Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence…
The central thought around which the strange and striking ideas of these sentences gather is "Death to evil." St. Paul exhorts us to put evil to death, to make a corpse of it. Here we have truly "Mors janua vitae." We inquire -
I. IN WHAT THIS DEATH CONSISTS. "Put to death your members which are upon the earth." The meaning seems to be the same as Christ's command, "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out," etc. Neither Christ's nor Paul's injunction can mean hack, hew, maim, the limbs and organs of the body. For that is contradicted by such other teaching as "Yield your members as the instruments of righteousness;" and such disabling of limbs and organs would be useless, for the dumb can be profane, and the blind lustful, and the crippled dishonest. "Out of the heart proceeds evil." The figure in the injunction of our text may be that which the whole context suggests, namely, put these members to death, so far as evil practices are concerned; be as dead to them. Or the figure may have reference to that which describes the entire sinful character as "the old man" - an old man having limbs, organs, etc., here called members. So these physical members are but symbols of the moral. Anyhow, there is clearly enjoined here:
1. Death to corrupt living. This corrupt living is divided here into two classes - impurity and covetousness. These divided between them include the whole domain of sin and selfishness. Covetousness, which is cherished by many who have the repute of respectability and even of Christianity, is so base, so loathsome, so irreligious, that it is here linked with hideous uncleanness, and is distinctly declared to be idolatrous. Avarice becomes the worldling's religion; greed of gain the miser's worship. Evils such as these, and on which the apostle says God's wrath rests, must be slain.
2. Death to wrong conversation. Paul deals with the sins of speech which seemed, like echoes of the past, to linger on the lips of the Colossians. They are to put off
(1) "anger," i.e. settled hatred;
(2) "wrath," i.e. tumultuous outburst of passion;
(3) "malice," i.e. malignity, spitefulness;
(4) "blasphemy," i.e. slandering;
(5) "foul-mouthed abuse," i.e. all such rough speech as now is known as the Billingsgate of social, political, or theological controversy;
(6) "falsehood," a word, alas! that needs no description. All these six evils of speech are to be slain.
3. Death to conventional distinctions. The special errors that we have seen were prevalent at Colossae were those that primarily led Paul to deal with this evil. Four conventional distinctions that, wherever they separate men's interests or destroy their mutual sympathies, must be slain, are here described.
(1) National distinctions: "Greek and Jew."
(2) Ceremonial: "circumcision or uncircumcision."
(3) Distinctions of culture: "barbarian, Scythian." Max Muller finely shows how, until Christianity inserted the word "brother" instead of "barbarian," as descriptive of humanity, there was no science of language.
(4) Social: "bond and free." There seems to be special reference here to the runaway slave who was going to carry to his master the apostle's letter, and who was to be received as a brother both of Philemon and Paul.
II. HOW THIS DEATH IS TO BE EFFECTED. Evil does not die of itself, but must be slain. Nor does it die easily; it must be struggled with. It is to be put to death:
1. By human endeavour. "Put to death." You are wrestler in some tragic game, soldier in the momentous battle, executioner in the solemn judgment; therefore you must throw your opponent, stay your enemy, hang or gibbet the culprit. Here is abundant and righteous scope for all our fighting instincts.
2. By Divine renewal "Which is renewed." The death of the old is ensured by the life of the new; just as old leaves are pushed off the boughs and branches by the young vegetation of spring, so the old character is displaced by the new. This power is
(2) constantly put forth;
(3) according to Divine ideal - "after the image of him that created him." Christ the Ideal is Christ the Source of all. He is in the renewed man as the germ of life, whose outbursting, as by one blow, kills evil, and whose constant development insures all good. - U.R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: