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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Colossians 3

 

 

Verses 1-25

Chapter 3

THE RISEN LIFE (Colossians 3:1-4)

3:1-4 If then you were raised with Christ, set your hearts on the things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Have a mind all of whose thoughts are fixed on the things which are above, not upon the things on earth. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Whenever Christ, your life, shall appear, then you too shall appear with him in glory.

The point Paul is making here is this. In baptism the Christian dies and rises again. As the waters close over him, it is as if he was buried in death; as he emerges from the waters, it is like being resurrected to a new life. Now, if that is so, the Christian must rise from baptism a different man. Wherein is the difference? It lies in the fact that now the thoughts of the Christian must be set on the things which are above. He can no longer be concerned with the trivial passing things of earth; he must be totally concerned with the eternal verities of heaven.

We must note carefully what Paul means by that. He is certainly not pleading for an other-worldliness in which the Christian withdraws himself from all the work and activities of this world and does nothing but contemplate eternity. Immediately after this Paul goes on to lay down a series of ethical principles which make it quite clear that he expects the Christian to go on with the work of this world and to maintain all its normal relationships. But there will be this difference--from now on the Christian will view everything against the background of eternity and no longer live as if this world was all that mattered.

This will obviously give him a new set of values. Things which the world thought important, he will no longer worry about. Ambitions which dominated the world, will be powerless to touch him. He will go on using the things of the world but he will use them in a new way. He will, for instance, set giving above getting, serving above ruling, forgiving above avenging. The Christian's standard of values will be God's not men's.

And how is this to be accomplished? The life of the Christian is hid with Christ in God. There are at least two vivid pictures here.

(i) We have seen repeatedly that the early Christians regarded baptism as a dying and a rising again. When a man was dead and buried, the Greeks very commonly spoke of him as being hidden in the earth; but the Christian had died a spiritual death in baptism and he is not hidden in the earth, but hidden in Christ. It was the experience of the early Christians that the very act of baptism wrapped a man round with Christ.

(ii) There may well be a word play here which a Greek would recognize at once. The false teachers called their books of so-called wisdom apokruphoi (Greek #614), the books that were hidden from all except from those who were initiated. Now the word which Paul uses to say that our lives are hidden with Christ in God is part of the verb apokruptein (Greek #613), from which the adjective apokruphos (Greek #614) comes. Undoubtedly the one word would suggest the other. It is as if Paul said, "For you the treasures of wisdom are hidden in your secret books; for us Christ is the treasury of wisdom and we are hidden in him."

There is still another thought here. The life of the Christian is hidden with Christ in God. That which is hidden is concealed; the world cannot recognize the Christian. But Paul goes on: "The day is coming when Christ will return in glory and then the Christian, whom no one recognized, will share that glory and it will be plain for all to see." In a sense Paul is saying--and saying truly--that some day the verdicts of eternity will reverse the verdicts of time and the judgments of God will overturn the judgments of men.

CHRIST OUR LIFE (Colossians 3:1-4 continued)

In Colossians 3:4 Paul gives to Christ one of the great titles of devotion. He calls him Christ our life. Here is a thought which was very dear to the heart of Paul. When he was writing to the Philippians, he said, "For me to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21). Years before, when he was writing to the Galatians, he had said, "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). As Paul saw it, to the Christian Christ is the most important thing in life; more, he is life.

This is the kind of peak of devotion which we can only dimly understand and only haltingly and imperfectly express. Sometimes we say of a man, "Music is his life--Sport is his life--He lives for his work." Such a man finds life and all that it means in music, in sport, in work, as the case may be. For the Christian, Christ is his life.

And here we come back to where this passage started--that is precisely why the Christian sets his mind and heart on the things which are above and not on the things of this world. He judges everything in the light of the Cross and in the light of the love which gave itself for him. In the light of that Cross the world's wealth and ambitions and activities are seen at their true value; and, the Christian is enabled to set his whole heart on the things which are above.

THE THINGS WHICH LIE BEHIND (Colossians 3:5-9 a)

3:5-9a So, then, put to death these parts of you which are earthly-- fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, the desire to get more than you ought--for this is idol worship; and because of these things the wrath of God comes upon those who are disobedient. It was amongst these things that you once spent your lives; when you lived among them; but now you must divest yourselves of all these things--anger, temper, malice, slander, foul talk which issues from your mouth. Do not lie to one another.

Here this letter makes the change that Paul's letters always make; after the theology comes the ethical demand. Paul could think more deeply than any man who ever tried to express the Christian faith; he could travel along uncharted pathways of thought; he could scale the heights of the human mind, where even the best equipped theologian finds it hard to follow him; but always at the end of his letters he turns to the practical consequences of it all. He always ends with an uncompromising and crystal clear statement of the ethical demands of Christianity in the situation in which his friends are at the moment.

Paul begins with a vivid demand. The New Testament never hesitates to demand with a certain violence the complete elimination of everything which is against God. The King James Version translates the first part of this section: "Mortify your members which are upon earth." In seventeenth-century English that was clear enough: but it has lost its force in modern language. Nowadays to mortify the flesh means rather to practise ascetic discipline and self-denial. And that is not enough. What Paul is saying is, "Put to death every part of your self which is against God and keeps you from fulfilling his will." He uses the same line of thought in Romans 8:13 : "If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live." It is exactly the same line of thought as that of Jesus when he demanded that a man should cut off a hand or a foot, or tear out an eye when it was leading him into sin (Matthew 5:29-30).

We may put this in more modern language, as C. F. D. Moule expresses it. The Christian must kill self-centredness and regard as dead all private desires and ambitions. There must be in his life a radical transformation of the will and a radical shift of the centre. Everything which would keep him from fully obeying God and fully surrendering to Christ must be surgically excised.

Paul goes on to list some of the things which the Colossians must cut right out of life.

Fornication and uncleanness must go. Chastity was the one completely new virtue which Christianity brought into the world. In the ancient world sexual relationships before marriage and outside marriage were the normal and accepted practice. The sexual appetite was regarded as a thing to be gratified, not to be controlled. That is an attitude which is not unfamiliar today, although often it is supported by specious arguments. In his autobiography, Memory to Memory, Sir Arnold Lunn has a chapter on Cyril Joad, the well-known philosopher, whom he knew well. In his pre-Christian days Joad could write: "Birth control (he meant the use of contraceptives) increases the possibilities of human pleasure. In enabling the pleasures of sex to be tasted without its penalties it has removed the most formidable deterrent not only to regular but to irregular sexual intercourse... The average clergyman is shocked and outraged by the prospect of shameless, harmless and unlimited pleasure which birth control offers to the young, and, if he can stop it, he will." Towards the end of his life Joad came back to religion and returned to the family of the Church; but it was not without a struggle, and it was the insistence of the Christian Church on sexual purity which kept him so long from making the final decision. "It's a big step," he said, "and I can't persuade myself that the very severe attitude to sex which the Church thinks it necessary to adopt is really justified." The Christian ethic insists on chastity, regarding the physical relationship between the sexes as something so precious that indiscriminate use of it in the end spoils it.

There was passion and evil desire. There is a kind of person who is the slave of his passions (palkos) and who is driven by the desire for the wrong things (epithumia, Greek #1939).

There is the sin which the Revised Standard Version calls covetousness (pleonexia, Greek #4124). Pleonexia is one of the ugliest of sins but while it is quite clear what it means, it is by no means so easy to find a single word to translate it. It comes from two Greek words; the first half of the word is from pleon (Greek #4119) which means "more" and the second half is from echein (Greek #2192) which means to have. Pleonexia (Greek #4124) is basically the desire to have more. The Greeks themselves defined it as insatiate desire and said that you might as easily satisfy it as you might fill with water a bowl with a hole in it. They defined it as the sinful desire for what belongs to others. It has been described as ruthless self-seeking. Its basic idea is the desire for that which a man has no right to have. It is, therefore, a sin with a very wide range. If it is the desire for money, it leads to theft. If it is the desire for prestige, it leads to evil ambition. If it is the desire for power, it leads to sadistic tyranny. If it is the desire for a person, it leads to sexual sin. C. F. D. Moule well describes it as "the opposite of the desire to give."

Such a desire, says Paul, is idolatry. How can that be? The essence of idolatry is the desire to get. A man sets up an idol and worships it because he desires to get something from it. To quote C. F. D. Moule, "idolatry is an attempt to use God for man's purposes, rather than to give oneself to God's service." The essence of idolatry is, in fact, the desire to have more. Or to come at it another way, the man whose life is dominated by the desire to get things has set up things in the place of God--and that precisely is idolatry.

Upon all such things the wrath of God must fall. The wrath of God is simply the rule of the universe that a man will sow what he reaps and that no one ever escapes the consequences of his sin. The wrath of God and the moral order of the universe are one and the same thing.

THE THINGS WHICH MUST BE LEFT BEHIND (Colossians 3:5-9 a continued)

In Colossians 3:8 Paul says that there are certain things of which the Colossians must strip themselves. The word he uses is the word for putting off clothes. There is here a picture from the life of the early Christian. When the Christian was baptized, he put off his old clothes when he went down into the water and when he emerged he put on a new and pure white robe. He divested himself of one kind of life and put on another. In this passage Paul speaks of the things of which the Christian must divest himself, and in Colossians 3:12 he will continue the picture and speak of the things which the Christian must put on. Let us look at these things one by one.

The Christian must put off anger and temper. The two words are orge (Greek #3709) and thumos (Greek #2372), and the difference between them is this. Thumos (Greek #2372) is a blaze of sudden anger which is quickly kindled and just as quickly dies. The Greeks likened it to a fire amongst straw, which quickly blazed and just as quickly burned itself out. Orge (Greek #3709) is anger which has become inveterate; it is long-lasting, slow-burning anger, which refuses to be pacified and nurses its wrath to keep it warm. For the Christian the burst of temper and the long-lasting anger are alike forbidden.

There is malice. The word we have so translated is kakia (Greek #2549); it is a difficult word to translate, for it really means that viciousness of mind from which all the individual vices spring. It is all-pervading evil.

Christians must put off slander and foul talk and they must not lie to one another. The word for slander is blasphemia (Greek #988), which the King James Version translates blasphemy. Blasphemia is insulting and slanderous speaking in general; when that insulting speech is directed against God, it becomes blasphemy. In this context it is much more likely that what is forbidden is slanderous talk against one's fellow-men. The word we have translated foul talk is aischrologia (Greek #148); it could well mean obscene language. These last three forbidden things have all to do with speech. And when we turn them into positive commands instead of negative prohibitions, we find three laws for Christian speech.

(i) Christian speech must be kind. All slanderous and malicious talking is forbidden. The old advice still stands which says that before we repeat anything about anyone we should ask three questions: "Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?" The New Testament is unsparing in its condemnation of the gossiping tongues which poison truth.

(ii) Christian speech must be pure. There can never have been a time in history when so much filthy language is used as today. And the tragedy is that many people have become so habituated to unclean talk that they are unaware that they are using it. The Christian should never forget that he will give account for every idle word he speaks.

(iii) Christian speech must be true. Dr. Johnson believed that there are far more falsehoods told unaware than deliberately; and he believed that a child should be checked when he deviates in the smallest detail from the truth. It is easy to distort the truth; an alteration in the tone of voice or an eloquent look will do it; and there are silences which can be as false and misleading as any words.

Christian speech must be kind and pure and honest to all men and in all places.

THE UNIVERSALITY OF CHRISTIANITY (Colossians 3:9 b-13)

3:9b-13 Strip off the old self with all its activities. Put on the new self, which is ever freshly renewed until it reaches fullness of knowledge, in the likeness of its creator. In it there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free man, but Christ is all in all. So then, as the chosen of God, dedicated and beloved, clothe yourself with a heart of pity, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience. Bear with one another, and, if anyone has a ground of complaint against someone else, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive each other.

When a man becomes a Christian, there ought to be a complete change in his personality. He puts off his old self and puts on a new self, just as the candidate for baptism puts off his old clothes and puts on the new white robe. We very often evade the truth on which the New Testament insists, that a Christianity which does not change a man is most imperfect. Further, this change is progressive. This new creation is a continual renewal. It makes a man grow continually in grace and knowledge until he reaches that which he was meant to be--manhood in the image of God.

One of the great effects of Christianity is that it destroys the barriers. In it there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free man. The ancient world was full of barriers. The Greek looked down on the barbarian; and to the Greek any man who did not speak Greek was a barbarian, which literally means a man who says "bar-bar." The Greek was the aristocrat of the ancient world and he knew it. The Jew looked down on every other nation. He belonged to God's chosen people and the other nations were fit only to be fuel for the fires of hell. The Scythian was notorious as the lowest of the barbarians; more barbarian than the barbarians, the Greeks called him; little short of being a wild beast, Josephus calls him. He was proverbially the savage, who terrorized the civilized world with his bestial atrocities. The slave was not even classified in ancient law as a human being; he was merely a living tool, with no rights of his own. His master could thrash or brand or maim or even kill him at his caprice; he had not even the right of marriage. There could be no fellowship in the ancient world between a slave and a free man.

In Christ all these barriers were broken down. J. B. Lightfoot reminds us that one of the greatest tributes paid to Christianity was paid not by a theologian but by a master linguist. Max Miller was one of the great experts of the science of language. In the ancient world no one was interested in foreign languages, apart from Greek. The Greeks were the scholars and they would never have deigned to study a barbarian tongue. The science of language is a new science and the desire to know other languages a new desire. Max Muller wrote: "Not till that word barbarian was struck out of the dictionary of mankind, and replaced by brother, not till the right of all nations of the world to be classed as members of one genus or kind was recognized, can we look even for the first beginnings of our science of language... This change was effected by Christianity." It was Christianity which drew men together sufficiently to make them wish to know each other's languages.

T. K. Abbott points out how this passage shows in summary fashion the barriers which Christianity destroyed.

(i) It destroyed the barriers which came from birth and nationality. Different nations, who either despised or hated each other, were drawn into the one family of the Christian Church. Men of different nationalities, who would have leaped at each other's throats, sat in peace beside each other at the Table of the Lord.

(ii) It destroyed the barriers which came from ceremonial and ritual. Circumcised and uncircumcised were drawn together in the one fellowship. To a Jew a man of any other nation was unclean; when he became a Christian, every man of every nation became a brother.

(iii) It destroyed the barriers between the cultured and the uncultured. The Scythian was the ignorant barbarian of the ancient world; the Greek was the aristocrat of learning. The uncultured and the cultured came together in the Christian Church. The greatest scholar in the world and the simplest son of toil can sit in perfect fellowship in the Church of Christ.

(iv) It destroyed the barrier between class and class. The slave and the free man came together in the Church. More than that, in the Early Church it could, and did, happen that the slave was the leader of the Church and the master the humble member. In the presence of God the social distinctions of the world become irrelevant.

THE GARMENTS OF CHRISTIAN GRACE (Colossians 3:9 b-13 continued)

Paul moves on to give his list of the great graces with which the Colossians must clothe themselves. Before we study the list in detail, we must note two very significant things.

(i) Paul begins by addressing the Colossians as chosen of God, dedicated and beloved. The significant thing is that every one of these three words originally belonged, as it were, to the Jews. They were the chosen people; they were the dedicated nation, they were the beloved of God. Paul takes these three precious words which had once been the possession of Israel and gives them to the Gentiles. Thereby he shows that God's love and grace have gone out to the ends of the earth, and that there is no "most favoured nation" clause in his economy.

(ii) It is most significant to note that every one of the graces listed has to do with personal relationships between man and man. There is no mention of virtues like efficiency or cleverness, not even of diligence or industry--not that these things are unimportant. But the great basic Christian virtues are those which govern human relationships. Christianity is community. It has on its divine side the amazing gift of peace with God and on its human side the triumphant solution of the problem of living together.

Paul begins with a heart of pity. If there was one thing the ancient world needed it was mercy. The sufferings of animals were nothing to it. The maimed and the sickly went to the wall. There was no provision for the aged. The treatment of the idiot and the simple-minded was unfeeling. Christianity brought mercy into this world. It is not too much to say that everything that has been done for the aged, the sick, the weak in body and in mind, the animal, the child, the woman has been done under the inspiration of Christianity.

There is kindness (chrestotes, Greek #5544). Trench calls this a lovely word for a lovely quality. The ancient writers defined chrestotes (Greek #5544) as the virtue of the man whose neighbours good is as dear to him as his own. Josephus uses it as a description of Isaac, the man who dug wells and gave them to others because he would not fight about them (Genesis 26:17-25). It is used of wine which has grown mellow with age and lost its harshness. It is the word used when Jesus said, "My yoke is easy." (Matthew 11:30). Goodness by itself can be stern; but chrestotes (Greek #5544) is the goodness which is kind, that type of goodness which Jesus used to the sinning woman who anointed his feet (Luke 7:37-50). No doubt Simon the Pharisee was a good man; but Jesus was more than good, he was chrestos (Greek #5543). The Rheims version translates it benignity. The Christian is marked by a goodness which is a kindly thing.

There is humility (tapeinophrosune, Greek #5012). It has often been said that humility was a virtue created by Christianity. In classical Greek there is no word for humility which has, not some tinge of servility; but Christian humility is not a cringing thing. It is based on two things. First, on the divine side, it is based on the awareness of the creatureliness of humanity. God is the Creator, man the creature, and in the presence of the Creator the creature cannot feel anything else but humility. Second, on the human side, it is based on the belief that all men are the sons of God; and there is no room for arrogance when we are living among men and women who are all of royal lineage.

There is gentleness (praotes, Greek #4236). Long ago Aristotle had defined praotes as the happy mean between too much and too little anger. The man who has praotes (Greek #4236) is the man who is so self-controlled, because he is God-controlled, that he is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. He has at one and the same time the strength and the sweetness of true gentleness.

There is patience (makrothumia, Greek #3115). This is the spirit which never loses its patience with its fellow-men. Their foolishness and their unteachability never drive it to cynicism or despair; their insults and their ill-treatment never drive it to bitterness or wrath. Human patience is a reflection of the divine patience which bears with all our sinning and never casts us off.

There is the forbearing and the forgiving spirit. The Christian forbears and forgives; and he does so because a forgiven man must always be forgiving. As God forgave him, so he must forgive others, for only the forgiving can be forgiven.

THE PERFECT BOND (Colossians 3:14-17)

3:14-17 On top of all these things, clothe yourselves with love which is the perfect bond; and let the peace of God be the decider of all things within your hearts, for it is to that peace you were called, so that you might be united in one body. May the word of Christ dwell richly in you with all wisdom. Continue to teach and to admonish each other with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you may be doing in word or in deed, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

To the virtues and the graces Paul adds one more--what he calls the perfect bond of love. Love is the binding power which holds the whole Christian body together. The tendency of any body of people is sooner or later to fly apart; love is the one bond which will hold them together in unbreakable fellowship.

Then Paul uses a vivid picture. "Let the peace of God be the decider of all things within your heart." Literally what he says is, "Let the peace of God be the umpire in your heart." He uses a verb from the athletic arena; it is the word that is used of the umpire who settled things in any matter of dispute. If the peace of Jesus Christ is the umpire in any man's heart, then, when feelings clash and we are pulled in two directions at the same time, the decision of Christ will keep us in the way of love and the Church will remain the one body it is meant to be. The way to right action is to appoint Jesus Christ as the arbiter between the conflicting emotions in our hearts; and if we accept his decisions, we cannot go wrong.

It is interesting to see that from the beginning the Church was a singing Church. It inherited that from the Jews, for Philo tells us that often they would spend the whole night in hymns and songs. One of the earliest descriptions of a Church service we possess is that of Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, who sent a report of the activities of the Christians to Trajan, the Roman Emperor, in which he said, "They meet at dawn to sing a hymn to Christ as God." The gratitude of the Church has always gone up to God in praise and song.

Finally, Paul gives the great principle for living that everything we do or say should be done and said in the name of Jesus. One of the best tests of any action is: "Can we do it, calling upon the name of Jesus? Can we do it, asking for his help?" One of the best tests of any word is: "Can we speak it and in the same breath name the name of Jesus? Can we speak it, remembering that he will hear?" If a man brings every word and deed to the test of the presence of Jesus Christ, he will not go wrong.

THE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS OF THE CHRISTIAN (Colossians 3:18-25; Colossians 4:1)

3:18-25 Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not treat them harshly.

Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord. Fathers, do not irritate your children, that they may not lose heart.

Slaves, obey in all things those who are your human masters, not only when you are watched, like those whose only desire is to please men, but in sincerity of heart, reverencing the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it heartily, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men; and never forget that you will receive from the Lord your just recompense, even your share in the inheritance. Show yourselves the slaves of the Lord Christ. He who does wrong will be paid back for the wrong that he has done, and there is no respect of persons.

Masters, on your part provide for your slaves treatment which is just and equitable, and remember that you too have a master in heaven.

Here the ethical part of the letter becomes more and more practical. Paul turns to the working out of Christianity in the everyday relationships of life and living. Before we begin to study the passage in some detail, we must note two great general principles which lie behind it and determine all its demands.

(i) The Christian ethic is an ethic of reciprocal obligation. It is never an ethic on which all the duties are on one side. As Paul saw it, husbands have as great an obligation as wives; parents have just as binding a duty as children; masters have their responsibilities as much as slaves.

This was an entirely new thing. Let us take the cases one by one and look at them in the light of this new principle.

Under Jewish law a woman was a thing, the possession of her husband, just as much as his house or his flocks or his material goods. She had no legal rights whatever. For instance, under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause, while a wife had no rights whatever in the initiation of divorce; and the only grounds on which a divorce might be awarded her were if her husband developed leprosy, became an apostate or ravished a virgin. In Greek society a respectable woman lived a life of entire seclusion. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go marketing. She lived in the women's apartments and did not join her menfolk even for meals. From her there was demanded complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he chose and could enter into as many relationships outside marriage as he liked without incurring any stigma. Under both Jewish and Greek laws and custom all the privileges belonged to the husband and all the duties to the wife.

In the ancient world children were very much under the domination of their parents. The supreme example was the Roman Patria Potestas, the law of the father's power. Under it a parent could do anything he liked with his child. He could sell him into slavery; he could make him work like a labourer on his farm; he had even the right to condemn his child to death and to carry out the execution. All the privileges and rights belonged to the parent and all the duties to the child.

Most of all this was the case in slavery. The slave was a thing in the eyes of the law. There was no such thing as a code of working conditions. When the slave was past his work, he could be thrown out to die. He had not even the right to marry, and if he cohabited and there was a child, the child belonged to the master, just as the lambs of the flock belonged to the shepherd. Once again all the rights belonged to the master and all the duties to the slave.

The Christian ethic is one of mutual obligation, in which the rights and the obligations rest with every man. It is an ethic of mutual responsibility; and, therefore, it becomes an ethic where the thought of privilege and rights falls into the background and where the thought of duty and obligation becomes paramount. The whole direction of the Christian ethic is not to ask: "What do others owe to me?" but, "What do I owe to others?"

(ii) The really new thing about the Christian ethic of personal relationships is that all relationships are in the Lord. The whole of the Christian life is lived in Christ. In any home the tone of personal relationships must be dictated by the awareness that Jesus Christ is an unseen but ever-present guest. In any parent-child relationship the dominating thought must be the Fatherhood of God; and we must try to treat our children as God treats his sons and daughters. The thing which settles any master and servant relationship is that both are servants of the one Master, Jesus Christ. The new thing about personal relationships in Christianity is that Jesus Christ is introduced into them all.

THE MUTUAL OBLIGATION (Colossians 3:18-25; Colossians 4:1 continued)

Let us look briefly at each of these three spheres of human relationships.

(i) The wife is to be submissive to her husband; but the husband is to love his wife and to treat her with all kindness. The practical effect of the marriage laws and customs of ancient times was that the husband became an unquestioned dictator and the wife little more than a servant to bring up his children and to minister to his needs. The fundamental effect of this Christian teaching is that marriage becomes a partnership. It becomes something which is entered into not merely for the convenience of the husband, but in order that both husband and wife may find a new joy and a new completeness in each other. Any marriage in which everything is done for the convenience of one of the partners and where the other exists simply to gratify the needs and desires of the first, is not a Christian marriage.

(ii) The Christian ethic lays down the duty of the child to respect the parental relationship. But there is always a problem in the relationship of parent and child. If the parent is too easy-going, the child will grow up indisciplined and unfit to face life. But there is a contrary danger. The more conscientious a parent is, the more he is likely always to be correcting and rebuking the child. Simply because he wishes the child to do well, he is always on his top.

We remember, for instance, the tragic question of Mary Lamb, whose mind was ultimately unhinged: "Why is it that I never seem to be able to do anything to please my mother?" We remember the poignant statement of John Newton: "I know that my father loved me--but he did not seem to wish me to see it." There is a certain kind of constant criticism which is the product of misguided love.

The danger of all this is that the child may become discouraged. Bengel speaks of "the plague of youth, a broken spirit (Fractus animus pestis iuventutis)." It is one of the tragic facts of religious history that Luther's father was so stern to him that Luther all his days found it difficult to pray: "Our Father." The word father in his mind stood for nothing but severity. The duty of the parent is discipline, but it is also encouragement. Luther himself said, "Spare the rod and spoil the child. It is true. But beside the rod keep an apple to give him when he does well."

Sir Arnold Lunn, in Memory to Memory, quotes an incident about Field-Marshal Montgomery from a book by M. E. Clifton James. Montgomery was famous as a disciplinarian--but there was another side to him. Clifton James was his official "double" and was studying him during a rehearsal for D-Day. "Within a few yards of where I was standing, a very young soldier, still looking sea-sick from his voyage, came struggling along gamely trying to keep up with his comrades in front. I could imagine that, feeling as he did, his rifle and equipment must have been like a ton weight. His heavy boots dragged in the sand, but I could see that he was fighting hard to conceal his distress. Just when he got level with us he tripped up and fell flat on his face. Half sobbing, he heaved himself up and began to march off dazedly in the wrong direction. Monty went straight up to him and with a quick, friendly smile turned him round. 'This way, sonny. You're doing well--very well. But don't lose touch with the chap in front of you.' When the youngster realized who it was that had given him friendly help, his expression of dumb adoration was a study." It was just because Montgomery combined discipline and encouragement that a private in the Eighth Army felt himself as good as a colonel in any other army.

The better a parent is the more he must avoid the danger of discouraging his child, for he must give discipline and encouragement in equal parts.

THE CHRISTIAN WORKMAN AND THE CHRISTIAN MASTER (Colossians 3:18-25; Colossians 4:1 continued)

(iii) Paul then turns to the greatest problem of all--the relationship between slave and master. It will be noted that this section is far longer than the other two; and its length may well be due to long talks which Paul had with the runaway slave, Onesimus, whom later he was to send back to his master Philemon.

Paul says things which must have amazed both sides.

He insists that the slave must be a conscientious workman. He is in effect saying that his Christianity must make him a better and more efficient slave. Christianity never in this world offers escape from hard work; it makes a man able to work still harder. Nor does it offer a man escape from difficult situations; it enables him to meet these situations better.

The slave must not be content with eye-service; he must not work only when the overseer's eye is upon him. He must not be the kind of servant, who, as C. F. D. Moule puts it, does not dust behind the ornaments or sweep below the wardrobe. He must remember that he will receive his inheritance. Here was an amazing thing. Under Roman law a slave could not possess any property whatsoever and here he is being promised nothing less than the inheritance of God. He must remember that the time will come when the balance is adjusted and evil-doing will find its punishment and faithful diligence its reward.

The master must treat the slave not like a thing, but like a person, with justice and with the equity which goes beyond justice.

How is it to be done? The answer is important, for in it there is the whole Christian doctrine of work.

The workman must do everything as if he was doing it for Christ. We do not work for pay or for ambition or to satisfy an earthly master; we work so that we can take every task and offer it to Christ. All work is done for God so that his world may go on and his men and women have the things they need for life and living.

The master must remember that he too has a Master--Christ in heaven. He is answerable to God, just as his workmen are answerable to him. No master can say, "This is my business and I will do what I like with it." He must say, "This is God's business. He has put me in charge of it. I am responsible to him." The Christian doctrine of work is that master and man alike are working for God, and that, therefore, the real rewards of work are not assessable in earthly coin, but will some day be given--or withheld--by God.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Colossians 3:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-3.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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