Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The apostle exhorts the Colossians to heavenly-mindedness after the example of Christ, that they may be prepared to appear with him in glory, Col 3:1-4. Exhorts them also to mortify their members, and calls to their remembrance their former state, Col 3:5-7. Shows how completely they were changed from that state, and gives them various directions relative to truth, compassion, meekness, long-suffering, forgiveness, charity, Col 3:8-14. Shows that they are called to unity and holiness; and commands them to have the doctrine of Christ dwelling richly in them; and how they should teach and admonish each other, and do every thing, in the name of the Lord Jesus, Col 3:15-17. The relative duties of wives, Col 3:18. Of husbands, Col 3:19. Of children, Col 3:20. Of fathers, Col 3:21. Of servants, Col 3:22. He concludes by showing that he that does wrong shall be treated accordingly, for God is no respecter of persons, Col 3:23-25.
If ye then - Ει ουν· Seeing then that ye are risen with Christ; this refers to what he had said, Col 2:12 : Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him. As, therefore, ye have most cordially received the doctrine of Christ; and profess to be partakers of a spiritual religion, that promises spiritual and eternal things; seek those things, and look to be prepared for the enjoyment of them.
Set your affection on things above - Τα ανω φρονειτε· Love heavenly things; study them; let your hearts be entirely engrossed by them. Now, that ye are converted to God, act in reference to heavenly things as ye did formerly in reference to those of earth; and vice versa. This is a very good general rule: "Be as much in earnest for heavenly and eternal things, as ye formerly were for those that are earthly and perishing."
For ye are dead - To all hopes of happiness from the present world; and, according to your profession, should feel no more appetite for the things of this life, than he does whose soul is departed into the invisible state.
Your life is hid with Christ in God - Christ is your treasure; and where your treasure is, there is your heart. Christ lives in the bosom of the Father; as your heart is in him, ye also sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Christ is the life of your souls; and as he is hidden in the bosom of the Father, so are ye, who live through and in him.
When Christ, who is our life - When Christ comes to judge the world, ye shall appear with him in his glory, and in an eternal state of blessedness.
Mortify, therefore, you members - Νεκρωσατε· Put them to death: the verb is used metaphorically to signify, to deprive a thing of its power, to destroy its strength. Use no member of your body to sin against God; keep all under dominion; and never permit the beast to run away with the man. To gratify any sensual appetite is to give it the very food and nourishment by which it lives, thrives, and is active. However the body may suffer by excessive sensual indulgences, the appetite increases with the indulgence. Deny yourselves, and let reason rule; and the animal will not get the ascendency over the rational man. See the notes on Rom 6:11, etc.
Inordinate affection - Παθος· Unnatural and degrading passion; bestial lusts. See Rom 1:26, Rom 1:27; and the notes there.
Evil concupiscence - Επιθυμιαν κακην. As επιθυμια signifies strong and vehement desire of any kind, it is here joined with κακη, evil, to show the sense more particularly in which the apostle uses it.
Covetousness, which is idolatry - For the covetous man makes his money his god. Now, it is the prerogative of God to confer happiness; every godly man seeks his happiness in God; the covetous man seeks that in his money which God alone can give; therefore his covetousness is properly idolatry. It is true his idol is of gold and silver, but his idolatry is not the less criminal on that account.
The wrath of God cometh - God is angry with such persons, and he inflicts on them the punishment which they deserve.
In the which ye also walked sometime - When ye were in your unconverted state, ye served divers lusts and pleasures. See on Rom 7:5 (note), and Eph 2:2 (note).
But now ye also put on all these - See on Eph 4:22 (note). Being now converted, sin had no more dominion over them.
Anger, wrath, etc - They had not only lived in the evils mentioned Col 3:5, but also in those enumerated here; and they had not only laid aside the former, but they had laid aside the latter also. They retained no bosom, no easily besetting, sin. They were risen with Christ, and they sought the things which were above.
Blasphemy - The word seems here to mean injurious and calumnious speaking.
Lie not one to another - Do not deceive each other; speak the truth in all your dealings; do not say, "My goods are so and so," when you know them to be otherwise; do not undervalue the goods of your neighbor, when your conscience tells you that you are not speaking the truth. It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but afterwards he boasteth; i.e. he underrates his neighbour's property till he gets him persuaded to part with it for less than its worth; and when he has thus got it, he boasts what a good bargain he has made. Such a knave speaks not truth with his neighbor.
Ye have put off the old man - See the notes on Rom 6:6; and particularly on Rom 13:11-14 (note). Ye have received a religion widely different from that ye had before; act according to its principles.
And have put on the new man - See on Rom 12:1-2 (note).
Is renewed in knowledge - Ignorance was the grand characteristic of the heathen state; Knowledge, of the Christian. The utmost to which heathenism could pretend was a certain knowledge of nature. How far this went, and how much it fell short of the truth, may be seen in the writings of Aristotle and Pliny. Christianity reveals God himself, the author of nature; or, rather, God has revealed himself, in the Christian system with which he has blessed mankind. Christianity teaches a man the true knowledge both of himself and of God; but it is impossible to know one's self but in the light of God; the famous γνωθι σεαυτον, know thyself, was practicable only under the Christian religion.
After the image of him that created him - We have already seen that God made man in his own image; and we have seen in what that image consisted. See the notes on Gen 1:26, and on Eph 4:23 (note), Eph 4:24 (note). Does not the apostle refer here to the case of an artist, who wishes to make a perfect resemblance of some exquisite form or person? God in this case is the artist, man is the copy, and God himself the original from which this copy is to be taken. Thus, then, man is made by his Creator, not according to the image or likeness of any other being, but according to his own; the image του Κτισαντος, of the Creator. And as the Divine nature cannot exist in forms or fashions, moral qualities alone are those which must be produced. Hence the apostle, interpreting the words of Moses, says that the image in which man was made, and in which he must be remade, ανακαινουμενον, made anew, consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness.
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew - In which new creation no inquiry is made what nation the persons belonged to, or from what ancestry they had sprung, whether in Judea or Greece.
Circumcision nor uncircumcision - Nor is their peculiar form of religion of any consideration, whether circumcised like the Jews, or uncircumcised like the heathens.
Barbarian, Scythian - Nor whether of the more or less tractable of the nations of the world; for although knowledge, and the most refined and sublime knowledge, is the object to be attained, yet, under the teaching and influence of the blessed Spirit, the most dull and least informed are perfectly capable of comprehending this Divine science, and becoming wise unto salvation.
Bond nor free - Nor does the particular state or circumstances in which a man may be found, either help him to or exclude him from the benefit of this religion; the slave having as good a title to salvation by grace as the freeman.
But Christ is all, and in all - All mankind are his creatures, all conditions are disposed and regulated by his providence, and all human beings are equally purchased by his blood. He alone is the source whence all have proceeded, and to him alone all must return. He is the Maker, Preserver, Savior, and Judge of all men.
Put on - as the elect of God - As the principal design of the apostle was to show that God had chosen the Gentiles, and called them to the same privileges as the Jews, and intended to make them as truly his people as the Jews ever were, he calls them the elect or chosen of God; and as the Jews, who were formerly the elect, were still beloved, and called to be holy, so he calls the Colossians beloved, and shows them that they are called with the same holy calling.
Bowels of mercies, etc - Be merciful, not in act merely, but in spirit and affection. In all cases of this kind let your heart dictate to your hand; be clothed with bowels of mercy - let your tenderest feelings come in contact with the miseries of the distressed as soon as ever they present themselves. Though I know that to put on, and to be clothed with, are figurative expressions, and mean to assume such and such characters and qualities; yet there may be a higher meaning here. The apostle would have them to feel the slightest touch of another's misery; and, as their clothes are put over their body, so their tenderest feeling should be always within the reach of the miserable. Let your feelings be at hand, and feel and commiserate as soon as touched. See on Eph 4:2 (note). Instead of οικτιρμον mercies, in the plural, almost every MS. of importance, with many of the fathers, read οικτιρμου, bowels of mercy, in the singular. This various reading makes scarcely any alteration in the sense.
Forbearing one another - Avoid all occasions of irritating or provoking each other.
Forgiving one another - If ye receive offense, be instantly ready to forgive on the first acknowledgment of the fault.
Even as Christ forgave you - Who required no satisfaction, and sought for nothing in you but the broken, contrite heart, and freely forgave you as soon as you returned to Him. No man should for a moment harbour ill will in his heart to any; but the offended party is not called actually to forgive, till the offender, with sorrow, acknowledges his fault. He should be ready to forgive, and while he is so, he can neither feel hatred nor malice towards the offender; but, as Christ does not forgive us till with penitent hearts we return unto him, acknowledging our offenses, so those who have trespassed against their neighbor are not to expect any act of forgiveness from the person they have injured, till they acknowledge the offense. Forgive, says the apostle, καθως και ὁ Χριστος even as Christ forgave you - show the same disposition and the same readiness to forgive your offending brethren, as Christ showed towards you.
And above all these things - Επι πασι δε τουτοις· Upon all, over all; as the outer garment envelopes all the clothing, so let charity or love invest and encompass all the rest. Even bowels of mercy are to be set in motion by love; from love they derive all their feeling, and all their power and promptitude to action. Let this, therefore, be as the upper garment; the surtout that invests the whole man.
Which is the bond of perfectness - Love to God and man is not only to cover all, but also to unite and consolidate the whole. It is therefore represented here under the notion of a girdle, by which all the rest of the clothing is bound close about the body. To love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and one's neighbor as one's self, is the perfection which the new covenant requires, and which the grace and Spirit of Christ work in every sincerely obedient, humble believer; and that very love, which is the fulfilling of the law and the perfection itself which the Gospel requires, is also the bond of that perfection. It is by love to God and man that love is to be preserved. Love begets love; and the more a man loves God and his neighbor, the more he is enabled to do so. Love, while properly exercised, is ever increasing and reproducing itself.
Instead of τελειοτητος, perfection, several reputable MSS., with the Itala, read ἑνοτητος, unity; but the former is doubtless the genuine reading.
And let the peace of God - Instead of Θεου, God, Χριστου, Christ, is the reading of ABC*D*FG, several others, both the Syriac, the Arabic of Erpen, Coptic, Ethopic, Armenian, Vulgate, and Itala, with several of the fathers; on this evidence Griesbach has inserted it in the text.
Rule in your hearts - Βραβευετω· Let the peace of Christ judge, decide, and govern in your hearts, as the brabeus, or judge, does in the Olympic contests. No heart is right with God where the peace of Christ does not rule; and the continual prevalence of the peace of Christ is the decisive proof that the heart is right with God. When a man loses his peace, it is an awful proof that he has lost something else; that he has given way to evil, and grieved the Spirit of God. While peace rules, all is safe.
In one body - Ye cannot have peace with God, in yourselves, nor among each other, unless ye continue in unity; and, as one body, continue in connection and dependence on him who is your only head: to this ye are called; it is a glorious state of salvation, and ye should be for ever thankful that ye are thus privileged.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly - I believe the apostle means that the Colossians should be well instructed in the doctrine of Christ; that it should be their constant study; that it should be frequently preached, explained, and enforced among them; and that all the wisdom comprised in it should be well understood. Thus the doctrine of God would dwell richly, that is, abundantly, among them. But there appears to be here an allusion to the Shechinah, or symbol of the Divine presence, which dwelt in the tabernacle and first temple; and to an opinion common among the Jews, which is thus expressed in Melchita, fol. 38, 4: כל מקום שהתורה שם שבינה שם עמה; In whatever place the Law is, there the Shechinah is present with it. Nor is this a vain supposition; wherever God's word is seriously read, heard, or preached, there is God himself; and in that Church or religious society where the truth of God is proclaimed and conscientiously believed, there is the constant dwelling of God. Through bad pointing this verse is not very intelligible; the several members of it should be distinguished thus: Let the doctrine of Christ dwell richly among you; teaching and admonishing each other in all wisdom; singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord, in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. This arrangement the original will not only bear, but it absolutely requires it, and is not sense without it. See the note on Eph 5:19.
The singing which is here recommended is widely different from what is commonly used in most Christian congregations; a congeries of unmeaning sounds, associated to bundles of nonsensical, and often ridiculous, repetitions, which at once both deprave and disgrace the Church of Christ. Melody, which is allowed to be the most proper for devotional music, is now sacrificed to an exuberant harmony, which requires, not only many different kinds of voices, but different musical instruments to support it. And by these preposterous means the simplicity of the Christian worship is destroyed, and all edification totally prevented. And this kind of singing is amply proved to be very injurious to the personal piety of those employed in it; even of those who enter with a considerable share of humility and Christian meekness, how few continue to sing with Grace in their hearts unto the Lord?
Whatsoever ye do in word or deed - Let your words be right, and your actions upright.
Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus - Begin with him, and end with him; invoke his name, and pray for his direction and support, in all that ye do; and thus every work will be crowned with all requisite success. Doing every thing in the name of God, and referring every thing to his glory, is as rational as it is pious. Could it be ever supposed that any person would begin a bad work in God's name? However, it is so. No people in the universe more strictly adhere to the letter of this advice than the Mohammedans; for they never undertake a work, eat meat, nor write a book, without prefacing all with: -
Bismillahi, Arrahmani, Arraheemi;
"In the name of the most merciful and compassionate God."
Not only books of devotion, but books on all arts and sciences, books of tales and romances, books of poetry, and those on the elements of reading, etc., begin thus; nay, it is prefixed to the Lizit un Nissa, one of the most abominable productions that ever came from the pen of man, and is precisely the same among the Mohammedans, as the infamous work of Nicholas Chorier, called Elegantiae Latini Sermonis, falsely attributed to John Meursius, has been among some called Christians. Of both, with a trifling hyperbole, it may be said: "Surely these books were written in hell, and the author of them must certainly be the devil."
Giving thanks to God - Even praises, as well as prayers, must ascend to God through this Mediator. We have no authority to say that God will accept even our thanksgiving, unless it ascend to him through Christ Jesus.
Wives, submit yourselves - Having done with general directions, the apostle comes to particular duties, which are commonly called relative; because they only belong to persons in certain situations; and are not incumbent on all. No woman has the duty of a wife to perform but she who is one, and no man has the duty of a husband to perform but he who is married.
The directions here to wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, and masters, are so exactly the same in substance with those in Eph 5:22-33 (note); Eph 6:1-9 (note), that there is no need to repeat what has been said on those passages; and to the notes there the reader is requested to refer.
As it is fit in the Lord - God commands it; and it is both proper and decent.
Be not bitter against them - Wherever bitterness is, there love is wanting. And where love is wanting in the married life, there is hell upon earth.
Children, obey - in all things - That is, in the Lord - in every thing that your parents command you, which is not contrary to the will or word of God.
Fathers, provoke not - See the notes on Eph 6:4.
Servants, obey - See on Eph 6:5-8 (note).
The reward of the inheritance - Here, ye have neither lands nor property; ye are servants or slaves; be not discouraged, ye have an inheritance in store; be faithful unto God and to your employers, and Christ will give you a heavenly inheritance.
But he that doeth wrong - It is possible for an unfaithful servant to wrong and defraud his master in a great variety of ways without being detected; but let all such remember what is here said: He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he has done; God sees him, and will punish him for his breach of honesty and trust. Wasting, or not taking proper care of the goods of your master, is such a wrong as God will resent. He that is unfaithful in that which is little, will be unfaithful in much, if he have opportunity; and God alone is the defense against an unfaithful servant.
There is no respect - God neither esteems nor despises any man because of his outward condition and circumstances; for there is no respect of persons with him. Every man is, in the eye of God, what he is in his soul: if holy, loved; if wicked, despised and rejected.