The Inspiration of the Scriptures: Colossians

Colossians  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 11
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Chap. 5 Divine Design.—40. the Epistle to the Colossians
The distinctive aim is as legible here as elsewhere. It is not Christian experience as in the Epistle to the Philippian saints, nor the blessedness of the saints in the heavenlies in Christ as to those in Ephesus, but the glories of Christ in respect of both earth and heaven, as man and as God. Nor is any notion more contrary to truth than to conceive that to the Ephesians an amplification of this to the Colossians even if both were admitted to be genuine. That they are in the closest mutual relation is apparent; for the body of Christ is as prominent in the Ephesian letter as is the Head in the Colossian. But for this very reason each has its own special object; and both are of the highest interest and importance, as giving the truth in question fully and without confusion. Why they were severed by the Epistle to the Philippians it is hard to say; for internal considerations point to the writing of the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians about the same time, whereas that to Philippians has no such link, and while it may have preceded them as Dr. Lightfoot contends, it rather seems from its tone to have been the later of the three.
However this be, which is comparatively immaterial, here we have the complement of the letter to the Ephesians, as it appears evidently written at nearly the same time. Here we learn the fullness of Christ for the saints, Christ in them; as there were revealed the privileges in Christ for the saints and the church. They thus lend one another the most necessary and remarkable help. But they also differ quite as strikingly; for to the Colossians the apostle dwells on Christ our life, even where the word may not be used, and only once (1:8) speaks of the Spirit; whereas to the Ephesians he unfolds the Holy Spirit's functions as he does nowhere else.
The apostle did not write alone as to the Ephesians, but joins with himself “Timothy the brother to the holy and faithful brethren in Christ that are in Colosse.” After the usual wish but curtailed, the former give thanks at once to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, continually praying for them, having heard of their faith and love on account of the hope that is laid up for them in the heavens (1-5), “of which ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel which came to you as in all the world, bearing fruit and growing, even as also among you since the day ye heard and rightly knew the grace of God in truth; even as ye learned from Epaphras our beloved fellow-bondman, who is a faithful servant of Christ for you, that also declared to us your love in [the] Spirit.”
The rich unfolding of God's call and inheritance found in Eph. 1:3-143Blessed 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: 11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3‑14) has no counterpart here, because of the dangers which menaced those addressed. Nor here is it only “for the hope.” “For this reason we also, since the day we heard, do not cease praying and begging that ye may be filled with the right knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord unto all well-pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work and growing by the right knowledge of God; strengthened with all strength unto the might of his glory unto all endurance and long-suffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father that made us meet for sharing the portion of the saints in light; who rescued us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption the forgiveness of sins” (9-14).
Before proceeding with the setting forth of the glories of Christ's person that follow, remark that the walk, power, and thankfulness are directly, not of Paul and Timothy that prayed for them, but of the Colossian brethren. Thus then, while present fruit and growth are sought, thanks were to be that the Father qualified “us,” not the writer nor those written to only but all Christians, for sharing His presence in the light. The Vulgate, followed by Roman Catholic theologians, &c., is utterly wrong in the perversion “made worthy “; as are most Protestants too in blotting out this blessed standing to make it a gradual process.
“Who [Christ] is image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation, because by [or, in virtue of] him were all things [or, the universe] created that are in the heavens and that are on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or principalities or powers; they all have been created through him and for him; and he is before all and by [or, in virtue of] him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, who is [the] beginning, firstborn out of the dead, that he in all things might be pre-eminent” (15-18).
“Image” observe, not likeness. The word was God. Like would be only resembling; “image” represents, as Christ perfectly represented here below the invisible God. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” as He said to Philip. So when born of woman, He was firstborn of all creation. Even Solomon His type, was by sovereign grace made firstborn, though younger than many of David's sons. The glorious reason follows for Christ—because He created all. How conclusive! No matter when born, He was chief of creation. The A. V. is right: the R. V. dangerously wrong in giving “in him were all things created.” It expresses not the instrumental means as near the end of the verse, but the intrinsic power by which the work was done, here of universal creation. The mystical idea of the Revisers, for which there is no ground, seems refuted also by the tense which points to historical fact, as distinguished from the abiding continuance of the past act in the latter clause. Besides it opens the door of universalism in opposition to all truth. Nothing can be clearer than the universality of creation here attributed to our Lord, heavenly and earthly, visible and invisible: they, the whole of them, have been created “through” Him, and not only so but “for” Him as the end in view. And as He existed before all, so does the universe hold together by, or in virtue of, His power.
But a wholly new glory succeeds, on which the church specially depends, and from which she derives her being and character. “And he is the head of the body, the church; who is [the] beginning [which is distinctive here, and not said of Him either when a divine person only, or when the Word became flesh, but only as risen], firstborn out of the dead.” He rose the conqueror over sin and death to be the Beginning, and the suited Head of the body, that in all things He might become first in rank. Anything short would have dishonored both Him and the Father.
Next comes His work of reconciliation in its future scope for the universe, and in its actual and complete application to the saints, due to the glory of His person. “Because all the fullness was pleased in him to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things to him- [or it-] self, having made peace through the blood of his cross—through him, whether those on the earth or those in the heavens. And you, once alienated as ye were and enemies in the mind by wicked works, yet now he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death to present you holy and unblemished and unimpeachable before him, if at least ye abide in the faith grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye heard, that was preached in all the creation under heaven, of which I Paul became servant. Now I rejoice in the sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the tribulations of Christ in my flesh for his body, which is the church, of which I became servant according to the dispensation [or, stewardship] of God that was given me unto you to complete the word of God: the mystery that had been hidden from the ages and the generations, but now was manifested to his saints, to whom God would make known what [are] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you the hope of glory, whom we announce, admonishing every man and teaching every man, that we may present every man perfect in Christ; where unto also I labor in conflict, according to his working which worketh in me mightily” (19-29).
Here we have a twofold reconciliation (answering to His twofold personal supremacy over creation as a whole, and of the church), of which last not even His incarnation, however blessed and essential, but His death was the basis; for not till His cross was sin forever judged before God. Again, the apostle mentions his twofold service, corresponding to Christ's person and reconciling ministry of the gospel in its unrestricted extent, ministry of the church in filling up the blank (left in the word of God) by the revelation of the hidden mystery, or secret unknown in Old Testament times. It here emphasizes the Gentiles having part in it, not you in Christ, but “Christ in you, the hope of glory” on high, instead of Christ reigning over the earth, with Israel His center and all the nations blessed according to the promises and the prophecies. For that the apostle toiled mightily, as he also endured afflictions for the sake of Christ's body, the church (atonement His only, but those afflictions of holy love left for His own to share), that he might present every man full-grown in Christ, of which toil He was not only the object but the power, being Head.
So above man, so opposed to fallen nature, is the truth of Christ, as to involve conflict as well as toil, in such as serve Him. What can one do better than to transcribe the apostle's burning words? For I would have you know what conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea and as many as have not seen my face in flesh; that their hearts may be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding unto right knowledge of the mystery of God, in which are the treasury of wisdom and of knowledge hidden. And this I say that no one may delude you by persuasive speech. For though in the flesh I am absent, yet in the spirit I am with you, rejoicing and seeing your order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted and being builded up in him, and confirmed in the faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in [it] with thanksgiving. See lest there shall be one that leadeth you astray through philosophy and vain deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and ye are filled full [or, complete] in Him, who is the head of all principality and power, in whom also ye were circumcised with circumcision not done by hand, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; buried together with him in baptism, in which ye were also raised together, through faith in the working of God that raised him out of the dead. And you being dead in the offenses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he quickened you together with him, having forgiven us all the offenses, having blotted out the handwriting in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and hath taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross; having stripped he made show of the principalities and powers, openly triumphing over them by it. Let none therefore judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of feasts, or new-moon, or sabbaths, which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body [is] of Christ. Let no one cheat you, in a voluntary humility and worship of the angels, treading on things which he had not seen, vainly puffed by the mind of his flesh, and not holding fast the head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together by the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God” (chap.. 2:1-19).
None on earth knew as the apostle how all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in the mystery, or secret, God now reveals in Christ. Philosophy which flatters men's minds was as vain to penetrate and unfold it as the law which condemned his unrighteousness and left God in the dark. Man was thus exposed to worship of the angels, not those who beheld by faith all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Christ bodily, and themselves made full in Him Who is the head of all principality and power; and this in virtue of a redemption which gives in Christ the fullest force to the old rite of circumcision and the actual sign of baptism. For the truth goes farther than His death and resurrection, and declares that God quickened ourselves together with Him, having forgiven us all our offenses. Hence the reflected light of ancient ordinances, as but shadow, passes away for such as hold fast the Head, unfailing in His gracious supply.
And he thus applies it— “If ye died with Christ from the elements of the world, why as alive in the world do ye subject yourselves to ordinances (Handle not, nor taste, nor touch, which things are all for corruption with the using), according to the injunctions and teachings of men: things such as have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship and humility and unsparingness of the body, not in a certain honor, unto satisfaction of the flesh” (vers. 20-23). But more, “If ye then were raised together with Christ, seek the things above where Christ is sitting at God's right hand: mind the things above, not those on the earth. For ye died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also be manifested with him in glory” (3:1-4). The Christian is not only quickened, but quickened and raised together with Christ, and thus he has new life in its highest character. It is hidden because Christ is hidden, hidden with Christ in God. When Christ our life shall be manifested, then shall we too be manifested with Him in glory. How close and blessed is the association Practical consistency is next pressed. “Put to death then your members that [are] upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil lust, and covetousness, which is idolatry, on account of which things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience; among whom ye also walked once when ye lived in these things. But now ye put off also all the things, wrath, anger, malice, blasphemy, shameful speech out of your mouth. Lie not to one another, having put off the old man with his deeds, and having put on the new that is being renewed into knowledge, according to his image that created him; where there can be no Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman, but Christ is the all, and in all.” Thus Christ and His work, and our association with Him dead and risen, become the standard of every-day walk for the Christian. Higher there cannot be, if our union with Him on high be added; lower is not acceptable to God Who thus blessed us in Him, but a slight to His grace.
Nor is it only deliverance from the corruption and the violence of the flesh, as we already had from its philosophy and its religion; the positive is not omitted. “Put on then, as elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving each other, if any should have a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye. And over all these [put] love, which is the bond of perfectness; and let the peace of Christ rule [or, arbitrate] in your hearts, to which also ye were called in one body, and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing each other, with psalms and hymns, spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to God. And every [thing] whatever ye do in word or in deed, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God and [the] Father through him” (3:5-17). It will be noticed that the peace and the word are Christ's; all here is to exalt Him, and detach from every rival.
Then from ver. 18 follow special relationships on earth, but in the Lord: wives and husbands, children and fathers; bondmen and masters; (the first verse of chapter 4 being strangely dislocated from the close of chapter 3). The Lord, the Lord Christ, is the key-note. He is the masters' Master in heaven, From ver. 2 is the call to perseverance in prayer and watching with thanksgiving, and prayers for him that he might speak the mystery of Christ, to which he attributes his bonds, that he might manifest it as he ought to speak. He exhorts that we walk in wisdom toward those without, redeeming the fit time; and that their speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt. Tychicus and Onesimus would make known to them all about Paul and things at Rome, and the former would report their matters to him. Then follow from ver. 10 the salutations of many fellow-labourers by name, with instructive comments, greeting to the brethren in Laodicea and the assembly in the house of Nymphas, direction as to the Epistle and a companion one, and a charge to Archippus, not to be slighted. And as in his early letters, so in this late one, Paul's salutation is with his own hand. He reminds them of his bonds, and prays that grace be with them. It is altogether a needed and noble Epistle.