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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Colossians 1

 

 

Verses 1-29

THE SALUTATION

(vs.1-2)

Paul writes with apostolic authority and by the will of God, so that total subjection to what he writes is rightly called for on the part of believers. Yet he adds, "and Timothy our brother," for it is not only objective truth he is presenting, but much that is subjective, awakening exercise in us of "honoring God," the meaning of Timothy's name. What is objective deals with facts that are absolute apart from how we feel about them. What is subjective has reference to our response to the truth, that is, how it affects us. Note, however, it is not "Paul and Timothy" as in Philippians, a pastoral epistle, but Timothy added after Paul's apostleship is affirmed. This implies that the absolute truths given by Paul are more important than is the way we are affected by them, but they should have a proper effect.

"Saints and faithful brethren" (v.2) are not two classes of people, but the same, for he does not speak of the measure of their faithfulness, but of the fact, for new birth makes one faithful in whatever measure. As in other epistles, Paul wishes the Colossian brethren the grace that lifts their souls above circumstances, and the peace that is tranquil well-being in all circumstances. This can emanate only from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who reveals the Father.

THE FRUITFULNESS OF THEIR FAITH

(vs.3-8)

Before encouraging or exhorting them, Paul gives thanks for them to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who has so worked in grace in their hearts. Prayer for them attends the thanksgiving, for he prayed unceasingly for the Colossians since his hearing of their faith in Christ and their love to all saints. Paul had not yet seen these saints, but his heart goes out to them no less.

In verse 4 hope is added to faith and love, the hope laid up in heaven. Hope in Scripture is not something uncertain, but anticipation as to the future, having no doubts whatever involved. In Colossians heavenly blessings are seen as a future hope, though in Ephesians these blessings are regarded as a present possession, to be enjoyed now. Both are fully true, but the viewpoint different. The Colossians had before heard of this hope, for it was a precious part of the word of the truth of the gospel which they had received (v.5). But it was necessary to press this prospect upon them since they journeyed in a wilderness, exposed to present dangers and temptations. How imperative it is for us all to keep the end in view!

This same gospel had brought forth fruit in all the world as well as in them, so they were not isolated whether they felt so or not. Fruit had been forthcoming from the day they heard and knew the grace of God in truth (v.6). Precious encouragement as to the power of the truth they had learned!

Epaphras had very likely heard the gospel from Paul during Paul's long stay at Ephesus, for Colosse was not far from there; and Epaphras in turn had brought it to Colosse, his own home (ch.4:12). Paul delighted in this news from his "dear fellow servant," whom he commends as a faithful minister of Christ. It was their love in the Spirit that Epaphras declared to Paul and Timothy because Paul had not seen their faces in the flesh (ch.2:1). This the only mention of the Holy Spirit in Colossians, which gives no doctrine concerning Him at all, in contrast to Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. Here rather the Holy Spirit is drawing attention to the Person of Christ as sufficient food for the wilderness and therefore says nothing of Himself. "Love in the Spirit" then is love of another although having no direct personal contact "in the flesh."

PRAYER AND THANKSGIVING

(vs.9-14)

Their love in the Spirit moves the hearts of Paul and Timothy to pray for them. The difference between this prayer and those in Ephesians (Ch.1 and Ch.3) should be carefully noted. In Ephesians 1:1-23 Paul prays for the wisdom and understanding of the saints as to their proper blessings. In Ephesians 3:1-21 he prays for their proper spiritual state in enjoying the love of Christ. But here in Colossians he desires that they may be filled with the knowledge of God's will, not simply to understand His counsels, but to discern and wisely act upon what is the will of God, so His will directs their walk. It is not here a walk "worthy of the calling" (Ephesians 4:1), but "worthy of the Lord," for if we see in Colossians a walk of proper subjective character, the Lord Himself personally is the objective power for this.

"Fully pleasing Him" (v.10) involves every detail of life, which is certainly of vital value as to being fruitful in every good work. This is no question of merely avoiding gross evil, but of positively doing good. Opportunities for this are innumerable. If we take advantage of them, we will have no time for things that are merely negative. Increasing in doing good also will be "by the knowledge of God," for in Him is pure goodness, and the better we know Him the more we shall increase in goodness.

Most striking is the truth of verse 11. "Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power" might be thought of in connection with accomplishing outstanding achievements for God, but such is not the case. Rather, such strength gives one the lowly characteristics of "all patience and long-suffering with joy." This is true spiritual strength, beautifully connected with "His glorious power." Let us greatly desire and make use of such power in lowly, living reality, for this is a power by which we are controlled, we who by nature are rebellious as the colt of a wild donkey. The patience and long-suffering here are not a forced, disagreeable thing, but accompanied by genuine joy. Precious evidence of the real work of His glorious power in a weak, earthen vessel!

Verse 12 continues Paul's desire in prayer for them, that they might be found giving thanks to the Father. The prayer then merges with a declaration of truth which is cause for wholehearted thanksgiving to the Father. First, He has already "qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." By virtue of redemption He has given us title to the inheritance, but besides has fitted us for the inheritance by the impartation of a new life that is fully agreeable with the holy character of the inheritance. This is in pure light, light which makes everything manifest as it really is, in a sphere where the believer is perfectly at home, but a sphere that would be intolerable to an unbeliever, since light would expose his guilt.

Verse 13 adds to this another already accomplished work of the Father: "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." The believer is no longer in darkness, and does not walk in darkness, but in the light. It is another matter entirely as to how fully he allows the light to have place in his heart and life, yet he is fully delivered from the authority of darkness. Satanic power no longer has authority over him. Satan remains his cunning enemy, but not his master. His Master now is the Son of the Father's love: he is now in His kingdom. This is an aspect of the kingdom of God in which only true believers are included. From another viewpoint, the kingdom may include merely professing Christianity (Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:38-42), but not here.

Verse 14 is just as absolute as to present, accomplished blessing as are verses 12 and 13. All believers "have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." Redemption is the total liberation of the person from bondage by means of a price paid, the price of the blood of Christ. Forgiveness of sins is a complete discharging of those things by which we had offended our Creator. Nothing is held against us, for the blood of Christ has answered for it all.

THE DIGNITIES OF CHRIST'S PERSON

(vs.15-19)

In verses 12-14 we have seen those blessings for which we give thanks. Now in these verses we consider the preciousness of the Person of the Lord Jesus in whom all these things are found. What He has done now gives place to who He is, "the image of the invisible God (v.15). Adam was made in the image of God: Christ is the image of God, the full representation visibly of the One whom no eye has seen or can see. To be this, Christ can be no less than personally God. Adam was created to represent God in a certain measure; Christ is the representation of God -- an infinite difference. Also He is the firstborn over all creation" Just as Reuben was set aside as Jacob's firstborn and the rights of the firstborn given to Joseph, a type of Christ, so Adam is totally set aside because of sin and Christ is given the place of the firstborn, though He came into the world centuries later.

Indeed, the very fact of who He is gives Him precedence over all who have preceded Him historically. This is seen in verse 16. Mark the word "For." Since He is creator of "all things that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, then certainly when He comes into His own creation, He rightly takes the place of God's firstborn: all others must give way to Him. As Creator He is of course the life-Giver, a prerogative absolutely and only of the Living God. He has brought into existence all things visible and invisible. Therefore, no place is too high for Him. He is Head in His own creation. Whatever place of dignity, lordship or authority He may have given to others in His creation, whether angelic or human, He is far above them all. Moreover, they have not only been created by Him, but for Him (v.16). They are His own possession, for His own pleasure, for His own glory. Yet His matchless love and grace have so worked in the hearts of His redeemed saints as to give them unspeakable pleasure in the fact of His being given pleasure.

Verse 17 shows us the two outstanding characteristics of His Headship, first His precedence before all things: "He is before all things," and secondly His sufficiency of provision for the subsistence of all creation: "In Him all things consist." It required His infinite creatorial power to bring all things into existence, and it requires no less power continually to sustain it in existence.

Verse 18 adds to this another great dignity that belongs to Him: "He is the Head of the body, the Church." The Greek word, "ekkiesia" is translated either "church" or "assembly". Its meaning is simply "A gathering out," indicating the truth of what James said to the council of brethren at Jerusalem, "God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14). It is a contrast to the word "synagogue" which means "a gathering together." For in Christianity God is taking out from the nations (both Jewish and Gentile) a group that He calls "the Assembly," those redeemed by the blood of Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. He is taking them out of the world with a view to taking them to heaven. Christ is the Head of this body, the Church. He is the source of all intelligence, of guidance and of nourishment. Colosse had been threatened with influences of philosophy and mysticism, and they must be reminded that creation itself has only one Head, the Lord Jesus, and the Assembly, the body of Christ, can have no other Head than He. All wisdom proceeds from Him, all proper instruction, all regulation and guidance, as well as all nourishment to sustain His Church (ch.3:19).

He is "the beginning." He did not have a beginning: He is the beginning. Revelation 3:14 speaks of Him as "the beginning of the creation of God" because He is Himself the Creator. Just as God the Almighty can say, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending" (Revelation 1:8), so the Lord Jesus can say the same of Himself (Revelation 22:12-13), for He is God.

In His first coming into the world, He took the place of the "Firstborn of all creation." Now following His death of infinite redemptive value, He is Firstborn from among the dead and recognized as such by His body, the Church. In this too, as in all things, He has the preeminence, the absolute claims of priority. Verse 19 is best translated, "For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell."

Perhaps this infers what is found in chapter 2:9, "all the fullness of the Godhead," but the verse is surely intended to guard us against all the additions to the truth of Christ that are humanly devised and advanced as being plausible and helpful, things such as the Colossians are warned against in chapter 2:8 and chapter 2:18-19. When there is perfect fullness in Christ, what room is there for more?

RECONCILIATION

(vs.20-23)

The Lord Jesus has already laid the foundation for the reconciling of all things, things in earth and things in heaven. For He has made peace through the blood of His cross (v.20). Sin had introduced enmity against God that has affected the entire creation. This enmity is entirely on the creature's part, but only God could remove it, and this required the sacrifice of His own Son. Precious basis of established peace! But creation itself does not as yet enjoy this peace. Satan still has access into heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12), and on earth he steals people's hearts against accepting the peace that is offered them (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Yet the reconciliation of all things is only a matter of a future but set time. The work of Christ has given assurance of the fulfillment of this reconciliation.

We have seen the double Headship of Christ, now we see His double reconciliation. In verse 21 believers are said to be now reconciled. Though once alienated, having no relationship, and once enemies opposed to the God of infinite love, this enmity was actually in our own minds because of the wickedness of our own works. We were responsible for this; yet God has taken the initiative in reconciling us by His own Son becoming Man -- "in the body of His flesh" - and willingly dying for us. So, long before the reconciliation of all things, believers are now presented "holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (v.22). This is the way God sees them in Christ, and not according to their personal daily experience. To realize the perfection of our blessing and position "in Christ" is the only way our experience will in any measure conform to it.

Verse 23 imposes what is conditional: "If indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast" etc. It is the test for everyone who claims to be a Christian: if he continues it proves that he is reconciled, and in God's sight holy, blameless and above reproach in His sight. Certainly, if one is born again, he will continue in the faith grounded and steadfast: he will not be moved away from the hope of the gospel. If one does not continue, this proves he had never been reconciled. This sad condition answers to the seed sown on rocky ground. Appearances were good at first, but it soon withered away (Matthew 13:5-6; Matthew 13:20-21). True faith becomes grounded and settled, preserving one from being moved away. In fact, faith makes the hope of the gospel more and more precious as time goes by.

A true believer may by personal failure appear to be very much like a mere professor of Christianity. But God knows the difference, and He will work with a believer to lead him to judge himself and find restoration. Therefore, let no genuine believer be discouraged through his misunderstanding of Scriptures like this one.

The gospel had been preached to "the whole creation which is under heaven" (v.23-JND), available for all the world, its blessing conditional only on the true reception of it. Paul was made minister of this gospel, not simply "a minister" but emphatically "minister." For he preached the gospel in the fullest sense with our heavenly blessings combined in it. This was not the message of the other apostles.

PAUL'S SUFFERING IN SERVICE

(vs.24-29)

Because he was entrusted with such ministry, Paul joyfully suffered, his whole heart bound up with the blessing of the Church, so that to him it was a joy to suffer "for the sake of His body, which is the Church" (v.23) The expression, "and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" does not refer to Christ's atoning sufferings into which none other could enter in the least degree. But Christ was afflicted by men for the perfect devotedness of His walk with God and for His true witness to God's glory before the world. The Church should share such suffering, but how little indeed does she do so. So Paul would all the more diligently bear this witness and suffer for it, for the sake of the Church, virtually substituting for her in suffering because of her failure. Precious spirit of grace!

In verse 25 Paul tells us he is made "minister" in relation to the Church again in a singular sense. We have before seen a double ministry committed to Paul. He placed due emphasis on both the gospel and the truth of the Church, earnestly contending for both and holding them in proper balance. This required considerable exercise of soul and labor. God directly gave uniquely to Paul the ministry of declaring the truth of the body of Christ. Only in Paul's writings is this truth taught. In this way it was given to him to "fulfill" or "complete" the Word of God (v.25).

This expression has been puzzling to many. For John wrote Scripture after Paul did. But John did not add anything new as to the dispensational dealings of God. Paul did add this in his being laid hold of by God to reveal the truth of the Church, the body of Christ. This truth had not been revealed in Scripture before, though scripture had spoken of all the other dispensations of God, such as the dispensation of mankind left to personal conscience before the flood, then human government introduced through Noah after the flood, then Israel chosen as God's people under law. Also, the Old Testament prophesied of the future great tribulation, with the millennial age to follow All these dispensations were clearly revealed in the Word of God. John in his writings did not add to any of these, but emphasizes rather the nature of God which transcends all dispensations. Paul however was chosen by God to reveal the truth of the Church of God, which is introduced between Israel's legal dispensation and the great tribulation. This was a matter "hidden in God" and not known before as it is now revealed (Ephesians 3:8-9). Will any other dispensation ever be added? No. For Paul's ministry completes the Word of God in this way.

Thus, God through Paul desires to make known to His saints "what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (v.27). This revelation was not confined to Israel, but sent to all believers among the nations. These freely-given spiritual riches are naturally unimaginable, and even saints very often done enter into the extent of them. Today, God's people are invested with an exquisite glory such as fills attentive hearts with unspeakable joy. It is explained here as "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (v.27). We have seen in verses 15 to 19 the objective glory that is in Christ personally. This is of first importance. But now, as to the Church, the subject of His marvelous counsels of grace, the greatest fact is "Christ in you." His workmanship subjectively in the Church, awakening steadfast hope of glory with Him. He is the Head of the body, and the wisdom, nourishment and guidance of the Head permeates the entire body.

Christ Himself is the object of preaching, warning and teaching. Paul makes no exceptions here: his message is for "every man." Some may need warning rather than teaching, and others not require warning so much as teaching, but he was ready to give his message to Jews, Gentiles, rich or poor, virtuous or degraded, with the desire of presenting every person perfect in Christ Jesus. Paul was not merely content to see a soul forgiven, but desired that every individual should understand the perfection of his place in Christ. One marvels at the energy of his zeal; but he depended on the working of God, and there was no doubt of the power of this within his own soul. Entering into, as he did, the vital truths of the gospel and of the Assembly, and appreciating both, no doubt energized him to make use of the power of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Colossians 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/colossians-1.html. 1897-1910.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
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