A. Greeting and giving of thanks.
1. (1-2) Paul greets the Christians in Colosse.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
a. Paul: According to the custom of writing letters in that day, the author’s name is given first. The author is Paul; he wrote the letter while in prison (Colossians 4:3; 4:10, and 4:18), probably from Rome and around 63 a.d.
i. Paul probably wrote the letter because of the visit of Epaphras from Colosse (Colossians 1:7). Paul himself had never visited the city (Colossians 2:1).
b. An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God: Paul is qualified to write this letter of instruction to the Colossians, though he has never met them personally, because he is an apostle.
i. And Timothy our brother: Timothy was an honored companion of Paul, but he was not an apostle. That title was not passed around lightly in the early church.
c. To the saints and faithful brethren: When Paul addresses the saints, he is not separating some Christians from others in the Colossian church. Every true Christian is a saint. However, Paul may make a distinction with the phrase faithful brethren. He may refer to those who haven’t embraced the false teaching that concerns Paul so much in this letter.
d. Who are in Colosse: The city of Colosse was probably the smallest and least “important” city that Paul wrote to. It might surprise us that Paul would turn his attention to the Christians in Colosse, at a time when he had so many other trials. But he apparently thought the situation in Colosse was important enough for apostolic attention.
i. The problem in Colosse - sometimes described as “The Colossian Heresy” - is hard to describe with precision. It probably was a corruption of Christianity with elements of mystical, legalistic Judaism and early Gnosticism.
ii. The first century religious environment was much like our own. It was a time of religious mixing, with people borrowing a little from this and a little from that. The only difference is that in the first century, you joined a group who did the borrowing. In our culture you do the borrowing yourself.
iii. Whatever the problem was precisely, Paul dwells on the solution: a better understanding of Jesus. Knowing the real Jesus helps us to stay away from the counterfeit, no matter how it comes packaged.
e. The city of Colosse is not even mentioned in the book of Acts. All our Biblical information about the church there comes from this letter and a few allusions in the letter to Philemon.
i. Epaphras was responsible for bringing the gospel to the Colossians (Colossians 1:6-7). He was a native of the city (Colossians 4:12), and also got the message out to neighboring towns in the Lycus Valley like Hierapolis and Laodicea (Colossians 4:13).
ii. Epaphras himself perhaps heard the gospel when Paul was in Ephesus. As Paul taught in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (Acts 19:10) So it isn’t surprising if some people from Colosse heard the gospel at that time.
f. Historically, Colosse was a prosperous city, and famous (with other cities in its region) for its fabric dyes. But by Paul’s time, its glory as a city was on the decline.
g. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ: Paul’s greeting is familiar, but heartfelt. “Grace is God’s unconditioned goodwill toward men and women which is decisively expressed in the saving work of Christ.” (Bruce)
2. (3) Paul’s constant prayer for the Colossians was coupled with a constant thankfulness to God.
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
a. Praying always for you: Though he had never met most of them, the Christian of Colosse were on Paul’s prayer list. When he prayed, it was full of gratitude. Perhaps those who pray the most end up having the most reasons to thank God.
3. (4-8) What Paul has to be thankful for.
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.
a. Paul is thankful for their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all the saints. Genuine faith in Jesus will always have a true love for God’s people as a companion.
b. Paul is thankful for the hope laid up for them in heaven. He is thankful when he considers the destiny of the Colossian Christians.
i. Notice the familiar triad of faith, hope, and love.
c. Paul is thankful that their eternal destiny was affected by the truth of the gospel, brought by Epaphras.
i. Epaphras is described as a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf. This doesn’t mean that Epaphras was superior to the other Christians in Colosse. “Minister” doesn’t mean “superior.” It means “one who serves.”
d. Paul is thankful that the gospel is bringing forth fruit over all the world, even while Paul is in a Roman prison.
B. How Paul prays for the Colossian Christians.
1. (9-11) Paul petitions God on behalf of the Colossians.
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;
a. To ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will: First, Paul prayed that they would have a knowledge of His will, with spiritual understanding. To know God and what He requires is our first responsibility.
b. That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him: Secondly, Paul prayed that they would live according to the same knowledge they received, living out a walk worthy of the Lord.
i. This is a familiar pattern, repeated over and over again in the New Testament. Our walk is based on our knowledge of God and our understanding of His will.
c. What is it that pleases God? Being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. This is how we can have a worthy walk.
i. This is an echo of Jesus’ thought in John 15:7-8: If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
d. Strengthened with all might: As we walk worthy of the Lord, His strength is there to help us meet all of life’s challenges, and to endure and overcome problems with circumstances (patience) and people (longsuffering) with joy.
2. (12-14) Paul’s specific thanks to the Father.
Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
a. Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us: In the divine administration, the Father is mentioned in connection with the broad sweep of His plan of redemption. He is the Person of the Trinity who initiates the plan of the ages.
b. To be partakers of the inheritance of the saints: It is the Father who qualifies us, not our own works. We gain this as an inheritance, instead of earning it as a wage.
c. He has delivered us from the power of darkness: Christians have been delivered from Satan’s domain. The word has the idea of a rescue by a sovereign power.
i. Another place where this same phrase for power of darkness is used is in Luke 22:53, where Jesus spoke of the darkness surrounding His arrest and passion in the same terms. “These words refer to the sinister forces marshalled against him for decisive combat in the spiritual realm.” (Bruce)
ii. “Anything to which human beings offer the allegiance proper only to God is capable of assuming, and exerting, a sinister borrowed power.” (Wright)
iii. “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” (C.S. Lewis)
d. And conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love: Conveyed had a special significance in the ancient world. When one empire conquered another, the custom was to take the population of the defeated empire and transfer it lock, stock and barrel to the conqueror’s land. It is in this sense that Paul says we have been conveyed into God’s kingdom. Everything we have, everything we are now belongs to Him.
e. The Son of His love is a Hebraic way of saying “God’s dear Son.”
f. In whom we have redemption through His blood: Redemption has the idea of release by a legal ransom. The price for our release was paid by the blood of Jesus.
i. This is one reason why “pleading the blood of Jesus” - the right sense, not in a “magical” sense - has such great significance in spiritual warfare. It shows the “receipt” of our lawful purchase as redeemed people.
ii. One of the great sticky questions of theology is to whom was the price paid? Some say it was to God that the ransom price was paid, but we were prisoners of Satan’s kingdom. Others say it was to Satan that the ransom price was paid, but what does God owe Satan? This question probably simply extends the metaphor too far.
g. The forgiveness of sins: Forgiveness is the ancient Greek word aphesis, most literally translated “a sending away.” “It thus speaks of the removal of our sins from us, so that they are no longer barriers that separate us from God.” (Vaughan)
3. (15-20) Paul’s meditation on the person and work of Jesus.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
a. Paul started out thanking the Father for His plan of redemption (Colossians 1:12). He couldn’t do that without also thinking of the Son, the great Redeemer.
i. Most scholars think that Colossians 1:15-20 come from a poem or a hymn in the early Church that described what Christians believed about Jesus.
b. He is the image of the invisible God: Image (the ancient Greek word eikon) expresses two ideas. First, likeness, as in the image on a coin or the reflection in a mirror. Second, manifestation, with the sense that God is fully revealed in Jesus
i. If Paul meant that Jesus was merely similar to the Father, he would have used the ancient Greek word homoioma, which speaks of similar appearance.
ii. “God is invisible, which does not merely mean that He cannot be seen by our bodily eye, but that He is unknowable. In the exalted Christ the unknowable God becomes known.” (Peake)
iii. The ancient Jewish philosopher Philo equated the eikon of God with the Logos.
c. The firstborn over all creation: Firstborn (the ancient Greek word prototokos) can describe either priority in time, or supremacy in rank. As Paul uses it here, it probably has both ideas in mind, with Jesus being before all created things, and Jesus being of a supremely different order than all created things.
i. Firstborn is also used of Jesus in Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 1:5.
ii. In no way does the title firstborn indicate that Jesus is less than God. In fact, the ancient Rabbis called Yawhew Himself “Firstborn of the World” (Rabbi Bechai, cited in Lightfoot). Ancient rabbis used firstborn as a Messianic title: “God said, As I made Jacob a first-born (Exodus 4:22), so also will I make king Messiah a first-born (Psalm 89:28).” (R. Nathan in Shemoth Rabba, cited in Lightfoot)
iii. “The use of this word does not show what Arius argued that Paul regarded Christ as a creature like ‘all creation’ . . . It is rather the comparative (superlative) force of protos that is used.” (Robertson)
iv. Bishop Lightfoot, a noted Greek scholar, on the use of both eikon (image) and prototokos (firstborn): “As the Person of Christ was the Divine response alike to the philosophical questionings of the Alexandrian Jew and to the patriotic hopes of the Palestinian, these two currents of thought meet in the term prototokos as applied to our Lord, who is both the true Logos and the true Messiah.” (Lightfoot)
d. For by Him all things were created: There is no doubt that Jesus is the author of all creation. He Himself is not a created being. When we see the wonder and the glory of the world Jesus created, we worship and honor Him all the more.
i. Comets have vapor trails up to 10,000 miles long. If you could capture all that vapor, and put it in a bottle, the amount of vapor actually present in the bottle would take up less than 1 cubic inch of space.
ii. Saturn’s rings are 500,000 miles in circumference, but only about a foot thick.
iii. The star Antares is 60,000 times larger than our sun. If the sun were the size of a softball, the star Antares would be the size of a house.
iv. If the sun were the size of a beachball, and put on top of the Empire State Building, the nearest group of stars would be as far as way as Australia is to the Empire State Building.
v. A star known as LP 327-186 is a so called white dwarf. It is smaller than the state of Texas; yet it is so dense that if a cubic inch of it were brought to earth, it would weigh more than 1.5 million tons.
vi. The earth travels around the sun about eight times the speed of a bullet fired from a gun.
vii. There are more insects in one square mile of rural land than there are human beings on the entire earth.
viii. Bees make their own air conditioning. When the weather gets hot, and threatens to melt the wax in the hive, one group of bees will go to the entrance of the hive, and another will stay inside. They will then flap their wings all together, making a cross draft that pulls the hot air out of the hive, and draws cooler air inside
ix. A single human chromosome contains twenty billion bits of information. How much information is that? If written in ordinary books, in ordinary language, it would take about four thousand volumes.
e. Whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers: The “Colossian Heresy” seemed taken with an elaborate angelology, which effectively placed angels as mediators between God and man. Paul emphasizes that whatever ranks of spirit beings there may be, Jesus created them all and they all ultimately answer to Him.
f. He is before all things . . . who is the beginning: The ancient heretic Arius, who denied that Jesus was truly God, said there was a time when Jesus didn’t exist. Paul’s words here won’t allow for such a false teaching to be true, either in the days of Arius or our own day.
g. In Him all things consist: The idea that Jesus is both the unifying principle and the personal sustainer of all creation.
h. Jesus is also the head of the body, the church: Here, head probably refers to Jesus’ role as source of the church, even as we refer to the head of a river.
i. That in all things He may have the preeminence is a fitting summary of verses Colossians 1:15-18.
j. Fulness (the ancient Greek word pleroma) was really just another way to say that Jesus is truly God. It was “A recognized technical term in theology, denoting the totality of the Divine powers and attributes.” (Lightfoot)
i. “The Gnostics distributed the divine powers among various aeons. Paul gathers them all up in Christ, a full and flat statement of the deity of Christ.” (Robertson)
k. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell: The ancient Greek word for dwell is used in the sense of a permanent dwelling. There is an entirely different word used for the sense of a temporary dwelling place.
i. Genesis 37:1 in the lxx - the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament - uses both Greek words in the same context, with their different meanings intact.
l. And by Him to reconcile all things to Himself: Jesus’ atoning work is full and broad. Yet we should not take Colossians 1:20 as an endorsement of universalism.
m. Again, notice where the peace was made: through the blood of the cross. We don’t make our own peace with God, but Jesus made peace for us through His work on the cross.
i. However, we should not regard the blood of the cross in a superstitious manner. It is not a magical potion, nor is it the literal blood of Jesus, literally applied that saves or cleanses us. If that were so, then His Roman executioners, splattered with His blood, would have been automatically saved, and the actual number of molecules of Jesus’ literal blood would limit the number of people who could be saved. The blood of the cross speaks to us of the real, physical death of Jesus Christ in our place, on our behalf, before God. That literal death in our place, and the literal judgment He bore on our behalf, is what saves us.
4. (21-23) How the greatness of Jesus’ work touches the lives of the Colossians.
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight; if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
a. Who once were alienated: The ancient Greek word translated alienated (apellotriomenous) is literally “transferred to another owner.” This transfer of ownership, from God to Satan and self, has effected us in both mind and behavior.
i. Belonging to the race of Adam, we are born alienated from God. Then as individuals, we each choose to accept and embrace that alienation with our wicked works.
ii. Once were alienated: This means that in Jesus, we are no longer alienated. The difference between a believer and a non-believer isn’t merely forgiveness; there is a complete change of status.
b. Yet now He has reconciled: God’s answer to the problem of alienation is reconciliation, initiated by His work on the cross (reconciled in the body of His flesh through death). In the work of reconciliation, God didn’t meet us halfway. God meets us all the way and invites us to accept it.
i. We must remember there are (at least) two ways of looking at our salvation. We can see God as the judge, and we are guilty before Him. Therefore, we need forgiveness and justification. The other sees God as our friend, and we have damaged our relationship with Him. Therefore, we need reconciliation. Both of these are true; neither should promoted at the expense of the other.
ii. The phrase body of His flesh is redundant. Paul wants to emphasize that this happened because of something that happened to a real man on a real cross.
c. To present you holy, blameless, and irreproachable in His sight: This is the result of God’s work of reconciliation. These words together show that in Jesus we are pure and can’t even be justly accused of impurity.
i. The idea of presenting us holy and blameless before God may recall the terminology used when priests inspected potential sacrifices. We are presented to God as a living sacrifice.
ii. A desire to be saved means a desire to be made holy, blameless and irreproachable, not merely a desire to escape the fires of hell on our own terms.
d. If indeed you continue in the faith: Those truly reconciled must truly persevere. Paul’s main focus is continuing in the truth of the gospel (continue in the faith . . . not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard). It’s important for Christians to continue in godly conduct, but we are not saved by our godly conduct. So it is even more important for Christians to continue in the truth of the gospel, because we are saved by grace through faith.
i. “If the gospel teaches the final perseverance of the saints, it teaches at the same time that the saints are those who finally persevere - in Christ. Continuance is the test of reality.” (Bruce)
C. What Paul did for the Colossians.
1. (24) Paul suffers for their sake.
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,
a. I now rejoice in my sufferings for you: Paul wrote this from a Roman jail. He was able to see that his sufferings worked something good for others, so he could say that his sufferings were for the Colossians and other Christians.
b. And fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ: This word afflictions is never used of the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Most commentators see this as a reference to the affliction Jesus endured in ministry. These afflictions are not yet complete, and in this sense Jesus still “suffers” as He ministers through His people.
c. For the sake of His body, which is the church: Notice that Paul didn’t suffer for himself the way that an ascetic might. Instead he suffered for the sake of the body of Christ.
i. Ascetics focus on their holiness, on their spiritual growth, and on their perfection. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus, and was an others-centered person. Instead, Paul found holiness, spiritual growth, and maturity when he pursued them for others.
2. (25-26) Paul is a servant of the church, revealing the mystery of God that was once hidden.
Of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.
a. Of which I became a minister: Paul was a minister - that is, a servant of the body of Christ, the church. He did not take this position on his own initiative, but according to the stewardship from God. God put Paul into this position, he did not put himself.
b. The word of God, the mystery which has been hidden: In the Biblical sense, a mystery is not a riddle. It is a truth that can only be known by revelation, not intuition. Now it can be known, because it now has been revealed to His saints.
i. Hidden from ages and generations: This reminds us that there are aspects to God’s plan that were not clearly revealed in the Old Testament. The specific mystery Paul refers to here deals with many aspects of the work of Jesus in His people, but especially the plan of the church, to make one body out of Jew and Gentile, taken from the “trunk” of Israel, yet not Israel.
3. (27) Part of the mystery: that Jesus would actually indwell believers.
To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
a. This mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you: The wonder and glory of the abiding, indwelling Jesus was not clearly revealed in the Old Testament - especially that He would abide in the Gentiles. Therefore, this aspect of the work of Jesus in His people was a mystery that wasn’t revealed until the time of Jesus and the apostles.
i. This means that God is revealed to us in Jesus. Classic theologians use the Latin term deus absconditus to refer to the “hidden God,” the God than cannot be clearly seen or known. The Latin theological term deus revelatus refers to the “revealed God.” In Jesus, the deus absconditus has become the deus revelatus.
b. Christ in you, the hope of glory: This is the Christian’s hope of glory. It isn’t our own hard work or devotion to God, or the power of our own spirituality. Instead, it is the abiding presence of Jesus: Christ in you.
4. (28-29) Paul’s motto for apostolic ministry.
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.
a. Him we preach: This was the focus of Paul’s preaching. He didn’t preach himself, or his opinions, or even lots and lots of entertaining stories. He preached Jesus.
b. Warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom: Paul wanted the whole gospel for the whole world. He wouldn’t hold back in either area - it was for every man, and it he presented all wisdom.
i. Some translate warning “counseling.” The ancient Greek verb nouthetountes means, “to impart understanding,” “to lay on the mind or the heart.” The stress is on influencing not only the intellect, but also the will and disposition. It describes a basic means of education.
i. The work of warning - or helping to impart understanding - was a passion for Paul in ministry (Acts 20:31). It is also the job of church leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12) and of the church body in general (Colossians 3:16), providing that they are able to admonish others (Romans 15:14).
c. That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: The goal of Paul’s ministry was to bring people to maturity in Christ, not dependence upon himself.
d. Striving according to His working which works in me mightily: Paul’s work was empowered by God’s mighty strength. But God’s strength in his life didn’t mean that Paul did nothing. He worked hard according to His working.
©2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.