Colossians 3:5–11: “You Are Dead to Me”

February 6, 2015

A few months ago, Andy and I spent the day with a group of singers who are going on tour in June and willing to take on a couple of oldsters as ringers. At the end of a very hard-working day, we gathered at a home for dinner. The banter and cultural references were beyond me half the time; it was the sort of party that makes you say, “I really should get out more.”

Anyway, at some point during the festivities, one young woman said to someone who had been teasing, “Zorba, you are dead to me.” At the time, I recognized it as a put-down like “Get out of my face,” but its hyperbole got me wondering where those strong words came from.

One reference online points to “Old English” as the source, claiming the saying was “used to announce that the person in question was disowned or would never be ‘seen, or heard’ again.” Okay, that much is obvious, but there are not too many more clues to go by historically.

I would love to hear Dan Jurafsky, the author of The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, do a study similar to the one he launched about “tomato catsup.” Why, he asked, does every single bottle of catsup on our market shelves say “tomato catsup”? Like, is there another kind? But I digress.

The statement, “you are dead to me” begs for an historical, linguistic study. But here’s the basic meaning, I think: it is an expression of complete rejection to the point of denying the existence of the person. In the lighter moment cited above, it was used to express disinterest or social push-back. But really, on its face it is the ultimate dismissal or disowning.

I use this story to highlight the major point of the Apostle Paul’s next admonition in his letter to the Colossians:

5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly (cf. 3:2):
fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).
6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.
7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.
8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander,
and abusive language from your mouth.
9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self
with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self,
which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew,
circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free;
but Christ is all and in all!

We are not generally comfortable with the idea that something in our personality or practice should be “put to death.” But Paul is using that extreme language to match the urgency of the task. Hanging onto, or keeping alive, practices and attitudes that are sinful is a life and death matter.

If we have died with Christ in order to live in him, what is it that dies? We are still here, living and breathing and talking, but something within our realm of choice must die. Paul lays it out right here, pointing to the things we do, think, say, believe, or feel that are contrary to God’s way. Here’s how I read this:

Fornication (sexual activity outside of marriage), you are dead to me.

Impurity (uncleanness), you are dead to me.

Passion (troubled emotion, “drama”), you are dead to me.

Evil desire (lust), you are dead to me.

Greed (covetousness), you are dead to me.

On account of these things God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient. In other words, the fact that these sins exist is reason for God’s holy and purifying wrath to come upon the unclean. And just in case we think it is only “they” who sinned like this, Paul reminds his readers that we too followed in these ways in our former days. So now, in addition to wanting what we cannot have (the general description of those first-named sins), we are also instructed to forsake several others:

Anger and wrath, you are dead to me.

Malice and slander, you are dead to me.

Abusive language and lying, you are dead to me.

That old life and the old self with its unholy practices, you are dead to me.

Toward the end of this passage Paul points to the alternative, which we will unpack in the next study. In the meantime, friends and sojourners, these things that are “dead to me” are deadly sins, namely, they will kill your spirit if you let them get the upper hand. For those who have perhaps said, “Church, you are dead to me,” my hope is that, before pronouncing that word upon the Body of Christ, you would be able to look within and confess those attitudes and actions only you and God know about. Making this confession may help, when later we want to see the Church in a new light and our involvement in it with new purpose.

Start your work in our spirits, Lord; help us die to sin and live unto you. Amen.




One Response to “Colossians 3:5–11: “You Are Dead to Me””

  1. Viola Larson Says:

    Mary, the older I get in the faith the more I seem to find that I need to die to. But here is an aside. I believe the first ketchups were made from such foods as green walnuts and mushrooms. They were used to flavor food as it cooked. See Preserving (The Good Cook) TimeLife Books 1981

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