12 13 Small Group Resource Week 3 (Colossians 2:16-3:17) Spotting the Contrasts In Colossians 2:16-23, Paul explains that those who follow the way of Christ need to avoid deception through ‘philosophy and empty deceit’ (2:18). As Dunn explains in the Bible Notes, the Colossian believers were being criticised for not following Jewish dietary rules and festivals. Paul draws a contrast between the ‘shadow’ of such regulations and the ‘substance’ that belongs to Christ. A further set of contrasts emerge in 3:1-17, where Paul focuses on the difference between the way of life found in Christ and the way of life outside of Christ. One way to tackle this text in a group discussion is to focus explicitly on the different contrasts within this text – both between Paul’s theology and the ‘philoso- phy’ he opposes, and between the new life and the old. Living the New Life (3:5-17) The exhortation to ‘kill off those parts of you’, habits of hand and mind, which tied them ‘to the earth’, is something of a surprise after the repeated reminder that the Colossian believers had already ‘died’ with Christ (2:12, 20; 3:3). The key is to recognize that the commitment of baptism is by no means the whole story. Salvation is a lifelong process, not a once-for-all act in midlife. The process involves saying a firm and repeated ‘No!’ to corrupting thoughts and habits such as impurity, evil desire and greed – greed as a form of idolatry because it projects acquisitiveness and personal sat- isfaction as objective goods (3:5). It is just such attitudes and actions which they used to prize, the destructive consequences of which Paul sees as the outworking of God’s wrath (3:6-7; see more fully Rom. 1:18-32). ‘But now’, the ‘but now’ of conversion and baptism, a fundamental shift in ethical norms and character of conduct has taken place. The metaphor of ‘putting off’ clothes is obvious imagery for transformed values and conduct (as in Rom. 13:12; Eph. 4:22). Here the ‘vice-list’ focuses on personal re- lationships within the Christian community, warning against the outbursts particularly of careless or malicious speech that can be so damaging to community relations (Col. 3:8-9). That may have been acceptable in the earlier life, ‘but now’ the old habits and practices (‘the old man’) have been ‘stripped off’, and a new suit of clothes, a ‘new self’, has been ‘put on’. ‘Renewed in knowledge’, as God intended, reversing humanity’s initial failure (Gen. 2:17; 3:5, 7) (Col. 3:9-10). In that renewal Christ makes irrelevant all ethnic, cultural and social distinctions, even ‘barbarians’ and ‘Scythians’, widely regarded as repulsive savages. Christ embraces all (3:11). The exhortation repeats the familiar ‘put off’ (3:9) and ‘put on’ (3:10, 12), again, including ‘humility’ as a positive virtue. In bearing with one another, Christ is the model (3:13) and love the force which bonds (3:14). The peace of Christ can rule their hearts, as they function as the body of Christ (3:15). The brief description of worship in 3:16 is well worth considering, and comparing with contemporary experience. Not to be missed is the final exhortation: literally, ‘everything, whatever it is, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (3:17). PREACHING POINTS Does 3:1-17 still provide meaningful principles for daily living? Approaching the text Read through Colossians 2:16-3:17. Make sure everyone has the passage in front of them, either printed out or in the Bible. Ask members of the group, individually or in pairs or small groups, to identify the contrasts Paul draws in this section of the letter. Focus particularly on two sets of contrasts; the contrasts between Paul’s view and that of his opponents (2:16-23), and the contrast between the old way of life and the new way of life (3:1-17). Draw together the observations from members of the group. You could do this through using flip-chart paper, with one page exploring the contrast between ‘opponents’ and ‘Paul’, and another page exploring the contrast between ‘new life’ and ‘old life.’ Discuss what these contrasts tell us about Paul’s vision of the gospel. How does life in the way of Christ today contrast with competing visions and values in wider society? Further Reading Many approaches to inductive Bible study note the importance of observing contrasts within biblical texts. For one example, see the brief discussion in David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina, Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), pp. 97-98.