Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Life Of A Christian in a Secular World
1 Since you were raised in Christ at your baptism, focus on the values of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand. 2 Think a lot about the values of heaven, not the popular values found on earth. 3 For you died to those values. Now, God has hidden your life with Christ. 4 He is your life now. When Christ appears in the end, you will appear with in him in glory. 5 So, kill off those values found on the earth: the wrong kind of sexual desires, indecency, acting out of control, desiring things you shouldn’t have, and greed. This is the same as worshiping false idols.
9 Don’t lie to each other. You have put away those things you did before when you were baptized. 10 Now, do everything that comes from God. Understand that you are like a new person and you are becoming more like him. 11 That’s more important than whether you are a Greek or a Jew, a slave or a free person, or even a foreigner! Christ is in all of you.
1 If, then you were raised in CHRIST, seek the (thing) above, where CHRIST is sitting at the right (hand) of God. 2 Think of the (thing) above, not the (thing) on the earth. 3 For you died and your life has been hidden with CHRIST in God. 4 Whenever CHRIST, your life, should be revealed, then you will be revealed in glory.
5 So, make dead the members, the (things) on the earth: fornication, uncleanliness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idol worship, 6 because of which the wrath of God comes [on the sons of disobedience].
9 Do not lie to one another, having put off the old man with his practices, 10 having put on the new (one), being made new in the knowledge by the image of the (One) having created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all, in all.
3:5 “make dead the members, the (things) on the earth” This phrase stands in opposition to 3:1-2: “the (thing) above.” The author used this language as an equivalent opposition between “the Spirit” and “the flesh.” He went on to define the things of the earth as immoral acts and attitudes. The opposition could as easily be defined as “Christian lifestyle” vs. “pop culture,” which, in its extremes, wallows in the acts and attitudes listed.
Note the author’s implicit view to the Jewish Law with the word “uncleanliness” (also translated as “impurity”) and “which is idol worship.” It is unclear whether the later phrase applied to covetousness or the entire list of sins; a case can be made for both interpretations. Nevertheless, that which draws one from God was condemned as that which will cause the wrath of God in the end times. “Idol worship” was an analogy for covetousness and the entire list of sins.
3:10 “having put on the new (one), being made new in the knowledge by the image of the (One) having created him.” Again, the author opposed the immoral with the moral, the pagan with the Christian. He assumed his audience understood the key moment of change was baptism, when the “old man” (i.e., the immoral) was put aside (“died to self”) and the “new man” (i.e., the moral) was put on (“risen to new life”). The “new man” was seen in terms of the Risen Christ, the new creation that was an image of God himself. The first chapters of Hebrews and John’s gospel would take this belief to its logical conclusion: Christ was the image of God on earth. The neophyte shared in that image, since he or she was “in Christ” (see 3:11).
3:11 “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free” The last four words could be understood to be in opposition to each other, the same way “Greek and Jew...circumcised and uncircumcised” were. “Slave and free” make sense. But “barbarian and Scythian” were not in opposition. Both groups were seen as uneducated, foreign, immoral, and even blood-thirsty. Scythians were a nomadic people that threatened the Assyrian Empire in the eighth century B.C. and the Persian Empire in the sixth century B.C. By reputation, they traveled on plundering raids. In Greek culture, they took on a mythic status as looters.
So, you are Christian. Act like you are!
The author of Colossians communicated this undertone in chapter three when he opposed the Christian life to the life believers had before their conversion.
Most Christians live in two worlds: life in the community and life in the “world.” Life in the community was concerned with prayer and worship, study, and acts of charity. More important, the attitude within the community strove toward mutual love. People were to worship God, as if they were present to him in heaven, along with Jesus the High Priest. And they were to treat each other the same way God in heaven treated them, with compassion, graciousness, and loving concern. These were the things of “heaven.”
But, much of a Christian’s time in spent in the “world,” the arena of commerce that provides employment and goods for consumption, in the arena of popular culture that informs and entertains, and in the arena of public life that grants the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. This secular arena is good for the most part, but it has its allurements that can draw someone away from their faith commitment.
Being “born again” demarcates the two worlds. For sacramental Christians, baptism is the moment of public declaration for the “born again” status. With baptism, one enters into the life of God in Christ, and into the life of the community.
In these few verses, the author presumed his readers were familiar with baptism and the activities of the community. He simply summed up the battle most Christians encounter between “the things of heaven” and “the things of the world.” He extolled his readers to put off the negative values and immoral acts of the “world,” and to remember the life they had received from God. Members of the community were “in Christ,” so the definitions that the world used to divide people were meaningless. In the long view, all that mattered was their status and their destiny. They were as Christ was. And they would be as Christ would reveal himself.
Clearly, the author used a literary device that put the subject into focus by highlighting the extremes. He could be even criticized for preaching damnation to the saved in the choir. But that would be a facile reading. Yes, daily living requires tough choices that do not come near to the evils the author described. Being a Christian in a secular world has its own challenges and compromises. But, underneath that tension, two insights remain. Our focus should be on heaven. And we should remember that differences we place upon others fall away when we realize that all are (or can be) in Christ. Looking through those lenses, we can see the secular world, not as an enemy, but as an arena for evangelization.
How hard is it for you to live as a Christian in a secular world? How do you reach out to others in that world to bring them to Christ?