Colossians 1

Colossians 1  •  37 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The great general resemblances in the two epistles
They commence in nearly the same way.1 Both are written from Rome, while the Apostle was a prisoner in that city, and sent by the same messenger and on the same occasion, as well probably as that to Philemon: so the names and salutations give us reason to believe. The address to the Ephesians places them perhaps more immediately in connection with God Himself, instead of presenting them as in brotherly communion on earth. They are not called brethren in Ephesians 1:11Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 1:1), only saints and faithful in Christ Jesus. They are viewed as walking on earth in Colossians, though risen. Hence, there is a long prayer for their walk, though on high and holy ground as delivered. In Ephesians it begins with the full purpose and fruit of God’s counsels. In that epistle the Apostle’s heart expands at once in the sense of the blessings enjoyed by the Ephesians. They were blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. For the Colossians there was a hope laid up in heaven. And there is a preface of many verses referring to the gospel they had heard and introducing his prayer for their walk and state down here. This brings us where Ephesians 1:77In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (Ephesians 1:7) brings us, but with a much more enlarged development of the personal glory of Christ, and more in a historical way of God’s actual dealings. It is also a more personal church address than the Ephesians.
(1. The name of Timotheus is not found in the address to the saints at Ephesus.)
Special characteristics of what is said to the Colossians
But let us consider more closely that which is said to the Colossians. The blessed calling of which the Apostle speaks (Ephesians 1:3-103Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: (Ephesians 1:3‑10)) and the privileges of the inheritance (vss. 11-14) are wanting in Colossians; risen but on earth, they are not sitting in heavenly places, all things being thus their inheritance. It is not they in Christ there, but Christ in them the hope of glory, and the prayer referred to above fills up the chapter till we come to the common ground of Christ’s glory in Colossians 1:1515Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: (Colossians 1:15); and even here the divine glory of Christ is brought out in Colossians, the simple fact of the purpose of God as to Christ in Ephesians. And not only we have not God’s inheritance ours; but in Colossians the Spirit as earnest of it is not spoken of. This indeed we have seen is characteristic of Colossians. The Spirit is not spoken of, but life. We have the Person and divine glory of Christ and our completeness in Him more insisted on in Colossians; but not the saints’ place with God in the same way. Further, as the saint is looked at as on earth, not in Christ on high, his responsibility is brought in (ch. 1:23). Colossians 1:33We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, (Colossians 1:3) answers to Ephesians 1:1616Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; (Ephesians 1:16): only one feels that there is more fullness in the joy of Ephesians 1:1616Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; (Ephesians 1:16). Faith in Christ and love to all saints are found in each exordium, as the occasion of the writer’s joy.
The Apostle’s prayer in view of the Colossians’ need
The subject of his prayer is quite different. In the Ephesians, where he develops the counsels of God with regard to the church, he prays that the saints may understand them, as well as the power by means of which they participated in them. Here he prays that their walk may be guided by divine intelligence. But this belongs to another cause, to the point of view from which, in his discourse, he looks at the saints. We have seen that in the Epistle to the Ephesians he views them as sitting in the heaven-lies. Their inheritance, consequently, is that of all things which are to be gathered together under Christ as Head. Here he prays for them in view of a hope laid up for them in heaven; his prayer, therefore, refers to their walk, that it may be in harmony with the object which they had set before them. As on earth and in danger of not adhering to the Head, the believers in Colosse were in danger of departing from that object. He prayed, therefore, in view of that heavenly hope. They had heard of this perfect and glorious hope. The gospel had proclaimed it everywhere.
The Colossians’ danger and its remedy
It was this gospel preached in view of a hope laid up in heaven which had produced fruit among men, fruit that was characterized by its heavenly source. Their religion, that which governed their heart in these relationships with God, was heavenly. The Colossians were in danger of falling back into the current of ordinances and of the religious customs of man living in the world, whose religion was in connection with the world in which he dwelt and not enlightened, not filled with heavenly light. There is nothing but conscious union with Christ which can keep us securely there. Ordinances to reach Him can have no place where we are united to Him; the philosophy of human thoughts none, where we possess livingly divine ones in Christ.
Nevertheless, how precious it is-even if we are not in the full height of our calling-to have an object set before our hearts which delivers us from this world and from the influences which hide God from us! Such is the Apostle’s object in this scripture. He directs the eyes of the Colossians to heaven, in order that they may see Christ there and regain that sense of their union with the Head which they had in some measure lost or were in danger of losing. The groundwork was, however, there-faith in Christ and love to all saints. They only needed realizing their union with the Head; which, moreover, could alone maintain them in the heavenly element above ordinances, above human and earthly religion.
The Apostle’s starting point
The Apostle, in order to raise them up, sets out as usual from the point where he found good in the saints to whom he wrote. This heavenly hope had reached them and had produced fruit. It is this which distinguishes Christianity from all other religions, and in particular from the Jewish system, which-although individuals who were in it by grace sighed for heaven-hid God behind the veil and enveloped the conscience in a series of ordinances at a distance from Him.
The practical, heavenly life on earth of those risen with Christ
Now, based upon this hope which placed the inner life of the Christians in connection with heaven, the Apostle prays that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of the will of God in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. It is the fruit of a risen man’s connection with God on the earth. This is very different from commandments and ordinances. It is the fruit of intimate communion with God, of knowledge of His character and of His nature by virtue of this communion; and, although it refers to practical life, as belonging to the inner life, it leaves ordinances completely behind. The Apostle had to begin at this practical end, at Christian life. Perhaps the Colossians did not at first understand the bearing of these instructions, but they contained a principle which, already planted in their heart and capable of being reawakened, led them to the point which the Apostle aimed at, and was at the same time a very precious privilege, the value of which they were in a position to apprehend. Such is charity. The Apostle develops their privileges in this respect with force and clearness, as one to whom such a walk was well-known, and, moreover, with the power of the Spirit of God. They are not in heaven but on earth, and this is the path that suited those risen with Christ and looking to heaven from the earth. It is divine life on earth, not the Holy Spirit putting the soul of the believer at the center of divine counsels, as in Ephesians 3 through Christ dwelling in the heart by faith.
The knowledge of God’s will based on the soul’s spiritual state by means of His Word: a worthy walk and fruitful growth result and increasing knowledge of God
The first principle of this practical heavenly life was the knowledge of the will of God-to be filled with it, not to run after it as a thing without us, nor in indecision, in uncertainty, as to what it was, but to be filled with it by a principle of intelligence which comes from Him and which forms the understanding and the wisdom of the Christian himself. The character of God was livingly translated in the appreciation of everything that the Christian did. And remark here that the knowledge of God’s will is based on the spiritual state of the soul-wisdom and spiritual understanding. And this is of all practical importance. No particular direction by man as to conduct meets this at all-rather saves us from the need of spiritual understanding. No doubt a more spiritual mind may help me in the discernment of God’s will;1 but God has connected the discovery of the path of His will, His way, with the inward state of the soul and causes us to pass through circumstances-human life here below-to test and to discover to ourselves what that state is and to exercise us therein. The Christian has by his spiritual state to know God’s ways. The Word is the means (compare John 17:17,1917Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)
19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (John 17:19)
). God has a way of His own which the vulture’s eye has not seen, known only to the spiritual man, connected with, flowing from, and to, the knowledge of God (compare Exodus 33:1313Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. (Exodus 33:13)). Thus the Christian walks worthy of the Lord; he knows what becomes Him2 and walks accordingly, that he may please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and growing by the knowledge of God.
(1. It is one of the deceits of the heart that, when we really know God’s will quite well, we go to ask advice of one no more spiritual than ourselves.)
(2. There are three measures given of the Christian’s walk in this form: worthy of God who has called us to His own kingdom and glory; worthy of the Lord, here; and worthy of the vocation with which we are called, that is, the Holy Spirit dwelling in the church, Ephesians 2; developed as it is in the end of chapter 3.)
The measure of the Christian’s strength; a life in harmony with God; its character, manifestation on earth and form
It was not then only the character of life: this life was productive; it bore fruit, and, as life grew up, by increasing knowledge of God. But this connection with God brings in another very precious consideration. Besides the character and the living energy which are in relationship with this knowledge, the strength of the Lord1 is developed in it also. They draw strength from Him. He gives it that they might walk thus. “Strengthened,” he says, “with all power, according to the might of his glory.” Such is the measure of the Christian’s strength for a life in harmony with the character of God. Thus the character of this life is revealed in the heavenly glory on high—Jesus Christ. On earth its manifestation—as it had been in Jesus Christ-is realized in all patience and long-suffering with joy, in the midst of the sorrow and afflictions of the life of God in this world. This form of the life, too, is striking: all divine strength according to His glory given in order to be patient, to endure. What a character it gives to the Christian’s life in this world! And there is a generous bearing with others which it enables us to maintain. Nor is anything a more manifest fruit of power than this. Will, too, is here subdued. Thus, in spite of all we have to endure, we have with God constant joy. It is a blessed picture of the form in which divine life manifests itself.
(1. The antecedent is, I think, here the Lord; but the Lord and God are greatly merged in one thought.)
The life of endurance: its source, aim and present possession
And here the Apostle connects this life of endurance with that which is its source, its aim and its present possession by faith. Walking thus we are full of joy, and we give thanks to the Father who has made1 us meet to share the portion of the saints in light. Here are the saints established in their proper relationship with God (their Father) in heaven-in the light, that which God is, and in which He dwells. Thus we have the state of the soul, the character of the walk, and the strength in which we accomplish it. As to meetness for God in light, we possess it. Moreover, we are translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
(1. Take special notice here that it is not said, “Will make us meet,” as a thing yet to be done and in which we make progress.)
In the light: the means employed and the practical character of the work which places us there
The means employed and the practical character of the work which sets us in the light are then presented, introducing us (as far as Colossians does) into the counsels of God, but in a practical way-in their results future or present, not in counsel nor as the mystery of His will.
The Father has delivered us from the power of darkness and transported us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. It is not a Jewish rule for man; it is an operation of the power of God, who treats us as altogether by nature the slaves of Satan and of darkness; and places us by an act of that power in an entirely new position and relationship with Himself. We see indeed here, if we examine the principles in their origin, the same thing as in Ephesians 1:4-5; 2:1-64According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Ephesians 1:4‑5)
1And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 2:1‑6)
, as to our position before. But it is evident that the fullness and definiteness of a new creation are wanting.1 “The inheritance of the saints in light” and “the kingdom of the Son of his love” remind us of Ephesians 1:4-54According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Ephesians 1:4‑5); but it is not the thing itself, as it is in God’s mind, but our having been made meet for it when here; nor, consequently, the development of a position with which one is familiar as standing in it. The power and the love of the Father have made us meet for it, and although the character of God is necessarily there as light and love, according to His relationship to His Son, yet what we have here is not our own relationship with God Himself, outside the question of whence He took us, but the work in general which places us there in contrast with our previous position. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son; we have part in the inheritance of the saints in light: but where is the saint “without blame before him in love”? where our relationship to Him, according to the counsels of Him who saw only the good which He purposed in His own heart? where the “children unto himself by Jesus Christ,” through His predestination before the world was?
(1. We shall also see, farther on, that the starting point is somewhat different, and, though Ephesian ground is partially referred to, brings in man as he is found living in sin, and less absolutely to God, who finds him already dead in sins, and creates him according to His own counsels. But of this hereafter. Further, in Ephesians 1:66To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:6) our place is full grace in Christ; in Colossians 1 it is present, actual deliverance from the power of darkness and translation into the kingdom of the Son of His love-not χαρις (charis) or χαριτωσις εν τω ηγαπημενω (charitosis en to hegapemeno).)
Deliverance by God’s power and grace; the means employed by the Spirit
In Ephesians deliverance is brought in as a consequence of the position in which the heirs, the objects of the eternal counsels of God, are seen.1 Here deliverance is the chief subject. How dangerous and disastrous it is to depart from the Head and to lose the full consciousness, in the light, of our union with Him! How perfect and precious is that grace which takes notice of our condition and brings us out of it to God, to make us enjoy-according to the power and grace of God-the inestimable position which He has given us in Christ!
(1. This belongs to the principle mentioned above. In Ephesians, all is seen from the point of view of God’s eternal counsels before evil existed, the good which He purposed in Himself, although redemption was necessary when evil had come in, and the glory of God Himself and the basis of our glory in the accomplishment of them were made good in it. In Colossians man in evil is the object of grace.)
The means which the Spirit here employs to accomplish this work of grace is the development of the glory of the Lord, of the Son of His love.
The kingdom of the Son of His love
Here alone, I believe, is the kingdom called the kingdom of the Son; and, I think, it is only as introducing His Person as the center of everything and giving us the measure of the greatness of the blessing. It is the kingdom of One who has this place, the Son of His love, into which we are introduced. It is indeed His kingdom; and in order that we may apprehend the character of this kingdom as it is now for us and our nearness to God as having part in it, it is called the kingdom of the Son of His love. It is this which is the present foundation and characteristic of the relationship with God of those who are truly in and of it. As the kingdom of the Son of Man, it is His manifestation hereafter in glory and in government. Here it is characterized by the relationship of the Son Himself to the Father, in His Person, with the addition of that which gives us a full title to share it-redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
The glory of Jesus set in strong relief
The Apostle, having thus introduced the Son in His relationship to the Father, as the central and mighty object which was to attract the heart of the Colossians and set them free from the yoke of ordinances, sketches now the different parts of the glory of that Person. If, therefore, the assembly’s own glory is wanting, that of Jesus is so much the rather set in stronger relief before us. Thus God brings good out of evil and in every way feeds His beloved people.
The Lord Jesus the image of the invisible God seen of angels and men
The Lord Jesus is the image of the invisible God. It is in the Son of His love that we see what God is (compare John 1:1818No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18); and also 1 John 1:22(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (1 John 1:2)). This is the first character of His personal glory, the essential center of all the rest. Now, in consequence of this proper character of His Person, He takes by right the position of representing God in the creation. Adam was created in some sort in the image of God and placed as center in a creation that was subjected to him. But, after all, he was only a figure of the Christ, of Him who was to come. The Son, in His very Person, in His nature (and for us as in the bosom of the Father), is He who makes God known, because He presents Him in His own Person and in a full revelation of His being and of His character before men and in the whole universe; for all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him. Nevertheless, He is a man. He is thus seen of angels. We have seen Him with our eyes or by faith. Thus He is the image of the invisible God. The perfect character and living representation of the invisible God have been seen in Him. Wondrous truth for us with regard to the Person of our Saviour!
The firstborn of all creation; its Creator and Head
But then what place can He have in creation when He has come into it according to the eternal counsels of God? He could have but one, namely, that of supremacy without contestation and without controversy. He is the firstborn of all creation; this is a relative name, not one of date with regard to time. It is said of Solomon, “I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” Thus the Creator, when He takes a place in creation, is necessarily its Head. He has not yet made good His rights, because in grace He would accomplish redemption. We are speaking of His rights- rights which faith recognizes.
He is then the image of the invisible God, and, when He takes His place in it, the firstborn of all creation. The reason of this is worthy of our attention-simple, yet marvelous: He created it. It was in the Person of the Son that God acted, when by His power He created all things, whether in heaven or in the earth, visible and invisible. All that is great and exalted is but the work of His hand; all has been created by Him (the Son) and for Him. Thus, when He takes possession of it, He takes it as His inheritance by right. Wonderful truth that He who has redeemed us, who made Himself man, one of us as to nature, in order to do so, is the Creator. But such is the truth.
Christ as Man having right to all things created by Him and for Him
In connection with this admirable truth, it was a part of God’s counsels that man should have dominion over all the works of His hands. Thus Christ, as man, has it by right and will take possession of it in fact. This part of the truth of which we are speaking is treated in Hebrews 2; we shall consider it in its place. I introduce it here merely that we may understand the circumstances under which the Son takes possession. The Spirit speaks of the One who is man, but the One who is at the same time Creator of all things, the Son of God. They were created by Him, they were necessarily then created also for Him.
Thus we have hitherto the glory of the Person of Christ and His glory in creation connected with His Person. In Him is seen the image of the invisible God. He has created all things: all is for Him; and He is the firstborn of all that is created.
Christ, the Head of the body, the firstborn from among the dead; His special place in relation to the church in resurrection power; His preeminence in all things
Another category of glory, another supremacy, is now presented. He takes a special place in relation to the assembly in the power of resurrection. It is the introduction of divine power, not in creation but in the empire of death; in order that others may participate in His glory by redemption and by the power of life in Him. The first glory was, so to speak, natural-the latter, special and acquired (although in virtue of the glory of His Person) by undergoing death and all the power of the enemy in it. Accordingly, it is connected, as we have just said, with redemption and with the introduction of others into the participation of the same privileges. He is the Head of the body, which is the assembly, the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence. He is the firstborn of creation, He is the firstborn1 according to the power of resurrection, in this new order of things in which man is predestined to an entirely new position, gained by redemption, and in which he participates in the glory of God (as far as that which is created can do so), and that by participating in divine life in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and everlasting life; and, as regards the assembly, as members of His body. He is the firstborn of creation, the firstborn from among the dead; the Creator and the conqueror of death and the enemy’s power. These are the two spheres of the display of the glory of God. The special position of the assembly, the body of Christ, forms a part of the latter. He must have this resurrection glory, this universal preeminence and superiority also, as being man, for all the fullness (namely, of the Godhead; see chapter 2:9) was pleased to dwell in Him. What place could He have except that of first in all things! But, before speaking of that which follows, some important remarks are yet to be made on that which we have been considering.
(1. One of these preeminences depends on His divine rights as Creator, the other on His work and on the power displayed in His humanity in the act of resurrection. He holds all as man and all by divine power; but in some sort it may be said that one part of His glory depends on His divinity, the other on His victory as man.)
Declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection
The Son is here presented to us as Creator, not to the exclusion of the Father’s power, nor of the operation of the Spirit. They are one, but it is the Son who is here set before us. In John 1 it is the Word who creates all things. Here and in Hebrews 1, it is under the name of Son that He, who is also the Word, is revealed to us. He is the Word of God, the expression of His thought and of His power. It is by Him that God works and reveals Himself. He is also the Son of God; and, in particular, the Son of the Father. He reveals God, and he who has seen Him has seen the Father. Inasmuch as born in this world by the operation of God through the Holy Spirit, He is the Son of God (Psa. 2:77I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. (Psalm 2:7); Luke 1:3535And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)). But this is in time, when creation is already the scene of the manifestation of the ways and counsels of God. But the Son is also the name of the proper relationship of His glorious Person to the Father before the world was. It is in this character that He created all things. The Son is to be glorified even as the Father. If He humble Himself, as He did for us, all things are put into His hands, in order that His glory may be manifested in the same nature in the assumption of which He humbled Himself.
And already the power of life and of God in Him is manifested by resurrection, so that He is declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection. This is the proof of it.
“All the fullness of the Godhead”: the one Person of Christ
In the Epistle to the Colossians that which is set before us is the proper glory of His Person as the Son before the world was. He is the Creator as Son. It is important to observe this. But the persons are not separated in their manifestation. If the Son wrought miracles on earth, He cast out devils by the Spirit; and the Father who dwells in Him (Christ) did the works. Also it must be remembered that that which is said is said, when He was manifested in the flesh, of His complete Person, man upon earth. Not that we do not in our minds separate between the divinity and the humanity; but even in separating them we think of the one Person with regard to whom we do so. We say, Christ is God, Christ is man; but it is Christ who is the two. I do not say this theologically, but to draw the reader’s attention to the remarkable expression, “All the fullness was pleased to dwell in him.” All the fullness of the Godhead was found in Christ.
The errors of the Gnostics
The Gnostics, who in later years so much harassed the assembly, used this word “fullness” in a mystical and peculiar sense for the sum and source (and yet, after all, in the sense of a locality; for it had a ορος (horos), limits which separated it from everything else) of divinity which developed itself in four pairs of beings-syzygies-Christ being only one of a pair.1 It is not necessary to go further into their reveries, except to observe that, with different shades of thought, they attribute creation to a god either inferior or evil, who also was the author of the Old Testament. Matter, they said, did not proceed from the supreme God. They did not eat meat; they did not marry; at the same time they gave themselves up to all sorts of horrors and dissoluteness; and, strange to say, associated themselves with Judaism, worshipped angels, etc.
(1. Indeed added to the four as supplementary.)
All the fullness dwelling in Christ
The Apostle was often in conflict with these tools of Satan. Peter also mentions them. Here Paul sets forth, by the word of God, the whole fullness of the divinity of Christ. Far from being something inferior, an emanation, or having a place however exalted in those endless genealogies, all the fullness itself dwelt in Him. Glorious truth with regard to the Person of the Lord our Saviour! We may leave all the foolish imaginations of man in the shade in order to enjoy the perfect light of this glorious fullness of God in our Head and Lord. All the fullness was in Him. We know indeed the Father, but revealed by Him. We possess indeed the Spirit, but the fullness of the Spirit was in Him, and because, having accomplished our redemption and our purification, He then received that Spirit for us. And God Himself in all His fullness was revealed, without any reservation, in the Person of Christ; and this Christ is ours, our Saviour, our Lord. He has been manifested to us and for us. What a glorious truth for us!
It is for His own glory, no doubt, that He should be known as He is, as love; but it is not the less true that this revelation was in connection with us. It is not only the Son revealing the Father, sweet and precious as that fact is; it is the fullness of the Godhead as such that is revealed and shown forth in Christ. It was the good pleasure of the fullness to dwell there.
Reconciled to God by Christ; peace made through the blood of His cross
But Christ was not only the Head of creation in virtue of the divine glory of His Person and the Head of the assembly as risen from among the dead and victorious over the power of the enemy; creation and all those who were to form the assembly were alike far from God, and the latter were so even in their will; to be in relationship with God they must be reconciled to Him. This is the second part of the glory of Christ. Not only was it the good pleasure of the fullness of the Godhead to dwell in Him, but by Him to reconcile all things to Itself, having made peace by the blood of the cross. This reconciliation of things in heaven as well as on earth is not yet accomplished. Peace is indeed made by the blood, but the power has not yet come in to bring back the whole into actual relationship with God according to the value of that blood.
Thus, in Israel, the blood was put upon the mercy-seat, and expiation-peace-was made; but besides this, everything was sprinkled, and the sins of the people were confessed. This, with regard to Israel and to creation, has not yet been done. As to that which is outward, it remains still at a distance from God, although peace is made. We know that it is the good pleasure of God to reconcile all things in heaven, and on the earth, by virtue of this blood. All things shall be restored to order under a new rule. The guilty, remaining in their sins, will be outside this scene of blessing; but heaven and earth will be completely freed from the power of evil (and even from its presence during the millennium, as regards manifestation-still later, absolutely from its presence itself), according to the virtue of that blood which has separated between good and evil, according to the character of God Himself, and so glorified God that peace is made. God can act freely for blessing; but here the work is twofold, like the glory of the Person of Christ, and refers to the same objects as His glory. It is in the counsels of God to reconcile unto Himself all things in heaven and on the earth through Christ. But Christians He has already reconciled. Once not only defiled, like the creature, but enemies in their minds, He has already reconciled them in the body of His flesh by means of death. The perfect work which Christ accomplished in His body, blotting out our sins and perfectly glorifying God His Father, has brought us into relationship with God in His holiness according to the efficacy of that work; that is to say, it is efficacious to present us, perfectly reconciled, holy, without blemish and without blame, before His face; and with the consciousness of it, and of the love that has wrought it, and the favor into which we are brought, so that in the sense of this the heart is brought back to God: we are reconciled to God. This supposes that we continue steadfast in the faith unto the end.
The occasion of warning; the worldwide testimony of God’s love
The position of the Colossians gave room for this warning, being viewed as walking on earth.1 We have seen that they had a little departed, or were in danger of departing, from the realization of their union with Christ.
(1. When the Christian is viewed as in Christ, there is no “if”: we are in Him. When he is viewed as a pilgrim here, we are on the road to actual glory and have to reach the goal, and here “if” comes in and danger and the need of being kept. But then we have the fullest assurance that we shall be kept and never perish, and be confirmed to the end, and the good work completed. Thus dependence on God is maintained in the saved, and confidence in His faithfulness.)
It will be noticed also that the Apostle speaks of his gospel as spread abroad in all the world. Grace had overstepped the narrow limits of Judaism and the expectation of the Messiah in order to make known the testimony of the perfect love of God in the whole creation under heaven, of which Paul was the instrument as the apostle of the Gentiles.1
(1. Note here how clear and full the statement is: verse 14, redemption and forgiveness; verse 21, reconciliation with God; verse 13, deliverance and introduction into the kingdom; verse 12, we are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. All this we have, and so are called to walk worthy of the Lord.)
The two preeminences of Christ, the two reconciliations, and the double character of Paul’s ministry; the Word of God completed as to its subjects
Hitherto, then, the Spirit of God has set before us the two pre-eminences of Christ, that over creation and that over the assembly, and the two reconciliations which answer to them; namely, first, that of the things over which Christ is set as Head, that is, of all things in heaven and earth; and second, that of Christians themselves: the latter already accomplished, the former yet to come. The ministry of the Apostle had now the same double character. He has not undoubtedly to preach in heaven; but his ministry is exercised in every place under heaven where there is a soul to hearken. He is a minister of that gospel; and then he is a minister of the assembly, a distinct service or ministry, making known its true position and its privileges, connected indeed with the other, in that the gospel went out also to the Gentiles to bring them in (vss. 23,25). By this last instruction he completed the Word of God: an important principle with regard to the exclusive authority of the written Word, which shows that its totality already exists, demonstrated by the subjects which it comprises; subjects which are entirely completed, to the exclusion of others which people may seek to introduce. The circle of truths which God had to treat, in order to reveal to us the glory of Christ and to give us complete instruction according to His wisdom, is entire when the doctrine of the assembly is revealed. There were no others to be added.1
(1. It is not a question here as to the dates of the books, but of the circle of subjects. The law, the kingdom, the Person of Christ, redemption and the ways of God had already been brought out; the doctrine of the assembly was then to be revealed, in order to make the communications of God complete as to their subjects.)
Persecution and sufferings; the source of the enmity of Judaism
But this doctrine in particular exposed the Apostle to persecution and sufferings, which the Jews, especially, and the enemy sought in every way to inflict upon him. But he rejoiced in this as a privilege, because Christ had suffered on account of His love for the assembly-for His own. The Apostle speaks here, not of the efficacy of His death, but of the love which led Him to suffer. Looked at in this point of view, the Apostle could participate in His sufferings, and we also in our little measure; but the Apostle in a peculiar manner, as the special witness-bearer to this truth. If Christ had been content to accept the position of Messiah according to man, He would have been well received. If Paul had preached circumcision, the offense of the cross would have ceased: man could have taken part in the religion of God, if His religion had recognized man in the flesh. But if God is revealed, if His grace extends to the Gentiles, if by this grace, and without having respect to the Jew more than to the Gentile, He forms an assembly, which is the body of Christ, sharing the heavenly glory of His Son-this is what the flesh cannot endure. To be thus shut out as nothing worth before God, even in its religion, take what pains it might-this is unbearable. This is the source of the enmity of the Judaizing spirit, which is founded on the flesh, on man, and which is constantly reappearing in the Apostle’s history, whether as exciting the hatred of the heathen or as corrupting the doctrine of Christ and the simplicity of the gospel. Religion in the flesh boasts its own peculiar privileges (see Philippians 3).
Paul’s double ministry; the mystery made known
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. Naturally, his ministry was limited to the earth. In every respect the extent and bearing of the glory of Christ and of the ministry went beyond the limits of Judaism and were in contrast with the whole system.
The Apostle then insists on the second part of his ministry, of which he had been just speaking; dwelling however particularly on that which met the need of the Colossians and developing it, in order to secure them in the enjoyment of the whole circle of these precious truths. He completed the Word of God by announcing this mystery, which had been hidden from all ages and generations, but was now manifested to the saints. No display of the ways of God since the creation had (in the truths on which it was founded, in the revelation of God-of His power, or of His thoughts, which formed its basis and gave it its character) contained the mystery contained in the doctrine of the assembly. It had not been communicated to any of those who formed part of the system which preceded it, or who were the medium of light to others, as instrumental in the revelation of the light of God. Angels, men, Israel, the prophets-all were alike in ignorance of it. The assembly (this body united to the Son of God become man and glorified) and the calling of the Gentiles into that unity was hidden from them all.
Christ in us down here: the hope of glory;
the blessing and the power for every man
Now that Christ the Head of the assembly, the Head of the body, was glorified, the mystery of this body was made known. The Apostle here dwells on one particular side of this subject, which, after the Person of Christ, forms the center of all God’s ways. This side is Christ in us, especially as Gentiles, the hope of glory. And in this again we see how the saints are viewed as on earth, though in the power of resurrection. The aspect here given of the mystery is Christ in us down here, not union with Him actually in glory, though inseparable from that. In fact, this mystery was in every way a new thought, a new truth. That which was known was a Messiah who should be manifested among the Jews, the accomplishment of glory in their midst; the Gentiles at most having part in it, as subordinate to the people of God. But according to the doctrine of the assembly, Christ invisibly dwelt in the midst of the Gentiles,1 and even in them; and as to the glory He was only the hope of it. A Christ dwelling in the hearts of men, and of men formerly rejected and outside the promises, and filling their hearts with joy and glory in the consciousness of union with Himself-this was the wondrous mystery prepared of God for the blessing of the Gentiles. It was this Christ, a Christ such as this, whom Paul preached, warning every man and teaching every man according to the full development of the wisdom of God, which wrought mightily in the Apostle by the Spirit, in order that he might present every man in a spiritual state answering to this revelation of Christ, as being also its fruit. Not that every man would receive it; but there was no longer any limit. All distinction between them was blotted out, alike by sin and by grace, and there was but one thing to do; that is, to seek that every man, by the power of the Word and the Spirit, should reflect Christ and grow up unto the stature of His fullness, as revealed in the doctrine committed to the Apostle. He labored for this according to the working of Christ in him; for Christ was not only the object, but the power that wrought to form souls after His own image.
(1. I have already remarked that the Gentiles are especially in view in the Colossians, not the union of Jew and Gentile in one.)