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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 3

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

The apostle opens this section by picking up a thread that is woven into the fabric of the epistle beginning in Chapter 2:12. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God...." Here, the Christians’ death, burial, and resurrection with Christ are stated as a fact. In Colossians 2:20, this marvelous fact is used as a basis for showing the absurdity of submitting themselves to human ordinances. Now, Paul returns to this great premise (verse 1) to show the wonder and beauty of the true Christian life--that life that is "hid with Christ in God" (verse 3).

The heretic and his doctrine, central themes in Colossians 2, are not mentioned again directly. They are, however, always close to Paul’s consciousness. His description of the rich and blessed spiritual life in Christ is an obvious contrast to the barren rules and empty arrogance of the heretic.

Outline of the Chapter

Verses 1-4: Exhortations to heavenly-mindedness

Verses 5-9: Exhortations to put off the old sinful man

Verses 10-17: Exhortations to put on the new spiritual man

Verses 18-25: Exhortations about social obligations of wives, husbands, children, fathers, and servants

Verse 1

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

If ye then be risen with Christ: The "if" here is not conditional. It is like the "if ye be dead with Christ" of Colossians 2:20. The apostle implies they have been raised and draws out the logical ramifications of that fact. In this resurrection, which took place at their baptism, a new spiritual life is created. Paul’s description in Romans 6:4 is "that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

seek those things which are above: The Colossians’ new life should be shown in their priorities. They are to "seek those things which are above." "Those things" is contrasted to "which things" in the last verse of the preceding chapter. There the doctrine and practices of the heretic have only an empty show of wisdom, but the true things from above allow one to catch the spirit of heaven while still on earth. "From above" means these beliefs and practices emanate from above, like the wisdom from above of James 3:17. "Seek" ("aim at, strive for," Thayer 272) implies setting priorities, as the same word does in Matthew 6:33. It anticipates the teaching of verse 11, which shows that, in Christ, nothing else matters but Christians’ closeness to Him.

where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God: The source of the things from above is specified more precisely. It is not from the gods of the "starry host" that the pagans and, at times, the Israelites worshiped (2 Kings 21:3-5), but from the place "where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." We are not to take this as a specific location in heaven and a literal throne. "Sitteth" can imply a certain location, as it does in Matthew 11:16. However, it also designates "a certain state or condition" (Thayer 313), as in Revelation 18:7. We tend to think of God in superhuman, but still human, terms. Thus, it is easy to imagine a jewel-studded throne with God as a wonderfully majestic-looking man upon it. But Stephen says God does not dwell in temples like those made by men (Acts 7:48-49), and the prophet Isaiah says that heaven itself is God’s throne and the earth is His footstool; thus, we are to interpret the phrase as figurative language, suggesting a condition Jesus goes to reassume with God as co-ruler of His universe (66:1).

Verse 2

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

The words "set" and "affection" are very much alike. In fact, Thayer gives their definitions as the same, "to direct one’s mind to a thing, to seek, or strive for" (658). While that would be awkward speech in our culture, such repetition was then a way of laying emphasis. The sense of the phrase can be captured with "direct your mind to minding things above."

The verse is an extension and emphasis of the preceding one. It would be possible for one to set a goal for himself (verse 1) without really putting his heart into it. Paul wants the Colossians to know they must "think heaven" daily. Jesus says the greatest commandment in the law is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matthew 22:37; see also Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 30:6).

Verse 3

For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

For ye are dead: The death of the Colossians is the same as that implied in Colossians 2:12 and spoken of directly in Colossians 2:20 (see definition there). Their deaths mean they have been freed from all things pertaining to this world, the law (Romans 7:1), sin (Romans 6:7), and from lusts of the flesh in general. Being free from these impediments, it is appropriate to expect them to direct their hearts toward things above. These are powerful words.

Paul’s instructions mean that Christians have power over their minds to direct them to heavenly things. Our generation sorely needs this lesson. So many persons in modern America are bullied by their emotions, habits, or addictions. Some refuse to admit it. Others acknowledge it and then claim the affliction as excuse to continue in their sinful habits. That is not the way it works with Paul. It may be that an alcoholic, for example, does not have the power within himself to give up the bottle at a particular moment. That admission only obligates him to get help--from the Lord, his brethren, physicians, et cetera--until such time as he has the power within himself. This action is "putting to death his members on the earth" as Paul orders in verse 5.

and your life is hid with Christ in God: "Life" does not refer to the physical, but to "life [that] is real and genuine" (Thayer 273). Thayer comments that it is the true "life after the resurrection" (275). I think he is right because it is "hid with Christ in God." We do not see it now; Christians may not look any different from sinners to the human eye. The difference will be revealed at the resurrection when disciples shall come forth to life and sinners to eternal death (John 5:29).

Lenski notes it is death that gives the Colossians and us this genuine life, Christ’s death first and then ours with Him (154). Life from death is a principle in nature, and we should not be surprised to meet it in the spiritual realm. Paul says the seed we sow is not made alive until it dies (1 Corinthians 15:36). Like our genuine life, the life in the seed is hidden until the grain dies and a new body is resurrected.

Verse 4

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

When Christ, who is our life: What a beautiful picture of our spiritual life it is that Paul completes with this verse! It begins at baptism with our death to the world and our resurrection to a new life in Christ (2:11-12). It continues throughout our tenure on earth by the nourishment supplied by the Messiah, our head (2:19; Ephesians 4:13). Now, it is pictured in a grand culmination at our resurrection when Christ returns. At that time, our earthly bodies will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-55) to immortal ones, fit to house the full abundance of our eternal life that then shall be revealed. At that time, truly "death is swallowed up in victory."

Contemplating this rich and wonder-filled picture, one is amazed that the Colossians even could be tempted to give it up for the barren arrogance of a false doctrine that offered so little. Yet, immediately we are reminded of neighbors and friends who have sacrificed equally for empty philosophies, such as humanism. With still greater amazement, we view those Christians who have followed spiritual charlatans into saying, with Hymenaeus and Philetus, that "the resurrection is past already" (2 Timothy 2:17-18).

shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory: "Shall appear" is the same word as "is made manifest" in Chapter 1:26. Its basic meaning is "to make manifest or visible or known" (Thayer 648). That passage compares to the mystery of Christ’s coming to earth that was hidden for ages but is now revealed in the gospel. Here, Paul speaks of the fact that Christ, who is now hidden from human view in heaven, will be visibly manifested at His return (Acts 1:10-11). The same word is used of the Colossians, "shall ye also appear"; the passage shows that their eternal life that is "hid with Christ" shall also be revealed at Christ’s return.

This revelation will take place "in glory," which Thayer defines as "the glorious condition of blessedness into which it is appointed and promised that true Christians shall enter after their savior’s return from heaven" (156). Pulling himself away from this majestic vision, Paul now turns to practical considerations that are necessary while we are still on the pilgrimage from earth to heaven. The first order of business is to make sure that all vestiges of the old life of sin are put away.

Verse 5

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth: The basic definition of "mortify" is "to put to death" (Thayer 424); but, as the context shows, the meaning here is "to deprive of power or destroy the strength of" (Thayer 424). These Christians have died with Christ (2:20) and have been raised to new life with him (2:12). Does Paul’s admonition mean their death is incomplete or invalid? Lenski shows from a similar passage, Romans 8:13, that this is a continuous action (156). We put to death the members of the body and "keep bringing death upon them."

"Members," when used literally, means "a member or limb" of the human body (Thayer 397). Here it is used metonymically for the sins members used to commit. This figurative usage is not unusual in the Old or New Testaments. Solomon says God hates hands that shed innocent blood, feet that run to mischief and so forth (Proverbs 6:16). Hands and feet do not act alone; he is speaking of the wicked use in which these members of the body may be engaged. Jesus says if your eye offends you, pluck it out; if your hand offends you, cut it off (Matthew 5:29-30). To take these statements literally would miss the Lord’s lesson. In the same way, Paul’s meaning is to deprive of power the lusts of heart that work themselves out through the members of the body. Illustrations of the sins and the lusts that produce them follow.

fornication: "Fornication" refers to "illicit sexual intercourse in general" (Thayer 532). The New International Version translates the word "sexual immorality," which is somewhat loose because there are forms of sexual immorality that technically do not involve intercourse. But the word is a broad one, not specifying the type of act (heterosexual, homosexual, bestiality, etc.) or the persons (married or unmarried) involved. Adultery, by contrast, is more specific. It refers to sexual infidelity of a married person against the spouse. While many have stumbled over these terms, the meaning is clear. One is broad; one is narrow. All adultery is fornication, but not all fornication is adultery. Such language is common and poses little problem until someone with a vested interest takes hold of it.

Imagine this simple exchange. "Stevens Marine Company manufactures boats." "What about sail boats?" "Yes, that is the type of boat I mean." The general word "boat," in this example, is used to refer to a specific type of vessel. Now consider a similar exchange. "Stevens Marine Company manufactures boats." "What about sail boats?" "Yes, those and many other types of boats." As in these examples, fornication is distinguished from adultery in Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21 but is used to mean adultery in Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9.

uncleanness: "Uncleanness," when used in a moral sense as it is here, means "the impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living" (Thayer 27). This term illustrates what is said in the preceding paragraphs about fornication and adultery. It is more inclusive even than fornication. It includes sexual sins but also other behaviors prompted by lust, that is, gluttony, greed, and so forth.

inordinate affection: "Inordinate affection," which the New International Version renders "shameful lusts" and MacKnight (391) gives as "unnatural lusts," is defined as "depraved passion" (Thayer 472). The same word is translated "vile affection" in Romans 1:26. There the context indicates male and female homosexuality. The word would include any of the much publicized sexual perversions that western cultures are being pushed to accept as natural. Paul declares they are not natural but depraved.

evil concupiscence: "Concupiscence" means strong "desire or craving" (Thayer 238). Being coupled here with "evil," it means a craving for what God has forbidden. It is translated "lust" in James 1:15 and said to be the mother of sinful behavior.

and covetousness, which is idolatry: "Covetousness" is a "greedy desire to have more" (Thayer 516). It is properly labeled idolatry because a covetous person puts his trust in material things and places them first in his affection. Paul describes the love of money as "the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Apparently God felt the same because idolatry is prohibited first in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3). We rarely see open worship of idols in America, but this less obvious form of idolatry is alive and well.

Verse 6

For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:

The "wrath" ("anger that is exhibited in punishment," Thayer 452) of God comes on those who participate in these sinful behaviors. There is debate as to whether "cometh" means "will come" or "has come." The real meaning of the passage is little affected by which choice one makes. If it is "has come," the examples of it are many and powerful--Sodom and Gomorrah, the nations God drove out before the Israelites, and even the Israelites themselves when they imitated heathen behaviors (see the book of 2 Kings, especially Chapters 17 and 21). These peoples were signally guilty of the types of sensual/sexual sins Paul here condemns.

If the phrase means "will come," it speaks of the full and ultimate wrath of God on sinners at the final judgment. God has, in special cases such as those just noted, punished specific sinners in this life. He does so to sinners now through His providential order in the universe. But even in the Old Testament, inspired writers knew the full and true accounting will come at the judgment (Daniel 7:7-11; Daniel 12:1-2).

This passage is closely related to Ephesians 5:6, except there Paul precedes it with the warning, "Let no man deceive you with vain words." How apt is that warning for these days in which the most detestable practices are described as "just another normal lifestyle." In the Ephesian passage, "children of disobedience" are contrasted with "children of light."

Verse 7

In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

Paul reminds the Colossians they practiced the sins mentioned in verse 5 before they died with Christ and rose with Him to a new life. MacKnight points out that the two main phrases of this verse are a repetition, and they are, probably for emphasis (392). "Walk" is the same word as in Colossians 1:10; Colossians 2:6. Its meaning is "to regulate one’s life" (Thayer 504), suggesting their lives revolved around these evil practices. "Live" means just what the English word suggests. Colosse was a pagan city, and we would expect the Christians to have participated in the sins of their culture before their regeneration in Christ. But by emphasizing "ye walked," Paul implies that even then they had a choice. They participated in the lewdness of their neighbors willingly and with pleasure.

Verse 8

But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

But now ye also put off all these: The sins Paul listed in verse 5 grow out of uncontrolled lusts. Those in this passage come from unbridled emotions. "Ye also" may mean, as Lenski says, "you like other Christians (160)." But it seems more likely to say "in addition" to the behaviors named in verse 5. "Put off" implies that something close to one’s self is taken off and laid aside (Thayer 69). The removal of soiled clothing is a fitting example. Verse 5 enjoins that these "members" be put to death; so now they must be buried or "put away."

anger, wrath: "Anger" and "wrath" are related terms and occasionally are used interchangeably. Here they speak of different forms of the same emotion. Barclay suggests the first is slow-burning, long-lasting anger, what might be termed "indignation" (153), which is one of the synonyms Thayer (452) gives for it. Rage is a good synonym for "wrath," which Thayer describes as "anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding" (293). Paul uses the same words in Ephesians 4:31 where the order is reversed. This passage may suggest that long-held indignation suddenly may erupt into rage; or rage not resolved may simmer into indignation. The only safe way to handle either is to "put it off."

malice: "Malice" is "ill-will [that] desires to injure" (Thayer 320). It is translated "wickedness" in Acts 8:22 where the context shows the heart of the holder is not right. These stages of emotion imply a progression from indignation, to rage, to a desire to injure. One is reminded of a similar progression of anger given by Jesus in Matthew 5:22. There the Lord shows that the more severe one’s anger, the more severe the judgment he is likely to sustain. No wonder the Master advises, "Agree with thine adversary quickly" (Matthew 5:25).

blasphemy: Anger may be held within for a while; but if not resolved, sooner or later it shows itself in behavior, the most common form of which is "blasphemy"--"railing, reviling, slander, speech injurious to another’s good name" (Thayer 102). Blasphemy is the devil’s specialty. Satan and his free use of slander is contrasted with Michael who would not bring such a "railing accusation" against the devil himself (Judges 1:9). Blasphemy can be toward God or men. Most Christians would not think of slandering God, but how little thought is given to using it against our fellow man. Jesus says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).

filthy communication out of your mouth: "Filthy communication" is "foul speaking, low and obscene speech" (Thayer 17). It includes coarse insults that are characteristic of blasphemy and also vulgar talk that may not be directed against a specific individual. Such talk demeans everyone who hears it.

Verse 9

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;

Lie not one to another: The list of sins that Christians must put off is continued. "Lie not" is an imperative and could be translated "Never lie." Thus, Paul settles a question that is often debated to no avail in university ethics classes: When is a lie justified? The answer is emphatic. Never! Nor is any form of lie permissible. The original word is broad and inclusive. It covers "to show one’s self deceitful" as well as "deliberate falsehoods" (Thayer 675). Christians must "walk honestly, as in the day" (Romans 13:13).

seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds: "Put off," in this passage, is from a stronger word than in verse 8. The difference is symbolized by inserting the word "wholly" at the beginning of the definition, i.e. "wholly to put off from one’s self" (Thayer 56). The "old man," the subject of this action, is the "body of the sins of the flesh" of Colossians 2:11. Can there be any doubt that Paul means for the sinful nature to be completely destroyed? He is "wholly put off," "mortified" (verse 5), and "crucified" (Romans 6:6). Thus, dead and buried, Christians need to make no "provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14).

Does Paul’s strong discussion of these sins imply the Colossians were guilty of them? Not necessarily. It may be a reminder of what would happen if they left the Lord to follow the false teacher.

Verse 10

And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

With this passage, Paul begins a discussion of the positive side of Christianity--of what must be put on when the old man is put off. There is no doubt that the "flesh," with all its affections and lusts, must be destroyed. But this destruction is impossible without putting a spiritual heart in place of the fleshly one. Christianity can never be totally negative. The Jews tried that (see Matthew 12:43-45) and ended up in a state of barren self-righteousness that caused them to crucify the Son of God.

And have put on the new man: "New" man means "recently born" (Thayer 424). They were new-born through the new birth of John 3:3-5. Not only were they "new creatures" (2 Corinthians 5:17) but they were being continually renewed, which is the meaning of the phrase "is renewed." Our rebirth in Christ is continuous, not a once and for all act. There is a parallel in the natural realm. An infant is a "new creature," but even in newborns cells regularly die and are replaced. This is the process that produces growth. An infant is new but daily renewed, and so are Christians (2 Corinthians 4:16).

which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Our renewal is "in knowledge." The word is used in a technical sense of "precise and correct knowledge," applying most commonly to God and His will (Thayer 237). It is the kind of knowledge that is "after the image of Him that created him." Adam had this likemindedness to God in the Garden of Eden, but he and we lost it with the fall. According to Romans 8:29, God intends that we should be "recreated" in the image of His Son. Thus, our task, in Christ and with His help, is to gain back what was lost in Eden. In so doing, we will prepare ourselves to be God’s companions, as was Adam.

Verse 11

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision: Ellicott notes that distinguishing characteristics of the "new man" are love for humans and thanksgiving toward God (113). The new eyes of the new man see differently from those of the old one. Such matters as nationality, so important to the Jews, are no longer of concern. Christ is now everything in every way.

Greeks boasted of their learning (1 Corinthians 1:22) and the Jews of their relationship to God. None of that matters now. The wisdom of all men is foolishness in Christ, and Jews no longer have exclusive access to God. "Circumcision nor uncircumcision" is just an extension of Jew and Greek, which in Christ are nothing (1 Corinthians 7:19).

Barbarian, Scythian: "Barbarian, Scythian" are not opposites, as the other pairs of terms, in a sense, are because the connecting word "nor" is omitted. "Barbarian" means anyone who did not speak the Greek language and understand its culture. The word is used in a derogatory sense now, but it was not always so (Acts 28:2; 1 Corinthians 14:11). The meaning seems adequately captured by the English word "foreign." "Scythians" inhabited what is now Russia; but because they were regarded as the "wildest of all barbarians" (Thayer 580), the word became a synonym for savage. By the use of these terms, Paul strikes a blow at the snobbish intellectualism of the Colossian heretic. Furthermore, he shows the power of the gospel to change even the meanest of savages. From God’s point of view, this power is needed for the regeneration of highly civilized individuals. And as missionaries of all ages could testify, it is fully equal to the task with the most "scythian" of men.

bond nor free: "Bond nor free" does not matter to the new man--a difficult principle for Americans who have long prized personal freedom. But Paul understands that a slave is "the Lord’s freeman," and a freeman is "Christ’s slave" (1 Corinthians 7:22).

but Christ is all, and in all: The preceding list is not intended to be exhaustive; it gives examples of common distinctions made by people in that day. Paul could have included others, and did in similar passages (Galatians 3:28). We can insert the ones important to modern Americans. Humans of all ages have made such distinctions to make themselves feel important. The practice probably cannot be erased until Christ becomes "all, and in all." Then, as with Paul, these privileges become "dung" in comparison to Him (Philippians 3:8). Lenski suggests that the "all" that Christ becomes to the Christian is all that Paul has said about Him in Chapters 1 and 2 (165). What else can a spiritual person desire?

Verse 12

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

Put on therefore, as the elect of God: Paul’s list of positive traits of the new man is introduced in a majestic manner--by calling the Colossians "the elect of God, holy and beloved." The election of God’s people is dealt with more directly and fully in several passages (Romans 8:29-33; Romans 9:10-14; Romans 11:1-7; Ephesians 1:4-6). Here the writer seems to assume readers will understand it. Those references are the proper place for a complete treatment of the topic. A few observations only will be offered here.

"Elect" means "picked out, or chosen" (Thayer 197). The choosing is done by God: humans cannot choose Him. Here, as in other passages (Ephesians 1:1-6), the election is of the church as God’s people, not of individuals. This interpretation compares to God’s choice of the Israelites. He chose the nation, all descendants of Jacob, not individual Israelites. Accordingly David says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance" (Psalms 33:12).

The election by God was done "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). With the whole human race in His infinite mind, He determined to call "all nations" (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 66:20; Daniel 7:14; Joel 2:28-32). All who would accept His call, given through the gospel, would be added to His church (Acts 2:47) and become His "peculiar people" (Titus 2:14), His elect.

God’s call is not overwhelming to the human will; individuals must hear the call and respond. We must be called to His supper, as the word "bidden" in Matthew 22:3 means, but many of those called do not come. Jesus says, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14).

holy and beloved: The purpose of our election is "that we should be holy and without blame before him" (Ephesians 1:4) or, in the words of the verse at hand, "holy and beloved." If we allow God to work out His purpose for us, so will we be. But again, our will can submit to God’s purpose or frustrate it (Galatians 2:21). God chose Israel, but they rebelled against Him and were destroyed. Jesus chose His apostles and ordained that they should go and bear fruit (John 15:16). Eleven of them did; one gave himself to the devil and was lost. All of these principles are wonderfully illustrated in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22:1-14.

bowels of mercies: In a literal sense, "bowels" refers to the visceral organs such as heart, liver, lungs, and so forth. But because the Hebrews assumed these to be the seat of tender emotions, the word became a synonym for heart in the affectionate sense (Philemon 1:7). "Mercies" means "compassion" (Thayer 442). The use of two words with similar meanings is not an unusual way for Biblical writers to create emphasis. The "tender mercy" of Luke 1:78 is a related example. Mercy by definition is tender.

kindness: "Kindness" means just what the English word suggests. Understanding the term is easy; practicing the courteous speech and behavior that it implies may not be.

humbleness of mind: "Humbleness of mind" is the word that is translated "humility" in Colossians 2:18; Colossians 2:23. It refers to a "deep sense of one’s moral littleness" (Thayer 614). For most persons, this state cannot be attained by comparing themselves to each other. It is too easy to magnify one’s own virtues and others’ faults. No doubt that is the reason Paul says those who make such comparisons are not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12). The Pharisee’s prayer, "I thank thee, that I am not as other men are" (Luke 18:10-14), showed how he was measuring himself. When one uses the proper standard, Jesus, humility will come handily.

meekness: "Meekness" means "gentleness" (Thayer 535), a characteristic of servants of God (2 Timothy 2:24-25) and wise men (James 3:13). As is true of kindness, gentleness describes the new man’s speech and behavior. Its opposite is strife (2 Timothy 2:24).

longsuffering: "Longsuffering" describes how one responds to frustrations in general but particularly to personal wrongs. He is patient and slow to avenge wrongs (Thayer 387). (See Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 16:32.)

Verse 13

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Forbearing one another: "Forbearing one another" is a continuation of the thought introduced by "longsuffering" in the previous verse. This word means "to bear with or endure" (Thayer 45). While the admonition would apply to any situation in which endurance is needed, it seems to point particularly to offensive opinions, speech, and so forth. For this reason, it is sometimes defined as "to listen." Wives, who complain of husbands not valuing their opinions, might remind them that listening is a virtue. All disciples should remember Paul’s admonition of Romans 14:1 to receive our weak brethren and refrain from arguing about their opinions.

and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye: "Forgiving" is the same as in Colossians 2:13. It is a rather formal word, meaning "to grant forgiveness or to pardon" (Thayer 665). Its formality is probably related to "quarrel," which denotes a "matter of complaint against" another (Thayer 417). This thought suggests "a case," though not necessarily one that is in court or even before the church. Paul does not imply there is such a case in the church, but rather that they are likely to occur.

The forgiveness is to be quick and mutual, for so "one another" implies. The justification for this demand of Christians is "as Christ forgave you." Whatever we are required to forgive in our brothers, it is certain that Christ has forgiven us of more (see Matthew 18:21-35).

Verse 14

And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

And above all these things put on charity: "Charity" is the agape that first makes its appearance in the Song of Solomon (Thayer 4) and is brought to prominence by John, Paul, and Peter. It is the word used in Colossians 1:4 (see notes). By use of a definite article, "the love," Paul suggests an idea that is familiar to Christians--"real love." Other types may masquerade as genuine, but this one alone is true love.

which is the bond of perfectness: Continuing to describe the spiritual attire of the new man, Paul says charity should be put on "above all these things." These things are the seven virtues listed in verses 12 and 13. Many writers (MacKnight 392; Clarke 528; Ellicott 114) agree that "above" suggests "over all," that is as a girdle or belt. The girdle of the eastern cultures bound their long, flowing robes to them and held the clothes together. The thought seems to be that love binds together other virtues into a harmonious personality with behaviors that match.

Some scholars think what is bound together ("bond" means "that which binds together," Thayer 601) are the members of the Christian community (Carson 88; Lenski 174). Although love has that effect, such an interpretation of this passage seems strained. Paul is discussing the effect of these virtues on individual Christians, the new man, not the church as a whole. Here love is the motivator, the heart and soul, of the behaviors called for above.

How does one "put on" true love? Our generation sees itself as servant of its emotions, not master of them. We "fall in" love as if it were an accident and just as frequently "fall out." In neither case are we willing to take the responsibility for "putting it on or off." Paul, through inspiration, knew the human psyche better than 2000 years of psychology. A particular emotion, such as true love for one’s fellow man, may be temporarily beyond one’s reach. But it can be attained if he practices the behaviors of love and thinks in accord with those behaviors. A harmony of cognition and behavior will change discordant emotions.

The bond of "perfection" refers to moral and spiritual completeness (Thayer 618). The Colossian heretic taught that only a select few could attain this perfection, and then through his special knowledge. Paul says, "Not so! All Christians can attain it through love."

Verse 15

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts: This passage connects the previous one, which exhorts Christians to love one another, and the following verse, which urges a loving service to Christ. The "peace of God" is the peace that God gives or the peace one receives from having given himself to God. See Colossians 1:2 for a definition of "peace" and comments. Several writers point out that the word here translated "God" probably should be "Christ," as most translations give it. The true meaning of the statement is unaffected by either choice. As Philippians 4:7 shows, the peace of God comes through Christ.

This peace is to "rule" ("direct or control," Thayer 105) our hearts. "Hearts" refers to "the understanding," in humans, "the faculty and seat of intelligence" (Thayer 325). Lenski argues strongly and in convoluted fashion that it is God’s peace in our hearts that decides who gets "the crown and prize" of salvation (174-176). Aside from whether this view agrees with other scriptures (and it does not seem to do so--see 2 Timothy 4:8 that says God gives the crown), a more straightforward interpretation seems appropriate. Human intelligence can be employed in many and varied uses. With the peace of God directing it, it will always be employed in matters that well serve God and other disciples.

to the which also ye are called in one body: Paul says we "are called" into this peace. "Called" means "invited" (Thayer 321). Thayer adds, "those are called who have listened to His [God’s] voice addressed to them in the gospel." The Colossians have done so. No one is included among the chosen of God who has not responded to the Lord’s invitation by obeying the gospel (see comments on verse 12).

Further, in order to have this peace, we are called into "one body." There is no doubt the body is the church. Thayer so defines the word, as do the scriptures (611) (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22-23). Paul elaborates this principle in greater detail in Ephesians 2:14-19. There he shows that God, in saving the Gentiles, did not want two churches, one for them and another for the Jews. The lesson is clear and emphatic: God calls all Christians into one body, one church. He adds the saved (Acts 2:47) to "the church." From whence then came the multitude of churches all claiming to be dedicated to God?

and be ye thankful: "Be ye thankful" is an imperative. It means always be thankful.

Verse 16

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.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another: As one reads what has been written on this verse, it is clear the same questions have arisen repeatedly through the ages. Two of those are (1) does this instruction apply to public worship or to private devotions and (2) how should the verse be punctuated?

The following reasons suggest Paul has public assemblies in view. The teaching and admonishing are to be of "one another." Mutual edification is under consideration, as is true also of 1 Corinthians 14, which certainly speaks of public worship. Second, the context of the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:19 suggests a contrast between pagan assemblies and true worship (see MacKnight 340): "Be not drunk with wine," as was the practice of the pagans in their festivals, "but be filled with the Spirit." Third, Paul gives instructions for singing in the worship that he is probably alluding to here, especially 1 Corinthians 14:26 (see Ellicott 115).

There are passages that enjoin singing and teaching in private settings (James 5:13; Acts 20:20). The application of this passage to public worship does not suggest these Christian activities are inappropriate in private.

The Revised Standard Version and New International Version are in agreement that Christians are to "teach and admonish one another with all wisdom," and sing spiritual songs with grace in [their] hearts." This interpretation gives the real sense of the verse. The phrase "with all wisdom" seems clearly to apply to teaching. "Wisdom" is defined as "skill and discretion in imparting Christian truth" (Thayer 581). The word "dwell" also, according to Thayer, applies to the word of Christ being held in or by the assembly (217).

in psalms: "Psalms" originally referred to "striking the chords" of a musical instrument (Thayer 675), but it came to mean the songs that were often played on an instrument. Here it is defined as "a pious song" (Thayer 675) like those composed by David. Thayer appropriately notes that 1 Corinthians 14:26 speaks of one singing or reciting a psalm, not playing an instrument. The meaning in this verse is similar, as "singing with grace in your hearts" shows. Many of the Psalms of David were sung by the early Christians, and some still are sung.

and hymns: A "hymn" was originally a song of praise to any god or hero. In the New Testament, it is a song of praise to God (Thayer 637).

and spiritual songs: "Spiritual" means things "emanating from the Divine Spirit, or exhibiting its effects and so its character" (Thayer 523). Because of this meaning, some writers believe "spiritual songs" are first uttered under inspiration of the Spirit. They then were likely written down for general use by the church. Because of the latter part of the definition, any song that shows the effects and character of the Spirit, or spiritual nature, would seem to fit the designation.

singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord: All of the singing, being "to the Lord," is to be accompanied by heart-felt devotion to Him. (For an extensive discussion of how instrumental music affects the heart, see Lipscomb and Shepherd 298-299.)

Verse 17

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.

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed: Paul has just discussed public worship. That discussion seems to have reminded him that a spirit of worship should pervade Christians’ entire lives. From the verbal praise of singing and teaching, he passes on to "whatsoever ye do in word or deed." At all times and in speech and behavior, disciples must be conscious of Him to whom we belong. Although prompted by discussion of a different matter, 1 Corinthians 10:31 concludes a topic in a similar way: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

do all in the name of the Lord Jesus: "Name" means "by one’s command and authority, acting on his behalf, promoting his cause" (Thayer 447). The Jews understood the word in this way when they asked Peter and John about healing the lame man, "By what power, or by what name have ye done this?" (Acts 4:7). Thayer (447) suggests, the context of this verse somewhat broadens the word to mean "mindful of Christ." We are asked to keep the Messiah in view at all times, asking ourselves, "In doing or saying this, am I conforming to the image of Him who loved me and died to save me?"

giving thanks to God and the Father by him: We are to give thanks to God by or through Christ because the blessings for which we give thanks come through Him.

Paul now turns from the grand themes that previously have occupied him to practical matters of the new life in Christ. This discussion continues through verse 1 of Colossians 4. It concerns proper conduct within the principal relationships of one’s life: husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and servants. These are the relationships that make life happy or unhappy, difficult or easy. It is not surprising that Christianity has something to say about the way they should be conducted.

Verse 18

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands: This passage and the next is a brief treatment of marriage that Paul discusses in grand detail in Ephesians 5:22-32. In this verse, he states without comment what Christian wives are to do; there he gives the majestic spiritual meaning behind the behavior. In light of modern resistance to this and similar passages, one might wonder why Paul does not explain marriage to this church as he does to Ephesus. In fact, both letters are intended to be read by both churches (see comments on Colossians 4:16).

"Submit yourselves unto" means "to subject one’s self or to obey" (Thayer 645). "Husband" is the general word for "man" (Thayer 45) as distinguished from a woman. It is the phrase, "your own" man," that identifies the object of submission as the husband, the man to whom a wife belongs. The submission of women is not to men in general, but to their "own" husbands.

as it is fit in the Lord: Paul says this behavior is "fit" in the Lord, suggesting something is "due" the husband that must be performed by the wife (Thayer 45). Lenski argues the phrase should be translated "as was ever fitting" (181). A wife’s submission is thus taken back to the Garden of Eden. This connection is appropriate for two reasons. First, the Divine order of creation, as explained by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:9, shows it is God’s plan from the beginning that Adam should have dominion over all the earth. Second, a part of Eve’s penalty for being first to sin is related to her submission (Genesis 3:16).

Discussions of the marital relationship rarely include the most sublime truths about marriage. Ephesians 5:22-32 shows the relationship between Christian spouses is intended to be a visible and embraceable picture of the relationship between Christ and His church. It is a part of God’s plan for teaching the world about His Son’s body. To the Christian wife, God gives the role of demonstrating how the church should submit to Christ, its husband (2 Corinthians 11:2). The husband is assigned the celestial task of demonstrating Christ’s love for His church. In our day, churches show scant regard for submitting to Christ, and men generally show little love for the church. We can only wonder how different it might be had Christian husbands and wives taught their lessons well, not to speak of the wonderful marital harmony that would also result.

Verse 19

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Husbands, love your wives: Marital obligations are reciprocal. Paul did not tell wives to be submissive to husbands in isolation; he gave different but equal obligations. The word for the love that is required of husbands is a form of agape of verse 14, and the meaning is very similar (Thayer 3). It enjoins husbands to give honor to and look out for the welfare of their wives as Christ does for the church.

and be not bitter against them: "Be not bitter" is translated by both Revised Standard Version and New International Version as "do not be harsh" with them. This command seems intended as a protection for wives; Paul has no wish to subject Christian wives to un-Christian treatment.

The parallel passage in Ephesians 5:29 adds that husbands are to "nourish and cherish" wives. "Nourish" is sometimes translated "to feed" (NIV), and it may refer to providing for in a physical sense. Thayer, however, says it means "to nourish up to maturity" (200). Wives and husbands are physically mature at marriage, so the meaning must be spiritual adulthood. This interpretation better fits the context that speaks of Christ’s bringing the church to a glorious completeness. Thus, Paul gives the husband the responsibility of being a spiritual leader in the family, of looking out for his own spiritual growth and his wive’s as well.

The literal meaning of "cherish" is "to keep warm" (Thayer 282). What a picturesque view of good-husband behavior! A more contextual meaning is to promote growth by tender care. A modern definition of cherish is to build up in the mind. A husband who is not somewhat daunted by the physical, mental, and spiritual care he must give his wife probably has not understood the requirements.

The husband who thinks only of the authority God gives him and the wife who sees submission only as a burden miss great truths that could promote their growth. Commenting on Ephesians 5:24, Ellicott notes the spiritual lessons to be drawn from a comparison of the two relationships under study (52). For example, the church’s submission to Christ is voluntary. The Lord wants Christians to follow Him because they believe, not by being threatened. So, too, is the wife’s submission to her husband. It is something she gives by faith; not a response he forces from her.

Husbands can easily teach themselves the foregoing lesson by recalling that all Christians are to submit to the elders of the congregation (Hebrews 13:17). Suppose the elders find that a husband is not living as he should. How will he want them to deal with him? Most men who abuse their wives justify their behavior by claiming the wives are not obedient. Will these husbands accord church leaders the right to beat them when they displease the leaders? If a husband is truly concerned about his wife’s submission, he should remember that Christ promotes obedience in His bride by loving care. "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Romans 2:4). No Christian who understands Paul’s teaching will accuse him of being prejudiced for or against men or women.

Verse 20

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

Children, obey your parents in all things: As is characteristic of this epistle, Paul states concisely the duty of children to obey parents. Ephesians 6:1-3 adds that children are to "honor thy father and mother." Obedience is not of hands only, but of the heart as well. Obedience and honor to parents is "right" (Ephesians 6:1) because it is in "keeping with the commands of God" (Thayer 148).

Paul also adds, in Ephesians 6:2-3, that the command has a promise attached, "that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." He refers to Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16. In those passages the promise is confined to "the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee," that is, to Hebrew children and their parents. Paul, by inspiration, broadens it to children of all "the earth."

for this is well pleasing unto the Lord: "Well" means to "fare well or prosper" (Thayer 256). The promise is general and does not imply that a specific unit of obedience will meet with a weighted measure of success. But the promise is definite. It will be fulfilled in two ways. First, in honoring and obeying parents young people develop the self-discipline and other traits of character that make it easy for them to advance in jobs, careers, or business. Second, God promises to bless them because their behavior is "well-pleasing" to Him.

How long does this command last? Some people seem to worry about whether they must obey parents in adulthood. "Children" means simply "offspring" (Thayer 617); it does not imply sex or age. Reason would suggest that a man’s "leaving father and mother and cleaving unto his wife" (Genesis 2:24) would alter his relationship with his parents. However, we are taught to "...rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man..." (Leviticus 19:32). Surely such admonition would apply in double measure to those who gave us birth. Children who obey their parents while under their care and honor them all their lives likely will find the question of obeying parents in adulthood a nonissue.

Verse 21

Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

Fathers: Conscious that he has asked children to obey parents, Paul now moves to protect them from harsh treatment. This teaching is similar to the protection given to wives in verse 19. The instructions are to fathers who, by temperament and position as head of the family, might be more likely to abuse children. This teaching does not suggest that mothers may be unconcerned about how they treat their offspring. It rather implies that children have a right to fair treatment from anyone who has them in charge.

provoke not your children to anger: "Provoke" means "to stir up" or "excite" (Thayer 249). The word can be used in a good sense as it is in 2 Corinthians 9:2, but the context shows it is not so used here. The phrase "to anger" is lacking in the original but is implied from the companion verse of Ephesians 6:4. It is not lacking in that passage because Paul uses a different term that specifically means "to rouse to wrath" (Thayer 490).

lest they be discouraged: "Be discouraged" is defined as "to be disheartened" or "broken in spirit" (Thayer 14). Paul’s knowledge of how abuse of children works upon their minds is accurate and precise. As those who deal with mistreated young persons can testify, "broken in spirit" is an apt description. How does ill treatment affect a child’s heart? Children need to love and trust their parents in order to have the confidence to grow up and face the world constructively. If they are denied this closeness with parents, they have little courage to face others.

One does not have to abuse a child physically to fit the terms Paul is discussing. Ellicott explains the matter as "spurring a willing horse" or pushing a child beyond his limits (115). Holding impossible standards of performance and demanding maturity beyond a child’s years are other examples. Harsh treatment, at its best, is designed to punish a child. Clarke points out that, in general, parents are instructed to correct, not punish, their little ones (467).

A society’s morality can be measured by how it treats its vulnerable members, such as children, old persons, and the mentally ill. If the hearts of fathers cease to be turned to their children, the nation will surely be smitten with a curse (Malachi 4:6). How does our nation score on this measure?

Verse 22

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh: In this passage and those through chapter 4:1, Paul deals with the relationship between servants and masters. Because the word "servant" means "slave" (Thayer 158) and because much of the world’s population was in slavery, the subject was timely for the Colossians. There would likely be no church that did not have slaves and masters within its membership. Then, too, the state of society at the time would suggest many masters were cruel and many slaves shiftless and dishonest. Christianity obligates both to behave differently.

But we are improperly constraining Paul’s admonition if we restrict it to those who served and ruled as being owned and owners. The word "masters" means "owners" (Thayer 365), but it also applies to any "one who has control of [another] person." MacKnight believes that translators of the King James Version deliberately chose to translate the former word as "servants" to show that the teaching applied to hired workers as well as slaves (393). Since almost everyone is either an employee or employer, Paul’s words are as timely now as they were in the A.D. 60’s.

Some have complained because the apostle does not absolutely condemn slavery. There are probably multiple reasons for dealing with the matter as he did. First, to have attacked it directly at that time would have alienated the very people he wants to save and would have distracted many from the great message of the gospel. Owners would have been indignant and slaves forbidden to listen to such "heretical" words. Second, Paul does not look on conditions in this life as do those who are enamored with it. Whether one is slave or free on earth matters little compared to whether he is saved or lost in the great eternity. If Jesus could give up heaven in order to become a slave to save us (Philippians 2:7), should the disciple demand to be above his Lord (Matthew 10:24)?

But perhaps the strongest reason Paul teaches as he does is that it is the surest and least destructive way to work against slavery. Slavery is a political institution, and the church by itself could not eradicate it. However, when master and slave both come to be slaves of the Lord Jesus, when each treats the other with true Christian love, the evil, cumbersome institution becomes irrelevant and as much a burden to master as to slave.

not with eye service, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: "Eye service" means "service performed only under the master’s eye" (Thayer 469). All but the most recalcitrant servants will work well when the master is watching because they want to avoid punishment and gain whatever rewards his pleasure affords. However, the Christian’s real master is always watching, so his behavior should be as good when his earthly master is gone as when present. "Singleness of heart," as Ellicott notes, means the attitude and aims one professes are the ones truly held in the heart (55).

Verse 23

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

These words are an extension of the thoughts expressed in verse 22. "Heartily" means "from the heart" as it is translated in the companion passage of Ephesians 6:6. One’s work, leisure, and "whatsoever ye do" truly belong to the Lord. He has bought us; we are His.

Verse 24

Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

Knowing that of the Lord: Paul gives justification for asking slaves to serve their masters willingly. In truth, they are not serving their earthly owners but their real owner, the Lord.

ye shall receive: Any just reward that temporal masters fail to give will be amply repaid, and any abuse will be fully recompensed. These truths are given by Paul’s choices of the terms "shall receive" and "reward." The first means "to take back or to recover" (Thayer 64). It implies that what one receives from the Lord is by way of retribution. "Reward" is a "recompense" (Thayer 49). Truly vengeance belongs to the Lord and He will repay (Romans 12:19) not only in punishment of the evildoer but with recompense to the victim.

the reward of the inheritance: The Lord’s repayment for service is by means of "inheritance." This is an interesting word that is not found in the companion passages in Ephesians 6:5-8. The Hebrew form is used frequently of the Israelites’ inheritance given them by lot after God rescued them from Egypt (see Joshua chapters 13-16). It came to mean "the eternal blessedness in the consummated kingdom of God which is to be expected after the visible return of Christ" (Thayer 349). As Ellicott notes, Paul promises slaves the very kind of recompense they could never get from earthly masters irrespective of their kindness and generosity, that is, the inheritance of a son (115).

for ye serve the Lord Christ: A slave could not own property under Roman law, but Jesus promises a title to an estate in heaven (John 14:1-3). A slave of the Lord serves Him, but in the perfect freedom of sonship (Galatians 4:7).

Verse 25

But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: Ellicott argues that "he that doeth wrong" refers to masters, pointing to Paul’s specific instructions to them in Ephesians 6:9 (115-116). Lenski insists that it speaks of slaves, noting masters have not yet been addressed (185). They have both missed the point. This verse seems to form a bridge between the apostle’s exhortation to slaves in the preceding verses and to masters in the verse that follows. Therefore, the instruction applies to both.

The slave might think, as many persons do, that the abuse he has suffered justified his retaliation. By the same token, persons of high estate typically expect to get out of punishment for their wrongs. Both are wrong, as far as God is concerned. He does not regard the person of the mighty or overlook the sins of the poor. God orders that justice should not be perverted against the poor or rich, nor in favor of either (Exodus 23:1-8). He commands that the poor should receive help for necessities of life (Deuteronomy 15:7-8), but not partiality in wrongdoing.

and there is no respect of persons: Human societies have rarely gotten justice right. At times the rich are given special privileges, even within the church. The pope’s sale of indulgences, which only the wealthy could afford, was the final straw that sparked Martin Luther’s rebellion against Catholicism. But the opposite stance is in vogue in modern America. All sorts of crimes are justified on the basis of past discrimination or abuse. Paul wants Christians from all points on the spectrum of social status to know that God does not overlook sin. No exceptions! One is not helped in this life by sin, and it shall not be overlooked in judgment.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Colossians 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/colossians-3.html. 1993-2022.
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