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The scope of the epistle compared and contrasted with that to the Ephesians; the state of the Ephesian and Colossian Christians
The Epistle to the Colossians looks at the Christian as risen with Christ, but not, as in that to the Ephesians, as sitting in heavenly places in Christ. A hope is laid up for him in heaven; he is to set his affections on things above, not on things on the earth. He has died with Christ and he is risen with Him, but not sitting in heavenly places in Him yet. We have in it a proof of that which other epistles demonstrate, namely, the blessed way in which our God in His grace turns everything to the good of those that love Him.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians the Holy Spirit had developed the counsels of God with regard to the church-its privileges. The Christians of Ephesus had nothing to be reproached with:1 therefore the Holy Spirit could use the occasion furnished by that faithful flock to unfold all the privileges which God had ordained for the church at large, by virtue of its union with Jesus Christ its Head, as well as the individual privileges of the children of God.
(1. How painful it is to see this beloved church taken afterwards as an example of the first love being lost! But all tends to the end.)
It was not so with the Colossians. They had in some measure slipped away from this blessed portion and lost the sense of their union with the Head of the body; at least, if it was not actually so, they were assailed by the danger and liable to the influence of those who sought to draw them away from it and subject them to the influence of philosophy and Judaism, so that the Apostle had to occupy himself with the danger and not merely with their privileges. This union with our Head (thank God!) cannot itself be lost; but as a truth in the church or of realization by individuals, it may. We know this but too well in the church of the day we live in. This, however, gives occasion to the Spirit of God to develop all the riches and all the perfection which are found in the Head and in His work, in order to recover the members of the body from their spiritual feebleness or maintain them in the full, practical enjoyment of their union with Christ and in the power of the position gained for them by that union. For us this is abiding instruction with regard to the riches that are in the Head.
If the Epistle to the Ephesians delineates the privileges of the body, that to the Colossians reveals the fullness that is in the Head and our completeness in Him. Thus, in that to the Ephesians the church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all; in that to the Colossians, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily, and we are complete in Him. There is another difference, however, which it is important to remark. In the Epistle to the Colossians we do not-save in the expression “love in the Spirit”- find any mention of the Holy Spirit. He is fully brought forward in the Ephesians. But, on the other hand, we have Christ as our life far more fully developed, of equal importance in its place. In Ephesians we have more largely the contrast of heathenism with Christian privilege and state. The formation of the soul in living likeness to Christ is largely developed in Colossians. It is more, in the well-known expressions, Christ in us than we in Christ, though these cannot be separated. A further important difference is that in Ephesians the unity of Jew and Gentile in one body holds a large place. In Colossians the Gentiles only are in view, though in connection with the doctrine of the body. These differences well noted, we may say that the two epistles have a great resemblance in their general character.