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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Colossians 3

 

 

Verses 1-4

Chapter 11 Christ the Believer's Life and Object

Colossians 3:1-4

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory, (vv. 1-4)

After the somewhat lengthy digression of verses 13-23 in the previous chapter, the apostle comes back to apply the truth taught in verse 12.1 think we shall get the connection better if we read these two passages without anything intervening: “ Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead… If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” All that has come in between these two verses was in the nature of warning against false systems that would have robbed the believer of this great truth of unity with Christ in death and resurrection. It is of all importance that we realize that we do not stand before God on the ground of responsibility. The responsible man failed utterly to keep his obligations. There was nothing for him, therefore, but condemnation, but our Lord Jesus Christ has borne that condemnation. He voluntarily, in infinite grace, took the place of the sinner and bore his judgment upon the cross. Now in resurrection, as we have seen, all who believe are not only given a perfect representation by Him before the throne of God, but we are in Him in virtue of being partakers of His life. “In Adam” meant that we were born of his race. “In Christ,” in contrast, clearly indicates that we have received a new life from Him and, therefore, we are not to think of ourselves as in any sense on probation. All that was ended on the cross of Christ.

Jesus died and we died with Him,

Buried in His grave we lay,

One in Him in resurrection,

Soon with Him in heaven’s bright day.

Death and judgment are behind us,

Grace and glory are before;

All the billows rolled o’er Jesus,

There exhausted all their power.

It is when the soul enters into this experimentally, realizing that the death of Christ, in which faith has given him part, has severed the link that bound him to the world and all its purposes and has freed him from all necessity to be subject to sin in the flesh, that he will be free to glorify God as he walks in newness of life. Most theological systems fail to apprehend this great truth of the new man in Christ, hence so few believers have settled peace and realize their union with Him who sits at God’s right hand, not only as the Head of the church, but as the Head of every person who has found life through Him.

Occupation, then, with Christ risen in the energy of the Holy Spirit, is the power for holiness. We are called upon to seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Our real life is there, our truest, best interests are all identified with Him. Heavenly-mindedness is the natural, or I should say, spiritual outcome of this realization. As the heart is taken up with Him, we will be concerned about representing Him aright in this world where He is still rejected and His claims refused.

The marginal reading of verse 2 is better than the text of the King James Version: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” That is, as a watch is set to the sun in order to mark the time correctly, so let your mind be set to Christ risen in order that His life may be seen in you. This is in contrast to the things spoken of in Philippians 3:19: “Who mind earthly things.” The time for this is past for those who are now one with Christ risen. This will not make us impractical and visionary, but we shall live all the more consistently thus fulfilling our varied responsibilities in the home, in business, in the state, and, of course, in the church, as our minds are fixed on heavenly things. This is indeed the “ribbon of blue” to which reference was made in an earlier address.

We will manifest the heavenly character, just where we come closest into contact with the things of the earth. I think we may see in Christ during the forty days between resurrection and ascension something of what this involves. He was still here upon the earth but He was altogether heavenly. “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him so no more,” and we are called into association with Him to manifest the heavenly character as we walk the desert sands. Men of the world will not understand this, and we need not expect them to. But nevertheless they can and will recognize and appreciate true piety and Christian character even though they hate those who possess it, as Cain hated Abel because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous. But it should be true of us, as of our blessed Lord Himself, that this hatred is undeserved, according as it was written of Him, “They hated Me without a cause.”

The third verse epitomizes this in a very wonderful way, “For ye [have died], and your life is hid with Christ in God.” We have died to all that we once were as children of Adam, and now we do not have independent life as Christians, but Christ Himself is our life and, while it is true we have this eternal life abiding in us, He who is the source and sustainer of it is hidden yonder in the heavens “in God,” and so our life is safe in His keeping. One can understand and appreciate the rather crude expression of the simple brother who, after his conversion, had been greatly concerned lest by some sinful act or lack of faith he might in some way forfeit his salvation and lose the new life given in grace. But as he listened to an address upon these wonderful words of this third verse, his anxiety disappeared and he exclaimed with rapture, “Glory to God! Whoever heard of a man drowning with his head that high above water!” Admitting all their crudity, his words nevertheless expressed a great truth. Our Head is in heaven, our life is in Him, hidden in God, therefore we are eternally one with Him and nothing can ever separate the Christian from the risen Christ.

Outwardly, believers in the Lord Jesus are like other men, they are still in dying bodies, and often distressed by the flesh within and in conflict with Satan and the world without, yet each believer is to walk through this scene in the power of resurrection life, manifesting his union with his glorified Head. He is called to be a man of God, though in the humblest condition of life.

There is no glory halo

Round his devoted head,

No lustre marks the sacred path

In which his footsteps tread.

But holiness is graven

Upon his thoughtful brow,

And all his steps are ordered

In the light of heaven e’en now.

He often is peculiar,

And oft misunderstood,

And yet his power is felt by all-

The evil and the good.

For he doth live in touch with heaven

A life of faith and prayer;

His hope, his purpose and his all,

His life is centered there.

This is indeed to be a consistent member of the body of Christ, manifestly displaying the character of the new man whose Head is in heaven. And, though like his Lord despised and rejected of men, the Christian is called to run with patience the race set before him, knowing that the day of manifestation is nearing when he, too, according to his measure, shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. Christ will find His satisfaction in us, we will find ours in Him.

He and I in that bright glory

One deep joy will share;

Mine to be forever with Him,

His that I am there.

And when the day of the Lord dawns after earth’s long, dark night-or, to put it in another way, after man’s garish day is ended-then those who are content to be strangers and pilgrims here during His rejection, shall shine forth with Him when He comes to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. And so we read in verse 4, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.” We might read, “be manifested” for “appear”-it would perhaps make the thought even clearer. When He with whom we have died and in whom we are risen shall return from heaven and be manifested before His earthly people who will be waiting for Him in that day, and before His foes as well, then we also shall be manifested with Him in glory.

As we think of His coming, we know it is presented to us in two aspects in the New Testament, and perhaps, that which appeals most to every real lover of Christ is what we commonly call “the rapture.” Our hearts long for the hour when “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” We think of this as the end of the race, and as the time, too, when “He will change these bodies of our humiliation and make them like unto the body of His glory,” when “this mortal shall put on immortality and this corruptible shall put on incorruption,” and we shall be fully “conformed to the image of God’s Son.” This will be the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise given before He went away: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” This will be the occasion of our reception into the Father’s house.

But all of this, blessed as it is, and calculated to stir the souls of His waiting ones to their deepest depths, is but an introduction to the glories yet to be revealed in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is coming back to the earth that rejected Him, and all His saints are coming with Him not, of course, to take up human conditions here in the world again, but in resurrection bodies to appear with Him before the astonished eyes of those who still reject Him, and to the delight of those who will be waiting for Him as the delivering King in that day when the word will be fulfilled, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all the tribes of the land shall wail because of him.” That will be the time when we shall appear with Him in glory.

To this the apostle refers again in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-11 where he comforts the suffering saints with the assurance that tribulation will be recompensed to those that trouble them, and rest will be the portion of the redeemed. “ When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe… in that day.” I have purposely omitted the parenthetical words, “because our testimony among you was believed.” They explain why any from among earth’s inhabitants will be associated with Christ in the glory of that revelation.

Lamb of God, Thou soon in glory

Wilt to this sad earth return;

All Thy foes shall quake before Thee,

All that now despise Thee, mourn.

Then shall we, at Thine appearing,

With Thee in Thy kingdom reign;

Thine the praise and Thine the glory,

Lamb of God for sinners slain!

This is the consummation to which the Christian dispensation is tending, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, and His one-time pilgrim people shall reign with Him in righteousness throughout Messiah’s glorious years.

And with this the apostle completes the doctrinal teaching of the epistle to the Colossians. In these first two chapters with which the four opening verses of chapter 3 are linked, he has unfolded in a marvelous way the truth of the new creation and our link with the risen Man, God’s firstborn Son, the Heir of all things. We have seen that in Him we have deliverance from the power of darkness, and we are even now translated into His spiritual kingdom. In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and have been made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. He has made peace by the blood of His cross, and we have been reconciled to God through His death.

We are now members of His mystical body and thus members one of another, called upon to hold the Head and in all things to be subject to Him as we pursue our way in faith through the wilderness of this world. Christ Himself is to be our heart’s blessed object. He is the Antidote for every form of error, for in Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells, and our fullness is found alone in Him. We have been identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. All that was against us He has taken out of the way, paying our bond and nailing it to His cross. He Himself is now to be the portion of our souls. As we are occupied with Him, the risen One, with mind and heart set on heavenly things, we shall manifest His life here on earth while we wait for His return, when we shall be manifested with Him in glory.

What a gospel! Surely it was never conceived in the mind of man. It could not be, for it makes nothing of man but everything of Christ. May our hearts enter into it more and more as the days grow darker and the end draws near, “While we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” and live in daily expectation of His return to take us to be with Himself and make us fully like Himself forevermore.

For God has fixed the happy day,

When the last tear shall dim our eyes,

When He will wipe these tears away,

And fill our hearts with glad surprise.

To hear His voice, and see His face,

And know the fulness of His grace.

This blessed consummation of all our hopes is set clearly before us in the Word of God as our goal-in order that, cheered by the glory shining from the gates of the city, we may be heartened and lifted above discouragement, and the depressing power of present sorrows, whether in the world or the church, so that we may run the race with patience, ever “looking unto Jesus.”

PART 2

Practical

 

 

 


Verses 5-11

Chapter 12 Practical Holiness by Conformity to Christ in Relation to Ourselves

Colossians 3:5-11

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (vv. 5-11)

We come now to the consideration of the practical teaching of the epistle where we have emphasized for us the importance of walking in the power of the truth of the new man and our relationship to Christ as Head. And in this section, which includes verses 5-17 and is too lengthy to be taken up in one address, we have, first, that which relates to ourselves, our individual judgment of the old ways, in verses 5-11, which we will consider at this time. Then in verses 12-17, we have rather our relationship to others, particularly our brethren in Christ; or, as we might put it, the claims of Christian fellowship. We must be right ourselves, in our own inner lives, if we would be right toward others. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” What I am when alone in the presence of God is what I really am. What I am before my fellows should be the outcome of this, otherwise my public life will be largely a sham.

There is a very suggestive lesson along this line in connection with the fine linen in the tabernacle. The tabernacle, as we know, was primarily a wonderful type of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was God’s dwelling place; and we read, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (author’s translation). Surrounding the court of the tabernacle were curtains of fine twined linen suspended from pillars. The fine linen, we learn from Revelation 19, is “the righteous acts of the saints” (literal rendering). Therefore the fine linen surrounding the court would speak of the perfect ways of our Lord Jesus Christ as displayed before men on earth. The hangings of the court were visible to all who drew near. But inside, covering the upright boards of the tabernacle, which were of acacia wood overlaid with gold, were ten curtains also of fine twined linen. These were not visible to men on the outside; they were seen by God Himself and, in measure, by His ministering priests. So if the fine linen outside speaks of Christ’s righteousness as Man on earth visible to the eyes of other men, which led them to exclaim, “He hath done all things well,” and which caused even Pilate to declare, “I find no fault in him,” the ten curtains inside would speak of His perfect righteousness as seen by God the Father, that perfection which caused Him to open the heavens and proclaim, “This is my beloved Son in whom I have found all my delight.”

Now how many cubits of fine twined linen were there forming the wall of the court? We learn that the court was 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide. Subtracting 20 cubits for the varicolored gate of the tabernacle, we have 280 cubits, 100 on each side, 50 in the rear, and 30 in front. Inside there were ten curtains joined together, and each one was 28 cubits long. Here then we have another 280 cubits. Note this well. There were 280 cubits of fine twined linen surrounding the court where all could behold it, and 280 cubits of fine twined linen forming the tabernacle itself, where only the eye of God saw it in its completeness! How suggestive is all this, and what a lesson for us. Our blessed Lord was just the same before God as before men. But the fact that the width of the curtains was different to that of the hangings is also suggestive. The curtains were four cubits wide, and four is the number of weakness, and speaks of Christ’s perfect subjection to the will of the Father. The hangings were five cubits wide, and five, we know, is the number of responsibility, and suggests our Lord’s taking the place of responsibility here on earth, as meeting every claim of God that man had flouted. When His enemies came asking, “Who art Thou?” He answered, “Altogether what I have said unto you.” With Him profession and life were in perfect agreement, and this is the standard which God now puts before the believer.

Recognizing, then, our union with Christ, we are called upon to manifest His life. There must be first of all the judgment of the old ways in their totality. In chapter 2 we have learned of our identification with Him in His death; in the cross we were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ, therefore we are to mortify, or put to death, our members which are upon the earth. The believer is never told to crucify himself; he is told to mortify the members of his body. We have been crucified with Christ. Faith lays hold of this, and so it is written: “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” All passed under judgment in the cross, but in order to make this practical the flesh must be kept, by faith, in the place of death and its evil promptings refused in self-judgment.

The apostle insists first of all upon the importance of dealing unsparingly with the sins that were so common in the heathen world out of which these Colos-sians had been saved. Sins, alas, almost as common in the world today, in spite of increased light and civilization. The believer, recognizing his link with Christ, is to abhor all uncleanness. He is to remember that the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body, consequently every tendency to the sins mentioned in verse 5-fornication, lasciviousness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence (or, unlawful lusts) and covetousness, which is idolatry (for in reality it is the worship of self)-all these are to be judged in the light of the cross of Christ at no matter what cost. No excuse must be offered for such sins nor any palliation of their wickedness attempted on the ground of the innate tendencies of human nature. These things are abhorrent to God and abhorrent to the new nature in every believer, and because of them the wrath of God is coming on the children of disobedience; as of old, when God destroyed the antediluvian world because of corruption and violence, and rained fire from heaven upon the cities of the plain because of unbridled lusts and passions.

In these sins, so characteristic of men away from God, the Colossians had once walked, living in them unblushingly, but that was before they knew Christ. Now, as risen with Him, these things, seen at last in their true light, must be refused as dishonoring to God and contrary to Christ. Other sins there are which in the eyes of many are far less vile and abominable than those mentioned above, but these, too, are to be put off. They were the habits of the old man, his old clothes, which are not fit to adorn the new man. And so we read, “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” The old man is more than the old nature. It is the man of old, the man you used to be before you knew Christ as Savior and Lord. In other words, the old man is all that I once was as an unsaved person. I am through with that man. He has disappeared, for faith, in the cross of Christ. But if I make this profession, let me be sure that I do not manifest his ways. Sometimes those who make the loudest professions in regard to the truth of the new creation are the poorest performers of the truth, and thus they give the lie to what they say by what they do. It was Emerson, I think, who said, “What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” It is to be feared that many a Christian has lost his testimony because of carelessness here.

Anger, which, as we know from Ephesians 4:26, may be righteous, is generally but the raging of the flesh, and even where it is warranted (and we read of our blessed Lord looking round about upon His opponents with anger because of the hardness of their hearts), still this must not be nursed or it will degenerate into wrath, which is a settled condition of ill feeling toward an offender and generally has coupled with it a desire for revenge, and so malice springs from it. We have three generations of sin here: anger cherished begets wrath, and wrath if not judged begets malice. No matter how grievously I have been wronged, I am not to give place to the Devil and malign, or seek to harm, the one against whom I may have been righteously indignant in the beginning. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the devil.”

Blasphemy-this dreadful sin may be either Godward or manward. To impute evil to God or to seek to misrepresent Him, or to pervert the truth as to the Father, the Son, or the Spirit, these are various ways in which men blaspheme against God. But to speak injuriously of one another, to circulate wicked and untruthful reports against one’s brethren, to revile rulers or governors, or to seek to harm, by evil report, servants of God, all these are included under the general term blasphemy, and here how often have sharp-tongued religious controversialists failed even at the very moment that they were endeavoring to meet the blasphemy of their opponents in regard to divine things. When the hyper-Calvinist, the father of William Hone, the one-time infidel, described John Wesley as a child of the Devil because of his Arminianism, he had himself fallen into the sin of blasphemy. No wonder his son turned from such Christianity in horror, and was for years in darkness, until reached by divine grace. Railing accusations ill become those who have been saved through mercy alone and have occasion daily to confess their own sins and sue for divine forgiveness. The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God, and He, the Holy One, is not served by our hard speeches against His saints, nor even against men of the world.

Did we not know the corruption of our own hearts, it might not seem necessary to warn redeemed saints against the vice of using unclean language or relating salacious stories, but this is what is involved in the next expression, “filthy communication out of your mouth.” Questionable stories and the relating of things true or false, the details of which only tend to feed a corrupt nature, these are to be shunned by a Christian. It was a wise answer and a deserved rebuke that a brother once gave to one in my own presence who began a story with the remark, “As there are no ladies here I want to tell you something I heard the other day.” But the other checked him by saying, “Brother, though there are no ladies present, the Holy Spirit is here. Is your story fit for Him?” The first blushed in confusion and accepted the rebuke. We did not hear the story.

Were there any truth in the unscriptural theory held by some that the nature of the old man is eradicated in the case of a sanctified believer there would be no room whatsoever for the next injunction, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” Lying is one of the very first evidences of the carnal nature. Of the wicked we read, “They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” And untruthfulness is one of the hardest habits for anyone to overcome. It is so natural to these vain hearts of ours to try to make things appear better than they really are, to cover up our own failures and to accentuate the sins of others. Yet these are just different forms of lying, and we are called upon to judge all guile-untruthfulness of every character-in the light of the cross of Christ. The old man was judged there in the person of our Substitute, his deeds are to be refused, his habits put off as discarded garments that, as we have seen above, are in no sense fit for the new man.

In the next two verses we are told that we “have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” The new man, then, is the man in Christ, even as the old man was the man in Adam. This new man has a new, divinely imparted nature, and it is to this new nature God by the Spirit appeals. The new nature alone is capable of receiving divine instruction, and as the truth thus imparted controls the life, the believer manifests increasingly the image of Him who is the Head of the new creation. He Himself, as we have seen, is the image of the invisible God. Man was created in the image and likeness of God in the beginning, but that image became terribly marred through sin. In the new man this image again becomes manifest, and the very lineaments of Christ are seen in His people. This is true, no matter who or what they were before receiving the new life, whether cultured Greek or religious Jew; whether within the circle of the Abrahamic covenant marked off from the rest of humanity by the ordinance of circumcision, or whether in the world outside, strangers to the covenants of promise; whether barbarian or Scythian (that is, of the wild tribes outside the pale of civilization); whether slaves or free citizens. All alike were sinners; all alike are included in the term “the old man.”

Now those who through grace have believed the gospel, from whichever of these classes they may have come, are members of the new creation and are seen by God as justified from all things and are possessors of a new and divine life. They belong to that new company where Christ is everything and in everyone. This is not to deny racial or class distinctions in the world-these the Christian must still recognize, and he has his responsibilities as to these distinctions-but above and beyond all these responsibilities is his new place in Christ, linked up with the new Head. It is from this that his new responsibilities flow; because he is a new creation man, he is called upon to manifest new ways and to put on new habits, new clothes suited to his new relationship. These new clothes will come before us in our next study.

In closing let me remark that new creation is not simply individual. It is not merely that I, as a believer, am a new creature in Christ Jesus. A better rendering of 2 Corinthians 5:17 would be, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, it is new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Joyful now the new creation

Rests in undisturbed repose;

Blest in Jesus’ full salvation

Sorrow now nor thraldom knows.

Not yet do we see the manifestation of all this, but “we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor,” seated above all the changing scenes of time. Until He returns, it is as members of the new creation that we are called upon by our new ways to manifest the holiness, the grace, the righteousness, the love, and the compassion of Him who is “the beginning of the creation of God.”

It is not that He is the first being created. This error was exposed in an earlier lecture. But He is the First, the Prince, the Head, the Origin of the new creation where all things are of God. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature [or a new creation]. And as many as walk according to this rule [the rule, the controlling principle of this new creation], peace be on them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16). This is the very opposite of legality. It is the spontaneous expression of the life of the Head in the members here on earth!

 

 

 


Verses 12-17

Chapter 13 Practical Holiness by Conformity to Christ in Relation to Others

Colossians 3:12-17

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (vv. 12-17)

We now come to consider our new clothes, the garments of the new man-these things that we are to put on in place of the old habits which have been discarded. It is a striking thing that both in the Scriptures and in our ordinary Anglo-Saxon speech we use at times the same words for clothing and behavior. We speak of a riding habit, a walking habit, habits of various descriptions, meaning of course, the clothing worn on particular occasions, and we may speak of our behavior as our habit. When in the Old Testament Solomon says, “Let thy garments be always white,” we understand him, of course, to mean, let your habits or behavior be pure and righteous. The wicked are depicted as clothed with filthy garments, and self-righteousness is described as but filthy rags. The characteristics of the newborn man are garments of glory and beauty.

It is a common saying that you judge a man by his clothes. It is true that this is not always just. Many a princely character has, through poverty, been obliged to dress in worn and unbecoming garments, while rascals of the deepest dye have been arrayed like princes of the blood. But the same is true at times in regard to children of God and the unsaved. There are wolves who come in sheep’s clothing, there are ministers of Satan who appear as ministers of righteousness, and, alas, there are real believers whose garments are often badly stained and rent by failure and sin. But, in the ordinary course of things, it is true that men are largely estimated according to their appearance, and Christians are expected to be adorned with good works and thus justify before men the profession they make of justification before God by faith in Jesus Christ. These are the two sides of truth emphasized by the apostle Paul in Romans and by James “the Lord’s brother” in his intensely practical letter.

Let us see just what kind of habits or behavior should characterize the man in Christ, with what beautiful garments he should be arrayed. First of all we read, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies.” The elect of God are those whom He has foreknown from all eternity and who are manifest in time as believers in His Son. “Holy and beloved” is what they are as before God. They have been set apart in Christ. Sanctified by the blood of the everlasting covenant, they are dear to God because they are His own children, partakers of the divine nature. How unseemly if such are ever found stern and unfeeling toward others, recipients as they are of such grace themselves.

The ancients used the term bowels very much as we do the word heart to express the deepest feelings of humanity. We might read, “emotions of pity.” While this may not be exactly a translation, it at least expresses in English the thought of the original. We are called upon to have hearts readily stirred to compassion and, like God Himself, delighting in mercy. Where it is otherwise, we may well question whether one has been born of God. Harshness in dealing with failing brethren, on the basis of the necessity of maintaining righteousness, is anything but the spirit of Christ. Yearning love that would lead us to go to any possible length without contravening God’s righteous claims should ever characterize us in our dealings one with another. “Be pitiful,” writes another apostle, and how much we need to take such an exhortation to heart. The crudest things have been done in the name of Him who is the incarnation of infinite mercy. How He has been misrepresented in His attitude toward sin and sinners by many who profess to be His followers.

The next word is in keeping with this-kindness. It is quite impossible to maintain fellowship with God and not show the kindness of God toward others. There may indeed be a rigid, legal type of piety which leads one to imagine that he has been appointed of God to demonstrate His justice, but this is far from the godliness that is inculcated in the New Testament. Macaulay said of some of the sterner Puritans, “As one reads their writings he wonders if they had ever read a little volume called the New Testament.” The loving-kindness of the Lord will be manifest in our kindness one to another. These two garments, emotions of pity and kindness are, we might say, inner vestments.

The next one is a cap for the head, humbleness of mind. Pride is of all things to God most hateful: “The proud he knoweth afar off.” “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” The realization of one’s own weakness and natural tendency to err will lead to low thoughts of self, and will make it easy to don the vesture of meekness. This is composed of rarer material than is often supposed. Our Lord was adorned with it. He could say, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” How beautiful He appeared as thus arrayed. And Moses had a garment of this excellent texture, lawgiver though he was, for we read, “The man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” But so rare is this grace that in the prophet Zephaniah, we are told to “seek meekness” (Zephaniah 2:3), and this is after he has said, “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment.” So delicate is this fabric that it might readily wear away in the stress and strain of the trials of this life.

One needs therefore to be constantly in the presence of God seeking for this grace, which can be found nowhere else than in communion with Him. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” suggests the necessity of coming under His control if we would be adorned with meekness. The world will never understand the value of this lowly spirit. Our own lionhearted Theodore Roosevelt said once, “I hate a meek man.” He probably did not realize that the boldest man, the most utterly unafraid man ever seen on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, was in the fullest sense a meek man. Meekness is not inconsistent with bravery, and enables one to suffer and be strong when the world would “turn aside the way of the meek” (Amos 2:7).

Closely associated with meekness is the grace of “longsuffering,” the readiness to endure grief suffering wrongfully. It is so natural for us when falsely accused to feel we must defend ourselves or to resent such treatment, but of our blessed Lord we read that when false witnesses had risen up against Him He answered not a word. When the adversary taunted King Hezekiah and his officers, charging them falsely and threatening severe treatment, the king’s command to his people was, “Answer him not a word.” God can be depended on to vindicate His own if they do not attempt to vindicate themselves, and so as they learn to commit their reputation, as well as all else that they once counted of value, to Christ Himself, they can patiently endure without resentment, praying for those who despitefully use them and who persecute them. In this they become consistent followers of the Man of Sorrows who could say, “They laid to my charge things I knew not.”

We next read, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” This is in exact accord with Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake (or, in Christ) hath forgiven you.”

When teaching His disciples to pray our Lord told them to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and He added, “When you stand praying, forgive: for if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you” (author’s translation). Some have thought the earlier passage is on lower ground than the later ones, but it does not seem necessary to put the one in any sense in opposition to the others. The forgiveness of which our Lord was speaking to His disciples was not the forgiveness of a sinner, but the forgiveness of a failing saint, one who could address God as “our Father,” whereas the forgiveness spoken of here in Colossians and also in Ephesians is that of the sinner. Addressing His disciples our Lord says, as it were, “You are failing from day to day. You constantly need your Father’s restorative and governmental forgiveness, and yet you cherish feelings of malice and enmity and an unforgiving spirit toward your brethren who offend you. If you do not forgive them you cannot expect your Father’s forgiveness when you come to Him confessing your failures, and as long as this spirit of malice is cherished by you, you cannot really pray in faith.”

Here Paul takes it up in another way. He says, as it were, “Think how freely you have been forgiven; think how much God has cast behind His back. In the light of this how can you hold hard feelings or maintain an unforgiving spirit toward those who have sinned against you? If God had dealt with you according to your offenses, how fearful would your judgment be, yet He in Christ has graciously forgiven all. He has put away every sin, thus making you fit for His holy presence. Your responsibility now is to forgive as you have been forgiven.”

Some of you will remember the striking incident of the conversion of Macdonald Dubh, as narrated by Ralph Connor in “The Man from Glengarry.” I understand the incident is not merely fiction, but is founded upon actual fact. The black Macdonald, a powerful, burly Highlander, living in Glengarry County, Ontario, had suffered untold anguish for years because of an injury inflicted upon him by a French Canadian some years before. He had nursed the desire to take a fearful vengeance upon his foe until k became a perfect obsession with him. Neither God nor eternity had any place in his life. It was in vain that the minister s wife tried to get him to forgive his enemy. She sought to have him repeat the Lord’s Prayer, but he always balked at the words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

But God wrought in power in the Glengarry country, and there was a great revival, in which real Christians were aroused, and Christless men and women reached and saved. The black Macdonald heard the story of the cross told forth in living power in the Gaelic tongue, from the lips of the venerable Highland minister. It broke his heart and bowed him in penitence at the Savior’s feet. When next the minister’s wife went to visit him and tried to stress the necessity of forgiveness, he sobbed out, as he joined with her in what is generally called the Lord’s Prayer, “Oh, it’s a little thing, it’s a little thing, for I have been forgiven so much!” It is this that grips the heart and enables one to bear in patience the ill-doing and evil-speaking of others and preserves from bitterness of spirit or any desire for vengeance. How can one, forgiven so much, ever hold an unforgiving spirit against any?

And now turn to verse 14 where we have the girdle that holds all our new garments in place. It might be rendered, “And over all these things put on love, which is the girdle of perfection.” Just as the Oriental binds his flowing robes about him with a girdle, or sash, so the new man binds his new habits with the controlling power of love. Whatsoever is contrary to love is contrary to Christ. No amount of sophistical reasoning can make anything pleasing to God which is opposed to that divine love that He Himself sheds abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us.

It would be well for some of us who are possessed with the idea that our great business on earth is to carry out what has sometimes been called Pauline truth, to remember that Pauline truth does not center in 1 Corinthians 5 but rises to its highest, experimentally, in 1 Corinthians 13. We are not to neglect the one in order to fulfill the other. Both are right and proper in their own places. In the portion we have been looking at we have had what should express our attitude toward our brethren in Christ and toward men of the world.

Now in verse 15 we get that which is distinctly personal: “Let the peace of God,” or, as some manuscripts read, “the peace of Christ”-the same peace that ever filled His breast when here on earth. The peace that is His on the throne of God in heaven, where He sits far above all the storms of this lower scene-let that peace bear rule, or umpire, in your hearts. It is to this you are called in one body. We are to seek the things that make for peace as members of that body, and things whereby we may edify one another. But what is distinctly emphasized here is daily abiding in the blessedness of communion with our risen Lord, so that our hearts, like His own, may be kept in peace despite all we may be called upon to pass through, and thus we can fulfill the brief injunction, “Be ye thankful.” Of the many sins of the unsaved not the least is unthankfulness. We are called upon to give thanks in every circumstance, “Giving thanks always for all things,” knowing that nothing can ever enter into the life of the believer but what infinite love allows.

In the next two verses, which are very intimately linked with Ephesians 5:18-20, we read,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

As punctuated in the King James Version, verse 16 does not bring out the three admonitions clearly and distinctly, but as given above each one stands out separately and in its place. First we are told to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. This is the only place in the New Testament where this particular expression, “the word of Christ,” is found. It is most suggestive. The actual teaching of Christ, whether personally here on earth or by the Spirit since He has ascended to heaven, is to dwell in full measure in each believer. Thus equipped and controlled by the truth we will be able to bless and help others-in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another. What we have is not given for ourselves alone. We are to be ready to communicate. Then, in the third place, as thus controlled by the Word of God, our lives will be lyrical and our hearts filled with melody, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. We read in Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Holiness and happiness go together. Judah won a great victory when Jehoshaphat put the singers in the forefront of the army. Depend upon it, something is radically wrong with the Christian when he can no longer praise and rejoice.

Then, lastly, the entire life of the believer is summed up as subjection to the Lord. Whatsoever he does, whether in act or speech, all is to be in the name of the Lord Jesus, through whom he gives thanks to God, even the Father. There is no room whatsoever for self-will, for self-assertiveness here. As Christ in His humiliation could say, “ I came … not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me,” so the Christian, the new man, is left on earth to represent Christ, to do the will of the Lord and not to please himself.

By comparing the Ephesian passage with this it will become evident that we have the same results from being filled with the Spirit there, and filled with the Word here. A Word-filled Christian is a Spirit-filled Christian, that is, a Christian who is so controlled by the Word of God that it dominates his entire life and manifests that he is filled with the Holy Spirit. A careful consideration of these two passages might save from a great deal of fanaticism and misunderstanding in regard to the fullness of blessing that every truly converted soul cannot but crave.

 

 

 


Verses 18-25

Chapter 14 The Earthly Relationships of the New Man

Colossians 3:18-25; Col_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 eyeservice, as menpleasers; 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. (3:18-4:1)

In these verses the Holy Spirit, who, as we have seen, is Himself not mentioned in this epistle save incidentally in verse 8 of chapter 1, gives us instruction in regard to the sanctification of the natural, or earthly, relationships of the new man. It would be a great mistake to suppose, as some have done, that because we are members of the new creation we need no longer consider ordinary human ties or responsibilities. While it is quite true that in the new creation there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus, it is important to remember that our bodies belong to the old creation still. It will not be until the redemption of the body at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him that we shall be above the natural relationships in which we stand to one another as men and women here in the world.

Even in the church of God these human distinctions hold good as we are reminded in the epistles to the Corinthians and to Timothy and Titus. To say as some do that because there is neither male nor female in the new creation, we are to pay no attention to the divinely given order pertaining to the respective places of man and woman in the church of God on earth is not only to go beyond Scripture but is positive disobedience to the Word of God. As long as we are subject to human limitations, so long must we recognize our human responsibilities and seek to maintain these in a scriptural way in order that we may commend the gospel of Christ.

There is no condition in which the new life is more blessedly manifested than in circumstances sometimes hard for flesh and blood to endure, but where grace enables, brings triumph. A comparison of the instruction given in Colossians in the verses quoted above, with similar instruction in the epistle to the Ephesians, will show us that the apostle deals very briefly here with what he has taken up at much greater length there. The one epistle should be compared with the other, and both with similar teaching given in 1 Peter, in order that we may get the mind of God as fully revealed in regard to the great and important principles that govern our behavior.

It will be noticed that in each of the Scripture passages referred to the weaker is dealt with first, and then the stronger; or the one subject first, and then the one in authority. So here we have wives and husbands, then children and fathers, and lastly, servants and masters. Let us examine with some degree of care what the Holy Spirit says to each one.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” Where husband and wife are both Christians seeking to do the will of God, in whose hearts there is real mutual affection and esteem, there will be no difficulty whatsoever in regard to such an admonition as this. But it will require true grace to yield loving obedience when perhaps the husband is a carnal, worldly, and unreasonable man. Yet we need to remember the marriage relationship is divinely ordained, and as the old wedding ceremony puts it, “not to be lightly entered into” and according to the Word of God not easily to be terminated. “For better, for worse, until death do us part,” are words often flippantly uttered with no real conception of their seriousness.

For the Christian woman this relationship once entered into there is no other position in conformity with the will of God than that of godly submission to the husband whom she herself has chosen. The present loose ideas in regard to easy divorce are bearing fearful fruit which will increase unto more ungodliness as the end draws near, until there will be duplicated in Christendom the corruption and vileness of the days before the flood and the unspeakable immoralities of the cities of the plain. Of all this our blessed Lord has warned us most solemnly. For one to seek to dissolve the marriage relationship because of incompatibility of temperament is to fly in the face of the Word of the living God. Death, or what is equivalent to it, the infidelity of husband or wife, is the only scriptural ground for termination of the marriage contract, leaving the other party free to remarry.

It is true that 1 Corinthians 7:11 would imply that there may be circumstances in which no self-respecting woman could continue to live in this relationship, because of unspeakable cruelty or abominable conditions which would be ruinous to soul and body alike. But if she departs she is to remain unmarried, and if conditions change, she may be reconciled to her husband. But so long as she remains with him she is responsible to recognize his headship as the one appointed by God to provide for the family, and even though conditions may sometimes be very distressing, she is to seek to win her wayward spouse by manifesting the grace of Christ.

“As it is fit in the Lord,” suggests that gracious demeanor which ever characterized Him while He was in this scene, and also that her submission and obedience will never be such as to injure conscience or dishonor the Lord. In this she must act as before God, for after all, hers is the submission of a wife and not of a slave. It is loyalty to him who is her head that is enjoined.

In verse 19 we read, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” And, right here, how many husbands fail! Imperiously demanding submission from the wife, how little do they show the love of Christ in their dealings with those thus dependent upon them! The Christian husband is to accept his place of headship as a sacred responsibility put upon him by God Himself and is to exercise his authority for the blessing of his home in the love of Christ. And just as some wives may be united to tyrannical and unreasonable men, so there are husbands who, after marriage, find that one who in days of courtship seemed so docile and affectionate is a veritable termagant and as unreasonable as it is possible to be. But still the husband is to love and care for her, showing all consideration, “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel,” as Peter puts it, without indulging in wrath or anger. How much is involved in the exhortation, “Be not bitter against them.” God knew how petty and trying some women’s ways would be when He said to good men, “Be not bitter against them.” In the power of the new life one may manifest patience and grace under the most trying circumstances.

Now we come to the injunction to children: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” In childhood days parents stand in relation to their children as God Himself in relation to the parent. Children who do not obey their parents when young will not obey God when older. The natural heart is ever rebellious against authority, and perhaps never more strikingly has this been manifested than in these democratic days in which we live. But Christian children should be examples of godly submission to father and mother or whoever may be in authority over them, and parents are responsible to instill into their hearts the divine requirement of obedience. For young people professing piety, to ignore this principle of obedience is to manifest utter insubjection to the One they own as Lord.

But again we notice how carefully the Spirit of God guards all this when He says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” Parental rule may be of such a character as to fill the growing boy or girl with indignation and contempt instead of drawing out the young heart in love and obedience. How easy it is, when come to manhood, to forget the feelings of a child, and so to implant in the hearts of the little ones resentment instead of tender affection. Surely this is contrary to every instinct of the new man. The Christian father is to imitate Him who is our Father-God.

It is when He addresses the servants that he goes into the greatest details. These, in the days when this epistle was written, were slaves and not free men who served for wages, but if such instruction as we have here was applicable to bondmen, how much more does it apply to those who have the privilege of selling their services and of terminating engagements at will. There is no excuse whatsoever for surly, dishonest service because perhaps the master or mistress may be exasperating and unappreciative. Notice the exhortation, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” How this glorifies the servant’s lowly path in whatsoever capacity he is called upon to labor for others. He is privileged to look at all his service as done unto the Lord Himself.

Thus he labors faithfully, not only under the master’s eye, but when unseen by man. He carries on his appointed task conscientiously in singleness of heart, having the fear of God before his soul, according as it is written, “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: [because] ye serve the Lord Christ.”

What a cheer was this to the Roman or Grecian slave, toiling on day after day with the most faithful ministrations taken perhaps but as a matter of course. Yet if all were done as to the Lord one could be sure that in the coming day, the day of manifestation, He Himself would reward accordingly, accepting all the service as done unto Him. On the other hand, if treated cruelly, and perhaps overreached and cheated out of the due reward of his labor, the Christian servant does well to remember that God is taking note of all, and a day is coming when every wrong will be put right. Things that can never be settled here in righteousness will have a full settlement then, for, “He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.” Whether it be the servant who is unfaithful or the master who is unappreciative, the Lord Himself will bring everything to light at His judgment seat, or in the case of the unsaved, at the Great White Throne, when every man shall be judged according to his works.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Colossians 3:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/colossians-3.html. 1914.

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