DEFEATING FALSE PHILOSOPHIES
The Lycus River Valley
Picture credit Wikimedia Commons
Copyright Jim Gerrish © 2013
It may be that Paul sent this Colossian letter to the smallest and least important city in all of his writings. At one time Colossae (Colosse) had been a great commercial center, in an area world famous for its production of wool. But by the first century the city had greatly declined.1 The Scottish Bible scholar and commentator, William Barclay, says “It remains a strange and wonderful fact that Paul wrote the letter which contains the highest reach of his thought to so unimportant a town as Colossae then was.” 2
The reason Paul ventured writing to such a small and insignificant place was because the church there had begun to be entangled in a dangerous heresy. The exact nature of the Colossian Heresy has long been debated by scholars. Clearly, it was some early form of Gnosticism, perhaps with a touch of legalistic Judaism and even with some pagan elements involved. The Gnostics, following Greek ideas, felt that matter was evil and that only the spirit and the spiritual realm was good. They therefore felt the world and all in it, including human flesh, was defiled and unredeemable.
To the Gnostics it was unthinkable that a good God could have made such an evil world. They felt it was rather created by an evil god. It was also unthinkable that the good God could have had anything to do with evil matter and certainly it was not possible for the Son of God to have come to the earth in the flesh. Obviously, such a doctrine would deny the incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. The Gnostics felt that there were several emanations (aeons or angelic beings) between God and evil matter. It was needful for humanity to come to God through these intermediaries.3 To do so would require the special knowledge that was available only through these false teachers.
Paul addressed this heresy from prison and therefore this epistle, as well as Ephesians, Philemon and Philippians, are called the “Prison Epistles.” Traditionally it was thought that Paul wrote these epistles from his time of imprisonment in Rome. However, there is some thought today that he may have been imprisoned for a time in Ephesus, and that this epistle could have been written from there. If Paul wrote from Rome, as popularly assumed, the date of this epistle would have been in the early 60s. 4
This epistle is very similar to the book of Ephesians. It is said that 75 of the 155 verses in Ephesians have a parallel in Colossians. Both books were written by Paul while he was in prison, and both were delivered by Tychicus. Both were written to the same general area of Asia Minor. Both deal with Christology and emphasize that Christ is the head of the church. They both encourage Christian living as well. Colossians actually forms the basic outline of Ephesians. 5
Had there not been a heresy in Colossae this epistle may never have been written. The Texas Baptist professor, Bob Utley, remarks: “Thank God for the heretics at Colossae; because of them Paul wrote this powerful letter.” 6
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father. Colossians 1:1-2
Paul was not writing the Colossians as some well-wisher or even as a Christian teacher or prophet. He was writing them as an apostle (apostolos), as one sent out from God for their benefit. He was not just someone sent from the church in Jerusalem or from any other place, but one sent by Christ himself.
We note that apostles did not travel alone, but Paul had with him a group of fellow-workers. That in itself should be a rebuke to the “Lone Ranger” type Christians today. 1
One of the most faithful fellow-workers or “brothers” in the gospel was young Timothy. We see him present here with Paul. The apostle refers to him only as a “brother” and not as a fellow apostle. The English Baptist scholar Peter Pett remarks here on the “deep sense of being family” that was evident in the early church. Not only was the church a family but they were holy ones (hagioi) or fellow saints (sanctified ones) before God.2
The term “saints” usually strikes us moderns as rather strange, since the word and concept have been so abused and distorted by the church throughout the last two thousand years. Often when we hear the word, we think of stained glass figures with halos around their heads, or we think of derogatory terms like holy-rollers or sourpusses in the church.
The evangelist Ray Stedman says, “Many think of the word holy as a synonym for grim. Holy people, they feel, are sanctimonious, long-faced killjoys…one little girl said on seeing a mule for the first time: ‘I don’t know what you are but you must be a Christian; you look just like grandpa!’” 3
As we have said, the letter of Colossians was addressed to a small and insignificant city. It was a city located 112 miles (180 km.) inland and due east in ancient Phrygia from the great center of Ephesus. In Paul’s Roman times the area was a part of the province of Asia. Colossae was situated very near the two other biblical cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis (4:13). All were located in the rich Lycus (Lykos) River Valley. The church at Colossae no doubt came into being indirectly as a result of Paul’s approximate three-year ministry in the city of Ephesus (Acts 19:1-41:20:13-38).4 However, the apostle plainly states (2:1) that he himself had never been in the city. Paul will mention later that the church at Colossae actually resulted from the work of Epaphras (v. 7).
PAUL’S THANKSGIVING AND PRAYER
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— Colossians 1:3-4
Today it strikes us as amazing that Paul would express such thankfulness and exert such faithfulness in praying for a group of people he had never met. He had only heard of their faith and love but he had never been there to experience it. We see in other letters of Paul how he habitually prayed in earnest for Christians he had never met. For instance, he had never been to the great capital city of Rome and yet he still prayed regularly and sincerely for the Roman believers (Rom. 1:9-10).
In the church today we seldom pray for the people that we sit next to each week at the assembly. No doubt, we also fail to express a deep thankfulness for these nearby saints of God. We need to learn a lesson from Paul, that we should thank God at all times and for all people, especially the dear saints of God whom we know and with whom we associate regularly (Eph. 6:18).
Paul continues with his long sentence saying: “…the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you (1:5-6a).” In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul mentions what might well be called the three pillars of the Christian church. These are faith, hope and love. In the church we hear a significant amount about faith and love, but hope seems to be the orphan of the three. At this writing I am 77 years old and I have been a Christian and in the church most of the time since I was a small boy. Truthfully, I can hardly ever remember hearing a sermon on hope. I have heard a few hopeless sermons and maybe some hopeful ones now and then, but hardly ever a sermon just
This seems really strange since Christian hope is such a wonderful thing. In this day, so few people around us have hope. It seems that our philosophers have drained off almost every drop of it from our society. But in Christianity we have wonderful hope. We immediately think of several aspects of this Christian hope. There is the hope of eternal life that is promised us (Tit. 1:2). There is the hope of a bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42-43). There is the blessed hope of Jesus’ appearing (Tit. 2:13). Then there is the hope of a glorified church (1 Thess. 2:19; Eph. 5:27). Someone once expressed this in a little jingle: “Life without Christ is a hopeless end, but life with Christ is an endless hope.”
We note that the hope Paul speaks of is a hope that is laid up in heaven. There are many things in the Christian life that we can enjoy right now to some degree. The theologians call this “realized eschatology,” or enjoying last things even now while we live on earth. However, there are things still laid up in heaven and for these we hope. For instance, we cannot experience the bodily resurrection now, and neither can we enjoy the full sight and full fellowship with our Savior. The scholar C.F.D. Moule says, “hope is the certainty that, in spite of the world’s ways, God’s way of love has the last word.” 5 There are many other unspeakable and unknowable joys of heaven that we still do not have. So, it is for the things we do not yet have that we hope. If we have them, of course, there is no reason to hope for them.
“All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth” (1:6b). The preacher and commentator Warren Wiersbe says of this: “The Word of God is the only seed that can be planted anywhere in the world and bear fruit.” 6
In the church we need to pay a lot more attention to the matter of bearing fruit. With just a casual observation we can see that fruit bearing seems to be a main obsession of all living things in the world around us. When the Lord returns he will be looking for fruit. To refresh our memories we have an abbreviated list of the Christian’s fruit in Galatians 5:22-23. In this list we see things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and even self-control. It is troubling that so much of this fruit seem to be missing in the church today.
We see in this verse that the gospel is designed to produce such fruit in us. We can rest assured that it is producing great fruit among Christians in other parts of the world today just as it was in Paul’s day. There is nothing like a big red apple hanging on the tree. People don’t want our words or our sermons. They want to see fruit. They long to see love, peace and joy in our lives. They are literally starving for the fruit that should be on our tree.
At the beginning of verse six Paul speaks of the gospel that has come to us. Here in this portion of the verse he speaks of our hearing the gospel. We can all thank God that the gospel has come to us. We must remember that it was through people that the gospel came. I remember in my childhood those two or three evangelists in our area who labored so hard to bring the gospel to us all. I received it and my young life was saved and changed. We all need to pass on that which we have received as the clergyman Henry Burton has said it:
Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on:
Twas not given to thee alone,
Pass it on:
Let it go along the years,
Let it wipe another’s tears,
Til in Heaven the deed appears
Pass it on. 7
THE MINISTRY OF EPAPHRAS
You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. Colossians 1:7-8
This verse makes clear that it was Epaphras who founded the church at Colossae and not Paul (cf. 2:1; 4:12-13). However, the work at Colossae, as we have indicated, no doubt resulted from Paul’s great work in the area and especially at Ephesus. We know that this Epaphras was a fellow worker of Paul and on at least one occasion a fellow-prisoner (Phm. 1:23). The New International Bible Dictionary notes that his name is a shortened form of Epaphroditus, but that he is not to be confused with the person of this name mentioned elsewhere (Phil. 2:25; 4:18). 8 Epaphras had apparently come to visit Paul in prison. After telling Paul of the church’s great love he must have shared the distressing news of the heresy developing in the church.
THE MAKEUP OF PAUL’S GREAT PRAYERS
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Colossians 1:9
We have already spoken somewhat of Paul’s prayers. In this and the next few verses we can see the structure of his prayers and realize how different Paul’s prayers were than our own. Already we have noted how Paul prayed on a continuous basis for the churches, even the ones he had never visited. Here we begin to see what Paul prayed for. He prayed that these new Christians would be filled with knowledge, spiritual wisdom and understanding.
In Ephesians 1:17-23, we see another of Paul’s prayers and we realize that he was essentially praying the same way, that these other new believers would receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation; that the eyes of their hearts could be enlightened; that they might know the hope of their calling and the riches of their inheritance in the saints. It is strange indeed that we no longer pray this way for fellow believers. Perhaps this is part of the reason why our modern and postmodern churches often live in the dark.
The great Princeton professor, Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) once prayed this beautiful prayer:
Grant me the knowledge that I need
To solve the questions of the mind.
Light Thou my candle while I read,
To keep my heart from going blind.
Enlarge my vision to behold
The wonders you have wrought of old. 9
We need to take a closer look at some of the words in Colossians 1:9. Wiersbe notes that the Greek word for “knowledge” (epignosis) is to be translated “full knowledge.” 10 Barclay helps us take a look at two other Greek words in the verse. He remarks on “spiritual wisdom” or sophia in the Greek, saying that this is the knowledge of first principles. Then he deals with “understanding” or sunesis in the Greek, which is described as critical knowledge. 11
Obviously, Paul was beginning to introduce his attack on the heresy at Colossae. The false teachers had made much of Greek words like sophia and sunesis. They promised the people “full knowledge” and a special wisdom. However, here Paul declares that such things are already the heritage of the saints of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:24, Christ is actually called the “wisdom of God.”
“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…” (1:10). We note here that Paul immediately puts feet to his prayer as he launches into the Christian walk. It was the great American evangelist D. L. Moody who once said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” Paul is insistent that we all actually “walk out” our theology in every-day life. In the Hebrew world this is known as “halakhah” and is taken from the Hebrew word for “walk.” As the ancient preacher John Chrysostom put it, “With faith Paul always couples conduct.” 12
At this point R.C. Lucas quotes Lohse who says, “In the instruction of primitive Christianity, understanding of the will of God is always connected with the command to follow God’s will and do it.” 13 Lucas himself goes on to say: “The harvest of wisdom is works. Special knowledge (gnosis) leads usually to conceit, whereas the knowledge of God (epignosis) should lead to love for others rather than for ourselves.” 14
We see here that Paul returns to the important subject of fruit bearing. We cannot overemphasize this subject and yet, it seems so lacking in the present-day church. In the final analysis, fruit is not something just to be seen or admired, but something to be eaten and something to nourish and refresh a starving pagan world. Paul continues: “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (1:11-12).
It would profit us here to also look at some important Greek words. The word “endurance” is hupomone in the Greek. Barclay says of this word, “It means not only the ability to bear things, but the ability, in bearing them, to turn them into glory.” 15 The word speaks of a fortitude that cannot be defeated. It is a steadfast endurance; a keep-on-keeping-on. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said: “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” The word “patience” or makrothumia in the Greek has to do with long-suffering or really “patience with people.” 16
Paul urges us to live a life of thanksgiving because of what Christ has done. He has really done it all. Through him the Father has qualified us to share in this glorious inheritance of the saints. It is nothing we have done but all of what Christ has done. Arno Gaebelein says of this: “There can be no greater acceptance of us in heaven than God gives us now in Christ, for even there we shall stand accepted in him alone.” 17 In other words, “We are in!” “In Christ, we have made it!” But it is all because of him and not in any sense because of us. He is the one who opened our eyes and qualified us.
The great Apostle Paul was saved in a moment and appointed to go to the Gentiles. His mission from Jesus was “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).
RESCUED AND DELIVERED
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14).
In the US, it is now almost a weekly thing to see SWAT teams rescue defenseless little children in schools or other innocents from dangerous and life-threatening situations. These events are usually brought about by the evil acts of heavily armed and dangerous criminals. 18 Here we can imagine ourselves, once blindfolded, in darkness and held captive by the most dangerous predator in the whole universe – Satan or the devil.
Suddenly, in our weakened and helpless state, we are rescued from the dominion of darkness and just as suddenly we are transferred into the kingdom of light. Not only do we receive redemption but we receive the forgiveness of all our sins. The Greek word metestesen or “brought in” as seen here in the NIV is translated conveyed, transferred, and translated, in several other versions of the Bible. Wiersbe says of it: “This word was used to describe the deportation of a population from one country into another. History records the fact that Antiochus the Great [ruled 222–187 BC] transported at least two thousand Jews from Babylonia to Colossae…Earthly rulers transported the defeated people, but Jesus Christ transported the winners.” 19
Paul says we now have the forgiveness of sins. The Greek term used here is aphesis and it had the meaning “to send away.” Utley feels it is an allusion to the great Day of Atonement in which the scapegoat bearing the sins of Israel was sent away into the wilderness. 20 In Ephesians 1:7-8 Paul says: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
THE ABSOLUTE SUPREMACY OF CHRIST
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1:15
In the following verses we have what is likely one of the greatest confessional statements related to Christ and his ministry in all of scripture. It is thought that this section might even include the remnants of an early Christian hymn or and early confession of faith.21
With these words Paul seriously begins to declare war on the heretics at Colossae. In our introduction we spoke briefly about the Colossian Heresy. Now, Paul will deal with it point by point and totally dismantle it.
As we have said, the Gnostics began with the idea that the earth and everything in it was totally evil and the spiritual realm was totally good. Rather than a world created out of nothing by a good God, the Gnostics believed it was created out of evil matter by an evil god. This evil god was really just an emanation from the true God, but he had grown ignorant and evil in his separation. As the Gnostics saw things, Jesus Christ was not unique but just one of many. 22
Paul immediately deals with this false idea. He says that Jesus is the image (eikon) of the invisible God. He further claims that he is the firstborn (prototokon) of all creation. Barclay mentions that eikon is the word often used for “portrait” in the Greek language. He says the nearest equivalent in English would be the word “photograph.” He relates how in ancient times a legal document would often include some description or distinguishing marks of the contracting parties. The word used for such a description was eikon. 23
The Greek word prototokon, or firstborn, really has nothing to do with the sense of time. Rather it is commonly a title of honor. We see this word used in Psalm 89:27 of the Messiah. It is a word that indicates special honor. Paul is making plain that Jesus was not some creation of God or some emanation that was lowly and ignorant of God. Paul is saying that Jesus deserves the highest honor of all creation.24
Albert Barnes, the nineteenth century Presbyterian theologian and commentator mentions how Romans 8:29 states that Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren and how Colossians 1:18 states that he is firstborn from the dead. He says, “The expression does not mean that he was ‘begotten before all creatures,’ as it is often explained, but refers to the simple fact that he sustains the highest rank over the creation.” 25
“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1:16-17). Long ago the church father Ambrose (330-397) said, “If the Son, then, is not begotten within limits of time, we are free to judge that nothing can have existed before the Son, whose being is not confined by time.” 26 We need to pause and try our best to take in this incredible statement about Jesus in these verses. We know that God the Father could have made the world, but the Bible is clear that he delegated this great task to the Son. Jesus made the world and the universe. In John 1:1-3 we read: “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.”
Simply speaking, we can say with all confidence that Jesus made the world and the universe. John tells us how he did it. He spoke them into existence with his powerful word (logos). Now today this might sound quite impossible, maybe it even sounds a little like some fairy tale. However, it might be of interest to know that today some of our sharpest minds in quantum physics are assuring us that the universe is not just a material thing. It is interesting how some of the great physicists have described the universe. James Jeans says it is like a “thought.” Werner Heisenberg describes it as an “idea,” while George Wald says it is like “mind.” Perhaps the most interesting description comes from J.A. Wheeler who claims that the universe is like “information.” 27
It is important that we actually quote from this latter person, the great American theoretical physicist John Wheeler (1911 – 2008). Wheeler, who was professor emeritus at Princeton, collaborated with Einstein and Neils Bohr and was one of the pioneers in the field of nuclear fission. He says, “When I first started studying, I saw the world as composed of particles. Looking more deeply I discovered waves. Now after a lifetime of study, it appears that all existence is the expression of information.” 28
Obviously, Wheeler and these other great scientists are coming quite close to the idea that the universe came about through the word. We see the same thing in the life forms around us. Now we know that they are information- based. This all happens through the mysterious substance the scientists now call DNA. Researcher and writer, Nancy Pearcy notes that, “The structure of DNA is precisely parallel to the structure of languages and computer programs.” 29
When we ponder these things we realize how powerful the word of God must be. If God’s word can create a whole world and universe, just think what God’s word can do for us! Jesus can certainly recreate us in his likeness. He can certainly take care of all our little problems as well. We no doubt remember the story of the Roman centurion who requested that Jesus heal his servant. The centurion said: “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:8). Jesus spoke the word (v. 12) and the servant was immediately healed.
In this majestic verse we have another great mystery revealed to us. Not only did Jesus make the world but he actually sustains it by his powerful word (cf. Heb. 1:3). Just think of that! The sun came up this morning because of the word of God. The tides come in because of the word and our hearts beat because of the word. This information fairly defeats the doctrine of Deism which claims that God made the world but he then left it to run on its own. We can see how clearly Paul’s teaching here utterly demolishes the Gnostics. We should also add that this verse demolishes the extremely popular and pervasive Darwinian and Secular Humanistic worldviews of today.
The Lord Jesus is intimately concerned with every aspect of his world. He doesn’t deal with it long-distance through some imaginary emanations. He helps the rose open its petals. He helps the baby take its first breath. Yet, he is before all things. In him everything holds together. We can say with all certainty that if the word of God should be withdrawn from this universe for a moment it would simply disintegrate.
Paul is not finished. There is another great mystery he wants to make plain: “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” (1:18). Jesus is not only head of the whole creation he is also head of the church. Some have spoken of the present world and universe as the “old” creation and they look at the church as the “new” creation.
The church is totally his. He has formed it and redeemed it by himself. He is the head of this spiritual body. The great fifth century church father Augustine once said: “For the resurrection we Christians know already has come to pass in our head, and in the members it is yet to be…That which has preceded in the head will follow in the body.” 30
We need to just pause and think about how important the head is. The head with its mind directs and orders the church. The head with its eyes watches over every aspect of the church. The head with its ears and nose is super sensitive to all that is going on in the church. The head, with its mouth, receives nourishment and gives instruction for the church. Every nerve, ligament and movement of the body is directed by the mind or
Jesus is the “alpha” or the beginning of everything (Rev. 1:8). Absolutely nothing can come before him. He is supreme and preeminent. He is the firstborn from the dead. In his resurrection he was the first person to come out of the grave with a glorious resurrected body. Others had died and been resurrected, but in time they died again. Jesus rose from the grave, never to die again.
JESUS HAS ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, Colossians 1:19
The Gnostics were very fond of the word “fullness” (pleroma). The word conveys the idea of being fully equipped. It was a word that was often used to describe a ship as it was fully loaded and ready for voyage. Here we see first of all that Christ has received all the fullness of God. Wiersbe sees pleroma as a key word in the book of Colossians. 31 He mentions that in a second sense a form of the word is used in 2:10 where Paul adds: “and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” No doubt, this statement of Paul was another great blow to the tottering Gnostic theology.
Paul continues saying: “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”(1:20). We see here that Christ not only made the world and universe; he not only maintains the cosmos; but he is also its redeemer. The Gnostics had it partly right, that the flesh was defiled, but that defilement was due to the biblical fall and not to their own philosophical schemes. The first three chapters of Genesis tell us how God made the whole creation, including man and woman, and how he declared the whole creation “good.” However, in Genesis 3 we learn about humanity’s disobedience and how they fell from their glorious abode with God. Since that time all humanity has become defiled by the sin virus. It almost seems that sin is actually in the DNA of humankind.
Jesus came to the earth specifically to liberate humanity from its sinful and fallen condition (Jn. 12:27). He did this by giving his life as a sacrifice on the cross in order that his shed blood might redeem all those who would believe. We can be sure that the cross and the blood were offensive to the Gnostic heretics just as they are still offensive to many today. Yet, this is the only pathway to God. He cannot be reached by emanations or by any other intellectual devices that humans may propose. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 sums it up well: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men— the testimony given in its proper time.”
We note in 1:20 that Christ came to redeem the whole creation. It sounds mysterious but Christ came to redeem things in heaven as well as in earth (cf. Job 15:15). We know that heavenly angels are not humans but spiritual beings. Certainly, Paul is not speaking of angelic redemption of some sort. Barclay mentions an idea that was put forth by the church father Theodoret (393-457) and later espoused by the theologian Erasmus (1466-1536). The point is that the heavenly beings were somehow reconciled to man rather than to God. Behind this suggestion is the idea that the angels were angry with humankind because of the latter’s transgression and somehow the work of Christ took away their wrath as they saw God’s great love for humans. 32
Obviously we cannot probe into the mysteries that are still secret things and still belong wholly to God (Deut. 29:29). In Ephesians 6:12 we see that our struggle is not against fleshly things but against evil spiritual authorities who are somehow still in the heavenly places. These will in the end be thrown down through the power of Jesus’ blood (Rev. 12:11). We can say with confidence that there will be new heavens and a new earth when the great redemption plan is finished (2 Pet. 3:13). We can rest assured that God will wholly redeem the creation from lowly humankind to the farthest reaches of space.
We should note here that Paul is not preaching some sort of universal reconciliation, where all people will eventually be saved. This idea has been around for a long time, even since the days of the church father Origen in the third century. It is noted in Acts 3:19-21 that Christ will restore everything spoken of by the prophets and not just “everything.”
THE RECONCILIATION OF CHRIST
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. Colossians 1:21
Paul here describes the horrible results of the fall on the minds of people. Their minds have been corrupted and literally taken over by the devil. He uses an interesting word to describe this alienation of minds. It is the Greek word apellotriomenous, which has the meaning of being “transferred to another owner.” It is a transfer from God to Satan and to self. This transfer of ownership has seriously affected us in our minds, in our thinking and thus in our behavior. 33
This alienation has become particularly clear in the writings of our philosophers, especially since the “so called” Enlightenment or the 17th and 18th centuries. The prolific commentator James Burton Coffman remarks how the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the father of the Romantic Movement, filled our heads with a lot of garbage concerning the “natural man” and the “noble savage,” that supposed uninhibited human animal. He relates how Will and Ariel Durant in their history have said that Rousseau “had more effect upon posterity than any other writer or thinker of the eighteenth century.” 34
Rousseau, by his thought and unethical lifestyle, led us down the path of deception, and was in a real sense the father of the Bohemian and lawless lifestyles we see so much today. Much “Enlightenment” philosophy continued on this path. It resulted in Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) becoming the father of the “God is dead” movement in philosophy and theology. It was Nietzsche himself, and not God who later died, and he died insane. All this culminated in Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) the French philosopher, who also lived a deplorable lifestyle, and who finally declared the universe to be irrational and absurd. 35
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” If the blinders could be taken off the human race for even a moment, the race would stand astounded at the glory of the Creator God. Unfortunately, the way for much of modern man’s confusion and blindness in the mind was aided by the philosophers themselves, who began to elevate man’s intellect and his rationalism. The result was that man’s intellect eventually was proclaimed as “autonomous.”
It was up to René Descartes (1596-1650), who has been dubbed “The Father of Modern Philosophy,” to open the door wide open to man’s intellect and to his reason. He is perhaps best known for his philosophical statement “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). Descartes did much to make the mind autonomous. Charles Pope carries out the implications of Cartesian thinking:
Reality is not “out there” but it is only in my mind. It is what I think that matters…This leads to a lot of the absurdity of modern times…For example,…Cartesian retreat into the mind allows many to continue to think of abortion abstractly… And the mind, detached from reality can do some pretty awful rationalizing. …The same is true for the issue of homosexuality. Any rudimentary look into the biology and design of the body makes it clear that something is disordered with homosexual activity…All that seems to matter is what they think. It is opinion, not reality, that wins the day. 36
“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—” (1:22). We can thank God for the “buts” of scripture. We were in an awful mess “but” God moved to reconcile and redeem us. Praise the Lord! As we can see, this reconciliation could not possibly have come through our fallen and depraved minds or through any of our ideas. It had to come solely from God. The simple gospel truth is that through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and through his blood we have been made holy, without blemish and beyond accusation. Here we think of that blessed old hymn by Robert Lowry (1826-1899):
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
This is all my hope and peace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my righteousness—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus 37
Through Jesus and his blood we have been reconciled and redeemed. Now the Bible tells us that in Christ we have a new mind. It is the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). By God’s grace we have been given a complete mind transplant!
Paul now adds one important thought saying, “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant”(1:23). It has been said in rhyme: “If your faith fizzles before you finish, it is because it was faulty from the first!” 38 Here Paul brings up the important doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (cf. 1 Jn. 2:19; Rev. 3:5). I once heard it said that it is really Christ who perseveres and not us in the real sense. It is Christ in us who is the hope of Glory as Paul will go on to say in verse 27.
The Bible always leaves us with a certain tension in this area and it seems grace works that way. We were chosen in him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), but we must continue to the end to be saved (Matt. 10:22). A lot of this mystery is explained in God’s great foreknowledge. Somehow, he knows those who will finish the race and those are his chosen ones. It is beyond the mind of man to unravel such mysteries.
Paul declares that this gospel has been proclaimed throughout the world. He no doubt has reference to the known world or the Roman world. Paul may have some reference here to the general revelation found in the creation (Rom. 10:18), but most likely in the context it is the proclamation of the saving gospel of Christ. It is amazing how the gospel penetrated the whole of the Roman world in the first few generations of Christians.
PAUL’S GREAT APOSTOLIC WORK
Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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. Colossians 1:24
This is a puzzling statement. At first reading it sounds like there was something incomplete about Christ’s suffering and death. We can be sure that was not the case. Seattle professor of biblical studies, Robert Wall, says that Paul’s emphasis here is not on God’s salvation but on the church and its union with the suffering Christ. 39
The whole subject of suffering has become a very unpopular one for the western church. Some folks today feel that the proper amount of faith prevents suffering entirely. This is obviously an unbiblical approach as we can see in many scriptures (i.e. 2 Cor. 4:10; Phil. 1:12; Gal. 2:20, & 2 Tim. 2:11-12). In 2 Corinthians 1:5 Paul remarks, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”
There is no way we can be connected to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 without bearing some of his suffering and rejection he bore. 40 It is a part of the cross we are instructed to carry. Paul realized he was bearing this cross of suffering and rejection on behalf of the church and that the rest of the church would also have to bear it (Phil. 2:17). This cross of Christ we are to bear has absolutely nothing to do with redemption. That work was completed once for all and forever at Calvary. It rather has to do with identification.
“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—”(1:25). Paul had become “a” suffering servant somewhat like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. He had done so to bring the full word of God or the full gospel to the Colossians. “The word for ‘commission’ is oikonomia, which envisions the effective and orderly work of a household or business; it is the same word from which we derive the word economy. …Paul understands his calling and ministry within the context of a ‘household,’ God’s household (1 Cor. 3:10-15; Rom. 1:11-12; Eph. 2:19-20).” 41
Paul continues saying: “…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 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” (1:26-27). The Gnostics were intent upon sharing some spiritual secrets or deep mysteries with the Colossian saints. Here, Paul gives them a mystery so deep that the 21st century church is still thinking about it and trying to fully understand it.
In Ephesians, which as we have seen is almost a companion epistle to Colossians, Paul shared several other deep mysteries of the faith. He shared how we were chosen before the creation of the world (1:4); how God’s purpose was to bring everything in heaven and earth together in Christ (1:10); how we are even now seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (2:6); how we are no longer foreigners but fellow citizens with God’s people (2:19); and how we Gentiles are now heirs together with Israel and members of one body (3:6).
The so-called mysteries that the Gnostics wished to share were supposedly hidden from most people since they were of an esoteric nature. However the mysteries Paul wished to share were not hidden but were now freely available to all who were in Christ. The Greek word Paul uses is musterion and it has to do with things that were once hidden but are now fully revealed to the church of God. In comparison to the Gnostics’ cheap “dime store” mysteries, this mystery is full of “glorious riches.” Here is the mystery, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And to think, this great mystery is even given to the Gentiles!
In this one mystery, the secret to everything that pertains to the Christian life is included. The Christian life is not through us, our wisdom or strength, but it is through Christ and in Christ. As the Apostle himself once said: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Paul says: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me”(1:28-29). Here we see that the proclamation of the gospel includes admonishing and teaching. In Modern and Postmodern times we have let these two things slide. If we are going to be a so-called “seeker friendly” church we don’t dare to admonish anyone and neither can we afford to do any real serious teaching from the Bible.
Paul’s goal was to present people perfect in Christ. The word “perfect” throws us off a bit because we all know that none of us is perfect. However, the Greek word here is telos, and it has the meaning of being “fully equipped for an assigned task.” It does not mean “sinless” but is rather involved with functional maturity. 42
To this end Paul has been in labor and struggles that have required all his energy. The word for “labor” here is the Greek kopio, and it means that one is toiling almost to the point of exhaustion. The word for “striving” is agonizomai, and it means agonizing or putting out great effort as in an athletic contest. 43
It is of interest that a form of the latter word was the same one used of Jesus as he prayed In the Garden of Gethsemane and as his sweat was likened to great drops of blood.
I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. Colossians 2:1
In this chapter, Paul continues describing the struggle he has just told us about in 1:29. Paul once again reveals his great heart of love for the Christians and churches. The Greek word used here is agnon from which we get our word “agony.” 1 Paul agonized in prayer just as a great athlete would agonize as he stretched his body to gain victory in the
Here Paul alludes to the nearby church at Laodicea. We no doubt remember that this church was later rebuked in Revelation 3:16 as a church that had become “lukewarm.” Several commentators try to affirm that Paul had surely visited Colossae and perhaps Laodicea as well. However, when we look at his simple statement here it seems to indicate that he had never visited in this particular area. As we saw earlier in the case of Rome, Paul certainly wrote to and prayed for churches he had never visited.
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (2:2-3). Paul’s purpose was to build up the churches (2 Cor. 10:8) and not to tear them down as these false teachers were intent upon doing. He wanted to see them encouraged and unified in love. The word for “encouraged” or “comforted” used here is the Greek parakalein. Barclay says of this: “Sometimes that word means to comfort, sometimes to exhort, but always at the back of it there is the idea of enabling a person to meet some difficult situation with confidence and with gallantry.” 2
The expression “united in love” (sumbibazo) is translated in several versions of the Bible as “knitted” or “knitted together” (cf. ASV, NAS, NKJ, RSV). Paul was doing his best to knit the churches together but he must have been greatly frustrated that there were lots of “knit pickers” doing their evil work on unraveling the body just as they still are doing today. Paul continues on to speak of the full riches of complete understanding. With this statement he begins once more to level his attack against the false teachers who had promised the Colossians a mysterious “full knowledge.”
Paul also speaks of the full knowledge as mysterious, but as we have said before, the word he uses (musterion) has to do with something that was once hidden but is now revealed to all who will take the time to understand it. This mystery is totally revealed in Jesus and in him only. Paul makes plain that every believer has access to the full knowledge (epignosin) of this mystery. It is not for a certain chosen few as the gnostic teachers
The apostle wants to make plain that the essence of this wisdom and full knowledge is hidden in Jesus. Even in the Old Testament, the Son of God is referred to as the wisdom of God (Prov. 3:19; Prov. 8:22-30; Psa. 104:24). In 2 Corinthians 4:6 it is written: “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 the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge as Paul has said. There is something about the idea of treasure that greatly interests us humans. It seems that even if something is partly hidden it causes us to pursue it all the more.
There is a real sense in which all other knowledge is subservient to the knowledge of Christ. If his knowledge is missing, all other knowledge only leads to foolishness, as the scripture assures us (1 Cor. 3:19). The songwriter Edwin Hodder spoke of the treasures of Christ and of his word in 1863 saying:
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine;
and jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths
for every searcher there.
The Venerable Bede (c. 672-735) in speaking of the disciple John has said: “For because in Jesus’ breast ‘are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,’ it was fitting that the one who leaned upon his breast was the one to whom he had granted a larger gift of unique wisdom and knowledge than to the rest.” 3 John was given a special measure of this knowledge and was later even able to write the Book of Revelation.
We may wonder why the great treasures of Christ are not so readily known in our society today. The reformer Calvin enlightens us saying: “that the treasures are hidden, because they are not seen glittering with great splendor, but do rather, as it were, lie hid under the contemptible abasement and simplicity of the cross.” 4
I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. Colossians 2:4
It seems that the Colossians were being deceived by great high-sounding speeches and with fancy words. John Dummelow calls them “plausible persuasions.” 5 Perhaps we should look at the Greek words used here. The word paralogizetai means to deceive another by sopohistry or subtle reasoning. The second word, pithanologia means to deceive another by enticing words and by plausible conclusions and deductions from reasoning. 6 We all have a tendency to be carried away by high-sounding arguments, especially if they come from one who is highly educated and has several degrees behind
Paul experienced some of that when he visited Athens and heard the wisdom of his age. Later he said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Indeed, Calvin once said, “it is not lawful for a Christian man to know anything except Christ.” 7
“For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (2:5). On another occasion in 1 Corinthians 5:3-4, Paul speaks like this of himself, as being somehow present in a church meeting in Corinth, while he was living in Ephesus. Somehow through the Holy Spirit Paul was able to pay them a visit or else perceive them through the Spirit.
Here he uses two terms that were unusual. Many scholars see them as military terms. Perhaps that is not so unusual since Paul spent a good deal of time with Roman soldiers. He was actually chained to them in his cell. The first word here is taxis, which has the meaning of being in rank or ordered. The other word is steroma, which means being a solid bulwark or an immovable phalanx against the enemy. 8
CONTINUING IN THE LORD’S FREEDOM
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,
This is good and practical advice for us all. Although we received Christ in faith, in simplicity and in great humility, as time goes on we tend to get our Christianity all complicated. It can even become a heavy burden for us. The Scottish divine Robert Jamieson looks at Paul’s statement here as the main scope of the whole epistle. 9 The continuing on or “walking” in the faith is so well expressed in 1 John 2:6, where the aged disciple says, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (cf. Isa. 30:21).
Paul continues, saying we should be “rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (2:7). In many ways today our society is becoming a rootless one. Not only are we uprooted from our native homes and lands on many occasions but we are uprooted from the deep teachings of our faith. We only have to go into a Christian bookstore to realize this. So many books today are “how to” books, like how to be happy, how to do or quit doing this or that. Such books are sometimes referred to as “Christian Fluff.” When we look at the section for serious Bible study we will realize that it is often very small and sometimes even difficult to locate.
When we examine a tree we realize that there is a good portion of it down deep in the ground. Likewise should Christians be deeply rooted (cf. Eph. 3:17) in the strong teachings of our faith. Not only should we be strengthened in our faith but we should be full of thankfulness. In fact, thankfulness is almost like a thermometer that indicates how our religion is getting along. When thankfulness sags we can know that trouble is on the way for us. Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
My wife and I find that as the years go by we feel more and more thankful. We are thankful for long life and for 56 years of blissfully happy marriage. We are thankful that we can see our children’s children and that our children and grandchildren love and respect us. We are thankful for good health – that we can still walk and drive in our mid and late 70s. We are thankful for a place to live, a bed to sleep in and good food to eat. We are just thankful!
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8
The word “philosophy” has the meaning of “loving wisdom.” It is interesting that Paul would bring up the subject of philosophy here. History tells us that philosophy had its beginning not too many miles from Colossae at the city of Miletus. Here the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales (c. 634- c. 546 BC) was said to have been its originator.
Some think Paul is opposed to philosophy but that is certainly not the case. What he is opposed to is pseudo-philosophy. Just as it is with most fields of study, there are always good things and bad things involved. For instance, the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke (1632 –1704) proposed numerous good ideas on how a government should operate. Many of his views were incorporated into the US Declaration of Independence, things like inalienable rights, the pursuit of happiness, government with the consent of the governed, and right to property ownership. So we can’t say that all philosophy is bad.
However, some philosophy is certainly bad. We have spoken a little about this previously. It seems that our modern and postmodern worlds have been immersed and almost drowned in dangerous pseudo-philosophy. This trend began as Enlightenment philosophers searched for some basis of existence apart from the God of the Bible. They initially began with the ideas of rationalism, or that man could solve all the problems of existence through his thought processes. This really was an old idea that could be traced back to the Greek philosopher Protagoras (c. 490 BC– 420 BC). He was the person who came up with the famous dictum, “Man is the measure of all things.” Obviously, with such an idea there was really no room for God.
As philosophical thinking ran its course, it went from Rationalism to Empiricism, to Idealism, to Existentialism. In the present postmodern times it seems that many philosophers have fallen below the “line of despair” as the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer has termed it. 10 Several philosophers have simply given up on finding any meaning in life. This trend is particularly evident in people like Neitzsche, Sartre, Camus, and finally Michael Foucault, who seemed to think suicide was a great idea. He didn’t kill himself but he eventually died with AIDS at a fairly young age. Perhaps Cicero (106 – 43 BC) summed it up well when he said, “There is nothing so absurd that some philosopher has not already said it.”
There is something about philosophy and its high-sounding wisdom that greatly appeals to the fallen flesh. It is just another way to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge in Genesis 3. Paul says that it depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world. The Greek expression stoicheia tou kosmou (basic principles of the world) is dealt with in several places in scripture. Paul deals with it at some length in Galatians 4:3 & 9. The primary meaning of stoicheia is to line things up or set them out in a row. They are like the elementary principles or the ABCs of the world.11 We can understand that these basic principles are still trying to “line up” people in order that they might think and act according to the present evil world system.
Paul’s warning against false philosophy is stern. He cautions the Christians of Colossae not to be carried away captive by it. The word used is sulagogein and it has the idea of being kidnapped by a slave raider and carried away, body and soul. 12
CHRIST IS THE FULLNESS OF GOD
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, Colossians 2:9
With this statement Paul essentially demolishes the whole foundation of the gnostic argument. If the true God was, and is, fully resident in Christ, then Gnosticism in its entirety goes up in flames. Calvin sums it up saying: “Further, when he says that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, he means simply, that God is wholly found in him, so that he who is not contented with Christ alone, desires something better and more excellent than God.” 13 We Christians know that if anyone has the Son, he has God
(1 Jn. 2:23).
What does this glorious fact mean for humankind? Paul sums that up saying: “and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (2:10). Paul is making much of that favorite Gnostic word “fullness” (pleroma). He says certainly and emphatically that what the Gnostics are promising, the true believers in Christ already possess. Just as Christ is filled with God, believers are filled with Christ who is God. Several translations (NAS, NKJ, NLT) use the expression “you are complete in him.” What can be added to completion? What can be added to the gospel?
This verse alone should cause us to be very careful in judging other believers. We cannot look down at fellow saints and judge them as being incomplete in any way. Many of the denominational differences and church splits of modern times have come about because one person or one group of saints would not accept another person or group as being in Christ. While the recent Charismatic Movement gave many blessings to the church, one big problem it caused was division on a massive scale. This was brought about precisely because some Christians judged others as being lacking or incomplete in their spiritual experience. This disputes the clear word of God here and elsewhere (cf. Eph. 1:3;
We can give thanks and praise to the Lord who has given us this wonderful fullness and completeness in Christ. It is in him alone, not in angels, powers, or the world’s wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:30-31, Paul says: “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”
James Nisbet in his Pulpit Commentary quotes Vaughan who says: “If you could have asked a true believer, in Christ’s day, ‘What is your creed?’ he would have pointed to his Master; he would not have repeated certain articles of faith, but he would have said, ‘I believe that glorious Man; my trust is in him; I believe him’…If you want theology, he is the true Theologos, the essential Word of God.” 14
“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, (2:11). From this passage we can understand why scholars feel that the heresy at Colossae had an element of legalistic Judaism involved with it. We know from history that there were many Jews in the area, so it is not strange that circumcision would be mentioned here.
Circumcision, the simple operation on the male sex organ, was required for all males who would be born in or else be converted into Judaism. All those who refused circumcision were cut off from the Jewish faith. Still, it was apparent even in the Old Testament that circumcision had deeper spiritual meanings for Israel. It had to do with lips or speech (Exo. 6:12). It had to do with ears, or with hearing (Jer. 6:10). It certainly had to do with the heart (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 30:6). Fleshly ideas and works had to go. Certainly the predominant idea in the act was that people should no longer reproduce after the flesh but after the spirit. Circumcision was thus a “sign” of a more complete spiritual operation to come (Rom. 4:11).
Paul says we Christians have now received that newer and fuller circumcision. It was not done in the flesh by the Jewish leader but in the spirit by Christ. It is not just a part of man that is circumcised but the whole man. David Guzik, the popular web commentator, in quoting Vaughn says: “Our spiritual circumcision meant the putting off of the old man. The Greek word for putting off, a double compound, denotes both stripping off and casting away. The imagery is that of discarding – or being divested of – a piece of filthy
Paul continues: “having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12). Some early Christian writers like Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Ambrose made a close connection between circumcision and baptism. 16
Actually the early church placed a lot of emphasis on baptism. Early baptism was by adult immersion and this act signified burying the old man in the water and raising up the new man or new person. Our burial and resurrection with Christ through baptism is pictured plainly for us in Romans 6:3-5. Verse 4 reads: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” We can easily see how circumcision, baptism, and even crucifixion all had to do with putting off the flesh.
ALIVE WITH CHRIST AND FORGIVEN
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, Colossians 2:13
The Colossians were once dead in their sin and spiritual uncircumcision but now they were alive with Christ’s circumcision and with his resurrection. They were also forgiven by him. Lucas says here : “Paul is countering any suggestion that God can do for people anything greater than he has already done for them in Christ.” 17 Certainly, the Gnostics had no secret power that could accomplish such things.
Paul says the great work of Christ has more benefits for us: “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross”(2:14). The written code seems to be a reference to the Law of God, especially the Ten Commandments that were written with the hand of God. While the Law itself was good, and even perfect (Psa. 19:7), it was nevertheless impossible for us to keep it. The Law had a built in curse for all those who would fail to keep it perfectly. It is said in Galatians 3:10, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’”
There is possibly another meaning to the “written code.” The early preacher John Chrysostom sees it also as a “certificate of our ancestral indebtedness which Adam wrote and signed. Adam contracted the debt; by our subsequent sins we increased the amount owed…Christ took all these away and pardoned them…he has taken it completely away, nailing it to the cross.” 18
Perhaps there are several shades of meaning here. The Greek word for “cancelled” is exaleiphein and has the meaning of “wiping out.” Barclay mentions how documents were written in ancient times on papyrus and on vellum. Since both of these materials were expensive, the writing was often wiped out and the materials were used again. In ancient times ink did not have acid in it as it does today. Therefore it did not bite into the material and was easily removed.19 In such a way Christ has literally wiped our evil and guilty
Barnes also mentions how it was a custom in Asia to drive a nail through a cancelled bond and affix it to a post.20 The laws and codes that were against us were nailed to the cross as Paul tells us. They were thus cancelled and finished. I have in my desk an old passport that I used many times to travel from country to country. Now it is cancelled and I have a new one. It is interesting that the US government has punched a hole in the old one showing that it is cancelled.
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (2:15). We likely have a picture here of a triumphant Roman general returning from war and marching through the streets of Rome with his captives in tow. This was Rome’s way of insuring that the victories were genuine.21
Christ did a very similar thing when he arose from the dead. No doubt with his crucifixion the devil and his angels were certain that victory was in their grasp. It didn’t turn out that way. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul writes, “This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’” When Jesus arose from the grave he led the devil and all of hades captive (cf. Isa. 53:12; Jn. 12:31; Heb. 2:14-15).
BE DONE WITH THE OLD TYPES AND SHADOWS
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. Colossians 2:16
There is good reason to believe that the Gnostics were trying to introduce a lot of Jewish teachings like circumcision, food laws, festivals and Sabbaths. These things continue to have a lot of attraction for people and it is still very easy to get in bondage to them.
We can understand why Gnostics would have problems with food and drink. We remember that they considered all matter to be essentially evil. That included the body itself. Of course it would have included food and all other matters that pertained to the body and its needs. Fleshly things had to be starved and beaten down in their minds and thus it resulted in a rigid form of asceticism. 22
Both Judaism and Christianity considered the world as good as well as everything in it. The body was considered good and made in God’s image. Food and drink were a blessing and were to be enjoyed with thanksgiving. While there were certain food laws in Judaism, Jesus made it very clear that food no longer had spiritual values (Mk. 7:14-23). The same was true with festivals, new moons and Sabbath celebrations. Such things were types and shadows of reality as the writer will point out. F.F. Bruce says, “It would be preposterous indeed for those who had reaped the benefit of Christ’s victory to put themselves voluntarily under the control of the powers which he had conquered.” 23
Therefore, the Christian must not let himself or herself be judged with such things. The Christian has the freedom to eat or not to eat; to drink or not to drink; to observe a Sabbath or not to observe it. Paul says in Romans 14:17-18 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” We are free in all things but we must always take care not to make others stumble (Rom. 14:20).
“These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (2:17). Paul used the Greek word skia here for “shadow.” This expresses something that is imperfect and unsubstantial. He contrasts that to “reality” or body (soma) which is the opposite, being something solid, substantial and firm. 24 A shadow does not tell us much but a body tells us a lot. In Hebrews 8:5 and 10:1, we see that the Tabernacle and the Law were shadows of what was to come. Who would want to hold on the shadow instead of the reality? Of course, the reality is Christ.
Lucas says in regret, “Why has it come about so often in the church’s story, that people have led their fellow Christians back to ‘shadow-land’ in order to try to find a spiritual reality they have missed in Christ?” 25 It is interesting that the light of a candle will actually cast a shadow in the light of the noonday sun. So it is with Christ in comparison to the old practices of Judaism.
DON’T BE DISQUALIFIED!
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. Colossians 2:18
It is so easy for a Christian to get tripped up in his race. Paul mentions “false humility” and the “worship of angels” as a couple of stumbling blocks to spirituality. Coffman describes false humility in this way: “It is therefore that lowliness that causes a man to think himself unworthy to come into fellowship with God, and therefore prompts the worship of angels. Such humility was perverted.” 26
Apparently there was a rather serious problem of angel worship in the early church and the problem persisted for a long time in the very areas of Phrygia and Pisidia. Jamieson relates how oratories were even made to Michael the Archangel. He mentions how the Council of Laodicea (AD 360) was finally called to deal with the problem. The council framed its thirty-fifth canon against these so-called “Angelici.” 27
Once again in our day there is considerable emphasis upon angels. Many books are written about them and several recent TV programs and series have focused on them. Paul assures us that such an emphasis will get us into trouble with living out our Christian faith. The real problem with such worship and with angelic visions is that these things are totally subjective. There is no possibility of verifying such sightings. The result is that people become puffed up with their visions. These visions have become more and more spectacular and even outrageous in time.
Paul says such things disqualify us for the prize. They send us down a wrong path and we miss the goal. In Galatians 5:7 he says of his recipients: “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” In the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Dutch speed skating star Sven Kramer was the hot favorite to win the 10,000-meter speed skating title. He had already won gold in his earlier 5,000-meter victory, and he had completed the grueling circuit in what would have been an Olympic record time. Suddenly his coach called for him to switch to the inner lane. In a split-second decision Kramer made the lane change and was promptly disqualified from the race. Kramer said in tears “My world collapsed… This is a disaster. This is the worst moment in my career!” Later Sports Illustrated headlined the event: “Coach’s gaffe costs Kramer gold.” 28
It is interesting that Paul himself had seen several glorious visions. On one occasion he was even caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). But it is also interesting that Paul would not speak of the things he saw there.29
“He has 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” (2:19). Scripture is clear that Christians make up the body of Christ and that Christ himself is the Head of this spiritual body (Eph. 4:15-16). We have already spoken about how important the Head is to the body. The body functions and grows through the Head. If the body is somehow separated from the head, it is not much better than a chicken flopping around with its head chopped off.
Paul describes how the body is connected to the head through many supporting ligaments and sinews. Some years ago Dr. Paul Brand became famous for his work with the disease of leprosy. In his later book he has some interesting things to say about the body. He says, “God requires only one thing of his cells: that each person be loyal to the Head.” He says that “Each cell is flooded with communication about the rest of the body… The body’s cells have a nearly infallible sense of belonging.” He notes how DNA “gives each cell a coded imprint and how we believers in a real sense become genetically like Christ.” He explains how the body experiences a “stuff-exchange” and how the actual substance of God flows through believers just as in a physical body. 30
Nisbet quotes pastor Hubert Brooke who sums it up well:
All the physical life of a man lies in the head. From the head run little cords, almost innumerable and of exquisite fineness, to every spot in the body, and from every spot in the body little cords again run back to the head. The little cords running up to the head carry intelligence to the head of everything which causes pain or pleasure in that spot from which they come, and the little cords running from the head to the body carry instruction, will, and motion to the affected spot; but all meet in the head. All the guidance and the supply come from the head, and so the whole life centers there. The head is the life. Separate any part from the head, and immediately it dies. Such is union with Christ. As the body lives in the head, we live in him: we in him, and he in us. 31
RULES, RULES, RULES!
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!?” Colossians 2:20-21
As Christians, we have died with Christ. We have all been crucified with him (Rom. 6:6). So, how can we go on living with the principles and dogmas (dogmatesthe) of this world? As we have mentioned, there is something about the flesh that delights in trying to keep commandments and rules. We delight in these things because they make the flesh feel proud in its accomplishments. However, the simple gospel truth is that all these things are worthless so far as true righteousness is concerned.
The Law, with all its requirements and restrictions, was given in the first place to positively prove to humans that they could not keep its demands and that they needed a Savior (Rom. 7:24-25). Commands and rules puff people up. Bruce says, “In fact, the most rigorous asceticism can coexist with insufferable spiritual pride, one of the subtlest and most intractable of the ‘works of the flesh.’” 32
Throughout his ministry Jesus was dogged by the religious leaders of Israel. They often insisted that he pay heed to their almost unending rabbinical laws and customs. Jesus refused to accommodate them. He spoke reproachfully of them in Matthew 15:9, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
God is not impressed with what we eat or do not eat. Food and drink do not bring us closer to him (1 Cor. 8:8). He is not impressed when we keep feasts and special days, or when we deprive our bodies to gain his attention. As Novatian (c. 200–258), the scholar, priest and theologian put it, “God delights only in our faith, our innocence, our truthfulness, those virtues of ours which dwell in the soul, not the stomach.” 33
So far as gaining God’s approval is concerned we Christians already have that. The Bible says of us in Ephesians 1:6, “… He has made us accepted in the Beloved.” (NKJ) Because of the cross and the shed blood of Jesus we can boldly say that the Lord is our righteousness (cf. Jer. 23:6).
“These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings” (2:22). It is truly amazing how people often praise and guard human commands more than the commands of God. It all goes back to our pride, no doubt.
“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” (2:23). Gaebelein sums it up well saying:
Asceticism is utterly powerless to effect the object aimed at: it does not, it cannot sanctify the flesh. It has a show of wisdom. It is extravagant in its pretensions and loud in its promises. But it never fulfills them…Asceticism has often proved to be a hotbed of vice. Some of the vilest men have been found among those who advocated the strictest austerities. …Marriage was degraded, celibacy glorified, the family disparaged, domestic life despised. And some of these foes of truth have been canonized! …So long as the heart is corrupt, no bodily restraints will make the life holy. 34
In human history people have gone to great lengths in depriving themselves, in painful rites, in abusing and starving the flesh, in abstinence, and in penance of all types trying to impress God and gain his approval. It was all in vain. In fact, it is often the case that, “…What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Lk.16:15).
With this we don’t want to speak disparagingly about Christian disciplines like prayer and fasting. These are disciplines that come after the cross of Christ and they certainly are not designed to gain salvation or even the favor of God. We see in the New Testament that there were instances of believers fasting for certain things (Acts 13:2; 14:23). The Lord may call on us to give up particular items at times in our lives but we must emphasize that these acts are not for the sake of gaining righteous. That is already given to us in Christ.
In this passage Paul speaks of “self-imposed worship” or what is called “will worship” in other translations. This is a worship of a type other than what God has decreed. We immediately think of the priests Nadab and Abihu as they offered strange incense to God in Leviticus 10:1-3. In that case the fire of God came out and destroyed the two. We must not go beyond what is revealed and what God requires.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Colossians 3:1-2
The problem with many Christians today is that we are often seeing things from the wrong perspective. In Ephesians 2:6 Paul says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” This is something God has already done. It is almost unthinkable, but we are now seated with Christ in the heavens, that is, if we can believe it. Now, we all need to start seeing things from the heavenly perspective, and here the apostle challenges us to do just that.
This might be a good place for each of us to stop and determine how much of our time each day we are focused on spiritual and heavenly things. Is it 50 percent of the day; 25 percent of the day; or is it more like 2 percent of the day? We will each one need to determine this, and our answer should indicate where we are spiritually speaking. In Philippians 3:19, Paul describes a group of people who have their mind set only on earthly things. Their picture is not pretty. Also, in our world today there are a lot of mystical-type folks who are looking inwardly for all the answers about life. Here we are challenged not to look inward but to look upward. 1
There are several places in scripture where we receive this same exhortation to look upward. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we focus on the spiritual and the heavenly, God promises to take care of the natural and the earthly. It is just that simple.
The scripture is clear that all the things we see, and so earnestly concern ourselves with, will perish. In 2 Corinthians 4:18 Paul says: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” It seems almost unbelievable, but for most of our lives we are dealing with things that will pass away and be no more. What a waste of our time, energy and money!
We remember how Saul was intently looking for donkeys when he should have been looking for God’s kingdom, which was at hand (1 Sam. 10:2). Trapp says, “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? (Prov. 23:5)… Wilt thou rejoice in a thing of nought? (Amos 6:13)…. Most people are nailed to the earth, as Sisera was by Jael.” 2
“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”(3:3-4). Calvin says here: “No one can rise again with Christ, if he has not first died with him…being buried under the ignominy of the cross, and under various distresses, differs nothing from death, but may patiently wait for the day of revelation.” 3 Strangely, the scripture looks at us as being dead with Christ—even crucified and buried with him.
All through the New Testament, Christians are pictured as being with Christ. We were crucified with him (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6); we were buried with him (Rom. 6:4-5); we arose with him (Rom. 6:4-5); and we are now seated with him in the heavenly places as Ephesians 2:6 assures us. In the above verses we see that when he appears we will appear with him in glory (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16-17). In the meantime, our Christian lives remain hidden with God.
Our death and burial with Christ is so clearly pictured in the sacrament of baptism. In Romans 6:4 the scripture tells us, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” As we have mentioned, early Christian baptism was by immersion and it was an adult or “believer baptism.” To go beneath the water was to be buried with Christ symbolically and to come up from the water was to be raised
The twenty centuries of Christian history have brought about many varied understandings and practices regarding the rite of baptism. It is good for us to try and get back to the first century source of this doctrine. In Colorado, where we reside, we have the long and meandering Arkansas River. When this very long river empties into the Mississippi in far-away Arkansas, it is dingy and often muddy. It is not exactly a pretty river. However, at its point of origin here in the high Rocky Mountains of Colorado, it is sparkling clear and beautiful. One would not hesitate to stoop and take a cold, refreshing drink from this stream at its source. Christian doctrine is a lot like that. We are two thousand years downstream and things often look a little dingy. We need to get back to the clear and beautiful source of Christianity that is clearly pictured in the Bible.
Now Paul tells us we should keep our mind in the heavenlies. Does this mean that the wife cannot ask the husband to take out the garbage or do other menial chores? Does it mean the husband can quit work and only study the Bible? Such a thing would be far removed from what Paul is teaching us here. Dr. D. L. Moody used to say that some people were “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” God wants us to be faithful in our earthly assignments but still keep our minds in the heavens. Actually, this in the end will make us better workers, better husbands and wives, and better citizens.
“Paul wrote ‘for me to live is Christ’ (Phil. 1:21)…Sometimes we say, ‘Music is his life’ or ‘Sports are his life’ or ‘He lives for his work.’ Of the Christian it should be said, ‘Jesus Christ is his life.’…The Colossians, insignificant ex-pagans from a third-rate country town, will be seen in a glory which, if it were now to appear, one might be tempted to worship.” 4
THE CHRISTIAN WALK
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5
The apostle now begins his ethical section of the epistle. Like other epistles, such as Ephesians, Paul gives us his towering theology, but he immediately applies that theology to everyday life. He is saying here that there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy.
The New Testament was written by Jewish people and the concept of “walking” was a very important concept to them. We see this actual expression used in the corresponding section of Ephesians 4:1 ff. In the Hebrew language the word for “walk” is “ha-lak.” One can almost hear the sandal striking the pavement. Since Hebrew is a very poetic and expressive language, the word for walk has come to symbolize a person’s manner of life. It expresses what the person does and how that person lives. In Judaism, the body of commandments and traditions governing the religion has come to be known as the ha-lak-hah. Thus, a person who lives according to halakhah today must be careful to observe all these laws and traditions.
Well, it might surprise us to learn that there is also a Christian halakhah. We see this in 1 John 2:6 where we read: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (NKJ). We also see it here in this verse. The New Testament simply has no patience with teaching that is not directly applied to one’s life.
Perhaps we should make plain that Paul is not giving us a new list of commandments—a bunch of do’s and don’ts. Wall says here, “his point is not to prescribe a code of conduct which must be obeyed if one is to be fully Christian. This would oppose Paul’s core ethical conviction: that the Spirit of the Risen Christ has replaced ‘written codes’ in the new dispensation of God’s salvation (Rom. chs. 7-8; 2 Cor. ch. 3).” 5 The essence of the Christian life is not codes but Christ. Because of who he is, and what he has done for us, we should be anxious to honor him in our earthly walk.
Because of Christ we have a command to put to death all these earthly temptations and allurements. This brings up a problem. We know from scripture that our earthly nature was supposedly put to death with the work of Christ on the cross. Paul has just said so in verse 3. So, if we are dead already how can he command us to put ourselves to death? Also, if we are dead why is it that the “old man” in us still seems so much alive?
To understand this we probably need to see this as a part of the “already” and “not yet” tension we observe so much in the New Testament. Because of what Christ has done we are already dead. We died with Christ on the cross. The crucial battle of the ages was fought and won by Christ. The final outcome regarding our old nature was sealed and guaranteed at that moment. 6 From that time until the present the “old nature” within us remains under the sentence of death. Although we are now new creations in Christ, the condemned old man still tries to hang around. We are “not yet” totally free of him. In another place Paul pictures it as a body of death that is still somehow bound to us and we still carry around the decaying corpse (Rom. 7:24).
It is in this sense that we are to finish off the old man and make sure he is buried. Perhaps some of the other translations will make this clearer. The NASB says: “consider the members of your earthly body as dead.” The NKJV has it, “put to death your members which are on the earth.” The NRSV translates it: “put to death whatever in you is earthly.” The Greek here is the Aorist active imperative and it denotes something that is urgent. 7 “In the Greek, this phrase literally reads ‘the limbs that are upon the earth’ (ta mele ta epi tes ges) and probably refers to people’s body parts or ‘limbs’ (compare Rom. 6:13, 19).” 8 Wall says here that there is no thought of celibacy or actually removing body parts. Obviously, it is rather a spiritual matter and the completion of a spiritual operation.
In this verse Paul begins to give us some things that we need to put to death, things like “sexual immorality, impurity….” Paul is certainly speaking to our age, for sexual immorality is running rampant in our midst. There is a reason why sexual sins seem worse than others. They are worse. They mess with the coming generations. They compromise what might be the most holy and glorious task assigned to us; it is the first commandment of God, to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). It is a task where we can become co-creators with God and bring forth godly marriages and godly children. How tragic when this great task is cheapened and defiled for the sake of momentary and illicit “pleasure.”
There is a common lie mouthed around in these days that whatever a person does is his own business. The truth is that whatever we do in the moral realm is often everybody’s business. It affects all those around us, even the generations that are to come. We remember how David’s sexual sin directly affected many people and ultimately the
Lewis Smedes, a professor at Fuller Seminary, has put it this way: Some rules are absolute. They roll like moral thunder through the ages, down the hills of every civilization and into the valleys of every culture. They hold all peoples everywhere to account, all classes, all creeds, rich or poor, ancient or modern. They come with an imperious claim to respect, everywhere, under all circumstances, in every nook and cranny of every individual’s private or public existence… Many people, old and young alike, often say, “What I do in private is nobody else’s business.” We hear that on many sides today, even in connection with the discipline of the church: “It is not your business what we do.” But it is, because when individuals indulge themselves in this way God takes away the restraints upon evil and all of society is widely affected. 9
Along with sexual immorality Paul mentions impurity and lust. How these things are running wild among the youth and on the college campuses today. It seems that dating has almost become passé in our society. Now young people talk of “hooking up.” Wikipedia defines a hookup as “a sexual encounter between friends or acquaintances that might consist of manual stimulation, oral sex, or sexual intercourse. About one-third of hookups involve sexual intercourse.” 10 Along with hookups there are also “friends with benefits.” In this sexual arrangement some degree of emotional attachment may be displayed but couples still desire essentially to have “no strings attached.” 11
Next Paul mentions “ lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Lust is “pathos” in the Greek and is often translated as lustful passion or “vile affections.” Lust and evil desires (epithumia kaken) are closely related. Obviously we can lust and have evil desires in a sexual sense or that evil desire can be directed toward things. Greed or covetousness (pleonexia) is called “one of the ugliest sins” and is described as a “desire to have more” 12 Kretzmann says of it, “monsters of covetousness have usually been also monsters
of lust.” 13
THE COMING WRATH
Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:6
In the Book of Romans Paul clearly pictures God’s attitude toward man’s sin and rebellion. He says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). He states that humanity has had a clear enough revelation of truth in the created order that people are without excuse.
It is a constant theme of the prophets and of the New Testament that God is coming to judge the wickedness of humanity. This great time of judgment is often called the Day of the Lord. We see it in the New Testament as “the Day of the Lord,” “the Day of Christ,” “the Day,” and “that Day. It is a day of disaster and destruction upon the ungodly (Isa. 13:6). We see this also pictured in Revelation 6:17: “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Not only is there a day of judgment coming, but sin brings God’s judgment even as we live out our lives in this world. Proverbs 13:15 tells us “…the way of the unfaithful is hard.” Proverbs 22:5 says, “In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.” In Proverbs 11:31 we read: “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” So it seems, while the righteous enjoy the best of heaven and earth the sinner will get the worst of both worlds.
“You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived” (3:7). We remember that the Colossians came fresh out of a totally pagan background. Their “church” was previously a pagan temple where absolutely everything went on in a most degrading manner. It all went on in the name of religion. The pagan temple was a place where “holy” prostitutes and homosexuals hung out. Coffman says “Frequently an idol’s temple was a short-cut to indulgence in all of the things mentioned here.” 14
“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (3:8). Vincent, and Barclay as well, see this imperative translated as “put off.” 15 Indeed, several other translations have it as “put off,” “put away,” or “put aside.” F.F. Bruce translates it: “Put off all those old habits, just as you would discard an outworn suit of clothes which no longer fitted you.” 16
The first things that we should put off are anger and rage. Anger (orge) is described as a long lasting, slow-burning thing, while rage (thumos) is more like the blazing up of sudden anger. 17 While we are told in scripture that we can be angry and not sin (Eph. 4:26), this is not usually the case when we get roused up. Anger, and especially rage, are much like fires that can quickly get out of control and cause great damage. We had best play it safe and shun these things remembering that “… man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (Jam. 1:20). Also Proverbs 29:11 tells us that “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
Paul continues with his list of wrongs, adding “malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips,” as old clothes we need to strip off. Malice (kakia) means “vicious thoughts” (cf. Rom. 1:29; Eph. 4:31) and has within it the desire to hurt other people. 18 Slander (blasphemia) can be used to speak against people or to speak against God. We usually speak against people because our faith is weak or because we have a poor self-image. We think such evil speaking will lift us up in the eyes of other people but unfortunately it has the exact reverse affect. Then we also must put off the dirty clothes of foul talk (aischrologia).
Lucas says of such things: “They are precisely the sins of speech that make harmonious human relationships impossible…” 19
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:9-10
It is interesting in Ephesians 6:14 that the first item of our spiritual armor that we must put on is the belt of truth. It holds our sword in place. If we do not believe the truth and speak the truth, there is no way we can serve the one who is the Truth (Jn. 14:6). Neither can we properly serve and fit into the church, which is called“… the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
But little lies are so commonplace in our truth-denying age, and sometimes they seem so handy and even so necessary. On some occasions we almost have to agree with the little lad who was asked to define a lie. He said “A lie is an abomination to the Lord, but a very present help in time of trouble!” 20 It is amazing how a little lie can quickly seem to get us off the hook when we are under pressure. A lie seems to be effective and speedy solution in those cases. Mark Twain said, “A lie can go around the world while truth is lacing up her boots.” But alas, the lie is like a boomerang that comes right back and smacks us on the head. Also, we are now associated with our Father and with his truth. We cannot continue to be related to Satan who is called the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44).
Paul tells us that we have taken off the old self and have put on the new self. The Lord has given us Christians a wonderful new wardrobe. We need to strip off the old ragged and dirty clothes and put on the new heavenly clothes. I have heard this compared to taking off the rags and putting on the robes.
The apostle says of the new society, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (3:11). The Christian church did wonders to end the deep divisions and soothe the hatreds of the ancient world. The church immediately bridged the unbridgeable gap between Greek and Jew, uncircumcised and circumcised. It even ended the division between civilized and uncivilized. The Greeks and Greek speakers considered themselves as civilized and the rest of the world as barbarians. The Scythians, nomads of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, were the barbarians of all barbarians. 21 Vincent quotes Herodotus who says of them that they lived in wagons, offered human sacrifices, sometimes scalping their enemies and drinking their blood, even using human skulls for drinking cups. 22
It is almost unthinkable that the church bridged the gap between slave and free. Slaves and their masters took the love feast together in the early church. Bruce sadly remarks that “In the arena of Carthage in AD 202 a profound impression was made on the spectators when the Roman matron Perpetua stood hand-in-hand with her slave Felicitas, as both women faced a common death for a common faith.” 23 Another deep division that Paul does not mention here was the divide between male and female. Jesus took care of that division as we see in Galatians 3:28 where he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
A LOVING, FORGIVING FELLOWSHIP
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12
Here Paul brings out some more of the beautiful clothes in the Christian wardrobe. These are compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We don’t see too many of these Christian clothes worn today in our neo-pagan society. In other scriptures the new apparel of Christians is pictured as mere clothing, as wedding attire (Matt. 22:11) and even as armor (Eph. 6:10-18). The unmistakable idea is that we are responsible for clothing ourselves. Of course, the new clothing is provided freely by our heavenly Father. The Father, through his Holy Spirit, will even assist us as we put on our new garments.
Let us take a closer look at these heavenly garments. The first item of clothing and likely the most important one is compassion. The Greek would read here “bowels of compassion.” In the ancient world it was often thought that compassion was something that was felt deep in the stomach or intestines. It was sort of like our “gut feeling.” Stedman tells the story of a little girl who was asked to describe the parts of man. She said, “Man has three parts: the brainium, the chester, and the abominable cavity. The brainium holds the brain, the chester holds the heart, and the abominable cavity holds the bowels, of which there are five: a, e, i, o and u.” 24 Hopefully we are not as confused about our feelings as the little girl.
In 2 Timothy 3:1-4, Paul tells us that in the last days there will be many folks without love, who are even abusive and brutal. We have now witnessed many instances of that, such as Andrea Yates, the former Houston resident, who in 2001 coldly and callously drowned here five small children in the bathtub.
History tells us how a little love can go a long way. The Great church leader, Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) may have had more influence in the early Christian church than any other leader. His influence lasted from the fifth century through the Middle Ages. Augustine tells in his works how he was converted to Christianity by Ambrose of Milan. Augustine says of him: “I began to love him, not at first as a teacher of the truth, which I despaired of finding in the church, but as a fellow creature who was kind to me.” 25
Let us look at some more of our beautiful garments. After compassion and kindness there is humility. We are no longer seeing much of this in our narcissistic, “ME Generation.” The Bible says in James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” We should quickly place ourselves in the lowest seat and if God desires he will cause us to go up higher (Lk. 14:10).
Next we have the beautiful garments of gentleness and patience. Gentleness or meekness (praotes) describes the person who is God controlled and is therefore self-controlled. This describes one who is angry and the right time and not at the wrong time. Barclay says of it, praotes or praus is the picture of a wild horse that is now broken. He says, “There is gentleness in praus but behind the gentleness there is the strength of steel.” 26 Next we have long-suffering (makrothumia) or patience with people. I like to spell it looooong-suffering. We don’t have much of that in this Age of Twitter. Wiersbe says “The school of patience never produces any graduates, and it never grants any honorary degrees.” 27 The Bible says, “In your patience ye shall win your souls” (Lk. 21:19 ASV).
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (3:13). Here we are reminded of the Lord’s own words in Matthew 6:12, where he commands us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In verse 15 he assures us that if we do not forgive one another our Heavenly Father will not forgive us. Proverbs 19:11 tells us of a righteous man, “…it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” In the church we should be especially careful not to irritate or provoke one another. We should be quick to forgive and let troublesome things pass.
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (3:14). “The Apostle shows that love is the outer garment which holds the others in their places—that which gives a finish to the whole Christian dress. All Christian graces are held together by this golden clasp of charity.” 28 We have a beautiful picture of charity or love in 2 Samuel 9:1-7. King David searched for and found Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan. Although he was a legitimate heir of deceased King Saul, David still placed him under his care and allowed him to eat from then on at his table. Although this was not politically expedient he did it out of his great love for Jonathan.
The early Christian preacher Chrysostom says of love: “All those things fall apart, unless they are done with love…Whatever good thing it is that you mention, if love be absent, it is nothing, it melts away…Think of a body. Though its bones be large, if it lacks ligaments, the bones cannot support the body.” 29
A SNAPSHOT OF EARLY CHRISTIAN LIFE
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
The word “rule” (brabeuetō) is the picture of an umpire from the Olympic games and it has the meaning of being a director or arbiter. 30 So, the peace of Christ is our umpire. The Holy Spirit will tell us immediately when we have committed a foul. “When the believer loses his inner peace, he knows that he has in some way disobeyed God.” 31
The peace of God is a wonderful and calming thing. When the eighteenth century prospective evangelist John Wesley was sailing to the American colonies, he found himself in the midst of a terrible storm and was greatly frightened. However, on board there were 25 Moravian Germans who all remained peaceful and calm during the storm. That inner peace made a great impression on Wesley and he determined to know more about it. After his unsuccessful mission he returned to England and there found out about the Moravian’s secret in his Aldersgate conversion experience. 32
We see here also that thanksgiving was a part of the early church picture. When I try to picture thanksgiving I remember my father-in-law. When he would offer the prayer before meals in his humble household he would often say, “Lord, we thank you that things are as good as they are.” As my wife and I grow older, as I have said, we find ourselves feeling much more thankful. We are constantly thankful for long life, for children and grandchildren, and for the Lord’s bountiful provision through life.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (3:16). In our western culture it would be wonderful if we even treated the Bible like we treat our cell phones or iPhones. It is not unusual to see people checking their phones often, even while they are in church. Normally we do not see them checking their Bibles so often. Few seem to even carry their Bibles with them anymore. In previous generations young people spent a lot of time memorizing the Bible. When we were children it was common to have “sword drills” where we raced each other finding Bible verses.
One Bible fanatic of the past was Smith Wigglesworth. It was his rule to never go more than fifteen minutes without reading from the Word of God. On one occasion he was being driven to a certain location by a Christian brother when he cried out for the vehicle to stop. The driver stopped supposing something was wrong. Instead, Wigglesworth prayed and asked forgiveness of God for talking about other things for ten minutes and not reading the Bible. 33 Wigglesworth, so loved the Word and considered it the most precious thing in all the world. He even made a challenge that he would give a five-pound reward to anyone who could catch him, at any time, without either his Bible or his Testament.
Wigglesworth was not only filled with the word but he was filled with the power of God to witness, teach, preach and even work mighty miracles. It is most difficult for us to teach and admonish others, or even sing psalms to them if we are not thoroughly familiar with
In this verse we note that the earliest Christians sang Psalms. In earlier generations it was quite common to sing Psalms. Even back in the 1970s when our children were growing up there was a brief period when singing Psalms and scripture was once more popular. Many of the verses our children still know are the ones we sang over and over. It is so much better to sing God’s thoughts than our own. His words endure forever and ours quickly pass away. His theology is sound and good but some of our songs often have poor theology.
I think our later call to minister in Israel might have resulted in some way from singing Psalm 48:1-2, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King (KJV). After we had sung that Psalm many times we began to think about Zion and wonder about this beautiful city of God. In time we moved our family there so we could learn more.
Wiersbe laments about both the teaching and the music in our churches today. He says: “There seems to be a lack of simple Bible teaching in Sunday school classes and pulpits. Far more interest is shown in movies, musical performances, and various entertainments than in God’s Word. ..Perhaps this ‘poverty of Scripture’ in our churches is one cause of the abundance of unbiblical songs that we have today…It is a dangerous thing to separate the praise of God from the Word of God.” 34 Some Christian music today is known as the “God and Girlfriend” genre. These songs are worded in such a way that they can either be sung to God or to your girlfriend.
“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” ( 3:17). We might add that if we cannot do something in the name of the Lord, we might be better off not doing it at all. This scripture admonishes us to put Christ first in everything. Everything we do should be seen as a ministry to the Lord. Ruth Graham seemed to have grasped this truth well. For years she had a sign over her kitchen that said, “Divine services held here three times a day.” 35
RULES FOR CHRISTIAN HOUSEHOLDS
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18
Unfortunately, we live in a time when many women no longer feel they should submit to their husbands. Submission is almost a despised word. We live in a time when God’s ideal of marriage between man and woman, and sexual relationship within the sacred bonds of marriage have been ridiculed and cast aside. Several radicals from the women’s liberation movements took it upon themselves to abolish marriage. Gloria Steinem said plainly, “We have to abolish and reform the institution of marriage…” Feminist author, Vivian Gornick, tenured professor at the University of Arizona, said, “Being a housewife is an illegitimate profession…” Author, scholar, and university lecturer Germaine Greer said, “If women are to effect a significant amelioration in their condition it seems obvious that they must refuse to marry.” Radical feminist and author Andrea Dworkin even said, “Like prostitution, marriage is an institution that is extremely oppressive and dangerous for women.” 36
One very influential voice in the feminist camp was Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, and political activist. Her 1949 book The Second Sex has become a foundational treatise of the feminist movement. Most people probably have never looked into her background and way of life. She carried on a long-term relationship with the existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. They were never married since both felt that was much too bourgeois. Both agreed that they would have other lovers. Actually, Sartre carried on a deplorable life style, and once managed a number of lovers simultaneously. He looked upon sex in a casual and even brutal
De Beauvoir who was bisexual seemed to work together with Sartre in sharing her lovers with him. Many of these were students and they quickly came under his spell. 38 It was unfortunate that during the rebellious 1960s, Sartre became almost the high priest for many young people and De Beauvoir with her book The Second Sex had a massive effect on the thinking of young women everywhere. How tragic that a whole generation took its moral and sexual guidance from depraved people like Sartre and De Beauvoir!
No doubt, primarily because of such ideas there is now a family meltdown in the US. Fatherhood is rapidly disappearing on the American scene. This is not only due to young people refusing to marry, or living together unwed, but to an extremely high rate of divorce for those who do marry. In American courts today divorce and custody battles make up over half of the civil litigation.39 David Kupelian says, “Numerous studies show that adult children of divorce have more psychological problems than those raised in intact marriages.” He makes plain that “fatherlessness far surpasses both poverty and race as a predictor of social deviance.” 40
In some non-white populations the breakdown of the family has reached tragic proportions. The syndicated columnist and author Star Parker shares some troubling and even astounding information about black populations in the US. She says:
Up until 1965, Census Bureau statistics show that 78 percent of black household were comprised of intact families with a husband, wife, and children. But by 1995, after the political manipulations of the welfare state, black marriage rates had dramatically declined, and 69 percent of its children were being birthed outside of wedlock. (p. 66)…The African-American out-of-wedlock birth rate is consistently around 70 percent, according to figures from the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Census Bureau. (p. 113)…Children born in single-parent households are seven times more likely to be poor than those born to couples who stay married. Girls raised in welfare homes are five times more likely to give birth before marriage…With the help of feminism, marriage in secular America is dying. In 1965, about 11 percent of all families with children were single-parent households. In 1995, that number was dangerously close to one in three American families.(p.115)…The death rate by homicide in the 1980s of youth between the ages of 15 and 19 increased by 60 percent. For African American males the homicide rate is almost eight times that of the rate of whites (p. 134). 41
Let us get back to the subject of submission in marriage. We need to make plain here that submission is not something to be hated but something that is actually good. It is ironic that women should despise the Christian concept of submission, when it was in fact the teachings of Christ and Christianity that lifted women, as well as children and slaves, from their abysmal standing in ancient societies. Even in the enlightened Greek culture the woman lived her life in seclusion. She did not dare to appear in public alone, not even to buy food in the market. She was not allowed to join the men in her family even for meals, but rather she lived in her own apartment. The husband, on the other hand, was free to carry on as many relationships as he chose outside of marriage. Even in the Jewish home the woman had no legal rights. She could be divorced with a word from her husband and for almost any reason. 42
The words “as is fitting in the Lord” qualify biblical submission to a great degree. Lucas says here, “The significant truth about a Christian woman’s relation to her husband is that it mirrors her commitment to her Lord… In his concept there is no possibility of a married woman’s surrender to a heavenly Christ which is not made visible and actual by some submission to an earthly husband.” 43 Lucas goes on saying that this “…is part of the divine order within the Blessed Trinity, where Christ who is equal with the Father is for ever subject to him…This, according to the biblical testimony, is the only way in which human society can work without disintegration…The Christian wife has been set free from the age-old downgrading of her kind in pagan societies, now to enjoy equality with her husband as ‘joint heirs of the grace of life.’” 44
Paul makes it clear that the wife is to submit to the husband and his spiritual headship (cf. Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1). This submission has nothing to do with inferiority, lack of talent or intelligence on the part of the wife. But rather it has to do with mission. There is a spiritual mission to marriage and this mission is involved with bringing glory to God. For this mission to succeed there must be “submission.” 45
“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (3:19). This verse balances out that which has gone before concerning the wife and her submission. The husband is to love and adore the wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Eph. 5:25). When a husband loves his wife this way it should make submission to him very easy. Barclay says here: “The fundamental effect of this Christian teaching is that marriage becomes a partnership.” 46 It is a joint venture in the grace of life that husband and wife should fulfill the divine plan for love and stability in the home and for the bringing forth of godly children (Mal. 2:15).
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (3:20). We can see that the biblical principles here apply also to children. Their job is to obey their parents since parents are totally in charge of the divine mission of the family. Obedience is an old, old principle that has been necessary in every civilization. In the Roman world the law of Patria Protestas was a very severe one. Under this law the father had total control over his children. He had the right to condemn a disobedient child to death and even carry out the execution himself. 47
Christian teaching was not nearly as severe but it at once gave status to the child and required the child’s obedience to parents. They were meant to form a holy unity. Chrysostom describes it: “At the beginning God’s wise counsel divided the one into two; and yet even after this division God desired to show that humanity was still one…Moreover, from the very fashioning of her body, one may see that they are one, for she was made from his side, and they are, as it were, two halves…The child is a sort of bridge, so that the three become one flesh, the child connecting on either side.” 48 By constant love and earnest prayer the family is not only held together but it grows
and matures in the Lord.
John H. Starkey was a violent British criminal. He murdered his own wife, then was convicted for the crime and executed. The officials asked General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, to conduct Starkey’s funeral. Booth faced as ugly and mean a crowd as he had ever seen in his life, but his first words stopped them and held them: “John H. Starkey never had a praying mother!” 49
CHRISTIANITY WILL EVEN CHANGE SLAVES
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. Colossians 3:22
Paul continues on with the same principle of loving submission in regard to slaves. In the first century slaves and freed slaves made up a very large part of the Roman Empire. The scholar C.S. Keener estimates that as much as 80 percent of Rome’s inhabitants were descendants of freed slaves from the East. 50 There were many slaves and freed slaves in the early church. In the 16th chapter of Romans Paul lists many saints who had common slave names. It is possible that almost half of the Roman empire was made up of slaves. 51
Like women and children, slaves had no rights. The owner could severely punish or even kill a slave and no questions would be asked. When the slave got old and was unable to work the owner could just cast him out of the house to die.52 Someone will surely ask why the Christian church did not immediately appeal to the empire for an end to slavery. Clearly such an act would have turned the Roman world upside down and brought about a great hatred and resentment toward Christianity. It was not really possible at this early time for Christianity to have done such a thing. The church was the “new kid on the block” so to speak and all eyes were upon the church to see if it was teaching rebellion against authority.
Many centuries would have to pass before Christianity would be in a position to end slavery and the slave trade. In time, names like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln would come into prominence. Such people, many with strong Christian convictions, would put an end to the evil practice.
To explain this further we might say that there are two ways to take down a great tree. We can just cut it down with a chain saw and watch it fall, smashing all the smaller trees. Or, we can cut a small ring around it. Either way, it is just as dead. In the latter method it takes much longer for its death to be noticed. The teachings of Christianity cut the ring around the tree of slavery. The institution was doomed. Under Christian teaching slaves like Onesimus, and many others, were suddenly looked upon not only as fellow humans but as dear brothers and sisters in 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” (3:23-24). This is a verse that applies equally to the free person and to the slave. It even applies to husbands, wives and children. It is a rule for every Christian. Nisbet sums it up in this little poem:
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.’
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws
Makes that and the action fine. 53
The Greek word in verse 22, aploteti, seems to apply to these verses as well. We should do all our work with singleness of heart, with sincerity and without duplicity. 54 All work should be done with all our hearts, seeing all our work is being done for the Lord (cf. Cor. 7:22-23).
In the 21st century such an attitude would certainly change our outlook toward our “boring” or “distasteful” jobs. The radio preacher Dr. J. Vernon McGhee, of former days, says that if we are lazy on our jobs we are not serving the Lord. He says we should keep our eye on Christ and not on the clock when we are working. McGhee even says that one of the curses of the Christian ministry itself is preachers loafing on the job. 55
We remember how Joseph always did his job well, even when he was thrown into prison. He was always noticed by those in charge and was quickly promoted by them, even when he was in jail. He served God, not man.
“Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (3:25). In Acts 10:34-35, Peter says: “…I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” God does now show favoritism in his blessings and in a very similar sense he does not show favoritism in his punishment.
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. Colossians 4:1
Verse 1 obviously fits with the ending discussion of the last chapter. Vincent assures us that the best manuscripts do, in fact, attach this verse to the preceding chapter.1 Paul does not say too much about masters here, and a likely reason is that at that time he was sending a letter to Philemon regarding his runaway slave Onesimus, who had become a true believer in Christ. 2 He was obviously facing a delicate situation.
Paul urges masters (kurion) to do to their slaves what is just and equitable, all the while remembering that they too are under the lordship (kurion) of Christ. Some slaves were hardly worthy of such treatment since some were lazy, ill-tempered, and selfish. No doubt some masters were of the same or worse disposition. However, the Bible tells us of some outstanding slaves and masters as well. Naaman, the Syrian commander and leper, would never have been cured had it not been for the loving and alert Hebrew slave girl who directed him to the prophet Elisha (2 Ki. 5:1 ff.). Then we think of the loving Centurion who went to Jesus and obtained the healing of his sick and suffering slave (Matt. 8:5-13).3
DEVOTED TO PRAYER
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2
This appears to be a very important teaching on the equally important subject of prayer. We are told here that we must be “devoted” to prayer. The Greek word used is proskartereite. Utley tells us that it is in the Greek present active imperative and conveys the idea of persevering in prayer. He says, “Jesus, being God incarnate, was characterized by both public and private prayer, how much more do believers need to pray for the gospel, for themselves, and for one another?” 4 Wall says of this Greek word, it is “a gritty determination not to give up until God’s response comes.” 5
My pastor, Tim Tuttle, who is a strong believer in prayer, feels there are three types of devotion to prayer. There is first a level of convenience. At this level we pray only when it is convenient for us. The next level is commitment, or praying when the storm is raging around us. Then after the storm, we often bail out of our prayer mode and continue on with life as usual. Last, there is the level of conviction. Here we maintain a zealous loyalty in prayer and are not willing to falter.
We might wonder how many times the blessed angelic messengers have turned back in their flight because we had given up on receiving our request from the Lord. We must “keep on keeping on” in our prayers. No doubt we all remember the story of the poor man who had nothing to set before his night visitor. He went to his neighbor and asked for three loaves of bread. The neighbor, who was already in bed and whose children were all settled in for the night, refused to get up and grant the request. The poor man did not give up but continued to ask until his neighbor got up and gave him the requested bread (Lk. 11:5-10). We no doubt also remember the parable of the unrighteous judge in Luke 18:2 ff. The judge would not grant a widow’s request until she had literally worn him down with her coming. With this, he granted her justice and relief from her enemy.
We need to talk to God continuously and make our requests known to him. F.B. Meyer (1847-1929) says: “Our lives cannot maintain the Godward attitude without prolonged seasons of communication with him through the Word…Intercession will often unlock frost-bitten lips and make our souls glow.” 6 The famous British Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) once said, “He who overcomes in prayer has heaven and earth at his disposal.”
There are two other words that seem important in this verse. We are also to be watchful and thankful. The word here for “watchful” is gregorountes and it means to keep awake, watch, and be alert. Gaebelein reminds us of the scripture: “Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7 KJV). He continues saying: “… We must watch before we pray, watch while we pray and watch after we have prayed, and watch for the answer, not impatiently, but in child-like faith….” 7
We remember that night with Jesus in Gethsemane, how he instructed his disciples to “watch,” and how they all failed him by going to sleep (Matt. 26:38-46). Imagine that! The battle of the ages was being fought and won in those hours and all Jesus asked of them was that they should stay awake. Today we must realize that another great battle is being fought and won in the spiritual realm. It is a magnificent rescue operation for fallen humanity and the time is running out. It is also an hour of great deception by the enemy of our souls for he also knows his time is short. How urgent it is for us to stay awake and
Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) wrote the beautiful words to the blessed old hymn, O Happy Day.
O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.
Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day
Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.
(To listen to this old hymn go to http://nethymnal.org/htm/o/h/ohappday.htm).
I think there is more to be said about “watching” in this postmodern world of ours. In the last half century while we have occasionally watched, the church in the United States has been overwhelmed with many false philosophies, false theologies and even false gods brought in from the East by the famous Beatles and by many other personalities and groups. Somehow, we failed to be on guard and we allowed the church to be invaded and weakened. Many Christian lives have been hurt and destroyed by this evil invasion.
Of course, we must always be thankful in our prayers and in our lives. Most of us know from experience how it is almost impossible for us to help a person who is ungrateful. How much more this must be true with God, who has supplied us bountifully throughout our lives. He has even made his sun and to shine on the just and unjust, and he makes his rain to fall equally upon both (Matt. 5:45).
Years ago when I was a young preacher I once took a box of groceries to a needy woman. When I entered the house she hardly looked up from her TV, but told me to set the box on the kitchen counter, which I did. She never bothered to say “thanks,” but as I was slipping out the door I heard her say, still apparently without looking up from the television, “You brought the wrong kind of cereal.”
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (4:3-4). Wiersbe says here, “Paul did not ask for the prison doors to be opened, but that doors of ministry might be opened (1 Cor. 16:9; Acts 14:27).” 8
Sometimes we fail to realize how thoroughly the ministry of Paul and others in the New Testament was covered by the prayers of the saints. It reminds us of the old western movie hero who steps out into the line of fire from the bad guys and calls to his companions, “cover me!” There are many times in our own lives today that we need to be “covered” by our praying friends. For several years my wife and I ministered in Israel and all that time we were “covered” with a large group of praying friends back home. Their prayers were of utmost importance to us, and perhaps they even spared our lives on certain occasions.
Paul was so covered with prayer that his ministry made dramatic advances. We see in Philippians 4:22 that his ministry had apparently reached into the very household of Caesar. It seems that much of his ministry advance came about while he was in prison and chained to Roman soldiers.
The apostle needed power to preach the mystery of the gospel. “A visitor at Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London was being shown around the building by the pastor, Charles Spurgeon. ‘Would you like to see the powerhouse of this ministry?’ Spurgeon asked, as he showed the man into a lower auditorium. ‘It is here that we get our power, for while I am preaching upstairs, hundreds of my people are in this room praying.’ Is it any wonder that God blessed Spurgeon’s preaching of the Word?” 9
We should take special note of the word “mystery” as it is used again here. Paul had been called up to visit in the heavenly places at least once (2 Cor. 12:2-4). No doubt, while there God had revealed to him several mysteries of the faith. We have touched on some of these before but since they are very important we need to mention them again. In Ephesians 1:9-10, there is the mystery that God intends to gather together all things in heaven and earth in Christ. In Ephesians 3:3-6, there is the mystery that the Gentiles will be heirs together with Israel. Back in Colossians 1:27, we saw the mystery of Christ in us as the hope of glory. How tragic it is that although these mysteries were clearly revealed almost two thousand years ago, we still know so little about them today.
MAKING THE MOST OF DIVINE OPPORTUNITIES
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5-6
Paul cannot long ignore his great mission, which was to evangelize the lost. His concern was that Christians be good advertisements for the Lord in all their words and actions. He desired that they walk in wisdom toward the lost. Surely every preacher has heard the excuse from lost people that they wouldn’t attend church because it was full of hypocrites. The sad thing about this lame excuse is that it is probably true on many occasions.
He encourages believers to “make the most of every opportunity” or to “redeem the time” as we note in some versions (ASV, NKJ). We see this same exhortation in Ephesians 5:16, and Wiersbe says that the expression means “buying up the opportunity.” 10 The Greek term used here is (exagorazō) and it is closely connected with redemption (cf. Gal. 3:13; 4:5). In the Old Testament it conveyed the idea of buying some person out of slavery. Sometimes this could be a near relative who was bought back or redeemed.11
Here we are instructed how we are to converse with the lost or those on the outside. Our conversation should be full of grace. Grace is an important and interesting word in scripture. It can mean kindness, mercy and goodwill but it can also include graciousness and attractiveness. Barclay translates this verse: “Let your speech always be with gracious charm…” Wright says of this, “The word ‘grace’ has, in Greek as in English, the possible double meaning of God’s grace and human graciousness.” 12
Paul says also that our speech should be seasoned with salt. This was probably a very relevant statement to the Colossians. Vincent in citing the historian Herodotus relates how in the neighborhood of Colossae there was a salt lake that supplied the surrounding area with salt. 13 We know that salt is a purifying and preserving substance and our speech in this evil age should make this putrid world a little more agreeable. Coffman adds another possible aspect to salt. He says, “Despite the fact of most commentators denying it, there is perhaps included here some reference to the judicious use of humor, or wit, in the Christian’s speech. Among the Greek classical writers, ‘Salt expressed the wit with which conversation was flavored.’” 14
In Luke 4:22 we see the example of Jesus. It was said of him, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips…” Barclay bemoans the fact that “It is all too true that Christianity in the minds of many is connected with a kind of sanctimonious dullness and an outlook in which laughter is almost a heresy.” 15
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. Colossians 4:7
Tychicus was apparently quite a work horse in early Christianity. He was not only a workhorse but a faithful messenger-boy as well. He carried the letter of Paul to the Colossians and apparently also one to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:21-22). He may have been unknown to the Colossian church, so Paul introduces him. We see that Paul uses this faithful messenger again and again. He helped carry the large offering for the poor believers in Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). He was also Paul’s envoy to Crete (Tit. 3:12). Then we see him going ahead of Paul to Troas (Acts 20:4).
There is a thing that is striking here, as well as it is in many other places. Paul was a very great personality in early Christianity. He was probably the most important Christian who ever lived in any age, and he certainly did more to spread the gospel and instruct the church than anyone else. Stedman says jokingly that he could have been a great candidate for Pope. Yet, he always considered himself a fellow servant or fellow worker.16 He was just a slave for Jesus, and one in prison at that. God can really use a person when that person bows his life in humility and only wishes to serve and honor God.
There is another thing that is significant here. Lucas sums it up well saying of Paul: “He had a great capacity for sharing his ministry…Paul brought other qualified and mature believers into a genuine partnership with himself…he had a great capacity for supporting his lieutenants.” 17
We must also remark how Paul was diligent to school his lieutenants and teach them to be powerful in ministry. Stedman says: “Four years in a seminary today could not possibly equal one or two years of this intense, personalized training with the apostle Paul himself.” 18 It is always the hallmark of a truly successful leader if he can leave other successful leaders in his wake.
“I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts” (4:8). With each letter to the churches there was a vast amount of personal information and even doctrinal information that needed to be conveyed. Tychicus would fill in all these blanks for the Colossians. No doubt there was also a large security concern, especially since Paul was writing from Rome. The tyrant Emperor Nero was suspicions, jealous, cruel and quite dangerous. 19 In the end Paul would die as a martyr under his hand.
What we would all give just to be in just one of these apostolic briefings! No doubt there were many miracle stories that needed to be passed on. It is likely that Tychicus conveyed special in-depth teaching of certain doctrines. He would no doubt pass on information as to Paul’s condition in prison. We can only guess at all the other important and interesting things Tychicus related to the church.
“He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here” (4:9). Onesimus was a slave who had escaped from Philemon. It appears certain that Onesimus had once lived in Colossae with Philemon his master . 20 We see from the book of Philemon that Paul was very fond of Onesimus and it is a probability that this runaway was converted under Paul himself. Now Paul is sending him back home to his master, with instructions that he should be treated like a brother.
The influential Syrian bishop, Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393 – c. 457) says of Onesimus: “Paul would have been reluctant to send Onesimus to the Colossians on his own, since he was an escaped slave and thus perhaps offensive to them; thus Tychicus was more suitable for teaching and instruction.” 21
PAUL’S FINAL GREETINGS
My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Colossians 4:10
Paul first sends greetings from his faithful friend Aristarchus. This man, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey through Asia Minor (Acts 19:29; 20:4; & 27:2). Aristarchus, it seems, stuck with Paul through some of his most difficult times. He stood with Paul in the dangerous riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:22). He was apparently with Paul throughout his imprisonment beginning in Caesarea and ending in Rome (Acts 27:2). He obviously witnessed the shipwreck in route to Rome and afterward continued on in Rome with Paul.
Next, Paul sends greetings from John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. We know that Mark, after his initial failure as a missionary became very important to Paul (2 Tim. 4:11). He was with Paul for some period in the latter’s imprisonment at Rome. Sometime later he was also with Peter in Rome and became Peter’s interpreter. He wrote the Gospel of Mark largely from his discussions with Peter and possibly from his sermons and memoirs. John Mark was Jewish but like many others he had adopted the Gentile name of Markos.
“Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me” (4:11). We saw in the previous verse that Mark, the Jew, was working with Paul, who was of course Jewish. Now we see the mention of Jesus Justus, who was also Jewish. Wall mentions the lack of Jewish workers and thinks it might “reflect the growing rift between the church and synagogue as well as between Gentiles and Jews within the church (Acts 15:1-4; 21:17-26; Gal 2:1- 3:5).” 22 Although the Jewish workers in the spread of the gospel were becoming scarce, we can rejoice that the gospel was handed to us Gentiles by faithful Jewish workers.
This seems to be something that the church has forgotten in its long history. The Christian church was born from the womb of Judaism. We must not forget that we are still attached as part of a Jewish olive tree (Rom. 11:17-18). Before God’s great mystery is completed the Gentile church will once more merge with its Jewish counterpart (Eph. 3:6).
“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (4:12). Epaphras was already mentioned in Colossians 1:7. He seems to have served as the founder and pastor of the Colossian assembly. However, after his trip to visit Paul in Rome he must have remained there some time, somehow sharing in Paul’s imprisonment (Phile. 1:23).
It seems that this man had an unusual spiritual gift, and that gift was intercession. He was always wrestling in prayer for the Colossian church. Once more we run into the Greek word agonizomenos, which means laboring fervently or even agonizing in prayer.23
Paul says: “I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis” (4:13). Since the heretics at Colossae had no doubt tried their best to demean Epaphras, we see Paul here going to great lengths to build him up. Paul vouched for the fact that he was a hard worker. Other translations read that he was working hard, expressing great zeal, showing deep concern for the church. Barclay feels that Epaphras was actually the overseer of the churches in the city grouping made up of Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicaea. 24 The three were very near each other in the Lycus Valley. The work that Paul, Epaphras and the others were doing with these churches was urgent. We learn from the annals of Tacitus that all three of these cities were destroyed in the year AD 62 by an earthquake.25
“Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house” (4:14-15). Luke, like Mark, also eventually wrote a gospel. But unlike Mark he was a Gentile. He is likely the only Gentile who authored a biblical book and he penned Luke and Acts. This is also the only place in scripture that Luke is called a doctor.
We can be especially grateful for Doctor Luke. He not only gives us his important gospel but he gives us the Book of Acts, which is a detailed account of the early church. In many instances it is an eyewitness history. For years scholars have noted the “we sections” of Acts. When Luke joins with a missionary journey he always uses the personal term “we” (cf. Acts 16:10-16; 20:6-15; 21:1-17). When he is not present he relates the accounts without the “we.” Now we see that Luke was even with Paul in his imprisonment (cf. 2 Tim. 4:11).
In this verse we also have mention made of Demas. Several commentators have noted that nothing is said of Demas, and they feel this is an indication that there was beginning to be some question about his commitment. In 2 Timothy 4:10, we read these sad words concerning this once faithful worker: “for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” Like so many so-called Christians today, Demas was focused mostly on the charms of this present evil age and not on the age to come. Coffman mentions an old tradition relating how Demas eventually became the owner of a brothel in the region of Dalmatia. 26
Scholars have continually questioned whether the Nympha here should be female or male. While most popular translations have Nympha as feminine, a few versions translate the name as masculine (cf. KJV, NKJ). The problem is that both forms of the name are found in extant manuscripts. 27 Regardless of whether the name should be Nympha or Nymphas, this is another evidence that the early church met in homes and continued to do so for the first few centuries of its existence (cf. Acts 12:12; 20.8; 1 Cor. 16.19; Rom.16.5; Phile. 1.2). Bruce says: “Such house-churches were apparently smaller circles of fellowship within the larger fellowship of the city ekklesia [church].” 28
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. Colossians 4:16
Here we get a good idea of how Paul’s letters to the churches were passed around. Scholars think that some letters, like perhaps Ephesians, were circular letters from the outset and that churches made their own copies and inserted their names as the recipients. The letter written to Laodicea does present a bit of a problem. Obviously, we have no such letter in our New Testament. It may be a lost letter of Paul. There is an alleged letter to Laodicea in existence but even as early as Jerome’s time (347-420) it was considered a forgery. It seems that the most common explanation of the problem is that Paul was referring to the letter of Ephesians. 29
Calvin remarks about Paul’s letters saying: “They were indeed, in the first instance, addressed to particular churches, but, as they contain doctrine that is always in force, and is common to all ages, it is of no importance what title they bear, for the subject matter belongs to us.” 30
Since individuals were not able to obtain personal copies of scripture in these early days, the letters were read publicly in the churches. In another place Paul advises concerning this. He says, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).
“Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.’” (4:17). There are only two mentions of Archippus in the New Testament, here and in Philemon 1:2. In this latter instance he is called Paul’s “fellow soldier.” In light of this reference we can feel that this exhortation is to be interpreted in a rather benevolent manner rather than in the form of rebuke. Jamieson thinks the word, “fulfill,” (complete) is a reference to a ministry that is near its close and that Paul is encouraging Archippus to finish out or make proof of his ministry as we see in 2 Timothy 4:5. 31
There has been much speculation among commentators concerning the relationship of Archippus to Philemon. Since Philemon 1:2 lists him along with Philemon and Apphia, it has been suggested that they made up a family. Utley even suggests that Archippus was the pastor of Philemon’s house church. 32
When we look at the ending of this epistle and also at the long ending of Romans we have to agree that Paul was a people person and a great friend-maker. Wiersbe notes that there are more than a hundred different Christians (including those unnamed) who were associates of Paul in Acts and in his epistles. Twenty six of those appear in Romans alone. 33 Of course, warm friendships in the Lord, and fellowship in Jesus’ love are really what Christianity is all about.
“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you” (4:18). In most of Paul’s letters he used an amanuensis or copyist to write the body of the letter and then it was his custom to apply his signature at the ending in order to authenticate it as a genuine epistle. Alford makes a moving comment here saying, “When we read of his chains we should not forget that they moved over the paper as he wrote (his signature).” 34
1. Bob Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound: Letters from Prison
(Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, then later, Philippians), Study Guide Commentary Series, New Testament, Vol. 8 (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1997; Revised 2011), pp. 1-5. http://www.ibiblio.org/freebiblecommentary/pdf/EN/VOL08.pdf.
Colossae was a large commercial center before Paul’s day (cf. Heroditus’ Histories VII:30 and Xenophon Anabasis 1:2:6). The valley in which Colossae was located was the ancient Mediterranean world’s leading producer of wool, especially black wool, and dyed wool, purple and scarlet. The volcanic soil produced excellent pasture land and the chalky water aided the dyeing process (Strabo, 13:4:14). Utley pp. 1-5.
Colossae was located on the Lycus River, a tributary of the Maeander River which ran by Ephesus, 100 miles downstream. In this one valley were several small cities where Epaphras started churches: Hierapolis (6 miles away) and Laodicea (10 miles away, cf. 1:2; 2:1; 4:13, 15-16) and Colossae. After the Romans built their major east-west highway, Via Ignatia, which bypassed Colossae, it dwindled to almost nothing (Strabo). Utley pp. 1-5.
2. William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, Revised Edition (Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1975).
3. Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound, pp. 6-10.
4. Ibid., pp. 1-5.
5. Ibid., pp. 6-10.
6. Ibid., p. 4.
7. Ibid., pp. 1-4.
1. Often today Christians think they do not need to be in the church fellowship but that they can be good Christians without fellowship. Sometimes these are referred to as “Lone Ranger Christians.”
2. Peter Pett, Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, http://www.angelfire.com/ok/bibleteaching/colossians.html.
3. Ray Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, v. 2. http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/colossians/the-great-mystery.
4. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), p. 658.
5. Quoted in Barclay, p. 106.
6. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 662.
7. Quoted in Robert Neighbour, Living Water Commentary, vs. 5-6.
Henry Burton (1840-1930). Also see reference to this clergyman and writer at: http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/inspirational-kindness-quotes/3176-have-you-had-a-kindness-shown-pass-it-on-twas.
8. J. D. Douglas & Merrill C. Tenney, The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), p. 314.
9. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs. 9-14.
10. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 665.
11. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 108.
12. Peter Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, IX, Colossians (Downer’s Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2000), p. 5.
13. R.C. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), p. 37.
14. Ibid., p. 39.
15. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 110.
17. Arno Gaebelein, Arno Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible, 1913-1922, vs. 9-14. http://www.studylight.org/com/gab/view.cgi?bk=50.
18. Ray Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs.9-14.
20. Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound, p. 24.
21. Ibid., p. 19.
22. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, pp. 115-118.
He says: “As the emanations went further and further from God, they became more and more ignorant of him…[with] also hostility to him…The Gnostics came to the conclusion that the emanation who created the world was both ignorant of the hostile to the true God.
David Guzik, Colossians, adds here: “The ‘Colossian Heresy’ seemed taken with an elaborate angelology, which effectively placed angels as mediators between God and man. Paul emphasizes that whatever ranks of spirit beings there may be, Jesus created them all and they all ultimately answer to Him.” Comment on verses 15-20.
Gabelein also adds (Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible, Commentary on Colossians): “It is a remarkable portion of this Epistle in which all the errors about the Person of Christ are refuted and silenced. Arianism, Socianism, Unitarianism, Russellism, Christian Science and other “isms” which rob the Lord Jesus Christ of His full glory and deny His deity, are completely answered in the brief words which unfold His glory. …It remained for one Charles T. Russell, whose system is known by different names, to popularize these false and corrupt views and spread them throughout Christendom. Comment on verses 15-18.
Utley sheds further light on this heresy: “Most of our knowledge of this heresy comes from the Gnostic writings of the second century. However, the incipient ideas were present in the first century (Dead Sea Scrolls). The problem at Colossae was a hybrid of Christianity, incipient Gnosticism, and legalistic Judaism. 1. Matter and spirit were co-eternal (an ontological dualism). Matter is evil, spirit is good. God, who is spirit, cannot be directly involved with molding evil matter. 2. There are emanations (aeons or angelic levels) between God and matter…Since matter is evil, Jesus could not have a human body and still be divine.” Comment on vs. 6-10.
“For them there were many angelic levels (aeons) between a good high god and humanity; Jesus, even though the highest, was only one of the gods. They also tended to be intellectually elite (cf. 3:11, 14, 16, 17) and emphasized a special exclusive secret knowledge (cf. 2:15, 18, 19) as the path to God instead of Jesus’ atoning, vicarious sacrifice.” Comment on vs. 6-10.
23. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 118.
24. Ibid., pp. 118-119.
25. Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible, Colossians, v. 15. http://www.studylight.org/com/bnb/view.cgi?bk=50.
26. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 15.
27. Gerald L. Schroeder, God According to God, A Physicist Proves We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along (NY: Harper Collins, 2009), p. 202.
28. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton IL: Crossway Books, 2004), p. 179.
29. Ibid., p. 199.
30. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 17.
31. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 670.
32. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 124.
Barnes notes here: “The meaning is not that ‘the things in heaven’ were alienated from God, but that there was alienation in the universe which affected heaven, and the object was to produce again universal concord and love. Substantially the same sentiment is found in Ephesians 1:10. …The only effect of the blood of the atonement on the ‘things’ of heaven, in effecting the reconciliation, is to render it consistent for God to be at peace with sinners.” Barnes, comment on verse 20.
33. David Guzik, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, Colossians, 1997-2003, v.21, http://www.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?bk=50.
34. James Burton Coffman, Commentaries on the Old and New Testament (Abilene, Texas: Abilene Christian University Press,1983-1999), v. 21. http://www.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?bk=50
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, adds here: “Most of the ideologies that bloodied the twentieth century were influenced by Rousseau.” p. 137.
35. Francis A. Schaeffer, Trilogy, The Three Essential Books in One Volume, Book One (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), p. 18.
36. Archdiocese of Washington blog by Msgr. Charles Pope http://blog.adw.org/2011/04/on-the-cartesian-anxiety-of-our-times-and-what-faith-can-offer/.
37. Net Hymnal, http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/1008#ixzz2JIQm20y0.
38. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs. 21-29.
39. Robert W. Wall , IVP COMMENTARY – Colossians & Philemon (Madison, WI: InterVarsity Press, 1993), v. 24. http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Col/Pauls-Greeting.
40. Pett, Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, vs. 24-25.
41. Wall , IVP COMMENTARY – Colossians & Philemon, vs. 24 ff.
42. Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound, p. 33.
43. Pett, Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, v. 29.
1. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p.128.
2. Ibid., p. 129.
3. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 27.
4. John Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, v. 3. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom42.v.ii.i.html.
5. John Dummelow, John Dummelow’s Commentary on the Bible, Commentary on Colossians, 1909, vs. 4-15. “http://www.studylight.org/com/dcb/view.cgi?bk=50&ch=2”.
6. Adam Clark, The Adam Clark Commentary, Commentary on Colossians, v.4. http://www.studylight.org/com/acc/view.cgi?bk=50.
7. John Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, v. 4.
8. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 131.
9. Robert W. Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 1871, v. 6, http://www.studylight.org/com/jfb/view.cgi?bk=50.
10. Schaeffer, Trilogy, The Three Essential Books in One Volume, p.8.
11. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, pp.136-137.
12. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p. 96.
13. Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, v. 9.
14. James Nisbet, Church Pulpit Commentary, Commentary on Colossians , 1876, v.10. http://www.studylight.org/com/cpc/.
Nisbet adds: “All revelation testifies of Christ, proceeds from Christ, reverts to Christ, finds in Christ its centre, guides us in the last resort to Him,” vs. 6-7.
15. Guzik, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, Colossians, vs. 11-12.
16. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 32.
“The Spirit circumcises the whole man, not simply a part…When and where? In baptism. And what Paul calls circumcision, he again calls burial,” Chrysostom , p. 32.
“Circumcision” refers to the life of immortality embraced through baptism,” Theodore of Mopsuestia , p.32.
17. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p.105.
18. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 33.
19. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians , p.42.
20. Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible, Colossians, v. 14.
21. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p.110.
22. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians , p.144.
23. Quoted in Guzik, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, Colossians, vs. 16-17.
24. Clark, The Adam Clark Commentary, Commentary on Colossians, v. 17.
25. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p. 117.
26. Coffman, Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, vs. 18-19.
27. Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, v. 18.
28. CNN.Com., Feb 22, 2010.
29. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p. 123.
30. Dr. Paul Brand & Philip Yancey, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), pp. 40-46.
31. Nisbet, Church Pulpit Commentary, Commentary on Colossians , v. 19.
32. Quoted in Guzik, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, Colossians, vs. 20-23.
33. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 41.
34. Gaebelein, Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible, Commentary on Colossians, v. 23.
1. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p. 140.
2. John Trapp, John Trapp Complete Commentary, Commentary on Colossians, 1865-1868, v. 2. http://www.studylight.org/com/jtc/view.cgi?bk=50.
3. Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, v. 3.
4. Quzik , David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, Colossians, quoting Wright, v. 1.
5. Wall , IVP COMMENTARY – Colossians & Philemon, vs. 5-11.
6. Pett, Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, v. 5.
Additional information on “already” and “not yet.” “This theological concept of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos in the 20th century, who believed that we live in the present age, the ‘now,’ and await the ‘age to come.’ Kingdom theology was more fully examined in the 1950s by George Eldon Ladd, then a professor of biblical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He argued that there are two true meanings to the kingdom of God: Firstly, he proposed that the kingdom of God is God’s authority and right to rule. Secondly, he argued that it also refers to the realm in which God exercises his authority, which is described in scripture both as a kingdom that is presently entered into and as one which will be entered in the future. He concluded that the kingdom of God is both present and future. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_theology.
Utley adds: “The phrase relates to the eschatological (end-time) thrust of Jesus’ teachings. This ‘already, but not yet’…The Kingdom, therefore, is inaugurated (cf. Matt. 3:2; 4:17;10:7; 11:12; 12:28; Mark 1:15; Luke 9:9,11; 11:20; 21:31-32), but not consummated (cf. Matt. 6:10; 16:28; 26:64). Believers live in the tension between these two ages. They have resurrection life, but they still are dying physically. They are freed from the power of sin, yet they still sin. They live in the eschatological tension of the already and the not yet!” (Utley notes on verse 4:11).
7. Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound, p. 53.
8. Wall , IVP COMMENTARY – Colossians & Philemon, v. 5.
9. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs.1-11.
10. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casual_sex.
Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), p. 62, adds:
“A survey by the Institute for American Values found that 40 percent of college women engage in ‘hooking up,’ purely physical encounters with no expectation of any personal relationship.”
12. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians , p.151.
13. Paul Kretzmann, Commentary on Colossians, Kretzmann’s Popular Commentary, 1921-1923, v. 5. http://www.studylight.org/com/kpc/view.cgi?bk=50.
14. Coffman, Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v.5.
15. Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Commentary on Colossians (NY: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1887), v. 8. http://www.studylight.org/com/vnt/view.cgi?bk=5015.
Also see William Barclay, p. 152.
16. Quoted in Guzik, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, v.8.
17. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians,, p.153.
18. Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound, p. 53.
19. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p. 145.
20. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs.1-11.
21. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p.155.
22. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, v.11.
23. Quoted in Guzik, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, vs. 10-11.
24. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs. 12-17.
26. William Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook (London: SCM Press LTD, 1955), p. 104.
27. Warren Wiersbe, God Isn’t In A Hurry, p. 10.
28. Nisbet, Church Pulpit Commentary, Commentary on Colossians, v. 14.
29. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 49
30. Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible, v.15.
31. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 687.
32. Tim Herbert, Archives and History, The Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, http://www.iscuo.org/georgia.htm.
33. Albert Hibbert, Smith Wigglesworth, The Secret of His Power (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 1982), pp. 30-31.
34. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 688.
35. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs. 12-17.
36. David Kupelian, The Marketing of Evil (Nashville: WND Books, 2005), pp. 111-112.
37. Neil Rodgers & Mel Thompson, Philosophers Behaving Badly (London & Chester Springs: Peter Owen Publishers, 2005), pp. 186-187.
39. David Kupelian, The Marketing of Evil, p. 107.
41. Star Parker, Uncle Sam’s Plantation (Nashville: WND Books, 2003).
42. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians , p. 161.
Also see Coffman comments on verse 18 for more on this subject.
43. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, pp. 160-161.
44. Ibid., pp.158-159.
45. Guzik, David, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, Ephesians (1997-2003), comments on Ephesians 5:22.
46. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 162.
47. Ibid., p. 161.
48. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 51.
49. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 690.
50. C.S. Keener & InterVarsity Press, Romans, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, Logos Research Systems, 1993), comment on Romans 16:3-16.
51. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs. 20.
52. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p.161.
Clark notes: “The condition of slaves among the Greeks and Romans was wretched in the extreme; they could appeal to no law; and they could neither expect justice nor equity.” (Clark comment on 4:1).
Lucas adds concerning the institution of slavery: “ The sheer impossibility, if not absurdity, of attempting to alter the economic base of a vast empire…his letter to Philemon which vividly preserves for us some early evidence of the impact of the gospel on the slave/master relationship, and leaves us very much aware that a new spirit was being let loose in Roman society which could not be contained in the old forms.” (Lucas, p. 166).
53. Nisbet, Church Pulpit Commentary, Commentary on Colossians, vs. 22-24.
54. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, v. 22.
55. J. Vernon McGhee, Thru the bible With Dr. J. Vernon McGee, comments on Colossians 3:22-25, taken from recorded teachings. http://www.studylight.org/com/ttb/.
1. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, v. 1.
2. Coffman, Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 1.
Paul knew that all men were of the same blood (Acts 17:26) and all redeemed by the same Savior. Thus they were brethren (1 Tim. 6:2; Phil. 1:16). They were thus heirs to glory and could not be regarded as mere property. They were now equal. (Barnes v. 1)
3. Nisbet, Church Pulpit Commentary, Commentary on Colossians, v. 1, comments by a Rev. Pascoe.
4. Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound, v. 2.
Wiersbe also says here: “It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth” (Wiersbe p. 693).
Richard Trench (1807-1886), archbishop of Dublin, said it perfectly: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His willingness” (Wierbe p. 693).
5. Wall , IVP COMMENTARY – Colossians & Philemon, vs. 2-6.
6. F.B. Meyer, F.B. Meyer’s ‘Through the Bible’ Commentary, 1914, vs. 2-9. http://www.studylight.org/com/fbm/view.cgi?bk=50.
7. Gaebelein, Arno Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible, vs. 2-4.
8. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 693.
9. Ibid., p. 694.
11. Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound, vs. 5-6.
12. Quoted in Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, pp. 5-6.
13. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, p. 6.
14. Coffman, Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, vs. 5-6.
15. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 168.
16. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs. 7-18.
17. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p. 178.
18. Stedman, Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy, vs. 7-18.
19. Clark, The Adam Clark Commentary, Commentary on Colossians, v. 9.
20. Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible, Colossians, v. 9.
21. Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 56.
22. Wall , IVP COMMENTARY – Colossians & Philemon, v. 11.
23. Clark, The Adam Clark Commentary, Commentary on Colossians, v. 12.
24. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 171.
25. Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, v. 13.
26. Coffman, Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 14.
27. Wall , IVP COMMENTARY – Colossians & Philemon, v. 14.
28. Quoted in Guzik, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, Ephesians, v. 15.
29. Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, pp.172-174.
30. Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, v. 16.
31. Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, v. 17.
32. Coffman, Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 17.
33. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 696.
Lucas adds here: “A comparison with Paul’s other letters shows that the Colossian epilogue is unusually rich in personal messages and greetings. Only the conclusion of the Roman epistle can be compared with it” (Lucas pp. 176-177).
34. Quoted in Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p.175.