Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence…
Mortify, therefore, because ye were raised with Christ. The homeliest moral teaching of the Epistle is based upon its "mystical" theology,. Character is the outcome and test of doctrine. But too many people deal with their beliefs as they do with their hassocks and hymn-books in their pews, so it is necessary to put the practical issues very plainly.
I. THE PARADOX OF SELF-SLAYING AS THE ALL-EMBRACING DUTY OF A CHRISTIAN. "Mortify" conveys less than is meant. "Slay your members" is the spiritual duty which stands over against the error of "severity to the body" against which the Colossians had been warned (Colossians 2:23). It consists in the destruction of the passions and desires.
1. Paul's anthropology regards men as wrong and having to get right. A great deal of moral teaching talks as if men were rather inclined to be good, and its lofty sentiments go over people's heads. The serpent has twined itself round my limbs, and unless you give me a knife to cut its loathsome coils it is cruel to bid me walk. Culture is not the beginning of good husbandry. You must first stub up the thorns and sift out the poisonous weeds or you will have wild grapes.
2. The root of all such slaying is being dead with Christ to the world. What asceticism cannot do in that it is weak through the flesh, union with Christ will do; it will subdue sin in the flesh.
3. There must, however, he vigorous determination. "Slaying" cannot be pleasant and easy. It is easier to cut off the hand which is not me than to sacrifice passions and desires which are myself. The paths of religion are ways of pleasantness, but they are steep, and climbing is not easy. The way to heaven is not by "the primrose path." That leads to "the everlasting bonfire." Men obtain forgiveness and eternal life as a gift by faith; but they achieve holiness, which is the permeating of their characters with that eternal life, by patient believing effort.
II. A GRIM CATALOGUE OF THE CONDEMNED TO DEATH. Paul stands like a jailer at the prison door, with the fatal roll in his hand, and reads out the names of the evildoers for whom the tumbril waits to carry them to the guillotine. It is an ugly list, but we need plain speaking, for these evils are rampant now.
1. Fornication covers the whole ground of immoral sexual relations.
2. All uncleanness embraces every manifestation in word, look, or deed of the impure spirit.
3. Passion and evil desire are sources of evil deeds, and include all forms of hungry appetite for "the things that are upon the earth."
4. Covetousness, whose connection with sensuality is significant. The worldly nature flies for solace either to the pleasures of appetite or acquisition. How many respectable middle-aged gentlemen are now mainly devoted to making money whose youth was foul with sensual indulgence. Covetousness is "promoted vice, lust superannuated." And it is idolatry, a fetish worship, which is the religion of thousands who masquerade as Christians.
III. THE EXHORTATION IS ENFORCED BY A SOLEMN NOTE OF WARNING (ver. 6).
1. The thought of wrath is unwelcome because thought inconsistent with God's love. But wrath is love wounded, thrown back upon itself, and compelled to assume the form of aversion, and to do its "strange work" of punishment. God would not be holy if it were all the same to Him whether a man was good or bad; and the modern revulsion against "wrath" is usually accompanied with weakened conceptions of God's holiness. Instead of exalting, it degrades His love to free it from the admixture of wrath, which is like alloy with gold, giving firmness to what were else too soft for use. Such a God is not love but impotent good nature.
2. The wrath "cometh." That may express the continuous present incidence of wrath or the present of prophetic certainty. That wrath comes now in plain and bitter consequences, and the present may be taken as the herald of a still more solemn manifestation of the Divine displeasure. The first fiery drops that fell on Lot's path as he fled were not more surely percursors of an overwhelming rain, nor bade him flee for his life more urgently, than the present punishment of sin proclaims its own future punishment, and exhorts us to flee to Jesus from the wrath to come.
IV. A FURTHER MOTIVE IS THE REMEMBRANCE OF A SINFUL PAST.
1. "Walking." That in which men walk is the atmosphere encompassing them; or to walk in anything is to have the active life occupied by it. The Colossians had trodden the evil path and inhaled the poisonous atmosphere. "Lived" means more than "Your natural life was passed among them." In that sense they still lived there. But whereas they were now living in Christ, the phrase describes the condition which is the opposite of the present — "When the roots of your life, tastes, affections, etc., were immersed, as in some feculent bog, in these and kindred evils."
2. This retrospect is meant to awaken penitence and to kindle thankfulness, and by both emotions to stimulate the resolute casting aside of that evil in which they once, like others, wallowed. The gulf between the present and the past of a regenerate man is too wide and deep to be bridged by flimsy compromises. It is impossible to walk firmly if one foot be down in the gutter and the other up on the curbstone.
V. WE HAVE AS CONCLUSION A STILL WIDER EXHORTATION TO AN ENTIRE STRIPPING OFF OF THE SINS OF THE OLD STATE (vers. 8, 9).
1. The Colossians, as well as other heathen, had been walking and living in muddy ways; but now their life was hid, etc., and that in common with a community to join which they had left another. Let them keep step with their new comrades, and strip themselves, as their new associates do, of the uniform they wore in that other regiment.
2. This second catalogue of vices summarizes the various forms of wicked hatred in contrast with the various forms of wicked love in the other list. The fierce rush of unhallowed passion is put first, and the contrary flow of chill malignity second; for in the spiritual world as in the physical, a storm blowing from one quarter is usually followed by violent gales from the opposite. Lust ever passes into cruelty, and dwells "hard by hate." Malice is evil desire iced.
(1) Auger. There is a righteous anger which is part of the new man; but here it is the inverted reflection of the earthly and passionate lust after the flesh. If anger rises keep the lid on, and don't let it get the length of wrath. But do not think that its suppression is enough, saying, "I did not show it" — strip off anger, the emotion as well as the manifestation. But "I have naturally a hot disposition"; but Christianity was sent to subdue and change natural dispositions.
(2) Malice. Anger boils over in wrath, and then cools down into malignity; and malice as cold and colourless as sulphuric acid, and burning like it is worse than boiling rage.
(3) It is significant that while the expressions of wicked love were deeds, those of wicked hate are words. The "blasphemy" of Authorised Version is bitter "railing" of Revised Version — speech that injures, which when directed against God is blasphemy, and against man vituperation.
4. Lying has its proper place here because it comes from a deficiency of love or a predominance of selfishness. A lie ignores my brother's claims upon me, and is poisoned bread instead of the heavenly manna of pure truth.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: