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An Exegesis Of Colossians 3 12 17 Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 4270 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In society there are innumerous encounters and engagements between Christians and non-Christian daily, some of these encounters are religious in nature the others are secular. The challenge to the Christian is to continuously exercise the commandment or requirements that God revealed via the Prophet Micah “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NLT). [1] The elements for living a holy life are not difficult and they are not exhaustive; however, because of so many different interpretations available to the Christian readers, congregants and students, there is a high probability that confusion will reign in the minds of many. There are myriad teachings available to the Christian that are full of error, personal interpretations, non-Christian agendas and false teachings to name a few, that will lead to inappropriate application of biblical principles that will not properly represent Christ in the Christian ambassadorship to each other and to the world.

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Following this further, living a holy life is a requirement for all Christians and the instruction for how to live holy is imperative knowledge for the Christian. Colossians 3:12-17 is an excellent source of instructions for Christian living. The passage asserts that God chose Christians to be a holy people. It stands to reason that He authored provisions to help Christians reach that goal.

The passage presents several principles for instructing the Christian how to exhibit him or herself as a representative of Christ. The exegesis of this passage will disclose if the principles are applicable to the contemporary audience as it were to the original audience or if there is time driven deviation that renders it less impactful for modern application.

Setting/Historical Background

In order to comprehend the context of Colossians 3:12-17 it is important to have background information for the period in which it was written. Paul’s penned intervention had to reflect his understanding of the Colossians worldview. It was a worldview that was eclectic and problematic. Its multiculturalism created a challenge for a church leader who was not versed and or educated in true Christian doctrines and its applicability.

Paul is the author of the letter to the Colossians, he has the authority to write an account of holy living because of his conversion and life experiences. His history prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus and his experiences that trained him as an apostle to the Gentiles equipped him with the wisdom and knowledge for teaching and instructing.

His pre-apostolic days begin with him being born into and raised in a prominent Jewish-Roman family. He is from the tribe of Benjamin which is where he obtained his name Saul, but his Roman name is Paul. He was circumcised on the eight day in accordance with the law; he was afforded the opportunity to be educated in the Greco-Roman rhetoric as well as Hebrew. [2] 

Paul was a student of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34) who was the grandson of Hillel and one of seven scholars to obtain the title “Rabban” which means our master. [3] 

The church in Colossae was composed of Jews and Gentiles which created a culture of syncretism, mixing Jewish legalism, with Greek speculation and the mysticism of the Orient. [4] 

The city of Colossae was a major city located on the Lycus River with accessibility to trade routes. It was downgraded to a secondary city by the first century A.D. Colossae was a neighboring city to Laodicea and Hierapolis; each city was approximately 10 miles from Colossae. [5] The church at Colossae received the gospel from Epaphras, a convert from the church in Ephesus; he urged Paul, who was in prison in Ephesus, to write a letter to Colossae to address heretical issues that were plaguing the church in Colossae regarding its battle with heresy; which was creating disruption in churches all over the western portion of Asia Minor. [6] 

Although, Paul never visited the city of Colossae, he was aware of the heretical spirit that swept the region. Like its neighbors, Colossae was infiltrated by a mixture of pagan doctrines influenced by pre-Gnosticism that regarded the body as evil to promote spiritual/non-material items as superior human form, known as “mystical wisdom”. The pagan influence led to questions about Jesus having a physical body as an ordinary man, error in esteeming angels, and proclaimed that salvation was the result of knowledge rather than faith. [7] 

There is contention that Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians from Rome and that it was delivered to the church by Tychicus during the early 60’s. This is supported by those who refer to 4:7-8 as the reason for choosing Rome over Ephesus and Tychicus over Epaphras. [8] 

Analysis of Colossians 3:12-17

The Colossians comfort with pluralism subjected them to vulnerability in achieving solidarity in understanding and incorporating the doctrines of their new Christian faith. Their failure to comprehend the true essence of Christ and his personage as well as exclusiveness of Christianity revealed their need for intervention from one of authority in the doctrines such as an apostle in the faith.

Therefore, Paul’s letter to the Church of Colossae was necessary to substantiate the tenets of the faith and to emphasize as well as educate the new Christians regarding the expectations of their lives as Christian. Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles and it is incumbent upon him to respond to the needs of the Colossians as they struggle to manifest their faith and its tenets according to their understanding.

Paul’s letter is an instructional guide as well as being comprised of words of encouragement. Chapter 3 and verses 12 through 17 describes to the new Christians how they are new creatures in Christ. He reaffirms that Christ is deity in bodily form and the supreme head of the church (1:15-23). He also warns against false teaching and calls for the rejection of it. He further instructs them on how to live holy (Chapter 3).

More specifically, Colossians 3:12-17 concentrates on two main ideas; one idea focuses on how to live holy as an individual and as a member of the body of Christ; and the other focuses on holy living as an individual and as a collective member of the body of Christ.

The tools used to explore passage 3:12-17 are the King James Version (KJV), the New International Version (NIV), the New International Reader’s Version (NIRV), The Message (MSG) and the New Living Translation (NLT) Bibles, along with The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (The Lexicon), The Greek English Interlinear New Testament (The Interlinear) and Strong’s Strongest Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Strong’s) with various commentaries.

Colossians 3:12-14

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfection.

In verse 12 holy living entails more than a confession or conversion experience, it regards a change in lifestyle. The Interlinear uses “put on” (endysasthe) in the active continuous form emphasizing that Christians must continuously display God’s characteristics which manifests his holiness. They are manifested as mercy, kindness, humbleness, meekness, and longsuffering. The Message says, “Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.” Its rendition offers that these characteristics are not natural human characteristics; therefore, it requires action on the part of the individual and is attainable with the guidance of God. In the KJV, the word bowels (splagchna) are used; The Lexicon defines it as the heart or affections of the heart, meaning these qualities must come from within. By separating the characteristics by commas the KJV, NIV and the NLT indicate that each of the characteristics is part of a whole. However, the NIVR presents them in multiple sentences to demonstrate them as definitive commands. The NLT renders that the Christian should demonstrate holy living by being clothed in tenderhearted mercy which is a translation for compassion (oiktirmou), kindness(chrestoteta), humility(tapeinophrosyne), gentleness for meekness(prauteta), and patience as longsuffering(makrothymian); these are acts that God has demonstrated towards us. Bruce Buoton describes the characteristics of tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience as imitations of God’s acts towards man. [9] 

In verse 13 holy living is explored further, here all Christians are required to forgive one another because Christ has forgiven (charixomenoi) them. Failure to forgive others whom God has forgiven results in suffering. Robert E. Wall expressed that “the holy response (to any offense) prompted by grace is to forgive. . .We forgive because we are already forgiven, we secure God’s forgiveness by forgiving others.” [10] Forgiving allows the Christian to tolerate the offenses of others and to act in their behalf for their benefit.

Forgiveness is essential in Christian growth, fellowship and manifestation. It is one of the characteristics of God that allows Christians to imitate him without necessarily displaying overt actions. The act of forgiving is a sign that the Christian is maturing as a Christian.

In verse 14 love is exhorted above all the other characteristics and is determined to be the virtue that bonds all the characteristics together. It is impossible to live a holy life without love, The MSG expresses, “And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It is your all purpose garment. Never be without it.” All of the aforementioned translations agree on love’s ability to make the other virtues possible, for instance the NLT interprets the verse as, Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect unity.” The Greek word for bond (sydesmos) in The Lexicon is described as bundle or connection. It is used in the same way in Ephesians 4:3 “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (NIV). Love is the adhesiveness that unites all the virtues; it is joined in significance by the virtue of peace.

Colossians 3:15-17

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body: and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

When the Christian has adopted the characteristics in verses 12-14 and internalized them, a notable change should be evident by familiar observers. Holiness should be readily manifested and perceivable.

One of the key words in verse 15 is the word “rule”. The Interlinear, shows “rule’ is derived from “let arbitrate” (brabeutw) in all of the translations besides The MSG. The MSG converts the Greek into “in tune”. . .in step with each other”. Paul’s familiarity with the word, in accordance with The Lexicon, would have been umpire, or someone who governs a conflict. The Colossians would have understood keeping the peace as tantamount to resolving conflicts. [11] 

The MSG emphasis is the body of Christ unified (swma(i))as it addresses the meaning of the verse. It emphasizes “every collective decision and action that comes from the community will have the character of peace” if all members stay in tune and/or in step with each other. [12] 

Furthermore, verse 15 exhorts Christians to be thankful (euchiaristoi) or “mindful of the benefits” [13] if being part of the body of Christ. Strong’s Concordance clarifies thankful as “in mind and attitude” which enhances the spiritual well-being concerted with the physical well-being of the individual and the body of Christ. [14] 

Verse 16 moves the reader or Christian to the command to “teach and admonish one another in wisdom (sophia) which has both divine and secular connotations, according to Strong; however, Paul’s inclination was a reference to Christian enlightenment as found in 1 Corinthians 12:8. [15] There is variance between The MSG which denotes this virtue or command to mean use common sense, whereas, the NLT state “Teach and counsel one another with all the wisdom he gives.” Verse 16 iterates to Christians to exercise the virtues of holy living and to continuously communicate that to one another. The emphasis is that when God enlightens a person that person is qualified to exercise authority to teach and admonish others.

Each member of the body of Christ is called to model the holiness demonstrated by Christ. In order to imitate his model the individual must have the Spirit of God residing inside of him, moreover, the Spirit of God can only dwell in the individual if the that individual lives a life of holiness. The Interlinear text uses “let dwell” (enoiketw) in the imperfect tense in verse sixteen. It is used to demonstrate that Christ’s spirit within the heart first occurred when the individual accepted Christ as Lord; it is an action that is present and ongoing.

The other aspect of verse 16 includes the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The MSG says “sing your hearts out to God” whereas the NIV, NIRV and NLT render the concept as to sing with thankfulness. The KJV links both sections of verse 16 as a single action, meaning that the singing and teaching are synonymous to praise and admonishing. Also, the singing of the songs, spirituals and hymns with joy and thanksgiving display to others that the Spirit of Christ dwells within. When Christ’s spirit dwell within the Christian then Christ rules the heart and life and the person is authorized to teach and admonish because it is accommodating the Spirit of Christ.

Verse 17 mandates that whatever and whichever virtue the Christian manifests, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus with thanks to God and the Father through him. The primary responsibility of living a holy life is for the glory of God. In concert, the verses 12-17 equip the Christian with guidance and instructions to live a holy life within the ability of the Christian’s and in response to Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:1-2.


The worldview has crept into the church and some of the moral authority of the church has come into question because of the level of tolerance experienced by the church today. Tolerance is not a negative thing, but there are mandates such as notable in the Ten Commandments that restricts some tolerations.

The behaviors exhibited by a large number of highly visible Christians (not just renowned ministers) in their lives denote that holy living has been compromised. There are denominations that allow clear abominations to exercise the office of pastors and ministers, such as ordaining homosexual ministers and subjecting Christians in need of guidance, teaching and admonishing to their authority. Equally compromising is the congregations that outwardly support and accept this deviancy.

The modern society in First World countries is replete with narcissism, public acceptance of vulgarity (as demonstrated in music and audio-visual media)and Christian lifestyle has become compartmentalized. Applying the principles or virtues found in the passage of Colossians 3:12-17 in today’s society should be exceptionally easy because of the communications capabilities that are available such as the internet, satellites, cell phones and public forums. These same forums are used to counter the work of the church emphatically.

The Church has to do as Paul and the other apostles and early Christians did in building up the faith and the church. It must espouse it doctrines at every opportunity and do not settle for a small corner to shout from. It must begin within the body of Christ first. The church must hold Christians accountable for their behaviors that are compromised and encourage them in the behaviors that exemplify the virtues found in the passage. Heads of households must take the responsibility of their family religious education in the home environment and not allow worship and services to be a Sunday event only. Holiness must become a lifestyle; it must be exhorted within the body of Christ community first and then missioned to the rest of the world. Music must be acceptable, television and other media must adhere to family values by presenting wholesome entertainment.

Finally, each Christian has to develop the attitude to “teach one, reach one” so that no Christian is left behind. The children must be taught Christian values at home without compromise. Most importantly, Christian hearts must be governed by Christ and honor given to God. There needs to be a campaign to teach and encourage each Christian to exert the virtues of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering/patience, forgiveness and love. Each church should have an education plan to initiate and sustain such a campaign.


The Bible is composed of mandates, laws and principles for Christian living that is sometimes explicitly clear such as “You must not murder.” (Exodus 20:13), and some not so evident such as “And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15). There are several translations of the Bible that create debate within the Christian community and sometimes result in controversial applications in some aspects, such as Exodus 20:13 rendered in the New Living Translation as “You shall not murder.” whereas in the King James Version it is rendered “Thou shall not kill.” The impact of the two different wordings has affected the secular arena as well as the religious one. Abortions, military wartime service and the death penalty are three of the subjects associated with controversy regarding both editions of the verse.

Avoiding confusion and controversy is not always possible, there are passages in the Bible that are not just principles but also instruct the Christian how to live. A law or situation is not necessarily transferrable from the context known to the original audience to the conditions and situations in modern times; some applications are situational and time sensitive.

The instructions are clear and applicable to life situations for the environment of the original audience or for the contemporary audience. Sometimes they are applicable to both audiences but there must be some parallel but not necessarily the same conditions present. The examination of the words of Paul in Colossians 3:12-17 reveals there are instructions that are clear and applicable for holy living and they migrate across the time spectrum from the original audience through the contemporary audience.

Living a holy life is mandatory for Christians and necessary to please God. It is the Christian responsibility to present God to the world, the passage aforementioned provides instructions and guidance for execution.

How the Christian lives should reflect what he or she believes in accordance with the conditions set forth by the applicable Scriptures. The Christian walk should parallel the Christian talk. As a member of the body of Christ the modern Christian incurs the responsibility to teach and admonish fellow Christians as needed. He and she have the advantage of hindsight as well as the principles denoted in the passage 3:12-17 to aid and assist their growth and development as productive Christians with the same urgency and proficiency of the early Christians.


Block Diagram

Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV)

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.


As God’s chosen people

Holy and dearly loved

Clothe yourselves

With compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other

And Forgive whatever grievances

You may have against one another.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

And Put on love over all these virtues

Which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let 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. 17And 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.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts

Members of one body (Since As)

You were called to peace.


Be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly

As you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs

With gratitude in your hearts to God.


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.

Sunday School Lesson for Adults

Colossians 3:12-17 Focus verse: Colossians 3:13

Introduction – Forgiveness

-As for volunteers to read each verse.

-Give an illustration of a marital event that requires forgiveness although it is very difficult to do.

Why do we forgive?

Definition of forgiveness

Explanation – Discuss focus verse and God’s command to forgive

Inquiry- Have class name times/situations that they have done something wrong and how they felt.

Bearing with one another/ Ways to forgive.

Explanation – We are to forgive others because God forgives us – refer back to verse. Explain how the husband is a reflection of God and wife is a reflection of the sinner.

Demonstration- Two class members will act out scenarios – followed by brief discussion of the incidents:

-inappropriate conversations with the opposite sex

-meeting someone other than the spouse for friendly night out

Application- Have class name situations in which they/others should be forgiven and how to do so. Reiterate the passage that emphasizes that God forgave us first.

Illustration- Finish story with husband forgiving wife due to her sincere apology. Re-emphasize how God forgives us and we should forgive others.

Conclusion – We are to seek forgiveness and forgive others because God forgives us.

-Review of passage – focus verse. Allow for questions/comments.

-Prayer asking God to forgive us for our sins and help to forgive others.



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