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“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.” (NASB)
“1If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (NKJV)
The overriding theme of Colossians is the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ; supreme in His glorious person (i.e. He is God), and sufficient in His redeeming work (i.e. we are complete in Him). Due to the special place of this text in the letter, both of these aspects of Jesus come together in a concentrated and powerful way.
This passage serves as the bridge or transition point for the two halves of the letter. The first half is doctrinal, emphasizing the Deity of Christ and His redeeming work, and that in opposition to the false teachings making their way into the Colossian congregation. Time does not allow for a thorough analysis of these false teachings. However, the gist of these erroneous teachings and practices basically amounted to a diminished view of the nature and redeeming work of Jesus Christ; hence, the theme of the letter (in response to the falsehood). In short, according to the false teaching, there was something lacking in Christ, and the supplement of man’s “wisdom” and works were needed. Not so, says Paul, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete….” (2:9-10). The second half of the letter is practical, laying out various implications and applications of the doctrinal portion for the church, such as the mortification of sin, pursuing righteousness, loving one another, storing the word of Christ in our hearts, prayer, and evangelism. So, our text both looks back to what has been established in the doctrinal portion, and looks forward to what this means for our lives.
Allow me, then, to supply the central message of our immediate text, that you may profit all the more as we venture through it. Here we are reminded of our union with Christ, who is our surety of the glory to come, and so we are exhorted to live according to these two glorious realities: union with Christ and the hope of glory. Christ and glory, this is our theme.
I. The Command: Seek the Things Above (vv. 1b-2)
Before we look at what “the things above” are, and how we are to pursue them, let us first consider two important truths regarding Christ in this verse. A proper understanding of “the things above,” after all, is grounded in these two important truths about Christ.
A. The Glory of Christ
1. The Place of Christ – Above (or Heaven). Our Lord is no longer with us on this earth, but has ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11). In other words, He is exalted, having accomplished the work He was sent to do, and so is glorified together with the Father, with the glory He had with Him before the world was (Jn. 17:4-5).
2. The Position of Christ – Seated at the Right Hand of God. Numerous passages exist on this subject. However, let us give brief consideration to at least two of them (Heb. 8:1-2, 6; Acts 2:33-36). The significance of this has to do first with His priestly ministry. Having accomplished salvation by His life, death, and resurrection, He has sat down, signifying that His work is finished (cf. Jn. 19:30). At the right hand of God He serves as our mediator, our advocate. His blood has been brought into the true tabernacle (the heavenly tabernacle), and it pleads our justification.
Second, Christ having sat down at the right hand of God points to His kingly ministry. This is the place of His reign, where He serves as Head of the Church (Eph. 1:20-23) and rules over the nations, having all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). He is the exalted Lord and all are to honor and bow before Him (Phil. 2:5-11).
This is the prerogative – exclusive right – of Jesus Christ; for He alone is the Son of God, and He alone can and has accomplished the work necessary for our redemption.
Summary: Christ has accomplished salvation for us. He now reigns from heaven and continually intercedes for His Church (the people of God).
B. The Things Above
1. What They Are. The things above are contrasted with the things of the earth (or earthly things). We may be helped in our understanding of what it means to seek the things above if we first understand its opposite – seeking earthly things.
- False religion: self-righteousness; conceit; man-made rules; asceticism (Col. 2:16-23). (Based on diminished view of Christ’s nature and redeeming work.)
- Love of the world: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride in possessions (1 Jn. 2:16)
- These are things contrary to God and His ways; loving that which is temporal, rather than eternal; seeking prestige and honor in the world; storing up treasures on this earth; seeing one’s inheritance in this world, rather than in God; etc.
- True religion: resting one’s salvation (righteousness, hope, assurance, eternal life) in the glorious person and sufficient work of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:9-10; 2:6-7).
- Love of God: walking in wisdom, according to the knowledge and will of God; kingdom living (Col. 3:5-17; cf. Mt. 5-7; Rom. 12).
2. Our Focus and Pursuit of Them.
- Read Philippians 4:8-9
- We are to dwell on or ponder these things; meditate on them.
- Then practice them; walking according to the grace we have received.
- In short, to seek the things above is to live in light of the glory of Jesus Christ; to live as He lived; to live with a heavenly vision, of the glory to come; to discipline ourselves in prayer with thanksgiving, in holiness and righteousness of the truth; to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
Compare with Romans 8:5-6 “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”
Summary: To seek the things above is to live the spiritual life (in contrast to a carnal, earthly life), rooted in a true knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, focused on things that honor and please God. It is to look to Christ as our Lord, Savior, and Surety. The one who lives this life may honestly testify, “This world is not my home, my citizenship is not in this world, but is in heaven, where my Lord is.” (see Phil. 3:20-21)
Is this your testimony?
II. The Reason: Our Union with Christ (v. 1a, 3)
We’ve considered the command – seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand. That’s what we are to be about, how we are to live. That’s the imperative (do this). But why? What’s the indicative (the objective reality) that obliges and empowers us to seek the things above? What’s the grounding or doctrinal basis for why we are to seek the things above? What has happened in our lives that calls us to this kind of lifestyle? That’s where our attention now turns.
A. Died & Raised with Christ.
Here Paul draws our attention back to his words in Chapter 2:11-14, where baptism is spoken of as signifying the spiritual union we have in Christ – in His death/burial and resurrection. In short, Christ’s death was our death to sin/world/flesh, and His resurrection was our resurrection to newness of life (see also Rom. 6:1-11; Gal. 5:24; 6:14).
- Baptism is closely identified with salvation, in that it signifies (visual word) our spiritual birth (see Jn. 3:3-5; “water” refers to spiritual cleansing; “Spirit” refers to the giving of life; both of these truths are present in Col. 2:13).
- Faith is the focal point (we are buried and raised up with Christ “through faith;” v. 12).
So, having died to the things of the world, we are not to live in and for them any longer. We have new life in Christ; therefore, our lives are to reflect this spiritual resurrection.
B. Life Hidden with Christ in God. (Eph. 2:4-7)
Because we have been united to Christ, in His death and resurrection, our life is now hidden with Him. William Mounce comments, “The focus here is on the security of the life to come and the urgency of holy living, for believers are ‘hidden’ safely with the Almighty.” Jesus said, “because I live, you will live also” (Jn. 14:19).
- The source, the fountain, the surety of our spiritual life is Jesus Christ.
- Where He is, there our life resides.
- Though our experience of this blessed life is but partial in this world, the reality and perfection of it is to be found in Jesus Christ.
- This life is hid to the world, for they have not come to know Christ, and therefore they know not of the blessedness of this life in Him.
- This life is partially hid from us, only in the sense that we await the full realization of, which will be experienced at His return, which is the point of the next verse.
Summary: We have been spiritually united to Christ by faith. His death is our death; His life is our life. Because of this union, our lives are hidden with Christ in God. To sum up the first two main points, we are exhorted to have a heavenly focus and godly life, in contrast to an earthly focus and worldly life, on the basis of our being united to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
III. The Promise: Our Glorification with Christ (v. 4)
Paul shows the relationship between our union with Christ and our hope of future glorification in this verse.
A. Christ, Our Life.
This simply sums up what has already been said in regards to our union with Christ. It is the sure testimony of every believer, of which Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20 are an example: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
B. Revealed with Him in Glory.
Earlier on in this letter Paul made a direct connection between the believer’s union to Christ and their glorification: “…Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
- Because Christ has accomplished salvation, and because we are united to Him, and because He Himself has been glorified and ever lives to make intercession for us, we have the sure hope of the glory to come.
- If you have been raised up with Christ, then you may confidently stand on this promise.
- The implication of this is that we will seek to live holy, righteous, godly lives now, for such characterizes those who have this hope of glory (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2-3).
- This is the clear instruction of Paul in the verses that follow (3:5-4:6).
Summary: Since Christ is our life, we have the sure hope of glory (i.e. our glorification with Christ). This is a promise upon which we stand, and it instructs us to live holy lives now.
So, in our daily pursuit of seeking the things above, we have two great encouragements. First we have our union with Christ (He is our life). Second, we have the promise of our glorification, which is yet future, but as sure as Christ’s own glorification. Our daily lives are to be sandwiched between these two great and glorious truths: union with Christ and the hope of glory.
The gist of Paul’s point in this text is this: Since we have been united to Christ (in His death and resurrection), we are inseparably bound to Him – He is our life. Since He is above (in heaven), that’s where our life truly is, not on this earth – our citizenship is in heaven; therefore, live in such a way; don’t spend and be spent for the things of this world; spend and be spent for God’s kingdom; live with a view to the glory to come. Christ and glory, that is to be our life’s focus, motivation, and passion.
Ways in Which We Can Apply This:
- Practice spiritual disciplines: Scripture reading and memorization; meditating on the blessings and promises of the gospel; prayer; fasting. These things are so important; they help keep us focused on what really matters in life; they help to guard our hearts; they help strengthen us against sin and temptation; they help to motivate us to action and service; they help us to continually see Christ as beautiful and glorious and awesome; etc.
- Remember your baptism and what it means. Even if you can’t remember all the details of that day, at least you know what the meaning of baptism is – signifies our union with Christ. While we shouldn’t trust in our baptism (i.e. “I’ve been baptized, therefore I’m good with God.”), baptism does, when received in faith, communicate the blessings and promises of the gospel to us, and reminds us of our holy calling in Christ Jesus.
- Examine yourselves to see if there are any areas in your life that are characterized by worldliness instead of godliness; repent of it, ask God for grace in the matter, and pursue godly endeavors.
Remember that this world and the things of this world (your house, your car, your clothes, your money; etc.) will perish one day. They are gifts from God to be used for God’s glory. They are not to be trusted in or treasured. We can only serve one master.
 Verse 10 of Philippians 2 is a reference to Isaiah 45:23 which is God saying, “I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” Paul also quotes this verse in Romans 14:11, in the context of each of us giving account to God. Philippians 2, therefore, very much teaches Jesus to be Yahweh, the one true God.
 Mounce, William D. Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (MI: Zondervan, 2006), 334.