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The contrasts in Colossians 3 are so stark they are haunting. On the one hand, the sins in Colossians 3:5–9 are foul: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lying. Greed is labeled “idolatry” (Col. 3:5). One can see why. In effect, one worships what one most desires. If greed lies at the heart of our deepest desires, then acquisitiveness has become our god, and we are idolaters.
On the other hand, the virtues briefly spelled out in Colossians 3:12–17 have always been associated with genuine Christian character. Here I wish to focus on the last two verses: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:16–17).
(1) The “word of Christ” is not exactly the Scriptures. It is the Gospel—but the primary access we have to that Gospel is the Scriptures. The expression “word of Christ” is sufficiently flexible that it can mean either the word that Christ taught or the word about Christ. Insofar as the Gospel itself was both proclaimed by Jesus Christ and so embodied in his person and ministry that it is also what the apostles say about him, “the word of Christ” embraces both meanings.
(2) This is what is to dwell in us richly. It is to fill our memories, occupy our horizons, constitute our priorities. We are so to reflect on it, as we turn it over in our minds and learn how it applies in every area of our lives, that, far from occupying a little religious corner of our experience, it will dwell in us richly.
(3) This must take place not only in the privacy of personal study and reflection but also in our mutual instruction and admonition. Whatever teaching takes place within the local church, it must be full of the Gospel and its rich, life-transforming implications and applications.
(4) Over against all that is foul and all that is idolatrous, Christians are to be characterized by gratitude. We have been called to peace, the apostle says. “And be thankful” (Col. 3:15). The singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is to be done “with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Indeed, the apostle concludes, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17, italics added).
Imagine a complex, well-ordered society such that in every area of life there are actions that make a person dirty and further prescribed actions that make that person clean. When you get up in the morning, you wear clothes of certain kinds of fabric, but not others. There are clean foods and unclean foods. If a spot of mold appears on the wall of your house, there are procedures for treating it. Men must adopt a certain course after a wet dream, women in connection with their periods. Some unclean things must not even be touched. In addition there is a complex religious and sacrificial system each person is supposed to observe, and failure to observe it at any point brings its own uncleanness. And all of this fits into a still broader set of constraints that include what we normally call moral categories: how we speak, truth-telling, how we treat others, questions of property, sexual integrity, neighborly actions, judicial impartiality, and so forth. Understand, too, that in this society the rules have been laid down by God himself. They are not the results of some elected Congress or Parliament, easily overturned by a fickle or frustrated public eager for something else. To ignore or defy these rules is to defy the living God. What kinds of lessons would be learned in such a society?
Welcome to the world of Leviticus. This, too, is part of the heritage from Mount Sinai, part of the Mosaic Covenant. Here the people of God are to learn that God prescribes what is right and wrong, and that he has a right to do so; that holiness embraces all of life; that there is a distinction between the conduct of the people of God and the conduct of the surrounding pagans, not merely a difference in abstract beliefs. Here the Lord himself prescribes what sacrifices are necessary, along with confession of sin (Lev. 5:5), when a person falls into uncleanness; and even that the system itself is no final answer, since one is constantly falling under another taboo and returning to offer sacrifices one has offered before. One begins to wonder if there will ever be one final sacrifice for sins.
But that is down the road. Here in Leviticus 5, Christian readers delight to observe that while God trains up his covenant people in elementary religious thought, he provides means such that even the poorest in society may regain cleanness. The person who cannot afford a sacrificial lamb may bring a pair of doves or a pair of pigeons; the person who cannot afford these may bring a small amount of flour. The lessons continue; always there is hope and a way of escape from the punishment that rebellion attracts.
5:1 “If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity; 2 or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean, and he realizes his guilt; 3 or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt; 4 or if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; 5 when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, 6 he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation1 for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.
7 “But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons,2 one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. 8 He shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer first the one for the sin offering. He shall wring its head from its neck but shall not sever it completely, 9 and he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, while the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar; it is a sin offering. 10 Then he shall offer the second for a burnt offering according to the rule. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.
11 “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah3 of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it and shall put no frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. 12 And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take a handful of it as its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, on the LORD's food offerings; it is a sin offering. 13 Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven. And the remainder4 shall be for the priest, as in the grain offering.”
14 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 15 “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the LORD, he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued5 in silver shekels,6 according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16 He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.
17 “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the LORD's commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. 18 He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. 19 It is a guilt offering; he has indeed incurred guilt before7 the LORD.”
3:1 O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah1
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
7 Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah
4:1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
2 O men,2 how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.
4 Be angry,3 and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
7 You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.1
2 The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;
whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life.
3 It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife,
but every fool will be quarreling.
4 The sluggard does not plow in the autumn;
he will seek at harvest and have nothing.
5 The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water,
but a man of understanding will draw it out.
6 Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,
but a faithful man who can find?
7 The righteous who walks in his integrity—
blessed are his children after him!
8 A king who sits on the throne of judgment
winnows all evil with his eyes.
9 Who can say, “I have made my heart pure;
I am clean from my sin”?
10 Unequal2 weights and unequal measures
are both alike an abomination to the LORD.
11 Even a child makes himself known by his acts,
by whether his conduct is pure and upright.3
12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
the LORD has made them both.
13 Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;
open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.
14 “Bad, bad,” says the buyer,
but when he goes away, then he boasts.
15 There is gold and abundance of costly stones,
but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
16 Take a man's garment when he has put up security for a stranger,
and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for foreigners.4
17 Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.
18 Plans are established by counsel;
by wise guidance wage war.
19 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.5
20 If one curses his father or his mother,
his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.
21 An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning
will not be blessed in the end.
22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.
23 Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good.
24 A man's steps are from the LORD;
how then can man understand his way?
25 It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,”
and to reflect only after making vows.
26 A wise king winnows the wicked
and drives the wheel over them.
27 The spirit6 of man is the lamp of the LORD,
searching all his innermost parts.
28 Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king,
and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.
29 The glory of young men is their strength,
but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.
30 Blows that wound cleanse away evil;
strokes make clean the innermost parts.
3:1 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 your1 life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:2 sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.3 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 self4 with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,5 free; but Christ is all, and in all.
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.
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters,6 not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 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. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.