Colossians 3

Colossians 3  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 6
But there is far more than that: “If ye then be risen with Christ” (Col. 3:11If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)). Here we enter not merely what clears one out from the rudiments of the world, but what introduces us into the new thing. We need the positive as well as the negative; and as we have just had the latter, so the former now comes before us. Instead of letting the reins free now to run in the race of improving the world and bettering society, or any of the objects that occupy men as such, the saints of God should abstain altogether. Many who really love the Lord are in this quite misguided as to the duty of the Christian here below. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” And as if that were not precise enough, it is added, “Set your affection on things above.” It is rather “your mind”; for here, however important the state of the heart, it is a question simply of the whole bent and judgment. “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” It is not merely bringing the heavenly into them, so to speak; and decidedly not of joining the two things together. The Colossians, like others, would have liked this well enough; it is just what they were about, and the very thing that the Apostle is here correcting. The Apostle will not sanction such an amalgam, but refuses it; and we must remember that in these exhortations it was the Lord acting by the Spirit in His servant. “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth; for ye are dead.”
Note well again that it is not here man striving to become dead, which is a notion unknown to the revelation of God, new or old. In fact there was not even the thought of striving to be dead before the death of Christ came; and when He died, the Spirit in due time revealed not alone that He died for us, but that we died in Him. Thus no room was left for striving to die. The Christian owns his death in his very baptism; and what is wanted is not effort to attain, but the Spirit’s power in acting on the truth by faith. This it is that always settles the difficulties in the great conflict that rages now as ever, and more than ever, between human religion and the truth of God. Since men have a certain knowledge of Christ’s death, they are striving to die. It is the law in a new and impossible shape. That is the meaning of all that seems good in the world’s piety. It is an effort to become dead to what is wrong; to cultivate what is felt to be glorifying to God; to avoid what is contrary to His will, and injurious to the soul. But does this so much as resemble the provision of grace for the Christian? Is this the truth? Must we not first and foremost be subject to the truth? If I have Christ as a Saviour at all, instead of struggling to die in the sense meant, I am called to believe that I am already dead.
It is remarkable that the two well-known and standing institutions—I will not call them ordinances—of Christianity, baptism and the Lord’s supper, are the plain and certain expression of death in grace. When a person is baptized, this is the meaning of the act; nor has it any true force, but is an illusion, otherwise. For the baptized soul confesses that the grace of God gives death to sin in Him who died and rose again. The Jew looked only for a mighty King Messiah; the Christian is baptized into the death of Him who suffered on the cross, and finds not alone his sins forgiven, but sin, the flesh, condemned, and himself now viewed of God as dead to all; for nothing less is set forth in baptism. Thus it is from the first the expression of a most needed truth, which remains the comfort of grace throughout the whole Christian career, and is therefore never repeated. Again, on each Lord’s Day, when we are gathered together to Christ’s name, what is before us according to God’s Word and will? A substantially similar blessing is stamped on the table of the Lord. When the Christians unite in breaking bread, they show forth the death of Christ till He come. It is not a mere duty that has to be done; but the heart is in presence of the objective fact that He died for us, His body. As believing in Him, this is our place. Such is the basis of the liberty wherewith Christ has set us free. It is a liberty founded on death, displayed in resurrection, known in the Spirit. Having this in the soul, one is entitled to have it in the body also at His coming. Besides, we are one bread, one body.
Hence we find the glorious future display referred to here: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear”; for we have both “ye are dead,” and “your life is hid with Christ in God.” We may be content to be hidden while He is hidden; but He is not always to be out of sight. The Christian will have all the desires of the new man gratified. Now he may have the blessed enjoyment of communion with Christ, but it is a Christ crucified on earth. His glory is in heaven. A man seeks to shine in the world now; it is a heedless if not heartless forgetfulness, that here He knew nothing but rejection.
Am I then false or true to the constant sign of my Master’s death? Am I to court the honor of those who refused Christ, and gave Him a cross? Am I to forget His glory in the presence of God? Ought I not, in my measure of faith, to be the expression of both? Ought I not to share my Master’s shame and dishonor here? Ought I not to wait to enter the same glory with the Christ of God? So it is said here, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.” Accordingly the path of Christian duty is grounded on these wondrous truths. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” What a humbling consideration that those so blessed (dead, as we have said, and risen with Christ) are here told to mortify what is most shameful and shameless! But so it is. It is really what man is; and such is the nature which alone we had as children of Adam. These are alas! In the singularly energetic language of the Spirit of God here called the members of the man. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things’ sake, the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in the which ye also walked sometime.”
It is no use denying the plain truth “when ye lived in them”; it is blessed to know that we are dead now. Let us hearken, “But now, ye also put off all these.” Here we come not merely to that which is displayed in the forms of the corruption that goes on through things or persons outside us, as it were, but by inner feelings of violence: “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” Falsehood, too, is judged as it never was before, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him.” Not Adam, but Christ is the standard—Christ who is God as well as man; “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” How blessed!—“Christ is all, and in all.”
Thus the believer can look round full of joy upon his brethren; he can count up souls from every tribe, tongue, and station. Who has been overlooked in the comprehensive and active grace of our God? And what is he then entitled to see? Christ in them. And what a deliverance from self to see Christ in them! Yes, but Christ is “all” as truly as He is “in all.” Oh, to forget all that which produces jealousy, pride, vanity, each and every feeling contrary to God and unedifying to man; to be comforted and to comfort others with such a truth—Christ is all, and Christ is in all! Such is God’s Word, and are we, or are we not, entitled to say so now? Sorrowful circumstances may, alas! require us to pronounce on evil ways in order to look into this evil doctrine or that; but the Apostle speaks now of the saints in their ordinary and normal manner. Does not this still abide true? Am I entitled, as I look upon Christians henceforth, to see nothing but Christ in any and Christ in every one? Yes, Christ is in all, and Christ is all. “Put on, therefore” (says he, in the enjoyment of such grace. Now comes the positive character to be borne)—“Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved.” How like the description is to Christ Himself! He was God’s chosen One in the highest sense; He was the holy and beloved. Who ever appealed in distress, and did not find in Him bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering? Then follows that which could be said of us alone. “If any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Forgiving one another is fortified by His example who did no sin, neither was evil found in His mouth. Christ on earth was a blessed pattern of forgiveness and forbearance. “Even as Christ forgave you.” He now brings Him in openly, and to ourselves.
But there is a crowning quality: “And above all these things put on charity,” because this is, as nothing else can be, the fullest sign of that which God is Himself, the energy of His nature. His light may detect, but His love is the spring of all His ways. No matter what may be the demand, love is after all most essential and influential too. It lies at the bottom when we think of the wants of the saints of God here below. There is a figure especially characteristic of the divine nature morally considered—I need not say light, as we are told more fully in the Epistle to the Ephesians, Yet above all the saints are to put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness; “and let the peace of Christ rule,” for so it reads, not the peace of God, but the peace of Christ. Everything in our epistle is traced up to Christ as the head of all possible blessing.
So “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”; that is, the very peace which Christ Himself lived and moved in. Let His peace rule. He knows everything and feels everything. I may be perfectly certain, whatever may be my sorrow or travail of spirit about anything, Christ feels far more deeply (yea, infinitely deeper than any other) those that may excite any of us. Yet He has absolute peace, never broken or ruffled for an instant. And in us, poor feeble souls, why should not this peace rule in our hearts, to the which also we are called in one body? “And be ye thankful. Let the Word of Christ” (it was God’s Word, but still called the Word of Christ here) “dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” There might be a Word of God which was not in the same way the Word of Christ. There are many portions of the Scriptures that do not by any means suit or suppose the estate and path of the Christian. “And let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another.” It is not Christ Himself, as in Ephesians 3, the wondrous issue even now in us by the power of the Spirit; but, at least, in His Word is found (what the Colossians needed) an active and most pure spring of instruction and counsel, and mutuality of help by it. Such is the fruit of His Word thus dwelling in us. Nor is this all. “In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” It matters little how well taught the saint may be, nor how he may know the moral beauty and the unfailing wisdom of the Word, if positive fruit be not increased: if the spirit and power of worship abound not, there is something altogether short, or wrong. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Thus, even if there be not actually formal praise, the Lord looks for thankfulness of heart, as counting on love in everything.
After this follow particular exhortations, on which we need not at present dwell. We have wives and husbands, children and fathers, servants and masters, brought together successively up to the first verse of chapter 4, which should, of course, close Colossians 3 rather than begin a new one.