For although I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and I delight to see your orderly condition and firm faith in Christ.
I. THE METHODS OF DECEPTION.
1. One method is to reason men into error, as the word here signifies. Gnosticism was essentially rationalistic in its method, gossamer like in its webs of speculation, and full of intellectual pride. The subtle seducer is often more dangerous than the persecutor.
2. Another is to use persuasiveness of speech in the application of this reasoning. They use "fair speeches and flattering words to deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:18). The arguments were false and sophistical, but they were made to appear true through arts of rhetoric.
II. HOW TO MEET SUCH ARTS OF DECEPTION.
1. It is the duty of ministers to warn their people against them. How often did the apostle say, "Be not deceived;" "Be not carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4:14)! Ministers are thus to "take heed to the flock of God, over which the Holy Ghost hath made them bishops" (Acts 20:28).
3. We must retain the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ as the treasure house of all wisdom and knowledge. The knowledge of his excellency is a preservative against seducing spirits.
4. We must live under the constant power of the Word, which is "able to build us up." (Acts 20:32.)
5. We must walk purely in the fear of God. For "if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17).
III. THE REASON FOR THIS WARNING AGAINST DECEPTION. "For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ." He was anxious lest such a solid fruit of orthodoxy should be broken down by the arts of plausible teachers.
1. True love rejoices in the work of grace wherever it is discerned. The apostle heard from Epaphras good tidings of Colossian faithfulness and firmness, and was glad, as Barnabas was glad at Antioch when he saw "the grace of God" (Acts 11:23). The Apostle John likewise says, "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth" (2 John 1:4). "A holy mind can rejoice in the good things of those he warneth and reproveth."
2. Order and steadfastness are signs of soundness in the faith. These words have military associations which may have been suggested by the presence of the Praetorian soldiers with the apostle (Philippians 1:13).
(1) Order marks the outward relation of Church fellowship. The Colossians did not break rank or "walk disorderly." We are to "walk by rule" (Galatians 6:16); "to guide our feet into the ways of peace" (Luke 1:79); and generally to "order our affairs with discretion" (Psalm 112:5). As God is "a God of order," we are to do all things "discreetly and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40).
(2) Steadfastness of faith marked their state as inwardly considered.
(a) This must always be our principle of resistance to the devil; "Whom resist, steadfast in the faith" (1 Peter 5:9).
(b) It is necessary to our success in prayer, for we are to pray "in faith, without wavering" (James 1:6).
(c) It is the means of our greater victory over, the world (1 John 5:4).
(d) It is, above all, our surest protection against errorists (Jude 1:3).
(e) It causes good men to rejoice. "Now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 2:8). - T. C.
Though I be absent in the flesh.I. A POWER THAT IS COMMON TO MAN AS MAN. "Though I be absent... spirit." Here is a power of going forth from the body — visiting distant scenes and taking an interest in them. This power we are always using. Our minds are ever away somewhere — they move with lightning rapidity across oceans, continents, and even worlds; they span the ages in a moment. We thank God for this power. Brutes have it not; it makes us indepen dent of time and space, and gives to life an eternal freshness and an infinite variety.
II. A SPIRITUAL CONDITION PECULIAR TO SOME MEN.
1. Spiritual order- harmony with ourselves, the universe, God.
2. Stability. Steadfastness to Christ, settled in hope, confidence. What a blessed state! how devoutly to be desired!
III. A SOCIAL DELIGHT EXPERIENCED BY CHRISTLY MEN. "Joying," etc. Though Paul's body was in Rome, his spirit was in Colossae rejoicing in the happiness of the Christians there.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. THE CONDITION ANTICIPATED — "Though I be absent in the body."
1. Whatever may be the number and importance of our relations to our fellows, we are unable to be personally in contact with them in every place. Mercifully we are not permitted to be ubiquitous, and are only suffered to be migratory for self-preservation. This restriction promotes the order, improvement, and happiness of society.
2. But is not it a hindrance to the discharge of our relationships to be absent from them? No, or it would not be made the rule for us by an all-wise God. Observe how it is made the law of Providence in regard to our nearest relations: "A man shall leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife." In how many business necessitates absence in the flesh.
3. God would teach us by this law —(1) The temporary nature of existing relations in the flesh, so that we are warned not to regard such as our highest ties. Father and mother, husband and wife, are sweet bonds; but the fact that so many circumstances cause absence, and that death will soon close such relations, ought to lead us to seek other and more enduring relations in the spirit. "Who is my mother," said Jesus. "He that doeth the will of God," etc.(2) The duty of improving our relationships while yet present. Did we realize the law of absence would not a greater spirit of kindness, forbearance, and service be excited?(3) Not to look to the arm of flesh, but to God. The tendency to make much of the human instrument because he is present is natural to man. Christ declared His absence in the flesh to be expedient for His disciples. Who can doubt that one design of Christ in the changes of spheres appointed to His ministers, e.g., is to elevate His Church's faith and to excite them to rely on His Spirit.(4) The cultivation of Christian love in its highest exercise. The love exercised when present has to be purified from inferior motives by absence. Absence from his country purifies the fires of a patriot's love. So instead of loving the Colossians less, Paul loved them the more.
II. THE COMMUNION MAINTAINED. Happily we are so constituted that the law which compels our fleshly separations is abundantly compensated by the liberty of the spirit. Paul was with the Colossians in spirit, praying for them wherever he might be, and meeting them around a common mercy seat.
(G. B. Birch.)
I. THE EXTERNAL ORDER OF THE CHURCH — "Beholding your order." This is mentioned first because it first meets the eye, though all external discipline must spring from faith.
II. THE APOSTLE CHERISHED A DEEP, PERSONAL INTEREST IN THEIR WELFARE.
1. In spirit He was present with them.
2. While the Church pre serves its order and stability it is invulnerable.
3. It is cause of rejoicing when the Church faithfully maintains the conquests already won.
(G. Barlow.)Philippians 1:13; Ephesians 6:11; Philippians 4:7). "Order" properly consists in the due disposition of parts in reference to the whole; steadfastness" lit. "what is made firm;" hence sometimes the solidified body, the solid strength of an army (1 Maccabees 9:14 1 Maccabees 10:50). The first is the orderly organization, without which strength evaporates; the second solid strength, without which order is a hollow parade. The Church's proper organic form and solid definite conviction of the unalterable elements of the Christian creed are closely connected in the apostle's mind as they have been in the history of the Church. The Colossian Church presents itself to him as an army — as to the Church's form, in serried order; as to the Church's creed, solid at the core.
(Bp. Alexander.)I. OUTWARDLY, AN ORDERLY DISCIPLINED ARMY.
1. Paul was no martinet, anxious about the pedantry of the parade ground, but he knew the need of organization and drill — a place for every man and every man in his place. Order does not merely mean obedience to authority. There may be equal order under widely different forms of polity. The legionaries were drawn up in close ranks, the light armed skirmishers more loosely. In the one case the phalanx was more, and the individual less; in the other, more play was given to the single man; but the difference between them was not that of order and disorder, but that of two systems, each organized but on different principles, and for different purposes.
2. Some Churches give more weight to the principle of authority; others to that of individuality; but the former has no right to reproach the other as necessarily defective in order. Some Churches are all drill; the Churches of looser organization are in danger of making too little of organization. But both need that all their members should be more penetrated with the sense of unity, and should fill each his place in the work of the body. The proportion of idlers in all Churches is a scandal and a weakness. However officered a Church may be, no joy would fill an apostle's heart in beholding it, if the mass of its members had no share in its activities. Every society of professed Christians should be like a man-of-war's crew, each of whom knows the exact inch where he has to stand when the whistle sounds, and the precise thing he has to do in gun drill.
II. INWARDLY, A STEDFAST FAITH.
1. Perfection of discipline is not enough. That may stiffen into routine if there be not something deeper. We want life even more than order. The soldiers who set David on the throne were "men that could keep rank, they were not of a double heart" — discipline and whole-hearted enthusiasm. Both are needed. If there be not courage and devotion, there is nothing worth disciplining. The Church that has the most complete order and not also steadfastness of faith will be like the German armies, all pipe-clay and drill, which ran like hares before the ragged levies which the French revolution flung across the border.
2. If the rendering "steadfastness" be adopted, the phrase will mean "firmness which characterizes your faith." But some propose "foundation," that which is made steadfast, in which case the meaning will either be "the firm foundation (for your lives) which consists of your faith," or, "the firm foundation which your faith has." Paul rejoices, seeing that their faith towards Christ has a basis unshaken by assaults.
3. Such a rock foundation and consequent steadfastness must faith have, if it is to be worthy of the name, and to manifest its true power. A tremulous faith may be a true faith, but the very idea of faith implies solid assurance and fixed confidence. It should not be like a card castle that the light breath of a scornful laugh will throw down, but "a tower of strength that stands foursquare to all the winds that blow." We should seek to make it so, nor let the fluctuations of our hearts cause it to fluctuate. And that we may do so we must keep up a true and close communion with Jesus Christ.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)I. THE ORDER OF A GOSPEL CHURCH. It was the constant custom of the apostles to organize their converts into Churches (Acts 15:36, 41). The order may be considered in relation to the whole Church as a body (1 Corinthians 14:40; Titus 1:5), and to its members in their personal behaviour (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 11). Both of these will be taken in ii we consider the order of a Church of Christ.
1. With respect to its constitution.(1) New Testament Churches consist of such Christians as meet together in a given place for religious worship and discipline. The word Church signifies(a) the catholic invisible Church which consists of all the elect united to Christ their head (Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:25):(b) the universal visible Church or kingdom of Christ;(c) a Christian family all of which are professed believers joining together in the worship of God (Colossians 4:15; Romans 16:3, 5, 10, 15).(d) But the most common sense is that of particular Churches founded for the celebration of sacred ordinances. Hence we read of the Church at Corinth, at Rome, etc.(2) These Churches consist of professing believers who, in the judgment of charity, are real saints (Colossians 1:2; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2, etc.)(3) These professing believers are formed into a Church state, by mutual agreement, for walking together in all the ordinances of Christ according to the will of God (Matthew 18:15-20; 2 Corinthians 8:5; Acts 2:41, 42, 46; 2 Corinthians 9:13).
2. With respect to its officers. It cannot be completed without these who ate necessary for the regular adminstration.These are —
2. Deacons, who have care of the secular affairs of the Church (Acts 6.)
3. With respect to its worship. A particular Church is the seat of all ordinances, and when it is furnished with proper officers it is in due order for the celebration of them. Churches ought to join in the ordinances of general communion, whether they have a pastor or not (Acts 12:5; Matthew 18:19-20). But preaching, blessing in the name of the Lord, and the administration of the sacraments are a proper province of the pastor, with the agreement of the Church as to time and place. As ministers are not to be lords over God's heritage (1 Peter 5:3; 2 Corinthians 1:24), so neither they nor the people are to call any man master (Matthew 23. 8-10).
4. As to its discipline (Matthew 18:17; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8). As any society has the right of including and excluding members, so has the Church. And as for government, Acts 15. shows that even when apostles were presiding the Church had a right of being consulted.
5. With respect to the purity of its manners, and the behaviour of its members towards one another and their pastor. They are saints and should be holy; they are brethren and should be kind and helpful; they are under their pastors (Hebrews 13:17) and should encourage, strengthen, and submit to them.
II. THE STEADFASTNESS OF THEIR FAITH IN CHRIST,
1. Christ is the object of their faith.
3. Steadfastness signifies —(1) The substantial solidity of their faith in opposition to flashy notions and corrupt mixtures (1 Corinthians 2:5, and vers. 4, 7, 8.).(2) Its strength in opposition to weakness (Romans 4:18, 21).(3) Its constancy m opposition to wavering (Hebrews 6:19; Ephesians 4:14, 15; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 10:39).(4) A holy resolution or courage, in opposition to shyness or cowardice in their profession of it (Colossians 1:4; Romans 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 10:23).
III. THE JOY THAT ATTENDS THE BEHOLDING OF THESE.
1. On the part of pastor, people, and other Churches.
2. Because thereby Christ is honoured, the Church edified, religion recommended, the faith confirmed, and other believers encouraged.
(J. Guyse, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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