Biblical Commentary
(Bible Study)

Colossians 3:12-21



THE BROADER CONTEXT has Paul warning Colossian Christians: “Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ” (2:8). Colossian Christians are feeling pressure to observe such Jewish rites as circumcision, food laws, and feast days or Sabbaths (2:11). Paul assures them that they have received “a circumcision not made with hands” (2:11).

One of the issues with which early Christians had to deal was whether it was necessary to embrace Judaism as a prerequisite to becoming Christian. That issue was addressed most dramatically in Peter’s vision as reported in Acts 10—a vision that led Peter to embrace Gentiles and to acknowledge that they had—without being circumcised—received the Holy Spirit, thus becoming fit candidates for baptism (Acts 10:34-48).

Paul was the great missionary to the Gentiles, so he had a special concern for Gentiles. He persuaded the Council at Jerusalem to determine that Gentile Christians should not be required to be circumcised, but would be asked only to “abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29).

Paul emphasized that we have been justified, not by our adherence to Jewish law, but “by (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood ” (Romans 3:24-25a).

THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT is found in the first half of chapter 3. Paul told these Colossian Christians that, having been “raised together with Christ,” they should “seek the things that are above, where Christ is” (3:1).

He called them to “put to death…: sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5)—as well as “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and shameful speaking out of your mouth” (3:8)—and lying, as well (3:9). He reminded them that they have “put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man” (3:9b-10)—so that “Christ is all, and in all” (3:11).

The negative qualities of verses 5-9 are of particular interest to us, because our text offers positive alternatives: “Compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…; (walking) in love…; and (letting) the peace of God rule in your hearts”—as well as thankfulness (3:12-15). In other words, verses 5-9 give a list of sinful practices, and verses 12-15 provide a list of virtues to adopt in lieu of those sinful practices.


12 Put on (Greek: endusasthe—from enduo) therefore, as God’s chosen ones (Greek: eklektos), holy (Greek: hagios) and beloved (Greek: egapemenoi—from agapao), a heart (Greek: splanchna) of compassion (Greek: oiktirmos), kindness (Greek: chrestoteta—from chrestotes), lowliness (Greek: tapeinophrosunen), humility (Greek: prautes), and perseverance (Greek: makrothumian); 13 bearing (Greek: anechomenoi—from anecho) with one another, and forgiving (Greek: charizomenoi—fromcharizomai) each other, if any man has a complaint (Greek: momphe) against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do.

14 Above all these things, walk in love (Greek: agape), which is the bond of perfection (Greek: teleiotetos). 15 And let the peace (Greek: eirene) of God rule (Greek: brabeuo) in your hearts (Greek: kardiais), to which also you were called (Greek: eklethete—from kaleo) in one body (Greek: somati); and be thankful (Greek: eucharistos).

Put on (enduo) therefore (v. 12a). The word “therefore” connects this verse with that which went before. It refers back to the fact that these Colossian Christians have “put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man” (3:9b-10)—so that in their lives “Christ is all, and in all” (3:11).

The Greek word enduo (“put on”) means “put one”—as in “put on a garment” or “clothe yourself” or “get dressed.” Paul uses this word to encourage the Colossian Christians to clothe or wrap themselves in the virtues listed later in this verse—compassion, kindness, etc.

Stop for a moment to consider Paul’s clothing metaphor. Just think of the significance of appropriate clothing. As a young person, I worshiped in a church where “preachers” worse dark suits, white shirts, and conservative ties. Later, I was ordained in a denomination where clergy wore black robes. Still later, I served as an Army chaplain, so that, especially in combat, I conducted services wearing a uniform. Today I worship in a church where clergy wear albs and chasubles.

In many churches today, clergy conduct services dressed in blue jeans and flannel shirts. They believe that it is important to affect a casual appearance. If they were to show up wearing an alb and chasuble, it would create quite a stir.

We like to imagine that we have been liberated from clothing rules so that we can wear whatever we like, but that is not true. In office situations where casual attire prevails, a clerk who insists on wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and tie would be out of place. In like manner, a lawyer in a major law firm who insisted on wearing blue jeans at work wouldn’t likely be working very long. Our “uniforms” vary by occupation, position, and place, but they still exist—and are still important.

My point is simply that people are sensitive to wearing garb appropriate to the person and the setting. Our “uniforms” are different than they would have been fifty years ago, but the requirement to adopt the expected uniform remains in place.

Now we come to the purpose of this clothing metaphor. Paul has reminded the Colossian Christians that they have “put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man” (3:9b-10)—meaning that, when they became Christians, they became new people. They let go of their old sinful person and assumed the role of a new person guided by the Holy Spirit. Now Paul calls them to dress appropriately for the new person they have become—to cast off old behaviors and to wrap themselves in Christian virtues such as compassion and kindness (3:12).

as God’s chosen ones” (eklektos) (v. 12b). Throughout scripture, we find God calling particular people for particular missions:

• In the Old Testament, God chose Abram and Abram’s descendants, bringing them into a covenant relationship as God’s chosen people.

• In the New Testament, we find the idea of election (John 15:16; 17:6; Ephesians 1:4; 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13)—which suggests that God has chosen (or elected) certain people for salvation.

More precisely, we are all among those who have been called (Greek: kletos), but only the elect (eklektos) have chosen to respond. This is the lesson of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), where one man arrived inappropriately dressed—not wearing a wedding garment. The king (the host) asked, “Friend, (Greek: hetaire) how did you come in here not wearing wedding clothing?” (v. 12)—and then banished the offender to the outer darkness (v. 13). Jesus concludes, “For many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

In that parable, “Friend” is an unfortunate translation for the Greek word hetaire. The word philos means friend, but the word hetaire refers to a person who is more a social climber than a friend. Zodhiates differentiates between the “called” (kletoi) and the “elect” (eklektoi). The “called” are those whom God has called for particular service, but have chosen to live according to their own terms. The “elect” are “those who accept the Lord’s terms for both salvation and service, and only they are truly obedient” (Zodhiates, 869).

This doctrine of election might offend modern sensibilities. However, I like the way that Charles Spurgeon dealt with it. He prayed, “Lord, save all the elect, and then elect some more.”

holy” (hagios) (v. 12c). The Greek word hagios means holy or set apart for God. The tabernacle and temple were holy, because they were the dwelling places of God. Sacrificial animals were holy, because they were set apart for God. God’s chosen ones are holy, because God has called them and set them apart.

Hagios can mean sinless or upright. It is used in the New Testament to speak of the saints—those who have been made holy by the work of Jesus Christ. That is the sense in which it is used in this verse.

and beloved (agapao) (v. 12d). The Greek word agapao is used to speak of something that is beloved—treasured—something so precious that the person (in this case, God) would be loath to part with it.

Now Paul begins his list of virtues that are appropriate for the Christian. Note that they are all gentle virtues. For the most part, they are focused outwardly—attitudes that benefit the other person (compassion, kindness, forgiveness). Where they are focused inwardly (lowliness, humility), they are designed to keep our inclination toward selfishness or hubris (the bad kind of pride) in check.

If adopted, these virtues make us better partners in community. That is important, because the church is a community, and we must learn to live together with people whom we might not, of our own volition, choose as friends.

These same virtues help us in our witness to people outside the church. In his book Gracias! Henri Nouwen said: “The most important question for me is not, ‘How do I touch people?’ but, ‘How do I live the word I am speaking?'” If we speak the words of the Gospel—and at the same time live the word that we are speaking—the world (the kosmos—the world opposed to God) cannot help but take note. Kosmos people might or might not embrace the life that we model, but they cannot help but notice it and be attracted by it.

a heart (splanchna) of compassion” (oiktirmos) (v. 12e). The Greeks had another word, kardia, for heart—but Paul uses the word splanchna here. There is a difference:

Kardia refers to the center of one’s being, both physical and spiritual—that which makes the individual person what he or she is—character, intellect, personality, etc.

Splanchna has a stronger emotional component. It refers to the bowels or the viscera. When used to describe emotions, it has the sense of deeply felt emotions—gut feelings.

The Greek word oiktirmos means pity, compassion, or mercy.

A heart of compassion, then, would be a heart that feels deep compassion for the plight of another person.

“kindness” (chrestotes) (v. 12f). Chrestotes is another gentle word that means kindness or gentleness. A kind person would tend to reach out to others, offering support of some sort—a kind word or a gift of food or money. This act of kindness would be the natural outgrowth of “a heart of compassion” (v. 12e).

“lowliness” (Greek: tapeinophrosunen) (v. 12g). The Greek word tapeinophrosyne is derived from the word tapeinos, which means lowly or humble or of low degree. It is sometimes translated humility.

High and low are relative words—they depend on our standard of measurement. Seven feet is high for a high jump, but is only a short distance for a runner. In like manner, we might seem quite competitive if we measure our conduct and accomplishments against the standard set by other people in our community. However, if we measure ourselves against the standard that Christ set, we will see that our conduct and accomplishments fall far short.

Lowliness is not often seen as a virtue today. We prize assertiveness rather than lowliness. However, as Christians, we are called to emulate Christ, who “existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

“humility” (prautes) (v. 12h). Prautes has sometimes been translated “gentleness” or “meekness.” Meekness is not a good translation, however, because it has come to mean timidity or weakness. Aprautes person, however, is neither timid nor weak. Instead, he/she enjoys the kind of self-assuredness that provides strength. We sometimes talk about “a strong quiet type”—by which we mean someone who has enough strength and confidence to be gentle in relationships but firm in convictions. That is what is meant by a humble (prautes) person.

In his commentary on Matthew, Barclay talks about the related words, praus, often translated “meek,” as in “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5)—and pratotis, often translated “meekness.” Aristotle understood those words as defining a sensible middle ground between two potentially ruinous extremes.

Barclay notes that praus was often used to describe an animal that has been domesticated—trained to obey its master—we might say “tamed.” Barclay concludes that the “meek” person of Jesus’ Beatitude was hardly a timid, weak person, but was instead a “tamed” person—a disciplined person—a person capable of functioning effectively in spite of fears or passions that might break another person.. A praus person is potentially strong—even powerful—not at all timid or weak.

“and perseverance (makrothumian) (v. 12i). Makrothumian means endurance or steadfastness or patience or forbearance or long-suffering or perseverance. Makrothumian is the kind of quality that makes it possible for a person to withstand adversity without quitting. It is also the kind of quality that makes it possible to endure opposition without striking out at the opponent—or, at least, without striking out too quickly or indiscriminately. As is true of many of the positive qualities in this list, it suggests the strength of rock-steadiness.

bearing (anechomenoi—from anecho) with one another” (v. 13a). The word anechomenoi means “to bear” or “to endure” or “to exercise patience or restraint.”

Every relationship requires bearing, enduring, and exercising patience or restraint. That is true in marriages. It is true in churches. It is true in friendships. It is true in work environments.

A characteristic of very young children is that they have not yet learned to bear, to endure, and to exercise patience or restraint. They want what they want, and they want it now. That is probably necessary for their survival. Very young children have limited communication skills. At first, they can only cry. A baby who failed to cry would suffer unnecessarily—perhaps seriously—because the parent would not be aware that a problem needed correction.

Over time, however, the child must learn to exercise patience and self-restraint. An important parental task is teaching the child to do that. The more mature the person, the better he/she is able to exercise this virtue. In some cases, elderly people regress to infantile behavior, and no longer have the ability to exercise patience and restraint. When that happens, we tend to regard the regression as tragic—as tragic as the loss of any significant function.

A cautionary note: We should not suggest that people bear with one another in every circumstance. Parents should not bear unacceptable behavior by their children. Children (to include teenagers) need their parents and others in authority to impose limits. Parents need to begin imposing limits early in the child’s life, when it is easy, lest they later be faced with an out-of-control teenager.

Likewise, we must be careful about advising victims of spouse or child abuse to bear with the abuser. That is a situation that requires tough love—love that demands change. In dangerous situations, it might require that the spouse or child flee the abuser.

When dealing with an alcoholic or drug addict, “bearing with one another” often becomes co-dependency and enabling behavior. Alcoholics and drug addicts don’t need enablers. They need people to confront them and to demand change.

and forgiving (charizomai) each other, if any man has a complaint against any (v. 13b). Note the similarity between charizomai (forgiving) and charis (grace). In the New Testament, grace (charis) most often refers to the undeserved favor—the undeserved forgiveness—given by God. However, it can also be used to refer to the loveliness of harmonious relationships—the kind of relationships that make it possible to drop one’s defenses—to resolve differences without rancor—to live without fear of physical danger or financial catastrophe or personal rejection. Obviously, if we are to enjoy those kinds of relationships, it must be in a context where we give and receive forgiveness.

even as Christ forgave you, so you also do (v. 13c). Forgiveness is an important Christian virtue. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?”—Jesus responded, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus then went on to give the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), the point of which is that God expects us to forgive as we have been forgiven—and that our failure to forgive other people can place our own salvation in jeopardy.

The Epistle to the Ephesians invokes this principle, saying: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, AS GOD IN CHRIST HAS FORGIVEN YOU” (Ephesians 4:32). The forgiveness that God gives, then, becomes the model for the forgiveness that God expects us to extend to others.

Above all these things, walk in love” (agape) (v. 14a). The word that Paul uses for love (agape) is one of four Greek words for love, the other three being philos, storge and eros. Storge is familial love, such as the love one has for a child or parent. Eros is romantic or sexual love. Only agape and philos are used in the New Testament.

(NOTE: agape and philos are nouns. The corresponding verbs are agapao and phileo).

Philos or phileo are used 55 times in the New Testament, while agape or agapao are used 253 times (Turner, 175). Both philos and agape are important in the New Testament, but the fact that agape/agapao are used nearly five times as often as philos/phileo reflects the special importance of agape/agapao. That is reflected in current usage in churches. We don’t often hear of philos, but the word agape abounds.

The classic distinction between agape and philos is that agape has to do with a concern for the well-being of the other person while philos has to do with brotherly love—friendship love—companionate love—the kind of love where a person receives as well as gives. While there is some question about the sharpness of that distinction, scholars tend to agree that “philos does contain an element of mutuality not found in agape” (Melick). In other words, philos has to do both with giving and getting, while agape has to do only with giving—with an unalloyed concern for the welfare of the other person.

Agape love is more a “doing” than a “feeling” word. It doesn’t require that we approve of the actions of the person whom we love—or even that we enjoy their company. It does require us to act in behalf of that person—to demonstrate our love in some practical fashion. An agape person will do what is possible to feed the hungry—and to give drink to the thirsty—and to welcome the stranger—and to clothe the naked—and to visit the sick and the person in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). The agape person has little or nothing to gain by helping such people. The thrust of agape love is giving, not getting.

Agape love is the first of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)—and the greatest of Christian virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said: “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

which is the bond of perfection (teleiotetos) (v. 14b). The Greek word teleiotetos (perfection) is related to the word teleios (something that has reached its goal or fulfilled its purpose—something that is complete) and the word teleioo (complete, mature, perfect).

Love (agape) is the crowning grace that binds Christian people together in unity.

Those of us who have been involved in churches know that perfect unity is an ideal seldom reached among Christian people. We have been forgiven for our sins, and in that sense are sinless—but we continue to sin nevertheless. One way that we continue to sin is that we fail to love one another as we should. The prayer of confession in the Book of Common Prayer reads, “We have not loved you (God) with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” How true!

But as we grow agape love, we also grow in our capacity for unity with others. Not only is the one who loves affected by the love that he/she gives, but the one who is loved is also affected.

And let the peace (eirene) of God rule (brabeuo) in your hearts (kardiais) (v. 15a). Peace (eirene) is a significant word, occurring nearly a hundred times in the New Testament. It has its roots in the Hebrew word shalom, which was used frequently in the Old Testament. The LXX (the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the Greek word eirene to translate the Hebrew word shalom nearly two hundred times.

Both eirene (Greek) and shalom (Hebrew) can refer to an inner kind of peace—the kind of well-being that is derived from a deep relationship with God—the kind of wholeness that comes from having the image of God, once shattered by sin, restored in the believer.

Elsewhere, Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)—in other words, “If God is for us, who cares who might be against us?” or “If God is for us, what does it matter who might be against us?” Paul’s point is that a close relationship with God confers on the believer a confidence that cannot be shaken by any opponent. That state of mind is “peace”—eireneshalom.

But both eirene and shalom can also refer to an external kind of peace—the absence of rancor or violence among individuals or nations. The middle part of this verse, “to which also you were called in one body,” suggests that this external peace is the primary meaning here. Paul is calling these Colossian Christians to live in harmony and tranquility with each other.

Eirene is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It has its roots in the peace that we have with God, who has granted us the gift of grace through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-2a). Having received grace from God, we are also expected to extend grace to others. In a community where grace is freely received and given, eirene will almost certainly prevail.

“rule (brabeuo) in your hearts” (kardiais) (v. 15a). The Greek word brabeuo is used only here in the New Testament, but the Greeks used it to speak of those who were responsible for maintaining order in their games. Today we call such people referees or umpires.

In games today, we give referees and umpires a good deal of authority. Not only can they make rulings on various aspects of the plays, but they also have authority to penalize individuals or teams. We even give them authority to expel unruly players from the game. Such unfettered authority is necessary if they are to maintain order in rough-and-tumble games with potentially violent players.

So Paul is telling these Colossian Christians to allow “the peace of God” to act as an umpire in their interactions with other Christians—to dictate what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior—to insure compliance with the will of God in those relationships.

As noted in the comments on verse 12e above, there are two Greek words in this chapter that are translated “heart” or “hearts.” Kardia refers to the center of one’s being, both physical and spiritual—that which makes the individual person what he or she is—character, intellect, personality, etc. That is the word that is used here.

to which also you were called (kaleo) in one body (somati) (v. 15b). In the New Testament, the Greek word kaleo means called to “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18)—but it also means called to some kind of service or cross-bearing.

In the New Testament, a number of “call” stories have Jesus simply saying “Follow me” (Mark 1:17; 2:14; 8:34; 10:21 and parallels). When Jesus called Saul, he said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”—and then directed Saul to enter Damascus “and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:4-6).

Not every call was successful. A man asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus answered, “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross” (Mark 10:21). The man “went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions” (Mark 10:22).

in one body (somati–from soma) (v. 15c). The Greek word soma means “body,” and can refer to the bodies of humans or animals, as well as to celestial bodies (1 Corinthian 15:40).

Jesus possessed a human body. He suffered hunger (Matthew 4:2), ate food (Luke 24:41), and experienced physical pain (Matthew 27:26).

The word soma is also used in the New Testament to refer to the church, which is Christ’s mystical body (1 Corinthians 12:12ff.). Paul says that the church is “one body” having many members. While those members retain their individuality, they are “individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). The well-being of each member is critical to the well-being of the body as a whole, and every member has an important part to play in the functioning of the whole (1 Corinthians 12:12ff.)

In our immediate text from Colossians, Paul says that the Colossian Christians “were called in one body”—emphasizing the corporate nature of the church into which these Christians were called.

and be thankful (eucharistos) (v. 15c). The Greek word eucharistos (grateful, thankful) is related to the words eucharisteo (to be thankful) and eucharistia (thanks, thanksgiving). We have taken those words into the English language as Eucharist, a word which many Christians use to refer to the Lord’s Supper.

Thanksgiving has its roots in the Old Testament. The Israelites gave thank offerings (Leviticus 7:12-15). The Psalmist, in particular, both gave thanks and enjoined others to do so (Psalm 7:17; 28:7; 30:4; 69:30; 86:12; 97:12; 100:1-5; 111:1, etc., etc., etc.).

Jesus gave thanks (Mark 8:6; 14:23; Luke 22:17; 1 Corinthians 11:24) and emphasized the importance of thanksgiving (Luke 17:11-19). He gave the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican to show the futility of thanksgiving gone awry (Luke 18:9-14).

Paul also emphasized thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 5:4, 20; Colossians 4:2; 1 Timothy 2:1).

In the New Jerusalem, the angels will worship God with songs of thanksgiving (Revelation 7:11-12).


16 Let the word of Christ dwell (Greek: enoikeo) in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing(Greek: noutheteo) one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace (Greek:  chariti—from charis) in your heart to the Lord.

Let the word of Christ dwell (enoikeo) in you richly (v. 16a). What does “the word of Christ” mean? Does it mean the actual words of Christ as revealed in the Gospels—or does it mean the Good News about Christ and the salvation that he came to offer? Both qualify, but Paul most likely intends to emphasize the latter.

“dwell (enoikeo) in you richly (v. 16a). The Greek word enoikeo is a combination of en (in) and oikeo (to dwell). The word oikeo is closely related to the word oikia, which means house.

The picture that comes to my mind is a person absorbing Christ’s word among the comforts of hearth and home. Paul is calling these Colossian Christians (and, by extension, us) to let the word of Christ dwell in us so richly—so constantly—that it becomes part of our familiar world.

in all wisdom teaching and admonishing (noutheteo) one another (v. 16b). The Greek word noutheteo is a combination of nous (mind) and tithemi (to place)—and means to warn or to admonish or to exhort.

Teaching and admonishment are important ministries, but the effectiveness of both is highly dependent on the wisdom that the person doing the teaching (or admonishing) brings to the situation. A teacher (or admonisher) who is not wise would be worse than no teacher at all.

How then can these Colossian Christians hope to become wise, so that they might teach and admonish other people in helpful rather than hurtful ways? The Psalmist advises, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. All those who do his work have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10). Fear, as it is used in that Psalm, means reverence and faith—the kind of reverence and faith that leads a person to try to determine God’s will before taking action.

The person who reverences the Lord can find wisdom in various Godly sources— scripture, prayer, worship, and association with Godly people being some of the most significant.

Godly wisdom is something that Christians can share with one another. When we have a problem or are faced with a decision, we would do well to listen to the counsel of other Christians—particularly those Christians who have shown themselves to be spiritually mature and wise. As we grow in spiritual wisdom, we are to teach and admonish others.

with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace (chariti—from charis) in your heart to the Lord (v. 16c). Music has long been an important part of Jewish and Christian worship. King Hezekiah, restoring temple worship, “set the Levites in the house of Yahweh with cymbals, with stringed instruments”—observing God’s commandment to do so. “All the assembly worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded” (2 Chronicles 29:25, 28).

Jesus and his disciples, observing Jewish practice, sang a hymn at the Last Supper (Mark 14:26).

Paul and Silas, imprisoned in Philippi, passed their time by singing hymns to God (Acts 16:25).

The author of Ephesians speaks of Christians singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing, and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

“singing with grace (chariti—from charis) in your heart to the Lord (v. 16c). Paul encourages these Colossian Christians to sing with grace (charis) in their hearts.

The word charis can be used to refer to the loveliness of harmonious relationships, and that is involved here. These Christians have received grace (God’s undeserved favor), and are to respond by living in a graceful relationship with God and their fellow Christians.


17 Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him.

Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17a). In that culture, people considered a person’s name to be more than a simple label to identify that person. They believed that something of the person’s identity was tied up in the name—that the name expressed something of the person’s essential character.

This verse, then, is a call to these Colossian Christians to examine their words and deeds to insure that they are appropriate for people who bear the name of the Lord Jesus.

That serves as a challenge to us who bear the name of the Lord Jesus today. Do our words and deeds bear witness to Jesus? Do they honor or dishonor Jesus? Do they attract or repel those outside the church? Do they lift up or crush our Christian brothers and sisters? Do they reflect faith or fear? Those are hard tests that we fail on a fairly regular basis—but we can aspire to do better—and we can pray to grow in grace.

A kind word—a gentle deed—a bit of caring—a cup of water given in Jesus’ name! Who knows what they might mean? Who knows what great things they might cause to happen? God knows!

giving thanks to God the Father, through him (v. 17b). See the comments above on verse 15c for comments about being thankful.

We need to give some thought to our practice of thanksgiving. Too often we are prone to give God thanks for the material things we have received from his hands. While that is appropriate, it can also lead us to consider thanksgiving only in materialistic terms.

In the New Testament, Christians gave thanks and sang praises to God in good times and bad—as did Paul and Silas did while singing hymns in their prison cell. Even in adversity, they gave God thanks for his faithfulness—his righteousness—his love—and the gift of his Son Jesus Christ.

When our immediate problem is how to pay the electric bill—or how to rein in our wayward child—it becomes difficult to remember that we have much for which we can give thanks. But in this verse, Paul calls us to remember that. If we will do so, we will make our world and our lives just a little better.


18 Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and don’t be bitter against them. 20 Children, obey your parents in all things, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, don’t provoke your children, so that they won’t be discouraged.

These verses give four short rules to govern family life. They include rules for wives, husbands, children, and fathers—but, oddly enough, not mothers. Perhaps that is because mothers tend to be closer emotionally to their children than fathers—as well as more supportive and less judgmental.

Verses 22-25 call slaves to obey their masters and to render good service, and 4:1 calls masters to treat slaves justly and fairly.

The Common Lectionary doesn’t include these verses—almost surely because our popular culture finds verse 18 offensive. I was pleased to see that the Catholic Lectionary includes these verses, because the family is the core building block of society, and families are under assault these days. These verses provide short rules that have the potential to solve many of the problems found in modern families.

“Wives, be in subjection to (Greek: hupotasso) your husbands, as is fitting (Greek: aneko) in the Lord” (v. 18.). This rule is in keeping with other New Testament verses (Ephesians 5:21-24; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:34-35).

The word hupotasso combines the words hupo (under or beneath) and tasso (to place or set). While this verse calls wives to be subject to their husbands, Christians are also called to be subject to one another “in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). The middle voice of hupotasso indicates that the submission is something that the woman is to assume voluntarily rather than having her husband’s authority imposed upon her.

The subjection of wives to husbands does not indicate that they are inferior. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

In sexual matters, Paul calls for mutuality: “Let the husband render to his wife the affection owed her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband. Likewise also the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).

It is worth noting that the New Testament mentions several women who were either heads of their households or in leadership roles: Lydia (Acts 16:15), Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11, and Nympha (Colossians 4:15).

Wives are to subject themselves to their husbands “as is fitting (aneko) in the Lord” (v. 18b). The Greek word aneko means that which is fitting and proper. James adds “in the Lord,” indicating that this is fitting and proper for wives who are “in the Lord”—Christians.

While I didn’t find this in the commentaries, it occurs to me that “as is fitting in the Lord” might exempt the wife from subjection if she were married to a man whose character would make subjection not fitting—i.e., if he happened to be an abusive husband or a drug addict or a criminal. Unfortunately, there are a number of men—some married—who are unfit for any kind of leadership or decision-making.

“Husbands, love (Greek: agapao) your wives” (v. 19a). The verb James uses here (agapao—the verb form of the more familiar noun agape) is one of four Greek words for love (the others being philos, storge, and eros). Only agapao/agape and phileo/philos are used in the New Testament—andagapao/agape occur five times as often as phileo/philos.

The classic distinction between agape and philos is that agape has to do with a concern for the well-being of the other person while philos has to do with brotherly love—friendship love—companionate love—the kind of love where a person receives as well as gives. While there is some question about the sharpness of that distinction, scholars tend to agree that “philos does contain an element of mutuality not found in agape” (Melick). In other words, philos has to do both with giving and getting, while agape has to do only with giving—with an unalloyed concern for the welfare of the other person.

Agape love is more a “doing” than a “feeling” word. It doesn’t require that we approve of the actions of the person whom we love—or even that we enjoy their company. It does require us to act in behalf of that person—to demonstrate our love in some practical fashion. An agape person will do what is possible to feed the hungry—and to give drink to the thirsty—and to welcome the stranger—and to clothe the naked—and to visit the sick and the person in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). The agape person has little or nothing to gain by helping these hungry, thirsty, strange, naked, imprisoned people. The thrust of his/heragape love is giving, not getting.

Love is the first of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)—and is the greatest of Christian virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said: “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love (agapao) your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31).

In other words, a husband who loves his wife with agape love will make it a priority to do what he can to meet her needs and to protect her. He will do that through thick and thin—through good times and bad—when he feels like it and when he doesn’t.

“and don’t be bitter (Greek: pikraino) against them” (v. 19b). The word pikraino was often used to speak of bitter or poisonous food or drink. The book of Revelation talks about people who died after drinking water that had been made pikraino (Revelation 8:11).

That makes pikraino a fitting word to describe the kinds of bitter and poisoned relationships that sometimes occur within marriages. We have all seen divorces where the husband and wife go down slashing at each other—so that both (as well as their children) are injured spiritually, emotionally, socially, and financially. My wife and I recently became aware of friends who had averted that kind of disaster, because a pastor recommended a Christian counselor who was able to help them to re-establish communication. What a blessing!

Every husband and wife has faults and irritating habits. Sometimes they persist in irritating behaviors even after the spouse’s best efforts to confront them. Sometimes we experience those behaviors as if they were the drip, drip, drip of Chinese water torture. Financial pressures and other adversities often add to the problem. In fact money problems are often the corrosive acid that can cause a marriage to collapse. The pressures associated with taking care of small children can also add to the stress.

The antidote to this kind of situation can be many faceted. It is helpful to acknowledge that you as well as your spouse have irritating habits that contribute to the problem—and that you as well as your spouse need to be forgiven. Pray that God will help you to forgive your spouse. Ask God to drain the poison from your heart and replace it with genuine love for your spouse. Ask God to help your spouse to forgive you. Stop trying to change your spouse (you can’t change another person), and concentrate on changing yourself. Take steps to re-establish communication. There are various ways to accomplish this. One is to ask your spouse to devote a particular time to sitting and talking. One is to seek counseling with a pastor or a marriage counselor.

“Children, obey your parents in all things, for this pleases the Lord” (v. 20). In most cultures, children are prized. In agrarian cultures, they were especially prized, and people thought of children as a divine blessing (Genesis 15:1-5; Psalm 127:3-6). To be deprived of children was painful (1 Samuel 1-2). People needed children to help with the many chores associated with rural life. They needed children to provide for them in their old age. And they needed children to carry on the family name. Nothing that God could have done for these women would have been received as a greater blessing than the gift of children.

Obeying parents was a significant value. Jewish Law prescribed draconian measures for stubborn and rebellious sons—sons who were full grown or nearly so. They were to be regarded as an evil to be purged from the community (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

But Jesus’ approach to small children was welcoming and accepting (Mark 9:36-37; 10:13-16).

“Fathers, don’t provoke (Greek: erethizo) your children, so that they won’t be discouraged” (v. 21; see also Ephesians 6:4). The word erethizo means to irritate or to provoke to anger.

There are a number of ways that parents can drive their children a bit crazy—and very angry. Some of the possibilities are as follows:

• Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. I don’t think I have to explain that.

• Inconsistent or unfair discipline. Some parents store up grievances against their children, making no timely corrections along the way, and then they explode in anger. That is totally ineffective parenting. Likewise, treating one child better than the others—or punishing a child too harshly—or punishing a child before knowing the facts—each of these has the potential to provoke children to anger.

• Offering lots of criticism and not much praise. A number of years ago, I attended a presentation by Ken Blanchard, an expert on leadership and management. He emphasized that we should look for things to praise, and suggested that we try to maintain a ratio of ten praises for each criticism. His remarks were intended for a business setting, but are applicable to the family as well. Praise builds up and criticism tears down. This is something that fathers tend not to do well. Listen carefully, fathers!

• Being largely absent in the child’s life. I admire Billy Graham a great deal, but his son, Franklin, tells about the negative effects that he experienced because, as he was growing up, Billy was usually in some other part of the world conducting an evangelistic meeting. Franklin talked about the lonely feeling of seeing the tail lights of an Oldsmobile that was spiriting his father away.

• Failure to offer affection. I attended a prayer breakfast in a military setting where Bill Glass, a former NFL football player, told Army NCO’s and officers how important it was for them to hug their children. He said that his own son was bigger than he was—and Bill was a big man—but his son still needed his father’s hugs. The men in that audience listened raptly. Later, I learned that a General went home and told his daughter for the first time that he loved her and was proud of her. The daughter was in tears. A brigade commander (Colonel) with a reputation for an acid tongue changed overnight. Where he had previously been known for criticizing and humiliating subordinates, he became known for praising people for jobs well-done. That transformed his brigade—and lots of people’s lives.

• Scripting children for failure. As of this writing (2013), Bill Glass has a large prison ministry. When he asks prisoners, “How many of your old men (fathers) told you that you were a loser?” almost every hand goes up. When he asks, “How many of your old men told you that you would end up in prison?” almost every hand goes up. He says,

“Well, you didn’t disappoint your old man, did you?” But then he makes the point that those prisoners don’t have to live up to the “loser” script that their “old man” hung around their necks. They can choose to be someone else. The point for fathers today is that they need to script their children for success—not failure. Tell your children that you know they will do good things, and they are likely to do them.

• Being over-protective. Having lots of rules and giving the child very little freedom.

• Humiliating the child in front of other people. One of the important rules of leadership is to give praise in public and to express criticism in private.

• Demanding more than the child can give. Some people are gifted athletically, and some aren’t. Some are smart, and others aren’t. Not very many young people keep their rooms clean. Instead of faulting your children for something that they aren’t fitted to do, figure out what they could do and encourage them to do it.

• Failure to provide the essentials: Food, clothing, shelter, protection, education. This can be difficult, because some parents have substantial resources and others don’t. The key here is that the child see that the parents are doing their best to provide. Even children can understand that you can’t get blood from a turnip, but parental indifference is likely to provoke great anger.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


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Copyright 2012, 2013, Richard Niell Donovan