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THE RELATIVE DUTIES EXPLAINED
Col 3:18 to Colossians 4:1. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.
IT is often a matter of complaint with some, that many who have been ordained to preach the Gospel leave the great and mysterious doctrines of the Gospel on the back ground, and bring forward little else than dry morality. But, whatever ground there may be for that complaint, it may be well to inquire, Whether there be not too much reason to complain of another class, who pay such exclusive attention to the doctrines, as almost entirely to overlook the duties, of the Gospel? Amongst some it would be almost thought superfluous, and even wrong, to devote an entire discourse to the subject of moral duties; since, according to their views, the discharge of them may well be left to the simple operation of faith, without any distinct statement of them from the teachers of Christianity. But so thought not the Apostle Paul On the contrary, in those two epistles (to the Ephesians, and Colossians) in which he enters most deeply into the mysteries of Christianity, he enlarges most fully on the relative duties. We are persuaded that a similar plan ought to be adopted by every minister of Christ. We should have no exclusive preference for doctrines or duties, but should put each in their place, and bring them both forward in their proper season. Convinced of this, we enter with great pleasure on the consideration of our relative duties; that is, of the duties,
Of husbands and wives—
It is worthy of observation, that, not in this place only, but in all other places where the Apostles speak of the relative duties, they mention those of the inferior first. The reason of this seems to be, that the duties of the inferior arise solely from the command of God, and are totally independent of the conduct of the superior; so that no neglect of duty on the one part can justify any neglect of it on the other. Agreeably therefore to the Apostolic plan, we shall notice the duty,
[To you are assigned obedience and subjection; partly, because you were created after man, and for the sake of man; and partly because you were first in the transgression, and were the means of bringing ruin upon man and upon all his posterity [Note: 1 Timothy 2:11-54.2.14. with Genesis 3:16.]. The extent to which obedience to your husband is required of you is indeed exceeding great: it reaches to every thing that is not contrary to the will of God: it is, if I may so speak, co-extensive with the obedience which the Church owes to the Lord Jesus Christ; and your obedience is due to your husband, as to the Lord himself. I am aware that this expression is very strong; but I conceive it is not at all stronger than the declarations of St. Paul. True, in the text it is only said, “Submit yourselves, as it is fit in the Lord:” but in the Epistle to the Ephesians he draws the very parallel that I have drawn, and shews that your duty to your husband corresponds exactly with the Church’s duty to the Lord Jesus Christ: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as unto the Lord: for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing [Note: Ephesians 5:22-49.5.24.].” (Of course, this will be understood of obedience only, and not of dependence; for that were absurd and impious in the extreme.) In the whole of this obedience, she must feel that it is due to him by God’s special appointment: that he is her head, and her lord, whom she is bound, not only to obey, but to obey with “reverence [Note: Ephesians 5:33.],” “even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord [Note: 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Peter 3:5-60.3.6.].”
This may be thought to sound harsh by those who are not accustomed to consider what the Scripture speaks on this subject: but it will not be thought so, if we contemplate what God has required,]
[Your duty, is to “love your wives,” and never on any occasion to entertain an unkind feeling towards them. A proud, haughty, imperious carriage towards them is most offensive to God, who will regard every harsh, bitter, or contemptuous expression towards them as an abuse of your authority and a violation of his commands. Though he has constituted you lords, he has not authorized you to be tyrants; but requires you to be precisely such lords over your wives, as Christ is over his Church. You are to govern, it is true; but you are to govern only for the good of the wife: you are to seek only, and at all times, her best interests, and to promote to the utmost of your power her real happiness. You must not require any thing unreasonable at her hands, nor ever fail to recompense with testimonies of your love the efforts which she makes to please you. Nor must you merely endeavour to render her happy, but you must be ready to make great sacrifices for this end. What the Lord Jesus Christ has done for his Church, is set forth as the proper model and pattern of your duty towards your wife: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it.” O! what an example is here! Methinks, no wife would complain of the obedience that is required of her, if the authority of her husband were exercised in such a way as this: on the contrary, obedience on her part would be her chief delight. Know then, ye husbands, that this is the duty assigned to you: if your wives are to be obedient, as the Church is to Christ, ye also on your part are to be loving, even as Christ is to the Church. “Your wives should be to you as your own flesh. Now no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord does the Church [Note: Ephesians 5:28-49.5.29; Ephesians 5:33.]:” and precisely in the same way should you exercise all imaginable tenderness towards your wives, and be as careful of paining them as you would be of suffering any thing to wound the apple of your eye.]
Next to the duties of husbands and wives will naturally follow those,
Of parents and children—
Here again we are called, in the first place, to notice those of the inferior:
[Obedience is your duty also: nor is there any limit to the exercise of this duty, except where you are required to violate a command of God. Reason indeed is sufficient to teach you this: for your own ignorance and inexperience must of necessity direct you to look up to your parents for instruction and guidance. But revelation teaches you to regard the authority of your parents as God’s authority, and to consider obedience to them as obedience to him. In fulfilling the commands of parents, there should be no reluctance: on the contrary, to please, and serve, and honour his parents should be the desire and delight of every child. He should have no wish to shake off their yoke; no desire to act independently of them. Nor let this be thought hard: for God has annexed a special promise to the fulfilment of this duty: the command relating to it is said to be “the first commandment with promise [Note: Ephesians 6:1-49.6.3.];” and it is generally to be observed, that the blessing of God does rest in a more especial manner, throughout the whole of their lives, on those who have honoured and obeyed their earthly parents. This may be accounted for on natural principles; for the dispositions which are exercised in filial obedience argue a degree of sell-government, which will go far to render a man both amiable and prosperous in every situation and condition of life. But besides this, the blessing of God will assuredly rest on such characters; and He, as the universal Parent, will recompense into their bosom their compliance with this command.]
[Both in the text, and in the parallel passage in the Epistle to the Ephesians, there is a restraint laid on parents with regard to the exercise of their authority: it is not to be attended with harshness or severity, “lest they provoke their children to anger, and discourage them” from attempting to fulfil their duty, under the idea, that, whatever efforts they may use to please their parents, it will he a hopeless task. Parents have much to answer for, when they produce such an effect as this on their children’s minds. If on the one hand it be said, that “there is much folly in the heart of a child, and that the rod of correction must drive it out,” it must be remembered, on the other hand, that the mind of a child may soon be cast down, and that we may by harsh restrictions and undue severity augment that very rebellion which we endeavour to subdue. There can be no doubt but that many parents harden their children’s hearts against their authority in the first instance, and ultimately against the authority of God himself, purely by the tyranny which they exercise, and by the continual irritations which they occasion [Note: That is an humiliating view which the Apostle gives of parents, but, alas! how true in too many instances! Hebrews 12:10.]: and in the last day they will be found, in too many instances, the prime movers, and the real causes of their children’s eternal ruin. Fathers, be upon your guard respecting this; and instead of thus driving your children to despondency, endeavour to bring them up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord [Note: Ephesians 6:4.].” See in what way God dealeth with his children, how he bears with their infirmities, and consults their best interests [Note: Psalms 103:8-19.103.13.]: so should you do [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:11.], and, like Abraham of old, be solicitous only for their eternal welfare [Note: Genesis 18:19.].]
There is yet one other relation specified in the text, namely, that,
Of masters and servants—
It has pleased God that there should be different ranks and orders of society, and that to each should be assigned appropriate duties. We notice those,
[Your rank in society is ordered of the Lord: nor, when you hear in what light you are viewed by him, will you see any reason to repine at it. By virtue of your office you are required to “obey those who are your masters according to the flesh:” and to obey them cheerfully too, and without reserve. Nor in the discharge of this duty are you to act in the absence of your master any otherwise than you would in his immediate presence: you are to render obedience “in singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart [Note: Ephesians 6:5-49.6.6.].” What an elevated view does this give of your situation and employments! You appear to be servants of men: and so indeed you are: but you are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ: and it is your privilege to consider yourselves as living in his service, as much as if he were to come down to sojourn again on earth, and to admit you into the number of his domestics. Whatever your particular office be, you are privileged, so to speak, as altogether to forget your servitude to man, and to consider yourselves as performing the office of angels in the service of your God and Saviour. It is your privilege also to expect your wages from him. What you receive from man, is for your body only: but you shall have wages for your soul also, even “the reward of an eternal inheritance [Note: See the text.].” This is represented as the state even of slaves, and of those who were called to serve Jewish or Heathen masters: how much more then is it the happy state of you who live in Christian families, and especially where God in Christ Jesus is loved and feared! Yes, “whether ye be bond or free, your Master, your work, your wages are the same [Note: Ephesians 6:8.].” Act then agreeably to this exalted view of your station. Even though you should have “froward and unkind masters,” still act the same: and, if your work is thereby rendered the more difficult, your reward shall be proportionably advanced [Note: 1 Peter 2:18-60.2.20.].]
[As your servants are to put you in the place of Christ, so are you to be as in the place of Christ to them: and exactly such a muster as he, if in your place, would be, such are ye to be to those who are under your command. Would he never be unreasonable in his expectations or commands? So neither are ye to be. Would he be kind and indulgent? So must ye be. Would he delight to make his servants happy; and would he consult in all things their eternal welfare? So are you to act, “doing in your station the same thing tn them,” as they in theirs are required to do to you [Note: Ephesians 6:9.]. Especially must you “forbear all threatening” words or looks; “remembering that you also have a Master in heaven, with whom there is no respect of persons,” and who, as their avenger, will call you to an account for all acts of unkindness or oppression towards the meanest of mankind. In a word, see how your God directs and governs you; and let him be your model for your government of those whom he has graciously committed to your care.]
We may see here,
The extent and excellence of true religion—
[Religion enters into every situation and relation of life. It finds the whole world disordered like a body, every joint of which from head to foot is dislocated: but by its operation on the hearts of men it sets every joint in its place, and diffuses through the whole a divine unction, whereby every joint is set at liberty, and performs with ease its proper functions. Those in a higher and more honourable station despise not those which are lower and less honourable; neither are they envied by them: but each occupies with content and satisfaction the place assigned it by its Maker, and finds its own happiness in contributing, according to its ability, to the good of the whole. If it be said, that these effects are not visible in the world, even amongst those who profess religion; I answer, that this only shews how little there is of true religion in the world. The first ages of the Church display in all its beauty the native tendency of Christianity: and, if the same effects are nut alike visible now, it is not owing to any want of efficiency in religion itself, but to the low state of religion in the world. In proportion as vital godliness prevails, it does, and ever must, manifest its practical influence upon the heart and life.]
The importance of studying the character of Christ—
[Christ ought to be well known to us in his work and offices as the Saviour of the world. But we must not confine our attention to his mediatorial work: we must also contemplate him as an example which we are to follow in every part of our conduct both towards God and man. Behold him as a son and a servant; what an entire devotion was there in him to his Father’s will! It was his meat and drink to do it. View him also as the Husband and Lord of his Church; what inconceivable love and kindness does he exercise towards her at all times, notwithstanding her innumerable defects! Let us then study his character; and whether we move in the higher or inferior relation, let it be the one aim of our lives to walk in his steps, and to follow his example.]
The way in which to judge of our spiritual attainments—
[Religion is a practical thing, and is intended, as we have shewn, to make us fill to advantage every relation in life. Now I grant that there are many who discharge in a most commendable manner their relative duties, whilst yet they have no regard for God in their hearts. Consequently, I cannot exactly say, that the fulfilment of relative duties will stamp you as religious characters: but this I must say, that the not discharging of these aright will prove to demonstration, either that “your religion is altogether vain,” or that it is at a very low ebb indeed. But supposing that there be no manifest neglect of these duties, I would ask, How much is there of God in them? Is the authority which you either obey or exercise, regarded as God’s? Is his will considered as the rule of all that you do, and his glory as the end? Here is the point to be inquired into: it is this which makes your actions pleasing and acceptable to him: and I may add, that it is this which will make obedience easy and delightful to yourselves. Habituate yourselves then to realize the thought, that it is Christ whom you serve, or in whose place you stand whilst others are serving you. So shall your whole deportment become exquisitely pure, and holy, and refined; and you will “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”]
THE CHARACTER AND AIM OF A CHRISTIAN MINISTER
Colossians 4:12. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
LOVE is the essence of the Christian religion. The heathens themselves noticed the fervour of the love which subsisted among the first Christians. Ministers in particular feel a distinguished regard for those to whom they have been signally useful [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-52.2.8.]. Epaphras is set forth as a most eminent pattern of affection and zeal.
The office he sustained—
Epaphras was perhaps the same with Epaphroditus. He was of Colosse, and perhaps the founder of the Church established there; he sustained the most honourable of all offices, being “a servant of Christ.” This office every Christian may be said to bear, but ministers bear it in a higher and more exalted sense: They are,
[A steward has the care and management of the family committed to him: so Christ’s ministers have the mysteries of the Gospel committed to them [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:7.]. They are to dispense these mysteries to men [Note: Luke 12:42.]: hence we are taught to consider them expressly in this view [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:1.].]
[They are ambassadors from the court of heaven [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:19-47.5.20.]: they deliver to men his messages of grace and mercy: they negociate, as it were, a peace between God and man.]
[They stand in his stead [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:20.]; the word they speak is not theirs, but his [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:13.]. The reception or rejection of them will be deemed a reception or rejection of Christ himself [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:8.].]
[They are the instruments whereby he is known and glorified: hence they are expressly called “the glory of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:23.].”]
In this office he acted worthy of the trust reposed in him.
The love he manifested—
Love will invariably manifest itself in acts of kindness towards those who are the objects of it. A minister’s love will shew itself most towards the souls of men; but none can do good to souls unless God himself vouchsafe his blessing [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:7.]: hence Epaphras made application to God in prayer.
He did this fervently—
[It is said of Jacob that he “wrestled” with God all night in prayer [Note: Compare Genesis 32:24; Genesis 32:28. with Hosea 12:4.]. Thus did Epaphras on behalf of the Christians at Colosse [Note: This is implied in the term ἀγωριζόμενος.]. How desirable is it that every minister should be so occupied!]
He did it constantly—
[He was not satisfied with preaching to them, or praying with them: he remembered them “always” in his secret prayers before God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:10. with Isaiah 62:7.]; nor did his absence from them diminish his concern for their welfare. This was the most unequivocal testimony of his affection that he could possibly give them [Note: It is easier to preach to men ten hours, than to pray for them one.].]
Nor could he rest satisfied, while his people had a sin to be forgiven, or a want to be supplied.
The end he aimed at—
He desired that his Christian friends might be Israelites indeed; no doubt he had exerted himself much and often to make them so. He sought the same blessed end in all his prayers for them:
That they might have no secret reserves in their obedience—
[He well knew that one sin indulged would destroy the soul [Note: Jeremiah 48:10.]: he was aware that nothing but the most unreserved dedication of ourselves to God’s service would be of any avail [Note: Psalms 119:6.]: he therefore prayed that they might do “all” the will of God.]
That they might attain the highest degrees of holiness—
[There is no absolute perfection or completeness in the creature; but there are high degrees of holiness to which the upright may attain [Note: Τέλειοικαὶ πεπληρωμένοι imply, that he wished them not to continue babes, but to arrive at a state of manhood; and not to be satisfied with a scanty measure of grace and knowledge, but to be “filled with all the fulness of God.”]. He longed that they might be as eminent as possible [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23.].]
That they might be steadfast to the end—
[Many “endure only for a season, and in a time of temptation fall away;” but the apostatizing of persons who have been hopeful, is death, as it were, to a faithful minister of Christ [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.]. He knew that there were many seeking to turn them from the faith [Note: Colossians 2:8.]: he therefore sought to have them so established that they might “stand.”]
We may observe from hence,
What should be the standard of a minister’s preaching—
[Faithful ministers are often thought too strict and severe; but if they should desire such perfection for their people, they should labour also to promote it by their preaching. If they should lower the standard of men’s duty, they would betray and murder the souls committed to them. Let not any then condemn the strictness or severity of what they hear, unless it exceed the Scripture standard.]
What should be the measure of the people’s practice—
[There is no attainment with which we should be satisfied, while there remains any thing to be attained. What ministers should desire for us, we ought to desire and aim at for ourselves. Whatever then we may have attained, let us forget what is behind, and press forward toward that which is before.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Colossians 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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