The apostle concludes the chapter with exhortations to relative duties, as before in the epistle to the Ephesians. The epistles which are most taken up in displaying the glory of divine grace, and magnifying the Lord Jesus, are the most particular and distinct in pressing the duties of the several relations. We must never separate the privileges and duties of the gospel religion.
I. He begins with the duties of wives and husbands (Col. 3:18): Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Submission is the duty of wives, hypotassesthe. It is the same word which is used to express our duty to magistrates (Rom. 13:1; Let every soul be subject to the higher powers), and is expressed by subjection and reverence, Eph. 5:24, 33. The reason is that Adam was first formed, then Eve: and Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression, 1 Tim. 2:13, 14. He was first in the creation and last in the transgression. The head of the woman is the man; and the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man; neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man, 1 Cor. 11:3, 8, 9. It is agreeable to the order of nature and the reason of things, as well as the appointment and will of God. But then it is submission, not to a rigorous lord or absolute tyrant, who may do his will and is without restraints, but to a husband, and to her own husband, who stands in the nearest relation, and is under strict engagements to proper duty too. And this is fit in the Lord, it is becoming the relation, and what they are bound in duty to do, as an instance of obedience to the authority and law of Christ. On the other hand, husbands must love their wives, and not be bitter against them, Col. 3:19. They must love them with tender and faithful affection, as Christ loved the church, and as their own bodies, and even as themselves (Eph. 5:25, 28, 33), with a love peculiar to the nearest relation and the greatest comfort and blessing of life. And they must not be bitter against them, not use them unkindly, with harsh language or severe treatment, but be kind and obliging to them in all things; for the woman was made for the man, neither is the man without the woman, and the man also is by the woman, 1 Cor. 11:9, 11, 12.
II. The duties of children and parents: Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord, Col. 3:20. They must be willing to do all their lawful commands, and be at their direction and disposal; as those who have a natural right and are fitter to direct them than themselves. The apostle (Eph. 6:2) requires them to honour as well as obey their parents; they must esteem them and think honourably of them, as the obedience of their lives must proceed from the esteem and opinion of their minds. And this is well-pleasing to God, or acceptable to him; for it is the first commandment with promise (Eph. 6:2), with an explicit promise annexed to it, namely, That it shall be well with them, and they shall live long on the earth. Dutiful children are the most likely to prosper in the world and enjoy long life. And parents must be tender, as well as children obedient (Col. 3:21): “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Let not your authority over them be exercised with rigour and severity, but with kindness and gentleness, lest you raise their passions and discourage them in their duty, and by holding the reins too tight make them fly out with greater fierceness.” The bad temper and example of imprudent parents often prove a great hindrance to their children and a stumbling-block in their way; see Eph. 6:4. And it is by the tenderness of parents, and dutifulness of children, that God ordinarily furnishes his church with a seed to serve him, and propagates religion from age to age.
III. Servants and masters: Servants, obey your masters in all things according to the flesh, Col. 3:22. Servants must do the duty of the relation in which they stand, and obey their master’s commands in all things which are consistent with their duty to God their heavenly Master. Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers—not only when their master’s eye is upon them, but when they are from under their master’s eye. They must be both just and diligent. In singleness of heart, fearing God—without selfish designs, or hypocrisy and disguise, as those who fear God and stand in awe of him. Observe, The fear of God ruling in the heart will make people good in every relation. Servants who fear God will be just and faithful when they are from under their master’s eye, because they know they are under the eye of God. See Gen. 20:11; Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place. Neh. 5:15; But so did not I, because of the fear of God. “And whatsoever you do, do it heartily (Col. 3:23), with diligence, not idly and slothfully:” or, “Do it cheerfully, not discontented at the providence of God which put you in that relation.”—As to the Lord, and not as to men. It sanctifies a servant’s work when it is done as unto God—with an eye to his glory and in obedience to his command, and not merely as unto men, or with regard to them only. Observe, We are really doing our duty to God when we are faithful in our duty to men. And, for servants’ encouragement, let them know that a good and faithful servant is never the further from heaven for his being a servant: “Knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ, Col. 3:24. Serving your masters according to the command of Christ, you serve Christ, and he will be your paymaster: you will have a glorious reward at last. Though you are now servants, you will receive the inheritance of sons. But, on the other hand, He who does wrong will receive for the wrong which he has done,” Col. 3:25. There is a righteous God, who, if servants wrong their masters, will reckon with them for it, though they may conceal it from their master’s notice. And he will be sure to punish the unjust as well as reward the faithful servant: and so if masters wrong their servants.—And there is no respect of persons with him. The righteous Judge of the earth will be impartial, and carry it with an equal hand towards the master and servant; not swayed by any regard to men’s outward circumstances and condition of life. The one and the other will stand upon a level at his tribunal.
It is probable that the apostle has a particular respect, in all these instances of duty, to the case mentioned 1 Cor. 7:1-40 of relations of a different religion, as a Christian and heathen, a Jewish convert and an uncircumcised Gentile, where there was room to doubt whether they were bound to fulfil the proper duties of their several relations to such persons. And, if it hold in such cases, it is much stronger upon Christians one towards another, and where both are of the same religion. And how happy would the gospel religion make the world, if it every where prevailed; and how much would it influence every state of things and every relation of life!
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