Welcome to our study of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae. Next week we will begin our study of chapter one but this week, we want to gain some knowledge of the city and we want to understand why Paul was motivated to write to the church.
Colossae was located in the Roman province of Asia, what is now Turkey. Though it had once been an important city, located on an important trade route, it was declining in Paul’s day.
Colossae was evangelized during Paul’s three years of ministry in Ephesus, along with other cities in that region (see Acts 19:10, 20:31). Ephesus was the flagship church from which the evangelists were sent. Though Paul did not personally establish or even visit all those churches (see Col. 2:1), he surely must have directed the evangelistic campaign. This is common even today — a flagship church or hub church establishing satellite churches in a gradually expanding radius.
A primary instrument of evangelism was a man named Epaphras, mentioned in Col. 1:7 and 4:12. While Paul was a prisoner in Rome, probably around AD 61, he was visited by Epaphras who apprised him of the state of the church in Colossae. Most of the news would have been encouraging, causing Paul to rejoice in the faithfulness of the young church (1:8 2:5)
However, there was a potentially serious problem developing there which involved a false teaching. Paul does not mention or define this deception that was threatening to subvert the faith of the Colossians but we can see its outline in the letter he wrote to the church.
Surely the true church is threatened today by false teaching but there is nothing new about this. Jesus warned that false teachers would come, Paul, Peter, James and John strived against them in the first century and so it has been throughout the centuries. Satan has only two weapons to use against the true church — persecution from the outside and corruption from the inside. A primary instrument of corruption is false teaching, heresy.
This particular heresy in Colossae appears to have been an early form of Gnosticism containing both Jewish and pagan elements. The word gnostic is derived from the Greek word for knowledge — gnosis. Gnostics claimed secret knowledge, superior knowledge, special revelation which produces insight into mysteries hidden to others. They considered that Christ alone was insufficient for our salvation — it is Christ plus the revelation of higher knowledge. Though the fulness of this Gnostic heresy did not come into full bloom until the second century, its seeds were pressing into the church in Paul’s day.
There seems to have been an ascetic aspect to it. The ascetic falsely believes that greater spiritual wisdom is attained through exaggerated forms of abstinence, extreme self denial and various ritual observances. This was not a part of mainstream Jewish life but there were Jewish sects in the first century that promoted asceticism (for instance, the Essenes). There was certainly a pagan Greek influence in this asceticism. In Greek philosophy, matter is evil and therefore the body is evil. This led to two opposite responses:
1. If the body is evil then beat the body down through rigid self denial and extreme discipline.
2. There may also have been a lawless thread to this teaching. If matter is inherently evil and spirit is good, then it does not matter what we do in the flesh — indulge the body, go for the gusto, indulge your appetites. The result was lawlessness.
This Gnostic heresy may have included forms of Jewish ceremonialism and ritual — true salvation requires Christ plus religious works and rituals, which denies the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross.
The greatest danger of this heresy sprang from the idea that spirit and matter are so antithetical — spirit is so sacred and matter is so evil — that a holy God could never associate Himself with profane matter. Therefore God created the world through a series of lesser beings emanating from Him, semi-divine beings which shielded God from contact with profane matter.
As these emanations, these semi-divine beings descended further and further from God, they became more and more ignorant of God and more hostile to God. The final emanation that created the world was therefore most distant from God and most hostile to Him.
This gave rise to the belief in mediating angels or spiritual lords. Since God cannot have direct contact with flesh, and since there must be vast networks of spiritual beings between God and creation, between God and people, then communication with God, revelation from God, prayer and worship from the church, had to be mediated through these networks of angelic beings. Salvation could be achieved only through the assistance of these angelic beings and through the attainment of higher knowledge which they could provide. In practice, this led not only to the devaluing of the work of Christ but led also to the worship of angels.
Obviously this Gnostic heresy called into question the Biblical doctrine of creation. If God cannot come into contact with matter then He could not create the world by speaking it into existence and certainly could not form man by molding him from the dust, the minerals of the earth. Nor could He breathe life into man’s nostrils. Nor could He fashion woman by taking a rib from Adam’s side.
The Gnostic heresy would also call into question the doctrine of the incarnation of God in human form — how could a holy God take on a profane material body? And if God could not take on a profane material body, then this would call into question the doctrine of the atonement, for if God cannot take on a human body then what was that hanging on the cross? Surely not God in human form.
It followed then that in some expressions of Gnosticism, the humanity of Christ was entirely denied — how could spirit, which is good, become flesh, which is evil? Therefore Jesus only appeared to be human. Or the opposite view could be argued — that Christ truly was human but not divine and He surely could not have been both, if matter is evil and spirit is holy.
Other expressions of Gnosticism presented Christ as one of the beings emanating from God but inferior to some of these angelic lords — Jesus descended to earth, they did not — therefore He was less holy than they. He was rejected, He suffered, was put to death. Not so for these over-lords. So Christ was not merely one of these spirit-beings emanating from God but was a lesser or lower angelic being.
In this case, Christ was neither human nor divine, just one of many semi-divine beings bridging the distance between God and humanity. Obviously this nullified Christ’s ability to reconcile fallen sinners to a holy God. But salvation could be achieved through higher knowledge, special revelation. And as we said, some expressions of Gnosticism added that salvation also required a rigid asceticism — harsh self denial. Others also added certain Jewish rituals and regulations.
It is true that the law of Moses was mediated through some kind of angelic participation. Paul reveals in Galatians 3:19 that the Law was “ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator.” A mediator is a go-between and in a way that is unexplained, angels mediated the Law to Moses who then shared it with the people. The first martyr, Stephen, in his speech before the Sanhedrin, said that the Hebrew people had “received the law as ordained by angels” (Acts 7:53). There is also a similar reference in Revelation 1:1, in which we read that God “sent and communicated” the words of this book “by His angel to His bond-servant John.”
We do not know how angels participated in bringing revelation to Moses and to John but Gnosticism presented a grossly exaggerated interpretation of that mediation. The idea developed that obedience to the Law of Moses was the same as obedience to these angelic beings and the breaking of the law produced angelic displeasure. The angels displaced God and as we said, they became objects of worship.
In Paul’s day, as in our day, cults love to appeal to the pride and fallen imagination of proud, fallen people, seducing with the idea that higher knowledge, deeper revelation, is only for the few, the chosen, the intellectual elite and these secrets will bring us to God. Cults appeal to the pride of fallen man that we can climb the ladder to God through mysteries and special revelation. It appeals to the pride of man that we do not need a bleeding Savior dying on a cross for our sins, who made an atoning sacrifice for sinners. It appeals to unredeemed minds that we can have revelatory fellowship with angelic beings.
Paul refutes the idea that salvation through higher revelation is available only to the intellectual elite when he reminds us in Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him (Christ), admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Salvation is available, comprehensible and accessible to every man and woman, to all who will turn and believe, not just to an intellectual elite.
Against the devaluing of Jesus — that Jesus was a lesser emanation proceeding from God but not divine and only appearing to be human, Paul proclaims, “He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of (over) all creation” (Col. 1:15). “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (1:19). Fullness refers to all the attributes and power and glory of divine being. The fullness of deity was resident in and expressed through Jesus Christ.
Against the assault on the Biblical doctrine of creation, the heresy that God did not create profane matter because He is holy, Paul taught that the universe was brought into being by the creative power of God by, with and through His Son. He presents Christ as co-Creator of universe, “For by Him (Christ) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (1:16,17). This is the Christ who not only created all things but upholds what He created.
Against the insufficiency of Jesus as Savior, Paul says, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins … and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:13,14,20).
Against the inferiority of Jesus to these angelic beings, Paul presents Jesus as the Son of God (1:3) and the Father’s “beloved Son” (1:13); “the image of the invisible God” (1:15).
Against the lie that these angelic emanations were superior to Christ, Paul declares that Jesus is the Creator of all the universe, including angelic powers, “For by Him (Christ) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him” (1:16) and that “He is the head over all rule and authority” (2:10). Thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities refer to ranks of angelic beings. Jesus is not inferior to them — He created them, they exist for Him and He is head over them.
Paul further proclaims, “When He (God) had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Christ)” (2:15). Far from being inferior to ranks of angels, Jesus is their Creator and Conqueror.
Against the idea that the Gospel is too simplistic whereas this Gnostic philosophy is sophisticated, profound revelation, Paul calls it “elementary principles of the world” (2:8) , which is to say, immature. The word which we translate elementary principles is stoicheia which refers to things in a row, for instance, the alphabet. Paul is mocking these folks who think they are attending spiritual graduate school when in fact, they are reverting back to first grade.
Although there is a seductive attraction in the idea that there is a hidden, higher wisdom which can lead to spiritual life, Paul considers this lying, deviant Gnostic philosophy to be nothing more than “empty deception … the tradition of men” (2:8). Against this seduction, Paul proclaims the true wisdom that is found in Christ, “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Deeper wisdom and higher revelation are found in Christ.
Against the idea that God is separated from man by a vast series of intermediary angelic powers and Christ is only one of these, Paul taught that all the fulness of God was present in Jesus, “For in Him (Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (2:9).
Against the idea that these angelic powers should be feared and reverenced by people who want to approach God, Paul declares that these “rulers and authorities” — governmental ranks of fallen angels, were disarmed through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus (2:14,15).
Against the ascetic who taught that salvation is achieved by depriving the body through rigid self denial, Paul said, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (2:20-23).
Beating against the appetites and desires of our humanity does not help us overcome our appetites and desires. Rather, submission to Christ and His progressive, transforming work in us, this is how we overcome. In chapter three, Paul details this process. We are able to put off our old nature because that old, unredeemed nature died in Christ and we are now able to refuse the practice of old memories and habit patterns which, though they may be incited by the world around us, are powerless to control us. We are able to live as new creations because we are new creations (3:1-17). Paul reminds us that in Christ, we “have been made complete” (2:10).
Against the ritualist who demanded adherence to certain rituals and formalities, Paul exhorts, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (2:16,17).
Rigid self denial, worship of angels with their supposed revelations of higher mysteries — Paul calls this spiritual embezzlement, an attempt to steal the true knowledge of Christ from the redeemed. He strongly exhorts the church, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18).
Of course, the unredeemed mind always wants to add complexity to the simplicity of salvation by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. The humanist mind rejects the idea that only God can save us, and has offered this salvation through the offense of a crucified Savior. But Paul warns the church not to be taken captive “through philosophy and empty deception” (2:8). These angelic powers, far from being a source of wisdom and enlightenment, far from being a bridge to God, are our oppressors, our deceivers — not a source of truth but lies. Why would we worship our former slave master when we have been liberated from them in Christ? Why submit again to the yoke of slavery, as Paul asked the Galatian church (Gal. 5:1)?
True salvation, is found in Christ alone, as Pauls aid to Timothy. “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:5,6a).
This Christ is “head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18), joined in organic union with His redeemed. Therefore, “Having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him” (2:7), we should continue “holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God” (2:19).
The Relevance of Colossians Today
To the evolutionist who believes the unreasonable theory that nothing evolving over time through chance mutation produced all that exists — nothing plus chance plus time becomes everything — to this unreasonable theory Paul replies that there is an uncreated First Cause and we know His name — Jesus. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).
In a world fragmenting in divisions ethnic, political, economic and religious, Paul presents the only source of true unity, the Christ in whom “all things hold together” (1:17). Paul presents a new community, “In which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11). Paul does not mean that in Christ we lose our uniqueness — it is Christ who created us. But in Christ our Creator and Redeemer, diversity finds unity.
In a world groping for higher meaning and spiritual fulfillment, buying into every form of false religion and cultic deception, Paul proclaims that we meet the true essence and identity of God in Christ, “The image of the invisible God” (1:15), in whom “all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (2:9).
To personalities bound in uncontrolled addiction and fragmenting in guilt, shame and fear, haunted by the specter of unfilled hopes and dreams, Paul presents the Christ in whom we, “Have been made complete” (2:10).
To frightened men and women who are being tossed about by the raging storms of a fallen world, Paul proclaims a Christ in whom we can be “firmly rooted” and “built up” (2:7).
To minds dominated by anxiety and stress, Paul presents the reality that the redeemed are “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).
To a world trembling in fear of this present moment and terrified of tomorrow, Paul celebrates with absolute confidence a future day in which “Christ, who is our life, is revealed” and we “also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:4).
To a world imprisoned in violence, tragedy and grief which multiply through our own sin and the sin of others; in a world racked by false revolutions which promise liberation but deliver only new forms of slavery, Paul proclaims the only true liberation movement in the history of this fallen world, a movement initiated by the God who “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13).
It is Paul’s prayer for the members of the Colossian church and for us that we will be, “Filled with the knowledge of His (Christ’s) will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (1:9-12).
In a world where truth has been relativized, obscured, twisted and hidden, in a world of false messiahs and false prophets, in a world where darkness is celebrated as light and light is condemned as darkness, where darkness seeps even into the cathedral and the altar is profaned, over against this world of thundering shadows, Paul presents in this letter to the Colossian church, the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ our Creator, Christ our Redeemer.
1. Briefly, how would you describe the major points of this Gnostic heresy?
2. How would you describe Paul’s doctrine of Christ? (see 1:13-20, 2:9)
1:1,2 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”
Paul begins by declaring his apostleship which authorizes him to speak with authority to this church. The word apostle, apostolos, refers to someone who is sent as an official representative such as an ambassador. In one sense, all followers of Christ are ambassadors of Christ, as Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us.”
This was Christ’s command to all the church, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). We are all ambassadors, apostolos, sent. However, Paul and the other twelve (this includes Matthias who replaced Judas), were uniquely called by Christ to the office of apostleship. They were witnesses to His resurrection, commissioned to receive divine revelation recorded in Scripture and set as foundational pieces in the great edifice of the church, as Paul reveals in his letter to the Ephesians, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:19-21).
We are all sent as witnesses, apostolos, but Paul and the other twelve held a unique office as apostles. And Paul is always quick to remind us that he is not a self made apostle. What he is, he is “by the will of God.” It is God who chose him, called him and ordained him. He is spending his life fulfilling, not his own plans, but the purposes of Almighty God.
God’s choice of Paul was first revealed after the dramatic incident on the Damascus road when a light from heaven blinded Paul and he heard the voice of Jesus asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Soon after, the Lord spoke to a prophet named Ananias, commanding him to go and pray for Paul, “For he is a chosen instrument of mine” (Acts 9:15). Later, when the church at Antioch was “serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set Barnabas and Saul apart for Me for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2).
The Lord had made it very clear to Paul that he was chosen for apostleship. May we also know with clarity and confidence the calling of God upon our lives.
We read in verse one that Timothy, Paul’s young protege, is with him. Though Paul is a prisoner in Rome, he has his own living quarters and so Timothy can be with him.
Paul is writing to the saints and the faithful brethren. The word saint, hagios, is a normal New Testament word for a follower of Christ and refers to those who have been separated from sin and unto God. Separation unto God is demonstrated in faithfulness. Christ expects and requires of His followers than that we would be faithful, separated unto Himself for service.
Notice also that Paul is writing to the family of faith— faithful brothers (and sisters also). Though some members of their earthly family may reject them because of their faith, may mock their faith, may even persecute them for their faith, and though surely their fellow countrymen — whether Jews or Gentiles — have rejected, mocked and persecuted them — nevertheless, they are part of an everlasting family, the family of the faithful.
Paul's blessing upon them is grace and peace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. Peace is a particular gift of grace which only God can give. Therefore, these gifts are from God our Father.
1:3-5 “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel.”
Notice that Paul identifies God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Even in this greeting, the apostle is already pushing against the Gnostic heresy which devalued Jesus as some kind of lesser angelic being emanating from God. Paul rejects that lie, proclaiming that Christ is the Son of God, which is to say that Jesus is Deity.
Notice that Paul exalts Jesus as Lord and Christ (Messiah). Throughout this letter, Paul will define the Lordship of Jesus, Creator and Ruler of this universe, the One “in whom we have redemption” (1:14), by whom “all things were created” (1:16), the One who is “before all things”, in whom “all things hold together” (1:17), “the firstborn from the dead” (1:18), the One in whom “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (2:9).
Notice that Paul prays “always” for the saints. The church is not an organization but an organism, a living entity — the body of Christ on earth, as Paul said to the church at Corinth, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (I Cor. 12:27). And to the church at Rome, he said, “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). We are branches joined in Christ our living vine (Jn. 15:1-5), nourished by the same source. Since that is so, that we are “members one of another,” then we share one another’s joys and griefs and victories and trials. We pray for one another, we bear one another’s burdens before the throne of God, as Paul exhorts us, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Notice that Paul prays “for all the saints,” not an elite few.
Notice also that his prayers are always framed with thanksgiving (1:3). Paul is grateful for the news that they have been blessed with three familiar gifts of grace — faith, love and hope. In spite of the false teachers and their heretical doctrines, the Colossian saints are holding strong to their faith in Christ, their love for the saints and their hope of heaven.
Notice that Paul’s thanks for their faith is unto God the Father (1:3) for He is the source of every aspect of saving faith. It is God who awakened us from spiritual death, removed the veil from our eyes and enabled us to recognize the condemning reality of our sin and the saving reality of grace through faith in Christ.
Notice the object of their faith — “in Christ Jesus” (1:4). Saving faith is not focused on deceitful claims of higher revelation, not in deceiving angelic messengers emanating from heaven to earth — their faith is in Christ Jesus. In this letter Paul will define Jesus with unmistakeable clarity as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), the Creator of all things “in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible” (1:16), the One “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins … through the blood of His cross” (1:14,20), the One “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
The structure of the sentence gives a sense in which it is not just their faith that is in Christ but it is those who have faith who are in Christ. Jesus is not merely the object of our faith but the environment in which we exercise faith. In Christ, we grow in faith. His faithful commitment to us calls forth our faithful commitment to Him. Before the creation of the world, God made a faith committment to us, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
Notice the content of their faith. The word faith is pistis, from the root word peitho which means to obey. True faith is far more than mere intellectual agreement with a doctrine or idea. It is expressed in obedience to the One in whom we place our faith. It is expressed initially in repentance, a turning from sin and a turning to the Lord. It is then expressed in a reorienting of the will, a desire to please God expressed in fruitful living, as Jesus said, “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matt. 12:33). He also said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). Jesus asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Jesus told a parable about those who hear the word of God but do not live it — their lives were swept away in the storm. It is those who hear and live what they hear whose lives are built on rock that withstands the storm (Matt. 7:24-27). Martin Luther famously said, “Good works do not make a man good, but a good man does good works.”
Notice the result of their faith — “the love which you have for all the saints” (1:4). True faith in Christ manifests in true love for His saints. Saving faith in Christ results in a new nature. The old self, characterized by selfishness, is transformed (and is being transformed) into a new creation which is capable of loving others as Christ has loved us. This is a commandment of Jesus, “That you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
Love is a learned behavior. “We love, because He first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19). Jesus is the expression of the Father’s measureless love for us and because we have experienced the Father’s love in Christ, the faith of the saints is also expressed in love. Jesus’ unconditional love for us calls forth our unconditional love for others.
This is a proof of our new birth through faith in Christ. John said, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (I John 3:14). How do we know that we are no longer citizens of the kingdom of darkness and death? By a transformed heart that is capable of loving others, especially our brothers and sisters in the faith, as we ourselves are loved in Christ.
As always, Jesus shows us what He means by loving our brothers and sisters. On the night that He was betrayed by one of His own, as His disciples argued about who would be greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus washed their feet. He even washed the feet of Judas. In this incident, John says of Jesus, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). The word end is telos — to the fullest, the consummation, the fulfillment, the utmost, unto perfection. Jesus loved His disciples with the fullest possible measure of love, completely, even in their incompleteness — love expressed through humble service.
Notice the connection between these virtues. Faith in Christ is expressed in love for the saints and both are inspired by a living hope for the future (1:4,5). True faith in a risen Lord always leads to a living hope. Living relationship with a living Savior who rose from the dead produces a living hope, whatever the conditions around us.
Paul says that this hope is “laid up (reserved) for you in heaven.” The writer to the Hebrews says, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil” (Hebr 6:19). True hope, rising from true faith, is an anchor connecting us on earth to the Holy of Holies in heaven, to the very presence of God.
What is the content of this hope that has been reserved for us in heaven? Peter says that there is “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you ” (I Peter 1:4). Imperishable, undefiled, unfading, reserved — that is an eternal inheritance. This includes resurrection into eternal life, which is sharing the life of God; glorified bodies and minds, perfected in so far as humanity can be perfected; our inheritance includes the reward which is lavished upon us because of our faithful service on earth; reward includes sharing creative authority with Christ in a restored universe; it includes standing in the presence of God’s glory, beholding His infinite attributes and worshipping Him forever.
This hope has inspired generations of saints from Colossae to our present time. Because we are anchored in the Holy of Holies, we can navigate the storms of this day. Because we have an inheritance that cannot perish, we can spend our resources of time and strength and treasure and breath, can pour it all out on the altar of sacrificial service. Because there is such a fulness of glory awaiting us in heaven, we can cease striving for the self-generated glory of this passing world. Because we will someday hear the praise of our Creator / Redeemer saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we can cease bowing before the praise of this passing world.
Our brother Paul reminds us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to (in) us, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (Rom. 8:18,19).
Paul said, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul considered that the beatings and imprisonment he suffered, the rejection and ridicule, the sacrifice of his life which he poured out daily, was nothing more than “momentary, light affliction” and not to be compared with “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” That man had a living hope!!
So do we. Because Jesus has conquered death, reigns over the universe and is coming again to rule this world and reward His saints, true faith inspires an undying hope.
Notice that the gospel is “the word of truth” (1:5). The good news of God’s grace offered through Christ — that our sins are forgiven because a Sin-Bearer took our place, that death is conquered because our Sin-Bearer died our death and rose from the dead, that we may now be reconciled to our Creator and share eternal life with Him — this good news is not a theory or a guess or a blind hope — it is the truth.
1:6 “which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth;”
As opposed to the message of the Gnostic heretics who offered a secret knowledge available only to the spiritual elite, the true Gospel is bearing fruit “in all the world.” It is universal — for all people, for every tribe and tongue, for the educated and the uneducated, for rich and poor, transcending all boundaries of race and culture and geography. This is the commission of Jesus, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matt. 28:19).
So it will be that the choirs of heaven will be comprised of people “from every nation and all tribes and people” (Rev. 7:9). And this is the song they sing to the Lamb, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
An angry mob in Thessalonica were trying to suppress the preaching of the gospel. They hauled some of the church before the authorities and shouted, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6). Yes, the entire world is being impacted by the Good News of grace through faith in Christ. But it doesn’t turn the world upside down. It turns an upside down world right side up.
So it is to this day — the preaching of the gospel “is constantly bearing fruit and increasing.” The gospel bears fruit where ever it is preached with authority. The word of God is not like secular philosophies — not a mere set of humanist principles proclaimed in one generation and discarded or disproven in the next generation. The Gospel is God’s everlasting, living word of truth and therefore is alive, creative, powerful, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “For the word of God is living and active (alive and powerful) and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God speaks life and light, truth and reality into being through His word. Therefore it bears fruit.
Because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4), there are many who consider this message of a crucified and risen Savior to be foolishenss as Paul said, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18).
Paul, who wrestled daily against demonic strongholds, reminds us,“The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4). One of those weapons is the word of God spoken, preached, proclaimed, sung, cutting through walls of unbelief and veils of blindness.
Through Isaiah the Lord said, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10,11).
Paul says that this Gospel is bearing fruit in all the world and also in those who hear and believe (1:6). When looking for the fruit of our Gospel labor, we don't just look outward. We look inward too. The word of God had been “bearing fruit and increasing, since the day (they) heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.” Once people hear and understand the gospel of God’s grace, once we believe and receive the message of salvation, the word begins to operate in us. Immediately that word produces repentance and saving faith. Immediately the Holy Spirit, operating through that word, begins a process of sanctification, progressively transforming the believer in the grace and knowledge and very likeness of Jesus. As we read, digest and live the word of God, this living, creative word carries on a progressive work of maturity in us.
This leads to the growth of the church. Indeed, this is the primary growth of the church — believers growing into Christ-likeness. This church will also grow in number for harvest is the natural, inevitable result of believers growing in Christ and obeying His command to be witnesses. In Acts 9:31 we read of the church “being built up” and as this happened, “it continued to increase.”
1:7 “just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,”
We know that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and we know that faith “is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). But though salvation is entirely the work of God, He uses human instruments, as we read in Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”
Epaphras was God’s instrument of ministry in Colossae. We know very little about him but we can imply much. In Philemon 1:23 Paul calls him “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus,” so he suffered imprisonment for the gospel or at least he wasn’t ashamed to be identified with Paul in his imprisonment. In 4:12 of this epistle, Paul says that he “is one of your own, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” It may be that Epaphras was a native of Colossae or may have been the missionary-evangelist who went out from the church at Ephesus, during Paul’s time there, to establish the church at Colossae. We know that he was “a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf” (1:7), Paul’s yoke-fellow.
A “faithful servant of Christ” in that day reveals that Epaphras was courageous, willing to face certain persecution. He was dedicated, willing to press on through the storms of adversity and rejection. He was willing to live sacrificially, enduring hunger, thirst and cold, separation from loved ones. And if all of that is true, then he must have truly loved Jesus, loved Christ’s gospel and loved Christ’s church.
1:8 “and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.”
How do we know that the faith of the Colossian church was genuine? Not because of what they said. Anyone can recite a creed, read a prayer, sing a hymn. It’s their fruit. Jesus said, “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush” (Luke 6:43,44).
Again, Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:16,17).
The Holy Spirit cultivates the life of Christ within us — the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23). A primary manifestation of the life of Christ in us is love. We know that the faith of the Colossian church was real because the Holy Spirit had cultivated genuine, Christly love in their hearts and in their fellowship.
Paul reminds us in his first epistle to the Corinthian church, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (I Cor. 13:1-3).
So here we have Paul’s greeting to the church at Colossae — a faithful church, a loving church, a church whose hope was reserved in heaven, a church in whom the word of God was producing fruit. May we also be found faithful, loving our brothers and sisters in the faith, holding steadfastly to a heaven-anchored hope, fruitful in the Lord.
1. Paul commends their faith. What was the object of their faith? (see v. 4)
2. What is one way that true faith is expressed? (see v. 5,6)
1:9-12 “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
Paul has prayed unceasingly for the church at Colossae and his prayer gives us an insight into the heart of Paul for the church. Since these words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, this prayer also provides a window into the heart of Jesus for His church. Some have suggested that this prayer echoes a creed statement or confession of the early church.
1. Paul prays that they would “be filled with the knowledge of His (Christ’s) will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9). This implies that God has a will, a plan and purpose for our lives and wants us to understand it so we can enter in to the fulness of it. We don’t always know God’s will far in advance but we enter in and fulfill it as we surrender our lives unconditionally to the Lord day by day.
It is not a question of knowing but yielding. How can we yield to a purpose we do not know? We do not yield to the purpose of God. We yield to the God who has the purpose. As we surrender daily to the Lordship of Jesus, we cannot fail to enter into the fulfillment of His purpose. He will shepherd us into that which He has ordained and designed for us.
There are many aspects of prayer. We certainly do intercede for the needs of the church, of family and friends and cities and nations. We do open our heart to God and share our burdens. But another dimension of prayer has to do with accessing the heart and mind of God whereby we may learn His will and gain wisdom and understanding. Yes, this is a function of reading and studying the word of God but it is also a function of prayer.
Note Paul’s boldness. He prays that they would be filled with all spiritual wisdom and understanding concerning the purpose of God for their lives (not partial or incomplete knowing). This had been Paul’s experience. In Acts 22:14,15 he recounts the words which the prophet Ananias had spoken to him just after his experience with Jesus on the Damascus Road. Ananias had said, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.” Jesus had a purpose, a design for Paul’s life and revealed it to him.
This was Paul’s desire for the church at Rome, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). We can’t prove the will of God if we don’t know what it is, so obviously it is the Lord’s desire that we know His will. And we can know it, Paul says, as we are “transformed by the renewing of (our) mind,” that is, through the word of God illuminated by the Spirit of God and through prayer.
This was Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17). Paul would not pray this for the church if it were not God’s will to give it.
Our God is a Self-revealing God. He wants us to know Him, wants us to seek Him and find Him and learn of Him. In Eden, Adam and Eve had unhindered access to the mind of God and though sin interrupted that access, it is reclaimed in Christ. This is Paul’s testimony to this church of the Colossians, that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). It is pleasing to God that we seek Him for the wisdom and knowledge we need to live to His glory and accomplish His purpose.
In this phrase, “That you may be filled with the knowledge of His will,” the word Paul uses for knowledge is epignosis. Gnosis is the standard Greek word for knowledge but in adding the intensifying preposition, epi, Paul is expressing the desire for thorough knowledge, deep knowledge, real knowledge. He is obviously responding to the Gnostic heresy which claimed that Jesus alone is not adequate for our salvation — what is needed is secret revelation, higher knowledge available to the spiritual / intellectual elite and mediated through angels.
Paul is refuting this heresy as He does elsewhere. In his introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians, he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). “Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” includes the wisdom and knowledge we need to live to the praise of God’s glory. Notice in the Ephesian passage that these blessings are “in Christ.” Blessings are found not in rituals or secret knowledge or philosophies derived from angelic intermediaries. Our blessings of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ — real knowledge, true knowledge.
We are living in a day when truth is relativized — you have your truth, they have their truth — nothing is absolute, it’s all of equal value. That is a lie. There is an absolute standard for truth and we have access to this as we encounter Jesus Christ in His word and in prayer.
Paul prays that they will “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” The word for wisdom is sophia and this is far more than mere information. Sophia is insight into reality and the skillful ability to live the truth we have learned. The word understanding is sunesis, the ability to analyze and comprehend information, the ability to put something together. Jesus wants us to know His will. More to the point, Jesus wants us to know Himself in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3), so that we can understand, analyze the reality of our time and wisely live out His purposeful design for our lives.
Spiritual wisdom and understanding refer to the part of our being that is most capable of gaining wisdom and understanding — our spirit — and refers also to the role of the Holy Spirit guiding us into wisdom and understanding. He is the Spirit of Truth and His delight is to reveal truth that glorifies Jesus. Nothing glorifies Jesus more than that we gain “the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” so that we can live to His glory.
2. The reason Paul prays that the Colossian Church would “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” is “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”
When we gain the knowledge of God’s will with wisdom and understanding, this should impact the way we live. The result should be a worthy walk, a lifestyle worthy of the name of God and His high calling on our lives. In Ephesians 4:1 Paul wrote, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” A worthy walk is a life of integrity that matches our position in Christ. Our position is that we have been declared righteous with the righteousness of Christ, raised with Him, seated with Him in heavenly places, endowed with spiritual gifts and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
In Ephesians 5:8 Paul said, “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” He exhorted the Thessalonian Church to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (I Thes. 2:12). We have been translated out of darkness into the light of God’s kingdom of grace and truth, called to behold His glory and magnify His glory. We should walk in a manner worthy of this calling. We are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We should live as the new creations that we are.
A worthy walk, pleasing God in all respects, is not a picture of God standing over us saying, “You had better please me.” No, God is already pleased with us, that we have entered into reconciled fellowship with Him through the blood of His Son. What pleases Him further is that we would walk in such a way as to enter into the fulness of His design and purpose for our lives.
3. If we are being “filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”, if we are “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects”, then we will be “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:10).
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing … My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (Jn. 15:5,8). We were designed to live in union with God our Creator / Redeemer, drawing life from Him like branches drawing life from the vine. As we cultivate this life of abiding in Him as He abides in us, the natural result is fruitfulness.
We bear fruit in so many different ways. There is the fruit of praise, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebr 13:15). There is the fruit of the Spirit which is the character of Christ cultivated within us by the Holy Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23). There is the fruit of lives redeemed into eternal life as we sow the good seed of the Gospel into hearts (Col. 1:5,6; and for picture of this, see the Parable of the Sower in Matt. 13:3,8,23). There is the fruit of good works as we live out the purpose for which the Lord designed and gifted us, “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:10).
4. Paul continues to pray that the church will be “increasing in the knowledge of God.”
As we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ we progressively enter into His purpose for our life. As we bear fruit, walking out the purpose of God, we enter into an ever increasing revelation of Christ. This is the Lord’s highest purpose for us, that we increase in our knowledge of Him. God is a Self-revealing God. He wants us to know Him, to gain understanding of His heart, His mind, His ways, His purpose. He wants us to hunger and thirst after Him, as did the Psalmist, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1,2).
How can we do this? How can we hunger and thirst after the Lord in a world where so many poisoned wells try to incite our thirst? How can we walk worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit in every good work in a world so corrupt, so violent? How can we grow in the knowledge of God in a world drowning in deceit and lies and false philosophies? Indeed, even some churches abound in heresy, apostasy, denying Scripture.
Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian Church sounds impossible, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phlp. 2:12). Impossible, until I read the next verse, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:13).
The same God who calls us to walk in a manner worthy of His name and calling is the God who works in us by His indwelling Holy Spirit, enabling us to fulfill His command. Paul assured the Thessalonian Church, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (I Thes. 5:23,24).
How does He bring it to pass? By His power.
5. Paul continues, “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might to all steadfastness and patience” (1:11).
“Filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”, walking “in a manner worthy of the Lord”, “pleasing Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”, involves struggle, conflict. If we hope to discern God’s purposeful design over our lives, if we hope to enter in and fulfill His purpose, if we hope to live fruitful lives, we must be “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might.”
Often it is not that we do not know what to do. Rather, we do know but we are unable or unwilling to do it. We need a source of empowerment and enablement outside of our own self. Paul understood this and so he prays this prayer.
The word strengthened is dunamoo (pron. doo nama oh). It is to be supernaturally enabled to do something and is from the same family of words as dunamis, power. The verb tense indicates an ongoing action — continually strengthened.
The word power is dunamei, which is miraculous power, strength, a word related to dunamis, used in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The same word is used by Paul in his prayer for the Ephesian church, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16).
The word might is kratos which is strength in action, dominion. It is used in reference to God, “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion (kratos, power) forever and ever’” (Rev. 5 :13).
The word glorious is doxa, which is dignity, honor, something or someone worthy of praise and worship. It refers to the manifestation of any of God’s attributes, as in 2 Corinthians 4:4 in reference to the “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”; and in reference to the someday return of Jesus in glory (Titus 2:13). But the word is also used in Romans 8:21 in reference to the glorious liberty of the children of God; and in reference to the church which will someday be presented before Christ ‘in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27);
Paul prays that the church will be “strengthened with all power, according to His (God’s) glorious might.” God’s might is the source of our strength. In Eph 1:17-21, Paul prayed for the church, that our eyes would be enlightened to know “the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” which is “in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
So if I may paraphrase Paul, he is praying, “I want you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, so you can please Him in all respects, so you can bear fruit in every good work, so you can increase still more in the knowledge of God. In order to do this, I pray that you will be supernaturally enabled, continually strengthened with miraculous power according to the glorious dominion of the Father. This is the same strength, power and dominion with which He raised Jesus from the dead — strengthened with resurrection power so that you can attain the steadfastness and patience which will enable you to endure the trials and adversity that come against a life that is seeking to know and fulfill the purpose of God.”
Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would not have prayed such a prayer if it were not possible to experience its reality. Endowed with the same power with which God raised Jesus from the dead, we can know and fulfill the will of God, we can bear fruit in every good work with “steadfastness and patience.” The word steadfastness may be translated endurance, as in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
We can run with endurance the race before us, we can discern and steadfastly live the purpose of God for our lives because the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead indwells and energizes us. But Paul is not finished with his prayer.
6. “joyously giving thanks to the Father because He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:11,12).
Considering that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4); considering that “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5,6); considering that in Him “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us in all wisdom and insight” (Eph. 1:7,8); considering that “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him” (Eph. 1:9); considering that “we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11); considering that it is His will that we “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” and that we “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9,10); considering that He is able to strengthen us “with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” (Col. 1:11); considering that this power is “in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:19-21); considering that He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20); considering all of that, our response should be “joyously giving thanks to the Father” (Col. 1:11,12).
Joy, gratitude, thankfulness, are highly valued in heaven. King David exhorts us, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits” (Ps. 103:1,2). Paul reminds us that thanksgiving is a lifestyle, “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20).
Joy and gratitude are not dependent on our outward circumstance but on this eternal reality: God has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. The word qualified means authorized and it is God who has authorized us to obtain an inheritance. This inheritance includes resurrection into eternal life — sharing the life of God in a glorified body that is perfected insofar as a human being can experience perfection. It includes sharing the creative authority of Christ in a restored earth and restored universe. Our inheritance includes every promise God ever made to His redeemed saints.
Peter said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4).
Our inheritance is shared among all the “saints in light.” The saints are all who have trusted in Christ for their salvation — believers. Saint means holy one, separated one. We have been separated from sin, unto Christ. Light refers to truth and moral purity, as opposed to deception and corruption. Truth and purity are our environment in Christ, it is where we dwell. We are “saints in light” and are already sharing in this inheritance, as we see in the following verses.
1:13,14 “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
We have been rescued, delivered from the domain or dominion of darkness. The word domain / dominion is exousia and may also be translated jurisdiction or authority. It was used by Jesus in Luke 22:53, as He faced the mob that came to arrest Him, “But this is your hour and the jurisdiction of darkness.” For a brief moment, the kingdom of darkness was ruling, exercising jurisdiction, authority and these powers rallied their forces against Jesus in what appeared to be a triumph of dominion. But the result was the complete triumph of Jesus on the cross over their powers.
Whereas the Gnostics were interacting with powers of darkness, seeking them for higher knowledge, in some cases worshipping them, we have been rescued from their destructive, enslaving rule over our lives by the Christ who triumphed over them through His cross. In Colossians 2:15 we will read that God “disarmed the rulers and authorities (and) made a public display of them, having triumphed over them.” Where did He do this? On the very cross which they intended for Christ’s destruction.
As a result of Jesus’ triumph over those powers, entering into a faith relationship with Christ means:
1. We have been delivered, rescued from the dominion, the rule of the powers of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Though we still live in this world, we are not ruled by its demonic forces. We wrestle against them as Paul shares in Ephesians 6. But we are not ruled by them — we no longer live under their jurisdiction. Instead, we live under the dominion of Jesus, under His rule of grace and we can allow Christ’s rule of grace to permeate every area of our being.
2. We not only have been rescued from the dominion of darkness but we also share in the Christ’s dominion over those powers. He has been seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21). Jesus has authority over the powers of darkness and not only has the authority to reach into that kingdom and liberate those held captive — He also shares that authority with those whom He has rescued. Jesus used this same word, exousia, when His disciples returned from a missionary journey, “Behold, I have given you authority (exousia, jurisdiction, dominion) to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you” (Luke 10:19). Some would restrict this delegated authority only to the apostles but no, we also share in the authority of Christ because we live under His authority and in His dominion.
These conquered powers were the very angelic beings whom the false teachers urged the believers at Colossae to reverence. How foolish, to give honor to a defeated foe. Those defeated powers cannot control the destiny of anyone who has been brought into the dominion of Christ.
3. As a result of Jesus’ triumph over those powers, entering into a faith relationship with Christ also means that “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14). In fact, this is how we were rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred into the rule of grace — through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. Because He carried our sins as the holy Sacrifice / Substitute, because He bore our judgment, endured our separation from God and died our death, because His offering of Himself was accepted by the Father, we are forgiven of our sin debt and redeemed, ransomed from the jurisdiction of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God.
Notice the key phrase — “in whom we have redemption.” It is only in Christ that we are redeemed. Not by higher knowledge or secret revelation gained from angels. Not from rituals or ascetic lifestyles of harsh self-denial. We are redeemed by God’s gracious act of forgiveness through Christ. Entrance into the dominion of grace, sharing in the inheritance of the saints in light, is only through the redeeming work of Christ. We are qualified by the blood of Christ. It was our sin that brought us under the dominion of darkness and we have been redeemed, purchased, delivered from the dominion of our sin, forgiven of its guilt, delivered from sin’s condemnation before God, set free from the powers of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light and grace and truth.
Jesus is our Deliverer and Redeemer. Notice that we are not only forgiven of sin but also set free from its power to control our lives. We still sin but we are free not to sin, free to overcome temptation, free to accept restoration from brokenness to wholeness.
4. As a result of Jesus’ triumph over those powers of darkness, entering into a faith relationship with Christ also means, as we have said, entering into “the inheritance of the saints in light.” Our inheritance has not yet been manifested in final glory, has not been fully realized or even imagined by the saints but we share in it now. We are already transferred out of darkness into light, out of slavery into the freedom of Christ’s dominion of grace. This is not something that happens for the believer when we die but rather, when we are born a second time.
1. How can we be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding?
2. How can we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God? How is that possible in such a violent, wicked world?
1:15 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of (over) all creation.”
Paul now presents one of the most exalted Christological statements of the New Testament, setting forth Christ’s divine nature, pre-existence and creative work. There is a similarity of thought with John 1:1-4, Hebrews 1:2-4 and Proverbs 8:22-31.
There are two very important words in this verse. The first word is image. That Greek word is eikon (1504), which is the exact likeness, revelation or representation of something. It is used of the imprint of Caesar’s likeness on a Roman coin in Matthew 22:20.
Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” — the One who reveals the character and nature of God. In Jesus, the invisible has become visible. John reminds us in the opening verses of his gospel, “No one has seen God at any time; God the only Son, who is in the arms of the Father, He has explained Him” (Jn. 1:18). Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). The writer to the Hebrews adds that Jesus is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (1:3).
Obviously, if Jesus is the exact representation of God, then all that God is, Jesus is. Paul reveals in Philippians 2:6 that prior to His incarnation, from eternity, Jesus, “existed in the form of God” or “being in the form of God.” The word existed / being describes the ongoing essence of something or someone which cannot ever be changed or altered. The word form, morphe, also describes the inner essence of something or someone which will never change, though the outward form may. Jesus from all eternity existed and will forever exist as God, sharing with the Father and the Holy Spirit the essential attributes and glory of God. With no beginning and no end, He is uncreated, Self-existent being, Creator of the universe, the First Cause of all that is, was or shall be.
In Romans chapter one Paul reminds us that we can know that there is a God through the witness of conscience and through the glory and complexity of creation (Rom. 1:19,20). But creation and conscience can reveal only that God exists. Now though, “The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” has dawned in our lives (2 Cor. 4:4). Now we may not only know that God exists — we may know God in and through Jesus Christ.
Also, remember from Genesis 1:26,27 that man, male and female, was made in the image of God. But that image has been defaced by sin. Jesus, in His sinless perfection, shows us the divine image. As Paul will remind us in 2:9, “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” We will see in chapter three of this epistle that when Christ removes the violence of sin from our lives, we too are being renewed after the image of God (Col 3:10). In fact, this is our destiny, to be “conformed to the image of His (God’s) Son” (Rom. 8:29).
The second word we need to understand is firstborn, “The firstborn of (over) all creation.” That word is protokokos, which can refer to someone born in time before someone else but more typically refers to rank, preeminence. In reference to Jesus, protokokos cannot mean that Jesus was created before anything or anyone else because He is not a created being. He is, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, uncreated, Self-existent, eternal Creator of the universe and therefore He has primacy over all things in creation. As Creator, Jesus is before all things, and therefore, “heir of all things” (Hebr 1:2). Protokokos also speaks of a Christ who upholds all that He created (Hebr. 1:3), in whom all things consist / hold together (Col. 1:17), who sustains His creation by the continued exertion of His power.
In keeping with the meaning of protokokos, it is important to note that the word of may be translated over. So we may read this as, “The firstborn over all creation.” Jesus holds first rank over all creation because He is Creator of all, a truth which Paul will further emphasize in the following verse. In this, Paul is refuting the heresy of the Gnostics who asserted that Jesus was only one of many “emanations” from the Father, one of many angelic beings who act as intermediaries in the spirit realm. “No”, Paul proclaims, “Jesus is the exact image, expression, representation, revelation of the Father, the preeminent One, the protokokos over all creation.”
Paul will establish this theme further in the following verses.
1:16 “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him (or unto Him).”
Not only is Jesus not a created being, He is, in fact, with the Father and the Spirit, Creator of all that was and is and shall be. In Hebr 1:2 we read that God has spoken to us in His Son, “Through whom also He made the world.”
“By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps. 33:6). We read in Genesis 1 that God spoke and the universe sprang into being. Jesus is that Word who was with God in the beginning (Jn. 1:1). John reveals, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life …” (Jn. 1:3,4a).
The Gnostic heretics taught that matter is evil and spirit is good. Therefore, God could not have been involved in the creation of matter. This was done by a lower emanation, a lower spirit-being. But Paul contends, by divine revelation, that all things were created in and through Christ, all the Father’s creative purpose and action is centered in His Son. Christ is the Father’s creative agent.
Also, all things were created for Him —for His purposes and for the expression of His glory and His grace. “For Him” may also be translated “unto Him” — Christ is the goal toward which all creation moves. All of creation proceeds from Christ and toward Him. Throughout the Old Testament we see a God who acts sovereignly within history to accomplish His salvation purpose. But now it is revealed that all of time and history are mere branches springing out of the root and the ground of Christ. Life proceeds from Christ, is sustained by Him and flows toward its fulfillment in Him.
Jesus Christ is Creator of all, Source of all life — things visible and invisible — whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things are His creation. “Thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities” — refer to orders or ranks of angelic beings — unholy, fallen angels and holy angels. Jesus is not a mere angelic emissary emanating from God. He is the Creator of angels, they owe their existence to Him, they were created in Him, through Him and for Him and as such, He is their Lord, they are subject to Him.
To those who have receive this truth, the universe holds no terrors. The Creator of this vast creation is also the Lamb who released us from our sins. Our Creator is also our Redeemer, rich in mercy to all who call upon Him. And our Creator / Redeemer is also our Deliverer, Lord over all that would attempt to ensnare or destroy our lives.
Paul presents us with a Christ in whom the entire universe is centered. This Jesus who was incarnate in human form by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, born in Bethlehem, grew to manhood in Nazareth, crucified in Jerusalem, rose from the dead, who overpowered Paul on the road to Damascus, who transformed and redirected the course of Paul’s life — all of creation proceeds from Him and moves toward Him. Therefore our lives and our faith must be rooted in Him and in Him alone.
Paul continues his demolition of the Gnostic heresy by proclaiming the preexistence and primacy of Jesus.
1:17 “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). But in that beginning of all created things, Jesus, the Word of God, Second Person of the Trinity, already existed. He is before the beginning. As we have said, this speaks not only of His pre-existence but also His primacy, His preeminence over all things in heaven and on earth.
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Micah prophesied, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). Jesus Himself said, “Before Abraham was born, I am,” (Jn. 8:58). In the hours before His betrayal, Jesus prayed, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). In the Revelation, Jesus testifies, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13). He is presented as David’s root and offspring — David’s Creator and descendant — pre-existing David as God and descended from David as Man (Rev. 22:16).
In this preexistent Christ “all things hold together (consist).” From the smallest subatomic particles spinning within an atom to the greatest whirling galaxies of stars, all things find their point of unity in Jesus. He maintains in life those things which have come to life in and through Him. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “He upholds all things by His word of power” (Heb 1:2). The same Word which spoke the universe into being also sustains it.
Scientists have been looking for a unifying principle which binds together all the laws of the universe. We have One — His name is Jesus. He not only created all matter; He created the laws that govern matter and He upholds the laws that uphold the universe. It is Christ who holds all things together and moves all things toward His perfect consummation. He exists outside this universe, transcending it, encompassing it in His infinite being. Yet He meets us in it, drawing all of time and matter and history inexorably toward the fulfilling of His perfect design. Jesus Christ is the Uniting Principle of all that was and is and shall be.
Even as the Lord says to each of us, so he says to all of creation, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it” (Phlpns. 1:6). We have been given the vision of a new heaven and new earth in which the lion will lay down with the lamb and we may rest in the assurance that we will share in that restored world someday.
1:18 “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything”.
Jesus and His church are an organic unity, a body: “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … Now we are Christ's body and individually members of it” (I Cor 12:12,13a,27). In Romans 12 and I Cor. 12 Paul uses the image of the church as a body with special emphasis on the relationship of the members of the body to one another. But in Colossians chapter one, the emphasis is on the relationship of the body to the Head. Jesus is the Head of the church, providing direction and coordination. The believers are His limbs and organs, carrying out the directives and performing the work which the Head communicates as His will. Jesus gifts and energizes His body so that He can live His life and release His ministry through His body on earth.
In Galatians 3:27 Paul speaks of our union with Christ in baptismal terms — we are “baptized into Christ” by the Holy Spirit upon our faith-confession of Christ. In the Gospel of John chapter 15, Jesus used the simple analogy of branches on a vine — Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, drawing life from this organic union with Christ (John 15:1-8,16). This union is so complete that when Jesus confronted Paul on the Damascus road, he asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). There is no record that Paul had ever met Jesus prior to this encounter but his persecution of the church was experienced by Jesus as persecution of Himself.
Paul says that Christ is also the beginning — in context, the beginning of the church. The word is arche which denotes not only a beginning in time but more, arche refers to the originating power of something, the source from which something came. Just as Jesus created the universe, He also created the church. He is the source from which the church was born. Charles Wesley expressed this so beautifully in his wonderful hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation”:
“The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is His new creation, by water and the Word;
from heaven He came and sought her, to be His holy bride,
with His own blood He bought her and for her life He died.”
Paul also reminds us that Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead.” Firstborn is that word which we have previously discussed— protokokos which means preeminent, of the highest rank. This does not mean that Jesus was the first person to ever rise from the dead. Elijah raised the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24). Elisha raised the Shunamite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:34,35). Jesus raised the synagogue official’s on, the widow’s son and Lazarus. But they all eventually died. Christ is the first to rise and never die again, therefore, He is preeminent among all who have risen or ever will rise. He says of Himself, “I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:17,18).
The life which quickens and enlivens the body of Christ, the church, is nothing less than the resurrection life of Christ, released into all the members of the body, personally and corporately. As the first born of the resurrection, Christ is able to share His life with all His people. The life of Christ which we now experience proclaims the Easter victory of Christ over death and is the source of our hope. He is “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (I Cor 15:20).
Note the final phrase in verse 18, “so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” The word which we translate first place is proteuo — to hold the first rank. Following His resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven, was enthroned at the right hand of majesty and now holds the position of preeminence over the universe, things visible and invisible.
Paul makes this point again in Ephesians 1:20-22, when he says that God raised Jesus from the dead “and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” As we said previously, “ rule and authority and power and dominion” refer to ranks of angels, in particular unholy angels. We will read in 2:13-15 that these powers of darkness were disarmed and conquered at the cross. Jesus is not only their Creator, as we read in 1:16, but they are also under His feet — He is their Conqueror and their Ruler.
Jesus is seated in the position of absolute authority over every angelic and human government in this age and in the age to come. Therefore we need not fear, and surely should not honor or worship any invisible principalities as some of the Colossians were tempted to do. They are all subject to Christ. Whether hostile to Jesus or worshipful of Him, they owe their very being to His creative power.
In Philippians 2:9-11, we read that because Christ humbly gave Himself as the holy Sacrifice for sin, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Why do we take time to worship the Lord Jesus whenever we gather? We are honoring our Redeemer, Creator and Head of the church who is also Creator and Ruler of the universe. Don’t be in a hurry — take time to reverence Him as He deserves.
1:19 “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,”
It pleased God the Father that all His fullness would dwell in Christ. Contrary to the Gnostic heresy, that there were countless angelic powers and entities mediating between man and God and the fulness of deity was divided among this multitude of divine beings emanating from God, Paul proclaims that all the attributes and activities of God — all the power, all the glory, all the wisdom, all the grace and mercy, all the infinite attributes of the Father, all the divine energy upholding the universe and moving history toward the fulfilling of God’s eternal purpose — the totality of divine being resides in Christ. He is therefore the sole Mediator between God and humanity.
We don’t need to sift through the endless line of false prophets, lying philosophies and rituals of darkness which this world offers. We do not need special revelation, secret knowledge or angelic assistance to be saved. Paul said to Timothy, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim 2:5). We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
As glorious as this good news is, that all the fulness of Deity dwells in Jesus Christ our Savior, it is even more glorious to know, as John tells us, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). In union with Christ, His fulness energizes and empowers our life. Paul will expand on this thought in chapter 2:9,10.
1:20 “and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
God’s purpose in the incarnation of Christ was not only that Jesus would die an atoning death for lost humanity, but through that sacrifice, to reconcile “all things to Himself”. The instrument for this universal act of reconciliation is the blood of the cross — the atonement. Whereas we once were enemies of God, separated from God by sin, we who have surrendered to the Lordship of Christ are now reconciled through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, a sacrifice which was both redemptive and reconciling.
But why was the blood of Christ required? Because our sin separated us from God, resulting in death for every person in this world — the wages of sin is death. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isa. 59:2).
There was no offering we could bring God that would bridge the lethal canyon of separation, no ritual we could perform which would satisfy or fulfill His judgment on our sin. So Jesus brought the offering — presented Himself as the holy sacrifice for sin, taking our sin, our separation from God, the holy wrath of God upon Himself and dying our death. He thereby redeemed us from the curse of sin, which is death, and reconciled us to God.
This work of redemption and reconciliation is in Christ and through Christ. God not only created the universe in and through His Son. He will also reconcile the universe to Himself through His Son who is not a mere angelic agent of revelation but the Divine Agent of redemption and reconciliation. Just as the creative work of God through Christ included the entire universe, so does this work of reconciliation. As Paul reveals elsewhere, God’s ultimate purpose is to “bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:10 NLT). Paul reminds us repeatedly that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” (2 Cor. 5:19).
Notice that God’s purpose is to reconcile “all things to Himself.” All things carries a cosmic significance. It includes not only humanity but an entire universe tainted by sin. Whereas the Gnostics saw matter as evil, and therefore a holy God could not have profaned Himself by creating matter, we read in Genesis 1:31 that God did create all things and, “He saw that it was very good.” Though creation is now cursed because of man’s fall, God is still actively involved in this world. His desire is to redeem creation — all of creation — “things on earth (and) things in heaven.”
God desires to redeem the heavens for the same reason He desires to redeem the earth — because both are tainted by sin and both are inhabited by sinners — human sinners and angelic sinners. Sin destroyed the harmony between God and creation. Adam, the gardener, fell, and the result is, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17).
Paul reminds us that, “Creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:22). The earth is groaning under the fallenness of its gardener and may we also say that the heavens groan, for angelic beings also fell and profaned the heavens with their sin. But God’s purpose is to reconcile all things to Himself in Christ. Peter reveals that someday God will uncreate this sin-tainted universe and call into being “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
God’s purpose is a restored earth in which the wolf will lay down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6-9) and “creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
This purpose, ordained from eternity, is already at work in history. In 2:15 of this epistle we read that Christ subdued angelic principalities and powers through the cross and in Philippians 2:10,11, we read that someday every knee will bow “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The reconciliation of “all things” means ultimately that every knee will bow and every tongue confess Christ as Lord. All things will be subjected to and submitted to God through Christ.
Not all human or angelic creatures will do this gladly. The reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth does not mean that all human beings or any fallen angels will be reconciled to God. Scripture plainly teaches that fallen angels will not be redeemed (Matt. 25:41,46); nor will unrepentant, unbelieving people. Universal reconciliation does not mean universal salvation. The word confess means to say the same thing, to acknowledge. The principalities of darkness whose overthrow is described in Colossians 2:15 and unredeemed human beings will not surrender to the grace of God in worship or adoration but they will acknowledge and submit to the irresistible, conquering power of God’s redeeming purpose in Christ.
What a grand, hopeful vision of the future this provides us. Everything in the universe that was created by, through and for Christ will someday be submitted to Him — some, conquered by grace, will voluntarily surrender their lives in repentance and faith to the triumphant, risen, sacrificed Lamb and will sing His praise forever. Others — fallen angels and unrepentant humanity — will submit as conquered subjects. But all the universe will be at peace.
1. What does it mean to you that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God”? (v. 15)
2. What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Creator of all things “in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities”? (v. 16).
1:21,22 “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”
We were formerly alienated, separated, cut off from God by sin. Sin is not only disobedience against God. It is an act which severs our fellowship with God. As Paul said to the Ephesians, we were “without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). In our sinful condition, we were not only separated from God. People living without God also become alienated from their own being and from one another, resulting in the violence, crime, confusion and chaos which characterize the human condition. Broken people build broken societies.
However, humanity is not only separated from God. The world is hostile (hateful) to Him. Hostility / hate toward God is expressed through evil deeds. Jesus said that though He, the Light of the world, was present, “Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19,20).
But now through the sacrificial death of Jesus we who once were separated from God are now brought into fellowship with Him, reconciled to Him. We who once were hostile to God are now at peace with Him. We who once expressed our hostility through evil deeds now are able to do that which is pleasing to God.
The goal of this reconciliation is that we may be presented before God “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22). Holy, hagios, means separated from sin. Whereas we once were separated from God by sin, we are not separated by God from sin. This does not mean that we no longer sin. But sin no longer has dominion over us, does not rule our choices. We are able in Christ to refuse sin, to overcome sin and to turn and be restored when we do sin.
Blameless, amomos, means without blemish, the same word used to describe Jesus as the unblemished Lamb of God in I Peter 1:19.
Beyond reproach, anegkletos, refers to someone who is beyond accusation, against whom no charge can be brought. This is what Paul meant when he asked, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies” (Rom. 8:33 and “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Holy and blameless and beyond reproach is both a goal and our position before God. We cannot now be condemned because we have been declared righteous in Christ, through His atoning death. But what Christ accomplished for us on the cross is now being worked out in us. Our position before Christ is being worked out in us progressively, day by day, by the Holy Spirit. The goal will be fully realized someday as we stand perfected in the glory of God.
This was Paul’s objective in discipling the church at Corinth, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2). Jude assures us of the certainty of that someday in his benediction, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 1:24). Someday we will stand before God, perfected in glory.
Though that day is not this day and surely no one will obtain perfection in this life, it is our direction. We are new creations in Christ and as Paul will remind us in chapter three of this epistle, we “have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col 3:10). And as he said to the Corinthian church, as we behold the glory of the Lord, we “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
1:23 “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.”
The promise that we will someday stand before the Lord “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” is contingent on our perseverance — that we “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel.”
The Godward side of our salvation is that Christ did for us what we could never have done for ourselves — presented a holy sacrifice for our sins and obtained for us the forgiveness of our sin, reconciliation with God and eternal life. But there is a human side — we must persevere in faith.
However, the issue is not doubtful. If our faith is true, saving faith resulting in genuine salvation then the Lord will ensure that we will persevere in faith. Remember, faith is a gift from God, as Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). But God has not only granted us grace to believe. He has also granted us grace to endure, to press on, to persevere.
To the church at Rome, Paul said, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). “All things” includes grace to “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel.”
Earlier in this chapter, Paul prayed for the church that we will be “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness” (1:11). The word strengthened is dunamoo (pron. doo nama oh) — to be supernaturally, continually enabled to do something. The word power is dunamei, which is miraculous power, strength. The word might is kratos which is strength in action, dominion. We will “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away” because we are being strengthened with all power, according to God’s glorious might.
Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus that they would know “the surpassing (immeasurable) greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working (energeia — power at work) of the strength (kratos — power that conquers) of His might ((ischus — forcefulness), which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:19,20). Paul was not praying that we will have power — we already do. He was praying that we will know, that we would realize, that the same power of God which was exerted in raising Christ from the dead is released “toward us who believe.” Yes, we will “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” by the working of the power of God within us.
Someone will ask, “What about my friend Joe? He was in church every Sunday, sang in the choir but now he’s living for the devil.” It’s possible that he is going through a time of rebellion, disobedience. But it’s also possible that his faith was never genuine, saving faith. The Apostle John says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (I Jn. 2:19). Their faith was not genuine saving faith and their apostasy, their falling away from the faith, is the proof.
Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:22,23). Their faith was not genuine saving faith and their lawlessness is the proof. But if our faith is true, saving faith, the Lord Himself will ensure that we demonstrate this through our endurance. Persevering faith is the proof of genuine, saving faith and both are a gift from God. Just as saving faith is a gift of grace, so is persevering grace a gift from God.
However again we must emphasize that this is a cooperative effort. If we are “firmly established” then we will be steadfast but being “firmly established” is not a one time event, when we surrendered our lives to the Lordship of Jesus. It is a daily walk of intentional discipleship. Jude exhorts us, “Building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 1:20). Prayer builds us, establishes us.
Feeding on the word of God also builds us up. In his farewell address to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, Paul said, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). Paul reminded the Thessalonian Church that the word of God “performs its work in you who believe” (I Thes. 2:13).
In prayer, in the word of God, in living the word in obedience to the Lord, in worshipping the Lord, in turning from our sin day by day and appropriating grace, we are being firmly established and will be steadfast. Paul said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phlp. 2:12,13). As we cooperate with God, He will enable us to press on, steadfast in the faith.
Paul reminds us, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect / complete / fulfill (epiteleo) it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 1:6). It is God who began the work of salvation in us by awakening us to our sin, enabling us to turn from our sin and gifting us with faith to believe that in Christ we are redeemed from our sin. Surely He will perfect / complete / fulfill what He began.
In Ephesians 1:4 we read that God “chose us in Him (in Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” Before there was a universe God chose to grant us His grace unto salvation toward the goal of a holy, blameless fellowship with Him.
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29,30). “Glorified” refers to our perfected state of being in eternity. Our glorification is so assured that Paul uses a past tense verb to speak of a future event.
How then could we lose in time that which the Lord destined from eternity past and promises to fulfill in eternity future? He enables us to persevere and it is our perseverance that proves our faith.
Jesus said, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39).
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27,28).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:3-5).
Our inheritance is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” It is not our inheritance that is protected — our inheritance is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith.” It is we “who are protected by the power of God through faith”. Our faith connects us to the power of God but even this faith is also a gift from God. We only must exercise it day by day.
In the messages to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus made many promises to those who overcome the temptations and deceptions and persecutions of this world. Among those promises, “I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (2:7); “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5); “I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).
Who are these overcomers? Those who “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23).
1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
Paul rejoices in his suffering and sacrifice since it is for the sake of his fellow believers, for the building up of the body of Christ, the church. In this sacrifice he is entering more fully into the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, a fellowship which he desired to know more fully (Phil. 3:10). Paul wanted to be identified with Christ, in union with Christ, even in suffering. In fact, he experienced this suffering as a source of joy. It was a privilege to him, an honor, to suffer for and with Christ.
When the apostles were arrested and flogged for preaching the Gospel, “They went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). So it was that Paul reminded the Philippian church, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phlpn. 1:29). The word granted, charizommai, is derived from the root charis, the familiar New Testament word for grace. The Philippians were graced, favored, gifted by God with the opportunity to suffer for the sake of Christ. So it was in the early church and so it is today for many Christians around the world — persecuted for their faith and rejoicing in the opportunity to identify with Christ in His suffering.
In “filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” Paul does not mean that the atoning work of Christ on the cross was insufficient or less than perfect in its provision. He is referring to the afflictions yet to be endured by the body of Christ on earth, the church. Those who hate Jesus would wound and kill Him again if they could. But they cannot so they wound and kill those who represent Him on earth.
When Paul left the Jewish synagogue in Pisidian Antioch to go to the Gentiles, he quoted Isaiah 49:6, “I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The church’s mission is to carry the light of salvation to the world. But Christ’s sufferings are also to be carried on by the church. In order for the light to be carried into the regions of darkness, the church will have to endure slander, beatings, imprisonment, even martyrdom.
Again, Paul does not mean that he or any other member of the church will supplement the saving work of Christ on the cross. The redeeming, justifying, reconciling work of Christ was “once for all” (I Peter 3:18). But the body of Christ on earth will suffer to carry the Good News. And as Jesus identifies with the members of His body, then it can be said that Christ suffers as His church suffers. When Jesus confronted Paul on the Damascus road, He said, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Paul’s persecution of the church was experienced by Jesus as persecution of Himself.
Concerning Paul, Jesus said to Ananias, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Suffering in Jesus’ name and in obedience to His will, sacrificially carrying the light of Christ to the world — this is filling up the measure of Christ's suffering and Paul says that this is, for him, a cause of rejoicing and so it should be for us.
1:25-27 “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Paul says that he is a minister / servant to the church and that his ministry is a stewardship entrusted to him from God for their benefit. The purpose of this stewardship is to make known a mystery. Mystery, as used in the New Testament, is not some secret into which we must be initiated through ritual or secret knowledge, as the Gnostics would contend. It is not revelation reserved for the intellectual elite. Mystery is a truth formerly hidden but now made known.
This is a mystery which “God willed to make known (was pleased to make known).” He is a Self-revealing God. He is not hiding. Though truth is sometimes hidden it is not hidden because God does not want us to know truth. Truth is revealed in the fulness of God’s timing and revealed to people who are ready and able to receive the truth. As David said in Psalm 25:14, “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him.” To those who reverence God, truth will be revealed in God’s timing. So it was that in the New Testament Age, mysteries, truth formerly hidden, were revealed.
The mystery was not that God would call Gentiles into His salvation purpose. That had been revealed by the Old Testament prophets. Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord said, “I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations (Gentiles)” (Isa. 42:6). “Nations (Gentiles) will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa. 60:3).
It was no mystery that God would someday dwell in His people. Centuries before, the Lord had spoken through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will put My Spirit within you” (Ezkl 36:27).
It was no mystery that God desires to tabernacle with His people. In Eden's garden, God was accustomed to having fellowship with Adam and Eve. That fellowship was broken by sin. Centuries later, God found a man, Abraham, who built altars, who had a heart to know and journey with God and God made covenant with him. When Abraham's descendants were enslaved, God called Moses to bring them out so they could worship God in the wilderness.
In the wilderness, God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle so God could dwell among them. When they moved into the promised land and settled it, they built a temple so God could tabernacle with His people. That temple was destroyed because of sin but in the fulness of time God sent His Son and “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). It was always known that God wants to dwell among His people.
But what a marvelous truth Jesus revealed before He returned to the Father. He said of the Holy Spirit, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (14:16,17).
Not only would God dwell among His people — he would dwell in them. As we said, Ezekiel had prophesied that the Spirit of God would someday dwell in God’s people but now this truth was “manifested to His saints” — no longer prophecy but now manifestation. The mystery was now experienced among God’s people and so, in this sense, it is revelation.
And although this truth had been prophesied centuries earlier, it surely had been concealed from Gentiles, who for the most part were ignorant of the Scriptures. But now this mystery was made known “among the Gentiles.” This mystery — that Jew and Gentile would be gathered together into the corporate life of God and the Spirit of God would dwell in and among this new community of faith, this was now unveiled to the saints. It is God’s will to make known “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles” which is simply this — “Christ in you (among you), the hope of glory.”
There is also a sense here in which Christ Himself is the mystery — that He would leave the riches and glory of heaven to be born in human form, that He would endure such rejection and suffering, that He would bear our sins and our judgment and die our death. There is a mystery to such unfathomable love. But the mystery is now made known. God no longer dwells in temples made with hands, we are the temple (2 Cor 6:16). The life of Christ in us testifies of our future life in Christ — this is our “hope of glory”, that we are sons and daughters of God who will someday stand before Him, perfected in glory, “qualified … to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (1:12).
In John’s vision of the new heaven and new earth, the apostle heard a voice, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men” (Rev 21:1-3). Since this has always been God’s great desire and is the destiny of the people of God, it is no wonder that the Spirit of God has often said to each believer and to the church, “Restore the tabernacle.” Keep the tabernacle holy for God dwells in us and among us.
1:28 “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”
Paul’s ministry to the church is expressed as he proclaims, admonishes and teaches. But isn’t this the minstry of the church in every generation? To proclaim is to declare publicly. Like Paul, we declare the Christ who redeems, whose redemptive work fills us with the hope of glory. Christ is the sum and substance of the ministry of the church, the Author and Finisher of our faith and therefore the Beginning and the End of our ministry.
Paul admonished the church. Admonish means to reprove or warn gently. There is a sense of care and encouragement in this word, as we see in Paul’s closing words to the church at Ephesus, “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:31). Admonishment is a responsibility of the entire church, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).
Paul also taught the church. The teaching ministry is so essential that Jesus includes it in His Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:191,20).
Paul exhorts us to teach “every man with all wisdom.” Every man / person — no one is excluded and no area of wisdom is excluded — “every man with all wisdom”. There was a time when the Jew would have said that Gentiles were excluded, though that was never God’s purpose. The Gnostic false teachers would have said that many are excluded because they don’t have the secret knowledge, salvation is only for the intellectual elite. But not so. The ministry goal of the church is all wisdom to all believers, not just a few. All the truth of Christ is for all the people of Christ, that we might be transformed into the image of Christ.
The minstry of proclaiming, admonishing and teaching is at the heart of the renewal minstry of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s holy church. “Be ye transformed by the renewal of your mind” Paul admonishes us (Rom. 12:2). As we yield to the renewing work of the Word of God applied by the Spirit of God, we are gradually changed, renewed in conformity to the character of Christ. We are being “renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created” us (Col. 3:10).
John reminds us, “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (I Jn. 3:2). At the appearing of Christ, the renewing, transforming work of the Holy Spirit will be brought to perfect conclusion. So Paul prays for another church, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thes. 5:23).
Paul’s goal in proclamation, admonishment and teaching was “that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Complete means perfect, fully grown (teleios). Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 4 that leadership ministries are placed in the church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man (teleios man), to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12,13).
The goal of ministry is not only to lead people to Christ. It is to disciple them toward the goal of Christ-likeness.
1:29 “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”
Toward that goal of bringing every believer to maturity in Christ, Paul labored with all the strength of God working within him. The word labor means to work to the point of fatigue, even exhaustion. The word striving is agonizomai from which we derive the English word agonize. It was used in reference to athletes who struggled for the prize — the wrestler, the long distance runner. This is Paul’s description of his exercise of the ministry he was given to the church. But lest we misunderstand the source of his strength, as if he relied in himself, he reminds us that he labored and strived “according to His (Christ’s) power, which mightily works within me.”
The word power is energeia from which we derive the word energy. The word mightily is dunamis — abundant, miraculous power. He was able to labor and agonize to the point of exhaustion because of the divine energy of Christ which empowered him from within.
This divine enablement is available to us also. Jesus said, “But you will receive power (dunamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The same Christ provides the same power to us as He did to Paul, that we too might serve Him in this sacred task of discipling the harvest.
Paul encourages us with these words, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20,21).
Conversion is only the beginning of the Christian life. The goal is our completion in the presence of Christ at His appearing. The quality of Paul’s ministry will someday be tested by the quality of his spiritual children who on that day will be presented to Christ. It is the same with our ministries. But this goal of bringing people to completion in Christ will be reached only by the power of God working in and through us. It is not by our own strength that we and others are brought to fulness in Christ. It is only by the power of God and that power is at work in us.
1. We have been reconciled to God in Christ. What is the goal of this reconciliation? (v. 21,22)
2. Why can we be confident that we will “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard”? (v. 23)
2:1-3 “For I want you to know how great a struggle (conflict) I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
The word struggle or conflict is agon, the root of the word agaonizomai which we encountered in 1:29. The English word agony is derived from this word. It was used in reference to athletes who struggled to win the prize — the wrestler, the long distance runner. Paul loved Christ’s church and loved the saints who comprised that church and therefore he was a fierce adversary of anything or anyone who threatened to corrupt the church, especially with false teaching. Paul was writing from imprisonment — he was literally chained to a Roman soldier as he dictated this letter — therefore he could not personally visit the Colossian believers. So his struggle, his conflict is waged through prayer and through this powerful, written expression of truth.
Though the church was being threatened by the lethal lies of false teachers, Paul will not allow imprisonment to prevent his defense of Christ’s holy church. His intercession for the saints is powerful as is this letter in which he clearly refutes every lie of the heretics. We are reminded of his words to the Corinthian church, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4). We cannot defeat spiritual powers with worldy weapons and strategies. We can with prayer and truth.
Paul embraces this struggle so that the church will be encouraged, having been knit together in love, so that they would attain to the wealth that derives from knowing Jesus.
A. First of all, he wants the church to be encouraged / strengthened. The word is parakaleo (the noun is parakletos — Comforter, Helper, used by Jesus in reference to the Holy Spirit). We recall Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus, that the Lord “would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). The believers needed to be strengthened, encouraged by the Holy Spirit in order to resist the false teachers who were attempting to corrupt the church with their heretical philosophy that Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation, that we need access to mysteries and higher revelation communicated by angelic beings to the spiritual / intellectual elite.
B. But it is not only the Holy Spirit who strengthens us — we are also called to strengthen one another as Jesus said to Peter, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Therefore Paul also reminds them of the organic nature of the church — their hearts “having been knit together in love.” The word knit together is sumbibazo which means to unite. They are not an organization — they are an organism, a living entity — the body of Christ, the household of faith, living stones connected together through Jesus the cornerstone, living branches joined to a living vine — all the pictures of the church are organic. Whatever they hope to attain or to do, it will be in a context of being knit together in spiritual union in Christ.
And it is a unity which expresses itself in love — “having been knit together in love” (2:2) — the love of Christ for the saints reflected back to Christ in worship and service and released through the saints in mutual submission and service to one another. Jesus asked the Father “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Jesus wants the Father’s love for the Son to be imparted into the hearts of His followers so that the same love which the members of the Trinity share with one another may also be imparted into and through His church. “Having been knit together in love” is an accomplished fact, it is a reality which Christ has accomplished in His church through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, reminds them that the reason for the leadership ministries of the church is for, “the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ … but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:12,13, 15,16).
We resist false teaching, we receive Holy Spirit encouragement, we receive true revelation, as members of an organic union in Christ in which our hearts are “knit together in love” in Christ.
C. Within this union, Paul desires that they attain “to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding” (2:2). Paul wants the church to be truly wealthy and he will define the nature of that wealth in the next phrase but first he wants them to know how to attain true wealth. It is through “the full assurance of understanding” — sunesis — reflective thought and the ability to apply Biblical principles to every day life. Understanding, sunesis, is how we are to love God, “With all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength” (Mark 12:33).
D. This wealth of understanding is defined as “a true knowledge of God’s mystery” (2:2) which is nothing other than Jesus “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:2,3). The word hidden is apokruphos which refers to a secret. It is a word the Gnostic false teachers used to describe their secret revelation available only to the intellectual elite, the spiritually initiated. Paul says we have our secret knowledge and though it is hidden in Christ it is available to everyone — the secret is revealed, it is open in Jesus Christ.
Christ Himself is the mystery, the Christ who came seeking lost sinners, the Christ who calls lost sinners to Himself, the Christ who wants us to “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9), the Christ through whom the Father “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (1:12); the Christ through whom the Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13,14); the Christ who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of (over) all creation” (1:15); the Christ by whom and for whom “all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities”, which includes all ranks of angels, holy and unholy (1:16); the Christ who is “before all things, and in (whom) all things hold together” (1:17); the Christ in whom “all the fulness of Deity dwells on bodily form” (2:9); the Christ who is “the head over all rule and authority” (2:10); the Christ who “disarmed the rulers and authorities” and “made a public display of them” having triumphed over them in the cross (2:15); the Christ who reconciled us to God “through the blood of His cross” (1:20). This is the Christ whom Paul proclaimed “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom” (1:28). In this Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
What a stinging rebuke to the false teachers who said that salvation is based on secret revelation, mysteries gained through angelic beings emanating from God and available only to the spiritual /intellectual elite. And the false teachers would also say that we can season these secret mysteries with harsh self-denial and ritual observances and angel worship. “No,” says Paul. The mystery is the Christ who created those angels, who rules over them and this Christ has made Himself known and He alone is sufficient for our salvation.
However, we must admit that Jesus is completely hidden to some people. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul reveals that, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Those who are in love with the humanist, man-centered philosophies and religions of this world, who find the simplicity of Christ to be beneath their exalted intellect, who consider a crucified, resurrected Savior to be offensive, who in their self-centered, self-exalting philosophies and lifestyles refuse to bow before the Lordship of Jesus Christ, for those, the mystery of Christ is truly hidden.
Even the powers of darkness were cast into confusion at the incarnation of the eternal God in human form, as John reveals, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it” (John 1:5).
The mystery of Christ is hidden to the spiritual and earthly rulers of this age but not hidden to those who are in Christ. Paul said, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit … Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God … But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised … But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:6-10a,12,14,16b).
We have the mind of Christ, in whom we find “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Our relationship with Jesus, our experience of His grace in our lives, is to be regarded as wealth. In Jesus are hidden all the wealth of true wisdom and knowledge.
For the follower of Christ, wisdom and knowledge are not discovered beneath layers of religious exercise or intellectual theory or secret revelation derived from angelic beings emanating from God or complex rituals or harsh self-denial, as the false teachers professed then and today. True wisdom and knowledge are encountered in a person — Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He is truth incarnate. The writer to the Hebrews said, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebr. 1:1,2).
God has spoken to us, revealed Himself to us in His Son and we come to know God’s perspective on truth as we come to a personal knowledge of God’s revelation of truth through and in relationship with Jesus Christ. We grow in the knowledge of truth as we grow in Christ. We attain the true wealth of wisdom as we grow into a fullness of relationship with Christ who releases wisdom into our lives as we are willing and able to receive it.
Paul would have us remember that wisdom and knowledge are not an end in themselves — rather, it is Christ we are to seek and to know — the wisdom wealth which we seek derives through a deeper understanding regarding God’s mystery which is Christ Jesus. The mystery of God is unfolded in Jesus Christ.
And Paul would have us to understand that our experience of Christ is not only personal but corporate — as we are knit together with God’s saints we attain to the wealth that is found in Christ. As Paul said to the church at Ephesus, as we are “rooted and grounded in love” we are “able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19). Rooted together with all the saints in living union with Christ, we are “able to comprehend” not only the love of God but all the truth and grace that He is able to pour into our hearts and minds.
2:4,5 “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.”
Paul’s desire is that they would not be deceived by persuasive, well-crafted arguments, enticing words, all of which translate the word pithanologia. This word refers to the words of an eloquent court room lawyer, able to sway the opinion of the court. This is surely a reference to the Gnostic heretics who were seeking to deceive the young church with persuasive but false notions of truth. Even today, false teachers present their eloquent lies.
Paul rejoices in the continued discipline and stability of faith of the church. The word discipline, taxis, is a military word, referring to ranks of soldiers, ready for battle, each standing in his appointed place. Stability or steadfastness is stereoma, an immoveable bulwark, a formation of soldiers who cannot be moved by the charge of the enemy. Faith is a discipline and disciplined faith is stable faith. But notice that their discipline and stability are found only in Christ. It is on Christ the solid rock we stand. All other ground is sinking sand.
2:6,7 “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.”
As you have received Jesus, walk it out in Him. He means, “Live your faith.” We have a living relationship with a living Savior resulting in a living faith expressed in the way we live.
Our experience of God’s saving grace may have begun at an altar long ago. But it must be lived out in a daily walk with the Lord and in the Lord — by His grace, through the strength He provides, in union with Him, “being built up in Him”. The verb tense of the phrase indicates a continuous action — we are continually being built up in Christ. We recall how Peter exhorted the church, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In the midst of false teaching and false philosophies in the church and corrupt pagan traditions outside the church, the saints at Colossae would continue to grow and be built up in Christ because they were rooted in Him and were being continually built up in Him.
Notice the repeated use of the phrase “in Him” — “walk in Him”, “being built up in Him.” Paul uses the language of a living organism to describe the Christian life. We are firmly rooted in the Lord — He is the beginning of our new life and He is the Source of our continued life. Christ is the vine, we are the branches; He is the Head, we are the body. Christ’s desire is to nourish our faith, to cultivate within us the quality of His life which Paul, in Galatians 5, calls the fruit of the Spirit. However, the life that is growing in Christ is a partnership. Whatever the Lord desires to do in us requires our active participation. We have been firmly rooted in Christ, we are being built up in Him, we have been established in this holy faith, but we must give ourselves to the process.
Notice this phrase — “established in your faith, just as you were instructed.” We cannot be established in the faith without Godly instruction. Are we willing to be discipled, to submit to Christ-centered, biblically based instruction? Are we willing to spend time in prayer and worship and reading God’s word? Are we willing to live that word, to obey Christ’s commands? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
We must emphasize the importance of the word of God in this process of growth. Paul exhorted the elders of the church at Ephesus with these words,“And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32)
In similar fashion, Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (I Thess. 2:13). The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “The word of God is living and active” (Hebr. 4:12). The word of God performs its work in us because it is a living word, dynamic, creative, producing in us the reality, the substance of that word.
We must also add that there are churches today that do not instruct people in the word of God. They teach socially acceptable, politically correct, antichrist, unscriptural doctrines of demons. It is impossible in that context for anyone to grow in Christ. Though societies and cultures change, the truth of God’s word is unchanging from age to age. It is truth that transcends cultural values because it is truth revealed by a Truth-Giver who transcends this and every generation. Given the prevalence of false teachers in every age, we need to be discerning as to who instructs us in the faith and who does not.
As we submit to Godly instruction, the word of God will cause continuous growth in us. And as the life of God animates and energizes our own life, we will overflow with many Godly traits. One of them will be gratitude to the God who shares His life with us. We will be, as Paul says, “overflowing with gratitude.” In fact, thanksgiving is one of the distinguishing marks of the Christian. Later in this epistle, Paul exhorts the church to sing “with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:16,17).
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebr. 13:15).
If we are being “knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:2,3); if we are “firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established” in the faith (2:7); then we will be “overflowing with gratitude.”
1. What does Paul mean when he says that we have been “knit together in love” and how does this impact our ability to come to a “true knowledge of God’s mystery”? (see v. 1-3)
2. With so many cultic expressions of non-truth, with false philosophies and false religions abounding, where can we find “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”?
2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
See to it may be translated beware, take heed, perceive. Jesus warned the church, “Beware of false prophets” (Matt. 7:15). The apostles Peter and Paul continually warned the church to beware of false shepherds. In every generation we need to be discerning, perceptive of the strategies of the powers of darkness to deceive, entrap, seduce and corrupt Christ’s holy church.
Specifically, Paul warns the saints to beware that no one takes you captive — carries you off as plunder, robs you, kidnaps you, carries you into captivity. Surely it is true that false religions and heretical doctrines of demons which deny the sufficiency of Christ rob people of the possibility of salvation through faith in Christ; they blind people to the light of the gospel of Jesus, rob people of the blessing and peace that comes from knowing the truth and living the truth in Christ. False teachers are thieves. And false teachers are slave masters, drawing people into enslaving prisons of darkness.
Paul warns the church not to be taken captive through philosophy — phileo sophia — the love of wisdom. Greek culture loved wisdom. When Paul preached in Athens of a resurrected Savior, they sneered at him (Acts 17:32). He explains the reason for this in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside’ … For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:18,19,22-24).
Speaking of those who reject God’s revelation and reinvent God according to their own imagination, creating their own gods, Paul said, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21,22).
Though the Gnostic teachers considered their view of God, of Christ and the universe to be complex, sophisticated, enlightened, Paul calls it nothing more than empty deception — empty of meaning and capable only of deceiving. In fact, the word deception could be translated fraud. So it is in every generation. Humanist thinkers attempt to develop philosophical systems which explain the First Cause and origins of the universe without God, the meaning of life without God, the future of the soul after death without God. But separated from God, denying the very existence of the true God from whom they are separated, they begin in darkness and end in darkness. As Paul said, “They became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 12:21,22).
Paul says that this empty deception is according to the tradition of men. Just because something has been handed down as tradition does not mean it is true. A common saying of Jesus was, “You heard it said, but I say.” He was not refuting the Scriptures. He was peeling away the traditions of men that had covered and obscured the word of God. He criticized the Scribes and Pharisees for their slavery to vain, unscriptural traditions, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8).
In a fallen world, dead traditions are passed on from one dying generation to another. Peter reminds us that we “were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18,19). We have been redeemed from the futility of useless traditions devised in darkness by unredeemed frauds.
“According to the elementary principles (stoicheion) of the world”. Stoicheion refers to something in an orderly arrangement and is related to the concept of the alphabet. But it also can mean elemental, rudimentary which is Paul’s meaning here. Whereas the false teachers considered their philosophy to be superior to the simplicity of Christian truth and accessible only to the intellectual elite, Paul says that it is elementary school, simplistic, immature, childish, pre-Christian and therefore beneath the level of mature Christians who are feeding on the grand mysteries of Christ. Why would anyone descend from the exalted revelation found in Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:2) to such infantile, pre-Christian philosophical foolishness?
Paul warns the church not to be taken captive by deceptive philosophies, human traditions or worldly principles devised by false teachers who are nothing other than slave-making frauds and thieves. We should be captives of Christ in whom there is true liberty, and nothing less.
What was the deception that was threatening to captivate the Colossians? It was not a godless immorality, which they would have easily rejected. It was a philosophy involving high sounding truth from pagan and Jewish sources which had the effect of seducing believers away from the simplicity of truth in Jesus. The false teachers devalued God as Creator and Christ as Redeemer, contending that Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation. They argued that to be truly saved we need access to deep mysteries and revelation derived from angelic mediators. We need to practice harsh self denial and observe traditional rituals which actually had been laid aside by the New Covenant. This false teaching sounded impressive, appealed to the spiritual pride of unredeemed minds, but in fact was nothing more than dead tradition in accordance with elementary principles of demonic origin. It was pre-Christian, anti-Christian, spiritual regression.
There was a time, before we came to Christ, that we could not help being dominated by worldly principles and dark spiritual powers which control the present world order in opposition to God. But now Christ has appeared, has conquered the powers and principalities, has redeemed us and translated us out of the dominion of darkness. How foolish then to turn back, to place oneself again under the yoke of conquered powers when Christ has set us free.
2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,”
After warning the church not to fall captive to the empty deceptions of the Gnostic heresies, which as we have said, devalue the Deity and humanity of Jesus, Paul responds with one of the most glorious statements of the full Deity and humanity of Christ. The word fullness, pleroma, is the same word Paul used in 1:19, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.” Contrary to the Gnostic heresy, that there were supernatural powers and entities mediating between man and God and the fulness of deity was divided among this multitude of divine beings, among whom Jesus was a lesser angelic being, Paul proclaims that all the fullness (pleroma), all the attributes and activities of God, all the glorious totality of divine being, resides in Christ.
At the same time, Paul asserts the full humanity of Christ. The fulness of Deity was incarnate in human form. All that it means to be human, but without sin, Jesus was in His incarnation. We have something better than a descending succession of spiritual powers mediating between God and man. We have a Savior who is God in the flesh, a Savior in whom all the fulness of the divine nature and divine attributes dwells in bodily form — perfect God and perfect Man.
Remember that an aspect of this Gnostic heresy was that spirit is good, matter is evil, therefore God could not have created the material universe — God insulated Himself by creating through these angelic / divine intermediaries. And surely could not have profaned Himself by appearing in human form. This not only devalues God as Creator but also devalues God as Redeemer, for if Jesus was not truly, fully human, then He could not have offered Himself on the cross as the Substitute for humanity. And if Jesus was not truly, fully divine then He could not have taken upon Himself the eternal wrath of God and offered Himself as the holy, unblemished Sacrifice.
Paul refutes the false teaching by proclaiming the God / Man, Jesus Christ.
The Apostle John reminds us, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7). Any philosophical system or teacher that denies the absolute Deity of Christ and the perfect humanity of Christ is participating in the antichrist spirit.
Paul’s portrait of Christ is entirely consistent with the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah and the New Testament revelation of Jesus. Let’s briefly review the Old and New Testament portrait of Christ.
In the Garden of Eden, before man and woman were cast out, the Lord said to Satan, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen. 3:15). This is the promise that someday, Someone born of the seed of the woman (without a human father) would inflict a lethal defeat on Satan.
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Lord spoke through the prophet Micah, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). The Messiah would preexist His birth in human form.
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6 ). Notice that “a child will be born” — Jesus in His humanity would be born. But “a son will be given,” not born, because the Son of God preexisted His birth in human form.
Isaiah also prophesied, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Immanuel means, “God with us” and so it was. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (El Elyon); and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:31,32). The Son who would be born to Mary would also be the Son of El Elyon.
Mary did not understand how this could happen, since she did not have a husband. Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by the seed of a man, conceived in the womb of a woman, the Messiah was the Son of God / Son of Mary — God in human form.
John presents this miracle to us in the opening verses of His Gospel, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). This phrase, “the word became flesh” does not mean that God ceased to be God in becoming Man. Though God is uncreated, Self-existent Being and therefore is unchanging, God became perfect Man without ceasing to be perfect God. Jesus was incarnate as perfect Man but radiating the glory of God, full of grace and truth and every other attribute of God. Charles Wesley expressed this so perfectly in the hymn we sing every Christmas, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity, born as Man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel; hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King.”
Jesus validated this miracle when He claimed God as His Father, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30); when He claimed to preexist His life on earth, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). He was not only testifying of His eternality but also of His Deity. He could have said, “Before Abraham was born, I was.” But in using “I am,” He was intentionally invoking the name of God — Yahweh / Jehovah / I Am — the name revealed by God to Moses in Exodus 3:13,14.
Jesus prayed, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). “For You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Jesus, preexisting His incarnation in human form, shared in the work of creation. John testifies, “All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being,” (John 1:3). All of creation — all physical and spiritual creation, the laws and forces that govern creation, all of time and eternity — all things came into being by God’s creative act through His Son.
Paul revealed to us in chapter one of this letter, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16,17).
But how unexpectedly glorious, that the Co-Creator of the universe humbled Himself to be born in human form to redeem lost humanity: “Who, although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men,” (Phlp. 2:6,7).
Jesus, the Son of God existed in the form of God but did not consider equality with God something to be held onto. Rather, He veiled the glory of God so He could take the form of a servant. The word form, in both uses here, is the Greek word morphe. There are two Greek words that can be translated into the English word form: schema and morphe.
Schema refers to the outward form or appearance which may change from time to time. Morphe refers to the inner, unchanging substance of a person’s being. For example, you are a human being in your morphe and that will not be altered in this life. However, your schema, your outward appearance, has changed throughout your life from a baby to a child to young adult and so on through the years.
Jesus existed in the morphe of God, possessing the true essence and nature of God. He also took the morphe of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness (homoioma, which refers to the true reality of something) of men.
Whereas the first Adam grasped at equality with God (Genesis 3:5,6), Jesus, though truly God, took the form of man. He became the second Adam, born in human form to serve God's purpose in redeeming a fallen human race.
The writer to the Hebrews adds, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance (brightness) of His glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Jesus was the shining revelation of God’s glory. Every time Jesus taught the truth, every time He healed a lame man or gave sight to the blind, every time He forgave sin, raised the dead or pronounced woe upon His persecutors, God was revealing His glory.
Jesus is “the exact representation (or image) of His (God's) nature.” The word image is charakter from which we derive the English word character. It refers to an engraving, a figure stamped on a coin, an exact copy of something. Just as a coin bears the stamp or impress of something, so Jesus bore the exact stamp of God’s being.
The word nature is hypostasis and can be translated essence or substance. Hypostasis is the real essence of something. What God essentially is, was made manifest, visible in Jesus. He is the very image of God’s substance.
Whereas the radiance of His glory refers to the outer manifestation of the life of the Father in the ministry of Jesus, the very image of His substance refers to the inner essence of the Father in Jesus. Jesus was, is and ever shall be God in substance, essence and nature.
From eternity Jesus existed in the form, the morphe of God, possessing the true essence and nature of God. He did not cease to be God but entered into another manner of existence, taking the morphe of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of a human being.
How could the Creator take on the form of a creature? How could the eternal God enter and live in time? How could the God who is infinite take on human limitations? How could Jesus be perfectly God and perfectly Man? This is a holy mystery. But as a matter of faith we confess that Jesus continued to be truly God while also becoming truly Man. Jesus continued to be the Creator of all, yet existing as a creature. He continued to be the everlasting, eternal, infinite God while entering the limitations of time and space.
Jesus became perfectly human without diminishing or relinquishing any aspect of His Deity. He remained perfectly God while becoming perfect Man. “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus Christ is the express image of God, the character, the fullness of God revealed in human form. But now Paul has an even more remarkable truth to proclaim.
2:10 “and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;”
The phrase have been made complete, is one word — pepleromenoi — which is related to the noun pleroma. Jesus Christ is the pleroma, “the fulness of God in bodily form” (2:9) and in His fulness we are made fully complete. Pepleromenoi is a perfect tense verb meaning that our completeness in Christ is eternal. In union with Christ, we share in the life of God and are brought into the fulness, the completeness which God intended for humanity.
Recall that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God but when they sinned, they became separated from God and their own being began to disintegrate due to the conflicting pressures of guilt, shame, fear and sorrow. We were not designed to live apart from God. In that state of separation we are incomplete beings. But in Jesus we are reconciled to God and our own fragmented being finds wholeness. In union with Christ, we share the fulness of His life and we grow progressively toward the fulness which God purposed for human beings.
We are reminded of these words from the Gospel of John, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth … For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:14,16). Because we have been brought into union with Jesus in our new birth — buried with Him, raised with Him, seated with Him in the heavenlies — therefore He is able to pour of His fulness into our lives. And because our Lord is infinite in all that He is, we will never exhaust His resource of fulness.
This is why, when Paul prayed for the removal of something in His life which he described as a thorn, the Lord refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul’s response was, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (12:9).
Do you hear what he means? Our lack, our weakness, our pain, our struggle, drives us to Christ in whom we find infinite riches and resources. “Of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” Our lack becomes a resource multiplier because it drives us to the fulness of Christ.
Peter reminds us, “He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The word partakers is koinonos which means to fellowship, to partner, to share. God’s purpose is that we share in the nature pf Christ. The phrase, “May become partakers,” does not push this into the future. It is God’s desire now that we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18); that we grow “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
2:10 “And He is the head over all rule and authority;”
The Christ who completes us is head over all rule and authority in this universe. Paul is responding again to the false teachers who alleged that Jesus is only one among many angelic beings. In fact, Jesus is Lord over all creation and all rulership by virtue of the fact that He is Creator of all that was, is and shall be. In chapter one verse 16 Paul said, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him.”
“Thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” refer to orders or ranks of angelic beings — unholy, fallen angels and holy angels. Jesus is not a mere angelic emissary emanating from God. He is the Creator of angels, they owe their existence to Him, they were created in Him, through Him and for Him and as such, He is their Lord, they are subject to Him.
Jesus is “head over all rule and authority” not only because He created all things but also because He sustains all that He created, “In Him all things hold together (consist)” (1:17); because He is the upholder of all He created (Hebr. 1:3). And Jesus also gained Headship by conquering, on His cross, all powers and principalities (Col. 2:15). Therefore we read, “And let all the angels of God worship Him” (Hebr. 1:6).
Therefore we need not give reverence to any conquered governmental structure of angels nor should we bow before any humanist philosophy or any false teacher who denies the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ. Rather, it is they who must bow before Jesus and we also give praise and glory and blessing and honor to the Second Person of the Trinity, Co-Creator of the universe, who left the riches of heaven, took upon Himself human form that He would be our holy Lamb and risen Lord. All glory and praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.
1. What does Paul mean when He says that in Christ “all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form”?
2. What does he mean when he says, “In Him you have been made complete?”
2:11,12 “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
In verse ten, Paul said that “we have been made complete” in Christ. This has taken place through our union with Christ and Paul will now elaborate on our completeness in union with Jesus.
In referring to “the circumcision of Christ”, Paul is not referring to the Jewish rite of circumcision which Jesus and all Jewish males underwent as infants. This was a ritual of inclusion in the Jewish community but was not a guarantee of salvation. There were those who contended that because they were circumcised and descended from Abraham, therefore they were among the saved, considered by God to be righteous. This was never true.
In Genesis 15:6, we read of Abram (later renamed Abraham), “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abram’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness long before he was circumcised. Circumcision was an outward sign of the inward reality of faith which was already present in Abraham before he was circumcised, which faith resulted in righteousness. Paul makes this clear in Romans 4:11, speaking of Abraham who “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised.”
This was not a new idea. The prophet Habakuk had declared to Israel, “But the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). Those who live by faith are counted as righteous and righteousness is not imputed through any ritual, whether circumcision or baptism or any other.
So, “the circumcision of Christ” is not a reference to the Jewish rite. It is a reference to the death of Jesus which was a “removal (or putting off ) of the body of the flesh.” And it is a reference to our identification with the death of Jesus. Paul is saying that just as Jesus put off the body of His flesh in dying, we also by faith in Christ have entered into spiritual union with His death and have put off our old, unredeemed human nature. We have been “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands”, a spiritual circumcision.
This happened in our salvation, as Paul said to the church at Rome, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized (immersed) into Christ Jesus have been baptized (immersed) into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism (immersion) into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:3-6).
Again Pauls says, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). In the cross of Christ our Substitute, our old nature was put to death. Through faith in Christ we are spiritually united with His substitutionary death, as Paul says in 3:3 of this letter, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” And we also are spiritually united with His resurrection, “raised up with Him through faith” (2:12).
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). In Christ, we have died to sin’s domination, set free from sin’s governorship over our lives and have risen as new creations.
Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). And so for each of us who are in Christ.
The death and burial of the old sin nature does not mean that we have been set free from sin’s presence. Though we are new creations in Christ, we still carry memories and habit patterns of our past life. We still possess areas of weakness and vulnerability. We are still surrounded by the temptations and corruptions of a fallen world which can incite our humanness. But we are set free from sin’s penalty because the penalty was paid on the cross. And we are set free from sin’s power to control our life because sin’s power was broken through the cross, though we are not free from sin’s presence.
So Paul also says, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col. 3:5). A very literal translation reads, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (ESV). Another translation reads, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (NLV).
In other words, we must make a conscious effort, each day, to live our new life, to live as the new creations that we are and to put to death any manifestation of old habit patterns. The Holy Spirit living in us empowers us to do this victoriously.
Notice the words “having been buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:12). As we have said, the word baptism refers to our immersion into relationship with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Baptisma, from baptizo, refers to something immersed in water and could be used in reference to a piece of wood at the bottom of the sea. It is not only under water but saturated with water, water-logged. Jesus told His disciples to wait until they were immersed in, filled with, saturated with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4,5).
Baptizo is also used of a piece of bread dipped in sauce — it’s no longer the same bread after that. It has a different consistency, different taste. God wants us to have a different consistency through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Baptizo is used to describe the dying of a garment. The dye not only covers the garment but is in the thread, it infuses the cloth. God wants to saturate us, infuse us with the Holy Spirit.
So when Paul says that we have been “buried with Him (Christ) in baptism,” he is referring to our union with Christ’s death and burial, in which union our old nature was put to death, circumcised, put off and buried. Water baptism is a representation of this spiritual circumcision, a picture of our sharing in Christ's death and burial, wherein we put off “the body of the flesh”, that is, the old, rebellious, sinful nature. We are therefore to consider our old self, with its tendency toward evil and rebellion against God, to be dead, put away, buried in the sense that it can no longer rule over us, though as we said, we must still wrestle against old habit patterns, memories and temptations.
But Paul also says, “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him” (2:12). Through faith in Christ we have been immersed into union with His resurrection. Water baptism is a representation of our sharing in this resurrection. The believer does not stay under the water but comes up out of the water, an act which proclaims the beginning of a new life.
Notice that Paul says that we are raised “through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead”. The same power that raised Jesus from death also now raises the believer into new life and sustains the believer with the resurrection life and power of God, enabling us to live as the new creation that we are.
As Paul said to the church at Rome, “But if (since) the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). Joined to Christ, we share in the resurrection life which He, the Head, imparts to each member of the church body. We share in the life of the age to come even though we are still alive in this age.
We need to emphasize that the water of baptism is not the source of power nor is any ritual associated with baptism a source of power. It is “faith in the working of God, who raised Him (Christ) from the dead” (Col. 2:12). The word working is energeia, from which we derive the word energy. Our faith in the saving death of Jesus brings us into union with the resurrection energy of God and with the energy, the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.
So to summarize, when Paul says that we have been “been buried with Him (Christ) in baptism”, he is not speaking of the ritual of water baptism but of our identification with Christ, our immersion into relationship with Christ through repentance and faith in His atoning sacrifice. We are now united with Jesus in His death and resurrection. Water baptism is an outward sign of this everlasting union between the believer and the living, resurrected Christ.
Water baptism is a way of saying, “Jesus, I believe You died for my sin and I believe that my sin and my unredeemed human nature was buried with You. Now I rise as a new creation, in newness of life with You.” Dying with Christ, buried with Him, dead to our old ways, buried in the waters, we then rise in the life of Jesus. The same Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead now indwells us and gives life to us (Romans 8:11).
We might also say that water baptism is a proclamation. In going under the water and rising again, we proclaim the death of the old life and the rebirth, the inauguration of the new life. And what is this new life? It is the resurrection life of Jesus in us.
2:13 “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,”
The condition or location of all humanity, in our natural state, is separation from God. This is described as spiritual death. “Transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh” refers not only to our sin but our rebellious, idolatrous sinful nature. It is not simply that humanity sins but that the human being is by nature a sinner and this creates lethal separation from God. In our spiritual deadness we are unable either to overcome our sin or atone for it.
Some of the characteristics of spiritual death are humanity’s suppression of the truth of God, our inability to understand the truth He reveals and our inability to bridge the canyon of separation from God through our own efforts. We can realize that God exists through the inner witness of conscience and through the grandness of creation (see Rom. 1:19,20). But we cannot know God in a saving sense nor be reconciled to Him by our self-invented religious rituals or our supposed good works. Because humanity has an unquenchable instinct to worship, we have invented false gods and corrupt rituals of worship which have led to an ever deepening descent into moral and social depravity, evidence of the darkness of separation from God and spiritual death.
However, though we once were dead in our sins, now by faith we have been made alive together with the Lord who has risen from death. Again Paul emphasizes our union with Christ. Resurrection, new life as new creations, as with all of our blessings, is found “in Christ” and “with Christ.” We are “alive together with Him.” We share in the resurrection life of Jesus.
This sharing in the life of Christ is possible only because God has forgiven our sins through the atoning death of Christ, “ He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Col. 2:13). Because Christ died as our Substitute, taking onto Himself our sins and God’s judgment against our sin, we who place our faith in this sacrifice are forgiven (charizomai, 5483: to pardon, rescue, freely give).
This is what Jesus promised at the last Passover with His disciples, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). This is the message which filled the preaching of the apostles. On that first Pentecost, Peter proclaimed, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).
2:14 “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
Paul now provides a brilliant illustration of God’s forgiveness. The words certificate of debt are the translation of one word, cheirographos, which refers to a certificate written and signed by a debtor acknowledging his debt — an IOU. Each of us owed to God a debt which we could never have hoped to repay; decrees of indebtedness were issued against us which we had no hope of overturning. We have each violated God’s moral law countless times and the result is separation from God, from His blessings, from His life, from His presence. How could we defend ourselves against the true and just accusation of these decrees? All have sinned, all are guilty. There is no defense.
In past generations, financial debtors were thrown in prison. It is still true spiritually and emotionally — we have all been imprisoned in the debtor’s house of guilt and shame, beginning with Adam and Eve. And the powers of darkness continually accuse our souls and accuse us before God, waving the certificate of our debt. But it’s a blank certificate because Jesus canceled (exaleipho to blot out, erase, wipe away, obliterate), the decrees.
Paul says that God nailed our certificate of debt to the cross of Christ. It was common to nail a plaque or sign to the top of a cross, detailing the crimes of the one being punished and though Jesus was innocent of all sin and all charges made against Him, He truly and literally bore all of our sin on that cross. It’s as if there was a literal sign on His cross detailing the sins of every sinner but it was erased as Jesus shouted, “It is finished!”
“It is finished” — tetelestai — means completely fulfilled — a declaration of absolute defiance and triumph over the body of laws which shout our guilt and the powers of darkness which once stood accusing us night and day! The certificate was erased, canceled.
2:15 “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”
Through the cross of Jesus, the spiritual powers and principalities of darkness were disarmed and through that cross, Jesus triumphed over them. Christ not only releases us from the guilt and accusation of our sin but also from its lordship, its dominion over us. Through the cross, God “rescued us from the domain (rule, jurisdiction) of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13,14).
The powers that once bound us through our sin are now publicly disarmed and conquered through the cross. Though we still must wrestle against these powers through prayer and proclamation of truth, they are a defeated foe. The instrument of Jesus' shame, suffering and death, by which the powers of darkness thought they had forever triumphed against God and fallen humanity, became the instrument of their eternal defeat. Had they understood the salvation purpose of God, had they recognized the necessity of the holy sacrifice, “They would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Cor. 2:8).
This crucified and risen Lord now makes a public display of them. Public display refers to the victory processions of Roman generals and emperors, in which conquered enemies, disarmed and in chains, followed the hero’s chariot.
Again, here is a reference to the Gnostic heresy which threatened the church of that day. The false teachers were saying that Christ alone is not sufficient for our salvation but we need access to higher revelation from angelic intermediaries between God and humanity. This was nothing more than a doctrine of demons and how foolish to give reverence to principalities and powers of darkness as though they control our entrance into the salvation purpose of God. That entrance is controlled by the Christ who created holy angels and angels who fell and these fallen powers and principalities were conquered by Christ who then subjected them to Himself, who, in fact, descended into hell and proclaimed His dominion over them (I Peter 3:19).
Whatever dominion they may have once exercised, they are now disarmed and publicly displayed as defeated foes. These once proud lords of darkness are now exposed as nothing more than “beggarly, elemental spirits” (Gal. 4:9).
Ironic that modern man denies the existence of the demonic while trembling before demonic forces operating in history which humanity admits are beyond our control. Humanists may cloak their demons in psychological language or economic or genetic or political / military language, but modern humanity still trembles before the demons of this age.
However, those who have knelt at the cross of Christ, who have with the eyes of faith witnessed the victory procession of our Lord, refuse to tremble but instead give honor where honor is due. Joining our voices with angels and archangels and with all the host of heaven, we give glory to the crucified and risen Christ, Lord of all, “Who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (I Peter 3:22). Every creature and power of the universe is subject to Christ as Creator. Some are willingly subject to Him as Redeemer. Some are unwillingly subject to Him as Conqueror. But all are subject.
The writer to the Hebrews said in reference to Christ, “You have put all things in subjection under His feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him” (Hebr. 2:8). There are still creatures, angelic and human, who are in rebellion against the King of kings and Lord of lords. But the writer assures us, though we do not yet see all things subject to Him, “We do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor” (Hebr. 2:9). And we are assured by the apostle Paul of that glorious someday when “creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21); that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord (Phlp. 2:10, Rom. 14:11).
In this time between the victory of Christ through the cross and empty tomb, and the visible, universal consummation of that victory, in this time when we see only by faith what we shall someday see face to face, we are nevertheless assured “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38).
To be united to Christ is to be united to His death and resurrection. His redemptive victory is cosmic, extending to the edges of the universe and beyond time. But it is also personal, reaching the least and last sinner who bows before Him in repentance and faith. He is seated at the right hand of majesty, enthroned in glory, and enthroned in the hearts of those who receive Him as King and Lord.
And in these days of struggle, as we wrestle against defeated but still present and active powers and principalities of darkness, as we press on to shine the light of the glory of Christ in the midst of multiplying evil, we rejoice to walk in the victory procession of Almighty God, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).
Therefore we rejoice with our brother Paul, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57).
1. What does it mean that believers have been buried and raised with Christ?
2. What does Paul mean when he says that our “certificate of debt” was nailed to the cross?
2:16-18 “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.”
The false teachers were pushing a corrupt, heretical, demonically inspired agenda on the church. In verse 16 Paul may have been referring to Jewish legalism, which asserted that in addition to placing faith in Christ for salvation, one must also obey the Law of Moses. Particular emphasis was placed on food and festivals —- Mosaic dietary restrictions, observance of the Jewish calendar of holy days and honoring the Old Testament Sabbath.
This false teaching had already been dealt with at the Council of Jerusalem, generally dated around 48-50 AD. At that meeting of the apostles and leaders of the church, it was decided not to burden Gentile converts with the Law of Moses (see Acts 15:1-31). But this doctrine was being promoted again by the false teachers at Colossae who were promoting themselves as judges over the church in regard to food and drink and holy days.
Some of these self-appointed judges were also “delighting in self-abasement” (2:18), asceticism, the idea that we can gain favor with God and make ourselves more holy through rigid self denial and harsh treatment of the body. This false teaching persisted in the church for centuries. An example is seen in the life of Martin Luther, whom God used to launch the reformation of the church in the 16th century. Luther practiced a rigid but typical form of asceticism before he came to the true knowledge of salvation. He climbed the steps of a cathedral on his knees, kissing each step, believing he was earning forgiveness from the Lord. He fasted to the point of injuring his body. He exposed himself to extremes of cold, all in a vain attempt to make himself righteous before God. Once he came to the knowledge of salvation by faith, he left that foolishness behind.
The word self-abasement is usually translated humility but this was a false humility, which is obvious by the delight of these false teachers in their humility. They were promoting themselves as more holy, judging / condemning the church as less holy, based on this false, external show of abstinence and self denial.
But at the heart of this Gnostic heresy was the idea that Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation. What is needed is self-abasement, strict obedience the Law of Moses and as we have mentioned before, secret knowledge, superior knowledge, special revelation which produces insight into mysteries hidden to others. These mysteries are mediated to us by angels, spiritual lords, semi-divine beings emanating from God, of whom Jesus is one of the lesser angelic beings. This belief in angelic intermediaries between God and humanity denied the foundational Scriptural truth, “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5).
This also led inevitably to the exaltation of angels. We recall that when the apostle John was overwhelmed by the heavenly vision, “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God’” (Rev. 22:8,9). But these false teachers delighted in the worship of angels.
In addition, there was the prideful boasting of spiritual visions (2:18) which the false teachers would have claimed were the result of their superior spirituality. They believed that the deeper mysteries and secret revelation which they received from angels placed them on a higher spiritual plane than other members of the church. In reality, Paul says, they were inflated by their fleshly minds— a mind that is reflective of the old nature, unredeemed. These false teachers were not followers of Christ who had stumbled into some bad doctrine. There were spiritual counterfeits, deceivers, dominated by unredeemed minds, not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus.
It’s interesting that when Paul’s credibility as an apostle was criticized by false apostles, he refused to boast of his visions, though he had been “caught up into paradise” (2 Cor. 12:4). But these experiences couldn’t be validated, “I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me” (2 Cor. 12:6). Instead, he recounted his sacrifice for the cause of Christ — weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, difficulties, for Christ’s sake (2 Cor. 12:10). He boasted of labors, imprisonments, “beaten times without number, often in danger of death”, stoned, shipwrecked, hardship, hunger and thirst, exposure to cold (2 Cor. 11:23-27). We can’t validated anyone’s visions but we can validate their sacrifice and service on behalf of Christ. But the false teachers boasted of their visions.
Regarding festivals, new moons or Sabbath days, it’s not wrong to set aside certain times for special observances as all of the church does at Christmas, on Good Friday, on Easter Sunday. And there are other days set aside as holy by various churches. That’s not wrong. And it’s certainly not wrong to worship God on a day other than the Old Testament Sabbath, as obviously most of the church does. But it is wrong to use our observance of holy days as a measurement of our spiritual maturity or as a means of judging others, as the false teachers were doing.
Regarding our diet, it’s not wrong to fast — Jesus Himself taught His disciples to fast. And it’s not wrong for a Jewish follower of Christ to follow the Mosaic dietary laws, as some Messianic believers do. However, we also want to remember that Jesus taught that all foods are clean (Mark 7:19) and it’s not wrong to enjoy food. But whether we observe a day as holy or do not, whether we fast or feast, we should do all unto the Lord, with a clear conscience.
We would do well to remember Paul’s advice to the church at Rome, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God” (Rom 14:5,6). We observe a day as holy or we choose not to observe that day, not because we are under Law, but to please the Lord. We fast or choose not to fast, we avoid certain foods or we do not, but not because we are under obligation to the Law of Moses. We live our lives to please the Lord and we do so with thanksgiving.
Paul also taught that it's not wrong to limit our own liberty regarding food or any activity that might cause a weak believer to stumble (I Cor. 8:4-13). I may be free to eat something or to do something but if it causes a temptation to a brother or sister in the Lord, then I should forego that liberty, but not because I am bound by a law, rather, I am constrained out of love for that weaker brother or sister.
To be bound by law or ritual or self denial as though these things are religious obligations, to allow ourselves to be judged by those who are bound, is to give up our liberty in Christ. Paul says, “Let no one keep defrauding you (cheating you) of your prize” (Col. 2:18). The prize is our liberty in Christ, our new life as new creations.
The false teachers’ pretense of higher revelation was only deception. Their self-abasement was an expression of vanity, pride, not true spiritual maturity. They were not inspired by the Spirit of truth, rather, they were inflated by an unredeemed mind and deceived, bound up in doctrines of demons. Why would the church allow itself to be intimidated by false believers?
How foolish to accept their yoke of legalistic religious observances — food and drink, festivals and new moons, fasting and self denial — as a way of earning favor with the God who has already forgiven us as an expression of His grace. How foolish to seek revelation from the very angelic principalities of darkness whom Jesus conquered. How foolish and profane to worship those fallen angels. If we are enjoying the blessings of Christ’s victory, why would we then place ourselves back under the dominion of those angelic powers whom He conquered, from whose dominion we have been liberated?
And although legalism, self denial and ritual observances exercise a certain attraction, they are of no value in either restraining the flesh nor transforming it (as Paul will remind us in 2:23). They cannot assist us in our desire to overcome sin or grow in holiness. There’s nothing wrong with religious symbols and rituals but they do not transform us and Paul says they “are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” That word, shadow, is akia — shade, the darkness of error. Why submit to the shadows of things to come, shadows which at times can be deceiving, when the true reality, the true substance is Jesus.
The word substance is soma, body, the same word Jesus used when He said, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Again, why submit to shadows of truth and misrepresentations of truth, when the truth has been incarnated in a human body and we have been brought into union with Him.
2:19 “and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”
The Colossian Church was being defrauded by false teachers who delighted in laws and rituals, self-abasement, visions, worship of angels, a pretense of superior spirituality. But for all their boasting and pretension, for all their advertised humility and angelic revelations, they were only inflated by the pride which prospers in unspiritual, immature, unredeemed personalities.
Paul says that these false teachers were “not holding fast to the head.” In 1:18 Paul had reminded the church that Jesus is “the head of the body, the church.” These false teachers had either lost contact with the true Author and Finisher of their faith, the true Head of the Body, or more probably these are unredeemed, self appointed teachers who were never united to Christ to begin with. How sad — they were so busy clinging to their shadows and visions that they had not learned to cling to the true Head and Substance of all things — Jesus Christ, Son of God, holy Lamb and risen Lord.
Paul reminds the church again of the organic nature of our relationship with Christ and with one another. Jesus is the Head, we are the body, as Paul reminded the church in 1:18. We have been baptized, immersed into union with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Jesus, the Head, holds the body together and supplies life to all the parts, causing the growth of the body.
But it is not merely the church that is held together by Christ. Paul tells us in chapter 1:16,17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” God created all things through and for His Son, who takes primacy over all things and in Him, all things consist.
To the church at Ephesus, Paul said that the risen Christ has been seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places, “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:21-23).
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Col 2:9,10).
The entire universe, which God created through His Son, is held together in His Son. The church is held together in Christ, indeed, all of life, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galaxy spinning through space, is held together in Christ (Col. 1:17). Jesus not only created the universe, with His Father and the Holy Spirit. He also sustains all that He created, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, He “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebr. 1:3).
When a church breaks faith with historic interpretations of Scripture, interpretations that have been agreed upon by creeds and councils over many generations, it therefore breaks faith with its Head, separates itself from its Creator, Redeemer, Shepherd. The result is the same as if the protons and electrons of an atom separated themselves from the nucleus that holds them together. Just as that atom disintegrates into chaos, so the church separated from Christ disintegrates into futility and darkness.
We do well to remember Paul’s exhortation to the church at Ephesus, “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15,16).
Jesus expressed this most simply, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4,5).
Abiding in Christ, “holding fast to the head” is rooted in the reality of Christ holding us. Jesus said, “And I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).
The Psalmist said, “My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me” (Ps. 63:8). We cling to the Christ who uphold us.
2:20-23 “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
These closing verses of the chapter summarize Paul’s previous thoughts. “Elementary principles (stoicheion) of the world” refers to something elemental, rudimentary, simplistic, immature, things in a row — for instance, the alphabet. Against the idea that the Gospel is too simplistic whereas this Gnostic philosophy is sophisticated, profound revelation, Paul calls their heresy “elementary principles”, beneath the level of mature Christians who are feeding on the grand mysteries of Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
Paul is mocking these folks who think they are attending spiritual graduate school when in fact, they are reverting back to first grade. And he is asking, “Why would you submit to these pre-Christian, elementary principles?”
The word if is better translated since. “Since you have died with Christ” refers to the reality of our union in and with Christ in His death and burial. In this union we have died to the lordship of this passing world, died to its lying philosophies and false religious systems and rituals. Death severs the chains of a slave — a dead slave is no longer bound to his master. So it is for those who have died with Christ. We are no longer bound to the powers and principles of this world which once mastered us. In union with Christ, we are no longer subject to them.
When we placed our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, our old nature was put to death and we became new creations in union with Christ, as Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
The ritual of baptism is an outward symbol of the inner reality of our union with Christ in His death and burial and also in His resurrection. In Romans 6:3,4 Paul said, “All of us who were baptized (immersed) into Christ Jesus were baptized (immersed) into His death. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism (immersion) into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
And in 2:12 of this epistle, “Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
If we have truly identified with Christ in His death and resurrection, if we are truly immersed into union with Him, then we are dead to our old, unredeemed human nature and dead to the powers of this world which gained access through our old nature. Since this is true, then why should we still be responsive to the foolishness of self made religion, which after all, is an expression of a world dominated by powers and principalities of darkness?
“Do not handle, do not taste…” refers to the rigid asceticism, the self-made rituals of self-abasement practiced by the false teachers. These practices give the appearance of wisdom but in fact are nothing more than false humility and “are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (2:23). They do not help us overcome the desires of our old human nature. As we have said, our unredeemed nature was put to death and buried with Christ and we are now new creations in Christ. And although sometimes old habit patterns and memories are incited by the temptations and corruptions of this world and we wrestle against these tendencies, we overcome because it is our nature to overcome as new creations in Christ. Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit we can be victorious.
However, religion which focuses our attention on ourselves — our religiousness, our humble spirituality, our rituals and visions and harsh self denial — this is a religiousness of the world, an expression of self righteousness and only indicates our distance from Christ. Again, these things “are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (2:23).
There are times when we must live sacrificially in order to accomplish the Lord’s purpose but self sacrifice, self denial does not achieve righteousness. We have been declared righteous and are being made righteous by our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.
We do wrestle against old habit patterns and memories but true freedom is not obtained by trying to restrain these desires through rigid self denial and strict adherence to laws and rituals. That doesn’t work. True freedom is obtained by the death of these desires through our union with Christ, in whom the old nature is crucified and a new nature is born. Now, as new creations, empowered by the Spirit of the living God, we live as new creations.
The false teachers were trying to keep the church bound in a childish state of dependance on legalistic religious forms. Christ was calling them to grow into full maturity. This growth takes place, not through self denial or its opposite, self indulgence, nor through puffed up visions and revelations and rituals. Growth takes place through union with Christ — dying with Him, rising with Him and abiding in Him day by day. Abiding in Him, alive in Him, we share His life and resurrection. He holds all the universe together — we can trust Him to hold us.
In chapter two, Paul is responding to the various Gnostic heresies. He reminds the church that in Jesus all the fulness of God dwells in bodily form. Jesus is the Head over all rule and authority. Through relationship with Christ:
1. We have access to all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3).
2. We have been made complete (2:10).
3. We have been spiritually circumcised — our unredeemed nature has been put away (2:11).
4. We have been identified with His death (our sin nature was buried with Him (2:12).
5. We have been identified with His resurrection , raised into new life through faith in the risen Lord Jesus (2:12,13).
6 We have been forgiven through the nailing of our sins to His cross (2:13,14).
7. Our certificate of debt has been erased (2:14).
8. The powers of darkness which once accused us have been disarmed (2:15).
9. We have been brought into union with Christ the Head of the body (2:19).
10. In union with Christ, we are set free from the spiritual powers that rule this world (2:20).
Why, then, would we ever go back to man-made religion?
1. In these verses, we see some of the characteristics of the Gnostic heresy which were being introduced into the Colossian Church. What are they?
2. Why are those things unnecessary for the true follower of Christ?
3:1 “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
The beginning of the Christian life is Christ’s identification with us — He took human form, He bore our sins on the cross, carried our judgment, experienced our separation from God and died our death. We then, repenting of our sin and placing our faith in His atoning sacrifice and resurrection, are immersed into union with His death and resurrection as Paul stated in 2:12, we have “been buried with Him in baptism” and “raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
In Romans 6:3,4, Paul said, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized (immersed) into Christ Jesus have been baptized (immersed) into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism (immersion) into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
This immersion into union with Christ occurred at salvation — the Holy Spirit immersed us into a living relationship with a living Savior. Water baptism is a representation of this — immersion in the water depicts our union into the death and burial of Christ. Rising out of the water depicts our union with His resurrection.
Through repentance and faith, we have identified with the Christ who has identified with us. In union with Christ, our new life is lived in him, with Him, for Him and through Him. We are reminded in this that resurrection is not only a future event. It is also a present experience, as Jesus said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). Indeed, the day of resurrection will only bring to completion what is already true, that we have been raised with Christ.
Remember from 2:20 that the word if may be translated since. So Paul now says that since we have died with Christ and have been raised with Him — and the verb tense indicates an accomplished fact — then we should keep seeking the things above, kingdom things, the things of Christ. Keep seeking is a present tense verb indicating continuous action — continually seek the priorities of the kingdom of God. We keep seeking those things where Christ is because that is where we live — we live in Him and He lives in us. As Paul said of himself, so may we also say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Just as our identification with the death of Christ severed the dominion of the world order over our lives, so that same act identified us with the resurrection of Christ and therefore with a new order — the dominion of God. “He rescued us from the domain (jurisdiction, authority) of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom (authority) of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13,14).
We now not only live under God’s rule, that is, in the kingdom of God, but God's kingdom rule abides in us, as Jesus says, “For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst (or “within you”)” (Luke 17:21). Christ’s kingdom rule abides in us, in a personal sense, and abides among us in a corporate sense (as members of His holy church).
As we have said, the phrase raised up with Christ refers to our union with His resurrection. In fact, the verb raised up could be translated co-resurrected. In Ephesians, 2:4-6, Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
We not only have been raised up in union with Christ’s death and resurrection. We also have been raised up in union with His ascension and enthronement at the right hand of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6).
Consider this, that Jesus shares in the sovereign exercise of the Father’s power, has been given “the name above every name” (Phl 2:10) and has “ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph 4:10). Enthroned in the highest majesty, glory and sovereign power of the universe, He is able to fill all the universe with His presence. And we, in union with Him, hidden in Him, are seated with Him.
Paul said this so powerfully in 2:9,10, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete” The phrase have been made complete, is one word — pepleromenoi — which is related to the noun pleroma. Jesus Christ is the pleroma, “the fulness (completeness) of God in bodily form” and in His fulness we are made fully complete. Pepleromenoi is a perfect tense verb meaning that our completeness in Christ is eternal. In union with Christ, we share in the life of God and are brought into the fulness, the completeness which God intended for humanity.
When Paul says that Christ is seated at the right hand of God, is not depicting Jesus sitting in a big chair.
1. Sitting down speaks of the completion of His High Priestly sacrificial duty. There were no chairs in the Old Testament temple because the priests never sat down because their work was never complete. They always needed to offer more sacrifices for their sins and for the sins of the people. But Jesus fulfilled His sacrificial work, as we read, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebr. 10:11,12).
2. Sitting down also speaks of the acceptance of the sacrifice. It is complete, not only because it is perfect but because it is accepted by God the Father.
3. Sitting down also speaks of the return of the Son of God to shared authority and glory with the other members of the Trinity, “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21).
4. Seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” as the writer to the Hebrews expresses it (Heb. 1:3), does not depict a passive Christ but a Christ who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, who is now moving across the earth through His Spirit-empowered church.
In our identification with Christ, we are seated with Him — He shares His authority and His ministry with us. In the opening verses of the Revelation, John says, “To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood — and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father — to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5b,6a). We are royal priests, priestly kings, sharing the authority of the King of kings.
To the church at Thyatira, Jesus said, “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26)
To the believers in the church at Laodicea, Jesus said, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).
Paul said to Timothy, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us” (2 Tim 2:12).
Those are future promises but our shared authority with Christ is not only future tense. The disciples came back from a mission and exclaimed, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus responded, “Behold, I have given you authority (delegated jurisdicton) to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you” (Luke 10:19). But then He reminded them of the source of their authority, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (10:20). What Jesus meant was, “Don’t rejoice in the authority itself — rejoice in the relationship, your union with Me, that communicates this authority.”
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18,19). Our ability to go and make disciples is rooted in the authority of Christ released into our lives. The release of that authority flows through our union with Him. It is our union with Christ that seats us in a place of authority. In union with Christ, He fills us with His presence, abiding in us as we abide in Him. As our life is lived in union with Christ, then our goals, attitudes, lifestyle — all of our being becomes focused on Christ, conformed to Christ, empowered by Christ, filled with Christ.
3:2,3 “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
In verse one, Paul said, “Keep seeking the things above.” How do we do this? By setting our mind on things above, not things below. We don’t allow our perspective to be formed by this world’s vision. We learn to see from God's perspective. We don’t allow our ambitions to be shaped by the expectations of this world. We don’t let our values to be shaped by the currency of this world. We let our mind be dominated by the reality of heaven’s values, heaven’s perspective, heaven’s priorities and goals.
Vision is what we see. Perspective is how we see it and Jesus wants us to see through His eyes.
What a perfect example of this is found in the story of the twelve scouts sent out by Moses into the Promised Land. Ten came back with a discouraging report, two with a good report. They all saw the same challenges but from a different perspective. Set your mind on the things above is about perspective.
Set your mind on the things above also carries a sense of eternity. Recall that eternity is not endless time but the absence of time sharing the life of God. Paul is saying that our living in time must be informed by an awareness of that eternal life.
1. We are to live our lives in time with a sense of the eternal reward that will be ours based on our faithfulness here. The way that we spend these brief years — the way we use our time and resources and giftings — will determine that reward. Eternal reward is essentially the opportunity to glorify God to a greater or lesser degree, a reflection of our willingness to glorify God here.
2. We are to live our lives reflecting the value system of eternity, where serving is considered to be far greater than ruling, where giving is far more valuable than getting.
3. We are to live our lives in time with an awareness of the glory of God, the holiness and the power of God that will encompass us in eternity.
The phrase, “For you have died,” is past tense and speaks again of the reality of our identification with Christ in salvation. We have died in and with Him — died to the habit patterns and desires of our past life, died to our sins and died to our position of condemnation before God’s bar of justice. We have died to the world’s authority over us and our vulnerability to that authority. Therefore we have died to this world and its currency, its vision, its values. Paul keeps repeating this because it is of utmost importance to the believer.
We are not of this world, though still in it. We are not of this dominion / jurisdiction — we are under the authority of Someone else. We are not even of this time zone or age — we are living in kingdom time.
But we not only died with Christ, we rose with Him. Our identification with His resurrection life means that the reality of our life is hidden in the life of the risen Christ. Jesus is not visible except to the eye of faith. His kingdom cannot be seen, experienced or entered except by faith. The flow of His life into us cannot be seen or demonstrated or proven to the empirical eye. Nevertheless, our life is hidden with Christ in God.
Our life is hidden in the Christ who is “is seated at the right hand of God” — enthroned in the majesty, glory and power of the Father. The life we now live is the life of Christ in us. Resurrection life is already at work in us. New creation has already begun in us. We belong to another dominion, another time zone — the age to come. We are still alive in this world but seated with Christ in the heavenlies.
The word hidden may also contain another jab by Paul against the Gnostic false teachers. They called their books, which they said contained the hidden treasures of wisdom accessible only to the spiritual / intellectual elite — apokruphoi (from the root krupto which means to conceal). But in 2:3, Paul said that in Christ are hidden (apokruphos) “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And we also, the redeemed, are krupto — hidden — with Christ in God. (Krupto is part of the same word family as apokruphos and apokruphoi).
We are hidden with Christ because we have died with Him, risen with Him, raised with Him into heavenly places and now live in union with Him. Paul said to the church at Corinth, “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (I Cor. 6:17). We are joined to Christ, in union with Christ, hidden with Christ in God.
Hidden with Christ in God speaks of our participation in the union of the Trinity. As God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in perfect, eternal union, so we, in Christ, live in union with the Father and the Spirit. Rooted in Christ, we are also rooted in the Triune God. Peter reminds us that in our relationship with Christ, “He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4). Indeed, we are indwelt by the Spirit, we “were sealed in Him (Christ) with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13,14).
Hidden with Christ in God also reminds us that our life is not our own. We have been “bought with a price” (I Cor. 6 :20), the precious blood of the holy Lamb of God.
Hidden with Christ in God speaks of our identification with the age to come, though we are still alive in this age.
Hidden with Christ in God also speaks of our safety, for who can plunder our hiding place, who can reach us there? Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
The word hidden also carries a sense of unseen. We followers of Christ are often unrecognized by the world, unappreciated, even despised, rejected and ridiculed. But God sees the good we do. We are not unseen in heaven. We are hidden with Christ in God.
The Gnostics heretics set their mind on so-called higher revelation through angelic mediators and humanist rituals which they considered to be hidden wisdom but in reality, only brought them into contact with powers of darkness. But we, hidden with Christ in God, have died to false religions, humanist philosophies and doctrines of demons. We have risen immeasurably higher than the old, corrupt, deceived order of this passing age. We rise in and with Christ, Creator and Ruler of the universe.
3:4 “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”
We who now are hidden in Christ will someday be revealed with Christ in glory.
Paul reiterates our union with Christ with these words, Christ who is our life. Christ has not only given us life — He is our life, our life is in Him. All of our blessings, present and future, are in Christ. Our faith is “in Christ Jesus” (1:4). “In (Christ) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14). In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). In Christ we “have been made complete” (2:10). We have been made “alive together with Him” (2:13).
God has, “Blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). God “made us alive together with Christ … raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:5,6).
Our resurrection into everlasting life is in Christ. But He is not merely our Creator / Redeemer, who blesses us with eternal life, He is our life. As Paul said to the church at Philippi, “For me to live is Christ” (Phlp. 1:21).
Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,” (Jn. 14:6). He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn. 15:5). Since it is true that, “In Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), then surely we are held together in Him. Again, when we live in union with Christ, His life is our life.
When Christ who is our life is revealed at history's conclusion, all that is presently hidden in Him will be revealed. If we live our lives now in union with Christ and His kingdom, then we will be revealed with Him when He comes to establish His kingdom on earth. The lies and deceptions of this world will be seen for what they are and we will be seen for who we truly are in Jesus.
On that day when the Son of God is revealed, the children of God also will be revealed. John reminds us,“It has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is,” (I Jn 3:2). Our true identity in Christ will be revealed on that day of His revelation.
On that day we will be given a new name, a name that expresses the true reality of our life, our identity in Christ. Jesus said to the church at Pergamum, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).
This new name speaks of the journey that began when we became new creations in Christ. It speaks of the journey of our commitment to this Christ who committed all of His life to us. It speaks of our giving to this Self-giving Savior, our choice to love Him who first loved us, to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength in the midst of storms and failures, temptations and trials. It speaks of our desire for this Bridegroom God who set His desire on us, of our willingness to receive His love and love Him in return. This new name expresses who we truly are in Christ.
It is a name which no one knows but the one who receives it. Who else can know the personal journey of transformation from sinner to saint, the struggles and trials and tribulations, the joy of overcoming and entering into the Bridal feast of the Lamb? Who can know that journey but the one who makes it and the One who walks beside us along the way?
Who gives us the new name? The One who wrote our names in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world.
That day of Christ’s revelation, and our revealing in Him, may seem delayed but it is coming. We long for that day and Paul reminds us that all of creation groans for that day when it will be set free from its “slavery to corruption, set free into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21,22).
The date of that future day is unknown but it is so certain that Paul could say, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren, and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29,30). We have not yet been glorified — this refers to our resurrection in the perfection of God’s glorious purpose. But it is so certain, Paul uses a past tense verb, “He also glorified.”
Living in union with Christ now, in Christ we are partakers of the age to come. Living in union with Christ now, we will be conformed to the image of God’s Son. Living in union with Him now, we shall be revealed with Him later. Sharing His life and sufferings now, we will be revealed with Him in glory, we will share His glory.
Even now, the Holy Spirit works in us to will and to do the Father’s good pleasure, works in us to conform us to the likeness of Jesus, though the fulfillment of that work will only be “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (I Thes 5:23). We do not know when that day will be but we know it is ordained in the purpose of God as is our glorious conformity to the life of Jesus.
Though that day is future, it is as certain as if it had already come. On that day the hope of glory will give place to glory seen, face to face. On that day, the glory of our hope and faith will be the glory of our experience. As it is Christ Himself who is the hope of glory, so it is Christ who at His appearing will show forth His glory, pour out His glory, bring us home to glory and show forth His glory in us.
But the revelation of Christ in us is not just someday. It is also today. Paul said that God “was pleased to reveal His Son in me” (Gal. 1:15,16). So it has pleased the Lord to reveal His Son in and through each of us, not only someday, when at His appearing, we shall be like Him (I John 3:2), but even now, to reveal the life of Christ in and through us.
And this brings us to the practical application of Paul’s teaching. For the apostle, there must always be a connection between doctrine and living, as Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (Jn. 13:17).
Paul’s doctrinal teaching is always rooted in the revelation of Jesus Christ. The application of the teaching, then, is to live a Christ-like life. We are new creatures in Christ — now we must live like it. We have died and risen with Christ. Live in such a way that this is manifest, obvious, not as a mere figure of speech but as a reality. We have been saved by the grace of God. Now our life must show the reality of that saving grace.
The following sections of chapter 3 could be summarized with three headings:
Put Off the Old Life
Put On the New Life
Be Subject to One Another
We will examine these in the following lessons.
1. What does it mean that we have been “raised up with Christ”?
2. What does it mean that our life “is hidden with Christ in God”?
Put Off the Old Life
Earlier in this epistle, Paul has dealt with various doctrinal aspects of our new life in Christ. Now he deals with the practical / ethical aspect, the living of our new life. Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (Jn. 13:17).
Since Paul’s teaching is always rooted in the person of Jesus Christ, the application of the teaching focuses on living a Christ-like life. We are new creatures in Christ by a divine act — now we must live like it by personal choice. We have died and risen with Christ. Live in such a way that this is manifest, obvious, not as a mere figure of speech but as a reality. We have been saved by the grace of God. Now our life must show the reality of saving grace. We join our human will to God’s holy will. We live outwardly the reality of our new inner life.
The following sections of chapter 3 could be summarized with three headings:
Put Off the Old Life
Put On the New Life
Be Subject to One Another
Paul demands a two fold response to personal sin: consider yourself dead to sin but keep resisting it. When we trusted in Christ and surrendered to His Lordship, we were brought into union with His death, burial and resurrection. Our old nature, which was inherently sinful, died with Christ and we were reborn as new creations.
3:5 “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”
When Paul says, “Therefore,” he means, “Based on everything that has been said previously” — that we have been rescued “from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (1:13); that we have been reconciled to God in Christ (1:22) who now indwells us (1:27); that we have been made complete in Christ who is the fulness of Deity in bodily form (2:9,10); “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (2:12); having been made “alive together with Him” (2:13), our sins being forgiven, cancelled through the cross (2:13,14); that we “have been raised up with Christ” (3:1); that we have “set our mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (3:2), that we “have died and (our) life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3); that “when Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then (we) also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:4); based on everything that has been said previously, therefore “consider the members of your earthly body as dead” to sin.
The word consider, nekroo, might be better translated subdue or even put to death— the members of your earthly body. Let’s make sure we understand what Paul is not saying. He is not endorsing the asceticism, the rigid self denial of the Gnostic false teachers who inflicted suffering on themselves in the hope of achieving righteous standing with God. Paul condemned this throughout this epistle (for instance 2:18).
He is saying two things:
1. Consider your position in Christ — your old nature was put to death in and with Him. Consider this to be true, that the old Adamic nature, which was inherently sinful and rebellious, was put to death with Christ and buried with Him. Live as the new creation that you are. Claim who you are in Christ.
2. But more than merely consider your body to be dead to the old nature, at the same time, actively resist, subdue and put to death the habit patterns and practices of the old nature whenever they manifest.
It’s true that our old nature was put to death in Christ and we have been raised up as a new creation. Paul said to the church at Rome, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:5,6)
Paul said to the church at Galatia, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). He said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
He said in chapter two of this letter, “Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12).
He said to the church at Corinth, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
“Consider yourself dead to sin” refers to the truth that on the cross Jesus, the holy Lamb of God took not just our sin but our old Adamic, sin nature upon Himself. That nature died and was buried with Him. In salvation, we are immersed by the Holy Spirit into union with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Therefore, we are to consider the truth that our old sin nature is dead.
In Christ we died to sin’s penalty — Jesus paid the ultimate penalty for sin which is death — taking our death upon Himself — and in salvation we were identified with His death. We also died to sin’s dominating power. When we died and rose with Christ, we were transferred into the dominion of Christ. The dominion of our old sin nature was broken and the dominion of the world which gained access to us through our sin nature, has been broken. But though we died to sin’s penalty and power, we did not die to sin’s presence. Sin still tempts us through old habit patterns that can be incited by corrupting, tempting influences in the world.
We are living on two planes of existence at once. Spiritually, we already live in the age to come — we are hidden with Christ in God (3:3) and living in Kingdom time. But we are also still living here in this age. We live in union with Christ but also in daily contact with the world system and all its seductions, temptations, corruptions and deceptions.
We have died to our old nature but the memories, habits patterns and practices of that old nature still rise up in response to the stimuli of a fallen, unredeemed world. Therefore we must continually consider or reckon ourselves as dead to the old. In other words, understand the truth about ourselves — our old nature died and was buried with Christ. Even though the patterns of behavior associated with that nature still manifest at times, we must live and act as though the truth is true — we are dead to that old nature, alive as new creations. Consider it so.
And let’s recall the better translation of consider / nekroo — subdue, put to death. In verse 8, Paul will exhort us to resist, to put off those temptations to sin. Consider yourself dead to sin but at the same time, actively resist the old nature. When habit patterns consistent with the old nature manifest, subdue them, put them to death. How? By not doing those things, not imagining them, not giving place to them. If our life is hidden with Christ in God, why would we try to hide sin in our heart? We want to face sin and overcome it.
Paul now provides a list of sins which we are to subdue / put to death. This is not an exhaustive list — there are many others but these are representative of the old nature. He begins with immorality — sexual sin. The word is porneia from porne which is the Greek word for prostitute, idolater. Immorality / porneia is defined in the New Testament as any form of sex outside of the marriage of a man and a woman. In the Greek and Roman culture of Paul’s day, sex outside of marriage was considered to be normal but not so for the follower of Christ.
Notice now how the apostle moves from the outward expression of sin — immorality — to the inner motivation — impurity, passion, evil desire and greed which amounts to idolatry. He follows the teaching of Jesus who traced murder back to anger, adultery to the lustful look (Matt 5:21ff). Sin is not merely an action. It is the thought, the imagination that motivates the outward expression. Therefore as Solomon advises, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).
We are reminded that when Paul said, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh (not worldly), but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses,” he then revealed where those fortresses are, “We are destroying speculations (imaginations) and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4,5). Spiritual warfare begins by exercising self control over our imaginations.
Impurity — akatharsia is uncleanness, something that is foul, filthy.
Passion — pathos — and it’s not wrong to be passionate but this is unreasonable, disproportionate passion, out of control passion.
Evil desire is epithumia. Again, it’s not wrong to have desires but this is lustful desire, desire for something forbidden and therefore evil.
Greed / covetousness is a compound word — pleonexia (pleon — more — exo — to have). It’s not only desire to have more but more without limit, insatiable desire, ruthless self seeking. If the object of coveting is money or the possession of things, the result can be unethical, cut throat business practices, even theft or fraud. If the object is fame, the result can be destructive ambition. If the object is power, the result can be tyranny. If the object is a person, the result can be adultery, immorality, predatory behavior. It is the self-centered, unquenchable desire to obtain, to acquire what one does not have — the opposite of the Christly admonition to give.
Paul says that covetousness is a form of idolatry because the desire has become the object of devotion to the exclusion of God. It is setting our minds on things on earth rather than things above.
To restate what Paul is saying, “Consider your old nature to be powerless to control you because of your union with Christ but actively resist any manifestation of that old nature.” He said to the church at Rome, “Even so consider (logizomai — conclude) yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:11-13).
Consider yourself dead to sin but don’t let sin reign / exercise lordship in our mortal body. That includes the mind, the imagination. Don’t continue to present yourself to sin — don’t yield the mind, the imagination to sin. And we are free not to yield because sin is no longer our lord — we have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and He now rules through His inexhaustible supply of grace. So now we present ourselves “to God as those alive from the dead, and (our) members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
By the way, Paul is issuing another rebuke to the Gnostic false teachers who considered the body to be evil but only the spirit is good. Paul says, “No, the body can be a holy instrument used to worship and serve the Lord.” But we must develop that mindset as we resist the lordship of the old, dead nature and practice the new nature in submission to the Lordship of Jesus.
3:6,7 “For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.”
It is on account of these sins previously mentioned that the wrath, the active judgment of God, is and will be poured out upon the sons of disobedience. Who are they? They are all who practice sin without any desire to repent, who refuse to forsake their sin and honor God by trusting in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and yielding to the Lordship of Jesus. Judgement extends not just to those under the law of Moses but to all humanity. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18).
No one can truly claim to be ignorant of the righteous requirements of God, “Because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident” (Rom 1:19). John says that Jesus is “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9). God has built into the conscience of humanity a basic knowledge of good and evil which reveals the existence of a morally just Creator. Doing evil requires a conscious turning away from the good, exchanging “the truth of God for a lie” (Rom 1:25).
God is not hiding, rather, humanity has refused God’s Self-revelation, turned from it, suppressed it, buried it in humanist philosophies and false religions. Therefore Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).
This was once our life — we walked in sin, lived in sin and suppressed the truth of God. But that is no longer our life. That old, corrupt nature was put away in Christ. Now we are to resist any temptation to practice again the sins of our old nature.
3:8 “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”
The sins in this list, though they are rooted in the soul, are particularly destructive in outward, social expression. Again, this is not an exhaustive list but representative.
Anger and wrath (orge and thumos) lead off the list. Orge is long lasting, simmering, smoldering, slow burning bitterness. Thumos is a sudden blaze, fire set to straw.
Malice — kakia — is a viciousness of the mind, a desire to do harm to others, from which many other evils rise up.
The word for slander is blasphemia — lying words spoken against people or against God. When spoken against people we call it slander. When spoken against God, we call it blasphemy.
Abusive speech is obscene, degrading language and often is the verbalizing of anger, wrath and malice. These are qualities of our old nature but have no place in a new creation.
To repeat, we are dead to our sin nature but it still manifests in old habit and thought patterns incited by the constant barrage of temptation arising from the corrupt world around us. We are therefore to continually put off, resist, turn from the practice of sin. Put them all aside — apotithemi is a common word for taking off clothes. In the same way that we take off soiled garments, we are to put aside any manifestations of our old nature, lay them aside continually as we would put off a worn out or soiled garment. We are able to do this for two reasons:
1. We are no longer under the rulership of our old nature or the powers of darkness that gained access to us through our old nature, because through the atonement, God has “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).
2. We are new creations being conformed to the likeness of Christ by the Holy Spirit who indwells us and energizes us, empowers us to live as the new creation that we are.
We are to put off the old nature — stop practicing the old ways. But in addition to that, we are to put on the new nature.
3:9-11 “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him — a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”
Paul exhorts us to be truthful because we have laid aside the old nature with all its evil, corrupt practices. We should speak the truth in a manner consistent with who we truly are. This applies to all of our living — we are to be truthful in all that we imagine and say and do because we are no longer creatures who manifest an untruthful nature. We are new creations. We should live the truth of who we are.
We are able to lay aside any manifestation of the old nature because that nature has been laid aside in Christ. Notice the verb tense — laid aside — past tense, it’s done. This is an accomplished act and this was accomplished at our salvation. Our old, corrupt Adamic nature was put to death in and with the death of Christ and we are now new creations, raised with Christ in resurrection.
We still must resist the practice of old ways when they manifest but the Lord provides the grace, the freedom and power to put aside the practice of sin because at the cross the power of sin was broken. We put off, resist, any manifestation of the old nature by the power of the Holy Spirit, as Paul said to the church at Rome, “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).
We have put off the old nature, though we must continually refuse to practice that nature. And we have put on a new self, a new nature which is being renewed in the image of our Creator. But notice again the verb tense — being renewed. We have put off the old nature and have put on new creation but our renewal as new creations is a continuous action, we must continually put on the characteristics of this new creation by practicing, living those qualities. This new self is who we really are. But though we are a new creation in Christ, we are not immediately mature new creations. Throughout this life we will be continually subduing manifestations of our old nature while maturing in our new nature — we are being renewed.
Let’s stop for a moment and look at the word new (new self). There are two different words in the New Testament for new — kainos and neos. Kainos refers not so much to age as to form or quality, something of a different nature. Paul says in I Cor. 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new (kainos) creature; the old things passed away; behold, new (kainos) things have come.” In Christ, we are new creations, not in terms of age but in quality, something that did not exist before.
Neos refers to that which is new in time, recent. Here in 3:10 Paul uses the word neos, we “have put on the new / neos self.” What he means is that our old nature reached back to Adam — that’s why it is called the Adamic nature. We inherited that fallen, sinful, rebellious nature from Adam. But in Christ we have been born again, regenerated. We died and rose in union with Him — this is a relatively recent event and we are being renewed in His likeness, a renewal that is present tense, ongoing, neos.
So we are new (kainos) creations but we are putting on the new (neos) self which is being renewed day by day.
Paul said to the church at Corinth, “Though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day," (2 Cor 4:16). The new nature within us, the life of Christ, is being renewed daily by the life of Christ in us, even as a pool of fresh water is continually renewed by the fountain of water flowing up in it. Christ is the pool within us. Christ is the fountain of life rising up within us.
We are being renewed / renovated according to the mage of the One who created us. The reference is to Gen 1:27 where we are told that Adam was created in the image of God. However, the image of God in Adam was corrupted by sin and we inherited this corrupt, Adamic nature. But that sin nature, the old self with its evil practices has been put off and a new self has been put on. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ / put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).
Now, this new self / new nature is being being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created us. Jesus, the second Adam, is conforming believers to Himself, to His likeness. We are being renewed (renovated) to a true knowledge, transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Paul said to the Roman church, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
The knowledge with which we are being renewed is the knowledge of God in Christ, the highest form of knowledge available to humanity. The word true knowledge is epignosis — deep knowledge, thorough knowledge. Whereas the Gnostic false teachers boasted of their superior revelation, which was distorted and primitive, demonically oriented and devaluing of Christ, we, by virtue of our union with Christ, are “attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2,3).
As we read the word of Christ, live that word, as we abide in Christ and walk with Christ, He is conforming, renewing us, renovating us in His likeness. We are being renovated, being made new in conformity to the image of our Creator.
There are a number of home renovation shows on TV which are popular. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting a new bathtub but here is the most important renovation project we will ever be involved in — the renewal, the renovation, restoration of the image of God in our soul and the conforming of our life to this renewal in the image of our Creator. We don’t have to wonder about the contractor — does He know what He’s doing, does He have the right tools? Yes, He created the universe, He will someday restore planet earth while He rules the world from His enthronement in Jerusalem. He knows renovation.
This renovation project taking place within us is a radical, thorough, roots up transformation of the will. We are laying aside any attitude which resists conformity to the Lordship of Jesus. We are practicing, putting on the qualities of our new life, feeding on the word of God, centering our mind and emotions in the Lord Jesus.
This process of renewal will be perfected someday, when we stand in the presence of Jesus. John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (I Jn. 3:2). This was God’s purpose for each of us before there was a universe: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4). That is our destiny — it is certain: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29).
Not only is Christ enabling the believer to put off any manifestations of the old nature within, He is also enabling us to put off the old barriers which once separated people from one another. He is not only enabling us to put on a new nature, he is enabling us to build a new community of new creations — the church comprised of people from every tribe and tongue and nation.
Notice in verse 11, racial barriers (Greek and Jew), religious barriers (circumcised and uncircumcised), cultural barriers (those considered to be barbarians by the Greco / Roman world), socio-economic barriers (slave and free), are being cast aside in Christ so that He may be all and in all. A new community of faith is being gathered which transcends all the divisions which characterize fallen creation. We are not only living in a new time zone — kingdom time. We are also living in a new society — the kingdom of God on earth gathered in Christ.
Paul could not have said it better than in I Cor. 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” The Christ who lives in His people, who renews us into His own image, who joins us in union with His life, also joins believers in union together in one new body. Men and women who are being renewed in the image of God are brought into a faith community which manifests to the world the restored image of God in human society.
1. What does Paul mean when he says, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead” to these various sins?
2. What does he mean when he says that we “have laid aside the old self” and “have put on the new self”?
Putting On the New Life
3:12,13 “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
Paul reminds us of who we are in Christ: chosen (elect), holy and beloved.
In Ephesians 1:4,5 Paul reminds us that “He (God) chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
What an astonishing truth, as Paul said again to the Thessalonian church, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thes. 2:13). Chosen from the beginning refers to God’s choice, before there was a universe, that we would be objects of His grace. Our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8, 17:8).
Obviously, this was not due to anything we did as Paul said to the Ephesian church, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).
Paul reminded Timothy that the Lord “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9). God purposed to pour out His grace upon us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.
The goal of His choosing is that we would be holy — hagios — separated, consecrated, set apart by God unto God. The reason for His choosing is because we are beloved objects of His grace. Beloved, agapao, is related to the word agapetos used in Matt. 3:17, when Jesus was baptized, “And behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’”
By the action of God’s grace upon our lives, we were enabled to respond to grace and we are now new creations in Christ. We were destined for this — chosen to be holy and blameless before the Lord, adopted as His redeemed children, in whose likeness we are being renewed, as we read last week (3:10). We now must choose to put on, to live the character of this new creation that we are becoming. Put on, enduo, is the same word Paul used in 3:10 when he said that we have put on the new self. Enduo refers to the putting on of a garment. It is God who makes us new but we must choose to put on the new, to wear it, to live the truth of who we are in Christ. We choose to live according to the new nature that God is renewing within us.
Specifically, we are to put on a heart of compassion, (tender mercies). Jesus was continually moved by compassion for hurting, lost humanity and we see Him expressing His mercy through His church throughout the centuries. The first orphanage was begun by the church in response to the abandonment of unwanted babies. The cruelty of the gladiatorial games, where men fought to the death for the entertainment of the Roman crowds, was ended when a monk, outraged at the slaughter, leaped into the Colosseum and placed himself between the combatants. Though this cost him his life, the games were ended on that day.
The movement to abolish slavery in England was led by an evangelical Christian. The holiness revivals of the 1820s in America fed into the movement to abolish slavery in this nation. So it has been in every generation that the compassionate heart of Jesus has expressed itself through His church. We are to put on that heart, live as instruments of the mercy of Jesus.
We are to put on kindness, chrestotes, a word which describes gentle graciousness, generosity. It is the word Paul used to describe God’s motivation in reaching out to lost humanity, “But when the kindness (chrestotes ) of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4,5).
We are to put on humility (modesty, lowliness). This is related to a word used to describe Jesus, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phlpns. 2:8). Jesus invites us to share His humility, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29). To be truly humble is to see ourselves as servants of Christ in serving this world.
We are to put on gentleness, praos, meekness. Gentleness is not a sign of weakness. Only those who are strong and secure in their identity in Christ can be truly gentle with the hurting and broken. Only those who are aware of their own sin can be gentle with the sins of others.
We are to put on patience, macrothumia, or as the King James translates, long-suffering. This is the capacity to encounter the sins and shortcomings of others and still respond with love. It is a quality of God’s own heart without which none of us would ever have been saved, as Peter reminds us, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Bearing with one another could be translated put up with or endure and this is accurate, relative to the persecution, suffering and rejection which followers of Christ experience. But Paul is speaking of our relationship with one another, that is, with our brothers and sisters in Christ. So we do not simply put up with one another. Our relationship in the body of Christ is characterized by compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness which define our patience, as Paul shared with the Ephesian church, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).
In other words, forbearance requires the exercise of all the virtues listed above. And this surely leads to the next quality of our relationship with one another, “Forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
Paul reminds us that our forgiveness of others flows out of our experience of God's forgiveness toward us (also Eph. 4:32). All of the virtues listed in verse 12 — tender mercies, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience — are based on what we have experienced from God. It is the life of Christ rising up within us that we are to put on, act on, live out.
When I refuse to share with others what God has shared with me, I place a barrier in my spirit to the life of Christ rising up in me. The principle which Jesus taught in Matthew 6:14,15, “Forgive and you shall be forgiven, forgive not and you will not be forgiven,” does not mean that God's grace toward me is dependent on my work of forgiveness or any other work. All that God does for us is an expression of His grace. But my unforgiveness will limit my experience of God’s forgiving grace. If I refuse to forgive others, in effect, refusing to allow the life of Christ to flow out of me, I am blocking off the fountain whereby His life flows into me and through me. The result is that the unforgiving person, though not loved any less by God, will experience less of God's love.
Since God will never run out of compassion or patience or any other virtue, since in fact these virtues are an expression of His infinite, eternal nature, then it is certain that we will never come to an end of our capacity to experience or express them. We can never say, “I have no forgiveness left in me,” for the life of Christ rising up in me will never exhaust itself. If I ever say or do otherwise, that is not the life of Christ speaking through me. It is my old Adamic nature rising from the grave.
3:14 “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
We have already defined the phrase put on as living the character of the new creation that we are becoming, choosing to live according to the new nature that God is building within us.
We put on love by exercising love, which is the perfect bond of unity because it is the divine glue that holds all things in union with its source, which is Christ. Love is the motivating power of faith (Gal. 5:6). Love is the virtue most highly to be desired (I Cor. 13:13). It is the summary of all commandments (Rom. 13:9). According to Jesus, love for God and neighbor is the cornerstone upon which all the Law and the Prophets are built (Matt. 22:37-40).
Love is necessary for the church to function in the perfect bond of unity. Unity is necessary in order for our Lord to release His full purpose through His church. This is why Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). This is why he spent an entire chapter in his first letter to the Corinthians comparing the church to a body which, though diverse in its members, must function in unity and harmony.
3:15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
The word peace, eirene, has a two-fold sense. First, it refers to an agreement or treaty. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We were formerly separated from God by our sin and under His judgment but now in Christ we are at peace with God. Paul is saying, “Understand that you have been reconciled to God, you are at peace with God and let the reality of this peace rule your life.”
Eirene also refers to an attitude of rest, security. Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 4:6,7).
So we are at peace with God and we have the peace of God abiding in us. We are in harmony with God and with our own being. So Paul says, “Let this peace rule in your hearts.” The word rule means to guide or arbitrate. Paul is saying, “Let the peace of God guide the way you make your decisions and live your life.” Peace is to be the ruler of our hearts and if Christ is Lord of our life, then surely His peace will rule our heart.
Notice also the phrase, in one body. This is a reference to the church which is not an organization but a living organism — the body of Christ on earth. In order for the body of Christ to carry out the ministry of our Lord on earth, we must live in a union characterized by love, forgiveness and peace. Paul exhorted the church to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). It is essential that we be at peace with the other members of this organic union, the church.
And be thankful. If I am living as a new creation in union with Christ, if His life is rising up in me, I will be thankful. Paul reminds us in Romans chapter one that one of the defining traits of the pagan heart is that “though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks” (Rom. 1:21). How contrary to the heart of Jesus who gave thanks at the tomb of Lazarus. He gave thanks as the fish and bread multiplied. He gave thanks at the final meal before His death. As He renews our lives in conformity to His life and as we experience the countless blessings of His grace, His presence and His promise, then we will overflow with thanksgiving to God.
3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Excellent counsel from the apostle, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” Richly could be translated extravagantly or abundantly and dwell means to be at home. Letting the Word of God find an abundant home within us means far more than merely reading it. We store God’s truth in our heart and let it control our thoughts and actions. Obviously, the teaching ministry of the church is essential.
Paul exhorted Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Diligent, accurate handling of the Word of truth means studying it, listening to skillful teachers, thinking on it. When we come across a passage we don’t understand, we can investigate through on-line commentaries, look up sermon archives of ministries we trust, check out our church library, purchase a Bible with study notes.
As we ingest the creative word of God, God is able to create the reality of His life and kingdom within us, able to correct us, strengthen us, nourish us. As the word of God builds wisdom within us, we are able to teach and admonish one another. Admonish means to warn and does not imply anger or hostility or self-righteousness. We are to speak “the truth in love” as Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus (4:15). To the church at Galatia he said, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).
Warning, admonishing those who are in sin or error does not break the peace or unity of the church if it is done with love. Rather, it is the lack of confrontation that allows false teaching or sin to continue and that will surely disrupt the peace and unity of the church.
Our ministry of teaching and admonishment is to be done in a context of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in (our) hearts to God. Indeed, all that we do as a church should be done to the rhythm and melody of praise to the God of our salvation. If the teaching ministry of the church is Christ-centered and accurate, as we grow in our understanding of our Creator / Redeemer, the result will be a growing, deepening chorus of praise and worship.
Singing with thankfulness in our your hearts to God also carries a sense of making sure that our outward song of praise is in agreement with who we are in our inner being — that we are not singing one thing and living something else.
Why should we give thanks to God?
1. We were created to worship God:
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). The seventeenth century Puritan Catechism said, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That's the chief end of everything, the reason the entire universe exists, the reason God created intelligent angelic and human beings — so we could behold His glory and give Him glory.
2. We are commanded to worship God:
When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus responded, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only,” (Matthew 4:10). No one is excluded from this command, not even Satan, “You shall worship.” All beings, human and angelic, are commanded to worship God.
3. We were redeemed to worship God.
In our fallenness, we were not willing to praise God but God redeemed us so that we “who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12). In saving lost sinners, God glorifies Himself in revealing the riches of His mercy and grace, which calls forth our praise.
4. Worship is our response to God for the great things He has promised:
In 2 Chronicles 20:19, the people stood up to praise the Lord while three armies threatened complete destruction to Israel. In verse 21 we read that the choir went ahead of the army praising the Lord and saying, “Give thanks to the Lord for His mercy endures forever.” God promised victory and so they praised Him before the victory, walking by faith toward the battle.
5. Worship is our response to God for the great things He has done:
In Psalm 103:1-8, we read about a God who pardons our sin, heals our diseases, redeems our life from the pit, crowns us with compassion, satisfies us with good things and renews us. Having received these gifts of grace, the appropriate response is to worship with “all that is within me.”
6. Worship is God's gift to those whom He has saved:
In Psalm 40, David cried out to God and the Lord responded by delivering him from destruction, setting his feet upon a rock and putting a new song in his mouth. David’s response is to sing praise but it is the Lord who gave him that new song (40:1-3,9,10).
7. Worship is an entrance into the manifest or experienced presence of God:
In Psalm 100, the worshipper enters God’s presence with thanksgiving. In Luke 17:11-19, the leper’s response to Jesus’ saving act is to worship Him and his gratitude brings him into a deeper experience of Jesus’ ministry.
8. Worship is our response to God when we arrive in His presence:
In Psalm 95:1,2 the people enter the presence of God with joyful thanksgiving. In verses 3 through 5, they pause to remember the awesome, wonderful deeds of God. In verse 6, having entered God's presence, they bow down in worship.
9. We worship not merely for what God has done but because of who He is:
In Psalm 150:2, the psalmist praises God for His mighty deeds but also for “His excellent greatness.” God has revealed only a few of His infinite number of attributes but each is worthy of praise. In Luke 7:37-50, a woman fell at the feet of Jesus in an unashamed outpouring of love. There is no record that He had ever spoken to her or ministered to her in any way. Her love is motivated simply by who Jesus is.
10. Worship renews and refreshes our faith:
Our circumstances and needs change but God is unchanging. He always is who He always has been. He is always mighty, holy, merciful, wise. Therefore, whatever our circumstance, we can always praise God and as we do, we are refreshed even if the storm around us remains unchanged. Abraham, though advanced in years and still waiting for the child whom God had promised, grew strong in faith as He gave glory to God (Romans 4:20).
11. We become people of substance as we worship:
Not substance in a worldly sense, not the substance of economic or political power but there is an inner transformation into the holiness of God. There is a weightiness to this and a beauty — it is the weight of glory, the beauty of holiness, the restoration of the beauty of God in the human soul. Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and his face radiated the glory of God (Ex. 34:29). The Psalmist said, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant” (Ps. 34:4,5).
12. In time and eternity, all that we do is to be done and will be done as an act of worship:
The Lord has redeemed us is so we may behold His glory and worship Him now and forever.
One could say that the first sin committed in Eden was a failure to worship. Disobeying God represented a failure to reverence Him. This is where history begins, with a failure to reverence God. History ends and eternity begins with a community of faithful worshipers, a royal priesthood, a holy Bride, giving glory to God. Between the beginning and the end of history, God has been gathering a faithful choir of worshippers, making covenant with those who will praise him, calling them into a life that is preoccupied with His worship.
Therefore, Paul counsels us:
3:17 “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Whatever we do, with our words and our actions, when gathered with the faith community and in our daily work and walk, all is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. That means in a manner consistent with who He is and what He is doing in this world, consistent with His character and His ministry. It is what He meant when He said,“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13), He did not mean that we can pray anything we want, attach the name of Jesus to it like a postage stamp and our letter goes straight to heaven and the Lord will do it. Praying in the name of Jesus means praying in a manner consistent with His will, His purpose, His heart. Now Paul says that not just our praying, but all of life is to be a praiseful, worshipful offering to our Lord.
Whatever we do in word and deed, we are to do as an offering of thanksgiving to the Lord. In the previous verse Paul exhorted the church to sing with thankfulness to the Lord. He now reminds the church that giving thanks and praise and glory to God our Creator / Redeemer is the reason for our existence. This phrase, “Whatever you do in word or deed … giving thanks,” refers to all of life becoming a hymn of praise. Not just our time of worship or prayer but in our work, in our relationships, in all of life we can glorify God. A monk wrote in his journal once, “Today I raked out the barn to the glory of God.”
That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph 5:20). That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). In whatever we do, we are to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
In this section of his epistle, Paul counsels the church to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other … just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (3:12,13). He counsels us to “put on love” and to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and be thankful.” He calls us to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” He calls us to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Forgiveness, love, peace, thankfulness — these are qualities of Jesus. We act like our Lord because this is what children of God do. Christ has removed our old nature, has given us His nature and is renewing us in conformity to His life within us. Only God can do this for us and He has chosen to do so. Now we must choose to live that new life.
How do we put on these virtues? First of all we accept from God the freedom to be released from that which robs us of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, thankfulness. We stop acting on the principles of the old Adamic nature which has been put away (buried with the burial of Christ). We accept from God the reality of His life planted in us. This new life, the life of Christ in us, includes His compassion toward us, His kindness, His humble service to us, His gentleness and patience with us. We nurture this new life of Christ in us by thinking on His goodness to us and thanking Him for these expressions of His goodness.
We put on these virtues as we choose to exercise the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience that Christ has lavished on us. We practice what we have experienced in Christ. As we do, we are in fact putting them on.
In Romans 13:14, Paul exhorts the church, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” We are new creations in Christ who lives in us through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. As we choose to live in accordance with His character, as we choose to practice what we have experienced in Him, while making no provision for any manifestation of our old, unredeemed nature, we are putting on Christ.
1. What does Paul mean that we are chosen, holy and beloved?
2. Why should we give thanks to God?
3. How do we “put on” these many virtues that Paul mentions?
3:18,19 “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.”
There is a governmental order in God’s universe. On earth, this is expressed in civil government, in church government and in the home.
1. Regarding civil government, the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says clearly, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1).
The Apostle Peter said, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (I Peter 2:13,14).
Paul said to Titus, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed” (Titus 3:1).
What do the apostles mean by submission? Paul opens this for us in Romans 13:7, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7). We are to honor those in authority.
We are also to pray for them. Paul said to Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (I Tim. 2:1).
Why should we pray for those in authority? Because, as Solomon reminds us, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). God is able to move the hearts of people as we pray for them, even world leaders.
Daniel reminds us, “He (God) controls the course of world events; He removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:21, NLT). Our prayers are a partnership with the God who is sovereign in this world and we are to live and pray as though He is sovereign, in control.
However, there is a limit to our submission to governmental authority. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). When He said this, He was holding a Roman coin. What He means is, “We owe our taxes to Caesar but our worship, our souls, we owe to God.”
If the governments of this world command us to bow down to an idol, to deny our faith, we must do as the three Hebrew men did in Daniel chapter 3. They refused to bow to the golden idol, preferring to be cast into the fiery furnace rather than deny their God.
Peter and John were hauled before the ruling council and commanded to stop proclaiming Jesus. “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20).
So there is a limit to our submission to government. But the principle still stands — God has established governmental order which includes civil government.
2. God has also established governmental order in His church.
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow” (Hebr. 13:17 NLT).
Paul exhorts us, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work” (I Thes. 5:12,13 NLT).
Of course, there are also limits to our submission to church authority. We do not submit to false teachers, manipulation or to those who confuse domination with leadership.
Jesus prescribes the way authority must be exercised in the church. He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
Those who exercise authority in the church must do so as servant leaders, motivated by love for the Lord and love for the Lord’s people.
3. Regarding God’s governmental order in the home, Paul says that wives are to be submitted to their husbands “as is fitting in the Lord,” that is, according to God’s design for the family.
Submission does not imply that the woman is in any way inferior to the man but only that God has a governmental order in all things. Submission is never an excuse for domination of one person over another. Paul reminds husbands that leadership must be exercised in love — agapate — the way God loves, love that takes pleasure in the beloved. We will examine the nature of that love in a few moments.
God is not a feminist but He understands the outrage women feel over exploitation, abuse and oppression. God is not macho but he understands the pressures that cause men to exaggerate their masculinity. And surely the Lord is aware of the demonic assault on families, on male and female identity and on male leadership, so prevalent in Western societies today. If we want to hear what God is saying about the structure of the family then we must base this study on our experience of God’s love for all men and women. The living God loves us unconditionally and knows us perfectly. Therefore we can lay aside our defenses, our costumes, our broken places and flawed traditions. We can be vulnerable and let God speak to us and enable us to grow.
For a deeper exploration of God’s governmental design for the family, I want to quote and summarize my notes from Ephesians chapter 5.
Paul begins the discussion of husband and wife relationship by reminding us that submission to leadership is itself set in a context of mutual submission in reverence to Christ, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21, NLT). Leadership in the home works only when husband and wife are reverencing Christ, in submission to His Lordship, and submitting to one another in love. In Paul’s day, in Jewish society and in the Greco-Roman world, women were regarded as little more than possessions. But in exhorting a couple to mutual submission as an act of reverence to Christ, Paul is declaring the husband and wife to be equal partners before God, sharing the responsibility of nurturing their union in union with Christ.
Paul was establishing a revolutionary principle. He means that leadership is not an invitation to domination, control or abuse by the husband. Submission is not a passive virtue on the part of the wife. Leadership is to be exercised in a context of equality and submission is the righteous, vigorous act of patience and forgiveness out of respect for God’s governmental structure in the home. Husbands exercise leadership and wives exercise submission out of submission in reverence for Christ and with reverential respect for the dignity and gifting of each another.
Having established the context of leadership in the home — mutual submission — Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
Let us emphasize again that within every relationship there is a divine government. God has a plan and pattern for accountability and leadership in society, in the church, in the home and in every area of life. Wives are to be submitted to their husbands “as to the Lord.” It appears that Paul assumes both husband and wife are mutually submitted to Christ and to one another as fellow believers.
Submission does not imply inferiority in creation, salvation or gifting. Husband and wife stand equal before God as forgiven, redeemed sinners in whom the image of God if being restored. This is not about superiority or inferiority. It is about government, leadership and accountability.
Remember, Paul is writing to members of the church at Ephesus, redeemed followers of Christ. Submission to a husband whose life is being transformed by the Spirit of the Lord, as the wife also is being transformed, is altogether different from submission to a personality dominated by unredeemed habits and motives.
Submission to the husband, “as to the Lord”, does not demand the same unconditional reverence, awe or unflinching obedience with which she submits to Jesus whose love, wisdom and mercy are perfect and without measure. Submission to a mere man, believer though he may be, means submission to a mortal, finite, sinful creature, limited in all his ways and therefore, this submission is not unconditional. She will not deny her faith nor allow the image of God, which is being renewed in her, to be destroyed by her husband.
Notice also that Paul says, “Be subject to your own husband.” The wife is in a marriage covenant with this one man and she is submitted to him, not to a multitude of men. This one man has made vows to her; she is submitting to someone who has vowed to cherish, honor and love her.
Submission to him “as to the Lord” requires that he represents Christ to her and her submission is to the Lordship of Christ expressed through him. The husband is not her Lord but he represents God’s government in that family. She submits to the leadership of her Godly husband in a way that is fitting for two redeemed personalities mutually submitted to Christ (and mutually submitted to one another in Christ, as in the preceding verse).
What if he is an evil, abusive and dangerous husband? The Christian wife is not to submit to violence or evil. In manifesting these qualities, the husband has violated His covenant with Christ and with his wife. She should ask for Godly counsel from her local church. The church should be concerned with her protection while working with the husband toward the goal of his salvation and the eventual redemption of their marriage.
What if he is an unbeliever who is not violent or dangerous? In I Peter 3:1,2, Peter addresses wives whose husbands are disobedient to God’s word, probably a reference to non-believers. Peter advises her to stay and by her love and prayers lead him to Christ. Such submission is not degrading but redemptive. She is a minister of Christ to her unsaved spouse.
What if he is a believer who is not very mature and does not understand the principles of Christly leadership? She should submit in love and by her prayers and loving, Godly example, help him to grow in Christ. She should also be in a church where the Word is taught and practiced, where he can see Godly examples of leadership.
Paul continues in Ephesians 5:23,24, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
Remember that in Ephesians 1:22,23, we see that the Headship of Christ over His church denotes not merely rulership but also union. Jesus not only governs His church but is intimately joined to His church as a Head to a body. So the husband must live in true union with his wife. She is a physical / spiritual being. He must lead from a context of union, exercising care for her well being, nurturing her growth, cherishing her giftings.
The wife recognizes that just as Christ watches over and cares for His church, the husband has been appointed to watch over and care for her. He is to represent and make real to her Christ’s unconditional love for her.
Paul continues in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
Paul now defines the leadership of the husband in the highest, most demanding terms. He must love and serve his wife as Christ loves and serves His church. This is a sacrificial care for her well being. In all aspects of his relationship with his wife, the husband’s example is nothing less than Christ’s sacrificial love for His church.
Let’s examine that love.
1. Jesus is the sacrificial Lover who pours out of Himself for His beloved. He never turned away the hurting, lost multitudes. He never rejected humble, repentant sinners. He continually poured out the mercy of God upon all who called upon Him. Jesus is the sacrificial Lover who gives His life for the good of His beloved, even at the highest cost to Himself. Jesus poured out His life for His church. The Godly husband’s leadership is sacrificial, selfless, pouring out of himself for the good of his bride.
2. Christly love is a love that intercedes for the beloved. Jesus lives to make intercession for His church, is continually praying for His church (Hebrews 7:25). So the Godly husband covers his wife in prayer.
3. It is a love that listens to the beloved and therefore knows intimately her thoughts, needs, hopes and fears (see Psalm 139:2-4). Jesus knows each of us perfectly and the Godly husband knows his wife as deeply and intimately as possible, given the limitations of his humanity.
The image here is not of domination but sacrifice, not leadership aggressively asserting itself but humbly pouring out of itself. And in the larger context, the wife is submitted to the leadership of a husband who is mutually submitted to her as a follower of Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
What is the goal of this governmental structure?
Paul continues in Ephesians 5:26,27, “So that He (Christ) might sanctify her (the church), having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
Jesus’ Lordship over the church is expressed in His saving death and resurrection and as He brings about the consecration and maturing of the church. He is cleansing, consecrating, purifying a church that will someday be His holy Bride.
This is also God’s plan for leadership in the home, that the husband would work toward the fulfillment of his wife who, throughout her life, is to grow in holiness, in wisdom, in the fulness of the person of Christ. The goal of his leadership is the consecration and maturity of his wife into the full woman God purposed her to be so that she may fulfill the unique plan for which God designed her. As she submits to this process, responding and relating to her husband as one maturing believer to another, she is enabling his maturity in holiness.
“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,” (5:28,29).
The husband is commanded to love his wife as he loves his own life. But since his love for her is to be modeled on Christ’s love for the church, which is always a sacrificial, self-giving love, his love for her will be greater than his love for himself. There is also a sense in which his love for her is love for himself since they are one flesh in union together in union with Christ. Because they are intertwined in spirit, soul and body, his love for her will pour back into his life from her life and his life will pour back into her life.
Paul reiterates that the husband is to nourish and cherish his wife, even as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. To nourish a physical / spiritual being is to care for her health and well being on every level. To cherish means to honor her as a person purposed by God, a person with divine worth and everlasting destiny. He will put her well-being above his in all things.
And finally, in Ephesians 5:30, “Because we are members of His body.”
Jesus nourishes and cherishes His church because He is intimately joined to His church in holy union. The church is the body of Christ on earth and Jesus is the Head of the body. His Spirit indwells us individually and His presence fills His church. He seeks continually to build up the church so that the church may glorify Him. If Jesus ceased to care for His church, if He neglected or abandoned His church, He would diminish the glory that He receives from His church and He would nullify the Father’s purpose, to present His Son with a holy bride.
So with the husband. He is joined in holy union with His wife; he nurtures her toward the fulfilling of God’s eternal purpose in her life. In so doing, he is blessed by Christ through her.
Growing in holiness means growing in wholeness, becoming the complete person God intended that we be. The goal of Christ’s leadership in the church is that every believer would be presented to God complete, mature in Christ. Reaching that goal requires that people be submitted one to another under the Lordship of Christ. That is also God’s plan for marriage, that two people would be growing toward consecrated fulfillment, growing in holy wholeness in Christ. Reaching this goal requires two people mutually submitted to Christ under the Christly leadership of the husband.
Returning to Paul’s discussion of the family in Colossians:
3:20,21 “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.”
Paul exhorts children to obey their parents “for this is well-pleasing (delightful) to the Lord.” He reminds us in Eph 6:1,2, that obedience to parents is the first commandment with a promise, the promise being long life. The word children, tekna, does not refer to a specific age but to any child still living in the home. The verb, be obedient, speaks of a continuing action.
But he also exhorts fathers to exercise leadership in the lives of their children in such a way as not to break their spirit. Leadership must never be expressed in harshness. This creates bitterness and rebellion. It is not hard to submit to self-sacrificing love.
In requiring obedience in all things, Paul is thinking of a Christian family in which a father would never ask a child to submit to sinful or degrading behavior, nor to deny or blaspheme Christ. In such a circumstance, where the governmental authority of the parent is abused, the child's obedience must be to Christ Himself.
The best advice anyone ever gave to parents was given by Paul to the Ephesian church, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline (nurture) and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
3:22 “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”
Although these words are offensive to us today, the fact is that in Paul’s day there was no way to abolish the institution of slavery. It was the basis of the Roman economy as it was among many if not all the various people groups of the world. The idea that some people could own other people was a manifestation of the fallenness of humanity and therefore was universal. But nowhere in the Bible does God approve of the enslavement of one person by another. It is nothing less than a criminal act against the image of God in men and women.
Over the centuries, the way Christians regarded one another — mutually redeemed saints in whom the image of God is being restored — produced a transformation which destroyed the system of slavery from the inside out. The church taught that masters and slaves stood before Christ equally lost and equally in need of saving grace. Upon their confession of Christ they stood before the Lord equally redeemed, brothers and sisters joined in one body, in union with one another in Christ. Though generations would pass while this principle of equality slowly transformed the western mind and penetrated the social and economic order, nevertheless, the seeds were planted in and through this new community of faith.
Regarding this new order, Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Paul did not mean that our racial and gender uniqueness has been abolished. After all, it is God who created us with such beautiful variety. But the distinctions based on superiority and oppression, which were expressions of fallen man’s inhumanity to man, have been abolished in the church.
In this new faith community, where slave and master stood as equals, it was impossible to maintain the inequality of slavery. Furthermore, slave and freeman were both gifted by the same Holy Spirit for ministry. Since the office and function of a believer in a local church was determined by Holy Spirit gifting, and this included leadership giftings, then a slave could stand beside a freeman in the mutual exercise of ministry. Their new relationship was to be lived out as unto Christ and this had a transforming impact as surely as leaven transforms dough.
In Paul's letter to Philemon we see this illustrated. Onesimus returned to his master not merely as his slave but as his brother in Christ. The old relationship was transformed by the new. We can rightly assume that this was reflected in every area of their life.
As Christianity spread, the hearts of people were changed so as to bring about the eventual abolition of slavery. The abolition of slavery in England was led by a devout follower of Christ, William Wilberforce. In the United States, the holiness revivals of the 1820s fed into the abolitionist movements of the 1840s and 1850s. Again, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in this nation was led by Christian pastors and church members.
Although there is still economic injustice in our world, itself an expression of the fallenness of humanity, the true church lives out a new pattern of relationship based on the redeeming grace of Christ in which we stand equally before the cross, judged as sinners and redeemed as saints.
3:23,24 “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
Paul reminds us all, whatever our economic or social standing, whatever we do should be done with all our heart, as unto the Lord. Ultimately, whatever job or responsibilities we have, it is the Lord whom we serve and from the Lord shall come our reward. Paul said to the church at Ephesus, “Knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free” (Eph. 6:8). The world may not recognize or reward your labor but the Lord does and He will reward us generously, if not in this life, then surely in the next. These were revolutionary words. Under Roman law, a slave could not possess any property but as a follower of Christ, he is promised an inheritance from the Creator of the universe.
The Apostle Peter reminds us that we have an “inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:4,5). Jesus told parables about the reward that awaits the righteous, reward based not on the size of our accomplishment but on our faithfulness (for instance Matt. 25:14-23).
3:25 “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”
If we do wrong, judgement is as certain as reward is to those who do right, as Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
Believers will not stand in the judgment of the unredeemed — our judgment was placed on Christ on the cross. But the Lord does discipline believers in this life when we sin and at the end of time, we will be held accountable for our faithfulness regarding our use of the opportunities and resources we have been given. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul speaks of this accountability which has to do with “the quality of each man’s work” (3:13). There will be reward for those who labor from a pure heart and motive.
Paul completes this discussion in verse one of chapter four, so we will include this in our notes.
4:1 “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.”
The basis of all economic relationships should be the fact that we all have a Master in heaven. The Christian employer also has a Master and is to relate to those under his authority as the Lord Jesus relates to those who are subject to Him. This reality exists not only in the church but throughout the world. Those on earth who possess economic or political power will be held accountable by One who has authority in heaven and on earth. That accountability is based on God’s standards of justice and equity, not society’s standards. Whether men and women of power and wealth believe in the existence of God or not, whether they believe they will be held accountable or not, is irrelevant. All will stand before the bar of God’s justice.
In calling husbands and wives to mutual submission under a governmental system of sacrificial leadership and patient submission, in calling slave masters to God’s standard of justice and fairness, Paul set in motion the forces that would eventually bring about the dissolution and transformation of societies and economies based on domination and enslavement. This new community, the church of the redeemed, built on new relationships which transcended the relational and economic and social order of a fallen world, would eventually transform the old order. Though generations would pass while these new principles penetrated and transformed the western mind, nevertheless, the axe was laid to the roots of the old order and the seeds were planted of a new world.
The advance of God’s liberation movement was slow but all the more certain because it took place within the hearts of those who were learning to put off their old nature and put on a new man who is being transformed in the grace and knowledge and likeness of Christ. They were learning to relate to one another as new creations in Christ, equal before the God of this universe, mutually submitted to Christ and one another. The leaven of transformation was released into the world and it would not be prevented before it leavened the whole loaf.
1. What is God’s governmental design for the family?
2. How does Paul characterize a husband’s leadership in the family?