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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Colossians 1

 

 

Verses 1-29

THE BELIEVERS AT Colosse were far in advance of the Galatians as to their spiritual state. As we go through the epistle we shall see that there were certain important matters as to which the Apostle Paul had to sound a warning note, yet in the main they had been marked by progress, and he could speak of their “order” and of the “steadfastness” of their faith in Christ (Colossians 2:5). They were therefore in happy contrast with both the

Corinthians and the Galatians, for the former were characterized by disorder and the latter by backsliding as to the faith of Christ.

Because of this, doubtless, they are addressed as faithful brethren as well as saints. All believers may rightly be called holy brethren for all are “saints,” or “holy ones,” that is, “ones set apart for God.” Can we all be addressed as faithful brethren? Are we all going forward in faith and faithfulness? Let us take these questions to heart for the unfaithful believer is not likely to appreciate much, or understand, the truth unfolded in this epistle.

As so often in his epistles, the Apostle opens by assuring the Colossians of his prayers for them. If any word of admonition or correction is necessary, it comes with much greater power and acceptability from lips that have been habitually employed in prayer for us, than from any other. His prayers had however been mingled with thanksgivings, and both had been provoked by that which he had heard concerning them, for, as Colossians 2:1 shows us, he had not yet seen and known them face to face. Tidings had reached him of their faith in Christ and of their love to all the saints.

These two things, simple and elementary as they may appear, are of extreme importance. They indicate with definiteness and certainty the possession of the divine nature—see, 1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:1. An unconverted person may be quite attached to an individual believer here or there, who happens to strike his fancy, but he does not love “all the saints.” That is quite beyond any, save the one who is born of God.

The Apostle does not inform them as to the burden of his prayers for them until verse Colossians 1:9 is reached. He first tells them of that for which he gave thanks. “We give thanks... for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.” That hope is alluded to in the course of the epistle (see Colossians 1:27; Colossians 3:4), but it is not unfolded in any full way because they well knew it. Tidings of it had reached them when the word of the Gospel first came to their ears. We learn from this that those who preach the Gospel should take care to emphasize not only its present effect in delivering from the power of sin, but also its ultimate effect—introducing the believer into glory. It would of course be equally a mistake to preach its ultimate effect without insisting on its present effect.

The Gospel in those days had overleaped the narrow boundaries of Palestine and was going forth into all the world. It had reached to the

Colossians, Gentiles though they were, and consequently they knew the grace of God in truth. Does grace make us careless or indifferent? It does not; it works in an exactly opposite direction; it brings forth fruit. “The Glad Tidings... are bearing fruit and growing, even as also among you,” is another rendering of this passage. Both growth and fruit-bearing are proofs of vitality. There is no stagnation and decay where the Gospel is really received.

It would appear from verse Colossians 1:7 that Epaphras had been the servant of Christ who brought the light to them. They had learned the Glad Tidings of the grace of God and of the hope of glory from his lips. Then verse Colossians 1:8 indicates that he had travelled to Rome and made known to Paul what God had wrought among the Colossians, and the depth and sincerity of their Christian love. We can see how highly Paul esteemed him. He speaks of him as a faithful servant of Christ, and at the end of the epistle we learn how truly devoted he was to the spiritual welfare of the Colossians.

The report brought by Epaphras had not only moved Paul to thanksgiving, as we have seen, but also impelled him to constant prayer on their behalf. In verse Colossians 1:9 he begins to tell them of that which he prayed for on their behalf. His prayer may be summarized under four heads:—

1. He desired that they might have full knowledge of the will of God, so that

2. they might walk in a way worthy of the Lord and well pleasing to Him; that so they might be

3. strengthened to endure suffering with joyfulness, and

4. be filled with the spirit of thanksgiving and praise. But let us look a little more particularly at these things.

The will of God is to govern everything for us; hence the knowledge of His will necessarily comes in the first place. The word used for knowledge here is a very strong one really meaningful! knowledge, and with that full knowledge they were to be filled. The apostle would not be satisfied with anything short of this. The will of God was to possess all their thoughts and fill up their horizon. This is an immensely high standard truly, but then the divine standard and objective never is anything but immensely high.

Further our knowledge is to be in spiritual understanding; that is, understanding acquired by the Spirit of God and not by a merely intellectual process. It is possible to acquire Biblical information in much the same way as one obtains historical or geographical information, and in such a case one may be able to analyse and expound the Scriptures and yet be quite a stranger to their experimental bearing and their power. Also our knowledge is to be in all wisdom. The wise man is he who is able with good judgment to apply his knowledge to the circumstances that he has to face.

So what the Apostle desired for the Colossians, and for us, is that we might gain full knowledge of God’s will by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, for in that way we shall ourselves be governed by what we know and also be able to apply our knowledge to practical details in the midst of the tangled circumstances that surround us.

Now this it is that will enable us to walk worthily of the Lord, so as to please Him well. Few things are more sad than to see a believer distracted by circumstances, filled with uncertainty, vacillating this way and that. How inspiring, on the other hand, when a believer is like a ship, which though buffetted by fierce winds, blowing at times from all points of the compass, yet keeps with steadiness on its course, because the skipper has good nautical understanding of the chart, and the wisdom not only to take his observations from the sun but also to apply them to his whereabouts and direction. There is a definiteness and certainty about such an one that glorifies God. That of which we speak was exemplified in surpassing measure by the Apostle Paul himself. We have only to read Philippians 3:1-21 to see it.

This walk, worthy of the Lord and pleasing to Him, is the necessary basis of fruitfulness. We may distinguish between the “fruit of the Spirit,” spoken of in Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23, and “being fruitful,” according to our 10th verse. There it is fruit produced in the way of Christian character. Here it is fruitfulness in good works. The former lays the foundation for the latter, but both are necessary. Good works are the necessary outcome of a character which is really formed after Christ. Good works are works which give expression to the divine life and character in the Christian, and which are according to the Word of God. We are to be marked by every good work.

And in all this there is no finality while we are on earth, as the last clause of verse Colossians 1:10 shows. Though we may have the knowledge of His will yet we are to go on increasing in the knowledge of God, or, “by the full knowledge of God.” We not only grow in it but by it, for the more we know God experimentally the more our spiritual stature increases, and the more too are we “strengthened with all might,” as verse Colossians 1:11 indicates.

The language of that verse is very strong. It is, “all might,” “His glorious power,” (or, “the power of His glory,”) and “all patience.” We might well ask with astonishment, “Is it possible that weak and failing creatures like to ourselves should be strengthened to this extraordinary degree?” It is. The power of the glory is able to subdue all things to Himself, as Philippians 3:21 indicates; hence it can subdue and strengthen us now. But to what end?

The answer to this question is even more astonishing. To the end that we may be able to endure all the trials of the way, not only with longsuffering but with joyfulness also. We should naturally have supposed that extraordinary strengthening would have been in view of the performing of extraordinary exploits in the service of God, of our acting like an Elijah or a Paul. But no, it is in view of suffering, sustained with endurance and joy. A few moments reflection will assure us that there is nothing less natural to us than this.

The world knows and admires that attitude of mind which is expressed by the saying, “Grin and bear it.” We commend the man who faces adversity with cheerfulness, though his cheerfulness is only based on a species of fatalism and a refusal to look ahead beyond the day. The believer, who has grown in the knowledge of God and is strengthened, may be plunged into suffering, and instead of being consumed with desire to get out of it he endures with long-suffering, instead of grumbling at the Divine ways he not only acquiesces but is joyful. Joyful, be it noted, and not merely cheerful. His joy flows on like still waters that run deep. But then the power for this is according to the might of His glory. That glory exists today, and very shortly it is coming into display, so even now it is possible for us to “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Read 1 Peter 1:6-9, for it illustrates our subject.

The saint who is joyful passes naturally to thanksgiving and praise. Hence verse Colossians 1:12 flows out of verse 11. We give thanks to God as the Father, for it is in this character we know Him, and that He has wrought on our behalf in the pursuance of His purposes of love. We give thanks for that which He has done. The items of the thanksgiving follow a descending scale. We work downwards from His purpose to the meeting of our need, which was necessary in order that His purpose might be reached.

Made “fit for sharing the portion of the saints in light.” Not, to be made, nor, in process of being made, but, MADE. We who have believed are fit for heavenly glory, fit for that portion in the light of God’s presence which is to be shared in common by all the saints of this dispensation. We may be very little able to realize what this inheritance means, but how full is the assurance that we have been made fit for it by the Father. The fitness is ours already though the inheritance is future.

In order that we might be made fit deliverance had to reach us. In our unconverted state we lay under the authority of darkness. Darkness here stands for Satan and his works, even as we have just had the word, light, used to describe the presence of God. We have been delivered from Satan’s kingdom by being brought into a kingdom of an infinitely higher and better character—the kingdom of “His dear Son,” or, “the Son of His love.” By coming under the authority of perfect good we are delivered from the power of evil.

Again and again in the New Testament are we reminded that having believed we are brought under the Divine authority. The kingdom of God is spoken of, and in Matthew’s gospel we read of the kingdom of heaven, inasmuch as Jesus, God’s King, is seated in the heavens, so that He is exerting heavenly rule upon earth. Other expressions also are used as to the kingdom, but none of them give us so great a sense of nearness and affection as this which we have here. The word, kingdom, in itself might have a slightly harsh sound in our ears, but there is nothing harsh about “the kingdom of the Son of the Father’s love.” It speaks of authority truly, but it is authority of a perfect love, its every decree tempered by that.

Never let us kick at authority. The fact is we cannot do without it, and were never intended to do so. At the outset when man began to kick against the authority of God he instantly fell under the dark authority of the devil. It was never intended that man should be absolutely uncontrolled. If now we get deliverance from Satan’s authority it is by being brought into subjection to God’s dear Son. The yoke of Satan is burdensome to a degree. Those under it are like to the demoniac, who had his dwelling among the tombs, and who was always crying and cutting himself with stones. The yoke of the Lord Jesus, as He has told us, is easy and His burden is light. Our removal from the one to the other has been a translation indeed!

This translation has been effected in the strength of the redemption work of the cross. Only by redemption could we be extricated in a righteous way from bondage under the power of darkness. We have been brought back to God by blood; and by that same blood-shedding have our sins been put away, so that all are forgiven. We should not be able to rejoice in the fact of being brought back to God apart from the forgiveness of all our sins, which once stood between us and Him.

Though the glorious truth of verses Colossians 1:12-14 is stated as from God’s side on a descending scale, we on our side enter into the knowledge and enjoyment of it on the ascending scale, that is, in the reverse order. We necessarily begin with the forgiveness of our sins. Then entering into the larger thought of redemption we begin to appreciate the great translation effected, and our absolute fitness for glory, as in Christ. The more we do enter into all, the more will our hearts and lips be filled with thanksgiving to the Father, from whom all has sprung.

But if the Father is the Source of all, His dear Son is the Channel through whom all has flowed to us—the One who has put all into execution at such immeasurable cost to Himself. Redemption has reached us through His blood, and when we know WHO IT IS that shed His blood, our thoughts of it are greatly enlarged. Consequently in verses Colossians 1:15-17 we are given a sight of His splendour in connection with creation. Here is a passage hard to equal whether we consider the sublimity of the thoughts expressed, or the graphic power with which they are expressed in the fewest possible words. Sublimity, graphic power and brevity are combined.

In verse Colossians 1:15 two words call for brief remarks. The word “Image” has the force of “Representative.” The invisible God is exactly represented in Him, a thing impossible apart from the fact of Himself being God. Some are inclined to slightly demur to this on account of the second word in the verse, to which we have referred. In the word “Firstborn” they lay too much stress in their minds upon the second half of the word. “But He was born,” they say. The word “firstborn” however besides its primary meaning has also a figurative sense (as in Psalms 89:27; Jeremiah 31:9), meaning, the one who takes the supreme place as holding the rights of the firstborn. That is the sense in which it is used in our passage. The Lord Jesus not only stands forth as the Representative of all that God is, He also stands forth absolutely pre-eminent over creation. All creation’s glory and its rights are vested in Him, for the simple reason that He is the Creator, as verse Colossians 1:16 states.

In the very first verse of the Bible creation is attributed to God, and it is a remarkable fact that the word used there for God is a plural word, Elohim. It is the more remarkable inasmuch as the Hebrews employed not only the singular and the plural but had also another number, the dual, signifying two, and two only. Their plural words therefore signified three or more, and when we turn to the New Testament we find that there are three Persons in the Godhead. We also discover that of the three Persons creation is always attributed to the Son.

It is so here; and in verse Colossians 1:16 this great fact is stated in a threefold way, three different prepositions being used, in, by and for. In our Authorized version the first preposition as well as the second is by. Literally, however, it is in. If you turn up this passage in Darby’s New Translation you will find footnotes which instruct us that in signifies “characteristic power:” that “He was the One whose intrinsic power characterized the creation. It exists as His creature.” They instruct us also that by signifies that He was “the active Instrument,” and that for signifies that He is “the End” for which creation exists.

You will notice too the comprehensive way in which the creation is described in this passage. Heaven as well as earth is brought into view. Things invisible are contemplated as well as things visible; and the invisible and spiritual powers are spoken of under four heads. What may be the real distinction between thrones, dominions, principalities and powers we do not know, but we do know that they all owe their very existence to our Lord Jesus. Twice over in this one verse is it stated that He is the Creator of “all things.” Consequently He is before all both as to time and place; and all things hang together by Him. The stars pursue their appointed courses, but they only do so because directed by Him.

It is not difficult to see that the Creator, having entered into the midst of His own creation by becoming Man, He necessarily stands in the creation as Head and Firstborn. In verse Colossians 1:18 however, we find that He is both Head and Firstborn in another connection. He is the Head of the body, the church, and that church is God’s new creation work. He is the Firstborn from among the dead; that is, He holds the supreme rights in the resurrection world. Consequently in all things and in every sphere He has the first place.

What glorious truth is this! How wonderful that we should know Him as Firstborn in this twofold way, both in connection with the first creation and the new creation! Only our relation with Him according to the new creation is far more intimate than ever it could have been according to the old. In all creation He is of course Head, in the sense of being Chief, and it is in that sense that He is spoken of as, “the Head of every man,” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. He is Head to the church in another sense, illustrated by the human body. An organic and vital union exists between the head and the other members of the body, and just so does a vital union exist between Christ and His members in new creation.

Further, He is “the Beginning.” He existed in the beginning, as we are elsewhere told, but that is another thing. Here He is the beginning, and that beginning is connected with resurrection as the next words show. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was the new beginning for God. All that God is doing today He is doing in connection with Christ in resurrection. All our links with Him are on that footing. Let us very prayerfully consider this point, for except we lay hold of it with spiritual understanding we shall fail to appreciate the true nature of Christianity.

In the risen Christ, then, we find God’s new beginning, but let us now notice the important truth that follows in verses Colossians 1:19-22. There had to be a complete settlement of every liability incurred in connection with the old creation. Unscrupulous men may sometimes open a business and having incurred heavy liabilities, close it up without any attempt at meeting them. Then they depart elsewhere and propose to open up a new business! Such a practice is universally condemned. God ever acts in strict righteousness. By His death the Lord Jesus has wrought a settlement as regards man’s sin in the old creation. Then in His resurrection God commenced anew.

Verse Colossians 1:19 tells us that all the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell in the Son when He came forth to do His mighty work, and by the blood of His cross the Godhead aimed at so effectually making peace that the basis might be laid for the reconciliation of all things. And we may safely add that what the Godhead aims at the Godhead always accomplishes.

The effect of sin has been that man has lapsed into a state of enmity with God, and hence the earth is filled with strife, confusion, disharmony. In the death of Christ a clearance has been effected judicially by judgment falling on that which created all the trouble. The disturbing element being removed peace can ensue. Peace being established reconciliation can come to pass.

Now peace has been made. No one has “to make their peace with God.” Nor could they make peace with God if they had to do it. Christ is the Maker of peace. He made it, not by His life of singular beauty and perfection, but by His death. We of course are to enjoy the peace, and that is what is spoken of in Romans 5:1. “Being justified by faith we have peace with God.” By faith we have the peace in our hearts, and what a wonderful peace it is! Here however the point is the making of the peace at the cross. The only possible basis for the peace enjoyed inside us is the peace made outside us when the blood of the cross was shed.

Peace having been made the reconciliation of all things is coming. We must not, however, imagine that this means the salvation of everybody, for a qualifying clause is immediately added. The “all things” is limited to “things in earth or things in heaven.” When it is a question of bowing the knee to Jesus, there are included “things under the earth,” but they are not included here. The world of the lost will have to submit. They will be broken but not reconciled.

It is perfectly evident that reconciliation has not yet been reached as to things on earth. Yet believers are already reconciled as verse Colossians 1:21 states; and in that verse we find a word that helps us to understand what reconciliation really means—a word that describes the state which is the exact opposite of reconciliation—alienation.

Manifold evil has engulfed mankind as the result of the incoming of sin. Not only have we incurred guilt but we lie under a terrible bondage. Again not only are we in bondage but we have been utterly estranged from God, in whom all our hope lies. We needed justification in view of our guilt. We needed redemption in view of bondage. And because we were so wholly alienated from God we needed reconciliation. The alienation, be it observed, lay wholly upon our side. The enmity existed in our minds towards God, not in God’s mind towards us; and the enmity and alienation expressed itself in wicked works. Hence we may say that, whilst there is a sense in which God needed reconciliation, we needed it in a twofold way.

Reconciliation was effected “through death,”—the death of Christ. His death is the stable basis on which it rests, needed by God and needed by us. We however needed more than this. We needed the mighty work in our hearts by which the enmity should be swept out of them for ever. As a result of it all God looks down upon us, as in Christ, with complacency and delight; whilst we, sensible of His favour, look up to Him with responsive affection.

God only has full delight in that which is perfect. But then the effect of the death of Christ is that we can be presented “holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight.” Cleared are we from everything which formerly attached to us as the fallen children of Adam, for “in the body of His flesh through death” the judgment of all that we were has been executed. That same death provides the basis for the coming reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth.

What a glorious prospect this is! There are things in heaven which have been touched and tarnished by sin, and these are to be reconciled, though the angels that sinned have been cast down to hell, and so do not come within its scope. Everything upon earth has been wrecked. Yet a day is coming when everything within these two spheres will be brought into complete harmony with the will of God, and bask for ever in the sunlight of His favour, responding in every particular to His love. Well may we cry, Lord, haste that day! Well may we ponder deeply upon such themes, for the more we do so the more will dawn upon us the wonder of the death of Christ.

All that we have been considering supposes of course that we are really and truly the Lord’s. Hence the qualifying “If” in verse 23. Many there are who, hearing the Gospel profess to believe and yet at some later time they totally abandon their profession. They do not “continue in the faith grounded and settled,” they are “moved away from the hope of the Gospel”; and thereby they make manifest that they had not the root of the matter in them. The words, “yet now hath He reconciled,” do not apply to such.

Again in this verse does the Apostle emphasize the vast scope of the Gospel, even “every creature which is under heaven,” just as in verse Colossians 1:6 it is stated as “all the world.” The point here is of course not that it had then been actually preached to every creature, but that the sphere of its operations was no less than every creature. Of that Gospel Paul had been made a minister. A further ministry, that of the church, was his also, as stated in verse 25.

The Apostle introduces the subject of his second ministry by a reference to his sufferings. He was in prison when he wrote and he speaks of his sufferings as, “the afflictions of Christ.” That was their character. They were certainly afflictions for Christ, but the point here seems to be that they were in character Christ’s afflictions, of the same kind as He endured in His wonderful path on earth, though far less as to degree. Needless to say the Lord Jesus stands absolutely alone in His atoning sufferings in His death. There is no allusion to those here.

The sufferings which rolled in upon Paul’s flesh were endured for the sake of the whole church, and that church is the body of Christ. In his imprisonment the Apostle was filling up the cup of his afflictions, and that on behalf of the church in its widest sense—we mean, not only for the church as existing on earth in his day, but for the church through the ages to the finish of its earthly history, including ourselves. He suffered that the truth as to the church might be made abundantly plain and established, and out of his sufferings sprang these immortal epistles which instruct us today. In this way his ministry as to the church is made available for us today.

A “dispensation,” or “administration” was given to him of God that thereby he might “fulfil” or, “complete” His Word. This does not mean that Paul was to write the last words of Scripture, for, as we know, John did that. It means that the revealing of the mystery alluded to in the succeeding verses, was committed to him, and when that was made known the last item of revelation was filled in, the circle of revealed truth was complete.

In Scripture a “mystery” does not mean something mysterious or incomprehensible, but simply something which up to that time had been secret or hidden, or at all events only known to the initiated. The mystery spoken of here had been completely hidden in earlier ages, and now is only made manifest to God’s saints. It concerns Christ and the church, and more particularly the bringing in of the Gentiles in one body. This side of it is more definitely unfolded in the epistle to the Ephesians. In verse Colossians 1:27 of our chapter it is said to be “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Read the verse and you will see that the “you” here means “you Gentiles.” Formerly God had dwelt for a brief time in the midst of Israel, and then again the Messiah had appeared for another brief season amongst Jews in the land, but that Christ should now be found in Gentiles was an altogether new and unprecedented thing. It was a pledge of the glory to come, for Christ will be all and in all in that day.

It is not easy for us to imagine how revolutionary a doctrine this appeared to be when first announced. It completely set aside the special and exclusive position of the Jew and this was its chief offence in their eyes, arousing their furious opposition. The maintaining of this it was that had brought imprisonment and such suffering upon Paul.

On the other hand Paul knew its great importance as being the characteristic truth for this dispensation. Every dispensation of God has truth which gives character to it, and this is the truth which characterizes the present dispensation. Only as instructed in it are we likely to be “perfect” or, “complete” in Christ. Hence the Apostle laboured mightily in making this truth known according to the working of the Spirit of God in him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Colossians 1:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/colossians-1.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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