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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Colossians 3

Verse 1

COL. 3

Findlay's outline of this section of the epistle is:

a. The Colossians urged to maintain a lofty spiritual life (Colossians 3:1-4).

b. They were to put off old vices (Colossians 3:5-8).

100They were to put on new Christian virtues (Colossians 3:9-14).

d. The sovereignty of Christ was to rule them (Colossians 3:15-17).

e. Instructions regarding reciprocal relationships (Colossians 3:18-4:1).

1. As wives and husbands (Colossians 3:18-20).

2. As parents and children (Colossians 3:21).

3. As servants and masters (Colossians 3:22-4:1).[1]

The hortatory section, or "practical teachings," as usual in Paul's letters, comes after the doctrinal part of the letter; a number of deductions from this fact are important:

(1) It is not ethics which produces doctrine, but the doctrine which produces ethics, as Peake said: "The ethical exhortation has its basis in the dogmatic exposition already given."[2] All Christian morality, ethics and philosophy are grounded in the historical fact of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2) In putting the doctrine first, Paul followed the usual pattern visible in the New Testament.

The New Testament everywhere insists upon true doctrine ... the whole tendency (today) is to discourage talk about doctrine and to urge that we work together, etc. ... but the fact is that there is no unity apart from truth and doctrine; and it is departure from this that causes division and breaks unity.[3]

From this, the deduction follows that all of the sacred writers stressed doctrine, and on doctrine built the appeal for better conduct.

The apostle now develops his ethical teaching, erecting, as is his custom, his moral superstructure upon a solid doctrinal foundation.[4]

(3) Then, should not doctrine be re-emphasized today? It may be well to note the words of Wagner and Johnson who developed an analysis of why some churches grow and others do not; and they determined that:

What really determines growth is the intensity of belief that any group has in the particular doctrine it holds ... What we have seen occurring from the time of Constantine in the fourth century has been a general watering down of our belief in our views of salvation and of the church.[5]

Christ strongly emphasized the true doctrine, declaring that those who taught "as their doctrines the precepts of men" were worshipping God in vain (Matthew 15:9). Of course, Paul was one with the Holy Saviour in the strong and emphatic teaching regarding the doctrine.


The trouble Paul sought to correct with this very letter was that of the Colossians following human doctrine (Colossians 2:22). The unstable and ineffective Christians at Ephesus Paul identified as those "carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). Paul classified everything that was "contrary to sound doctrine" as being sinful in the same degree as fornication, falsehood and murder (1 Timothy 1:10). "The words of faith and of good doctrine" were to be proclaimed by Timothy in order for him to be "a good minister of Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 4:6). Paul commanded him to give heed and attendance to "doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:13,16), and ordered him to hold in "double honor" those who were laboring "in the word and in the teaching (doctrine)" (1 Timothy 5:17).

Furthermore, the apostasy itself was to come about through the sins of the churches that "could not endure the sound doctrine," but who would cater to their "itching ears" by supplying false teachers (2 Timothy 4:3). All these instructions to Timothy were, in essence, repeated to Titus, where Paul commanded him to "speak the things which befit the sound doctrine," and where all faith and honesty were seen primarily as an "adornment of the doctrine of God" (Titus 2:1,10).

Therefore, either churches or ministers who neglect to teach the "sound doctrine" of the word of God, or seek to downgrade it in any way, are guilty of forsaking the "faith once for all delivered to the saints."

[1] G. G. Findlay, Colossians in The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 147.

[2] A. S. Peake, Expositor's Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 536.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, The Basis of Christian Unity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 50.

[4] Ernest G. Ashby, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 488.

[5] C. Peter Wagner and Arthur Johnston, "A Pragmatic Concern for Church Growth," in Christianity Today, Vol. 21, No. 7 (January 7,1977), p. 14 (382).

If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)

As Neilson said, "If then ye were raised parallels if ye died with Christ in Colossians 2:22.[6] Both of course, refer to Christian baptism.

Macknight affirmed that the meaning here is, "Since then ye have been raised with Christ in baptism.[7] Barclay also elaborated it thus:

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.[8] ... We have seen repeatedly that the early Christians regarded baptism as a dying and rising again. When a man was buried, the Greeks 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 (Colossians 3:3).[9]


There are two different aspects of one's death with Christ in baptism, these being: (1) the firm and irrevocable resolution and intention of renouncing sin forever (this is the spiritual aspect of it), very appropriately referred to as dying with Christ, since as far as the Christian is concerned, his body (in his intention) is no more to be given over to the indulgence of fleshly lusts and sins, any more than if he had physically died, and (2) the legal aspect of dying in the person of Christ. Christ died on Calvary; therefore, all who are in Christ are also said to have died "in him." Every Christian can say, "I have already paid the penalty of sin, which is death; for I died on the cross in the Person of my Redeemer," this being exactly parallel to Paul's statement that we are "dead to the Law by the body of Christ" (Romans 7:4).

It should be observed in this connection that one's having died with Christ unto sin has reference only to the imperative and all-important change of the will (repentance) when one becomes a Christian. There is nothing here of God's taking away all temptations. Even Christ was tempted in all points like as we are tempted. This death to sin is suggested by the burial of the convert in the act of baptism. Despite the fact of baptism's nowhere being called a "figure" or "outward sign" of anything in the New Testament, it is called "that form of doctrine" which must be obeyed by those seeking eternal life. In that frame of reference, it is to be understood, therefore, as a form of death, burial and resurrection of Christ (that is, of the gospel), and also of the convert's death to sin, burial in baptism, and being raised to walk in the newness of life in Christ.

But is not "the form" as applied to baptism in Romans 6:17 the same as "figure," etc.? No indeed; it is an expression which is used of Christ being "in the form of God" (Philippians 2:6), and that usage of it denotes the utmost reality and substance, making baptism to be a reality of the gospel, in fact, the gospel itself that must be obeyed by people seeking salvation. See more on this in my Commentary on Romans, Romans 6:17ff. The truth is that "obeying the gospel," as used in the New Testament, invariably means believing and being baptized, there being no other way whatever in which the "good news" could be obeyed.

If ye then were raised together with Christ ... Barry said the reference here is "evidently to baptism.[10] Findlay likewise referred it to "the gate of baptism";[11] and Guthrie agreed that here there is an allusion "to baptism."[12]

Seek ye the things that are above ...

Seek ... is stressed by many as a word indicating the most careful and persistent pursuit of the goal indicated.

The things that are above ... The thought of Christ and heaven being above and the sinful things of earth being below is misleading when understood merely in the sense of altitude. "The things above" are rather the things of higher importance, more exalted principles, and spiritual rather than carnal. As Ellis reminded us, "The words above and below in the writings of Paul and of John do not primarily indicate spatial contrasts."[13]

There is a dramatic fourfold reference to "Christ" in these first four verses; and Barry stated that "The name, four times repeated, has in all cases the article prefixed to it. Evidently it is used emphatically to refer to our Lord as our Mediator - our Prophet, Priest and King."[14]

[6] John B. Nielson, Colossians in Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1965), p. 410.

[7] James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles with Commentary, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 549.

[8] William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 147.

[9] Ibid., p. 148.

[10] Alfred Barry, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. III, Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 111.

[11] G. G. Findlay, op. cit., p. 147.

[12] Donald Guthrie, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1148.

[13] E. Earle Ellis, Wycliffe New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 795.

[14] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 112.

Verse 2

Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.

See preceding verse.

Verse 3

For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.

Ye died ... your life is hid ... See Barclay's comment on this under Colossians 3:1. Also see comment by Bruce.

When Christ ... shall be manifested ... Each of the significant clauses in this verse is actually related to the thought of the Christian's life being "hid with Christ." True it is hidden now, but at the Second Advent, when the heavens shall be ablaze with the glory of Christ, lo, all of his saints shall likewise appear "with him" in the glory of eternal life which shall be given to them "at that time."

Christ, who is our life ... The thought here is parallel to that of Galatians 2:20. Significantly, the consummation of all the Christian's hope shall be achieved "at the coming of Christ, which will be a personal and visible appearing of himself."[15]

Another wonderful thought on being "hid with Christ" was also given by Bruce in reply to a question, "How is our life hid with Christ in God?" He wrote:

Here is J. B. Lightfoot's answer: "The apostle's argument is this: `When you sank under the baptismal water, you disappeared forever to the world. You rose again, it is true, but you rose only to God. The world henceforth knows nothing of your life, and (as a consequence) your new life must know nothing of the world'." Since Christians live "in Christ," and Christ indeed is their true life, it is inevitable that their life should be securely preserved where he is.[16]

Manifested ... The Greek word here is [@faneroo].[17] Other New Testament passages where it is used of the Second Advent are: 2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1,8; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:2. One of the major New Testament doctrines is that of the Second Advent of Christ. It is usually understood as the occasion when the dead shall all be raised, the general judgment of all people shall occur, and every person shall be assigned his eternal reward.

[15] Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings from Paul (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), p. 334.

[16] F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 109.

[17] E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 796.

Verse 5

Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Put to death ... Here is a paradox. As Hendriksen noted:

"You died" (Colossians 3:3) ... "Put to death therefore your members" (Colossians 3:5) ... On the one hand Paul is saying that the Colossians have already died; yet, on the other hand, he is telling them that they must put themselves to death. How can both be true?[18]

Hendriksen answered by pointing out that the state and the condition of Christians do not wholly coincide; but the answer presented here is to the effect that it is not "themselves" which the Christians are to "put to death," but that they are to put to death those evil propensities within themselves, belonging to their carnal nature.

A number of very interesting comments on this place are:

Members is perhaps suggested by our Lord's command to "cut off" right hand or "pluck out" right eye, if they cause offense (Matthew 5:29,30).[19]

These members are indeed those of the actual body.[20]

Different from the views above is that of Ashby who said: "This is internal, not external, and means renunciation of propensities that belong to the old life."[21] Of course, it is believed that this accurately interprets, not only what Paul said here, but that it is also, in light of the apostle's inspiration, a divine comment upon what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:29,30, regarding "the right hand" and "the right eye."

Macknight elaborated this interpretation thus:

The apostle having represented the vicious appetites and passions of the human heart, under the idea of a body (Colossians 2:17), because they have their seat in the body, he, in this passage, calls the sinful actions to which these bad affections prompt men, the members of that body or the old man.[22]

A little different statement of what is meant here is that of Barclay, who said, "What Paul is saying is, `Put to death every part of yourself which is against God and keeps you from fulfilling his will'."[23]

Mortify ... as used here in the KJV has been used by ascetics and others as justification for self-torture; but we may be certain that nothing like that is intended.

Fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry ... In this series, Paul's various lists of sins have been repeatedly examined. Here, all five of these things are sexually oriented, and "covetousness" would seem to apply to all of them, covetousness being "the desire for more."

Which is idolatry ... The pagan temples throughout the world of that era were a constant temptation to Christians to indulge in the impure and unmentionable rites suggested by this word-list. Frequently an idol's temple was a short-cut to indulgence in all of the things mentioned here.

Covetousness ... "One is a little surprised to find this word included along with others in this list, thus identifying the love of money and the inordinate desire for it as being on a parity with the grossest of sins. The Christian should especially heed this in the question of determining how much money or income he should devote to the purpose of advancing Christianity in the world.

[18] William Hendriksen, Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 143.

[19] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 113.

[20] G. G. Findlay, op. cit., p. 149.

[21] Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 488.

[22] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 549.

[23] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 150.

Verse 6

For which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.

Wrath of God ... At a time in history when the most extravagant claims are being made with regard to God's love, it is wise to take into account Scriptures such as this where the other side of the divine nature is in view. As Ellis put it, "Far from negating God's love, his wrath confirms it. For without justice, mercy loses its meaning?[24] A God in whom no settled wrath against wickedness resided would be like an executive without any authority. The New Testament is full of teaching to the effect that God has a score to settle with evil and that one day he will settle it.

Upon the sons of disobedience ... Special attention should be focused upon the object of God's wrath. Both here and in 2 Thessalonians 1:8, it is the "disobedient" who shall bear the full weight of the wrath of God. Theologies which seek to eliminate "obedience" as being in any way connected with salvation should be rejected. Regardless of how vigorously one may protest that he has "faith in Christ," unless there is on his part at least some movement to obey the teaching of the New Testament, his doom is certain. Until he has, in his Christian baptism, been buried with Christ and raised to walk in newness of life, as had these Colossians, he cannot even belong to the company recognized in the New Testament as the family of God.

Wrath must not be confused with a vindictive reaction. It is rather the negative side of holiness, the revulsion of righteousness toward all unrighteousness.[25]

Disobedience ... is eliminated in some versions. "But the phrase logically fits here, for it stands in the parallel in Ephesians 5:6.[26]

[24] E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 797.

[25] Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1149.

[26] John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 413.

Verse 7

Wherein ye also once walked, when ye lived in these things; but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth.

Whereas the list of sins in Colossians 3:5 concerned sexual wickedness, the list here pertains to "tongue-wickedness," both lying in the center of man's body, as well as in the center of his nature. As Ellis said, "The words `out of your mouth' may refer to all the sins listed,"[27] the view here being that they do.

Shameful speaking ... These come from a Greek word meaning "to speak against" either God or man; but "blasphemy" in English refers to speaking against God. As Hendriksen said, "In the present instance, as the context indicates, `speaking against man' is meant ... slander, defamation, detraction.[28] See article Slander at the end of the chapter.

[27] E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 797.

[28] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 148.

Verse 9

Lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings.

Lie not one to another ... This is added to the list mentioned in the previous two verses. Nielson writes that this is, "Literally, `lie not to yourself,' and suggests that one who lies may come to believe his own falsehoods."[29]

Ye have put off the old man ... As frequently in Paul's writings, he here dramatically switched metaphors. He had been speaking of "putting to death," but here he changed to "put off," the new figure being that of stripping off old clothes, a metaphor that often occurs in the New Testament. In Galatians 3:27, Paul wrote, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ"; and here a little later, beginning in Colossians 3:12, Paul will outline what is meant, partially, by putting on Christ. Also in Revelation, the clothing metaphor prevails in Revelation 3:4,5.

Verse 10

And have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him.

Have put on the new man ... Macknight referred this to "the very temper and virtues of Christ";[30] but, of course, more than this is meant. The Christian puts on the name of Christ, clothes himself in the spiritual body of Christ, and will appear in glory clothed with the total righteousness of the Lord himself. That is exactly what Jesus meant by the admonition: "I counsel thee to buy of me ... white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest" (Revelation 3:18).

Verse 11

Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all.

All the distinctions stressed by such divisions as these are transcended; and, as Ellis put it, "At the foot of the cross, the ground is level ... not a uniformity of status in the present world order, but a change in attitude by which the stigma of being different is loved away."[31]

See Galatians 3:28 for another exhortation similar to this one, the principal difference here being the inclusion of "Scythian," which inclusion, according to Barry, was "clearly intended to rebuke that pride of intellect, contemptuous of the unlearned, which lay at the root of Gnosticism."[32] The word "Scythian" hardly means anything at all to modern readers; but as Hendriksen pointed out:

In the seventh century before Christ, these Scythians, savage and warlike nomads from the northern steppes, had deluged the countries of the Fertile Crescent, including Palestine, and, having subsequently been repulsed, had left a memory of dread and horror.[33]

Summarizing the barriers that were removed in Christ, they were (and are): barriers that come of birth and nationality, those derived from the ceremonial and rituals observed, the barriers of race, training, experience, social status, or anything else that tends to divide people and lead some to look down upon others as inferior to themselves.

Christ is all and in all ... Here again the absolute supremacy of Christ is affirmed and extolled. Note that Christ is "in" all Christians. See my comment on this under Colossians 1:27.

[31] E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 797.

[32] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 113.

[33] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 153.

Verse 12

Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering.

Elect ... holy ... beloved ... Ellis pointed out that these titles belonged in the Old Testament to the physical Israel of God, but that here they are applied "to the church, the true Israel."[34] This writer also believes that "beloved," as in so many of Paul's letters, has reference to the love which the apostle himself had for the addressees, and that this is an incidental indication that Paul was indeed acquainted at Colossae.

Heart of compassion, kindness, ... "These indeed are the very virtues and attitudes of the Christ himself, showing that true Christ-likeness is the goal of every Christian. Note too, that in all of these admonitions, Paul does not allow for one moment that anyone might attain to the full stature of Christ in a single act, but that the development of the soul into that which pleases God is a growth process. See more on this principle under Romans 6:5, in my Commentary on Romans. This is why Paul here admonishes Christians who had already "put on Christ" to put on kindness, etc., and to put on anything else that might be lacking.

Verse 13

Forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye.

It is unpardonable that the translators in this place ignored the "many ancient authorities" which read "Christ" in this place (English Revised Version margin), rendering it, "As the Lord forgave you"; for, as Guthrie pointed out, "There is an echo here of the Lord's Prayer in the close link between God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others."[35] Thus Paul most assuredly had "Christ" in mind here; but the tenderness of some translators to the implications of this doubtless influenced some of them. The Jews believed, and the Pharisees stated it bluntly to Jesus, that "Who can forgive sins but one, even God?" (Mark 2:7), receiving no contradiction at all from the Christ. Thus Paul's statement here to the effect that Christ forgave us is fully equivalent to an affirmation of his deity.

Roy F. Osborne stated in a sermon that there are only three possible reasons for forgiveness: (1) the person forgiven deserves it; (2) the holiness of the person forgiving is sufficient to guarantee it; or (3) Christ also forgave us! It is not hard to locate the true reason.

Verse 14

And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.

Above all these things ... Barry characterized this verse as "remarkable," saying that it was apparently "suggested by the Gnostic teachers."[36] While it may be true that Gnosticism offered a so-called perfection by some device or another, it seems more logical to refer this reference to "the bond of perfectness" to what Paul had already declared in Colossians 1:28. See notes there.

Above all ... The thought here appears to be not that of adding love as an additional Christian grace, but rather that of making love the cement that holds everything else in place, or as Nielson put it:

(The love) is viewed as the bond of perfectness, or girdle that bonds together the "clothing" that has just been put on. Both the graces and the Christian persons are bound together by love ([Greek: agape], divine love).[37]

[36] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 114.

[37] John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 416.

Verse 15

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful.

The peace of Christ ... according to Peake means the subjective peace within the Christian which has been bestowed upon him through his relationship with Christ. "It is the peace which Christ gives."[38] Ashby noted that it is "peace" in this passage that has the function of the "girdle," a function regarded as belonging to "love" in the parallel place in Ephesians. Paul's mind was not in a straitjacket, and his use of words in slightly different senses "reveals not a different writer but the working of the apostle's mind along similar but not identical lines."[39]

And be ye thankful ... It is strange, in a way, that Paul was so insistent upon thanksgiving as a grace enthusiastically and constantly exhibited by the Christian. The Lord's Prayer does not contain a single note of thanksgiving, except in the comprehensive word "Hallowed be thy name"; but Paul made thanksgiving the ever-present mark of Christian living. This does not mean that there was a difference in the teachings of Christ and Paul, but that "The Lord's Prayer" belonged to that period before the kingdom of Christ was established, and that the teachings of Paul belong to the joyful era of the kingdom itself.

[38] A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 541.

[39] Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 488.

Verse 16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you ... The significance of this has already been noted under Colossians 1:27, above and under Galatians 5:23. Briefly, the word of Christ dwelling in a person is equivalent in every way to the Spirit of God dwelling in him. If it be objected that the Spirit is a living Person, then let it be remembered also that the word of God is spoken of as "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12f).

Admonishing one another ... The parallel between this verse and similar teaching in Ephesians 5:19,20, was set forth as follows by Barry:

Here again we have general identity and special distinction between the two passages. There as here we have "the speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," the "singing in the hearts to the Lord," and the spirit of "thankfulness." But there the whole is described as being the consequence of "being filled with the Spirit" ... whereas here, it (all) comes from "the word of Christ" in the soul.[40]

Thus, as Barry pointed out, exactly the same thing is attributed to the agency of the Holy Spirit in the Ephesian passage which here is attributed to the indwelling "word of Christ," lending the strongest possible corroboration to the view maintained in this series to the effect that the "word of Christ," "the mind of Christ," "God," "Christ," and "Holy Spirit" are all spoken of in the New Testament as "dwelling in" members of the body of Christ, and that all three members of the Godhead are likewise "dwelt in" by Christians, thus giving Scriptural designations of one and the same phenomenon. There does not live a person, nor has there ever lived a person, who could make these Scriptural expressions to be designations of eight different conditions. On the contrary, they all designate one condition, the saved condition, of the believer baptized into Christ.

Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs ... It would appear that "spiritual" in this verse is the modifier of all that may be properly used in Christian assemblies. By their nature of being in the Old Testament, psalms are surely spiritual, and "hymns" are so by definition; but, as for any song so used, it must likewise be spiritual. Significantly not even all singing is permissible in Christian worship.

What is the bearing of this passage on the use of instrumental music in Christian worship? The answer is this: By the apostolic injunction "to sing," thus commanding a special kind of music, all other kinds are eliminated. It is contrary to the injunction here for congregations to "whistle" or to play mechanical instruments, the latter having been associated throughout history with pagan worship (Daniel 3:4-7). Historically, no mechanical instruments of music were used in Christian worship until the seventh century, despite the fact of such instruments having been known and used throughout the whole world at the time of the beginning of Christianity and for centuries prior to that time. There is no refutation of the fact that the founder of Christianity, namely, the Christ and the blessed apostles simply left them out. See more on this under Ephesians 5:20, this volume.

Arguments from the word [@psallo] to the effect that it refers to playing a harp fail in the light of the truth that the instrument of God's praise appears in the passage, not as anything mechanical, but as the human heart itself.

With grace in your hearts ... This was interpreted by Peake to mean "with thankfulness."[41]

The word of Christ ... Guthrie interpreted this to mean "the teaching Christ brought to men,"[42] and as preserved and communicated to us through the holy apostles. This is one of the most definite passages in the New Testament, which nails down the identification of Christian doctrine as including the message delivered by Christ, thus making even the Old Testament, valuable as it is, outside the perimeter of Christian authority in all things pertaining to the church of which Christ is the head. See elaboration of this in my Commentary on Matthew under "The Great Commission."

[40] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 115.

[41] A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 541.

[42] Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1150.

Verse 17

And whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Do all in the name of the Lord ... This means to respect the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ in everything. The sectors in which this applies are: (1) that of personal morality and conduct; (2) the province of things done in public assemblies of Christians; (3) in the whole area of thought and action (word or deed); and (4) even in the secret purposes of the soul. In short, "do all" in the name of the Lord.

Verse 18

Wives be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

This begins Paul's instructions on certain reciprocal relationships, that of wives and husbands being treated first. See extensive teaching on this in Ephesians 5:22-33, where Paul elaborated it. The glorious difference between the Christian conception of duty and that prevalent in the world of Paul's day lies in the fact that obligations, even the sacred obligations in marriage, are "reciprocal" obligations. The duty is never all on one side. In the Roman Empire of Paul's day, there were no recognized rights of women, children or slaves, who were all expected to obey husbands, parents and masters upon penalty of death. Christianity changed all that. As observed in the parallel place in Ephesians, here Paul enunciated the great ethic of mutual respect and obligation in these sectors; and this ethic destroyed slavery and other abuses, although, of course, not immediately.

As is fitting in the Lord ... As Guthrie said, "This would at once transform current ideas and invest the wife's position with an adequate safeguard."[43] As spelled out fully in Ephesians, husbands were to love their wives, a command to regard the wife as an extension of the husband's own self, having every true claim against him that ever pertained to himself.

Verse 19

Husbands love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

This must be understood in the light of Ephesians 5:28-33. Paul did not need to spell everything out in each of the epistles, because he specifically instructed that his writings should be passed around and made available to others, beyond those addressed in the salutation (Colossians 4:16).

Verse 20

Children obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord.

"Well-pleasing in the Lord ... fitting in the Lord (Colossians 3:18) ... fearing the Lord (Colossians 3:22) ... as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23) ... ye serve the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:24) ..." Notice that all of the persons addressed regarding their personal and domestic duties were continually reminded of being "in the Lord," and therefore as having "put on" the graces and virtues commanded earlier in this chapter. The whole teaching is that a Christian must not get "out of character" in dealing with everyday relationships and duties. Kindness, meekness, love, gentleness ... name them all; such virtues must mark the Christian's life at all times.

Verse 21

Fathers, provoke not your children that they be not discouraged.

This should be read against the stern and tyrannical background of the father's absolute control over his children, as in the Roman Empire when these words were written. As Barclay said:

A parent could do anything he liked with his child. He could sell him into slavery ... he even had the right to condemn his child to death and carry out the execution himself.[44]

In current times, the pendulum has swung the other way; and it is the duty of children to obey their parents that needs emphasis (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Verse 22

Servants, obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord.

Some commentators have supposed that, as Onesimus, a runaway slave, was bearer of this letter, Paul made the slavemaster relationship the more elaborate part of these reciprocal institutions in this epistle.

There are a number of exceedingly important deductions to be made from Paul's handling of the slave problem in the New Testament. Two of these are:

(1) True Christianity does not consist of any kind of attack upon social institutions, even so vicious and deplorable a system as that of slavery. Christ and the apostles were not revolutionaries in the modern sense of that word. See article, "Christ and the State" in my Commentary on Romans. There were practical reasons for Paul's words here, as noted by McGarvey (see my Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:20-21); but over and beyond the practical need of refraining from an assault upon society, it was inherently unchristian to do so. It is as leaven and not as dynamite that the religion of Christ works. See more on this in my Commentary on 1Corinthians.

(2) Ancient slavery no longer exists in the civilized part of the world, but there still exists the relationship between employers and employees; and Nielson was correct in suggesting that these words of Paul are applicable to that relationship, no less than to ancient slavery. "The master must give a fair and just wage, and the laborer must give a fair and full day's labor."[45] If an ancient slave was commanded to work vigorously and enthusiastically, how much more is it mandatory for every employee to give his best to the job?

Eye-service ... men-pleasers ... This is a reference to working only when the master is observing. The employee who is careful to appear busy when the boss is looking is guilty of the same attitude here condemned.

Verse 23

Whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.

God has his own way of rewarding honorable and faithful work, regardless of the failure of human authorities to do so; and the difference is brought out in the very next verse.

Verse 24

Knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ.

As Barry pointed out, "The only peculiarity in this passage (as compared with the parallel in Ephesians) regards the strong emphasis on 'the reward of the inheritance'."[46] The inheritance is exactly the thing which no slave could receive; only a son could be an heir of God (Galatians 4:7). Thus the slave on earth is recognized as a son in heaven.

Verse 25

For he that doeth wrong shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

Some understand this as a warning to slaves not to do wrong; but since the admonition stands as another reason, along with the one in Colossians 3:24, directed to the proper motivation of the slave, it is understood here as a reference to God's judgment of slavemasters if they do wrong. "No respect of persons" favors this view; because it is not likely that the hope of a slave to avoid punishment could be based on any supposed "respect of persons." On the other hand, masters might think that because of their position God might overlook their sins.

Perhaps it is wrong to restrict the meaning of "he that doeth wrong" to either class. Will not God judge and punish all wrongdoers whomsoever? Commentators have long struggled with this question, arriving at different conclusions, thus:

This has reference solely to the master of the slave (Ridderbos).

This refers to the slave (Lenski).

It seems best to suppose that both are included (Lightfoot).[47]

Peake summarized such opinions thus:

To include both is highly questionable, not only because a double reference is on principle to be avoided in exegesis, but because the connection implies that only one side of the relationship is being dealt with. It is commonly thought that the verse is an encouragement to the slave, based on the assurance that the master who treats him will receive his recompense in due course.[48]

The reliance of the Christian, in whatever state of life, upon the eternal justice of God's universe is the great stabilizer of the human heart. Without this reliance, life becomes an idiot's dream where injustice, misery, caprice, chance and luck are supreme. On the other hand, one who learns to trust in the assurance Paul here extended to the slaves of the ancient Roman Empire, perhaps the most unfortunate class ever to live on earth, - one who learns to trust that assurance has already won rest for his soul. No matter what inequalities, no matter what injustice, no matter how much unfairness, partiality and wickedness may torture one's earthly existence, the eternal reward is absolutely sure. God will make all things right. Now people may view this as "pie in the sky" if they wish, but it is surely better than any five-year plan advocated by Marx. Without the divine assurance in view here, there can be no true stability of heart, no genuine serenity of the soul, in fact, no real sanity on earth!


Singled out by the apostle in Colossians 3:8 for one of his apostolic prohibitions was the vice of slander, or "shameful speaking" as our translators have rendered the word, the same being a vice which is universally detested. Something of the pioneer attitude toward this sin is apparent in a story told with reference to the famed cowboy evangelist B. B. (Cowboy) Crimm of San Augustine and East Texas. Crimm (1886-1950) preached extensively in East Texas and Oklahoma in the first half of the current century and became famous for the sensational and outlandish things said in the pulpit.

One night, in a meeting attended by more than one thousand people, a woman came forward saying,

"Oh, Brother Crimm, I have come to lay my tongue on the altar." The woman was a noted gossip in that community.

Crimm replied:

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, our altar is only eight feet long, but go ahead and put whatever part of it you are able to get on it!"


Have you ever heard of Gossip Town On the shores of Falsehood Bay, Where old Dame Rumor in rustling gown Is going the livelong day?

The principal street is called `They Say.' `I've Heard' is the public well; And the breezes that blow from Falsehood Bay Are laden with `Don't you tell.'

Just back of the park in `Slander's Row'; 'Twas there that Good Name died, Pierced by a shaft from Jealousy's bow In the hands of Envious Pride.

It isn't far to Gossip Town For the people who want to go; The Idleness Train will take you down In just an hour or so.

But the people who go to Gossip Town All reap of the seed they sow; And this you will find as they have found If ever you chance to go.

- Anonymous

[47] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 175.

[48] A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 543.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Colossians 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.