The Epistle to the Colossians - Part 11
William Banks, Hamilton, Scotland
In part 10 of this series, we began to look at the paragraph dealing with the imperative to ‘put off all these’, 3. 8-11.
We saw that this paragraph, from verses 8 to 11, had two subsections: the features (or clothes) of the old man to be discarded, vv. 8, 9; and the features of the new (young and fresh as contrasted with old and worn out) man which have been embraced, vv. 10, 11. Just as there was a distinction between the ‘old man’ and the clothes to be ‘put off’ in verses 8 and 9, so there is a distinction between ‘the new man’ and the clothes he wears. In other words, the ‘having put off’ of verse 9 and the ‘having put on’ of verse 10, are events seen as having taken place in the past. In verses 8 to 11, the apostle is building on these two doctrinal affirmations and is using present imperatives, ‘put off’, v. 8, and ‘put on’, v. 12, to ensure that the clothes we put off and put on are consistent practically with what is true doctrinally. There is, thus, a distinction, though, of course, a very close correlation, between the ‘man’ and his clothes – in the one case ‘filthy rags’ and in the other beautiful garments. So, in a word ‘having put off’ and ‘having put on’, vv. 9, 10 JND, are events in the past; ‘put off’ and ‘put on’, vv. 8, 12, are imperatives in the present.
The features of the new (young and fresh as contrasted with old and worn out) man which have been embraced, vv. 10, 11
The characteristic features of the new man which have been put on are given in these verses: young as opposed to old; fresh as opposed to worn out, cp. Eph. 4. 24. This leads to being continually ‘renewed [anakainoo, new in quality in knowledge; epignosis, full knowledge]’ – the knowledge of God in Christ. This knowledge leads, in turn, to a transformed person, v. 10; ‘after the image of him that created him’, Gen. 1. 26, 27; 2 Cor. 3. 18; a new creation, 2 Cor. 5. 17, with Christ being formed in us, 1. 27; 1 Cor. 15. 45-49; and having ‘put on Christ’, Gal. 3. 27.
In addition, there are new relationships in the sphere in which the ‘new man’ operates, v. 11. 1 National barriers are gone – ‘there is neither Greek nor Jew’, including in the religious sphere ‘circumcision or uncircumcision’, cp. Eph. 1-3; cultural barriers are removed – ‘Barbarian, Scythian’ (Scythians were regarded as uncultured); and social barriers are gone – slaves and freemen together.
The supremacy of Christ is the common basis for the new relations, ‘Christ is all, and in all’; He permeates all, empowers all, controls all; not Christ plus as the Gnostics aver, He is simply preeminent, v. 11!
The clothes of the ‘new man’ which have to be ‘put on’, vv. 12-14
The apostle begins this paragraph with a ‘therefore’. Having embraced the features of the ‘new man’, vv. 10, 11, there must be a change of clothes. It is an imperative again to ‘put on’ the lovely clothes appropriate to the new relationship. He is essentially saying, ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’; Rom. 13. 14, Gal. 3. 27 – ‘reproduce the life He lived’, Thayer. 2
The people to whom such an appeal can be made, v. 12
Paul addresses them as ‘the elect of God, holy and beloved’. He assumes the transformation is wrought by the gospel; on the one hand, divine sovereignty and on the other human responsibility. The order is important: we are God’s chosen people, ‘God’s elect’, Rom. 8. 33; Titus 1. 1; chosen by God in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy [set apart]; as His beloved, Eph. 1. 4.
The clothes to be worn (put on), vv. 12-14
The eight features mentioned here are all found in their fullness in the person of Christ, cp. Gal. 5. 22, 23.
- ‘bowels of mercies’, v. 12 – this is essentially a compassionate heart as seen in the Lord, Mark 1. 41; 6. 34.
- ‘kindness’, v. 12 – this feature of God is seen in Psalm 34 verse 8, ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good [kind]’; in Romans chapter 2 verse 4, goodness (which should lead to repentance); in Galatians chapter 5 verse 22, ‘gentleness’. It has in it the idea of not giving offence.
- ‘humbleness of mind’, v. 12 – this contrasts with the proud idolaters of chapter 2 verse 18 and is a feature of the Lord, Matt. 11. 29; Phil. 2. 5-11. Micah chapter 6 verse 8 summarizes it well, ‘He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ ‘The high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity’ dwells with people like this, Isa. 57. 15. The contrast is pride and self-assertiveness.
- ‘meekness [gentleness]’, v. 12 – this was one of the outstanding features of Moses, Num. 12. 3, and Psalm 37 verse 11 reminds us that ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ (cp. Matt. 5. 5). Paul beseeched ‘by the meekness and gentleness of Christ’, 2 Cor. 10. 1. It has been defined as ‘equanimity of spirit that is neither elated nor cast down’. 3
- ‘longsuffering [patience]’, v. 12 – the apostle had already exhorted this, 1. 11. 4
- ‘Forbearing one another’, v. 13 – this means to bear with, endure, Matt. 17. 17. In Ephesians, it is linked with another four of the graces in the current list, ‘With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love’, 4. 2. It is an affirmation that we are all different personalities and can be thought of as not taking offence.
- ‘forgiving one another’, v. 13 – the example of Christ is seen in Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32 and is incumbent upon us, Matt. 6. 12; 18. 21, 22. It can be thought of as not holding offence.
- ‘charity’, v. 14 – which is the bond of perfectness [completeness; this word is used only twice in the New Testament – here and Heb. 6. 1]. Love is the outer garment – ‘above [upon] all these things’. It is the girdle that holds the various garments together. ‘Love is the link of the perfect life’, Moffatt. 5
The ‘Christ patterned life’ which will implement the above, vv. 15-17
The above list is extremely demanding. Only a life patterned after the person of Christ could begin to implement the details. In this paragraph, the peace of God, the word of Christ and the name of the Lord Jesus are brought to bear as levers for putting on the above clothes.
The control (the arbiter, umpire) of the peace of God, v. 15
The peace that Christ gives, has to control our movements, John 14. 27. The sphere of the rule is seen as being ‘in your hearts’. In Philippians chapter 4 verse 7, the peace is personal but here it is communal. The reasonableness of the appeal is seen in that it is that ‘to the which also ye are called in one body’, i.e., unity is anticipated, cp. 1 Cor. 12. 12, 13; Gal. 5. 22. If we are at peace with God, we should be at peace with one another. It is Christ who made peace at great cost to Himself, 1. 20. There is, however, the attitude necessary to effect it – ‘be ye thankful [keep on being thankful]’.
The control of the word of Christ, v. 16
If the word of Christ is going to control, then it is necessary to be aware of it. The question arises as to whether the phrase is subjective or objective or both? The phrase is used only here. Perhaps it is best to take it as both. The word speaks of Christ as its object, but the content should have a controlling effect in our lives. Indeed, the word has to ‘dwell [be at home] in you richly’. Personally and/or communally? It is possibly the latter in the context, although if it is the case in the former it will be automatically in the latter. It is likely that the phrase ‘in all wisdom’ (cp. 2. 3 and contrast with the Gnostics) links with the dwelling of the word in the heart of the believer, producing appropriate control and the ability to adorn with the above clothing!
There has to be a mutual communication of this word – ‘teaching and admonishing [cp. 1. 28] one another’ (the phrase ‘one another’ occurs three times in these verses – twice in verse 13 and here in verse 16). This stresses the fundamental importance of teaching and it is certainly good to do it ‘in all wisdom’. If done wisely it leads to an outburst of praise – the result of peace ruling and the word controlling, cp. Rev. 19. 5, 6.
The content of the singing is interesting – ‘psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’6 which give further elucidation of the teaching. 7 The content must therefore be intelligent if it is going to embellish the teaching and admonishing. The source of the singing is ‘grace in your hearts’; thus, all an exercise of true worship with the object of the singing being ‘the Lord [God JND, RV]’.
The control of the name of the Lord Jesus, v. 17
‘Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus’, i.e., the Lordship of Christ is the preeminent consideration. The question to be asked is not, ‘is there anything wrong with this?’, but, on the contrary, ‘does it promote the Lordship of Christ and give a basis for thanksgiving to the Father through Him?’ This should be the case in our speaking or acting, ‘in word or deed’; ‘Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God’, 1 Cor. 10. 31. All should be done in a spirit of thanksgiving ‘to God and the Father by him’. Therefore, we speak to the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus. This concurs with Ephesians chapter 5 verse 20, ‘Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’, and the words of the Lord Jesus in the upper room ministry, John 14. 13, 14; 16. 23, 24.
If this threefold control is seen in the believer, it will lead to a ‘Christ-patterned life’, giving the necessary spiritual ability to ‘put on’ the beautiful clothes to appropriately dress the ‘new man’.
1 Cp. 1 Cor. 12. 12, 13; Gal. 3. 27, 28.
2 J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Baker.
3 W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Volume 3, pg. 56.
4 See also Rom. 9. 22, where it postpones wrath; 1 Thess. 5. 14, where it indicates ‘patience under provocation’, and 2 Pet. 3. 15, where it is linked to salvation.
5 1 Cor. 13. 13, and, the summation of the commandments, Rom. 13. 9, 10 – see also Gal. 2. 20; Eph. 5. 25.
6 Psalms would be from the psalter. For hymns, see 1 Tim. 3. 16; Phil. 2. 5-11, and the Magnificat, Luke 1. 46-55. For spiritual songs, see, for example, 1 Cor. 14. 15.
7 For example, 1 Cor. 14. 26; Eph. 5. 19.