Chapter Three Christ, The Believer's Life

Power for Holiness (Colossians 3:1-4)

After the somewhat lengthy digression in Colossians 2:13-23, the apostle turned his attention to applying the truth taught in 2:12. I think we can see the connection better if we read 2:12 and 3:1 without anything intervening: “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead…If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” The digression in 2:13-23 was a warning against false systems that try to rob the believer of the great truth of unity with Christ in death and resurrection.

It is all-important that we realize that we do not stand before God on the ground of responsibility. The responsible man failed utterly to keep his obligations and thus there was nothing for him but condemnation. But our Lord Jesus Christ has borne that condemnation; in infinite grace He voluntarily took the place of the sinner and bore his punishment on the cross. Now in resurrection the believer is not only presented by Him as perfect before the throne of God; he is also found to be “in Christ” by virtue of being a partaker of His life. Once he was “in Adam,” having been born of his race, but now he is “in Christ.” The contrast clearly indicates that he has received a new life from Him and therefore he is not to think of himself in any sense as on probation. All legalism was ended on the cross of Christ.

Jesus died and we died with Him,
Buried in His grace we lay,
One in Him in resurrection,
Soon with Him in Heaven’s bright day.

Death and judgment are behind us,
Grace and glory are before;
All the billows rolled o’er Jesus,
There exhausted all their power.

The death of Christ, in which faith has given the believer a part, has severed the link that bound him to the world and all its purposes and has freed him from all necessity to be subject to sin. When he realizes this fact, he is free to glorify God as he walks in newness of life. Since most theological systems fail to explain this great truth of the new man in Christ, few believers have a settled peace and few realize their union with Him who sits at God’s right hand, not only as the Head of the church but also as the Head of every man who has found life through Him.

Centering our thoughts on Christ—Christ risen in the energy of the Holy Spirit—is the means of obtaining power for holiness. We are called on to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” Our real life is there; our truest, best interests are all identified with Him. Heavenly-mindedness is the natural or I should say spiritual outcome of realizing our union with the risen Christ. As our hearts are absorbed with Him we will be concerned about representing Him well in this world where He is still rejected and His claims are still refused.

In the King James version Colossians 3:2 reads, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” A better translation would be “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” As a watch is set according to the sun in order to mark the time correctly, we are to let our minds be set to the risen Christ so that His life may be seen in us. Since we are now one with the risen Christ, the time for minding earthly things is past (note the contrast between Colossians 3:2 and Philippians 3:19).

Fixing our minds on heavenly things will not make us impractical and visionary. Rather, we will live all the more consistently as we fulfill our varied responsibilities in the home, in business, in the state, and of course in the church. We will reveal the heavenly character just where we come closest into contact with the things of the earth.

During the forty days between resurrection and ascension, Christ was still here on the earth, but He was altogether heavenly (see 2 Corinthians 5:16). Likewise we are called into association with Him to reveal the heavenly character while we are still walking the desert sands. Men of the world will not understand us and we need not expect them to. Nevertheless they can and will recognize and appreciate true piety and Christian character even though they hate those who possess it, just as Cain hated Abel “because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). But it should be true of us, as it was of our blessed Lord, that this hatred is undeserved. Jesus said that in fulfillment of prophecy, “They hated me without a cause” (John 15:25).

As Colossians 3:3 indicates, we have died to all that we once were as children of Adam, and now as Christians we do not have independent life, but Christ Himself is our life. And while it is true we have this eternal life abiding in us, He who is the source and sustainer of it is hidden yonder in the heavens “in God,” and so our life is safe in His keeping.

We can appreciate the remark of a simple brother who had been greatly concerned after his conversion that by some sinful act or lack of faith he might in some way forfeit his salvation and lose the new life that had in grace been given to him. As he listened to an address based on Colossians 3:3, his anxiety disappeared and he exclaimed with rapture, “Glory to God! Whoever heard of a man drowning with his head that high above water!” Admittedly his words were crude; nevertheless they expressed a great truth. Our Head is in Heaven and our life is in Him, who is hidden in God; therefore we are eternally one with Him and nothing can ever separate the Christian from the risen Christ.

Believers in the Lord Jesus are like other men outwardly. They are still in dying bodies, they are often distressed by the carnal nature within, and they are often in conflict with Satan and the world without. Yet each believer is called to walk through this world in the power of resurrection life, reflecting his union with his glorified Head. He is called to be a man of God, even in the midst of the humblest circumstances.

There is no glory halo
Round his devoted head,
No luster marks the sacred path
In which his footsteps tread.

But holiness is graven
Upon his thoughtful brow,
And all his steps are ordered
In the light of Heaven e’en now.

He often is peculiar,
And oft misunderstood,
And yet his power is felt by all—
The evil and the good.

For he doth live in touch with Heaven
A life of faith and prayer;
His hope, his purpose, and his all,
His life is centered there.

Such a person is indeed a consistent member of the body of Christ, for he displays the character of the new man whose Head is in Heaven. And although the Christian may, like his Lord, be despised and rejected by men, he is called to run with patience the race set before him, knowing that the day is nearing when he too will receive satisfaction (see Isaiah 53:3,11; Hebrews 12:1). Christ will find His satisfaction in us and we will find ours in Him.

He and I in that bright glory
One deep joy shall share:
Mine, to be forever with Him,
His, that I am there!

(Gerhard Tersteegen)

When the day of the Lord dawns after earth’s long, dark night— or to put it another way, after man’s garish day is ended—those who have been content to be strangers and pilgrims here during Christ’s rejection will shine forth with Him as He comes to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. And so Paul wrote to the Colossian saints, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (3:4). When He with whom we have died and in whom we are risen returns from Heaven and is displayed before His earthly people who have been waiting for Him, and before His foes as well, we too will be displayed with Him in glory.

His coming is presented to us in two aspects in the New Testament and the aspect that perhaps most appeals to every real lover of Christ is what we commonly call the rapture. Our hearts long for the hour when “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

We think of the rapture as the end of the race and as the time when He will “change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). At the time of the rapture “this corruptible [will] put on incorruption, and this mortal [will] put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53) and we will be fully “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:29). The promise made by our Lord before He went away will be fulfilled: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). The rapture will be the occasion of our reception into the Father’s house.

All of this is calculated to stir the souls of His waiting ones to their deepest depths, but blessed as it is, the rapture is but an introduction to the glories yet to be revealed in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is coming back to the earth that rejected Him, and all His saints are coming with Him—but not of course to resume human life under the same conditions. It is in resurrection bodies that they will appear with Him before the astonished eyes of those who still reject Him and to the delight of those who are waiting for Him as the delivering King. In that day Revelation 1:7 will be fulfilled: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.”

In Colossians 3:4 Paul referred to this time when we will “appear with him in glory” and he referred to it again in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-11, where he offered comfort to the suffering saints. The apostle assured them that God will recompense tribulation to their persecutors and that rest will be the portion of the redeemed

when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

The parenthetical words “because our testimony among you was believed” explain why any from among earth’s inhabitants will be associated with Christ in the glory of that day.

Lamb of God, Thou soon in glory
Wilt to this sad earth return;
All Thy foes shall quake before Thee,
All that now despise Thee, mourn.

Then shall we, at Thine appearing,
With Thee in Thy kingdom reign;
Thine the praise and Thine the glory,
Lamb of God for sinners slain!

This is the consummation to which the Christian dispensation is leading: the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15) and His one-time pilgrim people will reign with Him in righteousness throughout Messiah’s glorious years.

What a gospel we have! Surely it was never conceived in the mind of man. It could not have been, for it makes nothing of man but everything of Christ. May we dwell on it more and more as the days grow darker and the end draws near. May we “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Corinthians 4:18) as we live in daily expectation of Christ’s return to take us to be with Himself and make us fully like Himself forever-more.

For God has fixed the happy day,
When the last tear shall dim our eyes,
When He will wipe these tears away,
And fill our hearts with glad surprise.
To hear His voice, and see His face,
And know the fulness of His grace.

The blessed consummation of all our hopes is clearly presented in the Word of God so that we may be heartened and lifted above discouragement and the depressing power of present sorrows, whether in the world or the church. Thus cheered by the glory shining from the gates of the heavenly city, we may run the race with patience, ever “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

The apostle completed the doctrinal teaching of the Epistle in Colossians 3:4 and turned to practical considerations in 3:5.

The Old Ways (Colossians 3:5-11)

While the first part of Colossians is doctrinal (1:1-3:4), the second part (3:5-4:18) is practical, emphasizing the importance of walking in the power of the truth of the new man and our relationship to Christ as Head. In the second part, the first passage— Colossians 3:5-17—deals with practical holiness in relation to ourselves (3:5-11) and in relation to others (3:12-17).

Verses 5-11 challenge the individual to “put off the old ways; then verses 12 to 17 present the claims of Christian fellowship. The sequence is significant, for we must be right in our own inner lives if we want to be right in our relationships with our brothers in Christ. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” What I am when I am alone in the presence of God, is what I really am. What I am when I am with other people, should be the same; otherwise my public life is largely a sham.

The measurements of the fine linen in the tabernacle are suggestive of this line of reasoning. The tabernacle, as we know, was primarily a wonderful type of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was God’s dwelling place and we read, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Surrounding the court of the tabernacle were curtains of fine twined linen suspended from pillars. Fine linen, we learn from Revelation 19:8, represents “the righteous acts of the saints” (literal rendering). Therefore the linen surrounding the court spoke of the perfect ways of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth, which were seen by men. These hangings were visible to all, but inside the tabernacle, covering the upright boards, which were made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold, were ten more curtains of fine twined linen and these were not visible to men on the outside. The inside curtains, which were seen only by God (and His ministering priests in measure), spoke of Christ’s perfect righteousness as seen by God the Father.

Christ’s righteousness on earth led men to exclaim, “He hath done all things well” (Mark 7:37), and caused even Pilate to declare, “I find no fault in him” (John 19:4). The perfection that the Father saw caused Him to open the heavens and proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Now how many cubits of fine twined linen formed the wall surrounding the court of the tabernacle? The court was 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide (300 cubits altogether), so if we subtract 20 cubits for the varicolored gate of the tabernacle, the difference is 280 cubits: 100 on each side, 50 in the rear, and 30 in front. And how many cubits of fine twined linen covered the upright boards of the tabernacle itself? These ten inside curtains were each 28 cubits long; these were joined together, making a total of 280 cubits. So there were 280 cubits of fine twined linen where all could see it, and 280 cubits where only God could see it in its completeness. What a lesson is suggested by these facts! Our blessed Lord was just the same before God as He was before men. When His enemies came asking, “Who art thou?” He answered, “Even the same that I said unto you” (John 8:25). With Him profession and life were in perfect agreement, and this is the standard that God now sets for the believer.

But the width of the inside curtains was different from the width of the hangings surrounding the court and this fact is also suggestive. The inside curtains were four cubits wide; the number four is symbolic of weakness and therefore the width of the curtains speaks of Christ’s perfect subjection to the will of the Father. The hangings outside were five cubits wide; the number five is symbolic of responsibility and therefore the width of the hangings speaks of our Lord’s taking the place of responsibility here on earth, as He met every claim of God that man had flouted.

Recognizing our union with Christ, we are called on to show forth His life. First we must put to death all of our old ways. We have identified with Christ in His death; in the cross we were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11); therefore we are to mortify our members which are upon the earth (3:5). The believer is never told to crucify himself; he is told to mortify the members of his body. We have been “crucified with Christ” and “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 2:20; 5:24). All the old ways passed under judgment in the cross, but to make this truth practical the flesh must be kept, by faith, in the place of death and its evil promptings must be refused in self-judgment.

The apostle insisted on the importance of dealing unsparingly with the sins that were so common in the heathen world out of which the Colossians had been saved. Unfortunately these sins are almost as common in today’s world in spite of increased light and civilization. The believer, recognizing his link with Christ, is to abhor all uncleanness. He is to remember that “the body is…for the Lord; and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13).

The believer is to mortify every tendency to commit the sins mentioned in Colossians 3:5: “Fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence [unlawful lusts], and covetousness, which is idolatry [for in reality it is the worship of self].” All these are to be judged in the light of the cross of Christ, no matter what the cost. No excuse is to be offered for such sins and no palliation of their wickedness is to be attempted on the basis of the innate tendencies of human nature. These sins are abhorrent to God and abhorrent to the new nature in every believer. “For which things’ sake,” Colossians 3:6 tells us, “the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.” As we read this verse we remember that God destroyed the antediluvian world because of corruption and violence, and rained fire from heaven on the cities of the plain because of unbridled lust and passion.

The Colossians had once lived unblushingly in these sins that are so characteristic of men away from God. But that was before they knew Christ. Now, having risen with Him and having seen these things in their true light, the Colossians needed to reject them as dishonoring to God and contrary to Christ. Other sins may have seemed to them to be far less vile and abominable than those mentioned in Colossians 3:5, but these too needed to be mortified. They were the habits of the old man, his old clothes that were not fit to adorn the new man. And so Paul wrote, “Also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (3:8-9).

The old man is more than the old nature. It is the man I used to be before I knew Christ as Savior and Lord. In other words, the old man is all that I once was as an unsaved person. I am through with that man; he has disappeared in the cross of Christ. But if I make this profession of faith, let me be sure that I do not walk in the old man’s ways. Sometimes those who make the loudest professions of the truth of the new creation are the poorest performers of the truth; they give the lie to what they say by what they do. We could borrow the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson and say to them, “What you are.. .thunders so that I cannot hear what you say.” I am afraid that many a Christian has lost his testimony because of carelessness in his walk.

Paul said to “put off… anger, wrath, malice.” Anger, as we know from Ephesians 4:26, may be righteous, but generally it is the raging of the flesh. Even where anger is warranted (as in Mark 3:5 where we read that our blessed Lord looked at His opponents with anger because of the hardness of their hearts), it must not be nursed or it will degenerate into wrath. Wrath, a settled condition of ill-feeling toward an offender, is generally coupled with a desire for revenge and so malice springs from it. We have three generations of sin here: anger cherished begets wrath, and wrath if not judged begets malice. No matter how grievously I have been wronged, I am not to yield to the devil and malign or seek to harm the one against whom I may have been righteously indignant in the beginning. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

We are also to “put off… blasphemy.” This dreadful sin may be directed either godward or manward. Men blaspheme against God by imputing evil to Him, or by seeking to misrepresent Him, or by perverting the truth about the Father, the Son, or the Spirit. But speaking injuriously of one another, reviling rulers or governors, circulating wicked and untruthful reports about one’s brothers, and seeking to harm God’s servants by such evil reports—all these are also included under the general term blasphemy. Sharp-tongued religious controversialists have often failed here, even at the very moment that they were endeavoring to meet the blasphemy of their opponents in regard to divine things.

When one hyper-Calvinist described John Wesley as a child of the devil because of his Arminianism, the Calvinist himself had fallen into the sin of blasphemy. No wonder his son, William Hone, turned from Christianity and was an infidel for years until he was reached by divine grace. It is incongruous for bitter accusations to come from the lips of those who have been saved through mercy alone and daily need to confess their own sins and ask for divine forgiveness. “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). The holy One is not honored by our hard speeches against His saints—or even against men of the world.

Paul finished Colossians 3:8 by saying that we should “put off…filthy communication.” If we did not know the corruption of our own hearts, we might think that it was unnecessary for the apostle to warn redeemed saints against the vice of using unclean language or relating salacious stories. Christians should shun questionable stories and the repetition of details (true or false) that only tend to feed the old nature.

Once I heard someone begin a story with the remark, “As there are no ladies here, I want to tell you something I heard the other day.” Another gentleman in the group checked him with a wise answer: “Brother, though there are no ladies present, the Holy Ghost is here. Is your story fit for Him?” The first man blushed in confusion and accepted the rebuke. We did not hear the story.

Colossians 3:9 adds, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” If there were any truth in the unscriptural theory held by some that the old nature is eradicated when a believer is sanctified, there would be no need for this injunction.

Lying is one of the first evidences of the carnal nature. “The wicked…go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3) and untruthfulness is one of the hardest habits for anyone to overcome. It is so natural for these vain hearts of ours to try to make things appear better than they really are, to cover up our own failures and accentuate the sins of others. But these are just different forms of lying and we are called on to judge all guile—every kind of untruthfulness—in the light of the cross of Christ. There the old man was crucified in the person of our Substitute, and now his deeds are to be renounced and his habits put off as discarded garments, which are in no sense fit for the new man.

The new man, we gather from Colossians 3:10-11, is the man in Christ, just as the old man was the man in Adam. The new man has a new, divinely-imparted nature, and it is to this new nature that God, by the Spirit, appeals; only the new nature is capable of receiving divine instruction. As such instruction is imparted and the truths thus received control the life, the believer increasingly displays the image of Him who is the Head of the new creation, who Himself is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

Man was created in the image and likeness of God in the beginning, but that image became terribly marred through sin. In the new man this image again becomes visible and the characteristics of Christ are seen in His people. This is true regardless of who or what they were before they received the new life—whether they were cultured Greeks or religious Jews; whether they were within the circle of the Abrahamic covenant, marked off from the rest of humanity by the ordinance of circumcision, or outside the circle and strangers to the covenants of promise; whether they were barbarian or Scythian (that is, of the wild tribes outside the boundaries of civilization); whether they were slaves or free citizens. All alike were sinners; all alike were included in the old man.

Now those who through grace have believed the gospel are members of the new creation. No matter what they were before, God sees them as justified from all things. They possess a new and divine life and they belong to that new company where Christ is everything and in everyone. The Christian recognizes that there still are racial and class distinctions in this world, but he knows that more important than his earthly status is his new place in Christ.

New responsibilities flow from being linked up with the new Head. Because he is a new-creation man, the Christian is called on to adopt new ways and to develop new habits—to put on new clothes suited to his new relationship.

However, the new creation is not simply an individual matter. It is not merely that I, as a believer, am a new creature in Christ Jesus. In the King James version, 2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature…,” but a better rendering would be “If any man be in Christ, it is new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Not yet do we see all the evidence of the new creation, but “we see Jesus,…crowned with glory and honour,” seated above the changing scenes of time (Hebrews 2:9).

Joyful now the new creation
Rests in undisturbed repose;
Blest in Jesus’ full salvation
Sorrow now nor thraldom knows.

Until He returns, we who are members of the new creation are called on to show by our new ways the holiness, the grace, the righteousness, the love, and the compassion of Christ. He is the origin and the Head of the new creation, where all things are of God. We find another reference to the new creation in Galatians 6:15-16: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature [or a new creation]. And as many as walk according to this rule [the controlling principle of this new creation], peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” This is the very opposite of legality. Walking according to the controlling principle of the new creation is the spontaneous expression of the life of the Head in the members here on earth.

Garments of Glory (Colossians 3:12-17)

This passage talks about our new clothes, the garments of the new man—the things we are to put on in place of the old habits we have discarded. Both Scripture and ordinary Anglo-Saxon language sometimes use the same words in reference to both clothing and behavior. We speak of habits of various descriptions, meaning clothing worn on particular occasions—a riding habit, a walking habit— and we speak of our behavior as our habit. When Solomon says, “Let thy garments be always white” (Ecclesiastes 9:8), we of course understand him to mean, “Let your habits or behavior be pure and righteous.” The wicked are depicted as “clothed with filthy garments” and self-righteousness is described as “filthy rags” (Zechariah 3:3; Isaiah 64:6). But the characteristics of the newborn man are garments of glory and beauty.

It is a common saying that you can judge a man by his clothes, but this is not always true. Many a princely character has, because of poverty, been obliged to dress in worn-out and unbecoming garments, while rascals of the deepest dye have arrayed themselves like princes of royal blood. Nor is the saying always true in regard to the behavior of children of God and the unsaved. Wolves sometimes come in sheep’s clothing, ministers of Satan can appear to be ministers of righteousness, and real believers may have garments that are badly stained and torn by failure and sin.

But ordinarily men are judged according to their appearance, and Christians are expected to be adorned with good works. Thus they give credibility to the profession they make of justification before God by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith and works are the two sides of truth emphasized by the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans and by James the Lord’s brother in his intensely practical letter.

What kind of habits or behavior should characterize the man in Christ? With what beautiful garments should he be arrayed? First of all we read, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies” (Colossians 3:12). “The elect of God” are those whom He has foreknown from all eternity and who are shown in time to be believers in His Son. God sees them as “holy and beloved.” They have been set apart in Christ—sanctified by the blood of the everlasting covenant. They are dear to God because they are His own children; they are partakers of the divine nature. How unseemly it would be if these “holy and beloved” ones were ever stern and unfeeling toward others when they themselves are recipients of grace!

The Old Testament writers used the term bowels the way we use the word heart in reference to the deepest feelings of humanity. Instead of “bowels of mercies,” we might read “emotions of pity.” While this may not be exactly a translation, it at least expresses in English the thought of the original. We are called on to have hearts that are readily stirred to feel compassion. Like God Himself, we are to delight in mercy. We may well question whether an unmerciful person has really been born of God.

Harshness in dealing with failing brethren is not the spirit of Christ. Yearning love should characterize our dealings with one another. Such love will lead us to go to great lengths to be merciful if it is possible to do so without opposing God’s righteous claims. First Peter 3:8 says, “Be pitiful,” and how much we need to take such an exhortation to heart! The crudest things have been done in the name of Him who is the incarnation of infinite mercy. How often Christ’s attitude toward sin and sinners has been misrepresented by those who profess to be His followers!

Christ’s attitude was one of “kindness,” and this is the next word in Colossians 3:12. It is quite impossible to maintain fellowship with God and not show the kindness of God to others. There may indeed be a rigid, legalistic type of piety that leads one to imagine that he has been appointed by God to demonstrate His justice, but this kind of piety is far from the godliness advocated in the New Testament. Macaulay said of some of the sterner Puritans, “As one reads their writings he wonders if they had ever read a little volume called the New Testament.” The lovingkindness of the Lord will be revealed in our kindness to one another.

The garments of pity and kindness are, we might say, inner vestments. The next one is a cap for the head, “humbleness of mind.” Pride is of all things the most hateful to God. Psalm 138:6 tells us, “The proud he knoweth afar off,” and Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

The realization of one’s own weakness and natural tendency to err will lead to low thoughts of self and make it easy to don the vesture of “meekness.” This grace is composed of rarer material than is often supposed. Our Lord was adorned with it; He could say, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” How beautiful He appeared thus arrayed. Moses had a garment of this excellent texture, lawgiver though he was, for we read, “The man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). So delicate is this fabric that it can easily wear away in the stress and strain of the trials of life; therefore one needs to be constantly seeking for meekness, which can only be found in communion with God. In Zephaniah 2:3 the prophet told the “meek of the earth” to “seek meekness.” Matthew 11:29 suggests the necessity of coming under Christ’s control if we want to be adorned with meekness: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

The world will never understand the value of the lowly spirit. Our own lionhearted Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I hate a meek man.” He probably did not realize that the boldest man, the most utterly unafraid man ever seen on earth, was our Lord Jesus Christ, who was in the fullest sense a meek man. Meekness, which is not inconsistent with bravery, enables one to suffer and be strong when the world would “turn aside the way of the meek” (Amos 2:7).

Closely associated with meekness is the grace of “longsuffering,” which is the readiness to endure the grief of suffering wrongfully. When we are falsely accused, it is natural for us to resent such treatment or to feel that we must defend ourselves. But when false witnesses rose up against our blessed Lord, He answered not a word. And when the adversary taunted King Hezekiah and his officers, charged them falsely, and threatened severe treatment, the king’s command to his people was, “Answer him not” (2 Kings 18:36).

God can be depended on to vindicate His own if they do not attempt to vindicate themselves. As they learn to commit their reputation—as well as everything else that they once considered valuable—to Christ, they can patiently endure mistreatment without resentment and pray for those who despitefully use them and persecute them (Matthew 5:44). In longsuffering, believers become consistent followers of the Man of Sorrows who could say, “They laid to my charge things that I knew not” (Psalm 35:11).

Colossians 3:13 reads, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Paul expressed the same thought in Ephesians 4:32: “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake [or, in Christ] hath forgiven you.”

When teaching His disciples to pray, our Lord told them to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” and He added, “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:12,15). The forgiveness the disciples were to seek was not the forgiveness of a sinner, but the forgiveness of a failing saint, one who could address God as “our Father.” In effect our Lord was saying to the disciples: “You are failing from day to day; you constantly need your Father’s restorative forgiveness. Yet you cherish feelings of malice and enmity and an unforgiving spirit toward your brothers who offend you. If you do not forgive them, you cannot expect your Father’s forgiveness when you come to Him confessing your failures. As long as you cherish this spirit of malice, you cannot really pray in faith.”

On the other hand, Colossians 3:13 and Ephesians 4:32 speak of the forgiveness of a sinner. Paul was saying, “Think how freely you have been forgiven. In the light of how much God has cast behind His back (Isaiah 38:17), how can you have hard feelings or maintain an unforgiving spirit toward those who have sinned against you? If God had dealt with you according to your offenses, how fearful would your judgment be! Yet He in Christ has graciously forgiven them all. He has put away every sin and made you fit for His holy presence. Your responsibility now is to forgive as you have been forgiven.”

In his novel The Man from Glengarry Ralph Connor told the striking story of the conversion of Macdonald Dubh. I understand that the incident is founded on actual fact and is not merely fiction. Macdonald—a powerful, burly highlander living in Glengarry County, Ontario—had for years suffered untold anguish because of an injury inflicted on him by a French Canadian. Macdonald had nursed the desire to take fearful vengeance on his foe until the desire became an obsession. Neither God nor eternity had any place in Macdonald’s life. Trying to persuade him to forgive his enemy, the minister’s wife would ask him to repeat the Lord’s prayer, but he always balked at the words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

But there was a great revival in Glengarry County. As God worked in power, real Christians were aroused and christless men and women were saved. The story of the cross, told by the venerable highland minister in the Gaelic tongue, broke Macdonald’s heart and bowed him in penitence at the Savior’s feet. The next time the minister’s wife went to visit him and tried to stress the necessity of forgiveness, he sobbed out, “Oh, it’s a little thing, it’s a little thing, for I have been forgiven so much!” He could now say the Lord’s prayer without balking.

Christ’s forgiveness grips the heart and enables one to bear in patience the ill-doing and evil-speaking of others and preserves one from bitterness of spirit or any desire for vengeance. How can anyone who has been forgiven for so much ever harbor an unforgiving spirit?

Turning to Colossians 3:14, we read, “Above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Here we have the belt that holds all our new garments in place. The verse might be rendered, “Over all these things put on love, which is the girdle of perfection.” Just as the oriental binds his flowing robes about him with a sash, so the new man binds his new habits with the controlling power of love. Whatever is contrary to love is contrary to Christ. No amount of sophistry can make something pleasing to God if it is opposed to the divine love that He Himself sheds abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us (Romans 5:5).

Some of us who are possessed with the idea that our great business on earth is to carry out what has been called Pauline truth, need to remember that Pauline truth does not center in 1 Corinthians 5, but rises to its highest practical application in 1 Corinthians 13. We are not to neglect one passage in order to stress the other; both are right and proper in their own places.

We have been considering our attitudes toward our brothers in Christ and men of the world. Now in Colossians 3:15 we read of that which is distinctly personal: “Let the peace of God [some manuscripts read, the peace of Christ] rule in your hearts.” It is the same peace that always filled His breast when He was here on earth, the same peace that is His as He sits on the throne of God in Heaven, far above all the storms of earth. We are to let that peace rule (or umpire) in our hearts.

We, as members of the body of Christ, are to seek things that make for peace in that body and things whereby we may edify one another. But in Colossians 3:15 Paul was clearly emphasizing that we should daily abide in the blessedness of communion with our risen Lord so that our hearts, like His own, may be kept in peace in spite of all we may be called on to pass through. Then we can fulfill the brief injunction, “Be ye thankful.” Not the least of the sins of the unsaved is unthankfulness. Christians are called on to give thanks in every circumstance. Knowing that nothing except that which infinite Love allows can ever enter into the life of the believer, we give thanks “always for all things” (Ephesians 5:20).

In the King James version Colossians 3:16 is printed as follows: “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.” Notice that the punctuation does not separate the three admonitions clearly and distinctly. The verse should be punctuated as follows: “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.”

First we are told to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. Colossians 3:16 is the only place in the New Testament where the expression “the word of Christ” is found. The expression suggests that the actual teaching of Christ—what was taught by Him personally when He was on earth or by the Spirit after He ascended to Heaven—is to dwell in full measure in all believers. Thus equipped and controlled by the truth, we will be able to bless and help others— “in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another” (the second admonition). The truth we have been given is not to be kept to ourselves. We are to be ready to communicate.

Then in the third place, if we are controlled by the Word of God, our lives will be lyrical and our hearts will be filled with melody. “In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” we will sing “with grace in our hearts to the Lord.” Judah won a great victory when Jehoshaphat put the singers in the forefront of the army, and they returned to Jerusalem with joy. We read in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Depend on it, something is radically wrong with a Christian who can no longer praise and rejoice. Holiness and happiness go together.

The entire life of the believer is summed up as subjection to the Lord. Whatever he does, in action or speech, all is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” through whom he gives thanks to God, even the Father (Colossians 3:17). There is no room for self-will or self-assertiveness in the life of the believer. Christ in His humiliation said, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38), and the Christian, the new man, is left on earth to represent Christ and to do the will of the Lord, not to please himself.

Colossians 3:16-17 is intimately linked with Ephesians 5:18-20. The Ephesian passage speaks of being filled with the Spirit and the Colossian passage speaks of being filled with the Word, but the results are the same. A Word-filled Christian is a Spirit-filled Christian; that is, a Christian who is so controlled by the Word of God that it dominates his entire life, shows by his life that he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Careful comparison of these two passages might prevent a great deal of fanaticism and misunderstanding in regard to the fullness of blessing that every truly converted soul craves.

Human Ties (Colossians 3:18-25)

In these verses the Holy Spirit gives us instruction in regard to the sanctification of the natural, or earthly, relationships of the new man. It would be a great mistake to suppose, as some have done, that because we are members of the new creation we no longer need to consider ordinary human ties and responsibilities.

Galatians 3:28 tells us that in the new creation “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” But while this is quite true, it is important to remember that our bodies still belong to the old creation and we will not be above natural relationships until the redemption of the body at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him.

Even in the church, human distinctions between men and women are to be observed, as we are reminded in the Epistle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy and Titus. Some say that because there is neither male nor female in the new creation, we are to pay no attention to the divinely-given order pertaining to the respective places of man and woman in the church of God on earth. But to disregard the divine order is not only to go beyond Scripture; it is to disobey the Word of God. As long as we are subject to human limitations, we must recognize our human responsibilities and seek to carry them out in a Scriptural way in order to bring honor to the gospel of Christ. The new life is most blessedly displayed in circumstances that sometimes are hard for flesh and blood to endure, for where grace enables, it brings triumph.

The apostle Paul dealt very briefly in Colossians 3:18-4:1 with what he had devoted much more time to in the Epistle to the Ephesians. We should compare the instruction given in Colossians with the similar instruction given in Ephesians, and we should compare both of these Pauline passages to related teaching given in 1 Peter so that we may know all that God has revealed in regard to the principles that govern our behavior.

Note that in each of these Scripture passages the weaker is dealt with first, and then the stronger; the one subject to authority first, then the one in authority. So in Colossians, wives are addressed first and then husbands; children before fathers; and servants before masters. Let us carefully examine what the Holy Spirit says to each group.

In Colossians 3:18 we read, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” Where husband and wife are both Christians seeking to do the will of God and they have real mutual affection and esteem in their hearts, there will be no difficulty whatever in obeying an admonition such as this. If, however, the husband is a carnal, worldly, and unreasonable man, the wife will need true grace to yield loving obedience. Once the Christian woman has entered into a marriage, the only way she can conform to the will of God is to take the position of godly submission to the husband she has chosen.

We need to remember that the marriage relationship is divinely ordained and, as the old wedding ceremony puts it, “not to be lightly entered into.” According to the Bible, marriage is not to be terminated easily either. The commitment is “for better, for worse, until death do us part,” but these words are often flippantly uttered with no real conception of their seriousness. To seek to dissolve a marriage because of incompatibility of temperament is to fly in the face of the Word of the living God. Death, or what is equivalent to it (the infidelity of husband or wife), is the only Scriptural grounds for termination of a nuptial contract; in such a case the other party is free to remarry.

First Corinthians 7:11 implies that there may be circumstances in which no self-respecting woman could continue to live in her husband’s home—if he is inflicting unspeakable cruelty, for example, or if there are abominable conditions that would be ruinous to soul and body alike—but if she departs, she is to remain unmarried, and if conditions change, she may be reconciled to her husband. As long as the woman remains with her husband, however, she is responsible to recognize his headship, for he is the one appointed by God to provide for the family. Even though conditions may sometimes be very distressing, she is to seek to win her wayward spouse by showing him the grace of Christ.

Today’s loose ideas about easy divorce are bearing fearful fruit that will lead to more ungodliness as the end draws near. Eventually the corruption and vileness of the days before the flood and the unspeakable immoralities of the cities of the plain will be duplicated in Christendom. Of all this our blessed Lord warned us most solemnly.

Turning back to Colossians 3:18 we read again the words “as it is fit in the Lord.” This part of the verse suggests that the submissive wife should display the gracious demeanor that always characterized our Lord while He was on the earth. Paul’s words also suggest that the submission and obedience required is not the kind that would injure the wife’s conscience or dishonor the Lord. She must always obey God first, for after all, hers is the submission of a wife, not a slave. It is loyalty to him who is her head that is enjoined.

In Colossians 3:19 we read, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” And how many husbands fail here! Imperiously demanding submission from their wives, they show little of the love of Christ in their dealings with those who are dependent on them. The Christian husband is to accept his place of headship as a sacred responsibility given to him by God Himself, and in the love of Christ he is to exercise his authority for the blessing of his home.

Just as some wives may be united to tyrannical and unreasonable men, so there are husbands who find that the one who seemed so docile and affectionate during their courtship is a veritable shrew and as unreasonable as it is possible to be. But still the husband is to love and care for her; he is to show all consideration, “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7), without indulging in wrath or anger. God knew how petty and irritating some women’s ways would be when He said to good men, “Be not bitter against them.” In the power of the new life, one may display patience and grace under the most trying circumstances.

In Colossians 3:20 we read, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” In childhood days parents relate to their children the way God relates to the parents. Children who do not obey their parents, will not obey God when they reach adulthood. The natural heart is always rebellious against authority, and this rebellion has perhaps never been more strikingly demonstrated than in the democratic days in which we live. But Christian children should be examples of godly submission to father and mother or whoever may be in authority over them, and parents are responsible to instill the divine requirement of obedience in the hearts of their children. Young people who profess piety but ignore the principle of obedience are displaying utter insubordination to the One they own as Lord.

But notice in the next verse how carefully the Spirit of God guards the parent-child relationship; He says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). A parent may fill the growing boy or girl with indignation and contempt instead of drawing out the young heart in love and obedience. How easy it is for a man to forget the feelings of a child! But to instill resentment instead of tender affection in the heart of his little one is contrary to every instinct of the new man. The Christian father is to imitate Him who is our Father-God.

Paul went into the greatest detail when, beginning in Colossians 3:22, he addressed servants. When this Epistle was written, servants were slaves, not free men who served for wages. But if Paul’s instructions were applicable to bondmen, how much more do they apply to those who have the privilege of selling their services and of terminating employment at will.

The apostle said there is no excuse whatever for surly, dishonest service because one’s master or mistress is exasperating and unappreciative. But in the same exhortation Paul glorified the servant’s lowly path, for his work for others can be done as unto the Lord Himself. Thus faithful service should be rendered not only when the master is watching, but also when no man is watching. The servant should perform his assigned tasks conscientiously “in singleness of heart, fearing God” (3:22).

If all his work is done as unto the Lord, the servant can be sure that He Himself will reward him accordingly. What an encouragement this was to the Roman or Greek slave whose faithful service was taken for granted.

If the Christian servant is treated cruelly or cheated out of the due reward of his labor, He can find comfort in remembering that God is taking note of it all and a day is coming when every wrong will be put right. Accounts that can never be settled fairly now will be settled fully then. Whether it is the servant who has been unfaithful or the master who has been unappreciative, the Lord will bring everything to light at His judgment seat—or in the case of the unsaved, at the great white throne—where every man will be judged according to his works.

We will see Paul’s instructions to masters in Colossians 4:1.