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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Colossians 3

Verses 1-99

Ch. 3:1 4.The subject continued; life in union with the Risen One

1. If ] The “ if ” not of conjecture but of assumption, as in 2:20. He takes them all for granted, as really united to Christ by a living faith, sealed by holy Baptism.

then ] The thought goes back to all the previous statements of the Christian’s glorious position and privilege in Christ. In view of these Divine facts, the poor expedients of a mechanical religious routine are seen to be as needless as they are futile. The secret of moral victory is opened, and it consists in using the powers conveyed to the believer through federal and vital oneness with his Head.

ye … be risen ] Lit. and far better, ye did rise , or were raised . The time-reference is, ideally, to the hour of Christ’s Resurrection; biographically, to their own union with Him by faith. Of that faith their baptism, with its immersion and emersion, was symbol, seal, and monument. See above on 2:12.

In Christ the Crucified they had “died to” the guilt, and so to the despotic claim, of sin. In Christ the Risen they had “risen to” a life of full acceptance, and also to life-power, and life-endowments, derived from His “indissoluble life” (Hebrews 7:16 ); in fact, to the possession of the indwelling Spirit which He, as Risen, “shed forth” (Acts 2:33 ), and which gives to the limb the strength and holiness of the Head, to be used and realized. See above on 2:12.

with Christ ] The holy Union appears in every word.

seek those things which are above ] As the exile seeks home (Hebrews 11:14 ), or as a thing gravitating seeks its centre. The precept bears full on the problem last in view, how to meet “the indulgence of the flesh.” It is best met by the looking-away of the soul, heavenward, Christ ward, in the recollection of its new and eternal life in Him. The “ things above ” are thus “ sought ” both as the goal of hope and the antidote to temptation. For the phrase the “things above” (here and ver. 2), cp. John 8:23 : “ I am from the things above .”

where ] The “ things above ” are just so far localized as they have to do with the glorified Body of the incarnate and ascended Lord.

Christ sitteth ] Better, Christ is, seated . (So R.V.) Vulgate, Christus est … sedens . First, His presence “there,” in general, is in view; then, His session .

Seated : cp. Matthew 26:64 ; Mark 16:19 ; Luke 22:69 ; Ephesians 1:20 ; Hebrews 1:3 , Hebrews 1:8 :1, Hebrews 1:10 :12, Hebrews 1:12 :2; Revelation 3:21 . See Psalms 110:1 , with the quotations Matthew 22:44 (and parallels); Zechariah 6:13 ; Acts 2:34 ; Hebrews 1:13 (cp. 1 Corinthians 15:24-27 ). The imagery denotes the repose and empire of the ascended Christ, who has for ever done the work of sacrificial offering, and now “sits” to dispense the blessings He has wrought. Two exceptions only appear; Acts 7:56 , where He “stands” to aid and welcome the martyr; Revelation 5:6 , where the mystic Lamb, new ascended, “stands” close by the throne, not on it, but about to approach and (22:3) claim it.

on the right hand ] I.e., on the throne, at the Father’s “right hand.” The words not only state a fact, but have here a special significance. To “seek the things above” is to go out in spirit towards a Christ triumphant and reigning, and therefore all-competent to save and bless.

2. Set your affection &c.] Not “ affections ,” but “ affection,” affectus , the tendency, bias, of the mind. More lit., “ think the things &c.”; in the sense not of articulate thought but rather of character, as we call a man thoughtful, high-thoughted, and the like. R.V., well, Set your mind &c. Latin Versions, sapite , Luther, Trachtet nach dem, was droben ist . The verb, phronein , appears (itself or its cognates) e.g. Matthew 16:23 ; Romans 8:5 ; Philippians 2:5 , Philippians 3:19 (the exact antithesis to this passage).

Grace only can fix the “affection” heavenward; but the Christian, none the less, is to use thought and will in the matter.

things on the earth ] Lit. and better, the things , &c. Cp. Philippians 3:19 . The special reference is to earth as the scene of temptation, the field of conflict with “the flesh.” And the Christian is warned never to meet this conflict in a spirit secretly sympathetic with the foe because conversant only with the interests and expedients of things present and visible. The man who was absorbed in “earthly” care, or pleasure, and the man who understood no heavenly secrets of moral victory, but used only “earthly” expedients (“ touch not, taste not , &c.”), would alike be “setting the mind on earthly things.” See further on ver. 5. Nothing in these words bids us shut our eyes to the riches of creation, or regard the charm of human affection as in itself evil. The precept is to be read in its context; it forbids an “earthly” programme for the aims and the means of the Christian life.

3. For ] The heavenward, Christward, “affection” of the Christian is reasonable , when his spiritual relation to Christ is seen.

ye are dead ] Lit. and better, ye died ; in Christ’s death for and to sin. See above on 2:11, 12, 20.

your life ] assumed to be actually theirs, because He who died, and to whom they were united by faith, rose again. See above on 2:12, for the nature and import of this wonderful life, which implies the remission of a death-sentence, but also far transcends it. It is in fact, in its full and inmost sense, the life of the glorified Head made present and powerful in His members by the Holy Spirit. Cp. 1 Corinthians 6:17 ; Galatians 2:20 .

is hid ] The Greek tense is the perfect. The life was, and is, “hid ”; continuously, from its first gift. “ You died ,” on the other hand, is given in the aorist (in the Greek). The “death” is fact accomplished , the resulting “life” is fact continuing .

Hid : with the double suggestion of safety and concealment . He “with” Whom it is hidden is there “where no thief approacheth,” and also where “the world seeth Him no more.” The main emphasis is on the latter fact. And the Apostle’s practical aim is to direct the Christian away from the visible, mechanical, routine of Pharisaic or Essenic observance to the secrets of holiness which are as invisible to natural sight as is Christ Himself, in Whom they reside. We do not think, as Lightfoot, that there is any reference just here to baptismal burial , in which the baptized person was significantly hidden beneath the water. For the baptismal rite instantly went on to an emersion, signifying a life in some sense manifest .

with Christ ] Again the mystical Union is in view; the vital secret of the whole matter.

in God ] the Father. The word God is here, as very often (see e.g. Philippians 2:6 ), used of the Father with a certain distinctiveness. See above, 1:3, and note there. What is “with” the glorified Christ is “ in God ,” inasmuch as the Son is “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18 ). Cp. John 17:21 , John 17:23 .

4. When Christ … shall appear ] R.V., somewhat more closely, shall be manifested ; leaving the Secret Place of His glory to return to human sight, in His Second Advent. The verb is used in the same connexion, 1 Peter 5:4 ; 1 John 2:28 , 1 John 3:2 (probably). In connexion with the visible “manifestation” of the Son at the First Advent it occurs e.g. 1 Timothy 3:16 ; 1 John 1:2 ; and in connexion with the “manifestation” of the Risen One after death, Mark 16:12 , Mark 16:14 ; John 21:14 . The import of the word in all these passages far transcends mere visibility, and gives the thought of a discovery of what He is Who is seen; but it implies a quite literal visibility. “This same Jesus, in like manner , shall come” (Acts 1:11 ). This is the one place in the Epistle where the Lord’s glorious Return is distinctly mentioned (see 1:5, for a pregnant allusion to it). In the Ephesians no explicit reference to it occurs (but see Ephesians 4:30 ).

who is our life ] The truth of the previous verse is repeated in an intenser form. The “life” which is “hid with Him,” in respect of your possession of it, is, in respect of itself, nothing less than He. So is Christ’s exalted life the direct secret of your regenerate life and faculty, that it is Christ , and nothing secondary. The Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the Life- Giver ” (Nicene Creed); but the Life is the Son of God, as the Redeemer and Head of His saints. Cp. John 6:57 , John 6:11 :25, John 6:14 :6; Galatians 2:20 ; 1 John 5:11 , 1 John 5:12 .

Our life : he has just said, “ your life is hid, &c.”; now he “hastens to include himself among the recipients of the bounty” (Lightfoot).

shall ye also appear ] be manifested . “ It hath not yet been manifested what we shall be ” (1 John 3:2 ). The believer has a supernatural secret of peace and holiness, but it is hidden; and the Divine quality of the effects will not be fully “manifested” till the Cause is “manifested.” Again, the effects, though in a partial sense “manifested” even now, “in our mortal flesh ” (2 Corinthians 4:11 ), are as to their Divine quantity still “hidden,” till the final glorification of the saints. Then, the oneness of the members with their Head will be seen, in all its living power and wonder, and their perfect holiness will be discovered to be all “of Him.” So “the sons of God will be manifested ” (Romans 8:19 ) in respect of the nature and the greatness of their sonship.

The Apostle’s practical aim is to bring his converts to use their “hidden” life the more freely and confidently, in view of its promised issues, and to cheer them by the same prospects under the cross of sorrow, temptation, limitation, or whatever else “conceals,” in God’s present order, their life eternal.

with him ] from whom the glorified are never separated. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 3:13 , 1 Thessalonians 4:14 .

in glory ] His glory, the effulgence, visible and spiritual, of His presence; shared by His members. Cf. Romans 8:17 , Romans 8:18 , Romans 8:21 (“ the liberty of the glory , &c.”); 1 John 3:2 . And see 1 Corinthians 15:43 ; Philippians 3:21 .

5 12. Universal Holiness the necessary issue of the life of Union: the negative side

5. Mortify therefore ] Observe the “ therefore .” Because of the possession of a hidden life , and in its power, they were to put sin to death . Here is no mere assertion of duty, but an implied assurance of power, the power of life , life welcomed and developed. So, in nature, the rising sap of the tree makes the dead leaf fall.

Mortify : the verb occurs elsewhere, in Biblical Greek, only Romans 4:19 ; Hebrews 11:12 ; in both cases of Abraham’s physical condition in old age. Its plain meaning is to reduce to a state of death, or like death; a state helpless, inoperative. The Christian, in the power of his hidden life in Christ, is thus to deal with his sins; entirely to renounce the thought of compromise or toleration, and to apply to them the mighty counter-agent of his union with his Head.

The verb is in the aorist tense; decisive and critical action is in view. The believer, reminded of his resources and of the will of God, is now, with full purpose, to “ give to death ” (Conybeare) all his sins, and to carry that purpose out with critical decision at each moment of temptation, in the power of his true life.

No assertions of an attained “sinless perfection” are warranted by such a word. The following context is enough to shew that St Paul views his converts as all along morally imperfect. But that side of truth is not in view here; the Christian is called here to an unreserved decision of will and to a full use of Christ’s power.

In the closely parallel words, Romans 8:13 , the verb (another verb in the Greek) is in the present tense, indicating the need of continuous action after however critical a decision .

your members ] Your limbs, as if of an invisible, non-material, body , viewed in its separate organs. A bold but intelligible transition of thought thus speaks of the organ rather than of its action; giving a more concrete effect to the mental picture. See below, the next note but one.

Lightfoot compares the phrases “ old man, new man .” See below however on vv. 9, 10.

upon the earth ] Conversant, sympathetic, with “ earth ” as the scene of temptation, and not with heaven, where lies the Source of victory. Cp. the language of Article xvii “Such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their minds to high and heavenly things.”

fornication , &c.] Lightfoot places a colon before this word in the Greek, and goes on to the imperative verb “ put off ” (ver. 8) for the (broken) grammatical government. The startling identification of “ members ” with sins is thus avoided. But the construction is extremely difficult and really unlikely. The R.V. constructs as the A.V.

Fornication : a sin often in view in the Epistles; evidently an evil wofully rife, but not the less ruthlessly condemned. Cp. 1 Corinthians 6:9 , 1 Corinthians 6:13 , 1 Corinthians 6:18 ; Galatians 5:19 ; Ephesians 5:3 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ; Hebrews 13:4 . See our note on Ephesians 5:3 . It is to be decisively “done to death” by the Christian.

uncleanness ] A word of wider reference than “ fornication ,” and so conveying a still stronger appeal. Act, word, thought, unworthy of the member of the All-Pure Christ all are to be put to death in the power of His life.

inordinate affection ] Lit. and better, passion (R. V.). Cp. Romans 1:26 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:5 ; the other places where the Greek ( pathos ) occurs in N. T. The word denotes lust from the passive side of experience, uncontrollable desire, to which the man is a slave. All the more significant is the implied statement that even this form of sin is to be, and can be, “done to death” in Christ.

evil concupiscence ] Concupiscentiam malam , Latin Versions; and so all the English Versions, except Wyclif, “ yvel coveitise ,” and R. V., evil desire . “ Passion ” and “ desire ” (or, in older English, “ lust ”) are combined, 1 Thessalonians 4:5 , and collocated, Galatians 5:24 . “The same vice may be viewed as a [passion] from its passive and a [desire] from its active side … The epithet (“ evil ”) is added because [“desire”] is capable of a good sense.” (Lightfoot).

covetousness … idolatry ] “ Avarice, whiche is servyce of mawmetis ” 1 1 i.e . idols. Strangely enough, the word is a corruption of Mahomet , the name of the great Iconoclast . (Wyclif). See Ephesians 5:3 , Ephesians 5:5 for a close parallel. Lightfoot here sees a reference to covetousness in its ordinary sense; “the covetous man sets up another object of worship besides God.” And he shews clearly that the Greek word never, of itself , denotes sensual lust. But cp. this passage with Ephesians 4:19 , Ephesians 4:5 :3, Ephesians 4:5 ; 1 Corinthians 5:11 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:6 ; and it will appear that it at least lends itself to a connexion with sensual ideas, just as our word “greed” lends itself to a connexion with avarice. If so, the “ idolatry ” of the matter lies in its sensuous and unwholesome admiration , developing into acts of evil.

Which is : more precisely, seeing that it is .

6. For which things’ sake , &c.] See Ephesians 5:6 for an almost verbal parallel, only observing that the words “ on the children of disobedience ” should perhaps be omitted from the reading here; they are possibly an early insertion from Ephesians.

The wrath of God : the eternal personal antagonism of the Holy One, as such, to sin. It is no impulsive “passion,” but it is also no figure of speech, however it may be ignored or explained away. Cp. John 3:36 ; Romans 1:18 , Romans 1:2 :5, Romans 1:8 , Romans 1:5 :9, Romans 1:9 :22; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ; Revelation 6:16 , 19:15, &c.; and see Ephesians 2:3 , with our note.

Cometh : is coming ; is on its way, till in “the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5 ) it falls.

on the children of disobedience ] So Ephesians 5:6 . Documentary evidence is in favour of the retention of these words, but some important documents omit them. Lightfoot pronounces them an interpolation from Eph., but R. V. text retains them.

7. In the which ] “ things ,” mentioned just above. Otherwise we may render, “ among whom ” (R. V. margin); i.e. among “the children of disobedience.” If those words are not retained in the text, this latter rendering of course falls.

walked ] The same verb is rendered (by A. V.) in the parallel, Ephesians 2:3 , “ had our conversation ,” that is, our action and intercourse in life. The metaphor “ walk ” in such a sense is common in St Paul. See above on 1:10. With this searching appeal to memory cp. 1 Corinthians 6:11 ; Ephesians 2:2 , Ephesians 2:4 :22, Ephesians 2:5 :8; Titus 3:3 ; 1 Peter 4:3 .

sometime ] “ Sumtyme ,” Wyclif; antique English for “ once on a time .” So “ sometimes ” in the A. V. of Ephesians 2:13 . In Ephesians 2:3 (parallel here) the A.V. renders the same Greek, “ in times past .”

lived ] Not merely “ existed ,” or “ dwelt ,” but found what seemed “ life .” See on 2:20 above. From the “ life ” issues the “ walk ,” as Lightfoot points out. “He argues from the withdrawal of the cause to the withdrawal of the effect” (Calvin).

in them ] Far better, with mss. &c., in these things (R. V.).

8. But now ] Under the divinely altered case of their conversion and union with Christ.

you also ] As well as all other true believers.

put off ] The Greek is imperative , and so the English is to be taken; but the English is verbally ambiguous between imperative and indicative. In Christ, they were already, ideally and potentially, divested of sin; they were now, as if never before, to realize and act upon that divestiture. Cp. Ephesians 4:25 ; and see Romans 13:12 .

all these] Lit., “ the all ( things ),” the whole congeries of sins. Here, as perpetually, comes in the principle that the Christian character is a sinless character , to be realized and lived out by its possessor, who assuredly discovers in the process that he is not a sinless person , while he is gifted in Christ with a Divine liberty from serving sin.

anger, wrath ] The two words occur together Romans 2:8 ; Ephesians 4:31 ; Revelation 16:19 , Revelation 19:15 . The word rendered “ anger ” is rather chronic, that rendered “ wrath ” rather acute an outburst. See Trench, Synonyms , § xxxvi.

malice ] The Greek word sometimes bears the sense of “ evil,” “ill ,” in general; e.g. Matthew 6:34 . But in lists of vices (cp. here Romans 1:29 , Titus 3:3 ; 1 Peter 2:1 ) it means what we mean by “ malice .” It is the vice which lies below anger and wrath, as a root or spring.

blasphemy ] Greek, blasphêmia; so Ephesians 4:31 , where A. V. renders evil-speaking (so better, or, with R. V., railing ). We now confine “ blasphemy ” to railing against God and Divine things; but the Greek has no such limit. Cp. (in the Greek) e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:13 , 1 Corinthians 4:10 :30; Titus 3:2 .

filthy communication ] “ shameful speaking ,” R. V.; “ abusive conversation ,” Alford; turpiloquium , Old Latin Version. The reference to “abuse” rather than pollution is made likely by the words in context, anger , &c. But Lightfoot remarks that the reference to pollution is still latent; the “abuse” must be, as he renders here, “ foul-mouthed abuse.” The derivation and usage of the Greek word suggest this.

9. Lie not ] Cp. Ephesians 4:25 . Entire truthfulness is an essential Christian characteristic, for Christ is “the Truth.” In the light of His words and deeds it is certain that nothing untruthful, not even the most “pious” of “frauds,” can possibly be holy. The uniform emphasis on truthfulness in the precepts of Scripture is the more significant of the origin of Scripture when we remember the proverbial Oriental laxity about truth. See our note on Ephesians 4:25 .

one to another ] As Christian to Christian (cp. Ephesians 4:25 ). Not that truth was to be spoken less to heathen or misbeliever; as if fides non servanda esset cum ethnicis, cum hœreticis . But Christian intercourse was to be, so to speak, the nursery-plot for the right temper in all intercourse.

seeing that ye have put off ] So R. V. Lightfoot recommends the translation “ putting off ,” taking this as part of the exhortation; as if to say, “put off the old man and lie no more.” This is fully allowed by the grammar; but we think that the parallel in Ephesians 4:21-24 (see our notes there) is much in favour of the A. V. and R. V. See further below on ver. 10. In position, possession, idea, they had “taken off ” “the old man.” In experience, they were to “take off ” the related sins.

the old man ] Elsewhere only Romans 6:6 ; Ephesians 4:22 (where see our notes). In Romans it is a thing which “was crucified with Christ.” It may be explained as “ the old state ,” the state of the unregenerate son of Adam, guilty under the sentence of the eternal law, and morally the slave of sin. To “take off” the old Man is to quit that position, stepping, in Christ, into the position of acceptance and of spiritual power and liberty. “ The old Man ” is thus not identical with “the flesh,” which is an abiding element (Galatians 5:16 , Galatians 5:17 ) in the regenerate, though it need never be the ruling element. The phrases “old Man” and “new Man” have a probable inner reference to the First and Second Adam respectively (Romans 5:12-19 ; 1 Corinthians 15:21 , 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 ). The “ taking off ” and “ putting on ” here may be explained as meaning, practically, “you broke connexion (of guilt and helplessness) with the First Adam, and formed connexion (of acceptance and of life) with the Second.”

with his deeds ] See Romans 8:13 , for the same Greek word; “ the practices, machinations of the body.” And cp. Acts 19:18 . “The old Man” is, so to speak, the parent of “the deceitfulness of sin” in all its phases; connexion with “the new Man” is the death-blow to it, as the anxious conscience is set at rest, the relation of the believer to God wholly altered, and a spiritual force not his own given to him.

10. and have put on ] See the last note but one. Cp. Ephesians 4:24 ; and ver. 12 below, with note.

the new man ] Practically, the new position of acceptance and the new spiritual power of the regenerated self; with a reference in the phrase to the believer’s connexion with “the Second Man,” Christ 1 1 In the Ignatian Epistles ( Ep. ad Eph . c. xx.) occurs the phrase, “the dispensation of the New Man, even Christ .” If this was written as early as a.d. 110 it is an important comment here. .

By union with Him his members become (be it said with reverence and caution) repetitions of Him the glorious Archetype. To come to be “in Him” is thus to “ put on ( Him as ) the New Man ,” in sharing His acceptance and His life and power. See further, our note on Ephesians 4:24 .

is renewed ] Lit. and better, is being renewed ; a present not aorist participle. In the parallel place in Eph. “the new man” “ was created ,” as a definite fact; here he is continuously “ being renewed ,” maintained as it were by a continuous creative act. (Cp. for the verb in a kindred context, 2 Corinthians 4:16 .) Practically, the thought is of the believer’s maintained union with His Lord, and his realization in that union of continued peace and spiritual power. As if the Head, for the member, were evermore “made new,” and so always newly reflected and as it were reproduced in the member. Lightfoot compares, in contrast, Ephesians 4:22 ; “the old man is being corrupted , is decaying .”

in knowledge ] Lit. and better, unto knowledge . The daily “renewal” is such as to result continually in the regenerate man’s spiritual vision of Christ, intimacy with Him, insight into His will. On the word epignôsis , see on 1:9.

after the image of him that created him ] I.e., so as to be like God, who “created,” constituted, the new creation as He did the old. Cp. the close parallel, Genesis 1:26 , Genesis 1:27 ; a passage no doubt in St Paul’s mind here.

The reference is to the Father, not the Son, as the Creator; cp. the parallel, Ephesians 4:22 , “created after God ;” and the place in Genesis. He is the eternal Original; “the new man” realizes his ideal in likeness to Him, generated by communion with Him in Christ.

Even here, we think, may be traced reverently an allusion to Christ as “the Second Man.” He, truly, is not “ created ” as to His Being and Person, which is necessary and eternal; but as Son of Man, and as Head of His Church, in respect of His Work and Office, Scripture represents Him as the willing Result of the Father’s will. In this respect He, as well as His followers in Him (Ephesians 2:10 ), “lives because of the Father” (John 6:57 ). But while this reference lies, as we think, in the depths of the passage, its manifest practical import is that the regenerate member of the blessed Head needs and receives daily “renewal by his Holy Spirit,” leading to a fuller knowledge of, and so a truer likeness to, the Father of Jesus Christ.

The suggestion that “the image” is in fact Christ, (so Chrysostom; cp. above 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4 ) is not likely in view of the parallel, Ephesians 4:24 , with its simple phrase “according to God .” See Lightfoot’s note.

11. where ] “ in ” “ the new Man .” This phrase is a further suggestion of the inner reference to Christ as the New Man which we find in this passage and the Ephesian parallel. Certainly the language of locality accords better with such a reference than with a reference merely to the regenerate state of the Christian.

there is neither ] The Greek is emphatic; there exists neither . “Not merely the fact but the possibility” is negatived (Lightfoot). In Christ, such differences cannot breathe .

Greek nor Jew ] Cp. Romans 10:12 ; 1 Corinthians 12:13 ; Galatians 3:28 (a close verbal parallel). The word Hellên in such antithetical places “denotes all nations not Jews that made the language, customs and learning of the Greeks their own” (Grimm’s N.T. Lexicon , ed. Thayer). In this sense it is used e.g. John 7:35 , where A.V. renders “ Gentiles .” See too Acts 11:20 (true reading), 14:1, &c.

circumcision nor uncircumcision ] Cp. Romans 2:25-27 , Romans 2:3 :30; 1 Corinthians 7:19 ; Galatians 5:6 , Galatians 5:6 :15; and see Ephesians 2:11 .

barbarian, Scythian ] The word barbaros , in Greek, first denoted a speaker of an unintelligible language, and so a non-Greek, whatever his state of society or culture. It thus included the Romans, and in pre-Augustan Latin writers is even used as a synonym for Latin. But “from the Augustan age the name belonged to all tribes which had no Greek or Roman accomplishments” (Liddell and Scott, Greek Lexicon ).

Scythian: ” an intensification of the previous word. The Scythians, a wandering race, akin probably to the modern Turks, were regarded by both Greeks and Jews as the wildest of wild tribes, (though the opposite view, strangely, had been taken by early Greek thought, idealizing the unknown. Thus Æschylus (cent. 5 b.c.) calls the Scythians “ well-ordered ”). Lightfoot points out that to the Jews the Scythians were specially a name of terror and savagery, for in the reign of Josiah they had poured into Palestine (Herodotus i. 105 6); an invasion not recorded in Scripture, but perhaps indicated in Jeremiah 1:13-16 ; Ezek. 38 39.

bond nor free ] Cp. 1 Corinthians 12:13 ; Galatians 3:28 ; Ephesians 6:8 (with notes in this series on ver. 5); and see 1 Corinthians 7:22 . Onesimus and Philemon would be at hand as living illustrations of this brief but wonderful statement.

but Christ is all and in all ] More exactly, to paraphrase, but all things, and in all (persons), are Christ . Such was the union of every believer with Him, that each was to each an embodiment as it were of His presence and life. In this respect all differences, national, ritual, educational, social, were assimilated in the eyes of faith and love. Facts of race, history, status, were not indeed contradicted, but they were overruled, and transfigured into mere varying phases of a central union in the Lord, Who shone equally through all His members.

This short sentence is at once a radical contradiction to some of the deepest prejudices of classical paganism and of (distorted) Judaism, and a wonderful positive revelation.

12 17. Universal Holiness: the positive side

12. Put on therefore ] They had already “ taken off the old Man ” and “ put on the new ” (ver. 9, and notes). But the ideal would need to be made real, in obedient faith.

the elect of God ] For the same phrase (or nearly), cp. Matthew 24:31 ; Luke 18:7 ; Romans 8:33 ; Titus 1:1 ; and cp. Mark 13:20 ; John 13:18 , John 13:15 :16, John 13:19 ; Romans 9:11 , Romans 9:11 :5, Romans 9:7 , Romans 9:28 ; 1 Corinthians 1:27 , 1 Corinthians 1:28 ; Ephesians 1:4 ; 2 Timothy 2:10 . The word rendered “ elect ” (and its cognates) is generally used in the N.T., where the highest level of Divine purpose, or spiritual privilege, is in view, and with a tendency to emphasize the sovereign and (humanly) uncaused mercy of the “choice.” See our note on Ephesians 1:4 . At the same time the truth of a sovereign choice is constantly found in connexions where (as here) practical holiness is in view. See e.g. Romans 8:29 . It is mentioned here only to enforce the most practical “obligations of nobility.”

beloved ] In the Greek, a perfect participle passive (so 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ), indicating the settlement and fixity of the Divine love; “on whom He has set His love .” On the application to a whole community of such terms as those used in this verse, see above on 1:2.

bowels of mercies ] Better perhaps a heart of compassion ; having regard to the English use of the word “heart” as a symbol for tenderness of feeling. See our notes on Philippians 1:8 ; Philemon 1:7 .

kindness ] Almost, sweetness ; the character which offers sympathy and invites confidence. See Trench, N.T. Synonyms , Second Series, § xiii.

humbleness of mind ] One word in the Greek. See above on 2:18, 23, for the same word (there rendered in A.V. “ humility ”) in a very different context. It occurs Ephesians 4:2 (A.V., “ lowliness ”); Philippians 2:3 (A.V., “ lowliness of mind ”); where see notes in this Series. The word is not older in Greek than the N.T., and the grace is essentially Christian , the attitude of a soul which has lost its pride in the discovery of the mercy of its salvation.

meekness ] Grouped similarly with “ humblenessEphesians 4:2 ; where see note in this Series. It is the grace of submission under trial.

longsuffering ] See note, ch. 1:11.

13. forbearing one another ] “ in love ,” adds Ephesians 4:2 . The life of Christian patience has beneath it the living secret of love, the effect and reflection of the love of Christ.

forgiving one another ] Lit., “ forgiving yourselves ,” as in Ephesians 4:32 , where see note in this Series. The A.V. is obviously true to grammatical usage. It is implied that there would be occasions for forbearance and forgiveness, even in this happy and holy community.

a quarrel ] “ a querel ,” Wyclif; querelam , Latin Versions. “ A quarrel ,” derived through French from Latin, means properly (as here) a complaint (so R.V. here), a charge . Our modern use of the word would imply a wrangle (“it takes two to make a quarrel ”). But the case supposed is where A has not done right by B, and B responds by forgiving A, in Christ, and thus avoiding a wrangle. For a practical illustration of the precept, see e.g. 1 Corinthians 6:7 .

against any ] We say, “a quarrel with any,” because we now use the word “ quarrel ” in the lowered sense of a wrangle.

even as Christ forgave ] R.V. “ even as the Lord forgave .” The reading thus rendered has important but not (as it seems to us) decisive support from mss. &c. Its reference meanwhile is probably still to Christ; but under the special character of the heavenly Master . (Cp. Matthew 18:27 , quoted by Lightfoot, who reads “ the Lord ” here.) See the parallel, Ephesians 4:32 . There the Father is the Divine Forgiver; here probably the Son. The Two are One; and the Son, while the Father’s Channel of forgiveness, is also the infinitely free and gracious Giver of it. Cp. Acts 5:31 . Observe the deeply practical use of the assurance of pardon.

14. above all these things] Or, “ upon all these things.” Perhaps the words convey both the supreme importance of love, and its relation to other graces as their embracing bond; see just below. “Love is the outer garment” (rather, the girdle?) “which holds the others in their places” (Lightfoot).

put on] The words are supplied from ver. 12.

charity ] Or, love . See on ch. 1:4. Love, says Leibnitz, is that which seeks its joy in the good of another. “Hypocrisy can do Christian actions; charity alone does them christianly” (Quesnel).

which is ] The Greek implies that “ love ” must be thus “ put on” because it is, &c.

the bond of perfectness ] I.e., the bond, or tie, which makes and secures the “ perfectness ,” wholeness, fulness, harmony, of the Christian character, both in the individual and in society. Chrysostom, quoted by Lightfoot, says (on this place), “If love is lacking, all other good is nothing; it dissolves.” The man without love is, in effect, the man whose very virtues are selfish; “ unto himself .”

Perfectness: ” see note on ch. 1:28.

15. the peace of God ] Read, with decisive documentary evidence, the peace of Christ . Cp. John 14:27 , John 16:33 . It is the chastened but glad tranquillity caused by knowledge of Christ, and communion with Him, as our all-sufficient Atonement, Life, Friend, and King.

rule ] Lit., arbitrate (so R.V. margin). The Lord’s peace, received and enjoyed, is to decide every internal debate between self and God, self and others; to give its casting-vote always on the side of holy love. “I have peace with God, and in God, through Christ; how can I use such a gift but for the Giver?” The Greek verb, brabeuein , means first to act as an athletic umpire, then generally to arbitrate, then to rule. The two latter meanings blend here.

Wyclif has “ enioie ,” and the Rhemish (Romanist) Version “ exult .” Both are from the Vulgate Latin, exsultet; this probably is a free interpretation of the Greek, which was taken to mean “ to have its way ,” and so, “ to break forth into joy .”

in your hearts ] Such settlement of debates there would quite preclude all harsh conflicts in the community .

to the which ] Into which (peace) .

ye are called ] Cp. Ephesians 4:4 , where the “call” of grace appears in a similar connexion. On the meaning of “ call ,” “ calling ,” in the Epistles (a meaning nearly represented by the popular use of the word “ conversion ” in religion now) see note in this Series on Ephesians 1:18 .

in one body ] I.e., so as to form one body, in which now you are. Cp. again Ephesians 4:4 . Each true convert was, as such, brought into Divine peace, so as to be a living unit in a divinely peaceful society.

Here for the last time in the Epistle is named the mystical Body, vivified and ruled by its glorious Head. See 1:18, 24, 2:19.

thankful ] See below, ver. 17.

16. the word of Christ ] The precise phrase occurs here only. It is (surely, though Lightfoot advocates the explanation, “Christ’s word to the Christian; His influence speaking in the heart”) the message of His Gospel, the terms of the revelation of His personal Glory, redeeming work, and holy will. This “ word ” might be conveyed in the Old Scriptures (see e.g. Romans 15:4 , Romans 15:16 :26; Galatians 3:8 ; 1 Peter 2:6 ), or by the mouth or pen of Christian Apostles and Prophets. Cp. e.g. Acts 4:29 , Acts 4:6 :2, Acts 4:8 :14, Acts 4:13 :26, Acts 4:15 :7, Acts 4:35 , Acts 4:17 :13, Acts 4:19 :10, Acts 4:20 :32; 1 Corinthians 1:18 , 1 Corinthians 1:14 :36; 2 Corinthians 5:19 ; Ephesians 1:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:1 ; 2 Timothy 2:9 ; Titus 1:9 ; Hebrews 6:1 ; James 1:18 ; 1 Peter 1:23 ; Revelation 1:9 , Revelation 6:9 . Thus both O. T. citations and such Christian watchwords as 1 Timothy 1:15 ; 2 Timothy 2:11 , would be “ the word of Christ ; and as each portion of the New Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16 ) appeared and was received its words too would be “ the word of Christ .” The definiteness of the Gospel is powerfully emphasized by its designation as a word, a message .

dwell in you ] as what has become a permanent part of your thought.

richly ] See on 1:27 for St Paul’s love of the imagery of wealth. The heavenly “word” was to be abundant as a store (Psalms 119:11 ) in their memories, and also as an element in their thought and utterance.

in all wisdom ] They were not merely to know “the word” verbally, but to handle and apply it with spiritual fitness and rightness. The supreme example appears in our Lord’s use of “the word” of the O.T.; Matthew 4:0 Such “ wisdom ,” infinitely higher than that of the mere critical enquirer, would be learnt in communion with the Lord of the Word. Cp. Ephesians 1:17 .

teaching and admonishing one another ] The Greek is out of grammatical connexion with the previous clauses, but fully intelligible. See Lightfoot’s excellent note. “ One another : lit. “ yourselves .” See note on ver. 13; and on Ephesians 5:19 .

Teaching … admonishing : in the parallel, Ephesians 5:19 (where see our notes throughout), we have merely “ speaking .” The spiritual importance of Christian hymnody comes out impressively here. It is no mere luxury of devotion, certainly no mere musical pleasure; it is an ordained vehicle of instruction and warning.

psalms … hymns … spiritual songs ] Verbatim as Ephesians 5:19 . To summarize our comment there; it is impossible to draw absolute limits between these kinds of sacred music; but on the whole the psalm may be exemplified by (in the O.T.) the songs of the Psalter, and (in the N.T.) those of Luke 1:2 , their Christian parallel; the hymn by the chant of the disciples, Acts 4:0 ; and the song or ode ( ôdê ) by such rhythmic “words” as those of 2 Timothy 1:11 . This last citation is notably full of both “ teaching ” and “ admonition .”

Spiritual songs : not necessarily inspired, as Scripture, but pregnant with spiritual truth. Yet it is at least possible, from the recent mention of “the word of Christ,” that “songs” due to inspired authorship are here referred to, at least specially. Luther, master and lover of hymns, writes in his Version here, out of the fulness of his heart, mit geistlichen lieblichen Liedern .

with grace ] Lit., “ in the grace ”; conditioned by “ the grace given unto you.” “Grace” here is, in effect, the presence of God in the believer, with its holy, loving power.

17. whatsoever ye do ] See below ver. 23 for the same phrase; and for similar precepts of holy absoluteness cp. Proverbs 3:6 ; 1 Corinthians 10:31 . The Christian life is nothing less than the whole life of the Christian, lived “unto the Lord” (Romans 14:6-8 ); everything in it is related to Him.

in the name of the Lord Jesus ] As it were quoting Him (to yourselves, and if need be to other men) as the Master (“ Lord ”) who sets the task and owns and uses the servant. On another reference of the same phrase see our note on Ephesians 5:20 .

giving thanks ] “ always for all things ,” adds Ephesians 5:20 . The two parallels complement each other; the one Epistle more specially bids the Christian do God’s will, the other more specially bids Him love God’s will, and give thanks for it, in everything.

and the Father ] “ And ” should probably be omitted.

by Him ] The Mediator of our thanks, as of the Father’s gifts. Cp. Romans 1:8 , Romans 1:16 :27; Hebrews 13:15 ; 1 Peter 2:5 , 1 Peter 4:11 .

“O God,” says Quesnel on this verse, “who is a Christian, if all our words and actions are to be a sacrifice of praise, offered to God through Jesus Christ as our Priest, Pontiff, Mediator; with Him as God’s true Victim; in Him as God’s Temple; on Him as God’s Altar; after Him as our Law and Model; under Him as our Master and King; in His spirit, purposes, motives, disposition, aim, as He is our Head?”

18 4:1. Universal Holiness: relative duties

18. Wives ] Cp. 1 Peter 3:1-6 and the close parallel, with its large expansion, Ephesians 5:22 , &c.

The Christian Home, the masterpiece of living Christianity, is now presented as the special field for the practice of the holy principles just stated.

submit yourselves ] with the noble loyalty of “the weaker vessel” to the husband who, in the order of nature (i.e. of God its Orderer), is the leader in the marriage union. No submission as of a vassal is meant; the man is (1 Peter 3:7 ) to “ give honour to the wife .” Her relative attitude is to be that of every Christian to every other (Ephesians 5:21 ; 1 Peter 5:5 ), the attitude of unselfish service, only emphasized by the special fact of man’s ordained leadership.

own ] The word is probably to be omitted; a natural and obvious gloss upon the text. Cp. 1 Corinthians 7:2 for the apostolic prohibition of polygamy.

fit in the Lord ] The order of nature is thus affirmed by grace. Wifely loyalty is not only a human but a Christian law; it has relation to union with Christ. See at large Ephesians 5:22-24 .

Is fit : lit., “ was fit .” Lightfoot compares our past tense in “ I ought ,” and says that in such phrases is perhaps implied an essential a priori obligation.

19. Husbands ] Cp. Ephesians 5:25-33 ; 1 Peter 3:7 .

love ] A word deepened and hallowed indefinitely by the Gospel, in reference to matrimonial truth and tenderness. See our note on Ephesians 5:25 .

be not bitter ] with the wretched irritability of a supposed absolute superiority and authority. “The husband’s primacy is not for dominion but for guidance, with sweetness, wisdom and peace” (Quesnel). To be “ bitter ,” in the sense of angry, is a phrase of O.T. Greek. See the LXX. in e.g. Jeremiah 44:0 :(Heb. 37)15 (where A. V. reads “they were wroth ”); Habakkuk 1:6 . Cp. Ephesians 4:31 .

20. Children ] Cp. Ephesians 6:1-3 .

obey ] The same word as that below, ver. 22. The wife “submits herself” as to a guiding friend ; the child, and the servant, recognize in parent and master a lawful commander .

Disobedience to parents, as a definite act of rebellion against God (Exodus 20:12 , Exodus 20:21 :17; Leviticus 19:3 , Leviticus 19:20 :9; Deuteronomy 5:16 ), is always noted in Scripture as a grave crime, and a symptom of general moral mischief. Cp. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 ; Proverbs 20:20 , Proverbs 20:30 :17; Matthew 15:4-6 ; Romans 1:30 ; 2 Timothy 3:2 . It is in the school of the well-ordered Christian home that the true idea of the Christian’s position, filial in its freedom, yet (1 Corinthians 9:21 ) “ law-abiding unto Christ,” should be first illustrated as well as taught.

parents ] Mothers as well as fathers. Scripture uniformly upholds the authority of the mother. See reff. in last note, and Proverbs 1:8 , Proverbs 6:20 .

in all things] with the sole limitation of the supreme claims of the Heavenly Father, which may conceivably collide with those of the earthly parents. Cp. Matthew 10:37 . But let the child be slow indeed to apply this principle in practice. The case can scarcely arise save where the parent directly and positively requires the child to renounce the Lord.

well pleasing unto the Lord ] Jesus Christ. Quesnel beautifully says, “Why does He seem here specially to delight in filial obedience? Because it was His own universal virtue, the soul and law of all His actions.”

21. Fathers ] We may (as in Ephesians 6:4 , where see note) equally well render Parents . Cp. Hebrews 11:23 , in the Greek. Still, the father is the natural representative of the dual parental authority.

provoke not … to wrath ] Chafe, irritate . The Greek word is as old as Homer (e.g. Iliad , i. 32, iv. 5), who almost always uses it of provocation to combat . Unwise, unloving, parental despotism, exacting, needlessly chiding, interposing for the sake of interposition, is a fatally sure challenge to the child’s will. The Christian father should handle that will as kindly as firmly.

be discouraged ] Lose hope, the hope of pleasing, the animating expectation of doing right and so winning the “well done” of love. The eternal Father “upbraideth not” (James 1:5 ; cp. Isaiah 57:16 ). Luther has here, auf dass sie nicht scheu werden .

22. Servants ] Bondservants, slaves . Cp. Ephesians 6:5-8 ; and see 1 Corinthians 7:21 , 1 Corinthians 7:22 ; 1 Timothy 6:1 , 1 Timothy 6:2 ; Titus 2:9 , Titus 2:10 ; Philemon; 1 Peter 2:18-25 ; and cp. Luke 17:7-10 . On the relation of the Gospel to slavery, see below, Introd . to the Ep. to Philemon, ch. 4.

in all things] See above, on ver. 20.

according to the flesh ] With the implied thought that the master was not master of his bondman’s spirit , and that master and bondman alike were bondmen, spiritually, of Christ. So Ephesians 6:5 , where this clause is somewhat enlarged. The “ neither bond nor free ” of v. 3:11 above leaves thus undisturbed the actual duties of social status.

eyeservice ] Ephesians 6:6 . The word occurs there and here only, and was perhaps coined by St Paul. It means the “service” which works only when inspected, and does not come from the unseen source of love and goodwill.

menpleasers ] Seeking merely the personal comfort of approval or indulgence, in a purely selfish and therefore insincere “ pleasing .” Such obsequiousness might conceal deep contempt or malice all the while. See note on Ephesians 6:6 .

singleness ] Lit., simplicity ; the desire to do right for its own sake, or rather for the sake of the heavenly (and also the earthly) Master; as against the selfish aim of the “men-pleaser.” See 1 Timothy 6:2 for a practical comment. The phrase is verbatim as in Ephesians 6:5 , where see our note. And see the last words of Ephesians 6:6 ; “ doing the will of God from the soul .”

fearing God ] Read, fearing the Lord Christ, the true Master, with the fear of reverent loyalty. The word “ fear ” is used in Scripture of holy and perfectly happy reverence too often to need quotation.

23. whatsoever ye do ] even in the daily round of servile tasks. For the phrase and its significance, see above, ver. 17 and note.

do it heartily ] Lit., work from the soul . Cp. Ephesians 6:6 .

as to the Lord ] Whose will expressed itself for them in each act of common duty. What a transfiguration of the life for the man, or woman, whom law and custom regarded as merely a purchasable “living chattel”! See Introd . to the Ep. to Philemon, p. 155.

not unto men ] as the ultimate reasons and constraints.

24. knowing ] as a certainty of the Gospel. So Ephesians 6:8 . For the Christian’s prospect of “ reward ” cp. Matthew 5:12 , Matthew 5:6 :1, Matthew 5:4 , Matthew 5:16 :27; Luke 6:35 , Luke 6:14 :14; Romans 2:6-10 ; 2 Corinthians 5:10 ; Hebrews 10:35 ; Revelation 22:12 ; &c. The obedience of love is infallibly remembered by Him to whom it is rendered. “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21 , Matthew 25:23 ), is His certain ultimate response to every true act of the will given up to Him. This, as presented in Scripture, is entirely harmonious with the sure doctrine of our justification for Christ’s Merit only, embraced by faith only (Art. xi). It is the recognition of love by love, of grace by the Giver.

receive ] The Greek may be rendered, receive as your due . The reward, from one point of view mere grace and gift, is from another, because God has promised it , a debt.

the reward ] The Greek implies an exact requital . See Lightfoot’s note. Even “the cup of cold water” (Matthew 10:42 ) has its remembrance and loving recompense.

of the inheritance ] That is, the reward consists in the inheritance; is involved in the bright prospect of it. For a somewhat similar phrase cp. 1:12 (and notes). But the reference here is, surely, to the eternal future. So 1 Peter 1:4 , and Ephesians 1:14 . That future is but the issue of the present, in which “Christ is in us, the hope of glory” (1:27). But the issue is so “far better” (Philippians 1:21 ) than its prelude and embryo that it is relatively a new thing in prospect. Lightfoot remarks that, by a beautiful paradox, the slave is here also an heir , which by human law he could not be. He is God’s heir (Galatians 4:7 ) by Divine law. Elsewhere, in other connexions, “slave” and “heir” are contrasted: e.g. Galatians 4:1 .

for ] Probably the word is to be omitted. It is a good note to the sentence, so to speak, pointing the meaning: “ye shall receive your reward from the Master; for Christ is the Master, and He never fails in requital.”

ye serve the Lord Christ ] We may render, Christ is the Master whose bondmen ye are . Cp. Ephesians 6:6 . The Greek may be rendered, “ serve , &c.,” imperatively. But the context favours the indicative.

25. But he that doeth wrong ] The spiritual emancipation of the slave writes the law of duty on his heart. The case of Onesimus was surely in the Apostle’s mind throughout this passage.

shall receive ] from the Divine Master and Judge; the next words, with their parallel in Ephesians, fix the reference. The Gospel, the great charter of liberty for man, always refuses him licence, even where he is the victim of oppression. See Introd . to the Ep. to Philemon, p. 158.

no respect of persons ] “with the Master who is in heaven” (Ephesians 6:9 ). See Exodus 23:3 , Exodus 23:6 , for a striking example of Scriptural equity: “ thou shalt not countenance a poor man in his cause ”; “ thou shall not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause .” Here and in Ephesians 6:9 we have identically the same principle, the impartiality of God, applied alike to the conscience of the slave and to the conscience of his owner.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Colossians 3". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.