colossians - an exhortation for unity in love
BEING A NEW CREATURE IN CHRIST
As we have seen in our previous studies, this Epistle to the Colossians is highly exhortational in nature, dealing with the practical implications of being part of the Divine Family. It speaks plainly of the separation expected of believers consequent to their deliverance “from the power of darkness” (Col 1:13), as they become the constituent parts of the united body of Christ. It speaks of the very Character of that body as being “complete”, and “knit together in love”, having no need for men’s speculative philosophies to be added, and no scope for the allowance of petty divisions so often extant among men. And Chapter 3 brings these principles of identification with the One body to an even more personal level; for here the Spirit describes the manner of life incumbent upon those who have been buried through Baptism into the Death of Christ – and therefore are risen with him (3:1). Being constituent members of His Body, the risen believer must manifest the attributes with which the New Creation is to be filled, for he is indeed, “a new creature” (2Cor 5:17), part of the Creation concerning which our Lord is himself “the firstborn” (1:15).
The attributes of the Old man, when compared with those of the New man appear as mere “filthy rags” (Is 64:6), which must be “put off”, in order that the new garments of righteousness might be “put on”. This, we saw in the last study, that the believer must “put off the old man with his deeds”, and “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col 3:10). The two identities cannot be merged. A person cannot truly be a new creation if he retains vestiges of the old – he must remove utterly the former ways of the flesh, which as fig leaves are but transient and fading in any case; and put on the raiment provided by the Slain Lamb, that he might appear acceptably in the Divine Presence. In the coming day of rejoicing when the saints shall partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb, only those found suitably attired shall be permitted to remain: “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” Will be the enquiry put to such a one who has not “put on” Christ. To which there will be no answer: “and he was speechless”. Then shall the King say to his angelic servants “bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat 22:11-13). To be arrayed with the approved attributes – to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, is then a prerequisite to inheriting the Kingdom, not the act of baptism only.
In baptism into Christ, “the old man is crucified with him” (Rom 6:6), being put to death that the germ of the Spirit – the implanted Word – might bring forth a new creation in him, and from him – a spiritual rebirth. Nicodemas, a teacher in Israel – yet also a man of the night – failed to perceive the principles of this rebirth, saying “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb?” (Jno 3:4). Indeed, how can a man become a new babe when he is old? Only by crucifying that old man in the baptismal waters and by allowing a new identity to spring forth in him – mirroring the image of Christ, his Creator. By seeking to manifest the Attributes of the One to whom he has become joined in the watery grave.
THE IMAGE OF HIM THAT CREATED HIM
In speaking of the formation of this New Creature, the Apostle speaks of him being “renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him”. So it is a mental image being referred to – an image which requires a renewing of knowledge for it to be created. In our day, in an effort to distinguish the implantation of the Spirit Word from the method of learning thrust upon us by the serpent’s academies (colleges, universities and so called centres of ‘further education’) brethren speak with disdain of “Head Knowledge”. It is not “Head Knowledge” that counts, they say, but the application of the Gospel Message in daily life. So much is true – but only partly so, for one can only apply the principles of the Truth by firstly knowing the Truth – and that not merely a passing acquaintance of the first principles, but by diligent work in studying: “Study to show thyself approved of God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed …” (2Tim 2:15) is the apostolic command – and why study if it is not to become more proficient in the matter being scrutinised? Only by the application of the mind to the Word can a believer increase in knowledge and understanding (cp Col 1:9), for it is only by a renewal (or renovation as the Greek signifies), through knowledge, that the natural mind of the flesh can begin to operate more in harmony with it’s Maker – and reflect more of His mental, and moral image.
The Lord Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), “being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb 1:3), and therefore those who are born after him, as members of the New Creation, by the development of their mental faculties must seek to mirror that image also. Indeed, such was the original purpose of God with man: “let us make man in our image, after our likeness” was the Elohic proclamation (Gen 1:26), and though Adam failed to achieve this, nevertheless through Christ, the Creator’s purpose might yet be accomplished. That is, to populate all the globe with a multitude (Is 45:18) of sons who manifest the likeness of His glory (Ps 72:19).
THE ATTRIBUTES OF THE DIVINE IMAGE
This is the real essence of God Manifestation. So often, this vital doctrine of Truth is presented as an intellectual matter – a subject for the academics to ponder and expound. But the essence of the subject is not only fundamentally simple – it is essential for salvation. God Manifestation is the mirroring of the Divine Image by the believer (2Cor 3:18). It is seeking to be like God, by manifesting the qualities he requires – which are attributes He Himself possesses. And so it is, that in putting on the ‘new man’ – renewed in knowledge after the Divine Image – the believer must array himself with qualities of Divine goodness, that he might be approved in the coming day of rejoicing. The Attributes required of the believer are enumerated by the Spirit thus:
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful …” (Col 3:12-15).
From even a casual glance at these attributes, one thing becomes apparent – they are all to do with the believers’ behaviour towards others. To be kind, humble, meek, longsuffering, showing forbearance and forgiveness – all these are qualities to be shown to others in our dealings with them, rather than things to do with our own selves, and our behaviour in private. So it is, that they are qualities conducive to the harmonious operation of Christs’ body, that each member who observes them will work in harmony with the other, causing the whole to be united as one. So often it is, that ecclesial problems or disputes between brethren can be directly traced to the failure of one, or both parties to manifest the characteristics spoken of here, instead permitting the old man of the flesh to influence their actions.
The first quality mentioned, is the putting on of “bowels of mercies”. In Scripture, the bowels speak of the innermost feelings, from which should come provisions of good to the brethren. So Israel, in the coming day of deep distress, are depicted by the prophet as crying out to the Almighty: “look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? Are they restrained?” (Is 63:15). The restraining of one’s bowels in the spiritual sense therefore, speaks of the witholding of blessings and mercies. So, the Apostle similarly speaks: “whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1Jno 3:17). The Father is the giver of every good and perfect gift (Jas 1:17) – if we then are to be his sons; we ought not withhold the gifts he has given to us from our brethren. To truly manifest the love of God, is not to love in words only, but in deed and in truth; to provide when the Father has blessed, to give to our brethren in need – whatever form that need may take. The putting on of “bowels of mercies” with “kindness” is one of the Divine Qualities to be developed, if we would become part of the immortal family of Christ.
But if we have an abundance of this worlds’ goods, and our brother has great need; there is a very real danger that we can begin to consider ourselves greater than him. So often, we find that brethren who are successful in worldly enterprises are held in high esteem for their social position, or worldly goods which they possess. Not so, however for the true disciple, for “humbleness of mind”, and “meekness” are attributes required of them. ” … all of you, be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility” is the Apostolic counsel, “for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1Pet 5:5). Possession of this world’s goods has no bearing on a man’s standing before the Most High, for in His estimation, “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).
The Spirit of meekness is, perhaps one of the most difficult qualities to exhibit in an age where humility and forbearance is mistaken for weakness. In a world where self-expression and “human rights” are constantly advocated by all around us, where every individual has a ‘right’ to freedom of speech, to voice his opinion; the maintenance of a quiet disposition of meekness is becoming increasingly difficult. Yet this is one of the aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit which must develop from the Word sown in our hearts: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal 5:22), all qualities so often lightly esteemed by this world of iniquity.
Again, to forbear and forgive one another, is against the ways of the natural man. The old man of the flesh wants rather to have his cause vindicated – he will forgive when the other party recognises their fault, and that he was right! He will show forbearance if others can see that he is so doing, that his restraint might be well-known and he receive praise of men. But such are not the ways of the Spirit. The man of God will be eager to exercise “love which covereth all sins” (Prov 10:12) showing all longsuffering and forgiveness to his brethren who trespass against him; being ever mindful that he himself is a sinner, in need of forgiveness. The true man of the Spirit will not seek his own good, but that of others. And this is the essence of the qualities enumerated by the Apostle to the Colossians. The spirit of consideration for One’s brethren, forbearance in their failures and seeking to image the love of Christ: “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col 3:13).
But again in this epistle, the point is emphasised that the foundation of all these sentiments is the Word itself; not a mere humanitarian outlook to fellow-creatures. “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” (Col 3:16). Let us then, seek to ‘teach’ and ‘admonish’ – and be taught and admonished. For this is the way of Christ – this is the outcome of the indwelling of His word in the believer’s heart. And if brethren seek to follow the principles of that word, there ought to be no strife; rather the unity of brethren singing with grace to the glory of the Father who loved them, and gave his Son for them.