corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.12.12
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Colossians 1

 

 

Verse 1

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother."—( Colossians 1:1.)

How was it that Paul wrote so many more letters to the churches than any other man? Does not Paul occupy quite an exaggerated position in the annals of early Christianity? Was he officious, meddlesome, papal, retaining enough of the Pharisee to give him delight in personal supremacy and dignity? I prefer to account for Paul"s primacy rather by the shepherdliness of his heart than by his personal ambition. If there were any ambition in so great a man as the Apostle Paul, it was surely subjected to the severest trials by all the cruel processes through which he passed. Ambition never made a greater mistake than when it incarnated itself for the purpose of being stoned, hungered, beaten, reviled, and martyred. No: we must look for higher motives; nor need we look far, for they seem to discover themselves in every word and act of this heroic and devoted soul. "Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." Paul never speaks in his own name. Had he written any Epistle in his own name, and by his own authority, he would have discovered a base motive. Whenever Paul writes he writes as an amanuensis rather than as an original author; he has news to tell; he has doctrines to expound; he has consolations to offer; and all these he traces directly and vitally to his Master and Lord, the Son of God. There is infinite meaning in the title "an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." All that is merely human, ecclesiastical, or official is purged away from the providence of God, and the Divinity alone is left in all its dignity and radiance. Paul lived, and moved, and had his being, in God. Paul did not accept his life as an accident, or something which he himself had made and controlled; everywhere he saw in it the shining of the Divine presence, and the directing of the Divine hand. The Apostle regarded himself in his Apostolic aspects rather as an incarnation than as a manufacture. Notice how beautifully he introduces the words, "and Timotheus our brother." Though no official dignity or eminence is claimed for Timotheus, yet the whole is involved in the fact that he is described as a "brother." The term here is more than merely natural or physical; here is what may be called consanguinity of soul, brotherhood of love, identity of purpose; here, indeed, are all the higher elements which constitute not only present, but unchangeable and immortal fellowship. It is the glory of Christianity, not that it dissolves society, but that it constitutes a brotherhood all over the world.


Verses 1-29

Christ In Christians

Colossians 1:20-29

The peculiar expression in the twentieth verse—"whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven"—opens innumerable questions. We always thought of heaven as not needing reconciliation. Is there a suggestion here that even in heaven there has been apostasy or any form of hostility, or any indication of unrest? Does not the gospel enlarge itself here in a quite unfamiliar but a truly ennobling way? Have we understood the expression "earth" and "heaven?" Are we not always being chided and corrected for narrowing the meaning of Scripture, and not rising to all its comprehensiveness and dignity and pregnancy of suggestion? Who authorised us to call this one little world "earth," and the sky above us "heaven"? and then to say "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth"—two objects, and only two? Suppose "the earth" to be an expression representing all space, all time, all magnitude, all worlds, everything that can be brought under the designation matter, or material; suppose the word "heaven" should be taken as meaning all spirituality: there you have a universe, there you have Christ at the centre of it and at the head of it, and all round about it; there you have a Cross that reaches through the universe. I am not aware of any conclusive argument against this suggestion; and if the suggestion be true, how all things are altered, in proportion, in perspective, in spiritual balance, and relationship! Verily we have here a new heaven and a new earth. By this suggestion, "earth" will be a typical term, then, representing all materialism Song of Solomon -called; "heaven" will be a typical term, on the other hand, representing all spiritualism: In the beginning God created all matter and all spirit, and when Christ died he reconciled the whole universe, up and down, through all gradations, and that universe he reconciled to the wisdom and love of God. How far-reaching, then, the Atonement! Who knows where it stops? No man can tell where it begins; for origin we are told that the Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world; for conclusion we are told, his mercy endureth for ever. When the Priest left the Cross he went away, we cannot tell whither he went: we hear of him in Hades, in Paradise, among the spirits in prison, in hell—we cannot tell where he was in the interval; certainly he was not holden of death—"Thou wilt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." We may have erred therefore in being too geometrical and too narrowly astronomical in all our outlook and purview. We have called this little handful of dust "the earth"; we had better call it "earth," that is what God called it; not "the earth," but "earth": and there is a universe full of it; all the stars are mud, all the suns are but blazing dust: behind, above, beyond, is spirit, soul, immortality, heaven: and Christ died, and by the mystery of shed blood he reconciled all earth, all heaven, all space, magnitude, time, eternity, glory; he reconciled it, unified it, centralised it, made it all into his Father"s house. This may be now but in process: we need not interrupt the Divine constructor as he builds his infinite temple; when the topstone is brought on, and the completed edifice is hailed by those who have watched its building and who have been incorporated in its structure, then we may tell God how the miracle strikes our imagination and our gratitude. Meanwhile, here is a most remarkable expression—"by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven."

If we want to know what is meant by this reconciliation, the Apostle comes, in Colossians 1:21, to give us definite or concrete instances—"And you... hath he reconciled": he has taken the hostility out of your soul, he has caused you to throw down your arms of rebellion, he has enabled you to open your lips in sacred praise, he has made your hearts glow with thankfulness: that on the scale of infinity he has done in all worlds, and a reconciled universe is the trophy, the triumph of the Cross.

There is an awkward "If" in the twenty-third verse—"If ye continue------." It is in continuance that we break down. How excellent we are for an hour, how almost angels for one sudden flash of time, and how instantly we forget our best selves,—fall away into the lowest grade of being. The Apostle always lays great stress on continuance; once he used the remarkable expression "patient continuance": he would refine the continuance; he would make the continuity perfect in quality; it should not be mere doggedness, it should be patient continuance, intelligent acquiescence, a full-hearted consent. Thus are triumphs wrought in God"s great school. There may be those who have some burning gift of genius who can by a sudden inspiration or by a quick and incalculable movement pass from alphabet to literature, but the most of us need to study letter by letter and line by line; we need to proceed slowly, with almost contemptible slowness when looked upon by those who fly on the wings of genius and never trudge on the legs of industry. "He that endureth unto the end shall be saved." God has given us something to do in all this mystery of reconciliation; we are not occupying a position that may be regarded as passive, we are to be patient, industrious, painstaking, working steadily: not knowing at what moment the Lord may come to pronounce upon the scope and quality of our work.

What would the Apostle have us be? "Grounded and settled," so that we "be not moved away." If we could imagine a tree so foolish, that it was growing in one place to-day and moving itself off to another tomorrow, and on the third day climbing a hill to feel how the mountain air would suit it, and another day going down to the seaside to see what the ocean breezes would do for it, what would be the end of that tree? Yet some men do this very thing: they are here and there, and yonder and back again, and they know not which is gospel, which is Revelation , which is speculation, which is human, which is divine. And oh! the fraying away, the attenuation of manhood, the loss of quality, the downgoing in all spiritual dignity, what tongue can adequately tell?

Paul introduces himself into all his arguments as if by right. Paul never could detach himself from the argument. There are those to whom the deliverance is nothing; it does not belong to themselves in their veriest consciousness. It was not so with Paul. He was crucified with Christ; Christ was in him, he was in Christ; he was so thoroughly identified with Christ, that sometimes it was difficult to say whether Paul was speaking or Christ was speaking. Here is an instance in which in the sublimest argument—an argument Paul himself never rivalled, except in his Epistle to the Ephesians—Paul is referring to his own ministry, his own sufferings, and his own service, with a familiarity that does not for a moment impair the dignity of the great and sacred argument to which he has ascended by right of inspired power. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say about himself. He calls himself in another place "a minister of God"; in the twenty-third verse of this chapter he calls himself a "minister of the Gospel"; in the twenty-third and twenty-fourth verses he calls himself "a minister of the Church." Look at these three aspects of his Apostleship:—A minister of God; that carries everything with it: a minister of the Gospel; that is hardly a change of terms: a minister of the Church; which means nothing, unless it first be rooted in the very spirit of the former relationships. Ministers of the Church may be mere officials; but when ministers of the Church are also ministers of God, and ministers of the Gospel, there are no nobler men in all the world. How lovely are the feet of them that bring good tidings, that publish peace, that say unto Zion, Thy God reigneth; break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord by his messengers hath comforted his people. This is the ideal ministry; that men fall short of it is not the blame of the ministry, but the fault of the men themselves.

Paul says he rejoices: What does he rejoice in? Who, without reference to the book, could imagine the source or the subject of this Apostolic joy? None! "Who now rejoice in my sufferings"—every scar a medal, every wound a door opening towards some new vision of spiritual beauty, every inconvenience a Revelation , every night in the wilderness a night in the sanctuary. Paul counted his sufferings. In his letter to the Corinthians he made a list of them, and then words failed him; on one occasion he spoke of them summarily, and he said, "I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation." Along that line there are miracles to be worked every day.

In the twenty-sixth verse, we come upon a revelation of Divine methods:—"The mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints." Here we have the apocrypha and apocalypse. Things which have been hidden—not necessarily concealed absolutely, but things covered up at the corners, almost wholly covered, and yet with certain elements peering out here and there, agitating the generations, so that they say, In that direction there is something yet to be discovered;—or, Just about here God has hidden whole planets; one day they will be visible like lamps in the sky, and shall burn with glory. These apocryphal or hidden truths have kept the attention of the world alive. There is always something beyond; evermore a sweet voice, angel-like in tender witchery of music, says, Excelsior! five hundred feet more, and you may rest, but only rest your strength to climb another five hundred feet: Excelsior! It is what is behind the cloud we want to see.

Then we come upon the contrary expression, "but now is made manifest"—the apocalypse, the throwing-back of the curtain, and the revealing of that which was partially or absolutely concealed. This is God"s method of working. Is this the Divine method in theology only? Far from it; it is the method of God through and through: the economies of God are one. We have made our divisions into secular, and sacred; material, and spiritual; earth, and heaven; time, and eternity: and so have shown no little cleverness in balancing words. There is a deeper or more inclusive meaning, which we have to realise if we would cause our lives to intermingle with the solemn and massive music of the universe. God has hidden everything. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, to write apocryphally. It is so with science. Why did not science find out the steam-engine a thousand years ago? It could not; the eyes of science were holden that they could not see. There was the iron, there was the fire, there was the water: why did not science put these things together in proper proportion and relation? Because science could not. There is a time for everything under the sun. There was a time to discover the telegraph: there was a time to set up the Cross. There is a time of concealment, and there is a time of manifestation; he who conducts himself properly in the time that is apocryphal will also conduct himself properly in the time that is apocalyptical, the time of manifestation and revelation. Why did not men find out all about reading and writing, say thousands of years ago? Because they could not. Why did not Adam invent an alphabet? Because he could not. Why did not the first handful of men publish a book? Because they could not. So when we come into the realm theological, we do not come into such a great mystery, as if God had held back from the nations and the ages truths in theology, whilst in all departments of civilisation the very first man that lived telegraphed to the very second man that was born. Nothing of the kind. The universe is conducted on a plan. We have discovered nothing yet; we are mere grubbers in the dust, and we call ourselves scientific. We have little geological hammers and we go out with little geological bags, and we bring back at night some little geological specimens, and we appropriately put them under glass. That is scientific. But it a man should pray, and say, "My soul knows that the throne is beyond the sky, and my soul must find it," he is a fanatic. We accept the fanaticism. We abide in this spiritual confidence; we are expecting the Lord. Let him come in what form it may please him to adopt, personally, providentially, dispensationally, spiritually, by a great glow of love in the heart, by an intellect that shall make the understanding a medium of genius,—let him come as he will: but, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Thy Church feels almost widowed, she yearns, she pines, she cries in her heart for her Lord.

"But now," saith the Apostle, "is made manifest." Observe the word "now": there are historical moments in time; moments when there are incarnations of spiritual thought; moments when all history is illumined; moments of transfiguration, when we see men as they are. Blind are they, and stupid beyond recovery, who see nothing but surfaces, geometries, planes, cubes, and things that can be handled with the fingers of the body. Blessed are they that have not seen with the eyes of the body, and yet have believed; they shall be rewarded; heaven shall not be withheld from them.

Now Paul goes on preaching, preaching the Gospel, "warning every Prayer of Manasseh , and teaching every man in all Wisdom of Solomon ," warning man by man. Every man is a congregation. Do not speak of great congregations or small congregations; every congregation is great; if you have the opportunity of speaking to a soul, you have an opportunity of revealing God. "Teaching" every Prayer of Manasseh , as well as warning every Prayer of Manasseh ,—warning and teaching; and it is a poor sermon that is not rich in spiritual suggestion and that does not burn with spiritual earnestness. The sermon is going out of fashion. The preacher soon will not be wanted. There is only one man that can be really popular now in the pulpit, and that is the man who preaches very briefly and very quietly; there are some who would not care about the quietness, if they could only reduce the length. It was not so in the Apostolic days. The old heroes of the Cross thundered day and night, and lightened like angels flying from the heavens, and men hungered and thirsted for the Word, and called him thief who would take their attention away to anything short of Calvary.

How does the Apostle represent the whole action? "Working,"—"Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily." A curious interaction: Paul labouring, Christ working in him, the Spirit working in him mightily, and all the inward might reproduced in public service. This was Apostolic consecration!

Prayer

Almighty God, thou art called the Father of lights: may we be thy children in that we walk in the light and manifest forth the works of God; may our light so shine before men that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father, the Father of lights, which is in heaven. Thou dwellest in light that is inaccessible; we are blinded by the glory of God; we may not look upon God and live. Yet we may see Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon , who is the brightness of thy glory and the express image of thy person. He is God manifest in the flesh. We worship him as Immanuel, God with us; in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He is light, and in him is no darkness at all: may we follow him in the light, being children of the day, yea, of the noonday; and may our joy be full of hope. We bless thee that Jesus Christ revealed the Father: if we have seen Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon , we have seen thyself. We thank thee for this revelation. We ourselves have seen and tasted and handled and felt of the Word of Life: thou hast enabled us to bear personal testimony to the nearness and richness and the glory of thy revelation. May Christ be born in us the hope of glory; may the Holy Spirit take of the things of Christ and show them unto us; may he be revealed to us more and more, for the more we know thy Son the more we shall know of thyself: may the revelation be without a cloud. We bless thee for the years that are gone, wherein we have been enabled to turn them to good account; and now we pray that all the blackness and sin and shame may be forgiven and forgotten by God, yea, cast behind thy back for ever. Let the Lord hear the doxologies of his people, and answer their thankfulness with new blessings. Amen.


Verse 2

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."—( Colossians 1:2.)

There are messages which can be delivered only to such men as are here described. Paul has written nothing to societies of wicked men. The Apostles have nothing to say to brotherhoods of evil or confederacies of malice; they can only deliver their gospel to those who are prepared to receive it. The sun indeed has nothing to say to plants that are dead, or to trees that are plucked up by the roots: but how much it has to say to plants that live, and to trees that stretch forth their branches, as if in eager expectancy, towards heaven! A benediction pronounced upon wickedness would be the completest irony. Paul does not proceed upon the principle that because grace was once given to the saints and faithful brethren that therefore they need no more. We need daily grace for daily need. We must, indeed, never permit the soul to be cut off from the fountains of heavenly grace, because the soul is only safe so long as it maintains vital and deep communion with God. Paul does not communicate any grace of his own: he does not stretch out his hand in papal or episcopal benediction, as if to say that he alone was the medium of communication between heaven and earth. He draws grace immediately from the fountain of grace, and thus brings the Colossian Church and saints everywhere and through all time into immediate contact with God himself. This circumstance is remarkable, especially when viewed in reference to teaching which would seem to shut out human priesthoods as necessary connectives between heaven and earth: Paul prayed for the Church, and that is all any priest or father can do: we ought to be indebted to those who represent our case to heaven, and mightily implore the blessing of God on our behalf. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Here is not a word about the priest; but here is a commendation, here is also an elevation, of the righteous man.


Verse 3

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you."—( Colossians 1:3.)

The Apostle was made rich by his disciples; not by their money, but by their devotedness, their simple piety, their continual service for Christ. As the husbandman gives thanks for abounding crops so the Apostle gives thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because of souls that were saved, and lives that were consecrated to the Cross. The Apostle did not pray occasionally for his friends, he prayed always for them; that is to say, he always had them in his thoughts, and he always desired for them the highest blessings. The time since the prayer began is indicated in the following verse:—


Verse 4

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints."—( Colossians 1:4.)

Here is a faith that Paul had simply heard of. He does not venture to say that he had seen that faith, or had been personally indebted for its exercise; he had simply heard of it as a report from far countries. Notice the union of the faith and love; the faith is in Christ Jesus, and the love is towards all the saints. If the former may be regarded as speculative, the latter must be regarded as practical, and therefore balancing it. Faith in Christ must always be proved by love to the saints. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."


Verse 5-6

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth."—( Colossians 1:5, Colossians 1:6.)

See how Paul magnifies the religious element! He will not confine himself even to moral behaviour or useful conduct, or those initial exhibitions of piety which we are only too glad to observe. Paul instantly lifts up the whole level from which his observation is so conducted, and from that level he surveys with delight and rapture all the heavenly blessings which have been treasured for those who love the Saviour. Paul helps earth by the ministry of heaven. The earth is blessed by the sun: why should not the earth be blessed by the light that is above the brightness of the sun? We must lift up our present life by the power of the life that is endless. If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable. In effect Paul says, You are tired, weary, distressed, or bitterly disappointed; lift up your eyes and behold afar beyond the clouds the shining of an immortal hope: yonder is the city of your rest; behold it; draw yourselves onward towards it, and be assured that all the fatigue of present service, and all the bitterness of present disappointment, will be forgotten by one hour"s experience of the world that is in store for saintly souls. Yet Paul will never be content unless he sees love to the saints and the "fruit" which is brought forth in the character. The salutation is a striking mixture of the metaphysical and the practical, the doctrinal and the experimental. In this salutation we have indeed a full-length portraiture of Paul himself. He sends to the Colossians a photograph of his soul. But if, indeed, he exaggerate the excellence of the Colossians , it is that he may encourage towards nobler endeavour. Lavish commendation coming from such an authority as the Apostle Paul would not be ill-expended sentiment, but would work as a new and noble inspiration in honest souls.


Verse 7-8

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit."—( Colossians 1:7, Colossians 1:8.)

Everywhere Paul magnifies his fellow-labourers. Epaphras is thus lifted up into eminence, which otherwise he would not have secured. It belongs to the great man to identify his workers, and to mete out to them tributes of praise and positions of distinction. Here, as ever, Paul does not praise intellectual brilliance of mental grasp, or anything that is merely adventitious; he praises Epaphras because he is "a faithful minister of Christ." And, indeed, Epaphras is only reaping what he had himself sown. It appears that Epaphras had declared unto Paul the love in the Spirit which was enjoyed by the Colossian Christians. How he must have praised that love! how eagerly he must have dwelt upon it! and how the countenance of the Apostle Paul must have glowed as he heard what wonders and miracles were being wrought afar by the power of the Holy Ghost!


Verse 9

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding"—( Colossians 1:9.)

The effect upon the Apostle himself is thus seen. Because he hears of the spread of the gospel he continues to pray more, and he desires that the work which has been begun may be perfected. Paul does not rest content with present attainments, saying, You have done enough for the time being, and by-and-by you may endeavour to do a little more if you feel so disposed. Paul never lowers the tone of his exhortation; he will have nothing less than the best that heaven can give, with which to enrich the hearts of the saints; he will that Colossians and Christians everywhere might be filled with the knowledge of God"s will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Here the Apostle is grandly metaphysical. He will not be alphabetic and elementary always; he will continue his processes of education until the soul is literally bathed and submerged in all the holiest influence which God can bring to bear upon it. Paul will not have literal Christians—that Isaiah , literalists, learning only in the letter; he will have his followers rich in "spiritual understanding." That is one thing which the churches most want—the churches of literature and science; they are consummately able in debate and controversy, but what have they of inward, vital, spiritual understanding?


Verse 10

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." —( Colossians 1:10.)

The Apostle returns to the practical line of his desire and exhortation. He has been continuing in prayer that the Colossians might be filled with the knowledge of God"s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, but the end of that prayer was to be a firmer and steadier walking in the way of righteousness and good-doing. Paul would have his followers walk worthily. He sets up no meaner standard. Herein he repeats the doctrine of Jesus Christ: "Be ye perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." However much the mind might be enriched by spiritual understanding, the life was to be fruitful in every good work. Notice the inclusiveness of this desire. The Apostle would not be content with an occasional excellence, or with some incidental development of good morals; he would that the Colossians should be "fruitful in every good work"—a whole, complete, symmetrical and most useful character. These continual references to practical experience give us confidence in the wisdom and solidity of the Apostle"s doctrinal teaching. He does not desire that anything should be in the mind that cannot be directly transferred to the life. However anxious he may be about creed, the creed with him will go for nothing, unless it be balanced and exemplified by conduct. Con-currently with this fruitfulness the Apostle desires that the Colossians might increase in the knowledge of God; by this he does not exhort to speculative thinking or even encourage the habit of pious meditation; his mind is still steadfastly bent on Christian activity, spiritual culture, a clear and steady outworking of all the moral impulses of the Cross. But how was all this miracle of development to be accomplished? Was it so easy that it simply required an apostolic exhortation to set it in motion and give it almost a security of success? The reply to this will be found in the eleventh verse:—


Verse 11

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness."—( Colossians 1:11.)

So at once the soul is lifted up from its own dependence, and from all its collateral relations, to the very fount and origin of strength, to the very almightiness of God himself. We draw our strength from heaven. If we have any strength of intellect, it is nothing in itself, unless it be sustained day by day by special communications from God. The battle is not won by might, nor is the race won by swiftness; the whole scheme and outcome of life must be immediately connected with the might of God; then all goodness will come to fruition, and all evil will be withered as by an infinite blight. The "glorious power" of God is the strength of God"s glory. God"s glory is his manifestation of himself in love to man. In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle uses the expression, "According to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." But even the fact of being strengthened with all might according to the glorious power of God, or the strength of his glory, does not relieve saintly experience from its more chastening and humbling aspects. All the strength that was derived from God was to be expended in patience and longsuffering. One would suppose that a direct and abundant communication of Divine grace would lift the soul above all trials, and, indeed, release the soul from any further spiritual probation; but, to our amazement, we find that the very omnipotence of God is to be turned into human patience and human longsuffering, as if almightiness itself must be weakened in human experience, in order to achieve the fulness of its own purpose. Nor is the Apostle content that patience and longsuffering should express the soul"s communion with God. Patience and longsuffering may be silent, simply resigned, quietly submissive and expectant; it may be very triumphant, not to resent or not to use the language of reproach; but far beyond this the Apostle"s desire extends; he will have the patience and the longsuffering of the saints expressed in "joyfulness." Here again the Apostle touches the very line of the teaching of Christ. Jesus said to his suffering ones, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad." Another Apostle says, "Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ"s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." Is the Apostle in this exhortation simply rhetorical or sentimental? Is he describing an ideal state of experience, the kind of emotion which ought to be possible to those who live in the very raptures of piety? On the contrary, he is simply wishing the Colossians to realise what he himself had experienced in processes of chastening. He says that he had learned in whatsoever state he was therein to be content; that, indeed, may be regarded as a passive experience; but in another instance he declares that he rejoices exceedingly in tribulations also. Throughout this prayer, therefore, the Apostle has never gone beyond the line of his own personal experience. He has done nothing to magnify that experience in the estimation of the Colossians , but those who are acquainted with the history of Paul know that every line of this noble aspiration has been lived in his own tragical experience.


Verse 12

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."—( Colossians 1:12.)

Wherever there is real joyfulness there will be consequent thankfulness. There may even be thankfulness for suffering itself, not because of what it is in itself, but because of what it works out in the experience of those who receive it as part of their divine education. The Apostle, however, as is not unusual with him, draws his encouragement from the fact that we see but little at present, and that the real inheritance lies beyond the cloud of time and the night of bitter experience. From the earth Paul sees the opening heavens. He sees the light, and he sees saints standing in the ineffable glory. To the Apostle heaven was not a possible state, an ideal conception, an effort in poetry; it was real, solid, visible, the sublimest fact in the development of life. What is the heaven which lures us? Is it but a bright cloud? Is it but a gleaming rainbow arching the storms of time and earth, and quieting the soul with dreams and visions of beauty? Paul knew nothing of any such heaven. Beyond the river he saw the city; he saw it enveloped in cloudless light; the population of that city was a population of rejoicing saints, triumphing in the spirit and power of Christ.


Verse 13

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son." —( Colossians 1:13.)

So the first translation has been already accomplished: we are translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. By being "translated," understand that we are transplanted; we are brought from one climate to another; we are released from bondage and settled in the land of liberty. This is the real meaning of translation. Can such a translation have occurred without the heart being sensible of its reality? Can the slave have lost his chains and still imagine hat he is manacled? Christians have here the delight and the reward of perfect assurance; they are not living tentatively or inspired by a spirit of doubt or fear, caution or suspicion; they are able to say with holy positiveness that they are no longer slaves in the land of darkness and suffering, but are freemen in the kingdom of light and joy. The expression, "his dear Song of Solomon ," may be rendered "The Son of his love,"—a more sensitive and a more endearing expression. God himself is love. God calls his children his "beloved." Jesus Christ is the Son of God"s love, the very expression and embodiment of his heart. Now we come upon a grand theological statement, around which controversialists have waged many battles; without heeding the ruthless combatants we may gather much that is profitable from this wondrous outpouring of religious homage and spiritual aspiration.


Verses 14-17

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by hint, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist."—( Colossians 1:14-15, Colossians 1:16-17).

The Apostle has never ascended to a higher intellectual and spiritual elevation. Recognising Christ as the "image" of the invisible God, we are not to understand the Apostle as using the word "image" as equal to shadow or outline, but rather as a distinct representation of God himself. There may be likeness without embodiment. There may be the suggestion of a likeness without anything beyond. In this case, however, the word "image" is to be understood as expressing the highest degree of vivid and actual personality. To Paul, Christ was the embodied God. When the Apostle regards Christ as "the firstborn of every creature," or of all creation, we are to understand that he was begotten before all creation; that he was indeed the very reason of the creation of the universe; that without Christ the universe would have been an impossibility or an abortion. The explanation of everything therefore Isaiah , according to the Apostle"s idea, to be found in the personality, the ministry, and the whole purpose of Christ. Christ was begotten, not created. Here we enter upon mysteries at which human language can but dimly hint. We regard Jesus Christ as Emmanuel, God with us. We regard him as slain before the foundation of the world, and therefore as prepared for all the evolution of human sin, and all the need of human life. Christ is not to be understood as coming into history at a given point to meet a specific emergency: He is to be regarded as existing before all history, and is to be accepted as the key of the whole drama of human birth, development, and destiny. All things were created through Christ and for Christ. "For by him were all things created;" and again, "From him, and through him, and to him, are all things"; and again, "by whom are all things, and for whom are all things." Paul here gives us the key of the universe. We may approach the enigma of creation from various points, and we shall end all our investigations with a sense of chagrin and failure, if we neglect to associate the whole economy of things with the name and power of Christ. To be truly theological, therefore, is to be truly scientific. To have a clear conception of all that is meant by the term "Christ" is to have a correspondingly clear conception of all that is meant by the term "universe." Men persist, however, in working from the outside, instead of working from the centre. We can easily see the possibility of endless and ruinous mistakes by this inversion of the law of progress. Where we are not at first permitted to come upon the central mystery, we may reverently work from the circumference, in the hope that in due time we shall see the glory of the centre. In the case of Christianity, however, we are distinctly invited to begin with Christ; to begin with him at any point of his marvellous career; and we are assured that only in proportion as we look at all things through Christ can we understand their unity and their meaning. Paul sets Christ not only above all divinely created glories, magnitudes, and splendours of every kind, but he sets him above all thrones and dominions, and principalities and powers, whether they are human, or whether they represent heavenly bodies, or stellar spaces and splendour. What a different view of the universe we have when regarding it from the Person of Jesus Christ! Now we see all things ordered and ruled as by a beneficent purpose. The Saviour is the Creator. He who suffered most rules most. The object of all this constitution and all this government is to develop man according to the divine ideal, to perfect him in all strength, stature, beauty, force, and excellence. Man is made but a little lower than the angels. We see him in the midst of his development, and it is like seeing a half-painted picture or an unfinished building; much there is that is rude, shapeless, provocative of hostile criticism, or suggestive of ill-natured and querulous interrogation; but here we have the promise that all things shall be made glorious and beautiful, as is the person of Christ. In this hope we suffer individually; in this confidence we toil collectively; in this blessed belief we offer every prayer, assured that the grand Amen will be realised in the ages to come according to the purpose of God. The Apostle now turns to a smaller theocracy:


Verse 18

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"And he is the head of the body, the Church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence?—( Colossians 1:18).

When the Apostle says, "He is the head," we are to understand that the "he" is emphatic. It is also emphatic in the seventeenth verse, where we read, "He is before all things." We are indeed in this instance to read "he is" as if they were but one word, and that one word is the emphatic term in the statement: thus— Hebrews , and he only, is; really is; essentially is; Isaiah , according to the very nature of the being of God,—all else is called forth or created, or is in some sense an expressing of Divine and active power. When we read in John 8:58, "Before Abraham was, I Amos ," we are not to regard the word "before" as expressive of higher excellence or nobler dignity, we are rather to take it as a time-term, and as indicative of the fact that Jesus Christ lived before Abraham lived. It is beautiful to see how Paul associates what Isaiah , at present, the very small idea of "the Church" with all the glory and grandeur of the sovereignty and empire of Christ. Jesus Christ is the "beginning," or the firstfruits; he is "the firstborn from the dead," he is the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection was, in his sense, the second birth of Christ; the beginning of that phase of existence which, by glory, eclipsed all that had ever one before. We may start the earthly history of Christ from his nativity or from his resurrection. Each point is equally strong, but the second infinitely exceeds in glory. A marvellous idea it was to associate death with him who is the image of the invisible God, by whom were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. How daring the imagination to introduce the element of death into a panorama burning with such ineffable glory! Yet here is the sacrifice of the Saviour; here is the Cross of Christ; here the agony, the shame, the weakness, the forsakenness of the Son of God! Yet it behoved him who is the captain of our salvation to be made perfect through suffering. Had he known everything but death, how could he have known men who were taken out of the earth, and shaped out into the Divine likeness, and made alive by the Divine breath? Jesus Christ became pre-eminent through suffering. Without the Cross, the chief gem in the crown of Christ would have been wanting. The Apostle makes this part of his statement even more vivid and poignant by specific references:


Verse 19-20

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"For it pleased the Father that in hint should all fulness dwell: and having made peace through the blood of his Cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven."—( Colossians 1:19, Colossians 1:20.)

When it is represented that this whole action was an expression of the pleasure of the Father, we are to understand that it revealed the Divine purpose: not one accident occurred in all the development of the suffering of Christ: every nail was foreseen; every pang was anticipated; the whole human history, though apparently a succession of surprises, was a development of what had existed in thought and purpose from eternity. The fulness of God dwelt in Jesus Christ. It pleased God that in him should all fulness dwell; that Isaiah , it was in accordance with the Divine pleasure, or the Divine thought; it was also in accordance with the consent and purpose of Christ. Because the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Jesus, he is adored not only as Mediator, but as God; a great mystery in words, and not to be easily removed by the apparatus of grammar, but to be felt in its ineffable sweetness by those who live most deeply and tenderly the life divine. What a descent from "all things that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers," to "the blood of his Cross"! Is there a more humiliating expression in all language? Yet we misunderstand the word "blood"; we think of it only in its literal signification; whereas we should think of it as the very expression of life, the very mystery of being, the symbol by which we get some insight into the heart, the tenderness, the passion, and the power of "all things." Jesus Christ is not only the creator of glory, he is the maker of peace; he is the Prince of Peace; he came to give peace; the peace which he has made is between God and man; he has reconciled the sinner; he has provided the atonement. I am more and more assured that we err, and grievously impoverish ourselves, by endeavouring to reduce the atonement of Christ to words: where we use words at all, it should rather be to show that their very fulness is their emptiness, their very pride is their humiliation; for no words can touch the agony of the love of God. We see the atonement but once. We see it with the eyes of the soul. It is a flash, a blinding blaze; it is of the nature of the vision that smote Saul to the earth; yet we can never forget the out-flashing of that sacred glory.


Verses 21-24

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body"s sake, which is the Church"—( Colossians 1:21-22, Colossians 1:23, Colossians 1:24.)

Thus the Apostle continues in rapture, in sacred eloquence, utterly unable to express himself, so full is his heart of thankfulness and praise. Yet even in the midst of this ecstasy, how practical is this apostolic pastor! He will have the Colossians continue in the faith, grounded and settled; he will have them built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. He does not commit the Colossian Church to the wind or to the clouds, or to varying moods of spiritual experience; he uses language which may be properly employed in describing the laying of foundations, and the building of ample super-structures upon bases of granite. How subtly, yet with what gracious palpableness Paul introduces himself, his personality, and his ministry, into this whole rhapsody and argument! Here we find Paul doing what he exhorted the Colossians to do, namely, rejoicing in his sufferings; not only does he rejoice in his personal sufferings, but he rejoices in suffering itself as an element of Divine revelation and progress. "Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me." He rejoiced in his suffering, not because of its own sake, but because he bears it for the sake of the Church. It was thus that Christ rejoices even in his own Cross; he endured the Cross, despising the shame, foreseeing the time when all its tragic purpose would be wrought out in the reconciliation of the world to God. Regarding himself as filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, we are to understand that he fills up instead of his Master what is still left unaccomplished; he represents to the Church in fuller measure what Christ would have represented had he continued to live. The sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so that we seem to carry on the work which he began. All the suffering was not endured by Christ alone; the Church had to drink of his cup, and be baptised with his baptism. We do not share the Cross of atonement, but we share the suffering which exhibits the power of faith; ours is the Cross of struggling against sin, even unto death. We have to be crucified to the world. We have to show what is meant by the term Cross. Here again is a mystery not to be explained in words,—the mystery of fellow-suffering with Christ, that afterwards there may follow triumph with him in the power of his resurrection.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Colossians 1:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/colossians-1.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology