“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)!