The Apostle Paul wrote this letter (epistle) to the church at Colossae, a small city located on the Lycus River in Asia Minor (modern Turkey)—known for its production of wool and woolen goods.
By the time of the writing of this letter (probably the mid-50s A.D.), Laodicea had eclipsed Colossae as the most important city of the region. A major earthquake in 60-61 A.D. essentially destroyed Colossae, a blow from which it never recovered.
While there was a significant Jewish population in the region, the Colossae Christians were probably, for the most part, Gentiles (see 1:21, 27; 2:13. The vices mentioned in 3:5-7 were more likely to be a problem for Gentiles rather than for Jews).
Epaphras (a shortened version of the name Epaphroditus) was probably the founding pastor of the church at Colossae (and nearby churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis as well). Paul had not visited the Colossian church personally.
Paul speaks highly of Epaphras, calling him “our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf” (v. 7). He says that Epaphras is “always striving for (the Colossian Christians) in his prayers” (4:12). In his letter to Philemon, Paul refers to Epaphras as “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 23).
The letter begins by ascribing authorship to the apostle Paul “and Timothy our brother” (v. 1; see also 4:18). We don’t know whether Timothy contributed significantly to the wording of the letter. He more likely served as Paul’s amanuensis (secretary), writing as Paul dictated.
This letter includes a number of words not found elsewhere in Paul’s writings—and some other stylistic differences as well. As a result, some modern scholars have questioned Paul’s authorship. However, the differences in vocabulary and style are sufficiently minor that I am willing to assume that Paul is the author and Timothy is his co-author and/or secretary.
Paul speaks positively of the Colossian Christians’ faith, love, and hope (1:4-5) and acknowledges that the Good News is bearing fruit and growing in them (1:6). However, Epaphras has apparently brought Paul news of serious problems at Colossae—problems with false teachings that some scholars have labeled “the Colossian Heresy.” Paul’s is writing this letter to help the Colossians to deal with those problems:
• He expresses a concern that someone “may delude you with persuasiveness of speech (2:4).
• He cautions them to “be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ” (2:8).
• He reminds them that they were “dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh,” but Christ “made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us; and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross, having stripped the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (2:13-15).
• He tells them not to let anyone judge them “in eating, or in drinking, or with respect to a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16). He says, “Do not subject yourselves to ordinances, ‘Don’t handle, nor taste, nor touch'” (2:20-21). This suggests that Colossian Christians were under pressure to adopt Jewish dietary laws in addition to their Christian faith—a common problem at this time in the church’s history—a problem that Paul addressed particularly in his letter to the Galatians. It could also reflect the kind of asceticism promulgated by Gnostics.
• He warns them not to allow anyone to “rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels” (2:18).
• He pleads with them to “put to death…your members which are on the earth: sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5). He tells them to put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and shameful speaking out of your mouth” (3:8).
• He includes advice to wives, husbands, children, servants, and masters concerning their relationships with others (3:18—4:1).
While Paul will deal with their problems one by one, he first seeks to ground these Colossian Christians solidly in the basics of the faith—and Christ is at the center of that faith (see especially 1:15-20). If these Colossian Christians can better understand the nature and mission of Christ—who Christ was and is and what Christ has come to do for them—that understanding will give them a firm footing to deal with the problems that Epaphras has identified.
We might characterize Paul’s strategy as filling these Colossian Christians with good beliefs, so bad beliefs won’t find lodgment—in much the same way that a homeowner nurtures the growth of grass to prevent weeds from finding a place to grow.
We might also use the North Star as a metaphor. People who navigate by the stars find the North Star especially helpful. If they can get a “fix” on the North Star, that will help them to orient themselves so that they will know where they are and in what direction they are headed. They can use that knowledge to steer away from dangerous rocks and shoals—and to guide their ship to its intended destination. In this letter to the Colossians, Paul establishes Christ as their North Star—the fixed point in the sky by which they can navigate dependably—the truth who will help them to avoid the many falsehoods that threaten to lead them astray.
COLOSSIANS 1:1-2. GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE:
1Paul, an apostle (Greek: apostolos) of Christ Jesus through the will (Greek: thelematos—from thelema) of God, and Timothy our brother, 2to the saints (Greek: hagios) and faithful brothers (Greek: adelphoi— from adelphos) in Christ at Colossae: Grace (Greek: charis) to you and peace (Greek: eirene) from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In that time and place, the conventional form for the beginning of a letter included the name of the sender, the name of the intended recipient, and a greeting. Paul follows that form, expanding it to meet his purposes.
“Paul, an apostle (apostolos) of Christ Jesus” (v. 1a). Paul first states his name and then his office. He is an apostle (apostolos). An apostolos is someone who is sent with a message. In Paul’s case, the one who did the sending was Christ Jesus, and the message is the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
Paul, of course, was not one of the original twelve apostles. He was a Jewish zealot who persecuted Christians early in the church’s life. But then Christ chose to call him to be a Christian apostle. Christ confronted Saul (Paul’s name prior to his becoming a Christian) as Saul was traveling on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians there (Acts 9:1ff)—a confrontation that ended with Saul becoming Paul, a Christian apostle—personally chosen and commissioned by Christ—a person whose witness to Christ is enhanced by the fact that he has personally seen the risen Christ.
Paul has not visited the Colossae church, but they would know him by reputation. Paul’s status as an apostle gives him authority to address their problems—and to prescribe remedies.
“through the will (thelema) of God” (v. 1b). The call of Saul to become an apostle had its beginning in the will (thelema) of God. It was part of God’s plan for Paul to become an apostle.
God has a thelema—a will—a plan—for every person. He has a particular space for each one of us to occupy in his spiritual universe. It is his will that we occupy that particular space. We can fulfill God’s purpose for us only as we seek to fill that space—as we seek to bring our wills into congruence with God’s will.
We need to be careful when we think about God’s will for our lives. False teachers abound today, teaching people that God wants them to be rich—to drive a Mercedes and to wear a Rolex. People respond favorably to such teaching, because the false teachers are telling them what they want to hear. However, Christ doesn’t call us to become rich and to accumulate expensive toys.
• Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27).
• He calls us to servant ministry—to give food to those who are hungry—and water to those who are thirsty—to welcome strangers and to visit those who are sick or are in prison (Matthew 25:31ff).
• He teaches us that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
• He teaches us that “a rich man will enter the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty”—and that“it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24; see also Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:18-30).
• However, the Gospel—the Good News—is that “With men this (the salvation of a rich man) is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27).
Consider how God’s call worked itself out in Paul’s life. Did Paul become rich and famous? Admittedly, he did become famous—much more so than most Christians. But did he become rich? Comfortable? Financially secure? Did he have a vacation home on a beautiful lake? Did people go out of their way to honor him and to make his pathways smooth? No! None of the above! In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul outlined the sacrifices that he had made as an apostle of Christ. He reminded them that he had often been imprisoned. He said:
“Five times from the Jews I received forty stripes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods.
Once I was stoned.
Three times I suffered shipwreck.
I have been a night and a day in the deep.
I have been in travels often,
perils of rivers, perils of robbers,
perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles,
perils in the city, perils in the wilderness,
perils in the sea, perils among false brothers;
in labor and travail, in watchings often,
in hunger and thirst, in fastings often,
and in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
So don’t respond to Christ’s call thinking that your faithfulness will bring you riches. Seek to do the will of God, understanding that God will ask you to do hard things. Your blessing will be a life well lived—a life full of purpose—a life in which you will store up treasures in heaven, but probably not on earth (Matthew 6:19-21).
“and Timothy our brother” (v. 1c). Timothy is Paul’s faithful coworker. Paul first met young Timothy in Lystra, Timothy’s home town (Acts 16:1-5). Timothy joined Paul on his journeys, becoming Paul’s trusted coworker (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10-11; Philippians 2:19-22; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6).
In his final greetings, Paul will mention other Christian friends and supporters—Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus who was called Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas (4:7-14)—so Paul’s decision to include Timothy’s name as co-author in the first verse tells us that Timothy inhabits a special place in Paul’s universe.
Paul wrote two letters (First and Second Timothy) to Timothy—letters of encouragement and guidance from an older, experienced missionary to a younger, inexperienced man.
In this instance, he refers to Timothy as “our adelphos“—”our brother.” Timothy is not an apostle, but this designation as brother is worth noting. Jesus said that his followers should consider themselves to be members of a family—the family of God: “Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). New Testament Christians thought of each other as brother and sister (Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 16:12; Ephesians 6:23; 1 Timothy 6:2; Revelation 1:9; 12:10)—and used those words to speak of each other.
The tradition of Christians calling each other “brother” or “sister” is still alive among many conservative Christians today. Unfortunately, it is a tradition that has fallen into disuse in most mainline denominations today. It is a tradition that we would do well to resurrect.
“to the saints (hagioi from hagios) and faithful brothers (adelphoi) in Christ at Colossae” (v. 2a). Paul pays these Colossian Christians two great compliments, calling them both “saints” and “faithful brothers (and sisters).”
Paul often speaks of hagioi—a word that means “holy ones” but is usually translated “saints” in our English-language Bibles. Paul writes “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Romans 1:7; see also 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1). It is clear from Paul’s usage that he intendshagioi—“holy ones”—”saints”—to mean the people of God.
The idea of “holy ones” or “saints” has its roots in the Old Testament understanding of holiness:
• There we learn that God is holy.
• People and things become holy by association with God.
• The ground on which Moses stood was holy, because God was present there (Exodus 3:5).
• Mount Sinai was holy, because God gave Moses the law there (Exodus 19:23).
• The sabbath day is holy, because it commemorates the day that God rested (Exodus 20:8).
• The tabernacle and its furnishings were holy, because the tabernacle was the dwelling place of God (Exodus 26:33-34; 30:29).
• Burnt sacrifices were holy, because they were sacrificed to God (Exodus 29:34). The list goes on and on.
• But most especially the people of God are holy, because they belong to God (Deuteronomy 28:9; Isaiah 62:12).
Saints are people who have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 10:10). We don’t use that word, sanctified, very often, but it is related to the word hagios. Sanctified means “made holy.” When the author of Hebrews says that we have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ,” he means that Jesus Christ has made us holy. That doesn’t mean that Jesus has made us perfect. It does mean that Christ has made us holy—set us apart for a Godly purpose—called us to live holy lives.
As saints, we are linked to each other by our faith in Christ. The New Testament speaks of Christians as brothers and sisters, so we are one family in Christ. We are blood relatives of Godly people from other races and nations (the blood that connects us is the blood of Christ). We are blood relatives of Godly people who lived long ago—and of those who will come after us.
“Grace (charis) to you” (v. 2b). Grace (charis) is a significant word in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness.
Greeks often used the word charis to speak of patronage (the support of a patron, such as financial or political support). To Greeks, the word charis connoted generosity—generosity that demanded loyalty on the part of the recipient.
It is easy, therefore, to understand why Paul would adapt charis to the Gospel. Christian charis is the gift of salvation by God to all who accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ. God, therefore, is the patron—the benefactor. We are the beneficiaries—the recipients of his grace.
Just as we could never fully repay a person who left us an inheritance of unimaginable wealth, so also we can never repay God for the gift of salvation. However, if a patron were to grant us unimaginable wealth, we could be faithful to the patron by using the money in a way that would be consistent with the patron’s wishes or values. So also, we can be faithful to the God who gives us salvation by living in accord with God’s will.
“and peace” (eirene) (v. 2c). Peace (eirene) is a significant word, occurring nearly a hundred times in the New Testament. It has its roots in the Hebrew word shalom, which was used frequently in the Old Testament. The LXX (the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the Greek word eirene to translate the Hebrew word shalom nearly two hundred times.
Both eirene (Greek) and shalom (Hebrew) can refer to an inner kind of peace—the kind of well-being that is derived from a deep relationship with God—the kind of wholeness that comes from having the image of God, once shattered by sin, restored in the believer.
Elsewhere, Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)—in other words, “If God is for us, who cares who might be against us?” or “If God is for us, what does it matter who might be against us?” Paul’s point is that a close relationship with God confers on the believer a confidence that cannot be shaken by any opponent or any danger. It would be appropriate to call that state of mind “peace”—eirene (Greek)—shalom (Hebrew).
But both eirene and shalom can also refer to an external kind of peace—the absence of rancor or violence among individuals or nations. The middle part of this verse, “to which also you were called in one body,” suggests that this external peace is the primary meaning here. Paul is calling these Colossian Christians to live in harmony and tranquility with each other.
Eirene is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It has its roots in the peace that we have with God, who has granted us the gift of grace through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-2a). Having received grace from God, we are also expected to extend grace to others. In a community where grace is freely received and given, eirene will almost certainly prevail.
“from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 2d). The source of grace and peace is “God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
COLOSSIANS 1:3-8. WE GIVE THANKS FOR YOU
3We give thanks (Greek: eucharistoumen—from eucharisteo) to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4having heard of your faith (Greek: pistis) in Christ Jesus, and of the love (Greek: agape) which you have toward all the saints, 5because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Good News (Greek:euangelion), 6which has come to you; even as it is in all the world and is bearing fruit and growing, as it does in you also, since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; 7even as you learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8who also declared to us your love (Greek: agape) in the Spirit.
“We give thanks (eucharisteo) to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3a). Christians today—at least those from certain denominations—will see the word Eucharist, which they use to mean the Lord’s Supper, in this Greek word eucharisteo. The word eucharisteo means to give thanks or to express one’s gratitude—and the Lord’s Supper is certainly a place where it is appropriate to do that.
In verse 1, Paul included Timothy in his greetings. Now he says, “We give thanks,” which surely includes Timothy—and, perhaps, the other Christians that Paul will mention in chapter 4.
Paul is writing this letter because of problems that the Christians in Colossae are experiencing. Paul will get to those problems soon enough—but first he takes time to express some positives about the Colossian Christians. They are “faithful brothers” (v. 1). He gives thanks for them (v. 3). He has heard of their faith in Christ and their love for the saints (v. 4). They have hope (v. 5). The Good News of Christ “is bearing fruit and growing” in them (v. 6). Before addressing their problems, Paul wants them to know that he is well aware that their positive traits are worthy of celebration.
That is a good model. I once attended a Ken Blanchard workshop in which the well-known leadership guru emphasized giving people positive strokes—pats on the back. He advised us to insure that we were giving at least ten positive comments for each criticism—a ten-to-one ratio favoring positive comments. He gave this advice, not to make people feel good, but because to make leaders more effective. The principle is that people can accept criticism more easily if they know that we have noticed the good things they have done. In the church, many people are doing positive things. Let’s be sure to notice those good things—and to express appreciation whenever possible.
“praying always for you” (v. 3b). While Paul has not had the opportunity to visit the Colossian church, he does have many opportunities to pray for them. “Praying always” doesn’t mean that Paul spends every waking moments praying for the Colossian Christians. It means that prayer for the Colossians is a regular part of Paul’s life.
“having heard of your faith (pistis) in Christ Jesus” (v. 4a). Having heard from whom? Almost certain from Epaphras (see v. 8).
In verses 4-5, Paul mentions three virtues—faith, love, and hope—that he groups together elsewhere as well (1 Corinthians 13:13; Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3).
Paul has heard good things about their “faith (pistis) in Christ Jesus.” In the New Testament, pistis has to do with the person’s response to the kerygma—the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“and of the love (agape) which you have toward all the saints” (v. 4b). The word that Paul uses for love (agape) is one of four Greek words for love, the other three being philos, storge and eros. Storge is familial love, such as the love one has for a child or parent. Eros is romantic or sexual love. Only agape and philos are used in the New Testament.
The classic distinction between agape and philos is that agape has to do with a concern for the well-being of the other person while philos has to do with brotherly love—friendship love—companionate love—the kind of love where a person receives as well as gives. While there is some question about the sharpness of that distinction, scholars tend to agree that “philos does contain an element of mutuality not found in agape” (Melick). In other words, philos has to do both with giving and getting, while agape has to do only with giving—with an unalloyed concern for the welfare of the other person.
Agape love is more a “doing” than a “feeling” word. It doesn’t require that we approve of the actions of the person whom we love—or even that we enjoy their company. It does require us to act in behalf of that person—to demonstrate our love in some practical fashion. An agape person will do what is possible to feed the hungry—and to give drink to the thirsty—and to welcome the stranger—and to clothe the naked—and to visit the sick and the person in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). The agape person has little or nothing to gain by helping these hungry, thirsty, strange, naked, imprisoned people. The thrust of his/heragape love is giving, not getting.
Love is the first of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)—and is the greatest of Christian virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).
“because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens” (v. 5a). In verse 4, Paul mentioned the faith of these Colossian Christians—and in this verse he speaks of their hope. Both faith and hope look to the future—to future rewards—to the future fulfillment of present promises. The author of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Hope is vital (from the Latin vita—life) in the full sense of that word. Hope is life-giving. Life without hope is drab and meaninglessness. As one example, prisoners serving indeterminate sentences (sentences with no clear end-date) tend to cope much less well than prisoners who can calculate the number of days until they will be released. They cope less well, because their fate is unclear—because they have nothing definite for which to hope—no end-date by which to measure their progress.
People place their hope in all sorts of things: Personal strength or appearance, academic degrees, 401k’s or pension plans, political figures, etc., etc., etc.
But Paul tells these Colossian Christians that their hope grows out of their “faith in Christ Jesus” and “the love which (they) have toward all the saints” (v. 4). It is a “hope which is laid up for (them) in the heavens” (v. 5a)—hope that gives them a vision of a blessed future, and thereby gives them strength for today.
“of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Good News” (euangelion) (v. 5b). It is through “the word of the truth of the Good News” that these Colossian Christians have received the blessing of “the hope which is laid up for (them) in the heavens.
The Greek word euangelion combines the words eu (good) and angelos (angel or messenger) and means “good news.” In secular use, it was used for a victory in battle—or for the reward given to a messenger who brought word of such a victory. In the New Testament, euangelion is used for the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul uses some form of that word nearly fifty times, using it to mean the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ
“which has come to you; even as it is in all the world and is bearing fruit and growing, as it does in you also, since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth” (v. 6). The Good News of Jesus Christ has not only come to these Colossian Christians, but is also in the process of coming into “all the world.” At that moment in time, the Good News had penetrated only particular cities in the Mediterranean region—hardly “all the world” as we know it today—but a beginning nevertheless. Today, we have seen the fulfillment of this “all the world” promise. The Gospel is “bearing fruit and growing” around the globe, in spite of persecution, fire, and sword.
Paul again compliments the Colossian Christians, in whom the Good News is bearing fruit and growing—and has been doing so since the day they first heard the Gospel.
“even as you learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf” (v. 7). This is the verse that leads us to believe that Epaphras was the founding pastor of the Colossian church. Paul pays Epaphras two high compliments, calling him “our beloved fellow servant” and “a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf.”
“who also declared to us your love (agape) in the Spirit” (v. 8). Epaphras has given Paul a balanced report. Yes, the Colossian church has problems, but they also have love—love for God—love for “all the saints” (v. 4)—love planted in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.
COLOSSIANS 1:9-14. WE DON’T CEASE PRAYING FOR YOU
9For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge (Greek: epignosis) of his will (Greek: thelema) in all spiritual wisdom (Greek: sophia) and understanding, (Greek: sunesis) 10that you may walk worthily (Greek: axios) of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit (Greek: karpophoreo) in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11strengthened with all power, (Greek: dunamoo) according to the might of his glory, (Greek: doxa) for all endurance (Greek: hypermone) and perseverance (Greek: makrothumia) with joy; (Greek: charas) 12giving thanks (Greek: eucharisteo) to the Father, who made us fit (Greek: ikanoo) to be partakers of the inheritance (Greek: kleros) of the saints in light; 13who delivered us out of the power of darkness, (Greek: skotos) and translated (Greek: methistemi) us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love; 14in whom we have our redemption, (Greek: apolutrosis) the forgiveness (Greek: aphesis) of our sins.
“For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you” (v. 9a). Paul earlier said that he and Timothy were “praying always for you”—a prayer of thanksgiving (v. 3). Now he mentions their prayers for the Colossians again—this time outlining their petitions on their behalf.
Paul regularly practiced intercessory prayer (prayer for others) (Romans 1:9; 10:1; 2 Corinthians 13:7, 9; Ephesians 1:16-18; Philippians 1:4, 9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; Philemon 1:4, 6).
Paul also sought the prayers of others in his behalf (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). He was an apostle, and they were just ordinary Christians—but he knew that their prayers were efficacious—that they brought Godly power into play. He was humble enough to understand that he needed the prayers of these ordinary Christians as much as they needed his prayers.
“that you may be filled with the knowledge (epignosis) of his will (thelema) in all spiritual wisdom (sophia) and understanding” (v. 9b). The usual Greek word for knowledge is gnosis, which has to do with general knowledge. The compound word epi–gnosis “refers to knowledge of moral and ethical values as well as of sin. It also refers to intimate acquaintance with God” (Renn, 569).
“of his will” (thelema) (v. 9b). God has a thelema—a will—a plan—for every person. He has a particular space for each one of us to occupy in his spiritual universe. It is his will that we occupy that particular space. We can fulfill God’s purpose for us only as we seek to understand and to fill that space—as we seek to bring our wills into congruence with God’s will.
At the core of God’s will is Jesus’ cross—given “that whoever believes in (the Son of Man) should not perish, but have eternal life—that the world should be saved through him”(John 3:16-17).
Also at the core of God’s will is our cross. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). He also said, “He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).
“in all spiritual wisdom” (sophia) (v. 9b). The source of true wisdom is understanding one’s proper place in relationship to God. “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10).
The Greeks prize wisdom (sophia), but elsewhere Paul contrasts the wisdom of God with the foolishness of the world. God chose Christ’s cross as the way to save the world—a plan that seemed foolish to the world. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Therefore, Paul prays that these Colossian Christians might gain, not sophia by itself, but sophia that is spiritual (pneumatikos) in nature—Godly wisdom.
“and understanding” (sunesis—from sunieme). These Greek words both suggest things coming together in one’s mind—coming into focus. We talk about “Aha!” experiences where we suddenly see clearly what had been mysterious or muddy until then.
When the Greek scholar, Archimedes, stepped into a bathtub, he saw that the water level rose in the tub—and suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must equal the volume of the submerged body. He was so excited at this insight that he ran naked through the streets shouting “Eureka” (“I have found it!”).
Paul isn’t hoping that these Colossian Christians will run naked through the streets, but he is praying that they will experience the kind of clear understanding of spiritual principles that Archimedes experienced with regard to physical principles.
“that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects” (v. 10a). What kind of things would constitute a walk worthy of the Lord? What could we do to please God in all respects?
• God provided detailed guidance in the 613 laws of the Torah. While those are not absolutely binding on Christians as they were on Old Testament Jews, they are still helpful today in discerning God’s will.
• However, the prophets saw that even those who were trying to follow Torah law were nevertheless deficient, particularly with regard to the treatment of widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people. The writings of the prophets addressed this problem—and are as helpful today in determining how to please God as they were when they were first written.
• Jesus re-emphasized the necessity of caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison as central to pleasing God (Matthew 25:31-46).
• When asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 36-40). Observing these two commandments is certainly central to pleasing God.
• A number of practices involving regular worship, stewardship, proclamation, charity, hospitality, etc. grow directly out of these commandments to love God and neighbor.
But none of us do all of these things perfectly. To truly please God in all respects necessitates taking advantage of the grace and forgiveness available through a proper relationship to Christ (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:1).
“bearing fruit (karpophoreo) in every good work” (v. 10b). Fruit-bearing is used metaphorically in the New Testament to speak of people producing good works (Matthew 3:8; 7:16; 12:33; 13:23; Mark 4:20; Luke 3:8; 6:43; 8:15; 13:6-9; Romans 7:4; Philippians 1:22; Ephesians 5:9; Hebrews 13:15; James 3:17). Fruit-bearing, therefore, involves discipled living—Christ-like living that gives glory to the Heavenly Father.
Paul defined the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These attitudes or virtues do not constitute good works in themselves, but instead constitute good soil that tends to produce good works in abundance.
“and increasing in the knowledge of God” (v. 10c). When Paul speaks of increasing in the knowledge of God, he means something more than an academic understanding. The kind of knowledge of God that Paul prizes involves a relationship with God—a relationship that grows and deepens as the person becomes better and better acquainted with God—a relationship in which love is both received and given (note the order—we first receive love from God, which enables us to give love back to God).
How can a person increase in the knowledge of God? The traditional spiritual disciplines of worship, the study of scripture, prayer, and service come to mind. But there are other ways as well. Seeing a beautiful sunset can bring to mind the creator who made that sunset possible. A study of physics or biology or astronomy—looking through a microscope or a telescope—can deepen a person’s awe of God’s creation. The possibilities for increasing our knowledge of God seem endless.
“strengthened with all power” (dunamoo—from dunamis) (v. 11a).
God is powerful, and dispenses power to those who believe in him and serve him. The kind of power implied by dunamis involves the power to accomplish things—active power—positive power. It also involves the kind of courage found in those early disciples who faced tremendous persecution from both Jews and Romans—power to endure—courage to face opposition without flinching.
“according to the might (kratos) of his glory” (doxa) (v. 11b). The words dunamis (v. 11a) and kratos (v. 11b) both have to do with strength or power. Dunamis is more active. Kratos has more to do with inner strength. I believe that Paul uses both words to emphasize that Christians need strength—and that God is the source of that strength.
The word “glory” is used in the Bible to speak of various wonderful things—but it is used especially to speak of God’s glory—an aura associated with God’s appearance that reveals God’s majesty to humans. Biblical writers, attempting to describe God’s glory using human words, portrayed it as “a devouring fire” (Exodus 24:17). When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God replied, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:20)—but God continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:21-23). The point is that God’s glory is so overwhelming that humans aren’t engineered to be capable of experiencing it. An analogy might be coming into contact with a live high-voltage electrical line. It would be too much for us. We can’t deal with it.
“for all endurance (hypermone) and perseverance (makrothumia) with joy” (charas) (v. 11c). The Greek words hypermone and makrothumia are similar in meaning. Both have to do with endurance. Hypermone, however, is more related to the endurance of things or circumstances, while makrothumia is more related to the endurance of people problems.
I suspect that Paul included both words (hypermone and makrothumia) to emphasize the need for fortitude in the midst of adversity. He understood the problem. He had endured imprisonments, floggings, the forty lashes minus one, beatings with rods, stoning, shipwrecks, etc., etc., etc. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Some of the Colossian Christians would almost surely suffer similar adversities. They would need to be tough to survive.
“with joy” (charas) (v. 11c). But Paul wants more for the Colossian Christians than gritting-your-teeth endurance. He wants them to endure with joy.
Joy is a common theme in both Old and New Testaments. People give thanks because they have experienced salvation at God’s hands (Isaiah 25:9)—or rejoice in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 90:14) or God’s presence (Psalm 16:9-11). The birth of the Savior is an occasion for joy (Luke 2:10-11). Just as an ordinary person might rejoice at the recovery of a lost sheep or coin or son, so also “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). It should be obvious from these citations that joy in the scriptures is rooted in the love and faithfulness of God.
“giving thanks (eucharisteo) to the Father” (v. 12). We have taken this word eucharisteo into the English language as Eucharist, a word which many Christians use to refer to the Lord’s Supper—a rite that emphasizes thanksgiving for God’s grace in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thanksgiving has its roots in the Old Testament. The Israelites gave thank offerings (Leviticus 7:12-15). The Psalmist, in particular, both gave thanks and enjoined others to do so (Psalm 7:17; 28:7; 30:4; 69:30; 86:12; 97:12; 100:1-5; 111:1, etc., etc., etc.).
Jesus gave thanks (Mark 8:6; 14:23; Luke 22:17; 1 Corinthians 11:24) and emphasized the importance of thanksgiving (Luke 17:11-19)—but gave the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican to emphasize the futility of thanksgiving gone awry (Luke 18:9-14).
Paul emphasized thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 5:4, 20; Colossians 4:2; 1 Timothy 2:1).
In the New Jerusalem, the angels will worship God with songs of thanksgiving (Revelation 7:11-12).
“who made us fit (ikanoo) to be partakers of the inheritance (kleros) of the saints (hagios) in light”(v. 12). Torah law specified who was to be considered an heir—and how much each heir was to inherit. The oldest son was to get two shares, and each additional son was to receive one share (Deuteronomy 21:17). If there were four sons, the inheritance would be divided five ways, and the oldest son would get two of the five shares. It was all quite cut and dried. There was no provision for inserting someone other than a son into the inheritance. Fathers were not even permitted to alter this formula to favor a well-liked son or to punish a son (Deuteronomy 21:16).
But Paul tells these Colossian Christians that God has inserted them into the inheritance scheme so that they might share in the inheritance of the saints—those whom God has counted as holy.
How could that be? The members of the Colossian church were largely Gentiles, so they couldn’t qualify for a saintly inheritance by virtue of their ancestor Abraham. Nor, being sinners, could they qualify based on their conduct or obedience to God.
The only explanation for their being counted fit for this saintly inheritance is that the Father has made them fit—has rendered them worthy. Because they have accepted the gift of grace as offered by the cross of Christ, they are no longer reckoned as sinners, but heirs.
“who delivered us out of the power of darkness” (v. 13a).
Note the contrast between “light” (v. 12b) and “darkness (v. 13a). God has delivered these Colossian Christians from the power of darkness, and has ushered them into the realm of light.
Light and darkness are used in both Old and New Testaments as metaphors for good and evil—chaos and order—danger and security—joy and sorrow—truth and untruth—life and death—salvation and condemnation. Satan is the price of darkness, but Jesus is “the light of the world.” Those who follow him “will have the light of life” (John 8:12. See also 9:5; 12:46).
“and translated (methistemi) us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love” (v. 13b). This Greek word methistemi is a combination of meta (in the midst of—among) and histemi (to place or to stand). It shows a change of condition—in this case a change from the “power of darkness” (v. 13a) to “the Kingdom of the Son of his love” (v. 13b).
This deliverance motif brings to mind the Exodus, in which Yahweh delivered Israel from the dark kingdom of Egypt, where they were slaves to Pharaoh, who despised and feared them. Yahweh then led Israel to the Promised Land, a land of milk and honey, where they were subject only to Yahweh, who loved them.
“in whom we have our redemption” (apolutrosis) (v. 14a). Redemption involves bringing liberty to a captive, usually through the payment of a price. A person could redeem a slave by paying the owner to free the slave. In some cases, impoverished people would sell themselves into slavery—or would sell the land that had come down through generations to them. Wherever possible, other family members would redeem the enslaved family member or the land to restore things to the way they were meant to be.
Yahweh saved Israel on numerous occasions, but the redemptive act foremost in their minds was their liberation from slavery in Egypt.
The words “ransom” and “redeem” or “redemption” are often used together in scripture. The ransom is the price paid to effect the redemption.
The New Testament presents Jesus’ death on the cross as a redemptive act for humanity—as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). He says that Christ Jesus became for us “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). He tells us that “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
“the forgiveness (aphesis) of our sins” (v. 14b). Forgiveness is needed when one person does something to offend another person. It is needed to restore a harmonious relationship. We can think of the offense as a sin and the offender as a sinner.
We sin against each other in many ways—and Christ calls us to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21ff; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; 17:3-4). Jesus says that we must forgive each other if we want God to forgive us (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
The Greek word aphesis has two meanings, forgiveness and release. It could imply forgiveness of a financial debt, which would constitute release from that obligation.
In this case, Paul is talking about our receiving from God the forgiveness of our sins, which constitutes a release from a great burden and a terrible threat. It has Old Testament roots. God said, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). He said, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you” (Ezekiel 36:25).
In the New Testament, forgiveness is made possible by Jesus Christ—his redeeming blood—his cross. He has redeemed us—has paid the price for our sins so that we could be forgiven—saved.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2013, Richard Niell Donovan