By Leslie M. Grant
This epistle, while having much in common with Ephesians, does not consider saints as seated in heavenly places in Christ. It does insist on the believer having died and risen with Christ, but as walking through the world in the power of that precious resurrection life. All fitness of provision is made for him in the Person of Christ to sustain and preserve him in all the wilderness path. The Headship of Christ is seen in contrast to seducing influences of philosophy on the one hand and mysticism on the other -- dangers to which the Colossians had been exposed and against which they are warned. While Ephesians emphasizes our being "in Christ," Colossians presses home the truth of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (ch.1:27).
The New King James Version of Scripture is used in this commentary, except in a few cases where another version may be used, perhaps the excellent translation of J.N.Darby, which is indicated by the initials JND.
Paul writes with apostolic authority and by the will of God, so that total subjection to what he writes is rightly called for on the part of believers. Yet he adds, "and Timothy our brother," for it is not only objective truth he is presenting, but much that is subjective, awakening exercise in us of "honoring God," the meaning of Timothy's name. What is objective deals with facts that are absolute apart from how we feel about them. What is subjective has reference to our response to the truth, that is, how it affects us. Note, however, it is not "Paul and Timothy" as in Philippians, a pastoral epistle, but Timothy added after Paul's apostleship is affirmed. This implies that the absolute truths given by Paul are more important than is the way we are affected by them, but they should have a proper effect.
"Saints and faithful brethren" (v.2) are not two classes of people, but the same, for he does not speak of the measure of their faithfulness, but of the fact, for new birth makes one faithful in whatever measure. As in other epistles, Paul wishes the Colossian brethren the grace that lifts their souls above circumstances, and the peace that is tranquil well-being in all circumstances. This can emanate only from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who reveals the Father.
THE FRUITFULNESS OF THEIR FAITH
Before encouraging or exhorting them, Paul gives thanks for them to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who has so worked in grace in their hearts. Prayer for them attends the thanksgiving, for he prayed unceasingly for the Colossians since his hearing of their faith in Christ and their love to all saints. Paul had not yet seen these saints, but his heart goes out to them no less.
In verse 4 hope is added to faith and love, the hope laid up in heaven. Hope in Scripture is not something uncertain, but anticipation as to the future, having no doubts whatever involved. In Colossians heavenly blessings are seen as a future hope, though in Ephesians these blessings are regarded as a present possession, to be enjoyed now. Both are fully true, but the viewpoint different. The Colossians had before heard of this hope, for it was a precious part of the word of the truth of the gospel which they had received (v.5). But it was necessary to press this prospect upon them since they journeyed in a wilderness, exposed to present dangers and temptations. How imperative it is for us all to keep the end in view!
This same gospel had brought forth fruit in all the world as well as in them, so they were not isolated whether they felt so or not. Fruit had been forthcoming from the day they heard and knew the grace of God in truth (v.6). Precious encouragement as to the power of the truth they had learned!
Epaphras had very likely heard the gospel from Paul during Paul's long stay at Ephesus, for Colosse was not far from there; and Epaphras in turn had brought it to Colosse, his own home (ch.4:12). Paul delighted in this news from his "dear fellow servant," whom he commends as a faithful minister of Christ. It was their love in the Spirit that Epaphras declared to Paul and Timothy because Paul had not seen their faces in the flesh (ch.2:1). This the only mention of the Holy Spirit in Colossians, which gives no doctrine concerning Him at all, in contrast to Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. Here rather the Holy Spirit is drawing attention to the Person of Christ as sufficient food for the wilderness and therefore says nothing of Himself. "Love in the Spirit" then is love of another although having no direct personal contact "in the flesh."
PRAYER AND THANKSGIVING
Their love in the Spirit moves the hearts of Paul and Timothy to pray for them. The difference between this prayer and those in Ephesians (Ch.1 and Ch.3) should be carefully noted. In Ephesians 1 Paul prays for the wisdom and understanding of the saints as to their proper blessings. In Ephesians 3 he prays for their proper spiritual state in enjoying the love of Christ. But here in Colossians he desires that they may be filled with the knowledge of God's will, not simply to understand His counsels, but to discern and wisely act upon what is the will of God, so His will directs their walk. It is not here a walk "worthy of the calling" (Eph.4:1), but "worthy of the Lord," for if we see in Colossians a walk of proper subjective character, the Lord Himself personally is the objective power for this.
"Fully pleasing Him" (v.10) involves every detail of life, which is certainly of vital value as to being fruitful in every good work. This is no question of merely avoiding gross evil, but of positively doing good. Opportunities for this are innumerable. If we take advantage of them, we will have no time for things that are merely negative. Increasing in doing good also will be "by the knowledge of God," for in Him is pure goodness, and the better we know Him the more we shall increase in goodness.
Most striking is the truth of verse 11. "Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power" might be thought of in connection with accomplishing outstanding achievements for God, but such is not the case. Rather, such strength gives one the lowly characteristics of "all patience and long-suffering with joy." This is true spiritual strength, beautifully connected with "His glorious power." Let us greatly desire and make use of such power in lowly, living reality, for this is a power by which we are controlled, we who by nature are rebellious as the colt of a wild donkey. The patience and long-suffering here are not a forced, disagreeable thing, but accompanied by genuine joy. Precious evidence of the real work of His glorious power in a weak, earthen vessel!
Verse 12 continues Paul's desire in prayer for them, that they might be found giving thanks to the Father. The prayer then merges with a declaration of truth which is cause for wholehearted thanksgiving to the Father. First, He has already "qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." By virtue of redemption He has given us title to the inheritance, but besides has fitted us for the inheritance by the impartation of a new life that is fully agreeable with the holy character of the inheritance. This is in pure light, light which makes everything manifest as it really is, in a sphere where the believer is perfectly at home, but a sphere that would be intolerable to an unbeliever, since light would expose his guilt.
Verse 13 adds to this another already accomplished work of the Father: "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." The believer is no longer in darkness, and does not walk in darkness, but in the light. It is another matter entirely as to how fully he allows the light to have place in his heart and life, yet he is fully delivered from the authority of darkness. Satanic power no longer has authority over him. Satan remains his cunning enemy, but not his master. His Master now is the Son of the Father's love: he is now in His kingdom. This is an aspect of the kingdom of God in which only true believers are included. From another viewpoint, the kingdom may include merely professing Christianity (Mt.13:24-30; 38-42), but not here.
Verse 14 is just as absolute as to present, accomplished blessing as are verses 12 and 13. All believers "have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." Redemption is the total liberation of the person from bondage by means of a price paid, the price of the blood of Christ. Forgiveness of sins is a complete discharging of those things by which we had offended our Creator. Nothing is held against us, for the blood of Christ has answered for it all.
THE DIGNITIES OF CHRIST'S PERSON
In verses 12-14 we have seen those blessings for which we give thanks. Now in these verses we consider the preciousness of the Person of the Lord Jesus in whom all these things are found. What He has done now gives place to who He is, "the image of the invisible God (v.15). Adam was made in the image of God: Christ is the image of God, the full representation visibly of the One whom no eye has seen or can see. To be this, Christ can be no less than personally God. Adam was created to represent God in a certain measure; Christ is the representation of God -- an infinite difference. Also He is the firstborn over all creation" Just as Reuben was set aside as Jacob's firstborn and the rights of the firstborn given to Joseph, a type of Christ, so Adam is totally set aside because of sin and Christ is given the place of the firstborn, though He came into the world centuries later.
Indeed, the very fact of who He is gives Him precedence over all who have preceded Him historically. This is seen in verse 16. Mark the word "For." Since He is creator of "all things that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, then certainly when He comes into His own creation, He rightly takes the place of God's firstborn: all others must give way to Him. As Creator He is of course the life-Giver, a prerogative absolutely and only of the Living God. He has brought into existence all things visible and invisible. Therefore, no place is too high for Him. He is Head in His own creation. Whatever place of dignity, lordship or authority He may have given to others in His creation, whether angelic or human, He is far above them all. Moreover, they have not only been created by Him, but for Him (v.16). They are His own possession, for His own pleasure, for His own glory. Yet His matchless love and grace have so worked in the hearts of His redeemed saints as to give them unspeakable pleasure in the fact of His being given pleasure.
Verse 17 shows us the two outstanding characteristics of His Headship, first His precedence before all things: "He is before all things," and secondly His sufficiency of provision for the subsistence of all creation: "In Him all things consist." It required His infinite creatorial power to bring all things into existence, and it requires no less power continually to sustain it in existence.
Verse 18 adds to this another great dignity that belongs to Him: "He is the Head of the body, the Church." The Greek word, "ekkiesia" is translated either "church" or "assembly". Its meaning is simply "A gathering out," indicating the truth of what James said to the council of brethren at Jerusalem, "God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14). It is a contrast to the word "synagogue" which means "a gathering together." For in Christianity God is taking out from the nations (both Jewish and Gentile) a group that He calls "the Assembly," those redeemed by the blood of Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. He is taking them out of the world with a view to taking them to heaven. Christ is the Head of this body, the Church. He is the source of all intelligence, of guidance and of nourishment. Colosse had been threatened with influences of philosophy and mysticism, and they must be reminded that creation itself has only one Head, the Lord Jesus, and the Assembly, the body of Christ, can have no other Head than He. All wisdom proceeds from Him, all proper instruction, all regulation and guidance, as well as all nourishment to sustain His Church (ch.3:19).
He is "the beginning." He did not have a beginning: He is the beginning. Revelation 3:14 speaks of Him as "the beginning of the creation of God" because He is Himself the Creator. Just as God the Almighty can say, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending" (Rev.1:8), so the Lord Jesus can say the same of Himself (Rev.22:12-13), for He is God.
In His first coming into the world, He took the place of the "Firstborn of all creation." Now following His death of infinite redemptive value, He is Firstborn from among the dead and recognized as such by His body, the Church. In this too, as in all things, He has the preeminence, the absolute claims of priority. Verse 19 is best translated, "For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell."
Perhaps this infers what is found in chapter 2:9, "all the fullness of the Godhead," but the verse is surely intended to guard us against all the additions to the truth of Christ that are humanly devised and advanced as being plausible and helpful, things such as the Colossians are warned against in chapter 2:8 and chapter 2:18-19. When there is perfect fullness in Christ, what room is there for more?
The Lord Jesus has already laid the foundation for the reconciling of all things, things in earth and things in heaven. For He has made peace through the blood of His cross (v.20). Sin had introduced enmity against God that has affected the entire creation. This enmity is entirely on the creature's part, but only God could remove it, and this required the sacrifice of His own Son. Precious basis of established peace! But creation itself does not as yet enjoy this peace. Satan still has access into heavenly places (Eph.6:12), and on earth he steals people's hearts against accepting the peace that is offered them (2 Cor.4:3-4). Yet the reconciliation of all things is only a matter of a future but set time. The work of Christ has given assurance of the fulfillment of this reconciliation.
We have seen the double Headship of Christ, now we see His double reconciliation. In verse 21 believers are said to be now reconciled. Though once alienated, having no relationship, and once enemies opposed to the God of infinite love, this enmity was actually in our own minds because of the wickedness of our own works. We were responsible for this; yet God has taken the initiative in reconciling us by His own Son becoming Man -- "in the body of His flesh" - and willingly dying for us. So, long before the reconciliation of all things, believers are now presented "holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (v.22). This is the way God sees them in Christ, and not according to their personal daily experience. To realize the perfection of our blessing and position "in Christ" is the only way our experience will in any measure conform to it.
Verse 23 imposes what is conditional: "If indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast" etc. It is the test for everyone who claims to be a Christian: if he continues it proves that he is reconciled, and in God's sight holy, blameless and above reproach in His sight. Certainly, if one is born again, he will continue in the faith grounded and steadfast: he will not be moved away from the hope of the gospel. If one does not continue, this proves he had never been reconciled. This sad condition answers to the seed sown on rocky ground. Appearances were good at first, but it soon withered away (Mt.13:5-6, 20-21). True faith becomes grounded and settled, preserving one from being moved away. In fact, faith makes the hope of the gospel more and more precious as time goes by.
A true believer may by personal failure appear to be very much like a mere professor of Christianity. But God knows the difference, and He will work with a believer to lead him to judge himself and find restoration. Therefore, let no genuine believer be discouraged through his misunderstanding of Scriptures like this one.
The gospel had been preached to "the whole creation which is under heaven" (v.23-JND), available for all the world, its blessing conditional only on the true reception of it. Paul was made minister of this gospel, not simply "a minister" but emphatically "minister." For he preached the gospel in the fullest sense with our heavenly blessings combined in it. This was not the message of the other apostles.
PAUL'S SUFFERING IN SERVICE
Because he was entrusted with such ministry, Paul joyfully suffered, his whole heart bound up with the blessing of the Church, so that to him it was a joy to suffer "for the sake of His body, which is the Church" (v.23) The expression, "and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" does not refer to Christ's atoning sufferings into which none other could enter in the least degree. But Christ was afflicted by men for the perfect devotedness of His walk with God and for His true witness to God's glory before the world. The Church should share such suffering, but how little indeed does she do so. So Paul would all the more diligently bear this witness and suffer for it, for the sake of the Church, virtually substituting for her in suffering because of her failure. Precious spirit of grace!
In verse 25 Paul tells us he is made "minister" in relation to the Church again in a singular sense. We have before seen a double ministry committed to Paul. He placed due emphasis on both the gospel and the truth of the Church, earnestly contending for both and holding them in proper balance. This required considerable exercise of soul and labor. God directly gave uniquely to Paul the ministry of declaring the truth of the body of Christ. Only in Paul's writings is this truth taught. In this way it was given to him to "fulfill" or "complete" the Word of God (v.25).
This expression has been puzzling to many. For John wrote Scripture after Paul did. But John did not add anything new as to the dispensational dealings of God. Paul did add this in his being laid hold of by God to reveal the truth of the Church, the body of Christ. This truth had not been revealed in Scripture before, though scripture had spoken of all the other dispensations of God, such as the dispensation of mankind left to personal conscience before the flood, then human government introduced through Noah after the flood, then Israel chosen as God's people under law. Also, the Old Testament prophesied of the future great tribulation, with the millennial age to follow All these dispensations were clearly revealed in the Word of God. John in his writings did not add to any of these, but emphasizes rather the nature of God which transcends all dispensations. Paul however was chosen by God to reveal the truth of the Church of God, which is introduced between Israel's legal dispensation and the great tribulation. This was a matter "hidden in God" and not known before as it is now revealed (Eph.3:8-9). Will any other dispensation ever be added? No. For Paul's ministry completes the Word of God in this way.
Thus, God through Paul desires to make known to His saints "what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (v.27). This revelation was not confined to Israel, but sent to all believers among the nations. These freely-given spiritual riches are naturally unimaginable, and even saints very often done enter into the extent of them. Today, God's people are invested with an exquisite glory such as fills attentive hearts with unspeakable joy. It is explained here as "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (v.27). We have seen in verses 15 to 19 the objective glory that is in Christ personally. This is of first importance. But now, as to the Church, the subject of His marvelous counsels of grace, the greatest fact is "Christ in you." His workmanship subjectively in the Church, awakening steadfast hope of glory with Him. He is the Head of the body, and the wisdom, nourishment and guidance of the Head permeates the entire body.
Christ Himself is the object of preaching, warning and teaching. Paul makes no exceptions here: his message is for "every man." Some may need warning rather than teaching, and others not require warning so much as teaching, but he was ready to give his message to Jews, Gentiles, rich or poor, virtuous or degraded, with the desire of presenting every person perfect in Christ Jesus. Paul was not merely content to see a soul forgiven, but desired that every individual should understand the perfection of his place in Christ. One marvels at the energy of his zeal; but he depended on the working of God, and there was no doubt of the power of this within his own soul. Entering into, as he did, the vital truths of the gospel and of the Assembly, and appreciating both, no doubt energized him to make use of the power of God.
CHRIST THE SOURCE OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE
In verse 1 the unselfish faith and love of the apostle shines beautifully. He was as deeply concerned for believers who had not seen him as he was for his own converts. He had "great conflict" which involves prayerful exercise in combating the opposition of Satan's hosts against the truth. He loved the Church because Christ loved it, desiring all saints to be "knit together in love" (v.2). This is vitally connected with "all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God." This precious objective knowledge and resulting subjective experience must always go together, for the revelation must be taken to heart just as it is, not as our feelings would like to assume it to be. How precious too are the resulting feelings and experiences when they are fully under the influence of the truth of God.
In this mystery of God now revealed in His beloved Son, are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (v.3). When this truth concerning Christ and the Church, His body, is known, it gives a true perspective for the understanding of all Scripture. Many today ignore Church truth, and are therefore left in sad confusion as to their interpretations of Scripture. Only if we know our own place in the counsels of God can we rightly discern His counsels in other respects. This is extremely important if we are to be kept from the beguiling enticements of men, for there are many plausible teachings that are actually deceptive and destructive.
Paul delights to encourage what was commendable among the Colossians. Though absent from them, yet in spirit he was with them, having great joy in the knowledge of their order and of their steadfast faith in Christ (v.5). He does not in any way reprove them, though there are dangers of which we warns them and of which we too need to be warned. Apparently these things had not been allowed to creep into the local assembly, but were so prevalent on the outside that there was need of being watchful.
The positive exhortations of verses 6 and 7 are as needful for us as for them. In having received Christ Jesus as Lord, our lives should be consistent with this fact: we should "walk in Him." This side of the truth is specially pressed in Colossians. To walk in Him it is necessary first to be "rooted." The root system of a tree takes considerable time to develop before there is much growth above ground, and continues to develop during the tree's growth upward. Hidden communion with the Lord is vital that there may be strength to stand. And the building up too is to be "in Him:" nothing can be left to our own ability or energy.
The stable basis of all this is "the faith," the whole revealed truth of Christianity. We must be solidly established "in the faith" as taught in Scripture, yet not only being doctrinally correct, but "abounding in it with thanksgiving" (v.7). For the truth is that which can so fill the heart as to cause an abundant overflow with spontaneous thanksgiving arising to our God and Father.
As to the negative side, we are to be watchful (v.8), for some people are always ready to ruin the testimony of a believer. Philosophy is the first serious danger mentioned. This is the wisdom of man intruding where he has no real understanding. Christ is our Head from whom all wisdom flows: in the things of God, man's wisdom is foolishness (1 Cor.1:20). There has been no greater human wisdom than that of Solomon, and his book of Ecclesiastes is the best philosophical book in existence. But even Solomon's philosophy leads only to one conclusion so far as this world is concerned: "all was vanity and grasping for the wind" (Eccl.2:11). If such philosophy intrudes at all in spiritual matters, it is "empty deceit," both empty and deceiving. It may have man's venerable tradition behind it, but is still only of man -- of the world not subject to Christ who is not of this world.
Verse 9 declares the central truth of this book: "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." No human wisdom would have imagined this: it is God's revelation, marvelous above the capacity of human intellect. Christ is God come in bodily form, and all God's glory is expressed in Him. The facts of His being both God and true Man are thoroughly proven in His life on earth. Though we cannot expect to understand this, we have no alternative but to believe it, and honest faith worships at His feet.
This being true, then in Him believers find all fullness. They are complete or filled full in Him. This is not experience, but a fact which all believers have title to enjoy. Further, Christ is the Head of all principality and power, that is, the highest dignities and authorities are subject to Him and dependent on Him. We therefore are not dependent on them , but on Him.
NOT LEGALITY, BUT CHRIST
Since all believers are "in Him," we are linked with One who has been cut off from the earth in the death of the cross. We therefore also are "circumcised" in Him, not by human hands, but in the true spiritual significance of circumcision, the flesh cut off by identification with "the circumcision of Christ," that is, His own cutting off in the death of the cross (Phil.3:3). This involves our being cut off from the world's philosophy and from every other worldly principle: it is "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh" (v.11).
Death is seen in verse 11, and in verse 12, then resurrection. Water baptism "unto Christ" is the burial of one dead. Baptism speaks only of death and burial, not of life in any way. The words "in which" here may be as rightly translated "in whom," that is, resurrection is in Christ, not in baptism, and this is further stressed in the following words, "through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (v.12). Compare this verse as translated in the Numerical Bible by F.W.Grant, available from the publisher of this book. Our resurrection life is connected vitally with Christ raised from the dead, and on our part requiring only faith in the working of God. Baptism has nothing to do with this vital operation.
Verse 13 reminds us of our sad previous condition, dead in sins with no spark of life toward God, and in "the uncircumcision of your flesh." that is, in the state of unjudged corruption. A person in such a condition is totally unfit for God. Out of such a state God has "quickened" or "made alive" together with Christ every believer. This is the divine, immediate impartation of eternal life, and reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus, "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live" (Jhn.5:25). This quickening is connected with the full forgiveness of all trespasses (v.13). Therefore, the work done in us and the work done for us go hand in hand.
Only by the cross of Christ could this have been accomplished, and the cross has done away with every obligation to legal ordinances. "The handwriting of requirements that was against us" implies a legal document by which one is bound through his signature. Israel fully committed themselves to keep the law in Exodus 19:8, saying, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." Every honest conscience recognizes an obligation to obey some standard of conduct, such as the ordinances of the law of Moses. But we find the law is against us because of our disobedience. Now, God Himself has taken this obligation out of the way, nailing it to the cross of Christ. Wonderful grace indeed! In addition He has disarmed all the influence of satanic dignity and authority, having exposed the deceitful and bitter enmity of Satan, and shown His Son to be, by means of the cross, altogether superior to such evil spiritual powers. God has triumphed by the cross of Christ, the very symbol of weakness and apparent defeat! His victory has broken all bondage too for the believer, whether bondage to Satan or to legal ordinances.
Therefore, if human philosophy has been effectively disposed of by the cross, so has the proud human principle of legality. These were not evils within the Colossian local assembly, but dangers from without, the first a Greek deception, the second Jewish. Believers were to refuse all human judgments that imposed restrictions in eating or drinking and required the keeping of holy days or sabbath days (v.16). Such things were proper in Judaism, though even then they were only a shadow to symbolize the substantial blessings that Christ has brought (v.17). Now that Christ has come, only unbelief can go back to the mere shadow. We have in Christ what is substantial and real, The blessedness of His Person transcends all that even God Himself had established previous to Christ's coming.
Verse 18 is a warning that we will be cheated if we allow anyone to impose legal ordinances on us after we have known the grace of God in Christ. In fact, if we go back to the Law we will soon be guilty of breaking the Law, which forbid worship to any but God. Yet legality, which is not true law-keeping, considers it humble to have angels as sort of intermediaries, suggesting that we are not worthy to directly approach God in worship. This is totally false humility, an intrusion into that which one does not understand, but resulting in puffing up the fleshly mind. It is mysticism, characteristic of many eastern religions, not subject to the clearly declared Word of God, though very religious and meticulous. Saints of God are warned strongly against this, for it is a defrauding thing, depriving one of true blessing now and of reward in the future, for it puts something other than Christ between the soul and God.
One glaring lack characterizes all this, the lack of simple, honest recognition of Christ as Head. How is the body to function without the head? From Him, the Lord Jesus glorified, proceeds all nourishment and wisdom to maintain every activity of the body in unity. Joints enable some members to function in varying different directions while remaining connected vitally with the body (v.19). And there are strong, supple bands, binding the body together, especially supporting the joints and every area where dangers of weakness might be present. It is the Head by whom all the body is thus "knit together" and by whom all is nourished and sustained. Paul does not here speak of the functioning of each individual member as in 1 Corinthians 12, but rather of the Head being the Source of all blessing and of all unity, Him upon whom we are utterly dependent and by whom the body increases with the increase of God - a gradual, united and sustained building up.
Verse 20 refers back to verse 11. Christ having died for us, then all who have trusted Him are looked at by God as having died with Him: His death is our death. Then why, as people still living in the flesh, should we be subject to worldly rituals and ordinances? By the cross we are crucified to the world (Gal.6:14); we have died to sin (Rom.6:2); we have become dead to the law (Rom.7:4). Such things belong to a sphere we have left behind by death. Why be concerned with that which was intended (in the Jewish dispensation of law) to be only temporary and to which we have died?
The principle, "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" describes the whole negative character of legality. If this is the sum of one's religion, he is certainly left empty, though sadly puffed up as though he were full. These things perish with the using. A balloon is only for amusement, quickly deflated and gone. Christianity is not ordinances, but Christ who has in His own blessed Person displaced the whole system of Judaism -- the dispensation set up by the commandment and doctrine of God. How much more so as to the commandments and doctrines of men which have been added to Judaism?
The apostle grants that such things have an appearance of wisdom. Otherwise they would not have been an enticement. But such commandments are rooted in "self-imposed religion," a religion dictated by people's thoughts of what is convenient, not in submission to the word and will of God. Thus their pretended humility is merely the pride of the flesh. In this pretended humility the body and its needs are often deliberately neglected, not as self-judging the flesh, but to actually minister to "the indulgence of the flesh." It has no value whatever, but rather increases fleshly pride. True fasting is not in showing off to others, but in honest self-sacrifice as before God.
CHANGING THE OLD FOR THE NEW
We have seen some practical exhortations mingled with the doctrine of this epistle. Now this chapter begins what is mainly practical instruction based on the truth before declared. Just as before there are glimpses of practical lines mingled with the doctrine, so here, when practice is considered, there are also glimpses of the doctrine shining through.
The believer has both died and risen with Christ. Here he is looked at, not as seated in the heavenlies, as in Ephesians (Eph.2:6), but as still walking on the earth, though Christ is sitting on the right hand of God (v.1). Therefore His place is our true sphere of blessing, and we are to seek those things that are above the level on which we walk, He Himself being our true Object and delight. We cannot ignore our earthly relationships and the necessity of providing for our own bodies and families, but these are not to be the chief occupation of our minds. Our minds are to be set on things above (v.2), willing at any moment to leave all that is of earth, to exchange what is only a temporary tenancy for that which "our own" in permanent possessions.
We have died judicially before God, and our true life is hid with Christ in God (v.3). What perfect security! It is untouchable by men or the devil. The true character of that life is only seen fully in Christ who is Himself the very image of God. That life cannot be fully manifest in us toward the world as long as we also still have the fleshly nature, even though the believer has eternal life abiding in Him. So, at the present, eternal life's absolute perfection and beauty is hid with Christ in God.
But its future manifestation is certain. When Christ is manifested, we also shall be manifested with Him, and in glory, no longer in circumstances of weakness and trial. Before that manifestation, we will have been taken up to be with Him at the Rapture, before we can come with Him in the day of His manifestation. Our life then will be no more hidden, for Christ is our life.
We have seen the positive side of seeking those things above that are connected with our true life. In verse 5 the negative side is now pressed upon us. We are to put to death our members which are on the earth. As before God, in principle, we have died, but there things we are responsible to put to death. They are called members because they are things that cling to the flesh. Since we have crucified the flesh (Gal.5:24), then let us also consistently put to death all of its activities, The force of the Greek verb here is to have this matter done as a settled thing, not to have to keep on doing it. These evils, fornication, uncleanness, passion, etc. should be so totally judged by the child of God that they have no more influence over him at all. The last one (covetousness) may be too easily ignored, but it is equated with idolatry, for only God should be the Object of our ardent desire.
It is because of these things that God's wrath comes on the ungodly, who are characterized as children of disobedience (v.6). These things therefore certainly have no place in a believer's life. Before being saved, we walked and lived in them, but under the wrath of God! Christ's salvation totally changes this.
Verse 8 uses the same form of verb as does verse 5. We are once and for all to have put off such things as anger, wrath, malice, vile language and lies. A believer has no excuse for not controlling his temper. And his least tendency to harbor hard feelings should be thoroughly judged as evil. No word should escape his lips that has any unwholesome character. Lies are utterly foreign to the pure true of God, by which alone blessing has come to our souls.
Believers have put off the old man with his deeds (v.9). The old man is what the believer was as a man in the flesh. That has been put off forever: he can no longer be the same. Of course, the fleshly nature remains, but we are not "in the flesh" (Rom.8:9), though the flesh is in us. We have put on the new man. This happened when we first trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior. There has been a vital renewing in knowledge, for the new man is part of God's new creation, in which the life that is in God Himself is the pervading power, so that the new man is after the image of the Creator, a representation of His own nature.
Therefore, the new man is in this new creation, where all national barriers, all religious distinctions, all cultural and social differences are done away: for these things belong to a world that has been corrupted by sin. But Christ is all and in all. So far as our associations on earth are concerned, the above distinctions certainly exist and must be recognized, but our position in Christ is that of new creation and thus connected with the future day of eternity when all things are made new. In this new creation the Person of Christ is everything, He Himself pervading the very atmosphere and character of His new creation. Therefore, in a very precious, living way, the child of God anticipates eternity. Verse 12 again uses the same form of verb as in verses 5 and 8, so that we are to put on permanently such virtuous characteristics as are consistent for those who are the elect of God, tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering. bearing with one another, and forgiving one another (v.13). The incentive here is that we have this high and holy calling, settled and secure, and are considered by God as holy and beloved. And Christ is the great example as to our forgiving one another. Every believer must remember he has been forgiven much, therefore it should not be a hard thing for him to forgive others.
In all these lovely characteristics it is good for us to remember the example of the Lord Jesus. Tender mercies are beautifully seen in Him, if we consider His being "moved with compassion" (Mt.9:36), and kindness in His gentle dealings even with Judas right to the end, though well knowing the deceit and treachery that animated this deluded disciple (Mt.26:50). Humility is beautifully seen in Philippians 2:5-8 in Christ's coming down voluntarily to the dreadful death of the cross. Meekness (not standing up for His rights) is manifest in all His life, even when subjected to the cruel hatred and persecution of Jews and Gentiles as they were determined to crucify Him. He opened not His mouth (Isa.53:7). Long-suffering (patient putting up with constant affliction) characterized His entire life. Indeed, it is still true of Him now, having patiently suffered with the cold rejection of men all through this age of grace, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet.3:9).
Bearing with others involves the restraining of any negative reaction to things that tend to provoke people. How true was this of the Lord Jesus, and with this is linked the forgiving of others. We know that those words from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Lk.13:34) came from the depths of His loving heart. Thus, for us too forgiveness should be frank and ungrudging.
To all of these things love is to be added, for it is the only true motivating power for them all. Love's genuine concern for the good of others should permeate every virtue. It is the bond of perfectness, that is, of proper, full-grown spiritual development, which has in it precious uniting power."And let the peace of Christ preside in your hearts" (v.15 - JND). It is the peace of Him now raised from the dead, in calm, tranquil triumph over all things. We are not told to make peace rule, but Let it rule, for the only hindrance to this is an unsubmissive will. We are called to this rule of peace, and a most salutary brief word is added, "and be thankful," for we too easily forget this simple and important matter.Verse 16 gives us the eighth time the title Christ (the Anointed One) appears in this chapter, for His Headship of the new creation is predominant to the end of verse 17. The word of Christ is that word connected with Him in resurrection glory, as is true of the peace of Christ. The word of Christ is to "dwell in you richly" as a settled, permanent thing, with fullness of spiritual prosperity. The comma in the New King James Version after "wisdom," should rather be placed after "richly" (JND), for wisdom is connected with the teaching and admonishing, where it is deeply needed. Another comma is well placed after "one another" (JND). In a place distinct from the teaching, yet accompanying it, is the wonderful exercise of singing. This included psalms, denoting songs accompanied by stringed instruments; hymns, songs of praise; and spiritual songs, those of Christian experience, exercises of soul, enjoyment of scriptural teaching, etc. All of this music should be accompanied by grace in our hearts toward God. This is not merely being able to sing well or beautifully, but with hearts responsive to the grace of God by which we have been so infinitely blessed. The words we sing should fully coincide with the truth of the Word of God, and grace in our hearts will deeply drink in their significance, for though singing is a precious exercise, the music must be only secondary to the words.
Last of all in this section our actual actions are referred to, whether in word or deed. These are to be regulated by the grand principle of acting directly toward the Lord Jesus in all that is said and done, in a spirit of genuine thanksgiving to the Father by Him. If with this in mind, in contrast to a mere legal spirit, we honestly watch our actions, how precious will the character of those actions be!
This is another section of Colossians, which deals with particular relationships which are connected, not with the new creation, but with the first creation. All believers have a vital part in the new creation, but they are not on this account relieved of the responsibilities of earthly relationships, no matter how greatly we enjoy the new creation. In fact, such enjoyment should render us all the more diligent and faithful in these. temporary relationships.
The willing submission of wives to their husbands is first spoken of as a normal, suitable attitude "in the Lord." It is the proper character of the relationship into which she has voluntarily entered - a relationship that holds wonderful blessing for those who regard it rightly and who appreciate the grace of God that has established the sacred marriage union between two believers.
Husbands are no less responsible. They are to love their wives. Let them make no excuse for not doing so! They are not told to enforce their wives' submission, but real love for the wife would encourage her submission. It is a sad necessity that requires the added words, "do not be bitter toward them" (v.19). Often a husband expects his wife to measure up to a certain standard, and if she does not, he may disobey Scripture by being bitter toward her. He may well ask himself, what standard does he himself measure up to? -- for it is not the standard of Scripture. His bitterness will certainly not encourage either her love or her submission to him. If he obeys Scripture by truly loving his wife and not being bitter toward her, this is the only way he will influence her attitude ;and actions for good. On the other hand, the obedience of the wife to Scripture in practicing a gracious submission of faith will go far in properly influencing her husband.
Children are to obey their parents. Certainly the parents are responsible to guide and train the children properly, for children need proper discipline. Whether the discipline is always perfectly fair or not, still the child is to obey. Let the child always be reminded that the Lord is well pleased with their obedience. There may be very unusual circumstances in which a parent requires something morally wrong from a child, as for instance, stealing or cheating, or worshiping an idol. This would be a plain exception, in which case the child should firmly, but not defiantly, refuse to obey the parent. Ephesians 6:1 reads, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord," So the child should always obey unless he is required to disobey the Lord.
Fathers are to especially guard against being unfair or unduly hard or demanding. This might easily provoke a child to act badly and to be discouraged, so the discipline would fail to fulfill its proper objective, and would only result in the opposite behavior of what the father hoped. We know how easy it is for a father to make a snap judgment when his child has apparently done something wrong, and because he is angry, to punish the child severely. Then he may find out afterward that it was not as serious a matter as he thought, and he knows he has been unfair to the child. His only recourse then is to humbly apologize to his child for this. Let us never discipline in a fit of anger, but seek grace to calmly consider before the Lord what discipline is necessary. For it is true that discipline is sometimes required. The Lord said of Eli that he himself and his house would be judged by God because he had failed to discipline his sons (1 Sam.3:11-13). How often it has been true that children, in later years, have thanked their parents for disciplining them when they needed it! - while many others have sunk into crime and misery because they were never disciplined in youth.
In verse 22 slaves are addressed, yet the principle applies also to employees and students in school. If even slaves are to be obedient, then certainly those who are well paid have more reason to obey; and students who are taught for their own good should recognize it is only sensible to be subject to their teachers. Their obedience is not to be "eye service," that is, service when the master is watching, but as being at all times under the eye of God, in sincerity of heart, which is the opposite of duplicity, influenced by the true fear of God.
Verse 23, though especially addressed to slaves, may be taken to heart by every believer. What a difference it will make in our whole existence if we do everything heartily Lord, rather than grudgingly or unwillingly! This attitude will make pleasant even irresponsibilities.
Doing all things heartily as to the Lord gives present reward, even if it is only in the joy of the Lord's approval; but verse 24 speaks of the future inheritance, a reward for all believers, but especially to be valued by slaves who have no earthly inheritance of any kind. For above all, "You serve the Lord Christ." Keeping their eyes in this way higher than their earthly master, there is true dignity in serving.
On the other hand, verse 25 warns that wrongdoing (whether or not the servant felt it justified by his master's treatment of him) would result in the servant reaping what he sowed. No doubt it would be so for the master too, but that is no real consolation for the servant. God shows no respect of persons. No matter how great the wrong one may suffer, this never justifies doing wrong in return.
There is no reason for a chapter division at this point, for the responsibility of masters is closely linked with that of servants, which we have seen would include the relationship between employers and employees or teachers and students. A believing master is called upon to be totally impartial in caring for the needs of his servants, giving to his servants what is just and fair (v.1). What is just is what is right as before God. What is fair is what does not favor one above another. This is important in business as well as in a teacher-student relationship. If the servant is to act in a manner pleasing to God, the master is to do no less, for he himself is only a servant to the Lord: his Master is in Heaven. Every believing employer, foreman, supervisor or teacher must remember this.
Verses 2 to 4 show how to maintain a proper relationship with God, which is the basis of every other relationship. Consistent, earnest prayer is a vital matter, expressing dependence on the living God, and drawing down His help and blessing in practical circumstances. Being vigilant in prayer is attentiveness and exercise in contrast to the ease with which our prayers become simply a pleasant habit, good as that habit is.
Paul enlists the prayers of the Colossians for himself and his fellow-laborers, especially that God will open the door for him to declare the full truth of the mystery of Christ. This mystery of Christ involves both Christ and His body, the Church, which is no longer a mystery now that God has revealed it through the apostle Paul. In Ephesians 3:4-6 Paul speaks of "The mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel." Because of Paul's faithfulness in proclaiming this marvelous truth, he was in chains, a prisoner (v.3). For, sad to say, people in the flesh, whether Jews or Gentiles, oppose this wonderful message of the grace of God. But far from being intimidated, Paul recognized his imprisonment as another field for his service, dependent only on God's opening the door for it. In fact, he had the conviction that he ought to speak the truth of God wherever an opportunity presented itself (v.4), yet he felt himself in real need of prayer.
Verses 5 and 6 now refer to our relationship with unbelievers. Wisdom for this is a very real necessity. Spiritual wisdom is far higher than fleshly diplomacy, however, and is beautifully seen in the way in which the Lord Jesus handled every incident that involved him with unbelievers. For instance, in the case of the young ruler who asked Him what he should do to inherit eternal life, the Lord Jesus asked him what he had read in Scripture. The young man answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Lk.10:27). This led to the man's hearing the parable of the Good Samaritan, and he would never forget that encounter. But many other cases in the Lord's history are recorded for our meditation, and as we consider Him we shall learn what true wisdom is.
Our conduct toward others is to be wise, and we should be wise in taking advantage of occasions that may arise to "redeem the time," that is, make use of every opportunity to present Christ in some way. In doing so, our words should be "with grace seasoned with salt" (v.6). Salt crystallizes at right angles, and speaks of righteousness. Grace is to be predominant in our speaking, but always seasoned with righteousness. The Lord Jesus graciously spoke to the woman at the well, but he also told her that she had had five husbands and the man she now had was not her husband (Jhn.4:13-18). This was seasoning His words with salt, so that both the woman's heart and her conscience were reached. How good if we have wisdom to deal with souls in such a way! -- knowing thus how to answer each individual according to his need. True balance in this is a delicate matter that requires wisdom from God. But we ought always to be ready with an answer for every inquirer. To do so will require both a knowledge of the Word of God and practice in gracious, honorable speech.
From verse 7 the direct references to ten saints and three other local assemblies show that the truth of Colossians is to be applied to both individuals and assemblies. The epistle was not only for Colosse.
Counting on their interest in all his circumstances, Paul sends Tychicus to them with this information. Paul's commendation of this beloved brother is lovely. Evidently the spiritual character of Tychicus was such as to draw the love of saints, and also his ministry expressed faithfulness to God. Besides this, his evident unity with other servants of the Lord earned him the character of "fellow servant in the Lord." Let every servant of the Lord of whatever capacity or degree seek to follow such well-balanced character. And Tychicus was also to learn the state of the Colossians (which Paul surely desired to know), and to encourage them all.
Onesimus, the slave of Philemon, was accompanying Tychicus. Paul was at this time sending Onesimus back to his master, probably sending his epistle to Philemon at the same time. Onesimus had only become "one of" the Colossian brethren when he had been converted through Paul in the Roman prison; and Paul commends him as a faithful and beloved brother. Compare also Philemon 10-16.
Not much is said about Aristarchus, but this and two other occasions find him sharing the apostle's sufferings. Mark, the writer of the Gospel of Mark, is seen here in a better light than in Acts 13:13 and 15:37-39. Whether in prison or not, John Mark was at least close enough to Paul to send greetings, and later Mark's full recovery is indicated beautifully in 2 Timothy 4:11.
It is not certain whether "Jesus who is called Justus" is the same person mentioned in Acts 18:7, but he and others before mentioned were the only Jewish helpers with Paul in the work, an encouragement to the tried apostle. Others later spoken of apparently are Gentiles.
Epaphras (referred to in Chapter 1:7) was also present with Paul, away from his home in Colosse, yet always in fervent prayer for saints there. This is true labor, with desire for his brethren's maturity and completeness in all the will of God. The apostle bears witness to the great concern of Epaphras for the welfare of the assemblies at Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis. Likely Epaphras had personally labored in these places, which would account for his special concern for them.
Luke is called "the beloved physician" (v.14), earning this title through a character of kind concern for the needs of others, which prompted a loving response. Demas is mentioned only by name. If there had been something positively good to say about him, it seems Paul would have said it, but later, in 2 Timothy 4:10 Paul writes, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." Does this not tell us that, if we have no positive testimony for Christ, our testimony will soon become negative?
Paul sends greetings to the brethren in Laodicea, to Nymphas and the local assembly which met in his house. This seem to infer two distinct gatherings, the latter possibly also in the vicinity of Laodicea, but distance requiring their meeting separately.
After the reading of this epistle by the Colosse assembly, they are charged to see that it is read in the assembly at Laodicea: its message was important for both. If it had been taken to heart in Laodicea, it might have prevented the lukewarm, self-complacent state that later developed so seriously as to call for the Lord's solemn rebuke of Revelation 3:14-17.
Achippus, though gifted with a ministry from the Lord, was evidently inclined to neglect its exercise, and he is to be told personally to fulfill it. Does it not seem today that too many gifts lie dormant through disuse?
Paul closes his epistle with a tender appeal to remember his bonds. Let us too remember that his bonds were just as truly for us as for the Colossians. For them he wishes grace, the favor of God practically enjoyed.