1: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
- The letter begins for us in the way we have become familiar with, Paul identifying himself, and also here identifying Timothy as being present with him. He tells the Colossians that he is an Apostle by the will of God, or through the will of God as the margin notes. I see this as Paul simply telling them why he has the authority to write to the – because God made him an apostle. He does let them know that he and Timothy are family, though, Identifying Timothy as “the brother.”
2: To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
- He tells us who the letter is addressed to, the “holy ones,” [hagion] and the reliable [pistos, full of faith, or reliable] brothers (not loyal, as the modern use of the word faithful has come to mean) and sisters in Colossae.
- He gives what we are coming to see as somewhat of a standard greeting with Paul: grace [charis, kindness] and peace [eirene, undisturbed] from God our Father. The use of the pronoun “our” [hemon, our] is plural possessive, building on the theme that Paul is indeed writing to family.
3: We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
- He and Timothy gave thanks to God regarding the believers at Colossae (reasons coming shortly).
- They gave thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, it is important to notice that God the Father is mentioned in the same breath with the same level of reverence as the Lord Jesus Christ. This is setting up some things Paul will talk about later in the letter, like the Lord Jesus being the one the creator and sustainer of everything there is, but we will talk about that when we get there. Suffice it to say Paul is giving them equal time and emphasis here.
- The Lord Jesus Christ. Kurios Iesous Christos is the phrase Paul uses here. Lord of what? Everything. The word itself conveys authority and ownership. The name Jesus (or Joshua; Hebrew, Yeshua) is placed first in the order here, so have in mind the man Jesus, the obedient One, then Christ, the Anointed One, the Hebrew Messiah. The one in charge is the obedient Son of Man, who is also the Anointed One of God. The word order in His name here is meant to focus us that our Lord is both Man and God. The theological term refers to this union of God and Man as the “hypostatic union.”
- Paul tells the church at Colossae that he and Timothy are always praying [proseuchomai, compound word from pros, giving a directionality, in this case toward God from the text, and euchomai, to wish well for, by implication and usage here, to supplicate, to pray] for them.
Paul is continuing the thought
4: since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;
- This is the motive behind the prayer, the reason they pray – they heard of the faith [pistis, firm persuasion or opinion held] of the believers at Colossae, and because of that faith, the love [agape, divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love] that they have toward all the saints [hagion, holy ones]. This is the beginning of the thought Paul is expressing, and it continues through to the next verse.
5: because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel
- Hope [elpis, expectation]. Paul is continuing the thought from the last verse. The structure of the sentence says that this hope is the reason for the previously mentioned love toward all the saints.
- This hope is laid up for the Colossian believers in heaven. We must remember that Paul was not purposefully writing to us. I doubt Paul had any concept of what the Lord would do down through the centuries since He ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God until His return. However, we may include ourselves and take this as Christian doctrine and text because we have that same firm persuasion (the same faith, pistis) as the Colossians had. That means that we too have a heavenly expectation because of our faith, and that faith should engender in us that same love of the saints.
- The Word of the truth of the gospel [margin]. The Word [logos, the divine expression] of Truth [alethiea, here used in the sense of the truth as taught by Christianity with respect to God and the enacting of His purposes through Christ] of the Gospel [euaggelion, the good message – that is the same message Jesus preached, repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand]. Not only the good news, but that it is real. Remember, the word used for truth can also be translated as real.
6: which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth;
- What has come to them? The word of the truth of the gospel, in all its reality. And Paul says here that it is continuing to spread abroad [margin for increasing], even as it has been growing since the day they first came to understand its reality, and it’s grace [charis, kindness].
7: just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,
- This verse is why I think that the church at Colossae was planted by Epaphras. Note the phrase, “just as you learned it from Epaphras.” Epaphras was clearly associated with Paul, as Paul calls him here a beloved [agapetos, beloved of the speaker] fellow bond-servant [sundoulos, fellow slave]. He also identifies Epaphras as a faithful [pistos, reliable, remember – this is the use of the word throughout the New Testament for the most part] servant [diakonos, minister] of Christ.
8: and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
- Wow, that tattle-tale Epaphras! Telling Paul about how they also had that divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love in the [Holy] Spirit. I insert the word Holy here because that is who Paul is referring to. I’m not getting that from the capitalization of the letter, either – that would not be true to the Greek, which was written in all capitals in the original letters, apparently. I’m getting this because it really can’t be any other source – it cannot be referring to the Colossians’ own spirits, they were human as we are, and no human can have that divine, self-giving, especially that self-sacrificing love that only comes from God as its source.
9: For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
- Paul’s speech here goes right back to verse 3 when he informed these believers that he was praying for them. And see what he prays for. It reminds me of what he prayed for the Ephesians.
- Knowledge [epignosis, recognition, full discernment, acknowledgement]. That is, precise and correct knowledge, used in the New Testament of moral and ethical knowledge.
- Of His will. His refers to God, specifically of the Holy Spirit from the context of verse 8.
- In all spiritual [pneumatikos, of the spirit; This may be used in the New Testament as referring to the human spirit, a non-divine but non-human spirit like an angel or demon, or the Divine Holy Spirit as it is here from the context, to give us that spiritual understanding] wisdom [sophia, skill, cleverness, learning] and understanding [synesis, a mental putting together, intelligence, insight].
- But again, Paul is in mid-sentence, let’s see what the rest of the thought is in the next verse.
10: so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
- And there it is! So that you walk worthy of the Lord. There is that overarching theme I always get from Pauline letters – Christianity is not a spectator sport! It calls for our all-out participation. I don’t lock myself in an ivory tower to learn all I can, I learn, then I come and tell you while trying to implement it in my own life! An old supervisor of mine once told me that we don’t do by learning, we learn by doing. He was right, and we weren’t even talking about spiritual things, we were talking about financial planning. I gave up my licensing to become a pastor. I know I’m in the wrong book, this was in Philippians just before this, but I count all that as garbage so that I may gain Christ. We need to get rid of things that hold us back so we can participate in an all-out fashion. Let’s unpack this a bit more.
- Why walk worthy? Well, to please [areskia, a desire to please] Him [the Lord, context is the immediate usage of the previous phrase] in all respects [pas, everything]. What does that involve?
- Bearing fruit in every good work. Please note, bearing fruit is a result of pleasing the Lord. In every good action. Paul is writing to the believers of Colossae, so he is talking about walking with the Lord, not being justified before God here. If Paul had been, he would have said so as he does in other places, like the in his letters to Philippi, Ephesus, and Galatia, to name a few spots. Paul is very precise in his language, and it is why I try to be.
- Increasing in the knowledge of God. The margin offers another rendering to help our understanding here. “Growing by the real knowledge of God.” The word for knowledge here is again, epignosis, that precise and correct knowledge of morally and ethically divine things.
11: strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously
- And this is what God wants for all of us.
- Strengthened [dynamoo, to make strong, to enable] with all power [dunamis, related word, miraculous power, where we get our word dynamite, giving a bit of an explosive potential perhaps].
- According to His glorious might [kratos, dominion, the realm of His authority]. Why?
- Unto [“for the attaining”] all steadfastness [hupomone, a patient enduring] and patience [longsuffering, or the margin gives an understanding, patience with joy]. Patient enduring and longsuffering while filled with joy. Okay, talk about oxymoronic references like military intelligence. But seriously, as I’ve grown in Christ for 33 years now, I’ve come to see trials and tribulations as the very mechanism that God uses to perfect us, or sanctify us, or make us holy so that we may see Him. I believe Paul is writing the Colossians (and therefore all believers) about their sanctification here.
12: giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
- The word for “giving thanks” here is eucharisto, and simply means giving of thanks. This, in my opinion, is not a nod at more formal forms of worship where the so-called Eucharist is celebrated, because the emphasis of all of the New Testament writers and Jesus Himself on spiritual matters is the reality and substance of the truth in our lives, not the mere form. That was the province of the Jewish priests and Pharisees.
- It is the Father to whom they offer thanks. Jesus taught His disciples in the form prayer that people call the Lord’s prayer (I don’t think of it that way, it’s a pattern given in response to teach us to pray – if you want the real Lord’s Prayer, read John 17) to address all prayer to the Father. He told us to ask in His own name, so all prayer is made on the authority of Jesus and in His name, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, but I digress. That is why Paul gave thanks to the Father.
- Why was Paul giving thanks? Because the Father has qualified [hikanoo, to make sufficient or adequate] us to share in the inheritance [kleros, lot, portion, share] of the saints [hagion, holy ones] in light [phaos, illumination, especially by rays; may be used literally or figuratively]. It says in Malachi 4:2, ““But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” There is a great deal I could say there, but I’ll restrict myself to what we have in Colossians.
13: For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
- The Margin gives this rendering: For He rescued us from the authority of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of the son of His love.
- Paul is explaining what happened to make all real Christians brothers and sisters by [new] birth. The Father (context verse 12) rescued us from the authority of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. That’s the good news in a nutshell. A transfer has taken place, out of darkness and into light (see John 5:24) upon our believing in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. The word used in Greek (I’m not going to try to pronounce it, you all hear me butcher the Koine Greek enough) means to remove from or to turn us away from something. And just as when you leave somewhere, you end up somewhere else, we end up in the kingdom of His beloved Son when we repent and believe.
14: in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
- The Whom here is referring to the Father’s beloved Son from the context.
- In Jesus the son of His love, we have redemption [apolytrosis, a release upon payment in full of a ransom]. Ransom? Does that mean we were a hostage? Yes, under the authority of darkness, by the will of the Prince of Darkness.
- What is that release? It is nothing short of the forgiveness [aphesis, literally pardon] of our sins. We were held ransom legally until the penalty was paid for our sins – death. Jesus, a sinless man, not born under original sin as all sons and daughters of Adam are, and never having sinned in His human life on earth, died on the cross so that we could be pardoned from our sins. And a pardon is not like parole, friends. In my ministry, I’ve had call to help out some guys that went to prison for various things. When they are released, there are always conditions of release, and they make a promise to abide by those conditions, that is, they give their parole, an old English word meaning as much. If they break their word, if they violate their parole, they are placed back in prison. This is a full pardon. This is like the crimes that held you under the authority of darkness never took place – the slate has been wiped clean by Jesus when He died on the cross – and He rose from the grave to prove it. Let’s continue.
15: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
- Here is where Paul begins to address at least a part of the Gnostic heresy that was being presented to the saints at Colossae. Part of the false teaching was that God was unknowable, so Paul begins to present the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and here says that He is the very image of that invisible God, who became visible and entered time and space.
- Paul also says here that He is the firstborn of all creation. Some, particularly Charles Taze Russell, have tried to use this as a proof text to say that Jesus is not Jehovah God (and the Jehovah’s witnesses have all followed him down that particular rabbit hole, but that is not what this is saying, as we will see from the overall context of the next verse.
16: For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
- By Him, the beloved Son, from the overall context so far, all things were created. God was that creator, if we want to read the creation account in Genesis 1. So Jesus was that creative expression, the creative force behind everything that was, is, and will ever be, and this is the place where Paul says so. This is a direct claim that Jesus is God according to Paul.
- This is also a direct statement to contradict that Gnostic error. Part of it said that God was not knowable, and we dealt with that, but another part of it said that God didn’t create us. Well, if He created everything, then clearly that is in contradiction to the Gnostics, who are far too clever for themselves. We call some of these people today atheists, because they do not believe there was a creator, but that’s a whole big topic just waiting to sidetrack me, but it’s worth mentioning.
- This verse also says that Jesus created everything in heaven and on earth, whether we could see it or not, whether they were rulers or authorities of some kind – He created it all. In case you were keeping track of what this means, it means that Jesus as God created all the angels – and that would include Lucifer. He is not God’s equal, God created Him. Jesus and Lucifer are NOT brothers, as some would say (like Mormons for example), and it says so right here.
17: He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
- He is before all things is not a reference to when He was created, because He preexisted the creation with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, but I am not trying to start a fight here. The word in Greek here is pro, and it actually means that he existed before them. If Jesus were a mere created being, I doubt the next phrase would be true – that in Him, all things “hold together.” [sunistemi, to commend, establish, stand near, consist] The phrase here is used in the sense of literally holding everything together, to unite all parts into one whole, to consist. I just get this mental image of His power holding it all from flying apart into a million different directions, which would happen if there was no God. This creative and consistent force of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing I know that can constantly work against the second law of thermodynamics. And for Him, it seems effortless.
18: He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
- This Lord Jesus Christ we have been considering? He is the head of the church. I must state that, lest as moderator, I think I am head of the church. I can name people I have met over the years that have shouted things like, “this is MY church” at me in defiance of Godliness. That gathering, sadly, is no more, and the fellow that shouted that at me is no longer walking with Christ. He was a roommate at one time. We need to always remember – this one that has created all things, this one that has paid our ransom – He is the one in charge, and we should be taking our direction from Him.
- He is the beginning. The word used here is arche, the origin. The beginning. The first cause. The top of all totem poles.
- He is the firstborn from the dead. Remember, our Lord was crucified – that is, He was executed by the state in perhaps the most painful and tortuous way ever devised. However, he did not remain dead! The Father crucified Him on Friday as our substitute. He rested on the Sabbath, for the record. And He was made alive again by the Spirit on the third day, Sunday, the first day of the week. By the way, this is a side note worth telling – this is why the church, which He is head of, meets on Sunday – to remember and honor the day He became the firstborn from the dead, not as some have suggested, because God made this our Christian Sabbath. The Sabbath is always on a Saturday, and has always been the seventh day of the week, even through the calendar changes and confusion in the middle ages. In brief, the Christian Sabbath should be every day, but you’ll have to wait until we get to the Letter to the Hebrews before we look at that. [smirk]
- Why? So that in everything, he will be preeminent, that is, have the first place.
19: For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,
- Why? Simply put, it pleased God for everything to be done through His Son. No other reasoning is really necessary, and no other explanation is really required. He’s God, and He gets to decide. We’re not, and we don’t.
20: and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
- Did you get that? This Jesus, the Anointed One, the Christ, was the instrument of our reconciliation with God the Father. No other one is necessary. No other one is possible.
- How? He made peace. He made is so that He could be in an undisturbed and beneficial relationship with us.
- How? Through the blood of His cross. Let that sink in for a moment. As the Psalmist would have said, Selah. Pause and calmly think of that. This beloved Son of God the Father died to reconcile us with Heaven, and apparently not only us.
- Whether things on the earth or things in the heavens. The context of this is that He, the Son of God, reconciled all things to God the Father. Things in the Heavens needed to be reconciled to God? Mind. Blown. I think this is all a part of how Jesus ended the curse of creation everywhere, but I admit I don’t fully understand this yet.
21: And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,
- The context of this becomes crystal clear in the following verse, but Paul is beginning to explain why we needed to be reconciled to God. We were alienated [apallotrioo, excluded] and hostile [ecthros, an enemy because of hatred toward God, it is clear the hatred was on our part] in mind [dianoia, thoughts, dispositions] and in evil [poneros, bad] deeds [ergon, works]. (NB: the word “engaged” is not in the Greek, the translators of the NASB use it to provide clear meaning, but I think this is meant to be one phrase, explaining that we were excluded because through our hatred of God, we were hostile in thoughts and in deeds toward Him. Either way, the meaning is the same.)
22: yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—
- Yet. It is the appropriate conjunctive word, however it is most frequently translated as “but” in the New Testament. It doesn’t change the meaning, but I like to be a careful reader. In this case, it could be translated as “however,” or “notwithstanding” for those of you who must be hyperpolysyllabicsesquepedalianistic [like to use big words].
- Even despite our stated enmity with God, Jesus has reconciled us in His fleshly body through death, in order to present us before God as holy [hagion] and blameless (without blemish or fault) and beyond reproach (no one being able to say anything bad about you, remember the bit about pardoned, not paroled). Paul is saying this as a direct attack on what the Gnostics were trying to purvey to the Colossians. They said that because God did not create the physical, which was itself evil, that God could not redeem us. Imagine if you will, the Apostle Paul chuckling gently and shaking his head saying, “boys, you don’t know any of the truth, so I’m going to set you straight on this…” Not only did Jesus create it all, even us (part of all), he redeemed it in full and pardoned us! He dealt with it, so we don’t have to! Now that is GOOD news, especially with respect to the counter-message of the ascetic sects that insisted the only way the sinful body could be dealt with was to punish it severely. Hey, this is still practiced today, don’t tell me it isn’t relevant.
23: if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
- Paul is suggesting that it is always possible that the one reading or listening might be what I refer to as a Churchian as opposed to a real Christian. Another way of saying it is false covert. Tare instead of wheat. Goat instead of sheep. That’s the state of affairs. You are a real Christian, or you are not – and I would suggest that if you don’t know if you are a Christian, you may want to repent and believe the gospel. The Apostle John in 1 John 5:13 said that you can KNOW that you have eternal life, not just hope, guess, pray, or wonder. Paul knew that too. You are either firmly established and steadfast, or you are moving away from the hope of the gospel. There is no other way to think about that, regardless of how anyone tries to spin that to you.
- Paul also tells us that this gospel is even now still being preached in all creation under heaven. This doesn’t mean that the gospel has been preached to the whole planet yet, but rather that it is proclaimed BY all creation. Paul was made a servant of THAT gospel.
24: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
- It cost Paul to serve the Lord like this. He refers to his own sufferings here, and tells us that they are in his flesh on behalf of His body the church. This could mean a number of things. Paul was stoned and left for dead, three times sentenced to 39 lashes (40 was considered a death sentence), he spent three days and nights in the sea adrift on floating wreckage, he had been imprisoned, etc. Paul was telling the Colossians that he was a model for suffering in service of the body, because Christ’s sufferings were for a different purpose, the salvation and establishing of the church.
25: Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
- But that’s what God enlisted him for, and it was for the benefit of the believers, because God had called Paul to preach the Word of God.
26: that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints,
- And what was in that Word of God that Paul was called to preach? The same thing God called me to preach – the mystery which has been hidden in the past but now is made plain to God’s people.
27: to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
- And more than that, God wants us to tell everyone about the riches and glory of this exact mystery among the Gentiles (not the nation of Isreal, God’s chosen people I might add) – Christ in you, the hope [expectation] of glory! [doxa, the opinion (always good in the New Testament); that is, that faith, the firmly held opinion.] And that’s the mystery – Paul told the Ephesian belilevers that he prayed that Christ would come to dwell in their hearts by faith, and that is what Paul is saying here.
28: We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
- That’s why we proclaim Him! We preach that incredible good news, admonishing and teaching everyone so that everyone will appear before Christ as perfect, complete, lacking nothing, having come to maturity.
29:For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
- This is what Paul is working for – no surprise, since he was a pastor, and it was his words to Timothy that woke that desire in me.
- And Paul was not alone or unequipped to do so. He strove according to Christ’s power [dunamis, miraculous working], which Paul knew worked overtime in him. I sense it, friends, and I hope you all do as well.
- Paul had another point with this last line of thought in the chapter. He was continuing to combat the heresy of the Gnostics. In Gnostic belief, this mystery, as Paul called it (and so it is), was known only to a chosen few, and was a matter of being initiated by certain rites into the knowledge or you could not know or understand it. (Many cults take this approach today because it seems to work.) This is nonsense. Paul tells us in another place that God has chosen the foolish of this world to put to shame those who call themselves wise like this. In stark contrast to what these Gnostics taught, Paul is saying that this mystery was hidden before, but is now opened to believers, and it is their duty to Christ to tell everyone they see.
That’s the first chapter of Colossians!