Posts Tagged 'Colossians'

Glory, Part 3

The word “glory” and variations of it are seen well over 500 times in the Bible. In this series, I’d like to look at a handful of those uses. For example, we looked at how Paul used the word one Colossians:

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | TNIV)

This “hope of glory” is something Christians have been looking forward to since the time Paul first used the phrase. The “hope of glory” is the hope of a glorious future in Jesus Christ. Your present is probably like mine: Less than glorious! There’s no glory in taking out the trash in the rain, or driving to work on pothole-laden roads, or pumping your own gas. There’s no glory in dealing with lazy, incompetent employees or getting chewed out by the boss for your incompetence. But, that our glorious future is assured in Jesus Christ is the hope we all have. One day, our faith will become sight and our beliefs will be vindicated.

Paul used the word again in his letter to the Philippians:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20, 21 | TNIV)

Most people see verse 21 and get excited because they see the promise of a “glorified body,” which means no more pain or suffering or any kind of physical shortcomings. But Paul’s meaning is much deeper than that. In the body, you can never please the Lord completely. You can never “measure up” to God’s righteous demands as long as you are living in your body. But one day, you old body of flesh, which is so easily led astray by sin, will be done away with – transformed in the twinkling of an eye – so that you will be actually like Jesus Christ.

In writing to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul used the word again like this:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18, 19a | TNIV)

There’s plenty going on in those verses, so let’s read it from another version of Scripture:

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to him! I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great his power is to help those who believe him. (Ephesians 1:18, 19a | TLB)

That may help a little, and hopefully you will see your significance in God’s sight. “God has been made rich because” we belong to Him. Bet you don’t think about that much, do you? Too often, you hear and sing phrases like this:

Would He devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?

Isaac Watts wrote than in 1885 of Christ dying for sinners. But a Christian isn’t a worm anymore; he’s been changed. Yet so many Christians cling to that “I am a worm” theology. You’re not! A worm isn’t valuable; you are! You have made God rich because you belong to Him. God has benefitted in some way because you have become His child.

The letter

The letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus has been called “sublime” and “grand” by Bible scholars for centuries. John Chrysostom (345-407) had this to say about Ephesians:

This Epistle is full to the brim of thoughts and doctrines sublime and momentous. For the things which scarcely anywhere else he utters, there he makes manifest.

Chrysostom is right. Paul covers ideas and notions in Ephesians he doesn’t mention elsewhere.

Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world during Paul’s day, and the church there attracted some pretty big name preachers. Paul was the first Christian preacher to bring the Gospel to its half-million citizens during his second missionary journey. After Paul, the very eloquent and refined Apollos took over the church for a while until Paul returned during his third missionary journey. Eventually, young Timothy assumed the pulpit in Ephesus, and near the end of the first century, John, the last surviving apostle, lived in Ephesus and preached in the church there.

Ephesus, with its large population, it’s bustling economy, it’s arts and culture, it’s medicine, and its great church would eventually vanish off the face of the earth. Nothing lasts forever; kingdoms, and great cities, rise and fall and sometimes disappear. Archaeologist’s have discovered the ruins of this once great metropolis, but today in the 21st century, we know about Ephesus and its great pagan temple and its glorious history largely because it was mentioned in the Bible.

Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome around 60 AD. In all, the apostle wrote three letters from Rome while awaiting news from Caesar about his release. Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians were delivered to their respective destinations by the greatest mailman who ever lived, a fellow named Tychicus.

A powerful opening

The first few verses of this letter are among the most glorious doxologies found in Scripture.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3 – 6 | TNIV)

We learn something of great significance in that first sentence. Let’s look at it the KJV:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ…. (Ephesians 1:3 | KJV)

God has blessed us. We bless God because He first blessed us. As one Bible scholar noted:

Our blessing is a declaration. His blessings are deeds.

To be “blessed” in the Bible means to be filled with a sense of joy or happiness. We cause God to rejoice because He saved us and because He blesses us. We don’t often think of it that way. But God causes us to rejoice because we receive so much from Him and He rejoices when we turn around and bless Him on account of His blessings to us! That’s some power you have there, my friend! The power to bring a smile to your Heavenly Father’s face.

You’ll notice, though, that the blessings to which Paul is referring are not the temporal blessings you are given here – like the blessings of a good job or a family. These blessings are “in the heavenly realms” and are “spiritual” in nature. They are special blessings we receive because we are “in Christ,” because we are born again. Among those blessings would be things like: salvation, justification, sanctification, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so on. When you pause in your busy day to bless the Lord for those kinds of gifts, you’re making God’s day.

Verse 4 is one of those verses nobody really understands or likes. The sinner hates this verse because it speaks of being “chosen by God,” and that’s a repulsive thought to people who either don’t believe in God or think more of themselves than they do of God. The Christian usually gets it wrong because they don’t read every word, stopping after being told they were “chosen by God.” What Paul is saying here really is quite phenomenal. God’s way of salvation was planned in eternity past. God chose believers in Christ before He created the world, which means you and I didn’t do the choosing, God did the choosing. He didn’t choose us because we were worthy or because we were good. He chose us because we couldn’t choose Him. He chose us so we could do good in this world. The always quotable Charles Spurgeon wrote this:

God chose me before I was born into this world because if He’d waited until I got here, He never would have chosen me.

The point of verse 4 is simply this: We were chosen by God in Christ. That was the plan and God is sticking to it. There’s no other way to be chosen by God except to be in Christ. But the plan has a purpose, in addition to the obvious: To be holy and blameless in His sight. God chose us in order to sanctify us – to make us holy people – to separate us from the rest of the world. And God chose us to be “blameless.” Think about that for a moment. God sees us in Christ as being without blame. This means it’s God’s choice to change you, and that choice was made before He made anything else – including you, by the way.

Of course, that means if you’re a Christian, you have to manifest that change; you have to demonstrate that you are “in Christ,” that you are different person. If there’s no evidence that God has chosen you – if you haven’t changed – then you can’t be one of the elect. John, in a letter he wrote, put it this way:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:1 – 6 | TNIV)

Succinct and to the point. Who says the Bible is hard to understand? “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

God’s glorious inheritance

It’s obvious that we, Christians, have been blessed in, as President Trump may say, “an incredibly huge way” by God. He has given us so much and done so much for us. And yet, in verse 18, out of the blue we read this:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people… (Ephesians 1:18 | TNIV)

There’s a lot to digest in that verse. The thing that jumps off the page is that we, Christians, are “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance.” Have you ever thought of yourself in that way before? You, like me, have always been taught that we bring nothing to God. That’s true, there’s nothing we have that God wants or needs. However, in Christ, we become valuable to God; we are worth something to Him, as long as we remain in Christ.

That concept is so deep and so profound, that Paul tells his friends in Ephesus that he will “pray that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened” so that they may understand their worth in Christ. In the Bible, the heart is the seat of the intelligence and will. Paul prays that their minds and wills may be “enlightened” so as to grasp what he’s telling them. You, my friend, are extremely valuable to God. You may wonder what your value is. It’s simply this: As you live right; as you live like the changed person you are in Christ, you will begin to reflect God’s glory in the world around you. You see, nobody can see God. But they can see you. You become valuable to God because you become His reflection on earth, pointing the lost to Him.

That’s a big deal, and hard to do. That’s why Paul went on to write this:

and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:19a | TNIV)

You have a power deep down inside of you, put there by God, to help you become the changed person He had made you to be. That power is “incomparable,” that is, you can’t compare it to any power on earth; there’s nothing in all the world like the power you hold. It’s the power to become the person God wants you to become; a person who reflects the light of His glory.

Now that is, as Chrysostom might have said, a “sublime and momentous” thought to consider!


Alive in Christ, Colossians 2:1—3:4

You can’t read Colossians without noticing the preeminence of Christ. Above all things, people, power, and all knowledge is Jesus Christ. Because of the greatness of Christ, the Colossians and all believers, should easily be able to put their full faith and confidence in Him. Christians should have nothing to do with worldly philosophies and false teachings; they just can’t compare to Jesus.

Paul was speaking out against the popular heresies of his day which had infiltrated the church at Colosse. Christians then and now obsess over false teachings; we seem fascinated by them; we run after them. Things like festivals, mindless rituals, special diets, and physical asceticism. But Paul uses clever arguments to show the difference between the shadow and the Body which casts the shadow, verse 17:

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

If you can have the Body, why settle for the shadow? This is Paul’s central argument in chapter 2; mature believers find all they need for life and faith in Christ.

1. Complete in Christ, 2:6-15

A. Be steadfast in faith, vs, 6, 7

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Part of being steadfast in faith is remembering what Jesus Christ did for you and how He did it. The Colossians had received Christ as Savior in a certain way. He came to them as “the Christ,” God’s Anointed One. He came historically as their Savior; a man named Jesus really did live and walk on the Earth; He was not just an idea. And He is also “the Lord,” the Sovereign of every believer. This is important to notice because either Jesus is all of those things or He is nothing at all. It’s not enough for a person to believe about Jesus or to know about Jesus; He must become a person’s Lord and Savior, and when that happens, true learning starts.

The word “received” is aorist, meaning a decisive, once-for-all act. It was Jesus Christ who is received, not only the message about Him, and He is received one time because He came one time. His work is finished.

To “continue” in Christ is to “walk” in Him, and that simply means what verse 7 says. There are three principles here that describe what it means to walk in Christ:

  • Rooted in Him. The word for “rooted” is written in the perfect tense, suggesting this “rooted” is a one time experience; one is permanently planted in Christ.
  • Built up. This is written the present tense; being built up in Christ is to be a continuous process. Every Christian needs to be built up, all the time, each and every day.
  • Strengthened. Also written in the present tense, meaning our faith should be getting stronger all the time.

So we see that mature Christians, paradoxically, never really grow up! We are continually growing and maturing, never forgetting who Jesus was, who He is, and what He taught us.

B. Confront heresy through fullness in Christ, vs. 8—10

The problem is, there are always competing philosophies vying for the attention of Christians.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (verse 8)

“See to it” indicates a warning is coming. The false teachers were real; their was a real danger of these Colossian Christians getting duped by them; of being seduced by their clever, false teachings. The phrase “takes you captive” was generally used of taking captives in a war and taking them away as booty. As far as Paul was concerned then, these false teachers were “soul- stealers,” at war the with Church, wanting to catch Christians and drag them away in spiritual enslavement.

The false teachings, which are described as a “deceptive philosophy,” were based on the ideas of human beings, not on the teachings of Christ. Being deceptive, they appeared to the teachings of Christ, meaning they were close, they sounded like something He would have said, but they were, in fact, based on the “elemental spiritual forces of this world.” In other words, these false teachers were teaching a kind spirituality based, not on Christ, but on nature or on worldly things; man-made things. It’s hard to imagine a believer falling for this kind of false teaching, but when we don’t have a grasp on the teachings of Christ; when we don’t understand Christian doctrine, we will be fooled by false teachers who look genuine and sound genuine. After all, Christians want to believe the best about people.

Mature believers are able to confront this kind of heresy by be complete in Christ, that is, by having a solid, functional understanding of His teachings.

C. Live in fellowship and freedom, vs. 11—15

So then, maturity in Christ is measured by our fullness in Christ.  But, how deeply in fellowship with Him are we? In this group of verses, Paul explains that our fullness in Christ was achieved in three ways.

  • Spiritual circumcision, verses 11, 12. This is a “putting off” of the “sinful nature.” The picture in verse 11 is that of a person throwing away an article of dirty clothing or worn out clothing. Our sinful nature—the desires of the flesh—refers to the sum total of those desires. Through Christ, our corrupt natures were done away with.
  • Forgiveness of sins, verses 13, 14. Our forgiveness is based, not on anything that we have done, but on what Christ did for us. Without it, there is only death; life comes through appropriating what He did for us on the Cross. What He did for us is spelled out in verse 14: He canceled out our debt of sin. “Debt” is a way to looking at sin because we all know how good it feels when a debt is paid off. We never paid off our debt of sin; it was canceled by God on behalf on account of what Jesus did on the cross.

Christ is the propitiation for our debt. Our debt was nailed to the cross along with Christ. “Nailing” is aorist, indicating a completely finished work. His work of forgiveness is forever done. Nothing can be added to the work of Christ, either by man or deity. Christ’s work of forgiveness is done. All sinful man has to do is lay hold of His work.

  • Victory over evil, verse 15. Although the meaning of virtually every word in this verse is disputed, the simple meaning of it is clear. Christ’s death is our death, symbolized by baptism. His victory is our victory. Christ is personally personally responsible for our redemption. He conquered all evil forces at Calvary and the tomb. This was the final battle between the forces of good and evil, and good prevailed. His victory is ours.

Mature believers understand that Christ’s victory is ours.

2. Dead to legalism, 2:16—23

A. Shadows and reality, vs. 16—19

The false teachers at Colosse had prescribed a series of strict rules with regard to eating and drinking and the observance of the religious calendar. In light of the fullness of Christ, why would Christians look for satisfaction anywhere else? Freedom comes from a relationship with Christ, bondage from legalism, so why would free Christians willingly surrender that freedom for bondage?

All of the man-made regulations are but a shadow of the reality, Jesus Christ. The thing that Paul is teaching is this: why settle for the shadows when the reality has come, He is here, and you can have Him instead?

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (verse 19)

Paul is likely referring here to members of the Colossian congregation that have fallen for the false teaching. They have severed their connection to Christ, the head of the Church, as well as the Body of Christ, the Church. Do you see how powerful false teaching is? It has the power to decapitate a Church.

B. Inadequate worldly principles, vs. 20—23

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (verse 23)

Paul wanted his Colossian friends to put into daily practice what they experienced when they first came to Christ. All Christians must be taught; they must learn; and they must develop and grow. Even though salvation happens in an instant, the “new life” is a day-by-day process; it involves how we live, the things we do and the way we do them.

All false religions and false teachers are really false or inadequate interpretations of Christianity that place Christ in an inferior position while elevating their own ideas and philosophies. But for Paul, Christ is all and in all (3:11). Any Christian that runs after false teaching is acting foolish and immature because they are choosing second best.

3. Risen with Christ, 3:1—4

As far as the the Colossian controversy was concerned, Paul was finished with it at chapter 3. Having established the undeniable fact that man-made rules and regulations are of absolutely no value in taming human nature, Paul makes it clear that the only cure for man’s continued attraction to sin is found in his experience of union with Jesus Christ. This union is demonstrated by how the Christian lives and acts; he is quite literally “dead to sin.” This means that the believer lives with a completely different world-view. How does the Christian do this?

  • Set your hearts on things above, verse 1. Literally, Christians are to seek after and to strive for godly things. We need to make sure that our main interests are centered on Christ, and that our attitudes and our whole outlook on life are determined by our relationship to Christ and His relationship to us. The verb behind “set your hearts on” is a present imperative: “Keeping on seeking,” in other words.
  • Set your minds on things above, verse 2. This means “think on” godly things. This doesn’t mean that the Christian should withdraw from society, but it does mean that the first thing that pops into his mind is NOT a worldly thought. It means that his thinking is generally in a heaven-ward direction.
  • Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature, verse 5. This is something nobody can do for you. The action of “putting to death” sin can only be done by the believer himself. We are dead to sin, thanks to the work of Christ, but since sin is not dead to us, we have a responsibility to keep our base natures in check. This we do for ourselves, with the Lord’s help.

Mature believers understand the truthfulness of verse 3:

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Our security is in Him. We are protected by Him. What a motivating factor in living for Him! Paul is teaching that since Christians have died with Christ, all that is foreign to Him should be foreign to them.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


The Supremacy of Christ

Colossians 1:15—29

The latter portion of Colossians 1 presents the most significant teachings about Jesus Christ in the New Testament. These verses form the foundation of Paul’s contention with the Gnostic element at Colosse. These false teachers claimed to have superior, secret, and mysterious knowledge of God and of spiritual things, but according to Paul, everything that can be known about God is revealed in Jesus Christ, therefore no secret or mystical knowledge is needed.

1. Our image of God, 1:15—18

Part of becoming a mature Christian is having a Biblical Christology. In other words, mature believers think correctly about Jesus Christ. There is a lot wrong information floating around about Jesus and what He did, both in Paul’s day and ours. To help the Colossians think correctly about Jesus, Paul makes three very profound statements concerning Christ.

A. In relation to His deity, verse 15

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

There are two thoughts here. First, Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” How do you take a picture of something that cannot be seen? What does the invisible man look like? Nobody knows because he’s invisible! So what does Paul mean by that statement? In interpreting that statement, we must understand that Paul is not teaching that Christ is the image of God in the material or physical sense. Paul is also not teaching that Christ’s image of God is limited to His pre-incarnate state nor is it limited Christ’s glorified state after His Incarnation. Christ never became the image of God, He always has been the image of God.

The word for “image” is the Greek word eikon, which expresses two main ideas. One is “likeness.” So Christ is the exact likeness of God, like an image in a mirror is an exact likeness of the one looking into it. The other idea behind eikon is that of manifestation. That is, Christ is the image of God in the sense that the nature, character, and being of God are perfectly revealed in Christ. This thought is expressed in John 1:18—

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

This is a very deep concept, but it formed an integral part of Paul’s thinking about Jesus.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The second thought concerning Christ’s deity is that He is “the firstborn over all creation.” “Firstborn” is not the best way to translate prototokos because Paul is certainly not teaching that Christ was born or that He became. The main idea behind prototokos is “only begotten” and should be understood the way the Jewish mind understood it. Prototokos really means “uncreated.” He is out in front of all creation or we might say He is beyond all creation. Christ, in other words, does not belong to creation, but to eternity. This concept is seen in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1—3)

B. In relation to all creation, verses 16, 17

Paul goes on to establish the ground for Christ’s dominion over all things. Christ is the Source, the Agent, the End, and the Sustainer of all creation. Three prepositional phases are given to explain Christ the Creator: All things came to be—

→ in (or by) Him, verse 16a (creation occurred within the sphere of His person)
→ through (or by) Him, verse 16b (He was the force behind what was created)
→ for Him, verse 16c (all things exist for His good pleasure)

Furthermore, Christ “is before all things”, not “was before all things.” He is “before” in position, power, and time. Because He is the Creator, not part of creation, He holds it all together and all things exist because of His will.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3a)

The scope of these verses is staggering. If nothing exists apart from the will of Christ, then all things, even evil powers, continue to persist only because He allows them to until the day comes when He shall deliver the Kingdom to the Father:

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

C. In relation to the Church, verse 18

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Paul’s final affirmation concerning Christ’s supremacy relates to the Church. Christ, by right of His position in creation, has control and authority over the new creation, the body of Christ. To be “the head” of the Church is to be its Sovereign; its Leader and its Chief. It is HE who governs and guides it. In the Greek, “he” is emphatic, meaning that Christ alone, Christ and not other, is the head of the Church.

“Church,” ekklesia, means “assembly” or “congregation” and has in mind all redeemed people of God. Lost in Paul’s Christology is the use the “body” metaphor, which suggests three things:

→ the Church is a living organism, not an organization, composed of members joined vitally to one another;
→ the Church is the means by which Christ carries out His purposes and performs His work on earth;
→ the union that exists between Christ and His people is intimate and real. Redeemed saints in union with Christ and each other constitute a single living unit, incomplete without the other.

So, a mature Christian thinks rightly about Jesus Christ.

2. Our reconciliation, 1:20—23

Our maturity is also indicated by our understanding of precisely what Christ did for us. In Jesus Christ, Deity is pleased to dwell. In addition, God has made peace with all created things through the sacrifice of Christ. Here is God’s grand plan of salvation in two verses.

→ It is God who saves, verse 19
→ He saves creation through Jesus Christ, verse 20
→ He saves creation through the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, verse 20
→ God did this because it pleased Him, verse 19

To be “reconciled to God” means to be “at peace with God.” Somehow, through the shed blood of Christ on the Cross, peace was and is made between God and human beings. But the power of Christ’s blood is not limited to the salvation of all who call upon Him to be saved, the efficacy of Christ’s shed blood extends to all He created!

…whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (verse 20)

Since the sin of the first Adam effectively destroyed the perfection of Christ’s creation, only an act of the Second Adam could undo what happened. In relation to human beings, there is no “universal salvation.” As great as the work of Christ was, it is of no effect on a human being until he accepts it by faith.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (verses 21, 22)

Prior to confessing Christ as Savior, the Colossians and all sinners had been “alienated from God” and His enemies. The word “alienated” (apellotriomenous) means “transferred to another owner”—in other words, an unregenerate sinner is estranged from God and hostile toward Him. Only by sacrificing His physical body could Christ end the estrangement and hostility between man and God. Paul stressed Christ’s “physical body” probably in defiance of the warped Gnostic teaching about how evil the body was. The value of Christ’s body is evidenced by what its sacrifice gained: the salvation of humanity!

The result of Christ’s reconciling work is the presentation of the Colossians (and all believers) to God, absolutely holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. Is all of this in the future tense? Or is some of Christ’s reconciling work realized in the present? Scholars are divided, but F.F. Bruce presents a balanced view of verse 22:

The sentence of justification passed upon the believer here and now anticipates the pronouncement of the judgment day; the holiness which is progressively wrought in his life by the Spirit of God here and now is to issue in perfection of glory on the day of Christ’s [Second Coming].

3. Our hope of glory, 1:24—29

No believer can be considered mature if they have a wrong view of their sufferings. Paul, for his part, demonstrated his maturity by rejoicing, not because of the suffering he had endured, but IN the suffering because of the good that was being produced on account of it. One time, not so long ago, Paul, then known as Saul, had inflicted horrible suffering on others, but now he welcomes it in order to win the lost to Christ. What a remarkable change!

A. Understanding suffering, verse 24

Verse 24 is admittedly controversial.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

The first part of that verse we have already explained. What does Paul mean by the second part? In Scripture, there are two types of suffering: ministerial suffering and mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering—what He endured in the flesh in order to secure our salvation—was mediatorial suffering; that is, He suffered in our place. He was punished for our sins. No human being can do that for another; only Christ could have suffered on our behalf. Christ also experienced ministerial suffering. For example, He was mocked and ridiculed for His teachings. He told His followers that they would experience the same kind of suffering He did; they would suffer on account of Him. This is what Paul had in his mind as he wrote to the Colossians from prison. In fact, Paul had been given a special promise of suffering:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15, 16)

Paul’s suffering could in no way result in anybody’s salvation, but his suffering was part of his ministry to the lost and to the Body of Christ. Paul identified himself with Christ so much so that he viewed his sufferings as part of His service to Christ. That is a mature view of suffering.

B. Understanding the mystery, verses 25—27

Paul had been called and charged with a mission to perform. He was made a minister of the Gospel (verse 23) and that ministry to the Church involved a revelation of a mystery.

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. (verses 25, 26)

Paul was the Church’s servant and his job was to preach the Word to the believers. That Word, Paul says, was a “mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations.” A lot of people stop reading there and wrongfully conclude the Word of God is a mystery—that it hides secrets and mysterious codes. However, reading on, we discover that for the Lord’s people there is NO mystery surrounding the Word of God! All has been revealed to the Christian.

There is no question about it; a mature believer has an understanding of God’s Word. This, of course, does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they, at the same time, become a Bible scholar! Christians are obligated to study the Scriptures and be faithful in listening good Bible teaching.  But at the same time, we understand this:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13a)

The Spirit of truth has come! He resides in all believers, therefore all believers may be guided into a understanding of the the truth. Mature believer come to depend on the Holy Spirit leading them into an appreciation and understanding of the Bible. Even more than that, the Holy Spirit can give you a greater desire for the truth of God’s Word.

C. Growing God’s purposes, verses 28, 29

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

God wants us to be complete in Him, and He has given the Church the Holy Spirit and preachers, like Paul, to make that happen. This reminds us of what Paul taught the Ephesians:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11—13)

So then, believers grow into maturity through the ministry of the Word of God to them. This involves preaching and teaching, but also “admonishing.” Sometimes believers need to be corrected in their ideas. Paul was so convinced of the importance of his ministry in this regard, that he “strenuously contended” to perform it. He “agonized” and “fought” for the souls of those in his charge. But he did so, not in his own power, but the power of Christ in Him.

The mature believer, then, is one who has a correct understanding of the Person and work of Christ, an understanding of suffering and a desire to know and understand the Word of God.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

The Prison Epistles, Part Five

Applying the Truth, Colossians 3:18-25

Paul begins a new paragraph with 18. Paul had been discussing a very sublime truth: Christ is the only all-sufficient Savior and because of who He is He is the source of all believer’s lives. Paul is now going to show his readers how to apply this truth to some special groups of people, based on what he wrote in verse 17:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The “in Christ” formula is put into practical use here in human relationships, both personal and social. Christian teachings are different from pagan teachings, and Paul points this out by noting the reciprocal nature of our duties to one another. This idea was revolutionary in Paul’s day, where the men dominated the women, the educated took advantage of the ignorant, and the rich oppressed the poor. Christianity isn’t like that, and here is how Paul demonstrates that.

Some misinterpret these verses, so some basic observations should be made:

  • The emphasis of the whole passage is on duties, not rights.
  • These duties are reciprocal; one party does not have an advantage over another.
  • Christ supplies the ability to carry out the admonitions of this passage.

Observing these guidelines for relationships shows the purpose of Christianity. Paul is not suggesting that we should “live in accordance with Nature,” but rather “to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Christianity gives us the pattern for all God-glorifying conduct.

“In Christ” provides the reason, the conditions and the quality of our conduct towards one another. Paul singles out a few relationships where we can demonstrate our Christ-likeness:
husband-wife, parents-children, and master-slave.

1. Wife-Husband, 3:18

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Suffragists hate Paul’s use of the word “submit” and because our culture has degenerated over the past half-century, they have successfully changed the wedding vows in the Book of Common Prayer, eliminating the word “obey.” However, that doesn’t change the wording used in Colossians 3:18. This teaching, which is repeated and expanded upon greatly in Ephesians 5:22-33, is consistent with the teaching of the rest of the Bible, so it is not unique to Paul. The reason given for this submission is not because the husband deserves it or because he is better than his wife, it is because such behavior “is fitting in the Lord.”

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Galatians 3:28)

It is appropriate for the wife to submit to the husband. Paul in no way is suggesting that a husband is “the King of his castle” or some kind teapot despot in his home. There is a divine order to be observed in Scripture: Adam was formed first, and even the Son is subject to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28). Moule writes that submission means “loyalty,” given the way marriage is likened to the union of Christ to the Church.

Three points about this submission:

(1) The wife’s submission is prompted by her husband’s unselfish love.The form of the verb for “submit” (hypotassesthe) indicates that the submission is to be voluntary.

(2) The wife’s submission is not to be forced by her husband. Vaughn writes that this kind of submission is the deference that a loving wife, conscious that a household must have a head, gladly shows to a loving and devoted husband.

(3) This submission is to be “fitting in the Lord.” The word “fitting” means what is “becoming and proper.”
The phrase “in the Lord” tells us that the wife’s action in submission is proper in the way God has ordered His creation.

McGee wrote that:

This is for the purpose of ordering the home. This is not for the purpose of producing a brow-beating husband. I do not believe that God intends for a wife to submit to an unsaved husband who beater her orders her to things contrary to her walk with the Lord.

2. Husband-Wife, 3:19

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

The kind of love a husband should have for his wife is the highest and noblest of all love: agape. This kind of love is also due the Lord. This kind of love will overrule any bitterness, anger, commands and selfishness. The ancient world was a man’s world, and Paul’s admonition to the Colossian men would have been revolutionary and would have raised some eyebrows. But the new life in Christ is a transforming life, and it should transform the home.

Paul gives the husband two responsibilities toward his wife:

(1) “Love (agapate) your wives.” This kind of love has nothing to do with affection or romance, but rather compassion and caring, a deliberate attitude that puts her needs above his own and her well-being above his own.

(2) “Do not be harsh with them.” A husband should be understanding, never cross; considerate, never bitter; and should honor his wife in ever way (1 Peter 3:7). The husband should view his wife as his equal in the sense that she is a “joint heir of the grace of life,” according to 1 Peter 3:7.

3. Children-Parents, 3:20-21

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

The one obligation Paul puts on children is simply to obey their parents. The word “obey” here means literally “to listen under” or “to look up to.” It must be pointed out here that Paul is writing to Christians within the church. It is as least implied that both parents will be performing their duties noted in the previous verses. Elsewhere in the Bible it is clear that a Christian husband and a father has no right to demand of his family anything that is contrary to the dictates of Scripture. In fact, Paul in Ephesians 6:1 writes that there are limits to this obedience:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

A child’s obedience to their parents is something that is very pleasing for the Lord to see, so much so that in the Decalogue there is a promise of long life attached to it. This obedience, further, is not base on the parents character; rather it is the obligation of the child to be obedient; it is the nature of the parent/child relationship. Surely this puts a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the parents to continue “in Christ.”

Following the pattern of a wife’s submission to her husband and a husband’s love for his wife, there is a reciprocity here. Children obey their parents, and a father is not to “embitter” their children. This is simple parenting. A father needs to exercise wisdom and restraint as they raise and discipline their children so that their children don’t lose heart. The word “embittered” properly means “do not nag” as a habitual action. The opposite behavior is at least implied: a father should encourage and teach and build up their developing child. As to why fathers are singled out here, most scholars are silent. William Kelly in his lecture on this topic thinks this:

Mothers are not thus exhorted, for as a rule, her general fault is to spoil [her children].

4. Slaves-Masters, 3:22-25

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.

Paul spends a lot verses on the proper relationship between “the lowly classes” and their masters. This is probably due to the fact that Onesimus, the runaway slave, was returning as a Christian, carrying this letter to the Colossians.

Some basic observations:

(1) This passage does not condone slavery; it is setting forth a basic Christian economic principle: a just and fair wage for a day’s work.

(2) The “masters” of Paul’s day are the “employers” of today, and the “slaves” are merely the “employees.”
This passage is just one of several areas of responsibility surrounding verses 17 and 23. So the advice given here is an outgrowth of 3:17, not a stand alone teaching.

(3) A slave in Paul’s day was a person actually owned by another, although there were laws governing a “slave owner” could do his property. But a Christian slave was to be considered a brother, according to Philemon 16. It is not Paul’s intention to upset the social order of his day, although in the New Testament there is a precedent for civil disobedience (Acts 5:29), but that is to obey God in spite of local laws.

Accordingly, with verse 17 in view, Paul encourages believing slaves or servants to remain as faithful servants, doing their assigned duties as though the Lord was their owner, which, in fact, He is. John Nielson points out that while not upsetting the social order of his day, by injecting Christian principles into it, Paul is planting the seeds of change, which will eventually transform society.

The reciprocal statement is given in 4:1 and involves how the master treats his slave. Just as a believing servant should be an obedient servant to their master, a believing master must also be obedient to his master, the Lord.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

Abiding principles

No human being becomes obedient by good rules. Rules have their place in an orderly society, but with believers there is another, much higher principle at work in Paul’s teaching. The heart of the believer must be filled with the right motive, and love for others give a sense of duty to them. This is what makes obedience easy.

Everything a believer does, whether in a marriage and family setting or in the workplace, is to be done as if they are doing it for the Lord. It is Christ, not rules. Christ is the Means, the Motive, the Measure, and the Object of all behavior.

As Kelly observed:

Rules are never the power but only the tests of obedience.

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