Notes on the Epistle to the Colossians - Introduction and Chapter 1
W. Fraser Naismith, Kilmarnock
The Epistle to the Colossians is the Epistle of fulness. A brief analysis of the letter confirms this.
Chapter 1 indicates Christ as Fulness Revealed. Chapter 2 declares Christ as Fulness Resident. Chapter 3 reveals Christ as Fulness Reserved. Chapter 4 unfolds Christ as Fulness Resplendent.
Much of the truth of Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians is found in measure in the Colossian letter. In Romans we are shown a man in Christ who is dead to sin and to the law. In Galatians there is revealed a man in Christ who is dead to the world, and is learning to relegate the flesh to its proper place, that is, no place at all. In Ephesians attention is directed to a man in Christ who has been quickened and raised up with Christ, and is seated in Him in heavenly places. All these precious truths are essential for the practical walk of the believer, while Colossians has the governing truth - Christ Himself - as the object for the heart's affections.
There are many points of similarity between this Epistle and the one addressed to the Ephesians; but there are also numerous contrasts. Ephesians reveals God's eternal counsels prior to the existence of evil; Colossians unfolds divine grace when evil is present. In Ephesians the heights of divine teaching are unfolded together with the lofty position of the believer; while Colossians declares how such truth may be carried out in practice. In Ephesians saints are viewed in Christ above; in Colossians Christ is seen in saints below. The truth of the one Body and its privileges is taught in Ephesians, while attention is directed to the fulness and glory of the Head of the Body in Colossians.
The following marked contrasts between the two Epistles should be noted. Ephesians: "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you", 4. 32; "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness",, 4. 24; "Walk worthy of the vocation", 4. 1. Colossians: "even as Christ forgave you", 3. 13; "put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him", 3. 10; "walk worthy of the Lord", 1. 10. In Colossians it is not so much the truth about the Church which is emphasized, but truth about the Head. How necessary it is to hold the Head, 2. 19.
The Spirit is only once mentioned in this Epistle and then it is incidental. There is no doctrine of the Spirit unfolded; instead there is the doctrine of life. The manna came upon the dew, and as it evaporated it left the manna behind: such was the provision of a munificent God for a wilderness people. The manna is symbolic of Christ in humiliation: He is the "bread of God" which came down from heaven, John 6. 33. We feed on Christ as the satisfying portion divinely provided for His people on the homeward journey. If our position is not so fully developed as in Ephesians, there is that marked compensation as we view Christ in His fulness. In Colossians our walk through this world, and the furnishings for that walk, are outlined.
FULNESS REVEALED, 1. 19
An analysis of this Chapter will prove helpful. Introduction and Greetings, w. 1-2.
Thanksgiving, vv. 3-8, in which the apostle brings into relief that Pauline trilogy "faith, hope and love". Living faith is fruitful; Christ in glory is the end in view.
Paul's Request, w. 9-11. The apostle desired that the saints should "be filled with the knowledge of his will". The knowledge of verse 6 is initial, but in verse 9 it is progressive.
Thanksgiving, vv. 12-14.
The Supremacy of Christ is attested, w. 15-19.
Two Reconciliations are emphasized, vv. 20-23.
Paul's two Ministries, vv. 24-29.
In verse 9 Prayer is prominent; in verse 10 Purpose is paramount; in verse 11 Power is predominant; in verse 12 Prospect is viewed as the saints apprehend the fact that we have been made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.
The Four Effects of the Knowledge of His will are:
1. Fruitfulness, v. 10; "being fruitful in every good work" was the desire of the apostle for the saints in Colosse. This reveals the fact that divine principles never alter, for Christ had said that they "should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain", John 15. 16. Are we bearing fruit? or are we cumberers of the ground?
2. Increase, v. 10; "increasing in the knowledge of God" is an experience which the soul can enjoy. It is gained by hearing about God in His Word, and also by living with Him in unbroken communion.
3. Strengthened, v. 11;'strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power". The variety of Paul's terms (a characteristic of Paul's letters) is an example of tautology which the apostle loves to use. Redundancies are ruled out, for God never unnecessarily repeats Himself, and the words "strength", "might" and "power" are used interchangeably and are linked with His glory. The burden of the request is that the saints might have a deeper knowledge of that fulness of the divine will, and a richer enjoyment of Christ as they apprehend their standing.
4. Thanksgiving, v. 12; "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light". An infant may have ample title of the inheritance, but there is the absence of fitness. God has provided both the title and the fitness for the partaking of the inheritance of the saints in light.
There are Three Acts of Divine Grace alluded to in verses 12 and 13.
1. We are made sufficient to be "partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light". This is not on earth, nor is it in heaven, but "in light". God is Light, and it would suggest the enjoyment of all that has been held in reserve for the saints "in light" where God dwells as Light, 1 John 1. 5.
2. "delivered us from the power of darkness" indicates that the emancipating power of Christ has taken us from the thraldom of sin and Satan, where once we dwelt, sitting "in darkness, and in the shadow of death".
3. "translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love", v. 13 R.v. Law puts God at a distance but the thought of the Father is introduced, v. 12, to emphasize this new relationship and the nearness of the affection which His love enables us to discern and enjoy. In verse 14 the fact of redemption is
presented. It is the nature rather than the means by which it is procured that is the parent idea here. The means is emphasized in Ephesians 1. 7. These three acts of divine grace are linked with
Three Consecutive Truths in verses 13 and 14, namely, deliverance, translation and redemption.
In verses 14 to 18 the personal and acquired glories of the Lord Jesus Christ are unfolded to us :
Verse 14 declares the Glory of Redemption.
Verse 15 indicates the Glory of Revelation.
Verse 16 unfolds the Glory of Creation.
Verse 17 reveals the Glory of Sustaining Power.
Verse 18 emphasizes the Glory of Headship.
There are Three Prepositions used in these verses, namely, "by" (en), in whose intrinsic power: "by him were all things created", v. 16. Later in the same verse, "all things were created 'by' (dia) him", in whose instrumental power. Then we read "and 'for' (eis) him", denoting the end in view.
There are Two Headships emphasized in this chapter. In verse 15 Christ is presented in the dignity of "firstborn of all creation", R.v. When Christ comes amongst His creatures He takes first place, "Head of all creation". In verse 18 He is designated the "head of the body".
There are Two Reconciliations alluded to in this portion. In verse 20, "by him to reconcile all things unto himself", and in verse 21, "you .. . hath he reconciled". The former relates to things while the latter refers to persons. The "ail things" spoken of here anticipates a universal reconciliation of things in heaven and in earth; no reference is made to "things under the earth". This term is used to denote the caverns of the lost; such arc not reconciled, they are subdued. These two reconciliations are linked with the two Headships. The reconciliation of persons suggests that God must be vindicated, and through the death of His Son such an end will be achieved. It is not effected by the incarnation of Christ, though this was part of the means to the ultimate end; nor is it secured by the fulness dwelling in Christ, such is a declaration regarding His perfect personality; but it is accomplished on the basis of the sacrifice which Christ offered.
There are Two Pre-eminences outlined here. First, in creation, and then of the Body. Incarnation brought God to man; reconcilation brings man to God. The two pre-eminences are linked with the two Headships and also with the two reconciliations. Following this
There are Two Ministries introduced. There is the ministry of the Gospel and the ministry of the mystery. The former had been exercised throughout the world with blessed results. The latter, "the mystery", which had been hid from ages and generations, has now been unfolded to the saints. Emphasis is laid on the truth, "Christ in you, the hope of glory". Paul's two ministries are linked with the two Headships; with the two reconciliations; and with the two preeminences of Christ.
In verse 28 we read the words "every man" three times. "Warning every man"; "teaching every man"; "present every man" perfect in Christ. The message contains a warning, an instruction, and an ultimate goal. May we be loyal to the truth of the glad tidings, retaining in our hearts and minds those three factors of our ministry.