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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1

Verse 10

A THREEFOLD APPEAL

‘That ye might walk worthy or the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.’

Colossians 1:10

St. Paul is speaking of that which pertains to ourselves—our walk. The walk is made up of short steps.

I. Walking.—So we are called on to walk worthy of the Lord in all the little things of life: those which come closest to our hand, just within reach. Here is the difficulty. We can brace ourselves up for great events; but, while many Christians pass through great events, how they fail in little things, in what is called the minutiae of life!

II. Working.—‘Fruitful in every good work.’ Not engaged in every work only. You have to see that there is fruitfulness. Something in it, whether little or great, that will please your Heavenly Father.

III. Growing.—‘Increasing in the knowledge of God.’ You cannot increase in the knowledge of God unless your heart is under the guiding and teaching of the Holy Spirit continually. ‘If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.’

Rev. Whitfield.

Illustration

‘Laid on Thine altar, O my Lord divine,

Accept my gift this day for Jesu’s sake;

I have no jewels to adorn Thy shrine,

Nor any world-famed sacrifice to make;

But here I bring within my trembling hand

This will of mine—a thing which seemeth small;

And only Thou, dear Lord, canst understand

How, when I yield thee this—I yield mine all.’

Verse 10

A THREEFOLD APPEAL

‘That ye might walk worthy or the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.’

Colossians 1:10

St. Paul is speaking of that which pertains to ourselves—our walk. The walk is made up of short steps.

I. Walking.—So we are called on to walk worthy of the Lord in all the little things of life: those which come closest to our hand, just within reach. Here is the difficulty. We can brace ourselves up for great events; but, while many Christians pass through great events, how they fail in little things, in what is called the minutiae of life!

II. Working.—‘Fruitful in every good work.’ Not engaged in every work only. You have to see that there is fruitfulness. Something in it, whether little or great, that will please your Heavenly Father.

III. Growing.—‘Increasing in the knowledge of God.’ You cannot increase in the knowledge of God unless your heart is under the guiding and teaching of the Holy Spirit continually. ‘If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.’

Rev. Whitfield.

Illustration

‘Laid on Thine altar, O my Lord divine,

Accept my gift this day for Jesu’s sake;

I have no jewels to adorn Thy shrine,

Nor any world-famed sacrifice to make;

But here I bring within my trembling hand

This will of mine—a thing which seemeth small;

And only Thou, dear Lord, canst understand

How, when I yield thee this—I yield mine all.’

Verse 16

CHRIST AND CREATION

‘For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him.’

Colossians 1:16

A very narrow notion of the functions of Christ is afloat, according to which our Lord is virtually regarded as limited in work, and even in nature, to the mission of redemption. In the Bible an infinitely larger range is given to the work and nature of Christ. If there had been no sin Christ would still have visited the world in some way of Divine goodness. He came in the creation before the birth of sin.

I. The relation of Christ to creation.—The relation of Christ to creation is threefold:—

( a) In Christ is the fundamental basis of creation. All things were made ‘in’ Him.

( b) Christ is the instrumental agent of creation. All things were made ‘through’ Him.

( c) Christ is the end of creation. All things were made ‘unto’ Him.

II. The scope and range of Christ’s work.—The scope and range of the work of Christ was universal in creation. It included:—

( a) All things, visible and invisible, i.e. physical and spiritual existences, or things within our observation and the infinite population of the regions of space beyond.

( b) All orders of being, thrones, etc., none too great for His power, none too small for His care.

( c) Every variety and every individual. Different classes are specified. Creation is not a work merely of general laws, it implies individual formation under them. All this vast and varied work is ascribed to Christ as its foundation, its efficient instrument, and its end.

III. We learn

( a) As regards Christ. (i.) His pre-existence. It is eternal ( Hebrews 13:8). (ii.) His glory. All that is great and beautiful in creation glorifies Him through Whom it came into existence.

( b) As regards the creation. (i.) This must be in harmony with Christ, (ii.) We should endeavour to trace indications of the spirit and presence of Christ in nature.

Verse 17

CHRIST THE CENTRE OF ALL

‘By Him all things consist.’

Colossians 1:17

A remarkable expression which contains a great truth.

I. Christ is the centre of all.

( a) Of the visible world. Christ is the central point of everything, and the whole circle of the universe is united and ruled and bound together by Christ.

( b) Christ is the essential point of all truth, even of the great Godhead of the Blessed Trinity. Christ came from heaven to reveal and magnify the Father. This done, Christ returned to heaven to send the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost leads us to Christ, Christ presents us to the Father.

( c) Christ is the Head of the Church.

II. Every real Christian will confess that every good thing he has, every act of love and service, every ray of light and holiness to his heart or life, all come from Christ. There is no other source. And further his own conscience will tell him that his one great desire is to serve and please Christ. That Christ is the focus of his life—to be like Him, to honour Him, to be with Him for ever: so that past, present, future, all gathers up to one point, and that point is Christ.

III. Apply this truth very practically.

( a) You feel and you regret your inconsistencies. Your inconsistencies are the result of a little of Christ, or no Christ, in your heart.

( b) We lament divisions in the Church. What is the real and only remedy? More simplicity, greater humility, greater singleness of aim, Christ more preached, Christ more lived, Christ more exalted.

( c) Or go into a closer circle—in your family, in your household, in your school, in your place of business. Is it peace? Labour for the prerogative of Christ. It is His work and His glory to keep all things well together—your family, your business, everything. ‘By Him all things consist.’

Verse 18

THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH

‘And He is the Head of the Body, the Church.’

Colossians 1:18

To St. Paul the Church was the Body of Christ. The Father, he says, ‘gave Christ to be Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.’ St. Paul loved to contemplate Christ as the Head, and the Church as His Body.

I. The unity of the Church.—St. Paul loved the thought of unity. He saw with his mind’s eye one Body, but many members, the members different from each other, each having his own function, but joined together into a unity infinitely the grander because of the differences, through allegiance to the Head and harmony amongst themselves. But that, you would say, is an ideal figure; it describes what a Body, of head and members, would be in its perfection. That is so.

II. St. Paul was accustomed to contemplate the Church as it should be.—But this ideal was not an imaginary one, in the sense of being a fancy of his own; it had to him a reality transcending that of visible things, because he saw it in the mind and purpose of God, and was sure that God was actually working towards the fulfilment of it. That is the true Catholic or Universal Church; it is one Body, Christ the Head, men the members; real and living, because it is the creation of the living God, and is the heavenly pattern of all that is ecclesiastically right and good on the earth.

III. You may find it easier to know the Church as the ideal Body of Christ, if you compare with this view of the Church what St. John said of the individual Christian: ‘Whosoever is begotten of God … cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.’ This is from him who had said before: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.’ What he means is that the true son of God in a man cannot sin. And he reconciles both his statements in the words, ‘Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God?… Beloved, now are we children of God.’

IV. The Church, then, in its fullest sense, is mankind seen in its true divinely appointed relation to Christ.—And that is the conception of it which we shall find to be truest, most in harmony with what has been revealed to us, and also with what life and history present to us.

V. The actual Church was no more ideal and perfect in St. Paul’s time than it is now.—The Apostle found his Christians very imperfect, distressingly imperfect. He pressed upon them the true character of the Church in order that they might strive to be more tolerably conformed to it. The Christian societies had to grow up, in knowledge and graces, into the perfect Body, the fulness of Christ, and agencies were given to help this growth. Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and, above all, His inworking Spirit, for ‘the building up of the Body of Christ, till we all attain … unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’

—Rev. J. Llewelyn Davies.

Illustration

‘Let us be thankful for all that the Church has done for the salvation of mankind, let us rejoice to make the most of it. It has been the office of the Church to bear witness to Christ, the Jesus Christ of the New Testament; to proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation; to beseech non-Christians to believe in the crucified Son of God, and to bid all Christians to be true to their calling, as children of the God of righteousness and love: and this glorious office it has with human imperfection more or less faithfully discharged.’

Verse 23

STEADFASTNESS

‘Grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel.’

Colossians 1:23

The steadfastness of the Christian! It is compared to—

I. The stability of a building which rests not upon a sandy, insecure foundation, but rather like a fortress built upon some Gibraltar rock. Who can estimate the importance of a right foundation? No building can be stronger than the foundation on which it rests, and unless the fabric of our life be reared upon a base which storms are powerless to shake, it will fall in the hour of trial, and great will be the fall of it. Let us beware of self-confidences here.

II. Next we have the Apostle speaking of the believer being not only grounded, but settled.—The word ‘settled’ is derived from the Greek word for seat, and the thought is that of a man who has taken his allotted place in some assembly from which he has no right to be disturbed; or, if we like to adopt the idea of our modern word ‘settler,’ we see the colonist taking possession of the grant of territory allotted to him. The Christian is a settler. The rest of some begins on earth (Hebrews 4.). This is rest in God—the unchangeable, all-sufficient, all-satisfying portion of His people.

III. ‘Not moved away.’—This expression suggests that forces will be set in motion with the object of moving us away; nay, that they are already at work, and that we are in daily danger of yielding to them. That is the other side of the Apostle’s picture. The Christian assailed on every side, battling with tempests wild, breasting the tides of circumstance, tossed with rough winds, and faint with fear, and yet ‘not moved away,’ because his hope, as an anchor of the soul sure and steadfast, holds fast within the veil.

Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The designer of the first Eddystone lighthouse was so confident of its strength that he expressed a wish to be in it in the fiercest storm that blew. Not long after his wish, alas for him, was granted; for in a tremendous hurricane that swept the coast the lighthouse was carried away, and the inventor, who was in it, perished. In this case, though the foundation was immovable, the building had not been deeply let down into it, as has since been so wonderfully accomplished.’

(2) ‘I remember reading some time ago a powerful description of a ship riding at anchor through a tremendous gale; the waves broke every moment over her deck; now she was whelmed in the foaming trough, and to spectators on the shore it seemed as if she must go down; but again she rose triumphant over the billows and shook off the surging seas as a seagull scatters from her wings the blinding spray. The white crests dashed upon her sides, the mighty breakers rose and fell, but the frail vessel, which seemed the plaything of their pride, was more than conqueror over them after all. She defied their utmost strength, and when the rolling and the pitching and the tossing all were over, she maintained her place; she did not drift, she was “not moved away.” ’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE NEED OF STEADFASTNESS

The Christian must know the need of steadfastness in view of—

I. The swift undercurrent of intellectual unbelief.—The leaven of unbelief is spreading everywhere. You find it in the popular literature of the day. It stares you in the face in magazines and newspapers; it assails the inspiration of Scripture, the vicarious sufferings of Christ, the new birth, the personality of the Holy Ghost, the eternity of future punishment, with equal temerity. It rejects revelation on the one hand, and accepts the crudest theories to account for the existence of true Christianity in the world on the other.

II. The flowing tide of worldly conformity.—The multiplication of enjoyments, the increased facilities of travel, have mightily aided that craving for excitement and amusement which is the sure mark of decline in the moral fibre of a nation or an individual. We seem to be in danger of emulating our Continental neighbours in this insatiate thirst for selfish gratification. And this spirit of worldliness is paralysing the Church’s vitality.

III. The rolling flood of open opposition to God and His truth.—When the Church shakes itself from the dust and begins to soar above the world, it will not be long before she encounters the devil.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Verse 23

STEADFASTNESS

‘Grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel.’

Colossians 1:23

The steadfastness of the Christian! It is compared to—

I. The stability of a building which rests not upon a sandy, insecure foundation, but rather like a fortress built upon some Gibraltar rock. Who can estimate the importance of a right foundation? No building can be stronger than the foundation on which it rests, and unless the fabric of our life be reared upon a base which storms are powerless to shake, it will fall in the hour of trial, and great will be the fall of it. Let us beware of self-confidences here.

II. Next we have the Apostle speaking of the believer being not only grounded, but settled.—The word ‘settled’ is derived from the Greek word for seat, and the thought is that of a man who has taken his allotted place in some assembly from which he has no right to be disturbed; or, if we like to adopt the idea of our modern word ‘settler,’ we see the colonist taking possession of the grant of territory allotted to him. The Christian is a settler. The rest of some begins on earth (Hebrews 4.). This is rest in God—the unchangeable, all-sufficient, all-satisfying portion of His people.

III. ‘Not moved away.’—This expression suggests that forces will be set in motion with the object of moving us away; nay, that they are already at work, and that we are in daily danger of yielding to them. That is the other side of the Apostle’s picture. The Christian assailed on every side, battling with tempests wild, breasting the tides of circumstance, tossed with rough winds, and faint with fear, and yet ‘not moved away,’ because his hope, as an anchor of the soul sure and steadfast, holds fast within the veil.

Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The designer of the first Eddystone lighthouse was so confident of its strength that he expressed a wish to be in it in the fiercest storm that blew. Not long after his wish, alas for him, was granted; for in a tremendous hurricane that swept the coast the lighthouse was carried away, and the inventor, who was in it, perished. In this case, though the foundation was immovable, the building had not been deeply let down into it, as has since been so wonderfully accomplished.’

(2) ‘I remember reading some time ago a powerful description of a ship riding at anchor through a tremendous gale; the waves broke every moment over her deck; now she was whelmed in the foaming trough, and to spectators on the shore it seemed as if she must go down; but again she rose triumphant over the billows and shook off the surging seas as a seagull scatters from her wings the blinding spray. The white crests dashed upon her sides, the mighty breakers rose and fell, but the frail vessel, which seemed the plaything of their pride, was more than conqueror over them after all. She defied their utmost strength, and when the rolling and the pitching and the tossing all were over, she maintained her place; she did not drift, she was “not moved away.” ’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE NEED OF STEADFASTNESS

The Christian must know the need of steadfastness in view of—

I. The swift undercurrent of intellectual unbelief.—The leaven of unbelief is spreading everywhere. You find it in the popular literature of the day. It stares you in the face in magazines and newspapers; it assails the inspiration of Scripture, the vicarious sufferings of Christ, the new birth, the personality of the Holy Ghost, the eternity of future punishment, with equal temerity. It rejects revelation on the one hand, and accepts the crudest theories to account for the existence of true Christianity in the world on the other.

II. The flowing tide of worldly conformity.—The multiplication of enjoyments, the increased facilities of travel, have mightily aided that craving for excitement and amusement which is the sure mark of decline in the moral fibre of a nation or an individual. We seem to be in danger of emulating our Continental neighbours in this insatiate thirst for selfish gratification. And this spirit of worldliness is paralysing the Church’s vitality.

III. The rolling flood of open opposition to God and His truth.—When the Church shakes itself from the dust and begins to soar above the world, it will not be long before she encounters the devil.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Verse 24

‘THAT WHICH IS BEHIND OF THE AFFLICTIONS OF CHRIST’

‘Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body’s sake, which is the Church.’

Colossians 1:24

St. Paul was accustomed to urge upon his converts that they should ‘rejoice in the Lord alway.’ When we speak about sufferers that we know, we think it high praise to say, ‘How perfectly patient they were!’ Here is a higher note—not patience, but joy. It is a quite unselfish delight that we have here in these difficult words, difficult because does it not come upon us with a shock to hear that there was anything lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Yet’ I fill up on my part that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.’ The words are quite plain, they clearly state that there is something wanting in the afflictions borne by Christ. How can that be so? And, if so, can any man’s be counted with His to fill up the deficiencies? We may nevertheless make a distinction in the Saviour’s sufferings. There were those which no man could share when He trod the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with Him; but the Greek word that is used in the text is not the word in the New Testament in connection with the atoning work of Christ. It tells of afflictions of body and of mind which came upon Him as a holy and self-denying Person, in the midst of a corrupt and selfish world, born as one of the great human family, and to these there was something left to add. Yes, it is for us to say, ‘I fill up on my part that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ for His body’s sake, which is the Church.’

I. Our relation to Christ.—But, then, what I bear for the sake of others, these are my afflictions. How can they fill up His? Can they be mine without being His? Depend upon it, unless being a member of His Body is but a phrase, a metaphor, your sufferings are His. To understand that we must understand our oneness with Jesus Christ our Lord. There are different kinds of unions.

( a) External union. There is a merely external union, as when you add one more stone to the fabric which rises from the ground.

( b) Vital union. There is union, not local, but vital, and the sap circulates through the new limb. You injure it now and you injure it not alone, you injure the tree itself. This is a union of that kind, vital, that the baptized believer has with the Saviour. ‘I am the Vine, and ye are the branches. Cut off from Me, you wither; abiding in Me, you bear much fruit.’

And so, because we are one with Christ in that living way, He truly shares in our sufferings. Can the body be injured and the head suffer nothing? Wound a limb and the brain quivers with pain. In all our afflictions He is afflicted. What a different aspect our troubles would wear if that was realised!

II. St. Paul’s sufferings.—How and when did St. Paul learn to identify himself so confidently with Christ that he could speak of his own sufferings for the Church as actually Christ’s sufferings? I think we know, in the blinding splendour of that revelation on the road to Damascus, when he lay, proud Pharisee as he was, prostrate on the earth in the midst of his astonished train. There stood before him, seen by him alone, the majestic, reproachful Christ the Lord. ‘Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ He never had done so literally, still the sad voice said, ‘Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ It was because he glorified in persecuting the Church, gloried in a pitiless harrowing of the poor souls who clung to the Lord, that Christ could never forget that they were members of the Lord and their sufferings were His, for ‘Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me.’ That was a crushing thought to Saul the persecutor; it was joy to Paul the Apostle. ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh.’ Poor flesh it was, so weary and weatherbeaten, so scarred with the rough handling of the world; but the great, brave heart, so fixed on God, so full of enthusiasm for the Master, cried, ‘I rejoice for His Body’s sake, the Church.’ So you see it was an unselfish joy. His afflictions were for the sake of the brethren.

III. Our relation to one another.—Let us not suppose, as we are sometimes tempted to do, that the pain and trouble to which even the best are subject are plainly so much waste, due to some great mismanagement. Take one of the most difficult cases. In not a few families there is a chronic invalid, whose years have been one long weariness—to the casual eye useless—a piece of wreckage cast up on the shore of the ocean of life. Surely he does not lie there in chastisement for his sins; surely she is not suffering all this for her sanctification? Perhaps not, but there is such a thing as suffering for the sake of others. Little do you know what a centre of influence is that pale face and weakly frame! What gentleness it has called out in natures that grew hard and selfish, what quiet, loving sermons it has preached by a look, by a word! He or she has suffered for His Body’s sake. There was something lacking in the afflictions of Christ which drew these souls to Him, and he or she filled it up, and the weak, faulty mortal becomes as it were a Christ to the brethren.

—Archdeacon S. M. Taylor.

Illustration

‘St. Paul endured that tedious imprisonment, but it resulted in his writing to his comrades whom he was prevented from going to see, and what he wrote will inspire and comfort the Church to the end. Bunyan spent weary years in Bedford Gaol, but so The Pilgrim’s Progress came to be written, which for two centuries has helped many a devoted, humble soul to live the highest life; and if Tennyson had not suffered the grief of separation from a friend for whom he had more than a brother’s love, those words of hope and tenderness, of faith that struggles in the darkness and conquers, had never been penned, and the world would have been the poorer without the In Memoriam.’

Verse 27

CHRIST AND HIS PEOPLE

‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’

Colossians 1:27

The Apostle speaks of a mystery—what is it?

In a single sentence, it is ‘Christ in you.’ Looking carefully at the passage, we see that he makes certain statements respecting this mysterious union betwixt Christ and His people.

I. It is a secret.—‘To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery.’

II. It is a secret once hidden but now revealed.—The Apostle says this mystery was hidden from ages and generations. The mystery of Christ could not be fully revealed at once. The Lord Christ was hidden in the mystery of the Divine Unity; hidden in the secret counsels of God; hidden in type and prophecy and legal ceremony; until at length in the end of the world He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

III. It is a secret about indwelling.—Christ in you, says the Apostle, not Christ for you. There is only one holy life. There is none holy but the Lord, and if you would be holy, you must let Christ live out His life in you.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustration

‘The indwelling of Christ in the Christian is presented to us, as Bishop Moule says, as a normal, nay as a necessary, fact of all living Christianity; “Know ye not that Jesus Christ is in you, unless ye are somehow counterfeits?” ( 2 Corinthians 13:5). If we are in simplicity at His feet, He, thus indwelling by the Spirit, is in our being. And the indwelling “in the heart,” what is it but this fact realised by the faith which sees and claims it? It is not an attainment; it is a recognition. “Come, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Come, and let the Lord, humbly welcomed without misgiving, “dwell in us, and walk in us,” every hour of life.’

Verse 28

PERFECTION IN CHRIST

‘That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.’

Colossians 1:28

‘Present!’ To whom? To the world? To the Church? To Christ, when He comes, in the assembly of the universe? Was this part of the Apostolic office? Will it be an Apostolic office at the last day? Can it ever be mine?

It is a solemn thought for you and for me; and more solemn still when I think how we are to ‘present’ you—‘ perfect’—‘perfect in Christ Jesus.’

But perfection is progressive.

I. Progression lies very much in motives.—What you have to do is to purify your motive and your resolution.

II. Prayer, again, is a great field for growth.

III. And the conflict with some besetting sin.

IV. And if to this you add a growing humility—self lower and lower every day, that Christ may be higher; Christ only, Christ ever, Christ all; and in Christ a childlike confidence and a holy, reverent joy; then you are getting nearer to the goal—you are close to the goal; ‘perfection’ is not far off. A few more steps, a little more struggling, and you will be at home.

Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘The largest mind, perhaps, that ever lived felt that he was “only picking up a few pebbles on the shore of truth”; and the great painters of antiquity were wont to record their sense of the incompleteness of their work by an inscription which, translated from the Latin, meant, not “I did it,” but “ I was doing it.” Not finished! “I was doing it.” And in, both lives—the intellectual and spiritual—the development and increase are things very quick, very evident at the beginning, while, as they approach to the last and exquisite finish, the labour is greater, but it makes very, very little show.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Colossians 1". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/colossians-1.html. 1876.