HOW SHOULD I LIVE?
Does it matter how I live? This is the philosophical question of ethics, which is said to be “the search for the meaning and standards of good in general, and or well-being, right conduct, moral character, and justice in particular.”1
What Paul Says
In Colossians, Paul lays out nine principles for the Colossians to understand.
The first principle is that the people must be reconciled to Christ. While the people used to be alienated from God, the purpose of reconciliation through Christ is that they may be presented as “holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Col. 1:21–22).
Secondly, be pleasing to God. The Colossians are to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will “in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing” (Col. 1:9–10). This is never to be selfish for, “whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:24).
Third, be obedient and holy. This is obedience to the headship and authority of Christ (Col. 2:10). All sexual sins, character sins, and speaking sins have no place (Col. 3:5–11). What must be developed are personal attributes of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Christians must develop spiritual disciplines, living Word-rich lives in community with other believers, to the glory of God (Col. 3:12–17).
Fourth, be fruitful. Paul rejoices that the word of truth is bearing fruit and growing in the Colossians (Col. 1:6). Later he uses the picture of stewardship to stir the Colossians on to equal fruitfulness (Col. 1:25). As examples they were to encourage others to, “take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it” (Col. 4:17).
Fifth, a Christo-centric ethic demands good works. These include being stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:23). Doing good is seeking those things above—a greater relationship with Christ (Col. 3:1). It is praying for others; it is using the time and walking in wisdom and graciousness with outsiders (Col. 4:5–6).
Sixth, Christians are to be discerning. They need to be discerning about their own lives (Col. 2:6–7) and about others, to ensure that they are not taken captive by wrong ideas (Col. 2:8). They need to be discerning as they speak to those outside their community: “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:5–6).
Seventh, be loving. Paul’s love for the Colossians not only is expressed, but serves as a model for the Colossians’ love. While always pointing to Christ, Paul writes, “For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you… That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love” (Col. 2:1–2).
Eighth, be thankful. Christians are to live thankfully (Col. 2:7) for their inheri- tance, thankful for their redemption (Col. 1:12–14). They are to be thankful for God’s kingdom coming and His will being done, for the faith of others, and for the love of others (Col. 1:3). They are to express this thankfulness continually in prayer (Col. 4:1).
Finally, be persevering. A Christo-centric ethic requires a continual increasing in knowledge. Warfield writes that for Paul, “the pathway to a right life lay through a right knowledge.”2 But Christians are also to live with “patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Col. 1:11).
What Paul is Responding To
Paul is responding to the false teachers who had failed to recognize God’s good gifts and His intention that these things should be properly used and enjoyed. Instead they had made rule upon rule, not realizing that human inventions were but perishable objects of a temporary nature.
In listening to these false ideas, the Colossians were neglecting required Christo-centric ethics. Christians need to live by faith. In other words, faith is having a new heart so that the ruling center of one’s personality is changed. To live in faith is to be whole-hearted for God; this will result in new activities.
The Implication for Christian Philosophy
The implications for Christian philosophy are enormous. Ethics should keep an eternal focus. The way to live is not material, yet is very practical. As Warfield comments, “External service—eye service—is not enough; our thoughts must run ahead of the command and all our lives be suffused with this principle—that we may be well pleasing to Christ.”3 The glory of God and the love of others, through Christ, is what should motivate us.
1. Raziel Abelson and Kai Neilson, “History of Ethics,” in Edwards, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 3:82. ↩
2. B. B. Warfield, “The Heritage of the Saints in Light,” in Faith and Life (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 341. ↩
3. Warfield, “The Heritage of the Saints in Light,” 341. ↩
This article was originally published in the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, January/February 2017. Posted here with permission.