colossians - an exhortation for unity in love



We have commented in an earlier article of this series how that within this Epistle, the Spirit draws out and develops a steady, logical, progressive train of thought. So it is, that Chapter 1 speaks of the deliverance of the believers from the “power of darkness”, to become members of the united Body of Christ. Chapter 2 then elaborates on the pre-eminent attributes of that body; how it is “complete in him” (2:10), using that fact as evidence against the Judaisers who sought to add to the Gospel of Christ – showing that they were seeking to add to that which was already complete. And chapter 2 also emphasises that if we are truly part of the Body of Christ, then transgressions are not imputed to us, for we are by association with him “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands”, that is, the “putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh” through baptism.

Chapter 3 then builds further upon this foundation, bringing those principles to a more personal level. If sins are not imputed to Christ’s brethren, their being baptised his death; it logically follows that being dead to sin, they ought not continue in sinful works. Thus chapter 3 describes the mode of behaviour required of the individual component parts of the Body; the set of attributes which need to be removed and discarded as a filthy garment, and the type of attributes with which true brethren must be arrayed. So much we have considered in our previous studies. But a further feature of chapter 3 on this personal level, is the way is speaks of relationships, particularly those within a family household.

We saw how the attributes of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance, forgiveness and love, which the Apostle exhorts the believer to develop (v 12-14) are all to do with our approach to others. The way in which we interact with fellow-believers, and their many weaknesses, for the mutual edification of the body as a whole. But verses 18 onwards bring into the discourse practical areas where those attributes might be applied. That is, within the family environment; for as members of a believing family learn to interact in a Christ-like spirit with each other, they will so develop that they might also behave righteously towards members of the Greater Family to which they belong; even the family of Christ. Whether they be wives, husbands, children or even servants and their masters, all are members of that greater family, and so all need to develop within their immediate circle of associates for the collective good of the body as a whole, and to the glory of the Head of the household, even the Lord Jesus himself.


So the exhortation is given, first to wives and their husbands: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Col 3:18). It is a Divine principle established from Eden, that the man, not the woman must be the head of a godly household. So the Elohic proclamation was directed to Eve: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee” (Gen 3:16). But what is the reason for this arrangement? The Apostle draws out 2 basic principles, which give ample explanation for the husband’s position of “rule”. Firstly, the very order and purpose of Eve’s formation from Adam’s body itself establishes a pre-eminence: “for Adam was first formed, then Eve …”. But secondly, Eve was deceived by the Serpent, not Adam: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression”? – these are reasons, according to Paul as the inspired apostle, why the woman should “learn in silence with all subjection” (1Tim 2:11-14). Adam was the first formed, designed to reflect the Creator’s Image, whereas the Woman, being the deceived, was the first to rebell. Not that women in general are more rebellious, or any way inferior to men – in many cases the reverse is true. But rather in the Divine Scheme of things, a man and his wife are called upon to enact a wonderful parable reflective of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the ecclesia.


In the parable, it is the Ecclesial Bride who is the transgressor – enticed by “the god of this world” to rebel against her maker; the constituent members thereof requiring forgiveness. She is made up of individuals from all walks of live, from a tremendous diversity of backgrounds – yet even in their natural state, with all one thing in common; their sinfulness in the sight of God. These individuals become united as one body, having found forgiveness through the sacrificial love of Christ towards his bride. Christ is the Lord who, through his sufferings, gave rise to her formation, as being distinct from the general morass of humanity. So it is, that in the Parable of marriage, the bride – as identified with Eve the first transgressor, represents the Ecclesia; and the Husband therefore typifies Christ to whom the ecclesia must be subservient.

In an age of ‘women’s liberation,’ ‘equal rights’ and other human devices of usurpation, such wonderful principles are hidden from the general populace which always seeks to destroy principles instituted by Divine arrangement. Even so it was in the days of the Apostle, for speaking of the principles of marriage he said “this is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the ecclesia” (Eph 5:32). “The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the ecclesia: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the ecclesia is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the ecclesia, and gave himself for it”? (Eph 5:24-25).


Arguably the greatest illustration of such sisterly submissiveness in Scripture, is seen in the example of Sarah before her husband. Indeed, it is her example that the Spirit speaks of as being instructive for all generations of the kind of attributes with which sisters should adorn themselves: “… In the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement”? (1Pet 3:6). And the point here comes home with added force when we realise that in actual fact Sarah did not literally say Abraham was her lord; she spoke it in her heart: “?Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (Gen 18:12). This laugh of disbelief at the Angel’s promise was, nevertheless a powerful example of one who spontaneously and naturally feel within herself that her husband was her lord.

But whilst wives ought to be submissive to the Scripture, and therefore to their husbands as Scripture commands, husbands also have responsibilities, one of which is to display love, not bitterness to their wives: “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them”. The relationship is two-way; the husband has his role to play in the parable; one of great responsibility; of seeking to mirror the love of the Lord Jesus to his Bride, for whom he laid down his life.


One way that husbands could inflict bitterness upon their wives under the Mosaic dispensation, was by observing the provision of Numbers 10; the Trial of Jealousy. This was a procedure to be followed when the husband felt bitterness towards his wife because of suspected infidelity: “If any man’s wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him, and a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner; and the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled …” (Num 5:12-14), in these conditions the husband could instigate certain proceedings. These involved the offering of certain sacrificial animals; but also the unusual procedure of requiring the woman to drink dust taken from the tabernacle floor, and mixed with water. This was styled “the bitter water that causeth the curse”?; for if the woman was guilty of adultery, a physical affliction would result, causing the woman to become barren and cursed:

“the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water. And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people. And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed” (Num 5:27-28).

When the procedure was actually implemented, these curses were written down in a scroll by the priest; and blotted out by him: “the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water” (v 23). But what is the meaning of these principles? There seemed to be no limit to the number of times a man could subject his wife to such; a naturally jealous man could cause much grief, by constantly bringing his innocent wife in such a way. There are several principles to be observed:


Firstly, the eating, or rather drinking of dust was imposed upon a woman suspected of unfaithfulness. This rather reminds us of the curse of the Serpent – just note the similarity of the terms used: “Yahweh Elohim said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly thou shalt go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Gen 3:14). So it was that the guilty woman – who in the first instance, took the role of the serpent in enticing the man to partake of the proscribed fruit – bears a punishment not dissimilar to the Serpent. Her belly was affected, she was cursed, and she would also eat dust. For the innocent woman however, there was no curse. It was blotted out by the High Priest. She had remained loyal and true to her husband, and because of her faithfulness, the priest’s handwriting of the curse was blotted out. And this is directly alluded to by Paul to the Colossians, speaking of how through faithfulness to Christ, his bride is freed from the curse: “you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col 2:14).

There is, however, a most significant difference. Under the law, it was the innocent woman who had the curse blotted out. But under the law of Christ, it is the guilty, who are therefore in need of forgiveness. And through faith in him, our trespasses are forgiven; and righteousness is imputed to us for his sake. And being thus considered righteous before the Father, the curse is removed – blotted out. This then is the exhortation for husbands in the parable of marriage: They enact Christ before their bride. They ought not therefore inflict bitterness upon them as under the law, but rather manifest the spirit of longsuffering and forgiveness. They must “love”? their wives, even as Christ loved his ecclesia, and must therefore show forbearance in all things – not exalting themselves over their wives – but rather recognising that being part of the greater Bride they themselves are transgressors, and in need of having the handwriting of ordinances which is against them blotted out by mercy.


Also within the family relationships described by the Apostle, are children and servants, both of whom are exhorted to “obey in all things” (3:20) their parents/masters. The obedience of children brings great blessing, as witnessed in the example of the Rechabites. To these the word of Yahweh came through Jeremiah, “Thus saith Yahweh of Hosts, the Elohim of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you: therefore thus saith Yahweh of Hosts, the Elohim of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever” (Jer 35:18,19). So was given the promise of everlasting life in the Divine Presence in the Age to Come.

The Apostle likewise exhorted the young at Ephesus, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Eph 6:1-3). Rebellion is loathsome in the eyes of the Most High, and children must learn obedience, that they might also show obedience to their greater Father when they are born again through Baptism. It is “right” for them to be such, and length of days is the reward which will come to them also.

With regard to Servants, we have already suggested in the first part of this series (January 2000), that the Ecclesia at Colosse was actually the ecclesia which met in Philemon’s house (Phil 2). If this is so, then there is particular poignancy to the words here, for Onesimus of whom Paul wrote to Philemon would himself be one of the servants being exhorted to obedience. Previously he had been rebellious, being “unprofitable”? (v 11), running away from his master (v 15), and therefore his responsibilities. But having been received back “not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved”? (v 16), he would be motivated to render conscientious service as unto Christ.

Even so, the Apostle exhorted the Colossians: “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:22,23). And whether we be servants or freemen, the principles here are applicable to us also, for we are all servants of Christ: “he that is called, being free, is Christ’?s servant. Ye are bought with a price …” (1Cor 7:22), even the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. So it is, that being members of the Bride of Christ, we must show the spirit of submission to him, as our Lord. And as the servants of Christ, we must render unto him due service as he requires – And if we serve him thus, with all diligence with humility and conscientiousness, he will surely reward us with length of days, having blotted out our sins through his shed blood.

Chris Maddocks