The letter to the Colossians, written from a jail in Rome by the apostle Paul, was definitely intended for those who had already believed in Jesus Christ for their salvation. In the early portion of this letter, Paul greets the believes with words of encouragement and praise for their steadfast faith and righteous living. This is followed, starting in verse 9 of chapter 1, with a message on God’s wisdom and His will for them.
Colossians1:1-2. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, 2: To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul introduced himself to his readers by citing his apostolic calling as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” Right here, at the start of his letter, he acknowledges that he is not what he has made himself, but what God has made him. There is no such thing as a self-made man; there are only men whom God has made, and men who have refused to allow God to make them. This is actually the doctrine of God’s grace.
Paul was the name the apostle used in the Greek and Roman world in place of his Hebrew name, Saul. Jews in the Greek-speaking areas often took names that were similar to their Hebrew names. Some Biblical examples might be Silas/Silvanus and Timothy/Timotheus. Timothy was a Christian brother who was visiting Paul in jail at this time. He was not a co-author nor was he a prisoner.
The Colossian believers were called "saints," as are all believers in Christ. They were set apart to God in their position as faithful brethren in their practice. They lived in Colosse, a city located in the district called Phrygia in the Roman province of Asia in what is modern Turkey today.
Colosse was about 100 miles east of Ephesus, 11 miles east of Laodicea, and 13 miles southeast of Hierapolis, all cities of that day that were noted in New Testament Scriptures.
The “grace of God” is His unmerited favor. God's “peace” is the inner confidence He gives. Paul’s Christian salutation points the readers' thoughts immediately to the work of God on behalf of men.
Verses 3-6: “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4: Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, 5: For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; 6: Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth...”
Paul gave thanks to God for his readers frequently. Although he had not visited these believers personally, I’m certain they appreciated the fact that he knew their situation and that he knew of their good testimony.
Paul and Timothy prayed for the Colossians, giving thanks to God for them. They rejoiced over the continuing demonstration of their trust in Christ and their self-sacrificing love for other Christians.
Paul continues with his thanksgiving for their hope of blessings “laid up for you in heaven.” His readers possessed these blessings but had not yet experienced them as they were still future. They presently were manifesting their faith (verse 4) and love (verse 8) and they had heard of this hope when the gospel was preached to them.
Paul wanted to make certain they understood that the greatest blessing was awaiting them in heaven. He reminded them the gospel had not come to them exclusively but was spreading throughout the whole world; “and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you.”
Verses 7-9: “As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; 8: Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. 9: For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding...”
Epaphras actually had brought the Gospel to the Colossians. He since had gone to Rome and ministered to Paul during his first Roman imprisonment. Philemon 23. “There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus...”
Epaphras was not in jail with Paul. It appears that his bondage was in doing God's will. He had given Paul a good report of the Colossian Christians but that false teachers were trying to make inroads into the church. Paul mentioned him here so his readers would realize that the founder of their church shared the views Paul presented in this letter. This certainly would have lent creditability to Paul’s authority and words and made his stand for Christ more persuasive to the Colossians.
The love the Colossians had for Paul had been created by the Holy Spirit, (Verse 8). This is the only direct reference to the Holy Spirit in this epistle. Elsewhere Paul credited the activities of God to Christ in order to glorify Christ before the Colossians who were being incorrectly taught that Christ was of less status or authority than the Holy Spirit.
Paul told his readers that he prayed for their fullest and deepest understanding of God's will for them and for all believers so they would be able to glorify God in their conduct. He reminded them that their understanding must come through the working of the Holy Spirit in them and that correct understanding is the foundation for correct behavior.
When we pray, what so often happens is what we are actually asking is, “Thy will be changed,” when we ought to be saying, “Thy will be done.”
Paul certainly was a man of prayer. Prayer is not designed to escape life, it is designed to better enable us to meet life. Our prayers should not be to separate ourselves from life, but in order to live life in the world of men as it ought to be lived. We are not to live our lives as the worldly do, we are to live to glorify God. We do have to live in this world with its influences. A favorite saying of mine is that we may have to walk through the hog lot in our daily life but we don’t have to get down and wallow in it as the hogs do.
In verse 9, Paul writes that he and his companions had been consistently praying for the Colossians ever since they heard of their reception of the Word and the consequent love that the Holy Spirit produced in them.
Their specific prayer was that God would give them the full and exact knowledge of all His will for them.
In the broadest sense, the will of God is the whole purpose of God revealed in Christ. The main objective of the believer in Christ should be to know God's will for his life. This knowledge includes wisdom covered by our whole range of mental faculties and the understanding on how to apply that wisdom in specific cases.
God's will also determines the present status of the world, the events that transpire in it, those who are in power and the consequences of their actions.
I don’t believe that “wisdom” and “understanding” should be separated. They should be viewed as God’s expression of a single thought. We only get spiritual wisdom, understanding and knowledge through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The false teachers in Colosse were evidently promoting a “deeper knowledge” than this, which they taught was available to only the privileged few. However, The will of God is revealed for every true believer in His Word regarding faith and behaviors such as works and morality. Romans 12:2. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Our study of Colossians follows that same line of thought. Colossians 1:10-12a: “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11: Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; 12a: Giving thanks unto the Father...”
Paul’s goal for the Colossians was the full understanding of God's will for them, to enable them to live one day at a time in a manner that would glorify and please the Lord. The word “Walk” includes the way we carry out both our private and public lives as to our attitude and conduct.
Another of my favorite sayings is that we may be the only Bible some people read. Sometimes our walk is misleading to others. There are people who become deeply involved with studying the “deeper truths” of the Bible. Usually they have read a book or viewed some tapes and they become obsessed with the study of those things to the exclusion of practical Christian living. All Bible truths are practical, not theoretical. If we are to grow in wisdom and knowledge, we should also be growing in grace. 2 Peter 3:18. “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen."
There are several things that mark the true Christian walk. First is our character and conduct in every type of good work. Galatians 5:22-23. “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23: Meekness, temperance...”
That is a difficult schedule for most of us to fulfill but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can attain at least a goodly portion of these wonderful attributes.
I agree with Paul in his belief that the Christian never need cease to grow in his knowledge of God's will as it is revealed in Scripture.
As we grow, we are to bear fruit and grow in our ability to bear fruit, sort of like a fruit tree does. Generally speaking, the older the tree, the more fruit it bears. Likewise, the longer we are in Christ, the more fruit we should bear. What rain and sunshine do to nourish plants, the knowledge that God gives us for the growth of our spiritual life does for us. We gain strength through steadfastness, which is the capacity to see things through, and we also gain patience and joy in giving thanks to God consistently.
Paul prayed that the Colossian would experience joyful patience. There is also a kind of patience that endures but doesn’t enjoy.
Verses 12b-13: “which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son...”
There are three reasons for the gratitude mentioned in verses 12b-13. First, God qualifies the believer by His grace and makes us heirs to an inheritance. 1 Peter 1:4. “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” The qualification to receive an inheritance took place the moment we got saved. Actual possession of most of it is future. Second, He delivers us from Satan's domain. Verse 13a "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness." This also took place at conversion but will become more evident in the future. Third, He transferred us into Christ's kingdom. Verse 13b “and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” This kingdom is a reference to Christ's heavenly domain as opposed to Satan's domain of darkness.
Students of the historical facts of this period in time tell us that Paul probably used these figures because the false teachers in Colosse seem to had been promoting a form of Gnosticism that became very influential in the second century. Gnosticism made much of the light/darkness contrast in its philosophic system. Darkness is a prominent figure in biblical symbolism that represents ignorance, falsehood, and sin.
Verse 14: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:” Paul may have chosen to explain redemption to the Colossians once again because the false teachers were re-defining that term. We see this trend so often today in those who want to re-write the Scriptures to make them more understandable to the un-regenerated man.
Redemption is the forgiveness of sin. It is an aspect of Christ's work for us. We are placed in the kingdom of Christ himself. Verse 13b expresses that benefit of our union with Christ. The redemption needed by man is not a redemption from fate by Gnostic false teaching. It is the way of redemption from sin that comes by way of a Divine-human Mediator, Jesus Christ, and the central feature of redemption is the forgiveness of sins.
God's will for every believer is Christian growth. A Christian grows more like a fruit tree than a stalk of grain that just bears fruit and then dies. We continue to grow in our ability to bear fruit as we increase in the knowledge of God. Each passing year should see both growth in the Christian's spiritual life and an increase in his or her fruitfulness.
Beginning with verse 15, Paul continued his explanation of the Person and work of Christ. The false teachers in Colosse were attacking the full knowledge about Jesus Christ so Paul gave his readers better knowledge of God's will in order to refute the false teaching of those who were demeaning Christ.
Verses 9 through 17 are one sentence, but starting with verse 15, we see a change in Paul’s approach to the pre-eminence of the person of Christ.
Verses 15-17: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16: For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: 17: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist." In this section we see Jesus in relation to God the Father. One writer observed that “this passage represents a loftier conception of Christ's person than is found anywhere else in the writings of Paul.”
In verses 15-17, Paul described Jesus Christ in three relationships: His relationship to deity, to creation, and to the church.
There are several identifications of Christ offered in Scripture which prove Him different from and superior to any other person who has ever lived.
The first is found in His relation to God the Father, found in verse 15a: “Who is the image of the invisible God,” This "image" involves three things: His likeness to God. Christ is the exact likeness of God, a mirror image. Hebrews 1:3: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high...”
The second is His representation. Christ represents God to us and makes God known to us. John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
The third is that God made man in the image of God. Genesis 1:27. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
And Christ is the image of God. John 14:8-9: “Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” 9: Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" And, again in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." Christ is the very image of God, not a likeness or a copy, but the very essence of God Himself. In Christ, the invisible image of God was made visible.
In verse 16 and 17 we see that He was involved in the creation and all creation depends on Him for it’s continuance and maintenance.
“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
Everything, in every place, of every sort, and of every configuration, originated with Him. He is the architect of creation. The sun, the moon, the stars, the galaxies, the earth, not to mention all living, breathing, walking, flying, swimming creatures and the germs and viruses that don’t have to breathe, God mediated the life of the entire universe through His Son John 1:3: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Hebrews 1:2. “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.”
Elsewhere, Paul also listed various ranks of angelic beings, namely, invisible rulers and authorities and he rightly claimed that Christ is superior to all angelic beings. Whatever forces there are of any kind that hold human souls in bondage, Christ has shown Himself to be their Master, and we who are united to Him by faith need have no fear of them.
Going back to verse 15b, we read that He is the first-born of all creation. That proves Christ is not a creature. If He were, He would have had to create Himself. To do that He would have had to exist before He existed, which is absurd and impossible. Christ preceded creation. This clearly separates Christ from every created entity.
Christ is the Sustainer, the Person who preserves and maintains the existence of what He has created. Every law of science and of nature is, in fact, an expression of the thought of God. It is by these laws, and therefore by the mind of God, that the universe hangs together, and does not disintegrate in chaos. Verse 17 sums up the thoughts brought out in verses 15 and 16 and completes the statement of Christ's relation to creation.
The next subject Paul takes up, in verses 18-20, is the relation of Christ to the church. There he uses the human body as an illustration of the unity and diversity present in the church.
We shall take this up in a another message.