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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 1

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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The chapter opens, as is Paul’s custom, with an introduction of himself and greetings to the brethren (verses 1-2). While these openings in all epistles are somewhat alike, they are also tailored to the contents of the letter and to the particular church. The salutation is followed by a description of his prayers for the brethren in that place (verses 3-12). First, there are prayers of thanksgiving for the spiritual growth they have achieved (verses 3 and 8) and then prayers for their continued spiritual attainment (verses 9 and 12).

In verses 13 through 20, Paul develops the doctrine of who Jesus is and the perfection of His work in human redemption. This majestic description is given in positive form, as if his inspiration had propelled him to new heights of exaltation regarding his beloved Messiah. There are hints, but only hints, of the false doctrine that he attacks openly in chapter two. It is as if Paul wants the Colossians first to see their Master in His pure glory, unsullied by comparisons to human falsehoods.

Beginning in verse 21 and continuing through verse 23, Paul makes a personal application of Christ’s work in redemption to the Colossians. Even in the personal application, however, he continues to develop the doctrine of the majesty of Christ. From verse 24 to the end of the chapter, the apostle changes course again slightly by discussing his own work as a minister of Christ’s gospel, but still losing no opportunity to further refine his description of the character of Jesus.

Outline of Chapter One

Verses 1-2: Introduction of the author and greetings

Verses 3-8: Prayers of thanksgiving for the Colossians

Verses 9-12: Prayers for the Colossians’ continued growth

Verses 13-20: The majesty of Christ and the perfection of His work in human redemption

Verses 21-23: Christ’s redemption applied to the Colossians

Verses 24-29: Paul’s work in preaching Christ’s gospel


Barclay, William. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, Revised Edition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.

Carson, Herbert M. Colossians and Philemon. Grand Rapids: Williams B. Eerdman Publishing Company, 1984.

Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary. Vol VI, Reprinted by Abingdon Press, New York, n.d.

Ellicott, Charles John. Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Vol VIII. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959.

Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.

Lipscomb, David and J. W. Shepherd. Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1989.

MacKnight, James. A New Literal Translation from the Original Greek of All the Apostolic Epistles with Commentary and Notes. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984.

Thayer, Joseph H. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1977.

Verse 1

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ: The word "apostle" means "delegate, messenger, or one sent forth with orders" (Thayer 68). It originally applies to the twelve disciples whom Jesus chooses to be His special companions and preachers of His gospel. The "order" with which Jesus sends them forth is to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). In a secondary sense, the title is applied to a few of the earliest and most faithful evangelists, such as Barnabas (Acts 14:14), but the word is never used broadly in this manner. Those who claim the title today are usurping it in a way never intended by the Master.

by the will of God: The one who sends the apostles is Jesus, but Paul wants the recipients of this letter to know the Messiah does the sending with full agreement of God the Father. The false teachers are probably not the intended beneficiaries of this reminder but rather those Christians who might have been influenced by them to think less of Jesus than they should. This technique is an example of the fact that even the introductions of inspired letters are meant to teach important lessons. By contrast, when Paul writes the Philippians, who respect his authority and are deeply devoted to him, he refers to himself and Timothy only as "servants of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:1). His claim to the title of apostle is clearly not for personal glory but for the benefit of others.

Paul claims equality with the original twelve (2 Corinthians 11:5) because he is just as directly sent by Jesus as they have been, even though his commission takes place after Christ’s ascension (Acts 26:12-20; Galatians 1:11-12). The plans Jesus has for Paul are alluded to in Acts 9:16 : "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake." The apostles rank first in authority among teachers in the early church (1 Corinthians 12:28), a position they hold by virtue of their direct commission from the Lord and the fact that He fills them with a measure of the Spirit commensurate with their responsibility (Acts 1:5-8; Acts 2:1-4).

and Timotheus our brother: Paul often connects the names of his companions with his in letters to churches (1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians), but in those cases it appears to have been because the companions are known to the recipients of the letters. That is not the case here because apparently neither he nor Timothy has been to Colosse. Perhaps he includes Timothy, "our brother," as a tie to the Colossians, who are also addressed as brothers. Paul intends they should know and respect his apostolic authority, but he also loves them and wants to build a bond that would move them for the better.

Verse 2

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Some have argued that Paul’s double greeting is intended to point out that some of the saints at Colosse are not faithful. That argument does not seem likely. He makes that distinction forthrightly later in the letter, and he would not compromise what the introduction is intended to do by such an ineffectual reference to the matter at this point. Lenski points out that this phrase is a "unit designation" of Christians. "Saints" notes their relationship to God and Christ while "faithful brethren" calls attention to their relationship to each other, including their brothers, Paul and Timothy (17).

The word "saints" has a long history in religious writings. The pagans used it of anything that was connected with one of their gods and, thus, they thought, worthy of respect. In the Bible its common meaning is "set apart for God, to be, as it were, exclusively His" (Thayer 7). The Jews considered themselves saints because they were God’s chosen people; He had set them apart for a special purpose. New Testament writers apply it to all Christians since, through obedience to the gospel, they have been called out of the world and into Christ. The Catholic’s habit of designating as saints those few whom they consider especially holy is a corruption of the meaning of the word and a practice that is foreign to the scriptures.

Although I do not accept the argument regarding faithful and unfaithful brethren, noted above, Paul does choose an interesting word to describe the brethren. The basic meaning of "faithful" is "easily persuaded" or "trusting" (Thayer 514). The meaning here is one who is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and the author of human salvation. Its use is a clear and early notation of who Jesus is and what the Colossians ought to believe about Him.

Grace be unto you: The basic meaning of the "grace" that Paul prays upon the Colossian church is that which gives joy or pleasure to others. That appears to be the meaning in Colossians 4:6 where he says, "Let your speech be alway with grace...." But the more common meaning in scripture and its meaning in this verse is "goodwill, lovingkindness, or favor" (Thayer 666). The word also contains the idea that the lovingkindness is bestowed on persons who do not deserve it, such as the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that God grants to sinners through Jesus Christ. Since the Christians at Colosse have already obtained forgiveness and their "hope" is already laid up in heaven (verse 5), Paul is asking for still other spiritual blessings. These are named specifically in verses 9 through 12.

and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Calling "peace" upon a visitor is a typical Hebrew greeting or departure ritual. It is not uncommon for a stranger to announce, "I come in peace." If he has so come, as he leaves his host would probably say, "Go in peace." Especially in departing, it wishes for the friend safety of person and goods. Here Paul has "Christianized" the greeting, and it means "the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot" (Thayer 182). Although the word still refers to peace in every way, the emphasis is on peace of the soul with God.

Verse 3

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

With this passage, Paul begins a part of his letter that Lenski (18) labels "preparatory," meaning it is intended to prepare readers’ minds for what follows. This careful preparation is in sharp contrast to the book of Galatians in which the apostle enters the subject of his epistle without ado. The difference is probably explained by the fact that Paul knows the Galatians since he established those churches. The type of brusqueness that will be effective among longtime friends may be offensive to those one has not personally met.

We give thanks: This statement is an indirect but effective way of telling the Colossians of Paul’s and Timothy’s genuine appreciation for them. It is more effective than a direct statement because they know Paul would not feign affection for them in his prayers to God. The word for thanks is the one often used for blessing food at meals. It can mean to feel grateful, but here it means to offer a prayer of thanks. The attributes of these Christians for which Paul gives thanks have not been mentioned as yet, but they will be in the following verse.

to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: This phrase is not unique to this letter, but it would have a special meaning to the Colossians whose false teachers deny the full divinity of Jesus. As the Father is, so must the Son be. Why does Paul describe the object of his prayers as if God and the Father of our Lord Jesus might be two persons? Perhaps by separating the roles he intends to make each more distinct.

praying always for you: Not only does Paul thank God for the Colossians, but he intercedes for them as well. The specific blessing he asks is enumerated in the second grand sentence of the introduction that begins in verse 9. The word "always" means "at all times" (Thayer 476) and indicates that whenever Paul and Timothy pray, they mention the Colossians.

Verse 4

Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus: Objectively, this phrase describes when Paul’s prayers for the Colossians began. On a deeper level, it suggests the faith they had in Jesus at their conversion is the appropriate type to have now. It subtly contrasts the deep devotion they had for the Lord when they were baptized with what the current controversy and the false claims of the heretical teacher are creating in them. John openly asks the Christians at Ephesus to make this comparison a little while later when he writes to that church (Revelation 2:4), a suggestion that a similar sort of drift has started there.

The word "heard" means "to learn or hear of mediately" (Thayer 23), that is, through an agent or third party. The third party is no doubt Epaphras (verse 7). This word will be useful in settling a controversy that some writers have created on Chapter 2:1 about whether Paul actually has preached at Colosse.

and of the love which ye have to all the saints: Jesus says, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). Paul measures the Colossians by the standard that Jesus gives in determining the validity of their conversion. True Christianity always produces love for one another; receiving false doctrine creates division and hatred. The standard is still valid. There is a similar statement about the Ephesians in Ephesians 1:15.

The love that Paul attributes to the Christians is agape. As Thayer notes (4), the word itself is "purely Biblical," first being found there and rarely being met with elsewhere. It occurs several times in the New Testament, especially in the writings of John, Paul, and Peter. It is not coincidental that God, who is love, creates a type of love known hardly any place but in His church. That love is the distinguishing mark of His children.

Lenski (19) points out that Paul is not telling the Colossians about the things for which he thanks God to convince them what a grateful person he is but rather to call attention to the things from God that are thankworthy.

Verse 5

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven: The word "hope" is used in several ways in scripture, including "the joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation" (Thayer 205). This use would be called "subjective" because the hope is in one’s heart. But in this passage, the hope is objective: it is something laid up for them in heaven. Without doubt the Colossians have the first type of hope in their hearts, but here Paul is calling attention to the treasure that had excited the feeling, "the thing hoped for" (Thayer 206). It is the "eternal life" of Titus 1:2 and the "mansion" of John 14:2.

The Christians’ hope connects back to the love they had for the saints, and the construction of the text suggests the hope is the producer of the love. The mechanism by which hope for oneself produces love toward others is not spelled out by Paul, but most astute observers can verify that it works as he stated. When one loses hope of his own salvation, he often becomes bitter toward others. For that reason, I find an ominous sign in recent surveys of Christians that reveal a low level of expectation of actually going to heaven. If the disciples in the churches surveyed are representative of the brotherhood generally, therein lies an explanation of the coldness and bickering of which several have complained.

whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel: The Colossians hear of the treasure laid up for them when the gospel is first preached to them because that hope is the main drawing power of the gospel. Again, there is an unspoken contrast between the confusing doctrines of the gnostics and the empty worship of their pagan gods before they become Christians, on the one hand, and the clear majestic promises of the gospel on the other.

The term translated "word" in this passage is one of the most profound and versatile words in existence. In John’s writings (e.g. John 1:1), it is used of the true essence of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. There, it is the "Logos" that became "flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). It has many other functional but less lofty usages. The basic meaning of the word is "a collection" (Thayer 380). It can refer to a collection of thoughts that is gathered together in the mind, and in this case the idea is to reason on or take account of them. In addition, it refers to a collection of thoughts that is put together into a spoken discourse. That is the precise meaning in this verse: the collection of thoughts or principles they first heard in the preaching of the gospel.

The phrase "of the truth" indicates the gospel they heard is an organized body of knowledge, not just a message of graciousness and goodwill on God’s part (Ellicott 97). It is a gospel Christians are to "walk" by (Galatians 2:14) and one they can be true to or depart from (Galatians 1:6). Clearly Epaphras has instructed the Colossians, as Jesus orders all the apostles to do, to observe all things the Lord has commanded (Matthew 28:20). We wish all teachers and preachers of the gospel would do likewise. Thayer gives the word in this place an uncharacteristically long definition: "the truth, as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of His purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man" (26).

Verse 6

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world: The reading of this passage is complicated, but Ellicott (97) and MacKnight (379) agree the central idea is: The gospel came to you as it came to all the world, and it is bringing forth fruit and growing in all the world, as it has grown in you since the day you heard it. What has thrown many commentators off is that Paul first compares the coming of the gospel to the Colossians to its coming to the world, then switches and compares the gospel’s growth in the world to its growth in the Colossians. While that construction seems a bit unusual, it appears to be the best reading, as also indicated by the Revised Standard Version.

"The world" means the Gentile world or, more specifically, the Roman empire. Luke uses the word in this way when he says, "...there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed" (Luke 2:1). Obviously, Caesar could not have taxed those parts of the world over which he did not rule. But most of the Gentile churches about which Paul speaks are within the Roman world, although some may have been established by the Ethiopian eunuch when he returned home after his conversion (Acts 8:27-39) and even by other converts who traveled outside of Roman jurisdiction.

and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard it: The entrance of the gospel always changes the way people live, especially those who formerly were pagans, as were the Gentiles. "Fruit" is used metaphorically of changed behavior or deeds (Thayer 326). The gospel is not just something one acknowledges as true; it is a way, nay, "the way" (Acts 19:9; Acts 24:14) Christians live. Its entrance gives light (Psalms 119:130) for a new type of walk before men and before God. And it does this from the first "day ye heard it" and for as long as one holds it faithfully.

and knew the grace of God in truth: The word "knew" means "to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly...and accurately" (Thayer 237). With what wonderful precision Paul chooses his words! And what a powerful reminder to the Colossians, and all who come after, that the false teachers could do nothing for them except to lead them away from the truth. Epaphras has preached the gospel completely, and they have heard it accurately; therefore, the alterations the false teachers are proposing could only be wrong.

The word "truth" is the same as in the preceding verse, and its general meaning is the same; however, the specific usage here is slightly different. It reinforces the word knew, and the meaning is they heard the gospel "truly or according to fact" (Thayer 26).

Verse 7

As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellow servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;

We know little about the history of Epaphras, and what we do know is learned from just three passages: this one, Colossians 4:12, and Philemon 1:23. From Philemon 1:23, we learn that Epaphras is in prison with Paul and for the same reason. Paul refers to him as "my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus." From Colossians 4:12, we learn he is a Colossian when Paul describes him as "one of you." From that passage we also see his deep devotion to the Colossians’ salvation through his "fervent" prayers in their behalf. From the passage at hand, we learn he is a faithful minister of the gospel to the Colossians and some think to the nearby cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis as well. Ellicott thinks Paul may have given Epaphras a charge for Colosse (and perhaps Laodicea and Hierapolis) similar to that given to Timothy for Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and to Titus (1:5) for Crete (97).

As ye also learned of Epaphras: This clause denotes, MacKnight’s arguments notwithstanding (379), that Epaphras is the original teacher of these Christians. It is not that they merely "heard of" the gospel from him, rather they have "learned" it or have been brought to some state of maturity in it. One learns from a teacher.

our dear fellowservant: Lenski argues that Paul and Timothy strongly commend Epaphras so that the Colossians would know that rejecting Epaphras would also mean cutting loose from them (30).

who is for you a faithful minister of Christ: There is a controversy over the word "you" in this verse. Most writers argue the preponderance of evidence from original manuscripts is for the word "our." The Revised Standard Version obviously agrees, translating the phrase, "a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf." The change of meaning would be slight in either case. The traditional translation indicates Epaphras is a faithful minister for the salvation of the Colossians. As a fact, this idea is amply proved by the context. The second interpretation suggests Paul and Timothy have sent Epaphras to preach in Colosse, and he labors faithfully as they have charged him. Epaphras’ fidelity to what Paul wants him to do is also proved by the context. We do not need to choose between two conclusions, both of which are clearly true.

The word "faithful" means one who shows himself "faithful in the transaction of business, the execution of commands, or the discharge of official duties" (Thayer 514). This definition could apply equally well to the performance of a charge Paul has given Epaphras or to the duties of preaching the gospel that both Paul and Epaphras know came from God.

The basic meaning of the word "minister" is "one who executes the commands of another (Thayer 138). The word is also translated "deacon" (1 Timothy 3:8), because deacons serve the church, and is often translated "servant" (John 2:5; John 2:9). It carries the idea that the other’s cause will be advanced, even at the cost of the servant’s own. There is a great message here for all ministers of the gospel and other servants of the Lord.

Epaphras is a faithful minister "of Christ." Whether Paul, from his apostolic authority, gives Epaphras a charge to preach in Colosse or whether Epaphras does it primarily from his own love for their souls, both men know the ultimate authority comes from Christ and final allegiance is owed to Him.

Verse 8

Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

The news that Epaphras "declared" to Paul and Timothy when he came to Rome contains the worries about false teachers that Paul has only hinted at thus far in the narrative of his letter. In addition, the report contains good news about the Colossians’ love. This is their love for all saints, acknowledged in verse 4, but probably also their love for Paul and Timothy. The love is the same agape used in the former verse, but here it is described as being "in the Spirit."

Thayer thinks the preceding phrase signifies the source of the Colossians’ love (522). It is love in the Spirit because the Spirit has begotten, or "shed it abroad" (Romans 5:5), in their hearts. Lenski sees the phrase as describing the type of love the Colossians possess; that is, it is spiritual love as opposed to any of the various types of human love (31-32). There is no doubt the Spirit would not have prompted Christians into baser forms of love, such as erotic love; whether that is the meaning of this phrase seems open to question. MacKnight agrees with Lenski and also discusses several other possible interpretations, which seem less appropriate than the two noted here (379).

This passage ends Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the Colossians. The following verse begins the prayers of intercession. Although these prayers come from the depths of Paul’s heart, he could have kept them private; and the Colossians would have known nothing of them. Consequently, he must have a reason for telling them about the prayers. Just as thanksgiving is an indirect but powerful way of conveying appreciation, see verse 3, what one asks for another is a powerful way of telling him what he needs. The discussion of Paul’s prayers of intercession ends with verse 12.

Verse 9

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

For this cause: This phrase suggests Paul sees in the Colossians reasons for both hope and concern. As with most teachers, growth in a student encourages the teacher to want more for him. The church has grown, but the great apostle is worried that these new and false elements would stymie further spiritual development.

we also, since the day we heard it: Paul’s genuine concern is shown by the fact that his prayers begin on the very "day we heard of it," or the day of Epaphras’ report on the condition of the church.

do not cease to pray for you, and to desire: Paul says he has "prayed" and "desired" blessings for the Colossians. The Greek word for "prayed" means exactly what the English translation signifies: "to offer prayers, to pray" (Thayer 545). It is the usage of this word in scripture that makes it more instructive. As Ellicott states, it is the general designation for worship, probably because prayer is such a prominent element of worship, as well as a distinguishing habit of those converted to Christ (Acts 2:42) (97). "Desire" means to "ask or request for oneself" (Thayer 17), although, as in this case, the asking could be something one person wants for another. The desire is not merely a feeling in one’s heart but the request that grows out of the feeling. Consequently, the word is frequently translated "to ask" as it is in James 1:6.

that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will: At no point is Paul’s request more directly related to the Colossians’ need than here. They want knowledge, and the false teacher proposes to give it to them but not the type they really need. The "fables and endless genealogies" (1 Timothy 1:4) of the gnostics would lead them away from the Lord. What they need most is "knowledge of his will" that would enable them to live and worship in a manner that would please God and, secondarily, influence others for good. This knowledge is the type that can come only from God. Paul, and the other inspired apostles, received it by revelation (Galatians 1:15-24); others at that time received it through hearing the preaching of these inspired ones. We receive it when we read what they have written (Ephesians 3:3-4).

in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: This phrase is a difficult one in which the definition of individual words does not make its meaning completely clear. "Wisdom" refers to a "broad and full intelligence," that is, human intelligence. It is one of the qualifications of the deacons in Acts 6:3 where it means skill in managing human affairs. In this verse, according to Lenski (30) and Barclay (108), it means the ability to take spiritual principles and apply them to everyday life situations. "Spiritual" is used of things "belonging to the Divine Spirit..., or emanating from the Divine Spirit, or exhibiting its effects" (Thayer 523). "Understanding" carries the idea of pulling several things together into one. Lenski thinks all of these themes converge to form the central idea of Paul’s prayer: that the Colossians would be able to take the spiritual truths of the gospel, sort them out, and bring them together to refute the false doctrines they are confronting daily (30).

The implications of Paul’s prayer contain important admonitions for Christians today. Our foremost concern should be to understand how to live good lives in Christ and how to worship God in spirit and truth. These great truths are within reach of honest hearts. When we obsess ourselves over mysteries of the Kingdom of God, especially those that would not change the way we live, we are making the mistake of the old enemies of the Lord. We know here "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9), but the part we can know is the part we need. For the other part, we should be content to wait for the fuller revelation of heaven.

Verse 10

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

That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing: Now Paul comes to the reason he wants the Colossians to be filled with a knowledge of God’s will, e.g. so they could "walk," or regulate their lives (Thayer 504) according to it. Heretics of all stripes seem to disdain practical Christianity but not so with Paul. The meaning of the word "worthy" here is related to, but not identical with, "meet" in verse 12. Both carry the idea of "fit for, or suitable to" (Thayer 53, 300). The distinction is that the former word suggests one is worthy because of the quality or manner of his life while the latter indicates having sufficient power to accomplish a task.

being fruitful in every good work: This expression means to "bear, bring forth, deeds" (Thayer 326). It suggests that humans show the depth of their knowledge by their conduct. "Good work" refers to any task done advisedly and from pure motives. The implication is that the deed would be to help Christians or the Lord’s cause.

and increasing in the knowledge of God: In this context this phrase implies a great principle about spiritual growth: living according to the knowledge one has will open the heart to further knowledge. The reverse side of the truth is that deliberate disobedience in one point makes one guilty of all (James 2:10) and sets in motion a process of spiritual degeneration. Jesus first states the principle (Matthew 25:21-23) by declaring that faithfulness in a few things causes the Master to bestow rulership over many things. Paul shows this great truth applies to command of knowledge as it does to other matters.

Verse 11

Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;

Strengthened with all might: The outstanding feature of the verse is its use of power words: strength, might, and power. "Strengthened with all might" is a parallel phrase to "being fruitful in every good work" in the preceding verse. It seems intended to imply that one will be given all strength needed to be fruitful in every good work. Furthermore, as Carson (37) points out, the strength is continuously supplied. Christians are not given one allotment of strength that must sustain them for the whole heavenly journey: it is given as real needs arise.

It is not the circumstances themselves that call forth the supply of energy: it comes from the inherent nature of God. "Might" means "the inherent power residing in a thing because of its nature" (Thayer 159). As is the case here, the word is often applied to the power inherent in God. As Christians grow in likeness to God and Christ, we acquire, to the degree of our growth, the power that is inherent in their natures. Ephesians 3:16 is a similar passage except there Paul designates the agency through which the strength is given, His Spirit.

according to his glorious power: A similar expression in Ephesians 3:16 is "according to the riches of his glory," suggesting God’s supply is limitless. God’s glory and His power seem to be used almost interchangeably. The glory comes from the power, but the power is seen as glory. "Glory" means "splendor or brightness" (Thayer 156). A more specific meaning to this context is the majesty that relates to the absolute perfection of God. It is the "brightness" with which Moses’ face shone after he had been with God (2 Corinthians 3:7). To the extent that we become like Christ, Christians can be "changed into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The three great words, "strength, might, and power," are paralleled by the three great traits they work in Christian character: patience, longsuffering, and joyfulness.

patience: "Patience" refers to "steadfastness or endurance" (Thayer 644) under trial. It carries the idea of "remaining under" the burden without frustration. Lenski notes this word refers to trials caused by things, not people, as the next word implies (38). Job is the quintessential example here. But as Ellicott perceptively notes, while Job is the soul of patience under the loss of property, children, and even sickness, he is far less patient under the spiritual temptation of the condemnation of his friends and his own failure to comprehend the reasons for his troubles (98). At these trials he chafs and voices open and bitter complaints. When God condemns and instructs Job (Chapters 40, 41), he repents. "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:5-6). So far as we know, the Colossians are not suffering trials of the objective type. Theirs are more akin to the spiritual struggles in which Job did not do so well. Nor do Christians now generally do well with them. When confusion and division arise within the body, many Christians call a plague upon all and leave the church.

long suffering: "Long suffering" is more nearly like the modern meaning of patience, except that, as noted above, it usually refers to bearing quietly the wrongs done or frustrations caused by others. The word is used in Colossians 3:12 where it refers to slowness to avenge wrongs.

joyfulness: "Joyfulness" means just what the English word implies. The problem here is not in understanding the meaning but in acquiring the turn of mind and strength of character to put it into practice. Yet, rejoicing in suffering is a clear theme in Christianity, beginning with Jesus’ sermon on the mount. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:" (Matthew 5:11-12). The ability to be happy in suffering is directly related to how much one wants the results of the pain. If we truly understand the great reward, we will not find the suffering so difficult to bear joyfully. I think this profound truth may be illustrated in a small way in the expectant mother who deeply wants her child. As the moment of delivery approaches, the pain may be intense; but she bears it gladly because her child is born (John 16:21).

Verse 12

Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

This is the transition passage that moves from Paul’s preparatory section to the body of the letter. And what an incredibly smooth transition! The verse begins with a continuation of his prayers for the Colossians and ends solidly within the main topic of chapter one. The key word is Father. It reaches back to the apostle’s prayers for them because Paul wants them to give God thanks; but also it reaches forward to discuss their salvation because the Father is the one who makes them "meet" to be partakers of it.

Giving thanks unto the Father: This phrase naturally connects back to the "joyfulness" of the previous verse. It is the humble gratitude of a true believer who knows that whatever trial he suffers, still God is gracious. There may also be an indication that Christians are to thank God for the trials themselves, as did the apostles after their beating by the Jewish Council in Acts 5:41. The thanksgiving Paul wants the Colossians to feel and express may look forward also to the blessings about to be named.

which hath made us meet: The phrase "made us meet" means made us "sufficient" or "rendered" us "fit" (Thayer 300). It carries the idea of equipping one with adequate power to perform assigned duties. What God has asked us to do, He gives power to do, if we but accept it.

to be partakers of the inheritance: This phrase is a source of controversy. It means to have an assigned part of the whole. Lenski believes it refers to Christians’ lot on earth; whatever their lot, God has equipped them for it (40). His arguments are strong, connecting it as he does to the foregoing verses and noting that saints have an "inheritance" here as well as hereafter. Most other writers, however, (e.g. Ellicott, MacKnight, Clarke, and Barclay), argue that the allusion is to the parceling out of the Land of Canaan to the families of the Twelve Tribes. Since Canaan is typical of heaven, if the allusion is true, the inheritance of this verse must be heavenly.

of the saints in light: This expression sets up a contrast for the "darkness" of the following verse. The light must surely be the gospel. Jesus is the "true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). John refers to the gospel as true light because it comes from Jesus (1 John 2:8).

Verse 13

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

Who hath delivered us: "Who" refers back to "Father" in the previous verse. It is the Father "who hath delivered" us, which means "to draw to one’s self or to rescue" (Thayer 564). By what great power are we rescued? Jesus tells us. "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). The great mystery of the gospel is how Jesus by dying could bring life to all mankind, how by allowing the forces of darkness to conquer His body He could free our eternal souls from their clutches.

from the power of darkness: "Power" means "rule or government" (Thayer 225), suggesting an organized reign not merely power to do something. In this verse, Paul speaks of the more powerful among those created beings superior to man, thus, spiritual beings. When coupled with "darkness," power means the evil spirits and all the ignorance of divine things, ungodliness, immorality, and misery over which they rule. These ideas are made explicit in Ephesians: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (6:12). The word "principalities" means governments.

and hath translated us: The process of our rescue from the dark kingdom is accomplished by a "translation." Barclay reminds us of the peculiar history of this word (111). In the world of Paul’s day, when one nation conquered another, it was customary to take the vanquished and their goods to the victor’s country. Thus, the Jews of the Northern Kingdom were taken to Assyria; and when Judea fell, its citizens were marched away to Babylon. They were translated. This passage tells us that Christians are not rescued from Satan and then left in darkness. We and all our "spiritual goods" are transferred to a place of marvelous light. Lovett (168) has a nice way of illustrating what happens. A person walks into a dark room and can see nothing; all is blackness. He feels for the switch, turns it on, and everything is light. He has been translated (for the word can signify removal to a new place or a new situation) from darkness to light. "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).

into the kingdom of his dear son: The place to which we are translated is "the kingdom of his dear son." This transition means "the reign of the Messiah" (Thayer 97), that perfect order of things that He established and in which all of every nation who submit to Him are brought together into one body and made partakers of eternal salvation. In the Greek "His dear Son" is even stronger, corresponding to "accepted in the beloved" in the parallel verse of Ephesians 1:6 and to "My beloved Son" of Matthew 3:17. Matthew speaks often of this kingdom as "the kingdom of heaven," and other New Testament writers speak of it as "the kingdom of God."

Verse 14

In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

In whom we have redemption: Ellicott points out that Paul passes from the first cause of our salvation, the love of God and the deliverance He performed, to the means of the rescue, the redemption through the blood of Jesus (99). The basic meaning of redemption is "a release effected by payment of ransom" (Thayer 65). Kidnap victims are redeemed when the ransom is paid and they are freed. In the New Testament, the expression refers to being made free from the bondage and punishment of sin. The ultimate form of this redemption comes on the judgment day (Ephesians 4:30; Luke 21:28).

through his blood: Clarke acknowledges that the most respected original manuscripts do not include the phrase "through his blood" but also points out that none omit it from the companion verse of Ephesians 1:7 (515). While the words in question may not have been penned by Paul in this place, they were penned by him; and Christ’s blood as our redemption price is more than a Biblical fact--it is a New Testament theme. (See Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28.)

even the forgiveness of sins: "Forgiveness" is defined as "pardon of sins, letting them go as if they had not been committed" (Thayer 88). The "letting them go" part of this definition is reminiscent of sending away the scape goat of the Old Testament on which the sins of the people had been placed. The idea here is that the sins will be sent so far away they will never be found. "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalms 103:12; see also Micah 7:19).

Verse 15

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

Who is the image of the invisible God: Paul does not wait to build up to a declaration of the true majesty of Jesus. Instead he makes his opening statement about the person of Christ a dagger to the heart of the false doctrine. The power of the phrase "image of the invisible God" rests in the word image. The basic definition is "one in whom the likeness of another is seen" (Thayer 175), but its usage in scripture gives it a much broader and more profound meaning. It is more than similarity. Ellicott compares it to the word "form" in Philippians 2:6 where the meaning is clearly equality with God so that heavenly beings who saw the two perceived them as alike in appearance and equal in greatness (100). A paraphrase of these thoughts would be: an exact copy, equal in all respects to the original. This is the meaning of Hebrews 1:3, "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person...." Thayer defines this phrase "express image," as "the exact expression of any person, precise reproduction in every respect" (665).

Clarke, following the line of other older writers, argues that if Jesus is the image of God and God is invisible, then Jesus also would have to be invisible (515). That interpretation is pushing the meaning further than is intended, but it does highlight a need for explanation. The word "form" in Philippians 2:6 carries the idea of that which strikes one’s vision. But no thoughtful person would argue that Jesus in His earthly form looked like God in His heavenly form. John 6:46 says that no one has seen the Father except Him (Jesus) who is of the Father. Yet, Jesus tells Philip (John 14:9) "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father." The solution is that no one on earth has seen the Father in His heavenly form except Jesus. But because Jesus has assumed the form the Father would have assumed had He come to earth, truly those who saw Jesus had seen the Father. This idea is true of His visible person and His mental and spiritual being. The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 is fulfilled, "...and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." In the person, work, life, and teachings of Jesus, we can see as much of God the Father as our earthly minds will enable us to absorb.

Barclay points out that the words "wisdom" in the Old Testament and "word" in the New Testament both show the incorporation of God in Jesus Christ on earth (116-119). "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Solomon’s discussion of wisdom in Proverbs, especially Proverbs 8:22-30, shows he is speaking of the Son and declares the Son’s eternal and equal nature with God. "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was" (Proverbs 8:22-23). The phrase "set up" suggests "I was a ruler" with God from the beginning. Even the word from which "wisdom" is translated is sometimes the same word, eikon, translated "image" in Colossians 1:15.

the firstborn of every creature: "Firstborn" originally related to the sequence of birth; but in both Greek and Hebrew writings, it is a title of honor and rank. This is the sense in which it is used in Exodus 4:22 where God declares the nation of Israel His firstborn. Jesus is not created; thus, He is not a "creature" and could not have been the firstborn meaning first created. Man is created of God, but Jesus is the "only begotten son" (John 1:18; John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). "Only begotten" means "single of its kind" (Thayer 417), implying that in the sense of His eternal sonship, Jesus has no brethren. In this context, firstborn means ruler of all created beings; and, as such, the phrase is a prelude to the following verse that specifically names those things. How easily Paul dismisses with a single phrase, all the Jewish and gnostic hierarchy of angels and intermediaries! They are not to be concerned about them because Christ is ruler of them as He is of man.

Verse 16

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:

For by him were all things created: In this passage, Paul proceeds to show that far from being a creature, Jesus is the Creator. "For by Him were all things created" means through His agency, or from Lenski, "in connection with Him" (54). This teaching does not exclude God and the Holy Spirit from creation, and it harmonizes with John’s "without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3). Ellicott notes that this description of Christ is similar to Paul’s adoration of God in Romans 11:36 : "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things" (100-101). Thus, Paul takes a manner of speaking that is applied to God, but because Jesus was a partner in creation, applies it to Him.

The "things" Jesus created are all "that are in heaven, and that are in earth." Nothing is excluded. This is a characteristic Hebrew way of designating all creation, and so is the second of four layers of emphasis. The Colossians would likely have known what Paul is saying with the phrase "all things"; but if not, by now they are certain. They will, however, get a further nailing-down of Paul’s point.

visible and invisible: "Visible and invisible" contrasts the order of earthly creatures (man, beasts, and so forth) with the spirit beings (angels and demons) with which the Colossian false teachers are obsessed. They could not escape that Paul is saying Christ has created these beings also.

whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: The fourth layer of emphasis consists of naming the types of spirit powers the Colossians are being taught to worship (2:18). All of the words (thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers) in Paul’s list are applied to angelic or demonic powers. "Thrones" refers to a seat of "kingly power" or "one who holds dominion or exercises authority" (Thayer 292). "Dominions," as the definition will make clear, is akin to the foregoing word, meaning "one who possesses dominion" (Thayer 366). "Principalities" is a complex term that literally means the "beginning or origin" (Thayer 76). It can mean the "first person or leader," but here it means the "first place" or seat of authority. "Powers" is the same word used in verse 13. Although it could be applied to good powers, there and here it relates to evil spirits.

all things were created by him, and for him: If Paul’s language with all these distinctions of spirit powers is confusing, probably it is because he is mimicking the false teachers’ endless list of gradations of such powers. The important point is very clear: these powers are unimportant to Christians. They are all under the control of Christ, and we belong to Him.

Verse 17

And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

And he is before all things: This verse concludes the grand sentence that begins in verse 9. What started as a prayer for the Colossians has ended, in perfectly logical fashion, with a majestic description of Christ. Ellicott explains the words "he is" are both emphatic in the Greek. "He, and He only, is; all else is created" (101). It reminds us of the Lord’s own statement in John 8:58 : "Before Abraham was, I am." Jesus was before every created thing in time. "I was set up from everlasting" (Proverbs 8:23) declares His eternal nature.

and by him all things consist: This clause tells us that just as Jesus created all things, they are still held together by His power. "Consist" means "to hold together" (Thayer 605). If there are spirit powers, which Paul does not deny, they are there at Jesus’ will. So, too, does the physical world hold together at His command. This phrase is comparable to "upholding all things by the word of his power" in Hebrews 1:3. Good and evil men can say, "in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28); thus it is not strange that Paul would say the same for good and evil spirits.

Some Christians of this age are inclined, with the gnostics of old, to speculate on such questions as, "If evil spirits are under Christ’s control, why does He allow them to exist; or even, why did He create them in the first place?" I choose to dwell upon a more comforting question. If they are under my Lord’s control, why do I need to worry about them?"

Verse 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 preeminence.

And he is the head of the body, the church: "He" is again emphatic. He, and only He, is head of the body. "Head," which is often used literally, is here metaphorical, meaning "lord or master" (Thayer 345). It implies control, but in addition it signifies the source of life because members of the body cannot live when severed from the head. This principle is inherent in Ephesians 4:15-16, where growth is clearly by those who are connected to the head. The Lord’s body and His church are the same institution. Thus, those who argue one may be saved outside the church are arguing one may be saved apart from the head of the body, the source of its life.

"Church" is here used in the collective sense of "the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth" (Thayer 196). The word originally referred to any group of citizens who were called out of their homes and into a public gathering for any purpose. The connection of the word with its history is apparent. Christians are called out of the world, formerly our home, and into God’s kingdom.

who is the beginning: Jesus is the "beginning" or originator of the church. Paul has just finished speaking of Christ’s part in the creation of the material universe and everything in it. He moves here to note specifically our Lord’s place as the creator of the church (Matthew 16:18).

the firstborn from the dead: This phrase is similar in meaning to "firstborn of every creature" of verse 15 as Paul will make more explicit before this verse is completed. "Firstborn from the dead" introduces a thought that is, thus far, new to the chapter. Since firstborn suggests rank or authority, coupled with "the dead," it signals Jesus’ victory over death. Those who wish to make this phrase equivalent to "firstfruits of them that slept" of 1 Corinthians 15:20 are mistaken. The truth there taught is that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees that others would follow. Firstfruits always are the promise of a harvest, which in this case is the resurrection at the last day. But "firstborn from the dead" refers to the fact that Jesus has conquered death. This assurance would have special meaning to the Colossians, some of whom are worried about the spirits beyond the grave. Truly Paul could say, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

How does Jesus earn the title "firstborn from the dead" and "firstfruits of them that slept" when others in the Old and New Testaments have been raised from the dead before him (see examples in 1 Kings 17:17-24 and Acts 9:36-42). The difference is that these persons are returned to a natural life to be subject to death again. Jesus is raised, "incorruptible," never to die again. He is the firstfruits because at the resurrection we too shall be raised never to die again (1 Corinthians 15:52-54).

that in all things he might have the preeminence: Jesus is the Creator of all things, the Creator of the church, and the Conqueror of death "that in all things he might have the preeminence." Our Lord’s "preeminence" is both the purpose and the result of the foregoing actions. This is apparently the only place in scripture this unusual word is used. It means "to be first, or to hold the first place" (Thayer 54). As do so many of the preceding words and phrases that relate to Christ, it refers to rank or authority. Paul leaves no opportunity untaken to show the Lord’s lordship. Here, however, "all things" seems to pertain particularly to the church. A companion verse seems to be Ephesians 1:22 where "...to the church" is added.

MacKnight gives a wonderful treatise on the relationship of Christ to His church based on this passage, but even more especially on Ephesians 5 (342). His thesis is that God’s formation of Eve out of Adam’s side and their subsequent marriage is a visible symbol of the relationship of Christ and the church through all ages. In a deep sleep, Adam’s side is opened; and a part removed. From it, Eve is formed. When Adam sees Eve, he declares her "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23). Jesus "slept" on the cross; His side is opened; and through that sacrifice His bride, the church, is purchased. MacKnight thinks Paul has this comparison in view when he says, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Ephesians 5:30) (342).

Verse 19

For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

Though the general meaning of this passage is not difficult, the specific reading is in doubt. The Revised Standard Version translates it, "For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell." The problem is the phrase "the Father" is not in the original manuscripts, as the King James Version acknowledges with italics. The sentence is clearly elliptical, and something must be supplied. Although other readings are grammatically admissible, the reading of the King James Version seems preferable. The Revised Standard Version makes the sentence awkward by personifying "fulness" as if it had a will of its own. If Christ is supplied instead of "the Father," as some have done, it makes Jesus appear to have usurped the divine attributes that dwelt in His human form. As written, the passage agrees completely with Colossians 2:9 where there is no doubt about the reading. The repetition of thoughts for emphasis is characteristic of this epistle.

The word "fulness" means "abundance or the full number" (Thayer 518), suggesting completion or totality. As Carson points out, the passage indicates the totality of divine attributes dwelt in Jesus the man (45). This expression compares to "all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" of Colossians 2:9. By "it pleased the Father" that all these divine attributes should dwell in Jesus, Paul is suggesting it was God’s eternal plan.

Verse 20

And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

The pronouns in this passage can be confusing, referring back and forth between God and Christ. The situation is helped somewhat by recalling the sentence begins in the preceding verse with "For it pleased the Father...." Although the construction of the verse is widely debated, on the whole it seems best to take the passage in this manner: Having made peace through His (Jesus’) cross, by Him (Jesus) to reconcile all things unto Himself (God); by Him (Jesus), I (Paul) say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. This reading seems justified because God is pleased to make all fulness dwell in Christ, and it is by means of this fulness that Jesus did the work of reconciliation. As Barclay explains, God initiated the reconciliation, but Jesus on earth is the instrument and means (122).

And having made peace through the blood of his cross: "Peace" means "to establish harmony" (Thayer 183) and "reconcile" means "to bring back to a former state of harmony" (Thayer 63). There are occasions, according to MacKnight, when reconcile signifies simply to unite; and he believes that is the way it is used here (382). The part of the peacemaking Jesus does through His death on the cross is clear, and that is between man and God. In the next verse, Paul reminds the Colossians they are specific examples of this reconciliation. But so is all mankind because all have sinned and so alienated themselves from God (Isaiah 59:2).

by him to reconcile all things to himself: Jesus’ death also brings peace from man to man, specifically between Jews and Gentiles. Ephesians 2:13-16 tells us the cross broke down the wall separating Jew and Gentile and that it is Jesus’ purpose "to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace." The result of this harmony is seen in the Gentiles’ being accepted into the church, or in Paul’s words being reconciled "both in one body by the cross." These examples seem to be what Paul has in mind by reconciliation of "things in earth."

by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven: The real mystery of the verse is what is meant by reconciliation of "things in heaven." For a description of the various positions advanced through the years see Barclay (123-124). Basing their arguments on such passages as Job 4:18; Job 15:15, some have argued even the angels needed reconciliation with God. MacKnight, following his definition noted above, argues the angels in heaven did not need reconciling to God but they were "united" with man in the church by Jesus’ death. Lenski’s explanation is that all of God’s creation in heaven and in earth was affected by man’s sins and, thus, also by the reconciliation, but not all creatures were affected in the same ways (64-66). For example, when man sinned, he was alienated from the angels as from God. When, through obedience, man is returned to harmony with God, he is also reconciled with the angels.

Verse 21

And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.

And you: With this statement, Paul turns the conversation from Christ’s redemptive work in general to its specific effects on the Colossians. They have only to look at the great changes in their own lives to know the power of Christ’s reconciliation. They are changed from the type of raucous and wicked living, described in the Introduction, to peaceful and loving Christians. That transformation has not been wrought by the mediation of angels, as their false teacher might have them believe, but by Jesus’ appearance in the flesh and His death for them. It is believing and acting on these blessed facts that has turned them from death to life. Having begun in these great truths, will they now turn to vain speculations?

that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled: "Alienated" means "shut out from one’s fellowship and intimacy" (Thayer 54). Alienation and enmity always start in the "mind" (Matthew 15:19); but, if they are allowed to take root and grow, they evolve into wicked works. The process begins with rebellion or anger in the heart of one and grows till both parties shut the other out of fellowship and intimacy. How often have we seen this tragic development occur between brethren!

The Colossians are victims of a double alienation from God, as a nation and as individuals. As a nation, they do not receive the covenants, promises, oracles, prophetic messages, and other communications from God as did the Jews (Romans 3:1-2; Ephesians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:4). Then, as individuals, they have all sinned and separated themselves from God.

Ellicott points out that rebellion that may start mildly is intensified by each wicked act, by what he calls "reflex action" (102). He was on the right track, according to what we now think; but that vague term does not explain the process well. When one’s thinking is out of line with his behavior, a psychological conflict known as cognitive dissonance is created. Each new act of rebellion brings the sinner’s mind to a more rebellious state in order to ease the conflict. Thus, in lock-step fashion, attitudes affect behavior and behavior intensifies attitudes.

yet now hath he reconciled: The word "now" means "at this very moment" (Thayer 430). The question is "at what moment?" The preceding verse answers with the phrase "having made peace through the blood of his cross." Paul is discussing Christ’s efficacy in salvation of men; and he notes that at the very moment His blood was shed, salvation for Gentiles, such as the Colossians, was vouched safe. The Old Law that excluded Gentiles was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and died with Jesus. As individuals, their personal salvation is secured at the moment they contact that blood in baptism. "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:16-17. Now being sin-free, they are reconciled to God--"brought back to a former state of harmony" with him (Thayer 62).

Verse 22

In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreproveable in his sight:

In the body of his flesh: In the Greek, the word "flesh" is emphasized, suggesting Paul has in mind the gnostic claim that the natural body is evil and, thus, Divinity could not have been incorporated within it. Far from being so, Paul argues, it is Jesus in that fleshly body who dies on the cross and becomes the propitiation for our sins. "The body of his flesh" compares to "in the days of his flesh" of Hebrews 5:7.

to present you: "To present you" introduces the purpose and effect of Jesus’ death. The meaning of "present" is "to place beside or near" (Thayer 489). This phrase is in contrast to alienation, implying being far from someone. It contains the idea of a person’s showing one to another, especially his special characteristics. Such a mental picture is confirmed by the qualities of holiness highlighted later in the verse. The word is often used of sacrifices that are presented to God (Romans 12:1).

holy and unblamable and unreproveable in his sight: "Holy" is defined as "prepared for God with solemn rite, pure, clean" (Thayer 7). This word, too, is connected with sacrifice, as noted in Romans 12:1. "Unblamable" continues the theme of presenting a sacrifice, for it means "without blemish" (Thayer 33). A sacrificial lamb could have no blemishes on its body (see Exodus 12:5; Leviticus 9:3; Leviticus 14:10; Leviticus 23:12).

The word "unreproveable" breaks the theme of sacrifice. It means one "that cannot be called to account" or accused (Thayer 44). But it accords well with the phrase "in his sight," which is also emphatic in the Greek and suggests that Jesus, and Jesus alone (not the arrogant false teacher), will be the judge of who is holy and who is not.

Verse 23

If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

If ye continue: Ellicott argues that "if" here is not really conditional, believing that Paul, having already expressed confidence in the Colossians, would not suggest their departure from the faith (102). MacKnight agrees, translating it "Since ye continue..." (382). Against their views, the Revised Standard Version translates the phrase "Provided that ye continue..." While these distinctions might have made a difference to the Colossians, both views clearly imply that ultimate salvation is based on faithfulness to the gospel. The key words--continue, settled, grounded--strongly reinforce this fact.

"Continue" means "to stay at or with" (Thayer 240). Persevere is a synonym.

in the faith: The thing the Colossians have to "continue in" is termed the "faith." In an analysis of the varied meanings of this complex word, Thayer says it denotes "a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God" (513). All the arrogant gnostic speculations about the levels of angels who must be appeased in order to assure one’s salvation are put to silence with a word.

grounded and settled: "Grounded" is defined as "to make stable or steadfast" (Thayer 287). "Settled" comes from the idea of laying a foundation. Its specific meaning in this passage is "firm, immovable, or steadfast" (Thayer 168). Both of these words are almost a direct opposite of "moved away," which means just what the English words suggest. Of the wayward Galatians, Paul says they are "removed" from the gospel (Galatians 1:6). How absolute is Paul’s conviction that their salvation and ours consists of receiving and holding fast to the inspired words "which ye have heard."

and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard: "Hope" and "gospel" are the same as in verse 5 (see notes there). The difference here is that gospel is made to modify hope, which suggests it is the hope aroused in them by hearing the gospel.

and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven: The gospel that arouses such hope, Paul declares, has been "preached to every creature which is under heaven." One is tempted to make this statement comparable to "in all the world" of verse 6. But the meaning is rather different. Clarke’s explanation is best in describing it as a Hebrew expression for the whole human race, especially when no distinction between Jew and Gentile is implied (518). This interpretation is fitting in view of Paul’s discussion of Gentile salvation in verses 20 and 21. A similar expression in Joel 2:28 prophesies God would pour out His spirit on "all flesh." Not every individual among either Jews or Gentiles received a gift of the spirit; but as Acts 11:15 shows, it was given to Jews and Gentiles alike, thus Joel’s prophecy is fulfilled.

whereof I Paul am made a minister: Of this gospel, Paul says he is "made a minister." "Minister" is the same as in verse 7 where Paul commends Epaphras as a faithful minister to the Colossians (see note there). The passivity apparent in "am made" probably refers to the fact that God chose Paul and directed the process by which he became an apostle (Acts 9; Acts 22). While Paul certainly cooperates with God after his conversion, he does not feel the process is either initiated or directed by himself.

Verse 24

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:

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you: The "sufferings" are generally all the punishments heaped upon Paul for preaching the gospel. See a vivid description in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Specifically, the reference is to his present imprisonment in Rome. These trials are "for you," the Colossians, because Paul’s ministry is to them and other Gentiles. This language is appropriate because the Colossian church results, we believe, from Paul’s preaching in Ephesus where persecution is especially severe. He describes it as "fighting with beasts" (1 Corinthians 15:32).

In verse 11, Paul asks the Christians to rejoice in their sufferings. He now shows he has acquired that ability. Carson points out the difference between what Paul recommends and human philosophies (50). The Stoics teach their followers not to fight against sufferings, but the best they could recommend is to take them patiently. The Pharisees and Sadducees endure even the hunger of fasting with "disfigured" faces (Matthew 6:16). In contrast, Paul says "I rejoice." The difference is the Stoics and others see no divine purpose in the trials they are teaching people to endure. Paul knows those afflictions are a part of God’s great plan, just as were Jesus’ sufferings on the cross. I have often observed that Christians who believe there is meaning in their sufferings, even if they do not understand what the meaning is, can take it in a better spirit than those who see no purpose.

and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh: The meanings of individual words are clear; it is the phrase as a whole that is puzzling. The term "fill up" denotes just what the English words suggest but also it carries the idea of doing it in one’s turn. MacKnight thinks Paul is elegantly (and I might add delicately) acknowledging it is his turn to suffer for Christ because he caused sufferings to others because of their Christianity (382).

"Behind" means "deficiency, or that which is lacking" (Thayer 646). Roman Catholic writers point to this definition to argue that Paul, and other disciples who suffered, have completed the deficiency in Christ’s sufferings and created a surplus, a treasury of merit, that can be given out as indulgences. In addition to being false, the notion is ludicrous. The theme of the epistle is the sufficiency of Christ for our atonement. Inspiration would not have allowed the contradiction of that great truth with such a foolish notion, nor would Paul have wished it.

There are two reasonable explanations of the phrase. First, the left over sufferings are those that can be expected to accrue to the church from the enemies of righteousness. They hate Christians for the same reasons they hated Christ. Paul is glad to accept these afflictions because they strengthen the church in the same way Jesus’ sufferings purchased it. Since such trials are expected, Paul sees it as his "turn" having come.

This view accords well with that array of scriptures showing "all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus says, "The disciple is not above his master" (Matthew 10:24). If the enemies of righteousness hated the Master enough to call Him Beelzebub, Jesus says, what more can we who are members of the Master’s household expect?

The second explanation, favored by Carson, is that the sufferings are not by Christians for Christ’s sake but sufferings of Christ Himself (50-52). He reasons that Jesus, taking what is done to His servants as done unto Himself, also hurts when Paul suffers in the flesh. While the first part of this argument is certainly true--when Paul was persecuting the church, Jesus asks "Why persecutest thou me" (Acts 9:4)--the latter part seems rather farfetched. How could Paul rejoice in his sufferings because Jesus would also hurt? On the whole, the first explanation seems best.

for his body’s sake, which is the church: Paul is clear that his afflictions are "for his body’s sake." He believes that when leaders of a cause are willing to suffer for it, their example strengthens followers. Conversely, when leaders use a cause or an organization for their own benefit, they undermine the members’ faith. And again Paul asserts that Christ’s body is His church. Those who would minimize the importance of the church will find no support from Paul.

Verse 25

Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;

Whereof I am made a minister: This expression is repeated from verse 23 except there it is of the gospel and here it is of the church. The general meaning is the same. In still other places, Paul describes himself as a minister of Christ (Romans 15:16). The theme of all these passages is that he serves without regard to his own interest.

according to the dispensation of God which is given for you: "Dispensation" means the "office of administrator or stewardship intrusted by God" (Thayer 440). In lay language the clause refers to the charge God gave him with the authority to carry it out. It is given to Paul "for you," the Colossians and all other Gentiles, or to Paul for the benefit of the Gentiles. Paul knows the source of his charge, and so did Ananias, the preacher sent to Paul immediately after Jesus appeared to him. To Ananias, the Lord says, "...he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles..." (Acts 9:15). In companion verses in Ephesians 3:2-11, Paul elaborates fully both the fact of and the process by which this dispensation is given.

to fulfil the word of God: "To fulfil the word of God" seems, on first reading, to suggest Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles is the fulfillment of prophecy. However, that is not its meaning here. The phrase translated "to fulfil" is given in Romans 15:19 as to "fully preach." The marginal reading of the King James Version reads "fully to preach" and the Revised Standard Version says "to make the word of God fully known." A similar thought is expressed, though in somewhat different words, in 2 Timothy 4:17. There Paul says that during his trial God gave him strength that "the preaching might be fully known." The meaning is God gave him strength to finish the sermon he was allowed to preach during his trial and, thus, his last sermon on earth.

Verse 26

Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:

Even the mystery: "Mystery" names the message Paul is commissioned to "fully preach." In common usage, the word means something that cannot be understood, but its meaning here is more akin to a secret, something that is deliberately kept hidden, but when revealed is perfectly understandable. In this case, the secret is kept in the counsel of God until He is ready to make it manifest.

which hath been hid from ages and from generations: How long the secret is kept is explained by "from ages and from generations." Ages refers to the Jewish method of reckoning time. It means "from the ages down or from eternity" (Thayer 19). Generations, a Gentile method of grouping years, is defined as "since the generations began" (Thayer 112) or from the first generation of man. Both words suggest the origin of the secret was in the beginning of time.

but now is made manifest: The content of the mystery is that God would give the Gentiles equal access to the gospel with the Jews, that He would take His people from all nations. The coming of the Messiah with His good news of salvation had been predicted in Old Testament prophecies the Jews generally did not understand (Ephesians 3:5), shown by the fact that they rejected Him. The Gentiles ordinarily had no access to these prophecies. The Jews were not prepared to give up the status as God’s chosen people. A special revelation was needed to prepare Peter to accept that "God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). Ephesians 3:10 implies that even the angels in heaven did not know this mystery.

to his saints: The preceding facts demonstrate the mystery is clearly hidden until God reveals it "to his saints." A companion passage in Ephesians 3:5 says it is revealed to "his holy apostles and prophets." There is no contradiction here. The word is first delivered to the inspired apostles and prophets of the infant church. But through their preaching, it is quickly made known to all saints, those who hear and believe the gospel. This verse contains a wonderful definition of the Biblical concept of "mystery": a secret kept in God’s counsel until revealed by Him in His time and by His means. There are, no doubt, many other glorious mysteries that must wait for revelation at an appropriate time (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

Verse 27

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

To whom God would make known: "To whom God would make known" refers back to "his saints" of the preceding verse. It includes the apostles and other prophets of the early church (Ephesians 3:5) and perhaps others who by inspiration are prepared "for the work of the ministry" (Ephesians 4:12). How the mystery is made known to the apostles and prophets is stated in Ephesians 3:3 : "How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery...." The following words describe how those of us who were not there and not fitted for revelation can come to understand the mystery. "As I wrote afore in a few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ."

what is the riches of the glory of this mystery: As Lenski observes,"glory" is the emphasis of the verse (78). Just as the disciples could not look upon the glory of Jesus at the transfiguration (Matthew 17) but fell on their faces, so it is difficult for us to comprehend the glory Paul speaks of here. "Riches" means "fullness, abundance, or plentitude" (Thayer 519). MacKnight translates the phrase "exceeding greatness of the excellence" (383). Yet, Paul believes it important for Gentiles to know the greatness of what Christ has done for us; and it was important for the Colossians, whose false teachers minimized our Lord’s part in salvation. In Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul prays God will grant them the power to comprehend the "breadth and length, and depth and height" of this glory and to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge. The passage is akin to Romans 11:33, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" God’s ways, like the mystery described in the passage under study, are past finding out until He reveals them to us; then we may understand.

which is Christ in you the hope of glory: Until now, Paul has not described the content of the mystery. We anticipate it in the definition of the word in verse 26, but here Paul makes it explicit. It is Christ in the Gentiles who gives hope of eternal glory. "Glory" means the "condition of blessedness into which it is appointed and promised that true Christians shall enter after their Savior returns from heaven" (Thayer 156). That condition is both present and future. We now have the "earnest" or down payment (Ephesians 1:14), which is the "seal" of the Holy Spirit or "Christ in you." The full possession of the promise comes, through faithful living, at the judgment day.

Verse 28

Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:

Whom we preach: "Whom" refers to the "Christ in you" of the previous verse. Paul asserts this Christ is the controlling theme of his preaching, which is a flashback to 1 Corinthians 2:2, "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Carson notes the "we" here is emphatic. He believes it is designed to highlight the difference between the preaching of Paul, Timothy, and Epaphras with that of the false teachers (54). They preached complicated hierarchies of spirit beings, all of whom had to be worshiped. Paul preaches Christ as all and in all.

warning every man: "Warning" means "to admonish or exhort" (Thayer 429). The basic meaning is to "put in mind." It does not suggest the severest warning but one suitable to "every man," even those who are attempting to do right.

and teaching: "Teaching" is defined as "holding discourses with others in order to instruct them" (Thayer 144). It implies questioning and discussion as well as one-way presentations. The meaning is similar (though the word is different) to "preached" in Acts 20:7, except that in that verse there is more of a flavor of debate.

every man: Paul gives this warning and teaching about Christ to "every man." This phrase, repeated three times, is obviously important to the meaning of the verse. "Man" is used in a general sense and means "a human being, whether male or female" (Thayer 46). MacKnight suggests the emphasis on "every man" is designed to show that Gentiles, equally with Jews, received the gospel (383). However, Barclay’s interpretation seems more accurate (126-127). It is intended to refute the gnostic heretics, who arrogantly argued that only a select few could comprehend higher spiritual truths. Paul strongly asserts that every human being, regardless of education, status, or racial heritage, can be "presented perfect" in Christ. Never before has a great teacher or philosopher attempted to teach his wisdom to every man. Many, with more grace than the Colossian heretics, have not boasted about it but instead have lamented and acknowledged it. Most people recognize this fact about great human teachers. Jesus alone reached out to the poor and unlearned. Thus, Jesus could comfort John’s doubt about His Messiahship by pointing out that the "poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11:5). Paul states that in Christ there are no distinctions between believers (3:11).

in all wisdom: Paul does this preaching and warning about Christ "in all wisdom." It is tempting to apply the wisdom to the content of Paul’s message, as some writers have done, but the meaning seems to refer more to his manner of teaching (Carson 54). The basic definition of the word is "a broad and full intelligence" (Thayer 581). It refers to wisdom that belongs to man; and, in this verse, the specific application is "skill and discretion in imparting Christian truth." The false teachers argue that spiritual maturity is too difficult for many people to obtain. Paul shows that learning is as much in the teacher as the student. Still another truth is implied, that is, that real spiritual maturity is practical and, thus, is not strongly related to intellectual capacity. Everyone can learn to love the brethren, to live pure lives, to worship God, and so forth. These truths needed to be respected then, and they do now.

that we may present every man perfect in Christ: The purpose of Paul’s warning and teaching is to present "every man" perfect in Christ. "Present," as MacKnight points out, denotes the priest’s bringing a sacrifice to the altar (383). Paul seems to have a vision of the Gentiles, those to whom his ministry is directed, as a great sacrifice to be presented to Jesus at the judgment day. He wants every part of that sacrifice to be "perfect," which means complete and lacking nothing, so they will be accepted by the Savior. The vision of the Gentile race as a great sacrifice to God is not unique to this passage. In Romans 15:16, Paul says he wants "the offering up of the Gentiles" to be acceptable to God.

Verse 29

Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

Whereunto: "Whereunto" refers to the purpose or goal of Paul’s striving, that is, to present every man complete in Christ.

I: Paul switches from the "we" of previous verses to "I." This change may be, as Ellicott says, in preparation for the rebuke of the next chapter (104). If so, it may be termed an "apostolic" I. In other words, the rebuke does not come from a group of brethren that includes Paul, Timothy, and Epaphras, but from "I," Paul the apostle.

also labour: The word "labour" contains the idea of toiling in wearisome effort to the point of exhaustion (Thayer 355).

striving according to his working: "Striving" means "to contend, or to struggle with difficulties and dangers" (Thayer 10). Both "labor" and "striving" show how completely Paul devotes himself to his ministry. He says he would gladly "spend and be spent," similar terms to those in this verse, to save souls (2 Corinthians 12:15). This passage proves Paul is willing to make good on that promise. No wonder he would urge Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5) "...make full proof of thy ministry."

which worketh in me mightily: The terms in the latter part of the verse ("working, which worketh") are hard to translate precisely, but the meaning is not difficult. "Working" means "efficiency" or power (Thayer 215) but always superhuman power, whether of God or the devil. This fact is connoted in the verse by coupling the word with "His" in reference to God. "Which worketh" means "to show one’s self operative " or active (Thayer 215). Perhaps a clear way to translate the verse would be: For this cause I labor, toiling according to God’s power, which shows itself mightily in me.

This chapter contains, as Clarke has beautifully noted," the highest truths of the Christian religion, conveyed in language peculiar to this apostle" (520). Its ideas are so vast that human minds must struggle to comprehend them, even dimly. But let us receive them with reverence and consider the difficulties as related to our finite minds’ attempting to comprehend infinite beings and eternal things.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Colossians 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/colossians-1.html. 1993-2022.
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