In our last look at Colossians we discussed verse 8:
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. – Colossians 3:8 (ESV)
In Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul is reminding us about a life in Jesus Christ. In this life with Christ, our perspective changes: We know that we should focus on what is heavenly and not on what is earthly; we know that we are hidding with Christ in God; and we know that we will appear with Jesus in glory when He appears again. The result (not the cause) of a relationship with Jesus Christ is that we will want to please Him. We will want to do the things that lift Him up, not things that dishonor Him. As a result we will want to stop sinning and begin to practice what is Christ honoring. Paul even tells us that our lifestyle of sin before Christ is a cause of the judgment of God that is to come.
In verse 7, we are reminded that our former lifestyle was one of “walking” and “living” in sin. This gives us the clear picture of our lives being intertwined with sin. Maybe we like the sin and maybe we don’t, but our lives are engulfed with it. But in verse 8, we are told to now “put them all way.” And Paul gives us a good list of what these sins are:
[We could for sure, spent a lot of time on each of these sins individually. We may at some point do that, but for now, we’ll just take an overview look at them.]
- Anger – Paul is speaking here of unrighteous anger. This is the type of anger that doesn’t bring the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20). This is the “me first” anger that causes harm and destruction not only to others but also to ourselves. This type of anger is also many times related to the sins listed below.
- Wrath – This is like the next level of anger. As the dictionary says, wrath is a “strong vengeful anger or indignation.” You could say wrath is a response to an event or situation that has already caused anger. There is a pure and righteous type of wrath – the type associated with God (as mentioned in verse 6), but this isn’t that kind.
- Malice – That same dictionary tells us that malice is a “desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another.” You can see how these sins are building on each other. First comes anger, then comes an explosion of wrath and then comes the desire to injure the source of our anger.
- Slander – I hit Merriam-Webster.com once more for slander: “to make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.” Yikes, this keeps getting worse. Our unrighteous anger and wrath are bad enough, but on top of that we have a desire to cause pain to the offending person (malice) and then we cause others to have a bad opinion of this person.
- Obscene talk from your mouth – I returned once more to “Explore the Bible” from Fall 2003 (I’m not a hoarder, seriously), to see what the study guide said about this phrase. The guide, which uses the Holman Christian Standard Version of the Bible, notes that verse 8 uses the phrase “filthy language” rather than “obscene talk.” Either way, I think we get the point. The guide refers to “filthy language” as, “foul-mouthed speech and abusive speech.”
Wow. This passage really explodes when we look at these words and phrases separately. We can now see how they build upon each other. Our unrighteous anger leads to destruction or wrath. The result of this wrath is a desire to hurt someone or something. We execute our malice through slandering or causing others to also think like we think and, for emphasis, we punctuate the anger with obscene or filthy language.
After reading and studying this passage, it’s easy to see how selfish and one-sided this behavior looks. Whether we have actually been injured or not, we take our cause and blow it totally out of proportion. A bad situation is made much more worse because these sins compound upon each other. Anger leads to wrath which leads to malice which leads to slander and obscene talk.
I wish I could say this isn’t an area of struggle for me. But it is. I am the king of these particular sins. And even more unfortunately, I usually commit them to the people I love the most, to the people with which I’m most comfortable. And it’s easy for these sins to become a habit or practice, the way in which things get handled. I’m sorry to say the things listed in this verse have caused me and others around me much pain.
In retrospect, I see these sins as being the result of arrogance and pride. I could have actually been offended or hurt in a situation, but I am not content with handling things in a way that pleases God. No, what I have to do is execute judgment myself. An offense against me (real or perceived) is an excuse to become angry and the anger leads to wrath. Wrath leads to malice and malice leads to slander and obscene talk. As I read this, I am utterly disgusted all over again with how I usually handle things.
But there is also hope in this passage of Colossians. Paul is reminding us that if we do belong to Christ, if we are hidden with Christ in God, if we are going to appear with Christ in glory, then we can put these sins to death. We can now “put them all away.” Paul doesn’t speak about these sins as “well, that’s just who he is, that’s just how he acts.” No. The presumption is that these sins can be put away. After all, now that we have died with Christ we are now set free from sin (Romans 6:7). Yes, the consequences of sin aren’t easy to shed, but just like we learned to “walk” and “live” in these sins, we can now walk with Jesus and put them away.