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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Colossians 3

 

 

Verses 1-25

THE COUNTERPART TO our identification with Christ in His death is our identification with Him in His resurrection. The effect of the one is to disconnect us from man’s world, man’s wisdom, man’s religion. The effect of the other is to put us into touch with God’s world and with all that is there. The first four verses of chapter 3 unfold the blessedness into which we are introduced.

There are things which find their centre in Christ seated in heavenly glory. They are “things above,” that is, things which are heavenly in character. On these things our minds and affections are to be set, and not on earthly things. At the present moment Christ is not in manifestation here, He is hid in God. Now He is our life, and all the hidden springs of our life are consequently hidden with Him in God. The day approaches when He will be manifested, and then we shall be manifested with Him in glory. It will be quite clear in that day where our real life is found.

It is, alas! not nearly so clear today. Yet our life today lies just exactly where it will then. This is what makes this truth so very practical. The unbeliever necessarily lives and moves and has all his thoughts in “things on the earth.” As a fallen creature estranged from God he knows nothing else. Still there is a very great danger of our getting absorbed with earthly things. Hence the need for these exhortations.

The fact is we have an altogether new sphere of life. Our interests centre in the right hand of God, and not in our homes or businesses, however important these may be in their place as furnishing us with occasions for serving the will of God. We set our minds upon things above, not by reposing in arm-chairs indulging in dreamy and mystical imaginings as to things that may be in heaven, but rather by setting our minds supremely upon Christ, and seeking in all things the furtherance of Heaven’s interests. The British ambassador in Paris sets his mind upon British things by seeking British interests in French circumstances, and not by continually sitting down to try and recall to his memory what British scenery is like.

As risen with Christ, then, we are lifted into His heavenly interests and permitted to seek them while still on earth. A position of extraordinary elevation, this! How little do we go about as those who are risen with Christ into another region of things, and that a heavenly one! How much do we get our minds clogged with earthly things!

The Apostle recognized how great and how many the hindrances are and hence he exhorted us to mortify certain things. The “members which are upon the earth,” of which he speaks in verse Colossians 3:5, are not of course the actual members of our bodies. The term is used metaphorically as indicating certain moral, or rather immoral, features of an earthly nature which characterized us more or less in our unconverted days. We now have heavenly interests and therefore these purely earthly features are to be mortified; that is, put to death.

Put to death is a strong and forcible expression. Our tendency is to parley with these things, and sometimes even to play with them and make provision for them. Our safety however, lies in action of a ruthless kind. Sword in hand, so to speak, we are to meet them without any idea of giving quarter. We should rather meet them after the fashion of Samuel who hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord.

But there are other things besides those specified in verse Colossians 3:5, which we must have done with, and these are mentioned in verses Colossians 3:8-9. It is not now, “Mortify,” but, “put off.” Once we lived wrapped up in these things as in a garment. When men looked at us that is what they saw. But they are to be seen no more. The ugly garment that once characterized us is to be visible no more. Another garment is to be put on as we shall see when we arrive at verse 12.

Notice how much the things mentioned in verses Colossians 3:8-9 have to do with our tongues, and consequently with our hearts which express themselves thereby. Sins of the tongue are terribly common even among Christians. We all know the kind of words that are provoked by anger, wrath and malice. Would any true believer blaspheme? Hardly, yet how very easily it is to fall into speaking of God and of divine things in a light and irreverent way. How easy too it is to utter unsavoury things with our lips, even if we do not go so far as “filthy communications.” And what about lying? An Ananias or a Sapphira may still be found. And we may go further and assert that every one of us who possesses a sensitive conscience knows right well that it is no easy thing to stick to absolute and rigid truth in all our utterances.

Truth, however, is incumbent upon us because we have put off the old man and have put on the new. This is what we have done in our conversion, and the exhortations to put off and put on in verses Colossians 3:8; Colossians 3:12 are based upon it. Conversion means that we have learnt to judge and condemn and refuse the old order of man and his character, and to put on the new man which is God’s creation and partakes of His character. We do not for one moment say that we understood this or realized it at the moment of our conversion. But we do say, in the light of this Scripture, that this is what was really involved in our conversion, and that it is high time that we do understand and realize it.

In this new man the distinctions of this world—whether national, religious, cultural or social—simply do not exist. Christ is everything, and in all who have put on the man, for the new man is a reproduction of Himself.

Just what the old man is and what the new man is, is not easy to grasp and still less easy to explain. In both expressions we have a certain character of man personified. In the one you have the Adam character, in the other Christ. Only it is not just idealism but a real transaction. The Adam order is judged and we have done with it and put on Christ and consequently the character of His life. We put it on however not just as a man may don a new coat, but rather as a bird dons a new dress of feathers after moulting. The new character grows naturally out of the new life we have in Christ.

In verses Colossians 3:12-15 we find portrayed the character that we are to put on. It is just the opposite to those things that we are to put off according to verses Colossians 3:8-9. We are to put off the characteristics of the old man because we have put off the old man. We are to put on the characteristics of the new man because we have put on the new man. What we are to be hinges entirely upon what we are. We are the elect of God—if indeed we are believers—holy and beloved of God. From this flows what we are to be. Grace always works thus—first what we are, then what we should be.

In these verses CHRIST is in evidence. It is His character that we are to wear. If a standard is set as to the forgiveness we are to accord to others it is, “as Christ forgave you.” The peace that is to rule in our hearts is “the peace of Christ,” for so it should read, and not “the peace of God,” as in our Authorized Version.

Also the word, “quarrel,” in verse Colossians 3:13 is really “complaint,” as the margin of a reference Bible shows. Have we ever heard of any Christian having a complaint against another? Ever heard of a complaint! we should reply. Why the air is frequently thick with complaints! The difficulty would be to discover any Christian company without them! Well, see what is enjoined upon us in connection with such—forbearance and forgiveness; and that after the pattern of Christ Himself. For this we need the humbleness of mind, the meekness and long-suffering mentioned in verse Colossians 3:12, as well as the charity, or love, which verse Colossians 3:14 enjoins. Love is the bond of perfectness for it is the very nature of God.

The peace of Christ is that of which He spoke in the upper chamber the night before He suffered. “My peace I give unto you,” He said. It is that rest of heart and mind which results from perfect confidence in the Father’s love and perfect subjection to the Father’s will. In our chapter we are reminded that we are called to this peace in one body. Consequently, the peace ruling in all our hearts, an atmosphere of peace pervades the whole body. The closing words of the verse, “and be ye thankful,” are significant.

The men of this age are peculiarly marked by unthankfulness—see, 2 Timothy 3:2. They see the hand of God in nothing, and if perchance things go well with them they only say “My luck was in.” It is our privilege to see the hand of God in all things, and, walking in His fear, to trace His ways with us in a thankful spirit.

The peace of Christ is followed by, `’the word of Christ,” in verse 16. His word gives us all the direction we need and it is to dwell in us, to have its home in our hearts. Further it is to dwell in us richly. Our hearts and minds are to be filled with it in all wisdom. We are not only to know it but also to know how to apply it to all the problems that life presents to us. And we are to be so filled with it that it overflows from us, and we communicate it the one to the other. In our every-day dealings the one with the other we are to be able to instruct each other in that which is His will, and also to warn each other against all that would divert us from His will.

Further we should be marked by praise and song. Only our hymns and songs are to be spiritual in their character, and the Lord is to be the Object before us in them—they are to be “to the Lord.” Moreover we must be careful as to our own spiritual state even in our singing. Our songs are to be with grace in our hearts. Singing which springs from a mere spirit of jollification is nothing worth. When the heart is filled with a sense of grace then we can sing to the pleasure of God.

Finally every act and detail of our lives is to be under the control of the Lord, and hence done in His Name and in the spirit of thanksgiving. This comprehensive word closes these more general instructions. The next verse begins to take up things in a more particular way.

It is worthy of note that the instructions of this epistle are not confined to the laying down of general principles, but come down to very practical and personal details. We might have supposed that when spiritually minded believers were in question, such as the Ephesians and Colossians, nothing would be needed beyond principles, and that they might be safely left to make all needful applications themselves. It is however, just in these two epistles that we get full details as to the conduct that befits the varied relationships of life. We are told exactly how we should behave, in the full light of Christianity.

We cannot go through the world without having many and varied relations with our fellow-creatures. Most of our testings and trials reach us in connection with those relations, and hence it is God’s way to leave us after conversion in the same old relationships, only teaching us how to fulfil them in the light and power which the knowledge of Christ brings. We are not set to the task of putting the world right. That will be done effectually and speedily by the Lord when He takes up the work of judgment. We are left to bear effectual witness to what is right by acting rightly ourselves.

Though the relationships of life are so many, and varied in detail, they may, we believe, be all condensed under the three heads that we find in the verses before us—(Colossians 3:18Colossians 4:1). There is, first, the marriage relation. Second, the family relation, which springs out of the marriage relation. Third, what we may term the industrial relation, which springs out of the fact that hard work is decreed to be man’s lot as the result of his fall.

The organization of life in this world, according to God, is based upon marriage. If we read Matthew 19:1-30 we shall find the Lord opening out the truth, first upon marriage, then upon children, then upon possessions. Our passage deals with marriage, children, work, in that order. We make bold to say that NEVER was it more important for Christians to fulfil these relationships in a Christian way, for never have these divine institutions been more fiercely assailed than just now. Being bulwarks of that which is good the devil aims at their destruction, and every weapon is used from a “modernism” which has all the appearance of being scholarly and refined to the “communism” which practices “free love,” turns the children on the streets to prowl about in droves, and alternately encourages the workman to destroy private property on the one hand, or shoots him for complaining of his miserable pay and food, on the other. We may incidentally remark just here that without a doubt “modernism” and “communism” are but varying phases of the same great devil-inspired movement. The same basic principles are common to both.

In all our relations two parties are involved. It is so here. The marriage relation is taken up as between wives and husbands; the family as between children and parents; the industrial as between servants and masters. Each of the three relationships, as instituted by God, involves this, that one party shall assume the lead and the other shall be subject. Moreover, this is not a point which is left for negotiation and arrangement as between various individuals entering upon the relationship. It is a matter which is settled by the Word of God.

In each of the three cases those who have the place of subjection are addressed first. Subjection becomes the wife; obedience, the child. In the case of the servant there is to be not only obedience but heartiness and integrity. The most striking thing about the exhortations in each case is the way everything is to be done as in the sight of the Lord. This lifts the whole matter on to the loftiest plane. The wife is subject, but it is, “in the Lord.” This implies that the prime reason for her subjection is that it is the Lord’s appointment. She is subject to her husband as expressing her subjection to her Lord. It is to be hoped of course that her husband bears such a character that subjection to him is no hardship but a pleasure. But even were it otherwise she would still be subject, seeing it is to the Lord.

The same principle applies to the children and to the servants. They are to consider what is pleasing to the Lord. We must remember that the servants contemplated here were bondmen—they were practically slaves. There was very little or no profit for themselves in all their labour. Yet they were to work exactly as if they were working for the Lord. And indeed they were working for Him, and they will ultimately receive from His hands a full reward for their labour, though they might never get as much as a “Thank you” from a churlish master. “Ye serve the Lord Christ,” is what the Apostle says.

Subjection, we must remember, does not necessarily imply inferiority, but it does imply the godly recognition of the divinely established order.

Moreover, God’s arrangements are never lop-sided. If there is a word of instruction and guidance for those who have the subject place, there is equally a word for those who take the lead. In each case the Spirit of God puts His finger upon the weak spot. The husband is exhorted to love. Mere natural love can easily turn to bitterness, but this can never happen when his love is a reflection of the divine. If the husband is marked by love the wife has no difficulty in being subject.

So with the fathers, they are not to provoke or vex their children. Discipline is necessary and good, but, if not itself controlled by love, it may easily become excessive and vexatious to the utter discouragement of the child.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Colossians 3:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/colossians-3.html. 1947.

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