Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: May 2010

Out with the old …

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices . . .” (Colossians 3:9)

In Colossians 3:9 and 10 the Apostle Paul lays the foundation for how we may, in actual practice, declare “Out with the old and in with the new.”  First, “out with the old.”

Our old, pre-Christ life was a lie.  Deception is out of bounds among believers (“one another”).  Not that this permits lying to non-believers, but simply that the boundaries of Paul’s present discussion relate to the interrelationships of Christ-followers.  In the absolute sense of the word lying is a sin of the tongue and might be grouped with the five vices listed in verse 8.  Yet the word describes not only verbal utterances of falsehood, but also deceptive actions (Acts 5:3, 5).  Thus Paul may have in mind not simply lying words, but the lying lifestyle of one who claims the name of Christ but continues to live after the old, sinful nature.  Such a one may be “living a lie.”  This the Christ-follower must not do.  When he demands “Do not lie to one another” the preposition may indicate direction (“to one another” as in most English versions) or opposition (“tell lies against someone, i.e. to his detriment”).  The former seems the more likely of the two understandings.

Paul now gives support for the prohibition (and probably all the prohibitions and commands of vv.5-9a) in the form of two parallel participial phrases, the first here in verse 9 and the second making up verse 10.  The first picks up on the imagery of tasking off one’s old clothing (v.8), though using a different word: “since you have laid aside.”  This word is used elsewhere in the New Testament only in Colossians 2:15: “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities . . .” (though the cognate noun is found in 2:11).  The basic notion of the verb is that of stripping off clothing.  This is a stronger term than that of verse 8 (“put . . . aside”) and indicates something even more fundamental, something foundational that make that action possible.  What Paul demands here is possible precisely because of what God did there through Christ in the cross.  Because Christ disrobed (and thus disarmed) the demonic powers that once sought to hold us in bondage to sin and through sin we have “laid aside” the old life of slavery.  Here the aorist tense views the action as decisive.  But just when did this action take place?  Is this synonymous with salvation?  Or is this an event of one’s sanctification subsequent to salvation?  Given the corresponding expression of the next verse (“and have put on the new self”) it seems best to understand this as descriptive of the change wrought by repentance and faith at the time of salvation and witnessed to in one’s baptism.  Subsequently the believer must “Put to death” (v.5, esv) the sin that continues to cling to him in this life (in a quest to become in experience what he is by gracious declaration of God).  The participial form is to be understood as indicating the grounds upon which the imperative is expected to be obeyed (“since you laid aside,” as with most English translations: e.g. esv, net, nkjv, niv, nrsv).  In view of the fact that we have, through repentance and faith, taken off and cast aside the old life and (according to verse 10) “put on the new self” we ought no longer to live a double life, lying to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

That which is laid aside is “the old self”; or more literally “the old man” (net, nkjv).  The precise phrase is used elsewhere only in Ephesians 4:22, and that in a similar context.  But nearly the same expression is used in Romans 6:6 which will aid us in understanding just what Paul is referencing here.  There he speaks of both “our old self” and our “body of sin.”  The first, he says, “has been crucified.”  The second “might be done away with.”  From Paul’s discussion it seems best to understand “our old self” to refer to our old, unregenerate person, prior to conversion.  This “old self” has now ceased to exist, for I have been made a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  Yet my “body of sin” continues to harass me, though its power has been broken.  It continues to shout, demand and woo me toward sin, but it can no longer compel me to sin.  The translation of the particular verb in Romans 6:6 is somewhat unfortunate (“might be done away with”).  The idea might be better expressed as “rendered powerless,” as opposed to ceasing to exist.  Thus, when Paul says here, “you laid aside the old self,” he is speaking of the change wrought in regeneration at the time of conversion.  It is through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ that a person lays aside their former life and receives new life in Jesus Christ, becoming an entirely new person.  This is a truth which has both individual and corporate aspects to it.  Individually, my pre-conversion, unregenerate life has ended and I have been born again to new life in Christ, having been given an entirely new existence.  Corporately, I have ceased to exist “in Adam” and now exist “in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22).  In this latter sense I belong now to a new humanity.

In such a state one lays aside “the old self” along “with its evil practices.”  It is precisely because the “old self” has ceased to exist through co-crucifixion with Christ on the cross and because we have been brought into union with Christ our head that we are able now in the present to set aside the “evil practices” that once characterized our life without Christ.  Our word praxis is brought over directly from the Greek word translated “practices.”  It variously describes an activity, function, way of acting, etc.  Here in the plural is refers to evil or disgraceful deeds (cf. Rom. 8:13).  Presumably this term gathers up all the vices listed in verses 5, 8 and 9 along any others that might be added to them.  Once again Paul is stressing that we must become in practice what we are by profession of faith.

But all of this is only half of the equation of freedom.  Watch for the next post, “in with the new.”

Soul Rest

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

Jesus’ gentleness and humbleness are not simply reasons to take His yoke and learn from Him, they are the very lesson He teaches us when we are yoked up with Him.  The pathway to rest is the journey of gentleness and humility.  We are too often un-restful trying to figure out what God wants from us.  Too much of my life has been lived not restfully, but fretfully.  It leads to sheer exhaustion of soul.

But here is Jesus telling us that the path to rest is down the lane of gentleness and humility.  The proof of the journey is rest in our souls.

But just what are gentleness and humility?  Gentleness first.  It is sometimes translated “meekness.”  It means “power under control.”  The old illustration is of a powerful horse which is restrained by a tiny bit in its mouth.  Its power is under control.  Training produced this.

But this is counter-intuitive, isn’t it?  Too often we try to control – exerting great amounts of mental, emotional, physical energy to control the direction of lives, circumstances, family, job, neighborhood, school, etc.  Instead of aiming to control the power we have been given, we aim to control people, situations, circumstances, and problems that seem to be in our way.  Little wonder we are exhausted!  We’ve been misapplying the power we’ve been entrusted with!

Perhaps this is the point: to restrain your power is itself an expression of power.  In other words: meekness is the first demonstration of true power.  Power proves itself by controlling itself.

Yet too often we think of it precisely in the opposite direction.  Power demonstrates itself in producing great and awesome results.  No!  The first proof of true power is that it restrains itself.

Maybe we’ve spent too much time praying for God to give us more power, when God has already given us His power – in the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The trouble is I haven’t always been using this power as He prescribed.  The anointing and power of the Holy Spirit is first proven in self-control – in thoughts, words, actions, attitudes.  There is no power for ministry outwardly when meekness is not found in the inner world of the soul.  Why would God entrust us with more power for outward ministry when we don’t apply inwardly the power He has given us?

Then there is humility.  There is far too much “me” in ministry.

God stands ready to fully empower any ministry and any person in ministry where gentleness and humility are the first order of the day and the first object of His power.  Such an expression of power will never be found deficient.  Ministries and ministers that demonstrate meekness and humility are never under-powered.

If we want this “rest” we each must yoke-up with Christ.  We each must take the place of learner (disciple) and enroll in the first two courses in the program: gentleness and humility.  His power must work in us before He will ever work it through us.  We must discover how this orientation to life enables us to let go of the things that so exhaust us … efforts to control and produce.

I suppose this is another way of saying that Jesus calls us to “be” before He calls us to “do.”  Reverse it and pay the price – fruitlessness, frustration and exhaustion.  Walk it and find rest for your soul.

That Which Destroys Relationships

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)

With an adversative (“But”) Paul makes a turn from what used to be true of us as believers (v.7) to what must “now” be true of us.  What should be “now” is in direct contrast with what was “once” true of us (v.7).  Instead of the indulgence we once practiced (v.7) now we are to “put . . . away” such practices.  To “put . . . away” simply means to put aside or put off something, as one would do with clothing (cf. Acts 7:58).  Over time the word came to mean to give up or renounce.  This is another way of describing what Paul meant when he earlier commands us to “Put to death” (v.5).  Paul will employ yet another verb in verse 9 to communicate the same basic idea (“laid aside”).  This is a matter of urgent, immediate obedience.  Paul makes the personal nature of compliance emphatic (“you”).  The expression may mean either “you also” (NASB) as with all other Christians or “you . . . yourselves” (NIV).  That which is to be put aside is “them all.”  Does this expression serve as “a summation of what precedes” (the list of sins in v.5) or does it anticipate the list of vices that is to now follow here in verse 8?  Most likely it serves in an all-inclusive manner, indicating all that relates to the “old self” (v.9)—including all the items in these two vice lists and whatever else may be added to them—must be “put . . . away” as worn out clothing from a previous life.

Now, as in verse 5, Paul strings together another series of five nouns to form a second list of vices.  Whereas verse 5 dealt with sexual sins, here the focus is upon social sins.  First is “anger.”  The word is a powerful one.  Thayer says it derives from another word which means “to teem, denoting an internal motion, especially that of plants and fruits swelling with juice” (452).  Unresolved conflicts fester and eventuate in bitterness.  The churning resentment eventually erupts upon the surface and destroys those in its path.  What is holy in God (“the wrath of God,” v.6) is unholy and destructive in man (v.8).  Second, is “wrath.”  The previous word describes a settled wrath, but in contrast this word “is used of anger that boils up and subsides again” (Friberg, 200).  Thus it describes active anger or wrath.  It is can be thus variously translated as “angry tempers” (2 Cor. 12:20, NASB) and “outbursts of anger” (Gal. 5:20, NASB).  Third is “malice.”  Paul can use it more generally simply of “evil” (1 Cor. 14:20), but often also in the more specialized sense, as here, of “malice” (Rom. 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:8; Eph. 4:31; Tit. 3:3).  In this latter sense it describes “maliciousness or inward viciousness of disposition” (Robertson, 4:332).  Then comes “slander.”  We derive our word “blasphemy” from this word, and it can have that connotation when used of speech directed against God (e.g., John 10:33).  When directed at persons, however, it can also refer to “slander” or more generally to “abusive language” (1 Tim. 6:4).  And finally Paul cites “obscene talk.”  The word is used only here in the New Testament.  The word comes from through another word from a compound formed from two words meaning “disgraceful” and “word” (Thayer, 17).  The dual elements of “filthiness” and “evil-speaking” may be contained in the word (Lightfoot, 212).  It is “evil speech in the sense of obscene speech” (BAGD, 25).  This is to be kept “from your mouth,” or more literally “out from the mouth of you.”  It is possible that this clause governs both of the last two words, since they both have to do most directly with sins of the tongue.

In the previous list of vices (v.5) Paul began with the manifestation of the evil and worked backward toward its root motivation (see post “Dealing Radically With Sin, Part 3”).  Here, however, he moves in the opposite direction—beginning with the root motivation (“anger”) and moving outward in ever increasingly demonstrative expressions of that anger (concluding with “obscene talk”).  Thus we may trace the progressive nature of these sins.  It begins with an inward anger (“anger”), which, if not checked, moves forward into a flash of anger (“wrath”).  Such “wrath,” if not “put . . . away” quickly, festers and becomes increasingly intent on actually harming the other person (“malice”), an impulse which may express itself in “slander” or “obscene talk.”  Many a married couple, if they are willing, can trace this pattern through many of their worst moments together.  Jesus was correct in His analysis of the order: “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matt. 12:34b).  Again, as in verse 5 (though here it is developed in reverse order), the implication is that victory is found in dealing with the sins at the level of their root motivation, not at the level of fruit-bearing.

If, then, we have accurately perceived the root-to-fruit pattern of the vice lists in verses 5 and 8, that means that Paul is identifying two key root sins here: “greed” (v.5) and “anger” (v.8).  What are “greed” and “anger” except selfishness—self-orientation toward what another has (“greed”) or does (“anger”)?  This serves only to underscore the essential nature of a Christ-focused, heaven-directed orientation for our thinking as set forth in 3:1-4.  The key to deliverance from the power of these sin-vortexes is found at the root of our thoughts and interpretations of life and its relationships: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (v.2)!

Sufficient Motivation

“On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.” (Colossians 3:6-7)

What would sufficiently motivate you to put something to death?  To put something in you to death?  Paul has just ordered us to “Put to death” the sins of verse 5 (see Dealing Radically With Sin Parts 1, 2, and 3). The natural question is: Why?

In verses 6 and 7 the Apostle gives an adequate reason for this jarring imperative of verse 5.

“On account of” translates a Greek word that points to “the reason or cause on account of which anything is or is done, or ought to be done” (Thayer, 134).  By “these” Paul means the five vices he just listed in the previous verse.  The powerful motivating force is “the wrath of God is coming.”

The concept of God’s wrath is more broadly spoken of in the New Testament.  Paul lays special emphasis on it in his letter to the Romans.  He is “The God who inflicts wrath” (3:5).  And God’s wrath presently abides on the unbelieving (John 3:36); indeed they are storing up God’s wrath against them by their unbelief (Rom. 2:5).  And yet God’s wrath is in some way currently falling from heaven against unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).  At least one expression of this would be through the secondary means of the government’s power to punish evildoers (Rom. 13:4).  Yet God is patient in the expression of His wrath (Rom. 9:22).

Here we are told that the outpouring of God’s wrath “is coming.” The verb is present tense and pictures the wrath of God as already in motion and its ultimate arrival as inevitable. The middle voice pictures God acting upon Himself to express His wrath, moving Himself in the current expression of His wrath, and moving toward its fullest and unrestrained outpouring.  God has judged sin in Christ for all who through repentance and faith hide themselves in Him.  But for those who do not, God is currently pouring out His opposition to sin and will ultimately, climatically, devastatingly do so in fullest measure.

This, says Paul, is more than reason enough to take the radical step of putting to death the vices and impulses within us as listed in the previous verse.

Note that some versions, unlike the ESV, include a clause which is present in some manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.  Its inclusion is disputed, but we will note here that it adds that God’s wrath is coming “upon the sons of disobedience” (NASB).  It is possible that a scribe may have added them here because the same words appear to be genuine in the parallel verse in Ephesians 5:6. The expression itself (“the sons of disobedience”) is a “Semitic idiom that means ‘people characterized by disobedience’” (NET Bible).  That the wrath of God is described as coming “upon” them indicates that the judgment falls from above, from a higher plane of authority—that is to say, it is indeed divine.  Those who live out their live on the purely horizontal plane, seldom if ever lifting their eyes to include the higher perspective of divine realities exist for the purely selfish (“greed”) and sensuous (“evil desire,” “passion,” “impurity,” and “sexual immorality,” v.5).  There is no one “above” them – who created them, who owns them, who is ruling them – no one to whom they must answer.  One day they will be utterly shocked to discover divine, inescapable, eternal wrath descending upon them and holding them accountable for a lifetimes of misdirected desires and actions.

Yet, says Paul, “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them” (v.7).

The preposition (“In”) pictures the sphere of the Colossian believers’ pre-Christian lives.  It stands in stark contrast to their present life “in” Christ, an emphasis found so frequently in Colossians (e.g. 1:2, 28; 2:3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11-13, 15) and elsewhere in Paul’s writings.  That Paul is speaking here of the Colossian believers is made clear by his use of the plural form of the personal pronoun (“you”).  The verb (“once walked”) is a common one meaning simply “to walk.”  But it is often used by Paul as he does here (cf. also 1:10; 2:6; 4:5) in a figurative sense describe the unfolding of one’s life one step at a time.  This way of life was true of them “once,” though, apparently, no longer because of the liberty from sin they had found through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul is thinking back to the time “when you were living in them.”  By “them” he means the five vices listed in verse 5. The imperfect tense views their former life as an ongoing, repeated set of experiences that made up a certain quality of life.  The second person plural reminds the Colossian believers that this was the case in each and every one of their lives.  Again, as the opening of the verse, Paul pictures the sphere of their pre-Christian lives (“in them”).  In the sphere of these sins and impulses the Colossians—and we—had both “walked” and “lived” before we met Christ.

Before we met Christ we stood at ground zero for the detonation of God’s wrath.  Is there any better motivation to deal in death with all that once held us immobile before the gathering clouds of God’s holy, divine, infinite wrath?

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