Notes on Colossians 3:12-17

Colossians 3:12‑17  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In Ephesians the ground for not lying is because we are members one of another. Here it is treated as inconsistent with our having put off the old and put on the new man. Thus it is an evident contradiction of the new nature, as well as of the judgment and setting aside of the old one. That judgment doubtless took effect upon Christ, but then faith in Him supposes it has been applied to us, and that we have, through Him, renounced self, yea, put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new. The old man is supposed to account for lying; the old man is false, full of deceit. There is not, there cannot be, thorough truthfulness in nature as it is now. We see this from the first: Adam was false directly he sinned; Cain was false also. There may be other evils, such as violence, &c., shown betimes in some and not in others, but all are false—lying one does sec in all. The ordinary forms of social intercourse are founded more or less upon deceit in the present state of the world. Men say what is agreeable to others without thought. Men subscribe forms, especially in religion, which they are not expected to believe, and, sad to say, the best men least of all. This all shows how universally falsehood follows the old man. Here it is a question of Christians, and therefore we have the new man. In Ephesians we hear of the members of the body; here it is the nature. In Ephesians also they are to put off the old man and put on the new; but here it is said, “which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” In Ephesians it is as a fresh thing that they had not before, without any reference to being renewed; it is absolutely new-created; whereas here they have received the fresh blessing, but at the same time there is renewing. Both ideas are in the two epistles, but singularly put so as to prove the complement of each other. In Ephesians it is said the new man is after God created in righteousness and true holiness. What is the difference between the two? Righteousness brings in the idea of authority; it supposes an answer to a just claim; let it be man that meets it, or God, a right to demand underlies it; merely nature above and intolerant of evil. Holiness has in itself nothing to do with the claim of justice. To the believer Christ is made righteousness, which is grounded on God's judgment, though it may be entirely settled in our favor; whereas holiness would have been true apart from the question of His authority; it is the essential nature and character. The angels are said to be holy, but are never said to be righteous or just. The new man rejoices in both. There is entire acquiescence in the authority of God, and delight that the judgment of God has been so met in Christ that He is glorified more than ever. Besides that, there is the moral nature that feels with God. Righteousness is more a bowing to Gad, holiness is the participation of His own feelings about good and evil. In us the two feelings often mingle. Righteousness is a true balance, the maintenance of what is just in relationships of all kinds. For instance, it is right for a child to obey its parents; it is not merely holy but “right” to do so. The one belongs to the nature quite apart from relationship, or anything of duty, apart from anything that is a sort of obligation which at once brings in the idea of righteousness. Hence rationalists admit the value of holiness, but they seldom talk of righteousness, for righteousness supposes judgment. Righteousness is a terrible word for a man until he has got hold of Christ. Righteousness, I repeat, proclaims the authority of God. God was holy before sin came into the world; but who could speak of His righteousness before there was the judgment of evil, spite of conscience, and against His express authority? Under the law, therefore, which was the formal assertion of that authority in dealing with men in the flesh, Jehovah, as a righteous God, is continually set forth. “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness,” &c. There was neither righteousness nor holiness in Adam before he fell. We have both and become both in Christ. Adam was made upright, but that is not the same thing as being righteous or holy; it was the absence of evil: he was innocent, unfallen.
Righteous and holy is the description that God gives of the Christian. Adam knew nothing of evil as yet, neither was there any question of God's righteous claim upon him, save so far as the forbidden fruit tested his obedience, yet there was no limit of doing this and living, but rather of not doing lest he die. Adam was in a place of privilege, and the point was simply to enjoy it in obedience to God, on penalty of death if be disobeyed. We are in a wholly different position, being in the midst of evil, and acted on by a good outside and above us. Hence we are said to be called by glory and virtue; “by glory” as the object, the condition in which Christ is, and “by virtue,” as a restraint upon us and practical conformity to Christ.
It has been well remarked that in Ephesians Christ is never spoken of as the image of God; He is so very expressly in Colossians. If we may discriminate, what we have in Ephesians is more Christ showing me what God is—not His image but His moral likeness reflected in Christ. Hence it is said, “Be ye imitators of God, us dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us.” It is more the notion of resemblance than representation. Still although you can say of Christ, He is the image of God, he is never said to be in the likeness of God, just because He is God. In Colossians we hear repeatedly of the image of God. Here, for instance, the new man is said to be “after the image of him that created him;” as in the first chapter Christ is said to be the image of the invisible God. The two ideas of likeness and image may often he confounded in our minds, but not so in Scripture, where likeness simply means that one person resembles another, image means that a person is represented, whether it be like him or not.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering.” (Ver. 12.) These are the positive, moral qualities of Christ, the tone, spirit, and inward feelings of our Lord. It is not exactly as children, but “as the elect of God, holy and beloved,” that we are called on to manifest the same. We are to feel and walk as the Lord walked here.
There is this character about Scripture, that, being divine, it never can he mastered by intellect alone, but always appeals to the affections and conscience as well as mind. It needs the power of the Holy Ghost to connect it with Christ in order even then to feel, judge, and act aright. “Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Christ is looked at as Head of everything in this epistle. He is viewed as the ideal of all that is good and lovely which God looks either for or from us. “And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” There is more in love than simple kindness and forgiveness: it goes beyond these. Love always brings in God, being the activity of His nature. His nature morally is light, but the energy of it is love that goes out in goodness to others.
Thus, love tends to bind together, whereas self or flesh is the very opposite, the one as decidedly removing difficulties, as the other brings them in. Love not only bears and forbears, but overcomes evil with good. “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” &c. The peace of God is that perfect calm in which He rests as to all circumstances in this world and into which He brings the believer who looks up to Him, committing all circumstances into his hands without allowance of will or anxiety. Instead of our way of escape, which is what man's mind loves to take, because he has always a notion of governing for himself, faith enables a man to look up to God, and brings in the word of God to bear upon what passes around us. But our epistle speaks of a peace more intimate. It is the peace that Christ has now, the peace He ever had when here below. Thus Christ Himself met all difficulties, as He saw all perfectly, resting in perfect peace about all, and so should we. No sense of evil without, no sense of weakness among His own, disturbs His perfect peace about everything.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body, and be ye thankful.” Thus it is peace, but not in an isolated spirit, not as having done with one another, but, on the contrary, cleaving to all, spite of all. Supposing, for instance, something painful troubled me about one in communion, am I to be stumbled by this so as to be hindered from going to the Lord's table? That would be adding wrong to wrong; for if it were right for me to stay away, it would be equally incumbent on others also. I am never warranted to yield to trouble about such matters, but entitled to have the peace of Christ ruling in my heart. There is always a way of Christ in everything, and this is very important for our souls to remember. “And be ye thankful,” not anxious nor fretful, but thankful. Everything that is wrong may be matter for judgment; but the best preliminary for judging soundly is to do what is according to God ourselves. It is our privilege to think of Christ in all that we enter on.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” This is a remarkable contrast of the gospel and the law. The law decided this and that; and not this only, but the obedience of the law is definite, it does not leave room for a growing measure of spirituality. Now, in Christianity, there is an elasticity which leaves room for differences in spirituality. This does not suit the thoughts of human nature; it is too vague for it; but it is perfection in the mind and ways of God, who thus forms the affections and judgments. It is precisely what leaves room for the word of Christ. Here there is growth in every kind of wisdom, and also room left for the exercise of spiritual judgment. In the first chapter there is a similar principle, only there it is “Being filled with the knowledge of His will, that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.” Here it is “That the word of Christ may dwell in you richly in all wisdom;” it is not a question of walk, but of enjoyment and worship. Hence immediately after we have “teaching and admonishing one another,” &c. By speaking of enjoyment and worship, its public exercise is not meant, but the spirit of it in intercourse with one another.
As to the difference between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, I suppose a psalm was a more stately composition than a spiritual song, which admits more of Christian experience, expression of our feelings, &c. This may be very good in its way and season, but it is not the best or highest thing. A psalm, then, is more solemn; a hymn is a direct address to God and consists of praise. By psalms, of course, I do not refer to the Psalms of David, but Christian compositions.
The exhortation, again, to sing with grace in their hearts was because the Colossian saints were far from the excellent state in which we may gather the Ephesians, for instance, were. “And whatever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” This exactly meets what has been already remarked about bringing in everything as a matter for blessing the Lord, instead of finding only sorrow. Doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, includes not the mere thought of belonging to Him, but of perfect grace. Still it is the Lord Jesus, not Christ simply, but the “Lord Jesus,” which involves our relation to His authority. Whatever grace may be shown us, the authority is not weakened, and the effect is that we give thanks to God and the Father by Him. A Christian man, woman, or child dishonors the Lord by yielding to the thankless spirit of the world. “Whatever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Thus our mode of speech, as well as our ways, should testify our subjection to Him, before whom all heaven bows.