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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Colossians 1

 

 

Verse 1-2

SECTION 1. — APOSTOLIC GREETING. CH. 1:1, 2.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colossæ. Grace to you and peace from God, our Father.

Colossians 1:1 is the same as 2 Corinthians 1:1. Whether Timothy, who is not mentioned in the twin letter to Ephesus, is mentioned here because of some special relation to Colossæ, we do not know. But the scantiness of our information leaves this quite possible. He may or may not have been Paul’s penman. The same word denotes faithful or trustworthy in 2 Corinthians 1:18, etc., and believing in 2 Corinthians 6:15; senses quite distinct but closely allied. Between them here, it is most difficult to decide. Since faith is implied in the word brethren, and again in the phrase in Christ, and since this Epistle is a warning against serious error, we may perhaps find in this word a recognition that the brethren at Colossæ are trustworthy. It is not certain whether in Christ refers to the word saints as well as to faithful brethren. Perhaps only to this latter phrase. For it needs further definition as noting a distinctively Christian brotherhood, more than does the word saints which outside the Aaronic priesthood belongs only to Christians.

Colossians 1:2. The benediction is only from God our Father. For this no special reason can be given. Paul thinks only, when wishing his readers grace and peace, of the divine Father from whom such blessing comes; not, as usual, of the Son also, the joint source with the Father of all good.

Writing to the Colossian Christians whom he has never seen, Paul remembers that by the will of God he has the position and responsibility of an Apostle. He joins with himself, as approving the letter he is writing, his brother Timothy; and addresses his readers as men claimed by God to be specially His own and as brethren in Christ worthy of confidence. He desires for them the smile of God and the peace which only that smile can give.


Verses 3-8

DIVISION I PRAISE AND PRAYER.

CHAPTER 1:3-14.

SECTION 2. — PAUL THANKS GOD FOR HIS READERS’ FAITH. CH. 1:3-8.

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ always about you, when praying, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which ye have towards all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel, which is present among you, according as also in all the world it is, bearing fruit and increasing, according as also among you, from the day when ye heard and understood the grace of God in truth; according as ye learnt from Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.

Colossians 1:3. As to the Philippians, so here Paul begins with praise for God’s work in his readers and with prayer for its further development.

We-give-thanks: so 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; where however the plural is explained by the close relation of Silvanus and Timothy to the Thessalonican Christians. Here, possibly, the plural is used, in contrast to Philippians 1:3, because Paul’s more distant connection with the Church at Colossæ permits him to fall back on somewhat official phraseology.

God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: same words as in Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3, except that here Paul omits the copula and which there formally joins together the titles God and Father of etc. He to whom Paul gives thanks is God, the divine Person whom Christ used to address, and to speak of, as His Father.

Give thanks… always about you: better than always when praying about you: for it is more likely that Paul would say that his thanks were ceaseless, than that his prayers were ceaseless, for his readers.

When praying: i.e. in his regular devotions. He is always thanking God about the Christians at Colossæ: and the specific time and manner of this perpetual thanksgiving is his approach to God in prayer.

Colossians 1:4. Special occasion and matter of these thanks. When Paul heard of his readers’ faith and love he began, and continues, to thank God on their behalf.

Faith in Christ: Ephesians 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:13; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 3:15; not elsewhere in the N.T. It must not be separated from Paul’s frequent phrase in Christ; and notes that the personal object of our faith is also its encompassing element. Faith saves because Christ is the element in which it dwells and rests.

Love which ye have: for love is an enrichment to those who possess it. Faith takes inward hold of Christ: love reaches out towards all the saints. The universal scope of Christian love is a mark of its genuineness.

Colossians 1:5 a. Real significance of this faith and love; and therefore the ultimate reason of Paul’s thanks: because of the hope etc. All Christian hope is a germ developing into the glory of heaven: it is the dawn of the eternal day. And this is its real worth. In his readers’ faith and love Paul saw a foretaste of eternal blessedness: and this prompted his thanks on their behalf. Similarly, in Philippians 1:6 he looks forward to the completion of the work already begun. The simplicity of this exposition renders needless all attempts, necessarily forced, to represent this hope as in any way the cause or reason of the faith. and love. Colossians 1:3 is Paul’s thanksgiving: Colossians 1:4, its immediate occasion: and Colossians 1:5, its ultimate cause or ground. See a good paper by Findlay in The Expositor, 1st series, vol. x., p. 74.

The infinite objective reality underlying the Christian hope gives even to the subjective hope itself an objective reality; and prompts us to think and speak of it as such. Now this objective reality is in heaven, far away from us and above reach of the uncertainties of earth. It is therefore a hope laid up in heaven. For, where our treasure is there is our heart and our hope. Thus a hope cherished in the breast of men on earth is guarded from disappointment by the security of heaven. Similar thought in Philippians 3:21. Notice here in close relation faith, love, hope: so in the same order, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 a close parallel: also 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5-6.

Colossians 1:5-6. Objective source of this hope, viz. the Gospel preached at Colossæ and throughout the world.

Heard-before; makes conspicuous the fact that the subjective hope in the heart was preceded by an objective proclamation.

The truth of the Gospel: Galatians 2:5 : the reality underlying the good news brought by Christ. See under Romans 1:18.

The word of the truth etc.: the announcement of this reality. The announcement preceded and caused the Christian hope at Colossæ.

Which Gospel is present among you: or, more fully, which has reached you and is now present with you. This suggests the good fortune of the Colossians in that the Gospel had reached them; and the reality of the Gospel which like an overshadowing presence is now among them.

According as also in all the world it is: a larger fact in harmony with that just stated. Paul carries out his readers’ thought from the valley of the Lycus where they had heard the Gospel to the wide world throughout which also the same Gospel is, or exists, i.e. is heard and believed and gains victories.

All the world: an hyperbole similar to that in Romans 1:8. Within Paul’s mental horizon, which was very large, the Gospel was everywhere preached.

Bearing-fruit and increasing: further information about the universal Gospel.

Fruit: results produced by the organic outworking of its own vitality, viz. the many and various benefits of the Christian life. Same word in Romans 7:4-5; Mark 4:20; Mark 4:28 : cp. Philippians 1:11; Philippians 1:22; Philippians 4:17.

Increasing: as the goodness is carried from place to place and its converts multiply, the Gospel itself becomes a larger thing. So Acts 6:7; Acts 12:24; Acts 19:20. Thus it bears fruit in the blessings it conveys, and increases in the increase of its adherents.

According as also among you: another fact added to, and in harmony with, the foregoing. That the Gospel is preached at Colossæ, is part of a larger fact, viz. that it is preached throughout the world. Paul now adds that its good effects through out the world are reproduced also at Colossæ. He reduplicates the comparison because the second member of it, viz. the general statement, goes beyond the foregoing particular statement, and therefore needs to be supplemented by the second comparison. These last words are a courteous recognition of the genuineness and extent of the work at Colossæ. The Gospel produced there the good effects it produced elsewhere. This Paul strengthens by saying that the fruitbearing and increase began at once and continue to the present: from the day when etc. In the Gospel the Colossians heard the grace of God, i.e. the favour to our race which prompted the gift of Christ. And the word needed to be, and was, understood, i.e. apprehended by careful thought.

In truth: so John 4:23-24. Correspondence with reality was the surrounding element of their hearing and mental comprehension. While hearing the Gospel and grasping its contents they were dealing not with delusion but with reality.

Colossians 1:7-8. Ye learnt from Epaphras: an historical detail in harmony with, and expounding, the general statement in Colossians 1:5. Like Paul, (Philippians 4:11,) the Colossian Christians had acquired gradually and with effort their understanding of the grace of God: ye learnt. Their teacher’s name is given: Epaphras.

Fellow-servant: with Paul in the service of Christ: same word in Colossians 4:7; Revelation 19:10; Matthew 18:28. The plural number assumed in Colossians 1:3 is retained: our… us… our. Paul recognises Epaphras as, along with himself, Timothy, and others, doing the work of the one Master.

Who is etc.: a commendation of Epaphras.

Minister: see under Romans 12:7. The added words of Christ (cp. 2 Corinthians 11:23) make us certain that the word minister is used, not in an official sense as in Philippians 1:1, but in the more general sense of one who does free and honourable work for another. In this work he was faithful or trustworthy: Ephesians 6:21; 1 Corinthians 4:2.

On our behalf: emphatic. The difficulty of this reading confirms its genuineness as attested by the best copies. Paul probably means that his interest in the Colossian Christians was so great that the service rendered to Christ by Epaphras in caring for them was rendered also to himself, and that this interest was shared by his companions. Possibly Epaphras may have been urged by Paul to care for the Christians at Colossæ: but this is not necessarily implied in his words.

Who also declared etc.: another fact. It implies that Epaphras had come to Rome and there told Paul the story of the Colossian Church. Consequently, from Epaphras the Colossians heard the good news of the grace of God and Paul heard the good news of the work of God at Colossæ.

Your love; implies faith, which therefore is not here mentioned.

In the Holy Spirit: the animating principle of all Christian life. Cp. Romans 14:17, joy in the Holy Spirit.

We are here introduced to another of the noble band of Christian workers who surrounded the great Apostle; of whom we have already met Timothy, Titus, and Epaphroditus. Since EPAPHRAS was apparently (Colossians 4:12) a Colossian and yet founded the Church at Colossæ, we may suppose that on a journey perhaps to Ephesus, the capital of the province, he heard the Gospel preached by Paul; that he carried back to his own city the good news he had himself embraced and thus became founder of the Church there. Evidently, he had come to Rome; and was remaining there when Tychicus started with this letter. Even in Rome his deep interest in the spiritual welfare and progress of the Christians at Colossæ moved him to ceaseless and very earnest prayer on their behalf. The intelligence of his prayer (see Colossians 4:12) proves him to have been a man of highest worth. Well might Paul call him a beloved fellow-servant and a faithful minister of Christ. In Philemon 1:23, for reasons unknown to us he is called a fellow-prisoner of Paul.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians begins with an expression of his constant thanks to God on their behalf, prompted by tidings he has heard about their faith and love. This evokes his thanks because it is a sure indication of better things to come. It therefore inspires a hope not dependent for its realisation upon the uncertainties of earth but resting on the security of heaven. These hopes the Colossians owe to the Gospel which has reached their city. Paul reminds them that the same Gospel is preached throughout the world; and that everywhere it is bearing fruit and extending its influence. He is glad to recognise that the same good results have followed the preaching of it at Colossæ from its first proclamation to the present day. This Gospel they had heard from the lips of Epaphras, a fellow-worker of Paul and a minister of Christ: and also from Epaphras Paul had heard the good news about the Church at Colossæ.

The distinctive feature of this thanksgiving is Paul’s mention of the universal proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world, and of its universal fruit-bearing and growth. He thus raises his readers’ thoughts above their own Church and city to the great world and the Church Universal: a transition of thought always beneficial in the highest degree. Possibly this reference to the proclamation and success of the Gospel throughout the world was suggested by the strange doctrines which it is the chief business of this letter to correct and which were a local perversion of the one Gospel. This local perversion Paul wishes to discuss in the light of the universal Gospel everywhere preached and everywhere successful.


Verses 9-14

SECTION 3. — PAUL’S PRAYER FOR HIS READERS’ FURTHER DEVELOPMENT CH. 1:9-14.

For this cause also we, from the day we heard it, cease not praying on your behalf and asking that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and increasing by the understanding of God, with all power being made powerful according to the might of His glory for all endurance and long-suffering with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has made you meet for your share of the lot of the saints in the light, who has rescued us from the rule of the darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:9. Result on the writer’s side of the fact stated in Colossians 1:8 : because of this also we etc. These words place Paul and Timothy, as a third party, in contrast to Epaphras and especially to the Colossian Christians.

From the day we heard: same phrase in Colossians 1:6. As soon as the Colossians heard the word of grace, it began to bear continual fruit in them: as soon as Paul heard of their Christian love, he began and continued to pray unceasingly for their further development.

Do not cease praying on your behalf: cp. Ephesians 1:16, I do not cease giving thanks on your behalf.

Praying: general term for approach to God, as in Colossians 1:3, where the specific form of prayer is thanksgiving. Here the specific form is immediately added: and asking that ye may be filled. Same words together, praying and asking, in Mark 11:24.

Asking: more fully asking as a favour to myself.

That ye may be filled: immediate matter and purpose of Paul’s request: further purpose in Colossians 1:10 a, with collateral details in Colossians 1:10 b, 11, 12.

Filled: so that every part of their being be permeated, and thus controlled and elevated, by an intelligent comprehension of the will of God.

Knowledge: full and complete knowledge, as in Philippians 1:9.

His will: embracing God’s purpose of mercy towards us and the path in which He would have us walk. [The accusative case after filled, as in Philippians 1:11, where see note. I specifies the kind and extent of the fulness which Paul has in view.]

Wisdom and understanding: found together in 1 Corinthians 1:19, from the LXX. where the words are often associated and their cognate adjectives in Matthew 11:25.

Wisdom: acquaintance with first principles, these being looked upon by the Jews as a guide in action: see note under 1 Corinthians 2:5.

Understanding: the faculty of putting together, and reading the significance of, facts and phenomena around.

Spiritual: wrought by the Holy Spirit: for to Him most frequently does the word spirit refer. But the distinction is not important. For the spirit in man is that highest element of his nature on which the Holy Spirit directly operates. Same word in 1 Corinthians 2:13, where see note; 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 15:44. It distinguishes the wisdom and understanding wrought in us by the Holy Spirit from that mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:19-20; 1 Corinthians 2:5-6; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12; James 3:15.

All wisdom and understanding: embracing every element given to man of acquaintance with the great realities behind and beneath and above the visible world around, and a faculty of interpreting phenomena of every kind. All this is looked upon here as the surrounding element in which was to be realised the fulness of knowledge which Paul desired for his readers. He prays that amid such wisdom and understanding they may be made full with a fulness embracing intelligent acquaintance with the will of God. A similar prayer, including the word here rendered knowledge, is found in each of the letters written by Paul during his first imprisonment at Rome, Philippians 1:9; Ephesians 1:17; Philemon 1:6. It may almost be called the key-note of this group of epistles.

Colossians 1:10 a. Further purpose to be attained by this fulness of knowledge: viz. to take such steps in life as are worthy of the Lord, i.e. of the great Master.

Walk worthily of: so Ephesians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; cp. Philippians 1:27; Romans 16:2. The grandeur of the Master claims corresponding conduct in His servants. How wide is this claim, we shall learn from Colossians 1:10 b, 11, 12, which expound in detail Colossians 1:10 a.

For all pleasing: i.e. in order to please Him in all things, making His pleasure our constant aim. So 1 Corinthians 7:32. This aim is the only one worthy of the Master whom we serve. And it will mark out for us a worthy path. Thus Paul desires for his readers knowledge not merely for its own sake but that it may produce in them a worthy Christian life. So Philippians 1:9-11 an important parallel.

Colossians 1:10 b. The first of three participial clauses describing further the worthy walk which Paul desires for his readers.

Bearing-fruit and increasing; recalls the same words in Colossians 1:6. To those who receive it the Gospel communicates its own vitality, and fruitfulness, and growth. As it bears fruit in them so they bear fruit in every good work, i.e. in beneficence of every kind. These last two words occur together in 1 Timothy 5:10; 2 Timothy 2:21; 2 Timothy 3:17; Titus 1:16; Titus 3:1; 1 Timothy 2:10; Romans 2:7; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:17. The visible outgrowth of the Christian’s inner life is found in good deeds. As before, fruitbearing and spiritual growth go together. Just as the Gospel by producing good results itself comes to occupy a larger place on the world’s great stage, so all good we do to others increases our own spiritual stature.

Knowledge of God: as in Colossians 1:9, which it recalls. Just as there Paul desired for his readers full and complete knowledge of God in order that they may walk worthy of Christ their Master, so now, while speaking of the growth he desires to accompany this worthy walk, he mentions the full knowledge of God as the means by which this growth is to be wrought. This quick repetition of the same thought, viz. knowledge as a means of something beyond itself, gives to this thought great emphasis. This emphasis, and the close connection between fruitbearing and growth suggested by the repetition of these words together, with the indisputable fact that fruitbearing as much as growth is a result of knowledge of God, suggests that the instrumental clause by the full knowledge of God embraces both fruitbearing and growth. (Cp. John 15:7.) If so, the balance of the sentence suggests that the early clause in every good work has in some measure the same compass. In other words, Paul desires his readers to be filled with knowledge of the will of God, producing in them a walk worthy of their Master, and along with this a fruitbearing and growth showing itself in every good work and produced by knowledge of God. Just as in Colossians 1:6 we have a comparison of the work at Colossæ with that throughout the world, and this turned back upon itself by a further comparison of the work throughout the world with that at Colossæ, so here after tracing Christian knowledge to its practical result in Christian conduct Paul traces back Christian beneficence and growth to the instrumentality of specific Christian knowledge.

Colossians 1:11. Second detail which Paul desires may accompany his readers’ worthy walk, viz. spiritual power producing endurance.

Power: ability to overcome obstacles and to do work.

Being made powerful: day by day receiving power, like the same tense of a cognate word in Ephesians 6:10, a very close parallel, and Philippians 4:13.

With all power: every kind of ability, this looked upon as an objective ornament for the Christian work and fight. Similarly, Ephesians 3:16.

His glory: the manifested grandeur of God, evoking His creatures admiration. See under Romans 1:21. With this divine grandeur is associated infinite might, i.e. the power of a ruler. And this might is the measure of the power with which Paul desires his readers to be made strong: according to the might etc. For whatever there is in God He communicates, according to their need and their faith, to His servants.

All endurance: maintenance of our position under all burdens which would press us down and in face of all foes who would drive us back; as in Romans 2:7, etc.

Longsuffering: a holding back of emotion, whether anger as in Romans 2:4; Ephesians 4:2, or fear as is implied here by the connection with endurance. Paul desires that in spite of all obstacles his readers hold on their way and preserve a serene Christian spirit.

With joy: a desired accompaniment of this endurance and longsuffering. So completely are the Colossian Christians to maintain their position and their serenity in spite of hardships that these are not even to dim their joy. This last word adds immense force to those foregoing as a note of absolute victory. The note is clearly sounded in 1 Thessalonians 1:6. But this complete victory is possible only by the inbreathing of power in divine measure.

Grammatically, the words with joy might be joined to Colossians 1:12. And this would preserve in some measure the symmetry of the three participial clauses, giving to each participle a foregoing prepositional specification: in every good work, in all power, with joy. The practical difference is very slight. For in any case the endurance and longsuffering are associated with joy. But these last words would add very little to giving thanks: (for all thanksgiving is joyful:) whereas joined to endurance they are a note of triumph. [This is somewhat confirmed by the word μετα which joins together dissimilar or at least distinct objects; and therefore more naturally connects joy with endurance than with thanksgiving.]

Colossians 1:12. Third participial detail collateral with, and expounding, the worthy walk of Colossians 1:10 a. This must be accompanied not only by fruitbearing and growth, and by divinely-given strength producing joyful endurance, but also by thanksgiving. This last is very conspicuous with Paul: Colossians 2:7; Colossians 3:17; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 5:4; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6. It is cognate to, and was perhaps suggested by the word rendered joy in Colossians 1:11. The endurance and longsuffering are to be accompanied by joy: and this is to assume the form of expressed gratitude to God. Whether He is here spoken of as Father of the Firstborn Son or of us His human brethren, the close relation between Christ and us leaves us unable to determine; and makes the distinction unimportant.

The word lot or allotment, and the word saints which never throws off its O.T. reference and which has here its usual N.T. sense of church-members, these looked upon as claimed by God to be specially His own, recall the division of Canaan among the sacred people. Similarly Acts 26:18, a lot among the sanctified: a close coincidence, from the lips of Paul. Cp. Numbers 33:54, where the lot is the instrument of allotment: and Numbers 32:19; Joshua 17:6, where it is an allotted portion of the land. And Deuteronomy 10:9, ‘For this cause the Levites have no share and lot among their brethren: the Lord Himself is his lot.The lot of the saints seems to include the whole portion of spiritual blessing allotted to the human family of God.

The share of the lot: that part of this general allotment of blessing which falls to each of the saints. The word share reminds us that in this allotment many joined, and that the Colossians were now sharers with the ancient people of God.

Made-meet: same word in 2 Corinthians 3:6, meet or sufficient to be ministers of the New Covenant. It implies that for this participation some fitness is needed and that this fitness God has given to the Colossian Christians. This can be no other than the righteousness of faith: for righteousness is ever the condition of spiritual blessing, and it can be obtained only by faith. This divinely-given fitness is abundant and constant reason for thanksgiving. The O.T. colouring of these words recalls Ephesians 2:12-13. It somewhat favours the reading you found in the two best Greek copies, as against us which is read by most other authorities. For the word you would contrast the Colossians who were Gentiles with Paul and others who were Jews. Cp. Ephesians 2:1 and Ephesians 3:12 and Ephesians 3:14. This internal confirmation of our two best witnesses perhaps slightly outweighs abundant documentary evidence on the other side.

In the light: locality or environment, probably, of the lot of the saints. Similarly in Colossians 1:13 the darkness has a semi-local sense. Light is a characteristic of everything pertaining to the inheritance of the saints. Their eternal home will be a world of light, as God is light and dwells in light: Revelation 21:24; 1 John 1:5; 1 Timothy 6:16. And the glory of that splendour will illumine their path on earth: 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 5:8. Since the lot of the saints is both a future enjoyment (a laid-up hope) and a present possession, the words in the light must have the same double reference. The sons of God are already heirs (a word cognate with lot) and therefore in the light: and the light in which they walk is an earnest of their share of the allotment of blessing which belongs to the consecrated people of God.

[In the light can hardly be the instrument by which (cp. 2 Corinthians 4:4 the light of the Gospel) God made them meet for the inheritance. For its distance from the verb would require this to be very definitely indicated. But the Greek preposition here only notes the light as a surrounding element. Moreover, the contrast with out of darkness in Colossians 1:13 suggests very strongly that the light is an environment of that for which God has made His people meet.]

Colossians 1:13. Further statement of what God has done, expounding Colossians 1:12 and giving further reason for thanks to God.

The darkness: the objective realm of evil, looked upon as causing ignorance and gloom and as possessing power and thus exercising authority or rule over its victims: so Luke 22:53 and Ephesians 6:12, this darkness. It is practically the authority of the air in Ephesians 2:2 the rule of moral and spiritual night. These words imply that under this rule all men once lay bound. Out of this rule of darkness God had rescued the Colossian Christians: i.e. by His kindness and power He had brought them out into the light.

Translated: removed from one place to another: same word in Luke 16:4; Acts 13:22; 1 Corinthians 13:2.

The Son of His love: who belongs to the love of God as its eternal personal object. The phrase fixes our attention on the relation of the Son to this unique attribute of the Father.

The kingdom of etc.: the realm over which Christ will reign for ever: Ephesians 5:5; John 18:36. This kingdom will have its full realisation in the final glory. But already its citizens are being enrolled. And enrolment brings at once a foretaste of the blessings of the rule of Christ. Notice the complete change which God has wrought. Once these Colossians were in bondage under the rule of darkness, a rule shutting out the many blessings of the light. From that realm of darkness God has rescued them and brought them into another realm over which reigns the eternal Son, the divine Object of divine love. By this rescue and this transfer God made these Gentiles meet to share the lot of His holy people. For such benefit, well might Paul wish his readers to give thanks to God.

Colossians 1:14. Our relation, in this kingdom, to the King. This verse is a transition from the foregoing thanksgiving to the great matter of this Epistle, viz. the dignity and work of Christ.

In whom… redemption: as in Romans 3:24. This last word suggests or asserts that our rescue was costly. In the parallel passage, Ephesians 1:7, the cost is stated: through His blood. Since surrender to the rule of sin is the due penalty of sin, rescue from the power of sin implies forgiveness of sins: same words in Ephesians 1:7; Acts 13:38; Acts 26:18; Luke 1:77; Luke 3:3; Mark 1:4; Matthew 26:28; Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43. It is practically the same as justification: for the justified are guilty. And we are (Romans 3:24) justified through the redemption which is in Christ.

In whom we have etc.: objectively through His death and subjectively by inward union with Christ, a union which makes us sharers of all He has and is.

Notice the assurance of personal salvation implied in we have…

forgiveness of sins. For our sins and the forgiveness of them are essentially personal matters. This assurance, Paul assumes that his readers share.

The introduction to the Epistle is now complete. Paul has thanked God for the Christian life at Colossæ as he has heard of it from the founder of the Church there, Epaphras. To praise he has added prayer for his readers, full development in knowledge of the will of God, this leading to a life worthy of the Master whom they serve, viz. to fruitbearing and to growth, to joyful endurance and gratitude to God. This prayer has been on the lips of Paul from the time he first heard about the work at Colossæ. Abundant reason for gratitude, he finds in the fact that God has made these Gentiles sharers in the inheritance promised to the sons of Abraham, an inheritance in the realm of eternal light; or, to state the same benefit in other words, He has rescued them from the realm of darkness and made them citizens of the kingdom of the beloved Son of God. To this royal Son they already stand in closest relation. For in Him is their liberation: because in Him they have forgiveness of sins.

This gratitude for mercies already received brings us into the presence of the Son of God. To expound His essential grandeur and His work, as a corrective to prevalent error, is the chief aim of this Epistle.


Verses 15-17

DIVISION II THE TRUTH CONCERNING CHRIST.

CHAPTER 1:15-2:3.

SECTION 4. — CHRIST’S RELATION TO GOD, AND TO THE UNIVERSE. CH. 1:15-17.

Who is the image of the Invisible God, firstborn before every creature. Because in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or authorities: all things have been created through Him and for Him, And Himself is before all things: and in Him all things stand together.

WITH stately words Paul now begins his exposition of the nature and work of the Son of God; and pursues this august topic, in its various relations, to Colossians 2:3, where it finds a suitable conclusion, The purpose of this exposition, as stated in Colossians 2:4, is to guard the Colossian Christians against persuasive errors. Naturally these errors must have moulded the exposition designed to combat them. We shall therefore seek for indications of their nature in the features peculiar, among the Epistles of Paul, to the important teaching now before us. Fortunately for us and for the Church in all ages, Paul meets these errors, not by direct attack which would have been intelligible only to those acquainted with the errors attacked, but by positive truth instructive to all men in all ages. This method gives to the epistle before us abiding and universal value. It is, moreover, an example to us. Error can be effectively met only by statement and proof of corresponding and opposite truth.

Paul states first the Son’s relation to God, Colossians 1:15 a; then His relation to the created universe, Colossians 1:15 b, 16, 17; then His relation to the Church, Colossians 1:18-20; and especially to the Colossian Christians, Colossians 1:21-23; lastly Paul’s relation to these last in Christ.

Colossians 1:15 a. Who is: solemn assertion touching the abiding nature, relations, and state, of the God-Man.

Image: a similitude derived from an original, and presenting it more or less accurately and fully to those who behold the similitude, So Matthew 22:20, a stamp on a coin; Revelation 13:14, a statue.

Who is image of God: word for word as in 2 Corinthians 4:4, where see note, Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:7; Colossians 3:10; Genesis 50:26. Here, however, we have the added word invisible God, shedding light upon the significance of the phrase image of God as a manifestation of an unseen person. These words assert that the glorified Son sets forth, to those who behold Him, the nature and grandeur of the Eternal Father. The image includes the glorified manhood in which the Eternal Son presents in created and visible form the mental and moral nature of God. Men knew the Father because they had seen the Incarnate Son: John 14:9. The possibility and fitness of this mode of presenting the divine nature flow from man’s original creation (Genesis 1:26) according to the image and likeness of God. And the emphatic word is, which asserts an abiding reality, and the following assertion about the creation of the universe, suggest that the words image of God describe also all eternal relation of the Son to the Father. The same is suggested in Hebrews 1:3, outshining of His glory and expression of His substance: a close and important parallel. Probably, whatever the Son became by His incarnation was but a manifestation in human form of His essential nature and His eternal relation to the Father; these being an eternal archetype of His human nature. They are also the archetype of man as originally created, and in some sense (1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9) of man as he now is; and of the future glorified humanity of the servants of Christ. If so, the revelation of God to man in time has its root in eternity and in God, i.e. in the existence within the Godhead of a person other than the Father, derived from Him, and sharing His divine nature.

God is invisible, as being beyond reach of human sight: 1 Timothy 6:16. And the context of the word invisible in 1 Timothy 1:17 suggests very strongly that He is essentially invisible to all His creatures. (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12, God, no one has ever seen, may or may not deny that others besides men have seen God.) If the words image of God describe an eternal relation of the Son to the Father, the word invisible must refer, as apparently does 1 Timothy 1:17, to the eternal essence of God. Just as only through the Son came the creatures into being, even the earliest and the highest of them, so probably only through the Son is the Father known even to the highest of His creatures. Thus the word image is correlative to visible. The essentially invisible Father has in the Son an eternal organ of self-manifestation, an eternal counterpart and supplement to His own invisible nature. His manifestation began when time began, by the earliest act of creation. And each later act of the Son, before His Incarnation, His Incarnation itself, the acts of the incarnate Son, and of the glorified Son, is a further manifestation of the Father. If so, touching the entire nature and relations of the God-Man, Paul’s words are in their fullest extent true: He is the Image of God.

The word image suggests the existence of others outside the Godhead. For there can be no manifestation without persons capable of apprehending it. In this sense the Son became the image of God when the earliest intelligent being contemplated Him. But what then became actual fact existed in Him potentially in eternity. This first indication of the existence of creatures prepares a way for further reference to them in Colossians 1:15 b, and for the explicit mention of them in Colossians 1:16.

Colossians 1:15 b. Further description of the Son’s relation to the Father, and to the entire created universe, which here finds definite mention; and a further step in Paul’s transition from the invisible Creator, through the Son, to His creatures.

Firstborn: same word in Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:5; Luke 2:7; referring to Christ; also Hebrews 11:28; Hebrews 12:23; Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:15; Numbers 18:15, etc. It denotes earliest-born, in contrast to others later-born, or not born but created. The earliest creatures are spoken of by Clement of Alex. and others as first-created. The syllable -born describes evidently, without further limitation, the Son’s relation to the Father; in close harmony with the word similar in meaning, though different in form, rendered only-begotten in John 1:14; John 1:18; John 3:16; 1 John 4:9. The syllable first needs further specification; and finds it in the following words every creature.

Creature or creation: same word in Romans 8:19, where see note; Romans 1:25; Romans 8:39. [The practical difference between the renderings all creation (Lightfoot and R.V.) and every creature (Meyer and Ellicott) is very slight. The former looks upon the created universe as one whole; the latter as consisting of various created objects. The latter rendering is preferable. For in Colossians 1:16 Paul distributes created objects into categories, thus suggesting that he thinks of them singly. And this is the more usual significance of the phrase here used: e.g. 1 Peter 2:13; Colossians 1:28; Philippians 1:4; Philippians 2:10-11; Philippians 4:19; Philippians 4:21; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 2:21; Ephesians 3:15; Ephesians 4:14, etc. A genitive after πρωτος, specifying the later objects with which the first is compared, is found also in John 1:15; John 1:30; John 15:18. This use of the genitive after a superlative to denote comparison forbids us to infer that the firstborn is Himself a creature. So Thucydides (bk. i. 1) speaks of the Peloponnesian War as the most worthy of mention of those which had happened before it.] Paul says simply that in relation to every created object the Son is firstborn. Moreover, that in Colossians 1:16 even the blessed ones of heaven are included in every creature, whereas the Son is first-born, suggests that His mode of derivation from the Father is essentially different from theirs. Otherwise the transition cannot be explained. (This transition is a close harmony with John 1:14; John 1:18.) And this suggestion is confirmed by the statement in Colossians 1:16-17 that through the Son were all things created and that He is before All things.

Colossians 1:16 a. A great fact, justifying the foregoing title of the Son. He is rightly called firstborn before every creature because in Him were created all things.

Created: akin, in Greek as in English, to creature in Colossians 1:15, which it recalls and expounds. The Hebrew word rendered create (e.g.

Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:21; Genesis 2:3-4; Genesis 5:1-2) is predicated only of God; except that in Joshua 17:15; Joshua 17:18; Ezekiel 23:47 another grammatical form of the same word has its apparently original sense of cut, and in Ezekiel 21:24 (A.V. Ezekiel 21:19) the same form denotes human workmanship. This restriction of its use to the work of God suggests that to create is to make as only God can make; not necessarily to make out of nothing, (cp. Wisdom xi. 18, created the world out of a shapeless mass,) but at least to bring into existence new forms. In Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:27; Genesis 5:1-2; Genesis 6:7 this Hebrew word is poorly represented in the LXX. by a Greek word meaning only to make. But in Deuteronomy 4:32; Psalms 51:12; Psalms 89:13; Psalms 89:48; Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 45:8, etc. we find the word used here. In classic Greek the same word denotes frequently the origin of a town or colony or institution the idea of original ways being present. In the N.T. the verb is found only in Colossians 1:16; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 2:15; Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 4:24; Romans 1:25; 1 Corinthians 11:9; 1 Timothy 4:3; Revelation 4:11; Revelation 10:6; in each case describing the work of God. So in the LXX. and the Apocrypha. This constant use of the word, the exposition immediately following, and the cognate word creature in Colossians 1:15 to which this word evidently refers, fix beyond doubt its meaning here. Paul asserts of the Son that in Him all things originally sprang into being.

All things: the entire universe rational and irrational, animated and inanimate, consisting of various parts but looked upon here as one definite whole. Certain of its component parts are at once enumerated. The words in Him, so frequent with Paul and especially in this group of epistles to describe the relation of the incarnate Son to His servants on earth and to their salvation, assert here that the Eternal Son bears to the creation of the universe the same relation. (Colossians 1:17 asserts this touching the abiding state of the universe.) The personality of the Eternal Son is the encompassing, pervading, life-giving element in which sprang into being and assumed its various natural forms whatever exists. In His bosom the world began to be. In Him was from eternity its possibility: and in Him the possible became actual. A close coincidence in Revelation 3:14, the beginning of the creation of God.

In the heavens and upon the earth: further specification in detail of the all things created in Him, dividing created objects according to their locality and thus revealing the wide compass of Paul’s assertion. A more accurate specification in Revelation 10:6 : the heaven and the things in it, etc. Here the heavens etc. are looked upon not as themselves created objects but as mere notes of locality. Perhaps this mode of speech was prompted by Paul’s thought being directed, as we learn from the words following, not so much to the material universe as to its inhabitants. He does not find it needful to mention here and in Ephesians 1:10 the things under the earth, Philippians 2:10. For the dead were once alive and are therefore covered by the foregoing assertion.

The things visible and the things invisible: another very conspicuous division of all things; suggested by, but not exactly coincident with, the foregoing division. The visible includes all persons and things within reach of the human eye: the invisible includes, most simply understood, all objects beyond its reach.

Whether thrones or lordship’s etc.: further details included in all things. It is not an exhaustive division as was the last, visible and invisible, but a mere enumeration of possible examples belonging apparently or chiefly to the invisible things. The list recalls Ephesians 1:21, principality and authority and power and lordship; 1 Peter 3:22, angels and authorities and powers. The words principality and authority are found, in singular or plural, and in the same order in Colossians 2:10; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Titus 3:1; Luke 12:11; Luke 20:20; the last three places referring expressly to earthly rulers. These cannot be excluded from the universal assertion of this verse. And in Romans 13:1 Paul teaches that even political power has its ultimate origin in God. But the other quotations refer evidently to superhuman persons in the unseen world. And this evident reference of the other passages quoted above, together with the word invisible immediately foregoing, leaves no doubt that to these chiefly Paul refers here. And, if so, these various titles designate various successive ranks of angels. That there are bad angels bearing these titles, and therefore presumably of different rank, Ephesians 6:12 asserts. And, if there are superhuman enemies, there must be also successive ranks of superhuman servants of God. In this verse, however, the existence of angelic powers is not absolutely assumed. Paul merely says that if there be such, be they what they may, they were created in the Son of God.

The distinction between these various titles, and their order in rank, cannot be determined with any approach to certainty. From the titles themselves very little can be inferred. The word thrones suggests a position of conspicuous and secure dignity, like that of the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4:4) sitting on thrones around the throne of God. This is better than the suggestion that they combine to form by their own persons the throne of God, as themselves the bearers of the divine Majesty.

Lordships: last word in the list of Ephesians 1:21; found also in 2 Peter 2:10; Judges 1:8. It is akin to the word lord, and to the word rule in Romans 6:9; Romans 6:14; Romans 7:1; Romans 14:9; and suggests an authority to which others bow as servants. The word rendered principality denotes sometimes beginning as in John 1:1; Philippians 4:15; and sometimes the position of a ruler or officer. A cognate word is rendered ruler in 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8; Ephesians 2:2; Romans 13:3, and frequently in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. This last word designates in Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20-21; Daniel 12:1 certain angel-princes, or angels of superior rank, standing severally in special relation to the kingdoms of Persia, Greece, Israel. The word used in Colossians 1:16 is the first syllable of archangel. And Michael, one of the chief princes in Daniel 10:13, is in Judges 1:9 (cp. 1 Thessalonians 4:16) called an archangel. The word authority (cp. authority of darkness in Colossians 1:13, authority of the air in Ephesians 2:2; Mark 6:7; John 17:2) suggests angelic powers exercising sway over certain portions of the material or immaterial universe. The frequent connection of principality and authority in this order (1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 2:10; Colossians 2:15; Titus 3:1; Luke 12:11; Luke 20:20) suggests that this was their order of rank. But it is impossible to define the relation of this pair to the thrones and lordships. All these titles are twice mentioned together by Origen in his work On First Principles (bk. i. 5. 3, 6. 2) as of angelic powers. But he refers evidently to the passage before us, and contributes nothing to its elucidation. Nor is reliable evidence beyond the above scanty inferences from the words themselves to be derived from Jewish literature. All we know is that Paul believed that there are successive ranks of angelic powers, and declares here that all these, whatever they may be, were created in the Son.

Colossians 1:16 b. An emphatic repetition, and development, and summing up after exposition in detail, of the opening words of Colossians 1:16.

All things: word for word as in Colossians 1:16 a.

Through Him: by His instrumentality or agency; see under Romans 1:5. It describes constantly Christ’s relation to man’s salvation: Romans 5:1-2; Romans 5:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18. The same relation, Paul here asserts, the Eternal Son bears to the creation of the universe. Similarly, both to redemption and creation He bears the relation described by the phrase in Christ: Colossians 1:16 a. That these two phrases alike describe His relation both to the Church and to the universe, makes very conspicuous the identity of His relation to these two distinct and different objects. A close coincidence in 1 Corinthians 8:6 : through whom are all things, and we through Him. A still closer coincidence in Hebrews 1:2; John 1:3. [ δια with the genitive is used even where the agent is also the first cause: so Galatians 1:1; Romans 11:36, where God is said to be the Agent of the resurrection of Christ, and of all things. But the use of the same preposition constantly to describe the Son’s relation to the work of creation and also to man’s redemption, of both which the Father is expressly and frequently (e.g. Colossians 1:20) said to be the First Cause, suggests very strongly that the preposition was deliberately chosen because the Son is only the Agent, and the Father is the First Cause, of the created universe. This different relation of the Father and the Son is asserted, or clearly implied, in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Thus the preposition before us describes the Son’s relation to the entire activity of God.]

And for Him: to please and exalt the Son, and to work out His purposes. The Agent of creation is also its aim. Close coincidence in Hebrews 2:10. That Christ is only its mediate aim, we infer with certainty from the entire New Testament. The Father’s eternal purpose is the ultimate source, and His approbation is the ultimate aim, of whatever good exists and takes place. And, just as the Son is the divine channel through which the Father’s purpose passes into actuality, so only through the Son and through His exaltation does creation attain its goal in God. So 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:14. in this real sense all things are for Him.

The word created marks the close of Paul’s discussion of the creation of all things by the Son. [The Greek perfect, have-been-created, calls attention to the abiding result of the act of creation, thus differing from the aorist in Colossians 1:16 a which simply notes an event. By His agency and to work out His pleasure all things were created in the past and exist now in the abiding present.]

Colossians 1:17. A statement reasserting and supplementing the truth embodied in first-begotten in Colossians 1:15 just as Colossians 1:16 expounds and supplements every creature. The Son is the Firstborn because He is earlier than all.

He is: or Himself exists. It calls attention to an unchanging existence earlier than every other existing object. Similar words in John 8:58; Exodus 3:14.

Before: in time rather than in rank. For this is the sense of the word Firstborn: and the clear reference of Colossians 1:16 to Colossians 1:15 prepares us for another reference here to the same verse.

Consist: literally stand together as united of one whole. It is cognate to the Greek original of parts our word system.

In Him: as in Colossians 1:16 in Him were created. Just as in the bosom of the Eternal Son all things sprang into being, so in Him as their encompassing element all things find their bond of union and their orderly arrangement into one whole. Similar thought in Hebrews 1:3 : bearing all things by the word of His power. The word here rendered consist is frequent in Plato and Aristotle to denote the orderly arrangement of the various parts of the material universe.

That the universe was created through the agency of the Son of God, is stated by Paul expressly and indisputably only here. The plain and emphatic assertions of Colossians 1:16-17, are therefore an invaluable addition to his other teaching. A close coincidence is found in the broad statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6. But the absence there of reference to the universe forbids us to build upon this passage a sure inference. The full statement in Colossians 1:16-17, given without proof evidently because proof was needless, implies, however, that this teaching had an assured place in Paul’s thought. We have similar teaching in Hebrews 1:2, a document allied to, though in many points different from, the Epistles of Paul; and very conspicuously in John 1:3. All this proves that the early followers of Christ believed that their Master was Creator of the world.

This belief is an important and almost inevitable corollary from the whole teaching of Paul. The Son is ever said to be the channel through which flows forth from the Father into actuality His purpose of salvation. This salvation will rescue man from a corruption which has infected his entire surroundings. Frequently the forces of nature seem to be hostile to us. In reality they work together for our good. And the coming glorification of the sons of God will one day rescue from the corruption which now enslaves it (Romans 8:21) the entire created universe. This present and coming victory is pledged to us in the great truth that He who became Man to save man is also the Creator of man and of whatever exists.

It is worthy of note that all the great religions give an account of the beginning of the world. And naturally so: for man’s highest spiritual interests are involved in the question of his origin. Hence Genesis 1:1 f is a necessary prologue to the story of the Old Covenant. And its real worth is derived from the historic fact that He who made heaven and earth became the God of Abraham. That their God was the Creator of the world, was a great bulwark of Israel’s faith. Similarly, the teaching of Colossians 1:16-17 derives its whole value from that of Colossians 1:18-20; as does John 1:3 from the subsequent story of the incarnate Son. For knowledge of the God who made us would be useless had He not come near to save us. It is now the firm ground of our faith. He who made us and the universe, and He only, is able to save us from forces around which seem ready to overwhelm us.

From Colossians 2:4 we learn that the earlier part of this Epistle was written to guard its readers against seductive error prevalent at Colossæ. This suggests at once that the verses before us, which are the most distinguishing feature of the Epistle, refer to the same error. We notice also in Colossians 2:18 a warning against worship of angels, a practice implying undue estimate of their place and importance. This suggests a reason why the successive ranks of angels are selected in Colossians 1:16 as examples of the invisible things created through the Son; viz. that they had been placed in undue rivalry to the unique honour belonging to Him. All this confirms our inference that Paul has here in view the errors at Colossæ. What these errors were, we shall, at the close of our exposition, endeavour to gather from the notices scattered throughout the Epistle.

That for the more part Paul meets these errors not directly but by stating contrary truth, makes it difficult for us to determine exactly what they were, But it increases immensely the value of the Epistle by making it an assertion of great principles which bear with equal force upon the ever-varying errors of each successive age. Had Paul merely overturned the errors he had in view, his letter would have had practical value only for those among whom these errors were prevalent. But the great principles here asserted can be understood and appreciated by all men in all ages.

In Proverbs 8:22-31 the wisdom of God is associated with the work of creation. And certainly the wisdom of God is divine and eternal. But although in Proverbs 8, it is personified, we have there no language which implies that it is an actual Person distinct from the Father. But here the Son, in whom all things were created and through whom (Colossians 1:20) God reconciles men to Himself, is indisputably a Person and one distinct from the Father. For Colossians 1:16 is much more than an assertion that all things were made by God. And He by whose agency all things were made is identified by Paul with Him who was afterwards known as Jesus Christ. This teaching implies that with the Father from eternity and personally distinct from Him is another Person. The eternity of the Son implies His divinity. And this is confirmed by the word created which is restricted in O.T. and N.T. to God and is here predicated of the Son. Thus the passage before us is an important contribution to our proof that Christ is divine. See further in Diss. iii.


Verses 18-20

SECTION 5. — CHRIST’S RELATION TO THE CHURCH AND TO THE WORK OF SALVATION. CH. 1:18-20.

And Himself is the Head of the Body, i.e. of the Church; who is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead ones, in order that He may become in all things Himself first. Because in Him, He was well-pleased that all the fulness should dwell; and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself having made peace through the blood of His cross, through Him, whether the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens.

Colossians 1:18. And Himself is: exact and stately repetition of the opening words of Colossians 1:17. He through whom all things were created and in whom all find their bond of union is also the Head of the Body, i.e. of the Church. That this last short explanation is sufficient, shows how familiar to Paul was the thought that the Church is the Body of Christ. This important metaphor we have already found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:4-5. The new point here is that of this body Christ is the Head: so Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15. Accordingly, in the earlier epistles this metaphor sets forth chiefly the relation of Christians one to another: here it sets forth, in harmony with the scope of the epistle which is to expound the dignity of Christ, their relation to Him. The Son of God is not only a Spirit animating, and directing from within, each member and uniting them into one body, but also Himself the Head of the Body, i.e. a part of it, yet occupying a unique and supreme position and from that position directing the whole Body. And this relation is vital. Some other members may be removed and the body live still: separation from the head involves instant death. Perhaps we may say that as divine Christ is the animating and invisible spirit of the Body: as human and yet superhuman and possessing a visible and glorified body He is its Head.

Notice here and in Colossians 1:24 the word Church in a sense more august than we have hitherto met, viz. as denoting definitely and unmistakably the entire family of God: so Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 3:21; Ephesians 5:23-32. Inasmuch as Christ designs His people on earth to be joined in outward and visible fellowship, the word Church here denotes probably, not the simple totality of those who are inwardly joined to Christ, but the company of His professed followers with the implied exception of those whose profession is an empty pretence and therefore valueless. For the common local use of the word links with it indissolubly the ideas of outward confession and visible unity. And, in spite of the many ecclesiastical divisions of Christians, there is between all the professed and real servants of Christ a bond of union, recognised in some small degree even by the world around. The true significance of membership in a sectional Church is that by entering it we become members of the universal company of the professed followers of Christ.

Who is etc.: solemn assertions, expounding further Christ’s relation to His body.

The Beginning: earliest in time, as in Genesis 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17 where the same word is linked with firstborn. Very frequently the earliest is the cause of all that follow. So is Christ. Similarly, Revelation 3:14, the beginning of the creation of God: for Christ is the Agent and in a real sense the Archetype of the whole creation. Here the reference of the word beginning is not stated: but it is suggested by the new topic introduced by this verse, viz. Christ’s relation to the Church, and is placed beyond doubt by the words following. He is the beginning of the New Creation because He is Firstborn from the dead. For resurrection is the gate through which we shall enter the fully-developed kingdom of God: and His resurrection made ours possible. By Himself rising He opened a path along which we shall enter the glory in which He already is. And by rising from among the dead through (2 Corinthians 13:4) the power of the Father, the God-Man entered a new mode of life and in some sense a new world; and may therefore be said to have been born from the dead. Since He was the first to pass through death, He is the firstborn from the dead. The word firstborn, recalling Colossians 1:15, emphasises the similar relation of Christ to the Universe and to the Church. But in Colossians 1:15 it was followed by mention of the later-created, every creature: here it is followed by mention of those from whose midst the Resurrection-Birth brought Christ, from the dead.

That He may (or might) become: purpose of Christ’s rising first. In all things Himself first or holding-the first-place. Already the Son is first in time and rank, as being earlier than every creature and as being agent, and bond of union, of the entire universe. That this priority may be universal, i.e. that it might extend to the Church, Christ rose from the dead before any of His servants: and He did so by the deliberate purpose of God.

Become; notes the historical development of Christ, in contrast to that which He is, i.e. to His abiding state, as described in Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:17-18. The emphatic words in all things keep before us the sameness of Christ’s relation to the Church and to the Universe.

Colossians 1:19-20. A statement which explains the foregoing purpose by tracing it to its cause in the thought of God, and specifies two purposes of God touching His Son, one relating to His Incarnation and the other to the ultimate aim of His death in the restoration of harmony between God and the universe.

In Him: Christ, who is thrust prominently forward to the beginning of the sentence.

He was-well-pleased: same word as in Galatians 1:15; 1 Corinthians 1:21. This good pleasure cannot be that of the Son: for in Colossians 1:20 the Son is distinguished, as the Agent or Instrument, from Him whose good pleasure it is to reconcile through Christ all things to Himself: cp. 2 Corinthians 5:18. It must therefore be either the Father as in A.V. and R.V.; or the fulness personified, as suggested by Ellicott. This suggestion, however, which implies a rather startling personification, has no support in the context or in the Epistles of Paul: whereas the constant presence of God in the entire thought of Paul as the ultimate source of all good makes the other exposition quite easy. [The change of subject between the verbs well-pleased and dwell is in complete harmony with the spirit of the Greek language even in the use of the word well-pleased.] Paul had no need to say whose good-pleasure it was that the fulness should dwell in Christ.

Fulness: a word all-important in these epistles: found in Colossians 2:9; Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13; Romans 11:12; Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:26; Galatians 4:4. It denotes a result of the action described by the verb fill or fulfil; and takes all shades of meaning belonging to this verb. Since both the vessel filled and the matter filled into it are direct objects of the verb fill, the word fulness may denote (1) a filled vessel, (2) that with which it is made full, as evidently in 1 Corinthians 10:26, or (3) the increment by which a partly filled vessel is made quite full, as in Matthew 9:16. Or, since the verb denotes the accomplishment of a purpose or promise or command, the word fulness may denote (4) that in which such accomplishment is attained, as in Romans 13:10, ‘love is a fulness (or fulfilment) of the Law.’ The absence here of any defining genitive (contrast Colossians 2:9 all the fulness of the Godhead) implies that the word fulness itself conveys a definite thought present to the mind of Paul. And this can only be, in sense (2), the fulness of God, the totality of that with which God is Himself full, of the dispositions and powers which make up, in our thought, the personality of God. These, being infinite, leave no lack or defect in God. They are also a necessary development of our conception of God, thus approaching sense (4); or rather showing its close connection with the simpler meanings of the word. The fulness of God is the totality of attributes with which He is essentially full and which go to make up our conception of God. And this is the meaning of the less definite phrase here. The Father was pleased that all this divine fulness should dwell (or more accurately make-its-home) in Him who has been just described as the firstborn from the dead.

The past tense He-was-well-pleased suggests [as does the aorist κατοικησαι] that Paul refers, not to that which the Son is unchangeably from eternity-although we may reverently say (cp. John 5:26) that even in this sense these words are true-but to what He became in time; and, if so, to the incarnation in which the Eternal Son became the God-Man. In that divine-human Person, the entire circle of the attributes of God took up its abode. This is in complete harmony with the complementary truth in Philippians 2:7, He emptied Himself. For even on earth the Word (John 1:14) was full of grace and truth; and (John 1:16) ‘from His fulness we all have received.’ All that belongs to the essence of God was present in Jesus. But the Son deliberately and definitely laid aside for a time in order to become a sharer of our weakness the actual exercise of the outer and lower circle of His divine attributes. It was the essential and unchangeable possession of these attributes which made possible, and gave worth to, this temporary surrender of the exercise and enjoyment of them. But nothing was surrendered even for a moment which was needful to the further purpose stated in Colossians 1:20.

All the fulness; recalls in all things. Because the Father had resolved that in Christ should dwell all the fulness of the divine attributes, He resolved further that even in the order of resurrection He should have the first place.

Colossians 1:20. Second element in the Father’s good pleasure. He was pleased (1) that in Christ should all the fulness dwell, and (2) through Him to reconcile etc.

Reconcile: slightly stronger form, found in N.T. only in Colossians 1:22; Ephesians 2:16, of the word in Romans 5:10-11; 1 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; meaning possibly to restore a lost friendship. See under Romans 5:1.

Through Him: i.e. Christ, who is ever the Agent, as the Father is the Author, of this reconciliation; so Romans 5:1; Romans 5:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18.

All things: same words and same compass as in Colossians 1:16. God’s purpose is to bring into harmony with Himself all things rational and irrational.

To Himself: literally into Himself; a stronger term than that in Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16, and suggesting close fellowship with God resulting from reconciliation.

Having-made-peace etc.: method of the reconciliation.

Peace: primarily peace with God, Romans 5:1 : but this brings with it the peace of God, Philippians 4:7. It is the blessed and abiding result of the act of reconciliation.

Through the blood of His cross: graphic exposition of through Him. God resolved to make peace between Himself and man by means of the blood shed on the cross of Christ. Similarly, though less vividly, Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 3:18; Galatians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18. The cross of Christ is used in this theological sense, in the N.T., only by Paul. It is therefore a mark of genuineness. About the genuineness of the words through Him, documentary evidence is equally divided. But their apparent needlessness might occasion their omission; whereas, if not genuine, it is not easy to explain their insertion. This gives a slight balance of probability in their favour. They are an emphatic resumption of the same words at the beginning of the verse.

Whether the things upon the earth etc.: exposition of the words all things, showing that they include not only all objects on earth but those in heaven; and thus indicating that the peace resulting from the death of Christ is designed to leave no discord upon the earth or in the heavens. The earth is put first because it chiefly and manifestly needs reconciliation. In Colossians 1:16 the heavens were put first, because the angelic powers were created before the inhabitants of the earth.

These words do not prove absolutely that there is disharmony in heaven. For they admit a negative interpretation, viz. that the death of Christ is designed to leave no discord in the entire universe. But they suggest it. And we may conceive that, the entire universe being essentially one and each part contributing to the good of the whole, the blight caused by sin in one part might be an element of discord to the whole. Paul declares that, whatever discord has thus been caused, the death of Christ was designed to remove it.

Although this purpose embraces everything and every one in heaven and earth, it is unsafe to infer from it that all men now living on earth will eventually be saved. For, although God’s purpose cannot fail as a whole but must receive worthy accomplishment, He has thought fit to make its fulfilment in individuals dependent on themselves, thus leaving it abundantly possible that they who now trample under foot the blood of Christ may be finally cast out both from earth and heaven and thus excluded from this universal harmony. Certainly this purpose is not sufficient to disprove the plain contrary assertion in Philippians 3:19. See under Philippians 2:10-11.

Section 5 reveals the importance of section 4. To the material world around and the angelic world above us, it links the work of redemption as wrought by the same exalted Person and as an accomplishment of one great purpose as wide as creation. Paul thus raises his readers at Colossæ out of the narrow valley of the Lycus where they had lately found personal salvation to a platform from which they can survey the entire universe of God to its utmost bound and the successive ages of the past to the moment when the earliest creature began to be.

This width of view is a conspicuous and invaluable feature of these Epistles as compared with the earlier ones. Paul has reminded his readers (Colossians 1:6, so Colossians 1:23) that the Gospel preached to them was preached also throughout the world. He has led out their thoughts (Colossians 1:16) to the entire visible universe and to the invisible universe beyond it, to the beginning of the world and of whatever began to be, and (Colossians 1:17) to the abiding constitution of the manifold realm of creation. In Romans 5:12-19 Paul traced up sin and death to the first father of the race, and taught that the purpose of salvation was coextensive with the race. He here declares that the same purpose embraces not only earth but heaven. He thus makes the cross of Christ the centre of the universe, and links with it the creation of the earliest and loftiest archangel.


Verses 21-23

SECTION 6. — THE COLOSSIAN CHRISTIANS IN THEIR RELATION TO CHRIST. CH. 1:21-23.

And you, formerly alienated as ye were and enemies by your mind in your wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh, through death, to present you holy and spotless and unimpeachable before Him: if at least ye continue in the faith foundationed and firm and not moving away from the hope of the Gospel which ye heard, the Gospel preached in all creation under heaven, of which I Paul became a minister.

Colossians 1:21-22. And you: the Christians at Colossæ now conspicuously brought within the scope and operation of the all-embracing purpose of reconciliation.

Alienated as ye were: calling conspicuous attention to a fact. It describes their state when this purpose found, and laid hold on them: cp. Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5; Ephesians 2:11.

Alienated-ones, literally made-to-be-strangers: a word frequently used to describe men deprived of the rights of citizens: same word in Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:18; frequent in the LXX., e.g. Ezekiel 14:5; Ezekiel 14:7; Psalms 69:9; and in classic Greek.

Enemies: either hostile to God, or men who have to reckon with God as hostile to them. Which of these meanings Paul intends here, we can determine only by his general conception of the Gospel. We saw under Romans 5:1 that the justice of God, which as we learnt from Romans 3:26 forbade Him to justify believers except through the death of Christ, makes Him in this sense hostile to those who refuse salvation from sin. Thus an obstacle to peace between God and sinners is found in the justice of God. Now Paul declares in Romans 3:24-26, expressly and plainly, that God gave Christ to die in order to remove this obstacle to peace. This last doctrine is, in Romans 5:10, embodied in the words being enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, words almost the same as those now before us. Similarly, in Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 2:16 men ‘formerly… alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,’ Christ came to reconcile… to God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. On the other hand, only once (Romans 8:7) does Paul speak of sin under the aspect of hostility to God. (James 4:4 admits, and perhaps suggests the sense that they who choose the friendship of the world are thereby placed among those who will have to reckon with God as their enemy.) And Paul never speaks of the cross of Christ as the instrument by which God moves the sinner to lay down his hostility. We are therefore compelled to interpret the words reconciled… through death in Colossians 1:22 as meaning that by the death of Christ God removed the obstacle to peace between God and man which lay in His own justice, and thus brought us out of a position in which we had to reckon with God as an enemy into one in which we look upon Him as a friend. This interpretation of the word reconciled in Colossians 1:22 fixes in the main the meaning of enemies in Colossians 1:21. We shall find that it will harmonize with the context; and may therefore accept it with confidence. Possibly, however, Paul chose the word enemies the more readily because, as matter of fact, sinners are actually hostile to God. Had not Christ died, this double hostility would have been irreconcilable.

Your mind: either the faculty of mental discrimination or the operation of that faculty; senses closely allied. [The Greek dative merely states that this enmity has something to do with the readers’ minds, leaving the exact relation to be inferred from the context. The simplest expositions are (1) that the mind was the seat of the enmity, as in Ephesians 4:18 where the same word and case mean darkened in their mind; or (2) that the mind was the instrument by means of which the enmity was brought about, as the Greek dative is used in Galatians 2:13; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5; dead by means of your trespasses. This latter sense is required by our exposition of enemies. For their entire personality was exposed to the hostility of God. Consequently, further specification of the locality of the enmity was needless. On the other hand, we are eager to know by what means they became enemies of God. Exposition 2 tells us that it was by the perverted activity of their intelligence which mistook evil for good; and which thus, instead of leading them to God, led them into the ranks of His foes.

In your wicked works: immoral locality of this enmity. Same thought in Ephesians 2:2. Led astray by their own wicked thought they wandered among wicked actions, and thus became exposed to the just anger of God.

Whether Paul intended to say that the alienation as well as the enmity were caused by his readers’ perverted mind and had its locality in their wicked works, we cannot determine with certainty. But, as matter of fact, the alienation and the enmity had the same instrumental cause and the same ideal locality. And the absence here (contrast Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:18) of any further specification of the word alienated suggests that Paul intended to say this.

Before stating how the divine purpose just mentioned has been accomplished in his readers, Paul describes in Colossians 1:21 their former spiritual state. Not only were they aliens destitute of the rights of sons or even of citizens but they were found in the ranks of the enemies of God. And this separation and hostility were brought about by their mistaken mode of thought revealing itself in evil actions.

Colossians 1:22. The change wrought by God, and its further purpose.

But now: see under Ephesians 2:13. It throws the present reconciliation somewhat into contrast with the former alienation and enmity.

He has reconciled: has brought out of a position in which they had to reckon with God as an enemy into one in which they can look upon Him as a friend. Same word in Colossians 1:20. As before, the Reconciler is the Father.

The body of His flesh: the organized structure of flesh and blood, and therefore weak and mortal, in which Christ lived on earth. Same phrase in Colossians 2:11, describing the bodies of the baptized. Contrast Philippians 3:21 : the body of His glory. This body, when nailed to the cross, is here thought of as the sacred locality in which the Father reconciled us to Himself. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:19 : God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself; 1 Peter 2:24, Himself bore our sins in His body.

Through death: the precise means of the reconciliation which took place in the body of His flesh.

In order to present etc.: ultimate purpose of the reconciliation. Cp. Ephesians 5:27.

Present: as in Ephesians 5:27; 2 Corinthians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Colossians 1:28.

Holy: subjectively holy, i.e. all our powers actually devoted to the service of Christ. This is the aim of the objective holiness which God’s claim stamps on all objects claimed by Him. It is therefore the sense intended wherever holiness is represented as a purpose of God.

Spotless: as in Philippians 2:15. It is the negative side of holiness. Whatever is unreservedly devoted to God, is spotless; and that only.

Unimpeachable: as in 1 Corinthians 1:8.

Before Him: either God, as the same words mean in Ephesians 1:4; or as in 2 Corinthians 5:10 before the judgment-seat of Christ. Since Paul is speaking here chiefly about Christ, to Him probably these words refer. The Father has reconciled us to Himself in order that in the great day He may set us before the searching gaze of Christ our Judge in all the sacredness symbolised in outline in the sacred objects of the Old Covenant, without any blemish being detected by the eye of the Judge, or any charge being brought against us by any accuser. Close parallel in Ephesians 5:27; except that there the saved are represented as given by the Son to Himself to be His own, whereas here they are placed by the Father before the Son as if for His inspection.

Colossians 1:23. A condition on which depends the accomplishment of the foregoing purpose of God, the condition being so described as to invite fulfilment.

Continue in faith, or in your faith: persevere in believing the Gospel. Similar phrase in Romans 11:22-23; Romans 6:1. [The particle ειγε lays great stress upon the condition as absolutely essential to, and certainly followed by, the accomplishment of the divine purpose contingent on it. The present indicative, which might be rendered if-ye-are-continuing, suggests inquiry whether we are still retaining our faith or are-being-moved-away from it. Contrast Galatians 1:6. But Paul’s words give no hint whether his readers were or were not so continuing. They simply state that upon this continuance all depends.]

Foundationed: i.e. placed-upon-a foundation: see under Ephesians 3:17.

Firm: result of being on a foundation: same word in 1 Corinthians 7:37; 1 Corinthians 15:58.

And-not-moved-away: negative counterpart to foundationed and firm.

[The present passive describes the process of removal as now going on.]

Since the good things promised in the Gospel are contingent on continuance in faith, to surrender faith is to be moved away from the hope evoked by, and thus belonging to, the Gospel. For both hope and the blessings hoped for vanish when faith fails.

Which ye heard; recalls the first preaching of the Gospel at Colossæ. Similar thought in Colossians 1:5.

In all creation: literally, in every creature: same words as every creature in Colossians 1:15. Surrounded by, and within hearing of, all rational creatures the good news has been proclaimed.

Under the heaven: a strong hyperbole. Every where under the arching firmament the good news has been announced. This is in harmony with the many proofs that this epistle was written near to the end of Paul’s life. It testifies how widespread was the preaching of the Gospel. And we can well believe that, just as without any apostolic messenger the good news of salvation had reached Rome, so it had reached all the chief cities of the empire.

The emphatic repetition of a thought already expressed in Colossians 1:6, viz. the universality of the Gospel, suggests that this thought bears upon the special circumstances of the Colossian Christians. And this we can easily understand. They were in danger (Colossians 2:4) of being moved away from their faith and hope by erroneous teaching. Now such teaching is always local. Only the truth is universal. Paul therefore lifts his readers above their immediate surroundings and reminds them that the Gospel which has given them a new hope has been also proclaimed with the same result all over the world.

Of which Gospel I Paul: the writer’s relation to this universal Gospel.

I Paul: as in 2 Corinthians 10:1; Galatians 5:2; Ephesians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; Philemon 1:19. It brings the personality of the heroic Apostle to bear on the matter in hand. To forsake the Gospel, is to forsake him.

Of which Gospel… a minister: not as now a technical term for a Christian pastor, but in its ordinary sense of one who renders free and honourable service. Paul is a minister of God, of the New Covenant, of the Church, and of the Gospel: for he does the work of God, makes known the terms of the Covenant, seeks to promote the interests of the Church, and spreads the good news of salvation. So 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Colossians 1:25; Ephesians 3:7. See note under Romans 12:8. The same word is found in its technical sense of deacon in Philippians 1:1.

In Colossians 1:5 Paul thanked God for the blessings awaiting his readers in heaven and already an object of their hope, a hope prompted by the Gospel they had heard. And now, when raising the question whether they are continuing in their early faith and are resting firmly on its sure foundation, he reminds them that upon such continuance depends the accomplishment of God’s purpose for their eternal salvation, and that therefore to allow themselves to be carried away from that foundation is to allow themselves to be separated from the bright hope which illumines their path, from the Gospel preached throughout the world, and from the founder of the Churches of Asia Minor and of Greece.

Thus has § 6 brought the eternal purpose of God to bear upon the readers of this Epistle; and has linked them, through the Gospel they had heard, with Paul, its writer. This reference to Paul forms a stepping-stone to § 7.


Verse 24

SECTION 7. — PAUL’S RELATION TO THE CHURCH, AND TO THE COLOSSIAN CHRISTIANS. CH. 1:24-2:3.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings on your behalf, and I fill up the shortcomings of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh on behalf of His body, which is the Church; of which I became a minister according to the stewardship of God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which lay hidden from the ages and from the generations-but now it has been manifested to His saints, to whom God thought fit to make known what is the wealth of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory; whom we announce, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ; for which thing I also labour, contending according to His working which works in me with power.

For I wish you to know how great a struggle I have on behalf of you and of those in Laodicea, and as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, they being knit together in love and for all wealth of the full assurance of the understanding, for knowledge of the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.

After describing Christ’s relation to the Father, to the created universe, to the Church, and to the readers of this Epistle, Paul mentioned, in the closing words of § 6, himself and his relation to the Gospel. These closing words are the key-note of § 7. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:24-29 his office and work in the universal Church; and in Colossians 2:1-3 his special interest in the Churches of Colossæ and Laodicea.

Colossians 1:24. Now: ‘now that I have become a minister of the Gospel.

My sufferings on your behalf, or for your benefit: the hardships to which Paul exposed himself by preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. They were a foreseen result of his preaching: and, had he not exposed himself to them, Asia Minor and Colossæ would probably still have been in darkness.

Similar thought in Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 3:13; and, from a slightly different point of view, in 2 Corinthians 1:6. Amid these sufferings, and with a joy evidently prompted by them, Paul says I rejoice. A similar joy in Philippians 2:17. A somewhat different but kindred joy in Romans 5:3. Its great Example: Hebrews 12:2. Doubtless Paul’s joy was prompted by the foreseen results of the work which exposed him to these sufferings.

And I fill up etc.: an added statement which reveals the import and dignity of these sufferings.

Afflictions of Christ: a phrase not found elsewhere; whereas we often read of the afflictions of His servants. By using it Paul associates His sufferings with theirs.

The short-comings of etc.; implies that the afflictions of Christ were not in themselves sufficient to attain their end. What they fell short, Paul’s sufferings fill up.

In my flesh: the locality of these supplementary sufferings, viz. Paul’s body, this being described as flesh, i.e. consisting of material liable to suffering and death.

On behalf of His body: fuller counterpart to on your behalf. Paul explains His body by reasserting the great metaphor in Colossians 1:18 : which is the Church. Notice the contrast between Paul’s fragile flesh, which by its constitution is weak and liable to decay, and Christ’s Body, which will survive the destruction of all flesh and share the eternal life and royalty of Christ.

In what sense are these strange words true? In this sense. When Christ breathed His last upon the cross, all the sufferings needful for the complete establishment of the Kingdom of God had not yet been endured. For the full realisation of the purposes of God it was needful, not only that Christ should die for the sins of the world, but that the Gospel should be preached to all nations. This involved, owing to the wickedness of men, hardship to the preachers. This hardship Paul willingly endured in order to save men. Consequently, just as the life on earth of the servants of Christ is in some sense an extension of His incarnation, (for in them He lives, Galatians 2:20,) so the sufferings of Paul were in a similar sense a continuation and completion of the sufferings of Christ. This is in close harmony with, and further emphasises, Paul’s constant teaching that Christ’s servants share all that Christ has and is and does: 1 Corinthians 1:9; Philippians 3:10; Romans 8:17. But it by no means suggests that Paul’s sufferings were in any sense propitiatory or that Christ’s sufferings were not so. For the one point in common here mentioned and made conspicuous by repetition is suffering on behalf of another. Propitiation for sin is here entirely out of view.

Notice the infinite dignity here given to sufferings endured for the spread of the Gospel. These, Christ condescends to join with His own mysterious agony on the cross as endured for the benefit of the Church which He recognises as His own body. In such sacred sufferings well might Paul rejoice. Notice again, as in Colossians 1:18 in conjunction with the same metaphor, the Church Universal.

Colossians 1:25. Paul’s relation to the Church. This explains his sufferings on its behalf. He became (Colossians 1:23) a minister of the Gospel as one appointed to do the free and honourable service of proclaiming it: he became a minister of the Church as one appointed to labour for its advancement. Same phrase in Romans 16:1; used, not as here in a general sense, but in the technical sense of deaconess.

Stewardship of God: position of one entrusted by God with wealth for distribution to others: so Titus 1:7; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Corinthians 9:17; cp. 1 Timothy 3:15. A close parallel in Ephesians 3:2 : see also under Ephesians 1:10.

For you: persons for whose benefit this stewardship had been entrusted to Paul. It is, therefore, parallel to on your behalf in Colossians 1:24. And it is true of the Christians at Colossæ in the same sense as is Romans 1:6 of those at Rome. The stewardship given to Paul embraced both Rome and Colossæ. That Paul calls himself a minister of the Church, is in harmony with (according to) the fact that a stewardship of the spiritual wealth of God has been given to him for his readers.

To fulfil the word of God: to achieve the full aim of the Gospel, by proclaiming everywhere to Jew and Gentile salvation through faith in Christ, and by leading men to accept it. So Romans 15:19 : fulfil the Gospel. This fulfilment is here said to be the aim of the stewardship entrusted to Paul. Prophecy and law (Matthew 1:22, Romans 13:8) are fulfilled by their realisation in the foretold event and in actual obedience.

Colossians 1:26. Further exposition of the word of God.

The mystery hidden: favourite thought of Paul; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:4-5. It is God’s eternal purpose to save men through Christ without reference to nationality on the one condition of faith, in the manner described in the Gospel. This purpose is a mystery, i.e. a secret known only by those to whom God reveals it by His Spirit. See my Corinthians p. 60. It was formed (1 Corinthians 2:7) before the ages. But, inasmuch as it was revealed only (Romans 1:17) in the Gospel, it lay hid from the ages, i.e. from the beginning of the successive periods of human history until the Gospel was proclaimed by Christ; and from the generations, i.e. from the successive sets of men living at one time. This last word, in Philippians 2:15; Ephesians 3:5; Luke 11:50-51. The contrast of but now manifested suggests that from is chiefly a note of time, as in Matthew 13:35. It is the more suitable here because the hidden secret was, during those early ages, away from the knowledge of men.

But now it has been manifested: a break in the grammatical structure of the sentence, noting very conspicuously a break in the agelong silence.

Manifested: set conspicuously before the eyes of men. Same word and same connection in Romans 16:26 : see under Romans 1:19.

To His saints: to Christians generally, according to constant N.T. use: so Colossians 1:2; Colossians 1:12; Colossians 3:12; Philippians 4:21-22. In one sense the secret has been set before the eyes of all to whom the Gospel is preached. But inasmuch as none can see it except those whom God saves from spiritual blindness and thus claims to be His own, Paul says that it was manifested to His saints. Since the manifested secret is (Colossians 1:17) that Christ is in the Colossian Christians who were Gentiles, possibly these saints were primarily the Jews who first believed in Christ and thus became His people. To them was revealed the new and great truth that believing Gentiles were to share with them the blessings of the New Covenant. A recognition of this truth is recorded in Acts 11:18.

Colossians 1:27. Further statement expounding the mystery manifested to His saints.

God thought-fit, or it was the will of God: cp. Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11. The insertion of this word detains us for a moment to look at the secret now manifested when it was only a determined purpose in the mind of God.

Make-known; includes the subjective appropriation of the mystery manifested to, i.e. set conspicuously before, the saints.

What is: of what kind, and how much.

The riches etc.: the abundance, making its possessors rich, of the splendour which belongs to this great secret: same phrase in Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:16. Cp. Colossians 2:2; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Romans 11:33. The spiritual wealth in Christ is a favourite conception of Paul. The frequency of the word glory to describe the splendour of the final consummation suggests that this is its meaning here. And this is confirmed by the same word at the end of the verse. Cp. Colossians 3:4; 2 Corinthians 3:7-11; Romans 5:2. God was minded to make known how abundant is the splendour with which in the great day those initiated on earth into the Gospel secret will be enriched.

Among the Gentiles, or in the Gentiles: same Greek preposition again in the same verse, in or among you: and, with similar compass, in Galatians 3:5. It includes both senses. As matter of fact, the abundance of glory is both among the Gentiles as a spiritual possession of the whole community, and within them as a spiritual possession enjoyed in the inner life of each one. But this full latitude of meaning cannot be expressed by any one English word. The Gentiles taken as a whole and taken individually are the personal locality of the abundance of glory with which this mystery will enrich those who know it. Similar words and connection in Ephesians 1:18. The great secret was Paul’s Gospel, viz. that by faith and in proportion to their faith God receives into His favour, moulds into the inward image of Christ, and will some day cover with splendour, all who believe the good news announced by Christ. This implies that even Gentiles will be thus received and glorified. And to a Jew, e.g. to Paul, this inclusion of the Gentiles in the coming glory was the most conspicuous feature of the Gospel revelation. To him this was the secret hidden during ages, but now manifested.

Which is; may refer grammatically either to the wealth of the glory of the mystery, throwing emphasis on the abundance of the splendour, or specifically to this mystery. This latter reference is suggested by the conspicuous repetition of the word mystery in Colossians 1:26-27. Moreover, Christ in you is not the abundance of the mystery, but the mystery itself. In or within you is better than among you. For we are ever taught that Christ dwells in the hearts of His people: so Ephesians 3:17; Romans 8:10. The word you includes the Gentile Christians to whom Paul writes.

Hope of glory: expectation of the splendour of heaven, as in Romans 5:1; cp. Titus 1:2. The felt presence of Christ in our hearts (cp. 1 John 3:24) assures us that we are in the way of life leading to endless glory. Thus Christ in us and the hope of glory go together; and therefore may be spoken of as equivalent. So 1 Timothy 1:1, Christ Jesus our hope; cp. Colossians 3:3. This presence of Christ in us, Himself a pledge of our eternal splendour, is a mystery, i.e. a secret which cannot be conveyed by human words, known only by actual experience and therefore known only by those whom God takes by the hand, leads into His own secret chamber, and teaches as only God can teach. And it will enrich the initiated with the abundant splendour of heaven. All this was for long ages a hidden purpose of God. But He had been pleased to make it known in Paul’s day. It had been manifested to His saints.

Colossians 1:28. In Colossians 1:25 Paul rose from himself and his stewardship to the Gospel of God, the great mystery kept secret during long ages but now revealed. This led him to its great matter, viz. Christ. He now returns to the chief thought of § 7, himself and his work.

We: very emphatic, suggesting perhaps others who acted otherwise. Paul and his companions announce Christ. Same word in Philippians 1:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Corinthians 11:26.

Admonish: 1 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:14. It includes all kinds of friendly discipline and training, as of a father, brother, or companion; especially reproof with a view to improvement.

Teaching; is mere impartation of knowledge: cp. Colossians 3:16; Matthew 28:20.

Wisdom: see under 1 Corinthians 2:5.

In all wisdom: Colossians 1:9; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 1:8. A wisdom in which no element was lacking was the instrument of Paul’s teaching. It was from God: 1 Corinthians 12:8; Ephesians 1:8; James 1:5; James 3:17. So 2 Corinthians 1:12, not in fleshly wisdom; and 1 Corinthians 1:17, not in wisdom of word. Against these Paul sets in 1 Corinthians 2:6 a higher wisdom. Armed with it, he teaches every man who comes within his reach. The basis of this varied training is Christ: whom we announce.

That we may etc.: practical aim of Paul’s teaching. It should be the one aim of all religious teachers.

Present: as in Colossians 1:22. It is Paul’s appropriation of God’s purpose there stated. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:2. God reconciled to Himself the Colossian Christians that in the great day He might set them faultless before Christ the Judge: for the same end Paul corrects and teaches all within his reach.

Mature or full-grown: in contrast to babes in Christ. Cp. 1 Corinthians 3:1; Ephesians 4:13-14. See under 1 Corinthians 2:6.

In Christ: the encompassing element of this full growth. The emphatic repetition, every man… every man… every man, makes conspicuous the universality of Paul’s aim. Every one he meets is to him a possibility of another fully-developed trophy presented in the final triumph. Consequently, every man is an object for the discipline and teaching needful to make this possibility actual.

Colossians 1:29. After stating in Colossians 1:28 his aim in announcing Christ, Paul now records the earnestness with which he pursues it, and the divine source of this earnestness.

For which thing: that we may present etc. Not only does Paul announce Christ, but also does this with an earnestness which involves weariness: I also labour. Same word and thought in Philippians 2:16; Galatians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 15:10.

Contend, i.e. in the athletic festivals: same word in 1 Corinthians 9:25, where see note, and in Colossians 4:12. It amplifies and explains I-labour. So intense are Paul’s efforts to save men that he compares them to the intense bodily struggles of a Greek athlete contending for a prize against an equally earnest antagonist. Such struggle was labour of the severest kind. Same words together in 1 Timothy 4:10. The word contend suggests opponents. And not only is the Christian life itself (Ephesians 6:12) a conflict with spiritual foes, but Paul had in his evangelical efforts actual human opponents: e.g. Colossians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 10:10. But of such there is no hint here or in Colossians 2:1. Our thoughts are concentrated on the earnestness of Paul’s efforts to save men. And this earnestness sufficiently accounts for the word here used. So Colossians 4:12, where there is no thought of opponents.

According to the working: same words in Philippians 3:21; see note. Underlying Paul’s activity, stimulating and directing it, was a corresponding divine activity.

His working: probably Christ’s, who has just been mentioned. But the distinction is unimportant. The inward activity is from the Father through the Son.

The working which works: emphatic repetition; so Ephesians 1:19.

In me: so Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 3:20; Ephesians 2:2.

In power: or less accurately with power, i.e. clothed with ability to produce results. And this inward working of Christ evokes, as its appropriate outworking, intense effort of Paul himself like the struggle of an athlete: according to His working etc. Thus Paul’s proclamation of Christ becomes labour.

Notice here as in 2 Corinthians 10:7-11 the ease with which Paul passes from we to I, and conversely. He remembers his companions and says whom we announce: he remembers his own personal and in some sense solitary effort, and says I labour, works in me.

Colossians 1:1. For I wish etc.; supports the foregoing assertion by a proof case, viz. Paul’s inward struggle for his readers’ good.

Struggle, or conflict: the substantive from which is derived the verb rendered contend in the last verse. It is the Greek original of our word agony; and is the technical term for the Greek athletic contests. The verb and substantive are together also in 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7. From the aim stated in Colossians 2:2 we learn that this struggle was practically the same as that of Epaphras mentioned in Colossians 4:12, agonizing on your behalf in his prayers that ye may stand mature and fully assured.

On your behalf: i.e. for your benefit: cp. Colossians 1:24, sufferings on your behalf.

Laodicea: see Intro. iv. 3. Grammatically, the words have not seen my flesh might or might not include Colossæ as well as Laodicea. But these words seem to give a reason for Paul’s anxiety. And the reason must be valid for both Churches. Moreover, they were so near that if Paul had visited one he would almost certainly have visited the other. We therefore infer with confidence that Paul had never been in the valley of the Lycus. But he knew that there were Christians there. And so anxious was he for their good, while unable directly to help them, that his thoughts about them became a spiritual conflict. Naturally he says I wish you to know this: same words in 1 Corinthians 11:3; similar words in 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1, etc.

In flesh; gives greater definiteness to the bodily presence involved in seen my face. Cp. Ephesians 2:11, the Gentiles in flesh.

Colossians 1:2. Aim of Paul’s struggles on his readers’ behalf. It determines the nature of the struggle.

Encouraged: same word as exhort in Romans 12:1, and very common with Paul: cp. Romans 1:12. It denotes speech designed to rouse men to courage, endurance, or action.

Hearts be encouraged: same words in Colossians 4:8; Ephesians 6:22; 2 Thessalonians 2:17. Paul wishes the encouragement to reach the inmost centre of their emotions and the inmost source of their actions.

Their: not your. It suggests that this inward struggle is not specially for the Christians at Colossæ but for all whom Paul has not seen.

Knit-together: same word in Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:16. It denotes the harmonious fitting together of various parts into one whole, each part supplementing the others and helping the whole.

In love: mutual Christian love, as in 1 Corinthians 13:1 f, where see note. It is the encompassing element and bond of this union: cp. Colossians 3:14. Ye-being (or better having-been) knit together: this loving union one with another being the means by which their hearts are to receive encouragement. To the encompassing element of this union, viz. in love, Paul adds its aim: and for all wealth etc. Cp. Colossians 1:27.

This aim is collateral with that already expressed, that their hearts etc. It is another purpose which Paul has in view in his earnest struggle for his readers. The unity which is to bring them encouragement is designed also to lead to the full assurance of the understanding, and indeed to a knowledge of the mystery of God.

Full assurance: same word in 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22. The cognate verb in Colossians 4:12; Romans 4:21; Romans 14:5; Luke 1:1. It is a certainty which fills us.

Understanding: as in Colossians 1:9. The full assurance results from the faculty of interpreting the various objects presented to the mind. Such assurance Paul desires his readers to have in an abundance which will make them rich; and as a condition of it desires for them the unity of mutual love. More fully stated, the aim of this unity is for knowledge of the mystery of God. These last words keep before us, and by keeping so long before us greatly emphasise, the thought embodied in the word mystery in Colossians 1:26-27.

On the various readings here, see Introd. iii. 2. The last words of Colossians 2:2 may be rendered either the God of Christ or of God, even of Christ, or the mystery of God, even Christ. This last exposition is at once suggested by Colossians 1:27 where Christ in you is Himself the mystery. And it is confirmed by the context; and by the aim of the whole Epistle, which is to set forth the mysterious grandeur of the Son of God. To know Christ, i.e. to comprehend the purpose of His incarnation with an acquaintance derived from personal contact with Him, is to know the mystery of God, i.e. the purpose kept secret during long ages and now revealed, viz. that without respect of nationality God will receive into His favour and cover with eternal glory those who believe the Gospel. The above exposition is confirmed by the word hidden in Colossians 2:3, which recalls the same word in Colossians 1:26.

Knowledge, or full-knowledge: same word in Colossians 1:9-10 : cp. Ephesians 1:17, in knowledge of Him.

Colossians 1:3. Statement about Christ, proving that He is the mystery of God.

In whom: i.e. in Christ, immediately preceding. To refer it to the more distant word mystery would be an impossible leap over the word Christ and over the important implied assertion that He is the mystery of God.

And it would make the word hidden almost meaningless: for all mysteries are hidden. Whereas as expounded above the word hidden justifies the assumed equivalence of Christ and the mystery of God.

Wisdom: such acquaintance with the great realities as enables a man to choose the best steps in life. See my Corinthians p. 47.

Knowledge: acquaintance with things seen or unseen, great or small. The nearness of the nobler word wisdom, which occupies part of the ground usually covered by the word knowledge, limits somewhat this last word to matters which have come under our immediate observation. The two words are together in Romans 11:33; Ecclesiastes 1:16-18; Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 9:10; in all which places except the last wisdom comes first. The word rendered treasure denotes in Matthew 2:11; Matthew 12:35 the place where valuables are kept for safety; in Matthew 6:19-21, the valuables themselves. Here it has the latter sense: for Christ is Himself the personal locality of the laid-up wealth.

All the treasures: all the many forms of spiritual wealth with which wisdom and knowledge enrich their possessors, and which are all to be found in Christ. It is parallel with, and expounds, all wealth of the full assurance of the understanding. Compare Plato, Philebus p. 15e, having found some treasure of wisdom; Xenophon, Memoirs bk. iv. 2, 9, not treasures of silver and gold rather than of wisdom. In Christ this wealth of wisdom lies out of sight: hidden. The idea of concealment, frequently associated with the word treasure, does not necessarily belong to it. For laid-up wealth is not always out of sight. But the mystery of God is essentially hidden: close parallel in 1 Corinthians 2:7, God’s wisdom, in a mystery, the hidden wisdom. Fully to know Christ, is to know the hidden truths of priceless worth which none know except they whom God leads into His secret chamber and whose eyes He opens to see this inner light. They who know this are indeed rich. But this knowledge is possible only to those whom Christian love knits together in a union which fills their hearts with encouragement; and only to those who are themselves in Christ and thus know and possess, in measure, whatever is in Him: in whom are all the treasures… hidden.

Such is Paul’s earnest and agonizing desire for His readers. His tender sympathy longs to cheer their hearts. But for real encouragement there must be loving union among themselves. Such union will open the channels of the inner life, and will enrich them with an assured comprehension of the great realities known only to those who know Christ. In other words, for those whom he has never seen Paul desires the same blessings as for those to whom he has personally preached Christ.

SECTION 7 describes Paul’s relation to the Gospel which has saved his readers. The preaching of the Gospel brings upon him hardship. But this hardship gives him joy: for he remembers its sacred relation to the sufferings of Christ, and its sacred purpose, viz. to benefit the body of Christ. It is inseparably involved in the work, committed to him by God, of making known the great secret, precious and glorious beyond description and hidden during long ages, that Christ dwells in men on earth, a pledge of future glory. This secret Paul proclaims to all within his reach, endeavouring thus to save every one. Hence his strenuous effort for the good not only of those whom he personally teaches but of those Christians who have never seen his face. For all men everywhere, he desires a full knowledge of the profound mystery of God which lies hidden in Christ.

DIVISION II., embracing Colossians 1:15 to Colossians 2:3, is Paul’s fullest delineation of the Person and Work of the Son of God. He notes first Christ’s relation to the Father, as an Image of the Invisible One; and as born, whereas all others were created. He then notes His similar relation to the created universe, to the universal Church, and to the Church at Colossæ; viz. as the Agent through whom all things came into being. Consequently, He is earlier than the brightest in heaven, and holds together in His grasp the entire universe. Similarly, He was the first to pass triumphantly through death. As wide as the universe is the purpose of redemption: for its aim is to reconcile to God all things in heaven and earth. And the Gospel which has brought salvation to Colossæ has done so in all the world. Thus throughout DIV. II. we hear again the note of universality already sounded (Colossians 1:6) in DIV. I. All this reminds Paul of the grandeur of the truth which in his own day God had made known to men, a truth hidden during long ages. God had given to men, not truth only, but the living presence in their hearts of Him who made the world, Himself a pledge in them of future blessedness.

Remembrance of this moves Paul to strenuous effort to make Christ known everywhere. He has warned his readers that their share in the blessings hidden yet revealed in Christ depends upon their continuance in the word they have already received. How needful was this warning we shall learn from DIV. III.

Notice here (Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:24) the important metaphor of the body of Christ, and the Gospel described (Colossians 1:26-27; Colossians 2:2) as a mystery; aspects of truth already conspicuous in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and in 1 Corinthians 2:7; Romans 16:25, and peculiar to Paul.

 


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Bibliography Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Colossians 1:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbc/colossians-1.html. 1877-90.

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Saturday, December 7th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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