SECTION VII . THE TRUE CHRISTIAN LIFE . The apostle, having delivered his attack on the system of error inculcated at Colossae, now passes from the controversial to the more practical purport of his letter. There is no break, however, in the current of his thought; for throughout this chapter he urges the pursuit of a practical Christian life in a sense and in a manner silently opposed to the tendencies of Gnosticizing error. How much more congenial was the task to which he now addresses himself we may judge, perhaps, from the ease and simplicity which mark the language of this chapter, as compared with the abrupt and seemingly embarrassed style of the last section. We may analyze the hortatory section of the Epistle (Col 3:1-4:6) as follows:
(a) , Colossians 3:1-4 , urging the Colossians to maintain a lofty spiritual life;
(b) verses 5-8, to put off their old vices, impurity, malice, falsehood;
(c) verses 9-14, to put on the new Christian virtues, especially gentleness, forgivingness, love;
(d) verses 15-17, to let the sovereign influence of Christ sway their whole life—inward, social, secular;
(e) verse 18— Colossians 4:1 , enjoining the Christian discharge of their relative duties, as wives and husbands, children and fathers, servants and masters, under the sense of their allegiance to the Lord Christ;
(f) , Colossians 4:2-4 , exhorting to constant prayer, and especially for the apostle himself at the present juncture; and
(g) , Colossians 4:5 , Colossians 4:6 , to wise conduct and edifying speech toward them that are without. It will be seen how much more comprehensive and systematic is the view thus presented of Christian duty than that furnished by earlier Epistles; and how the ideas of the supremacy of Christ, the unity of the Christian brotherhood, and the sacredness of the natural constitution of human life, which were threatened by the rise of Gnosticism in Colossae, underlie the apostle's exposition of Christian ethics. Paragraphs (a) to (d) in the above analysis we have grouped together under the title given to this section; (e) demands a separate treatment; and (f) and (g) will finally be bracketed together.
And over all these things (put on) love, which (thing) is the bond of perfectness ( Colossians 2:2 ; Ephesians 4:2 , Ephesians 4:3 ; Ephesians 5:1 ; Philippians 2:2 ; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 .; Galatians 5:13-15 , Galatians 5:22 ; Romans 13:8-10 ; 2 Peter 1:7 ; 1 John 4:7-21 ; John 13:34 , John 13:35 ). In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 . "love" is the substance or substratum of the Christian virtues; in Galatians 5:22 it is their head and beginning; here it is that which embraces and completes them. They imply love, but it is more than them all together. They lie within its circumference; wanting it, they fall to pieces and are nothing. (For συνδεσμός ("bond" or "band"), comp. Colossians 2:19 .) In Ephesians 4:3 we have the "bond of peace" (see next verse). Love is the bond in the active sense, as that wherewith the constituents of a Christian character or the members of a Church are bound together: peace, in a passive sense, as that wherein the union consists. "Love" (compare "covetousness," Ephesians 4:5 ) is made conspicuous by the Greek definite article—being that eminent, essential grace of Christian love ( Colossians 1:4 , Colossians 1:8 ; Colossians 2:2 ; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 .; 1 John 4:16 , etc.). "Perfectness" is genitive of object, not of quality: love unifies the elements of Christian goodness and gives them in itself their "perfectness" ( Romans 13:10 ). (For "perfectness," see note on "perfect," Colossians 1:28 ; and comp. Colossians 4:12 .) Against Galatian teachers of circumcision, and Corinthian exalters of knowledge, the apostle had magnified the supremacy of love ( Galatians 5:6 ; 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ); and so against the Colossian mysticism and asceticism he sets it forth as the crown of spiritual perfection, the goal of human excellence (comp. Ephesians 4:15 , Ephesians 4:16 ).
The true Christian life.
From above only can we be raised. There is no salvation in mere antipathy. Disgust at the vanities of life, repulsion from earthly things, will of itself never lift us beyond them; it needs the superior influence of heavenly things to do that. This the Colossian errorists did not rightly understand; or they could not have made ceremonial purifications and bodily austerities the way of holiness, the means of reaching spiritual perfection. "Touch not, taste not" ( Colossians 2:20 , Colossians 2:21 ),—these were their chief commandments. The physical life was their great aversion, and to reduce and harass it was the leading object of their moral endeavours. In the last two sections of his letter ( Colossians 2:8-23 ) the apostle has denounced their system as false and mischievous, to be rejected by Christian believers, since it is not according to Christ, but is, in spite of its high pretensions, essentially base and earthly. He now proceeds, by way of command and appeal, to delineate the true Christian character, the working of Christian principles of life, as contrasted with the mystico-ceremonial and ascetic ideal of the Gnosticizing teachers. The Christian he describes is one whose "life is Christ"—a life derived from, and animated and governed by, "the Lord from heaven," and not by "the tradition of men and the rudiments of the world"—"the things upon the earth" (comp. John 6:31-33 , John 6:41 , John 6:42 , John 6:47-59 ).
I. THE HIDDEN LIFE . ( Colossians 3:1-4 .)
1 . The vital spring of a practical Christian life is personal union with Christ. "Ye were raised with Christ; your life is hid with Christ; ye shall be manifested with him; Christ is your life" ( Colossians 3:1-4 ).
2 . A true union with Christ lifts our aims above this world. "Ye were raised with Christ, seek, mind, the things above, where Christ is, for (from the things on the earth) ye died" ( Colossians 3:1-3 ). Christ has gone to heaven, and he is our Life. Thither he has carried with him our desires and hopes ( Philippians 1:23 ; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ). To be where he is, is the deepest longing of the Christian heart; and its attainment is the supreme reward of faithful service ( John 12:26 ; John 14:1-6 ; Revelation 3:21 ; Revelation 14:4 ). Heaven is the Christian's home, because he is there. And he has gone thither, not simply as to "the place where he was before" ( John 6:62 ), and to which he properly belongs ( John 3:13 ), but as our "Forerunner" ( Hebrews 6:20 ), the "Firstborn among many brethren" ( Colossians 1:18 ; Romans 8:29 ). Heaven is the goal which he has marked out for his followers, the "Father's house," the native city of all the members of his body, the Church ( Ephesians 1:18-23 ; Philippians 3:20 ; John 14:2 ; Hebrews 11:10 , Hebrews 11:13-16 ). "The prize of our high calling" ( τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως , "that calls us above") is bestowed at "the resurrection of the dead" ( Philippians 3:9-21 ).
3. The Christian life is, therefore, in its essence a mystery. "Your life is hid" ( 1 Peter 1:3 ).
4 . But the mystery of the Christian life is to have its revelation. "When Christ shall be manifested, then shall ye also be manifested with him, in glory" ( 1 Peter 1:4 ). This riddle of life must be solved; "the things shaken" must be removed, "that the things unshaken may remain" ( Hebrews 12:27 ); appearance must give place to reality; "mortality" must be "swallowed up of life;" God has "wrought us for this very thing" ( 2 Corinthians 5:4 , 2 Corinthians 5:5 ). Faith is the virtue of education, and must have its reward in sight; if there is nothing to be seen, then those are not "blessed," but only mistaken, "who have not seen and yet have believed" ( John 20:29 ). Hope must be crowned with fruition, or it will "put us to shame" ( Romans 5:5 ). And love, content now to "see him not" ( 1 Peter 1:8 ), is only so content on the assurance that "we shall see him even as he is" ( 1 John 3:3 ; Acts 1:11 ; John 14:3 ).
II. THE DEATH OF THE OLD SELF . (Verses 5-9.) Impurity, greed, malice, falsehood,— these are the leading features of the former life of sin which the apostle represents his readers as having followed before they became Christians. He does not, of course, charge all of them equally and alike with these offences. But then, as now, these four types of vice were prevalent amongst the great mass of ungodly men (verse 7; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ). Such statements, when applied to men living under the influences of Christian society, must be applied with discrimination, and in the light of our Lord's teaching addressed to the moral Jews in Matthew 5:17-48 , etc. These vices are native to the soil of the human heart ( Mark 7:20-23 ). By habitual practice they take possession of the man, so that his "members" are made "slaves to uncleanness and iniquity" ( Romans 6:19 ; John 8:34 ), and his body becomes a "body of sin" and "of death" ( Romans 6:6 ; Romans 7:23-25 ; Colossians 2:11 ). They become virtually his "members that are upon the earth" ( Matthew 5:5 ). Under the sway of sensual appetite and worldly desire, ungoverned by any influence from "the things above," his person becomes more and more completely an incarnation of sin ( Romans 7:5 , Romans 7:20 , Romans 7:23 ). These "members," then, individually and collectively, must be "put to death;" this "body of the flesh," as a "body of sin," must be "stripped off" and "done away" ( Colossians 2:11 ; Romans 6:6 ). Christ cannot dwell in the soul while "sin reigns in the mortal body" ( Romans 6:12 ). He has no "concord with Belial," or with Mammon ( 2 Corinthians 6:15 ; Matthew 6:24 ). "The old man" must be "so buried, that the new man may be raised up" in us (comp. Ephesians 4:17-24 ).
1 . Unchastity was the most conspicuous sin of the Gentile world in which St. Paul moved. There it prevailed in the grossest and most shameless forms; and its prevalence is a fearful warning, as he points out Romans 1:18-27 ), of the outcome of a godless civilization. The society of the populous Greek cities of that day was one in which "fornication, uncleanness, lustful passion, evil desire" ( Romans 1:5 ), had free course, and its moral condition was only less abandoned than the "reeking rottenness" of Sodom and Gomorrha. Adultery, indeed, was condemned as a civil crime by pagan moralists; but fornication they held, as a rule, to be an innocent and almost a necessary thing. It was in writing to Corinth, perhaps the most licentious city in that licentious age, that the apostle launched his sternest and most vehement interdict against this crime, which is a moral leprosy and pestilence. There he marks it out as peculiar from all other sins in being a sin against a man's own body, and an especial insult and outrage to the Holy Spirit who claims the human body for his temple. There are too many evidences in the state of modern society, both in high quarters and in low, that as Christian sentiment grows weak and religious faith dies down, in the same proportion the perversion of the sexual passions follows, with its invariable result in the relaxation of moral fibre, the destruction of social confidence, and the physical decay of the corrupted race. Man begins by denying his Maker, and ends by degrading himself. There are times and places where plain speaking on this subject is needful, and no prudery or sentimental delicacy should prevent it. The tempted must be warned; the guilty rebuked; bodily self respect must be taught in good time. The pure will know how to do this, like the apostle himself and like his Master, "in all purity." When once inward chastity has been lost and uncleanness spots the sou], the stain is not easily effaced. Evils of this kind flourish in the dark and love to be ignored.
2 . Covetousness is idolatry. ( Romans 1:5 .) It is, obviously and directly, "worshipping and serving the creature" ( Romans 1:25 ). While it appeases to be self love, it is really the sacrifice of self to the world, offered at the shrine of wealth, or fame, or pleasure. The man seeks to gain power over other men or things; but if this becomes his supreme desire, or if he seeks to attain it by evil means, then from that moment the object of his guilty pursuit gains power over him, and begins to entangle and enslave him ( John 8:34 ; Romans 7:23 ). His passion becomes his tyrant, his ambition an insanity, his pursuit of pleasure an infatuation. Even the thirst for knowledge, the noblest of natural desires, may grow into a selfish greed, jealous and grasping, eating out the best affections, and producing an accomplished scholar, a master of science, void of all goodness of heart and human worth. All creaturely things, regarded out of God, are but "passing shows " ( εἴδωλα , idols ) of the absolute and enduring goodness that belongs to him ( Matthew 19:17 ). The homage rendered to them—whether by the savage to his fetish, by the civilized worldling to his wealth or rank, or by the scientist to his laws and forces of nature —is idolatry, the worshipping of shams and shows, in so far as it is a departing from the living God ( Hebrews 3:12 ; Exodus 20:3 ; Isaiah 43:10 ; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 ). And with life thus perverted at its fountainhead, it becomes a mere vanity and vexation of spirit.
3 . Malice is universally denounced. Moralists of all schools and all ages agree in proscribing this vice, though in little else. The malicious man is instinctively dreaded; he is a peril to every one. Sins of malice and of falsehood strike directly at the existence of society, while the two former classes of offence threaten it more gradually and indirectly.
4 . If impurity dishonours the body, falsehood dishonours the mind. This sin at once degrades the man, wrongs by deceiving his fellow, and insults his God, the ever present Witness and Guardian of truth ( Acts 5:4 ; Romans 9:1 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:5 ; Psalms 139:4 ; Jeremiah 5:3 ). Here the apostle points out
(a) Many men who would resist the temptation to utter a lie in so many words, will silently act it; especially in a continued course of action, where the deception lies not in any single definite act, but in the general construction which they lead others to put on their proceedings. Such deception is no less culpable in itself, and as a rule still more disastrous in its effects, than a palpable lie.
(b) And again, men find it easy to lie collectively who would not do so singly. Though men of probity in their private affairs, they will put their hands to documents, they will consent with others to acts, which they know to be misleading, or, at least, which they do not know to be true. And now that business is becoming more and more a matter of "limited liability," the perils of divided responsibility in this direction should be well understood.
5 . "Because of all these things God's anger is coming on the sons of disobedience" ( Ephesians 4:6 ). Every act or thought of any of these kinds is a disobedience, a breach of "the holy and just and good Law" under which man was first created in his Maker's image ( Ephesians 4:10 ). This "Law worketh out wrath," inexorably and perpetually, against "every soul of man that doeth evil" ( Romans 2:9 ; Romans 4:15 ). And that anger of God is coming ( Isaiah 30:27 , Isaiah 30:28 ). There is a day appointed for its "revelation'' ( Romans 2:5 , Romans 2:16 ; Ma Romans 4:1 ), even as for "the manifestation of the sons of God" ( Ephesians 4:4 ; Romans 8:19 ). It is already "revealed from heaven" ( Romans 1:18 ), and gives forewarning of its advent in many a personal and public calamity ( Isaiah 26:9 ; Ma Isaiah 3:5 ; Matthew 24:3-42 ; 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 ; 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 ). On every account, the Christian must have done with the old life of sin. He sees it to be incompatible with fellowship with Christ, to be hateful to God, to be ruinous to himself and to his fellow men. No return to it, no renewal of it, no dallying or temporizing with it in any kind or degree, can be tolerated. It must die if he is to live.
III. THE UNITY OF MANKIND IN CHRIST . ( Ephesians 4:10 , Ephesians 4:11 .) This truth belonged, at least in St. Paul's time, to the more advanced Christian knowledge, "unto which" the believer was "being renewed" ( Ephesians 4:10 ); and the Church still comes far short of its full apprehension.
1 . The gospel of Christ reveals the spiritual unity of mankind. To make this known was a part of the apostle's mission, and of the special "mystery God" entrusted to him ( Colossians 1:25-28 ; Ephesians 3:1-6 ; Romans 3:9-30 ; Romans 15:5-12 ). Its manifestation, and the consequent "breaking down of the middle wall of partition" ( Ephesians 2:14 ), were necessary to a complete Christian virtue, the proper virtue of man as man, carried out in all his relations to God and to his fellows; and for the regeneration of human society, the salvation of the world. There was a preparation for this belief in the breaking down of the old nations into the unity of the Roman empire, in the decay of local and ancestral religions, and in the advance of philosophy from the narrower and more political ethics of Plato and Aristotle to the moral system of the Stoics, which was at once more inward and more humane. But there was wanting that conception of a living, Divine centre of the human race, given in Christ, which alone could make the sentiment of universal humanity a creative, organic force.
2 . This unity has been realized in the Christian Church. It appears in the beautiful simplicity of its childlike beginning, in the communism of the infant Church of Jerusalem ( Acts 2:44 47). It was set forth in a larger and fuller way by the Apostle Paul in addressing the mixed Churches of the great cities where he laboured; and was actually put into practice there in a good degree. Jew and Greek ( Galatians 2:12 ), rich and poor ( 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 ; the exception proves the rule: comp. James 2:1-4 ), master and slave ( Philemon 1:16 , Philemon 1:17 ), met at the same table of the Lord, mingled as equals in the same Christian society, distinguished only by the measure of "grace" and "spiritual gifts" bestowed on each ( Romans 12:6 ; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ). And the records of the first three Christian centuries show how faithfully, on the whole, this principle was maintained, and how nobly the Church held herself superior to temporal distinctions of wealth and rank. Far indeed has she subsequently departed from this rule; and lost how much thereby in spiritual dignity and power! We admire it now as a proof of special humility if the titled or cultured man forgets amongst Christian brethren his worldly eminence; if the employer of labour is glad to sit at the feet of his workman, when that workman, as may often be the case, is his spiritual superior; if the wealthy contributor to a Church fund does not expect, on that account, to dictate in its management.
3 . The Church is destined to gather mankind into a spiritual common, wealth. In it there is to be no "strife as to who shall be greatest;" but in humility and self forgetfulness "the greater shall be as the younger, and the chief as he that doth serve" ( Luke 22:24-26 ). There "all are brethren, with one Master even Christ" ( Matthew 23:1-39 . 8-12). All authority and office are derived from him, and attested by his Spirit in his people ( 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 ; Acts 1:24 ; Acts 13:1-52 . I 4; Galatians 1:1 ; John 20:21 ). The Church is his body, complete in him —a unity in itself and in its action, because in every limb it draws its life and gets its direction from the Head. And as the Church becomes a greater and more pervasive power in the world, the spiritual brotherhood it creates will work appeasingly on the "wars and fightings," on the aristocratic exclusiveness and haughtiness, the democratic bitterness and jealousy, the invincible prejudices, the clashing interests, by which society is distracted and its bonds are strained almost to rending, and the nations are kept in arms and hurled repeatedly against each other in deadly conflict. When mankind recovers its unity in him in whom it was created and redeemed, when it is reconciled to God and bows its every knee "at the name of Jesus,"—then at last there will be "peace on earth." Where "Christ is all and in all" antipathy must cease.
IV. THE NEW CHRISTIAN CHARACTER . ( Ephesians 4:12-17 .) We have traced the principle of the Christian life in its inner ground and aim, as "hid with Christ" and seeking its home in heaven ( Ephesians 4:1-4 ); in its uncompromising and mortal warfare with the old life of sin ( Ephesians 4:5-9 ); in its purpose to form a new humanity in the individual soul, and in the world at large ( Ephesians 4:10 , Ephesians 4:11 ). We are now to follow its practical working, to see how the "new man" is to show himself in a new habit and style of living, how the "hidden life" is to blossom out into its fragrance and beauty, and its "celestial fruit" to "grow on earthly ground." We note that the Christian character is one derived from God and that refers to God in everything. It is as "God's elect, his holy and beloved ones' ( Ephesians 4:12 ), that we are called to assume the new habits of Christian grace and goodness. Knowing what the Divine Father is, and what he has done for us ( Colossians 1:12-14 ), and what he intends us to be ( Ephesians 1:4-6 ), sensible of our filial relation to him ( Romans 8:15-17 ; Galatians 4:1-7 ; 1 John 3:1 , 1 John 3:2 ), loyally embracing his will ( Romans 6:22 ) and seeking to be conformed to his nature as that is translated for us into "the image of his Son" ( Romans 8:29 ; 2 Peter 1:4 ; 1 John 4:17 ), we shall be "holy in all manner of conversation." But God is known to us through Christ. And, therefore, in the formation of the Christian character "Christ is all and in all" ( Ephesians 4:13 ; 1 Corinthians 11:1 ; Romans 15:3 ; Philippians 2:5 ; 1 Peter 2:22 ; 1 John 2:6 ; John 13:15 ). It is nothing else than Christ formed in us ( Galatians 4:19 ). In the perfect Christian character, then:
1 . Christ's love rules. ( Ephesians 4:13 , Ephesians 4:14 ; 2 Corinthians 5:14 ; 1 John 3:23 ; John 13:34 .) The tender heart of compassion, the gentle, sympathetic kindliness, the lowliness of mind, the uncomplaining meekness, the patient long-suffering, the forbearance and forgivingness ( Ephesians 4:12 , Ephesians 4:13 ) of the Christian nature,—these centre in the all-perfect and all-perfecting grace of Christ-like love ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 .; 1 John 4:7-21 ; Romans 13:9 , Romans 13:10 ). He in whose heart dwells the love of Christ cannot "shut up his compassion" from any within reach of help who need it ( 1 John 3:17 ); cannot be rude and ungracious, or hard and unforgiving ( Ephesians 4:31 , Ephesians 4:32 ; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 ); cannot be self-asserting, clamorous, overbearing; cannot be passionate and resentful, irritable and fault finding, obstinate in prejudice, intolerant of opposition. The love of Christ will assimilate his whole disposition and make it sweet, gracious, unselfish, loving, and lovable as that of an innocent child ( Matthew 18:1-4 ). And the Christian man who in the spirit of this love can "possess his soul in patience" through all the strenuous endeavours and painful collisions and vexing wrongs of life, wears "the girdle of perfectness," and has attained the perfect Christian temper.
2 . Christ's peace guards. ( Ephesians 4:15 .) The Christian's faith and hope are assailed by a thousand enemies. Sometimes amid the common incidents of life, sometimes in "the heavenly places" of his richest experience and most exalted communion with spiritual things ( Ephesians 6:12 )—sometimes brought about by open and palpable causes, sometimes by strange influences shadowing the inner life and coming we know not whence or how—sometimes through the ruggedness and gloom of his providential rule, sometimes through mental perplexities and the chilling and confused intellectual atmosphere around him,—in any or in all of these ways "the trial of his faith" comes—comes, in one shape or other, to every man who has a faith worth trial. And then, whatever be the form which the assault takes or the quarter from which it is directed, he may find in "the peace of Christ" his strong tower of defence and harbour of refuge. His difficulties may not disappear under this influence; his doubts may not be at once dispelled; the conflict may still rage furiously around and within him; but he will be kept, the fortress of his heart will not be surrendered ( 1 Peter 1:5 ; Philippians 4:7 ). So long as "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," and "his love is shed abroad in our hearts" ( Romans 5:1-5 ), nothing can shake our essential faith or rob us of our immortal hope ( Psalms 27:1-14 .; 46.; Luke 12:32 ; Revelation 1:17 ), Neither sophistry ( Colossians 2:4 ) nor threatening ( Colossians 2:18 ) will take from us "the prize of our high calling." "One thing," at any rate, "we know" ( John 9:25 ); and to it "we have the witness in ourselves" ( 1 John 5:10 ), in "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding," "to which we were called," in the "new heart and right spirit" he has "put within" us, in the moral victory attained over self and the world ( 1 John 5:4 , 1 John 5:5 ): "we know that we have passed from death unto life" ( 1 John 3:14 ). And we safely infer that he "who has begun a good work in us" will carry it through ( Philippians 1:6 ); that he will keep that which we commit to him, and "none shall pluck us out of his hand" ( 2 Timothy 1:12 ; John 10:27-29 ; Romans 8:31-39 ). So, unitedly and thankfully, we "hold fast the beginning of our confidence, and the glorying of our hope, firm unto the end" ( Hebrews 3:6 , Hebrews 3:14 ).
3 . Christ's word inspires. ( Ephesians 4:16 .) It is to "dwell in the heart richly"—to be the welcome visitant and constant inhabitant of the mind; to be listened to and diligently learned; to be cherished and pondered in inward meditation, not as an object of theoretic study only, but as the power which is to shape the character and guide the life of the Christian ( Deuteronomy 6:6-9 ; Psalms 119:105 ; John 17:17 ), as the soul's daily nutriment—the bread of God, "which strengtheneth man's heart," "the word of eternal life" ( Deuteronomy 8:3 ; Jeremiah 15:16 ; Matthew 4:4 ; John 6:63 , John 6:68 ),
4 . Christ's name hallows everything. (Verse 17.) Our eating and drinking—acts which seem the most ordinary and purely physical, and quite remote from the interests and sentiments of the spiritual life—these are to be "sanctified by the word of God and prayer" ( 1 Timothy 4:5 ), by the mention of Christ's name in thanksgiving to the Father, who through him sends us all life's blessings. And if our mere animal necessities of life are capable of being thus hallowed, there is nothing in family relations, or secular employments, or social or civil duties, which may not receive and does not demand the same consecration. We may associate Christ with everything we do, doing all as his servants and under his eye, and in such a way that, by every part of our work, he may be glorified in us. And this will be a safeguard to the Christian man. If he is to do everything in Christ's name, he must do nothing unworthy of that name, nothing with which he cannot associate it. Nowhere, in any company or on any business, must he forget, "either in word or deed," that this "worthy name" is the name which he bears, and whose honour is in his keeping. This is the seal that marks the true Church of Christ, which every Christian wears upon his heart: "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness" ( 2 Timothy 2:19 ).
Verse 18—Colossians 4:1—Sect. 8
The Christian view of family duties.
Certain general considerations bearing on the family and social constitution of life may be drawn from the teaching of this section.
1 . We note that the apostle brings each of the three primary relationships of which he speaks into connection with "the Lord." The natural order of human life is grounded in Christ. If "all things were created and do consist in him" ( Colossians 1:16 , Colossians 1:17 ), then, amongst the rest, this also and in chief. For man in his relation to the world around him is "the image of God," even as Christ is to the whole universe ( 1 Corinthians 11:7 ; James 3:9 ; Genesis 1:26 ; Psalms 8:1-9 .). And man is not a solitary individual; he is a social being, a race unity. And those relations which are essential and fundamental to human society—marriage, sonship, service—have, most of all, their spiritual type and creative ground in Christ. This is obvious in the case of the two latter relations; as to the first, see Ephesians 5:22-32 .
2 . The intrinsic fitness of a right discharge of natural duties is affirmed in the first case ( Ephesians 5:18 ), and implied in the other two. The apostle recognizes and appeals more than once to the sense of ethical propriety, that which "nature itself teaches" ( 1 Corinthians 11:14 ), which belongs to the universal conscience surviving in our nature though fallen and debased. All true sentiments of natural morality the Christian revelation reaffirms and supports with its effectual sanctions, "as is fit in the Lord" (comp. Philippians 4:8 ). Their consciousness of the right as the beautiful ( τὸ καλόν ) was a sound and valuable element in the teaching of the best Greek moralists. They regarded conduct as a work of art, in which grace and fitness were to be studied, and the perfection of an ideal beauty to be the aim of life. While men may have, as a rule, a stronger sense of the right, women better understand the fitting; and it is in regard to the place and duties of woman that St. Paul appeals to convictions of moral fitness and decorum.
3 . We are taught, indirectly, to cherish a pleasant and cheerful temper in domestic life. Bitterness ( Ephesians 5:19 ) and harshness, with the distrust and timidity which they engender ( Ephesians 5:21 ), and a sullen or constrained obedience ( Ephesians 5:23 ), are forbidden; and these are the common elements of domestic unhappiness. Where the husband is gentle, and the father tender though strict, and the master considerate, and the servants willing and honestly anxious to please, there all goes well. Whatever storms may beat upon that house from without, there is peace and sunshine within. And this is "well pleasing in the Lord."
4 . The principle of authority is steadfastly maintained throughout. ( Ephesians 5:18 , Ephesians 5:20 , Ephesians 5:22 .) In every house that is not to be "divided against itself," there must be a single head, a ruling will, a definite centre of power and direction. And that power God has placed, as a solemn trust, in the hands of the husband, father, master, who is in his prerogative within his own house an image of Christ in the Church ( Ephesians 5:23 ; Colossians 4:1 ), of God himself, the Father of men ( Hebrews 12:9 ). This principle is the corner-stone of order in human society. Here is "pure religion breathing household laws" (Wordsworth).
I. HUSBAND AND WIFE . ( Ephesians 5:18 , Ephesians 5:19 .) The marriage relation stands first, being the basis of the family, which again is the basis of society and of the community of mankind. "He which made them from the beginning, made them male and female" ( Matthew 19:4-6 ). Marriage is to be "had in honour among all" ( Hebrews 13:4 ; 1 Timothy 4:1-3 ); and not merely the criminal act, but any impure word, thought, or look which offends against its sanctity, "defiles the man" from whom it proceeds, offends in an especial way the Holy Spirit of God, and brings down his wrath upon the offender. The degree of honour and reverence in which it is held in any society largely, determines the degree of soundness in its moral condition. Where the opposite vices prevail, whether secretly or openly practised, general moral corruption and decay set in (see homiletics, sect, 7, II . 1).
1 . On the one side, there is to be submission. The apostle says, "Children,… servants, obey" ( Ephesians 5:20 , Ephesians 5:22 ); but not " Wives, obey your husbands:" "Be in subjection" ( Ephesians 5:18 ) is a gentler and fitter term to use. Obedience implies a certain distance and inferiority that has no place here. There is something wrong on one side, or on both, when the husband gives formal orders to his wife. There should be such an intimacy of mutual understanding and sympathy between them, that they seem to have but one mind and will in all common matters, And while to that single mind the wife contributes the queenly influence of her insight and persuasion, she will feel and show that resolve and direction belong to him and not to her. The final responsibility for the business of the house devolves on the husband, by the ordinance of God and by the nature of things, which are but two expressions of the same fact ( 1 Corinthians 11:3-15 ). It is his part to "rule well his own house" ( 1 Timothy 3:4 ).
2 . It was not so needful to say, "Wives, love your husbands;" though the apostle once enjoins this, in speaking of "the younger women" in Titus 2:4 . For failure on the wife's side in this respect is comparatively rare. But the man, full of business, often absent, and with his more exacting nature, is more liable to fall into some disloyalty. He allows other company to become more agreeable to him; seeks amusements and pursuits in which his wife cannot join; no longer makes her his confidante and the sharer of his inner life; and allows home to become little more to him than a selfish convenience. And with this selfishness and the uneasiness of conscience that attends it, there supervenes often an irritableness of temper that chafes over every domestic care or trouble, and makes no allowance for infirmities in others; that magnifies every trifling mistake or mishap into an injury, and ignores the wife's patient affection and eagerness to please. How different is all this from the exalted ideal that St. Paul holds up to the Christian husband!—"Love your wife even as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for her" ( Ephesians 5:25 ). Bengel's shrewd and caustic remark on this passage is too often verified: "There are many, who out of doors are civil and kind to all; when at home, towards their wives and children whom they have no need to fear, they freely practise secret bitterness."
II. FATHER AND CHILD . (Verses 20, 21,)
1 . From children, obedience to their parents in all things is required, and therefore in many things contrary to their inclination and opinions. Childhood means dependence and ignorance. It is only under the shelter of parental oversight that the incipient faculties and plastic nature of the child can be formed to the strength of judgment and firmness of character which will enable him to meet the tasks and the perils of adult life. And for this discipline to be effective, the submission of the child must be absolute. Only when a parental command plainly contradicts the Law of God and violates the child's conscience, can any kind of disobedience be justified. In that case, obedience cannot be "well pleasing in the Lord." But even the worst of parents will rarely be found to have so little respect for the conscience of childhood as to enforce such an injunction. The requirement addressed to the child presumes that the parent exacts obedience. This is his inalienable prerogative. Instant, unmurmuring obedience should be made the habit of the child's life, and as a law of nature to it. To have this understood from the first is the simplest and easiest course. If the child be allowed, through passion or persistence, once successfully to rebel, a mischief is done not easily to be repaired. His own self mastery, and the sense of law and of duty which are to attend him through the whole of life, largely rest on this basis of ingrained obedience. For this purpose, children should be in their earliest years as much as possible under the direct influence of their parents' presence and authority. The parental office cannot be discharged by proxy. And there must be unity of parental administration, as well as harmony between precept and practice, if a true and reverent obedience is to be possible. In no State was the authority of the father ( patria potestas ) so strict and absolute as in ancient Rome. And there can be little doubt that this stern maintenance of family discipline largely helped to form the Roman character with its extraordinary vigour and tenacity, and to preserve that rigid, firmly knit order and devoted loyalty which were the secret of Rome's invincible strength.
2 . On the other hand, the father must beware lest his authority should wear a needless aspect of severity. His righteous desire to "command his children and his household after him" ( Genesis 18:19 ), and his anxious sense of responsibility, may occasion this, if not relieved by more genial influences. The innocent liveliness and the many unintended offences of childhood must not provoke him to ill temper. He must learn by patience and tenderness to win the child's affection and open-hearted trust, without impairing its submissive reverence. A mechanical, unsympathetic strictness, or an angry and unequal discipline, will fatally alienate the sensitive heart of the child, which in that case either sinks down into a dull, spiritless apathy, or prepares for a passionate revolt when the hour of its strength shall come. Too often those most anxious to commend religion to their children have made it odious by presenting it in forms unintelligible to the young mind, and associating it with tasks unsuited to its powers, and burdens that it found "grievous to be borne." As the child should find in the child Jesus its pattern and model ( Luke 2:40-52 ), so the parent should seek to be to his children an image of "our Father in heaven."
III. MASTER AND SERVANT . (Verse 22— Colossians 4:1 .) This third relationship is one which we may be sure will continue to exist, however varied the forms it may take, so long as the world stands. And what the apostle says here is of universal application, though slavery has happily given place to free service. Even when our lower classes shall have become so far raised in intelligence and independence that cooperation in industrial labour will become the rule instead of the exception, still there must be some to command, others to obey. Indeed, the more extended and complicated the operations of trade and manufacture become, the more thoroughly labour needs to be organized and authority graduated, and the more entirely success depends on management and discipline and on a right adjustment of the relations of master and servant.
1 . From servants Christianity demands, what conscience demands, an honest obedience, that serves as well behind the master's back as to his face (verse 22). As a mere matter of commercial advantage, the uniform presence of this quality would be an incalculable economy and enrichment of the community. And religion secures this, directly and of necessity. The man who does his work in God's sight—"as ever in his great Taskmaster's eye"—and as for the judgment day, cannot scamp any part of it. He is serving, not a man like himself, but a heavenly Lord, whose searching eye is always upon him, who understands and can judge every man's work (verse 24; 1 Peter 1:17 ), and who has promised infinite rewards for faithfulness in the "few things" of our earthly probation ( Matthew 25:21 , Matthew 25:23 ). These convictions form the best guarantee, with the mass of men the only sufficient and effectual guarantee, for good work and thorough workmanship in every department of life.
"A servant with this clause,
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room as for thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine."
2. And the Christian master, whether at the head of a farm or a factory, of a commercial house or a private family, will remember that he has his duties along with his rights as a master. He is dealing with human beings, not with machines. The laws of political economy are not to be his only guide. "The nexus of cash payments" can never be the sole link that associates any two men together. Woe be to him if he says, with Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" ( Genesis 4:9 ). "Just dealing and fairness" ( Colossians 4:1 ) must rule in the relations of master and man, if they are to be on a moral and righteous footing. He will not take a hard advantage of his servant's necessity; or allow, if he can help it, his dealings with him to degenerate into a mere struggle between capital and labour for every inch of vantage. The cruel greed that grasps at immediate gain at whatever cost of toil and poverty to others, and that "grinds the faces of the poor" ( Isaiah 3:15 ), may enrich the individual, but in the long run is fatal to the class or the trade which practises it. And the rich oppressor will have to appear at a tribunal where "there is no respect of persons" (verse 25). Political economy itself teaches that ill-paid labour is the most expensive and wasteful. The man who has want and fear gnawing at his heart cannot be a good workman, even if, in spite of extreme temptation, he be an honest one. Injustice and over reaching on the part of the rich and governing classes, political and social institutions that favour "the fat and the strong" at the expense of the weak and poor ( Ezekiel 34:16-27 ), are sure of God's heavy judgment. They generate in the hatred excited in those subject to them an explosive force which, with a suitable train of circumstances, will burst forth, as in the French Revolution, in some volcanic upheaval that the strongest social fabric will be unable to resist. Christ's golden rule of equity ( Luke 6:31 ) is the only safe, as it is the only righteous, basis for the dealings of man with man, of class with class, or of nation with nation in the world's great polity.
The duty of putting on all the characteristic qualities of the new man.
We must not only "cease to do evil" in putting off the old man, we "must learn to do well." "Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, long suffering."
I. THE OBLIGATIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN POSITION . "As God's elect, holy and beloved." They are chosen unto holiness that they should be without blame before him in love" ( Ephesians 1:4 ). The saints are:
2 . The elect are
(a) consecrated to God,
(b) subjectively holy ( 2 Corinthians 7:1 );
(a) the election is connected with God's love ( Romans 11:28 );
II. THE DISCHARGE OF THESE CHRISTIAN OBLIGATIONS . We are to put on:
1 . A heart of compassion; not a head of high knowledge, after Gnostic perception. The apostle begins with the natural and universal instinct of pity, which is here more an act of grace than of nature, for it springs from love to God. We ought to cultivate it,
2 . Kindness. This is the temper of mind which produces a sweet and happy intercourse with others. Our English word is derived from "kin," and thus a kind man is a kinned man; we ought to regard the saints as kinsfolk, for they are children of God and brethren in Christ.
3 . Humility. This is the temper of mind which affects our estimate of ourselves. It is closely allied to kindness, for it takes an unselfish view of personal interests. We ought to "seek lowliness" ( Zephaniah 2:3 ), because:
4 . Meekness, long suffering. They affect our outward bearing towards others, especially in the case of injury or insult. They are linked together as companion graces in Galatians 5:22 . They are eminently illustrated in the life of Christ, and are both fruits of the Spirit ( Galatians 5:22 ). God will guide the meek in judgment and teach them his way ( Psalms 25:9 ). It is the praise of Christian love that it suffers long ( 1 Corinthians 13:4 ).
5 . Forbearance and mutual forgiveness. "Forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any." This temper is eminently conducive to peaceful relations and diminishes the natural friction of life. It implies
6 . Love. "And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness." This love to the brethren is to be put on as the cincture to bind the other graces together.
(a) It is the proof of faith ( Galatians 5:6 ).
(b) It tends to the increase of the mystical body ( Ephesians 4:17 ).
(c) It makes us like God himself ( 1 John 4:16 ).
The new life of love.
We have turned over a new leaf, so to speak, in these verses. The old life we have to mortify gives place to a new life of love which we have to develop. Now, the moment we speak of love, we are brought into relations with others. It is the social Christian life, therefore, of which Paul here speaks. As already seen, he is aiming at the unity of the Church. Here we have the means by which it is secured. Let us briefly analyze this life of love.
I. IT HAS A HEART OF COMPASSION . ( Colossians 3:12 , Revised Version.) All the emotion which misfortune evokes in the heart of God is to have its counterpart in the heart of his people. "Kindness, humility, meekness, and long suffering" are to be in exercise within us continually. The apparent drawbacks in others are thus transfigured by our kindly spirit into helps to unity.
II. IT HAS A FORGIVINGNESS LIKE THAT OF GOD . ( Colossians 3:13 .) Church members and those outside the Church will, from time to time, be guilty of injustice towards us; we may have just ground of complaint. But how our brother's offences dwindle into utter insignificance when compared with the offences we have ourselves committed against God! It will not do to be severe on our debtors after God has been so forgiving towards ourselves ( Matthew 18:21-35 ). If we cultivate a God-like forgivingness, then we shall be promoting constantly the unity of the Church.
III. LOVE IS ITS BOND OF PERFECTNESS . ( Colossians 3:14 .) We need only study 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 . to see how love is the all-important matter. It is what brings the whole life into harmony. For love expresses the willingness of the person to give himself to the good of others. It is the principle of the new life, without which it cannot exist.
IV. GOD 'S PEACE RULES AND EVOKES MAN 'S GRATITUDE . (Verse 15.) For when we are God like in our compassion, forgiveness, and love, we find a peaceful temper laying hold of us. We cannot war with others, but must follow the things that make for peace. To the unity of peace we feel that God has called us. He has been our Peacemaker and the Peacemaker of many more, and so we dwell in the unity of the one mystical body, And surely such a state of mind and heart is something to be thankful for. A grateful spirit for our personal peace and for the peace which permeates through the Church of God.
V. GOD 'S WORD IS TRANSLATED INTO HEARTFELT PRAISE . (Verse 16.) For we can only sustain the new life by the reception of God's quickening Word. It must dwelt within us richly. And if it do, it will evoke praise from our grateful hearts. We will sing in our social gatherings one to another, and be mutually helpful. The meetings of the saints shall be of a most joyful character. And what a unifying element is always found in social praise! How it blends our hearts into unity as we praise the one Lord. The very harmony of the music catches our souls and blends them into something like the harmony of heaven.
VI. ALL LIFE BECOMES SACRAMENTAL . (Verse 17.) There can be no idle words nor random deeds in the new life. All is consecrated to the Lord. His Name is our banner, and under it all is done. God has thus come and made "the common" clean, and the life on earth is like the great sheet of the Apostle Peter, in which the four footed beasts and creeping things were pure. Into every nook and cranny of the new life the consecrated spirit is carried. The meanest matters are thus lifted into heavenly light, and God reigns over all. Thus it is that the sacramental element is carried into all things, and we feel that "the communion of the Lord's Supper is meant to be a sample of, and not an exception to, our common days; and in the rite there lies a mighty power to make the whole of the rest of life like itself." Arnold has a curious sermon on this text, in which he advocates the consecration in the making of "wills." But this is only an illustration of a universal principle which God requires in the Christian life. There is to be no exception to consecration. In a grateful spirit we are to do all in Christ's Name. May it be our single ambition!—R.M.E.
Verse 18-ch. 4:1
Christianity remodelling the ancient household.
The unity of the Church, which Paul has in view, is to have its counterpart and model in the unity of the Christian household. The Church is only an enlarged family. Hence Church officers are to serve their apprenticeship in the matter of rule in the family. If they are not able to rule their own families well, they have no business to take office in the Church of God ( 1 Timothy 3:2 , 1 Timothy 3:12 ). Of necessity, therefore, Christianity takes up the household and sanctifies it. The relation of Christianity to family life is most important. In the present section Paul takes up three relations and shows how love is to regulate them all.
I. THE RELATIONS OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES . ( Colossians 4:18 , 19) Now, it is well known that women did not get justice under the ancient regime, and yet the apostle exhorts the wives to be in subjection to their husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Revised Version). Christianity has emphasized the passive virtues; it glorifies woman, therefore, by showing to the world how glorious a thing it is to be subject and even to suffer for love. Apparently this is to neglect "women's rights," but really it has secured them. It is in woman lovingly filling her station that she secures, not only her rights, but absolutely her reign. Husbands, again, are exhorted to give up all bitterness against their wives and to love them. Elsewhere he shows that the measure of the husband's love is to be the love of Christ for his Church; that is, a love which can be self sacrificing if need be, and which will be considerate at all times ( Ephesians 5:22-33 ). In such a case, how harmonious family life proves! The stronger and the weaker natures are blended by love into one. Each has its sphere, and there need be no collision amid the responsibilities of love.
II. THE RELATIONS OF PARENTS TO CHILDREN . Here, again, the apostle appeals first to the weaker side. He wishes children to think how pleasing to the Father in heaven obedience is, and, as he has put their parents over them to be obeyed, the children should obey them in all things. There is to be strict obedience in all things to the natural authority. On the other hand, the fathers are exhorted not to provoke the children by their tyranny, lest the little ones be discouraged. Paul saw no such danger from the mother's rule. A mother comes with a tenderness and sympathy such as the harder nature of the father cannot always command. This exhortation to fathers is surely a great triumph for the mother.
III. THE RELATIONS OF MASTERS TO SLAVES . And here, again, Paul appeals first to the slaves. He does not encourage revolt, but the conquest which comes through loving obedience. Let the slave simply obey in the fear and love of God; let him do his work, not in a spirit of eye service as a pleaser of men, but in a spirit of conscientiousness as a slave of Christ, and he may rest assured of compensation from his Master in due season. This is liberty—the liberty of love, even though he is still nominally a slave. It is this Christian spirit which has made its mark and won the sympathy of the world, and issued in the emancipation of the slaves. Although Christianity apparently neglected the slaves, it has really been their deliverer. For what has it insisted on among the masters? On justice. Above them it has pointed out a heavenly Master, with whom there is no respect of persons, and who will do right by slave as well as by freeman, and give all their due. The gospel has contended for justice as between man and man, and the world is gradually coming to it. This freedom from respect of persons which characterizes God is a terror at once to the evil-doing slave and to the evil-doing master. If we could bring the world to this, men's wrongs would soon be righted. We are coming to it, blessed be God, steadily. The Christianized household is thus seen to be a unity. Husbands and wives are united in love's best bonds. Parents and children are united in beautiful authorities and subordinations. And masters and servants are united as subjects and servants of the one Master in heaven. It is the one God of love, who, as he overshadows all, unifies them in a life of love, which is the greatest witness he can have on earth. Let us see to it that the Christian spirit in all its beautiful and unifying power reigns in our households and fulfils within them the work of God.—R.M.E.
What particularly we are to put on. How we are addressed.
"Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved." The Colossian Christians had been elected by God out of a state of heathenism. By arrangements over which they had exercised no control, the gospel had been brought to them and had been the means of their conversion. As elected by God, they were consecrated to God and were in the enjoyment of the Divine love. The Colossian Christians were not exceptional. We have been elected by God out of the ungodly state of our own hearts and out of the ungodly influences that more or less prevail in a semi-Christian state of society. Thus brought into a true Christian state, and in that state devoted to God, and the recipients of many tokens of the Divine favour, it becomes us to fed the force of it in reference to our duty.
I. THE CHRISTIAN FORMS OF LOVE . The concluding representation is that all are bound together by love.
1 . "A heart of compassion." In the original there is indicated the supposed seat of the sympathetic feelings. In heathenism it was rather a heart of cruelty that was worn. The weak were down trodden and neglected. The softening influence of Christianity appears in our hospitals and asylums, in our abhorrence of oppression, in the missionary enterprise. There is a fine sensibility to the miseries of others in those who have felt the Divine compassions toward them. Especially are we to feel the sorrows of our fellow Christians.
2 . "Kindness." We may show kindness where there is nothing to draw forth compassion. Under all circumstances are we to be king. There is nothing which we can wear outwardly to be compared with kindness. "Kind hearts are more than coronets." Kindness is the disposition to think about others, it adds greatly to the joy of their existence to let them see (even in little ways) that we are not forgetting them, but are giving them a place in our thoughts. As God's holy and beloved, we are to be the vehicles of the Divine thoughtfulness.
3 . "Humility." As a Christian grace, humility is founded upon the fact of our having humbled ourselves before God as sinners. As a form of love, it is the disposition which forbids us to exalt ourselves over others. It is a form of selfishness simply to wish to give others a sense of our importance and of their unimportance. Rather does love impel us to sink our own importance and to prefer them.
4 . "Meekness." This is founded on the fact of God being the First Cause of the provocation received from others. As a form of love, it is the disposition which prompts us to endure rather than retaliate on those who have wronged us.
5 . " Long suffering." This is founded on the fact of God having suffered long and much with us. As a form of love, it is the disposition which forbids us to weary of the good of others. It is enduring in hope.
6 . " Forbearing one another." Forbearance seems to be the practical exhibition of the last disposition. It is implied that we all need to have forbearance exercised toward us, as well as to exercise forbearance ourselves.
7 . "And forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any." It is here "each other," with a look forward to the thought of our being all first forgiven by Christ. Just cause of complaint has already been supposed. How are we, as just complainants against a brother, to act? We are not merely to endure and to endure for his good, but we are to advance to positive forgiveness. That is to say, in love we are to remove the complaint, so that it is as though it had never been. The highest example of forgiveness. "Even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye." The Lord had just complaint against us; who shall estimate what it was? But he carried out a work for us the purport of which was the removal of the complaint. That we have appropriated, and now we are in the position of those from whom complaint has been removed. Forgiveness is usually associated with God, but in this Epistle, in which prominence is given to the Person of Christ, it is associated with him. The fact of Christ being called here "the Lord" points to the fact that, as his servants, we are bound by his example. If the Lord has so acted, servants must not nurse their wrath. The seven graces bound together by love. "And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.'' There is the perfect number, and they are bound in the bond of perfectness. Love is thought of as the girdle which binds the garments which have been put on. We have seen its presence in all the seven. They are simply love in seven different relations. There is thus no looseness about them, but they constitute a perfect whole.
II. THE CHRISTIAN FORM OF CONCORD . "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body." The peace which is the principle of concord is distinctively the peace of Christ. That is to say, it is the peace which Christ possessed and which he left as a legacy to his disciples. He possessed a holy feeling of tranquillity in view of death and under the wrongs which were heaped upon him, in the enjoyment of his Father's love and in the conscious and complete carrying out of his Father's purposes of love toward men. And this holy feeling of tranquility it is intended that we too should have, in all circumstances (in our case based on the atonement), in the enjoyment of our Father's love and in the conscious endeavour to carry out his purposes of love. The peace of Christ is to rule in our hearts. In the margin it is "arbitrate." And some have thought the meaning to be that, between contending feelings, the peace of Christ is to act as umpire. But the meaning seems simply to be that it is to rule so as to put down all disquieting feeling, and so that we have it toward God and toward all around us. The one body is here thought of as a society in which all are called to a holy feeling of satisfaction. It is, therefore, a society in which concord (out of a Christian ground) reigns. "And be ye thankful." This is the recurrence of what has been noticed as a subordinate feature in the Epistle. What we are to be thankful for is the tranquility which makes concord.
III. THE CHRISTIAN FORMS OF RELIGIOUS EXERCISE .
1 . The reception of the Word. "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." The Word also is distinctively the Word of Christ. That is to say, it is the Word which Christ spake and which he caused to be proclaimed. It may be taken as including inspired additions. There is a great richness in the Word of Christ. It contains all the thoughts that are needed to give us peace, guidance, strengthening, heartening, under earthly conditions. We are to receive it to be our permanent possession. We are to receive it, not scantily, but in all its richness. We are to receive it in all wisdom, that is, in all wise apprehension of its meaning, and not in the way of false interpretation.
2 . Christian song. In Ephesians this is introduced as a counteractive of false excitement, as one of the manifestations of a true excitement of the Spirit. Here it is introduced as the result of the indwelling of the Word of Christ. It was out of no cold heart, but out of a heart of summer gladness, that the Word of Christ came, and, received into us, it wells up in all joyful feelings which find expression in song.
IV. THE CHRISTIAN FORM OF SPEAKING AND ACTING . "And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus." This, like the others, is associated with Christ. His being called "Jesus" points to his having been a speaker and doer in human nature himself. The meaning is, not that we are formally to invoke the Name of Christ in connection with our speaking and doing. But they are to be according to the rules laid down by Christ and as unto Christ. They will thus be redeemed from all mere naturalness and all sinful elements that mix with them, and will have a richness as from the Word of Christ. "Giving thanks to God the Father through him." This is again the refrain of the Epistle, with a certain prominence. Our thanksgivings are to be unto the Father. We are to give thanks through Christ as Mediator. It is only through him that we have leave to thank God. It is only through him that we have anything to thank God for. It is through him that all the blessings of salvation come to us; and so it is through him that we are to thank God for them.—R.F.
Verse 18-ch. 4:1
The two considerations on which the apostle's treatment of the relative duties here seems to be based are these:
1 . The position of authority is also relatively, by Divine constitution, the stronger position.
2 . Christ is to be regarded as represented in the position of authority. Throughout the paragraph he is designated in respect of his authority. That there may be no doubt about the reference, it is expressly stated, in the twenty-fourth verse, that Christ is Lord.
I. WIVES AND HUSBANDS .
1 . Wives. "Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." The wife has the weaker position. "The weaker vessel" is the language used by Peter. She is more delicately constituted, and is not so fitted to fight her way in the world. She is made to lean upon her husband, and therefore it is fitting that in her duty she should fall into a certain subordination to him. This is not only fitting in itself, but it is fitting in the Lord. That is to say, it is Christ who is over her in her husband. If, then, she is a Christian wife, she has more than her husband to regard in the relation. She will be willing to be directed by Christ in her husband.
2 . Husbands. "Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them." The husband ("band of the house") has the stronger position. He is more robustly constituted. He has a bolder judgment. And so the controlling power has been placed in him. But that does not point to his using it for selfish ends. Christ, as the Head of the Church, as is brought out in Ephesians, used his position only to love the Church and to give himself up for its deliverance. So it is the duty of the husband, as the representative of Christ in the relation, to love his wife and to protect her weakness with his strength. He is not to be a despot, putting bitterness into his strength against his wife;—that would be utterly inconsistent with acting in the Name of Christ.
II. CHILDREN AND PARENTS .
1 . Children. "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing in the Lord." Children are at first utterly helpless. And for a long time they are dependent on their parents. Especially, in their inexperience, are they dependent on the experience of their parents. That points to their being obedient to their parents. The principle is, as stated here, obedience in all things, there being no exception to it in the mere pleasure of the child. In Ephesians the rule is grounded on its being right. The rule for the wife, we have seen, is grounded on its being fitting. The rule for children here is grounded on its being well pleasing. That is to say, it is a beautiful thing to see children subjecting their impulses, their wishes, their plans, to the better judgment, riper experience, of their parents. It is a beautiful thing to see them rendering prompt and universal obedience. This is not only beautiful in itself, but it is beautiful in the Lord. That supposes that they have given themselves to the Lord. In that case they will regard their parents as given them by the Lord. And not only so, but they will regard them as in the place of the Lord to them. It is pre-eminently a beautiful thing when children learn to reverence and obey their parents, not simply as their parents, but as placed over them by Christ.
2 . Parents. "Fathers, provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged." Parents (for we are to think of the whole ruling power relative to the children) have the stronger position. There is great disparity at first for purposes of rule, But they are not to use their position to provoke their children. That is the coarse way of ruling. The rod, though necessary at times, is not to be the substitute for reason. It is also generally the selfish way. Parents cannot take pains with their children. They cannot bear with their dulness. They have not the patience to deal with their self will so as to have it overcome. They cannot bear to have their liberty curtailed, their comfort disturbed, by their children. And so they passionately, tyrannically, carry out their pleasure on their children. That is not only to be condemned in itself, but it is especially to be condemned in those who should regard themselves as the representatives of Christ to their children. Christ does not act harshly to men. He does not act harshly to them. And therefore they should not act harshly to their children. The effects are, as might be expected, bad. The children are discouraged. Youth is the time of hopefulness. With the wakening of the powers hopes spring forth. And parents have carefully to watch over the calling forth of the powers of their children. It is all important that these be directed in a Christian way. But children are easily discouraged. They lose heart before the difficulties connected with following out useful and Christian aims. And they need to have many words of encouragement spoken to them. They need to be shown what they can do. But to give them no encouragement, to treat them as though they were incapable of anything great, to heap reproaches on them, to punish them harshly, is to crush the life out of them. The breaking of the spirit is said to be the bane of youth.
III. SERVANTS AND MASTERS .
1 . Servants.
2 . Masters. "Masters, render unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven." The master has the stronger position; but that is only that he may use his position for the sake of the weaker. He is to render to his servant that which is just, that which does not depend on his pleasure, but is grounded on the eternal order of things. And beyond the just he is to render to him that which is equal. In Ephesians it is said that he is to do the same things. The meaning seems to be that, as the servant is required to give him hearty work, so he is required, on his part, to give considerate treatment. Such equality is becoming in a Christian master. For he also has a Master in heaven. The servant is to give hearty work out of regard to that Master. Out of regard to the same Master he is to give considerate treatment. That Master is considerate toward him; he is to be considerate toward him who has been placed by Christ under him as a servant.—R. F.
The marks, method, and motive of the Christian life.
This paragraph is part of the practical application of the great principle St. Paul has been expounding in this chapter, viz. the Christian's death to evil through the death of Christ, and life to holiness through his life. We have here—
I. THE MARKS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE . When the Christian life is illustrated, as here, by a garment, the analogy must not be pressed too far. For instance, unlike a garment, the Christian character is not
1 . Because by it a man is known and recognizable.
2 . Because by it a man is adorned. There are in Paul's description eight characteristics by which, as by a beautiful garment, the Christian man is recognizable and is adorned.
II. THE METHOD OF ATTAINING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE . The method here described is threefold.
1 . Christ's dealing with us. "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." "The Word of Christ." By this we understand:
2 . Our words to one another. We only gain ourselves as we help others. We must communicate what we have received if we are to become strong.
Of this there are many ways. One is here described by "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs."
3 . Our word to God. "Sieging with grace in your hearts to the Lord." There must be the outpouring of the heart to God.
III. THE MOTIVE INSPIRING CHRISTIAN LIFE .
1 . Here is the widest description of the Christian life. It covers "word and deed."
2 . Here is the deepest motive of the Christian life. "The Name of the Lord Jesus." It is the Name of him who brings God near, who is the Reconciliation of all things to God. So that what is truly done in the Name of Christ brings the world near God, lifts up human nature into fellowship with God. No wonder that Paul adds, for all this let there be "giving of thanks." The Christian life ought to be a eucharist.—U.R.T.
A threefold cord of grace.
We have here an attractive picture of a loving, peaceful, thankful Christian.
I. LOVE . It is compared to the girdle, put on over the other articles of attire, and helping to bind all in their place. Christian love is no mere natural emotion or self interested affection. It is the fruit of the Spirit, whereby God is sincerely loved for his own sake, and one's neighbour for God's sake. To love even our fellow Christians because they are God's children is not always easy, on account of their inconsistencies. But it is eminently a Christian grace ( John 13:35 ; 1 John 5:1 ). It is called "the bond of perfectness," because:
1 . It is the element of all other graces, the sphere in which they are exercised. It is like the golden light in which some summer evening landscape is bathed, or the green grass on which the multicoloured flowers are blooming. Without love, "knowledge puffeth up," gifts are "sounding brass," faith is idle ( Galatians 5:6 ), zeal may be wildfire, mercy weakness, humility pride, and charity ostentation. With love, each of these maybe the Spirit's fruit. It is thus the bond of perfectness, the distinctive feature of a complete Christian character ( Romans 13:8 ; 1 Corinthians 13:8 , 1 Corinthians 13:13 ; Galatians 5:14 ).
2 . Love is the pledge of all other graces. For if we dwell in love and in God ( 1 John 4:16 ) we enjoy increasingly the perfections of God. The outer dress is generally the most valuable part, and a sign that other parts are present and in keeping with it. So the precious girdle of love, visible to all, is a sign that other graces are present and kept in their place by this "bond of perfectness." Cultivate it by charitable judgments, by much forbearance, by seeking to win and refine the less attractive, and to walk in the path marked out for us by Christ ( John 15:12 ; Ephesians 5:2 ).
II. PEACE . This peace is described by a most attractive name, "the peace of Christ" ( John 14:27 ), the tranquillity of a trustful child. The term "rule" may be understood in two senses.
2 . Sit as umpire. When in doubt in regard to business speculations, worldly amusements, etc., we may ask, "Which course will the peace of Christ ruling in my heart approve?" To such peace we are called, but to enjoy it we must allow this peace to rule. We shall then be kept from falling ( Psalms 119:165 ), have peace in conflict ( John 16:33 ) and in inaction ( Psalms 4:8 ), through life and in death ( Psalms 37:37 ). Peace is the faithful handmaid of love, which attends it even in the stormier days of life ( Romans 15:13 ).
III. THANKFULNESS . If God's love is shed abroad and Christ's peace rules in our hearts, grateful feelings will well up like sparkling streams. And gratitude to God will deepen love and preserve in peace, fostering forbearance, pity, unselfishness, and patience under those trials which a loving Father appoints for our education.—E.S.P.
The bond of perfectness.
I. NO CHRISTIAN CHARACTER IS PERFECT WITHOUT LOVE . There may be wide knowledge, stainless purity, and fiery zeal. But the character will be broken and unfinished if the golden grace is missing. This has been singularly forgotten by the Church. Anything but Christian charity has been sought after. In the very zeal for other excellences this one has been trampled underfoot.
II. LOVE IS THE CROWNING CHRISTIAN GRACE . "Above all these things put on love."
1 . Love is the highest pinnacle of the Christian temple. Too often the supremacy has been given to orthodoxy, to negative purity, or to rigorous devotion. It has to be learnt that it is better to be heterodox and to love our brethren, than to be sound in doctrine and selfish in heart. It needs also to be more understood that he who denies himself most for his brother stands higher than he who is simply irreproachable in behaviour.
2 . Love is thus supreme
III. LOVE BINDS TOGETHER ALL OTHER CHRISTIAN GRACES . Without it the character is not only imperfect, it lacks unity and cohesion. Love is like the keystone of the arch, which beth completes the structure and holds all the other stones together.
1 . Love should surround every other grace as the bend surrounds the bundle. Purity, truth, justice, courage, temperance, etc., should all be exercised in love.
2 . Love should bring all other graces nearer together. Through love we should realize the relation between generosity and justice, purity and liberty, meekness and courage.
3 . Love should make a harmonious whole of the character. The separate sticks become one bundle when tied up together. Love should give unity of spirit and purpose to the whole life.
4 . Love should perfect the strength of the Christian character. When all the graces are bound by the bond of love they mutually strengthen one another. Selfishness distracts, divides, and weakens life. The soul that is possessed by love is strong.—W.F.A.