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This letter appears to have been written because of some special need of the Colossians. Many of them had seemingly been caught up in a new teaching (although based on old ideas) which was distracting them from Christ. It is often called ‘The Colossian Heresy’. But the only details we know about it are what we can extract from the letter. It would seem to have been a mixture of early gnosticism and Judaism
It would appear to have been based on the relatively common idea at the time that because men were evil, flesh itself must be evil and could not therefore directly approach God or Christ. Thus there was a need for a man’s spirit to come to God through some semi-divine intermediaries, certain ‘principalities and powers’ (1.16; 2.15), which graduated downwards, becoming less and less divine, who were worshipped (2.18) through the ‘knowledge’ (gnosis) known only to the few.
It further included the practise of asceticism, of following certain ordinances in respect of abstinence from food and drink and observing of holy days as a means of battling with the flesh (2.16-17), while indulging it at the same time (2.23). This heresy will not be directly referred to in the commentary as its nature is not fully known. It is the general principles involved that are important, which have to be combated again and again, not the unverifiable details of a forgotten heresy.
Paul’s reply is briefly that while it is true that man is evil, it is essentially because of the rebellion of the will not the weakness of the flesh (1.21-22; ‘sons of disobedience’ - 3.6), and that through Christ alone all men who will can rise above it through faith in Him (1.4; 2.6-7). All worthwhile knowledge must be in Him ‘in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (2.3), and access to God is through His blood shed on the cross and through His resurrection (1.14, 22; 2.12, 14-15). There are therefore no intermediaries either necessary or able to bring men to God. It is through Christ alone. Nor are worldly ordinances necessary. They have been annulled by the coming of Christ. Christ is now all. While acknowledging the existence of supernatural beings he declares that such as are against Christ are a defeated foe not a channel to God.
Opening Greeting (1.1-2)
1.1-2a ‘Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.’
As usual Paul begins by stating his credentials. He is an Apostle of Christ Jesus. When Jesus was preparing for the future ministry of His followers He selected from among them twelve whom He called Apostles (Luke 6.13; see also Matthew 10.2-4; Mark 3.13-19). The word means ‘those sent forth’ and can mean simply duly appointed messengers, but here it had the technical sense of those especially selected by Christ Himself to be witnesses to His life and teaching. It was in this sense that Paul also claimed Apostleship, on the same level as the twelve, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, a status accepted by Peter and the other Apostles (Galatians 2.7-9; 1 Corinthians 9.1, 5; 2 Corinthians 12.11-12; 1 Thessalonians 2.6).
‘Through the will of God.’ Paul stresses that his Apostleship was not man made, nor even by his own choice, but directly within the will of God. It was He Who had chosen Him and set him apart from his birth to be an Apostle (Galatians 1.15) as He had with the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49.1, 5) and Jeremiah before him (Jeremiah 1.5).
‘And Timothy our brother.’ Timothy has clearly grown to a stature whereby he can be linked with Paul in greeting (whereas other important men are not - 4.10-14). It would seem that he was well known to the Colossians for he is not mentioned in Ephesians, which was probably intended for a number of churches, and was written around the same time. ‘Our brother.’ Not an Apostle but to be accepted as ‘a brother’. The early church had a deep sense of being a family. (For Timothy see Acts 16.1 on; Philippians 2.19-22; and the letters to Timothy).
‘To the saints’ (hagioi). This describes all those who belong to Christ and are members of His church. They are ‘sanctified (hegiasmenoi) in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1.2; 6.11; Hebrews 2.11; 10.10; 10.14) and therefore ‘saints’ (sanctified ones). They are ‘set apart’ as His for a holy purpose (the main significance of the word ‘sanctify’), indwelt by His Holy Spirit, and separated to His use. It is noteworthy that earlier letters are addressed to churches as such but that Paul later moves to the more personal address as here.
‘And faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.’ This indicates that while entry into the blessing of Christ is by faith, evidence of it is found in faithfulness. The words that follow are spoken to those who faithfully follow Him. Note the final ‘in Christ’. It is in Him, and only in Him, that all blessing is found, and it is He alone Who can keep us faithful.
1.2b ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father.’
‘Grace to you.’ Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us and acting towards us in love and favour, and this is what is signified by grace. It is the undeserved love and consequent saving activity of God. Thus Paul wants the Colossians to know that he desires for them only that they enjoy the experience of the grace of God, something which does not need to be earned but is freely given..
‘And peace.’ Peace results from grace, but the kind of peace mentioned here is also God’s gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5.1), so that we are flooded with His peace (Galatians 5.22) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. For, however things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4.7). This is what Paul wished for, and prayed for, for the Colossians.
‘From God our Father.’ His words to them come from the One Who is over all, but Who is especially their Father. In the first century this would convey the idea of a rather austere figure, a figure of authority as well as that of tenderness.
Usually Paul links ‘and the Lord Jesus Christ’ or similar in his greeting, and later manuscripts include it here. But this reading is probably the original, if only because of its uniqueness. Possibly he has in mind what he is about to write and does not want to pre-empt it.
Paul Expresses His Appreciation of Them (1.3-8)
1.3a ‘We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘We give thanks.’ An indication of his confidence in the faith of the Colossians (contrast Galatians and 2 Corinthians). Paul never forgot to express his gratitude to God for all He had done.
Having greeted them in the name of ‘God the Father’ he now reminds them that He is especially ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
The title ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ contains three elements. Firstly He is Lord (kurios), the One Whose Name is above every name, Yahweh Himself (Philippians 2.9). To the Jew and to Paul the Name above every name was Yahweh and in the Greek Old Testament Yahweh is represented by kurios. He is also elsewhere the great ‘I am’ (John 8.58, compare Exodus 3.14), another name for Yahweh, and thus ‘the Word’, Who existed in the beginning, through Whom God created the worlds (John 1.1-3; Hebrews 1.1-3; Psalm 33.6, 9), the Lord of all.
Secondly He is ‘Jesus’. He became flesh and dwelt among us (1.14). He was truly man and yet in His manhood epitomised all that man was meant to be. He was the only true man. He hungered as a man (Matthew 4.2). He grew thirsty as a man (John 4.7; 19.28). He suffered as a man. And His death was the death of a man, and yet it was of more than a man, for He was ‘the Lord’. He was ‘the Christ (Messiah)’. And the name Jesus means ‘Yahweh is salvation’.
Thirdly He is ‘the Christ.’ By His death and resurrection He is declared to be ‘both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2.36). He is the expected King Messiah, the One appointed to eternal Rule (2 Peter 1.11; compare Psalm 145.13; Daniel 4.3, 34; 7.14), the One Who both sits on His own throne and also uniquely shares His Father’s throne (Revelation 3.21), the One before Whom every knee shall bow (Philippians 2.10).
But because of this He is the powerful One (Romans 1.4). He is the One worthy of worship and honour. He is the Lord of glory. He is the Lord Jesus Christ.
1.3b ‘Praying always for you.’ Paul wants them to know of his constant concern for them, and that he prays for their spiritual growth because he is aware of their dedicated Christian lives. It is the sign of the true minister of Christ that he prays tenderly for his flock.
1.4-5 ‘Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel.’
Paul has heard that they have a sound faith based on faith in Christ Jesus, they have love for all God’s people and they have hope for the eternal future. This triad of faith, love and hope appears elsewhere (Romans 5.1-2; 1 Corinthians 13.3; Galatians 5.5-6; 1 Thessalonians 1.3; 5.8; Hebrews 10.22-24; 1 Peter 1.22-23). Faith refers to their past response now consolidated in their present behaviour and attitude (see 1.23). They are grounded in the faith and continue to express it in and through their lives. Love demonstrates their continuation in the faith, and the work of the Spirit within (Ephesians 3.16-19). Hope expresses the end result of their faith, a certainty which enables them to endure, the expectancy of their final transformation and exaltation (1 Thessalonians 1.3; 1 Corinthians 15.52-54; 1 Thessalonians 4.14-18).
‘Your faith in Christ Jesus.’ He certainly has in mind ‘the faith’ in which they are grounded, their basis of sound doctrine, which is the basis of their certain hope for the future (1.23). But also included is their day by day faith in Christ revealed in their lives. For Christ is central in ‘the faith’ as he is about to declare.
‘The love which you have towards all the saints.’ This was constantly looked for in the early church and was seen as one sign of a genuine Christian. Where love is lacking, genuineness is lacking. It was the command of Jesus that His people should love one another (John 13.35; 15.12, 17) and it is the first aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22; see 1.7 and compare Romans 12.10; 13.8 and often). The love referred to is Christian love (see 1 Corinthians 13). It is not sexual nor based on the loveableness of the person loved, but on the spiritual attitude of the one who loves and desires the best for ‘all the saints’, all God’s people, even when they are not very saintly.
‘Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens.’ They know that Christ is in them, ‘the hope of glory’ (verse 27). Thus they look forward to a glorious hope. The New Testament is full of this hope, the hope for what will happen at the second coming of Christ, when the Lord is revealed from Heaven, raises dead believers and transforms His own and takes them to be with Himself (1 Thessalonians 4.14-17; 1 Corinthians 15.52-54). Then there will be a new heaven and a new earth, places where there is only righteousness (2 Peter 3.13).
‘Because of the hope.’ Their faith and love are kept constant by this hope. Those who lose sight of the hope soon begin to languish.
‘The word of the truth of the Gospel.’ The preaching of the truth of the Good News of their participation in the death and resurrection of Christ also includes the Christian’s glorious hope. ‘Word’ regularly means the preached word, compare 1 Corinthians 1.18. Notice the emphasis on ‘the truth’, a constant theme of Jesus (consider especially John 14-16) and a constant theme of Paul’s. It was not just belief, it was the word of truth. Ephesians 1.13 speaks similarly of ‘the word of truth, the Good News of your salvation’.
1.6 ‘Which is come to you even as it is also in all the world, bearing fruit and increasing, as it does in you also since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth.’
This word of truth has borne fruit among them and resulted in their growth as Christians and the drawing of many to Christ, and indeed has done so since they first heard it. And it has not just been effective in them, but also in ‘all the world’. And what is this word? It is the true knowledge of the grace of God, of the unmerited active favour of God acting on their behalf, revealed in Christ. There may be here a reflection of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13). The sowing of the word produces growth and abundant harvest.
‘In all the world.’ That is in all the world with which he was familiar, and even beyond. He knew that the preaching of the Gospel was spreading out wider and wider.
1.7-8 ‘Even as you learned of Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.’
Paul rejoiced in the close bond between himself and his fellow-workers. To him they were all beloved. It was clearly Epaphras, sent out by Paul, who had established the church at Colossae and returned to Paul declaring how they had revealed true spiritual love implanted in them by the Holy Spirit. He also established the churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis (4.13) and upheld them all in constant prayer. Thus can Paul declare, ‘he is faithful’ in the task he is carrying out and has carried out ‘on our behalf’. They work as a team and each works on behalf of the whole.
‘A faithful fellow-servant (sun-doulos, a ‘together servant’)) and a faithful servant (diakonos) of Christ.’ What greater commendation could there be? And this from Paul who knew how to assess men. It is required in servants that they be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4.2), and Epaphras was faithful. He also apparently shared one of Paul’s imprisonments (Philemon 1.23).
‘Epaphras.’ See also 4.12; Philemon 1.23. The name is short for Epaphroditus, but Paul probably distinguished him from the other Epaphroditus (Philippians 2.25; 4.18) by this shortened name.
Paul’s Prayer that They Might Have Understanding, and Strength (1.9-14).
Once Paul had learned of their response to Christ he and his fellow-workers had begun to pray for them constantly. Their first prayer was that they might have spiritual wisdom and understanding in the knowledge of His will. This is the most important thing for us all, true knowledge and understanding, and it leads on to what follows. Then they prayed that they may walk in accordance with that wisdom and understanding (verse 10). For such wisdom and understanding, if genuine, will produce ‘the fear of the Lord’ and departure from evil (Job 28.28). And then they prayed that they might have the strength imparted to enable them to do it (verse 11), for without that God given strength all would be impossible. And finally they prayed that they might appreciate the power and glory through which this has become possible, our redemption in Christ (verse 12-14).
The liturgical nature of some of what follows may suggest that they result from creeds and prayers put together by Paul and the other Apostles to assist in the church’s worship, resembling similarly constructed liturgies found in synagogue worship. As Christ had taught them to pray and worship, so they would teach others.
1.9 ‘For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and to make request for you that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.’
Their first prayer was that the Holy Spirit might bring home to them (and to us) the true knowledge of His will. ‘That you might be filled with the knowledge of His will.’ There is nothing more important for us than that we should have an understanding of the will of God filling our hearts and minds Many teachers of all kinds tried to catch their ears claiming to impart a special ‘knowledge’ (gnosis) about God. So it was vital that through it all they should have the true knowledge (epignosis) of the will of God. And that could only be by being enlightened by the Spirit.
‘In all spiritual wisdom and understanding.’ He prays that they might have spiritual wisdom and spiritual understanding. This is understanding and wisdom imparted by the Spirit of God, something that should be our constant desire and prayer. And we know that to Paul the true wisdom was found in the cross (1 Corinthians 1.17-24 compare Colossians 1.13-14), and in the crucified One Who was Himself the Wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1.30). He also knew that this could only be brought home to the spiritual man by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2.11-15).
As he says later, in Christ Himself ‘are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (2.3). Thus he is praying that they might have a full understanding of Jesus Christ as the crucified Saviour (verses 13-14), Who was made unto them wisdom from God revealed in righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1.30). A wisdom that would lead them in the way and walk of humility (Philippians 2.5-11). For truly, ‘The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding’ (Job 28.28; Proverbs 1.7; 9.10). Wisdom signifies a true awareness of God and of all that He is, knowledge refers to an understanding of His ways.
1.10 ‘To walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.’
Their continuing prayer was further that this would result in a walk that was worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in everything. As His way of humility was brought home to them, and as the purpose of God for their lives was revealed to them, they must then bear fruit in good works of every kind and must increase in the knowledge of God. In the final analysis godly understanding is revealed in godly behaviour and growth in the knowledge of God. And this pleases Him (compare 2 Timothy 2.4).
Those who have had the cross brought home to their hearts, and who have grown in the knowledge of the Crucified and risen Saviour, can have only one aim, and that is to please Him in everything they do, and to walk as He walked. They will ‘seek first the kingship of God and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6.33). Then their lives will become fruitful (compare verse 6) and good works will abound. They have the heart and mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16). And as they walk with the Lord and in His word, learning more about Him from that authoritative source, and as they abound in good works, learning the lessons of patient endurance and consideration for others, their knowledge of God will deepen and become wider and broader.
There is an important lesson for us here. The test of whether we are really coming to know God better is whether it produces practical results in our lives so that even those we live with begin to see the difference.
1.11 ‘Strengthened with all power according to the might of his glory (His glorious might) unto all patience and longsuffering with joy.’
The third prayer was that they might experience the mighty strength which would enable them to walk successfully in this way. That they might be strengthened with ‘all power’, that is with all the power that has its source in ‘the might of His glory’. Thus as they considered His present glory and authority, and His almighty power revealed in that glory, they should know that it revealed something of the power on which they could draw, and this would enable them to walk worthily of the Lord. How? By displaying patient endurance and longsuffering, and being joyful in their doing of it.
Note how Paul recognises that all the power of the God of glory will be needed to keep them patiently enduring and to enable them to be longsuffering and considerate for others. Man is good at being inconsiderate. He loves to display his ability and self-importance, he loves to strut the stage and have his own way, or in some cases simply to have his own way quietly but firmly. He has no difficulty in doing that. He needs no strengthening to do it. It is natural to him. But this is not the way of Christ. The way of Christ is joyful ‘patient endurance and longsuffering’, bearing with others, putting up with their weaknesses, and seeking to help them while at the same time being careful not to be caught in the same trap, and having joy in doing so. It includes joy in the face of persecution when it comes. And this kind of life requires the full power of God.
1.12-14 ‘Giving thanks to the Father who has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, who delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (the Son of his love), in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.’
Here is the source of the power, and of the privilege of walking worthily of the Lord, and the motive force behind it. It is in the action of the Father. It is the Father Who has done these things. And Paul gives thanks for what He has done, and he wants the Colossians, and us, to do so as well. He points out that He has ‘made us meet’, made us into what is required. He has delivered us, and He has redeemed and forgiven us. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, who like me His praise should sing?
‘Who has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.’ When we consider the glory of that inheritance, that time when the people of God will dwell with the Father in His everlasting light (Revelation 21.22-23; 22.5), we, in our sinfulness, can only ask, ‘how can we may be made meet (hikanosanti), be made sufficient, be made suitable and satisfactory, be made worthy, for this?’ And the answer is given. ‘He has delivered us from darkness and brought us into light and under His kingly rule’, having redeemed and forgiven us so that we can face that light without fear, and has been ‘made unto us righteousness’ (1 Corinthians 1.30) so that we have been made ‘the righteousness of God in Him’ (1 Corinthians 5.21).
‘Who delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.’ We were under ‘the power of darkness’, the rule of darkness (note the contrast with the rule of Christ, the rule of light). Our minds were blinded (2 Corinthians 4.4), we were manipulated by Satan, we followed His ways (see Ephesians 2.2-3). And then God stepped in. He paid the transfer price that justice demanded, and ,through the death of the Redeemer, He delivered us from darkness and from Satan’s manipulation, and transferred us into another sphere of power, the kingship, the rule of His own beloved Son. So were we brought into heavenly places with Christ, recognising Him as our Lord, submitting to Him and sharing with Him His power and His glory (Ephesians 2.4-6). This is our present state, preparing us for the heavenly kingdom yet to come when earth’s clutch will be no more.
‘The power of darkness.’ Here darkness is seen as a kingdom which has power over us. We can compare how Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who came to arrest Him, ‘this is your hour and the power of darkness’ (Luke 22.53). They were acting on behalf of the power of darkness, as do all who oppose Christ. (Compare the parallel expression ‘the power of Satan’ in Acts 26.18).
‘The Son of His love.’ His own beloved Son. He Who was great and loved beyond all measure. He Who had died and had risen again and was now seated far above all in glory and majesty (Ephesians 1.20-22), it is His kingdom that we share. And we share His kingdom even now prior to that day when God will become all in all (1 Corinthians 15.24-28).
The ‘kingdom (kingship) of Christ’ is never elsewhere referred to specifically as such in the New Testament, but the idea is regularly implied for He is the King, both on His own throne and on His Father’s throne (Revelation 3.21). He is set at God’s right hand and rules over all (Ephesians 1.20-21). It refers here to His present rule over His people. We are under His rule and called to be obedient and dedicated to Him. But this will be extended by His future rule (Matthew 25.34) when His people enter eternal life (Matthew 25.46) to receive the future kingdom. It parallels ‘the kingdom (kingship) of God’ which also has present aspects (Romans 14.17; 1 Corinthians 4.20; Colossians 4.11; 1 Thessalonians 2.12) and future aspects (1 Corinthians 6.9; 15.50; Galatians 5.21; 2 Timothy 4.1, 18), and can be called ‘the kingdom of Christ and of God’ (Ephesians 5.5 compare Revelation 11.15). The emphasis here is on the fact that He has established His rule by His redeeming love and power in accordance with the will of the Father.
‘In Whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.’ Here is the secret. A price was paid, a ransom (Mark 10.45). We were ‘redeemed’. We were bought back through His blood (Ephesians 1.7; 1 Peter 1.18-20). Our lives were forfeit but the price of sin was paid by Another dying in our place (Mark 10.45). And thus we were delivered. The price was not paid to Satan. He had no rights over us except by conquest. The price was paid at the bar of justice before the Judge of all to satisfy a broken Law.
But redemption not only includes the payment of a price, it also includes redemption by power. And through the cross He broke the power of evil and set us free from bondage to Satan and his forces (Colossians 2.15). And so we received forgiveness for all our sins. We were rid of them for they were laid on Him (Isaiah 53.6). And we being thus forgiven no longer have our sins counted against us, for they are cancelled out. They are removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103.12). We are made righteous in Him (2 Corinthians 5.21).
‘Redemption.’ The idea of redemption is redemption from bondage, from bondage to sin as our accuser (Romans 7.11; 3.24-25) and as our slave-master (Romans 6.12-14, 17, 23; 7.5, 23), from bondage to fear of death (Hebrews 2.15), from bondage to Satan as ruler over the power of darkness. It is deliverance by the payment of a price and the exercise of great power.
‘The forgiveness of our sins.’ A popular New Testament idea. The word for forgiveness here is ’aphesis which means ‘cancellation’ and is used to mean the cancellation of the guilt of sin. It is common in the New Testament, see Matthew 26.28; Mark 1.4; Luke 1.77; 3.3; 24.47; Acts 2.38; 5.31; 10.43; 13.38 (by Paul); 26.18 (by Paul); Hebrews 9.22; 10.18, but rarely used by Paul in his epistles (only here, in Ephesians 1.7, a parallel passage, and in a quotation in Romans 4.7) who tends to speak more in terms of ‘reckoning righteous’. Elsewhere he speaks of ‘pardon’ (charizomai) for sin (Colossian 2.13) and the ‘passing over’ of sins done aforetime in the light of Christ’s then future redemptive work (Romans 3.25). For such forgiveness see Psalm 51.1, 9; Isaiah 43.25; 44.22. See also James 5.15; 1 John 1.9; 2.12.
The deliverance from the power of darkness that we might receive forgiveness of sins, and the receive His inheritance, are found also in Paul’s words to Agrippa (echoing Christ’s words to him), ‘to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’ (Acts 26.18).
The Glory of Christ (1.15-20).
Paul now brings to their attention the glory of their Redeemer, the One Who created all things and is over all..
1.15 ‘Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.’
‘Who is the image of the invisible God.’ The God of the Jews was invisible and could not be represented by any physical representation in earth or heaven, whether of supernatural being, man or beast (Exodus 20.4). Such representations could only be images of a visible God, and would thus misrepresent God. So ‘the image’ is not meant to suggest God’s physical likeness. Rather it means revealing Him in His essential being. As ‘the image of the invisible God’ Christ has made the invisible God known to man in a unique way, in His life, His power and His teaching. He has shown what God is really like. He has revealed His glory.
Thus John can say, ‘we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son of His Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14), and adds, ‘No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son Who is in the Father’s bosom, He has made Him known’ (verse 18). He is the ‘monogenes (only begotten), the only One of like nature with the Father, as opposed to being a creation of God.
That is why Jesus Himself could say, ‘How do you say “show us the Father”? He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14.9). We behold God in the things Jesus said and the things He did, in what He essentially was, for the Father was in Him and working through Him uniquely. He did not hesitate to point to Himself as revealing the Father’s full glory.
Hebrews puts it this way, ‘Who being the outshining (effulgence) of His glory and the stamped out image of His substance’ (Hebrews 1.3). The ‘outshining’ refers to light that comes from a glorious object, of the same essence and revealing its glory, like the rays of the sun. The ‘stamped out image’ refers to that which is an exact representation of what is stamped out by a seal. Neither should be taken too literally. God is not physical light, nor can invisibility be ‘stamped out’. Thus both tell us that He reveals the very nature and being of God, not some physical image.
We can compare how in Romans 1.20, Paul tells us that ‘the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Godness’. Note that it is invisible things which are ‘seen’, that is grasped and understood in the mind, just as the invisible God is ‘seen’ through Christ. But this perceiving was not, be it noted, through small parts of that creation, which were strictly forbidden as representations of Him, but through creation seen as a whole. The very heavens and earth declared His glory, and power, and uniqueness to the receptive mind, for He was their Creator. But here now was One Who even more revealed that everlasting power and ‘Godness’ in His very nature and being.
‘The firstborn (prototokos) of all creation.’ On earth the firstborn was the one who, being of the same nature as his father, most fully revealed what his father was. He would one day stand in the place of his father, and be as his father once his father had died. He was, as it were, the reproduction of the father. In Greek philosophy also the Firstborn (prototokos) was seen as the one who fully represented the divine Reason, the Logos, in its relation to the world and as being of the same nature as the divine Reason. But in this latter case both were eternal, the one merging into the other. The stress is on likeness of nature and likeness of being, not physically but essentially.
Paul may also have had in mind the Messianic connection of the term. In Psalm 89.27 God says, ‘I also will make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.’ This was interpreted Messianically by the Jews. Here the idea is of one made superior and set over all.
But He is the Firstborn ‘of all creation’ not just of the Jews. (This is part of the ‘mystery’ as we shall see shortly (verse 27)). Thus as the Firstborn of all creation, Christ is seen to have precedence to, and authority over all, creation.
But this will now be related to Him creating all things, which includes the whole supernatural sphere. So His sphere of authority comes as Creator, the One Who was in existence before all things. He is superior because He is God’s ‘firstborn’, the One Who reveals Him as He is, and indeed because He is His only begotten Son. (These are human, and therefore inadequate pictures. They are intended to convey oneness of essence, not that He was ‘born later’ than the Father. Theologians use the term ‘eternally begotten’, ‘not begotten at a point in time’, to describe this).
Thus Jesus Christ as the Firstborn fully represents His Father. He is before all things, He is the heir of all things and supreme over all things, and He is the One through Whom the Father approaches the world. We might thus paraphrase, ‘ the Firstborn, He Who was before the whole of creation, who was of the same essence as the Prime Creator, who represented the Prime Creator in His external relationships and was set over all things supernatural, brought the creation into being.’ As Jesus Himself said, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8.58).
1.16-17 ‘For in (or ‘by’) him were all things created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or power, all things have been created through him and unto him, and he is before all things and in him all things hold together.’
Jesus as ‘the Firstborn’ created all things. Paul is careful to include those beings which existed before the world was created, and to exclude nothing. They were created through Him, and the purpose of their creation was His own benefit and satisfaction (‘unto Him’). Then, to make matters even clearer he says, ‘He is before all things’ (’autos ’estin pro panton). He existed before all things, and takes precedence before all things. He is supreme over all, permanently and unceasingly. And He sustains and holds together all things.
This proclamation of Christ as the creator of all things is found elsewhere, in Hebrews 1.2 ‘through Whom also He made the worlds’, in John 1.3, ‘all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that has been made’, and in 1 Corinthians 8.6, ‘one Lord Jesus Christ through Whom are all things’.
‘In (or ‘by’) Him were all things created.’ Paul does not qualify this, he expands on it. It does not only include earthly creation but the creation of all heavenly beings. Note that He is not said to be the ‘first-created (protoktisis). As the ‘firstborn’ of God He existed before creation.
If we translate ‘in Him’ (the preposition can mean either) he is the sphere in which all things were created, and thus ‘bigger’ than them all. If we translate ‘by Him’ He was the source of that creation. Usually creation is said to be ‘through Him’ (see paragraph above) which may support translating ‘in Him’ here. The verb ‘created’ is in the aorist tense signifying a once for all action. Compare later in the verse where it is in the perfect tense, signifying a creation that endures to the present.
‘In the heavens and on the earth.’ He then expands this to include all supernatural beings and everything, whether visible or invisible. ‘Thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers’ represents all authority wherever it may be, including Satan himself. Nothing is outside His creation or His control. Ancient religions invented many demi-gods and divine beings, probably in awareness of these supernatural authorities, but whatever they be, says Paul, He is over them all.
‘In Him all things hold together.’ All is sustained by Him. He has but to withdraw His hand and the universe will collapse within itself. In the words of Hebrews 1.3, ‘He upholds all things by His powerful word.’
1.18 ‘And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.’
Not only does the old creation have its being from Him, but also the new creation. He is not only Lord and Head over all things (Ephesians 1.22) but also the Head, the Overlord, of the church, that gathering of people who have been united with Him in His body. Firstly because He is ‘the beginning’, and secondly because He is ‘the firstborn from the dead’. Thus the aim is that as the Firstborn of all creation, the source and Lord of the old creation, and as the Firstborn from the dead, the source and Lord of the new creation, He should have total pre-eminence in and over all things.
‘He is the Head of the body.’ This does not mean that we are to see Him as the head in heaven and we as, as it were, a body joined to that head, and representing Him on earth. It refers to His sovereignty over the body, a body which is made up of Himself and His people united with Him. As Ephesians 1.22 tells us, as Head He is not just the head of the church but the ‘Head over all things’ to the church. His Headship stresses His supremacy, not a direct connection with the body. Consider how in 1 Corinthians 12 the body, which is Himself and His people, includes the head, all of whom are represented by it (verse 16 where ear and eye are part of the body, and verse 21 where the head is contrasted with the feet, all within the body). So He Who is Head of creation (Ephesians 1.22 and implied here in Colossians) is also Head of the church (not as its head as opposed to its body but as its sovereign Lord).
‘Of the body.’ The people of God are His body because they have been united with Him in His body. They have been crucified with Him (Galatians 2.20; 5.24; 6.14; Romans 6.5-6; 7.4; Ephesians 2.16 ), they have risen with Him (Romans 6.4-6; Ephesians 2.1-6), they are one with Him (Ephesians 5.31-32; 1 Corinthians 12.12-13) and the bread at the Lord’s Table represents both Him and them (1 Corinthians 10.16-17). To suggest that this speaks of the church as the ‘extension of His incarnation’ is to miss the point completely. It does not mean that. It emphasises spiritual union within the body. The idea of the body is never as outward in relation to the world, but always as inward in relation to God and to each other. They are one with Him, and one with each other. They have been presented blameless ‘in the body of His flesh through death’ (1.22). For further treatment of this subject see the Appendix.
‘Who is the beginning.’ He was its founder and commencer. It is ‘His church’, which He would build on Peter’s confession (Matthew 16.18). And He is its originator and the source of its life. He began it all.
‘The firstborn from the dead.’ He is pre-eminent in resurrection and indeed the prime cause in the raising from the dead (John 5.26). He had the power to lay down His life and the power to take it again (John 10.18). It was only through His resurrection that the resurrection of others became possible (consider Matthew 27.52-53). We can live because He lived. And when He speaks all the dead will rise (John 5.28-29). Thus He is Lord of the resurrection.
‘That in all things He might have the pre-eminence.’ Both old and new creation owe their being and continuing existence to Him. And the overall goal of the Godhead was His total pre-eminence.
1.19 ‘For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell.’
Once more the good pleasure of God comes into account. All things happen according to His good pleasure. And it was His good pleasure that ‘all the fullness’ should permanently dwell in Him. The meaning of ‘fullness’ here would seem to be the entire attributes of the Godhead. In Him there was nothing lacking of the fullness of God (compare Ephesians 3.19).
‘Of the Father.’ This is not in the Greek text and is to be read in from verse 12. We could alternatively read in ‘of the Godhead’ or ‘of the invisible God’ (from verse 15). The Greek could also be translated ‘for in Him all the fullness was pleased to permanently dwell’, but the significance is the same, for ‘the fullness’ personified could only refer to God..
Many ancient religions interposed between God and man many intermediaries through whom unworthy, insignificant man, who could not approach God directly, must in one way or another seek to approach the holy, all-powerful God, but Paul sweeps all such aside. Man is ever tempted to a false humility by seeking intermediaries between himself and God (witness the cult of Mary and of the saints), but Paul stresses that ‘there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2.5). None other is needed and to seek such is an insult to Him and what He has done. And He could be that because in Him God and man was combined. He was both God and man.
‘The good pleasure.’ The verb is elsewhere only used of God’s good pleasure.
‘To dwell.’ This is the aorist infinitive. To take up dwelling once for all. And the verb itself suggests permanent dwelling.
‘The fullness.’ (the pleroma). The word is used of patches ‘filling up’ a tear in clothing (Matthew 9.16; Mark 2.21), the fullness is not the patch but represents the completeness of the whole once it is patched; of baskets being ‘filled up’ (Mark 8.20), and thus the whole basketful; of the future ‘fullness’ of Israel when they have full and complete enjoyment of what they have lost (Romans 11.12); of ‘the fullness’ of the Gentiles referring to the complete number of those who respond to Christ (Romans 11.25); of love as the ‘fulfilment’ of the Law, referring to it as fulfilling it and completing it (Romans 13.10); of the earth and its ‘fullness’, the totality of things on earth (1 Corinthians 10.26-28); of the fullness of the blessing of Christ, with nothing coming short of full blessing (Romans 15.29); and of the fullness of the times, when the necessary overall time is complete (Galatians 4.4; Ephesians 1.10). It thus carries the ideas of completeness and totality.
The garment is made ‘complete’ by the patches; fullness represents the sum total of everything within a ‘container’ (the filled baskets, the earth’s fullness, the Law); it represents the completeness of a designated period (the fullness of times) and it represents that which is complete in itself (the fullness of the Jews and Gentiles and of blessing from Christ through Paul). Extra-biblically it is used of the full complement of a ship’s crew ‘completing’ the ship and then of the ship itself as complete.
Theologically it is used of ‘His fullness’, the fullness of Christ (John 1.16), signifying the totality of what He is and has; it is used of being ‘filled unto all the fullness of God’ (Ephesians 3.19) signifying the totality of the love that God would give us as a whole (or even possibly the totality of the love of God); it is used of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 3.13) as signifying the totality of what Christ is as man (or the totality of His requirements); and in Ephesians 1.23 it is used of the church as ‘the fullness of Him Who fills all in all’, where it would seem to mean that the church will, like the patch, once the plan of redemption is completed, make up what is lacking in His overall supremacy, so making Him complete (the patch completes the fullness. It is not itself the fullness). Thus until that day He is (by His own choice) not totally complete until all the saved are gathered in and presented perfect before Him. (Although some see it as meaning that they receive of His fullness and thus are made complete in Him (compare Colossians 2.10)). In Colossians 2.9 we read, ‘in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ where it signifies that in Him is the totality of what God is, and this leads on to the fact that we are made complete in Him.
So pleroma represents completeness, totality, fullness. And here in 1.19 it therefore indicates that in Him dwells permanently the complete fullness of God with nothing lacking.
1.20 ‘And through him to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross, through him, I say, whether things on the earth or things in the heavens.’
This verse concludes what verse 16 began. In verse 16 Paul began with ‘all things’ created in the heavens and on the earth, here he finishes with ‘all things’ reconciled to Him, whether things on the earth or things in the heavens. The reversal of heavens and earth (verse 16) to earth and heavens (verse 20) deliberately draws attention to the unity of the whole passage. We begin with the heavens and end with the heavens.
This reconciliation of ‘all things’, a description which includes the powers in heavenly places, as verse 16 makes clear, must be seen in the light of Paul’s teaching elsewhere. Peace has been made through the blood of the cross, and all that finally is will be reconciled to Him. All will be at one with Him. But although this will include all who are, it will not include all who have been, for some will no longer be. Not all will find peace with God, because they refuse His offer of mercy. Some will therefore have been defeated and made to submit (2.15; Philippians 2.10) resulting in final punishment. And their end will be destruction not final reconciliation. And the same will be true of sinful man. He too will have to bow the knee preparatory to receiving judgment (Philippians 2.10) and will also experience final destruction.
The total reconciliation through His cross, of all things that remain, is necessary so that all things might be summed up in Him (Ephesians 1.10) and so that the whole creation might be delivered from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8.21). But note that the latter also will partly be achieved by the corrupted heaven and earth being in the end burned up with fire (2 Peter 3.10).
With the fall of angels and of man disharmony had been brought into creation. This disharmony will now be removed as a result of His ‘making peace through the blood of His cross’. For those who respond to Him in faith His death acts on their behalf, they are seen as dying with Him (Galatians 2.20; Romans 6.6), and thus the penalty of sin is paid (Colossians 2.14) and they have peace with God (Romans 5.1-2) and go free. They are made members of His body. They will be transformed and share His everlasting glory. But for those who do not respond His cross is a sentence of death (2 Corinthians 2.16). It is the evidence of their final guilt and of their being deserving of punishment and destruction. As a result they will have to bow the knee and submit to His judgment (Philippians 2.10; Acts 16.31), and then all rule, authority and power opposed to Him will be abolished (1 Corinthians 15.24). They will face eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1.9), and everlasting peace will be established (Ezekiel 37.26) and God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15.28).
‘Through Him to reconcile all things to Himself.’ The first ‘Him’ is Jesus Christ, the ‘Himself’ is either ‘the Father’ as representing the Godhead, or ‘God’ as representing the same. Peace had to be finally established and all that was antagonistic and in rebellion done away. And this is accomplished ‘through Him’. The world must be finally be back at one with Him, with all that is unfit or unworthy done away, for those who are His will be fully reconciled and those who refused to be reconciled would be subjugated and would face the final sentence of eternal death.
‘Having made peace through the blood of His cross.’ What the blood signifies is a human death died, and died voluntarily. The death of the representative Man Who sums up all redeemed mankind within Himself. Through Adam, the first man, death came into the world, the result and consequence of sin (Romans 5.12, 15, 17), through the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15.45), the ‘second man’ (1 Corinthians 15.47), came the death that was due, not to His own sins but to the sins of others (Romans 3.24-25; 2 Corinthians 5.21), the death that made salvation possible, that averted the wrath of God for those who respond to Him (Romans 3.25; 1 John 4.10; John 3.36), the sacrifice for the sins of the world (1 John 2.2). As the sinless One suffered He bore the sins of many (Isaiah 53.5,12; 1 Peter 2.24), giving His life as a ransom (Mark 10.45; 1 Timothy 2.6; Galatians 3.13), breaking the power of sin and evil and death, and triumphing over them in the cross (Colossians 2.15; Hebrews 2.14).
No words can fully cover or define the depth and significance of what He accomplished that day. Each description is but the small part of the whole, a feeble representation of what He achieved. There ‘God made man’, through His human death in the body of His flesh (verse 22) did all that was necessary to accomplish peace between God and His creation. And now peace was not only available, it was certain of achievement. God would make peace with all who would respond, and those who would not respond would be removed from the equation.
Redeemed Mankind Made Perfect Before Him (1.21-23).
Now the general statement is applied to the particular situation. Those who respond will be made complete. There can be no peace-making without final transformation.
1.21-22 ‘And you, being in time past alienated, and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now has He reconciled, in the body of his flesh through death to present you holy and without blemish and unreproveable before him.’
The Colossians, like all men, had been alienated from God, estranged from Him, at enmity with Him. They had not known Him. And this enmity, which was in their minds, controlling their whole being, had been revealed by their evil behaviour. Constant evil behaviour reveals the set of mind. The fleshly mind is enmity against God because it is not subject to the Law of God, and indeed, by its very nature, cannot be so subject (Romans 8.7). And its result is death (Romans 8.6).
And what is meant by evil behaviour is constantly outlined (see Galatians 5.19-21; Romans 1.29-31; 3.10-18; 1 Corinthians 6.9-10; 2 Corinthians 12.20). Those who behave in this way, in one aspect or another, both by sins of the mind or by sins of the flesh, reveal their enmity against God.
But for those who have responded to Christ all this has been done away. Through His death the enmity is removed, their evil mind is dealt with by the entrance of the Spirit of God (Romans 8.1-11), and because Jesus Christ is a propitiation by His blood through faith (Romans 3.25) they are reconciled to God. God makes peace with them and they find peace with God.
Through the immediate application by Jesus Christ of what He has done for them, they can already at this present time be presented before Him, judicially without stain, holy, unblemished and unreproveable, because they are reckoned as righteous in Christ, enabling the reconciliation. And, through the continuing working of His power, they also have the certain hope that they will also be presented before Him in actual reality without stain, holy, without fault or blemish and unreproveable in the final day. Their acceptance is in the first place totally because of what Christ has done for them, but this will then be effective in the continual transformation of their lives, resulting in the final perfect transformation.
‘In the body of His flesh through death.’ The words are deliberately intended to convey the fact that this has only been achieved by the literal sacrifice of the human body of Jesus Christ given in death. This was the crucial, unavoidable factor in the act of reconciliation. The Messiah had to die as the Messiah. ‘The body of His flesh’ is a Hebraism for ‘His fleshly human body’.
1.23 ‘If so be that you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the Gospel which you heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven, whereof I Paul was made a minister.’
Final perseverance is the test of the genuineness of faith and the resultant salvation. If Christ is at work in them then He will enable them to the end. Thus their assurance rests on two things. It rests on their faith in the reliability of the Saviour, and on the evidence of their continuation in ‘the faith’, the truth as revealed in Jesus, firmly grounded, and faithful and steadfast. Those who move away from ‘the hope’ of the Gospel, the expectation of their final presentation in unreproachable perfection, and cease to live lives approved unto God, only prove thereby that they had never truly believed. ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us. For if they had been of us they would have continued with us’ (1 John 2.19).
‘The faith.’ As revealed in ‘the word of God’ (Mark 7.13), the Old Testament, and in ‘the testimony of Jesus’, which became the Gospels, and as found in the proclamation of the word by the Spirit guided Apostles, which became the rest of the New Testament.
‘Moved away.’ There are always those who would seek to move us away from the true Gospel. And their teaching is often subtly like the Gospel, possibly just with an overemphasis on one particular aspect. But if that aspect takes our eyes off Christ, or out of fellowship with His people, we must beware, for Christ is the Gospel, and love for all His people is mandatory.
‘Grounded.’ Based and built on a firm foundation (see 1 Corinthians 3.10-11). ‘Steadfast.’ Because firmly grounded, continuing firm, and immovable. Such people are like the man who built his house on a rock, and when storm, tempest, hurricane and flood came it stood firm because it was firmly grounded (Matthew 7.24-25).
‘The hope of the Gospel.’ The ‘hope of the Gospel’ is faith looking into the future. Looking to that final day when Christ Himself will come and transform the righteous, presenting them without fault or blemish before His Father.
‘Which was preached in all creation under heaven.’ Jesus Christ had Himself promised that the Gospel would be preached to all nations (Mark 13.10). Paul saw this as well under way. But as always in Scripture such all embracing statements refer to their known world, not to the vague world far beyond of which they knew little or nothing (compare 1 Kings 10.24).
‘Whereof I Paul was made a minister (diakonos).’ A reminder to them of his special calling which was the basis of his authoritative teaching.
The Mystery of God, Christ in You The Hope of Glory (1.24-29)
1.24-25a ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for his body’s sake, which is the church whereof I was made a minister.’
Paul rejoices that he can suffer for Christ and for His people, for he knows that God’s purposes are carried forward through suffering, which has a worthwhile chastening influence on the people of God and is a consequence of the battle with evil (Romans 5.1-4; Hebrews 12.3-13). A century later Tertullian, a late second century Christian leader, could speak of ‘the blood of the martyrs which is the seed of the church’ because of the converting effect it had on the world.
The church is made the body of Christ by being united with Him in His body, and as He has suffered they too must anticipate suffering. Thus Paul speaks elsewhere of ‘the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed to His death’ (Philippians 3.9), and here he rejoices that he has a part in that ‘fellowship’, that ‘sharing together’, aware that it has a part to play in the final fulfilment of the purposes of God.
‘I fill up on my part.’ The afflictions of Christ had resulted in Paul being reckoned as righteous before God (Romans 3.24-25), they had resulted in his being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2.20), they had resulted in his being redeemed by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1.7) and reconciled to God (1.20), but what they did not do, for he had not personally experienced them, was work in him the direct benefits arising from his personally suffering for Christ. So now he gladly suffers (but not voluntarily, there is no suggestion of his inflicting suffering on himself) so that the beneficial effects of suffering may be his (Romans 5.3; 2 Corinthians 1.4; Hebrews 12.10-11). And he does it for the sake of God’s people, who have benefited, and will benefit, through his suffering. Furthermore he seeks to make his full contribution to what the church as a whole must suffer in fulfilling the purpose of Christ for them, for he knows that effectiveness and suffering often go together. No one persecutes the unsuccessful.
‘That which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ.’ There was nothing lacking from the point of view of man being reckoned as righteous and having his sins forgiven, from the point of view of atonement. But God’s purposes have always gone forward through suffering, and always will (Philippians 1.29; 2 Timothy 3.12). We have only to consider how the prophets suffered (see James 5.10), and the sufferings of the early church in the book of Acts (consider 1 Corinthians 4.12), a suffering which was seen as inflicted on Jesus Himself (Acts 9.4). There is no suggestion anywhere that they contributed to atonement, for that had been accomplished by Christ Himself, but they were necessary for the spread of the Gospel and the growth of God’s people. And they would lead to greater glory and blessing ( Romans 8.18; 2 Corinthians 1.7; 2 Timothy 2.12)
And Paul, who had himself once been a cause of those sufferings, had best cause to know that to serve Christ would regularly lead to suffering of one kind or another (‘the sufferings of Christ abound to us’ - 2 Corinthians 1.4-5). He knew that this was necessary for the birth and growth of the church (again 2 Corinthians 1.4-5, ‘that we may be able to stand alongside to strengthen those who are in any affliction through the strengthening with which we are strengthened by God’; see also Acts 9.16). So he knew that as one who had been made a servant of the church he must necessarily suffer. Indeed he points out elsewhere that he suffered birth pangs for them (Galatians 4.19), that he was a prisoner on their behalf (Ephesians 3.1), and he could catalogue a long list of sufferings brought on by his adventures and persecution in the course of his ministry and as a result of it (2 Corinthians 11.23-29; Philippians 3.8).
‘For His body’s sake, which is the church.’ For the building up and preservation of the church Christ had suffered, and many would suffer with Him as He had warned (John 15.20; 16.2-3), and as His body the church suffered with them. Just as when Christ suffered in His body on our behalf (Galatians 2.20), we as the body suffered in Him, and when Paul suffered on its behalf, the body suffered, for the body suffers when any of His people suffer ( 1 Corinthians 12.26) we too must expect suffering of one kind or another, having our part in sharing in the sufferings of Christ. If we are united in the body of the suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), we must expect that suffering will be our lot. Jesus suffered, Paul suffered and so must we be ready to suffer if need be, for we are God’s servant. (See Hebrews 12.4).
Jesus is clearly identified with the suffering Servant of Isaiah (Isaiah 42.1-3; 49.1-6; 50.4-9;52.13-53.12), and His people are also shown to be part of the ministry of the Servant in his preaching aspect (Acts 13.47), thus being identified with Him in His work and in His suffering. His body is also now the Servant. (See The Suffering Servant.
(Note. Jesus specifically identifies Himself with the Servant in Luke 22.37, and He is declared to be the Servant at His baptism - ‘my beloved, in whom I am well pleased’ (Mark 1.11 compare Isaiah 42.1) and the idea is applied to Him in Matthew 12.17-21; Luke 2.32; 9.35 RV and RSV; 23.35. The Servant is also probably to be identified with the prophet in Isaiah 61.1-3 which Jesus applied to Himself in Luke 4.16-21. When John the Baptiser declares Him to be ‘the Lamb of God’ (John 1.29, 36 compare Isaiah 53.7) this identification is also made by him).
Furthermore oneness with Christ must necessarily involve suffering for He is the Son of Man (Daniel 7.13) come out from among the sufferings of His people (who are also the ‘son of man’ in comparison with the beasts) in which He will have participated (Daniel 7.25), and indeed He tells us in the Gospels that as the Son of Man He specifically came to suffer (Mark 8.31), and that meant in His body (Colossians 1.22).
So as we are united with Him in His body as the Son of Man and as the Servant, we must therefore suffer with Him, being crucified with Him (Romans 6.5-6), being baptised by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12.13), and sharing in His death and resurrection. And that ‘body’ is not, be it noted, primarily the church but is Christ (1 Corinthians 12.12) And yet at the same time it includes the body comprised of the church united with Him in His body, which has suffered with Him and will be glorified with Him. The church is in the body, and can be called the body, because it is united with Him. (See Appendix). That is why we must expect to share in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3.10). And that is why when His people suffer, He suffers with them (Acts 9.4-5). For to persecute them is to persecute Christ.
1.25-27 ‘Whereof I was made a minister (diakonos) according to the stewardship of God which was given me towards you, to fulfil the word of God, even the mystery which has been hid from all ages and generations, but now has it been openly revealed to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.’
Paul stresses again that he has been made a servant in accordance with the stewardship from God which was given to him to ‘fulfil the word of God’, that is to preach it openly and fully and to bring into being what the prophets promised beforehand (Romans 16.26; 1 Peter 1.10; 2 Peter 3.2).
What had been prophesied was ‘a mystery’, something hidden. But now it was revealed to all those who would receive it. None who will hear are excepted. It had been hidden ‘from ages and from generations’ but was now openly revealed to all His people (no exclusivism here). Indeed God was pleased to make known to them the full glorious riches of that mystery, and that mystery was ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’, Christ in the Gentiles who are to share in all the blessings brought by the Messiah.
That God’s word was to be a blessing to the Gentiles was declared again and again in the Old Testament, and the Jews had welcomed Gentile proselytes on this basis (e.g. Genesis 12.3; Isaiah 42.1, 6-7; 49.6). But they had to become Jews. What had not previously been revealed was that they were to be received on equal terms as fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus revealed by the Gospel (Ephesians 3.6)
‘To fulfil the word of God.’ Here Paul may be saying that he has brought the word of God into effect by his preaching and ensured its fulfilment. But compare Romans 15.19, ‘so that from Jerusalem and round about, even to Illyricum, I have fulfilled the Gospel of Christ’, which means that he has preached it fully, completely and successfully over a wide area.
‘The riches of the glory (a Hebraism for ‘glorious riches’, Hebrew was lacking in adjectives) of the mystery.’ No richer mystery could be known for it brought home to them the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Ephesians 3.8).
‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ How are we to express fully this amazing fact and its consequences, the reception of the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3.8)? Christ the Creator and Redeemer being among them and in them, possessing them, dwelling within each of them (Ephesians 3.17), working in them (Philippians 2.13), united with them so that they have become His body, and are thus becoming perfected together as He is perfect, being made complete as He is complete, and are experiencing His saving work which will bring them to their glorious inheritance and destiny (1.12; Acts 26.18; Ephesians 1.14) and give them glory (Romans 5.2; 8.18; 1 Corinthians 15.43; 2 Corinthians 3.18; 4.17; Ephesians 1.18; 2 Thessalonians 2.14; 2 Timothy 2.10; 1 Peter 5.4).
1.28 ‘Whom we proclaim, admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ.’
Christ’s work of perfecting His people is largely carried out through the ministry of the word. So here Paul refers to such work carried out by himself and his fellow-workers. Firstly they proclaim Christ (‘Whom we proclaim’). Then they admonish and teach ‘in all wisdom’, in the only wisdom, in the totality of the wisdom, that comes from the word of God, about the cross which to the Christian is true wisdom (1 Corinthians 1.18 with 24), about Christ Who is the Wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1.30), and ‘in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (2.3).
And their aim? To present every man perfect and complete in Christ, which parallels, of course, the aim of Christ Himself. Paul’s eyes are here on the second coming of Christ (His parousia - see 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17). Indeed he prays for the Thessalonians that ‘the God of peace’ will Himself sanctify them wholly and that their whole spirit, soul and body may be preserved complete and blameless ‘at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thessalonians 5.23). For ‘we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’ (1 John 3.2).
‘Admonishing every man and teaching every man.’ Two necessary sides to the same responsibility, the stick and the carrot. Admonishment (‘admonishing, warning’) without teaching is harsh and unsustainable, teaching without admonishment can produce educated potatoes. Notice the double emphasis on ‘every man’. This is to be for all, not just the chosen few.
1.29 ‘Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working which works in me mightily (in power).’
Paul plays his full part in this work of ministry. ‘Labour’ (kopio) means toiling almost to the point of exhaustion. ‘Striving’ (’agonizomai), means ‘agonising, putting in great effort’ as in an athletics contest (see 1 Corinthians 9.24-27). So the fact that he is empowered does not mean that no effort is required of him. But while the effort is his, the power is not. That is given to him by Another. It results from the working of God which works in him ‘in power’ (dunamis), dynamic power (compare Ephesians 3.20; Philippians 2.13). And without that effective power all activity would be in vain.
Paul Reiterates His Great Concern for God’s People And Reminds Them Where True Wisdom Lies (2.1-5)
2.1-3 ‘For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be strengthened, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’
Paul wants them to know of his great concern for them and the efforts he makes on their behalf. He wants them to know that he is not just concerned for his own converts but for them also, and for all the people of God. And as he strives in prayer for them, his prayer is that their hearts may be strengthened, that they may love one another and that they may enjoy the full riches of assured understanding (sunesis - including the ability to discern truth from falsehood) in Christ, for all the treasures of wisdom (reasoned thought) and knowledge (apprehension of truth) are hidden in Him.
‘That their hearts may be strengthened.’ The word for strengthened is parakaleo, from which the noun Paraklete (Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit - John 14.16, 26) comes. Paul clearly has the work of the Holy Spirit in mind here, being alongside them, helping them, guiding them, strengthening them, and where necessary consoling them and acting on their behalf (compare 1.9), probably also seeing it in terms of the indwelling of Christ Himself (Ephesians 3.17; Galatians 2.20) for He is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8.9) without Whom no one is a Christian.
‘Knit together in love.’ The binding of Christ’s people together by cords of love is everywhere assumed. ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love to one another’ (John 13.35). None are to be excluded (thus exclusive inner circles are forbidden), and through it we will know more deeply the love of Christ (Ephesians 3.17-19 - note the conjunction there also of the Spirit’s power and abounding love). For the meaning of ‘knit together’ see Colossians 2.19; Ephesians 4.16).
‘Unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding.’ Colossians and Ephesians are full of the riches of God (Colossians 1.27; 2.2; Ephesians 1.7, 18; 2.7; 3.8, 16). As Paul grew older he was more aware of the riches of what God provided. Here those riches consist of a full assurance of understanding. Full comprehension and certainty, resulting from the work of the Spirit and the responsiveness of God’s people to one another. And that understanding is in the mystery now revealed, even in Christ ‘in Whom are hid all the treasures (more riches) of wisdom and knowledge’.
‘The treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ The phrase ‘the treasures of wisdom’ is found in the Apocrypha, in Ecclesiasticus 1.25, and ‘wisdom and knowledge’ are combined in Ecclesiastes 1.16-18; 2.21.26; 9.10 (LXX). ‘Wisdom’ suggests reasoned consideration with ‘knowledge’ referring to apprehension of truth. But in Ecclesiastes they are very practical wisdom and knowledge, whereas here they are more spiritually oriented and centred on Christ. Paul is probably intending more to contrast with the claims of other religions of the day to have ‘hidden wisdom’.
To Paul Christ is all. And all knowledge that matters and all wisdom that matters is found in Him and is concerning Him and His ways. He is the wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1.30) revealed in righteousness, reckoned to them and finally worked in them, sanctification whereby they are full set apart for God, and redemption whereby their price is paid and they are delivered from the penalty and power of sin. But there is even more than that, for all true wisdom in Heaven and earth is concerning the One of Whom Paul speaks, as he has demonstrated in 1.15-19.
Hidden wisdom was a feature of the ancient world. The ‘traditions of the elders’ were passed down among an inner group of Jewish teachers, and the ancient mystery religions had their own secret knowledge only revealed to initiates. All was hidden, enjoyed by the elite. But in Christ all is revealed to whoever will. For to know Him is to know all hidden wisdom.
2.4-5 ‘I say this so that no one may (or ‘let no one’) delude you with persuasive speech, for though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in the spirit, full of joy and beholding your order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.’
His purpose in showing them the supremacy of Jesus Christ, and that all worthwhile wisdom and knowledge are found in Him, was in order to combat those who came among them with persuasive words. For although he cannot be with them in body, yet he is truly among them in spirit (compare the use in 1 Corinthians 5.3-5), genuinely concerned for them, full of joy at their ‘orderly behaviour’ (we could translate this as ‘closing of ranks’, another use of the Greek word, as they unite against those who would deceive them), their growth and the steadfastness of their faith in Christ. He wants them to know that although he has never himself been there, Epaphras has given him a full picture of what they are, so that his affection for them is genuine.
‘Flesh -- spirit’. A common contrast in Paul’s letters. But here ‘flesh’ is not used in its Pauline sense as signifying the part of us that drags us down. It signifies being human (as in John 1.14). And when the ‘spirit’ of a Christian is spoken of the Spirit is not far away. He may therefore mean, or include, the idea of ‘by the Spirit’ (compare Galatians 3.3 where the Spirit is contrasted with the flesh).
‘Order.’ This could mean orderly behaviour in the family (compare 1 Corinthians 14.40) or could refer to military order, closing ranks against the enemy.
‘Steadfastness.’ The word can mean a ‘barrier’. Thus he may be saying that they have closed ranks and set up a barrier against the foe, the barrier of faith (compare ‘the shield of faith’ - Ephesians 6.16). But the idea may be more generally of steadfastness of faith.
Christ Who Partakes In All The Fullness of God Has Saved, Transformed and Delivered Us (2.6 - 2.15)
2.6-7 ‘As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith (or ‘your faith’), even as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.’
Paul’s usual term for Jesus Christ in Colossians is ‘Christ’. In 1.1 he opened by calling Him ‘Christ Jesus’, followed by ‘Christ’ (verse 2), ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ (verse 3) and ‘Christ Jesus’ in verse 4. These have established identification and position. Then there are references to Him as ‘the Lord’ in 1.10 and ‘the Son’ in 1.13. But otherwise (until 3.17) He is ‘Christ’ (1.2, 7, 24, 27, 28; 2.2, 5, 8, 11, 17, 20; 3.1, 3, 4, 11). This means that the change here to ‘the Christ, Jesus the Lord’ is intended to be significant. He is saying, “consider Who it is that you have received, it is THE CHRIST, JESUS, THE LORD, the One Whose glory is above the heavens and who is pre-eminent over all things”.
‘As -- you received.’ The word for ‘received’ is regularly used for the receiving of tradition and teaching (consider the reference to tradition in verse 8). Compare 1 Corinthians 15.1, 3; Galatians 1.9; Philippians 4.9; 1 Thessalonians 2.13; 4.1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3.6. Thus he is stressing that rather than receiving a body of tradition they have received the living Lord along with all that He is (compare Ephesians 4.20 - ‘you did not so learn Christ’). He is ‘in them’ (1.27), and in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2.3). Thus they are to ‘go on walking in Him’ (present imperative), concentrating their attention on Him, rooted in Him and built up in Him in accordance with what they have been taught. Let them look to Him with joyful thanksgiving. They need look nowhere else. They need no one else and nothing else. ‘Christ Jesus the Lord’ is totally sufficient.
‘The Christ, Jesus the Lord.’ Here ‘Christon’ has the article. Elsewhere in Colossians, apart from in 3.1-4 where every use has the article, Christos is used without the article except when in the genitive. In 3.1-4 the reference is to Christ as risen and exalted. It would seem then that the article is being used to further draw attention to His exalted state. (See on 1.3a for the significance of the full name, but there Christos is without the article and not so prominent). With the article the title is unique in the New Testament apart from its use in Ephesians 3.11 with ‘our’, where it speaks of ‘the Christ Jesus our Lord’ when speaking of God’s eternal purpose in Him. The inclusion of the personal name Jesus (contrast 4.24) stresses the true humanity of ‘the Christ, the Lord’.
‘Walk in Him.’ In their daily walk they are to be totally taken up with Him. He is to be the sphere in which they life their lives.
‘Rooted and being built up in Him.’ Compare Ephesians 3.17 ‘rooted and grounded in love’. There the emphasis is on the love of Christ which is the sphere in which the church flourishes. Here the emphasis is more on the person of Christ. The metaphors are mixed, ‘rooted’ referring to being firmly planted and growing strongly, ‘built up’ referring to the building of a firm structure. ‘Rooted’ is in the perfect tense, something done in the past the benefit of which continues, ‘built up’ is in the present, a continuing process.
‘Being established in your faith.’ Again in the present, a continuing process. The idea of the Greek word used is being ‘established, strengthened, confirmed’ in the faith that they have been taught. We could translate ‘in (or by) your faith’ referring to the strengthening of their personal faith (compare the use of the dative in Hebrews 13.9), but ‘even as you were taught suggests an emphasis on the taught faith.
‘Abounding in thanksgiving.’ Thanksgiving (eucharistia) is a theme of Colossians. See 1.12 ‘giving thanks’, 3.15 ‘be thankful’, 3.17 ‘giving thanks’, 4.2 ‘with thanksgiving’. Continual gratitude of heart towards God should be expressed in words, and should abound, for so we reveal our true attitude of heart and are built up and strengthened. Doctrine when rightly taught should be personalised and should produce worship.
2.8 ‘Watch carefully lest there shall be anyone who carries you off captive through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power.’
Positively they must ensure their roots in Christ are firm, and that they are built up in Him and established in the faith taught by Apostolic men. But they are also to watch carefully against being deceived by human wisdom, which is not really wisdom at all (compare 1 Corinthians 1.17-2.2). Their concentration must be on Christ alone, not on inferior beings, however seemingly exalted, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form and our fullness is in Him, the One Who is over all.
This warning applies to any who would come between us and Christ, whether Mary, the saints, the angels, or any spirit beings. Christ is superior to all and we are in direct contact with Him. We need no other as intermediaries, and to allow them to be seen as intermediaries is to come between us and Christ and to destroy what is most holy.
(Mary must be given due honour as the God-bearer’, the one chosen by God for that purpose, the one through whom, with all her failings, God brought His Son into the world. But as an intermediary between God and us, or Jesus Christ and us, she has no place, and she would have been horrified at even the thought of it. There is not a word in Scripture to support the idea. The words at the cross were personal, for Mary’s benefit, not theological (John 19.26-27).
‘Watch carefully.’ The Christian is not just to accept anything that seems ‘helpful’. He is to be constantly on his guard. Anything that takes his eyes off Christ is to be shunned, for in Him they have everything. The use of the indicative rather than the subjunctive stresses the very real danger. The need is not just a possibility but a certainty. It is an alert.
‘Lest any man carry you off captive through his philosophy or vain deceit.’ The picture is vivid. Later he will stress that it is the enemies of Christ who have been carried off captive (2.15). Thus the Colossians must beware of the same fate from a different source. Those who seek to do it are their enemies, however wise they may seem. ‘Philosophy’ (love of wisdom) means any view of God or the world or human life generally. ‘Vain deceit’ puts it in context. Anything contrary to, or that purports to add to, the Gospel is vain deceit.
‘After the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ.’ The world of that day was faced with a vast array of teachings and philosophies with respect to divine things. Paul turns them away from all of them to Christ. Full truth is found in Him alone. All else must be discarded. The warning is just as necessary today. Primitive religions are taking new forms in naturism and new world philosophies. But the only answer, the only truth about such things, is found in Christ, and what He is, and what He is revealed to be in the Scriptures.
‘Tradition’ (paradosin). Compare 1 Corinthians 11.2; 2 Thessalonians 2.15; 3.6 for its use in a Christian sense. They are to beware of any traditions not firmly based in the Apostolic tradition presented to the early church in the first century. The latter are traditions received from God, all others (including later Christian traditions) are the traditions of men.
‘The elements (or elementary teaching) of the world’. Many sought to teach what they regarded as basic and foundation truths relating to intermediary supernatural beings. But they were opposed to the true world view which spoke of God in Christ as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe without intermediaries. Any reaching out to other supernatural beings or intermediaries, whether through mediums or religious means is wrong.
‘In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ The word for ‘dwells’ represents permanent dwelling, as opposed to temporary residence, demonstrating the permanence of the divine fullness in Christ. This is no passing thing but permanent enjoyment of the fullness of deity. The word for fullness (pleroma) refers to completeness and totality (see on 1.19). He partakes completely in the totality of the fullness of what God is.
‘The Godhead’ (theotes). Used by Paul only here. It refers to Godhead in the most exclusive sense of truly and fully divine. We can compare ‘theiotes’ used in Romans 1.20 which refers to a more general sense of divine power revealed. Creation reveals the footprint of God, the hand of God in creating, but Christ reveals Him in all the fullness of His being. In creation we perceive His hand, in Christ we see His face in all its glory (2 Corinthians 4.4 with 3.18).
‘Bodily’ may mean in one complete ‘body’, not divided up among intermediaries. Alternately it may mean in human bodily form, stressing the fullness of the Godhead as involved in the incarnation. ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14).’ Both are true.
‘And you are made complete (full) in Him.’ He is all that we need to be made complete. Christ is everything. To think of going to lesser powers when we can personally know the all-powerful would be foolish in the extreme, for it is God’s purpose that we know Him and be made complete in Him, that is, be endued with all that it is possible for redeemed mankind to enjoy. ‘For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace’ (John 1.16).
‘Who is the head of all principality and power.’ He is the One Who is ‘far above all’ (Ephesians 1.21), to Whom all are subject. There is no power or rule in heaven or earth over which He is not the Head, and over which He does not have the full mastery and complete authority. Having Him what want we more?
2.11-12 ‘In whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.’
In Christ all who are His are circumcised with a spiritual circumcision. They do not need to be circumcised physically, for they have experienced something far greater. Physical circumcision, and the shedding of blood it entailed, was but a picture, pointing ahead to that great ‘circumcision of Christ’ when His blood was shed and He was cast off, not just a small part of Him, but His whole body on the cross, a sacrifice for sin. We too, once we have come to Him in confident trust that He will work within us, have died with Him, have put off the body of flesh, have been buried with Him, and have also been raised through faith in the working of God Who raised Him from the dead (Romans 6.4-11; Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 2.1-10).
‘A circumcision not made with hands.’ This spiritual circumcision was already referred to in the Old Testament. It is found in Exodus 6.12; 6.30 where reference is made to uncircumcised lips which are thus unclean and unworthy; in Deuteronomy 10.16 where it refers to the heart being ‘circumcised’ resulting in humility and obedience (compare Jeremiah 4.4; Ezekiel 44.7, 9); in Deuteronomy 30.6 where it refers again to the circumcision of the heart which results in men loving God with their whole being; and in Jeremiah 6.10 where the uncircumcised heart is the one that does not listen to God (compare Jeremiah 31.33, where God will make His people hearers of His word by spiritual work within them). Thus this spiritual circumcision produces pure lips, responsive hearing, humility and obedience and a heart filled with love for God.
‘In the stripping right off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ.’ This spiritual circumcision results from being united with Christ in His death. This results in our ‘stripping right off’ the body of flesh, that is, our fleshly attitude and behaviour with its consequent rebellion against God, even as Christ through His sacrificial death put off His body which was bearing our sins (1 Peter 2.24). This ‘body of flesh’ is elsewhere described as ‘the body of sin’ which is done away in Christ’s death (Romans 6.6); ‘this body of death’ because its behaviour results in death (Romans 7.24), and ‘the body of our humiliation’, referring to our sinful and unworthy condition (Philippians 3.21).
‘Through the circumcision of Christ.’ Not a participation in His earthly circumcision but in His greater, more extreme, circumcision through the cross, which ratified the new covenant as circumcision had the old. By participation with Him in His cross we become members of the new covenant. Alternately, but less likely, it may mean ‘through the spiritual circumcision that Christ wrought in us’.
‘Having been buried with Him in baptism, wherein also you were raised with Him.’ The primary baptism in mind here is the ‘spiritual baptism’ described in 1 Corinthians 12.13, where he says ‘by One Spirit we were all baptised into one body --- and were all made to drink of one Spirit’. This is describing the result of the work of the Spirit on the heart, which then results, for the convert, in physical baptism in water which symbolises it. As the circumcision described is spiritual and not physical so is the primary idea of ‘baptism’. The ‘baptism (drenching) in Holy Spirit’ refers to the coming work of the Spirit constantly described in the prophets in terms of drenching rain (see especially Isaiah 44.3-5), and that was what John the Baptiser’s baptism symbolised. He spoke always in terms of such fruitfulness of nature and never in terms of washing.
(It is quite remarkable how many in the church have sidelined the clear background to early baptism in fruitful cornfields and fruitful trees resulting from the rain, the basis of John the Baptiser’s teaching, and the drinking of water from springs fed by those rains which Jesus emphasised (John 4). See also John 7.37-38), where the fruitful rain and the drinking are in mind in context (it was at a rain ceremony). While His ‘born from above’ (John 3.6) clearly has the rains in mind. Both ideas were based on the prophetic references to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in terms of such rain (Isaiah 32.15; 44.3-5). This failure was because much of the later church was so taken up with religious ceremony that it looked for pure religious ceremony in it. So they seized on Old Testament washings for its background, in spite of the fact that such washings were never directly connected with cleansing from sin (except when sprinkled with sacrificial ashes). They did not in themselves cleanse - ‘shall not be clean until the evening’ is a constant refrain - and the New Testament never connects baptism with such ideas except to deny it - 1 Peter 3.21).
Paul may well have in mind here the idea of the water of baptism being like a grave into which a man goes to rise again, but it is not his own grave but the grave of Christ in which he is buried and it is His resurrection in which he partakes. And this too is agriculturally connected, for the corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies (John 12.24). So this follows the idea of a dead nature springing into new life with the re-commencement of the rains, and depicts what has already taken place in the convert’s life, sealed by his baptism outwardly because he has already received the seal of the Spirit inwardly.
(It should be noted that baptism is never specifically described as washing, it is a symbol of new life in the Spirit. It is ‘the word’ which is said to wash (Ephesians 5.26), and ritual washings were never said to ‘cleanse’ directly. They were regularly accompanied by the phrase ‘and shall not be clean until the evening’. They were a mere preparation, a removing of physical defilement, for the waiting on a holy God for Him to cleanse).
The primary stress here therefore is on dying with Christ, being buried with Him and rising with Him in newness of life (Romans 6.4-9), having been watered (baptizo - ‘drenched’) by the Spirit, being born anew, just as in hot countries the barren land springs into new life when the rains commence..
‘Through faith in the working of God Who raised Him from the dead.’ This all comes about through the responsive faith of the one who is so transformed, a faith which trusts in the powerful working of God in resurrection power (compare Ephesians 2.1-10). It is faith that saves (Ephesians 2.8-9) and results in the receiving of the Spirit (Galatians 3.2). Baptism bears witness to that faith and thereby seals the blessing for those who truly believe.
‘The working of God.’ The power of God revealed in the resurrection of Christ is made available to the believer through faith. This power is revealed to its fullest extent in Ephesians 1.19-23, where Christ is raised and enthroned ‘far above all’, and through this resurrection Jesus is declared to the powerful Son of God (Romans 1.4) by the Holy Spirit, Who communicates that power to believers. Thus the believer is aware that the greatest power in the universe is exercised on his behalf to ensure his final salvation.
2.13 ‘And you being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.’
Paul now makes the significance of it all crystal clear. We were dead through our trespasses (compare Ephesians 2.1-3), dead to the Spirit and under sentence of final death. We were dead because our fleshly hearts were not spiritually circumcised with the resultant willingness to hear and obey and to love God with all our being. We were not alive to God. But God in His mercy has forgiven the trespasses of all who believe in Christ and has made them alive in Him.
‘Dead through your trespasses.’ This is amplified in Ephesians 2.1-3 where it is associated with being controlled by the world’s ideas and ways, and by Satan himself.. Thus are they dead to God and under sentence of final death.
‘And the uncircumcision of your flesh.’ This can hardly refer only to physical circumcision. Paul would not have seen that as a cause for being dead to God. He did not believe that circumcision made a man alive to God and he knew of far too many circumcised people who were dead to God as well. Indeed he regarded them as ‘uncircumcised’ (Romans 2.25). But he did see untransformed flesh as resulting in death (Romans 8.6). The point is that they had not experienced spiritual circumcision to their ‘flesh’, their fleshly hearts and minds, through the working of God, and were thus dead in sin and doomed (see on verse 11).
‘He made you alive together with Him.’ It is Paul’s constant theme that by union with Him in His death and resurrection, that is in union with His own body and ‘in Him’, we are made alive with His life (verse 12; 3.1; Romans 6.4-11; 8.9-11; Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 2.5-6; Philippians 3.10 compare John 5.25; 14.19; James 1.18; 2 Peter 1.3-4).
‘Having forgiven us all our trespasses.’ Note the change from ‘you’ to ‘our’. It is added on almost as a note because Paul is so aware of the unmerited love of God and the wonderful forgiveness that is his and ours through that love. So Paul identifies himself and his fellow-workers, and the whole Christian church, as in need of, and as enjoying, the assurance of, forgiveness. ‘Having forgiven’ (charizomai). The word means to give freely as a favour and then comes to refer to forgiveness given freely by grace. Compare its use in 3.13; Ephesians 4.32 see also 2 Corinthians 2.7, 10. Its use stresses the graciousness in forgiving. ‘Trespasses’, the taking of false steps and therefore the positive doing of wrong.
2.14-15 ‘Having blotted out the written bond in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross, having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.’
The debts we owed to God are many, for we have broken His Laws and ignored His requirements. He provided us with a creation, and as His tenants (so Jesus often - Matthew 21.34-36; 25.14-19; Luke 19.13 see also Matthew 18.28-31; ) we have failed to fulfil our legal responsibilities and meet His demands. Thus there is a heavy certificate of indebtedness standing against us. But God/Jesus Christ has taken this, blotted it out and nailed it His cross, thus cancelling it fully, for there the debt was paid in full.
It would seem we are to see here the principalities and powers as crowding Him like a lynch mob and pointing an accusing finger at those debts and being defeated and humiliated for their efforts. For Jesus was there representing mankind, open to attack as He bore our sin in His own body on the tree (2 Corinthians 5.21; 1 Peter 2.24; Isaiah 53.4, 11; Hebrews 9.28).
‘Blotting out.’ When a debt was paid the bond was first blotted out and then cancelled.
‘The written bond in (or ‘by’ or even ‘with’) ordinances.’ The word for ‘written bond’ refers to a signed legal bond or certificate of indebtedness. The idea would seem to be that God’s ordinances as revealed in the Torah (God’s ‘instruction’ - the first five books of the Bible) so bind us and condemn us that they are seen as a certificate of debt. Indeed men were put under obligation to the Law when they were accepted (see Exodus 24.3), and therefore put under the curse of the Law (see Deuteronomy 27.14-26), for we were then liable to meet its demands in full. We are thus, in our unconverted state, failed debtors to God (Romans 8.12; Luke 16.5; Matthew 6.12). We could translate the words ‘the written binding legal demands which we had failed to meet’. Gentiles are included for they have the Law written in their hearts and consciences (Romans 2.14-15). Thus they consent to them in their consciences and are equally liable to obey them.
‘In ordinances.’ (Dogmasin). This means ‘decrees, ordinances’. Compare Luke 2.1; Acts 17.7 where it means the emperor’s decrees; Acts 16.4 where it means the decrees of the Church Meeting in Jerusalem. In Ephesians 2.15 it clearly means the Mosaic Law, and it is used in this way by Josephus and Philo. Thus it could mean the Law’s demands or the Creator’s demands or indeed all divine demands. It may therefore be that the ordinances are to be seen as including all moral demands.
An alternative rendering is to take ‘in ordinances’ with ‘against us’ - ‘the written bond which was against us with its ordinances’. But the position of ‘against us’ in the Greek is against this, and the meaning is the same in the end.
‘That was against us, which was contrary to us.’ The written bond was ‘against us’. The first phrase ‘that was against us’ is closely connected with the written bond showing that it was a condemning bond. It is literally ‘the against us written bond’. ‘Which was contrary to us’ stresses its effect. It reveals it as directly hostile in its intent.
‘He has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.’ He (God/Jesus Christ) has removed it from any position where it could be effective in attacking us. Once it is on the cross it is in the place where its demands have been met on full. No one can cavil at its being rendered powerless to attack us, for it has been fulfilled. But that is only when we have been crucified with Christ on His cross by faith.
2.15 ‘Having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of the openly, triumphing over them in it.’
This action clearly refers to Jesus directly. Whether we take the ‘He’ of the previous verses as God or Jesus Christ matters little. It was God’s action in Christ. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
‘Having put off from Himself the principalities and powers.’ He had been fighting them all His life, from the time when Herod sought to destroy Him as a young child (Matthew 2.16), through His temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4.1-11), then in His ‘battle’ with evil spirits when as the Stronger than Satan He constantly bound him and took his goods (Luke 11.22 and parallels), then when Peter tempted Him to avoid the way of suffering (Mark 8.33 and parallels), followed by Satan’s plans through Judas (John 13.2, 27). So He knew His opponents well.
Jesus had no doubts about what He would face. ‘The prince of this world comes and has nothing on me’ (John 14.30), He said in the Upper Room, and then shortly afterwards, in the Garden, ‘this is your hour and the power of darkness’ (Luke 22.53 - compare ‘the power of darkness in opposition to Him and His kingdom in Colossians 1.13). And now we learn that in His final hours on the cross He ‘put off’ from Himself (an alternative translation is ‘He completely disarmed’) the principalities and powers, and then led them in chains in His march of victory in the resurrection. This suggests close confrontation and vicious assault as they pressed in upon Him, then the stripping of them off followed by His triumph. Redemption for mankind was obtained both by the payment of a ransom and by the ignominious defeat of the powers of evil.
‘Triumphing over them in it (or in Him).’ The pronoun can be translated either ‘it’ or ‘Him’, referring either to the cross or to Jesus Himself. If we take the latter the subject of the sentence would be God. But the context strongly favours that the triumph was directly through the cross where sin was annulled.
We Must Therefore Concentrate on Christ and Not Be Taken Up With Rites and Ceremonies (2.16-3.4).
2.16 ‘Therefore let no man judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day, which are a shadow of the things to come. But the body is of Christ.’
Paul now stresses that because of the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross all ritual requirement has been done away. They were but shadows, pointing the way forward. Now that reality (the body) has come in Christ the shadows are no longer necessary. This might suggest that some teachers were trying to get the Colossians to observe Pharisaic washings, abstention from certain ‘unclean’ foods, and observance of feast days and the Sabbath. But it seems to extend wider than this for the Pharisees did not forbid any types of drink. Abstention from such was, however, looked on by the Jews as making men somehow more exclusively holy (compare the Nazarites - Numbers 6.2, also John the Baptiser - Luke 1.15). But many ancient religions encouraged asceticism, so that Paul is looking wider to all ascetic teaching. Paul’s point is not to condemn abstention but to condemn it as being seen as a ‘requirement’ or as making men somehow super-holy. If men wish to do it to honour the Lord, and find it helpful, it is up to them, as long as they do not pass judgment on others or deceive themselves by thinking that somehow it makes them superior.
This was a constant problem because there was, and is, always a tendency for the spiritually lazy to prefer to have to ‘do’ certain things rather than be tied down to spiritual requirements. If they can just ‘observe’ certain things and then be free to do what they like, they are content. Others too, fearful for their souls (especially as they get older), try to achieve forgiveness by ritual activity. They think that, if they but do enough of it, it will somehow merit salvation for them. Both overlook the fact that the new message was spiritual and free, that we can do nothing to merit God’s gracious activity or even to spur it on. It is given freely in response to faith, and to faith alone.
‘Let no man judge you.’ Either ‘take you to task’ or ‘pass judgment on you’. With regard to ceremonial regulations each must decide for himself what is right and no one has the right to judge another.
‘Let no man judge you in meat or in drink.’ Here the command is unequivocal. It has become a matter of principle. He could have added, ‘every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it be received with thanksgiving’ (1 Timothy 4.4). The eating or not eating of certain foods is not to be accepted as incumbent on anyone and the Colossians should not therefore allow themselves to be told what they must, or must not, eat or drink. Such eating or drinking is a matter of personal choice (although drunkenness is always condemned, and ‘strong drink’ is discouraged because it clouds the judgment (Proverbs 20.1; 31.4; Isaiah 5.11, 22; 28.7 see also Luke 1.15). ‘He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks. And he who does not eat, does not eat to the Lord, and gives God thanks’ (Romans 14.6). It is clear that Paul himself puts no restrictions on what we may or may not eat, and does not consider that it affects our spirituality one way or another as long as it is not made an ‘essential’.
But compare Romans 14.13 where the question is raised of concern for others who may be caused to stumble. He stresses that for the spiritual Christian , ‘the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14.17). In other words the concern of the Christian should be for spiritual response and behaviour, not for physical or ritual requirements. Indeed he stresses that nothing is unclean of itself (verse 14 compare Mark 7.19), but then he does stress that the Christian must take into account the weakness of others (see 1 Corinthians 8.1-13; 10.23-33). If the eating and drinking of certain things will cause another to stumble then we should avoid them for their sake (verse 21; 1 Corinthians 10.28, 32). And if we ourselves are in doubt about such things then we should not partake (verse 23). While such abstentions must not be made a ‘necessary requirement’ or seen as increasing a man’s spirituality, they must also not be allowed to become a stumbingblock or a hindrance to ourselves or others. Compare the condemnation of those who gave wine to Nazarites with the intent to ease their own consciences (Amos 2.12).
‘Or in respect of a feast day --- or of a sabbath day.’ As he says elsewhere, ‘one man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He who regards the day regards it to the Lord’ (Romans 14.5-6). ‘He who does not regard the day does not regard it to the Lord’ is not said but can be read in because of the parallel with regard to eating. For each is living to the Lord. His responsibility is directly to Him. Thus Paul does not specifically at these points support the keeping of a special day to the Lord. Indeed he says that to judge another person for not keeping the Sabbath, or any other day, is contrary to Scripture.
However having said that many would see the observance of one day in seven especially for the Lord as, while not obligatory, good in principle. Compare Isaiah 58.13-14. Thus they may encourage such as being wise and good in the upbuilding of the spiritual life, because it is ensuring provision for time with God. But as Paul stresses, every day belongs to God and should be observed to Him, and the spiritual Christian will treat every day as the Sabbath, a day separated to God for the doing of His work.
So some find making such rules for themselves helpful, others find them unnecessary. But we must beware if we take the first view that we do not belittle those who take the second. And if we take the second view we must be sure that it is for the genuinely positive reason that we wish to be even more dedicated to God, and not as a get out for being spiritually lazy. Each will have to account to God (Romans 14.8-12). But the point of these passages is that, while a thing may be good in itself, it should not be made a ‘necessary requirement’. For Christians should not be looking to ‘necessary requirements’ but to the Lord, and nothing apart from faith in Christ must be made a condition of salvation.
‘Which are a shadow of things to come, but the body (or ‘the substance’) is of Christ.’ Requirements such as these had their purpose but they have now been done away (see Hebrews 8.5; 10.1). They are no longer binding. Now Christ is come shadows fade into the background. Concentration must be on the reality, on Him and on Him alone.
2.18 ‘Let no man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility or worshipping of the supernatural messengers, dwelling in the things which he has seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.’
The Christian life is here thought of as an athletic contest (compare 1 Corinthians 9.24-27; 2 Timothy 2.5; Hebrews 12.1). In order to win the prize everything that could hinder, anything that could ‘slow us down’, must be laid aside. By fixing our eyes on anyone or anything other than Christ we will hinder our growth, for He is our Head, the Great Direct Supplier, and He alone can provide that which makes us ‘increase with the increase of God’. To look to intermediaries is to choke the line of contact and thus prevent maximum benefit. And this is true whether of priests, angels, saints or Mary.
‘Let no man rob you of your prize (or ‘give an unfavourable ruling against you’).’ Paul may have intended us to see Christ as ‘the prize’, God’s response to our faith. Or it may refer to our failing to achieve our future reward because false humility renders us useless. The verb (there is no separate word for ‘prize’) may, however simply mean, ‘give an unfavourable ruling against you’, but the consequence is the same.
‘A voluntary humility and worshipping of supernatural messengers.’ The word for supernatural messengers is ‘angelos’, usually translated ‘angels’. But we must not here think in terms of angels as we see them with our Christian interpretation. It refers to a whole host of supernatural beings, gods, demi-gods, principalities, powers and so on as believed on in the ancient world. The voluntary humility is an attitude of humility that makes a great show of being ‘nothing’ in comparison with these supernatural messengers. It ignores what God has said and debases itself to look to lesser things. They choose what they see as the ‘humble’ position not realising that this is to insult God.
The argument for intermediaries always seems right to the person who is aware of his sinfulness and yet has not come to an understanding of the wisdom of God revealed in Christ. ‘I am not worthy’, he says. But it is a sign of a darkened mind that has not ‘learned Christ’. It demonstrates that he does not understand the free grace of the Gospel. The Gospel is Christ in all His fullness, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (1.27), offered to men. To accept anything less robs us of Christ and robs us of our prize. The intermediary will not bring us to Christ but will hide Christ from us.
‘Worshipping.’ The particular word denotes the external practise of religion, and is used regularly of false worship.
‘Dwelling in (taking delight in, devoting himself to) the things which he has seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.’ The verb ‘dwelling’ is difficult to translate. It has been found in inscriptions as a technical term for certain types of ritual response in the mystery religions. It means ‘to set foot on, enter, visit, go into detail, come into possession of ’, thus leading on in context to the translations ‘taking delight in, devoting oneself to, dwelling in’. The idea is partly sarcastic. He takes delight in and is puffed up by what produces his voluntary ‘humility’, demonstrating that it is not genuine.
This probably in context refers to visions which so often result in giving prominence to intermediaries (‘angels’). But if those intermediaries seek honour and veneration for themselves then they are false and must be rejected (Revelation 19.10; 22.8-9). Any true vision from the other world would magnify Christ and turn attention from itself to Him. Those who dwell in visions inevitably go wrong, and lead others astray, for in their pride (often seen by themselves as humility) they magnify the subject of the vision rather than Christ Himself.
Visions are always a problem for the godly person. They do not like to denigrate them and recognise that, rarely, there have been genuine visions. Yet if they are wise they will recognise that visions regularly arise from wrong sources, and are often drug induced or arise from a chemical imbalance in the brain. They are the ‘easy way’ to ‘certainty’. There are some whose mental make up is such that they are susceptible to ‘visions’. They ‘see things’ that others do not see, especially when they indulge in asceticism (see verse 23), and are thus inevitably very sincere, but they are experiencing mental aberrations rather than contacting spiritual sources (it comes from their ‘fleshly mind’ - compare Romans 8.5-6 - it is the mind controlled by the flesh and pandering to the flesh as opposed to the spiritual mind). So we are right to be wary of them. The general principle must be, if at all in doubt reject them, although treating the visionary gently. In themselves they prove nothing for they can never be substantiated. Personal visions should be retained for personal use. They should never be the foundation for doctrine. That is why Jesus stressed that He referred to what He had actually seen (John 3.11, 32; 8.38).
2.19 ‘And not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.’
Because these people concentrate on intermediaries and visions they fail to hold fast to the One Who is Head over all. They fail to hold fast to Christ. Thus they do not receive that which is needed for an increase in their spiritual lives. Only He Who is the Head over all things can satisfactorily supply them with what is required for this purpose.
‘From Whom all the body.’ The remainder of the verse parallels 1 Corinthians 12 where the body is Christ (verse 12) as conjoined with His people. Thus the head/body contrast is not to be stressed for in 1 Corinthians 12 the head is specifically stated to be part of the whole body. They receive what they need from Him Who is Head over all things and Who is also Himself the body with which they are united, He is the foundation member and controlling influence within the Body (see Appendix). The ancients did not see the head as the controlling influence over the body as we do, they considered that lay more in the ‘heart’ and the ‘bowels’ and other similar parts of the body (Mark 2.6, 8; 3.5; Luke 24.32; Philippians 2.1; Colossians 3.12; 1 John 3.17). The idea of Headship is of authority.
The ‘knitting together of the body’ probably has mainly in mind the importance of loving one another, the love that unites, and the love supplied through Christ’s indwelling and the Spirit’s power (Ephesians 3.16-19). But may also include the fact that as each member contributes with their specific gifts they cement the unity of the body.
It is because they are members of His body, of which He is the foundation and controlling member, that they are supplied and united in Him through His indwelling (1.27), with the ties that bind and the gifts ministered to them (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12), and thus increase continually as God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3.7). Thus the ‘increase’ results from looking directly to the Head.
2.20-23 ‘If you died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourself to ordinances, “handle not, nor taste, nor touch”, (all which things are to perish with the using) after the precepts and doctrines of men?’. Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship and humility and severity to the body, but are not of any value against the excessive indulgence of the flesh.’
Paul here points out that asceticism, abstaining from certain food and drinks and such like, has no value in the fight against sin. These are earthly ideas, not heavenly ideas. But Christians no longer live in the world. They live with Christ in the spiritual realm, in what in Ephesians he calls ‘the heavenlies’. They are seated with Christ above (Colossians 3.1). Thus their minds should be fixed on heavenly things. That is how to defeat the flesh, not by fighting it with earthly weapons.
‘If you died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why as though living in the world do you subject yourself to ordinances?’ In His death Christ was freed from all the basic things of the world and all its basic principles. He was no longer bound by them because he was in Heaven. He now partakes of the things of Heaven, and is subject to the conditions of Heaven. So we too, having died with Christ, are dead to those basic things, those basic principles of earth, those ordinances of men. We too are bound by the requirements of Heaven. But to indulge in asceticism is precisely to be bound by the principles of the world. There is no asceticism in Heaven. Thus having died with Christ, and having risen with Him (3.1) we are freed from such things. We can have no part in them.
It hardly needs to be stressed that this is not a licence for over-indulgence. Precisely because we live with Christ in the heavenlies we will live accordingly, touching earthly things lightly and concerned with heavenly things. We will seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6.33). We are still to deny the flesh. But this is to be by being caught up in heavenly things, not by making use of weapons invented by men, such as asceticism (‘touch not, taste not, handle not’), which are themselves fleshly, and are thus actually not able to do anything about the flesh. Indeed they deal with earthly things, which, once used, perish (see 1 Corinthians 6.13). They have no permanent value. Nothing is really achieved by them.
‘Which things have indeed a show (literally ‘word’) of wisdom in will worship and humility and severity to the body, but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.’ Asceticism is a show of earthly wisdom. It makes proclamation of wisdom and gives a great show of defeating the flesh. It demonstrates a powerful will and a great humility. But it is concentrating on the very thing it seeks to escape from. It is totally negative and worldly. It does not achieve anything spiritually. It is simply another way of indulging the flesh.
‘Will worship.’ The word is found nowhere else. It can mean ‘self-made religion’, ‘self imposed religious service’, a demonstration of the power of the will in achieving a religious position of denial and humility which is purely earthly. It is accompanied by an equally false humility. It wins the admiration of the world which sees it as achieving some kind of purity of soul. It seems to overcome the flesh by denying it. But it in fact indulges another aspect of the flesh, by making its adherent an object of admiration and stimulating a sense of self-achievement, resulting in false pride and self-satisfaction. And it is regularly accompanied by mistreatment of the body, which accomplishes nothing except the same.
‘Are not of any value against the excessive indulgence of the flesh.’ The problem is that these great efforts are useless in what they seek to achieve. Instead of releasing people from the grip of the flesh they tie them more closely into it, for they are simply indulging the ‘desires of the flesh’ in another way. There is only one way to break the grip of the flesh on the mind and that is by setting the mind on things above (3.2), not by direct attack on the flesh. In the set of the mind on things above alone lies hope.
It should be noted that Paul’s words are not an attack on sensible self-discipline and self-control and self-denial. They are not arguing for indulging oneself. For that too indulges the flesh. Rather Paul is stressing the development of the mind of the Spirit, set on things above and refusing all fleshly indulgence, and thus concentrating totally on living a heavenly life. The Christian does abstain from fleshly indulgence. He may thus appear somewhat of an ascetic. He does hold this world’s goods lightly and not indulge himself. But this is because he is involved in Heaven’s affairs, and uses all earthly things solely for that purpose, not wanting to be gripped by them but wanting to use them with the greatest efficiency and usefulness in God’s service. He uses them to make friends for himself among those who will be in eternal habitations (Luke 16.9).
3.1 ‘If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God.’
The Christian’s concentration is to be on heavenly things (‘go on seeking continually’ - present tense) because he was raised there when he first believed and received life from the Spirit. For by receiving the Spirit he was partaking in the resurrection life of Christ, and being made one with Christ. Christ was raised there, and he was raised there ‘together with Christ’.
Thus the Christian dwells in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2.1-6), the spiritual realm. And he has direct access to the throne of Christ. This is not just a pious fiction but a reality. It is partial, for he does not yet see the full glory of God (1 Corinthians 13.12), but it is nevertheless genuine. His spirit has been made alive by the Spirit of God and in his spirit he has access into the spiritual realm where Christ is. It is in a sense a parallel universe with this one. It is not ‘up there’. It is here, and yet not accessible to the unbelieving world unless they too repent and believe.
Compare how when his eyes were opened Jacob saw a flight of stairs between earth and heaven, with spiritual beings ascending and descending (Genesis 28.12), and going their way in their activity on the earth, as expanded in Zechariah 1.8-11. He became aware of the spiritual realm. And how Elisha knows that he is surrounded by spiritual forces of great power, something his servant also becomes aware of once his eyes are opened (2 Kings 6.17). He too is aware of the spiritual realm. While these were revealed in terms that the observers could appreciate, what they revealed was genuine spiritual reality. So there are things around us that we can discern with the eye of faith. We are not to interfere with them or seek to contact them, but they are there acting on God’s behalf, and on ours. For they are ‘ministering spirits sent out to do service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation’ (Hebrews 1.14). Each child who believes has his angel who is aware of what happens to him (Matthew 18.10).
The Christian lives in both the physical and the spiritual universes. He knows that he has his part in Christ’s throne in the heavenlies at the right hand of God, the position of supreme authority and divine action, where his spirit has access through the Spirit (Ephesians 2.18; Hebrews 10.19), and there he walks and talks with Christ (1.10; 2.6), and walks in the light (1 John 1.7; Ephesians 5.8), and he knows that he lives in this world as an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5.20), as a citizen of Heaven (Philippians 3.20). He has constant contact with that other world through prayer, and direct contact with the Father and the Son. And while he is in this world, he is not of it (John 15.19; 17.14-16; Galatians 1.4). He has spiritual affairs to engage in which this world knows nothing about.
So having been raised together with Christ, that is having received heavenly life through believing and receiving the Spirit, the Christian is to seek those things which are above, those things which are the concern of the throne. His concern is to be with the affairs of the court of Heaven and the extension of Christ’s kingship in the earth (Matthew 28.19). His concern is to be with the maturing of all believers (Galatians 6.1-2), especially the babes, and those still partly gripped by the flesh. His concern is to show Heaven’s love to the world by his Christlike actions (Matthew 5.16).
‘If then you were raised together with Christ.’ This idea of participating with Christ in His resurrection in the past tense, as having happened to us, was taught by Jesus Himself in John 5.24-25. It was also clearly in Paul’s mind in his earlier teaching (Romans 6.3, 11; 8.10; Galatians 2.20; Philippians 3.10). But here and in 2.12 and Ephesians 2.6 he makes it totally explicit.
‘Where Christ is seated on the right hand of God.’ This was the glorious Christian message. Christ has been highly exalted, and given the name above every name, the name of Yahweh (Philippians 2.9) because it is His by right. He has been exalted far above all (Ephesians 1.21). He has been given God’s supreme authority (Matthew 28.18). He has been made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36). But the throne of God is not a passive throne. He rides on the wings of the wind (Psalm 18.10). He is active in His control over the universe. And we are to share in that activity. (How then could we possibly waste time in becoming involved in false asceticism?).
3.2-3 ‘Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth, for you died and your life is hid with Christ in God.’
The tenses here are important. ‘Go on setting your mind continually ( present tense) --- ‘you died once for all’ (aorist tense) ----- ‘your life has been hid and still is’ (perfect tense).
‘Set your mind continually.’ All people have their minds set on something to which they give maximum attention. It may be sport, or a hobby, or success at work, or music, or travel. But none of these thing should so grip the Christian. His mind is to be set on things above, not on things on the earth, and it is to those that he must give maximum attention. Everything else must fit around that. His concern is the glorification of God, the expansion of God’s rule over men, and to show Christ’s love to the world. He is concerned to be carrying out his duties under God’s instruction. Christ and His activities are his ‘team’. This should be what grips him and arouses his enthusiasm.
‘You died.’ And this attitude will be his because when he became a Christian, when he first repented and believed, he died with Christ, and this was represented in his baptism. He is now dead to the world and its pleasures, to its approval or blame, to its aims and purposes. His concern as one raised with Christ is with heavenly purposes, for he belongs to Heaven. His life is ‘hid with Christ in God’.
And what a place of security and blessing that is. He is ‘with Christ’, united with Him as one like husband and wife (Ephesians 5.23-32), joined with Him because He is our representative, the last Adam, the second man, summing up redeemed mankind in Himself (1 Corinthians 15.45, 48). We are one with Him as members of His body and as branches of the true vine (John 15.4-5). And ‘with Christ’ we are ‘in God’, surrounded by God, Who has enveloped us in His arms (Deuteronomy 33.27), having our being in God (John 14.20) as He has His being in God (John 1.18; 10.28-30; 14.10-11).
‘Your life is hid.’ The world will only see glimpses of it. It has no conception of what the Christian’s life is really like. That is safely kept and preserved in the heart of God. And that is where our treasure should be, and our heart.
It may be asked. If the Christian died with Christ, why is his ‘old man’ still active? The answer lies in the plan of salvation, which is seen as a whole (see Romans 8.29-30; Ephesians 1.3-12). When a man becomes a true Christian the final death of his ‘old man’ is guaranteed, its fate is sealed, and his being perfected in Christ in the new man is also guaranteed. And the guarantee lies in the death of Christ for him which will finally be effected in him. Thus the old man is from that moment under sentence of death.
So Paul is saying something like this, ‘when Christ died, you, as the man that you were, in effect died, he came under sentence of death with your approval and one day that death will be finalised. Meanwhile, while the old man lingers on, you are to treat him as dead and buried with Christ and therefore not to be taken account of. You are to carry out on him the sentence of death and bury him out of the way.’
No one goes out to the scrap heap and starts to polish up the useless things that are there. He will only polish up what he thinks will have some future use. Now in submitting to the cross of Christ we have acknowledged that ‘the old man’ is to be cast out and is useless. That he has no permanent future. So what we should do is ignore him, let him die. How we treat the old man demonstrates what we really believe about the cross.
3.4 ‘When Christ who is our life shall be revealed and made fully made known, then will you also be fully made known with him in glory.’
And what a glorious future awaits the Christian. For one day at His coming Christ will be made fully known. He will be revealed in all His glory (2 Thessalonians 1.7-10; Mark 13.26-27). We will see Him as He is (1 John 3.2). And then will the world see the glory that the Christian has in his oneness with Christ, for we will share His glory, and it will shine out from us as it shines out from Him (2 Corinthians 3.18; 2 Thessalonians 1.10; 1 John 3.2; Philippians 3.21). The long chain of redemption will be complete (Romans 8.29-30).
‘Christ Who is our life.’ Paul was so taken up with Christ that he could say, ‘to me to live is Christ’ (Philippians 1.21). And this should be so for all His people, for He is our life, the source of all spiritual life and blessing (John 5.24, 40; 6.33-35, 47-54; 10.28; 11.25; 14.6; 17.3; Romans 5.10; 6.4; 8.10; 2 Corinthians 4.10; Galatians 2.20; 2 Peter 1.3; 1 John 5.11-12 ).
‘Then will you also be made fully known in glory.’ None of us at this present time would want to be fully known. We have too much we wish to hide. But we must ensure that we get rid of these things of which we would be ashamed if we thought of them being revealed to God and fellow-Christians. For in that day we will be fully known. All will be revealed.
But the final result of that day will be that we will be His transformed people, and we will delight in being fully known, for we will be like Him and will share His glory.
Our Christian Walk is To Reflect Our Glorious Privilege (3.5-4.6).
1). The Man That We Were Has To Die (3.5-11)
3.5-6 ‘Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth, fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry, for the sake of which the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience.’
Because we have died and have been raised into things above, the heavenlies, that which we have, as it were, left on earth with its fleshly behaviour, must be put to death. It represents ‘the old man’ (verse 9) who is to be stripped off. For it is the behaviour of this old man that brings the wrath of God on those who indulge in such things, as they follow in the way of disobedience, and by coming to Christ for salvation we have consented to his death. So we will be foolish not to be rid of it. Indeed it will be the greatest of crimes.
Paul is picturing our bodies as containing two lives, one the natural life, the life of the flesh, and the other the spiritual life, the life of the Spirit (Romans 8.5). In Christ we with our spiritual lives are taken into the spiritual realm with Christ. The natural life is left behind ‘on the earth’, that is with no access to the spiritual realm. And so he says that by the Spirit we are to ‘put to death’, reckon as dead, that natural life with its deeds (Romans 8.13). We are to consign it to the grave and allow the spiritual, resurrected life to hold the reins and live through our bodies (Galatians 5.16-18). We are so used to indulging the flesh that for some this is at first very hard. But as we become more aware of Him, and of our glorious position in Him, it will gradually take place, for He is at work within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13).
‘Therefore.’ For the very reason that you have died and have been raised with Christ and are to be presented with Him in glory.
‘Put to death your members which are on the earth.’ We are seen here metaphorically as having been taken in one aspect of our body (the new man - verse 10) into the heavenlies, the spiritual realm, and as having left one on earth (the old man - verse 9). When we were raised with Christ that part of us which indulged our sinful cravings, having died with Christ, was left behind on earth as dead, crucified with Christ (Galatians 2.20), having no access to the spiritual realm. And we are now, having ‘died’, to put it effectively to death and bury it, to leave it behind. Its desires are to be given no attention, their voice is not to be heard, they are to be ignored, boycotted, treated as having died. Why? Because of what they produce.
‘Fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and especially covetousness which is idolatry.’ These failings constitute the make up of our fleshly members, for they are their fruit. They define the condition of our fleshly members. They cover every aspect of sexual misbehaviour (uncleanness) including sexual activity between a couple who are not married (fornication), passion and evil desire of any kind, whether greed, bad temper, wrongful anger, lack of self-control, and ‘especially covetousness’ (in the Greek this is distinctively separated off from the others), the desire and longing for what others have, which is described as idolatry, ‘worshipping’ such things rather than God because they, rather than He, are taking up their minds. For the Christian should be content with such things as he has (1 Timothy 6.6, 8; Hebrews 13.5 compare Philippians 4.11), looking with joy to God. We are further warned in Ephesians that those who practise these things ‘have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God’ (Ephesians 5.5).
‘For the sake of which the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience.’ In Ephesians Paul is even more emphatic (Ephesians 5.6). People then, as now, had their excuses ready, so Paul says, ‘Let no man deceive you with empty words.’ We are very good at empty words when our lustful pleasures are in mind. But such things incur the wrath of God, not because He is against us enjoying life, but because in the end they bring misery and hurt on those affected by our actions. That is what concerns Him.
‘The wrath of God.’ The inevitable response of a holy God in judgment to sins which can only result in hurt and the destruction of what is good. ‘The sons of disobedience’. Those who behave as though disobedience were their father (there is good manuscript evidence which suggests that this last phrase was not in the original but was imported from Ephesians 5.6).
3.7 ‘In the which you also walked previously, when you lived in these things.’
These sins and attitudes had once been theirs, as they had also been of the Jews (Mark 7.20-23). This was how they had once lived their lives. But having been raised to the spiritual realm they no longer live among these things. They live in a totally different environment, the heavenlies. And because of this they must be even more particular about their behaviour.
3.8-10 ‘But now you, also, put away all these: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking from the mouth. Do not lie, the one to the other, seeing you have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created him.’
Would you do these things in Christ’ presence? Would you not be deeply ashamed? Then you cannot do them in the spiritual realm. For that is where you are as the new man, and you live in the presence of Christ. And surely, if we were more aware of living in the presence of Christ we would find harder to sin.
These sins are more related to wrong attitudes towards others and wrong speaking, while the previous ones were more basic to ourselves. ‘Anger’, a settled feeling of hatred, compared with ‘wrath’, a more passionate anger. Both are to be avoided. ‘Malice’, the kind of attitude which seeks harm for others.
These then result in ‘railing’, in evil speaking and blasphemy, and words that are intended to hurt and do harm. This is then amplified as ‘shameful speaking out of your mouth’, which involves verbal abuse and filthy talking, and includes suggestive words and comments. These are all to be ‘put away’, thrust from us. The idea of putting off wrongdoing in this way is found regularly in Scripture, see Romans 13.12; Ephesians 4.22, 25; Hebrews 12.1; James 1.21; 1 Peter 2.1.
Many a man cringes at the thought of what he is saying being heard by good and pure person, especially a woman. How much more should we cringe at the thought of what we say when we live in the heavenlies, in the presence of Christ.
These aforementioned sins are then extended to speaking dishonestly and deceitfully.
‘Do not lie the one to the other.’ Jesus emphasised that a man’s words should always be so trustworthy in the normal course of events that there should never be the need for an oath to confirm them (Matthew 5.34-37). The Psalmist judges a man by whether he keeps his word even when it is to his own disadvantage (Psalm 15.4). The Christian’s word is his bond. He is bound by it as much as if he had sworn it on oath. Nor will he seek to deceive others, for it is the Devil who is the ‘father of lies’, and by deceiving others men become his sons.
‘Seeing that you have put off the old man with his doings.’ This describes the man that they were. They indulged in all these sins because they followed the ‘flesh’. But coming to Christ means that they desire to put off what they were and become something new, a ‘new man’. Indeed by it they have acknowledged that the old man deserved to be crucified, deserved a sinner’s death. How then can they hold on to him?
The thought of putting on righteousness and putting off sins as clothing occurs elsewhere in the Bible. See Job 29.14, ‘I put on righteousness and it clothed me’; Psalm 109.29, ‘let my adversaries be clothed with dishonour, and let them cover themselves with their own shame as with a mantle’; Romans 13.12, 14, ‘let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light --- put on the Lord Jesus Christ’. It is a constant theme of Paul (see above).
‘And have put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him.’ When they were born again of the Spirit of God, receiving His new life, so that Christ became their life (3.4; Galatians 2.20) they were putting on a new man, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17), one that was destined to have a true knowledge of God, and to be made like Him (1 John 3.2). They were starting the process of being transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12.2).
‘Which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him.’ This describes the process of the perfecting of God’s people in terms of what man once was. He was created ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1.27). This essentially described him as a spiritual creature, like the angelic world and in contrast with the animals. And as such he knew God spiritually. But that was sadly lost at the fall. Now, however, the ‘new man’ is in process of having that full knowledge (epignosis) renewed and is being restored to full communication with the Creator as ‘in His image’.
So this growing into a new and increasing ‘true knowledge’ (epignosis) of God and of Christ, will then result in their becoming like Him. They will become the ‘image of God, the image of the Creator’ (compare Ephesians 4.24), and like Him Who is also the image of God (see 1.15). They will become Christlike. The more we know Christ in spirit, and worship Him in spirit (John 4.23), the more we will be like Him. The more we behold and reflect Him the more we will grow in glory (2 Corinthians 3.18).
3.11 ‘Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman, but Christ is all in all.’
Once likeness to Christ becomes the objective all these divisions fall away. No Christian will want to be either one alternative or the other. They will want only to be His. They want their thoughts to be taken up with Him, as He is in the heavenlies where Christ is all. They want to be fully possessed and indwelt by Christ, to be ‘in Christ’. Thus all other distinctions become irrelevant. There is no pride of religion, or pride of race, or pride of status with the true Christian. He wants only to be a Christ-man.
The Jews thought themselves superior to the Greeks, the circumcision thought themselves superior to the uncircumcision, the Greeks thought themselves superior to the Barbarians, and included the Jews among these, all thought themselves superior to the Scythians (the savageness of the Scythians was proverbial), but in Christ all these distinctions are done away. And even social status was irrelevant. For in Christ bondmen and freemen were equal. The former were no longer to be seen as chattels but as brothers, and of equal value in the sight of God.
2). We Are To Reveal the New Man In Our Lives (3.12-17).
What follows is a brief practical summary of the Christian life which typifies the new man. Graciousness towards others, a forgiving spirit, clothed in love, swathed in peace, thankful to God, full of the word of Christ, from it teaching and admonishing each other, singing to God from the heart, doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus.
3.12-14 ‘Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving each other. If any man have a complaint against any, even as the Lord forgave you, so also do you.’
Having described the old man in terms of his behaviour he now describes the new man which they are to ‘put on’, in the same terms. ‘Put on’. That is, they must allow the new, spiritual life within them to take over the rule of their lives. They are to submit to the Spirit (compare Galatians 5.16-18).
‘Chosen ones, holy and beloved.’ This is spoken to those who have been ‘chosen by God’, and as a result have been drawn to Jesus Christ (John 6.44). They are ‘holy’ because they have been set apart in Christ (1 Corinthians 1.2), Who has been made to them sanctification (holiness) (1 Corinthians 1.30), setting them apart to God and making them acceptable in His presence and they are beloved because they are engraced in the Beloved (Ephesians 1.6).
With this encouragement he outlines what kind of people they are to be. From the heart, for a forced pretence is of no value, they are to reveal compassion, kindness, consideration for others, a willingness to humble themselves, a willingness not to fight for their own position and honour, a willingness to bear with the weaknesses of others, a willingness to ‘bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things’ (1 Corinthians 13.7), and a willingness to forgive.
This last is emphasised by repetition. If they have anything against another they are to forgive them just as ‘the Lord’ has forgiven them. If the One Who is ‘the Lord’ is willing to forgive, surely they too should be willing to forgive those over whom they are not Lord (there may be here in this reference to ‘the Lord’ in connection with forgiveness, the influence of Jesus Christ’s parable recorded in Matthew 18.27).
But note that this is not a blanket forgiveness regardless of the attitude of the person forgiven. God forgives us when we repent, and Jesus makes clear that our forgiveness should be in the light of repentance. ‘If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him’ (Luke 17.3), for true forgiveness reinstates the one forgiven and that requires that he recognise his fault.
Thus overall they are to be Christlike because He lives in them and through them.
(Some authorities have ‘Christ’ here instead of ‘the Lord’ but the latter has by far the strongest support and adds greater emphasis to the argument.
3.14 ‘And above all these things put on love which is the bond of perfectness.’
‘Above all these things.’ Love is now declared to be the most important attribute of the Christian, for it sums up in itself all the others, binding them together in a perfect bond. This love has nothing to do with sexual or romantic love (which have their own Greek word) and is partly defined for us in 1 Corinthians 13.4-8 and Romans 13.8-10. But it is not limited to that for it is also the fountain of positive goodness and action in self-giving and in fulfilling all that God requires (Galatians 5.13-14; 1 John 3.16-18), exemplified by the love that Jesus Christ Himself demonstrated when He gave Himself for us (Ephesians 5.2; 1 John 4.9-10), and springing from faith (Galatians 5.6). It is to act towards others ‘as we would that they would act towards us’ (Matthew 7.12), ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’ (Matthew 22.39; Romans 13.10; Galatians 5.14; James 2.8), as exemplified by the good Samaritan in his attitude towards one who hated and despised him (Luke 10.29-36). See also Romans 12.10; Philippians 2.2.
‘The bond of perfectness.’ Either that which perfectly unites together all the other Christian virtues, or as that which perfectly unites together all Christians in true fellowship.
3.15 ‘And let the peace of Christ make the decision in your hearts, to the which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.’
Jesus gave to His own His peace (John 14.27) that they may not be troubled, He wrought peace between us (Ephesians 2.14) and He obtained peace with God for us through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1.20). It is this peace in its many aspects which must rule all our decisions, peace with God, peace with each other and peace from God, the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4.7). We must make decisions as those that are at peace with Him and are at one with each other, for this is our calling, to be one body. And as this one body is united with Christ in His body, it is thus right that His peace should make the decisions with respect to it.
‘And be thankful.’ In the first place this refers to gratitude to God for making peace with us and giving us peace. But it extends to gratitude to God for all His goodness. It was God’s condemnation on the world that it was not thankful (Romans 1.21), and we should dwell in thankfulness (e.g. Colossians 2.7; 3.17; 4.2). In his letters Paul expresses his thanks to God over twenty times, and Jesus Himself commended the Samaritan who alone had returned to give thanks (Luke 17.16-17). Moreover in Ephesians 5.4 thankfulness is contrasted with foolish talking and jesting, it is the positive against which those are the negative. Thankfulness produces a right attitude of heart.
3.16 ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to God.’
The ‘logos of Christ’ may be intended to refer to the same thing as the ‘logos of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1.18), referring to preaching concerning Christ and the preaching of the cross respectively. The Christian is to receive such sound teaching gladly, and meditate on it, and let it fill his heart and his mind. However it may also be intended to include especial reference to the teaching of Christ Himself as passed on by eyewitnesses in the tradition of the church. The emphasis here, as all through Colossians, is on Christ and no other. It is the word about Him that they should be drinking in, not speculative teaching and ideas. He should be the centre of their thoughts and His words the guiding principle of their lives.
Another possibility is that it means Christ’s words to the heart of the Christian through preaching, teaching, meditation on the word of God, as Christ speaks directly to each heart. We can compare for this the parallel phrase ‘the word of God remains in you’ (1 John 2.14). Indeed it is fully possible that on this occasion all these are to be included, as meaning ‘let the word of Christ, however you receive it, dwell in and possess your heart’.
‘Teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom.’ While ‘with all wisdom’ could refer to either this phrase or the previous phrase it seems to fit better here. It may have been intended as a warning to ensure that the ‘teaching about Christ’ was sound and genuine and received wisely, but it would appear more likely that he meant that such wisdom was especially to be ensured when admonishing and teaching someone else. Such must be done tactfully and wisely so that the hearer might truly benefit. There would seem grounds here for recognising that many in the congregation would take part in ministry (compare 1 Corinthians 14).
‘With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to God.’ These would be expressions of praise and gratitude for the grace of God at work within them, rounding off their worship both in public and in private, ‘psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ covering all forms of singing as they do today. The psalms would naturally include the Book of Psalms, but not necessarily exclusively. The hymns, some of which could be designated psalms, would probably include songs specifically composed for worship (as with the Jews), but probably included individual spontaneous contributions. Spiritual songs possibly has a wider meaning of more popular Christian songs sung as catchy tunes in day to day life. But hymns are spiritual songs too, and spiritual songs would be sung in worship. Compare Matthew 26.30; Mark 14.26; 1 Corinthians 14.15, 26; Acts 16.25.
Note that here the singing is ‘to God’. In Ephesians 5.19 it is to ‘the Lord’. So no differentiation is made by Paul, with respect to worship, between God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Both are equally worthy of our worship.
‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ may attach to the previous phrase. Compare Ephesians 5.19, ‘Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.’ But ‘speaking to’ is not the same as ‘teaching and admonishing’, and in Ephesians the phrases connect with each other paralleling each other, whereas in Colossians they do not. For this reason we suggest connecting them as above.
Tertullian (c.200AD) tells us that at the love feast ‘each is invited to sing to God in the presence of the others from what he knows of the Holy Scriptures or from his own heart’. All the singing was thus not formal but even so, while the singing may be seen as teaching, it does not seem to fit in with ‘admonition’.
3.17 ‘And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’
Paul wants us to take seriously that it is Christ Who lives through us. He is Jesus the Lord, and we are His people. When a servant wore the livery of his lord he was seen as acting in the name of his lord. This explains the change to ‘the Lord Jesus’. We act in the name of our Lord. We have ‘put on the new man’, we wear Christ’s livery, thus all we say and do must in accordance with His will and requirements. We must let Him live His life through us. We must ensure that we live totally for Him as a good servant would for his master.
‘Giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’ Again the emphasis on being thankful. If we spent more time being thankful our spiritual lives would blossom. Note that our approach to the Father is ‘through Him’. This reminds us that of ourselves we have no right of access. It is because we genuinely come in His name, through the redemptive work He carried out on our behalf, that we have expectation of a hearing, even for the expressing of gratitude. Access to God is not the easy thing that it is portrayed by many to be. But it is easy for us because of Him (Hebrews 10.19-22). ‘Through Him’ has special significance in this letter for it excludes any intermediaries.
‘To God the Father’. The unusual Greek formation ‘to theo patri’ suggests that there is more emphasis on God as ‘abba, Father’, while stressing His Godhead, rather than God as Father of creation. (Compare the probable similar reading in 1.3).
3). Instructions to Wives, Husbands, Children, Servants and Masters (3.18-4.1).
Here Paul is following the pattern of some Jewish and pagan writers with respect to domestic behaviour, but he Christianises the instructions and makes them specifically applicable. This is a making sacred of these day to day relationships.
3.18 ‘Wives be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.’
The position of wives as being ‘under their husbands’ is not only taught but elsewhere stressed theologically in Scripture (1 Corinthians 11.3, 7-9; Ephesians 5.23; 1 Timothy 2.11-14; Genesis 2.18, 21-23). Marriage should be a partnership, as it was from the very beginning, for Eve was a helper of like kind with Adam, and the two are made one so that the man should look on his wife as himself (Ephesians 5.28, 33). But the man is in the final analysis to have the last word, with her best concerns in mind, and as a loving husband and not as a tyrant (verse 19).
‘Be in subjection.’ Not quite as strong as it sounds, but nevertheless to be obeyed, just as Christians are also to be subject to one another (Ephesians 5.21; 1 Peter 5.5) . It is a subjection of love not of tyrrany. In the same way Christ was subject to His parents (Luke 2.51), and the Son will be subject to the Father (1 Corinthians 15.28). In all these cases it is a benevolent subjection. However, the final headship of the man has to be acknowledged.
‘As is fitting in the Lord.’ The relationship is defined in terms of a higher plane. Both the husband and wife may be ‘in the Lord’ where there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3.28), and yet in that high state it is ‘fitting’, recognised as right and suitable, that the wife graciously submit to her husband.
3.19 ‘Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh against them.’
The corollary to the wife’s subjection is the husband’s loving concern. Husband’s are to behave to their wives as Christ to the church, cosseting them and caring for them and making sacrifices for them (Ephesians 5.25-31).
3.20 ‘Children obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing in the Lord.’
This is the general principle. Children are not to rebel against their parents wishes, but to respond to their directing as though the direction came from Christ Himself. They are to be concerned about the pleasure they give to the Lord by such behaviour. This thus further presses home the commandment to honour father and mother, a commandment which Jesus had also pressed home (Matthew 15.4-6; 19.19). But clearly where evil men sought to lead their children into evil ways, or to prevent them worshipping God, this would not apply. A higher law would prevail.
3.21 ‘Fathers (or ‘parents’), do not provoke (or ‘irritate’) your children, so that they are not discouraged.’
‘Fathers’. The word means ‘parents’ in Hebrews 11.23, so could mean that here. ‘Do not provoke’ by unnecessary or interminable commands. The bringing up of children requires tact and patience if the children are not to be put off and discouraged. Parents should remember that they are forming and fashioning lives.
Sternness will also be required, and even sometimes physical punishment, but it should never be vindictive or excessive or dispensed when out of control, and only when really necessary. Bull-headedness is out. Indeed much teaching should be given by example. This is more likely to be followed than undiscussed and unexplained orders. The fact is that in many cases our children will become what we are, not what we have told them to be.
‘Lest they be discouraged.’ Too many instructions, too many ‘don’ts’, too exacting a standard will only lead to discouragement, rebellion and reluctant eye-service. Not enough instruction will lead to doubt and uncertainty, and even despair. Children need to know what they should do, but also why they should do it or not do it. They are common sense creatures.
3.22-24 ‘Servants obey in all things those who are your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do work heartily as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that it is from the Lord that you will receive the recompense of the inheritance. You serve the Lord Christ.’
These words apply to all who serve in any way. Christians should be responsive and biddable to those who have the right to bid them. They should not only work hard when watched, but also when no one is watching. They should remember that the Lord is watching and will require their failure of them or reward them for their dedication. They should have only one aim. To please the Lord. For in the end they have only one Lord, Christ Himself. Many to whom these words were addressed were slaves, but they were to remember that they were the Lord’s freemen (1 Corinthians 7.22; Romans 8.21; John 8.36) and behave accordingly.
‘Obey in all things.’ Willing to do anything unless forbidden by a higher law. ‘Your masters according to the flesh.’ That is, from a human point of view. ‘Not with eye-service.’ Either working hard only when being watched or doing only what will be visible to the naked eye. Either way it means skimping on work. ‘Singleness of heart.’ Having only one purpose in mind, to do the job fully and satisfactorily, remembering that the Lord is watching and will require it of them.
‘Whatever you do, work heartily.’ The Christian always gives his best in everything. And he knows that by so doing he receives the greater inheritance, for His Lord will not overlook what he has done.
‘The recompense of the inheritance.’ See Galatians 3.18; 4.1; Ephesians 1.14, 18; 5.5; Colossians 1.12. We are both the Lord’s heritage and will receive from Him our inheritance, the ‘inheritance of the saints in light’ (1.12). For, in the final analysis, the Lord we serve is the Lord Christ. There is a divine paradox here in that the slave of men is the freeman of the Lord and will finally receive the greater inheritance.
3.25 ‘For he who does wrong will receive again the wrong that he has done, and there is no respect of persons.’
This is the final general principle that applies to all situations and to all men regardless of position. None is exempt. What a man sows he will reap (Galatians 6.7). And though the Christian be forgiven, redeemed and accepted by God in His mercy ‘we must all be openly revealed as what we are before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad’ (2 Corinthians 5.10; 1 Corinthians 4.5; Romans 14.10-12; ). His salvation will not be in doubt but the level of his reward or lack of reward will be so (compare 1 Corinthians 3.14-15).
‘Respect of persons.’ Here this is attached to the instructions concerning servants. There were many grades of servants and slaves. It is noteworthy that in Ephesians it is attached to the instructions concerning masters (Ephesians 6.9). It applies equally to both. All will be treated on exactly the same basis.
It should be considered here that Paul is not justifying the social order. He is working within it and removing its harshness. But to try to change it would have caused upheavals and suffering he would not have wanted to cause. Changing the roots of society is something that must be done gradually. He knew that his prime concern and responsibility was the spread and success of the Gospel, and that that would then right the wrongs in the relationships of men far more quickly than any social campaign could do. For in the end it is not social distinctions, but how men behave towards each other that is important. When that is right the rest will follow. And Paul knew this fully. It was, in fact, through the teaching of the Gospel that slavery would finally be condemned.
4.1 ‘Masters (lords), render to your servants what is right and is equality, knowing that you also have a master in Heaven.’
The master is not to show partiality but must treat each servant fairly. The same treatment must be meted out to all, and it must be ‘right’. For that is how the Master in Heaven treats all men, and He will require it of him.
A Final Exhortation (4.2-6)
These final words concentrate on what is important for their future behaviour in Christ.
4.2 ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving.’
The great concern of the Christians’ prayer should be the going forward of God’s purposes and the triumph of the Gospel. This was made clear by Jesus Christ Himself. The first half of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6.9-13) is directly given over to prayer for the carrying forward of these purposes, for the ‘hallowing of God’s name’ would result from these (Ezekiel 36.23, note the words that follow; see also 20.41; 28.25; 39.7, 27), and His first concern, as ours should be, was for the establishing of His rule and the doing of His will by all. And the vast majority of references to prayer in the New Testament have this in mind.
And even the latter part of the prayer concentrates on making us a part of that process, the forgiveness of sins, freedom from trial and deliverance from evil and the Evil One. These are all to make us able in the establishing of God’s rule. The sole concession to our own physical needs is the prayer for daily sustenance, and even that is minimal, and has in mind that we need to be reminded of our dependence on God and that all that we have comes from God.
Indeed Jesus stressed that our Father knows our needs so that long prayers for ourselves are not necessary (Matthew 6.7). To be constantly praying about our own needs shows that we do not trust Him to give us what we need. So we are rather to concentrate on seeking the kingship of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6.33), then we will receive all we need as well. We are not to be concerned about abundance on earth but about abundance in Heaven (Matthew 6.19-21). Those who pray for wealth and prosperity on earth still live in the Old Testament, or worse are idolaters (3.5). The New Testament saint is concerned for spiritual wealth and blessing. It is only the affluent society that thinks it has a right to pray for affluence because its values have been distorted. It has become basically selfish and self-seeking.
So the prayer Paul has in mind is prayer in accordance with the Lord’s example, that which is for the furthering of His kingship and His purposes (compare Ephesians 6.18-19). In this they are to continue with might and main. And as they pray they are to watch and give gratitude to God for what He accomplishes. Prayer and thanksgiving must always go together.
4.3-4 ‘Withal praying for us also that God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds, that I may make it manifest (revealed openly, fully and clearly) as I ought to speak.’
Note that Paul says not a word about his own conditions (except for his bonds), nor seeks prayer for help in preparing his defence. He does not want them to pray for these. He wants them to pray for him to be faithful to his responsibilities in Christ, and that the opportunity may be given for the successful presentation of the word of God. He knew that his Father would see to his private needs, and that the Holy Spirit’s help was promised for his appearance before the court (Matthew 10.19-20), so he concentrated on what was important.
‘That God may open to us a door for the word.’ Compare 1 Corinthians 16.9; 2 Corinthians 2.12; Revelation 3.8. He was in prison and chained to a Roman soldier, yet he prays for the opening of a door for the word (and not that of his prison). He knew what God could do. Little realised he at that time that the door was already opened and that the letters he was writing would become a major part of the greatest book in the world, the New Testament. But the important thing is that his heart was still set on proclaiming the Gospel.
‘To speak the mystery of Christ.’ This is the secret now being revealed by the Apostles and their helpers to the world, that is, Christ, Who in them would their hope of glory (1.18), establishing those who responded as the new people of God, to the amazement of supernatural beings (Ephesians 3.9-10).
‘For which I am also in bonds.’ Many false teacher pointed to their exertions as proof of their genuineness, so Paul points out that he too suffers for Christ (compare 2 Corinthians 6.4-10; 11.18-30).
‘That I might make it manifest as I ought to speak.’ Paul is aware of the Tempter who would seek to keep him from speaking boldly in his circumstances and the only thing he asks for himself is the courage and wisdom to speak out at every opportunity, so that he can proclaim and make clear the truth to the world.
4.5 ‘Walk in wisdom towards those who are outside, buying back the time (or ‘the opportunity’).’
As he asks them to pray for an opportunity for himself he also calls on them to make the most of their own opportunities. They are to walk in wisdom (compare Matthew 10.16) towards ‘outsiders’ (see 1 Corinthians 5.12-13; 1 Thessalonians 4.12), towards those outside the people of God. Preaching the Gospel requires wisdom. It is not enough just to proclaim a message, it must be done with thought and care.
‘Buying back the time (or opportunity).’ Making the most of every precious minute and of every opportunity.
4.6 ‘Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.’
Every opportunity must be approached differently (1 Corinthians 9.22), and the words carefully chosen. They must be suitable to both person and occasion. They must be spoken with grace, that is with compassionate love and concern. But ‘seasoned with salt’ reminds us that they have to carry a bite within them and be such as will be palatable, long lasting, and preservative, a well rounded message. We must be ready to properly defend our faith (1 Peter 3.15).
Final Salutations (4.7-18).
4.7-9 ‘All my affairs will Tychicus make known to you, the beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord, whom I have sent to you for this very purpose that you may know our state and that he may comfort your hearts, together with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother who is one of you. They will make known to you all that is done here.’
Paul demonstrates his concern and interest in the church at Colossae by sending Tychicus to them. Tychicus also carries the letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6.21-22), and probably the one to Laodicea (verse 16) which may well have been a duplicate of Ephesians. He was presumably the Tychicus ‘of Asia (Minor)’ who accompanied Paul and others at a crucial time (Acts 20.4) and may well have gone with him to Jerusalem as a delegate of his own church with gifts for the poor in Jerusalem. He was a trusted messenger of Paul (2 Timothy 4.12; Titus 3.12).
‘The beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord.’ He had three qualifications, beloved by Paul as a ‘brother’, faithful in ministry, and united with Paul and his associates as a true servant of the Lord. ‘In the Lord’ probably covers all three qualifications. To Paul all true Christian relationships were ‘in the Lord’. The title ‘fellow-servant’ (slave) was later applied strictly to deacons as against bishops (so the letters of Ignatius in the early second century AD), but that may be a development of the term resulting from interpretation of this epistle. Paul congratulated himself on being God’s servant (slave).
The purpose of his sending is to update them on what is happening to Paul and to give them spiritual strength, to ‘comfort’ them. He is one ‘called alongside to help’.
‘Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother who is one of you.’ We know more about Onesimus from Paul’s letter to Philemon. He was an escaped slave who had made his way to Rome and there been converted by the preaching of Paul, and had become a faithful and beloved brother. But Paul had learned from him his history, and knew that he belonged to a fellow Christian and brother, Philemon. Thus he was determined to return him to his master to right the wrong that had been done. He would return home with Tychicus and the letter to Philemon hoping to be forgiven and accepted there as Paul requests. ‘One of you’ suggests that he was a Colossian. He and Tychicus could have an important impact on the Colossian church as having been companions of Paul and fully aware of his teachings.
‘They shall make known to you all things that are done here.’ They would update the church in Colossae with all that was happening in Rome.
4.10-11 ‘Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner salutes you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, about whom you received firm instructions. If he comes to you, receive him. And Jesus who is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These alone are my fellow-workers to the kingdom of God, men that have been a comfort to me.’
These first three who are mentioned are Jewish Christians. It would seem that they were the only members of the Jewish church in Rome that had much close contact with Paul so as to be his ‘fellow-workers’. This need not mean antagonism by the remainder, only a lack of enthusiasm to be involved in his ministry. It may have been by mutual agreement to prevent the stigma of his imprisonment affecting the Jewish church in Rome in the eyes of the authorities. He was after all there on charges relating to Jewish matters.
‘Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner.’ Literally ‘fellow prisoner-of-war.’ This indicates that Paul sees himself as such too, as a soldier of Christ. Not just a prisoner but a prisoner-of-war. If Aristarchus shared Paul’s imprisonment voluntarily, as seems very possible, this would be a suitable title for him. Not a prisoner, but by choice a prisoner-of-war.
In the letter to Philemon Epaphras is the one who is called ‘my fellow prisoner-of-war’, while there Aristarchus is described as a fellow-worker. But we must remember that Epaphras is a Colossian (‘one of you’) and there he is writing to a Colossian.
It would seem therefore that it may be an honourable title not to be applied too literally. However, the fact that Epaphras is not taking the letters may indicate some kind of legal restraint, even if only temporary, so it might suggest a literal situation. Either way the use of the title here of Aristarchus has the purpose of highly commending him to the church of Laodicea. But it may or may not mean that he was himself under legal restraint.
Aristarchus was a native of Thessalonica (Acts 20.4), and at times a companion of Paul (Acts 19.29; 20.4; 27.2).
‘And Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.’ The word translated ‘cousin’ (anepsios) strictly means cousin. It was only later that its meaning extended to include a nephew. Mark was therefore the cousin of Barnabas, not his nephew. He was “John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12.12, 25). Markos was clearly his Greek name, which gradually came to supersede his Jewish name John. He is called John in Acts 12.25; 13.5, 13; 15.37, and Mark here and in Acts 15.39; Philemon 1.23; 2 Timothy 4.11. He was the son of Mary, a woman apparently of some means and influence, and was probably born in Jerusalem, where his mother resided (Acts 12.12). Of his father we know nothing.
It was in Mark’s mother's house that Peter found "many gathered together praying" when he was released from prison, and it is probable that it was here that he was converted by Peter, who calls him his "son" (1 Peter 5.13). It is quite probable that the "young man" spoken of in Mark 14.51, 52 was Mark himself.
He went with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey (about A.D. 47), but from some cause turned back when they reached Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 12.25; 13.13). Three years later a "sharp contention" arose between Paul and Barnabas (15.36-40), because Paul would not take Mark with him and this caused them to divide their ministries. It is clear, however from his mention here that he has been restored to Paul’s good favour. At a later period he would be with Peter in ‘Babylon’ (1 Peter 5.13). It is possible that this was Babylon itself, then, and for some centuries afterwards, one of the chief seats of Jewish learning, but it may be a disguised name for Rome. And he was with Timothy in Ephesus when Paul wrote to him during his second imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:11). He then disappears from view apart from the writing of his Gospel.
‘Touching whom you received firm instructions. If he comes to you receive him.’ The latter sentence may be the firm instructions given, that Mark is to be received as a faithful witness and reliable minister. Or Paul may just be adding his commendation to instructions already given by another.
‘Jesus who is called Justus.’ Only mentioned here (and not to Philemon). Probably mentioned here because of his personal devotion to Paul and because with Aristarchus and Mark he is the only Jewish Christian in Rome to give him firm support at this stage.
‘Who are of the circumcision.’ Jewish Christians.
‘These only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, men who have been a consolation to me.’ The Jewish Christians in Rome were seemingly holding aloof from Paul. There would be many churches in Rome and on the whole it was only the leaders who might be expected to have taken some interest in Paul’s position. But the Jewish Christian leaders were lacking in their attention.
As suggested above the Jewish Christian leaders may have been, with his agreement, chary of getting involved with someone being arraigned for anti-Jewish behaviour which might draw Roman wrath down on them. But these words here suggest that he felt that they might have offered a little more help than they did, and demonstrates how deeply he felt the faithfulness of these three. Was this one of the things that restored his relationship with Mark, who might have been seen as having some excuse for neglecting him?
4.12 ‘Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, salutes you, always striving for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has much labour for you, and for those in Laodicea , and for those in Hierapolis.’
See 1.7. Epaphras may well have founded the Colossian church, and here we learn of his continued concern for them and their fellow churches in the area. He strives (agonises) for them in his prayers, as Paul also does (2.1).
‘That you may stand fast, perfect, and be assured (fully persuaded) in all the will of God.’ Paul points out that Epaphras is siding with him in his concern for their true understanding of the Gospel. He too is concerned that they should ‘stand fast’ against error as those who are matured Christians (perfect) and be fully persuaded in their own minds of the truth of Paul’s teaching which was revealing to them the true will of God. For that was what was really important. That they may know the will of God.
‘He has much labour for you.’ At this stage mainly in agonising prayer.
‘And for those in Laodicea and for those in Hierapolis.’ These three churches clearly have close association (with Colossae easily the smallest). It may be that Epaphras founded them all. Certainly he is equally concerned for them all.
4.14 ‘Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas salute you.’
Luke was a regular companion of Paul (note the ‘we’ passages in Acts - see Acts 16.10-16; 20.6-21.18 and probably after; 27.1-28.31), and the author of Luke and Acts. It is here that we learn he was a physician. In Philemon 1.24 he is a ‘fellow-worker’. This demonstrates that he did more than just being a doctor. He was also active in Christian service and ministry.
‘And Demas.’ Ranked with Aristarchus and Luke as ‘fellow-workers’ in Philemon 1.24. Later he would fear for his life and leave Paul (2 Timothy 4.10).
4.15-16 ‘Salute the brothers who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in their house. And when this letter has been read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you also read the letter from Laodicea.’
He sends greetings to the Laodiceans in the letter, probably partly because he wanted the letter read in the Laodicean church and wanted them to know of his warm affection for them. This letter and his letter to the Laodiceans are to be exchanged between the churches for mutual benefit. The letter to the Laodiceans may have been a copy of the letter to the Ephesians, and if so it was probably not yet written, for Ephesians is a development on the Colossian letter. But he may have mentioned it because it was his intention to send both at the same time, once Ephesians had also been written. Alternately it may simply be a letter that was later lost.
‘Nymphas and the church that is in their house.’ It is debated whether Nymphas is a man or is Nympha a woman. What matters is that the local church met in their house. The meeting of church groups in houses is a regular feature of the New Testament (Acts 12.12; 20.8; 1 Corinthians 16.19; Romans 16.5; Philemon 1.2; possibly Acts 16.40). Large houses may well have been able to take the whole congregation in a city and in larger cities there would be a number of congregations meeting in different places united under a joint ministry. There were, of course, no known church buildings. It was because they met in houses that they did not so quickly come to the notice of the authorities as an unauthorised sect (that and the fact that they were seen as of the Jewish religion).
4.17 ‘And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you fulfil it.’
We do not know why Archippus is picked out. He is called a ‘fellow-soldier’ (Philemon 1.2), which suggests Paul had confidence in him, and he may have been the particular leader in the Colossian church whom Paul felt had the ability to sway things, and to whom he wished to give encouragement. This would explain his mention here as it would give him added authority. Or he may have been someone well known to Paul, possibly even set apart by Paul by the laying on of hands, and related to Philemon who clearly owed his conversion to Paul (Philemon 1.19). Or he could have been a prominent teacher who had been affected by the local heresy whom Paul is calling back to his duty. But the important thing is that he has received a ministry ‘in the Lord’ and is now charged to fulfil it.
4.18 ‘The salutation of me, Paul, with my own hand. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you.’
Paul would appear to have been using an amanuensis, a scribe (see Romans 16.22). But he adds his postscript to prove the genuineness of the letter. This appears to have been his common practise (compare Galatians 6.11; 1 Corinthians 16.21; 2 Thessalonians 3.17).
‘Remember my bonds.’ Possibly a last emotional appeal to some to think their position through on the basis of what he suffers for Christ. Or perhaps a call for them to pray that he might be faithful in spite of them.
‘Grace be with you.’ He stresses here their need for the grace of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. That in the end is what they need and what they must trust in.
The Body of Christ
The idea of the body of Christ begins with teaching concerning the literal body of Christ. Thus when Jesus at the Last Supper took the bread and broke it and said, ‘Take, eat. This is my body.’ (Matthew 26.26). ‘Take you, this is my body.’ (Mark 14.22). ‘This is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22.19). ‘This is my body which is for you, do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11.24), He was clearly pointing to His death on the cross in a physical body and equally pointing to the fact that they could nourish themselves from Him and His death. He was symbolising spiritual participation in the body of His flesh as the crucified One.
It is hardly necessary to point out that someone who was alive and well at the time could hardly have meant this to be taken literally. The bread could not be His body for He was still in His body. To claim that it was His body in a mystical sense is to make such an idea meaningless. It would not be to declare a miracle but to argue a literal and factual impossibility. It would be to play with words. He simply meant that it represented His body, just as in the Passover, on which Jesus’ words were a parallel, the leader took bread and said ‘this is the bread of affliction which your fathers ate’ and meant ‘this reminds you of and symbolises, and allows you to partake in by inference, the bread of affliction’. Each time they ate they as it were entered into the experience. And each time we eat the bread at the Lord’s Table we enter into the experience of His crucifixion, confirming that we are united with Him in His death.
He had said earlier, ‘He who comes to Me will never hunger’ (John 6.35). And this now signified that by coming to Him and responding to His words they were to be seen as ‘eating Him’. Thus when in future the people of God ate the bread at the Lord’s Table they were declaring their participation in Him and His sacrifice for them, made once for all (Hebrews 10.10. They were coming to Him afresh to declare their participation with Him in His death and to partake of His spiritual blessing. And as they come He blesses them.
This very act was an act of unity. In 1 Corinthians 10.17 Paul says, in the context of the Lord’s Table (Holy Communion), ‘seeing that we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ The stress here is on the oneness of the people of God. Because we eat of the one bread we are one in Christ. Thus we can be seen as one ‘body’, having oneness in Christ’s own body. The idea here is metaphorical, but it is also individual. Each must come. The metaphorical nature of the words is emphasised in that he says that by participating in the bread we become the bread. No one in his right mind would take this literally or metaphysically. Thus the body is also metaphorical.
In Romans 7.4 we read that the genuine Christian has become ‘dead to the Law through the body of Christ’. The thought here is again the death of Christ in His physical body as a sacrifice, but once more we have each Christian participating in the totality of His sacrifice. Thus their oneness in Him is again stressed. They are united with Him, by faith, in His death and in His resurrection (Romans 6.4-11), and will thus participate in the resurrection from the dead (Romans 8.11).
But it is the deeds of the individual’s body which are to be put to death, not the deeds of the whole (8.13), although that will in the end be the result. They are one in Him and yet each has to respond as an individual. They do not merge into each other. Each is responsible as an individual. The ‘church’ is never a solid conglomerate whole without individuality. It is made up of responding individuals. It does, of course, finally include all who believe in Him, but not specifically as one indivisible whole brought together under and responding to a hierarchy. Each responds directly to Christ as an individual, and that is important to grasp.
So while Paul sees us all as participating in the death and resurrection of Christ he does so as individuals and not just as one whole. And the same applies to the redemption of our body in 8.23. The church is seen as a totality but not as simply a corporate totality. Each individual member contributes to making up the whole The church is not a single mass.
This is well illustrated in 1 Corinthians 6.15-17. ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? God forbid. Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one body. For the two, says he shall become one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.’
Membership of the body of Christ is not mentioned but is implied. Our bodies are members of Christ because we are in submission to and in unity with Christ. But if we then with our bodies unite physically with a prostitute we become ‘one body’ with the prostitute. The idea is clearly metaphorical and not metaphysical. The unity of the Christian with Christ is ‘in spirit’ and not in body. The point is then stressed that for each of us our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that therefore fornication is a sin against our bodies. The Scriptural position is that we are each a sanctuary of God (1 Corinthians 6.19) and yet together make up the sanctuary of God (Ephesians 2.21).
This reminds us that when we look at an illustration used in Scripture we must always ask what the writer intended to convey by it. That, and that alone, is Scriptural truth. Any expansion that we make on it is but human speculation. And there is nothing this applies to more than the description of the church as ‘the body of Christ’ which we are to consider further, which can be used to prove anything. But here the idea of the church is not of some great monolithic object but of the totality of the people of God of which all are individually priests and sons of God.
The idea of ‘the body of Christ’ does not occur outside Paul’s letters, and indeed it appears in only four of them, and that with a variety of emphases. Its purpose appears to be threefold. Firstly to demonstrate that all that we have is ‘in Him’. We are united with His living resurrected body by faith and thus participate in all He has done for us. His body includes Him, indeed finds its significance in this fact. This is why Paul could say ‘Christ’ rather than ‘the church’ in 1 Corinthians 12.12. That is how he thought of the body. The body is Christ. Secondly to demonstrate the unity yet diversity of the church, the oneness of the whole, the importance of all the parts fitting together, the contribution of each part to the whole. Thirdly to show that the church receives from Christ its sustenance and strength. Thus the emphasis is on the well-being of the body in its union with Christ
The idea of Christ as Head over His body comes later, but we must not allow ourselves to fall into the easy trap of seeing Him as the head and we as the body. This is not what is in Paul’s mind. The body as applied to the church includes the head. It has eyes and ears (1 Corinthians 12.16) and the head is contrasted with the feet (verse 21). Thus the body is inclusive of the head.
The truth is that the Headship of Christ has rather in mind His authority and power (Ephesians 5.23). In relation to each individual Christian He is his Head (1 Corinthians 11.3) just as the man is the head of his wife. This can hardly mean that the one is the head and the other is the body. In relation to His body He is ‘Head over all things’ (Ephesians 1.22), not just head of the body, and it is as such (and not as a head connected by the neck with its body) that the church are united with Him as His body. ‘The church which is His body’ does not mean His body in contrast with Himself as the head but as accepting that the church has become one with Him in His own body as He dies on the cross (Ephesians 2.16) and as He rises again and is exalted (Ephesians 1.19-2.10). He is the Saviour of the body (Ephesians 5.23) which is saved by being united with Him. The church is not to be seen as joined to Him by the neck.
This cannot be so for, as we have seen, initially the body is literally His body, and we are united with Him in that body. We benefit from His activity as the Head of all things, but we also benefit by our oneness with His resurrection body. We are one body with Him. Thus when we are persecuted He is persecuted (Acts 9.4).
There is no suggestion anywhere that it is through the church as the body that Christ reveals Himself in the world, or lives out His life in the world, as though the church were ‘Christ’s body on earth’. The concept is never used in that way. That is not the emphasis. In the New Testament such revelation of Himself is by preaching and by individual living, not by a corporate presence in ‘the body’. Indeed in ‘the body’ we are in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1.19 - 2.10).
We will now consider these facts in more detail section by section. Chronologically the first passage is found in 1 Corinthians 10.17, already referred to above, where Paul says, in the context of The Lord’s Table (Holy Communion), ‘seeing that we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ The stress here is on the oneness of the people of God, and that oneness arises out of our connection with His one body. Because we ‘eat’ of the one bread by coming to Him (John 6.35) we are one in Christ. Thus we can be seen as one ‘bread’ and one ‘body’, having a kind of oneness with the one literal body of Christ through participating in the one bread. The idea of ‘the body’ is of identification with and oneness with Christ’s own body and of spiritual communion with Him.
This leads on to its use later in 1 Corinthians. Here the ‘body’ is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12.12-31 in the context of the giving of spiritual gifts to the church, the people of God. The different types of gifts and their importance to the whole are described in terms of a ‘body having many parts’.
But it is first stressed that that body is Christ. Our being the body is because we participate in Christ. “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body being many are one body, so also is Christ.” Here Christ as including His people is likened to a body which has a variety of ‘members’ or parts, each of which is important and has to play its part. Paul then goes on to say, “For in one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many” and the differing parts of the body are then described.
Note that emphasis is placed on being ‘baptised (drenched) in one Spirit into one body and being made to drink of one Spirit’. Thus it is the oneness of the Holy Spirit that makes His infilled people one body and conjoined with Christ, and also the fact that they partake of the one Spirit, as they partook of the one bread. Thus are they one body with Him. They come to the spiritual rain that pours from Heaven and the springs of water that result. What is important here is not water baptism but its significance as indicating that the baptised person is partaking in the Holy Spirit and through doing so is being made one with Christ’s own body. Our being the body is certainly not in this instance because Christ is the head but because Christ is the body. (As we have seen, here in 1 Corinthians the body as the church, and as Christ, includes the head for it has eyes and ears (verse 16) and the head is contrasted with the feet (verse 21).
This is, of course, only true where the response is genuine. The Holy Spirit is not controlled by men’s ordinances, even where they follow a seemingly divinely ordained pattern. Only the person who genuinely ‘receives the Spirit’ as a result of the hearing of faith, with the signs of the working within of the power of the Spirit following, becomes a member of the body (Galatians 3.2). Those who do not ‘through the Spirit await the hope of righteousness’ are by their own attitude ‘severed from Christ’ whether baptised or not. For if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is none of His (Romans 8.9).
The early church would not have seen a person as necessarily having received the Spirit just because he was baptised. They baptised him because of their assumption and hope that he had received the Spirit by being converted. They looked for the response of faith and took that as the sign that men had received the Spirit. But Paul had later to question whether the Galatians had genuinely received the Spirit. So reception of the Spirit was finally judged in other ways, not by baptism, and resulted from response to the preaching of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1.17). Once that response had taken place they baptised men because they had responded, and they accepted that because of this response of faith they would, if it was genuine (which they could not judge) receive the Spirit. And then they looked for evidence of the Spirit’s working, or the evidence that He was not working. They acknowledged that mistakes could be made (e.g. Ananias and Sapphyra - Acts 5.1-6). But they left that with God to sort out..
Some may believe that this can happen to a baptised infant but the whole of human experience is against it. Baptised infants tend to grow up the same as other infants. They do not especially evidence the signs of the Spirit’s working. Nor do they become members of the body of Christ in the Biblical sense. That can only happen through spiritual union with Christ resulting from personal response.
We have stressed here that there is no suggestion of Christ being the head and the church being ‘separate’ as the body. The body is ‘Christ’. The church, can be described as ‘Christ’ because they are ‘in Christ’ and one with Christ as described in 1 Corinthians 10.17. He and they are united as one. They are united with His body. It includes the head which is no different from the rest of the body (as evidenced by the mention of the ear and the eye, and the contrast between head and feet). And that body is composed of Christ and of all genuine Christians of all types and races. Thus the church is seen as being ‘in Christ’ through the work of the Holy Spirit and as such forming one complete body in Him, made up of many individual ‘members’. And as we have seen the description is bold. The body as a whole is actually spoken of as ‘Christ’, because it is composed of those who through the Spirit have come into oneness with His own body. Having been made one bread and one body there is total spiritual unity. There is total intimacy.
But we must beware of making of it more than is intended. We can mysticise it and go too far. It is describing the indescribable and we must therefore beware in applying it that we do not go beyond what the Scriptures teach about it. We must not read out of it more than we can find in each passage (in the sense that we accept that reading out as revealed truth).
So Paul goes on to say that in Christ the church is like a body which is made up of a multiplicity of members. We are made participators in that body by being drenched in the one Spirit. And we must each play our part in sustaining that body. For ‘now you are the body of Christ and severally members of it’ (1 Corinthians 12.27). The whole emphasis is on oneness with Christ spiritually, and the part that each member must play in the upbuilding of the whole as one with Christ. It looks inwards towards the growth of the body, not outwards towards the world, and stresses our communion with Christ. There is no thought of Christ in Heaven and we on the earth. Far from it. We are linked together in closest union.
A similar idea is prominent in Romans 12.4-5. ‘For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office, so we who are many are one body in Christ and severally members one of another.’ Note that we are one body ‘in Christ’. It is because we are in Christ that we are part of His body and make up the one body. He then goes on to outline the spiritual gifts divided among the members of the church. Note the stress on the many within the one. The one body is called in to illustrate the oneness of the whole people of God in union with Christ, but is immediately shown to be composed of many individual members. This unity is ‘in Christ’ but it is illustrated in terms of the human body which reflects their position as one in Christ, working together for the good of the whole. Again the continuing thought is of close communion with Christ in His body with a view to spiritual growth.
This now brings us on to Colossians where the idea is expanded in the light of Paul’s arguments there. Here, having described the supremacy of Christ in all things pertaining to the universe (1.15-17) he adds, ‘and He is the Head of the body, the church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence’.
The idea here is of ‘the Head’ as being ‘Lord over’ rather than as in contrast with the body. It is in context with His Lordship over everything. Compare ‘the husband is the head of the wife as Christ also is the head of the church’ (Ephesians 4.23), and ‘gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body’ (Ephesians 1.22-23) and ‘the Head of every man is Christ (1 Corinthians 11.3).
This mention of ‘the body’ out of the blue suggests that the background in 1 Corinthians was by now well known.
This interpretation is confirmed by the further description of Him as ‘the beginning’ (i.e. the source of life), ‘the firstborn from the dead’ (He Who first broke the power of death and rose and is the cause of all others rising), ‘that in all things He might have the pre-eminence’. There is not even a hint here that we should see Him as the head in contrast with the body. And everything we have previously seen is against it.
This gains some confirmation from the fact that in verse 22 we read of ‘yet now has He reconciled, in the body of His flesh through death to present you holy, and without blemish and unreproveable before Him.’ Thus it is being stressed in context that the body that is in mind is ‘the body of His flesh’ as now resurrected and united with His people This closeness of connection supports the idea that ‘the body’ in verse 18 has the union of the church with ‘the body of Christ’ in mind.
But the case is at first seemingly different in 2.19. There we read, ‘and not holding fast the Head from Whom all the body being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.’ At first this seems to be contrasting Christ as the head with the church as His lower body receiving its sustenance and growth from its head. I would have no quarrel with the idea as a symbol and picture. However I do not think it is what Paul was meaning.
Firstly we should note that the idea of ‘the Head’ follows on immediately after the idea of worshipping angels and experiencing great visions. The Head is in contrast with these. As described in chapter 1 He is Head over all things (implied but not stated, but see Ephesians 1.22 where it is stated that He is ‘Head over all things’ in a context where the body of Christ is in mind) as well as Head of the body, the church. Thus he is speaking of those who are ignoring the overall Headship of Christ.
Secondly it is questionable as to whether the ancients did see all growth in the body as springing from the head. They placed great stress on other organs. The ancients did not see the head as the controlling influence over the body, they considered that lay more in the ‘heart’ and the ‘bowels’ and other similar parts of the body (Mark 2.6, 8; 3.5; Luke 24.32; Philippians 2.1; Colossians 3.12; 1 John 3.17).
Thirdly if it did mean this it would be unique usage in Scripture, except possibly for in Ephesians 4.15-16, and it would ignore the constant idea that we are united in His actual glorified body.
Thus it would be more consistent with Paul’s ideas looked at previously to see ‘the body’ as Christ’s own body within which His people are united, and the Headship as indicating Christ as the Supreme Authority from Whom all their growth comes. Either way they are one living unit. Christ, risen and with all authority in Heaven and earth, seen as over all, controlling and directing, strengthening and empowering, and we as members of His body, responsive and obedient, ministering to each other (compare 1 Corinthians 12.20-27; Romans 12.4-8) for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The difference is subtle, and in some ways is not vital. Either way Christ is the source of the growth and unity of the people of God and the cause of their ‘increase’. But it has its importance in ensuring that we grasp Paul’s full meaning.
The ‘incidental’ reference in Colossians 3.15 to ‘to which also you were called in one body’ shows that the idea of the body has become well established. The idea he has in mind is that they have all been united in the body of Christ by being made one with Him and they are therefore one.
We now come to the final usage of ‘the body’, in Ephesians. In 1.22-23 we read ‘And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness (pleroma) of him who fills all in all.’
This comes in a context where the overall supremacy of Christ has been declared, finalised by ‘He put all things in subjection under His feet,’ compare Psalm 8.6. The picture is given of the great and victorious King and Overlord before whom all His subjects and His enemies humble themselves, prostrating themselves at His feet and acknowledging His lordship.
Then we read ‘And gave him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body.’ As ‘Head over all things’, which includes all heavenly powers and all earthly powers, He is given to His ‘church’, to those whom He has called out and redeemed, those who have been united with Him in His body on the cross, to be their Head as well. They are uniquely His, and He is Head to them in a unique way. Thus in the whole scenario of existence the people of God are depicted as unique and special. For while the remainder are seen as subjects, some even as rebellious subjects, the people of God are seen as in close relation to Him becasue they are ‘His body’, united as one with Him.
We can compare here the words of Paul elsewhere in Ephesians where he likens Christ’s Headship over the church to man’s headship over his wife (Ephesians 5.23). Thus the head depicts authority and close unity in that authority. But it is the two bodies merging that makes them ‘one’. Note that there is also not total merger, they are united in one but do not actually become one entity. In the same way the church have been united with Him in His body, sharing with Him in His exaltation and in His rule, and responding to His direction and control. That is why they are ‘one body’. They are His queen. They are His wife (Ephesians 5.25-27) to be presented to Him without blemish. Note how in the case of the church as the wife Paul can immediately link it with Christ’s relationship with the church in terms of their being members of His body, gliding from the one illustration to the other (5.29-30), just as husband and wife are ‘one body’ by the act of union.
‘Which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.’ Here being His body, uniting with Him in His death and resurrection, means being that which makes Him complete. Thus His people are the ‘fullness of Him Who fills all in all”. This is, of course, a paradox. He Who fills all in all surely needs no completion. Indeed all things ‘hold together’ in Him (Colossians 1.17). How then can His people be His fullness? The answer lies in the plan of redemption. Having become Man in order to redeem man He is incomplete in His body until the redeemed are gathered into His body. As representative Man He must gather in those Whom He represented. They are the fullness which will make Him whole. He died that they might be His, and they become His by being united with Him in His death and resurrection. They become His body because they are united with Him in His body.
In Ephesians 2.15 we have the idea that believing Jews and believing Gentiles are joined together as ‘one new man’. This is then connected with the body of Christ. ‘And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.’ The ‘one body’ mentioned in Ephesians 2.16 must surely signify the actual body of Christ, crucified for us, the body of His flesh (Colossians 1.22), but is also intended to incorporate something of the idea of 2.15, the ‘one body’ also representing the ‘one new man’, recognising that we were ‘crucified with Christ’ in His body (Galatians 2.20). Once again the emphasis is on oneness, union with Him. So we are His body as identified with Him in His body of flesh on the cross. This is confirmed in 3.6 where the Gentiles are said to be ‘fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel’.
Mention of the body comes again in Ephesians 4.4, where the emphasis is on ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (verse 3). Then Paul says ‘there is one body, and one Spirit, even as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (4.3-6). Here all the other examples refer to that which is not itself the church but part of its essential foundations and make up. So to be consistent and in order to tie in with these comparisons, this ‘one body’ must refer to the one body of His flesh, His body, in which His people are united.
Then he goes on to outline those gifted people who have been provided ‘for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (4.12-13). Once again the emphasis in the use of the term ‘body’ is on the building up of the body to a full faith and knowledge of Christ, indeed to full Christ-likeness as one full-grown man. This is clearly metaphorical, not metaphysical. The blurring of individuals is never in mind as is clear constantly throughout. Individual responsibility is central to the Christian message.
He then adds, ‘But speaking the truth in love may grow up in all things into Him Who is the Head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each several part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love’ (4.15-16).
At first sight this seems to be the clearest example of the idea of Christ as the head connected to a body and providing for the needs of the body. But its use in 5.23 on and elsewhere suggests otherwise even here. There Christ as the Head of the church is the Saviour of the body, Someone active to deliver. And the church is subject to Christ as a wife is to her husband, and this is likened to a husband’s position with regard to his wife. The husbands are to love their wives ‘as their own bodies’, in other words as much as their own bodies and as if they were their own bodies, and by uniting their two bodies they then become ‘one flesh’. There is no suggestion that the husband is the head, being connected to the wife as the body. So we are justified as seeing in this the position whereby through uniting with Christ the people of God become united with His body and thus are His body.
Even here therefore we have to question whether the idea is of Christ as the head and we as the body as two parts of one whole, and this obtains confirmation from the fact that ‘the Head’ is separated from what follows by ‘even Christ’. Unlike in Colossians he does not want to move directly from the Head to what is done in the body. (Perhaps rereading that letter warned him of the danger). This would suggest that the idea of the Headship of Christ is thus maintained as the One Who is over the body as its Head and Overlord, but that it is specifically Himself as the whole Body rather than just as the Head Who unites and sustains the body, because they are one body in Him, joined with His body. They are ‘members of His body, in union with His body’ (5.30), and as its Head He is its Saviour and Overlord.
So Christ is the Head of the church as the husband is the head of his wife stressing His position in authority. In relation to the body He is its Saviour (5.23).
We may sum up therefore by recognising that the idea of the church as ‘the body of Christ’ has nothing to do with the behaviour of the church in the world or towards the world (except indirectly) but everything to do with its union with Him in His death and resurrection. The church, the people of God, are His because they are ‘in Christ’, because by His Spirit they have been made One with Him, and the whole emphasis behind this is that this results in the growth and development of the body as each member plays his part in the whole. The emphasis in the idea of the one body is on spiritual unity with Christ, and the benefit of the whole, and their oneness with Christ Himself. It is inward looking not outward looking. The idea behind ‘the body of Christ’ is Christ in union with His people enabling their growth in Him, not Christ through His people revealing Himself to the world.
It may be said, ‘but surely Paul could not in Colossians and Ephesians mention Jesus as the head and the church as the body without associating the two in comparison with the human make-up?’ It is, of course, possible that the connection was there in his mind. But if so it is never specifically spelled out, and it is reasonable to argue that he was well aware that to do so would be confusing, for to him the Headship of Christ meant Lordship and Sovereignty and could not be debased to a subservient function. And the unity of Christ and His people in one body was equally a part of his thinking so that he was unlikely to move from that to another position for the sake of a good illustration. And this is confirmed by the subtle changes that took place in Ephesians, as his thought developed, in contrast with Colossians.
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