1Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
Paul writes to the church at Colossae on behalf of both he and Timothy. He writes approximately in AD 60-62, about the same time he wrote Philemon and while he was in prison in Rome. Mentioning Timothy as being involved in the composition of this letter is essential for him as many questioned his authority because of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). Yet Paul, as an expert in discipleship, not only gives Timothy credibility but seems to also involve him in the writing of this letter. The God who called them both as servants of Christ (though Timothy was not an apostle for he did not see the risen Christ) by His will (God is ultimately sovereign in electing who will come to faith though we are responsible for our will in choosing Him or rejecting Him) inspired them as they wrote this part of Scripture. Paul is evidently the chief writer as he moves to the first person toward the end of chapter one and into chapter two. He also is the only one to sign the letter.
2To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Paul is writing to the saints who are the faithful brothers and sisters of Paul and Timothy in Christ. He gives his standard greeting of grace and peace to them from God. Despite any corrections or exhortations that they may be given, the end goal and the spirit of the admonitions is always gracious and peaceable, not seeking unnecessary conflict, selfish gain, or division.
3We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;
Paul and Timothy thank God (not just any God but the one true God, the Father of Jesus) because of the faith of the saints at Colossae and because of their love for one another. Not only have they believed the truth of the gospel by faith but they have the true mark of a disciple of Christ: love for one another (John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:7-8). These don’t sound like people who “need” prayer, but Paul and Timothy explain that they pray for them always. There is no believer, even though we are positionally saints in Christ, who doesn’t need constant prayer and help from Christ.
5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel
6which 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;
They are grateful to God for those at Colossae because they are certain that there is an inheritance waiting for them in heaven because of their faith in Christ. As such they all can have great hope which is reason for further thanks to God. They had heard the word of truth, which is the gospel. The gospel is a message made up of logical and propositional phrases and with a clear intended meaning. It is fully reliable, accurate, absolute, irrefutable, and totally true. It is this word which a person must hear in order to receive faith and be born again. Christ had said that He would build His church, and in the first century, like all other centuries, the church has continued to grow as it preaches the gospel. Though we do not see with our eyes how the gospel is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, we must believe with our hearts and affirm in our minds that the labor that we do for Christ will last. It is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). We often look merely at conversions and church growth as being fruit, but we are reminded that fruit is something that is born also within us. As our inner person is transformed to be more and more like Christ and as we yield further to Him and to His Word, we manifest more and more of the fruit of the Spirit. Yet there can be no fruit in a person’s life apart from first hearing the word of truth, understanding it, and receiving it. The grace of God extends the free gift of salvation and the righteousness of Christ, but we must respond with understanding, confession, repentance, and belief. The grace of God does not and cannot operate apart from truth, for it is truth. The gospel is truth and it must be responded to in truth. Thus, any attempt to undermine the absolute assurance of the truth of the gospel message is heretical.
7just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,
8and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
The gospel is transmitted through witnesses, which we are as believers (Acts 1:8). The Colossians first heard from Epaphras, a friend and brother in Christ of Paul who made himself a servant of God by choice. It is dangerous and risky business to share the truth of the gospel as it is an offensive message to those who don’t want to admit their wrongdoing, yet Epaphras boldly preached the gospel at Colossae. A whole church was born as a result of his labor. Paul again affirms the credibility and integrity of a fellow servant of God. This is essential in how the church is supposed to be propagated. Faithful men are to teach others who can teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). It was Epaphras whole told Paul and Timothy about the progress of the gospel at Colossae and of the love of the believers there.
9For 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,
10so 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;
Since the gospel has indeed taken root in the believers at Colossae, Paul and Timothy were more motivated to pray that the seeds that were planted would grow to be mature fruitful plants which would sow seeds for others who would in turn respond to the gospel message. Paul and Timothy have not ceased to pray for them. This requires an extreme love for God and Christ and for His people, in addition to a great deal of discipline and self-control, which are evidences of the fruit of the Spirit. Their prayer has been that the believers would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. God’s will cannot be known apart from His Word, but it is also necessary to ask for wisdom (James 1:6). As such there are things we need to ask God for His leading in and for how to apply His Word. He is faithful to give us wisdom if we ask in faith and without doubting. We are not to lean on our own understanding but to call out to God earnestly for direction of our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). This is not partial understanding and somewhat helpful direction and knowledge. This is all wisdom and understanding and a being filled up and maxed out with the knowledge of God’s will. It is not God’s fault that many of us wander about not knowing God’s will and being frustrated that we cannot hear His voice or discern His leading. Paul and Timothy are praying according to God’s will (it is inspired Scripture). God desires that His people know Him intimately, deeply, and according to His Word. He desires that we seek direction from Him rather than making presumptions apart from Him. We have all that we need for life and godliness in Him (2 Peter 1:3) if only we would ask in faith.
Paul and Timothy pray also that they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. Obviously this speaks to integrity and personal holiness. How can we possibly know the will of God if we are grieving and resisting the Spirit of God within us because of presumptuous and unconfessed sin? We are not slaves of the flesh that we must do its bidding, but we are rather to walk after the Spirit. There is no reason or place for the Christian to walk according to the flesh. We ought to live in a way such that our lives are an aroma and a signpost pointing to God because of the evidence and abundance of the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives. We are to please Him in all respects. If we got graded for our faithfulness each day, we ought to be getting one hundred percent. Again, Paul and Timothy are praying according to God’s will, so we ought also to pray as they prayed. We ought to believe that God can and delights to have us bear abundant fruit and to be freed from the influences of sin.
We can please Him in all respects, not just some and not just most except for one. God’s call to the Christian is a total commitment. Though we will sometimes fail and fall, it is because we lack faith in God’s provision and promises and because we are not yet made into the fullness of the image of Christ. Yet we pray that we would continue to bear fruit in every good work. All that we do if it is for the Lord can bear fruit for the kingdom, even if it is merely inward fruit of a good attitude, and no visible results are seen. Part of walking worthy is also that we increase in the knowledge of God. It is not good enough to get the basics of Christianity for years on end. We need to move past basic doctrine (sadly many today are not even taught this), and get to knowing the depth of the riches of the love of God as we delve into the wonders and extravagance of His Word. There is no way that we can grow in Christ or be mature apart from growing in knowledge according to God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit within us. By knowledge, we don’t mean merely dates, authors, and archaeology of the Bible; we mean knowing our God. God’s Word is given to reveal the heart of God to man. Thus our goal in studying Scripture is ultimately to know our God so that we will walk worthy of Him in the here and now, bearing abundant fruit of good works and inner holiness and conformity to Christ.
11strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously
12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
Paul and Timothy pray further that the Colossians would be strengthened with all power (again not just some but all). This is not power that enables our fleshly lusts and desires, but it is power according to His glorious might. Thus, receiving and appropriating the power that they are referring to requires a surrender, a submission, and a yielding in faith to the work of the Spirit. The goal is not self-advancement or achievements in and of ourselves but an attaining to a consistency and persistency of faithfulness and endurance in our walk with God. A mature believer is able to maintain an attitude of faith without doubting for extended periods of time. No matter the amount of suffering and no matter the amount of temptation, this person does not yield to sin but remains yielded to God. He is not impatient when God tells Him to wait or to merely endure because He does not remove the suffering. Maturity involves patience, and we must believe that God’s timetable is perfect and that He will provide. In the meantime, though we may not be doing the good works that we think we should be doing, we can be faithful in the ones which God provides for us. We are to give thanks to the Father not in a mundane or ritualistic routine but joyously from the heart. Our joy is increased when our character is proven under trial and when by faith we persevere. We can give thanks that God is working to make us into mature creations in Christ, rather than young new creations. Notice that our thanks is to the Father and not to Jesus directly. Jesus is indirectly praised for He is God and the Light through whom God reconciled us to Himself. Yet ultimately it is God Who qualified us to share in the inheritance of His Son as saints because of His sending His Son to die for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). He made the plan to redeem man, and Jesus was obedient to His Father. We are to direct our thanksgiving and joy ultimately toward God, and in so doing, we elevate the name of Christ.
13For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Before we became partakers of the Light, we were slaves of the kingdom of darkness, dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), and children of the devil (1 John 3:10). Yet God rescued us through Christ from Satan’s domain and transferred us to Jesus’ kingdom which will endure forever. God loves His Son deeply, and it is through Him that we can become children of God and experience the intimate love of our Papa (Romans 8:15). It is through Jesus alone that man can be redeemed from the bondage and penalty of sin, and it is only through Christ that sins can be forgiven. There is no other way that a man can attain to righteousness. Christ is the only road. If there was another road, we had better praise and worship it. Yet since there is not, we need to direct all praise and joy to God, which will happen naturally as we yield to His work in our lives and His will for our lives.
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16For 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.
17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God in that He made God’s attributes and character visible to the world. He was fully God, for He and the Father were one and are one. Yet He took on the form of a man, being made in human likeness. As such, in a mighty show of love in condescending to man’s corrupted state (though Himself being without sin), He revealed the depth of God’s love and what true holiness is. Though God is spirit and is thus invisible, Jesus gives us a visible manifestation of God. He is also the firstborn of all creation in that He was the first to overcome sin and death and to make the way open for others to become God’s children. He will no longer be the only Son of God. He is the only divine Son of God, but we also will be God’s children, sons and daughters both. We are not the firstborn, but we will worship the firstborn. For it is only because of the work, life, death, and resurrection of the firstborn that we can be adopted as children of God at all. We are to remember that we are not begotten of God, but we are adopted by God. There is only one begotten Son of God, and He deserves our praise and worship. Jesus was involved in the act of creation, and nothing was made without His involvement. All that we can see with our eyes in the universe and that which we cannot (like subatomic particles and distant galaxies) were made by Him. Even the angels and fallen angels including Satan were made by Christ. All that is has been created through Him. All that has been created is ultimately for Him in that He will put all things under the feet of God. He will restore creation to its pre-fall state when He makes a new heaven and a new earth. All mankind will one day bow the knee to Him, and those who do it prior to the Great White Throne judgment will be made a part of His body. Christians are not made for themselves (or any man for that matter) but for the worship and glory of God in Christ who created all things and through whom all things hold together. The fact that He is before all things indicates that He pre-existed all that was created. Jesus existed before the world was created. He is not a created being as some false religious like to say, for He was before all things. He was before time, space, and any created order. This is why as science progresses (at least if it progresses honestly) then it should ultimately give us more and more evidence of Christ who is before all things. All honest scientific inquiry and study of the creation should point to the Creator, which is Christ. The fact that in Him all things hold together means that if Christ is removed from belief and from relevance that all things (philosophy, religion, faith, belief, practice, life, relationships, finances, governments, economies, and so on) splinter, become incoherent, discrete, and chaotic. There can be no peace and no order according to truth and logic without Christ centering everything. All things find their connection and interconnection through their source, centerpiece, and creating and sustaining force which is Christ. Without Christ the whole universe, physical, spiritual, and in any other way will disintegrate. The church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Cut out Christ which is the head of the body which is the church, and the church as well as the truth will crumble into chaos and destruction. If the church self-destructs, then the world is in real trouble. It will take Christ to restore order, and we know that one day He will do just that (Micah 5:5). Only in Him, can anything hold together.
18He 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.
Jesus not only created the world, pre-existed the world, and will reign and rule forever, but He is also the chief of the church. He is the leader, the head, and the final authority. He is the beginning of life physically and life spiritually being the first one to conquer death in rising from the dead.
19For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,
20and 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.
In verse 19, the word fullness is commonly used to speak of a ship that is filled to capacity of rowers, sailors, and soldiers. The idea to be had is that it was God’s design by His good pleasure to restore what was lost in Eden. God created man not because He needed man but because He wanted to lavish His great riches and love upon man, who would bring Him glory by being thankful and manifesting God’s image. When sin separated us from God, it was God’s good desire (even from before the foundation of the world) to reconcile us to Himself through Christ. The fullness that dwells in Christ is the fact that an abundance of believers will be adopted as children of God, He being the firstborn. The mystery is He is us and we in Him. Christ is filled up to the max with those who love Him and have received Him in faith. Also implied in the statement about fullness is that Christ is fully God having the fullness of Deity in Him.
God through Christ reconciled all things to Himself, even creation will one day be restored. All can come to Christ if only they would choose to receive Him. Yet many choose this world and the pleasures that lead to hell over the road that leads to life. Christ was needed to make peace between man and God, since it has been lost by sin, into which all mankind is born. We are enemies of God until we apply the blood of Christ to our hearts and receive forgiveness from our sins. All that dwells on this earth has the ability in and through Christ to be made new. All that is in the heavenlies, with the exception of the fallen angels, will also be made new when God creates a new heaven and a new earth. Evidently, even this reconciling of all things to Himself required the death of Christ.
21And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,
22yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—
Before we come to Christ, we are aliens from God, totally separated from Him. We cannot work our way into fellowship with Him, for even our minds are hostile toward the things of God. We are unable to do the very things we want (Romans 7:15). We need the grace of God to open our eyes and give us the faith to believe the truth about Christ. In addition to having minds that hated God, we had actions to prove our hatred. What was on the inside was manifested by outward rebellion against God as well. Through God who has indeed reconciled us who believe to Himself through Christ’s bodily death on the cross we can become blameless and above reproach because such is the work and will of God. Positionally and legally we are justified before God. Yet we do not always live like it practically and conditionally.
23if 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.
“If” presents a qualifier. The condition for us being holy and blameless practically is that we respond in faith and believe God that He will lead us away from temptation and provide the way of escape. We must continue in the faith, believing the promises of God and holding fast to sound doctrine and teaching. We need to not falter about as those who doubt and are double-minded, but we need to be firmly established, being convinced of the truth of the Word of God. As believers there is no need for us to fall away into rebellion, though we can never fall away from the love of God (Romans 8:39). We are to hold to the hope of the gospel which says that we are made new creations in Christ who will be sanctified and glorified (2 Corinthians 5:17). If we lose sight of the gospel, we will rapidly fall off course in our practical holiness. And why would we doubt the gospel? It has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven. In other words, the entire earth, even those presently in Hades (the holding place of the dead, distinct from hell, which is the lake of fire and second death) has heard of Christ’s triumph over sin and death. Satan and his evil ministers certainly are aware, recognizing that their time is short. Not all mankind has heard all of the details yet because we are commissioned to go and tell them, but God made His love public through Christ’s death on the cross. The cross was not an act behind closed doors. Jesus has made an impact on the world like no other “man” before Him. No one can question the validity of the history of Christ. The cross was a worldwide showcase event, and the gospel is to point people to what has historically happened. It is for the proclamation of this gospel that Paul was called by God to be a minister.
24Now 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.
Paul says that he rejoices in his suffering (which is something very difficult for us as Christians to learn) not because of his own sake but for the sake of those in Colossae. Even his own suffering was reason for Paul to rejoice on behalf of others. This is a radical perspective that is not self-centered in any way. The reason that he is able to rejoice for the sake of others in his own suffering is that his suffering means that they will have to suffer less. If he can bear the brunt of the suffering that was lacking in Christ’s suffering, then others who are the body of Christ in Colossae and elsewhere would not have to suffer as much. Evidently, part of the divine plan and mystery includes a set amount of suffering on behalf of Christ and His church. Suffering has a purifying and refining effect, proving our faith and character and giving us endurance. Since God’s plan is sanctification and since His desire is that we grow in intimacy with Christ, He chooses to work through suffering through which spiritual progress and intimate knowledge and fellowship with Christ is possible (see Philippians 3:10). (see also commentary on Colossians 3:4)
25Of 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,
26that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints,
27to 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.
Paul’s ministry is for the church, not for any self-advancement or career mentality. His call is from God for the purpose of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles and making it clear to all the world that the gospel is for all those who would put their faith in Christ. His stewardship as a minister of the gospel is for the benefit of all those who would hear the gospel. The mystery that has been hidden is that God would come and dwell in man, Christ in us, the hope of glory. Specifically, the mystery is that Christ would indwell Jews and Gentiles alike. Not all men have Christ in them just because this mystery has been revealed and proclaimed. They must repent of their sins and receive Christ by faith in order for Christ to indwell them. But what a glorious hope it is that it is not sin which reigns in us but Christ. The God of the universe has chosen to make His home not just with man, but in man (1 Corinthians 6:19). It doesn’t getting anymore humbling than that.
28We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
29For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
Paul’s objective is not to dance around who might be the elect of God and who is not. Only God knows. His mission and life objective is to teach every man the full counsel of God. His goal is to first see to it that the gospel message is proclaimed so that they can be transformed. Upon having Christ in them, it is now possible and desirable to teach them the full counsel of God so that they can become mature in Christ. Paul’s objective is to create mature followers of Christ who can then do the same for others. His goal is not merely to get as many professions of faith as possible, but his life manifested his desire to live among the church to labor with them, serve them, and teach them so that they could become like Christ. Not surprisingly, Paul calls this true discipleship laborious. It is work, it is difficult, and it is tiresome. Yet Paul was not trying to preserve his life so that he could fulfill selfish desires. His desire and calling was to lose his life in service for others and ultimately for God. This is a taxing load, but it is one that makes this life worth living in the first place. Paul could not fulfill his ministry of his own strength. His labor for the Lord was according to the power of Christ who is at work in and through Him. Christ’s power is mighty, while Paul’s fleshly ability is weak. He had a high intellect and was well learned. Clearly, he could write a Ph.D. level treatise. Yet his boast and strength was not in anything in and of himself but in Christ who was in Him. He admitted and recognized his total dependence upon Christ and by faith lived as a needy man who had all his needs filled in Christ.