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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Colossians 1

 

 

Verse 1

1. Paul, an apostle—See notes on Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1.


Verses 1-14

INTRODUCTION, Colossians 1:1-14.

The Introduction consists of three parts: the greeting (Colossians 1:1-2,) the thanksgiving for the faith and love of the Colossian Church, (Colossians 1:3-8,) and the apostle’s prayer for their spiritual growth and holy life, (Colossians 1:9-14,) closing with a statement of the proper theme of the epistle.


Verse 2

2. Saints—As elsewhere, a technical name for Christians, who are also addressed by the warmer title of brothers in Christ.

ColosseColossae, or Colassae, as it was often written, was a city of Phrygia situated on the river Lycus, a branch of the Maeander, and near the great road from Ephesus to the Euphrates, and was of considerable importance in the time of Cyrus. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the ninth year of Nero, about A.D. 63, but was soon afterward rebuilt. It now lies in ruins about three miles from the modern village of Chonas.


Verse 3

3. Give thanks—Paul had learned of the gracious state of the Colossian Christians through the communications of others, especially of Epaphras, Colossians 1:8; and the account of their faith in Christ and their love to all Christians, incited him to profound thanksgiving and incessant prayer in their behalf.


Verse 4

4. Since we heard—Faith, love, and hope are three graces inseparably connected. Faith instrumentally saves the soul, makes it the home of love, and prepares it for the final glorification in heaven. This becomes at once an object of hope to the believer, in accordance with the prayer of our Lord: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” John 17:24. Children of the same Father, believers in the same Saviour, and travellers together to the same heaven, cannot well fail of a deep, broad Christian love. This heavenly home is prepared, set apart, laid up, and so made secure for all believers, to be given them in its fulness of bliss at our Lord’s appearing.


Verse 6

6. Come unto you—Literally, is present with you. The gospel in its onward course had reached them, and was then abiding with them, even as it was also in all the world. We must not misconstrue this hyperbolical expression into a literal assertion of the universal diffusion of Christianity at that period, or even of its spread throughout the Roman empire. The missionary labours, so prominent in the history of later years, forbid such an interpretation, while the establishment of the gospel in many of the chief centres in so brief a time, justifies the readily intelligible language without our forcing upon it a meaning which cannot be confirmed by the facts. If, however, with recent editors, we omit the word and, this clause connects with what follows rather than with what precedes, and the statement becomes one of fruit-bearing in all the world.

Fruit—The best MSS.

read, and is bringing forth fruit and increasing: the former referring to its work in themselves individually, in their growing holiness of character and life, and the latter to its extension to other people around them. The personal spiritual growth of converts, and additions to their numbers, marked its career everywhere. It had been conspicuously so at Colosse from the very first.

In truth—In its true form, unmixed with Jewish or Gnostic perversions.


Verse 7

7. Epaphras—A Colossian by birth, and the founder of that Church. This would be doubtful if the word also were genuine. He may have met the apostle at Ephesus, been converted, and sent home to evangelize the city. At the present time he was at Rome, Paul’s “fellow prisoner.” Philemon 1:23. He is by some thought identical with the Epaphroditus of the epistle to the Philippians; but this is quite improbable. The high character given him here, as the apostle’s helper, and the full ratification of his teaching, are his authoritative endorsement as against the errorists who would supplant him at Colosse and subvert the gospel. See also on Colossians 4:12-13.


Verse 8

8. Love in the Spirit—Brotherly love, the impartation of the Holy Spirit. Epaphras had been careful to emphasize this side of their character.


Verse 9

9. For this cause—Namely, the report of their faith and love, from the foundation of their Church. A like report respecting the Ephesians had incited the apostle to special prayer for them. Ephesians 1:16. There is a marked resemblance in the two prayers, particularly in the request for an enlarged knowledge of God, as lying at the foundation of all spiritual growth and hope. In the present case, the prayer more specifically beseeches that they may be filled with the full knowledge of the divine will, both as to the truth to be known and believed, and also as to the things to be done by them as Christians. In this knowledge of God’s thoughts is true wisdom, but a correct understanding of them requires the illumination of the Holy Spirit.


Verse 10

10. That ye might walk—The result of such full knowledge is a life worthy of the Lord Jesus, pleasing him in all things. This is possible only through the teaching and help of the Holy Spirit. As mere intellectual processes are utterly unable to attain this knowledge, so sinful men, unaided from on high, cannot thus walk. But the life whose sincere aim is to please Christ, though it fall far below that absolute perfectness which his majesty and holiness may rightfully demand, is yet a life worthy of him, for it is moved by a love that brings its best and holiest tribute to his feet. What such a life involves is further specified in four particulars, fruitfulness, moral growth, strength against evil, and thanksgiving.

Fruitful—In good works extending beyond ordinary benevolence and right doing, to all inward and outward obedience, and to the studious use of our consecrated powers for whatever will glorify Christ. The figure is that of a tree which bears fruit, and is at the same time steadily growing. The believer is not only fruitful in his holy living, but in all that goes to make up character he is constantly increasing in, or rather, by, (as the best texts show,) the full knowledge of God, as the instrument of his growth.


Verse 11

11. Strengthened—Another element of the walk worthy of the Lord, has respect to the spirit with which all persecutions and tribulations should be met. More than a merely human strength is requisite for a proper endurance of trials, injuries, and wrongs, in order that the soul shall be kept in purity and peace, without resentment or disturbance of its rest in Christ, and also for that longsuffering which is forbearance toward opposers, gainsayers, persecutors, and those who injure us, as well as for the active duties of religion.

All might—Every form of strength. A divine invigoration of every faculty of the soul is asked for. For the grandest human power has its bounds, beyond which it is but absolute weakness. Over against it is set the almightiness of God, whose infiniteness is the only degree of strength which he can give his trusting child. Suffering with joyfulness—Triumph in the fire, of which the glorious company of martyrs are witnesses, thus becomes a possibility.


Verse 12

12. Giving thanks unto the Father—That is, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a fourth step in the walk worthy of the Lord, Colossians 1:10. The state of mind just described naturally expresses itself in thanksgiving.

Which hath made—Our ability for such a life, and our fitness for a share in the heavenly inheritance, are received from the infinite love of the Father through the meritorious sacrifice of his Son, by the sanctifying power of his Spirit. The inheritance falls to the children of God as heirs.


Verse 13

13. Who hath delivered—This verse is in explication of the preceding statement of the Father’s work. Darkness is the element of evil and sin in which sinners are, and from which they have no power of self-deliverance. It is as if an inexorable tyrant held them in bondage. The Father is their deliverer. At the same time he transfers them into another realm, where holiness is predominant, namely, the kingdom of his Son. The transition is wholly moral, of course, but as marked as if it were from one territory to another.

His dear Son—Rather, the Son of his love, as in the margin, the only-begotten of the Father, upon whom his love rests.


Verse 14

14. In whom—All human redemption from deserved punishment and wrath is in Christ; in what he is and has done, and only in union with him, is it possessed. The Redeemer, whose shed blood is the ransom price, is Lord and King in this kingdom, in which he reigns supreme. In this verse we have a transition to a grand description of the person and work of our Lord. Its statement, that in the Son of God’s love we have the redemption, is, we conceive, the fundamental thought and theme of the epistle. Upon this proposition are based the pointed warnings against the errors which furnished the occasion of writing. The phrase through his Blood, has no ancient authority: it is plainly borrowed from Ephesians 1:7.


Verse 15

a. His relation to God, Colossians 1:15.

15. Who is—The subject is the Son of his love, in Colossians 1:13. The entire description takes in both his pre-incarnate, and his incarnate and now glorified state. The division is at the end of Colossians 1:17. Both before creation and after his ascension, from eternity to eternity, he is what is here asserted. The word is is the word of eternity.

Image—An image of what is invisible must itself be invisible. Image is more than resemblance or likeness: it is the exact counterpart of the being imaged, perfectly representing his attributes and essential nature, with, therefore, in the present case, the same substance, power, and eternity. As Ellicott observes, “The Son is the Father’s image in all things, save only in being the Father.” In his pre-existence, his incarnation, and his glorification, all the characteristics of God are in him. In his relations to the world he reveals and manifests God; but these are not in question here. They belong to his office, not to his nature and relation to God.

Firstborn of every creature—This phrase, standing alone, would confirm the Arian view, that the Son was the first created being; but the context, which ascribes to him the whole creation, with no exception, and also asserts his pre-existence, forbids that interpretation. No creature can create himself, or exist prior to any creation. He created the creation, and therefore existed before all creation. Moreover, first-created is not the word here used. Nor is the reference to our Lord’s birth of a human mother, as the for of the next verse shows; but rather to that mysterious emanation of the Son from the Father, in which he is said to be “begotten” or “born.” A correct rendering would read, the firstborn before every creature, that is, every kind of creature; and in Scripture, whatever is before any creation is from eternity. So the Nicene Creed expresses it, “begotten before all worlds,” that is, from eternity. In his eternal relation to the Father, the Son is the only begotten: in his relation to his creatures, he is before them all. Besides priority in time, he also has the priority in dignity and right which belong to the firstborn.


Verses 15-18

I. THE GLORIOUS PERSON AND REDEMPTIVE WORK OF CHRIST, Colossians 1:15 to Colossians 2:7.

1. His exalted dignity, Colossians 1:15-18.

Against all possible systems of human salvation, and especially that one which at Colosse assumed a position of antagonism with the gospel, and through its mediatorship of angels with Christ, it is necessary to show his absolute and unapproachable pre-eminence in himself and as Mediator, together with the entire sufficiency of what he has done. The passage, though brief, is important as one of the principal four which describe the person of our Lord. Comp. Ephesians 1:20-23; Philippians 2:6-11; and Hebrews 1:2-3.


Verse 16

b. His relation to the universe, Colossians 1:16-17.

16. ForBecause, assigning the reason for asserting his priority, namely, the dependence of the creation upon him. The phrase by him occurs twice in the verse, the first being rather in him as the conditional cause. The idea of the creation as conceived by the Father was committed to the Son for its accomplishment and realization: in him (emphatic) did the actual work rest.

All thingsτα παντα, the universe, including every thing outside the earth in all space, and everything upon the earth. Thus much as to locality. As to kind, they were things visible, the sun, moon, and stars, the earth, plants, minerals, and animals; and things invisible, human souls, and, in particular, the angels, with their several orders of thrones, etc., for whom the Colossian philosophy was claiming a superiority over him. By him, also, was the entire universe actually created instrumentally, proving his infinite power, and for him, its end, as the sphere of his dominion and the manifestation of his glory. He is its efficient and final cause.


Verse 17

17. And he is before—Rather, and he is himself before all things. Observe, it is not said that he was, or became, but he is—the word of eternity. If he existed before any act of creation, he is eternal.

All things consist—He holds the universe together, preserves its permanence, and maintains its order as its sustainer. The Son of God is therefore omnipresent, as well as omnipotent and eternal.


Verse 18

c. His relation to the Church, Colossians 1:18.

18. He is the head—Better, he himself. Not any angel or mere created being, but the Son, who has this high dignity, is the head of the Church. The incarnate and glorified Christ is now spoken of. The Church, including those who have passed away and those yet on earth, is a new spiritual creation, of which he is the beginning, the founder, as he is creator of the universe, and so rightful Lord and Governor of both. He is also the firstborn from the dead, εκ των νεκρων, out from the dead, leaving others behind. The phrase occurs in but three other places. See note on Luke 20:35. He is the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:23) of the coming harvest, the first who rose out of all the myriads of the dead with the immortal, glorious body. Here, too, he has precedence.

PreeminenceIn order that in all things he might become preeminent. The εν πασιν must be held as co-extensive with the τα παντα. The pre-incarnate Son, the λογος ασαρκος, was Lord of the entire creation, and the purpose of maintaining this supremacy in the λογος ενσαρκος, the Son incarnate, requires his priority in the resurrection, which in its turn is essential to his supremacy in the Church. Our Lord’s Headship in the Church is fully brought out in the parallel passage in Ephesians 1:22, where see notes. Here it enters as an element in the broader view of him as Head of the universe, which distinguishes the present epistle. It was the divine purpose that everywhere and in all things the incarnate Christ should have the highest place, although it will not be fully realized until the final triumph at the end of time.


Verse 19

2. Divine plan of a universal reconciliation through Christ, Colossians 1:19-20.

19. It pleased—Whether we translate, as Ellicott, “Because in him the whole fulness was pleased to dwell;” or, as Alford, “For in him God was pleased that the whole fulness should dwell,” or, as in the text, which on the whole is preferable, supplying God, however, rather than the Father, the doctrinal result is the same. The point in hand is to state the ground upon which the preeminence is given to the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the human is in union with the divine, making him in so far different from the Son previous to the incarnation. It is explained by the two great facts which it pleased God, not arbitrarily, but as the deliberate outflow of his infinite wisdom and love, to embody in his plan. The first relates to his qualification: that in him the whole fulness should permanently dwell. But fulness of what? Various answers are given, of which we think the true one is the fulness of those attributes which fit him for this supremacy and for his redeeming work, such as power, authority, grace, wisdom, and love. They are not partial or limited in him, but perfect. This is, doubtless, the same as saying that the divine perfections dwell in him, while it is not quite the statement of Colossians 2:9, where the divine essence is spoken of, which is not in question here.


Verse 20

20. AndIt also pleased God to make him, thus qualified, infinitely transcending in dignity and excellence all possible qualification of any creature, the medium of the reconciliation. This is the second fact in the great plan. “This indwelling,” says Bengel, “is the foundation of the reconciliation.” The Greek order is: And through him (Christ) to reconcile all things unto himself (God), having made peace through the blood of his cross. The emphatic point is, that it is through Christ that God planned and has undertaken the reconciliation of the universe to himself. The reconcile of this verse is parallel with the gather together of Ephesians 1:10, yet with a broader scope, by as much as Christ’s headship in the universe is broader than his headship in the Church. Yet here, as there, we must distinguish between the divine idea, as framed before the foundation of the world, and its actual realization at the final consummation. The sin which began with the angels has extended to men, and so affected the entire creation that the harmony of the universe is disturbed. Now it is God’s plan that the incarnate Son shall mediatorially restore this harmony of the universe with himself, laying the ground of it in the shedding of his blood on the cross. He is the Lamb of sacrifice foreordained from eternity, 1 Peter 1:20. And lest there should be doubts as to how far-reaching the plan is, we are told that the all things embraces the things in earth, and the things in heaven, which terms are identical with those employed in Colossians 1:16 to designate the entire totality of created things, and can here mean no less. The glorious divine intention, then, was a reconciliation co-extensive with the same universe which the Son mediatorially created. Thus far the plan itself: in its execution the whole tendency is toward a glorious ultimate result. The Reconciler is exalted to the throne of the universe. Myriads upon myriads of men, saints rejoicing on high, and saints serving below, have found his peace. The sinless angels, who never saw God except through the Son, see him now in the glorified Christ, and are brought nearer to him. Of what the final realization will be, the passage does not speak. The resurrection will destroy death; redeemed men and blissful angels will people heaven; and the physical creation be freed from its subjection to vanity. But, reversely, it is in the power of wicked men, freely acting, to trample on the atonement and reject the proffers of peace, thus defeating in themselves the divine plan. Fallen angels, who would seem to have been included in the intended mercy, possibly in their refusal of honour to God’s Son, and their mad, persistent rebellion against him in their day of probation, have thrown themselves out from its benefits, so that they and their dark abode are not included in the reconciliation. Yet lost angels and men will finally be compelled to bow in unwilling subjection to the sceptre of Christ, so that the whole universe will confess him Lord. See note, Ephesians 1:10.


Verse 21

3. The idea realized in the experience of the Colossians, Colossians 1:21-23.

21. You that were… alienated—As in science, so in religion, experience establishes the theory. Formerly alienated from God in affection, and enemies—hostile to him in intellectual action and notions of truth, as abundantly manifest in wicked life, they were now actually reconciled with God through Christ.


Verse 22

22. Body… flesh… death—Only by the actual death of our Lord’s human, physical body has atonement been made for sin, and salvation for sinners become possible. The statement is in silent contrast with the doctrine of the mediation of angels who have no blood to shed and no body of… flesh to die. It is also opposed to all schemes of reconciliation to God without an atonement by death. The end to be attained is to present all who are saved from sin, holy in themselves, spotless and irreproachable in their relations to God before him in the Judgment day.


Verse 23

23. If ye continue—That is, assuming your persistence in the life of faith. A turning from the gospel to some substitute would work a forfeiture of its promised result.

Every creature—Not that all men had then actually heard it, but it is provided for all and proclaimed for all without limitation.


Verse 24

4. Paul’s commission, sufferings, and labours in order to their full knowledge of Christ, Colossians 1:24-29.

24. Now—Chained, and in his Roman prison. Love can make happy anywhere.

Sufferings—Not vicarious.

Afflictions of Christ—Not his atoning passion; that was complete on the cross. The Church is the body of which he is the Head, so that the persecutions and tribulations endured by it in its members fall upon him. He suffers if they suffer. (Isaiah 63:9.)

What is done to them is done to him. And, as if a certain amount of suffering was to be endured by the Church, the apostle was rapidly contributing what yet remained. Joyfully did he bear it for the sake of the Church.


Verse 25

25. MinisterServant, of the gospel, in Colossians 1:23, here of the Church.

Dispensation—Stewardship, the office of a servant, for the work of preaching; not a priesthood to offer sacrifice or to administer sacraments. His sphere of labour was, by the terms of his commission, among the Gentiles, and his work was to preach to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. Ephesians 3:5.


Verse 26

26. Mystery—The word used of facts and truths not fully revealed, occurs four times in this epistle, and in that to the Ephesians six times, and always, with a single exception in the latter, with a reference more or less direct to Christ. Here it is the doctrine of salvation through Christ, or, more simply, Christ himself. He had not been revealed to former ages of the world, for they were not prepared to receive a Saviour; and even the angels had not fully comprehended the great plan. Now he is revealed to the apostles, (Ephesians 3:5,) preached by them, believed in, and thus is made manifest to his saints. Believers know Christ.


Verse 27

27. God would make known—Partly by an understanding of the truth, and partly by an individual experience of the glory of his salvation. What a transition for a pagan! Mystery among the Gentiles has its parallel and explication in Christ in you; Christ being the mystery; and he, dwelling in and reigning over the soul, is himself the hope of eternal glory.


Verse 28

28. Whom we preach—Not the philosophy offered them as a substitute for the gospel, not circumcision, not the worship of angels, not asceticism, but Christ, was the one theme of the preaching of Paul and Timothy, and, moreover, Christ, as he is set forth in this chapter, in his Godhead, his incarnation, his atoning sacrifice, his resurrection, his headship in the Church, his lordship in the universe, the only Saviour of men. Thus sharply are the lines drawn between the true and false preachers, whether of that time or the present. The manner of their preaching also appears.

Warning—Reiterating the truth and rousing to repentance and active service.

Teaching—Instructing in Christian doctrine, especially as related to a holy life.

In all wisdom—Not the subject, but the method of the teaching is meant, referring to the skilful adaptation of means, plans, and arguments to the end sought, beginning with conversion and reaching on to the day of judgment. The triple use of the phrase every man shows the apostle’s constant concern for the souls under his care.


Verse 29

29. Labour, striving—Warning, teaching, toiling, agonizing, with all the strength God gave him, to land every convert safe in heaven. Such is the picture of this model minister of Christ before the Church of all ages.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Colossians 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/colossians-1.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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