Colossians 3:18-25; 4
What characterises Colossians is the life of Christ in us; not the effect of the presence of the Holy Ghost, as in Ephesians, but the life of Christ. The Holy Ghost is the power that acts in me: the power and presence of the Holy Ghost is everything to me, assuming that I have life. I am led by Him, the love of God is shed abroad in my heart by Him, He is the earnest of the inheritance: the consciousness and power of all our relationships is by the Holy Ghost; so that our bodies are His temples. Life is equally important; for if we had it not we could not have the Spirit. He could not put His seal and dwell in us on the mere ground of life; but we being sprinkled with blood, He comes as the witness that we are whiter than snow, and dwells in us. The new life has a capacity to enjoy the things of Christ, but no power of revelation; and we need the power of the Holy Ghost to bring these things to us. They are spiritually discerned. We cannot even use the Word without the Spirit; it is the sword of the Spirit. It is not the life that unites me to Christ, but the Holy Ghost— “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” It is the Holy Ghost that is the power, and it may take me clean out of all relationships with this world (the Lord says to Paul, “I have delivered thee from the people and the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee”), and yet in the fullest way He owns the relationships. We find here some that God did create, and some that He did not. In marriage I get, not redemption or the Holy Ghost, but what was set up at the creation; and what God created God owns. All these relationships are owned in the fullest possible way; they may be dreadful snares, now sin has come in and made everything miserable, and spoiled and corrupted what God made good. Then a power comes in, not grace, but the Spirit, and takes Paul out of Jew and Gentile, and identifies him with a glorified Christ, who sends him with the message of what is heavenly into the world; but he is not of it. “As my Father sent me into the world, even so send I you.” Their bodies were in it, but they were not there morally. They came from Christ; He had sent them. That lifts them above relationships, though God puts His seal on them; and it is one of the signs of the last days, that men are without natural affection. He sanctions them, but they are all to be given up to serve Christ here. Creation is God’s own making, and He never gives up the title to it. Only another power has come in, and from the moment it is a question of Christ I have to give up everything. “Salute no man by the way.” The closest ties were the most dangerous; not that they were not fully owned by God, but “if a man hate not his father and mother … he cannot be my disciple.”
The world—the state of things around—is not what God created it at all; it is sin’s making. I get His beautiful workmanship in it, but spoiled by the devil getting man’s ear. The whole creation is under the bondage of corruption; that is not God’s doing. It is a labour to make people happy; they seek in a thousand ways to forget God, for if they think of God they know they are lost. But there is the world of God’s providence, where not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him; everything is under His hand. He has committed authority to magistrates and so on, and He owns it. If I were innocent as Adam in Eden I should not need magistrates; now this world would be a kind of pandemonium without such. The Christian is to be subject to such authority—the Queen of England or a Turk, wherever it is. It may not be righteousness. I do not look for righteousness but at the right hand of God—Christ. I do not mean it ought not to be, but I do not expect it. My business is to walk as a Christian, and shew the character of Christ, not to set the world right; when Christ comes He will do that, for He will take it into His hand. If I could only set myself and other Christian right, that would be the thing. The Christian should be the perfect presentation of the character of Christ in the world that has turned Him out. We are the living witnesses of what we are enjoying of the Christ they will not have. The world is under judgment, but in grace God has not executed it; He is sending out His gospel.
Now there is a great system of government going on, and God owns it. There were no servants in paradise; there was no stealing. Now God owns property, etc., it is not the original thing that was instituted in goodness, nor the heavenly condition, nor is it in itself what the Christian is (though Christianity maintains it all)—he is the expression of what Christ is; but he owns and submits to all that God has established. “Servant” here is slave, and nothing but sin brought in slaves. There would never have been such a thing if sin had not been there; but the apostle does not meddle with it. He does not say he approves of it, but he leaves the government of the world just where it is. If I can relieve bodily wants as a Christian I am bound to do it, or prevent one beating another if I can do it by kindness; but I am to leave the world alone. It is hard to do it; in our hearts we do not like it. Suppose a war is going on, we wish success to one side; it was all settled before you ever heard it. There is a hard-hearted emperor wishing Rome had one neck that he might cut it off, or setting the city on fire, and then accusing the Christians of it; well you must be subject— “The powers that be are ordained of God.”
Wherever I find real power exercised I find God’s authority. If there is a rebellion, and other powers rise up, I am submissive as before. It is my Christian path, though not the relationship God created; there the bond is maintained on the principle of Christianity. Where it is a question of slaves it is—If you can be free use it rather; but if you are bound never mind. You are the Lord’s free man, and Paul sends the runaway Onesimus back to his master. He expects Philemon to set him free, and speaks very touchingly— “I beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” But he would do nothing “without thy mind,” “knowing thou wilt do more than I say.” He expects grace; but he leaves the thing where he finds it. You will never set the world right; you have no principles nor power to do it. You can control an unconverted man with unconverted principles, but you cannot deal with him as a Christian. If I am to set the world right I must join with the world, and cannot have any principles but theirs. Then I must give up Christianity: for they have none to be governed by. You can use gracious influence as Christ did, and that we have to do. The Christian is to let his light shine, and the testimony of what his principles are is so distinct and positive that they “see your good works.” If he joins with an infidel he owns infidelity can set the world right. The Christian by himself has his own gracious godly principles to act on, that the testimony may be there of what his principles can do (Christianity has reformed the world in a sense; for it brought in the pattern of things better, and they are ashamed to do in the light what they did in the dark). A man will not do what is unworthy of a man: but “unworthy of the Lord” you never find that; and that is where the Christian is to walk.
Paul says to masters, “You have a Master in heaven” who will take notice of everything you do. Your part is to shew what Christianity is and does, and that is good to an infidel, or whoever it is. Your confession of Christ is to be so positive, that they should know what to attribute these things to. Let the world go on its own way, and you go yours—that is Christ’s. If not, you compromise Christianity, instead of maintaining its testimony.
Remark here, that the obedient side comes first in everything. It is the natural thing the Christian gets into. He is “sanctified unto obedience.” He never gets out of it; he fails in it, of course. The Lord says, “As the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.” The apostles never said, what often jars on one, I have a right to do so-and-so. It is, “We ought to obey God rather than man.” If man hinders me from obeying God, it is wrong. But it is not, I have a right, but I must “obey God rather than man.” You get in the path of Christ, the path of divine wisdom, that the vulture’s eye hath not seen; and the way to keep yourself in it is to “continue in prayer” (ch. 4:2), incessantly referring everything to God. There is the positive direct intervention of God, everything working together for good; and by prayer our hearts get through grace in connection with this overruling power of God, whether to stop some mischief Satan is doing, or to open a door of utterance. “We will give ourselves to prayer, and the ministry of the word” —not the ministry of the word and prayer. Whatever the subject of prayer is, there is continually bringing in God, so that the heart is with God. If I am entirely dependent on Him, living in Him, and His word living in me to direct my thoughts, I am sure to get what I ask. Then there is most gracious dealing with regard to my requests— “Be careful for nothing.” “Make known your requests to God.” It does not follow that they are right; but do not brood over anything, bring it to God. Perhaps He may say He cannot grant it; as when Paul asks for the thorn to be taken away, He says, I have given it to you for a purpose; I am not going to take it away. And the power of Christ rested on him through the very thing that had broken him down. So the peace of God keeps my heart.
“Watch in the same” here (v. 2). If I am living with God, I know what to ask God for—I see Satan and danger coming; or else when a snare comes I may not be thinking of it, like the disciples sleeping for sorrow: they were not watching. If I am watching and see temptation, I get power to obey and to shew Christ in it, “with thanksgiving”; for if a person is walking in a path of intimacy with God, thanksgiving is there. Before I get the actual thing I ask for I get His answer, and say, Thank God, He has come in, though not seeing the fruit of it at the moment.
Verse 5: “Walk in wisdom.” As “dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth an ill savour, so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom” —godly wisdom; to give no occasion to the enemy. A foolish word, a rash expression, may hinder a person receiving the gospel. It may be a slight thing; if it is a stumbling-block to hinder the gospel, that is not slight. You have to carry Christ, and it behoves you to be fit carriers of Christ in the relationship in which you are. “Let your speech be alway with grace” (v. 6). If Christ is dwelling in my heart by faith, and my habitual habit of mind and thought is with Christ, Christ will come out. How many words—not bad or evil—but idle, for the moment without harm meant, do we speak in a day? It is not Christ, and mark, if it is not Christ, it is something else— the flesh. It is not that we are not to be happy, Christ makes us happy, and that will be seen; but our speech is to be “alway with grace.” If we carried Christ in every word, what a life we should live! The joy of heaven to me is, I shall not want my conscience at every step. Here I cannot let myself loose, there are snares everywhere, and I require to keep a wonderful check on myself.
Verse 12. He looks that they should stand “perfect in all the will of God”; not perfect in the flesh, but “growing up to him who is the Head in all things.” The Christian who begins to want proof in his walk that he is a Christian is wrong; others do look for testimony. He is to be totally given up to God, and looking for nothing but His will, the eye single. Do you ever doubt about anything—taking a house, or the like? Ask what the will of God is. If you doubt then, I say your eye is not single. Perhaps you have not found out the cause; but He is teaching you, putting you in circumstances to detect motives you never knew were in your heart, that you may be like Christ, and “perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Is the energy and purpose of our heart that? It is connected with the consciousness that we belong to Christ. We are set in the world as the epistles of Christ, known and read of all men, that we may manifest the life of Jesus in our mortal bodies. We look to Him for strength and wisdom, and to grow up to Him in everything. Is that the purpose of our hearts in all we do? Is it, I want to do the will of God? The Lord give us to have that as our desire, constant and earnest, and then to “continue in prayer, and watch in the same.” If you want to be happy as a Christian, it is in not grieving the Spirit; and not to do that is to walk close to Christ, and get the secret of His will, that you may enjoy Christ with ungrieved Spirit. I do not say you will see your growth. Moses did not see his face shine; but it was the witness to the people that he had been with God. The Lord grant us to be with God in the dependence of prayer, and we shall get the strength of the Lord, and clear-sighted as to where we are not walking with Him.
[End Of Miscellaneous Vol. 3]