In the first part of this chapter, Paul introduced himself to the saints at Colosse. He praised them for their advancement in their new found faith in Jesus Christ and thanked God for them and their understanding of the many ramifications of being a Christian.
In the Scriptures that follow, Paul sought to explain more fully the person and work of Christ in the life of the believer as well as His position as head of the church.
Colossians 1-18: "And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence."
As we have seen previously, the domain of the Lord Jesus includes the natural universe and it also extends to the spiritual realm. "He is the Head of the body, the Church." All believers in the Lord Jesus Christ during this dispensation are formed into what is known as the body of Christ, which is also called the "Church."
He is the first-born from the dead. Christ is the "beginning" of the church in that He is its power and source of spiritual life and He became this at His resurrection. This does not mean that the Lord Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. There were cases of resurrection in the Old Testament as well as in the New. But the Lord Jesus was the first to rise from the dead to die no more, and He rose as the Head of a new creation. Chrit's resurrection is unique in that it is His pledge that all who trust in Him will also rise again.
Christ can't be second anywhere. He is "first-born of every creature," because He created everything (Colossians 1:15; 16). He is also firstborn from the dead in connection with a redeemed and heavenly family. Thus creation and redemption give Him the supreme place over all because of Who He is and of what He has done; "that in all things He might have the pre-eminence." He is first everywhere and in every way.
Christ was the first Person to rise from the dead with a glorified body never to die again. He broke death's hold on humanity and became preeminent in two realms, creation and salvation. Simply stated, His new creation is the church, and His old creation is the universe and all that is in it.
Are the words, "that in all things He might have the preeminence," true in your life? Does He have the pre-eminence in your life?
Verses 19-23: "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell; 20: And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21: And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22: in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister..."
In verse 19, the word "dwell" means to dwell permanently. It was the will of the Triune God that Christ should have the preeminence in the new creation. This was brought about by His work of salvation for mankind, referred to here as "reconciliation unto Himself." This describes Christ's saving grace and power in its fullness. Paul's point was that all divine power resides in Christ as a result of His resurrection. There is no other mediating agent. God's ultimate purpose of the cross was to reconcile fallen man back to Himself and the shedding of His only Son's blood on the Cross made reconciliation possible. However, it's the responsibility of the individual to accept God's provision to be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19: to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
There are two reconciliations mentioned in this chapter: (1) The reconciliation of things (verse 20), and (2) the reconciliation of man (verse 21). The first is still future, but the second is already a fact for all who have trusted in Christ for their salvation.
To reconcile means to restore to a right relationship, to make peace where formerly there was enmity. The Bible never speaks of God as needing to be reconciled to man, but always of man needing to be being reconciled to God. The natural man's mindset is enmity toward God. Romans 8:7-8 "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be. So they that are in the flesh cannot please God." When sin entered the world, man became estranged from God. so now every man needs to be reconciled back to God.
Sin affected all creation, not just the human family. Sadly, there is no indication in Scripture that the angels who sinned sometime in the past will ever be reconciled back to God. God has made a way of reconciliation for man, while the fallen angels are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day..." (Jude 6.)
The animal creation was also affected when sin came into the world, Romans 8:19-22. "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20: For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21: because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22: For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now."
Our pets and all other animals get sick. They feel pain, and they die. They are not exempt from the curse of sin. Even the ground was cursed after Adam sinned. The evidence of this is weeds, thorns, and thistles.
Apparently sin has affected the domain of the stars and planets. Job 25:5 tells us "Behold even to the moon and it shineth not; yea, the stars are not pure in his sight."
Then we read in Hebrews 9:23 that things in heaven itself needed to be purified.
We don't know all that is meant by this. It may be heavenly things have been defiled through the presence of Satan who has access to God as the accuser of the brethren. Revelation 12:10. "And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.."
There is one thing here that is certain; the throne of God is certainly not defiled by sin. Christ's death has dealt with the defilement sin caused as well as with its guilt.
Paul continues his claim of Christ's superiority with emphasis on His reconciling work. He wanted his readers to understand the full truth of God's revelation so the false teachers among them would not lead them astray.
Verses 21-22: "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22: in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight..."
Paul reminded the Colossians that their reconciliation was already an established fact. Before their conversion, the Colossians were Gentile sinners, alienated from God and at enmity with Him in their minds because of their wicked ways. Christ, in His matchless grace, had reconciled them in His body of flesh through death by dying on the Cross in a real human body. We are reminded of Hebrews 2:14-16. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15: and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16: For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham."
The result of this reconciliation was "to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight." Ungodly sinners can be delivered from their evil life and translated into that realm of blessing!
The fullness of Christ's reconciliation to His people will be seen in a coming day when we are presented to God the Father without sin, without stain, and without any charge against us. It is evident from Paul's description of his readers' pre-conversion condition that the church at Colosse was predominantly a Gentile congregation.
Paul referred to Christ's "fleshly body" to distinguish it from Christís spiritual body, the church. He attained His status as firstborn from the dead by experiencing the full reality of physical death.
Verse 23: "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister..."
On the surface, this verse seems to teach that our continued salvation depends on our continuing in the faith. That is not the case.
If this were so, how could this verse be reconciled with other portions of the Word of God, such as John 10:28, 29, which declare that no sheep of Christ's can ever perish?
In answer to this question, we would like to state that the eternal security of the believer is a truth which is set forth clearly in the pages of the New Testament. However, the Scriptures also teach, as in this verse, that true faith always has the quality of permanence, and if a man has truly been born of God, he will go on faithfully unto the end. There is, of course, always the danger of backsliding, but a true Christian who falls to rise again does not forsake the faith.
I think Paul was challenging those who had taken up with the Gnostic false teaching. Here he is warning the Colossians not to be moved away from the hope that accompanies the gospel. They were to continue grounded and steadfast in the truth which they heard from Epaphras. Paul speaks of the gospel as having been preached to "every creature under heaven." It had been widely circulated in a general sense. He was contrasting the wide proclamation of the gospel with the comparatively limited circulation of that of the false teachers.
Verse 24: "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church..."
The remaining six verses of chapter l give us a description of Paul's ministry. Writing from a jail cell, Paul can say that he now rejoices in his sufferings for the saints, that is, on their account. As a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, he was called upon to endure untold hardships and persecutions.
Paul had received a unique function to fulfill in the body of Christ in that he preached the gospel primarily to unevangelized Gentiles. His explanation of his ministry to his readers was to enable them to appreciate the reconciling work of Christ on their behalf more deeply. He accepted his afflictions as part of God's plan, and he rejoiced in them because he knew his imprisonment would benefit his readers through his ministry to them by way of this letter. He regarded his sufferings as something a servant of Christ could expect in view of the world's treatment of the Savior. Both he and Christ suffered for believers, Christ on the cross dying for sinners and Paul in prison for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. When believers suffer, Christ also suffers because He indwells us. It's no wonder that Paul rejoiced in his sufferings. They were an occasion for fellowship with Him, as well as a benefit to the body of Christ, the church.
To him they were a privilege, the filling up of what was left behind of the afflictions of Christ. This doesn't refer to the atoning sufferings of Christ on the Cross of Calvary. Those were finished once and for all and no man could ever share in them. But there is a sense in which the Lord Jesus still suffers when we suffer.
When Saul of Tarsus was struck down on the road to Damascus, he heard a voice from heaven saying, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" He had not been consciously persecuting the Lord. He had been persecuting the believers. He found that in persecuting believers, he was persecuting the Savior.
The Head in heaven (Jesus) feels the sufferings of His body on earth (the church). Paul came to realize that all the suffering Christians go through for the sake of the Lord Jesus are part of the still unfulfilled sufferings of Christ.
They include suffering for righteousness' sake, suffering for His sake (bearing His reproach), and for the gospel's sake.
The sufferings of unsaved people are, in a sense, of no purpose. There is no dignity attached to them. They are a foretaste of the pangs of hell to be endured forever. That is not the case in the sufferings of Christians. When they suffer for Christ, Christ in a very real way, suffers with them.
Verse 25 -26. "Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; 26: even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints..."
Paul had a twofold ministry: first, he was commissioned to preach the gospel (Verse 23). Secondly, God sent him forth to teach the mystery of the Church (Verse 25). In Ephesians 3:5-6, this mystery is described "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6: that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel..."
He was sent to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and then he was called to reveal that the gospel included all men, not just the Jews, into the body of Christ, the Church.
Paul was commissioned to make known God's full revelation for the benefit of his Gentile readers. He was a servant of the church, but in the deepest sense he was a steward of God.
While the mystery of the body of Christ was not revealed to him alone, yet he was chosen as the one who would carry this truth to the Gentiles. "The dispensation of God" means he was chosen of God to preach the truth of the New Testament church to the Gentiles. This includes the position of the Church in relation to Christ. The apostle Peter had been sent to preach to the Jews, while Paul had been entrusted with a like mission to the Gentiles. Thus all men everywhere were included in the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Verses 26-27: "Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory..."
God had hidden this new revelation from human understanding for ages past. For the Spirit of God to dwell in the Gentiles who believed Jesus was the Son of God and that He is their hope of glory and a pledge that they will share in His glory to come, was more than the Jews could understand.
The mystery was not that Gentiles would be saved but that they could be "fellow-heirs" on the same level with Jews, with no middle wall of partition between them.
Verse 26 is one of many in the New Testament that teach the truth that the Church was not known in the Old Testament period. It had been hidden from man for ages and generations.
The Church began on the day of Pentecost and the truth of the Church was revealed by the apostles. The Church in the New Testament is not the same as Israel in the Old. It is something that never existed before that moment in time.
Israel began with God calling Abraham out from Ur of the Chaldees, giving up the rest of the nations to their sins and idolatry. He made a nation out of Abraham's seed, distinct from all others and separate from them.
The Church is the reverse of this. It is a union of believers from all races and nationalities into one body, separated from all others.
The Church is not the continuation of Israel. That can be seen from a number of things, one being the figure of the "olive tree" which Paul uses in Romans 11 to show that the nation of Israel retains its identity. However the individual Jew who believes in Christ loses his national identity. Colossians 3:11. "... there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. " Verse 27: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory..."
That God would save Gentiles was no new revelation. But that He would dwell in and deal with them on the same basis as He did the Jews was a new revelation. Jews who rejected this revelation insisted that Gentiles become Jews before they could become believers. The truth of the mystery may be summarized as follows: ( 1) The Church is the body of Christ. All true believers are members of the body and are destined to share Christ's glory forever. (2) The Lord Jesus is the Head of the body, providing its life, nourishment, and direction. (3) Jews have no preference as to admission to the church; neither are Gentiles at any disadvantage. Both Jew and Gentile become members of the body through faith and form the Church. The fact that Gentiles could be saved was not a hidden truth in the Old Testament; but the fact that converted Gentiles would be fellow-members of the body of Christ and reign forever with Him, was a truth never previously known.
The particular aspect of the mystery which Paul is emphasizing in verse 27 is that the Lord Jesus is willing to dwell within the Gentile heart. "Christ in you, the hope of glory." That He should dwell in the heart of a child of Abraham was considered a marvelous act of condescension, but that He should find a home in the heart of a Gentile was incredible. And yet that is exactly what was involved in the mystery -"that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel."
There are four characteristics of the church described as a mystery: (1) The concept of Jewish and Gentile believers united into one body is a mystery. Ephesians 3:1-12. (2) The doctrine of Christ indwelling every believer, the Christ-in-you concept, is a mystery. Colossians 1:27. (3) The Church as the Bride of Christ is called a mystery in Ephesians 5:22-32. (4) The Rapture of the Church is called a mystery. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. These four mysteries describe qualities that distinguish the Church from Israel.
Verse 28: "Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus..."
Paul's goal was not just to see people saved; he also wanted to lead them to maturity in Christ. He did not just preach the gospel message, he preached the whole counsel of God. Any who were tempted to look elsewhere for a "fuller" experience need look no further than Christ for their completion.
Verse 29. "Whereunto I labor to weariness, agonizing according to the state of His being at work in me."
Paul used his physical, mental, and spiritual energy to its utmost. He realized that he was not doing this in his own strength, but "according to His working which worketh in me mightily." He realized that it was only as he was empowered by the Holy Spirit that he was able to serve Christ at all and he was glad to expend all his physical, mental, and spiritual energy working toward that end.
Sometimes he had to contend with adversaries in the world as well as with his own flesh and the devil. Nevertheless, the power of the indwelling Spirit of God energized him. Paul's example shows that, through faith in Christ, we can live our life with a source of strength that can enable us to rise above our natural limitations.
From the first day Paul heard of the Colossians, he served the Lord by praying for those Christians whom he had not as yet met. We, too, can serve the Lord in a like capacity. We are not limited by what we can do in the immediate presence of people. We can serve the Lord in private on our knees. If we do serve publicly, its effectiveness depends on the Holy Spirit and our private prayers before God.