Christ in the Believer

 •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Col. 3:12-4: 6.
We have seen that the great object of the epistle is to present the glories of Christ, the Head of the church, in order that the character of the Head may be expressed in His body.
Having set forth the practical application of the great truths that believers have died and risen with Christ (Col. 20-3: 11), the apostle now exhorts us to put on the character of Christ. In the coming glory we shall be perfectly like Christ, in a scene where every one is like Christ: now it is the believer's high privilege to express the character of Christ in a world where men are not a bit like Christ. Moreover this new character is to be exhibited not only in some particular circle, on some special occasion, but in every circle in which the Christian may be called to move.
V. 12. The apostle bases all his exhortations on the wonderful position in which the believer stands before God. We are "the elect of God, holy and beloved." As "the elect," we were chosen "before the foundation of the world" for heavenly blessing according to the purpose of God. As "holy," we are set apart for God from this present world; as "beloved," we are cared for by God every step of our journey through this world. (Eph. 1:44According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (Ephesians 1:4); John 17:6, 116I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. (John 17:6)
11And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. (John 17:11)
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Our walk and practice could never secure this place of privilege before God. Our standing in blessing is wholly the result of the grace of God that has reached us through Christ. While, however, the walk cannot secure the position of privilege, the position is surely to govern our walk.
Do not these blessings set forth the position of Christ when in this world? Was He not the elect of God—the One chosen from among the people in a very special sense? So, too, He was, in the most absolute sense, the Holy One; and, on two occasions, the voice from heaven said, "This is My beloved Son." If by grace we are brought into the same position, it must follow that we should walk as He walked, and exhibit His character.
It is noticeable that in the prayers, the teaching and the exhortations of this epistle there is little or no reference to special gifts, and the exercise of public ministry in the service of the Lord. Such themes, of deep importance have their place in other Epistles: here it is that which is of yet deeper importance-the spiritual life and character of the Christian-that is the great theme. What we are, is of far greater importance than what we do. We are apt to value one another by our zeal and activity before men, rather than by our spiritual life and character before God. If a believer has gift and ability it is comparatively easy to be zealous and active in public: it calls for greater grace to live Christ in the quiet, and comparative privacy, of the every-day life. To be an energetic worker amongst the Lord's people, or in the world, may make more show; but to be a spiritual man exhibiting the character of Christ in meekness and lowliness, in longsuffering and forbearance, will carry more weight, and be of greater value in the sight of God. The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price (1 Peter 3:44But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (1 Peter 3:4)). To be a Martha, with a good deal of bustling activity, is easy; to be a Mary, sitting still at the feet of Jesus, demands a far deeper spirituality. It is not that a quiet, spiritual believer will not be active in good works, but the "life" will precede the "works," and will ever be his first care. Mary, who was commended by the Lord for choosing "the good part," was also praised for her "good work." But the "good part" carne before the "good work.”
The result of the good part that Mary chose-the sitting at the feet of Jesus to hear His word-was to form in her the character and graces of Christ. The exhortations that follow very blessedly set forth this character of Christ, marked by grace (vv. 12, 13); love (v. 14); and peace (v. 15).
Vv. 12, 13. The first seven exhortations all set forth the different ways in which the grace of Christ is expressed. Mercy is grace to those who in some way may be dependent upon us, and are in special need. Kindness does not necessarily imply the meeting of actual need, or the conferring of benefits upon one dependent upon us. It is rather ministering to the happiness and comfort of others who may be in no special need. Lowliness has respect to oneself; meekness has reference to others. Lowliness thinks low thoughts, or no thoughts, of self; meekness gives way to others. These two excellent qualities are illustrated by the word, "In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:33Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. (Philippians 2:3)). The lowly man makes himself of no reputation; the meek man considers the qualities of others rather than his own.
Long-suffering has reference more to trying circumstances; forbearing one another refers to trying people. We rightly speak of a person showing great forbearance in the presence of provocation. This provocation may be general something that calls for the forbearance of all. There may also be personal wrongs, which would give just cause for complaint by the one wronged. Such personal wrongs call for forgiveness. The measure of the forgiveness is to be even as Christ forgave us.
Then we read, "To all these things add love" (N. Tn.). It is not, as in our translation, "Above all these things put on love," as if above all these qualities there is "love" as a quality apart. Love is to be added to the mercy, the kindness, and all the other qualities. All these blessed activities of the new man are to spring from love. If we show mercy, or kindness, or forbearance, or forgiveness, it should be because we love our brother. Love is "the bond of perfectness." The apostle is speaking of the new order of man in which alone perfection can be found. In the old order, men are hateful and hating one another; in the new, all are bound together in the eternal bonds of love. One has said, "The links which are riveted in the love of Christ, and in labors for Christ, outlive the changes of time, and bind the family of God in the mansions of eternity.”
“Let the peace of Christ preside in your hearts" (N. Tn.). In Christ we see the new order of man set forth in perfection. He carne down from heaven, and could speak of Himself as "the Son of Man which is in heaven" (John 3:1313And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. (John 3:13)). He walked amidst earth's unrest, but lived in heaven's calm. We pass through a world where there is no peace. Politically, it is a world of wars. Socially, commercially, and religiously, all is unrest and upheaval. The privilege of the Christian is to pass through it, even as Christ, with the peace and calm of heaven in his heart. Whatever the circumstances through which he may be called to pass, with his mind set on things above, he will be kept in the peace which Christ enjoyed.
Furthermore the peace is not only to preside in our hearts, but to be enjoyed in the Christian company; for to this we have been "called in one body." Oneness of the body requires peace between the members if it is to grow with the increase of God. Further, if there is peace in the heart, there will be thankfulness to God. Thus, if marked by grace, love, and peace, the beautiful character of Christ will be reproduced in His people.
Vv. 16, 17. The character of Christ found in the saints, as set forth in verses 12 to 15, prepares for the service of Christ as unfolded in verses 16 and 17. In these verses the apostle speaks of teaching, admonishing, singing, doing, and giving thanks. The meaning of verse 16 is a little obscured in our version by somewhat defective punctuation. There are three distinct exhortations. First, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly": secondly "In all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another": thirdly, "In psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to God" (N. Tn.).
The first exhortation is individual; we are each to be instructed in the mind of Christ. Then, having the mind of Christ for ourselves we are to teach and admonish one another. Here the exhortation does not appear to contemplate public ministry by one specially gifted to teach; but rather teaching and admonishing one another individually, as the outcome of each one having the word of Christ, through having sat at His feet and heard His word. The third exhortation gives the proper attitude of praise to God. If we sing to God is should be with grace in our hearts, not simply with melody on our lips.
In verse seventeen, we pass to "doing." Whatsoever we do in word or deed, is to be done in the Name of the Lord Jesus. What a simple but searching rule of life. How beautiful will be the life in which nothing is ever said or done, but what is suitable to that blessed and holy Name. How many questions, that perplex us in the daily life, would at once be solved by this simple test, "Can I do, or say, this in the Name of the Lord Jesus?”
The closing exhortation is "Giving thanks to God the Father by Him." In the midst of all circumstances we are to give thanks. The Lord, when rejected by Israel, could say, "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth": and Paul could sing in the inner prison, with his feet fast in the stocks. We learn from these exhortations how intimately the character of Christ in the saints, and the practical life they lead, are linked together. The character we put on must affect the life we live, expressed in our words and deeds.
In verses 18 to 21, we have practical exhortations in reference to the natural relationships established by God-wives, husbands, children, and fathers. Christianity, while introducing into relationships above the relationships of earth, does not set aside the natural relationships, while we are yet in the body. They were instituted by God, sanctioned by the Lord, and are to be respected by the Christian.
Fallen man has abused these relationships: the Christian is instructed how to maintain them according to the mind of God, so that, in the family, there may be an expression of the excellencies of Christ the subjection, the obedience, the love, and the grace-that marked His earthly path.
V. 18. Christian wives are exhorted to own the authority of their husbands by due subjection. This indeed is only fitting in those who profess to submit to the Lord. Being subject "in the Lord," would give strength to carry out exhortation, while, at the same time, guarding the submission from degenerating into any acquiescence in evil.
Husbands are to see that they love their wives, and, thus, instead of being betrayed into any bitterness, express the character of Christ by using authority in the spirit of love.
Children are to obey their parents in all things, not simply as well pleasing in the family circle, but as well-pleasing in the Lord. Walking in obedience they would exhibit something of the beautiful character of Christ, Who, in the days of His flesh was "subject" to His parents (Luke 2:5151And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. (Luke 2:51)).
These exhortations suppose the Christian household, where all right authority is maintained, but under the Lord, and therefore exercised in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, in a spirit of love.
We approach these special exhortations to the family circle through the exhortations addressed to the Christian circle. If we are right in the Christian circle; if we are seeking things above; if we are mortifying the members of the flesh; if we have practically put off the old man, and put on the new, and are thus marked by the grace, love, and peace of Christ, we shall be prepared to carry out rightly the relationships of the family circle.
Nevertheless, the flesh is still in us and, therefore, each one is exhorted in a way that will strengthen against the thing in which each is likely to fail. The flesh in the woman may, at times, rebel against the authority of the man; she is therefore exhorted to submit. The man may more easily break down in affection than the woman; he is therefore exhorted to love. Children are prone to do their own wills; they are therefore warned to obey. The father may act in an arbitrary way; so is warned not to provoke his children.
How happy the home in which the wife's submission is yielded in the Lord; where the husband's authority is exercised in love; where the children obey to please the Lord; and where the father acts with the wisdom of Christ.
Christ expressed in the social circle (Col. 3:22-4: 4)
it will be noticed that the first relationships of which the apostle speaks are those which had their existence in the Garden of Eden-wife and husband. Then we come to relationships which came into being after the fall-children and parents. Finally we come to relationships of which we hear nothing until after the flood-servants and masters (Gen. 9:2525And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. (Genesis 9:25)).
Col. 3:22-4: 1. Apparently the existence of masters and slaves was not contemplated in the creation order. This being so, it might be thought that Christianity would entirely ignore, if not actually prohibit, such institutions amongst men. This, however, is not so: Christianity neither sanctions nor condemns slavery, for it is not part of the work of grace to "set itself to change the state of the world, and of society." Its great purpose is to call a people out of the world to Christ, bringing them into new and heavenly relationships.
Those Christians, however, who find themselves in these different social positions are instructed how to act so that while in them, they may express something of the character of Christ.
Christian slaves are to carry out their obedience to their masters, no longer to ingratiate themselves with their masters, or as pleasing themselves or others, but, with a heart governed with the single desire to please the One of Whom it is written "even Christ pleased not Himself." Whatever has to be done, however menial, or irksome, is to be done as to the Lord. Thus, though a slave to man, the Christian slave serves the Lord, and, serving the Lord, will be recompensed by the Lord. In that coming day of recompense, if not in the present, it will be made manifest that with the Lord there is no respect of persons. He that does wrong, whether master or slave, will receive for the wrong that he has done. Masters, then, are to act towards their slaves, in the fear of the Lord, knowing that they have a Master in heaven. So doing they will give to their slaves what is just and fair.
Col. 4:2-42Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; 3Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: 4That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2‑4). These special exhortations to different individuals, are closed by a general exhortation to prayer that applies to all saints. The mere fact of knowing the mind of the Lord for each one in these relationships, is not enough. Knowledge of itself is not power. We need to be kept in the dependent attitude of prayer, if we are to carry out the exhortations in practice. We are therefore exhorted to "Persevere in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving." Persevering in prayer would imply, not only turning to God in some special need, but the habitual attitude of dependence upon God. The psalmist can say, "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray" (Psa. 55:1717Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. (Psalm 55:17)). Whatever the difficulty, however prolonged the trial, though the answer may be delayed, we are to "persevere in prayer." The prayer is to be accompanied with watching and thanksgiving. The Lord warned His disciples to watch and pray. It is useless to pray in reference to a particular temptation, or snare, if at the same time we do not watch against it. Prayer without watchfulness has reference to the expectation of an answer to the prayer, and in this sense we are to watch for the answer.
Exhorting others to pray led the apostle to feel his own deep need of the prayers of the Lord's people. Hence he asks for their prayers that God would open to him a door of utterance; and that door being opened, that he might be able to unfold the mystery of Christ, and to do so in a right manner, as he "ought to speak.”
Finally we are exhorted as to our walk and conversation with those who are without the Christian circle. A right walk will call for wisdom, and the readiness to avail ourselves of the opportunities that present themselves to speak for the Lord. Our danger is that we may have wisdom but lack boldness; or that we may manifest great boldness accompanied with little wisdom.
We carry a message of grace, to be expressed in words of grace; at the same time our speech is to be seasoned with the salt of holiness. Thus speaking, our grace will not degenerate into lightly passing over sins, nor our faithfulness into mere hard condemnation of sinners. For this combination of grace and "salt" we need the wisdom of Christ Who, not only knew the right answer to give every enquirer or opposer, but, how to answer so as to meet the need of each one.