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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Colossians 3

 

 

Verse 1

‘If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God.’

The Christian’s concentration is to be on heavenly things (‘go on seeking continually’ - present tense) because he was raised there when he first believed and received life from the Spirit. For by receiving the Spirit he was partaking in the resurrection life of Christ, and being made one with Christ. Christ was raised there, and he was raised there ‘together with Christ’.

Thus the Christian dwells in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:1-6), the spiritual realm. And he has direct access to the throne of Christ. This is not just a pious fiction but a reality. It is partial, for he does not yet see the full glory of God (1 Corinthians 13:12), but it is nevertheless genuine. His spirit has been made alive by the Spirit of God and in his spirit he has access into the spiritual realm where Christ is. It is in a sense a parallel universe with this one. It is not ‘up there’. It is here, and yet not accessible to the unbelieving world unless they too repent and believe.

Compare how when his eyes were opened Jacob saw a flight of stairs between earth and heaven, with spiritual beings ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12), and going their way in their activity on the earth, as expanded in Zechariah 1:8-11. He became aware of the spiritual realm. And how Elisha knows that he is surrounded by spiritual forces of great power, something his servant also becomes aware of once his eyes are opened (2 Kings 6:17). He too is aware of the spiritual realm. While these were revealed in terms that the observers could appreciate, what they revealed was genuine spiritual reality. So there are things around us that we can discern with the eye of faith. We are not to interfere with them or seek to contact them, but they are there acting on God’s behalf, and on ours. For they are ‘ministering spirits sent out to do service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14). Each child who believes has his angel who is aware of what happens to him (Matthew 18:10).

The Christian lives in both the physical and the spiritual universes. He knows that he has his part in Christ’s throne in the heavenlies at the right hand of God, the position of supreme authority and divine action, where his spirit has access through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 10:19), and there he walks and talks with Christ (Colossians 1:10; Colossians 2:6), and walks in the light (1 John 1:7; Ephesians 5:8), and he knows that he lives in this world as an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), as a citizen of Heaven (Philippians 3:20). He has constant contact with that other world through prayer, and direct contact with the Father and the Son. And while he is in this world, he is not of it (John 15:19; John 17:14-16; Galatians 1:4). He has spiritual affairs to engage in which this world knows nothing about.

So having been raised together with Christ, that is having received heavenly life through believing and receiving the Spirit, the Christian is to seek those things which are above, those things which are the concern of the throne. His concern is to be with the affairs of the court of Heaven and the extension of Christ’s kingship in the earth (Matthew 28:19). His concern is to be with the maturing of all believers (Galatians 6:1-2), especially the babes, and those still partly gripped by the flesh. His concern is to show Heaven’s love to the world by his Christlike actions (Matthew 5:16).

‘If then you were raised together with Christ.’ This idea of participating with Christ in His resurrection in the past tense, as having happened to us, was taught by Jesus Himself in John 5:24-25. It was also clearly in Paul’s mind in his earlier teaching (Romans 6:3; Romans 6:11; Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:10). But here and in Colossians 2:12 and Ephesians 2:6 he makes it totally explicit.

‘Where Christ is seated on the right hand of God.’ This was the glorious Christian message. Christ has been highly exalted, and given the name above every name, the name of Yahweh (Philippians 2:9) because it is His by right. He has been exalted far above all (Ephesians 1:21). He has been given God’s supreme authority (Matthew 28:18). He has been made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). But the throne of God is not a passive throne. He rides on the wings of the wind (Psalms 18:10). He is active in His control over the universe. And we are to share in that activity. (How then could we possibly waste time in becoming involved in false asceticism?).


Verse 2-3

‘Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth, for you died and your life is hid with Christ in God.’

The tenses here are important. ‘Go on setting your mind continually ( present tense) --- ‘you died once for all’ (aorist tense) ----- ‘your life has been hid and still is’ (perfect tense).

‘Set your mind continually.’ All people have their minds set on something to which they give maximum attention. It may be sport, or a hobby, or success at work, or music, or travel. But none of these thing should so grip the Christian. His mind is to be set on things above, not on things on the earth, and it is to those that he must give maximum attention. Everything else must fit around that. His concern is the glorification of God, the expansion of God’s rule over men, and to show Christ’s love to the world. He is concerned to be carrying out his duties under God’s instruction. Christ and His activities are his ‘team’. This should be what grips him and arouses his enthusiasm.

‘You died.’ And this attitude will be his because when he became a Christian, when he first repented and believed, he died with Christ, and this was represented in his baptism. He is now dead to the world and its pleasures, to its approval or blame, to its aims and purposes. His concern as one raised with Christ is with heavenly purposes, for he belongs to Heaven. His life is ‘hid with Christ in God’.

And what a place of security and blessing that is. He is ‘with Christ’, united with Him as one like husband and wife (Ephesians 5:23-32), joined with Him because He is our representative, the last Adam, the second man, summing up redeemed mankind in Himself (1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Corinthians 15:48). We are one with Him as members of His body and as branches of the true vine (John 15:4-5). And ‘with Christ’ we are ‘in God’, surrounded by God, Who has enveloped us in His arms (Deuteronomy 33:27), having our being in God (John 14:20) as He has His being in God (John 1:18; John 10:28-30; John 14:10-11).

‘Your life is hid.’ The world will only see glimpses of it. It has no conception of what the Christian’s life is really like. That is safely kept and preserved in the heart of God. And that is where our treasure should be, and our heart.

It may be asked. If the Christian died with Christ, why is his ‘old man’ still active? The answer lies in the plan of salvation, which is seen as a whole (see Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-12). When a man becomes a true Christian the final death of his ‘old man’ is guaranteed, its fate is sealed, and his being perfected in Christ in the new man is also guaranteed. And the guarantee lies in the death of Christ for him which will finally be effected in him. Thus the old man is from that moment under sentence of death.

So Paul is saying something like this, ‘when Christ died, you, as the man that you were, in effect died, he came under sentence of death with your approval and one day that death will be finalised. Meanwhile, while the old man lingers on, you are to treat him as dead and buried with Christ and therefore not to be taken account of. You are to carry out on him the sentence of death and bury him out of the way.’

No one goes out to the scrap heap and starts to polish up the useless things that are there. He will only polish up what he thinks will have some future use. Now in submitting to the cross of Christ we have acknowledged that ‘the old man’ is to be cast out and is useless. That he has no permanent future. So what we should do is ignore him, let him die. How we treat the old man demonstrates what we really believe about the cross.


Verse 4

‘When Christ who is our life shall be revealed and made fully made known, then will you also be fully made known with him in glory.’

And what a glorious future awaits the Christian. For one day at His coming Christ will be made fully known. He will be revealed in all His glory (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Mark 13:26-27). We will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). And then will the world see the glory that the Christian has in his oneness with Christ, for we will share His glory, and it will shine out from us as it shines out from Him (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 John 3:2; Philippians 3:21). The long chain of redemption will be complete (Romans 8:29-30).

‘Christ Who is our life.’ Paul was so taken up with Christ that he could say, ‘to me to live is Christ’ (Philippians 1:21). And this should be so for all His people, for Heisour life, the source of all spiritual life and blessing (John 5:24; John 5:40; John 6:33-35; John 6:47-54; John 10:28; John 11:25; John 14:6; John 17:3; Romans 5:10; Romans 6:4; Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Galatians 2:20; 2 Peter 1:3; 1 John 5:11-12 ).

‘Then will you also be made fully known in glory.’ None of us at this present time would want to be fully known. We have too much we wish to hide. But we must ensure that we get rid of these things of which we would be ashamed if we thought of them being revealed to God and fellow-Christians. For in that day wewillbe fully known. All will be revealed.

But the final result of that day will be that we will be His transformed people, and we will delight in being fully known, for we will be like Him and will share His glory.


Verse 5-6

Our Christian Walk is To Reflect Our Glorious Privilege (Colossians 3:5 to Colossians 4:6).

1). The Man That We Were Has To Die (Colossians 3:5-11)

‘Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth, fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry, for the sake of which the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience.’

Because we have died and have been raised into things above, the heavenlies, that which we have, as it were, left on earth with its fleshly behaviour, must be put to death. It represents ‘the old man’ (Colossians 3:9) who is to be stripped off. For it is the behaviour of this old man that brings the wrath of God on those who indulge in such things, as they follow in the way of disobedience, and by coming to Christ for salvation we have consented to his death. So we will be foolish not to be rid of it. Indeed it will be the greatest of crimes.

Paul is picturing our bodies as containing two lives, one the natural life, the life of the flesh, and the other the spiritual life, the life of the Spirit (Romans 8:5). In Christ we with our spiritual lives are taken into the spiritual realm with Christ. The natural life is left behind ‘on the earth’, that is with no access to the spiritual realm. And so he says that by the Spirit we are to ‘put to death’, reckon as dead, that natural life with its deeds (Romans 8:13). We are to consign it to the grave and allow the spiritual, resurrected life to hold the reins and live through our bodies (Galatians 5:16-18). We are so used to indulging the flesh that for some this is at first very hard. But as we become more aware of Him, and of our glorious position in Him, it will gradually take place, for He is at work within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

‘Therefore.’ For the very reason that you have died and have been raised with Christ and are to be presented with Him in glory.

‘Put to death your members which are on the earth.’ We are seen here metaphorically as having been taken in one aspect of our body (the new man - Philippians 2:10) into the heavenlies, the spiritual realm, and as having left one on earth (the old man - Philippians 2:9). When we were raised with Christ that part of us which indulged our sinful cravings, having died with Christ, was left behind on earth as dead, crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), having no access to the spiritual realm. And we are now, having ‘died’, to put it effectively to death and bury it, to leave it behind. Its desires are to be given no attention, their voice is not to be heard, they are to be ignored, boycotted, treated as having died. Why? Because of what they produce.

‘Fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and especially covetousness which is idolatry.’ These failings constitute the make up of our fleshly members, for they are their fruit. They define the condition of our fleshly members. They cover every aspect of sexual misbehaviour (uncleanness) including sexual activity between a couple who are not married (fornication), passion and evil desire of any kind, whether greed, bad temper, wrongful anger, lack of self-control, and ‘especially covetousness’ (in the Greek this is distinctively separated off from the others), the desire and longing for what others have, which is described as idolatry, ‘worshipping’ such things rather than God because they, rather than He, are taking up their minds. For the Christian should be content with such things as he has (1 Timothy 6:6; 1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5 compare Philippians 4:11), looking with joy to God. We are further warned in Ephesians that those who practise these things ‘have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God’ (Ephesians 5:5).

‘For the sake of which the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience.’ In Ephesians Paul is even more emphatic (Ephesians 5:6). People then, as now, had their excuses ready, so Paul says, ‘Let no man deceive you with empty words.’ We are very good at empty words when our lustful pleasures are in mind. But such things incur the wrath of God, not because He is against us enjoying life, but because in the end they bring misery and hurt on those affected by our actions. That is what concerns Him.

‘The wrath of God.’ The inevitable response of a holy God in judgment to sins which can only result in hurt and the destruction of what is good. ‘The sons of disobedience’. Those who behave as though disobedience were their father (there is good manuscript evidence which suggests that this last phrase was not in the original but was imported from Ephesians 5:6).


Verse 7

‘In the which you also walked previously, when you lived in these things.’

These sins and attitudes had once been theirs, as they had also been of the Jews (Mark 7:20-23). This was how they had once lived their lives. But having been raised to the spiritual realm they no longer live among these things. They live in a totally different environment, the heavenlies. And because of this they must be even more particular about their behaviour.


Verses 8-10

‘But now you, also, put away all these: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking from the mouth. Do not lie, the one to the other, seeing you have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created him.’

Would you do these things in Christ’ presence? Would you not be deeply ashamed? Then you cannot do them in the spiritual realm. For that is where you are as the new man, and you live in the presence of Christ. And surely, if we were more aware of living in the presence of Christ we would find harder to sin.

These sins are more related to wrong attitudes towards others and wrong speaking, while the previous ones were more basic to ourselves. ‘Anger’, a settled feeling of hatred, compared with ‘wrath’, a more passionate anger. Both are to be avoided. ‘Malice’, the kind of attitude which seeks harm for others.

These then result in ‘railing’, in evil speaking and blasphemy, and words that are intended to hurt and do harm. This is then amplified as ‘shameful speaking out of your mouth’, which involves verbal abuse and filthy talking, and includes suggestive words and comments. These are all to be ‘put away’, thrust from us. The idea of putting off wrongdoing in this way is found regularly in Scripture, see Romans 13:12; Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:25; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1.

Many a man cringes at the thought of what he is saying being heard by good and pure person, especially a woman. How much more should we cringe at the thought of what we say when we live in the heavenlies, in the presence of Christ.

These aforementioned sins are then extended to speaking dishonestly and deceitfully.

‘Do not lie the one to the other.’ Jesus emphasised that a man’s words should always be so trustworthy in the normal course of events that there should never be the need for an oath to confirm them (Matthew 5:34-37). The Psalmist judges a man by whether he keeps his word even when it is to his own disadvantage (Psalms 15:4). The Christian’s word is his bond. He is bound by it as much as if he had sworn it on oath. Nor will he seek to deceive others, for it is the Devil who is the ‘father of lies’, and by deceiving others men become his sons.

‘Seeing that you have put off the old man with his doings.’ This describes the man that they were. They indulged in all these sins because they followed the ‘flesh’. But coming to Christ means that they desire to put off what they were and become something new, a ‘new man’. Indeed by it they have acknowledged that the old man deserved to be crucified, deserved a sinner’s death. How then can they hold on to him?

The thought of putting on righteousness and putting off sins as clothing occurs elsewhere in the Bible. See Job 29:14, ‘I put on righteousness and it clothed me’; Psalms 109:29, ‘let my adversaries be clothed with dishonour, and let them cover themselves with their own shame as with a mantle’; Romans 13:12; Romans 13:14, ‘let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light --- put on the Lord Jesus Christ’. It is a constant theme of Paul (see above).

‘And have put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him.’ When they were born again of the Spirit of God, receiving His new life, so that Christ became their life (Colossians 3:4; Galatians 2:20) they were putting on a new man, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), one that was destined to have a true knowledge of God, and to be made like Him (1 John 3:2). They were starting the process of being transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2).

‘Which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him.’ This describes the process of the perfecting of God’s people in terms of what man once was. He was created ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27). This essentially described him as a spiritual creature, like the angelic world and in contrast with the animals. And as such he knew God spiritually. But that was sadly lost at the fall. Now, however, the ‘new man’ is in process of having that full knowledge (epignosis) renewed and is being restored to full communication with the Creator as ‘in His image’.

So this growing into a new and increasing ‘true knowledge’ (epignosis) of God and of Christ, will then result in their becoming like Him. They will become the ‘image of God, the image of the Creator’ (compare Ephesians 4:24), and like Him Who is also the image of God (see Colossians 1:15). They will become Christlike. The more we know Christ in spirit, and worship Him in spirit (John 4:23), the more we will be like Him. The more we behold and reflect Him the more we will grow in glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).


Verse 11

‘Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman, but Christ is all in all.’

Once likeness to Christ becomes the objective all these divisions fall away. No Christian will want to be either one alternative or the other. They will want only to be His. They want their thoughts to be taken up with Him, as He is in the heavenlies where Christ is all. They want to be fully possessed and indwelt by Christ, to be ‘in Christ’. Thus all other distinctions become irrelevant. There is no pride of religion, or pride of race, or pride of status with the true Christian. He wants only to be a Christ-man.

The Jews thought themselves superior to the Greeks, the circumcision thought themselves superior to the uncircumcision, the Greeks thought themselves superior to the Barbarians, and included the Jews among these, all thought themselves superior to the Scythians (the savageness of the Scythians was proverbial), but in Christ all these distinctions are done away. And even social status was irrelevant. For in Christ bondmen and freemen were equal. The former were no longer to be seen as chattels but as brothers, and of equal value in the sight of God.


Verses 12-14

‘Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving each other. If any man have a complaint against any, even as the Lord forgave you, so also do you.’

Having described the old man in terms of his behaviour he now describes the new man which they are to ‘put on’, in the same terms. ‘Put on’. That is, they must allow the new, spiritual life within them to take over the rule of their lives. They are to submit to the Spirit (compare Galatians 5:16-18).

‘Chosen ones, holy and beloved.’ This is spoken to those who have been ‘chosen by God’, and as a result have been drawn to Jesus Christ (John 6:44). They are ‘holy’ because they have been set apart in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2), Who has been made to them sanctification (holiness) (1 Corinthians 1:30), setting them apart to God and making them acceptable in His presence and they are beloved because they are engraced in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6).

With this encouragement he outlines what kind of people they are to be. From the heart, for a forced pretence is of no value, they are to reveal compassion, kindness, consideration for others, a willingness to humble themselves, a willingness not to fight for their own position and honour, a willingness to bear with the weaknesses of others, a willingness to ‘bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things’ (1 Corinthians 13:7), and a willingness to forgive.

This last is emphasised by repetition. If they have anything against another they are to forgive them just as ‘the Lord’ has forgiven them. If the One Who is ‘the Lord’ is willing to forgive, surely they too should be willing to forgive those over whom they are not Lord (there may be here in this reference to ‘the Lord’ in connection with forgiveness, the influence of Jesus Christ’s parable recorded in Matthew 18:27).

But note that this is not a blanket forgiveness regardless of the attitude of the person forgiven. God forgives us when we repent, and Jesus makes clear that our forgiveness should be in the light of repentance. ‘If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him’ (Luke 17:3), for true forgiveness reinstates the one forgiven and that requires that he recognise his fault.

Thus overall they are to be Christlike because He lives in them and through them.

(Some authorities have ‘Christ’ here instead of ‘the Lord’ but the latter has by far the strongest support and adds greater emphasis to the argument.


Verses 12-17

2). We Are To Reveal the New Man In Our Lives (Colossians 3:12-17).

What follows is a brief practical summary of the Christian life which typifies the new man. Graciousness towards others, a forgiving spirit, clothed in love, swathed in peace, thankful to God, full of the word of Christ, from it teaching and admonishing each other, singing to God from the heart, doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus.


Verse 14

‘And above all these things put on love which is the bond of perfectness.’

‘Above all these things.’ Love is now declared to be the most important attribute of the Christian, for it sums up in itself all the others, binding them together in a perfect bond. This love has nothing to do with sexual or romantic love (which have their own Greek word) and is partly defined for us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and Romans 13:8-10. But it is not limited to that for it is also the fountain of positive goodness and action in self-giving and in fulfilling all that God requires (Galatians 5:13-14; 1 John 3:16-18), exemplified by the love that Jesus Christ Himself demonstrated when He gave Himself for us (Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 4:9-10), and springing from faith (Galatians 5:6). It is to act towards others ‘as we would that they would act towards us’ (Matthew 7:12), ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’ (Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8), as exemplified by the good Samaritan in his attitude towards one who hated and despised him (Luke 10:29-36). See also Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:2.

‘The bond of perfectness.’ Either that which perfectly unites together all the other Christian virtues, or as that which perfectly unites together all Christians in true fellowship.


Verse 15

‘And let the peace of Christ make the decision in your hearts, to the which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.’

Jesus gave to His own His peace (John 14:27) that they may not be troubled, He wrought peace between us (Ephesians 2:14) and He obtained peace with God for us through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). It is this peace in its many aspects which must rule all our decisions, peace with God, peace with each other and peace from God, the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). We must make decisions as those that are at peace with Him and are at one with each other, for this is our calling, to be one body. And as this one body is united with Christ in His body, it is thus right that His peace should make the decisions with respect to it.

‘And be thankful.’ In the first place this refers to gratitude to God for making peace with us and giving us peace. But it extends to gratitude to God for all His goodness. It was God’s condemnation on the world that it was not thankful (Romans 1:21), and we should dwell in thankfulness (e.g. Colossians 2:7; Colossians 3:17; Colossians 4:2). In his letters Paul expresses his thanks to God over twenty times, and Jesus Himself commended the Samaritan who alone had returned to give thanks (Luke 17:16-17). Moreover in Ephesians 5:4 thankfulness is contrasted with foolish talking and jesting, it is the positive against which those are the negative. Thankfulness produces a right attitude of heart.


Verse 16

‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to God.’

The ‘logos of Christ’ may be intended to refer to the same thing as the ‘logos of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:18), referring to preaching concerning Christ and the preaching of the cross respectively. The Christian is to receive such sound teaching gladly, and meditate on it, and let it fill his heart and his mind. However it may also be intended to include especial reference to the teaching of Christ Himself as passed on by eyewitnesses in the tradition of the church. The emphasis here, as all through Colossians, is on Christ and no other. It is the word about Him that they should be drinking in, not speculative teaching and ideas. He should be the centre of their thoughts and His words the guiding principle of their lives.

Another possibility is that it means Christ’s words to the heart of the Christian through preaching, teaching, meditation on the word of God, as Christ speaks directly to each heart. We can compare for this the parallel phrase ‘the word of God remains in you’ (1 John 2:14). Indeed it is fully possible that on this occasion all these are to be included, as meaning ‘let the word of Christ, however you receive it, dwell in and possess your heart’.

‘Teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom.’ While ‘with all wisdom’ could refer to either this phrase or the previous phrase it seems to fit better here. It may have been intended as a warning to ensure that the ‘teaching about Christ’ was sound and genuine and received wisely, but it would appear more likely that he meant that such wisdom was especially to be ensured when admonishing and teaching someone else. Such must be done tactfully and wisely so that the hearer might truly benefit. There would seem grounds here for recognising that many in the congregation would take part in ministry (compare 1 Corinthians 14).

‘With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to God.’ These would be expressions of praise and gratitude for the grace of God at work within them, rounding off their worship both in public and in private, ‘psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ covering all forms of singing as they do today. The psalms would naturally include the Book of Psalms, but not necessarily exclusively. The hymns, some of which could be designated psalms, would probably include songs specifically composed for worship (as with the Jews), but probably included individual spontaneous contributions. Spiritual songs possibly has a wider meaning of more popular Christian songs sung as catchy tunes in day to day life. But hymns are spiritual songs too, and spiritual songs would be sung in worship. Compare Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; 1 Corinthians 14:15; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Acts 16:25.

Note that here the singing is ‘to God’. In Ephesians 5:19 it is to ‘the Lord’. So no differentiation is made by Paul, with respect to worship, between God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Both are equally worthy of our worship.

‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ may attach to the previous phrase. Compare Ephesians 5:19, ‘Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.’ But ‘speaking to’ is not the same as ‘teaching and admonishing’, and in Ephesians the phrases connect with each other paralleling each other, whereas in Colossians they do not. For this reason we suggest connecting them as above.

Tertullian (c.200AD) tells us that at the love feast ‘each is invited to sing to God in the presence of the others from what he knows of the Holy Scriptures or from his own heart’. All the singing was thus not formal but even so, while the singing may be seen as teaching, it does not seem to fit in with ‘admonition’.


Verse 17

‘And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’

Paul wants us to take seriously that it is Christ Who lives through us. He is Jesus the Lord, and we are His people. When a servant wore the livery of his lord he was seen as acting in the name of his lord. This explains the change to ‘the Lord Jesus’. We act in the name of our Lord. We have ‘put on the new man’, we wear Christ’s livery, thus all we say and do must in accordance with His will and requirements. We must let Him live His life through us. We must ensure that we live totally for Him as a good servant would for his master.

‘Giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’ Again the emphasis on being thankful. If we spent more time being thankful our spiritual lives would blossom. Note that our approach to the Father is ‘through Him’. This reminds us that of ourselves we have no right of access. It is because we genuinely come in His name, through the redemptive work He carried out on our behalf, that we have expectation of a hearing, even for the expressing of gratitude. Access to God is not the easy thing that it is portrayed by many to be. But it is easy for us because of Him (Hebrews 10:19-22). ‘Through Him’ has special significance in this letter for it excludes any intermediaries.

‘To God the Father’. The unusual Greek formation ‘to theo patri’ suggests that there is more emphasis on God as ‘abba, Father’, while stressing His Godhead, rather than God as Father of creation. (Compare the probable similar reading in Colossians 1:3).


Verse 18

3). Instructions to Wives, Husbands, Children, Servants and Masters (Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1).

Here Paul is following the pattern of some Jewish and pagan writers with respect to domestic behaviour, but he Christianises the instructions and makes them specifically applicable. This is a making sacred of these day to day relationships.


Verse 18

‘Wives be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.’

The position of wives as being ‘under their husbands’ is not only taught but elsewhere stressed theologically in Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 11:7-9; Ephesians 5:23; 1 Timothy 2:11-14; Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:21-23). Marriage should be a partnership, as it was from the very beginning, for Eve was a helper of like kind with Adam, and the two are made one so that the man should look on his wife as himself (Ephesians 5:28; Ephesians 5:33). But the man is in the final analysis to have the last word, with her best concerns in mind, and as a loving husband and not as a tyrant (Ephesians 5:19).

‘Be in subjection.’ Not quite as strong as it sounds, but nevertheless to be obeyed, just as Christians are also to be subject to one another (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5) . It is a subjection of love not of tyrrany. In the same way Christ was subject to His parents (Luke 2:51), and the Son will be subject to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28). In all these cases it is a benevolent subjection. However, the final headship of the man has to be acknowledged.

‘As is fitting in the Lord.’ The relationship is defined in terms of a higher plane. Both the husband and wife may be ‘in the Lord’ where there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28), and yet in that high state it is ‘fitting’, recognised as right and suitable, that the wife graciously submit to her husband.


Verse 19

‘Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh against them.’

The corollary to the wife’s subjection is the husband’s loving concern. Husband’s are to behave to their wives as Christ to the church, cosseting them and caring for them and making sacrifices for them (Ephesians 5:25-31).


Verse 20

‘Children obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing in the Lord.’

This is the general principle. Children are not to rebel against their parents wishes, but to respond to their directing as though the direction came from Christ Himself. They are to be concerned about the pleasure they give to the Lord by such behaviour. This thus further presses home the commandment to honour father and mother, a commandment which Jesus had also pressed home (Matthew 15:4-6; Matthew 19:19). But clearly where evil men sought to lead their children into evil ways, or to prevent them worshipping God, this would not apply. A higher law would prevail.


Verse 21

‘Fathers (or ‘parents’), do not provoke (or ‘irritate’) your children, so that they are not discouraged.’

‘Fathers’. The word means ‘parents’ in Hebrews 11:23, so could mean that here. ‘Do not provoke’ by unnecessary or interminable commands. The bringing up of children requires tact and patience if the children are not to be put off and discouraged. Parents should remember that they are forming and fashioning lives.

Sternness will also be required, and even sometimes physical punishment, but it should never be vindictive or excessive or dispensed when out of control, and only when really necessary. Bull-headedness is out. Indeed much teaching should be given by example. This is more likely to be followed than undiscussed and unexplained orders. The fact is that in many cases our children will become what we are, not what we have told them to be.

‘Lest they be discouraged.’ Too many instructions, too many ‘don’ts’, too exacting a standard will only lead to discouragement, rebellion and reluctant eye-service. Not enough instruction will lead to doubt and uncertainty, and even despair. Children need to know what they should do, but also why they should do it or not do it. They are common sense creatures.


Verses 22-24

‘Servants obey in all things those who are your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do work heartily as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that it is from the Lord that you will receive the recompense of the inheritance. You serve the Lord Christ.’

These words apply to all who serve in any way. Christians should be responsive and biddable to those who have the right to bid them. They should not only work hard when watched, but also when no one is watching. They should remember that the Lord is watching and will require their failure of them or reward them for their dedication. They should have only one aim. To please the Lord. For in the end they have only one Lord, Christ Himself. Many to whom these words were addressed were slaves, but they were to remember that they were the Lord’s freemen (1 Corinthians 7:22; Romans 8:21; John 8:36) and behave accordingly.

‘Obey in all things.’ Willing to do anything unless forbidden by a higher law. ‘Your masters according to the flesh.’ That is, from a human point of view. ‘Not with eye-service.’ Either working hard only when being watched or doing only what will be visible to the naked eye. Either way it means skimping on work. ‘Singleness of heart.’ Having only one purpose in mind, to do the job fully and satisfactorily, remembering that the Lord is watching and will require it of them.

‘Whatever you do, work heartily.’ The Christian always gives his best in everything. And he knows that by so doing he receives the greater inheritance, for His Lord will not overlook what he has done.

‘The recompense of the inheritance.’ See Galatians 3:18; Galatians 4:1; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 1:12. We are both the Lord’s heritage and will receive from Him our inheritance, the ‘inheritance of the saints in light’ (Colossians 1:12). For, in the final analysis, the Lord we serve is the Lord Christ. There is a divine paradox here in that the slave of men is the freeman of the Lord and will finally receive the greater inheritance.


Verse 25

‘For he who does wrong will receive again the wrong that he has done, and there is no respect of persons.’

This is the final general principle that applies to all situations and to all men regardless of position. None is exempt. What a man sows he will reap (Galatians 6:7). And though the Christian be forgiven, redeemed and accepted by God in His mercy ‘we must all be openly revealed as what we are before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad’ (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 14:10-12; ). His salvation will not be in doubt but the level of his reward or lack of reward will be so (compare 1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

‘Respect of persons.’ Here this is attached to the instructions concerning servants. There were many grades of servants and slaves. It is noteworthy that in Ephesians it is attached to the instructions concerning masters (Ephesians 6:9). It applies equally to both. All will be treated on exactly the same basis.

It should be considered here that Paul is not justifying the social order. He is working within it and removing its harshness. But to try to change it would have caused upheavals and suffering he would not have wanted to cause. Changing the roots of society is something that must be done gradually. He knew that his prime concern and responsibility was the spread and success of the Gospel, and that that would then right the wrongs in the relationships of men far more quickly than any social campaign could do. For in the end it is not social distinctions, but how men behave towards each other that is important. When that is right the rest will follow. And Paul knew this fully. It was, in fact, through the teaching of the Gospel that slavery would finally be condemned.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Colossians 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/colossians-3.html. 2013.

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