Read Colossians 3:1-11
Studying grammar in elementary school, I learned the difference between the indicative and the imperative moods. The first, as its name suggests, "indicates" the way things are. It is used to describe, to announce, to tell: “You sing. She spoke. He will run away.” The second is used to direct, to order, to compel: “Sing! Speak! Flee!”
Paul’s letters are usually divided into two parts. In the first, Paul teaches, proclaims, explains. This is the indicative mood of Paul’s writing. The second part of his letters gives way to the imperative mood: he commands, ordains, directs. It is important for the readers of Paul’s letters to always remember when they are reading the second part of his letters that they grow out of the first part. His commands and directions are always the consequence of the Good News he has proclaimed in the first part.
All too often, Christians rush to the second part of the letters. They tend to focus on the does and don’ts of the Christian life. All too often, non-Christians only see in Christianity this list of what to them seem stifling rules and regulations. Yet the heart of the Christian life lies in the Good News to be found in the first part of Paul’s letters. And without this Good News, the moral life to which Christians are called is but an empty shell, at times even a straight-jacket.
In the first part of his letter to the Colossians, Paul has been teaching his readers that Christ has conquered every power and that they share in that victory. Now, in the second part, he tells them how to live in that victory and freedom. He shows his readers how to grow in the power of Christ and how to tap into that power in order to be freed from all slavery. When we remember the first part of the letter, the second part becomes a joyful invitation to live fully, deeply and freely!
One note: Paul here contrasts “the things of heaven” with “the things of earth.” We tend to think that Paul is calling us away from “secular” reality to focus on the “sacred.” Such an interpretation does not correspond to Paul's way of thinking. This "secular-sacred" split does not come from him, but from us. And this split tends to devalue the reality of our daily lives, our work and our play, as if only "churchy" things have true value. Yet there is a way of working and playing that make both beautiful, meaningful and sacred. Our daily interactions with others can be full of God’s presence. Of course, they can also lead us away from God: it’s all in the way we approach reality.
When Paul invites us to “put to death whatever is earthly,” he is not asking us to refrain from earning a living or enjoying the good things of creation or loving others. He is asking us to do this in a way that opens up our daily reality to the power of Christ’s Spirit: this is “setting our minds on things that are above.” Discovering the secret to doing this allows Christ to be “all in all!”