Colossians 1

 
Introduction: Christ the Preeminent One
Colossians 1
 
Colossians 1. In this chapter, Paul points the saints to the glory and preeminence of Christ. The danger they were faced with from the false teachers was of getting occupied with angels, rituals, and other false objects. Paul addresses these errors in ch.2, but before doing so, he presents the true object of Christian faith in ch.1: Christ in all His glory. Occupation with Christ is the answer to these dangers. This is one of the great New Testament chapters that unfold the glories of Christ. His moral glories shown primarily in the gospels, where all His perfection was displayed in His walk here below. Christ’s official glories are unfolded in the prophets, and will be shown out fully in the millennium; the glory He has as messiah, as Melchizedek priest, and as supreme head over all things in heaven and on earth. Christ’s mediatorial glories have to do with that which He acquired through humiliation, suffering, and death. His personal glories have to do with His eternal identity as the Son of God, and are unfolded all through scripture, but notably in John 1 as the Eternal Word, in Colossians 1 as the image of the invisible God, and in Hebrews 1 as God in the person of the Son.
 
 

Opening Salutation (1:1-2)

CHAPTER 1
Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus, by God’s will, and Timotheus the brother, v.1 Writers Introduced. The Colossian epistle was written by the Apostle Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. In this epistle Paul unfolds the truth of the Mystery, which was especially committed to Paul as an “apostle of Christ Jesus” as a special vessel, chosen “by God’s will”. He introduces himself as such. Whenever the name Christ Jesus is used (Christ preceding Jesus) is presents Christ as risen and glorified at God’s right hand. Colossians presents Christ in this character, as the glorified head of the body. Paul associates Timothy with himself in writing to the Colossians, perhaps because Paul was unknown there (Col. 2:1).
 
2 to the holy and faithful brethren in Christ which are in Colosse. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ. v.2 Recipients and Salutation. Paul addresses himself to “the holy and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse”. This is a wonderful commendation for the brethren at large. They were “holy” in that they had remained separate from evil and separated to the Lord. They were “faithful” in that they had maintained the truth committed to them. The term “brethren” is the common expression of relationship in the family of God. The epistle to the Colossians has a slightly more familiar tone than that to the Ephesians. As we mentioned in the overview, the assembly in Colosse met in the home of a wealthy house-holder named Philemon. Note that local assembly isn’t exactly addressed, perhaps because this letter was to be sent to the assembly of Laodiceans, and epistle to the Laodiceans was to be sent to Colosse as well. It is striking that these two assemblies, only 15 km apart, could each receive a letter from the apostle Paul, and only one letter be inspired and preserved to us today. If we are to profit from this epistle we will need “grace” or enabling power to understand and walk in the truth of the mystery, and “peace” which refers to settled peace with God (Rom. 5:1) from God our Father. Mercy is only added when an epistle is addressed to an individual, because the saints collectively are never looked at as an object of mercy, but of grace.
 

Paul’s Prayer for the Colossians (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving for the Saints (vv.3-8)

3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ continually when praying for you, 4 having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which ye have towards all the saints, 5 on account of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens; of which ye heard before in the word of the truth of the glad tidings, vv.3-5 Faith, Love, and Hope Evidenced Among the Saints. Whenever Paul or Timothy prayed for the Colossians, they would thank God for the evidences of divine life among them. The saints in Colosse faced grave danger in the form of evil doctrine that was being presented to them, but they had not imbibed it yet. God is addressed as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This is a most unusual expression, only found five times in the New Testament (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3). It sets the tone for the epistle; i.e. that we share all that the Son is and has, even His relationship with God (John 20:17). This is what it means to be in the full Christian position: to have as our God and Father the same one who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Many times in the New Testament faith, hope, and love are put together (1 Cor. 13:13; Galatians 5:5-6; Col. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:3; 1 Thess. 5:8-10). Faith is implicit and complete trust in God, here specifically in Christ Jesus. Love is a settled disposition of favor, here displayed on the part of the Colossians toward “all the saints”. Hope for the believer is a deferred certainly. In Colossians the believer is viewed as still in the wilderness, with the hope ahead in heaven. In Ephesians we are seen as having our blessings already now, because we are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. But while here in the wilderness, God would give us a heavenly hope, that of being with and like Christ, in order to attach our hearts to an object there, rather than things on the earth (see Col. 3:1). This hope is implicit in “the word of the truth of the glad tidings”. The gospel not only brings forgiveness and peace, but it lifts our hopes above the horizons of this earth (1 Thess. 1:10). Our hope is sure, reserved to us in heaven. Note that the Colossians had been saved through the preaching of others, and they had never seen Paul’s face (Col. 2:1). Paul writes, not to put the saints on a different foundation, but to confirm what they had already believed. Expressions like “the word” and “the truth” are the very opposite of the mysticism and philosophy that accompanied the false teaching making inroads among them.
 
6 which are come to you, as they are in all the world, and are bearing fruit and growing, even as also among you, from the day ye heard them and knew indeed the grace of God, in truth: v.6 The Gospel. Paul elaborates on the gospel. The glad tidings had reached Colosse, as they were “in all the world”. The gospel spreads! But more than this, the gospel bears fruit and grows! The Colossians were an example of how the gospel bears fruit. From the very “day” they had heard the gospel, there was more and more fruit produced by these saints for God. The “fruit” of the gospel could refer to several things: it could be moral like the fruit in John 15, or it could refer to additional souls being saved as the gospel propagated. More likely it is moral fruit, like the “faith” and “love” in v.4. See v.10 where fruit is used in the same way. He equates their conversion with knowing “indeed the grace of God, in truth”. This is what it means to be a Christian in reality: to know the grace of God. Human philosophy says that man is the center of everything; but this is not the grace of God. Human religion says that man can please God through his own works; but this also is not the grace of God. When we know our lost condition, God’s provision of His Son, the work of the cross, and the indwelling Spirit, all given to the vilest sinner who truly believes, entirely apart from the basis of works or law-keeping; then we know the grace of God. And when we know His grace, there will be fruit produced in our lives.
 
7 even as ye learned from Epaphras our beloved fellow-bondman, who is a faithful minister of Christ for you, 8 who has also manifested to us your love in the Spirit. vv.7-8 Epaphras. Even though Paul had never been to Colosse, he had several connections there. One was this brother Epaphras, who was a local in the assembly. Paul had gotten to know Epaphras in his travels. It may be that the Colossians were saved through Epaphras, because it says “the glad tidings… even as ye learned from Epaphras”. Communication had flowed between the apostle and the saints at Colosse through this brother, who “has also manifested to us your love in the Spirit”. Whether it was in preaching the gospel in Colosse, or else displayed practically in his life, Epaphras had taught the Colossians the grace of God in truth. But Epaphras was also a tremendous help to Paul; “Epaphras our beloved fellow-bondman”.

Prayer for the Colossians’ needs (vv.9-14)

9 For this reason “we” also, from the day we heard of your faith and love, do not cease praying and asking for you, to the end that ye may be filled with the full knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, v.9 For Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding. In addition to giving thanks for the Colossian saints, Paul prayed for their needs. He prays for the saints that they would be “filled with the full knowledge of his will”. Paul speaks in Ephesians 1 of the knowledge of the mystery of God’s will, which is His eternal purpose to glorify Christ. But this is different. As we see in v.10, this knowledge of God’s will is a practical thing; “so as to walk worthily of the Lord unto all well-pleasing”. The will of God here in Colossians 1 is more knowledge of how we should walk in light of the glorious Person we are associated with, and in light of the mystery. This knowledge is to be coupled with “all wisdom”, because God wants us to enter into His purposes, and “spiritual understanding” that we might know how to discern His will in various circumstances.
 
Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding. There are three terms in scripture that are closely related: knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. There is certainly overlap between knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, but the words do covey different meanings.
  • Knowledge. Knowledge is the possession of information or intelligence (Gen. 2:9; 1 Kings 9:27; Rom. 3:20); in scripture particularly of what God has said and done (Num. 24:16; Prov. 2:5; Isa. 11:9). Most importantly, there is the knowledge of Divine Persons which should be every human’s highest priority to gain (Eph. 1:17; 3:8; 4:13; Col. 1:10). It is one thing to have natural knowledge, like scientist, but another thing to have the knowledge of God.
  • Wisdom. Knowledge asks the question “What?”. Wisdom is deeper than knowledge because it asks the questions “Why?” and “How?”. Wisdom is the apprehension of the beauty and propriety of what God has said and done (1 Cor. 2:6-8). Often people equate wisdom with age or experience, and often those things are correlated (Job 32:7). Experience should teach a person wisdom, however wisdom is not the same as experience. Wisdom is more like insight; the result of apprehending the inner nature of things. Knowledge apprehends that the sun rises and sets each day, but wisdom apprehends why the sun rises and sets.
  • Understanding. Understanding is the ability to practically apply wisdom; to know what to do (1 Chron. 12:32; Ex. 36:1). Understanding and wisdom are often confused, and the words used almost interchangeably. Understanding is more like discernment in a given situation. We see this in 1 Kings 3, where Solomon prayed “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (1 Kings 3:9). The Lord of course answered Solomon’s prayer, and gave him the understanding heart, which also implies wisdom and knowledge. An example of understanding follows in the same chapter, where the two women came both claiming the living child was hers. It was Solomon’s wisdom to know how a mother’s heart is toward her child. But it was understanding which led Solomon to say, “Bring me a sword” and “Divide the living child”, because it exposed which was the true mother. This of course is natural understanding, but there is something even greater which is “spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9); i.e. discernment in spiritual things.
As an example, take an automobile. First, you need to be aware of the parts that make up a car – that’s knowledge. Second, you need to grasp how the car works, the purpose of its various systems, and how the pieces fit and function together – that’s wisdom. Third, you need to lay hold of the operation of the car, or discern what is to be done to fix the car if it were broken – that’s understanding.1 In terms of spiritual things, all three come from the Lord; “For Jehovah giveth wisdom; out of his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). 
 
10 so as to walk worthily of the Lord unto all well-pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing by the true knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power according to the might of his glory unto all endurance and longsuffering with joy; vv.10-11 The Impact on Our Walk. Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding are given by God for a very practical purpose. These things help us to “walk worthily of the Lord unto all well-pleasing”. The first outcome of spiritual learning is a walk that is worthy of our Lord. There is a hint in this that something was lacking among the Colossian saints; something that was not worthy of the Lord, or not pleasing to Him. The second outcome is fruit-bearing; “bearing fruit in every good work”. The fruit-bearing will be evidenced in every area of our lives. The third outcome is spiritual growth; “growing by the true knowledge of God”. Notice that the growth is “by” the knowledge of God, not the other way around. As we come to know God better, it produces growth in our souls, and more of a conformance to God’s character; i.e. godliness. The knowledge of God is the means of spiritual growth. The fourth outcome is endurance. The pathway of faith is full of obstacles and opposition. To overcome we will need the power of God; and “all power” is available to us. The measure of that power is “according to the might of his glory”. The glory of God has power! When we are full of an appreciation of God’s glory, we will have strength for our pathway. His glory transforms us (2 Cor. 3:18). This strength will be manifested in two ways: “endurance” for dealing with difficult circumstances, and “longsuffering” for dealing with difficult people. God’s power will allow us to do both “with joy”. This joy is connected with vv.12-14.
 
12 giving thanks to the Father, who has made us fit for sharing the portion of the saints in light, 13 who has delivered us from the authority of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love: 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins; vv.12-14 The Impact on Our Attitude. The final outcome of Christian learning is that we will have a thankful attitude. This thanksgiving is addressed to “the Father”. The Jews were in relationship with Jehovah, but in Christianity we are in relationship with God as our Father. There are three things that become the subject of our intelligent thanksgiving:
  1. Light, a new sphere. We have been brought from darkness to light. We have been “made fit.. for sharing the portion of the saints in light”. Saints are sanctified ones, and we have been made fit to enjoy the common inheritance of all saints. But the saints are “in the light” where God dwells, and there is no place in the light for sin. We have been made fit for that sphere of light by the work of sanctification. The positional sanctification here involves not only the impartation of new life but also the indwelling of the Spirit of God. The inheritance of the saints is something that we have now, that we enjoy by the Spirit of God. All the blessedness of communion with God who dwells in the light is our inheritance.
  2. Love, a new authority. Before we were converted we were under “the authority of darkness”. Men like to think they are free, but in reality they are in bondage to Satan (Heb. 2:14-15). But God has “translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love”. We are under a new authority! It is a kingdom that takes its character from the Father’s love of His Son. This is a wonderful authority to be under. Our motive for service is love, not fear (2 Tim. 1:7). This is the only place in scripture were the term “kingdom of the Son” is used. When “kingdom of the Son of man” is used, it refers to the future appearing and reign of Christ. Here it is a present kingdom, where the center of it is the Father’s love for His Son!
  3. Liberty, a new condition. We also have been redeemed in connection with our sins. Redemption has more to do with our condition or state than with our standing. Redemption means to be “bought and set free” from sin, the world, and Satan for the purpose of doing the will of God in worship and in service. “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Ex. 8:1). Here redemption is particularly in connection with sins; “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. This is judicial forgiveness of sins, which results in non-imputation. Forgiveness is the negative aspect of justification. Justification includes a positive aspect as well, that of being given a righteous standing “in Christ” before God. The expression “through his blood” is not here, because the subject is the greatness of the Person who accomplished redemption – the Son of God – rather than the means of its accomplishment (compare with Eph. 1:7).
For all these things we can be very thankful, and they should be the subject of our praise to the Father; thanking Him for all that we have through the Person of His dear Son!
 
Summary. The Colossians’ chief needs, which Paul prayed for, were knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. The result of being given more of this true Christian learning are: (1) a walk that is worthy of our Lord, (2) fruit-bearing, (3) spiritual growth, (4) endurance, and (5) a thankful attitude.
 

Expounding Christ’s Glory and Paul’s Ministry (vv.15-29)

The glories of Christ. As soon as Paul mentions Christ, he begins to expound on His glories. We see this as a pattern in scripture: 1 Tim. 6:14-16; 2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Pet. 4:11; Rev. 1:5; Rev. 4:9-11. But in a broader sense, what Paul is doing in this chapter is pointing the Colossian saints to the glory and preeminence of Christ. They were in danger of getting occupied with angels, rituals, and other false objects. Before addressing these errors, Paul presents the true object of Christian faith: Christ in all His glory. Occupation with Christ is the answer to the danger that they were facing. See 2 Cor. 3:18 for a similar thought, although there it is His moral glory. The remainder of the chapter takes up the glories of Christ and what those glories of Christ relate to. First, Christ’s two headships, in all creation and in resurrection (vv.15-19). Second, his two reconciliations, of all creation, and of the saints (vv.19-22). Thirdly, the two ministries of the apostle Paul which flow from the glories of Christ, the gospel preached to all creation, and the preaching of the mystery – the truth of the church (vv.23-29).2

Two Headships or Preeminences of Christ (vv.15-19)

15 who is image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation; 16 because by him were created all things, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or authorities: all things have been created by him and for him. 17 And “he” is before all, and all things subsist together by him. vv.15-17 Firstborn of all creation. The first aspect of Christ’s preeminence is in connection with the old creation. Christ is “the image of the invisible God”. This expression has the thought of representation. Christ is the perfect representation of God, so much so that Hebrews 1:3 says “the express image of his person”. God is invisible; “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18), “whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Yet all that God is is perfectly represented in Christ. He is “firstborn of all creation”. Often we use the word ‘firstborn’ in connection with birth order in time, but it is often used in scripture in reference to preeminence (in Psa. 89:27 it is applied to Solomon, tenth son of David; in Ex. 4:22 it is applied to Israel, the least of all nations). If order in time were meant, then Adam would have been firstborn, or Cain. Some have erroneously taken this verse to indicate that Christ was created at the incarnation. However this denial of eternal existence of the Son is easily refuted by the following verse which states that He created all things, and the following verse that says He existed before all things! Although Christ is firstborn of all creation, He is not a creature. Rather, He is the Creator! It was on account of His greatness that when the Lord stepped into His own creation as a man, He became the firstborn of it all. He had to have the highest place. The reason for this is given in vv.16-17; i.e. He is the one who created all things. The sphere of creation is broken down first into two great categories: “the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth”. The heavens would include the first heaven (sky, stars, etc.) and the second heaven (spiritual realm, angels, etc.). The things on the earth would include people, animals, plants, geological features, etc. The creation is broken down again in along another dimension: “the visible and the invisible”. The invisible things include some of the things the mystics in Colosse were trying to worship, such as the angels (Col. 2:18). The various types of angels are listed: “whether thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or authorities” (see Eph. 6:12). But what is the use of worshiping the angels when we know the Person who created the angels? The statement “all things have been created by him” is totally inclusive. There is not one thing that came into existence that He did not create (John 1:3). Furthermore, all things were created “for him”, as the twenty-four elders proclaimed, “thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). There can be no doubt as to the eternal existence of the Son, because He had to exist in order to create. But it goes further, saying “And he is before all”. Notice that it doesn’t say “was” but “is”. This is similar to the name of Jehovah “I AM”; the ever-existing one. And finally, “all things subsist together by him”. This shows that not only did Christ create everything, but He sustains everything ongoing; “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). If he were to stop this work, the whole creation would dissolve (Job 34:14-15). All creation is sustained “together”, as one harmonious system, ordered and upheld by Christ!
 
The Image and Likeness of God. These two words are often confused. Adam was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26). Image is the thought of representation, and likeness the thought of resemblance. As the likeness of God, Adam resembled God morally, in that he was without sin (see usage; Psa. 17:15; Ezek. 1:5; Dan. 10:16). Christ is never said to be the "likeness" of God, because He is God! Christ is the perfect display of all God is as light and love. To say that Christ is the likeness of God would be to deny the truth of His Person (c.p. Phil. 2:7). Though man was created "after the similitude of God", he is no longer in His likeness, because man is morally fallen. As the image of God, Adam was the representation of God in the earth (see usage; Dan. 2:31; Matt. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:7). The Greeks understood that the image of Jupiter did not necessarily look like Jupiter, but it was made to represent him. Not angels, but man was placed on earth to represent God. Of course, none but Christ is the exact "image" or representation of God (Heb. 1:3). Even though man has fallen, he is still the image of God (1 Cor. 11:10), but he gives a distorted representation. When Adam fell, God-likeness was lost and God-image was distorted; "and Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his likeness, after his image..." (Gen. 5:3). In the new creation, which is created "in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:10), we find that likeness is restored (Eph. 4), because the believer's new nature now resembles God in His characters of light and love. Furthermore, image is renewed (Col. 3), because God now looks down at the new race, and He is accurately represented in that race.
 
18 And “he” is the head of the body, the assembly; who is the beginning, firstborn from among the dead, that “he” might have the first place in all things: 19 for in him all the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell, vv.18-19 Firstborn from among the dead. The second aspect of Christ’s preeminence is in connection with the new creation. The word ‘firstborn’ is used again, not now in connection with incarnation, but with resurrection; i.e. “firstborn from among the dead”. A new creation began when Christ rose from the dead, and this is what is meant in Rev. 3:14, referring to Christ, “the beginning of the creation of God”. The things in v.18 therefore have to do with the new creation, while things in vv.16-17 had to do with the old creation. A new thing was formed after the resurrection and glorification of Christ; that is “the body, the assembly”. The assembly is viewed sometimes in Paul’s doctrine as the body of Christ, and the head of that body is of course Christ Himself! If God created something new on the Day of Pentecost, Christ is the head of it. Why? Because he must have “the first place in all things”. This one sublime statement could be written over all of scripture. God will see to it that Christ has the first place in everything, because He is worthy of it. To demonstrate the worthiness of Christ for His place of preeminence in connection with all things, the apostle explains that as a man on earth, “all the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell” in him. We have the same thought again in Col. 2:9. What does it mean? I’m not sure we can improve on the language of scripture. But it has the sense that all the full glories of the Godhead were pleased to dwell in a man. This is a stupendous truth. He was not a mere man whom whom God acted through like a proxy. Instead the fullness of the Godhead dwelled in Him permanently. How could an infinite God become man? Human wisdom would argue that Christ surely gave up something of the Godhead fullness in becoming man. But no, Christ as a man on earth lacked nothing of all the fullness of the Godhead. Surely then, Christ is worthy of the first place in everything, not because of what He has done, but because of who He is. How this would have dealt a death blow to the Gnostic perversions of the doctrine of Christ’s Person. A helpful way to distinguish incarnation (v.15) from new creation (v.18) is that in incarnation, Christ came down to where we are, taking manhood into His Person, but in new creation Christ has brought manhood into an altogether new position, far above angels, and we are brought up to where He is as part of the new creation race! The union that Paul spoke of was not the incarnation (the physical body of Christ), but rather new creation (the mystical body of Christ).

Two Reconciliations of Christ (vv.20-23a)

Christ, the Reconciler. There is an acquired glory of Christ that is brought out in the following verses; that of the reconciler. Man had dishonored God, and even the creation was separated from Him. Christ is the Person who accomplished the work of reconciliation! How could there be any other object for our worship than this glorious Person?
 
20 and by him to reconcile all things to itself, having made peace by the blood of his cross — by him, whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens. v.20 Reconciliation of all things. When it comes to the work of reconciliation, the whole Godhead is at work. Notice that critical translations read “to itself”, referring to the Godhead. But Christ is the means by which that reconciliation is accomplished; “by him to reconcile all things to itself”. We get this same pattern again in 2 Corinthians 5 in the reconciliation of persons; “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). It was God working, but in Christ as the medium. But here the party to be reconciled is “all things”. But universal phase of reconciliation is future. We do not see all things reconciled to God today. This will occur when the new heavens and earth are formed, and all things in the Eternal State are according to God’s mind. But morally, the cost of that reconciliation has been paid at the cross; “having made peace by the blood of his cross”. Christ has paid all that was required to restore God’s fellowship with creation. The creation today is at a distance from God. The effects of sin have brought havoc to the creation. But the cross of Christ laid the foundation for the reconciliation of all creation! The “all things” is expanded so we cannot mistake the meaning; “whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens”. We can easily see how the things on the earth need to be reconciled. The plant and animal creations are hurting (Rom. 8:22). The governments are ruined. Satan is the god and prince of this world. The landscape and oceans are polluted. This is all the result of man’s sin. But what about the things in the heavens? Do the stars need to be reconciled? Yes, because even they have been transformed into objects of idolatry. Does the angelic world need to be reconciled? Yes, because Satan’s angels have their warfare there today. The whole creation will be reconciled, and that eternal day will be called “the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12). Notice that things “under the earth” (Phil. 2:10) are never said to be reconciled. Infernal beings will never be reconciled to God, although every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess. 
 
21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in mind by wicked works, yet now has it reconciled 22 in the body of his flesh through death; to present you holy and unblamable and irreproachable before it, 23 if indeed ye abide in the faith founded and firm, and not moved away from the hope of the glad tidings, vv.21-23 Reconciliation of persons. Man also needs to be reconciled. By nature and by practice we were “alienated” or at a distance from God. Our sins have separated us from God (Isa. 59:2). But more than this, we were “enemies in mind by wicked works”. Man commits “wicked works”, and then has a bad conscience about those works. He then begins to think of God as his enemy. That is why men are called “haters of God” (Rom. 1:30) when God has done nothing against them. The enmity is in “the mind” of man. Therefore, reconciliation to God is needed. Read more… The means of our reconciliation is “the body of his flesh through death”. It required the offering of His body in death to effect this reconciliation. The death of Christ has worked a wonderful change in those who have believed. We who were alienated and enemies have now been made perfectly suitable to the presence of the Godhead; “holy and unblamable and irreproachable”. How can this be? All of our sins have been forgiven, and we stand in Christ’s place before God. The death of Christ is the only thing that can make us holy. Rituals, dietary restrictions, etc. that the Colossians were dabbling with can never change a person’s standing before God. Christ is sufficient. Nothing can be added to His death. To add anything does not enhance the gospel, rather it degrades it. A conditional statement is added in v.23; “if indeed ye abide in the faith founded and firm, and not moved away from the hope of the glad tidings”. We find conditional statements in Colossians because we are viewed as still in the wilderness, where there is a danger of apostasy. If someone who professes the name of Christ apostatizes and is “moved away from the hope of the glad tidings”, they prove that they never had true faith, and therefore they are not presented before God with a perfect standing. But this in no way takes away from the doctrine of eternal security.

Two Parts of Paul’s Ministry (1:23b-29)

Two Parts of Paul’s Ministry. There are two aspects of Paul’s ministry that are often mentioned side by side in scripture. Colossians 1 is an example of this. We need to be established in both parts of Paul’s doctrine. The two things are the gospel and the truth of the mystery, The two parts, if taken together, are what establish our souls in the full revelation of Christianity. Notice the order though: first the gospel, then the mystery. If there are two preeminences of Christ (the creation and the assembly), and two reconciliations of Christ (of all things and of believers), then there are two spheres of Paul’s ministry (the gospel and the mystery). These pairs correspond one to another.3
 
  The Gospel The Mystery
Romans 16:25-26 v.25a "…according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ…" vv.25b-26 "…according to the revelation of the mystery, as to which silence has been kept in the times of the ages…"
Ephesians 3:8-9 v.8 "…that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…" v.9 "…And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…"
Colossians 1:23-28 v.23 "…the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature..." vv.25-26 "…according to the dispensation of God… Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations…"
Description
The believer's standing "in Christ":
  • Forgiveness and justification (Acts 13:39; Romans 4)
  • Redemption through Christ's blood (Col. 1; Eph. 1)
  • Complete acceptance before God (Eph. 1; Rom. 8)
  • The indwelling Spirit of God (Eph. 1; Rom. 8)
The truth of Christ and the Church:
  • The formation of the Church: Jew and Gentile in one body (Eph. 1-3)
  • The practice of the Church: the Lord's supper (1 Cor. 10-11)
  • The order of the Church: assembly meetings (1 Corinthians)
  • The hopes of the Church: resurrection and rapture (1 Thess. 4)
 
23b which ye have heard, which have been proclaimed in the whole creation which is under heaven, of which “I” Paul became minister. v.23b A Minister of the Gospel. Expounding on the gospel, Paul states that it was the same good news the Colossians had heard (v.6), and which is “proclaimed in the whole creation which is under heaven”. This shows that there is only one true gospel. Paul became a “minister” of this gospel when he was converted on the Damascus road. Paul was given the responsibility to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and also to teach the truth of the gospel in its fullest detail.
 
24 Now, I rejoice in sufferings for you, and I fill up that which is behind of the tribulations of Christ in my flesh, for his body, which is the assembly; v.24 Suffering for the Assembly. In entering in on the second aspect of his ministry – that pertaining to the assembly – Paul speaks of rejoicing in his sufferings for the saints (see Acts 5:41). What a gracious spirit! Paul viewed his sufferings in service to the assembly as following Christ in His sufferings. There are certain parts of the sufferings of Christ that we cannot share, such as the atoning sufferings. But in suffering for righteousness, and suffering in sympathy for those He loved, we can follow Christ in His sufferings. The particular aspect Paul refers to here is the suffering of Christ on behalf of the assembly. What man, other than Christ, suffered as the Apostle Paul did for the saints? Read 2 Corinthians 11. These sufferings were not only emotional, but real physical persecution; “the tribulations of Christ in my flesh”. The persecution that Paul suffered was primarily on account of the truth of the mystery, which the Jews especially resented.
 
25 of which “I” became minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given me towards you to complete the word of God, v.25 The Word of God completed. The truth of the cross, of the gospel, and the kingdom had already been unfolded, although Paul added to it. But the one great subject in the heart of God that remained to be unfolded was the truth of the assembly. This revelation was given as a special “dispensation of God” to Paul, to then communicate to the assembly, and this completed the Word of God. It is not a matter of when the books were written (Revelation was written long after) but of the subjects contained in them. Revelation contains no new doctrine. It was really the Apostle Paul’s doctrine that completed the Word of God. How foolish then to ignore Paul’s writings! In this way Paul was not only a minister of the gospel, but a minister to the assembly, charged with the task of passing on the truth God had revealed to him. This verse also shows us that any claims of new revelation are false. There would be no subsequent revelations after what Paul was given.
 
26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but has now been made manifest to his saints; v.25 The mystery, hidden in ages past. The truth that was revealed to Paul and which he was charged to teach to the saints is called “the mystery”. It is called a “mystery” because it was previously unknown in past “ages” and “generations”, but now it has been revealed! This fact, that of the hiddenness of the mystery, becomes very important when dealing with the errors of Covenant Theology. These errors center around confusing the Church in the New Testament with Israel in the Old Testament, or at least blurring the lines between them. Covenant Theologians would claim that the Church is the spiritual continuation of Israel. Paul insists that the Church is completely new, and that it was totally unknown in the Old Testament. The hiddenness of the mystery is emphasized four times (Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26)! It must be important.
 
What is the Mystery?

The Mystery has two parts: Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). First, it is God's purpose to put the rule of the entire universe under the headship of Christ as a glorified man. Second, it is to give Christ a companion perfectly suited to Him, composed of Jews and Gentiles formed into one body, to represent Christ in this world, and in the future to share all that He possesses as heir of all things, destined to remain eternally in that special relationship!

In Ephesians the focus is more on the first part of the mystery, Christ glorified and the Church’s union with Him in the heavenly places; i.e. our being in Christ. Here in Colossians it is the second part of the mystery that is emphasized, the fact that the church reflects or represents Christ here in the world; i.e. Christ in us.
 
27 to whom God would make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Christ in you the hope of glory: v.27 The riches of the glory of this mystery. God wanted to make the mystery known to His saints. But he says “the riches of the glory of this mystery”, that is, the wonderful and exalted privilege it is be be part of the Church, and the blessedness of our association with Christ in glory. The expression “this Mystery… Christ in you” is the practical realization of the union of Christ and the Church, such that Christ is displayed in the Church collectively by the Spirit of God. So closely linked is the Church with Christ that when the world sees the Church they are seeing Christ. Just as a body carries out the thoughts of its head, so likewise Christ is to be seen in the Church. This is God’s intention, but sadly the Church has failed in this by “not holding the head” (Col. 2:19). Romans 8:10 presents a similar thought connected with the individual; Christ displayed in the believer’s life. The glory of this mystery is especially bright because of the backdrop: “among the nations”. As the gospel went out to nations, they were saved and incorporated into the church. The character of Christ was thus reflected against a dark and pagan background. “The hope of glory” is the church’s hope.4 It refers to the future prospect of being with Christ in heaven, Colossians always viewing our hope as future. Christ being manifested by the church on earth gives us to look forward to the time when we will be with Him. This is similar to how the indwelling Spirit is called “the earnest of the Spirit”, a foretaste of the blessing that is to come.
 
28 whom “we” announce, admonishing every man, and teaching every man, in all wisdom, to the end that we may present every man perfect in Christ. 29 Whereunto also I toil, combating according to his working, which works in me in power. vv.28-29 The teaching the mystery. The truth of Christ and our association with Him (the mystery) was something Paul preached and taught to every man. It wasn’t something only the apostles should know, but every believer. He emphasizes “every man”. This shows the beautiful connection between the unity of the body and the individuality of the members. Every individual has value in the sight of God. The end goal of teaching the mystery is “that we may present every man perfect in Christ”. The term “perfect” refers to maturity or full-growth (see Phil. 3:15; Heb. 5:14). To know Christ as our Savior is a wonderful thing, but if we never come to know Him in glory and as the head of the Church, we will never reach the state of full growth that God desires for us. This was something Paul was laboring for and fighting for as well; the full spiritual growth of all saints. But the strength for the work and the combat did not come from Paul, but “according to his working, which works in me in power”. Paul recognized that God was working through him in his double ministry.
 
  1. Thus “wisdom” sees the beauty and propriety of any given thing, and “spiritual understanding” takes the right application. One seizes the cause; the other is occupied with the effect. – Kelly, William. The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians.
  2. As concerns this, we remark in Christ, as elements of His glory; two headships, one in creation, the other in resurrection (v.15-18); two reconciliations, that of the creation, and that of the saints forming the church (v.19-22); and two ministries proceeding from Him, the gospel preached to all creation, and the ministry of the church (v.23-29). – Darby, J.N. Exposition of Colossians.
  3. Thus we have a double ministry, as well as a double preeminence of Christ, and a double reconciliation; and each having a similar relationship the one to the other: Christ, the Head of all things in heaven and earth, the Head of the assembly; all things in heaven and earth are to be reconciled, Christians are reconciled; Paul exercises his ministry in the whole creation under heaven, he is the minister of the assembly. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  4. The hope of glory is the hope of all the glory that flows out of His heavenly place as now at God’s right hand. … Christ in us is the hope of the glory that is coming by-and-by when we shall be glorified and appear with Christ. – Kelly, William. The Epistle to the Colossians.