Killing and Getting Dressed

July 24, 2022

It’s interesting that in the contrasting lists in Colossians 3, the contrast is not between mortification and giving life, but between mortification (3:5) and getting dressed (3:12). I suppose the reason for this is that while we must kill the deeds of the old man, we do not in fact give life to the marks of the Spirit. That life comes from God himself.

Of course, the mortification section does also speak of divestment/getting undressed (apekduomai) of sin, 3:9. This is a link not only to the contrast of being dressed in vv 12ff, but also to what the Messiah accomplished on the cross, where he accomplished the removal (apekdusis, stripping off, undressing) of the body of the flesh (somatos tês sarkos), 2:11. We can mortify the old man, because the elements of the stoicheia were put to death in him; and we can strip off the old man, because the Messiah has already stripped off the body of flesh. Our mortification is an outworking of the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross.

Another interesting feature in Colossians 3 is that in both the “sin list” and the righteousness” list there is one articular item (something like a the rather than just a general reference to a characteristic) that gets explanation/epexegetical treatment. In 3:5, Paul refers to tên pleonexian (the covetousness/avarice), “which is idolatry,” and in 3:14, he climaxes the virtue list with “above all, tên agapên (the love), which is the bond of teleiotêtos (completeness, maturity, perfection). It’s fascinating to ask whether those two particular characteristics are intended to be specifically contrasted. Certainly, covetousness or even idolatry is not the first thing that comes to mind when we are looking for a contrast to love. Yet there are ways in which it is an apt juxtaposition. Pleonexia seeks its own, while agape seeks the other. Moreover, in comparing the old fallen kosmos, we note that the action of Adam and Eve is one of pleonexia, whereas in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes agapê as the eternal virtue, and thus (as here) the hallmark of the new creation (the heaven-and-earth kosmos).

It would also be pertinent to discuss Philippians 2, which implicitly contrasts the grasping of Adam over against the obedient loving service of the Messiah Jesus, whose self-giving is the very embodiment of agapê (cf Phi 2:1).

I do wonder whether we reflect deeply enough upon the matter of covetousness or avarice. As Paul himself says, it is form of idolatry and it stands in definitive antithesis to the new creation.