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Colossians iii. 18–25
“Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in871871 R. t. and E.V. “unto.”the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged. Servants, obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord: whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ. For he that doeth wrong shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done: and there is no respect of persons with God. (Chap. iv. 1.) Masters, render unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.”
Why does he not give these commands everywhere, and in all the Epistles, but only here, and in that to the Ephesians, and that to Timothy, and that to Titus? Because probably there were dissensions in these cities; or probably they were correct in other respects, so that it was expedient they should hear about these things. Rather, however, what he saith to these, he saith to all. Now in these things also this Epistle bears great resemblance to that to the Ephesians, either872872 [In these apparently hasty notes, perhaps composed by dictation, or more probably taken down in shorthand, we are not surprised to find a frequent lack of clear connection. Here, as often elsewhere, the altered text followed in most editions has inserted clauses to bring out the supposed meaning.—J.A.B.] because it was not fitting to write about these things to men now873873 He seems to class the Romans, Hebrews, Corinthians, and Galatians together, as needing doctrinal instruction before these particulars, and to consider the Thessalonians and Philippians as needing them less from their state of suffering. at peace, who needed to be instructed in high doctrines as yet lacking to them, or because that for persons who had been comforted under trials, it were superfluous to hear on these subjects. So that I conjecture, that in this place the Church was now well-grounded, and that these things are said as in finishing.
Ver. 18. “Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”
That is, be subject for God’s sake, because this adorneth you, he saith, not them. For I mean not that subjection which is due to a master, nor yet that alone which is of nature, but that for God’s sake.
Ver. 19. “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.”
See how again he has exhorted to reciprocity. As in the other case he enjoineth fear and love, so also doth he here. For it is possible for one who loves even, to be bitter. What he saith then is this. Fight not; for nothing is more bitter than this fighting, when it takes place on the part of the husband toward the wife. For the fightings which happen between beloved persons, these are bitter; and he shows that it ariseth from great bitterness, when, saith he, any one is at variance with his own member. To love therefore is the husband’s part, to yield pertains to the other side. If then each one contributes his own part, all stands firm. From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband becomes yielding. And see how in nature also it hath been so ordered, that the one should love, the other obey. For when the party governing loves the governed, then everything stands fast. Love from the governed is not so requisite, as from the governing towards the governed; for from the other obedience is due. For that the woman hath beauty, and the man desire, shows nothing else than that for the sake of love it hath been made so. Do not therefore, because thy wife is subject to thee, act the despot; nor because thy husband loveth thee, be thou puffed up. Let neither the husband’s love elate the wife, nor the wife’s subjection puff up the husband. For this cause hath He subjected her to thee, that she may be loved the more. For this cause He hath made thee to be loved, O wife, that thou mayest easily bear thy subjection. Fear not in being a subject; for subjection to one that loveth thee hath no hardship. Fear not in loving, for thou hast her yielding. In no other way then could a bond have been. Thou hast then thine authority of necessity, proceeding from nature; maintain also the bond that proceedeth from love, for this alloweth the weaker to be endurable.874874 ἀνεκτὴν. He seems to mean, “to be in an endurable position.” [Downes suggested, and Field inclines to approve, that the reading should be ἄνετον, “unrestrained,” which in another passage is confused in a ms. with ἀνεκτόν.—J.A.B.]
Ver. 20. “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord.”
Again he has put that, “in the Lord,” at once laying down the laws of obedience, and shaming them, and casting them down. For this, saith he, is well-pleasing to the Lord. See how he would have us do all not from nature only, but, prior to this, from what is pleasing to God, that we may also have reward.
Ver. 21. “Fathers, provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged.”
Lo! again here also is subjection and love. And he said not, “Love your children,” for it had been superfluous, seeing that nature itself constraineth to this; but what needed correction he corrected; that the love should in this case also be the more vehement, because that the obedience is greater. For it nowhere lays down as an exemplification the relation of husband and wife; but what? hear the prophet saying, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitied them that fear Him” (Ps. ciii. 13, Sept.) And again Christ saith, “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matt. vii. 9.)
“Fathers, provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged.”
He hath set down what he knew had the greatest power to seize upon them; and whilst commanding them he has spoken more like a friend; and nowhere does he mention God, for he would overcome parents, and bow their tender affections. That is, “Make them not more contentious, there are occasions when you ought even to give way.”
Next he comes to the third kind of authority.
There is here also a certain love, but that no more proceeding from nature, as above, but from habit, and from the authority itself, and the works done. Seeing then that in this case the sphere of love is narrowed, whilst that of obedience is amplified, he dwelleth upon this, wishing to give to these from their obedience, what the first have from nature. So that what he discourseth with the servants alone875875 μόνοις. One would expect μόνον, as he speaks to the masters afterwards. But he may either mean that they were chiefly addressed, or that this is the object even of what is addressed to them separately. is not for their masters’ sakes, but for their own also, that they may make themselves the objects of tender affection to their masters. But he sets not this forth openly; for so he would doubtless have made them supine.
Ver. 22. “Servants,” he saith, “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh.”
And see how always he sets down the names, “wives, children, servants,” being at once a just claim upon their obedience. But that none might be pained, he added, “to your masters according to the flesh.” Thy better part, the soul, is free, he saith; thy service is for a season. It therefore do thou subject, that thy service be no more of constraint. “Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers.” Make, he saith, thy service which is by the law, to be from the fear of Christ. For if when thy master seeth thee not, thou doest thy duty and what is for his honor, it is manifest that thou doest it because of the sleepless Eye. “Not with eye-service,” he saith, “as men-pleasers”; thus implying, “it is you who will have to sustain the damage.” For hear the prophet saying, “God hath scattered the bones of the men-pleasers.” (Ps. liii. 6, Sept.) See then how he spares them, and brings them to order. “But in singleness of heart,” he saith, “fearing God.”876876 [The correct text, as in Rev. Ver., is “fearing the Lord.” Chrys. very often has an erroneous type of N.T. text, which spread from Constantinople, and became the so-called Textus Receptus.—J.A.B.] For that is not singleness, but hypocrisy, to hold one thing, and act another; to appear one when the master is present, another when he is absent. Therefore he said not simply, “in singleness of heart,” but, “fearing God.” For this is to fear God, when, though none be seeing, we do not aught that is evil; but if we do, we fear not God, but men. Seest thou how he bringeth them to order?
Ver. 23. “Whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.”
He desires to have them freed not only from hypocrisy, but also from slothfulness. He hath made them instead of slaves free, when they need not the superintendence of their master; for the expression “heartily” means this, “with good will,” not with a slavish necessity, but with freedom, and of choice. And what is the reward?
Ver. 24. “Knowing,” he saith, “that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of your877877 [Some documents for N.T. also give “your,” but the correct N.T. text has simply “the,” and omits “for.”—J.A.B.] inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
For from Him also it is evident that ye shall receive the reward. And that ye serve the Lord is plain from this.
Ver. 25. “For he that doeth wrong,” he saith, “shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done.”
Here he confirmeth his former statements. For that his words may not appear to be those of flattery, “he shall receive,” he saith, “the wrong he hath done,” that is, he shall suffer punishment also, “for there is no respect of persons.”878878 [Some documents for Chrys., and some for N.T., add “with God.”—J.A.B.] For what if thou art a servant? it is no shame to thee. And truly he might have said this to the masters, as he did in the Epistle to the Ephesians. (Eph. vi. 9.) But here he seems to me to be alluding to the Grecian masters. For, what if he is a Greek and thou a Christian? Not the persons but the actions are examined, so that even in this case thou oughtest to serve with good will, and heartily.
Chap. iv. 1. “Masters, render unto your servants that which is just and equal.”
What is “just”? What is “equal”? To place them in plenty of everything, and not allow them to stand in need of others, but to recompense them for their labors. For, because I have said that they have their reward from God, do not thou therefore deprive them of it. And in another place he saith, “forbearing threatening” (Eph. vi. 9.), wishing to make them more gentle; for those were perfect men; that is, “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you.” (Matt. vii. 2.) And the words, “there is no respect of persons,” are spoken with a view to these,879879 The masters. but they are assigned to the others, in order that these may receive them. For when we have said to one person what is applicable to another, we have not corrected him so much, as the one who is in fault. “Ye also,” along with them, he saith. He has here made the service common, for he saith, “knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.”
Ver. 2. “Continue in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving.”
For, since continuing in prayers frequently makes persons listless, therefore he saith, “watching,” that is, sober, not wandering. For the devil knoweth, he knoweth, how great a good prayer is; therefore he presseth heavily. And Paul also knoweth how careless880880 ἀκηδιῶσι, generally used of giving up caring for anything in despair. But the name “acedia” amongst the seven deadly sins is of this origin. many are when they pray, wherefore he saith, “continue”881881 προσκαρτερεῖτε, “persevere.” in prayer, as of somewhat laborious, “watching therein with thanksgiving.” For let this, he saith, be your work, to give thanks in your prayers both for the seen and the unseen, and for His benefits to the willing and unwilling, and for the kingdom, and for hell, and for tribulation, and for refreshment. For thus is the custom of the Saints to pray, and to give thanks for the common benefits of all.
I know a certain holy man who prayeth thus. He used to say nothing before these words, but thus, “We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits bestowed upon us the unworthy, from the first day until the present, for what we know, and what we know not, for the seen, for the unseen, for those in deed, those in word, those with our wills, those against our wills, for all that have been bestowed upon the unworthy, even us; for tribulations, for refreshments, for hell, for punishment, for the kingdom of heaven. We beseech Thee to keep our soul holy, having a pure conscience; an end worthy of thy lovingkindness. Thou that lovedst us so as to give Thy Only-Begotten for us, grant us to become worthy of Thy love; give us wisdom in Thy word, and in Thy fear. Only-Begotten Christ, inspire the strength that is from Thee. Thou that gavest The Only-Begotten for us, and hast sent Thy Holy Spirit for the remission of our sins, if in aught we have wilfully or unwillingly transgressed, pardon, and impute it not. Remember all that call upon Thy Name in truth; remember all that wish us well, or the contrary, for we are all men.” Then having added the Prayer882882 The Lord’s Prayer. of the Faithful, he there ended; having made that prayer, as a certain crowning part, and a binding together for all. For many benefits doth God bestow upon us even against our wills; many also, yea more, without our knowledge even. For when we pray for one thing, and He doeth to us the reverse, it is plain that He doeth us good even when we know it not.
Ver. 3. “Withal praying for us also.” See his lowlymindedness; he sets himself after them.
“That God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.” He means an entrance, and boldness in speaking. Wonderful! The great athlete said not “that I may be freed from my bonds,” but being in bonds he exhorted others; and exhorted them for a great object, that himself might get boldness in speaking. Both the two are great, both the quality of the person, and of the thing. Wonderful! how great is the dignity! “The mystery,” he saith, “of Christ.” He shows that nothing was more dearly desired by him than this, to speak. “For which I am also in bonds; that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” (Ver. 4.) He means with much boldness of speech, and withholding nothing. His bonds display, not obscure him. With much boldness he means. Tell me, art thou in bonds, and dost thou exhort others? Yea, my bonds give me the greater boldness; but I pray for God’s furtherance, for I have heard the voice of Christ saying, “When they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak.” (Matt. x. 19.) And see, how he has expressed himself in metaphor, “that God may open to us a door for the word”; (see, how unassuming he is; even in his bonds, how he expresses himself;) that is, that He would soften their hearts. Still he said not so; but, “that He would give us boldness”; out of lowlymindedness he thus spoke, and that which he had, he asks to receive.
He shows in this Epistle, why Christ came not in those times, in that he calleth the former things “shadow, but the body,” saith he, “is of Christ.” So that it was necessary they should be formed to habits under the shadow. At the same time also he exhibits the greatest proof of the love he bears to them; “in order that ye,” he saith, “may hear, for that reason, ‘I am in bonds.’” Again he sets before us those bonds of his; which I so greatly love, which rouse up my heart, and always draw me into longing to see Paul bound, and in his bonds writing, and preaching, and baptizing, and catechizing. In his bonds he was referred to on behalf of the Churches everywhere; in his bonds he builded up incalculably. Then was he rather at large. For hear him saying, “So that most of the brethren being confident through my bonds are more abundantly bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philip. i. 14.) And again he makes the same avowal of himself, saying, “For when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. xii. 10.) Wherefore he said also, “But the word of God is not bound.” (2 Tim. ii. 9.) He was bound with malefactors, with prisoners, with murderers; he, the teacher of the world, he that had ascended into the third heaven, that had heard the unspeakable words, was bound. (2 Cor. xii. 4.) But then was his course the swifter. He that was bound, was now loosed; he that was unbound, was bound. For he indeed was doing what he would; whilst the other prevented him not, nor accomplished his own purpose.
What art thou about, O senseless one? Thinkest thou he is a fleshly runner? Doth he strive in our race-course? His course of life is in heaven; him that runneth in heaven, things on earth cannot bind nor hold. Seest thou not this sun? Enclose his beams with fetters! stay him from his course! Thou canst not. Then neither canst thou Paul! Yea, much less this one than that, for this enjoyeth more of Providence than that, seeing he beareth to us light, not such as that is, but the true.
Where now are they who are unwilling to suffer aught for Christ? But why do I say “suffer,” seeing that they are unwilling even to give up their wealth? In time past Paul also used to bind, and cast into prison; but since he is become Christ’s servant, he glorieth no more of doing, but of suffering. And this, moreover, is marvelous in the Preaching, when it is thus raised up and increased by the sufferers themselves, and not by the persecutors. Where hath any seen such contests as this? He that suffereth ill, conquers; he that doeth ill, is worsted. Brighter is this man than the other. Through bonds the Preaching entered. “I am not ashamed” (Rom. i. 16.), yea, I glory even, he saith, in preaching The Crucified. For consider, I pray: the whole world left those who were at large, and went over to those that are bound; turning away from the imprisoners, it honoreth those laden with chains; hating the crucifiers, it worships the Crucified.
Not the only marvel is it that the preachers were fishermen, that they were ignorant; but that there were also other hindrances, hindrances too by nature; still the increase was all the more abundant. Not only was their ignorance no hindrance; but even it itself caused the Preaching to be manifested. For hear Luke saying, “And perceiving that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled.” (Acts iv. 13.) Not only were bonds no hindrance, but even of itself this made them more confident. Not so bold were the disciples when Paul was at large, as when he was bound. For he saith, they “are more abundantly bold to speak the word” of God “without fear.” (Philip. i. 14.) Where are they that will gainsay the divinity of the Preaching? Was not their ignorance enough to procure them to be condemned? Would it not then in this case too, affright them? For ye know that by these two passions the many are possessed, vainglory and cowardice. Suppose their ignorance suffered them not to feel ashamed, still the dangers must have put them in fear.
But, saith one, they wrought miracles. Ye do believe then that they wrought miracles. But did they not work miracles? This is a greater miracle than to work them, if men were drawn to them without miracles. Socrates too amongst the Greeks was put in bonds. What then? Did not his disciples straightway flee to Megara? Assuredly, why not? They admitted883883 [Ironical.—J.A.B.] his arguments about immortality. But see here. Paul was put in bonds, and his disciples waxed the more confident, with reason, for they saw that the Preaching was not hindered. For, canst thou put the tongue in bonds? hereby chiefly it runneth. For as, except thou have bound the feet of a runner, thou hast not prevented him from running; so, except thou have bound the tongue of an evangelist, thou hast not hindered him from running. And as the former, if thou have bound his loins, runneth on the rather, and is supported, so too the latter preacheth the rather, and with greater boldness.
A prisoner is in fear, when there is nothing beyond bonds: but one that despiseth death, how should he be bound? They did the same as if they had put in bonds the shadow of Paul, and had gagged its mouth. For it was a fighting with shadows; for he was both more tenderly regretted by his friends, and more reverenced by his enemies, as bearing the prize for courage in his bonds. And a crown binds the head; but it disgraces it not, yea rather, it makes it brilliant. Against their wills they crowned him with his chain. For, tell me, was it possible he could fear iron, who braved the adamantine gates of death? Come we, beloved, to emulate these bonds. As many of you women as deck yourselves with trinkets of gold, long ye for the bonds of Paul. Not so glitters the collar round your necks, as the grace of these iron bonds gleamed about his soul! If any longs for those, let him hate these. For what communion hath softness with courage; tricking out of the body with philosophy? Those bonds Angels reverence, these they even make a mock of; those bonds are wont to draw up from earth to heaven; these bonds draw down to earth from heaven. For in truth these are bonds, not those; those are ornament, these are bonds; these, along with the body, afflict the soul also; those, along with the body, adorn as well the soul.
Wouldest thou be convinced that those are ornament? Tell me which would more have won the notice of the spectators? thou or Paul? And why do I say, “thou”? the queen884884 [Meaning the Empress, as king meant the Emperor.—J.A.B.] herself who is all bedecked with gold would not have attracted the spectators so much; but if it had chanced that both Paul in his bonds and the queen had entered the Church at the same time, all would have removed their eyes from her to him; and with good reason. For to see a man of a nature greater than human, and having nought of man, but an angel upon earth, is more admirable than to see a woman decked with finery. For such indeed one may see both in theaters, and in pageants, and at baths, and many places; but whoso seeth a man with bonds upon him, and deeming himself to have the greatest of ornaments, and not giving way under his bonds, doth not behold a spectacle of earth, but one worthy of the heavens. The soul that is in that way attired looks about,—who hath seen? who not seen?—is filled with pride, is possessed with anxious thoughts, is bound with countless other passions: but he that hath these bonds on him, is without pride: his soul exulteth, is freed from every anxious care, is joyous, hath its gaze on heaven, is clad with wings. If any one were to give me the choice of seeing Paul either stooping out of heaven, and uttering his voice, or out of the prison, I would choose the prison. For they of heaven visit him when he is in the prison. The bonds of Paul were the bond of the Preaching, that chain of his was its foundation. Long we for those bonds!
And how, some one says, may this be? If we break up and dash in pieces these. No good results to us from these bonds, but even harm. These will show us as prisoners There; but the bonds of Paul will loose those bonds; she that is bound with these here, with those deathless bonds shall she also be bound There, both hands and feet; she that has been bound with Paul’s, shall have them in that day as it were an ornament about her. Free both thyself from thy bonds, and the poor man from his hunger. Why rivetest thou fast the chains of thy sins? Some one saith, How? When thou wearest gold whilst another is perishing, when thou, to get thee vainglory, takest so much gold, whilst another hast not even what to eat, hast thou not wedged fast thy sins? Put Christ about thee, and not gold; where Mammon is, there Christ is not, where Christ is, there Mammon is not. Wouldest not thou put on the King of all Himself? If one had offered thee the purple, and the diadem, wouldest thou not have taken them before all the gold in the world? I give thee not the regal ornaments, but I offer thee to put on the King Himself. And how can one put Christ on, doth any say? Hear Paul saying, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ, did put on Christ.” (Gal. iii. 27.) Hear the Apostolical precept, “Make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” (Rom. xiii. 14.) Thus doth one put on Christ, if one provide not for the flesh unto its lusts. If thou have put on Christ, even the demons will fear thee; but if gold, even men will laugh thee to scorn: if thou have put on Christ, men also will reverence thee.
Wouldest thou appear fair and comely? Be content with the Creator’s fashioning. Why dost thou overlay these bits of gold, as if about to put to rights God’s creation? Wouldest thou appear comely? Clothe thee in alms; clothe thee in benevolence; clothe thee in modesty, humbleness. These are all more precious than gold; these make even the beautiful yet more comely; these make even the ill formed to be well formed. For when any one looks upon a countenance with good will, he gives his judgment from love; but an evil woman, even though she be beautiful, none can call beautiful; for the mind being confounded pronounceth not its sentence aright.
That Egyptian woman of old was adorned; Joseph too was adorned; which of them was the more beautiful? I say not when she was in the palace, and he in the prison.885885 Downes would remove the negative; but the meaning is “not only when,” &c., but “even when he was exposed by the loss of his garment.” He was naked, but clothed in the garments of chastity; she was clothed, but more unseemly than if she had been naked; for she had not modesty. When thou hast excessively adorned thee, O woman, then thou art become more unseemly than a naked one; for thou hast stripped thee of thy fair adorning. Eve also was naked; but when she had clothed herself, then was she more unseemly, for when she was naked indeed, she was adorned with the glory of God; but when she had clothed herself with the garment of sin, then was she unseemly. And thou, when arraying thyself in the garment of studied finery, dost then appear more unseemly. For that costliness availeth not to make any appear beautiful, but that it is possible even for one dressed out to be even more unseemly than if naked, tell me now; if thou hadst ever put on the dresses of a piper or a flute-player, would it not have been unseemliness? And yet those dresses are of gold; but for this very reason it were unseemliness, because they are of gold. For the costliness suits well with people on the stage, tragedians, players, mimes, dancers, fighters with wild beasts; but to a woman that is a believer, there are given other robes from God, the Only-Begotten Son of God Himself. “For,” he saith, “as many as were baptized into Christ, did put on Christ.” (Gal. iii. 27.) Tell me, if one had given thee kingly apparel, and thou hadst taken a beggar’s886886 [The Greek has a word, λωτός, not elsewhere found in this sense, but explained (Field’s Annotations) by a similar word, λωτάξ, employed and interpreted in another passage by Chrys. The correctors changed λωτοῦ into the familiar εἵλωτος, a Helot.—J.A.B.] dress, and put this on above it, wouldest thou not, besides the unseemliness, have also been punished for it? Thou hast put on the Lord of Heaven, and of the Angels, and art thou still busied about earth?
I have spoken thus, because love of ornament is of itself a great evil, even were no other gendered by it, and it were possible to hold it without peril, (for it inciteth to vainglory and to pride,) but now many other evils are gendered by finery, evil suspicions, unseasonable expenses, evil speakings, occasions of rapacity. For why dost thou adorn thyself? Tell me. Is it that thou mayest please thy husband? Then do it at home. But here the reverse is the case. For if thou wouldest please thine own husband, please not others; but if thou please others, thou wilt not be able to please thine own. So that thou shouldest put away all thine ornaments, when thou goest to the forum or proceedest to the church. Besides, please not thy husband by those means which harlots use, but by those rather which wives that are free employ. For wherein, tell me, doth a wife differ from a harlot? In that the one regardeth one thing only, namely, that by the beauty of her person she may attract to herself him whom she loves; whilst the other both ruleth the house, and shareth in the children, and in all other things.
Hast thou a little daughter? look to it lest she inherit the mischief, for they are wont to form their manners according to their nurture, and to imitate their mothers’ behavior. Be a pattern to thy daughter of modesty, deck thyself with that adorning, and see that thou despise the other; for that is in truth an ornament, the other a disfigurement. Enough has been said. Now God that made the world, and hath given to us the ornament887887 [The word κόσμος denotes order and ornament, and so the world, as being orderly and beautiful.—J.A.B.] of the soul, adorn us, and clothe us with His own glory, that all shining brightly in good works, and living unto His glory, we may send up glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and always, &c.
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