Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence…
There is an alternating between dying and rising. Having carried out the idea of rising, the apostle goes back to the idea of dying; and, before this paragraph is concluded, he goes back to the idea of rising.
I. MORTIFYING OF OUR MEMBERS WITH REFERENCE TO TWO SINS. "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth." It is not a ground of condemnation that our members are upon the earth. The idea is simply the members through which we hold correspondence with earth. Of these members, collectively, the apostle says, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice." Our members may be instruments of righteousness or instruments of unrighteousness. We are to mortify them by refusing to use them as instruments of unrighteousness.
1. Sensuality. "Fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire." There are four words used to describe this sin. The first describes a special form of uncleanness. The second is wider, and includes all forms of uncleanness. The third is wider still, and describes such heated desire as may lead to uncleanness. The fourth is widest of all, and includes all such desire as implies want of purity of feeling.
2. Covetousness. "And covetousness, the which is idolatry." The article being used with "covetousness" (not with the other four words) indicates the introduction of a new class. These four form one class; and this fifth is a class by itself. The fact that it is associated (as in Ephesians) with forms of sensuality marks the sense which the apostle had of its evil character. There is not here the thought that it is to be among the things which are not to be named. But there is the thought, which follows in Ephesians, that covetousness is idolatry; that is to say, idolatry by pre-eminence. Sensuality is also idolatry. It is making an idol of self in the form of lower and momentary enjoyment. Covetousness has a certain aspect of unselfishness. It is a giving up of present enjoyment; it is a giving up even of future enjoyment. But when unveiled it is really a more systematic form of selfishness. It is making an idol of self, not in the form of future enjoyment, but (which is no better) in the form of the means of future enjoyment. And experience shows that the one idol is less readily dethroned than the other. The next thought (which also follows in Ephesians) is that for these sins God deals with men. "For which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." They disobey, for the first commandment is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." They transgress the laws of the body; they transgress also the laws of the spiritual nature. They not only disobey, but they persist in courses of disobedience. They are the sons of disobedience. They are as though they had disobedience as their father; so vile is their parentage. They refuse the gospel, by which they could be delivered from their evil courses. And therefore it is that the wrath of God cometh upon them. It cometh upon them incipiently now. It cometh upon them in the shape of a materializing of the spirit. It cometh upon them in the shape of inward dispeace. It cometh upon them in the shape of disturbance from without (bodily malady, loss of estate, loss of respect, complications). God has many ways of showing his displeasure against men for these sins even now, and his displeasure will yet be more decidedly manifested. The next thought (which also follows, though not under the same figure, in Ephesians) is that they were to remember their former participation in these sins. "In the which ye also walked aforetime, when ye lived in these things." In heathenism they lived in an atmosphere which was pollution. And then they participated in these sins. If in this fact there was danger of their being decoyed hack to their former ways under false representations, on the other hand there was strength to be got from realizing how much they had benefited by the change from heathenism to Christianity. In their present joys and habits (for which they were indebted to Christ) they had wherewith to oppose temptations from their past.
II. THESE AND OTHER SINS TO BE PUT AWAY. "But now put ye also [as well as others rescued from heathenism] away all these." There seems to be a retrospective as well as a prospective reference in the injunction. The other sins are in two classes.
1. Sins of temper. "Anger, wrath, malice." The first describes a more settled, the second a more eruptive, state of our feeling against others. They are to be condemned
(1) when they are accompanied with want of self possession;
(2) when they are accompanied with want of reasonable ground;
(3) when they are accompanied with malice or anything like delight in the evil condition of others.
When these elements are wanting, they are not to be condemned, but need to be carefully watched.
2. Sins of speech. "Railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth." Railing is speaking abusively (it may not be clamorously) against others. This is to be condemned when it is accompanied with foulness of speech (shameful speaking). The mouth should not be prostituted to such uses. "Lie not one to another." We are not even to lie to ourselves. We are not to make ourselves believe that we are other (even worse) than we really are. We are not to see things other than they really are. We are not to lie to others. We are not to make it appear to them that we are other than we really are. We are not to make them out to be other (even better) than they really are. We are not to state things to be other than they really are. We are to put away all falsehood from our intercourse with others. Reason given for putting away the last and all the sins that have been named. "Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings." Our old condition is personified as "the old man." His doings have been pointed to. In baptism we put off the old man with his doings. We must not be as though unregenerate. We must have nothing to do with practices the time of which is past.
III. THE PUTTING ON IN' THE NEW LIFE. "And have put on the new man." Our recent condition is personified as "the new man." There is a prefacing with two important statements.
1. There is a distinctly defined renewal constantly going on. "Which is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him." It may be said that Christ perfected the new condition for us. As appropriated by us, it is in the way of a constant renewal of our life. As in a tree, so with us, with repeated endeavours there ever results fresh accession of life. The end of the renewal is here said to be knowledge. The false teachers claimed wisdom, claimed by their philosophy to give the power to know. The apostle shows how knowledge was to be come to. He thinks of it as the terminus of a long process of renewal. It is the word which means thorough knowledge, i.e. of God and redemption. There is thus accordance with the great statement, "And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ." There is nothing foreign to our nature in this renewal. God made us in his own image. He designed a renewal to go forward in us according to a God like type. He designed in our renewal that we should come to the thorough knowledge of himself. And this is what redemption effects for us.
2. In respect of this renewal earthly distinctions are of no importance. "Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman: but Christ is all, and in all." There is a parallel passage in Galatians 3:28. The first distinction there ("neither Jew nor Greek") may be said to cover the first three distinctions here. Distinction is denied as to nationality ("Greek and Jew"). Distinction is denied as to religious position ("circumcision and uncircumcision"). Distinction is denied as to culture; and here the apostle does not take the extremes of culture; but more strikingly takes those who to the cultured Greeks were barbarians, and to them opposes the Scythians who were barbarians to the barbarians. Distinction is denied as to social status ("bondman, freeman"), which distinction had significance in the early Christian Churches, from the number of slaves connected with them, and had special significance in the Colossian Church, from the conversion of a Colossian slave still with the apostle at Rome. There is not, and cannot be, any of these distinctions. In Galatians the apostle teaches that there are no distinctions on the ground of our sonship in Christ. Here he teaches that there are no distinctions (in keeping with the thought of the pre-eminence of Christ) on the ground of Christ being all and in all in the great renewal.
(1) Christ is all in the renewed. The great need of our nature is to be renewed, and Christ fully meets that need. He gives the whole contents and form to our renewal. United to Christ by faith, we become receptacles of Christ. The pleroma dwells in him, and that pleroma floods our being with light, with strength, with purity, with all things. Renewed only from Christ, our life manifests itself only in Christian forms.
(2) Christ is all in all the renewed. Men were broken up into classes, castes. The Jew drew back from the uncircumcised; the Greek despised the barbarian; the barbarian despised the Scythian; the freeman despised the bondman. The apostle points to the fact that the great renewal takes place in all alike. Alike in being created in the image of God, they are also alike in the renewal that takes place on that ground and according to that fact. The poor Scythian can be filled full and beautified in the possession of Christ as well as the Greek, the bondman as well as the freeman. In view of this essential identity, all these earthly distinctions become of no account. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: