Posts Tagged 'Colossians'

Glory, Part 3

The word “glory” and variations of it are seen well over 500 times in the Bible. In this series, I’d like to look at a handful of those uses. For example, we looked at how Paul used the word one Colossians:

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | TNIV)

This “hope of glory” is something Christians have been looking forward to since the time Paul first used the phrase. The “hope of glory” is the hope of a glorious future in Jesus Christ. Your present is probably like mine: Less than glorious! There’s no glory in taking out the trash in the rain, or driving to work on pothole-laden roads, or pumping your own gas. There’s no glory in dealing with lazy, incompetent employees or getting chewed out by the boss for your incompetence. But, that our glorious future is assured in Jesus Christ is the hope we all have. One day, our faith will become sight and our beliefs will be vindicated.

Paul used the word again in his letter to the Philippians:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20, 21 | TNIV)

Most people see verse 21 and get excited because they see the promise of a “glorified body,” which means no more pain or suffering or any kind of physical shortcomings. But Paul’s meaning is much deeper than that. In the body, you can never please the Lord completely. You can never “measure up” to God’s righteous demands as long as you are living in your body. But one day, you old body of flesh, which is so easily led astray by sin, will be done away with – transformed in the twinkling of an eye – so that you will be actually like Jesus Christ.

In writing to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul used the word again like this:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18, 19a | TNIV)

There’s plenty going on in those verses, so let’s read it from another version of Scripture:

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to him! I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great his power is to help those who believe him. (Ephesians 1:18, 19a | TLB)

That may help a little, and hopefully you will see your significance in God’s sight. “God has been made rich because” we belong to Him. Bet you don’t think about that much, do you? Too often, you hear and sing phrases like this:

Would He devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?

Isaac Watts wrote than in 1885 of Christ dying for sinners. But a Christian isn’t a worm anymore; he’s been changed. Yet so many Christians cling to that “I am a worm” theology. You’re not! A worm isn’t valuable; you are! You have made God rich because you belong to Him. God has benefitted in some way because you have become His child.

The letter

The letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus has been called “sublime” and “grand” by Bible scholars for centuries. John Chrysostom (345-407) had this to say about Ephesians:

This Epistle is full to the brim of thoughts and doctrines sublime and momentous. For the things which scarcely anywhere else he utters, there he makes manifest.

Chrysostom is right. Paul covers ideas and notions in Ephesians he doesn’t mention elsewhere.

Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world during Paul’s day, and the church there attracted some pretty big name preachers. Paul was the first Christian preacher to bring the Gospel to its half-million citizens during his second missionary journey. After Paul, the very eloquent and refined Apollos took over the church for a while until Paul returned during his third missionary journey. Eventually, young Timothy assumed the pulpit in Ephesus, and near the end of the first century, John, the last surviving apostle, lived in Ephesus and preached in the church there.

Ephesus, with its large population, it’s bustling economy, it’s arts and culture, it’s medicine, and its great church would eventually vanish off the face of the earth. Nothing lasts forever; kingdoms, and great cities, rise and fall and sometimes disappear. Archaeologist’s have discovered the ruins of this once great metropolis, but today in the 21st century, we know about Ephesus and its great pagan temple and its glorious history largely because it was mentioned in the Bible.

Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome around 60 AD. In all, the apostle wrote three letters from Rome while awaiting news from Caesar about his release. Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians were delivered to their respective destinations by the greatest mailman who ever lived, a fellow named Tychicus.

A powerful opening

The first few verses of this letter are among the most glorious doxologies found in Scripture.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3 – 6 | TNIV)

We learn something of great significance in that first sentence. Let’s look at it the KJV:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ…. (Ephesians 1:3 | KJV)

God has blessed us. We bless God because He first blessed us. As one Bible scholar noted:

Our blessing is a declaration. His blessings are deeds.

To be “blessed” in the Bible means to be filled with a sense of joy or happiness. We cause God to rejoice because He saved us and because He blesses us. We don’t often think of it that way. But God causes us to rejoice because we receive so much from Him and He rejoices when we turn around and bless Him on account of His blessings to us! That’s some power you have there, my friend! The power to bring a smile to your Heavenly Father’s face.

You’ll notice, though, that the blessings to which Paul is referring are not the temporal blessings you are given here – like the blessings of a good job or a family. These blessings are “in the heavenly realms” and are “spiritual” in nature. They are special blessings we receive because we are “in Christ,” because we are born again. Among those blessings would be things like: salvation, justification, sanctification, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so on. When you pause in your busy day to bless the Lord for those kinds of gifts, you’re making God’s day.

Verse 4 is one of those verses nobody really understands or likes. The sinner hates this verse because it speaks of being “chosen by God,” and that’s a repulsive thought to people who either don’t believe in God or think more of themselves than they do of God. The Christian usually gets it wrong because they don’t read every word, stopping after being told they were “chosen by God.” What Paul is saying here really is quite phenomenal. God’s way of salvation was planned in eternity past. God chose believers in Christ before He created the world, which means you and I didn’t do the choosing, God did the choosing. He didn’t choose us because we were worthy or because we were good. He chose us because we couldn’t choose Him. He chose us so we could do good in this world. The always quotable Charles Spurgeon wrote this:

God chose me before I was born into this world because if He’d waited until I got here, He never would have chosen me.

The point of verse 4 is simply this: We were chosen by God in Christ. That was the plan and God is sticking to it. There’s no other way to be chosen by God except to be in Christ. But the plan has a purpose, in addition to the obvious: To be holy and blameless in His sight. God chose us in order to sanctify us – to make us holy people – to separate us from the rest of the world. And God chose us to be “blameless.” Think about that for a moment. God sees us in Christ as being without blame. This means it’s God’s choice to change you, and that choice was made before He made anything else – including you, by the way.

Of course, that means if you’re a Christian, you have to manifest that change; you have to demonstrate that you are “in Christ,” that you are different person. If there’s no evidence that God has chosen you – if you haven’t changed – then you can’t be one of the elect. John, in a letter he wrote, put it this way:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:1 – 6 | TNIV)

Succinct and to the point. Who says the Bible is hard to understand? “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

God’s glorious inheritance

It’s obvious that we, Christians, have been blessed in, as President Trump may say, “an incredibly huge way” by God. He has given us so much and done so much for us. And yet, in verse 18, out of the blue we read this:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people… (Ephesians 1:18 | TNIV)

There’s a lot to digest in that verse. The thing that jumps off the page is that we, Christians, are “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance.” Have you ever thought of yourself in that way before? You, like me, have always been taught that we bring nothing to God. That’s true, there’s nothing we have that God wants or needs. However, in Christ, we become valuable to God; we are worth something to Him, as long as we remain in Christ.

That concept is so deep and so profound, that Paul tells his friends in Ephesus that he will “pray that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened” so that they may understand their worth in Christ. In the Bible, the heart is the seat of the intelligence and will. Paul prays that their minds and wills may be “enlightened” so as to grasp what he’s telling them. You, my friend, are extremely valuable to God. You may wonder what your value is. It’s simply this: As you live right; as you live like the changed person you are in Christ, you will begin to reflect God’s glory in the world around you. You see, nobody can see God. But they can see you. You become valuable to God because you become His reflection on earth, pointing the lost to Him.

That’s a big deal, and hard to do. That’s why Paul went on to write this:

and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:19a | TNIV)

You have a power deep down inside of you, put there by God, to help you become the changed person He had made you to be. That power is “incomparable,” that is, you can’t compare it to any power on earth; there’s nothing in all the world like the power you hold. It’s the power to become the person God wants you to become; a person who reflects the light of His glory.

Now that is, as Chrysostom might have said, a “sublime and momentous” thought to consider!



Alive in Christ, Colossians 2:1—3:4

You can’t read Colossians without noticing the preeminence of Christ. Above all things, people, power, and all knowledge is Jesus Christ. Because of the greatness of Christ, the Colossians and all believers, should easily be able to put their full faith and confidence in Him. Christians should have nothing to do with worldly philosophies and false teachings; they just can’t compare to Jesus.

Paul was speaking out against the popular heresies of his day which had infiltrated the church at Colosse. Christians then and now obsess over false teachings; we seem fascinated by them; we run after them. Things like festivals, mindless rituals, special diets, and physical asceticism. But Paul uses clever arguments to show the difference between the shadow and the Body which casts the shadow, verse 17:

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

If you can have the Body, why settle for the shadow? This is Paul’s central argument in chapter 2; mature believers find all they need for life and faith in Christ.

1. Complete in Christ, 2:6-15

A. Be steadfast in faith, vs, 6, 7

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Part of being steadfast in faith is remembering what Jesus Christ did for you and how He did it. The Colossians had received Christ as Savior in a certain way. He came to them as “the Christ,” God’s Anointed One. He came historically as their Savior; a man named Jesus really did live and walk on the Earth; He was not just an idea. And He is also “the Lord,” the Sovereign of every believer. This is important to notice because either Jesus is all of those things or He is nothing at all. It’s not enough for a person to believe about Jesus or to know about Jesus; He must become a person’s Lord and Savior, and when that happens, true learning starts.

The word “received” is aorist, meaning a decisive, once-for-all act. It was Jesus Christ who is received, not only the message about Him, and He is received one time because He came one time. His work is finished.

To “continue” in Christ is to “walk” in Him, and that simply means what verse 7 says. There are three principles here that describe what it means to walk in Christ:

  • Rooted in Him. The word for “rooted” is written in the perfect tense, suggesting this “rooted” is a one time experience; one is permanently planted in Christ.
  • Built up. This is written the present tense; being built up in Christ is to be a continuous process. Every Christian needs to be built up, all the time, each and every day.
  • Strengthened. Also written in the present tense, meaning our faith should be getting stronger all the time.

So we see that mature Christians, paradoxically, never really grow up! We are continually growing and maturing, never forgetting who Jesus was, who He is, and what He taught us.

B. Confront heresy through fullness in Christ, vs. 8—10

The problem is, there are always competing philosophies vying for the attention of Christians.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (verse 8)

“See to it” indicates a warning is coming. The false teachers were real; their was a real danger of these Colossian Christians getting duped by them; of being seduced by their clever, false teachings. The phrase “takes you captive” was generally used of taking captives in a war and taking them away as booty. As far as Paul was concerned then, these false teachers were “soul- stealers,” at war the with Church, wanting to catch Christians and drag them away in spiritual enslavement.

The false teachings, which are described as a “deceptive philosophy,” were based on the ideas of human beings, not on the teachings of Christ. Being deceptive, they appeared to the teachings of Christ, meaning they were close, they sounded like something He would have said, but they were, in fact, based on the “elemental spiritual forces of this world.” In other words, these false teachers were teaching a kind spirituality based, not on Christ, but on nature or on worldly things; man-made things. It’s hard to imagine a believer falling for this kind of false teaching, but when we don’t have a grasp on the teachings of Christ; when we don’t understand Christian doctrine, we will be fooled by false teachers who look genuine and sound genuine. After all, Christians want to believe the best about people.

Mature believers are able to confront this kind of heresy by be complete in Christ, that is, by having a solid, functional understanding of His teachings.

C. Live in fellowship and freedom, vs. 11—15

So then, maturity in Christ is measured by our fullness in Christ.  But, how deeply in fellowship with Him are we? In this group of verses, Paul explains that our fullness in Christ was achieved in three ways.

  • Spiritual circumcision, verses 11, 12. This is a “putting off” of the “sinful nature.” The picture in verse 11 is that of a person throwing away an article of dirty clothing or worn out clothing. Our sinful nature—the desires of the flesh—refers to the sum total of those desires. Through Christ, our corrupt natures were done away with.
  • Forgiveness of sins, verses 13, 14. Our forgiveness is based, not on anything that we have done, but on what Christ did for us. Without it, there is only death; life comes through appropriating what He did for us on the Cross. What He did for us is spelled out in verse 14: He canceled out our debt of sin. “Debt” is a way to looking at sin because we all know how good it feels when a debt is paid off. We never paid off our debt of sin; it was canceled by God on behalf on account of what Jesus did on the cross.

Christ is the propitiation for our debt. Our debt was nailed to the cross along with Christ. “Nailing” is aorist, indicating a completely finished work. His work of forgiveness is forever done. Nothing can be added to the work of Christ, either by man or deity. Christ’s work of forgiveness is done. All sinful man has to do is lay hold of His work.

  • Victory over evil, verse 15. Although the meaning of virtually every word in this verse is disputed, the simple meaning of it is clear. Christ’s death is our death, symbolized by baptism. His victory is our victory. Christ is personally personally responsible for our redemption. He conquered all evil forces at Calvary and the tomb. This was the final battle between the forces of good and evil, and good prevailed. His victory is ours.

Mature believers understand that Christ’s victory is ours.

2. Dead to legalism, 2:16—23

A. Shadows and reality, vs. 16—19

The false teachers at Colosse had prescribed a series of strict rules with regard to eating and drinking and the observance of the religious calendar. In light of the fullness of Christ, why would Christians look for satisfaction anywhere else? Freedom comes from a relationship with Christ, bondage from legalism, so why would free Christians willingly surrender that freedom for bondage?

All of the man-made regulations are but a shadow of the reality, Jesus Christ. The thing that Paul is teaching is this: why settle for the shadows when the reality has come, He is here, and you can have Him instead?

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (verse 19)

Paul is likely referring here to members of the Colossian congregation that have fallen for the false teaching. They have severed their connection to Christ, the head of the Church, as well as the Body of Christ, the Church. Do you see how powerful false teaching is? It has the power to decapitate a Church.

B. Inadequate worldly principles, vs. 20—23

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (verse 23)

Paul wanted his Colossian friends to put into daily practice what they experienced when they first came to Christ. All Christians must be taught; they must learn; and they must develop and grow. Even though salvation happens in an instant, the “new life” is a day-by-day process; it involves how we live, the things we do and the way we do them.

All false religions and false teachers are really false or inadequate interpretations of Christianity that place Christ in an inferior position while elevating their own ideas and philosophies. But for Paul, Christ is all and in all (3:11). Any Christian that runs after false teaching is acting foolish and immature because they are choosing second best.

3. Risen with Christ, 3:1—4

As far as the the Colossian controversy was concerned, Paul was finished with it at chapter 3. Having established the undeniable fact that man-made rules and regulations are of absolutely no value in taming human nature, Paul makes it clear that the only cure for man’s continued attraction to sin is found in his experience of union with Jesus Christ. This union is demonstrated by how the Christian lives and acts; he is quite literally “dead to sin.” This means that the believer lives with a completely different world-view. How does the Christian do this?

  • Set your hearts on things above, verse 1. Literally, Christians are to seek after and to strive for godly things. We need to make sure that our main interests are centered on Christ, and that our attitudes and our whole outlook on life are determined by our relationship to Christ and His relationship to us. The verb behind “set your hearts on” is a present imperative: “Keeping on seeking,” in other words.
  • Set your minds on things above, verse 2. This means “think on” godly things. This doesn’t mean that the Christian should withdraw from society, but it does mean that the first thing that pops into his mind is NOT a worldly thought. It means that his thinking is generally in a heaven-ward direction.
  • Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature, verse 5. This is something nobody can do for you. The action of “putting to death” sin can only be done by the believer himself. We are dead to sin, thanks to the work of Christ, but since sin is not dead to us, we have a responsibility to keep our base natures in check. This we do for ourselves, with the Lord’s help.

Mature believers understand the truthfulness of verse 3:

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Our security is in Him. We are protected by Him. What a motivating factor in living for Him! Paul is teaching that since Christians have died with Christ, all that is foreign to Him should be foreign to them.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


The Supremacy of Christ

Colossians 1:15—29

The latter portion of Colossians 1 presents the most significant teachings about Jesus Christ in the New Testament. These verses form the foundation of Paul’s contention with the Gnostic element at Colosse. These false teachers claimed to have superior, secret, and mysterious knowledge of God and of spiritual things, but according to Paul, everything that can be known about God is revealed in Jesus Christ, therefore no secret or mystical knowledge is needed.

1. Our image of God, 1:15—18

Part of becoming a mature Christian is having a Biblical Christology. In other words, mature believers think correctly about Jesus Christ. There is a lot wrong information floating around about Jesus and what He did, both in Paul’s day and ours. To help the Colossians think correctly about Jesus, Paul makes three very profound statements concerning Christ.

A. In relation to His deity, verse 15

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

There are two thoughts here. First, Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” How do you take a picture of something that cannot be seen? What does the invisible man look like? Nobody knows because he’s invisible! So what does Paul mean by that statement? In interpreting that statement, we must understand that Paul is not teaching that Christ is the image of God in the material or physical sense. Paul is also not teaching that Christ’s image of God is limited to His pre-incarnate state nor is it limited Christ’s glorified state after His Incarnation. Christ never became the image of God, He always has been the image of God.

The word for “image” is the Greek word eikon, which expresses two main ideas. One is “likeness.” So Christ is the exact likeness of God, like an image in a mirror is an exact likeness of the one looking into it. The other idea behind eikon is that of manifestation. That is, Christ is the image of God in the sense that the nature, character, and being of God are perfectly revealed in Christ. This thought is expressed in John 1:18—

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

This is a very deep concept, but it formed an integral part of Paul’s thinking about Jesus.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The second thought concerning Christ’s deity is that He is “the firstborn over all creation.” “Firstborn” is not the best way to translate prototokos because Paul is certainly not teaching that Christ was born or that He became. The main idea behind prototokos is “only begotten” and should be understood the way the Jewish mind understood it. Prototokos really means “uncreated.” He is out in front of all creation or we might say He is beyond all creation. Christ, in other words, does not belong to creation, but to eternity. This concept is seen in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1—3)

B. In relation to all creation, verses 16, 17

Paul goes on to establish the ground for Christ’s dominion over all things. Christ is the Source, the Agent, the End, and the Sustainer of all creation. Three prepositional phases are given to explain Christ the Creator: All things came to be—

→ in (or by) Him, verse 16a (creation occurred within the sphere of His person)
→ through (or by) Him, verse 16b (He was the force behind what was created)
→ for Him, verse 16c (all things exist for His good pleasure)

Furthermore, Christ “is before all things”, not “was before all things.” He is “before” in position, power, and time. Because He is the Creator, not part of creation, He holds it all together and all things exist because of His will.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3a)

The scope of these verses is staggering. If nothing exists apart from the will of Christ, then all things, even evil powers, continue to persist only because He allows them to until the day comes when He shall deliver the Kingdom to the Father:

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

C. In relation to the Church, verse 18

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Paul’s final affirmation concerning Christ’s supremacy relates to the Church. Christ, by right of His position in creation, has control and authority over the new creation, the body of Christ. To be “the head” of the Church is to be its Sovereign; its Leader and its Chief. It is HE who governs and guides it. In the Greek, “he” is emphatic, meaning that Christ alone, Christ and not other, is the head of the Church.

“Church,” ekklesia, means “assembly” or “congregation” and has in mind all redeemed people of God. Lost in Paul’s Christology is the use the “body” metaphor, which suggests three things:

→ the Church is a living organism, not an organization, composed of members joined vitally to one another;
→ the Church is the means by which Christ carries out His purposes and performs His work on earth;
→ the union that exists between Christ and His people is intimate and real. Redeemed saints in union with Christ and each other constitute a single living unit, incomplete without the other.

So, a mature Christian thinks rightly about Jesus Christ.

2. Our reconciliation, 1:20—23

Our maturity is also indicated by our understanding of precisely what Christ did for us. In Jesus Christ, Deity is pleased to dwell. In addition, God has made peace with all created things through the sacrifice of Christ. Here is God’s grand plan of salvation in two verses.

→ It is God who saves, verse 19
→ He saves creation through Jesus Christ, verse 20
→ He saves creation through the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, verse 20
→ God did this because it pleased Him, verse 19

To be “reconciled to God” means to be “at peace with God.” Somehow, through the shed blood of Christ on the Cross, peace was and is made between God and human beings. But the power of Christ’s blood is not limited to the salvation of all who call upon Him to be saved, the efficacy of Christ’s shed blood extends to all He created!

…whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (verse 20)

Since the sin of the first Adam effectively destroyed the perfection of Christ’s creation, only an act of the Second Adam could undo what happened. In relation to human beings, there is no “universal salvation.” As great as the work of Christ was, it is of no effect on a human being until he accepts it by faith.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (verses 21, 22)

Prior to confessing Christ as Savior, the Colossians and all sinners had been “alienated from God” and His enemies. The word “alienated” (apellotriomenous) means “transferred to another owner”—in other words, an unregenerate sinner is estranged from God and hostile toward Him. Only by sacrificing His physical body could Christ end the estrangement and hostility between man and God. Paul stressed Christ’s “physical body” probably in defiance of the warped Gnostic teaching about how evil the body was. The value of Christ’s body is evidenced by what its sacrifice gained: the salvation of humanity!

The result of Christ’s reconciling work is the presentation of the Colossians (and all believers) to God, absolutely holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. Is all of this in the future tense? Or is some of Christ’s reconciling work realized in the present? Scholars are divided, but F.F. Bruce presents a balanced view of verse 22:

The sentence of justification passed upon the believer here and now anticipates the pronouncement of the judgment day; the holiness which is progressively wrought in his life by the Spirit of God here and now is to issue in perfection of glory on the day of Christ’s [Second Coming].

3. Our hope of glory, 1:24—29

No believer can be considered mature if they have a wrong view of their sufferings. Paul, for his part, demonstrated his maturity by rejoicing, not because of the suffering he had endured, but IN the suffering because of the good that was being produced on account of it. One time, not so long ago, Paul, then known as Saul, had inflicted horrible suffering on others, but now he welcomes it in order to win the lost to Christ. What a remarkable change!

A. Understanding suffering, verse 24

Verse 24 is admittedly controversial.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

The first part of that verse we have already explained. What does Paul mean by the second part? In Scripture, there are two types of suffering: ministerial suffering and mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering—what He endured in the flesh in order to secure our salvation—was mediatorial suffering; that is, He suffered in our place. He was punished for our sins. No human being can do that for another; only Christ could have suffered on our behalf. Christ also experienced ministerial suffering. For example, He was mocked and ridiculed for His teachings. He told His followers that they would experience the same kind of suffering He did; they would suffer on account of Him. This is what Paul had in his mind as he wrote to the Colossians from prison. In fact, Paul had been given a special promise of suffering:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15, 16)

Paul’s suffering could in no way result in anybody’s salvation, but his suffering was part of his ministry to the lost and to the Body of Christ. Paul identified himself with Christ so much so that he viewed his sufferings as part of His service to Christ. That is a mature view of suffering.

B. Understanding the mystery, verses 25—27

Paul had been called and charged with a mission to perform. He was made a minister of the Gospel (verse 23) and that ministry to the Church involved a revelation of a mystery.

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. (verses 25, 26)

Paul was the Church’s servant and his job was to preach the Word to the believers. That Word, Paul says, was a “mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations.” A lot of people stop reading there and wrongfully conclude the Word of God is a mystery—that it hides secrets and mysterious codes. However, reading on, we discover that for the Lord’s people there is NO mystery surrounding the Word of God! All has been revealed to the Christian.

There is no question about it; a mature believer has an understanding of God’s Word. This, of course, does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they, at the same time, become a Bible scholar! Christians are obligated to study the Scriptures and be faithful in listening good Bible teaching.  But at the same time, we understand this:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13a)

The Spirit of truth has come! He resides in all believers, therefore all believers may be guided into a understanding of the the truth. Mature believer come to depend on the Holy Spirit leading them into an appreciation and understanding of the Bible. Even more than that, the Holy Spirit can give you a greater desire for the truth of God’s Word.

C. Growing God’s purposes, verses 28, 29

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

God wants us to be complete in Him, and He has given the Church the Holy Spirit and preachers, like Paul, to make that happen. This reminds us of what Paul taught the Ephesians:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11—13)

So then, believers grow into maturity through the ministry of the Word of God to them. This involves preaching and teaching, but also “admonishing.” Sometimes believers need to be corrected in their ideas. Paul was so convinced of the importance of his ministry in this regard, that he “strenuously contended” to perform it. He “agonized” and “fought” for the souls of those in his charge. But he did so, not in his own power, but the power of Christ in Him.

The mature believer, then, is one who has a correct understanding of the Person and work of Christ, an understanding of suffering and a desire to know and understand the Word of God.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

The Prison Epistles, Part Five

Applying the Truth, Colossians 3:18-25

Paul begins a new paragraph with 18. Paul had been discussing a very sublime truth: Christ is the only all-sufficient Savior and because of who He is He is the source of all believer’s lives. Paul is now going to show his readers how to apply this truth to some special groups of people, based on what he wrote in verse 17:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The “in Christ” formula is put into practical use here in human relationships, both personal and social. Christian teachings are different from pagan teachings, and Paul points this out by noting the reciprocal nature of our duties to one another. This idea was revolutionary in Paul’s day, where the men dominated the women, the educated took advantage of the ignorant, and the rich oppressed the poor. Christianity isn’t like that, and here is how Paul demonstrates that.

Some misinterpret these verses, so some basic observations should be made:

  • The emphasis of the whole passage is on duties, not rights.
  • These duties are reciprocal; one party does not have an advantage over another.
  • Christ supplies the ability to carry out the admonitions of this passage.

Observing these guidelines for relationships shows the purpose of Christianity. Paul is not suggesting that we should “live in accordance with Nature,” but rather “to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Christianity gives us the pattern for all God-glorifying conduct.

“In Christ” provides the reason, the conditions and the quality of our conduct towards one another. Paul singles out a few relationships where we can demonstrate our Christ-likeness:
husband-wife, parents-children, and master-slave.

1. Wife-Husband, 3:18

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Suffragists hate Paul’s use of the word “submit” and because our culture has degenerated over the past half-century, they have successfully changed the wedding vows in the Book of Common Prayer, eliminating the word “obey.” However, that doesn’t change the wording used in Colossians 3:18. This teaching, which is repeated and expanded upon greatly in Ephesians 5:22-33, is consistent with the teaching of the rest of the Bible, so it is not unique to Paul. The reason given for this submission is not because the husband deserves it or because he is better than his wife, it is because such behavior “is fitting in the Lord.”

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Galatians 3:28)

It is appropriate for the wife to submit to the husband. Paul in no way is suggesting that a husband is “the King of his castle” or some kind teapot despot in his home. There is a divine order to be observed in Scripture: Adam was formed first, and even the Son is subject to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28). Moule writes that submission means “loyalty,” given the way marriage is likened to the union of Christ to the Church.

Three points about this submission:

(1) The wife’s submission is prompted by her husband’s unselfish love.The form of the verb for “submit” (hypotassesthe) indicates that the submission is to be voluntary.

(2) The wife’s submission is not to be forced by her husband. Vaughn writes that this kind of submission is the deference that a loving wife, conscious that a household must have a head, gladly shows to a loving and devoted husband.

(3) This submission is to be “fitting in the Lord.” The word “fitting” means what is “becoming and proper.”
The phrase “in the Lord” tells us that the wife’s action in submission is proper in the way God has ordered His creation.

McGee wrote that:

This is for the purpose of ordering the home. This is not for the purpose of producing a brow-beating husband. I do not believe that God intends for a wife to submit to an unsaved husband who beater her orders her to things contrary to her walk with the Lord.

2. Husband-Wife, 3:19

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

The kind of love a husband should have for his wife is the highest and noblest of all love: agape. This kind of love is also due the Lord. This kind of love will overrule any bitterness, anger, commands and selfishness. The ancient world was a man’s world, and Paul’s admonition to the Colossian men would have been revolutionary and would have raised some eyebrows. But the new life in Christ is a transforming life, and it should transform the home.

Paul gives the husband two responsibilities toward his wife:

(1) “Love (agapate) your wives.” This kind of love has nothing to do with affection or romance, but rather compassion and caring, a deliberate attitude that puts her needs above his own and her well-being above his own.

(2) “Do not be harsh with them.” A husband should be understanding, never cross; considerate, never bitter; and should honor his wife in ever way (1 Peter 3:7). The husband should view his wife as his equal in the sense that she is a “joint heir of the grace of life,” according to 1 Peter 3:7.

3. Children-Parents, 3:20-21

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

The one obligation Paul puts on children is simply to obey their parents. The word “obey” here means literally “to listen under” or “to look up to.” It must be pointed out here that Paul is writing to Christians within the church. It is as least implied that both parents will be performing their duties noted in the previous verses. Elsewhere in the Bible it is clear that a Christian husband and a father has no right to demand of his family anything that is contrary to the dictates of Scripture. In fact, Paul in Ephesians 6:1 writes that there are limits to this obedience:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

A child’s obedience to their parents is something that is very pleasing for the Lord to see, so much so that in the Decalogue there is a promise of long life attached to it. This obedience, further, is not base on the parents character; rather it is the obligation of the child to be obedient; it is the nature of the parent/child relationship. Surely this puts a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the parents to continue “in Christ.”

Following the pattern of a wife’s submission to her husband and a husband’s love for his wife, there is a reciprocity here. Children obey their parents, and a father is not to “embitter” their children. This is simple parenting. A father needs to exercise wisdom and restraint as they raise and discipline their children so that their children don’t lose heart. The word “embittered” properly means “do not nag” as a habitual action. The opposite behavior is at least implied: a father should encourage and teach and build up their developing child. As to why fathers are singled out here, most scholars are silent. William Kelly in his lecture on this topic thinks this:

Mothers are not thus exhorted, for as a rule, her general fault is to spoil [her children].

4. Slaves-Masters, 3:22-25

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.

Paul spends a lot verses on the proper relationship between “the lowly classes” and their masters. This is probably due to the fact that Onesimus, the runaway slave, was returning as a Christian, carrying this letter to the Colossians.

Some basic observations:

(1) This passage does not condone slavery; it is setting forth a basic Christian economic principle: a just and fair wage for a day’s work.

(2) The “masters” of Paul’s day are the “employers” of today, and the “slaves” are merely the “employees.”
This passage is just one of several areas of responsibility surrounding verses 17 and 23. So the advice given here is an outgrowth of 3:17, not a stand alone teaching.

(3) A slave in Paul’s day was a person actually owned by another, although there were laws governing a “slave owner” could do his property. But a Christian slave was to be considered a brother, according to Philemon 16. It is not Paul’s intention to upset the social order of his day, although in the New Testament there is a precedent for civil disobedience (Acts 5:29), but that is to obey God in spite of local laws.

Accordingly, with verse 17 in view, Paul encourages believing slaves or servants to remain as faithful servants, doing their assigned duties as though the Lord was their owner, which, in fact, He is. John Nielson points out that while not upsetting the social order of his day, by injecting Christian principles into it, Paul is planting the seeds of change, which will eventually transform society.

The reciprocal statement is given in 4:1 and involves how the master treats his slave. Just as a believing servant should be an obedient servant to their master, a believing master must also be obedient to his master, the Lord.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

Abiding principles

No human being becomes obedient by good rules. Rules have their place in an orderly society, but with believers there is another, much higher principle at work in Paul’s teaching. The heart of the believer must be filled with the right motive, and love for others give a sense of duty to them. This is what makes obedience easy.

Everything a believer does, whether in a marriage and family setting or in the workplace, is to be done as if they are doing it for the Lord. It is Christ, not rules. Christ is the Means, the Motive, the Measure, and the Object of all behavior.

As Kelly observed:

Rules are never the power but only the tests of obedience.

The Prison Epistles, Part Four

Colossians 3

In Colossians 2:12 we read these words:

[H]aving been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Paul is describing baptism as dying and rising with Christ. The ethical implications of dying with Christ are discussed in 2:20-23,

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

In chapter 3, Paul tells the Colossians what being “raised with” Christ should mean in terms of our moral conduct here and now. This chapter is very typical of one of Paul’s favorite doctrines: the moral conduct of believers is not the means of salvation, but rather the consequence of salvation. It is evidence of a new relationship with God entered into by faith. Our behavior changes, it improves, not because we wish to earn God’s favor, but because we have experienced it.

1. A new frame of reference, 3:1-4

Seeking after things of God should be the lifelong pursuit of every believer. The phrase set your hearts on is a translation of the Greek zeteite, which means to strive for those heavenly things. The believers thoughts, attitudes, ambitions, worldview, and interests should be centered on Jesus Christ. The sense in which believers are to seek is not to discover but to “lay hold of” or “to obtain.” So then, at the very beginning of Paul’s discussion of how we are to live our lives, the very first thing he says is to continually seek heavenly things, striving to grab hold of them.

Verse two seems to be essentially the same as verse one, but there is a very slight difference. Lightfoot observes:

You must not only seek heaven; you must think heaven.

In other words, believers should live with their hearts set on eternal values, not earthly ones. In the natural, human beings cannot do this. But, we are “dead to the world” and “risen to Christ,” therefore, it is possible to live like this. Of course, Paul in no way intends to say that believers are to withdraw from the world; the following verses indicate the exact opposite. However, while we are to have normal relations with the world, Barclay explains:

But there will be a difference: from now on the Christian will see everything in the light and against the background of eternity; they will no longer live as is this world is all that mattered; they will see this world against the background of the large world of eternity.

Verses 3 and 4 give the reader two motives for seeking after and setting their minds on the things above:

First, the believer’s union with Christ in death and in resurrection. Paul implicitly says that if Christians have died with Christ, all that is alien to Him should be alien to them. If Christ is dead to the things of the life, then believers should be also.

But the believer is not only dead in Christ, they are risen with Christ and their lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” This marvelous statement tells us that not only are our lives safe and secure, but that our lives actually belong to God in the heavenly realms (Vaughn). Right now, we experience this spiritually, but one day our relationship will be fully realized. Kelly writes,

The blessed portion of the Christian is that he is dead even to the best things in the world, and alive to the highest things in the presence of God.

The second motivation for seeking after and setting our minds on things above is the prospect our future glory. The “appearing” of Christ refers to His Second Coming, and it is the only time that eschatological reference is made in this Colossians. Differing somewhat from other references of the Second Coming in terms of catastrophic judgment, Paul writes of the Second Coming as a time of manifestation: a revealing of that which is for now hidden. John enlightens us on what Paul is getting at with this verse:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Again, Lightfoot offers an interesting take:

The veil which now shrouds your higher life from others, and even partly from yourselves, will be withdrawn. The world which persecutes, despises, ignores now, will then be blinded with the dazzling glory of the revelation.

Believers should live with that reality in their minds.

2. Off with the old habits!, 3:5-11

John Nielson makes this observation on this group of verses:

A mystical theology that has no practical ethical outcome is spurious.

Preaching without application yields few results, so Paul gives his readers some concrete examples on holiness of heart and life. This is typical of the way Paul writes his letters; first he writes about the doctrine then he gives the practicalities of putting that doctrine to work in everyday life.

Since believers have died with Christ, Paul begins, they need to “put to death” or kill their tendencies to sin. He lists a group of five vices, and all but the last one have to do with sexual sins.

  • Sexual immorality. The Greek is porneia, and generally refers to illicit sexual activity, although is came to include all manner of habitual sexual immorality.
  • Impurity, or akatharsia, usually refers to physical impurity, but as it is used here has a moral connotation, including impure thoughts and actions. It is a much more inclusive word that porneia.
  • Lust is how the NIV has translated pathos, which means “feeling” or “experience.” It is generally a passive word which refers to emotions, good or bad. In Greek literature, this word came to denote violent emotions, and in the New Testament it always refers to “uncontrolled desires.”
  • Evil desires is closely related to “lust,” but it a much broader term.
  • Greed. The English word “greed” carried bad connotations, but the Greek term from which it is derived, pleonexian, is a much stronger word and describes one who is so arrogant and ruthless that they assume other people exist only for their benefit. It is taking the idea behind “selfishness” to the highest degree. This attitude is described as idolatry because it puts material things and one’s own comfort in the place of God.

These sins, according to Paul, incur God’s wrath. The apostle goes into great detail about God’s wrath in Romans 1:18-32. This idea of divine wrath is at variance with much of what the Church teaches today. Modern man recoils at the notion of a God who actually punishes one who sins. God’s wrath is linked to His holiness; a holy God cannot be in the presence of sin. This is a cornerstone of Pauline theology and as far as Paul is concerned, avoiding God’s wrath is a good reason to avoid those sins.

Paul also tells his reader to get rid of other sins; sins of the mouth and sins of the mind. Just as before, he lists five of them.

  • The first three terms, anger, rage, malice, are all sins of temperament. They are all committed because we can’t control our tempers and because a general miserable disposition.
  • Slander is rendered “blasphemy” in the KJV, really means insulting and slanderous talk about other people.
  • Filthy language has the idea of being “foul mouthed.”

Finally, Paul tells his Colossian readers to stop lying to each other. The way this phrase is written in the Greek suggests that this was an ongoing problem in this particular church.

3. On with the new habits! 3:12-14

Without these verses, it would seem Christianity is nothing but a negative system of belief. But the reality is Christianity does not involve a long list of restraints and prohibitions; rather it involves imparting a new life that continues to grow and progress. Paul has reminded the Colossians that they “died with Christ,” and after death comes the resurrection: believers have been “raised with Christ.” Being raised with Christ to a new life means the believer needs to “put on” or develop new habits in keeping with their new life. Paul uses the figure of “clothing” ones self with the new habits as one puts on their clothes.

As God’s “chosen people” who are “holy,” believers have been set apart by God, cleansed by the blood of Christ from the guilt of our sins and are being actively delivered, as we grow and mature in the faith, from sin’s pollution, and we are being renewed according to the image of God.

Because of all this, we should be clothed with heavenly virtues, such as those listed by Paul. Among them are:

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. These qualities, if they are present in a congregation, will go a long way in reducing or eliminating factions and friction among the members.

  • Compassion speaks of a kind of pity and tender-heartedness toward those who are suffering and hurting.
  • Kindness, chrestotes, combines several virtues: goodness, kindliness and graciousness (Vaughn). It simply means having a sweet disposition (Ellicott).
  • Humility comes from a Greek word that originally meant to think lowly of yourself because you are so (Ellicott).
  • Gentleness, prautes, is the exact opposite of arrogance and pride. Moule says it pictures a man who is willing to concede to others and put others ahead of himself.
  • Patience, which translates literally as “longsuffering,” suggests restraint or patience under provocation, a withholding of retaliation.
  • Bear with each other, forgive each other. These are the last of the “heavenly garments” Paul says believers should put on. To “bear with each other” suggests an attitude that overlooks or tolerates things in others that may irritate us or things that we dislike in a person. It’s not the idea of not noticing these traits but not allowing them to influence how we treat these people or what we think of them.
  • Lastly, believers are to wear love. The NIV correctly says “over all” as opposed to “above all” because love is pictured as an outer garment, or more a belt, as noted by Eerdman. It covers and unites all the other virtues; it binds them together in perfect harmony.

4. The result of living the new life, 3:15-17

Some see this group of verses as a continuing appeal to have love and concern for others. They see “peace” as peace between the members of the congregation. Others view this section as introducing a new topic: living according to the dictates of a new life in Christ will result in an inner peace. Probably both interpretations are correct. When one is a peace with themselves, they are able to live at peace with others.

This supernatural peace is to “rule” the hearts of believers. The Greek for “rule” is brabeuo, and occurs only here in the New Testament. Originally it meant “to act as umpire.” Scholars debate exactly what sense Paul was intending to convey; perhaps the “peace of Christ” is seen as acting as an umpire, helping the believer as they live their lives in the Body of Christ. A right decision results in peace, a wrong decision results in a lack of inner peace.

Being thankful should be the normative state for anybody who has received grace from God. Literally, the phrase is “become thankful,” and means to cultivate an thankful attitude.

Letting the word of Christ dwell in you means several things. It refers to the teachings of Christ, the Word of God. This must dwell in all believers. The Word of God must have for its home the hearts and minds of individual believers and in the congregation of a church. It is to dwell in us “richly,” meaning in all its power and influence and meaning. Nielson comments:

The Christian must know the Word so well that it remains in the heart and mind, ruling all the actions and presiding over all decisions. That Word is the only basis for teaching and admonishing another.

The punctuation in verse 16 is a little confusing; the most generally accepted way to read it is to link “with all wisdom” to “teach” and “admonish.” Under the leading of the Holy Spirit, believers are to do two things:

  • teach and admonish (counsel) one another using the knowledge of the Word of God;
  • sing with grateful hearts to God using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

On the first point of believers being called to “admonish one another.” In the Body of Christ we are all called to take notice of each other and to watch out for each others spiritual well-being. When we see a brother or sister in danger spiritually, it is our duty to “admonish” or counsel them, not according to church doctrine or our own opinions, but according to what the plain Word of God says. This, naturally, means believers are to know the Word of God.

On the second point, of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, William Kelly’s observations are most helpful:

I suppose a psalm was a more stately composition than a spiritual song, which admits more of Christian experience and expression of our feelings. This may be very good in its way and season, but it is not the best or highest thing. A psalm, then, is more solemn; a hymn is a direct address to God and consists of praise.

Finally, with verse 18, Paul reaches the climax of his teaching. Obedience to this one admonition ennobles all life. Not only hymns of praise, but every word and every deed should be an act of worship to God. For the believer, there is no separation between the sacred things and the secular things of life. Everything we do, whether in church or not, is to be done in “the name of the Lord Jesus. This does not mean that we are to use his name as a magic talisman. A “name” is how one is identified, or shows what one is. Whatever we do, however we do it, should be done in trusting in Him, in His power, obeying His will; that is real worship.

The Prison Epistles, Lecture 3

Colossians 2

1. The Pastor’s Heart Revealed, 2:1-5

Paul begins this second chapter of Colossians with a note of concern:

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (2:1)

Previously, Paul had laid the groundwork for his confrontation with those in the Colossian church who had become embroiled in the emerging heresy. Obviously the Laodicean church was having a similar problem and Paul wrote he was “struggling” for both congregations. The word for “struggling” is the Greek agona, and suggests a wrestling match, strenuous combat between two persons. Of course, Paul is not speaking of physical combat here, but a spiritual one, in prayer. This verse brings to mind another of Paul’s:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

The reasons for Paul’s spiritual exertion for his congregations are as follows:

  • [T]hat they may be encouraged in heart. William Kelly writes that these people were not happy now, they were oppressed, their were getting clouded in their thoughts. The Greek for “encouraged” comes from parakaleo, “to call to the side of.” It is the root of a more familiar NT word: paraclete, the Holy Spirit. Hendriksen, commenting on this verse, writes: The heart of all true pastoral activity is to be an instrument in God’s hand to bring the hearts of those entrusted to one’s care to the heart of Christ..
  • [U]nited in love. According to Moule, the thought behind “united,” symbibasthentes, denotes being “compacted, welded together.” This is the ideal state for the church to be in, but with the false teaching making its way through the congregation, member was pitted against member and unity was absent.
  • [S]o that they may have the full riches of complete understanding. The strengthening of love between members of a congregation creates the atmosphere where learning and complete understanding can take place. Quarreling and disunity within a church hinders the clear comprehension of the gospel of truth. A person may be a Christian, sing hymns, raise their hands in church, and say all the things Christians are supposed to say, but at the same time be completely in dark about Jesus Christ. The riches of being a believer are not emotional worship services or witnessing signs and wonders; the the riches of the Christian life involve a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ.
  • [T]hat they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ. Paul would also write these words concerning the purpose of pastoral ministry:

…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12, 13)

Believers grow into maturity through a knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that knowledge comes from an understanding of the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says,
[F]aith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

2. The Pastor’s Ministry Revealed, 2:8-23

In these verses, Paul makes his direct attack against “the Colossian heresy.” One of the unpleasant tasks of the pastor is to admonish members of his congregation when he sees them running into error. The tone of this section is both admonitory and affirmative. His admonitions are built around the supremacy of Christ. Even in his discipline, Paul makes it all about Jesus Christ, not man.

Verse 4 is a kind of prelude to this section and serves to illustrate exactly what had taken place in this church: I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. The KJV translates this verse:

And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

Notice a couple points. First, evil is potent, and though a church is built up spiritually through the preaching of the Word, it is torn down by words of false teaching. Words are powerful tools for good or evil, and that all depends on what is being preached from the pulpit. Second, the tiny word “lest” or “so that” must not be overlooked. As powerful and destructive a force false teaching may be, it can be resisted. False teaching need not overpower any congregation. It may be resisted as long as that congregation is united in love, brought to maturity through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

[a] The Warning, verse 8

As verses 6 and 7 state, it’s not enough to simply “confess Christ,” a believer must be rooted and built up in Him, that is, they must have a firm grasp on fundamental doctrines and not caught up in wild ideas and strange philosophies. It becomes clear that in this group of verses (8-10) Paul is intensely concerned about the false teaching of those in the church whose speculative theories, cleverly presented might undermine the confidence of the Colossians in Christ as their only complete savior.

The exact nature of this errant philosophy is not known, although many speculate. It was an early error that had crept into the church, likely of Jewish origin, that joined itself to Christianity in order to make it’s teachings more palatable and easy to believe. Williams observes, how better to attract Jews and Gentiles to a new religion than to engraft into it some of the teachings of Judaism or of Aristotle or Plato?

Curtis Vaughn calls these false teachers “men-stealers.” The word translated “takes captive” is the Greek sylagogon, which is used of taking captives during war and leading them away as booty. this is a perfect description of false teachers: their goal is to entrap and steal members of the church and drag them into spiritual servitude.

How does this happen? Through a “philosophy” that is “hollow and deceptive.” This is the only time the word “philosophy” appears in the New Testament. Paul is not condemning philosophy in general, merely the destructive philosophy or teaching that is killing the church in Colosse. Paul describes this teaching in three ways:

  • It depends on human tradition. This teaching was taken from the apostles, nor did it belong to the mainstream teachings of Judaism. It was a mixture of Christianity, Judaism, Ceremonialism, Angelolatry, and Ascetism. In other words, man had taken bits and pieces of various religions and combined them with Christianity to come up with a dangerous and deceptive hybrid that so many found appealing.
  • It followed the basic principles of this world. The original term for “basic principles” is taken from the Greek stoicheia, referring to the “ABC’s,” or the elemental teachings of something, in this case, of the world. This passage is fraught with translation difficulties. The term stoicheia came to be used to of the elements of the physical world, things like stars and other heavenly bodies and of elemental spirits. The meaning of this phrase may be “basic principles of this world,” as the NIV reads, or as the RSV reads, “elemental spirits.” Regardless of Paul’s precise meaning, this philosophy is man’s substitute God’s truth as revealed in the Gospel.
  • [R]ather than on Christ. Literally the phrase is “not according to Christ.” If the previous phrase is unclear, this one is clear as crystal: what the heretics are teaching has nothing to do with the truth as revealed by Christ. Christ is the standard by which all doctrine is to be measured.

[b] Christ is the basis of truth because He is God, verse 9

As many commentators have noted, virtually every word in this verse is important, and along with verse 10, crowns Paul’s argument against the false teachers in his letter. Let’s consider the words and their impact:

  • For. This word links this verse and the verses that follow to verse 8, and it shows that Paul’s warning against the false teaching is founded on what he is about to write concerning Christ and His fullness.
  • In Christ. This phrase is placed in the emphatic position within the structure of the sentence which means that in Christ alone the fullness of God dwells. His fullness is not spread across anything or anybody else; it is shared with no angel or man or organization .
  • Lives. Literally the word means “dwells,” and it in the present tense, meaning “now.” This is a powerful thought, for when God the Father placed His fullness in His Son for the Incarnation, it remains in the Son to this day, even while the Son is in His glorified state. The word is katoikei and suggests permanence.
  • Fullness. All English versions translate pleroma that way. It was also used back in 1:19, but here tes theotetos is added to it, “fullness of the Deity.” This is the only time theotetos is used in the New Testament so it’s appearance is significant. It means “the very essence” of God is found in Christ; nothing is lacking. What God is, is found in Christ.

This exalts Christ while decimating the false teachers and their lies. Docetism said that Christ only appeared to be a man. Gnosticism taught that God’s essence was shared among many beings, of which Christ was one. But Paul is teaching that Jesus Christ is God incarnate; that in the Son are to be found all the attributes of God. The Godhead dwells entirely in Jesus Christ! True knowledge is in Christ and Christ is as superior to man as man is to the ants that swirl around a crumb.

Since all the fullness of God is found in Christ, there is no need to look elsewhere for help. So Paul adds immediately:

and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (verse 10).

The thought it is: In Christ, believers have reached the source of all blessing and wisdom and power. If we abide in Him, He abides in us. The fullness of God is within all believers, then. Calvin is helpful on this point:

Ye are made full does not mean that the perfection of Christ is transfused into us, but that there is in Him resources from which we may be filled, that nothing be wanting in us.

A relationship with Christ meets our every need so that we should never need to look to any man or organization to give us what we lack. Possessing Him, we possess all (Vaughn).

Paul’s Intercessory Prayer

An Examination of Colossians 1:9-14

his group of verses form a kind of intercessory prayer on behalf of the believers at Colossae. This prayer of Paul’s is in response to a report that has come to him regarding a subtle heresy that has found its way into the church. Incidentally, here is a classic example why I refer to Paul as the Master of the Run-On sentence. This sentence runs an astounding 218 words! It begins in verse 9 and runs through verse 20.

1. Two petitions, one prayer, verses 9, 10

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

Paul’s prayer contains two petitions or requests. The first request is the one closest to Paul’s heart and is the foundation of the entire prayer. He asks God to fill the believers in Colossae with a knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. E.F. Scott thinks that this request hints at the problem with the church at Colossae, that is, that despite their devotion to Christ, they had somehow failed to acquire true knowledge, “mistaking windy speculations for a deeper wisdom.”

The phrase “fill you” is written in the aorist-passive, meaning “a complete experience.” It reminds us of what James said:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.

Paul’s second request is that his friends might “live a life worthy of the Lord.” This is a natural progression from knowing God’s will. If you know God’s will, your life will be worthy of the Lord. Curtis Vaughan rightly notes that a knowledge of God’s will is not an end in and of itself, but knowing God’s will carries with it a responsibility to carry it out. As Lightfoot observed,

The end of all knowledge…is conduct.

Interestingly, the English “live a life” comes from a single Greek word, peripatesai, meaning literally, “to walk.” To walk after the Lord, and to live a life worthy of the Lord suggests living a life commensurate with what the Lord has done for us and in us. Furthermore, living a life worthy of God means that we will “please God in every way.” The Greek word for “please” carries with it an attitude that “anticipates every wish.” What a powerful thought: as believers, we are to live a live that anticipates what God wants of us and from us. Most of us live life the other way; we live a life that seeks to get as much as we can out of God.

2. Four ingredients of a pleasing life, verses 10b-14

[B]earing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The first ingredient of a life pleasing to God is a life that bears fruit. “Bearing fruit in every good work” shows the quality of the believer’s conduct. The active voice of the the verb, “bearing,” indicates that one’s will and determination are needed and expected.

Secondly, the Christian should grow spiritually. “Growing” is a strong Greek word in the present tense and, like “bearing fruit,” implies a habitual action. Growing in the knowledge of God is to be continuous action; life-long learning is indicated. What is really of significance is a small preposition “in.” This tells us that spiritual growth takes place in the realm of knowledge. In other words, Christian maturity can only occur when one’s knowledge of God increases. John Nielson remarks,

[T]he power for the “worthy walk” [is] to be drawn from the knowledge of God. How important, then, the faithful study of God’s Word and prayer! Such holy practices strengthen on for the holy walk.

Again, Vaughn eloquently states,

What rain and sunshine are to the nurture of plants, the knowledge of God is to the growth and maturing of the spiritual life.

The third element necessary to living a God-pleasing life that of “being strengthened with all power.” In the Greek, this phrase is written as a passive participle, indicating that the ability to live a holy life come from a source outside ourselves; it comes from God. The believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit is sustained in his walk by a power greater than himself: divine grace. The believer can do anything that God requires because God give him the ability to do so. The word “strengthened,” which speaks of continuous empowerment, comes from the same root word used in Philippians 4:13,

I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

Of special note is that this strengthening is not according to our need, but according to His power, or more accurately, according to “the might of His glory” (lit.) Since God’s glory is everlasting, His power is never ending. Such is the resource that stands in back of every single believer.

The reasons God empowers believers is stated plainly: so that you may have great endurance and patience. The NIV’s “endurance” is a way of translating a Greek word which is closely tied to “hope” and which is the opposite of cowardice. Another commentator has suggested the word means “the ability to see something through to the end.” The other word, “patient,” comes from a word which means the opposite of wrath or an attitude of revenge. It means “even-temperedness,” the kind of attitude that does not seek to “get even” or retaliate when injured.

The fourth ingredient of the worthy Christian life is gratitude. Since all good things come to us from the Father, our words of thanks need to be expressed to Him first, before anybody else.

As a side note, this passage indicates that believers, in and of themselves, are not fit to share in the “inheritance of the saints.” It is God Himself who qualifies us for that privilege. The phrase who has qualified you is written in the aorist tense, meaning the qualifying is not a process, but something that happened immediately.

4. God’s deliverance, verses 13-14

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Finally, God has “rescued” or “delivered” (KJV) believers. This refers to an decisive act of God. The verb, once again, is in the aorist tense, revealing a decisive, completed act. This deliverance is a present deliverance from sin and sinning; it is something that has already been accomplished for us. This is a proof that God has qualified believers to share in the inheritance of the saints. The word “rescued” is errusato, meaning to liberate, save, or deliver somebody from something or someone.

Believers have been delivered from the “power” or “dominion” of darkness. In Scripture, “darkness” often refers to ignorance or evil. Through Christ, we have been moved from the sphere of darkness. Nielson wrote:

Christ never domineers; Satan always does. The passions of sin always dominate the man. The fruit of the Spirit never holds a man under any dominion; the believer controls them.

This deliverance was in the aorist tense. It is a present experience: the action was taken in the past, the rescue is a completed reality. Nobody has to be rescued again!

But the implications of this rescue are far reaching. Not only are we delivered from the “power” or authority of darkness, but we have been “brought” into the Kingdom of Christ. The word is metestesen, and it is used in Greek literature of relocating people from one country to another country. It could be thought of as “re-established.” We have been relocated from the Kingdom of Darkness, to the Kingdom of Light. At the moment, this kingdom is within our hearts, and Christ is the Royal Sovereign over our hearts. But one day it will be a physical reality.

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