My hope is that by this time, after having looked at several of Paul’s writings, you have moved into a place of ability to see the Gospel Jesus taught, coherent with the Kingdom of Heaven, in Paul’s writings.
I will present a summarized review of Colossians. It is important that you learn to read the important books of the Bible with your Kingdom of Heaven concept intact, reading with ears to hear. So the Letter is the text, this essay is observation. Please read the Letter carefully, the entire Letter at one time. Then reread until you are comfortable reading it. Then continue with this essay as the thoughts of another person seeking to understand the Letter. Read the Letter as you proceed through this essay, finding the parallel passage.
Paul starts the Letter with glowing praise of the Body of Christ at Colossae because of their Love and the firm belief they have in the Gospel. Paul prays that they will be filled with “the knowledge of [God’s] will”. We can see God’s will through our concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is God’s intense and often repeated goal of saving people (through their faith). Paul says something that is a good exercise for exegesis centered on the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul prays that the Colossians will “walk worthy of the Lord … bearing fruit in every good work”. Our elemental concepts may tempt us to assume that Paul means good works, such as not sinning. But our Kingdom of Heaven concept does not move that direction. Instead we recognize the work that Jesus the Christ was and is doing – such as shown by this quote from John 9: “3Jesus answered, “[It was] neither [that] this man sinned, nor his parents; but [it was] so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day…”. I hope you can see from this that the works of God are on a different track.
Going on in the Letter, Paul speaks of our redemption and salvation in completed tense. Because it was. Paul revels in the nature of Jesus the Christ, the Fullness of God, exhibited when he reconciled everything to HIMSELF through the cross. Paul speaks of the efficacy of this gift (as he described it in Ephesians), that it is effective through our FAITH in the HOPE of the Gospel. In other words, that the gift of salvation happens, or takes effect, when we believe.
Paul speaks of suffering that is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, an odd phrase that may gain meaning when considering that the suffering of Christ freed us from suffering deserved as punishment from God, but does not free us from the suffering caused by those that enforce their view of Good and Evil. Paul is suffering in prison in accordance with the authority of the government of men, the authority that emanates from judgment, but not God’s judgment.
But Paul bears the suffering for the sake of the Body, that he might do what he is doing in this Letter: presenting the mystery of the Gospel, forgiveness of the guilty through the death of the Christ. And that Paul might present the Bodyto the Christ MATURE. They are saved, which Paul made clear in his opening statements, but they are not behaving very well. Paul wants them to be mature, to be “joined together in Love so they may have ALL the riches of assurance and have knowledge of the Mystery: the Christ. All the TREASURES of knowledge and wisdom are hidden in him.” This sentence is directed to the Body at Colossae, the group to whom he will shortly begin to correct their bad behavior.
Paul reinforces this with the truth – that the entire fullness of the nature of God is found in the Christ. You can learn the nature of God Most High through his messages throughout the Hebrew Bible. Such a study is what drew the Bereans to the Gospel. But the Greeks at Colossae might be following the other way – discovering the nature of God Most High through the nature of his Son, Jesus the Christ. Either way, his nature is evident: For God Most High so loved everyone that he came to die to forgive their sins because he wants deep relationship with each one. Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest. I pursue each lost sheep. “Have mercy on me” with the divine response “Yes”.
This nature of God Most High and/or/in/with the Christ is presented in contrast to the elemental forces of this world, another often used phrase from Paul. Used in clear meaning as the other nature of this world, which has it origins at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Kingdom of Heaven, the nature of God with eternal Life, is in contrast to the kingdom of death. The Kingdom of the Spirit is in contrast to the kingdom of the flesh.
Paul reminds them through symbolic illustration, using circumcision and ceremonial washing as metaphors for entering the Kingdom of the Spirit through the death, burial and resurrection of the Christ. He made you alive with Him and forgave us ALL our trespasses. Note, once again, the past tense: FORGAVE. He erased all the debt. All the debt, Paul says. ALL THE DEBT. I am emphasizing this as it may be difficult to hold this concept into chapter 3 – but you must. He disarmed all rulers and authorities, and disgraced them. There is no threat to us from them.
Without the slightest change of subject, Paul continues on with encouragement to not let anyone attempt to control us by rules. The rules were and are good, but they were preparation for the Christ. The truth, the substance, the fullness, is in the Christ. If you have died and resurrected with the Christ, why live as if the rules still were the most important things? You now have an eternal being that is safely hidden in the Christ. The rules never could and never will result in lack of sin, which is of vital importance if you choose the path to pleasing God through behavior. This whole section is another rephrasing of the more extensive explanation Paul gave in Romans.
As mentioned many times, the chapter breaks in the Bible are a distraction. They must be ignored during study. I point this out because the chapter break from 2 to 3 in Colossians can lead to a disconnection in a very important flow of thought. So keeping our minds connected with the concept of complete forgiveness and the concept of the failure of the rules to make us better, we move on.
Without any change in subject Paul adds some results statements. “Therefore”, he says, meaning that the logical force of his previous statements about “All sin forgiven” and “all debt removed” and “being dead to the elemental forces and rules of this world” leads to this next statement. Those facts lead to the irresistible truth that we must pursue thinking with the mind of the Christ, using the concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven. 4When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. This is apparent to me as a promise for each moment when you believe in the true Gospel and accept the concepts Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven. This is about every moment when you start thinking with the mind of the Christ who is Jesus our savior. Every moment when you can see the nature of Jesus is when the glory of your new life, your reborn self is visible to you.
Paul now uses “therefore” again. Your new being is thinking with the mind of the Christ, with All Sin Forgiven, All Debts Paid, Rules Shown as Ineffective. 5Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature . [That is HCSB, possibly not the best translation for this verse] And Paul gives a list of high sins almost identical to his list in several other Letters. There in verse 5 is Paul giving a new list of rules to control bad behavior? I ask that question in sarcasm, hoping that our minds hold the concept he just gave us. No, Paul is talking about having the mind of the Christ.
This section of this essay is provided as a tool to explore the meaning of verse 5. This is not a summary, but instead a more in-depth study to provide reasonable basis for the summary.
In the translation copied in above, “put to death” or “kill” is a word in Greek that was used at times by Greek authors to imply “deprive of power” or “destroy the strength of”. Hold that in your mind for a minute.
Paul instructs the church, the Body of Christ at Colossae, to use this “deprivation of power”, this weakening or killing, against some things or some beings. The things or beings are represented in the HCSB by the phrase “what belongs to your worldly nature”. This verse varies somewhat on translation, and the reason is apparent. The phrase could be literally translated “the members which are on the earth” as can be seen in various translations. It is apparent why translations take the various approaches to translation, ranging from the (possibly) more literal ”kill the members on the earth” to “treat the parts of your earthly body as dead”.
The meaning of the phrase hinges on the understanding of the Greek words Nekrōsate and melē – which can be translated as “kill” and “members”.
Nekrōsate we discussed a couple paragraphs before: It literally means “kill”, but can be taken figuratively to mean “weaken”.
Melē literally means “limbs” as in arms, legs, or other parts of the human body. It can be figurative as well.
Note that the Greek word for body is not in the phrase. The translations that use the English word “body” are deriving it from the literal understanding of melē. Then some translations use the “on the earth” phrase to mean that Paul used a full prepositional phrase to indicate that he is referring to an individuals mortal body. Certainly possible, as indicated by the fact that some Greek experts believe it a valid translation. But not all experts agree. Note that in other Letters Paul uses an adjective “mortal” instead of this phrase when he is talking about the physical human body.
But if we take that meaning, “the limbs of the mortal physical body”, with the rest of the sentence being literal, we are being instructed to physically kill our physical limbs. If you follow the teachings of Jesus about salvation outside ofKingdom of Heaven grace, Jesus said the same thing: cut off your hand to enter heaven. Direct literal understanding has been practiced throughout history, although only by those who believe strongly enough to actually perform the mutilation. This understanding leads us to the same place the teaching of Jesus was intended to lead us: the impossibility of salvation through our own efforts.
I find that literal understanding – “cut off your limbs” – to be in contradiction to the message of salvation from the Master – Jesus the Christ – and in contradiction to the glorious proclamation of salvation that Paul just gave. So I reject it as an understanding of Paul’s phrase.
Melē is often used figuratively, indicating often people that are part of of group. Paul uses this sense of the word often in his other letters. This sense of the word fits well with the prepositional phrase “on the earth”. So then, if we take the “kill” to be literal, and the “members” to be figurative, then we are to “kill the people that are part of the group on earth”. Presumably those with the characteristics that follow, the list of high sins.
As you can see, the more literal approach could lead to burning at the stake, which it did at times. Do we avoid an interpretation because it leads us to something we do not like? For me, I pursue interpretation that supports the statements of Jesus the Christ. [As should be obvious, I need to understand those statements first: The Kingdom of Heaven] And I pursue interpretation that supports the other statements of the same author of the text I am studying – in this case: Paul.
So I reject the understanding that leads to burning at the stake, because Jesus says he pursues relentlessly the lost sheep, the 1 of the 100, he does not kill them. And he did pursue them relentlessly while walking Judea, pursuing the exact ones on this list. And he still pursues them today.
It could be that the “kill” is to be taken figuratively but the “members” are to be taken literally. This is actually the most common approach as is evident from the various translations, especially in those that move towards dynamic equivalence. Dynamic equivalence is the correct approach to translation from any language to another, as understanding of words alone never indicates complete meaning independent of context. The intended meaning from the speaker is conveyed in ever widening concentric circles of context. A sentence certainly changes the meaning of a word. The subject of the conversation certainly can change the meaning of a word. But dynamic equivalence has serious problems, as I believe this verse illustrates. If we take “kill” figuratively and members literally, we end up with needing to weaken our physical body parts. This is followed by the list of things to be killed, which are not body parts, not all physical actions, and are all related to belief systems.
While this understanding, subjugating our body parts, holds an appeal for the instinct to suppress my carnal self, I find this understanding weak for multiple reasons. If we take the list of high sins as commonly understood, being mostly sexual, with greed added on, how do we weaken those? Ah yes, rules. Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle. A couple sentences before this, Paul said that such rules have no value for limiting self-indulgence. Paul wrote more on this approach in the middle of the Letter to the Romans – “the things I don’t want to do I do …” . There are more problems with this approach that all center around the Gospel and the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Where do we go if we take both as figurative? If we take the word “kill” to be “weakening” rather than “putting to death” and if we take “members” to be individuals in a group of people, we would read the admonition as “Weaken the people of the earth group, people who worship Aphrodite, associate with demons, desire things of evil including the idol of wealth.” Obviously using the direct understanding of the Greek meanings of the list of high sins.
This understanding has appeal as well, given that it can be reconciled with the earlier parts of Paul’s Letter.
But, as I mentioned previously, to understand Paul’s use of a word we need to reconcile his use of the word in other locations. We should review all Paul’s usage of a word, under the primary usage common to the culture of his direct audience.
So how does Paul use the word “members”?
I encourage you to do a thorough, context driven study of Paul’s usage of “members”. “Context driven” means understanding the message he is delivering in total, which means understanding not just the sentence, or the just the paragraph, or even just the Letter. The Gospel, with its simple, but difficult to accept, message is always the summary of the context.
Instead of reviewing all those references to the word “members” in Paul’s writing, I will summarize my observations. Paul uses the word both as a part of a person’s being and as a part of a group, primarily the Body of the Christ. But when you ponder Paul’s words, such as in Romans 6, 7, and 12, or in 1 Corinthians 6, IN CONTEXT, a concept for members emerges that requires a shift away from the direct physical “limbs” definition. Paul is referring to components of our beings, building blocks of our psyches, items for which we do not have common English or Greek words. Possibly these things could be expressed as component concepts that form our larger concepts, but such a definition implies that the human being is a collection of thoughts and nothing of importance more. But I believe and know that we cannot be measured by actions, and we cannot be measured adequately by thoughts. We exist and sense our existence at some deeper level. Spiritual.
Paul establishes in Romans that my “members” of my body are subjected to death. The components of my being are enslaved to death. Here is the Gospel: Jesus the Christ died and rose again – completed action. My “members” join with him when I believe that He, Jesus the Christ, saved me. My “members” are now part of his Body, which has already died and resurrected.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says we should not join the components of our spirituality with a temporary priestess of Aphrodite (the definition of a porne – prostitute). He immediately notes that our components are joined to the body of the Christ. And he says that all other sins differ from this sin, that the person who worships demon gods (anything other than God Most High) is sinning against his own body. Which body? The Christ or the mortal body that is subject to death (as Paul calls our mortal physical existence)?
He is not distinguishing between the 2. And there is the key to understanding. We are not compartmentalized beings. When we worship lessor gods, through whatever physical medium, we are sinning against the Body of the Christ, in which Body our beings have life.
Is that the unforgivable sin Jesus told us about? I do not think it is, but it can quickly lead to it. We see this throughout the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), God Most High sends numerous men to carry the message: “Quit worshiping the other gods. I am very angry when you worship other gods, because that path ends in eternal separation from me and I LOVE YOU. Turn to me. I forgive all sin.”
If you are giving yourself to another god, one day the choice will arrive: “choose between the two”.
So therefore, Body of the Christ at Colossae, adjust your concepts and realize that your “members” have been put to death through the death of the Christ and resurrected to life in that same body. This is the teaching of the middle of the Letter to the Romans, and Paul references the same concept in the Letter to the Colossians. If you again adjust your concepts to see that your being is joined with Christ in his death (put to death), you can see that your life is in Christ, and the list of spiritual sins is part of death. You will not need to turn to Aphrodite for meaning in life, your will not need to participate with demons in other ways (Aphrodite is NOT the only god worshiped by the Greco-Roman world), you will not desire evil things (things opposed to the God Most High – Satan), you will not desire wealth above brotherhood (making a god of wealth).
How do we do this? Believe. Paul gave this message in depth in Romans. Striving will not accomplish the goal. The goal is to know God, which we can do through the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. That goal is always waiting and always within reach. Today is always the day of salvation.
To summarize this last approach to understanding “Kill” and “members”: “kill” means assign our being to life under the death of Jesus. “Members” are the essential components of our being, separate or joined to the Body of Christ by association with his death. So the admonition from Paul is “View yourself as joined to Jesus the Christ in his death, which eliminates pursuing other gods.
So I will adopt that understanding and plug that back into the overall flow of the Letter.
The list of things to be “put to death” or “mortified” or “deprived of power” are whoredom, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and the covetousness, which is idolatry (using Literal Standard Version). As explained in preceding sections of this overall study, these words can clearly be seen as all related to worship or adherence to other beings or things in place of God Most High.
We have been dissecting this phrase with the “kill” and “members” for several paragraphs now. We took it apart and put it back together different ways to try eliminate the confusion that has resulted from many years of struggle with the concept of salvation, the Gospel that Paul is seeking to illuminate in each of his Letters. I am satisfied with the last understanding we arrived at but we may have lost some of the concepts he was building in this Letter with the sidetrack into this one “Kill members” statement.
Recall into your concepts the statement Paul made immediately before this. [“you have died and your life is hidden with the Christ in God. When the Christ is revealed, you will be un-hidden at that time, because Jesus is your only life”].
That statement is the guiding principle for the following “kill members” statement. Paul starts it with “Therefore”.
Let us review the statements of Paul again, starting with the last line of the prior statement, followed by the “kill members” statement expanded with the understanding from above:
When the Christ is revealed in you, you will be un-hidden at that time, because Jesus is your only life. This means that you need to ensure you adjust your concepts to recognize what parts of your existence are not part of your life hidden in Jesus, but in fact are part of death: worshiping gods like Aphrodite, joining in other forms of Pantheon worship. Said another way: As you become gloriously aware that your life is completely joined to the Christ in his death, you are free from the Rules that only serve to put you to death. You should examine your beliefs, concepts, to see which beliefs of yours belong to the kingdom of death. I speak of things like going to Aphrodite for the desperately needed things of life, crops, children, defense against killers, etc. I speak of similar beliefs, seeking assurance from other sources, whether those are other dieties – whichever beliefs are in your society, other belief systems like intellectualism and education, or even enough wealth to ensure tomorrow (after which you will care for other people’s needs). These other gods must be recognized as part of death, they must be put in the realm of death, they must be put to death.
Paul summarizes the Prophets next. “Because of these things the wrath of God is coming”. This is the message of the Prophets: all sin will be forgiven (future tense in the era before the Cross), but pursuing other gods is the path to destruction. Not a complex concept. This is the story that the Bible starts with. Our universal father and mother, Adam and Eve, chose to believe Satan, the progenitor of other gods. Then most of their children did the same, following the way of Good and Evil. And we (all) still do today. But our (Jesus believers) LIFE is HIDDEN in the Christ. Death is everywhere else. Death is separation from God Most High. He LOVES each person and is not willing that they should stay in Death. So God Most High is angry when people chose to continue to believe Satan, in the various forms of excellent logic he presents. For the believers at Corinth, with their Greco-Roman mind, Satan was hiding in Aphrodite and the numerous other gods surrounding Zeus. Where is he hiding today? He is easier to see when you adopt the mind of Christ and believe the Gospel and put the other beliefs to death.
But is that saying that God’s wrath coming on the believers at Colossae? Let us explore that. Paul instructed them to think about their porneia (worship of Aphrodite) as associated to death, which fact strongly indicates they were still participating at some level. But just prior Paul said that ALL their debt was canceled at the Cross. So they cannot be facing the wrath of God for their forgiven sin. Paul says the wrath of God comes on the disobedient. If we have escaped from the wrath to come, how did we do so? There was, is, and will always be only one way. Jesus said it many times: he said “Believe in me and inherit eternal life.” The disobedient that will experience the wrath of God are those who chose to not believe. This is the only sin, only disobedience, that remains, as Jesus explained.
This concept of the “wrath to come” as focused on those who reject the gift of salvation is fully supported by Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians. In that Letter he says “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” We can see that he again ties the worship of idols to the coming wrath.
Paul says they, the Body at Colossae, once walked in this disobedience, and now, in addition to putting away the confusion about activities of death, Paul tells them to deal with a list of emotional and interpersonal attitude issues. Note this list is important for living together in Love, but is certainly not a list of items that are all sins according to the Law. You can learn from that fact if you choose to do so. But Paul tags it onto the other list of high idolatry sins. It is reasonable for Paul to associate the lists because our LIFE is HIDDEN in Christ. Paul has made salvation clear before he got to this section of practical admonitions about how to prevent the Body of the Christ from falling apart. “You ARE BEING RENEWED in knowledge from the mind of the Christ”. Paul makes careful use of the progressive, the action of being renewed started before and continues on, and IS NOT COMPLETE.
Then Paul proceeds with positive admonition as he does in other Letters. He presents the fruits of a mind that is aligned with the LIFE Hidden in Christ, a life based on Love as he described in 1 Corinthians 13. Including forgiveness: no record of wrongs done, including those wrongs above in the previous lists. Then Paul encourages them to constantly remind each other of this Gospel, the Message of the Messiah, the Gospel of the Christ, the beginning understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Paul proceeds with how to apply the Gospel to family and work life, including a misunderstood phrase “the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done”. Another favorite to drag out of its context. The context makes it clear that Paul is saying to slaves (employees): “Don’t think the Love and Forgiveness of the Kingdom of Heaven will allow you to be lazy at work – do a good job or the human boss will fire you.”
Paul adds some more practical advice, then concludes with salutations.
In Colossians, Paul presents the same topics he always does, because these topics are what people need to hear. He strongly encourages them to remember the Gospel, that their salvation is powerful, glorious, and based in the completed actions of God Most High, not based on their actions. He glorifies the Glory of God Most High: Love. He strongly cautions them against worshiping other gods. He exhorts them to behave with Love.