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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:1. Seek those things that are above.—Our Lord says that as He was “from above,” so His disbelieving hearers were “from beneath,” which He interprets as “of this world” (John 8:23-24). The apostle in like manner in the next verse opposes the “things above” to “things on earth.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 3:1-2
The Higher Aspirations of the Soul.
You have seen the clouds gather in the sky and settle on the hills. The thunder mutters, the rain falls, and the scene is one of storm, confusion, and darkness. Suddenly the whole aspect of the heavens is changed. A blaze of light springs up among the hills; the storm ceases; the gloom is swept away; and the outlook is one of tranquillity, of triumph, and of splendour. Similar to this is the striking change between the close of the last chapter of this epistle and the beginning of the present one. The grave warnings against the sombre errors of a false philosophy, and the supposed meritorious torturings of the body, which occupy a considerable part of the second chapter, give place in the opening of the third chapter to a luminous and inspiring picture of the glorious privileges and lofty destiny of the believing soul. These verses teach that, being raised by Christ into newness of life, the soul should aspire to the attainment of the highest blessings.
I. The distinguished relation in which the believing soul stands to Christ.—“Risen with Christ” (Colossians 3:1).
1. This relation implies the living union of the soul with Christ.—The apostle had spoken of the soul as dying with Christ, as buried with Him, as quickened with Him; and now he advances another step, and declares that it is also raised with Him. The union between the believer and Christ was so complete that he participates with Christ in all He has done. “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). As the dead body of the man cast into the sepulchre of Elisha revived and stood up the moment it touched the bones of the prophet (2 Kings 13:21), so the soul, dead in trespasses and sins, is quickened by believing contact with Christ, and rises into a higher and more glorious life.
2. This relation indicates the nature and tendencies of the soul.—“Risen with Christ: … set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2). The change involved in union with Christ affects man’s whole nature. It affects not only his practical conduct, but also his intellectual conceptions. He is translated from earth to heaven; and with this translation his point of view is altered, his standard of judgment wholly changed. His aspirations spurn the earthly and transitory, and soar towards the heavenly and eternal. The flies that sport upon the summer stream, while they plunge their bodies in the water, are careful not to wet their wings, so that they may fly again into the sunny air. So, while we are necessarily immersed in “things on the earth,” we should take heed that the wings of our soul are not so clogged as to retard our flight to heaven.
II. The sublime objects of the soul’s higher aspirations.—“Things above” (Colossians 3:2).
1. Christ is above.—“Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:2). This indicates that Christ is exalted to the highest dignity. He is above all angelic powers, whatever their position or rank. The right hand of God also indicates the right hand of power. Thence Christ wields all the authority and power of universal government. “Him hath God exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour.” He reigns on high in order to carry out to a glorious consummation the work He accomplished on the cross. To Him all hearts turn for love and blessedness, as the flowers turn to the sun. The rudiments of the world have no longer any power to satisfy. The soul ascends to heaven, for where the treasure is there will be the heart also; and the flow of time is rapidly hurrying us on to the moment when we shall be
“Caught up to share
The triumph of our Lord.”
2. The source of the greatest spiritual blessings is above.—When Christ ascended into the heavens He received gifts for men; and from His lofty throne He delights to distribute those gifts to the needy sons of men. Thence we receive pardon, the conscious favour of God, holiness of character, comfort in every time of distress, and hope to light the pathway of the future. Of all the blessings laid up for us above, the highest and the best is that which in itself includes all others—the gift of the Holy Ghost. All, all we want is there.
3. The heavenly home is above.—There is the abode of peace and purity; there temptation has no power, and suffering and sorrow can never enter; there the Saviour reveals His glories and diffuses the joy of His radiant presence; there all the members of the Father’s family assemble from every part of the globe, never more to separate. The soul, burdened with the cares of life, and troubled with multiplied disappointments, yearns for the rest of the heavenly home. The things on the earth can never satisfy the wants of the soul; they are unsuited to it; they are beneath it; and, liberated from their trammels by the resurrection power of Christ, it seeks its true happiness above the stars.
III. The paramount duty of the soul to aspire to the highest good.—Seek, set “your affections on things above” (Colossians 3:1). A similar expression repeated for the emphasis. You are not only to seek heaven, but also to think heaven. The understanding must be engaged in duly estimating the value of heavenly things, the will in preferring them above all things earthly, the affections in embracing them as the objects to be most evidently desired and loved; in fact, all the powers of the soul must be constantly exercised in the search. The soul, raised from the death of sin, is ever responding to the attractive influence of its risen Lord. “Being thus already risen, every motion of grace is the struggle of the soul for the final consummation—the bird is caged, but the wings are free to flutter within their prison.” The soul is now willing, cheerfully and faithfully, to follow the call of duty, whatever it may entail.
“Oft where she leads, thy blood must mark thy footsteps;
Oft where she leads, thy head must bear the storm,
And thy shrunk form endure heat, cold, and hunger;
But she will guide thee up to noble heights,
Which he who gains seems native of the sky;
While earthly things lie stretched beneath his feet,
Diminished, shrunk, and valueless.”
1. The soul is endowed with vast powers and capable of the highest destiny.
2. It is sad to witness thousands whose souls rise no higher than the things on the earth.
3. The soul can realise its highest aspirations only as it is risen with Christ.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 3:1. Seeking the Things Above.
I. Contemplate the sublime object—the state of future blessedness of believers.
1. The perfection of character they exhibit.
2. The exercises in which they shall be engaged.
3. The happiness in which they participate.
4. The friendships they share.
II. The conduct enjoined upon us.—“Seek those things.”
1. Implies belief in their existence.
2. That attention is directed much towards them.
3. Set our attachment upon them.
4. Use diligent and persevering exertions to obtain them.
III. Motives to this conduct—
1. A regard to consistency.
2. The reasonableness of the duty.
3. Present advantages.
4. Because they are the scene in which are displayed Christ’s personal presence and glory.
Risen with Christ.
I. Christianity begins where everything else ends: it begins with death.
II. After dying to sin we are to begin to live in good earnest.
III. The Christian toils, labours, and tasks his mind for the glory of God and the good of others.
IV. The true Christian seeks the things which are above.—
4. Truth.—A. W. Hare.
The New Life.
I. There is a great difference between the new life and the old.—
1. In our feelings.
II. This difference should lead us to think much of heaven and to seek after heavenly things.—
1. To know all we can about heaven.
2. To prepare all we can for heaven.
3. To take all we can with us to heaven.—Preacher’s Magazine.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:3. Your life is hid with Christ in God.—You are much more likely to have it kept pure by having it in Christ than by setting round it a hedge of “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 3:3-4
The Present Condition and Future Glory of Life in Christ.
The Christian life has a twofold aspect. Outwardly it is shorn of all splendours, and to the eye of the world appears a life of weakness, ignominy, and suffering; but inwardly it is radiant with divine light and pervaded with a heavenly peace. The believer is often as a monarch in the disguise of a beggar. The world knows nothing of the new life of which he has become possessed, and the new life must know nothing of the world. Its aspirations are directed towards higher things. The relish for earthly things is gone.
I. That the present condition of the believer’s life in Christ involves a new relation to outward things.—“For ye are dead” (Colossians 3:3). There was a time when he not only lived in the world, but to the world and for the world. He was wholly captivated and absorbed in the pursuits and enjoyments of the carnal mind. But now, while still in the world, he is dead to its charms and to its ordinances. All the mainsprings of activity are changed. He is risen with Christ and shares the power of His resurrection life. Man lives where He loves, and, having experienced so complete a change, his affections are now fixed on things above, and his life is bound up in the love and service of Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of God. He is dead because he is crucified with Christ, and hath put off the old man—the old fleshly nature—with his deeds. This death involves a renunciation of all the ceremonial observances against which the apostle so faithfully warned in the preceding chapter—the Mosaic ritual, the vain philosophy, the angelolatry, the pride of the fleshly mind, the traditions and commandments of men, and all the pernicious doctrines of the false teachers. He is dead to the past, and realising the beating of a new life within him, he enters upon a brighter and loftier career.
II. That the present condition of the believer’s life in Christ is one of concealment from the outward world.—
1. It is hid. “Your life is hid” (Colossians 3:3). All life is hid. Its origin is a profound mystery. The botanist fails to discover it as he picks his plant into microscopic atoms. The scalpel of the anatomist has not pierced its dark domain and laid bare its hiding-place. Its presence is known only by its effects. So is it with the new life of the soul. It is hid from the world. It has a glory and a power of its own; but the world is incapable of appreciating either. It is not a life of vulgar display and noisy demonstration. It is gentle, quiet, and retiring, sometimes obscured by a tempest of persecution and suffering. It is sometimes partially hidden to the believer himself when assailed by temptations and oppressed by the weight of heavy chastisements. Yet that hidden life is the power that shall shake and transform the world.
2. It is hid with Christ.—“Your life is hid with Christ” (Colossians 3:3). Christ Himself was hidden when on earth. To the undiscerning He was as a root out of a dry ground, possessing neither form nor comeliness. Even now Christ is hidden to the worldly mind; and the believer’s life is hidden with Him, as a river, concealed for a time in a hidden channel, flows on beneath and out of sight. This hiding of the believer’s life with Christ indicates
(1) Dependence. It is not hid with the believer himself. He derives it from Christ, as the great fontal source of all life; and on Him he depends for its constant supply and nourishment. The springs of this life abide when every other channel of supply is dry and its fount exhausted. We must wait on Christ for daily supplies of living water. It indicates
(2) Security. Our life is safer in Christ’s keeping than it could be in our own. Man was once entrusted with the gift of a glorious life, and he lost it. But in the hands of Christ our life is out of all danger. It is secure amid the conflicts of time, the subtle temptations of the world, and the wild rage of demons.
3. It is hid in the depths of the Godhead.—“Your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). A grand but unfathomable truth! It is not lost in the abyss of Deity, as the mystic or pantheist would teach; but it is so hid as to retain its own conscious individuality, while sharing in the boundless life of God. It is a gift from God, bestowed through Christ the great Mediator, created by the power and energy of the Holy Ghost; so that the nature, manner, and destiny of the gift are hidden in God through the mediation of His Son. “God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” The exercise of faith brings the soul into living union with the glorious Trinity.
III. That the believer’s life in Christ will, in the future, be manifested in ineffable glory.—
1. There will be a signal manifestation of Christ in the future. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear” (Colossians 3:4). Christ is now invisible to His people and to the world. He withdrew from the scene of His suffering ministry, entered the serene heights of heaven, and there, all-potent, is carrying on His high purposes of grace and salvation. But by-and-by—not at the bidding of the impatient prophets, who dare to fix the Lord a time, and, in their too realistic interpretation of His word, consider His second coming as the grand and only specific for the world’s evils—in His own good time, to the joy of His people and the dismay of His foes, He will come in overwhelming glory.
2. The believer will share in the ineffable glory of that manifestation.—“Then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
(1) This implies public recognition. The believer, obscure and despised on earth, is acknowledged before the universe as related to Christ by the dearest ties and as deriving his life from Him. All the ends of secrecy are answered. The hidden is revealed. The baffled, persecuted, unappreciated, afflicted people of God are for ever vindicated.
(2) This also implies a personal participation in the splendour of Christ’s triumph and in the bliss of His character. “With Him in glory.” Glory is a comprehensive term, and not easily defined. But whether we regard it as expressive of external and visible splendour, or as describing a condition of unutterable and endless felicity, in either sense, or both, the believer shares it with his exultant Lord. Rapture of raptures! to see Jesus, to be with Him, and to live in the sunshine of His smile for ever!
1. The believer’s life in Christ is a hidden, but a real life.
2. Bear patiently the trials of the present life.
3. The glory of the believer’s future life will more than recompense him for the troubles of the present.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 3:3. Death and Life with Christ.
I. Ye are dead.—
1. In your original state of unconcern and unbelief ye are dead.
2. By the Holy Ghost you are made to recognise this death as real and to acquiesce in it as just.
3. You continue to be thus dead with Christ.
II. Your life is with Christ.—
1. As partakers of His right to live.
2. In respect of the new spirit of your life.
3. Your life being with Christ must be where He is. In God as its source, its centre, its pattern.
4. This life with Christ is hid. For security; in its intimacy; as separated from the world; is not to be always hidden (Colossians 3:4).—R. S. Candlish.
Colossians 3:4. Christ our Life.
I. The vital principle recognised.—“Christ who is our life.”
1. The life is spiritual in its nature.
2. Eternal in its duration.
II. The splendid spectacle predicted.—“Christ shall appear.”
1. The manner.—In the glory of His Father, with His angels.
2. The purpose.—To judge the quick and the dead.
III. The glorious hope awakened.—“Then shall ye appear with Him in glory.”
1. The great hope of the Christian life is that one day we shall be with Christ.
2. That we shall participate in Christ’s glory.
3. These words are full of comfort to those drawing near to death.—J. T. Woodhouse.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:5. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.—“Quite so!” the heretic teacher might say; “this is just what we ourselves advise.” “Yes,” rejoins the apostle; “but let us know what it is we are to slaughter.” It is no hewing and hacking of the body, but what is as much more difficult as it is noble—the excision or eradication of evil thoughts (Matthew 15:19-20). Inordinate affection, evil concupiscence.—R.V. “passion, evil desire.” The former of these seems to indicate the corrupt conditions from which the latter springs. Covetousness, which is idolatry.—“Covetousness,” or “having more.” There is many a man, beside the clown in Twelfth Night, who says, “I would not have you to think my desire of having is the sin of covetousness.” The full drag can afford to sacrifice (Habakkuk 1:16).
Colossians 3:8. Anger, wrath.—The former is the smouldering fire, the latter the fierce out-leaping flame. Malice, blasphemy.—The former is the vicious disposition, the latter the manifestation of it in speech that is meant to inflict injury. Filthy communication.—One word in the original; R.V. gives it as “shameful speaking.” The word does not occur again in the New Testament. It means scurrilous or obscene speech. A glimpse of Eastern life helps us to understand the frequent injunctions as to restraint of the tongue in the New Testament. Dr. Norman Macleod says: “In vehemence of gesticulation, in genuine power of lip and lung to fill the air with a roar of incomprehensible exclamations, nothing on earth, so long as the body retains its present arrangement of muscles and nervous vitality, can surpass the Egyptians and their language.” But the same thing is witnessed of other Eastern tongues.
Colossians 3:9. Lie not one to another.—“Very elementary teaching,” we should be inclined to say. Whether there was any special tendency to this vice in the Colossian converts we cannot know.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 3:5-9
Mortification of the Sinful Principle in Man.
Practice follows doctrine. The genuineness of a precept is tested by its adaptability to the practical working out of life’s problem. The apostle has laid down his doctrine clearly and emphatically, and now he proceeds to enforce the use of the best methods for securing the highest degree of personal holiness. These methods are in perfect harmony with the exalted experience into which the believer is introduced when he is risen with Christ and participates in that glorious life which is hid with Christ in God.
I. That the sinful principle in man has an active outward development.—
1. It is mundane in its tendencies. “Your members which are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:5). It is earthly, sensual, depraved. It teaches the soul to grovel when it ought to soar. It is in sympathy with the whole mass of earthly things—riches, honour, pleasure, fame—which stand opposed to the higher aspirations of the soul, whose affection is fixed on things above.
2. It is manifested in acts of gross sensuality.—“Fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence” (Colossians 3:5). A revolting catalogue, a loathsome index to the festering mass of corruption within! A rake’s progress has been portrayed by the genius of a Hogarth; but where is the pencil that can delineate the dark progress of evil? For there is an order observed in its abhorrent development. The mischief begins in evil concupiscence; yielding to the first unholy impulse, it goes on to lustful and inordinate affection; proceeds to uncleanness—pollutions which follow on the two preceding vices; and ends in fornication, both in its ordinary meaning and in that of adultery. Possibly the apostle had reference to the rites of Bacchus and Cybele, which were wont to be celebrated with many peculiar impurities in Phrygia, of which Colossæ, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were cities, and which so deeply depraved the morals of the people. The outgoings of evil are not less rampant and shocking in modern times. Evil is the same in principle everywhere.
3. It is recognised by a debasing idolatry.—“And covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Covetousness is a sin that comes the earliest into the human heart, and is the last and most difficult to be driven out. It is an insatiable lust after material possessions—the greed of getting more for the sake of more, till often the brain is turned and the heart withered. The apostle brands it with the significant term “idolatry.” With the covetous man his idol is his gold, which, in his eyes, answereth all things; his soul is the shrine where the idol is set up; and the worship which he owes to God is transferred to mammon. Avarice is the seed of the most hateful and outrageous vices. The exhortation to mortify the flesh is pressed home by reminding them of the certainty of the divine wrath which would overtake the contumacious and disobedient.
II. That the active outgoings of the sinful principle in man call for the infliction of divine vengeance.—The wrath of God is not a malignant, unreasoning passion, like that with which we are familiar among men. Nor is it a strong figure of speech, into which the maudlin philosophers of the day would fain resolve it. It is an awful reality. It is not merely a thing of the past, to the terrible havoc of which history bears faithful and suggestive testimony. It is the wrath to come, and will be “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” It is not inconsistent with infinite love, but is an impressive form in which the divine righteousness expresses itself against all disobedient and impenitent workers of iniquity.
III. That the indulgence of the sinful principle in man is inconsistent with the new life he has in Christ.—There was a time when the sins here enumerated formed the atmosphere in which the Colossians lived, moved, and breathed; they represented the condition of their life and the character of their practice: they lived and walked in sin. But that time was past. A great change had taken place. They were surrounded by a purer atmosphere; they lived in another world; they aspired to a nobler destiny. To return to the vices and idolatries of their former life was utterly inconsistent with their exalted character; it was unworthy the high and holy vocation wherewith they were called. It is salutary to be reminded now and then of our former life of sin. It magnifies the grace of God in the great change He has wrought. It warns against the danger of being drawn into old habits and associations. It stimulates the heavenward tendencies of the new life.
IV. That the sinful principle in man is the source of the most malignant passions.—The former classification embraced sins which related more especially to self; this includes sins which have a bearing upon others.
1. There are sins of the heart and temper.—“Anger, wrath, malice” (Colossians 3:8). There is an anger which is a righteous indignation against wrong, and which is so far justifiable and sinless. It is the anger without cause or beyond cause, and which degenerates into a bitter feeling of revenge, that is here condemned. Wrath is the fierce ebullition of anger, expressed with ungovernable passion; and is at all times unseemly and unlawful. Malice is anger long cherished, until it becomes a settled habit of mind. It involves hatred, secret envy, desire of revenge and retaliation, and universal ill-will towards others. It is altogether a diabolical passion. If anger exceeds its bounds, it becomes wrath; if wrath lies brooding in the bosom, it degenerates into malice.
2. There are sins of the tongue.—“Blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another” (Colossians 3:8-9). Blasphemy in a lower sense includes all calumny, evil-speaking, railing, slandering, scoffing, ridiculing—all vile insinuations, whether against God or man. Filthy communication refers to all foul-mouthed abuse, indelicate allusions, details of vicious scenes, and whatever hurts the feelings and shocks the sense of propriety rather than injures the character. Lying is also here condemned. Wherever this vice prevails society is rotten to the core. The almost total want of truthfulness is one of the saddest features of the moral condition of heathendom. Lying basely violates the gift of speech, saps the foundation of human intercourse, and overturns the first principles of morals. That which is spoken in ignorance, though untrue, is not a lie; but to equivocate, to speak so as to lead another to a false conclusion, is to lie as really as if the speaker deliberately stated what he knew was a falsehood. All these sins are directly opposed to that ingenuous sincerity which is the leading characteristic of the new life in Christ.
V. That the sinful principle in man, and all its outgoings, must be wholly renounced and resolutely mortified.—“But now ye also put off all these” (Colossians 3:8). “Mortify, therefore, your members” (Colossians 3:5). There is much force in the word “therefore.” Since ye are dead with Christ and are risen with Him, since ye possess a glorious life hid with Christ in God, therefore mortify—put to death the members of your earthly and corrupt nature, and encourage the expansion of that pure, beauteous, and exalted life which ye have received through the faith of the operation of God. Not that we are to kill or mutilate the members of the body that have been the instruments of sin, but to crucify the interior vices of the mind and will. It is wholly a moral process; the incipient inclination to sin must be restrained, deadened, crushed. In order to this there must be the total renunciation of all sin. “But now ye also put off all these.” The verb is imperative and the exhortation emphatic. There must be not only an abstinence from open vice—heathen morality insists on as much as this—but there must be the putting away of every secret evil passion—removing it out of sight as we would remove a dead body to burial. As the prince casts off the coarse garment in which he has been disguised, and stands forth in an apparel befitting his rank and dignity, so the believer is to divest himself of the unsightly and filthy garment of the old man, and allow the new man to appear adorned with heavenly magnificence and bright with the inextinguishable lustre of a divine spiritual life.
1. The sinful principle in man is a great power.
2. The new spiritual life in the believer is in ceaseless antagonism with the old.
3. The constant duty of the believer is to subdue and destroy the sinful principle.
4. In fulfilling this duty all the powers of good are on his side.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 3:5. Covetousness, which is Idolatry.
I. In its essence.—It is putting the creature in the place of the Creator, and giving it the worship due to God alone.
II. In its practice.—Body and soul are consecrated to the service of mammon.
III. In its punishment.—Idolatry is a sin peculiarly obnoxious to God—is not merely the breach of His law, but treason against His government. God deprives the covetous of his idol at last, and sends him treasureless into the unseen world, wrecked and ruined, to endure the wrath to come.—Preacher’s Magazine.
Colossians 3:6. The Wrath of God—
A reality to be dreaded.
Is roused by the workings of iniquity.
Will overtake the disobedient.
Colossians 3:7-9. The New Life—
Must break thoroughly away from the old life of sin.
Is evident in temper and speech.
Is the interpretation of all that is pure and true.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 3:9-11
The New Spiritual Nature.
In the primitive Church it was customary for the new converts, after putting aside their heathenish vestments, to array themselves in white garments, that they might indicate, in the most public manner, the great change which had taken place. It was perhaps in allusion to this custom that the apostle bases his exhortation. A courtier would not dare to insult his sovereign by appearing before him in squalid and tattered garments, but would be specially studious to attire himself in a dress every way suited to his rank and character. So the believer would not dishonour God and disgrace the religion he has embraced by exhibiting the vices and passions that characterised his former unrenewed state, but is the more solicitous to magnify the grace of God in a life of outward consistency and purity. In the former verses the writer has insisted on sanctification in its negative aspect—the mortification of sin, the putting off the old man. In these words he deals with sanctification on its positive side, and shows that it is the putting on the new spiritual nature, in which the believer is ever advancing to a higher knowledge. Observe:—
I. That the possession of the new spiritual nature implies a complete change of the whole man.—“Seeing that ye have put off the old man, with his deeds, and have put on the new man” (Colossians 3:9-10). The believer has a twofold moral personality. There is in him the old man—the sinful principle; and there is in him also the new—the God-like, spiritual nature. Whatever we bring with us from the womb of our mother is the old man; whatever we receive by the grace of the Holy Spirit is the new. In the great spiritual transformation experienced by every believer there is a twofold and coincident operation—the putting off of the old and the putting on of the new; there is an act of renunciation and unclothing and an act of reception and investment. This change is complete; it pervades the whole man, ruling every power, fashioning the character, and inspiring the entire life. This change is divine in its origin and outworking. Man has no power of himself to effect the renewal of his nature. It is “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” It is the triumph of divine grace, and to God only all praise is due.
II. That the new spiritual nature is ever advancing to a higher knowledge.—“Which is renewed in knowledge” (Colossians 3:10), which is ever being renewed unto perfect knowledge (Lightfoot). The present tense is used, and it is indicated that the new spiritual nature does not reach perfection at once, but is in a state of growth and development. The realisation of the new life in man is bounded by the amount and character of the knowledge he possesses, and by the clearness and tenacity with which that knowledge is apprehended and maintained. The experience may be below the actual knowledge possessed, but cannot be beyond it. Whatever degree of holiness the soul attains, it is still susceptible of advancement. The process of renewal is continually going on, as the statue grows, under the chisel of the sculptor, into a more perfect form of beauty. The knowledge referred to is the true knowledge of Christ as opposed to the false knowledge of the heretical teachers. The process of renewal increases the capacity of the believing soul to appreciate the knowledge of divine and heavenly realities, and the increase in the knowledge of the highest things reacts advantageously on the renewed nature. The higher we ascend in the knowledge of God, the more like Him do we become.
III. That the new spiritual nature is refashioned after the most perfect model.—“After the image of Him that created him” (Colossians 3:10). Man was originally created in the image of God, that image consisting in a moral resemblance—“in righteousness and true holiness.” Christ is Himself “the image of the invisible God,” and conformity to Him is the pattern of our renewal, the all-perfect standard towards which we are continually to approximate. The moral image which we lost in the fall of the first Adam is more than regained in the second Adam. Redemption places man on a higher platform than he would have occupied if he had retained the moral condition in which he was originally created. It brings him nearer to God, gives him a broader and more sympathetic insight into the divine character and purposes, and makes him more like God. In the spiritual region into which the believer in Christ is transferred all minor distinctions vanish. Not only do they not exist, they cannot exist. It is a region to which they are utterly unsuited, and cannot therefore be recognised.
IV. That the new spiritual nature is superior to all earthly distinctions.—
1. It is superior to all national distinctions. “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Colossians 3:11). To the Jew the whole world was divided into two classes: Jews and Gentiles—the privileged and unprivileged portions of mankind; religious prerogative being taken as the line of demarcation. But such a narrow distinction is antagonistic to the broad and generous spirit of the gospel. Let a man be but renewed in Christ Jesus, and it inquires not as to what country he belongs.
2. It is superior to all ritualistic distinctions.—“Circumcision nor uncircumcision” (Colossians 3:11). It matters not whether a man is born in a Christian country, and brought up in the midst of the greatest ecclesiastical privileges, or whether he is cradled in the darkest paganism; in either case a change of heart is absolutely necessary. No branch of the universal Church can claim the exclusive right of admitting souls into heaven; and it is intolerable impertinence to insist upon the necessity of ceremonial observances in order to salvation—as was the case with the false teachers of Colossæ, and as is the case with the pretentious ritualism of the day. “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.”
3. It is superior to all political distinctions.—“Barbarian, Scythian” (Colossians 3:11). Like the Jews, the Greeks divided mankind into two classes—Greeks and barbarians—civilisation and culture being now the criterion of distinction. The Scythian was the lowest type of barbarian. Christianity acknowledges no such distinction. Whether gathered from the most refined or most barbarous nation, all are one in Christ Jesus. The gospel has broken down the narrow and arbitrary classification of the race, maintained the right of all nations of the world to be classed as one genus, and replaced the barbarian by the more humane and unifying title of brother. Max Müller writes: “Humanity is a word which you look for in vain in Plato or Aristotle; the idea of mankind as one family, as the children of one God, is an idea of Christian growth; and the science of mankind, and of the languages of mankind, is a science which, without Christianity, would never have sprung into life.”
4. It is superior to all social distinctions.—“Bond nor free” (Colossians 3:11). The diversities of condition which divide men in the present world are unknown in the sphere of this spiritual renewal. The grace which changed the heart of Philemon the master also renewed the soul of Onesimus, his slave; and often the bondman is the first to enter into the liberty of the children of God. Here the rich and poor, the nobility and peasantry, meet together, and form one common brotherhood.
V. That the new spiritual nature recognises Christ as everything.—“But Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). All belongs to Him; He originated and sustains all, and He is in all. He is everything to the believer—the source and centre of his life, the ideal after which he continually aspires, the possession by which He will be enriched for ever. The believer is a living, speaking, acting expression of the Christ within him. Christ, without the exclusion of any nation or sect, unites all; and so, through His indwelling in all, is Himself all.
1. Christ is the Author, Pattern, and End of the new spiritual nature.
2. To put on the new spiritual nature it is essential to believe in Christ.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 3:9-11. Religion a Change of Life.
I. Evident by putting off the old nature and its sins (Colossians 3:9).
II. By putting on a new nature renewed after the divine likeness (Colossians 3:10).
III. Superior to all conventional distinctions (Colossians 3:11).
IV. In which Christ is everything (Colossians 3:11).
Colossians 3:11. Christ All and in All.
I. Christ is all and in all in the realm of creation.—The vast fabric of created things sprang into being at His word. Out of nothing He created all that is. The distance between being and no-being is so great that nothing short of infinite power can cause that to be which never before existed. The heavens are “the firmament of His power.” He made the stars, kindled their brilliant fires, fixed their rank, regulated their motions, and appointed their mission. He formed the earth, robed it in vestments of ever-changing beauty, and endowed it with unfailing productiveness. He fashioned man after the model of His own illustrious image, freighted him with faculties of wondrous compass, indicated the possibilities of his career, and the character of his destiny. Christ is the grand centre of the magnificent systems by which He is encircled, and which He has grouped around Himself by the exercise of His creative hand. On Him their continued existence every moment hangs.
II. Christ is all and in all in the sphere of providence.—He sustains and governs all. Close as population follows on the heels of production, food never fails for man and beast. Study the sublime epic on the divine preservation furnished by Psalms 104:0, and consider how the history of human experience in all ages confirms the truth. Christ controls all the forces of nature. The sweep of the heavenly bodies, the surge and re-surge of the tide, the eccentric course and velocity of the wind, the departure and return of the light, the roll of the dreaded thunder, the recurrent phases of the seasons, all are obedient to His nod. He is predominant among the spiritual agencies of the universe. He restricts the power of the great enemy of man. He restrains the flow of evil. He governs the complicated passions of human hearts, and makes even the wrath of men to praise Him. He guards, guides, and delivers His Church. The greatness of His providential power is seen in His accomplishing the mightiest results by insignificant instrumentalities. He is conducting all things to a glorious consummation.
III. Christ is all and in all in the work of redemption.—He suffered to the death on behalf of the sinning race. He was a voluntary victim. He was unique in His person—comprising in Himself the divine and human natures. As man, He met all the necessities of sinful and condemned humanity; as God, He answered all the requirements of the divine righteousness. While the greatest modern philosophers are puzzling their minds with an endless variety of methods for recovering man from his lapsed condition, we behold the problem solved in the life, sufferings, and death of Christ. That was a method of redemption that would never have occurred to a finite mind; and it is now beyond the range of the greatest human intellect to fathom. Christ, and Christ alone, could redeem. In that sphere He is all in all, or He is nothing. His work of redemption is an entrancing expression of the tenderest, deepest, most mysterious love.
IV. Christ is all and in all in the kingdom of glory.—He is the Head of all principalities and powers in the heavenly places. They depend on Him for life and purity, they obey His slightest word, they adore His infinite majesty, they delight in His hallowed fellowship. Christ is also Head over all things to the Church, which is His body; the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. He is the central attraction and source of bliss in the realm of glory. The redeemed cast their crowns before Him, and chant His praise in ceaseless anthems. If Christ were absent, heaven would lose its greatest charm.
“I love to think of heaven; its cloudless light,
Its tearless joys, its recognitions and its fellowships
Of love and joy unending; but when my mind anticipates
The sight of God incarnate, wearing on His hands,
And feet, and side, marks of the wounds
Which He, for me, on Calvary endured.
All heaven beside is swallowed up in this;
And He who was my hope of heaven below,
Becomes the glory of my heaven above.”
V. Christ is all and in all to the believing soul.—He appears as the great Emancipator; He delivers from the power of darkness, and translates the benighted but groping soul into the kingdom of light. He gives rest to the weary and heavy laden. He comforts the mourner. He defends and succours the tempted. He is the refuge in every time of distress. All the wants of the soul are anticipated and abundantly supplied. He will conduct safely through all the changeful scenes of this life; and finally invest the soul with the imperishable splendours of an endless future. Christ is the great necessity and the all-satisfying portion of the soul.
1. Christ is supreme in all spheres.
2. Christ is the great need of the human soul.
3. Faith in Christ brings the soul into a personal participation in the divine fulness.
Christ is All and in All.
I. The essential glories of Christ.—He possesses all things.
II. Christ has purchased all blessings for us.—All temporal and all spiritual blessings.
III. All blessings are treasured up in Christ for the eternal use of His Church.
IV. He will keep His family in the possession of all good for ever.—W. Howels.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:12. Bowels of mercies.—R.V. “a heart of compassion.” A case of concrete for abstract. The physical effect of pity lies at the bottom of the phrase.
Colossians 3:13. Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.—Literally it would be, “Bearing with one another, and dealing graciously with yourselves”; for not only the verbs but the pronouns also change with a delicate shade of meaning. Forbearance, like a peacemaking angel, passes to and fro between the incensed parties. Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.—The pattern of all graciousness is Christ. See His parable (Matthew 18:33).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 3:12-13
Essentials of the Christian Character.
In the cultivation of a rare and valuable plant care must be taken to rid it of everything that would retard its growth, and to supply it with whatever aids it in reaching the highest possibility of shapeliness and beauty. Not only must it be severely pruned and divested of every noxious weed and destructive parasite, but it must be diligently tended, and liberally provided with air, light, and moisture. So is it in the training of the Christian character. It is not enough that the old man—the sinful principle—is suppressed, mortified, deadened; all the graces of the new man—the new spiritual nature—must be assumed and sedulously cultivated. Religion is not a dry, sapless, dead negation, but a grand positive reality—an active, ever-growing life, pushing its way through every channel of man’s nature, and fashioning his character after the loftiest pattern of moral loveliness and purity. The change the Colossians had experienced furnished the most forcible reason why they should advance in spiritual development. Having risen with Christ, and having put off the old man, with his deeds, there is an unmistakable emphasis in the exhortation—Put on, therefore, the characteristics of the new man.
I. That the Christian character is distinguished by a special designation.—“The elect of God, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12).
1. Distinguished as the object of the divine choice.—“The elect of God”—chosen by Him, as an act of undeserved, unmerited mercy, to the knowledge of Himself and His glorious salvation; called out of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His dear son. This election is a condition of exalted privilege to which all rise who accept the message of God’s mercy through Jesus Christ.
2. Distinguished by personal purity.—“Holy.” Here is the evidence and practical result of the divine election. “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4). The people of God are called to be holy—consecrated to His service; set apart from a common and wholly devoted to a sacred purpose. Holiness is the habitual condition, aim, delight, and employment of the Christian’s life.
3. Distinguished by the divine affection.—“Beloved.” The believer is the object of God’s special love, of the favour which He beareth unto His people. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us that we should be called the sons of God.” The epithets here used have each the force of a motive. Since the believer is elect, holy, beloved, let him act in harmony with his exalted character and calling. Lavater has said, “The more honesty a man has, the less he affects the air of a saint.”
II. That the Christian character is distinguished by a heartfelt sympathy.—
1. This sympathy arises from a spirit of tender mercy. “Bowels of mercies” (Colossians 3:12)—a phrase which expresses the effect on the body of strong emotions of pity. It was said of Joseph that “his bowels did yearn over his brethren, and he sought where to weep.” The miseries of our fellow-creatures, especially of those who are in a worse condition than ourselves, call for our compassion and help; and a genuine pity is not only visible in the countenance and uttered by the lips, but felt in the inmost heart, and prompts to generous actions.
2. This sympathy arises from a spirit of kindness.—“Kindness” refers to the temper we should show towards those we meet in the daily intercourse of life who are on an equality with ourselves. The Christian should be amiable, courteous, kind in speech and action, eager to relieve others according to his means—the farthest remove from a crabbed, sullen, churlish disposition. A hard, cold, selfish, unfeeling heart is a characteristic of fallen, unrewed man; bowels of mercies and kindness of the renewed one.
III. That the Christian character is distinguished by a genuine humility.—“Humbleness of mind” (Colossians 3:12). These words describe the estimate that is to be formed of self. The believer is taught not to overrate nor unduly to depreciate himself. He is governed by the apostolic rule, “Let each esteem other better than themselves.” The more exalted his views of God, and the more he remembers his own unworthiness, weakness, ignorance, and sin, the more softly and lowly does he seek to walk. As in the garden that branch hangs down the lowest which is most heavily laden with fruit, so in the Church the ripest saints are those who walk humbly with God. The humble man is the most susceptible to compassion and genuine in its practical manifestation. The proud man is too full of himself to feel for others; he is always dissatisfied, always embroiling in quarrels the family, the Church, the social circle where he resides. The humblest man is the bravest man. He endures with composure the contempt and arrogance of others.
IV. That the Christian character is distinguished by a gentle and patient spirit.—“Meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12).
1. The Christian spirit is gentle.—“Meekness.” This grace indicates what should be our conduct towards others in their treatment of us. Meekness is evidenced in modesty of countenance, gentleness of manner, softness of voice, and mildness of language; it is opposed to rudeness or harshness. We see it exemplified in the way in which Gideon pacified the irascible men of Ephraim (Judges 8:2). It is slow to take, and scorns to give, offence.
2. The Christian spirit is patient.—“Longsuffering,” which is meekness continued, though subjected to the fiercest provocations. It is opposed to resentment, revenge, wrath. Meekness exercises itself in matters of chagrin, impertinence, folly; longsuffering in those of violent outrage, affront, injury. Meekness may be required by the mere manner of others towards us; longsuffering is often necessary by their conduct. There is a difference between enduring long and longsuffering. The genuine grace is accompanied, not only with patience, but with joyous activity and watchfulness. It is not like the senseless rock which endures the full force of the storm unmoved and unresponsive, but like the nimble vessel that, while it bends to the tempest, is at the same time diligently speeding on its mission.
V. That the Christian character is distinguished by a practical manifestation of a spirit of mutual forbearance and forgiveness.—
1. Mutual forbearance and forgiveness are to be exercised universally. “Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any” (Colossians 3:13). The word “quarrel” is better rendered complaint. It takes two to make a quarrel, and of these the Christian should never be one. Whatever occasion of offence may arise, whatever cause of complaint, in any man, under any circumstances, and however just the complaint may appear, forbearance is to be exercised; and even if the forbearance is abused and injury be added, we must forgive. It is never on one side only that the fault exists. It is one another, each in his turn, that gives and receives forbearance. If this were more frequently observed, how many unseemly discords and mischievous separations would be prevented!
2. The exercise of forgiveness is enforced by the highest example.—“Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13). These words come as an impressive climax, enforcing the duty of forgiveness by the strongest motive. The more difficult the duty, the more powerful should be the arguments urging its performance. The example of Christ is supreme in its authority. What are the injuries committed by others against us compared with the number and enormity of our sins against God? Yet Christ forgave us all, freely, fully, unreservedly, and for ever. The heart that is not moved to forgiveness by such an example is hopelessly incorrigible.
1. The unity of Christian character is made up of many separate essential graces.
2. The condition of things in this world affords ample scope for the exercise of every Christian grace.
3. To forgive is at once the most difficult and most Christ-like.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 3:12. Christian Humility.
I. The nature of this holy temper.—
1. A humble apprehension of our own knowledge. The imperfection of our faculties, our fallibility of judgment, when we compare our knowledge with the attainments of others, and a persuasion of the small value of the most exalted knowledge without practical influence.
2. Of our own goodness.
3. Of our independence and wants.
4. Of our own rank and station.
II. The obligations to cultivate a humble temper.—
1. It is mentioned in Scripture with peculiar marks of distinction and honour. The most distinguished promises are made to it. It is a necessary introduction to other graces and duties.
2. It is a grace which adorns every other virtue and recommends religion to every beholder.
3. Is recommended to us by the example of the Author and Finisher of our faith.
4. Is a grace that will go with us to heaven.
1. Those destitute of this grace have the rudiments of Christianity to learn.
2. We should look principally to the temper of our spirits to judge of our humility.
3. By it we judge of the improving or declining state of our souls.—J. Evans, D.D.
Colossians 3:13. Christian Forgiveness—
I. Is exercised where there is mutual forbearance.
II. Is the noblest method of ending quarrels.
III. Is a Christ-like disposition.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:14. Above all these things put on charity.—Reminding us of the exalted place which the queenly virtue holds in St. Paul’s triad. As the outermost dress of an Oriental was perhaps that which was most serviceable, so whatever else is put on, “above everything” love must be remembered. Which is the bond of perfectness.—“That in which all the virtues are so bound together that perfection is the result and not one of them is wanting to that perfection” (Grimm).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Colossians 3:14
Love the Perfection of the Christian Character.
Love is the commonest and most potent affection of the human heart. It has been the inexhaustible theme of writers in all ages, in poetry and prose. It has been invested with the bewitching drapery of romance, and exhibited as the instrumental cause of the darkest crimes and of the brightest virtues. The world never tires of learning of its adventures, trials, and victories. While it is ever commonplace, it is ever fresh. It is the perennial force in human life—the first to inspire, the longest to endure, the last to perish. But Christian love—love to Jesus Christ, and to all others for His sake—is not a native-born affection. It does not spring spontaneously from the human heart. It is a gift from God. It is the richest fruit of the new spiritual nature implanted in the believer. It is first to be acquired and then diligently cultivated. The apostle has just described the distinctive garments with which the believer is to be adorned—with a heart of tender compassion, with humility, with a gentle, patient, and forgiving spirit. But in addition to all this, and in order to complete the Christian character, he is to be clothed in a robe which is to cover every other garment, and bind it to its place—a robe whose purity and brightness shall shed a lustre over all the rest.
I. That love is the prime element in every other grace of the Christian character.—It is the soul of every virtue and the guarantee of a genuine sincerity. Without love all other graces, according to an old writer, are but glittering sins. There is a great power of affectionateness in the human heart, but no man possesses naturally the spiritual love of God and love of the race. It is a fruit of the Holy Ghost, and comes through that faith which works by love. It is possible to assume all the essentials of the Christian character, enumerated in Colossians 3:12, and previously commented on; but without love they would be meaningless, cold, and dead. Mercy would degenerate into weak sentimentality; kindness into foolish extravagance; humility into a mock self-depreciation—which is but another form of the proudest egotism; and longsuffering into a dull, dogged stupidity. Love is the grand element in which all other graces move and from which they derive their vitality and value. It is the grace which alone redeems all other from the curse of selfishness, and is, itself, the most unselfish.
II. That love occupies the most exalted place in the Christian character.—“Above all these things.” Not simply in addition to, but over and above all these, put on charity, as the outer garment that covers and binds together all the rest. Other graces are local and limited in their use; love is all-expansive and universal. A philosopher, in a vein of pungent satire, has dilated on the philosophy of clothes; and experience testifies how mightily the world is influenced and instructed by outward appearances. As the dress frequently indicates the rank and importance of the wearer, so the garment of love, worn without ostentation or pride, is the badge by which the Christian is known in the world (John 13:35). Love is the presiding queen over all Christian graces, inspiring and harmonising their exercises, and developing them into a living and beauteous unity of character. The apostle fixes the exalted rank of love in 1 Corinthians 13:13.
III. That love is the pledge of permanency in the Christian character.—“Which is the bond of perfectness.” As a girdle, or cincture, bound together with firmness and symmetry the loose flowing robes generally worn by the ancients, so love is the power that unites and holds together all those graces and virtues which together make up perfection. Love is the preservative force in the Christian character. Without it knowledge would lose its enterprise, mercy and kindness become languid, humility faint, and longsuffering indifferent. Love binds all excellencies together in a bond which time cannot injure, the enemy unloose, or death destroy. No church, or community of individuals, can exist long without the sustaining power of love. It is not a similarity in taste, intellectual pursuits, in knowledge, or in creed, that can permanently unite human hearts, but the all-potent sympathy of Christian love. Charity never faileth.
IV. That the perfection of the Christian character is seen in the practical manifestation of love.—“Put on charity”
1. Love is indispensable.—It is possible to possess many beautiful traits of character—much that is humane and amiable—without being a complete Christian: to be very near perfection, and yet lack one thing. Without love all other graces are inconsistent, heartless, wayward, selfish. They are but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Charity is indispensable to give life, force, meaning, truth, permanence to the whole. It supplies the imperfections and defects of other graces and virtues.
2. Love is susceptible of individual cultivation.—It may be “put on.” We may have more if we strive after it and faithfully use what is already possessed. It is a pressing, practical duty which all Christians are bound to attend to. And yet there is no grace which is more constantly suppressed. What a power the Church would become, and how marvellously would the character of the world be changed, if love had a freer scope and was universally exercised. The pretentious coverings of sectarianism and bigotry would vanish, and the whole Church of the redeemed be girt with the ample robe of a seamless unity. To win the love of others we must put it on ourselves.
1. The mere profession of Christianity is empty and valueless.
2. Every grace of the Christian character must be diligently exercised.
3. Above and through all other graces love must operate.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:15. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts.—R.V. margin, “arbitrate.” We met the verb for “rule” in Colossians 2:18, but with a prefix “against.” “Let the peace of God be umpire,” says the apostle, in every case of uncertainty and hesitation. He who slept on Galilee’s stormy waters had but to say, “Peace! Be still!” and there was a great calm. He said, “My peace I leave with you”; and reckless of consequences the men who received it amazed the authorities by the boldness of their question, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Colossians 3:15
The Rule of Divine Peace.
War in any form is unfriendly to the growth of piety. The soul is tossed on the waves of disquietude, and courage—the principal virtue called into exercise—is apt to acquire an unnatural and unhealthy development at the expense of all other graces. The whole structure of the Christian character is dislocated and thrown off its balance. Peace restores the soul to its true equipoise, fixes every power in its just relation to each other and to the whole, and encourages the harmonious cultivation of that love which is the bond of perfectness. Lord Bacon has said: “It is heaven upon earth to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in Providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.” In this verse we are taught that the one supreme umpire in the heart, by which all differences are to be settled, is the peace of God—the destined end of the Christian calling, in which is realised the unity belonging to members of one body; and that this blessing is to be sought in a spirit of thankfulness. Observe:—
I. That peace is a divine blessing.—“The peace of God.” Some of the oldest manuscripts here read, “The peace of Christ”—a reading adopted by the ablest biblical critics. The verbal difference, however, is of no moment. The truth is the same: it is equally the peace of God and the peace of Christ—a divine tranquillity filling the soul with a calm that no mere worldly power can give or take away, and that the ocean-surges of trouble can never diminish or disturb. Christ hath made peace through the blood of His cross, and left it as a sacred legacy to all His disciples through all time. In its essence it is the peace that Christ Himself enjoys—a sublime calmness similar to that which pervades the divine bosom. It is not like the long, painful, oppressive stillness that is the precursor of a storm, but a profound, pervasive, heavenly quiet that soothes while it invigorates the soul. It proceeds from God through Christ, and is maintained and nourished in the heart as a positive, gracious reality and priceless blessing.
II. That peace is a ruling power.—“Let the peace of God rule.” The word “rule” is borrowed from the practice of the Greeks at their great national games, and described the duty of the arbiter or umpire presiding, who held the prize in his hand while the contest proceeded in the stadium, and conferred it on the victor at the close. Thereby he exercised over the athletes a peculiar kind of rule. Impelled by a sight of the prize, they gave their whole being to the contest. So, in contending in the race of life, the peace of God, as containing all desirable blessings, is to exercise supreme authority and regulate all the concerns of the soul.
1. As a ruling power peace pervades and stimulates every other grace.—It lifts the soul to God, and enables it to take hold of His strength. It prepares for every holy duty, and stimulates to every spiritual enterprise. The more the soul is permeated with divine peace, the more desire and aptitude will there be for higher attainments in piety.
2. As a ruling power peace is a powerful defence.—It resists successfully the attacks of evil from whatever source they come. The shafts of infidelity cannot pierce the invulnerable defence of a conscious peace with God: right feeling is superior to the subtlest logic. Peace erects a formidable bulwark against temptation, and is the surest safeguard against every form of sin.
3. As a ruling power it concentrates and controls all the energies of the soul.—It calms the intellect, soothes the heart, tranquillises the conscience, and centralises all the powers of manhood, that they may go forth and do valiant battle for the truth. As by an unerring instinct it decides upon what is right, and shuns the wrong. The questions as to whether it is right to engage in certain amusements, to visit certain places, or to join this or that company, will soon be settled when the peace of God rules in the heart. It is a regulating power in moral difficulties, and a potent help in all moral enterprises. The peace of God keeps the heart and mind through Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:7).
III. That peace is a ruling power in man.—“In your hearts.” The heart is the region where the ruling power is exercised and takes effect. It embraces the will and affections as distinguished from the intellect. It is the choosing faculty as distinguished from the knowing faculty. When the heart is drawn in one direction the whole man follows. There the moral disease begins, and there the remedy must be applied. By sin the heart has become deceitful above all things; in the regeneration the heart is made new. The rush of an evil heart’s affections will not always yield to reason. When God, by His word and Spirit, comes to save, He saves by arresting and renewing the heart. The psalmist recognised this when he cried, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” No man is conquered until his heart is conquered. It is in this region the peace of God has powerful sway, and where it aids in achieving the most brilliant moral conquests.
IV. That peace is essential to the unity of the Church.—
1. The Church is called to the enjoyment of peace. “To the which also ye are called.” The burden of the gospel message is peace. Its mission is to extinguish wars and enmities, and to pacify heaven and earth. The Church is called to peace by the commands of Christ, by the teachings of His example when on earth, by the reiterated precepts of God’s word, and by the necessities of the grand enterprise in which she is engaged.
2. The enjoyment of peace is essential in preserving and promoting the unity of the Church.—“In one body.” As ye were called as members of one body, so let there be one spirit animating that body. Among the stellar systems, in social communities and states, as well as in the Christian Church, a common agreement is essential to unity. Divine peace preserves harmony, nourishes spiritual strength, and promotes union by drawing the souls, in which it is the ruling power, more closely to God and to each other. There is to be the constant endeavour “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
V. That peace is to be cultivated in the spirit of thankfulness.—“And be ye thankful.” These words are not to be restricted in their application. Not only do they imply that the Colossians were to act towards each other in a thankful and amiable temper, but they teach in what spirit the peace of God should be universally sought and exercised. The duty of thankfulness was the constant theme of the apostle: there are upwards of thirty references to it in his epistles. Here we are exhorted to consider it in special connection with the enjoyment of peace. Only he who has been swung in the dark whirl of unrest and doubt, who has witnessed the horrible riot of disunion and discord, can appreciate the blessing of peace and the gratitude it inspires. Cicero declared that gratitude was the mother of all other virtues. Certain it is that no man sins without ingratitude. Thanksgiving has always been the principal element in all religion, whether instituted by divine command, prompted by natural reason, or propagated by general tradition. The pagan religion consists in the praise of their gods and acknowledgments of their benefits; the Jewish, to a great extent, in eucharistic oblations and solemn commemorations of providential favours; and the ancient Christians were distinguished by singing hymns to Christ, and by mutual sacraments obliging themselves to abstain from all villainy. Thanksgiving is a joyous exercise—the pleasantest of duties. Prayer reminds us of our wants and imperfections; confession enforces a painful remembrance of our sins; but gratitude includes nothing but the memory of exceeding goodness. It is a duty most acceptable to God and most profitable to man.
1. True peace is found only in Christ.
2. Peace is a mighty engine of spiritual power.
3. Gratitude should combine with every blessing.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSE
Unity and Peace.
I. The unity of the Church of Christ.—
1. Distinguish the unity of comprehensiveness from the unity of mere singularity.
2. It subsists between things not similar or alike, but dissimilar or unlike.
3. It is made up of dissimilar members, without which dissimilarity there could be no unity.
4. It consists in submission to one single influence or spirit. The Spirit of its God.
II. The individual peace resulting from this unity.—
1. It is God’s peace.
2. A living peace.
3. The peace which comes from an inward power.
4. The peace of reception.—Robertson.
The Peace of God ruling in the Heart.
I. The region.—“In your hearts.” When the heart is drawn in one direction, the whole man follows. When God by His word and Spirit comes to save, He saves by arresting the heart and making it new.
II. The reign.—“Rule.” Freedom from rule is not competent to man; the only choice he has is a choice of masters.
III. The Ruler.—“The peace of God.”
1. It is God and no idol that should rule in a human heart.
2. It is not the wrath but the peace of God that rules in a human heart. It is the act of letting me go free that binds my whole soul for ever.—W. Arnot.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:16. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.—The word for “dwell in” is the same which assures the believer of an indwelling power which shall quicken the mortal body, and which describes the divine act of grace, “I will dwell in them.” In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.—See on Ephesians 5:18-19. The same composition may be either psalm, hymn, or spiritual song. The first may be a technical word, as in Luke 24:44. It indicates a song accompanied by a stringed instrument. A hymn is a song in praise of some one, exalting the character and attributes. The third term is the most comprehensive, and to it, with good reason, St. Paul prefixes “spiritual.” Bacchanalian songs were common enough about Colossæ with their noisy, unhallowed mirth. St. Paul, like St. James, would not object to his readers being merry if the spiritual joys
“From out their hearts arise
And speak and sparkle in their eyes
And vibrate on their tongues.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Colossians 3:16
The Poetry of the Christian Life.
In the life of the individual and of nations the era of poetry comes first, and is followed by the era of criticism. The impulse of a youthful and enthusiastic passion and the boundless play of a prolific imagination produce certain artistic results; and then comes the cool, reflective critic, with microscopic eye and mathematical rules, to measure and appraise the loved production. How soon the glowing efflorescence withers, and the expanding magnitude dwindles to the smallest practical limits. Genuine poetry is superior to all criticism, outlives the most violent opposition, and is imperishable as humanity. Poetry is the language of the soul in its highest and holiest mood, when it is fired with a divinely kindled rapture, when it strives to grasp the invisible and pants to express the grandest truths of the universe. The Christian life has its poetry. It is of the loftiest order, its theme the noblest, and its melody haunts the soul for ever with strains of ravishing harmony. In this verse we learn that the poetry of the Christian life draws its inspiration from the divine word and ministers to the culture and enjoyment of the Church. Observe:—
I. That the poetry of the Christian life draws its deepest inspiration from the divine word.—“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
1. That the divine word is fitly called the word of Christ.—It contains the record of His personal teaching—the revelation of new and startling truths, and the resetting of old truths in such a light as to connect the old and new dispensations, and blend them in an unbroken homogeneousness. It unfolds the mystery of that redemption He died to accomplish, and which forms so prominent a part of the teaching of this epistle. It is inspired by the Spirit of Christ, and gleams in every part with brilliant manifestations of His supernal glory. Christ is the all-pervading theme of the Scriptures—the key of the arch—the cornerstone of the foundation—the sun, illuminating with light and salvation the whole gospel system to its remotest circumference.
2. The divine word to create a true poetic fervour must wholly occupy the soul.—“Dwell in you richly.” The word of Christ is to be embraced as a whole, and due prominence given to every part of His character and work. Not to exalt His humanity to the denial of His divinity; not to be so enamoured with the moral beauty of His life as to overlook the significance and power of His death. The word is to dwell in us so completely as to possess and enrich every faculty and power of our nature. Not simply to give it a place in the region of intellectual opinion or in judging of moral questions, but to let it have a mighty sway over the affections of the heart—let it enter, saturate, purify, and govern the whole mental, moral, and spiritual being. It is to occupy the soul as a constant and permanent inspiration; to dwell—not as a stranger to stand without, or be saluted at a distance, but to enter, to abide, and be treated as a loved and intimate guest. Let the word of Christ be clearly apprehended, diligently pondered, and firmly grasped, and it will fill the soul with heavenly visions and inflame it with the holiest poetic ardour.
II. That the poetry of the Christian life has made valuable literary contributions to the psalmody of the Church.—“In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” It is not easy to make arbitrary distinctions between these poetic effusions. The psalm was a sacred poem on whatever subject, and similar to the productions in the book of Psalms in the Old Testament; the hymn specially celebrated the praises of the Almighty; and the spiritual song, or ode, was more mixed in its matter and more artificial in its arrangement, and referred to personal effusions of a more general character. The gift of poesy was among the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit in the early Church (1 Corinthians 14:26). The first form of literature in all countries is for the most part in song. A certain writer has said, that if he were allowed to make the songs of a nation, he cared not who made the laws. And in the Christian Church, from the earliest period, sacred psalmody has been a mighty power for edification and comfort. The hymnology of the Church is becoming increasingly rich in its poetic treasures.
III. That the poetry of the Christian life ministers to the mutual culture and happiness of the Church.—
1. It is intellectual in its character. “In all wisdom teaching one another.” A more correct punctuation connects the clause “in all wisdom” with the words that follow, not, as in our version, with the words that precede. To teach in all wisdom demands the highest intellectual exercise, especially when poetry is the medium of instruction and the word of Christ the theme. Without wisdom, poetry would sink into a maudlin sensuousness, a mere verbal jingling, an intolerable monotony. Wisdom is necessary to compare and balance the different parts of Scripture truth, to apply the word on proper occasions to its proper ends and in harmony with its spirit, and to adopt the best means for attaining the highest results in mutual instruction. The profoundest feelings of our nature can only be expressed in poetry. The orator, as he reaches the loftiest strains of eloquence, becomes poetical.
2. It is moral in its tendency.—“And admonishing one another.” There is implied a deep concern for each other’s moral condition and safety. The poetry of the early Christians was moral in its exercise and tendency. No one can feel an interest in another’s morality who is himself immoral. An eminent critic has said: “The element in which poetry dwells is truth, and when imagination divorces itself from that relation, it declines into the neighbourhood of empty fiction or the dreams of lunacy.” The poetry of the Christian life is based on eternal truth, and it is to be judiciously used as an instrument of admonition as well as of instruction. There is need for warning and brotherly counsel to restore the wanderer, to raise him if he has fallen, to reprove him if he is wrong, to protect and admonish him if he is in danger (Psalms 141:5).
3. It is joyous in its effects.—“Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Music and poetry are sometimes prostituted to the basest purposes, ministering to the lowest passions, and inciting to the vilest actions. But the poetry of the Christian life refines the soul, raises it towards God, and fills it with the music of unspeakable delight. The proper sphere of music is the heavenly and the spiritual.
“Beyond the visible world she soars to seek,
For what delights the sense is false and weak;
Ideal form, the universal mould.”
As the sea-shell conveys to the ear the faint music of the distant waves, so the poetry of the Christian life indicates in some degree the rapturous music that awaits us on the heavenly shore. Coleridge said: “Poetry has been to me its own exceeding great reward. It has soothed my affliction, it has endeared solitude, and it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and beautiful in all that surrounds me.” And Keats said: “Let me have music dying, and I seek no more delight.”
1. The highest poetry is found in the divine word.
2. To administer instruction and admonition through the medium of song is at once modest and significant.
3. The Christian life should be one sweet harmonious poem.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSE
The Word of Christ: its Characteristics as the Saviour’s Book and the Sinner’s Book.
It is simple.
Suited to all.
1. Let its truths and realities inhabit your convictions.
2. Let its tone be infused into your temper.
3. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.—James Hamilton, D.D.
The Indwelling Word of Christ.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you.—
1. Implies a sense of the preciousness of Christ Himself.
2. The preciousness of Christ’s words, as well as of Christ Himself, is essential to its dwelling in you.
3. The felt preciousness of real present and living intercourse between Christ and you will cause the word, as His word, to abide in you.
II. Dwell in you richly.—
1. It may refer to quantity.
2. It may have respect to quality.
3. This rich indwelling of the word of Christ in you may be held to correspond to the riches of Him whose word it is.
4. It is to dwell in you not only as rich receivers but as rich dispensers also.
1. Make sure of the first condition of Christ’s word in you—the preciousness of Christ Himself.
2. Make full proof of all suitable helps for the indwelling of the word of Christ in you.—R. S. Candlish.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Colossians 3:17
Suggestive Summary of the Law of Christian Duty.
Labour, which was originally imposed on man as a curse, may minister very largely to the increase of human happiness. The effort necessary to contend with and subdue the hostile forces of nature, and wrest from the earth the food essential to existence, strengthens and elevates the best powers of man. All men are prompted to labour by some distinct principle or ruling passion: the savage by the cravings of physical hunger, the patriot by the love of his country, the philosopher by an inextinguishable thirst for knowledge and delight in intellectual exercises. The ruling principle of action in the believer is that of supreme devotion to the Lord; he is to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. This exhortation embraces everything previously mentioned in the epistle, and every possible duty of the Christian life.
I. The guiding law of Christian duty.—“Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The name of Christ suggests the predominating principle by which the whole course of life is to be regulated, the watchword in every enterprise, the battle-cry in every conflict, the rallying centre in every disaster. In warfare, as in other things, a name is often a powerful spell to conjure with, and vast armies have been animated with the enthusiasm of action by simply mentioning the name of a Wellington, a Napoleon, a Garibaldi, a Von Moltke. But oh! how glorious and all-potent is the name Lord Jesus! It suggests the sublime dignity and redemptive achievements of Christ, and that He is the great exemplar after which all who believe in Him are to be morally fashioned.
1. In Christ is the purest motive to duty.—Motive originates and governs action, and makes it good or bad. The believer does everything for Christ’s sake, out of love for Him and respect to His authority. The tendency in all men is to live in themselves, to act in their own name and strength, and to carry out their own selfish purposes. Selfishness is one of the mightiest and most general motives to action. It is only in Christ we find the holiest and purest motive; in Him love takes the place of selfishness. The love of Christ constraineth us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
2. In Christ is the noblest pattern of duty.—Not only do we see in His character the most perfect representation of moral excellence, but His whole career is an instructive example of devotion to duty. He fulfilled the will of His Father: He was obedient unto death. He has taught us how to live and how to die. One of the grandest pictures of moral heroism is seen in the maintenance of an intelligent and faithful obedience in the midst of danger and threatened death.
3. In Christ is the highest end of duty.—All things in the material universe exist for Him, and in the moral realm He is the goal towards which all actions tend. Everything should be done with reference to Christ. We can have no worthier ambition than to seek in all things His glory. Cf. Mark 9:41; Matthew 18:5; John 14:14; and note how Christ lays it down as a universal principle that everything is to be done in His name. There is no higher name, for it “is above every name”; there is no loftier end, for “He is before all things.”
4. In Christ is the final authority of Christian duty.—Many things have been done in the name of Christ that never had His sanction and were contrary to His authority. The most disastrous persecutions and cruellest tortures have been perpetrated in the name of Christ. These blasphemous outrages have been committed to strengthen the authority and hide the bloodthirsty rapacity of a corrupt and domineering Church. No ecclesiastical hierarchy has a right to compel the blind, unreasoning submission of a free, intelligent agent. Above all Jesuitical maxims and Papal decrees is the authority of Christ. His will is supreme in all spheres, and that will is the guiding law of duty in the Christian life.
II. The universal obligation of Christian duty.—“Whatsoever ye do in word or deed.”
1. There must be a recognition of Christ in everything.—In all our employments, conversation, public acts of worship, in social and private prayer, in secular and domestic concerns, in all matters relating to the place of our abode, in changing residences, in the connections we form for ourselves and our children. There is a comprehensiveness in this obligation which is all-embracing. Not that we are to parade our piety, to obtrude our religious notions upon everybody we meet, or to be ever unctuously repeating the name of Christ, irrespective of time or place. The merchant is not to provoke unseemly discussions on sacred subjects when he ought to be attending to the business of the counting-house; the clerk should not be reading his Bible when he ought to be posting his ledger; the servant-maid should not be praying when she ought to be cleaning her kitchen; nor ought the mother to be gadding about, or running to endless revival meetings, while her house is dirty and husband and children neglected. It is not so much that everything is to be done after one special outward form as that every duty is to be done in a religious spirit. Religion is not a series of formal acts, or a string of set phrases; but it is a life, pervading all our activities, and making every part of our career sublime. Recognise Christ in everything, and a new meaning will be thrown on passing events; the commonplaces of life will be exalted into dignity, and the future assume irresistible attractions.
2. There must be absolute dependence on Christ at all times.—We cannot say and do everything in the name of Christ unless we fully surrender ourselves to Him. We are helpless and full of spiritual infirmities, but the more conscious we are of our complete dependence on Him the stronger are we in labour and in hope. In our successes, lest we be puffed up with vanity—in our perplexities, lest we be discouraged—in our grief, lest we sink despairing into the abyss—and in our transports of joy, lest we be exalted above measure—there must ever be a full, voluntary, and conscious reliance on Jesus. Thus resting on Him and realising His life-giving power, we can say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
3. There must be supreme devotion to Christ.—All we have we owe to Him. He gave His all for us, and it is but a righteous return that we consecrate to Him all that is highest and best in ourselves. We must love Christ supremely, and then every faculty and power of our being will render homage and service to Him. We shall be obedient to His commands, we shall magnify His grace, we shall strive to walk worthy of His great name, and in all things seek to promote His glory. We pledge ourselves to Him for ever, and no consideration should tempt us to relax our devotion. George III. was a man of firm mind, with whom one had pleasure in acting. He was very slow in forming his opinion, very diligent in procuring every information on the subject; but once convinced, he would act with unflinching firmness. His beautiful speech about the Roman Catholic question shows his character: “I can give up my crown and retire from power, I can quit my palace and live in a cottage, I can lay my head on a block and lose my life, but I can not break my oath.”
III. The unvarying spirit in which Christian duty is to be done.—“Giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” They who do all things in Christ’s name will never want matter of thanksgiving to God. The apostle has frequently referred to this duty of gratitude, and he evidently regarded it as a very important element of the Christian character. It was Christianity that first taught the duty of being thankful even in trial and suffering. We are to thank God for the privilege of acting so that we may honour Him. A thankful spirit has a blessedness and a power of blessing which those only realise who cherish it. All thanksgiving is to be offered to God the Father by Jesus Christ, as He is our only mediator, and it is through Him we obtain whatever good the Father bestows upon us. The giving of thanks to God is one of the highest duties of religious worship; and if this be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, then all subordinate duties must be done in the same manner.
1. The name of Christ is the greatest power in the universe.
2. All duty gathers its significance and blessedness from its relation to Christ.
3. A thankful spirit is happy in enterprise, brave in difficulties, and patient in reverses.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSE
Colossians 3:17 (compared with 1 Corinthians 11:24). The Lord’s Supper the Sample of the Christian Life.
I. All the objects around us are to be regarded by us as being symbols and memorials of our Lord.
II. Every act of our life is to be done from the same motive as that holy communion.
III. All life, like the communion of the Lord’s Supper, may be and ought to be a showing forth of Christ’s death.
IV. This communion is in itself one of the mightiest means for making the whole of life like itself.—A. Maclaren.
Doing all in the Name of Christ.
Doing it as His agent.
We are not our own, but His.
Whatever it is right to do is His work.—T. G. Crippen.
Christ in the Practical Life.
Here we find a rule of life.
Here we find a motive.
Here we find our life redeemed.—Preacher’s Magazine.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:18. As it is fit in the Lord.—See Ephesians 5:22. The feeling of propriety St. Paul emphasises here, and limits it “in the Lord.”
Colossians 3:19. Be not bitter against them.—As love in its most degraded form might alternate with paroxysms of anger, St. Paul uses the nobler word for Christian love which casts out hatred as well as fear.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAGH.—Colossians 3:18-19
Duties of Husbands and Wives.
After the apostle has laid down the law of duty for the government of all Christians in the general conduct of life, he proceeds to show the application of the same law to the domestic relationships. Obedience to the law in the general is an excellent preparation for observing it in the particular: the best Christian will make the best husband or wife. The morality of Christianity is one of its brightest glories and most beneficent influences; it provides for the purity and happiness of domestic life, and where it rules all is peace, love, and contentment. Where polygamy prevails, as in heathen and Mahometan countries, the most lamentable domestic complications occur, and all is distraction and misery. The family is the source and pattern of society. If the family is corrupt and disorganised, society suffers. A holy, well-regulated household is a regenerative force in society. It is in the home that the social principle finds its highest development. There the tenderest feelings are roused, the deepest and most permanent impressions made, the foundation and first rough outlines of what we may become laid down and indicated, the first principle of good or evil imbibed, and the mightiest moral forces brought into play. Much, therefore, depends upon the understanding that exists between the husband and wife, and the way in which they discharge their mutual duties, as to what shall be the character of the household government. The apostle, in enforcing these relative duties, mentions the three classes which divide the domestic circle—husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants. He begins with the inferior relation in each class—wife, child, servant—perhaps, because the difficulty of obedience is greater, because in disputes it is the duty of the humbler party to submit, and because the discharge of duty by that party is the surest method of securing it in the other.
I. The duty of the wife is submission to the husband.—“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands” (Colossians 3:18).
1. This implies dependence.—It is the divine order that “the husband is the head of the wife.” In point of nature, and of their relation to God, they are both equal; but when brought into the married relation the husband has the first place, and the wife, as the weaker vessel, and under a sense of dependence, is called to submit. Where the order is reversed, and the wife takes the lead, mischief is sure to ensue. Not that woman is to be the slave and drudge of her husband; but the relationship between the two ought to be so adjusted by the power of religion that the wife is never rudely reminded of her state of dependence.
2. Implies respect.—It is difficult to respect some men, and still more difficult to love where we cannot respect. But the apostolic injunction is emphatic: “Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Though the husband be a reckless, incapable ne’er-do-well, the wife is to respect the position of her husband and show him deference as the head of the family. Alas! how many a noble woman has had her life embittered by a worthless husband, but who, with a heroism, truly sublime, and a love truly angelical, has bravely done her duty and striven to screen the faults of the man who caused her misery.
3. Implies obedience in all things lawful.—St. Peter refers to “the holy women in the old time, being in subjection unto their own husbands, even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Peter 3:5-6). A true wife is wholly devoted to her husband. She will care for his person, property, health, character, and reputation, as for her own. In all things reasonable and lawful she will rejoice to meet the requests of her husband and follow his counsel.
II. The submission of the wife to the husband is governed by religious principle.—“As it is fit in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18). The wife is first to submit herself fully to Christ, and, from love to Him, to submit herself to her own husband, and to look upon her subjection as service done to Christ. This will be a consolation and strength to her in many an unkind word from a cruel, apathetic, and unappreciative husband. It would never do for two wills to be ruling a family. There would be endless clashing and confusion. It is the divine arrangement that the husband is the head of the house, and “it is fit in the Lord” that the wife should be in subjection. She is not to forget her responsibility to God in a slavish, unreasoning, and sinful obedience to her husband. Governed by a pure and lofty religious principle, she may so fulfil her duty as to win, or at least disarm, her unreasonable partner. A wise submission may sometimes work wonders. She stoops to conquer. An old writer has said: “A wife is ordained for man, like a little Zoar—a city of refuge to fly to in all his troubles.”
III. The duty of the husband is to show affection towards the wife.—
1. This affection is to be genuinely manifested. “Husbands, love your wives” (Colossians 3:19). Obligation is not all on one side. The husband is not less bound to discharge his duty to his wife than the wife to him. Love is the sum of the husband’s duty, and that which will regulate every other. Where love rules, the family circle becomes a tranquil and cherished haven of rest, peace, harmony, and joy. Nor is it enough that this affection should be recognised as a matter of course—let it be manifested. That woman is a strange, heartless shrew who is unaffected by the gentle evidences of a devoted and manly love. The true wife needs, craves for, and knows how to appreciate a genuine and evident affection. Let the husband show the same tender and considerate regard to his wife as life advances and cares multiply as when he stood by her side at the altar, a lovely and confiding bride.
2. This affection is to be free from harshness.—“And be not bitter against them” (Colossians 3:19). It is evidently implied that the love of a Christian heart may be marred by a sour and morose temper. It is ungenerous and cruel to vent upon his wife and family the anger which the man had not the courage to display before those who roused it when mixing among them in the world. Bitterness may be manifested as much by a cold, repulsive silence as by the most stinging words of sharp and angry reproof, or by the irritating actions of a wilful and tantalising conduct. It is a species of savage and fiendish brutality for a husband to study how he can inflict the keenest torture on a loving and submissive nature. It sometimes requires the most assiduous art of the tenderest affection to repair the damage done by a single word. Amid the perplexities and trials of married life many occasions will arise in which mutual patience and forbearance will need to be exercised. Let love reign supreme, and banish the first symptoms of a harsh and churlish disposition.
1. Be careful whom you marry.
2. Beware of the first quarrel.
3. Bear with Christian resignation the life-consequences of an unfortunate choice.
4. Connubial bliss is attained only by the faithful exercise of mutual duties.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:20. For this is well-pleasing.—Ephesians 6:1 : “This is right.” What in Ephesians is regarded as an equitable due from child to parent is here looked at in another light. The best commentary is Luke 2:51-52. The child Jesus was subject to his parents and increased in favour with God.
Colossians 3:21. Fathers, provoke not your children.—The word for “provoke” is not the same as in Ephesians 6:4. There the word is “do not exasperate.” Here it is “do not irritate.” The difficulty of discriminating between them may perhaps show how near the original words are in meaning. “Irritation is the first consequence of being too exacting with children, and irritation leads to moroseness” (Lightfoot). Lest they be discouraged.—Broken-spirited. It is a sad sight to see a man for whom the stress of life has been too much, but to see a child cowed and dejected—the world has no sadder spectacle.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 3:20-21
Duties of Parents and Children.
It is God who hath set the solitary in families. The domestic constitution is the formal type of all governments. If discipline is neglected in the home, it is rarely that the loss is made up when the untaught becomes a citizen of the world. Coleridge has well said: “If you bring up your children in a way which puts them out of sympathy with the religious feelings of the nation in which they live, the chances are that they will ultimately turn out ruffians or fanatics, and one as likely as the other.” “A wise son maketh a glad father; but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother” (Proverbs 10:1). Lord Bacon observes that fathers have most comfort of the good proof of their sons, but the mothers have most discomfort of their ill proof. It is therefore of vital importance that the reciprocal duties of parents and children should be faithfully and diligently observed. These verses indicate the character of filial duty and of parental authority. Observe:—
I. That the duty of the child to the parent is to obey.—
1. This obedience is universal. “Children, obey your parents in all things” (Colossians 3:20). The Old Testament law commands, “Honour thy father and thy mother”; and the most signal way in which a child can honour his parents is to obey them. Parents have learnt wisdom by experience; they know the dangers that threaten their children, and are in a position to offer wise and judicious counsel. Filial obedience should be prompt, cheerful, self-denying, uniform; not dilatory and reluctant. It is universal in its obligation, and is binding, not only in those commands that are pleasant to obey, but in those that are troublesome, and that seem unreasonable and perverse, so long as they do not involve a violation of divine law. It is a painful spectacle to see a child defy parental authority, and even exult in his rebellion and in the distress it causes his father and mother. But filial disobedience rarely reaches such a pitch of cruel retaliation without there having been some defect in the early training. The child who renders due reverence to his parents is sure to meet with the rich rewards of heaven in the enjoyment of temporal and spiritual blessing.
2. This obedience is qualified and limited by the divine approval.—“For this is well-pleasing unto God” (Colossians 3:20). It is only when the commands of the parent are in harmony with the will of God that the child is bound to obey, and a powerful motive to practise obedience is derived from the fact that it “is well-pleasing unto the Lord.” The parent has no authority to enforce obedience beyond what has been given to him of God; and the exercise of that authority must ever be in subjection to the higher authority of the divine law. Obedience to parents in what is right is obedience to the Lord. It is the way of safety and of happiness. A little boy, about seven years old, was on a visit to a lady who was very fond of him. One day, at breakfast, there was some hot bread on the table, and it was handed to him; but he would not take it. “Do you not like hot bread?” asked the lady. “Yes,” said the boy; “I like it very much.” “Then, my dear, why do you do not take some?” “Because,” he said, “my father does not wish me to eat hot bread.” “But your father is a great way off,” said the lady, “and will not know whether you eat it or not. You may take it for once; there will be no harm in that.” “No, ma’am; I will not disobey my father and my mother. I must do what they have told me to do, although they are a great way off. I would not touch it if I was sure nobody would see me. I myself should know it, and that would be enough to make me unhappy.” A reckless disobedience of parental authority will not go unpunished. The example of Christ’s subjection to his earthly parents exalts filial duty into a sublime and holy exercise.
II. That the duty of the parent to the child is to rule.—
1. The parent is not to rule in a spirit of exasperating severity. “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger” (Colossians 3:21). The obedience of the child will be very much influenced by the character of the parental government. Counsel, remonstrance, and even chastisement will be necessary in the successful training of children. But discipline is to be administered so wisely, lovingly, and firmly as not to irritate to rebellion, but to subdue and bend into obedience. An excessive severity is as baneful as an excessive indulgence.
“The voice of parents is the voice of God,
For to their children they are heaven’s lieutenants;
Made fathers, not for common uses merely,
But to steer
The wanton freight of youth through storms and dangers,
Which, with full sails, they bear upon and straighten
The mortal line of life they bend so often.
For these are we made fathers, and for these
May challenge duty on our children’s part.
Obedience is the sacrifice of angels,
Whose form you carry.”—Shakespeare.
2. To rule in a spirit of exasperating severity tends only to dishearten.—“Lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). If the child sees that all his endeavours to please are in vain, and that he is repulsed with sternness and cruel severity, he loses heart, and becomes sullen or morose, or is stung into a state of desperate revenge. To be perpetually fault-finding, and to gratify your angry passions in brutal, savage chastisement, will crush the spirit of any youth, and perhaps transform him into a monster more terrible than yourself. Children are to be led, not driven; to be treated as reasonable beings, not forced like brute animals; to be encouraged by commendation where it is merited, and the defects of their obedience kindly interpreted. A certain writer has significantly said: “What if God should place in your hand a diamond, and tell you to inscribe on it a sentence which should be read at the last day, and shown there as an index of your own thoughts and feelings? What care, what caution, would you exercise in the selection! Now this is what God has done. He has placed before you the immortal minds of your children, more imperishable than the diamond, on which you are about to inscribe every day and every hour, by your instruction, by your spirit, or by your example, something that will remain and be exhibited for or against you at the judgment-day.”
1. To rule wisely we must first learn to obey.
2. Disobedience is the essence of all sin.
3. That government is the most effective that tempers justice with mercy.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 3:23. Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily.—Ephesians 6:7, “With good will doing service.” R.V. gives the distinction which is obliterated by “do, do” of A.V. Whatsoever ye do, work heartily (margin, from the soul).
Colossians 3:25. He that doeth wrong.—The participle of the original points to the habitual practice of wrong-doing. There is no respect of persons.—In the Ephesian letter this consideration is urged upon the masters as it is here upon the slaves. Both are amenable to the same authority.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 3:22-25—Ch. Colossians 4:1
Duties of Masters and Servants.
The jealous conflict between capital and labour threatens the good understanding that was wont to exist between employer and employed with a serious rupture. Such a rupture would benefit neither side and would inflict incalculable disaster on both. There are economic laws, which regulate the employment of capital and labour, which no number of combinations and unions among masters and servants can ever set aside. Though a temporary advantage may, in extraordinary times, be snatched by either party, the law of supply and demand inevitably tends to balance and equalise all interests. It would be well, therefore, for masters and servants to ponder the teaching of the New Testament regarding their reciprocal duties. It was Christianity that rescued the servant from a condition of abject civil slavery, and placed him in his just relation to his fellow-subjects in the commonwealth. The farther men drift away from the Christian spirit in seeking to adjust the questions between capital and labour, the more difficult and complicated they become. It is only as these questions are settled on a Christian basis, in harmony with the laws of a sound political economy, that party jealousies will subside, and the best understanding between masters and servants be established. Observe:—
I. That the duty of the servant is to obey his master in all things relating to his state of servitude.—“Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh” (Colossians 3:22). There is nothing degrading in service. It is the employment of angels. “They serve Him day and night.” It is ennobled by the example of Christ, who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” To obey in all things is not always pleasant or easy; but the Christian servant will strive to accomplish the task. He consults the master’s will, not his own; he does the master’s way, not his own; he considers the master’s time, not his own. His obedience is universally binding in everything relating to his state of servitude, but is restricted to that. His employer is his master only according to the flesh, has control over his bodily powers, and over the time in which he has engaged to labour; but he has not power over the spirit. The master cannot demand obedience in any matter forbidden of God.
II. That the duty of the servant is to be done in a spirit of sincerity.—
1. It is to be free from duplicity. “Not with eye-service as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart” (Colossians 3:22). The servants of whom the apostle writes were slaves, and treated merely as chattels. There are supposed to have been sixty millions of slaves in the Roman empire. From the treatment they usually received, they were greatly tempted to be merely eye-servants—diligent when their master was present, but indolent and reckless in his absence. Christianity has elevated man from slavery, and provided him with the highest motives to moral action. It teaches that service is to be rendered, not with a hypocritical deference and sham industriousness, but with a single, undivided heart, doing the best at all times for the master.
2. It is to be done in the fear of God.—“Fearing God”—the one Lord and Master, as contrasted with the master according to the flesh. The Christian servant has a conscience to satisfy and a heavenly Master to please. The fear of the Lord is the holiest motive-power in all acceptable service. He who serves his earthly master as he seeks to serve God will take care that the divine and human interests do not come into collision with each other.
III. That the duty of the servant is to be discharged from the loftiest religious principle.—
1. In every duty God is to be recognised. “And whatsoever ye do, do it as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23). The Christian servant must look higher than his earthly master; that is a service that may be rendered mechanically, and by men who make no pretence to be Christian. The true servant will give Christ the chief place in his service—will so act that his obedience shall honour Christ and be acceptable to Him. His best efforts may fail to satisfy the exactions of an unreasonable master, and the faithful servant will find his consolation and recompense in the fact that he aims to secure the divine approval. This will give a moral dignity to the most menial employment, and exalt the common drudgery of toil into a means of religious refreshment and invigoration.
2. In every duty the best powers should be exercised.—“Do it heartily” (Colossians 3:23). If the heart be engaged, it will put into operation the best powers of the whole man. No work is well done when the heart is not in it. Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well; and surely no power can move the springs of action so completely as the ever-present thought that, whatever we do, we “do it as to the Lord, and not unto men.” Our best efforts fall immeasurably below the lofty ideal of Christian service; but it is no small commendation when the divine Master can declare respecting the anxious and delighted worker, “He hath done what he could.” Acting on such a principle, the capacity for the highest kind of work is cultivated, the sphere of usefulness widened, and the most coveted honours and enjoyments of the faithful servant secured.
IV. That faithful service will meet with a glorious reward.—“Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24). Under the sinister judgment passed by Satan on the devotion of Job there lurks an encouraging truth—man does not serve God for nought. Though there is nothing meritorious in the best actions of the busiest life, yet it has pleased God, in the exuberance of His condescending bounty, to provide abundant recompense for all work done as unto Him. The reward of the inheritance is in generous disproportion to the service rendered; the service is marred and limited by the numberless imperfections of the human; the reward is amply freighted with the overflowing munificence and glittering splendours of the divine. It is the inheritance of imperishable happiness—of incorruptible and unfading glory—of heaven—of God. What an encouragement to work!
V. That every act of injustice will meet with impartial retribution.—“But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done, and there is no respect of persons” (Colossians 3:25). Some regard the wrong-doer referred to in this verse as the servant who defrauds the master of his service; others, as the master who defrauds the servant of his just recompense. But the words announce a general principle which is equally applicable to both. The philosophers of Greece taught, and the laws of Rome assumed, that the slave was a chattel, and that as a chattel he had no rights. The New Testament places the relation of master and servant in a wholly new light, and shows that between both there is a reciprocity of duties and of penalties. The injustice done in the world, whether by master or by servant, shall be impartially redressed, and the injured one vindicated at the day of final retribution.
VI. That the duty of the master is to deal righteously towards his servants.—
1. He is to act towards his servants according to the principles of justice and equity. “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal” (Colossians 3:1). If the masters here addressed were exhorted to deal fairly and justly with those who were their slaves, not less fully is the modern master bound to act justly and equitably towards those who serve him. The position of the master is one of great power and authority; it is, at the same time, one of solemn responsibility. Capital has not only its cares and privileges, it has also its duties, and these cannot be abused with impunity. The communistic doctrine of equality has no countenance here. If all were socially and financially equal to-day, the inequality would be restored to-morrow. The duty of the master is to give to his servants that which is righteous and reciprocally fair. Treat them as human beings, with human rights, and as rational and religious beings, who, like yourselves, have an endless future to prepare for. Give them fair remuneration for work done. Be generous in prosperous times, and considerate when adversity comes. While acting commercially according to the laws of political economy, which no sane business man can disregard, yield in all justness and fairness to the impulse of the higher law of Christian charity and kindness. Interest yourselves in the physical, moral, and religious welfare of your work-people. Good masters make good servants.
2. He is to remember that he is responsible to a higher Master. “Knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 3:1). The master is not less bound than the servant to do his duty as unto the Lord. They are both servants of the one great Lord and Master of all. “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” Do not impose impossible tasks upon your servants. Avoid an overbearing tyranny, and “forbear threatening.” Exercise your authority with humanity and gentleness. Use your wealth, reputation, and influence in promoting the best interest of your work-people, and in serving the Lord Christ. Remember that whatever you do to the poorest servant of your heavenly Master is reckoned and recompensed as done to Himself.
1. Social distinctions afford opportunities for personal discipline.
2. Every rank in life has its special perils.
3. The law of duty is binding in all ranks.
4. The dust of both masters and servants will soon mingle in a common grave.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 3:23. Do all for God.
I. The Christian’s practical life comprises working, acting, and suffering.
II. Abide with God in your calling.—Intention gives a moral character to actions.
III. Motives to duty.—
1. Mechanical activity.
2. Supernatural motive. “Do it heartily as to the Lord.”
3. Our good intention should be renewed at intervals.
4. Our lesser actions should be brought under the control of Christian principle.—E. M. Goulburn.
A Hearty Christianity.
I. The highest end of all work is work done for God and to God.—
1. Not work done for self.
2. Not work done for society.
II. The highest kind of work of which we are capable is that which engages all the powers of our spiritual nature.—“Do it heartily.”
1. The character of the work we do will be decided by the state of our heart.
2. By the predominating impulse of the heart.
3. The character of our work as a whole will be influenced by the heartiness we throw into every single duty. “Whatsoever ye do.”
1. A hearty Christianity is a happy Christianity.
2. Is not easily daunted by difficulties.
3. Is aggressive.
Colossians 3:23-25. Piety in the Household.
I. We are serving the Lord.—This will dignify the most insignificant duty.
II. We should seek to be actuated by the highest possible motive.—Out of the heart, or influenced by the affections. The highest motive will cover the lowest.
III. The Lord Himself will give us the highest reward.—With Him is no respect of persons.—Homiletic Monthly.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Colossians 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34