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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Colossians 1

 

 

Verses 1-8

The Colossian letter

Colossians 1:1-8

This letter to the church at Colosse was written about thirty years after Christ died on the cross. Paul wrote it while in prison at Rome, about the same time that he wrote Philippians and Ephesians.

Who brought the gospel to Colosse and when, we do not know. Paul had never preached to them (2:1). The city was destroyed six years later by an earthquake and later rebuilt.

The occasion for the letter was that Epaphras, who had preached to them, came to Rome and told Paul about their faith and love. He also reported their danger from false teachers who had come among them – Judaizers, who urged the ceremonies of the law, and Gentiles, who promoted philosophy, worship of angels and saints, will-worship and punishing the body. Paul wrote to them to confirm them in the gospel of Christ, to warn them of spiritual error and to exhort them to a discharge of their duty to God, to one another and to all men.

Colossians 1:1. ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God.’ In the beginning of the Christian church there were apostles.

1. They were chosen by Christ.

2. They saw the Lord personally.

3. They had infallible knowledge of the gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

4. They were gifted to work miracles for the confirmation of their doctrine.

All of this was by the will of God, as the Father's will and the Son's work are the same. There are no apostles in the church today!

‘And Timothy, our brother.’ While Timothy was not an apostle, Paul included him in the salutation, for the highest office-bearer in the church recognizes even the least as being a brother and worthy of respect and recognition. In Christ we are one, and he that is greatest is but a servant.

Colossians 1:2. ‘To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ.’ All believers are saints and all believers are faithful brethren. We are sanctified by the Father, the Son and the Spirit. We are brethren because first, we have the same Father, second, we are in one body and family and, third, we have all one elder Brother, Christ Jesus. The key word is ‘in Christ’! We are saints and brethren because we are in Christ.

‘Grace be unto you and peace.’ Moses prayed, ‘Lord, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me thy way’ (Exodus 33:13). Where God's grace is given, all other things will follow – peace, joy, rest and more. ‘Grace’ first; then ‘peace.’

Colossians 1:3-5. This is Paul's prayer of thanksgiving for these faithful brethren.

1. ‘We give thanks to God.’ All things are of God: that is, our salvation, faith, hope, love (Psalms 103:1-5). ‘I am what I am by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10). Every spiritual gift is from God through our Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:27; James 1:17).

2. He thanked God for their ‘faith’ in the first place. Without faith there can be no union with Christ (Mark 16:16); there can be no benefit from Christ (Hebrews 11:6).

3. He thanked God for their ‘love’ for one another (l Cor. 13:13). Love is the evidence of faith (John 13:35). Love is the fruit of faith (Galatians 5:22). The absence of love reveals the absence of God (1 John 4:8).

4. He thanked God for their ‘hope.’ The believer's inheritance is not in his hand yet. He has it in hope! Our hope is as certain as the purpose of the Father, the atonement of the Son and the witness of the Spirit. It is still hope, however, until it becomes a reality. We really have little to expect or hope for on this earth, but all things are ours in Christ – this is our hope! We heard of it in the gospel. It is the gospel that is God's instrument to beget faith and hope in the heart (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:3).

Colossians 1:6. Having mentioned the gospel which begets faith, hope and love, he says,

1. ‘It came to you. You didn't come to it. God sent it to you.’ He is ‘found of those who sought him not’ (Romans 10:20; Gal. l:15; 1 John 4:10).

2. The gospel ‘bringeth forth fruit’ (Isaiah 55:11). It brings forth the fruit of faith, love, joy, peace; we are new creatures in Christ. A seed that does not produce fruit is not the seed of the word.

3. The gospel continues to produce fruit. ‘Since the day you heard the gospel and knew the grace of God it has brought forth fruit.’

Colossians 1:7-8. Having confirmed the gospel, he commends the preacher.

1. He is commended for being a ‘fellow servant’ of Christ with Paul.

2. He is praised for being a ‘faithful minister of Christ.’

3. He is commended for his respect for them, for he declared their love and faith in Christ. It is a good sign when one speaks well of those who are absent.


Verses 9-17

Made fit for heaven

Colossians 1:9-17

Colossians 1:9-11. ‘For this cause we also, since the day we heard of it, do not cease to pray for you.’ Their pastor, Epaphras, had declared unto Paul the love the Colossians had for Christ and for one another. This brought forth from Paul a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer for their further growth in grace, wisdom and understanding. The believers' graces at their best are imperfect and subject to decay (1 Corinthians 13:9; Revelation 2:4) and may be abused (2 Corinthians 12:7). Therefore Paul prays for them.

1. ‘That you may be filled with the knowledge of his will.’ This is the revealed will of God, to be learned from his word and in his Son: his will of redemption, his will of purpose, his will of conduct and attitude and his will of eternal glory. He prayed not only that they should have a knowledge of these, but be ‘filled’ inwardly with a knowledge of his ‘wisdom and spiritual understanding.’ Oh, that we may be delivered from the dead letter of the law and the dry tradition of religious orthodoxy! That we may have wisdom and spiritual understanding of our sins, our need and our inability! That we may have understanding of God's manifold mercies in Christ – how he can be just and Justifier, of the riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ! May ours be not a profession of religion but a true possession of Christ.

2. ‘That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.’ This is our godly conduct and behaviour, not only in the church, but in the home, on the job and on the street. We will live and talk as those who are in Christ, seeking to please and glorify God. ‘Being fruitful in every good work.’ Believers are trees of righteousness, planted by the Lord to bear the fruit of the spirit and good works of the kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 2:10). ‘Increasing in the knowledge of God.’ Ignorance in believers dishonors God as much as fruitlessness! Both fruitfulness and a growth in knowledge of our Lord are necessary to walk worthy of the Lord!

3. ‘Strengthened with all might according to his glorious power.’ We are not expected to walk worthy of the Lord, be fruitful and grow in grace and knowledge in our own strength and power, but in his! (2 Corinthians 12:9.) This power and grace will enable us to bear afflictions and trials with patience, perseverance and real joy. His power and grace will subdue the whole man – his hand, his heart and his tongue! (Psalms 37:1-8.)

Colossians 1:12. Paul is continually giving thanks to God. Here he gives thanks that God (by his grace in Christ) has qualified us, has made us fit, to partake of heaven, the bright and glorious inheritance of the saints. Every man in his natural state is unfit for heaven and God's presence! However, he has given us in Christ all that we need! (1 Corinthians 1:30.)

Colossians 1:13-14. He explains how God makes us qualified and fit for heaven by drawing us out of that corrupt state in which we were born and translating us into the state of grace, called ‘the kingdom of his dear Son’ (Romans 14:17). This he does in effectual regeneration by his spirit. He redeems us from sin, the law, his justice and wrath by the blood of his Son. No way of redemption can be accepted that does not totally ransom the sinner, fully honour God's law and completely satisfy his justice.

Colossians 1:15. The apostle, having spoken of our redemption, takes up a description of the redeemer!

‘He is the image of the invisible God.’ Christ is the exact likeness of the unseen God. He is the visible representation in the flesh of the invisible God (John 14:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:19). Every attribute of God is seen in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).

‘The first-born of every creature.’ This does not mean that he was the first of creation, or the first creature made, for in the next verse it is said that all things were created by him. But Paul is saying he is the King, Lord and Owner of all creation. The Jews make the first-born to be synonymous with ‘king.’ He is the King, Owner and Heir of all creation, for it was all made by him.

Colossians 1:16-17. It was by him and in him that all things were created and by him that all things are held together.


Verses 18-29

Christ – the head of the church

Colossians 1:18-29

Colossians 1:18. ‘Christ is the head of the body, the church.’ By the church is meant the whole election of grace, every believer of all generations (Ephesians 5:23-27). He is the representative Head from all eternity and in all time. He is the political Head, in that he reigns. He is the economical Head, in that he provides every need (1 Corinthians 1:30). Without a vital union with Christ we would be as dead as a body without a head!

‘Christ is the beginning.’ He is the root, or foundation cause, of the church. We were chosen in him; from him all spiritual life flows. As Eve was from Adam, so the church is from Christ. It is a body of his preparing.

‘Christ is the first-born from the dead.’ He was the first who rose from the dead by his own power to immortality and life. He is the pledge of resurrection for us. ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (John 14:19). Death has no more power or claim on him.

‘That in all things he might have the pre-eminence.’ That he might have first place in our affection, in our thoughts, in our desires to be like him and in the highest praise of our lips. He is the first:

1. In sonship; no one is a son in the sense he is.

2. In election; he is the first chosen and we are chosen in him.

3. In covenant; he is the Surety, Mediator and Messenger.

4. In redemption; he wrought it and bought it.

5. In life; he quickeneth whom he will.

6. In death and resurrection; he conquered death, hell and the grave. He ought to have preeminence.

Colossians 1:19-20. It is true that all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ (Colossians 2:9). He is God (2 Corinthians 5:19). God dwells in the body of Christ as he dwelt in the tabernacle. This fulness, however, is the fulness of complete redemption which he is able to give to believers:

1. The fulness of wisdom, holiness and righteousness.

2. The fulness of grace, peace and joy.

3. The fulness of eternal life and glory. ‘We are complete in him’ (Colossians 2:10).

All of the elect, whether already in heaven or on the earth, are by his blood reconciled and brought to peace with God (Romans 5:1-10).

Colossians 1:21-22. What Paul had said about reconciliation in general in the preceding verse, he applies to the Colossians in particular. We need to embrace these verses personally. We were strangers, enemies in our minds (Romans 8:7), workers of iniquity. However, in the body of his flesh, by his perfect obedience and the merits of his blood, he has so reconciled us to God that we are and will be presented before God in that day free from all sin, perfect in holiness and without one charge against us (Romans 8:33-34; Jude 1:24). He has reconciled! It is finished! The work is done!

Colossians 1:23. ‘If you continue in the faith and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.’ All of the preceding provisions and promises are ours only if we persevere or continue in faith. Nothing but judgement awaits those who depart from Christ (Hebrews 10:38-39; Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). God keeps us through, and not apart from, faith (1 Peter 1:5; Jeremiah 32:40).

Colossians 1:24-25. Twice in Colossians 1:23-25, Paul says, ‘I am made a minister.’ All believers are witnesses and preachers of the gospel, but there are certain offices and responsibilities in the body of Christ to which men are specifically called and equipped. Paul was an apostle, sent to preach the gospel, suffer certain afflictions and endure certain trials for the sake of the church. He rejoiced that he was entrusted with the gospel, counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake and to preach fully the gospel of Christ.

Colossians 1:26. This gospel of Christ (his incarnation, his nature and his person, office, death, resurrection and salvation) given to lost sinners is an ancient gospel, and it is not understood by the natural mind. It is called a mystery! (1 Corinthians 2:7-14.) The gospel was before veiled in promises, sacrifices, ceremonies and prophecies; but is now made manifest (or revealed to believers) by the Holy Spirit. Without his revelation, it remains profound and mysterious. Those who have the clearest knowledge know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:9; 1 Corinthians 8:1-2).

Colossians 1:27. God, by his spirit and his ministers, would make known to you the riches of the glory of this gospel. He has laid out the great and unsearchable treasures of his mercy, his grace, his goodness, his righteousness. He has revealed all of the glory of his wisdom, mercy, justice and truth. All of this dwells in Christ! It is ours in Christ. We possess the riches of his grace and we hope for eternal glory as Christ dwells in us by faith (Colossians 2:3).

Colossians 1:28. Paul had a twofold message: ‘warning every man’ and ‘instructing every man.’ Someone said, ‘The blessings of God are hedged about on one side by the warnings of God, lest any presume, and on the other side by the promises of God, lest any despair.’ It is the duty of the minister to warn the careless of God's wrath to come and to invite men to flee to Christ.

Colossians 1:29. ‘Therefore I labour,’ according to the grace and strength he gives!

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Colossians 1:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/colossians-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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