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Paul cited his apostolic calling and office to lend authority to what follows.
"Here, right at the outset of the letter, is the whole doctrine of grace. A man is not what he has made himself, but what God has made him. There is no such thing as a self-made man; there are only men whom God has made, and men who have refused to allow God to make them." [Note: Barclay, p. 123.]
"Paul" was the name the apostle used of himself in the Hellenistic-Roman world in place of his Jewish name, "Saul."
"Jews in the Greek-speaking areas took names which closely approximated to the sound of their Hebrew and Aramaic names, e.g. Silas:Silvanus; Jesus:Jason . . ." [Note: O’Brien, p. 2. Cf. Adolph Deissmann, Bible Studies, pp. 314-15]
Timothy was not an official apostle but simply a Christian brother. He was with Paul when the apostle wrote this letter, though he was not a co-author (cf. Colossians 1:23-25; Colossians 1:29; Colossians 4:18, et al.).
Dunn argued from some small stylistic features of Colossians that differ from Paul’s other writings that Timothy wrote this epistle having received an outline of Paul’s thought from the apostle. [Note: Dunn, pp. 35-39.] Dunn could write that this was a Pauline letter, even though he believed Timothy was the writer, because he believed that Timothy interpreted Paul’s theology and that Paul was the primary influence over Timothy in his writing. Some other modern scholars hold a similar view, but most believe that Paul was its writer.
Paul linked Timothy with himself in the introductions to 2 Corinthians, Philippians , 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. He also mentioned Timothy in Romans, 1 Corinthians , , 1 and 2 Timothy. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews also referred to Timothy.
A. Salutation 1:1-2
Paul began his letter with this salutation to introduce himself to his readers and to wish God’s blessing on them.
I. INTRODUCTION 1:1-14
Paul introduced this epistle with a salutation, a word of thanksgiving, and a prayer. In this introduction he gave clues as to his purpose in writing, as he typically did in the introductions to his epistles.
The Colossian believers were "saints" (Gr. hagios, those set apart to God) in their position and "faithful brethren" (Gr. pistis adelphois) in their practice. They lived in Colosse, a city located beside the Lycus River in the Lycus Valley in the geographical district called Phrygia. This district lay in the Roman province of Asia in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Colosse was about 100 miles east of Ephesus, 11 miles east of Laodicea, and 13 miles southeast of Hierapolis.
The "grace" (Gr. charis) of God is His unmerited favor and supernatural enablement. This word is very prominent in the New Testament occurring about 155 times, mostly in Paul’s writings. God’s "peace" is the inner confidence He gives.
"In general, the New Testament letters begin like the secular letters of the time. The formula used frequently was ’A to B, greetings’ (cf. Acts 23:26; Acts 15:23-29). There are, however, some significant differences. In the first place, the Christian salutations direct the readers’ thought immediately to the work of God in behalf of men (cf. Colossians 1:1-2). In the second place, the salutations frequently prepare for the letter by allusion to its major themes (cf. Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2)." [Note: Johnson, 473:335.]
Whenever Paul and Timothy prayed for the Colossians they gave thanks to God for them. Note the many references to thanksgiving in this letter (Colossians 1:3; Colossians 1:12; Colossians 2:7; Colossians 3:15-17; Colossians 4:2).
"Paul could have meant that every time he prayed he remembered his various churches. Perhaps he maintained the Jewish practice of prayer three times a day (cf. Daniel 6:11; Acts 3:1; Didache 8:3), or perhaps he used the long hours of travel and of work in stitching to hold his churches before God (see also on Colossians 1:9 and Colossians 4:2)." [Note: Dunn, p. 56.]
Specifically Paul and Timothy rejoiced over the continuing demonstration of their trust in Christ as contrasted with their initial acceptance of Him as their Savior. This is clear from the Greek preposition en, translated "in." Furthermore the Colossians manifested self-sacrificing love for other Christians.
B. Thanksgiving 1:3-8
Paul gave thanks to God for his readers frequently. He told them so to enable them to appreciate the fact that he knew of their situation and rejoiced in their good testimony.
Third, Paul gave thanks for the hope of blessings ahead that his readers possessed but had not yet experienced. They demonstrated their hope in their living by presently manifesting faith (Colossians 1:4) and love (Colossians 1:8). The Colossians had heard of this hope when they had heard the gospel preached to them. Paul reminded his readers that the gospel had not come to them exclusively but was spreading through the whole world. Reference to "the whole world" is probably hyperbole, though some take it literally. [Note: E.g., J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5:335-36.] Paul may have intended this reference to contrast the gospel with the exclusive message that the false teachers in Colosse were trying to get the Christians to adopt. Paul further glorified the gospel message by referring to its dynamic power to change lives and to its uniquely gracious content (Colossians 1:6).
Epaphras had evangelized the Colossians. It is unlikely that this Epaphras is the same man that Paul referred to as Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25; Philippians 4:18; Philippians 4:23 since this Epaphras appears to have been from Asia Minor and that Epaphroditus was evidently from Macedonia. Since evangelizing Colossae Epaphras had come to Rome and was now ministering to the apostle during his first Roman imprisonment (Colossians 1:7; cf. Colossians 4:12). It appears that Epaphras’ bondage was in God’s will, not in jail, with Paul (cf. Philemon 1:23). He had given Paul a good report of the Colossian Christians even though false teachers were trying to make inroads into the church. Paul mentioned him here to pass along some good word about their father in the faith and to associate Epaphras with himself. He probably did this so his readers would realize that the founder of their church shared the views Paul presented in this letter. This would have made them more persuasive to the Colossians.
The Holy Spirit had created love for Paul in the Colossians. This is the only reference to the Holy Spirit in this epistle. In Colossians Paul ascribed the activities of God that he normally associated with the Holy Spirit to Christ. He probably did this to glorify Jesus Christ before the Colossians who were being taught that Christ was less than He is.
"As in the other Pauline letters, the themes and language of the thanksgiving are echoed in the rest of the letter . . ." [Note: Dunn, p. 55. Cf. P. T. O’Brien, Introductory Thanksgivings in the Letters of Paul, p. 69; and T. Y. Mullins, "The Thanksgivings of Philemon and Colossians," New Testament Studies 30 (1984):291.]
In view of the Colossians’ trust in Christ, Paul and his companions had been praying consistently for them. They had prayed both thanksgivings and petitions since they had heard of the Colossians’ reception of the Word and their consequent love, which the Holy Spirit produced in them. Specifically they asked that God would give them full and exact knowledge of all His desires for them. The Greek word translated "knowledge" is epignosis. This word can mean either full knowledge or more precise knowledge. [Note: Lightfoot, p. 136; J. Armitage Robinson, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, pp. 248-54.] Probably Paul prayed for greater knowledge in both respects. This word always describes moral and religious knowledge in the New Testament. Especially it refers to full and comprehensive knowledge of God’s will that rests on the knowledge of God and of Christ. [Note: Cf. Lightfoot, p. 138.] Gnosis ("knowledge") was a favorite term of the gnostic philosophers, and Paul undoubtedly had them in mind when he prayed for epignosis for his readers.
The "will" (thelematos) of God is what God has revealed in His Word to be correct regarding both belief (faith) and behavior (works, morality; cf. Colossians 4:12; Acts 22:14; Romans 12:2). In the broadest sense, the will of God is the whole purpose of God revealed in Christ. [Note: Vaughan, p. 177.]
"For a theist who believes that God’s active purpose determines the ordering of the world, lies behind events on earth, and shapes their consequences, one of the most desirable objectives must be to know God’s will." [Note: Dunn, p. 69.]
This knowledge included wisdom (the broadest term covering the whole range of mental faculties) and understanding (how to apply wisdom in specific cases).
"’Wisdom’ and ’understanding’ probably should not be treated separately but should be looked on as expressing a single thought, something like practical wisdom or clear discernment." [Note: Vaughan, p. 177.]
This interpretation takes the words as a hendiadys. This knowledge would come to them only by the illumination of the Holy Spirit ("spiritual wisdom"). The false teachers in Colosse were evidently promoting what they called a deeper knowledge attainable only by the privileged few.
"The false teachers promised the Colossian believers that they would be ’in the know’ if they accepted the new doctrines. Words like knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual understanding were a part of their religious vocabulary; so Paul used these words in his prayer." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:110.]
"The true antidote to heresy is always a deeper and richer knowledge of the truth concerning Jesus Christ." [Note: Johnson, 472:341.]
C. Prayer 1:9-14
Paul told his readers that he prayed for their full perception and deepest understanding of God’s will for them and for all believers. He did this so they would be able to glorify God in their conduct. He told them this to remind them that their understanding must come through the working of God’s Spirit in them and that correct understanding is foundational to correct behavior.
"It so often happens that in prayer we are really saying, ’Thy will be changed,’ when we ought to be saying, ’Thy will be done.’ . . .
"We pray, not in order to escape life, but in order to be better able to meet life. We pray, not in order to withdraw ourselves from life, but in order to live life in the world of men as it ought to be lived." [Note: Barclay, p. 130.]
The goal of understanding God’s will fully was that the Colossians would be able to live one day at a time in a manner that would glorify and please their Lord. The metaphor "walk," signifying conduct in the progress of life, has its origin in Jewish rather than Greek culture. The Hebrew verb halak, translated "walk," gave rise to the technical term "halakhah," which denotes the rabbinic rulings on how the Jews were to interpret the law in their daily lives. [Note: See Dunn, p. 71.] "Please" (Gr. aresko) refers to an attitude that anticipates every wish (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:9).
"In my pastoral ministry, I have met people who have become intoxicated with ’studying the deeper truths of the Bible.’ Usually they have been given a book or introduced to some teacher’s tapes. Before long, they get so smart they become dumb! The ’deeper truths’ they discover only detour them from practical Christian living. Instead of getting burning hearts of devotion to Christ (Luke 24:32), they get big heads and start creating problems in their homes and churches. All Bible truths are practical, not theoretical. If we are growing in knowledge, we should also be growing in grace (2 Peter 3:18)." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:111.]
Four characteristics (each a present participle) mark this worthy walk (an aorist infinitive in the Greek text, Colossians 1:10-12). First, it includes continuously bearing fruit in character and conduct in every type of good work (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). Second, it includes growing. Paul’s idea was that the Christian can continue to grow in his knowledge of God’s will revealed in Scripture. As he does so, he not only bears fruit but grows in his ability to bear fruit, as a fruit tree does.
"What rain and sunshine are to the nurture of plants, the knowledge of God is to the growth and maturing of the spiritual life." [Note: Vaughan, p. 178.]
Third, it includes gaining strength manifested in steadfastness (endurance under trial, "the capacity to see things through"). [Note: F. W. Beare, The Epistle to the Colossians, p. 158.] It also includes patience (longsuffering restraint), and joy (cf. Philippians 4:13; 2 Timothy 2:1). Fourth, it includes expressing gratitude to God consistently.
"There is a kind of patience that ’endures but does not enjoy.’ Paul prayed that the Colossian Christians might experience joyful patience and longsuffering." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:113.]
Three causes for thankful gratitude follow in Colossians 1:12-13.
God qualifies the believer by His grace. He makes us heirs of an inheritance (cf. 1 Peter 1:4). [Note: See John A. Witmer, "The Man with Two Countries," Bibliotheca Sacra 113:532 (October-December 1976):338-49.] The qualification to receive an inheritance took place at conversion, though actual possession of most of it is future. Second, He delivers us from Satan’s domain (Colossians 1:13 a). This, too, took place at conversion but will become more evident in the future. Third, He transferred us to Christ’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13 b). The verb translated "transferred" (metestesen) described the relocation of large groups of people such as captured armies or colonists from one country to another. [Note: Johnson, 472:344.] This kingdom is probably a reference to Christ’s domain as opposed to Satan’s domain of darkness. [Note: See Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, pp. 107-10; idem, "The Presence of the Kingdom and the Life of the Church," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:577 (January-March 1988):42-43; and Charles A. Bigg, The Messiah of the Apostles, pp. 211-12.]
The apostle probably used these figures because the false teachers in Colosse seem to have been promoting a form of Gnosticism that became very influential in the second century. Gnosticism made much of the light-darkness contrast in its philosophic system. "Darkness" is also a prominent figure in biblical symbolism where it represents ignorance, falsehood, and sin (cf. John 3:19; Romans 13:12; et al.). It is also common in the Qumran material (1QS 1:9; 2:5; 2:16; 11:7-8; 1QM 1:1; 1:5; 1:11; 4:2; 13:2; 1QH 11:11-12).
Perhaps Paul explained redemption because the false teachers were redefining that term too. Redemption is a benefit of union with Christ (Colossians 1:13 b). "Emancipation" expresses this aspect of Christ’s work for us.
"The real redemption [apolutrosis, lit. ransoming away] needed by men is not a redemption from fate by gnostic aeons [intermediate deities]; it is a redemption from sin by a Divine-human Mediator." [Note: Johnson, 472:345.]
"Redemption and forgiveness are not exactly parallel or identical concepts, but by putting the two terms in apposition to each other, the apostle teaches that the central feature of redemption is the forgiveness of sins." [Note: Vaughan, p. 180. ]
Forgiveness of sins is an important motif in this epistle (cf. Colossians 2:13; Colossians 3:13).
This pericope contains a beautiful picture of Christian growth that is God’s will for every believer. Paul alluded to the same concept later (Colossians 2:7). The Christian grows more as a fruit tree than as a stalk of wheat. We do not just bear fruit and then die. We continue to grow in our ability to bear fruit as we increase in the knowledge of God. Each passing year should see both growth in the Christian’s spiritual life and an increase in his or her fruitfulness.
"First-born" (Gr. prototokos) may denote either priority in time or supremacy in rank (cf. Colossians 1:18; Exodus 4:22; Psalms 89:27; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:15). It may also denote both of these qualities. Both seem to be in view here. Christ was before all creation in time, and He is over all creation in authority. In view of the context (Colossians 1:16-20), the major emphasis seems to be on His sovereignty, however. [Note: O’Brien, Colossians . . ., p. 44.] What "first-born" does not mean is that Christ was the first created being, which ancient Arians believed and modern Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. This is clear because Colossians 1:16-18 state that Christ existed before all things and is the Creator Himself. Other passages also affirm His responsibility for creation (cf. John 1:3; John 3:16; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6; Hebrews 11:28; Hebrews 12:23). In John 3:16 the word "only begotten" (Gr. monogenes) means alone of His kind, not "first-created" (protoktiskos).
"Though it is grammatically possible to translate this as ’Firstborn in Creation,’ the context makes this impossible for five reasons: (1) The whole point of the passage (and the book) is to show Christ’s superiority over all things. (2) Other statements about Christ in this passage (such as Creator of all [Colossians 1:16], upholder of Creation [Colossians 1:17], etc.) clearly indicate His priority and superiority over Creation. (3) The ’Firstborn’ cannot be part of Creation if He created ’all things.’ One cannot create himself. (Jehovah’s Witnesses wrongly add the word ’other’ six times in this passage in their New World Translation. Thus they suggest that Christ created all other things after He was created! But the word ’other’ is not in the Gr.) (4) The ’Firstborn’ received worship of all angels (Hebrews 1:6), but creatures should not be worshiped (Exodus 20:4-5). (5) The Greek word for ’Firstborn’ is prototokos. If Christ were the ’first-created,’ the Greek word would have been protoktisis." [Note: Geisler, pp. 672-73.]
2. In relation to all creation 1:15b-17
A. The preeminent person of Christ 1:15-20
In this section Paul revealed in what senses Christ is preeminent. One writer observed that this passage "represents a loftier conception of Christ’s person than is found anywhere else in the writings of Paul." [Note: E. F. Scott, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians, p. 20.] Another wrote, "No comparable listing of so many characteristics of Christ and His deity are found in any other Scripture passage." [Note: Geisler, p. 672.] Paul described Jesus Christ in three relationships: to deity, to creation, and to the church. Some writers understood this passage to be an early Christian hymn. [Note: E.g, Dunn, pp. 85-86.]
"There are given here nine marks of identification of Christ which make Him different from and superior to any other person who has ever lived." [Note: McGee, 5:338.]
I believe there are thirteen.
II. EXPLANATION OF THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST 1:15-29
Paul next proceeded to reiterate the "full knowledge" about Jesus Christ, which the false teachers in Colosse were attacking. He did so to give his readers fuller knowledge of God’s will so they would reject the false teaching of those who were demeaning Christ and continue to grow.
"The doctrine of Christ was the principal truth threatened by the false teaching at Colossae, and this is the doctrine Paul presents to his readers before dealing specifically with the false teaching." [Note: Bruce, 562:99.]
Christ is the originator of creation ("in Him," Colossians 1:16 a). All things-in every place, of every sort, and of every rank-originated with Him. God mediated the life of the entire universe through His Son (cf. John 1:3; John 1:10; Hebrews 1:2). He is the architect of creation. Paul listed various ranks of angelic beings, namely, invisible rulers and authorities. He may have been using the terminology of the false teachers who taught many gradations within the angelic sphere. [Note: Vaughan, p. 182.] Or these gradations really may exist. In Gnosticism, and in its primitive development in Colossae, angels received veneration depending on their supposed rank. Probably ranks of heavenly powers are in view here (Colossians 1:16). [Note: Dunn, p. 92.] Thus Paul claimed that Christ is superior to all angelic beings (cf. Hebrews 1:1-14).
"If it is asked whether the spiritual forces which Christ vanquished on the Cross are to be regarded as personal or impersonal, the answer is probably ’both.’ Whatever forces there are, of either kind, that hold human souls in bondage, Christ has shown Himself to be their Master, and those who are united to Him by faith need have no fear of them." [Note: Bruce, 564:299.]
Christ is the agent of creation ("through Him," Colossians 1:16 b). He accomplished creation (cf. John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2). He is the builder of the creation.
Christ is the goal of creation ("for Him," Colossians 1:16 b). History is moving toward a goal when the whole created universe will glorify Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:25; Philippians 2:10-11; Revelation 19:16). [Note: See Handley C. G. Moule, Colossian Studies, p. 78.]
"Several steps are involved in the construction of a substantial building. First, an architect is obtained to design the building and prepare plans and specifications in accordance with the expressed desires of the owner. Then the plans are submitted for bids by builders or contractors, and a builder secured. After the completion of the edifice, it is occupied by the owner and devoted to its intended use. Our Lord is not only the builder of the universe; He is also its architect and owner. All things have been created in Him (the eternal plans for the creation abide in Him), by Him (He acted as builder), and for Him (the creation belongs to Him and is to reflect His glory)." [Note: Johnson, 473:15.]
"For centuries, the Greek philosophers had taught that everything needed a primary cause, an instrumental cause, and a final cause. The primary cause is the plan, the instrumental cause the power, and the final cause the purpose. When it comes to Creation, Jesus Christ is the primary cause (He planned it), the instrumental cause (He produced it), and the final cause (He did it for His own pleasure)." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:116.]
Paul used the verb "created" twice in Colossians 1:16. In the first instance it is in the Greek aorist tense and refers to creation as an act. In the second it is in the Greek perfect tense picturing ". . . the universe as still remaining the monument and proof of His creative might." [Note: John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, p. 56.]
Christ is the antecedent of creation ("before all things," Colossians 1:17 a). This revelation clearly separates Christ from every created entity. "He" has the force of "He and no other" in the Greek text. The word is an intensive pronoun. He is before all temporally (preexistent) and authoritatively (sovereign). [Note: C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, p. 74.] This assertion, combined with the earlier one that He is the first-born of all creation (Colossians 1:15 b), proves that Christ is no creature. If He were, He would have had to create Himself. To do that He would have had to exist before He existed, which is absurd and impossible.
"The phrase ’before all things’ sums up the essence of His designation as ’Firstborn before all creation’ and excludes any possibility of interpreting that designation to mean that He Himself is part of the created order (albeit the first and chief part)." [Note: Bruce, 562:104.]
Christ is the sustainer of creation ("hold together," Colossians 1:17 b). Christ is the Person who preserves and maintains the existence of what He has created.
"He is the principle of cohesion in the universe. He impresses upon creation that unity and solidarity which makes it a cosmos instead of a chaos." [Note: Lightfoot, p. 154.]
"Every law of science and of nature is, in fact, an expression of the thought of God. It is by these laws, and therefore by the mind of God, that the universe hangs together, and does not disintegrate in chaos." [Note: Barclay, p. 144.]
"So the thought passes from creation to preservation." [Note: Johnson, 473:16.]
Colossians 1:17 sums up the thought of Colossians 1:15-16 and completes the statement of Christ’s relation to creation.
The term "head" (Gr. kephale) here does not point to Christ as the ruler of the church, though He is that, but to His being the beginning and the principle in creation and redemption. [Note: Stephen Bedale, "The Meaning of kephale in the Pauline Epistles," Journal of Theological Studies NS5 (1954):213.]
"In St. Paul’s day, according to popular psychology, both Greek and Hebrew, a man reasoned and purposed, not ’with his head,’ but ’in his heart’ . . ." [Note: Ibid., p. 212.]
He is sovereign because He is the first-born from the dead. Christ is the "beginning" of the church in that He is its power and source of spiritual life. He became this at His resurrection when He became the first-born from the dead in time. Christ was the first Person to rise from the dead with a glorified body never to die again. He broke death’s hold on humanity (1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23). Thus Christ became preeminent also in the new creation, the church, as well as in the old creation (Colossians 1:16-17).
"Paul did not say that Jesus was the first person to be raised from the dead, for He was not. But He is the most important of all who have been raised from the dead; for without His resurrection, there could be no resurrection for others (1 Corinthians 15:20 ff.)." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:117.]
"Prototokos ["first-born"], used in both parts of the passage (Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18) unites His supremacy in the two realms, creation and salvation (cf. Acts 26:23)." [Note: Johnson, 473:18. Cf. Romans 1:4; 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:20.]
3. In relation to the church 1:18-20
So far everything Paul had written about Christ other New Testament writers also revealed, but what follows in Colossians 1:18 is uniquely Pauline.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Romans 12:4-8 Paul used the human body to illustrate the unity and diversity present in the church. Here he used it to illustrate the sovereignty of Christ over Christians (cf. Ephesians 4:11-13). Our Lord supplies authority and direction for His body. [Note: See O’Brien, Colossians . . ., pp. 57-61, for a discussion of the term ekklesia ("church") in Colossians and Philemon.]
The reason for His preeminence in the new creation is the Son’s work of reconciliation (Colossians 1:20). Colossians 1:19-23 give the reason Paul could say what he just did about Christ’s supremacy.
Later in Gnostic literature "fullness" (Gr. pleroma) referred to the entire series of angelic emanations that supposedly mediated between God and humankind. [Note: Lightfoot, pp. 255-71.] Here Paul used this word of the totality of Christ’s saving grace and power (cf. Acts 5:31; Acts 17:31). His point was that all divine power resides in Christ as a result of His resurrection (Colossians 1:18) and there are no other mediating agents (cf. Colossians 2:9; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13; 1 Timothy 2:5).
". . . the importance of the language is to indicate that the completeness of God’s self-revelation was focused in Christ, that the wholeness of God’s interaction with the universe is summed up in Christ." [Note: Dunn, p. 101.]
The Greek word translated "dwell" (katoikesai) means to dwell permanently. This contradicts the idea that Christ possessed divine power only temporarily, which the Christian Science religion teaches. In short, "fullness" here probably refers to Christ’s official power given Him following His resurrection rather than to His essential power that was always His by virtue of His deity.
God’s ultimate purpose in all of this was to reconcile all things to Himself. The Cross made reconciliation possible. Now it is up to people to accept God’s provision and "be reconciled" to God by faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
"The implication is that the purpose, means, and manner of (final) reconciliation have already been expressed by God, not that the reconciliation is already complete." [Note: Ibid., p. 103.]
". . . Paul never looks at reconciliation as mutual concession after mutual hostility. Reconciliation is manward, not Godward, in its direction. It is God’s reconciling of man ’unto himself’ (Colossians 1:20). God never has had need to be reconciled to man; He has always loved man. It is easy to see the importance of holding right views here, since our attitude to Christ’s work and our very idea of God are affected." [Note: Johnson, 474:143. See also James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ, pp. 204-72; and Barclay, p. 147.]
"All things" would include the angelic world and the rest of creation besides humanity. Christ’s death has dealt with the defilement sin caused as well as with its guilt.
In what sense did Christ reconcile all things in heaven to Himself, including Satan and his angels? He did not do so in the ordinary sense of bringing them into salvation but in the wider sense of bringing them into subjection to His will. [Note: See Gary L. Shultz Jr., "The Reconciliation of All Things in Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra 167:668 (October-December 2010):442-59.] Christ’s death has pacified Satan and his angels. They now have to submit to Him (cf. Colossians 2:15) even as He created them. [Note: For a critique of the universalist position, based on this verse, that, because God’s great purpose is reconciliation, no one will ultimately be lost, see P. T. O’Brien, "Colossians 1:20 and the Reconciliation of all Things," Reformed Theological Review 33:2 (May-August 1974):45-53.]
This passage (Colossians 1:15-20) contains one of the greatest Christologies in the Bible. [Note: For a review and evaluation of recent views on this passage, see Larry L. Helyer, "Cosmic Christology and Colossians 1:15-20," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:2 (June 1994):235-46; idem, "Colossians 1:15-20: Pre-Pauline or Pauline?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26:2 (June 1983):167-79; idem, "Arius Revisited: The Firstborn Over All Creation (Colossians 1:15)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 31:1 (March 1988):59-67; idem, "Recent Research on Colossians 1:15-20 (1980-1990)," Grace Theological Journal 12:1 (1992):51-67; and Jeffrey S. Lamp, "Wisdom in Colossians 1:15-20: Contribution and Significance," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:1 (March 1998):45-53.] Scholars have often referred to Colossians 1:15-18 as "The Great Christology." [Note: E.g., Johnson, 473:12] They have also called Colossians 1:15-20 "The Christ Hymn." [Note: E.g., Bruce, 562:99.] The form of these verses is probably Hebrew rather than Greek poetry. [Note: Steven M. Baugh, "The Poetic Form of Colossians 1:15-20," Westminster Theological Journal 47:2 (Fall 1985):227-44.] One writer argued that Paul took the Christological statements in Colossians 1:9-23 and Colossians 2:6-15 from Jewish sources rather than from his own store of theological ideas or from early Christian hymns. [Note: J. C. O’Neill, "The Source of the Christology in Colossians," New Testament Studies 26:1 (October 1979):87-100.] Probably he did. Another scholar suggested that Christ’s supremacy in this passage should be understood as over the Torah, Adam, and Israel. [Note: T. E. Pollard, "Colossians 1:12-20: a Reconsideration," New Testament Studies 27:4 (July 1981):572-75.] This seems unnecessarily limited to me.
"The Christ-hymn of Colossians 1:15-20 is a powerful statement about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ’s supremacy is seen at every turn. The first portion focuses on His preeminent role in creation, while the second emphasizes His work as Redeemer. To any Christian, in Colosse then or elsewhere today, who may have been or is confused about Christ’s role in the world, these six verses testify to Christ’s absolute authority, which is not to be shared with any person, angel, or demon." [Note: H. Wayne House, "The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians," Bibliotheca Sacra 149:594 (April-June 1992):187.]
|Thirteen Assertions about Christ in Colossians 1:15-20|
|1. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).|
|2. He is the first-born of creation (Colossians 1:15)|
|3. He is the originator of creation (Colossians 1:16).|
|4. He is the agent of creation (Colossians 1:16).|
|5. He is the goal of creation (Colossians 1:16).|
|6. He is the antecedent of creation (Colossians 1:17).|
|7. He is the sustainer of creation (Colossians 1:17).|
|8. He is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18).|
|9. He is the first-born from the dead (Colossians 1:18).|
|10. He is the preeminent one (Colossians 1:18).|
|11. He is the fullness of God (Colossians 1:19).|
|12. He is the reconciler of all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20).|
|13. He is the maker of peace (Colossians 1:20).|
The church at Colosse was predominantly a Gentile congregation as is evident from Paul’s description of his readers’ pre-conversion condition. Paul’s reference to Christ’s "fleshly body" may have helped him distinguish it from His spiritual body, the church (Colossians 1:18). He may also have mentioned it to contradict the false idea that Christ did not have a genuine physical body. [Note: Vaughan, p. 187.] One of the heresies of the early church was Docetism. Docetists taught that Jesus only appeared to have a physical body. They based this view on the incorrect notion that physical flesh is inherently evil.
". . . such an emphasis would have been a bulwark against any Gnostic tendencies that attempted to question the reality of Christ’s death: the firstborn of all creation attained his status as firstborn from the dead by experiencing the full reality of physical death." [Note: Dunn, p. 109.]
"Holy" means set apart from sin. "Blameless" means without blemish or defect. "Beyond reproach" means totally without occasion for criticism. Paul was not speaking about the Christian’s personal conduct but about his or her position in Christ.
1. As experienced by the Colossians 1:21-23
The apostle moved on next to the application of Christ’s reconciliation.
B. The reconciling work of Christ 1:21-29
Paul continued his exposition of Christ’s superiority with emphasis on His reconciling work. He did this to ground his readers further in the full truth of God’s revelation so the false teachers among them would not lead them astray.
"If" introduces a condition the writer assumed was true to reality for the sake of his argument (a first class condition in Greek). We could translate it, "Since." Paul assumed his readers would do what he described because perseverance is normal for genuine believers (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 1:6; 1 John 2:19). [Note: Herbert M. Carson, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon, p. 48.] However perseverance in the faith is not inevitable. Apostasy is a real possibility to which he alluded here (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-2; et al.). It is necessary to abide in the faith to obtain a good report from the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ. This was Paul’s concern for his readers here. [Note: See Bob Wilkin, "Is Continuing in the Faith a Condition of Eternal Life?" Grace Evangelical Society News 6:3 (March 1991):2; and Charles C. Bing, "The Warning in Colossians 1:21-23," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:653 (January-March 2007):74-88.]
Paul was thinking of his readers as a building "firmly established" on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). He saw them steadfastly rigid, not blown off their base by the winds of false doctrine (cf. Ephesians 4:14). Since earthquakes were not uncommon in the Lycus Valley, Paul’s statement may have reminded the Colossians of their security in another sense. [Note: Wiersbe, 2:120-21.]
". . . the addressees are to remain as firmly seated on the gospel as a god in his temple or a skillful rider on a spirited horse." [Note: Dunn, p. 111.]
The gospel had had wide circulation. "In all creation under heaven" must be hyperbole meaning it had gone everywhere in a general sense. Paul was contrasting the wide appeal and proclamation of the gospel with the exclusive appeal and comparatively limited circulation of the false teachers’ message. "Minister" is servant (Gr. diakonos).
Paul’s sufferings 1:24
This verse is ". . . probably the most controversial in the letter." [Note: Johnson 475:229.]
It might have seemed ironical that Paul was in prison, in view of what he had just said about the success of the gospel. Therefore he quickly explained that his afflictions were part of God’s plan, and he rejoiced in them. Paul could rejoice because he knew his imprisonment would benefit his readers through his ministry to them in this letter if in no other way. Furthermore he regarded his sufferings as what any servant of Christ could expect in view of the world’s treatment of his Master.
". . . the word thlipseon (AV [NASB and NIV], ’afflictions’) is never used in the New Testament of the atoning sufferings of Christ. We, therefore, must reject any conception of a treasury of merit, such as Roman Catholics allow, composed of Christ’s sufferings plus the sufferings of the saints and dispensed as indulgences.
"If we also dismiss the interpretations which understand Paul to be referring to sufferings demanded by Christ or suffered for His sake (the natural sense of the genitive is opposed to this), we are still left with several alternatives." [Note: Ibid., 475:229-30. Cf. Carson, p. 50.]
One view is that the phrase "Christ’s afflictions" refers to the quota of sufferings the church must undergo corporately before the end of the age (cf. Matthew 24:6; Hebrews 11:40; Revelation 6:11). [Note: C. F. D. Moule, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon, p. 76.] However this idea is foreign to the context that stresses the contribution Paul’s sufferings made to the Colossian’s welfare. Paul’s point was not that his sufferings relieved the Colossians of their share of sufferings for Christ (cf. Colossians 1:28-29; Colossians 2:1-2).
A second view is that Paul was saying his sufferings were similar to Christ’s. Both he and Christ suffered for believers, Christ on the cross and Paul presently. [Note: T. K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, p. 232; Ellis, p. 1339.] Yet Paul wrote here of Christ’s sufferings. They were His own.
A third view is that the sufferings of Christ to which Paul referred are those sacrificial works the Lord left for believers to perform. [Note: Lightfoot, p. 163; McGee, 5:343-45.] As Christ suffered during His ministry, so Christians suffer during our ministries. However if this is what Paul meant, why did he speak of them as Christ’s afflictions? This view, as the preceding two views, expresses a Scriptural revelation, but that revelation does not seem to be Paul’s point here.
A fourth view, the one I prefer, regards the afflictions of Christ as Christ’s actual sufferings now, not on the cross but in and through Paul whom He indwelt (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). [Note: Johnson, 475:230-31; Dunn, p. 114.] When believers suffer, Christ also suffers because He indwells us (cf. Acts 9:4).
"It is no wonder, then, that Paul rejoiced in his sufferings. Seen in the light of his union with Christ, they were transfigured and made an occasion for fellowship with Him, as well as a benefit to the body, the church." [Note: Johnson, 475:231.]
2. As ministered by Paul 1:24-29
Paul had received a unique function to fulfill in the body of Christ. He ministered the gospel of reconciliation to unevangelized Gentiles primarily (Colossians 1:25). He explained his ministry to his readers so they would appreciate the reconciling work of God more deeply and to stimulate them to press on to maturity.
Paul’s role in the household of God (the meaning of "stewardship") was that of a servant who fully expounded God’s revelation for the benefit of his Gentile readers.
"He was a servant of the church, but in the deepest sense he was a steward of God." [Note: Vaughan, p. 191.]
Paul’s message 1:25-27
This revelation included a "mystery." This term refers to a truth previously unknown but now revealed by God. In the Greek world it also referred to the secret ceremonies of pagan cults that only the initiated knew. Paul’s use was similar with the difference that God had now revealed this secret.
"The movement of world history is a linear progression which has also been directed by a secret purpose determined from the beginning by the one God." [Note: Dunn, p. 120.]
God had hidden this new revelation from human understanding for ages past. Paul expounded it more fully in Ephesians 3:3-9 and only gave its essence here as "Christ in [among] you [Gentiles]" (cf. Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 3:17).
"For Christ to be among the Gentiles involved being in those who believed. And He was and is for them the hope of glory, the pledge that they shall share in His glory to come (cf. Colossians 3:4)." [Note: Johnson, 475:233.]
"The mystery was not that Gentiles would be saved but how they could be ’fellow-heirs’ (Ephesians 3:6, KJV), on the same level with Jews, with no middle wall of partition between them (Ephesians 2:12-14)." [Note: Geisler, p. 675. Cf. McGee, 5:346.]
That God would save Gentiles was no new revelation (e.g., Isaiah 49:6), but that He would dwell in them and deal with them on the same basis as He did Jews was new revelation. Those who rejected this revelation insisted that Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians (cf. Acts 15:1).
"At least four defining characteristics of the church are described as a mystery. (1) The body concept of Jewish and Gentile believers united into one body is designated as a mystery in Ephesians 3:1-12. (2) The doctrine of Christ indwelling every believer, the Christ-in-you concept, is called a mystery in Colossians 1:24-27 (cf. Colossians 2:10-19; Colossians 3:4; Colossians 3:11). (3) The church as the Bride of Christ is called a mystery in Ephesians 5:22-32. (4) The Rapture is called a mystery in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. These four mysteries describe qualities that distinguish the church from Israel." [Note: Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, "Israel and the Church," in Issues in Dispensationalism, pp. 117-18.]
Progressive dispensationalists, along with non-dispensationalists (i.e., covenant theologians), interpret the mystery of Christ in us as the realization of the Old Testament promise that God would put His Spirit within believers (Ezekiel 36:27; cf. Ezekiel 37:14). [Note: See Saucy, The Case . . ., pp. 167-73.] Normative dispensationalists take this mystery as new revelation that Christ would indwell believers in the church. [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 135; idem, Dispensationalism, pp. 124-25; Wiersbe, 2:122.] The difference is not in the Spirit and Christ distinction; both positions see unity between the Spirit and Christ. The difference is the concept of the church, though both progressive and normative dispensationalists see the church as distinct from Israel. Progressives view the church as the present predicted phase of the messianic (Davidic) kingdom. Normatives see the church as distinct from the messianic (Davidic) kingdom and not predicted in the Old Testament.
"It is striking that for the third time in these opening paragraphs the theme of hope is given central place in the gospel (Colossians 1:5; Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:27 . . .). This is an appropriate note on which to wind up this brief reference to the mystery of God’s purpose shaped from before the ages and generations and now moving toward its eschatological climax." [Note: Dunn, p. 123.]
Paul’s purpose 1:28
Paul proclaimed this new revelation as a completed fact. The word katangellomen, translated "proclaim," implies its completed character.
"’Counseling’ (nouthetountes) and ’teaching’ (didaskontes) describe two attendant circumstances of Paul’s preaching. The former word . . . has to do with the will and emotions and connotes warning. Here it relates to non-Christians, the thought probably being that the apostle sought to awaken each of them to his need of Christ. . . . ’Teaching,’ which probably refers to a ministry for converts, stresses the importance of instruction in proclaiming the Word. ’With all wisdom’ seems to express the way the teaching was done." [Note: Vaughan, p. 193.]
Negative admonitions and positive teaching presented through wise (appropriate) methods were necessary to bring all people, not just the privileged few, as in Gnosticism, to full maturity in Christ. Paul had the imminent return of Christ in view as the time when he desired to present every person mature in Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:13). Paul proclaimed a Person, not a philosophy. Note that he did not just preach the gospel message but the whole counsel of God. His goal was not just to get people saved but to lead them to maturity in Christ (cf. Matthew 28:20).
"Here again there may be a gentle reminder that any of the Colossian recipients tempted to look elsewhere for a ’fuller’ experience and wisdom need to look, and should look, no further than Christ for their ’completion.’" [Note: Dunn, p. 126.]
"Paul took time to minister to individuals; note the repetition of ’every man’ in Colossians 1:28. If we minister to only a few believers, we are helping the whole church." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:123.]
Paul’s power 1:29
Paul had to expend physical, mental, and spiritual energy toiling to this end. Sometimes he had to strive and contend with adversaries in the world as well as with his own flesh and the devil. Nevertheless the supernatural power of the indwelling Christ energized him.
"The root [of the Greek word translated "works," energoumenen] generally refers to supernatural power, whether God’s or Satan’s." [Note: Johnson, 475:234.]
"The entire statement shows that through faith in Christ we can link our life with a source of strength that enables us to rise above our natural limitations." [Note: Vaughan, p. 193.]
Paul’s view of his ministry was certainly a high one. He would have despaired had he not learned the sufficiency of God’s grace in his life (2 Corinthians 12:9).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Colossians 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany