Colossians 3:12-17 Christ Is All In All
What does it mean that Christ is my all? Or that in the community of faith, there are no longer Scythians, or free men but that “Christ is all in all?” In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul explains the first part of the response to this question. In Colossians 3:12-17, he gives the second part of the response. Both of these sections in Colossians address the question in a general sense. In Col. 3:18-4:1, he addresses the question to those who make up the household, the parents, the children and the slaves before ending with exhortations to prayer and Christian conduct (4:2-6)
In 3:11 Paul said
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Did Paul here mean that in the Church all are levelled? That there is no distinction among the members whether by gender, social status or that there shouldn’t be any cultural differences? If the answer to this is affirmative, then why would Paul still address the slaves later on?
The best solution I think is to understand this passage within the context of the “before-and-after” of the Colossians’ lives. In 1:21-22, this “before-and-after” is delineated:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death…
Then, after Paul exhorts the Colossians to put to death what is earthly, he says:
You used to walk in these ways in the life you once lived, but now you must rid yourselves of such things…
What follows ia a list of vices. Then Paul, referring to the shedding of ordinary clothes and the putting on of the baptismal robes, says
You have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…
What follows is the verse in 3:11. What Paul means, therefore, is not the levelling of Christians nor the deletion of their cultural or social differences, but that all should now live with all those differences with the commitment to rid themselves of sin and to live according to their new status. A community of the faith may — for example — made up of different nationalities with their unique quirks, — a Filipino with his predilection for “aborted ducks” and “bagoong”, an Englishman with his love for the internal organs of sheep, an Italian who delights in cheese with maggots in it — but they should learn to live together knowing that each one has Christ as his/her all and that Christ has been “reborn” in each one through baptism.
This idea is further explained in 3:12-17 when Paul tells the Colossians the virtues “to put on”: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience… Note that these are all relational virtues designed to overcome any hostility arising from differences in background whether cultural or social and makes possible bearing with one another, forgiveness and love.
Finally, “the peace of Christ”, “Body (of Christ)”, “word of God”, “psalms, hymns, spiritual songs” and “doing the Eucharist (=giving thanks to God)”, are all ideas that belong to a common word-group — what we now call “the Mass”. Paul may not have been thinking of the Eucharist as we celebrate it today, but he was thinking of the breaking of the bread, a feature of the Christian life that will be mentioned by Luke in his Gospel and Acts.
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