Of Human Pride and Prejudice (Colossians 3:10-12)
The World State
Oh, how I love Humanity,
With love so pure and pringlish,
And how I hate the horrid French,
Who never will be English!
The International Idea,
The largest and the clearest,
Is welding all the nations now,
Except the one that’s nearest.
This compromise has long been known,
This scheme of partial pardons,
In ethical societies
And small suburban gardens—
The villas and the chapels where
I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.
- G.K. Chesterton
Human pride is a curious thing. It makes a man happy that he is not as other men are, especially those really conceited people who think they are better than everyone else. It especially makes him thankful that he is not at all like his neighbor. And, all things being equal, it makes his neighbor equally happy not to be at all like him.
When it comes right down to it, we can find just about any reason — or for that matter, no reason at all — to be proud. We have all joked about those who are very humble, and very proud of it. One man is proud that he has never been proud. Another man is proud because he is nothing. But in nearly all cases, men develop a sense of pride because they feel that they really are something. Their warrant for believing so might be the result of having been born with a particular skin color or nationality. It could be the result of having a particular religious creed. Men pride themselves in their athletic abilities or intellectual prowess. Some take great pride in their financial status, others in their popularity. Ego-massaging is a major industry in today’s culture, ranging from brand name clothing to watches to cell phones to ringtones to energy drinks. Consumerism is driven by pride: the pride of having, the pride of spending, the pride of wasting, the pride of frivolity, the pride of life.
Among the believers who lived in Colosse, the Gnostics held a certain snob appeal. They offered a “higher plain” on which to dwell — a higher knowledge, a higher sanctification, a higher Christianity. Gnosticism appealed to just that part of man that was not quite so sanctified, not quite so understanding, not quite so Christian.
As I have been studying my way through Colossians 3, I noticed that verse 11 doesn’t seem to fit with the greater context. Paul is speaking of those things to mortify, those things to put off, and those things to put on. Why does he, out of the blue, start talking about there being “neither Greek nor Jew, circiumsicion nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free?” I couldn’t see how this fit with what Paul was saying.
Beginning in Colossians 3:5, Paul counterbalances the teaching of the first part of his epistle. He first addressed the immediate error being taught in Colosse: an overbearing asceticism that threatened to rob them of their liberty and joy in Christ. But other Gnostic error taught a form of “Christian” hedonism that Paul also wanted to refute. So, Paul teaches the right balance in the realm of pleasure and enjoyment. Just as the former errors were best refuted by our position in Christ, so the latter errors were best treated in the same way.
We have put off the old man, and put on the new. But the old man’s old ways still stay with us to some degree, and we must mortify those old ways, and strip them off. We must kill the old deeds, and strip off the old attitudes. And we must do this because we have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. You see, our position in Christ prevents our needing to deny ourselves all pleasures. And our position in Christ prevents us from indulging in pleasures and fleshly lusts. We have put on the new man.
What new man? The one who is renewed in knowledge (epignosis – full knowledge) after the Creator’s own image. And in that new man, there are none of the distinctions of rank and importance that the Gnostics thought were so necessary. Paul here strips away the snob appeal of Gnosticism and shows instead the glory that is in Christ. For in Christ, this new man is not distinguished by nationality (neither Greek nor Jew), by ritual (circumcision nor uncircumcision), by intellect (Barbarian, Scythian), or by social standing (bond nor free). Rather, Christ is all, and in all.
Having put on the new man, we must put off those old attitudes, those old prejudices and conceits. God does not distinguish the way men do. The State U wants to know your ethnic pedigree, your skin color, your parents wage grade, and your credit score. Christ makes a different distinction. With Christ, men are divided into one of two categories, each according to seed. You are of the seed of the woman, or else you are of the seed of the serpent.
If you are of the seed of the woman, than Christ is all, and He is in all.