Thoughts about Colossians
Starting today, I will begin posting comments on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The city of Colossae was located near Laodicea, in the Roman province of Asia, and about 100 miles East of Ephesus. All these cities are now in modern Turkey.
Paul ministered in Ephesus for some time. According to Luke, while Paul was at Ephesus, “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). The church at Colossae was started during this time. When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he had not visited Colossae, but he maintained contact through Epaphras (Colossians 1:7 and 4:12).
There are several reasons why I have selected Colossians. First, this letter contains a strong exposition of the uniqueness of Christ. Throughout history, this truth has been challenged. No one else has done for us what Christ has done. All other pretenders fall short of being our Savior.
When I say uniqueness, I am referring to what Christ has done to redeem us from our sins. Many nations are very pluralistic in their views about God. The United States, like many other nations, is increasingly a nation filled with people from many other nations. Quite often, some of the incoming people believe in religions unrelated to Christ.
Second, Paul deals with erroneous teachings that were having an impact on the Colossian church. Paul counters false teachings about philosophy, circumcision, rulers and authorities, and asceticism. Although we may not be faced with the same errors, we can learn from Paul’s approach to correcting the errors.
Third, another reason I have selected Colossians is that this letter has instructions for our personal lives and conduct. The redemptive work that Christ has done calls us to faithful living and service. Paul deals with our putting off the old self and putting on the new. This action has an impact on all our family relationships. Equally affected are our relationships with the family of God and our fellow workers.
As we walk through Colossians, my approach will be devotional.
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:1-3
Paul opens his letter to the Colossians with what we might, broadly speaking, call the salutation. In Paul’s day the author of a letter would often begin by stating his name, the name of the person or persons addressed, and the words of greeting. Following this pattern Paul writes:
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Colossians 1:1-2 NAS).
As we read these verses and apply them to ourselves, let us include our name as one to whom the letter is addressed. This will make the story personal and devotionally applicable to us.
First, Paul immediately relates everything to Christ. Paul says that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ and that the people to whom he wrote were in Christ. Paul lived a Christ-centered life and had a Christ-centered ministry. His letter to the Colossians exalts Christ and describes His supremacy.
Second, Paul says that he was an apostle by the will of God. He was not an apostle out of personal ambition, but by the design and purpose of God. He was an apostle not just in the sense of being “sent forth,” but also in the narrower sense of being selected and empowered for special purposes.
Third, Paul includes Timothy and addresses his letter to the saints in the church at Colossae. The word “saints” is a translation of the Greek word meaning holy. As saints or holy persons, they were set apart unto the Lord. In addition to being holy, they are faithful, and they are brothers. Most important of all, they, like Paul, are “in Christ.” The saints glorify Christ and have received great favor.
Fourth, the salutation proper is as follows, “grace to you and peace from God our Father.” Paul expresses his desire that the saints would be graciously blessed by God. As a result of His graciousness, the saints would be recipients of the peace of God.
As believers in Christ, we are “saints.” We have been set apart from God. We need to be in harmony with the will of God. Recently, I read back through some journals that I had kept. Quite often I would jot down prayer requests. One of my most common prayers was that I would be in the center of God’s will in all that we did. Praying to be in God’s will is still important, now as before. I know that you will join me in that prayer today.
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:3-8
One of the reasons Paul wrote to the Colossians was to counter the false teachings that had arisen. However, he did not begin his letter with that issue. We will deal with the false teaching when Paul does in his letter.
Instead of beginning with correction, Paul started by giving thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the Colossians saints. His prayers included his thanksgiving for them. He is thankful and prays for them for three reasons.
First, he has heard of their faith in Christ Jesus. Paul’s entire life and theology center on Christ. All his teachings pointed to Christ as the Savior of the world. From the time he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus until he died, his life was devoted to proclaiming Christ’s redemptive work.
Second, Paul gives thanks to them because of their hope. My hope, Paul means our confidence in the promises of God and the realization of all that God has in store for us. As believers, we have hope now, but we anticipate an even greater realization of that hope. That hope is laid up for us in heaven.
Paul expresses this wish: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NAS).
The Colossians had heard about this hope when they received the gospel truth. That truth had come to them “just as in all the world.” By all the world, Paul no doubt means the then known world. They had not only heard the truth, but the truth was constantly bearing fruit.
Third, Paul gives thanks and prays for the Colossians because they had demonstrated their love for all the saints. Their love, Paul says, was “love in the Spirit.” Love is a fruit of the Spirit. Their love did not only love for God but also love for all the saints. Love for God and love for the saints belong together.
Paul’s opening remarks to the Colossians apply fully to us. As holy, faithful brothers in Christ, we should manifest our faith, hope, and love for God and all the saints. These characteristics will always endure. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says: “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:9-14
One reason that Paul wrote to the church at Colossae was that false teaching had arisen. His approach in his letter is interesting. After the salutation, Paul began by thanking God for them (1:3-8). Then, in 1:9-14, he speaks about his unceasing prayers for them. He writes:
“9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects.”
Paul declares that he has not ceased to pray for the saints at Colossae. The phrase “for this reason” points back to Paul’s thanksgiving (1:3-8) for them. He highlights their love for all the saints. Then, he says that he does not stop asking that they “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (verse 9). By telling them about his prayers, Paul is encouraging the Colossians to also pray that in the realm of spiritual wisdom and understanding they will know God’s will.
Next, Paul expresses his purpose in praying for them. He prays “so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (verse 10). Although Paul already has expressed his thanksgiving for their devoted conduct, he continues to pray for them to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. When we trust in Christ, we are justified by faith, but we must walk worthily each day. We have an ongoing march toward maturity.
Paul tells the Colossians what they can to please God. In the Greek language, he uses four present participles to list what we can do. These participles describe for us the path that is pleasing to God. The participles are (1) bearing fruit, (2) being strengthened, (3) increasing or growing, and (4) giving thanks. In my next post, I will comment further on these participles.
After telling the Colossians how to please God, Paul declares: “13 For He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14). Here, Paul reminds the Colossians about what God has done for them. They have been moved from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:9-14
The Four Participles. Paul tells the saints at Colossae that he is praying for them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and understanding. He prays for them to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and in a way that pleases Him. Then, using four present participles, Paul expounds on what it means to walk in a way that pleases God.
First, Paul speaks about “bearing fruit in every good work.” Our good works do not save us, but our gratitude to God for His gracious redemption does motivate us to do good works. Here, Paul does not give us a list of the good works that are pleasing to God. However, there is no reason to limit the application of what he says. Our “good works” include evangelism, making disciples, and our spiritual maturity
Second, Paul says: “increasing (or growing) in the knowledge of God. Our growth in the knowledge of God is the basis for our good works. As we walk with the Lord, we have a growing knowledge of His grace. Our experience of what He has done for us enhances our knowledge of Him. Knowledge leads to experience and experience leads to further knowledge.
Third, Paul states: “strengthened (being strengthened) with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” Although Paul does not explicitly mention the Holy Spirit in this verse, a major tenet of his teaching is that we are empowered by the Spirit. The power that He gives is “according to His glorious might.” We are empowered to live lives that are pleasing to God.
Fourth, Paul writes: “giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” The amazing truth is that God has “qualified us” (NIV) to be partakers of the inheritance that He has in store for us. For this we give thanks.
The characteristics introduced by the four participles go together and are interdependent. When we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, we are bearing fruit, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened by His glorious might, and giving thanks. All of this qualifies us, by God’s grace, to be partakers of the inheritance that God has for us.
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:15-20
When Paul wrote to the Colossians, one of his purposes was to counter false teaching about Christ Jesus. According to some scholars, some teachers in Colossae taught that Christ was a good person, but that He was not the Son of God, the only Savior of the world. In this passage, Paul writes a strong statement about who Christ Jesus is.
Paul begins this section by saying, “And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” (verse 15). As the image of God, Jesus perfectly reveals the nature of God. All the divine attributes are revealed in Jesus, who is Himself, God. John says, “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Later in his gospel, John tells us that Philip wanted Jesus to show them the Father. John answers by saying, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
When we want to see God, we can look at Jesus. We can do this by reading the Word of God. Jesus is portrayed in the Word. The picture of who He is has been painted vividly in the Gospels and the rest of the Word. That picture is not a portrayal of Him physically, but His nature. In addition to the Word, we see Jesus with our spiritual eyes. Another way we see God is through the lives and actions of those who believe in Jesus. The nature of God is reflected in what they do.
Jesus is not only the image of God, but He is also “the first-born of all creation.” Here, “first-born” does not refer to being the first person to be created. Rather, He is the “first-born” in the sense of being supreme and having the highest rank. In verses, 16-17 Paul says that Christ existed before all things and that He created all things. His existence is eternal-past, present, and future.
When we talk about Jesus having the highest rank, being the first-born, this suggests that there are others, including us, who have a lesser status. We will learn more about them and what Jesus did for them as Paul continues His letter. We will learn what it means to be “in” Christ. Meanwhile, for today, we can express our amazement and gratitude for who Jesus is.
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:15-20
Thus far in his letter, Paul has greeted the Colossians, expressed his thanksgiving for them, mentioned his prayers for them, and has begun speaking of the supremacy of Christ as the image of God.
In verses 16-17 Paul declares that Jesus Christ is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe. At the beginning of verse 16, Paul says that the universe was created “en” Christ, meaning “by” or “in.” At the end of this verse, he says that all things have been created (dia) “by” or “through” Christ. Christ not only created the universe, but he also sustains the universe in existence. Paul says, “In Him all things hold together.”
When we think about the vastness of the universe, we realize how small a part we are. Yet, God loved us so much that He sent Christ to earth to minister to us and to atone for our sins. We gain our significance, not from our human evaluations, but the work and judgment of God Himself.
Many of you will remember the song “How Big is God?” It contains these words:
“How big is God, how big and wide is His domain? To try to tell these lips can only start.
He’s big enough to rule the mighty universe, Yet small enough to live within my heart.”
Perhaps today you are facing difficult problems. If so, these problems may loom large in your thinking. However, our problems are not difficult for God. Therefore, Peter exhorts us to cast our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). We can be comforted by the fact that He cares for us. Even when it seems that God has not answered in our way and time, we still can rest in the fact that the Lord of the universe loves and cares for us.
In my next “thoughts” we will consider verses 18-20. Christ not only holds the universe together, but He is also (verse 18) the head of the church. These verses speak about how God reconciles people to Himself. Through Christ, we are reconciled to God and God lives within our hearts. Until tomorrow . . .
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:15-20
In these verses, Paul is speaking about the supremacy of Christ. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Paul says, “in him all things hold together.” The very life of the universe is dependent upon Christ Jesus.
The supremacy of Christ applies not only in the realm of nature but also in the spiritual realm. Paul declares that “He [Christ] is the head of the church, and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything” (verse 18). As a matter of rank, He is the firstborn and has first place. As followers of Christ, we are completely under His authority and command.
Whether or not people recognize the authority of Christ is often linked to their ideas of who He is. Throughout history, there have been millions of people who have thought that Christ was a good person, but not the only Son of God. As a result, they do not recognize the full authority of Christ. This was true of some of the people in Colossae as well as elsewhere.
In contrast to this, Paul declares that it was the Father’s good pleasure “for all the fullness to dwell in Him.” The fullness of divine powers and attributes would reside in Christ. Moreover, God chose to reconcile “all things to Himself” through Christ. Because of the blood of the cross, peace was made. Through Christ, all things were reconciled, “whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
God’s work of reconciliation applies to both nature and people. The fruit of our reconciliation is realized in part now and will be fully consummated in the future. Just how this works out is addressed in other passages of Scripture. For example, Paul writes: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19 NAS).
The main point for us today is that our reconciliation with God comes through Christ. Our hearts can be at peace because we know that God has forgiven us and empowers us to live for Him. We are privileged to submit fully to His authority.
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:21-23
In these verses, Paul continues his discussion of reconciliation. Before being reconciled to God, the Colossians were “alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (verse 21). This condition signals our need for a Savior. Because of the barriers of sin, we cannot reconcile ourselves to God.
Although Paul was writing to the Colossians, this was the sinful condition of all mankind. As Paul says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter how good we think we are, we are still flawed. Because God is just, only Christ could pay the penalty for our sins.
Next, Paul says, “yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death” (verse 21). The incarnation, physical life, and death of Christ are essential to our reconciliation. The purpose of the reconciliation was to “present you before Him [or Himself] holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” Some translators say, “before Himself.”
When we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, we are justified by God. Because of Christ’s death, God considers us to be righteous. From that point on, we begin living a reconciled life. It is a life in which we grow and develop in the image of Christ. Moral and spiritual changes come because of His death.
Christ will present us beyond reproach “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister” (verse 23). Here, Paul emphasizes the importance of being faithful to the gospel.
As in 1:6, Paul speaks in verse 23 about the widespread proclamation of the gospel. He adds, “and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.” It was God who made Paul the apostolic minister that he was. To a lesser degree, but we have all been made “ministers” of the gospel. We can rely on God to help us with our ministry.
More Thoughts about Colossians 1:24-28
Paul speaks about being a minister of the gospel (1:23). Then he says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (verse 24).
Paul says that he rejoices in his sufferings in the flesh on behalf of the church, which is the body of Christ. His sufferings fill up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Paul does not mean that his sufferings atone for our sins. Christ’s sufferings were sufficient for that. Paul’s sufferings are those that are endured in the process of proclaiming the gospel.
Paul was made a minister of the gospel so that he might preach the Word of God. The gospel included “the mystery” related to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the body of Christ. Paul said that this mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The mystery was hidden from the past ages and generations, but it was now made known. Jews and Gentiles are both a part of the body of Christ.
Paul states the objective of his ministry. He says, “And we proclaim Him [Christ], admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ” (verse 28). Our goal, as ministers, is to win people to Christ and to help them grow in their relationship with Him.
Jesus said, “I will build my church,” (Matthew 16:18) but He did not say that it would be easy or that there would be no pain. Whenever we put our hand on the plow, we will inevitably meet tough soil. We endure the suffering because it is on behalf of the benefit of the body of Christ. It is not suffering for suffering’s sake. We can rejoice in the suffering because Jesus will see us through the pain to victory.
George M. Flattery, Ph.D., is the founder of Global University and Network211.