christian speech must be true, honest, edifying, and spoken in love (cf. Eph. 4:15).

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 (Eph. 2:5,8) and a process of development (I Cor. 1:18). Its goal is Christlikeness (cf. Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4), being restored to the image of God. This "renewing" (cf. II Cor. 4:16 and the noun in Rom. 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 Eph. 5:18).


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

3:11 This verse expresses the same truth as Rom. 3:22,29; 10:12; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28 and Eph. 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. Eph. 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. Gal. 3:28). Salvation in Christ is the reversal of the Fall (cf. V. 10, "image") and the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 10-11, division of people).

 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.

3:12 "chosen of God, holy and beloved" These terms were used to describe Israel (i.e., Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 4:37; 7:7,8; 10:15), but now they describe the church (cf. Gal. 6:16; I Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). See Special Topic: Holy at Eph. 1:4.

Notice that the goal of the People of God is holiness by election (cf. Eph. 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. Gen. 12:3; Exod. 19:5). The church has clearly been given this assignment (cf. Matt. 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., vv. 8,10; Eph. 4:22,24,25). It is even possible that this was baptismal terminology (cf. Gal. 3:27). This context, starting with the "take off" (vv. 8-10), parallels Gal. 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. II Cor. 6:12; Phil. 1:8; 2:1; Philemon 7,12,20). 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. Rom. 2:4; 9:23; 11:22; II Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12; Titus 3:4).

99635; "humility" This is a uniquely Christian virtue (cf. Eph. 4:2; Phil. 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. Num. 12:3) and Jesus (cf. Matt. 11:29; Phil. 2:8). This characteristic is the will of God for every believer (cf. Matt. 18:4; 23:12; James 4:6,10; I Pet. 5:5,6). This term is used in a negative sense in 2:18,23.

▣ "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. I Cor. 4:21; II Cor. 10:1; Gal. 5:23; 6:1; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; I Tim. 6:11; II Tim. 2:25).

▣ "patience" This is often used of God's patience with people (cf. Rom. 2:4; 9:22; Titus 3:2, I Pet. 3:20) or Jesus' patience (cf. I Tim. 1:16; II Peter 3:15). It is used to exhort believers in their treatment of one another (cf. I Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:2; II Tim. 4:2).


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. Eph. 4:2; Phil. 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. Matt. 5:7; 6:15; 18:22-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36-38; Eph. 4:32; James 2:13; 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. Rom. 14:1-15:13).

▣ "just as the Lord forgave you" This is the basis for believers' actions toward others (cf. Eph. 4:32; Rom. 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.

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. Eph. 4:2-3; I Cor, 13; Gal. 5:22).

3:15 "Let the peace of Christ" This term originally meant "binding together that which was broken" (cf. John 14:27; 16:33; Phil. 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. Col. 1:20)

2. as the subjective (experiential) aspect of our being right with God (cf. John 14:27; 16:33; Phil. 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. Eph. 2:14-17; Col. 3:15)

See Special Topic: Peace at 1:20.

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

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

▣ "you were called" God always takes the initiative in calling, electing, and wooing believers to Himself (cf. v. 12; John 6:44, 65; Eph. 1:4-5,11). The term "calling" (kaleō) 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. Rom. 10:9-13)

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

4. believers are called to ministry tasks (cf. I Cor. 12:4-7)

See Special Topic at Eph. 4:1.

▣ "in one body" This speaks of unity amidst diversity (cf. 1:18,24; Eph. 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. I Cor. 12:7) and (2) Great-Commission Christianity (cf. Matt. 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. v. 17; Eph. 5:20; I Thess. 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!

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 vv. 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. 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. Pro. 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 Eph. 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. 3:17).

3:16-17 There is a theological and structural parallel between Eph. 5:18-21 and Col. 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) v. 19, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (present active)

(2) v. 19, singing (present active)

(3) v. 19, making melody (present active)

(4) v. 20, always giving thanks (present active)

(5) v. 21, be subject to one another (present middle)

In Colossians some of the same participles also occur.

(1) v. 16, teaching (present active)

(2) v. 16, admonishing in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (present active)

(3) v. 16, singing (present active)

(4) v. 17, giving thanks (present active)


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. v. 23; Rom. 14:7-9; I Cor. 10:31; II Cor. 5:15; Eph. 6:7; I Pet. 4:11). This truth could revolutionize the modern, western, individual-focused church.

 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.

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. Eph. 5:18) indwells a believer it impacts every area of life! The parallels are Eph. 5:21-22; Titus 2:5; I Pet. 3:1, but remember Colossians was written first. Ephesians expresses the universal principle of submission for all believers in Eph. 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 (hupotassō) at Eph. 5:21.

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 onward. However, Christian male headship is characterized by, and commanded (present active imperative) to be, sacrificial, self-giving, Christlike love (cf. Eph. 5:25, 28-29). Headship in the NT is servanthood (cf. Matt. 20:25-27; 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. I Cor. 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. Rom. 12:10; Gal. 5:13; Phil. 2:3; I John 4:11)! See Special Topic: Submission at Eph. 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. v. 20). Believers should treat others in loving, submitting ways not because others deserve it, but because they are Christians (cf. vv. 23-23). The Spirit allows fallen mankind to redirect his self-centeredness into others-centeredness, as Jesus did (cf. II Cor. 5:14-15; I John 3:16).


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, but vv. 28-29 express the same truth in a positive sense. In the biblical context of "one flesh" (cf. Genesis 2) 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.

3:20 "Children, be obedient" This is a present active imperative, "continue to be obedient." In Eph. 6:1-4, this mandate is expanded to relate to Exod. 20:12 and Deut. 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.

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. Eph. 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.

 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.

3:22 "Slaves, in all things obey" There should be no paragraph break at v. 22. This is a present active imperative, "keep on obeying." This is the third example from the Christian home (cf. Eph. 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. v. 18; Eph. 5:22). See Special Topic: Paul's Admonitions to Slaves at Eph. 6:5.

▣ "sincerity of heart" See Special Topic below.


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

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. v. 23; Eph. 6:8).

3:25 Divine judgment is dispensed without partiality (cf. Deut. 10:17; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 2:9; 6:9; I Pet. 1:17). This principle is expressed clearly in Gal. 6:7. Even believers will give an account unto God, not for sin, but for stewardship (cf. II Cor. 5:10). Sin has consequences in time and in eternity!

4:1 This shows the reciprocal responsibility (cf. vv. 19, 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. 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 Eph. 6:5.


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 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?


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