Introduction to Colossians
Section 1. The Situation of Colossae
Colossae, or, as it is written in many manuscripts, Colasse, was a celebrated city of Phrygia, in Asia Minor. It was in the southern part of that province, was nearly directly east of Ephesus, north of Laodicea, and nearly west of Antioch in Pisidia. It is mentioned by Herodotus (Polyhymn. Lib. viii. c. 30) as "a great city of Phrygia, in that part where the river Lycus descends into a chasm of the earth and disappears, but which, after a distance of five stadia, rises again and flows into the Meander " - ες τον Μαιανδρον es ton Maiandron. Xenophon also mentions the city of Colossae as being Πολις οικουμενη ευδαιμων και μεγαλη Polis oikoumenē eudaimōn kai megalē - "a city well inhabited, pleasant, and large." Expedi. Cyr. Lib. i. In the time of Strabo, however, it seems to have been much diminished in size, as it is mentioned by him among the "smaller towns" - polismata - , Lib. xii. p. 864.
In the latter part of the reign of Nero, and not long after this Epistle was written, Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, were at the same time overwhelmed by an earthquake. Pliny, Hist. Nat. Lib. v. c. 41. Colossae recovered, however, from this shock, and is mentioned by the Byzantine writers as among the most opulent cities; see Koppe, Prolegomena. The ancient town is now extinct, but its site is occupied by a village called Chonos, or Khonas. This village is described by Mr. Arundell as being situated most picturesquely under the immense range of Mount Cadmus, which rises to a very lofty and perpendicular height behind the Village, in some parts clothed with pines, in others bare of soil, with vast chasms and caverns. An immense perpendicular chasm, affords an outlet to a wide mountain torrent, the bed of which is dry in summer. The approach to the village is as wild as the village itself is beautiful, abounding in tall trees, from which vines of most luxuriant growth are suspended. In the immediate neighborhood are several vestiges of an ancient city, consisting of arches, vaults, squared stones, while the ground is strewed with broken pottery, which so generally and so remarkably indicates the site of ancient towns in the East. That these ruins are all that now remain of Colossae, there seems no reason to doubt.
Colossae, as has been remarked, was situated in Phrygia. On the name Phrygia, and the origin of the Phrygians, very different opinions have been entertained, which it is not necessary to specify in order to an understanding of this Epistle. They claimed to be the most ancient people of the world; and it is said that this claim was admitted by the Egyptians, who, though boastful of their own antiquity, were content to regard themselves as second to the Phrygians. Like other parts of Asia Minor which were distinguished as provinces under the Roman empire, Phrygia is first historically known as a kingdom, and continued such until it was made a province of the Lydian monarchy. It remained a province of that monarchy until Croesus, king of Lydia, was conquered by Cyrus of Persia, who added the Lydian kingdom to his empire. After that, Phrygia, like the rest of Asia Minor, became successively subject to the Greeks, the Romans, and the Turks. In the time when the gospel was preached there, it was subject to the Romans; it is now under the dominion of the Turks. Phrygia was anciently celebrated for its fertility; but, under the Moslem yoke, a great part of the country lies uncultivated.
Section 2. The Establishment of the Church in Colossae
The gospel was first preached in Phrygia by Paul and Silas, accompanied also by Timothy; Acts 15:40-41; Acts 16:1-3, Acts 16:6. It is said that they "went throughout Phrygia," which means, doubtless, that they went to the principal cities and towns; in Acts 18:23, it is said that Paul visited Phrygia again, after he had been to Philippi, Athens, Jerusalem, and Antioch. He "went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples." It is not, indeed, expressly said of Paul and Silas that they went to Colossae; but, since this was one of the principal cities of Phrygia, there is every reason to suppose that they preached the gospel there.
It has been doubted, however, whether Paul was ever at Colossae. It is expressly affirmed by Hug (Introduction), and by Koppe (Prolegomena), that Paul had not taught at Colossae himself, and that he had no personal acquaintance with the Christians there. It has been maintained that the gospel was, probably, first preached there by Epaphras, who heard the apostle at Ephesus, and who returned and preached the gospel to his own countrymen. The opinion that Paul had not been there, and was personally unacquainted with the church, is founded on his declaration in Colossians 2:1; "For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." From this it is inferred that he was neither at Colossae nor at Laodicea. Yet it may be justly doubted whether this passage will authorize this conclusion. Theodoret long since suggested that the meaning of this was - "I have not only a concern for you, but I have also great concern for those who have not seen me." Dr. Lardner, however, maintains that the gospel was preached in Colossae by Paul. The reasons which he gives for the opinion are briefly these:
(1) The declarations of Luke, already quoted, that Paul more than once passed through Phrygia. The presumption is, that he would visit the chief cities of that province in passing and repassing through it. It is to be remembered that, according to Colossians 2:1, Colossae and Laodicea are placed on the same footing; and hence the difficulty of the supposition that he did not visit the former is increased. Can it be supposed that Paul would go again and again through that region, preaching the gospel in the points where it would be likely to exert the widest influence, and yet never visit either of these principal cities of the province, especially when it is remembered that Laodicea was the capital?
(2) Dr. Lardner appeals to what Paul says in Colossians 1:6; Colossians 2:6-7, in proof that he knew that they had been rightly taught the gospel. From this he infers that Paul had himself communicated it to them. This conclusion is not perfectly clear, since it is certain that Paul might have known their first teachers, and been satisfied that they taught the truth; but it is such language as he would have used on the supposition that he was the spiritual father of the church.
(3) Epaphras, says Dr. Lardner, was not their first instructor in the gospel. This he infers from what is said of him in Colossians 1:7, and in Colossians 4:12-13. He is commended as "one of them," as a "fellow-servant," as "a faithful minister of Christ," as one "beloved." But he is not spoken of as sustaining any nearer relation to them. If he had been the founder of their church, he thinks it is incredible that there is no allusion to this fact in writing to them; that the apostle should have spoken more than once of him, and never referred to his agency in establishing the church there.
(4) Paul does, in effect, say that he had himself dispensed the gospel to these Colossians; Colossians 1:21-25. The salutations at the end of the Epistle, to various persons at Laodicea and Colossae, show that he was personally acquainted there. See these and other reasons drawn out in Lardner's Works, vol. vi., pp. 151ff, Ed. Lond. 1829. The considerations suggested by Dr. Lardner seem to me to be sufficient to render it in the highest degree probable that the church at Colossae was founded by Paul.
Section 3. When and Where the Epistle Was Written
This Epistle is believed to have been written at Rome, when Paul was a prisoner there, and at about the same time that the Epistle to the Ephesians, and the Epistle to Philemon, were written; and that they were all sent by the same persons. It is said in the Epistle itself Colossians 4:7, Colossians 4:9, that it was sent by Tychicus and Onesimus, both of whom are commended as "faithful and beloved" brethren. But the Epistle to the Ephesians was written at Rome (see the introduction) and was sent by Tychicus Ephesians 6:21; and the Epistle to Philemon was sent by Onesimus. It is probable, therefore, that these persons visited Ephesus, Colossae, and the place where Philemon resided; or, rather, that Tychicus and Onesimus visited Colossae together, and that then Tychicus went to Ephesus, and Onesimus went to his former master Philemon. That this Epistle and the one to Philemon were written at about the same time, is further apparent from the fact that Epaphras is mentioned in both as with the apostle, and as joining in the salutation; Colossians 4:12; Plm 1:23. The Epistle to the Colossians bears internal marks of having been written at Rome, when the apostle was a prisoner. Thus, in Colossians 1:24, he says, "who now rejoice in my sufferings for you;" Colossians 4:18, "Remember my bonds." If this be so, then it is not difficult to fix the date of the Epistle with some degree of accuracy. This would be about the year 62 ad.
Section 4. The Occasion and Design of the Epistle
The general drift of this Epistle has a strong resemblance to that addressed to the Ephesians, and it bears internal marks of being from the same hand. It was evidently written in view of errors which extensively prevailed among the churches of that part of Asia Minor, and was designed to inculcate the same general duties. It is of importance, therefore, to possess a general understanding of the nature of these errors, in order to a correct interpretation of the Epistle.
The church at Colossae was one of a circle or group of churches, lying near each other, in Asia Minor; and it is probable that the same general views of philosophy, and the same errors, prevailed throughout the entire region where they were situated. That group of churches embraced those at Ephesus, Laodicea, Thyatira, and, in general, those addressed in the Apocalypse as "the seven churches of Asia." From some of the notices of those churches in the New Testament, as well as from the Epistle before us, we may learn what errors prevailed there in general, and against what form of error particularly the Epistle to the Colossians was designed to guard.
(1) several classes of errorists are mentioned as existing within the limits of the "seven churches of Asia." Thus, in the church at Ephesus, "those which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" Revelation 2:2; in Smyrna, those "which say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan" Revelation 2:9; in Thyatira, "that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess" Revelation 2:20; in Pergamos, "them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes;" those "who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel" Revelation 2:14-15. The near proximity of these churches to Colossae would render it probable that the infection of these errors might have reached that church also.
(2) the apostle Paul, in his parting speech to the elders of the church at Ephesus, alludes to dangerous teachers to which the church there might be exposed, in such a manner as to show that there was some peculiar danger from such teachers in that community. "For I know that after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your ownselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them;" Acts 20:29-30. He does not specify, indeed, the kind of danger to which they would be exposed; but it is evident that the danger arose from plausible teachers of error. These were of two classes - those who would come in from abroad, implying probably that there were such teachers in the neighboring churches; and such as would spring up among themselves.
(3) in that vicinity there appear to have been numerous disciples of John the Baptist, retaining many Jewish prejudices and prepossessions, who would be tenacious of the observances of the Mosaic law. What were their views, is not precisely known. But it is clear that they regarded the Jewish law as still binding; that they would be rigid in its observance, and in insisting on its observance by others; that they had at best, if any, a very imperfect acquaintance with Christianity; and that they were ignorant of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, and of the fact that that had been poured out in a remarkable manner under the preaching of the apostles. Paul found a number of these disciples of John at Ephesus, who professed not to have received the Holy Spirit, and who said that they had been baptized unto John's baptism; Acts 19:1-3. Among the most distinguished and influential of the disciples of John in that region was Apollos Acts 18:24-25, who is represented as an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures. He taught at Ephesus, but how long before he was made more fully acquainted with the gospel, is unknown.
He is represented as having been zealously engaged in that work, and as being eminently successful; Acts 18:25. There is no reason to doubt that he contributed not a little in diffusing, in that region, the peculiar views held by those who were known as the disciples of John. What was precisely the doctrine which Apollos taught, before "the way of God was expounded more perfectly to him" Acts 18:26, is not now known. There is every reason, however, to suppose that he would insist on the observance of the Jewish laws, and the customs of their nation. The opinions which would be likely to be defended by one in his circumstances, would be those which prevailed when John preached - when the law of Moses was considered to be in full force, and when it was necessary to observe all his institutions. the Jewish law among the churches would be likely to appeal with great force to the sentiments of so good and so eloquent a man as Apollos. So extensive was his influence, that Koppe supposes that the principal errors prevailing in the churches in Phrygia, which it was the design of the apostle in this Epistle to correct, could be traced to the influence of the disciples of John, and especially to the teachings of this eloquent man. Prolegomena, p. 160.
(4) If we look into the Epistle itself, we shall be able to determine with some degree of certainty the errors which prevailed, and which it was the design of this Epistle to correct, and we shall find that they correspond remarkably with what we might anticipate, from what we have seen to be the errors abounding in that region.
(a) Their first danger arose from the influence of philosophy; Colossians 2:4-8. The apostle warns them to beware lest any one should "beguile them with enticing words;" he cautions them against "philosophy and vain deceit " - a philosophy that was based on the "tradition of men," "after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." Such philosophy might be expected to prevail in those cities so near to Greece, and so much imbued with the Grecian spirit, and one of the chief dangers which would beset them would arise from its prevalence.
(b) A second source of danger referred to, was that arising from the influence of those who insisted on the observance of the rites and customs of the Jewish religion. This the apostle refers to in Colossians 2:16. "Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days." These are subjects on which the Jews would insist much, and in this respect the disciples of John would be likely to sympathize entirely with them. It is evident that there were those among them who were endeavoring to enforce the observance of these things.
(c) There is some evidence of the prevalence there of a philosophy more Oriental than Grecian - a philosophy that savored of Gnosticism. This philosophy was subsequently the foundation of a large part of the errors that crept into the church. Indications of its prevalence in Colossae, occur in places like the following; Colossians 2:9 - "For in him (Christ) dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily;" from which it would seem probable that there were those who denied that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt physically in the Lord Jesus - a favorite doctrine of the Gnostics, who maintained that the assumption of human nature by the Son of God, was in appearance only, and that he died on the cross only in appearance, and not in reality. So in Colossians 2:18, there is a reference to "a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which are not seen, and which tend vainly to puff up a fleshly mind" - a description that will apply with remarkable accuracy to the homage paid by the Gnostics to the AEons, and to the general efforts of those who held the doctrines of that philosophy to intrude into those things which are not seen, and to offer an explanation of the mode of the divine existence, and the nature of the divine agency. See notes on the verses here referred to. It will contribute not a little to a proper understanding of this Epistle, to keep these things in remembrance respecting the kind of philosophy which prevailed in the region in which Colossae was situated, and the nature of the dangers to which they were exposed.
(5) it will be seen from these remarks, and from the Epistle itself, that the difficulties in the church at Colossae did not relate to the moral and religious character of its members. There is no mention of any improper conduct, either in individuals or in the church at large, as there was in the church at Corinth; there is no intimation that they had been guilty of any sins but such as were common to all pagans before conversion. There are, indeed, intimations that they were exposed to sin, and there are solemn charges against indulgence in it. But the sins to which they were exposed were such as prevailed in all the ancient pagan world, and doubtless such as the Gentile part of the church particularly, had been guilty of before their conversion. The following sins particularly are mentioned: "Fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communications, and lying;" Colossians 3:5-9. These were common sins among the pagan (compare the notes at Romans 1), and to a relapse into these they were particularly exposed; but it does not appear that any of the members of the church had given occasion for public reproach, or for apostolic reproof, by falling into them. As they were sins, however, in which they had formerly indulged Colossians 3:7, and as they were therefore the more liable to fall into them again, there was abundant occasion for all the solicitude which the apostle manifests on the subject.
From the remarks now made, it is easy to see what was the design of the Epistle to the Colossians. It was primarily to guard the church against the errors to which it was exposed from the prevalence of false philosophy, and from the influence of false teachers in religion; to assert the superior claims of Christianity over all philosophy, and its independence of the peculiar rites and customs of the Jewish religion.
It has been asked why the apostle wrote an epistle to the church at Colossae, rather than to the church in Laodicea, especially as Laodicea was the capital of Phrygia? And it has been asked also, why an epistle was addressed to that church so strikingly resembling the Epistle to the Ephesians (see Section 5), especially as it has been supposed that the Epistle to the Ephesians was designed to be a circular letter, to be read by the churches in the vicinity. The reasons why an epistle was addressed particularly to the church at Colossae, seem to have been such as the following:
(1) Onesimus was at that time with Paul at Rome, and was about to return to his master Philemon, at Colossae; see the Introduction to the Epistle to Philemon. It was perfectly natural that Paul should avail himself of the opportunity thus afforded him, to address a letter to the church at Colossae also.
(2) Epaphras, a principal teacher of the church at Colossae, was also with Paul at Rome; Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12. He was at that time a fellow-prisoner with him Plm 1:23, and it is not improbable that it was at his solicitation particularly that this Epistle was written. Paul had learned from him the state of the church at Colossae Colossians 1:6-7, and it is not impossible, as Koppe conjectures, that he had been sent to Rome by the church to seek the counsel of the apostle in the state of things which then existed in Colossae. Epaphras was, at any rate, greatly interested in the state of things in the church, as well as in the condition of the churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis Colossians 4:13, and nothing was more natural than that he should endeavor to induce the apostle to direct a letter that might be of benefit to them all.
(3) a particular reason for sending this Epistle appears to have been to confirm the authority of Epaphras, and to give the sanction of the apostle to the truths which he had taught. In their difficulties and dangers Epaphras had taken an important part in giving them counsel. His views might have been opposed; or his authority might have been disputed by the teachers of error there, and it was important that the apostolic sanction should be given to what he had taught. Hence, the apostle speaks with so much affection of Epaphras, and so warmly of him as a faithful servant of Christ; Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12-13.
(4) it may be added, that; although there is a strong resemblance between this Epistle and that to the Ephesians, and although it may be regarded as probable that the Epistle to the Ephesians was intended in part as a circular, yet this Epistle would not have been needless. It contains many things which are not in that Epistle; is especially adapted to the state of things in the church at Colossae, and would have the greater weight with Christians there from being specifically addressed to them. See Michaelis' Introduction to the New Testament, vol. v. 122, and Koppe, Prolegomena pp. 163, 164.
Section 5. The Resemblance between this Epistle and the Epistle to the Ephesians
Every person who has given any considerable degree of attention to this Epistle, must have been struck with its remarkable similarity to the Epistle to the Ephesians. That resemblance is greater by far than exists between any other two of the epistles of Paul - a resemblance not only in the general style and manner which may be expected to characterize the different productions of the same author, but extending to the course of thought; the structure of the argument; the particular instructions, and to some phrases which do not occur elsewhere. This similarity relates particularly to the following points:
(1) In the representation of the reason for which the apostle was imprisoned at Rome. This resemblance, Dr. Paley (Horae Paul) remarks, is too close to be accounted for from accident, and yet too indirect and latent to be imputed to design, and is one which cannot easily be resolved into any other source than truth. It is not found in any other of his epistles. It consists in this, that Paul in these two epistles attributes his imprisonment not to his preaching Christianity in general, but to his asserting the right of the Gent footing with the Jews, and without being obliged to conform themselves to the Jewish law. This was the doctrine to which he considered himself a martyr. Thus, in Colossians 1:24, he says, "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you;" and in Colossians 2:1, "for I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea." That is, his conflicts and trials, his imprisonment and danger of death, had somehow come upon him in consequence of his endeavoring to spread the gospel in such places as Colossae and Laodicea. These were Gentile communities; and the meaning is, that his trials were the result of his efforts to preach among the Gentiles. The same representation is made in the Epistle to the Ephesians - likewise written from Rome during his imprisonment. "For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles;" Colossians 3:1.
And this coincidence is also apparent by comparing two other places in the epistles. Thus, Colossians 4:3, "Praying for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance to speak the mysteries of Christ, for which I am in bonds." An allusion to the same "mystery" occurs also in the Epistle to the Ephesians. "Whereby when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ - that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel;" Colossians 3:4-6. In the Acts of the Apostles the same statement occurs in regard to the cause for which the apostle was persecuted and imprisoned - and it is on this coincidence, which is so evidently undesigned, that Paley has founded the argument for the genuineness of the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Horae Paulinae. The statement in the Acts of the Apostles is, that the persecutions of Paul which led to his appeal to the Roman emperor and to his imprisonment, at Rome, were in consequence of his maintaining that the Gentiles were, in the Christian administration, to be admitted to the same privileges as the Jews, or that there was no distinction between them in the matter of salvation; and his sufferings, therefore, were, as he says, "in behalf of the Gentiles." See, particularly, Acts 21:28; Acts 22:21-22. From these passages it appears that the offence which drew down on Paul the vengeance of his countrymen was, his mission to the Gentiles, and his maintaining that they were to be admitted to the privileges of salvation on the same terms as the Jews.
(2) there is a strong resemblance between the course of thought and the general structure of the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. To an extent that does not occur in any other of Paul's epistles, the same topics are introduced, and in the same order and connection. Indeed, in some portions, they are almost identical. Particularly the order in which the various topics are introduced is nearly the same. The following portions of the two epistles will be seen to correspond with each other.
Ephesians Colossians Ephesians 1:15-19 with Colossians 1:9-11 Ephesians 1:20-23 with Colossians 1:15-19 Ephesians 1:10 with Colossians 1:20 Ephesians 2:1-10 with Colossians 1:21-23 Ephesians 3:7 with Colossians 1:25 Ephesians 3:9-10 with Colossians 1:26-27 Ephesians 3:17 with Colossians 2:7 Ephesians 2:11-22 with Colossians 2:11-15 Ephesians 4:14 with Colossians 2:8 Ephesians 4:15-16 with Colossians 2:19 Ephesians 4:25 with Colossians 3:9 Ephesians 4:22-24 with Colossians 3:9-10 Ephesians 4:32 with Colossians 3:12 Ephesians 5:19-20 with Colossians 3:16-17 Ephesians 5:21; Ephesians 6:6-9 with Colossians 3:18-22; Colossians 4:1 Ephesians 6:19 with Colossians 4:3 Ephesians 5:16 with Colossians 4:5 Ephesians 6:21 with Colossians 4:7
This resemblance, thus carried almost through the Epistle, shows that there was a similarity of condition in the two churches in reference to the dangers to which they were exposed, the kind of philosophy which prevailed, the false teachers who might have an influence over them, and the particular duties to which it was desirable their attention should be turned. There is, indeed, some considerable variety of phraseology in the discussion of these topics, but still the resemblance is remarkable, and would indicate that the epistles were written not far from the same time, and clearly by the same person. It is remarkable, among other things, as Michaelis has observed, that it is only in these two epistles that the apostle warns his readers against lying; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9. Hence, we may conclude that this vice was one that particularly prevailed in the region where these churches were situated, and that the members of these churches had been particularly addicted to this vice before their conversion.
Section 6. The Epistle from Laodicea
In Colossians 4:16 of this Epistle, the apostle gives this direction: "And when this Epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the Epistle from Laodicea." The former part of this verse is clear, and the direction was given, doubtless, because the churches of Colossae and Laodicea were in the vicinity of each other, and the instructions were adapted to both churches. Doubtless the same form of philosophy prevailed, and the churches were exposed to the same errors. But it is not so clear what is meant by the "Epistle from Laodicea." The most natural and obvious interpretation would be, that Paul had sent a letter also to that church, and that he wished them to procure it and read it. But no such epistle is now extant, and, consequently, much difficulty has been felt in determining what the apostle referred to. A brief examination of the opinions entertained on the subject seems necessary in this place. They are the following:
1. It has been supposed that the reference is to a letter sent from the Laodiceans to Paul, proposing to him some questions which they desired him to answer, and that he now wishes the Colossians to procure that letter, in order that they might more fully understand the drift of the Epistle which he now sent to them. This opinion was held by Theodoret, and has been defended by Storr, Rosenmuller, and others. But the objections to it are obvious and conclusive.
(1) it is not the fair meaning of the language used by Paul. If he had referred to a letter to him, he would have said so; whereas the obvious meaning of the language used is, that the Colossians were to procure a letter in the possession of the Laodiceans, in exchange for the one which they now received from Paul. The churches were to make an exchange of letters, and one church was to read that which had been addressed to the other.
(2) if the letter had been addressed to Paul, it was doubtless in his possession; and if he wished the church at Colossae to read it, nothing would be more natural or obvious than to send it, by Tychicus, along with the letter which he now sent. Why should he give directions to send to Laodicea to procure a copy of it?
(3) if a letter had been sent to him by the Laodiceans, proposing certain questions, why did he send the answer to the church at Colossae, and not to the church at Laodicea? The church at Laodicea would certainly have been the one that was entitled to the reply. There would have been a manifest impropriety in sending an epistle to one church, made up of answers to questions proposed by another, and then at the end requesting them to procare those questions, that they might understand the Epistle.
(4) it may be added, that it is not necessary to suppose that there was any such epistle, in order to understand this Epistle to the Colossians. This is not more difficult of interpretation than the other epistles of Paul, and does not furnish in its structure any particular evidence that it was sent in answer to inquiries which had been proposed to the author.
2. It has been supposed by some that the epistle referred to was one written to Timothy, by the apostle himself, at Laodicea. This opinion was defended by Theophylact. The only show of authority for it is the subscription at the end of the First Epistle to Timothy - "The first to Timothy was written from Laodicea, which is the chiefest city of Phrygia Pacatiana." But that this is erroneous, can be easily shown.
(1) the subscription to the Epistle to Timothy is of no authority.
(2) if this Epistle had been referred to, Paul would not have designated it in this manner. It would have been rather by mentioning the person to whom it was addressed, than the place where it was written.
(3) there is nothing in the Epistle to Timothy which would throw any important light on this to the Colossians, or which would be particularly important to them as a church. It was addressed to one individual, and it contains counsels adapted to a minister of the gospel, rather than to a church.
3. Many have supposed that the "Epistle from Laodicea," referred to, was one which Paul had written to the Laodiceans, partly for they use, but which was of the nature of a circular epistle, and that we still have it under another name. Those who hold this opinion suppose that the Epistle to the Ephesians is the one referred to, and that it was, in fact, sent also to the church at Laodicea. See this question treated at length in the introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians, Section 5. The reasons for supposing that the Epistle now known as the "Epistle to the Ephesians" was neither a circular letter, nor addressed to the church at Laodicea, are there given. But if the common reading of the text in Ephesians 1:1, "the saints which are at Ephesus," be correct, then it is clear that that Epistle was really sent to the church in that place. The only question, then, is, whether it is of so general a character that it might as well be sent to other churches as to that, and whether Paul actually sent it as a circular, with a direction to different churches? Against this supposition, there are strong improbabilities:
(1) It is contrary to the usual practice of Paul. He addressed letters to particular churches and individuals; and, unless this case be one, there is no evidence that he ever adopted the practice of sending the same letter to different individuals or churches.
(2) there would have been some impropriety in it, if not dishonesty. An avowed circular letter, addressed to churches in general, or to any number whose names are enumerated, would be perfectly honest. But how would this be, if the same letter was addressed to one church, and then, with a new direction, addressed to another, with no intimation of its circular character? Would there not be a species of concealment in this which we should not expect of Paul?
(3) how happens it, if this had occurred, that all remembrance of it was forgotten? When those epistles were collected, would not the attention be called to the fact, and some record of it be found in some ancient writer Would it fail to be adverted to that the same epistle had been found to have been addressed to different churches, with a mere change in the name?
4. There is but one other opinion which can exist on this question; and that is, that the apostle refers to some letter which had been sent to the Laodiceans, which we have not now in the New Testament. If this be so, then the reference could only be to some epistle which may be extant elsewhere, or which is now lost. There is an epistle extant which is known by the name of "Paul's Epistle to the Laodiceans;" but it has no well-founded claims to being a genuine epistle of Paul, and is universally regarded as a forgery. "It is," says Michaelis, "a mere rhapsody, collected from Paul's other epistles, and which no critic can receive as a genuine work of the apostle. It contains nothing which it was necessary for the Colossians to know, nothing which is not ten times better and more fully explained in the Epistle which Paul sent to the Colossians; in short, nothing which could be suitable to Paul's design."
Introduction to the New Testament iv. 127. The Greek of this Epistle may be found at length in Michaelis; and, as it may be a matter of curiosity, and will show that this cannot be the Epistle referred to by Paul in Colossians 4:16, I will subjoin here a translation. It is as follows: "Paul an apostle, not of men, neither by men, but by Jesus Christ, to the brethren in Laodicea. Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God in Christ always, in my prayers, that you are mindful of and are persevering in good works, waiting for the promise in the day of judgment. And let not the vain speeches of some who would conceal the truth disturb you, to turn you away from the truth of the gospel which has been preached unto you. Now God grant that all they who are of me may be borne forward to the perfection of the truth of the gospel, to perform those excellent good works which become the salvation of eternal life.
And now are my bonds manifest, in which bonds I am in Christ, and at the present time; but I rejoice, for I know that this shall be for the furtherance of my salvation, which is through your prayer and the supply of the Holy Spirit, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is joy. But our Lord himself shall grant you his mercy with us, that, possessing love you may be of the same mind and think the same thing. On this account, brethren, as ye have heard of the appearing of the Lord, so think and do in the fear of God, and it shall be eternal life to you, for it is God who worketh in you. Do all things without complaints and disputings. And for the remainder, brethren, rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ, and see that ye keep yourselves from all base gain of covetousness. Let all your requests be made known with boldness unto God, and be firm in the mind of Christ. And finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are holy, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, these things do.
And what you have heard and received, keep in your hearts, and it shalt give you peace. Salute all the brethren with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Cause that this epistle be read in the church of the Colossians, and do you also read the epistle from Colossae." Nothing can be plainer than that this is not such an epistle as the apostle Paul would have written; it is therefore a mere forgery. The conclusion to which we are conducted is, that the reference in Colossians 4:16, is to some epistle of Paul to the church at Laodicea which is not now extant, and that the probability is, that, having accomplished the object for which it was sent, it has been suffered to be lost. Thus, it is to be numbered with the writings of Gad, and Iddo the seer, and Nathan, and the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and the book of Jehu 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 2 Chronicles 20:34; 1 Kings 16:1; works which, having accomplished the object for which they were composed, have been suffered to become extinct.
Nor is there anything improbable or absurd in the supposition that an inspired book may have been lost. There is no special sacredness in a mere writing, or in the fact that inspired truth was recorded, that makes it indispensable that it should be preserved. The oral discourses of the Saviour were as certainly inspired as the writings of Paul; and yet but a small part of what he said has been preserved; John 21:25. Why should there be any improbability in supposing that an inspired book may also have been lost? And, if it has, how does that fact weaken the evidence of the importance or the value of what we now possess? How does the fact that a large part of the sermons of the Saviour have perished, by not being recorded, diminish the value, or lessen the evidence of the divine authority, of the Sermon on the Mount?
This chapter embraces the following topics:
(1) The usual salutation to the church; Colossians 1:1-2.
(2) thanks to God for what He had done for the Colossians, and for the fruits of the gospel among them; Colossians 1:3-8.
(3) prayer that they might persevere in the same course, and might walk worthy of their calling; Colossians 1:9-11.
(4) an exhortation to render thanks to God for what He had done for them in redemption; Colossians 1:12-14.
(5) a statement of the exalted dignity of the Redeemer; Colossians 1:15-18.
(6) a statement of what Christ had done in the work of redemption, in making peace by the blood of his cross and reconciling the world to God; Colossians 1:19-20.
(7) through this gospel, Paul says, they had been reconciled to God, and were now brought into a state in which they might be presented as holy and unblameable in his sight; Colossians 1:21-23.
(8) of this gospel, Paul says he was a minister; in preaching it he had been called to endure trials, but those trials he endured with joy; and in preaching this gospel he used the utmost diligence, warning every man, and teaching every person in all wisdom, so that he might present each one perfect in Christ Jesus; Colossians 1:24-29.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ - See the notes. at Romans 1:1
By the will of God - Notes, 1 Corinthians 1:1.
And Timotheus our brother - On the question as to why Paul associated others with him in his epistles, see the notes at 1 Corinthians 1:1. There was a particular reason why Timothy should be associated with him in writing this Epistle. He was a native of the region where the church was situated Acts 16:1-3, and had been with Paul when be preached there, and was doubtless well known to the church there; Acts 16:6. It is evident, however, from the manner in which Paul mentions him here, that he did not regard him as "an apostle," and did not wish the church at Colosse to consider him as such. It is not "Paul and Timothy, apostles of Jesus Christ," but "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother." Paul is careful never to apply the term "apostle" to Timothy; Philippians 1:1. "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ;" compare 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1. If he had regarded Timothy as an apostle, or as having apostolic authority, it is not easy to conceive why he should not have referred to him as such in these letters to the churches. Could he have failed to see that the manner in which he referred to him was adapted to produce a very important difference in file estimate in which he and Timothy would be held by the Colossians?
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Grace be unto you - See the notes at Romans 1:7.
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,We give thanks to God - See the notes at the parallel place in Ephesians 1:15-16.
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus - To wit, by Epaphras, who had informed Paul of the steadfastness of their faith and love; Colossians 1:7-8. This does not prove that Paul had never been at Colossae, or that he did not establish the church there, for he uses a similar expression respecting the church at Ephesus Ephesians 1:15, of which he was undoubtedly the founder. The meaning is, that he had heard of their faith at that time, or of their perseverance in faith and love.
Which ye have to all the saints - In what way they had manifested this is not known. It would seem that Paul had been informed that this was a character of their piety, that they had remarkable love for all who bore the Christian name. Nothing could be more acceptable information respecting them to one who himself so ardently loved the church; and nothing could have furnished better evidence that they were influenced by the true spirit of religion; compare 1 John 3:14.
For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven - That is, "I give thanks that there is such a hope laid up for you." The evidence which he had that this hope was theirs, was founded on the faith and love to the saints which he heard they had evinced. He fully believed that where there was such faith and love, there was a well-founded hope of heaven. The word "hope" here is used, as it often is, for the thing hoped for. The object of hope - to wit, eternal happiness, was reserved for them in heaven.
Whereof ye heard before - When the gospel was first preached to you. You were told of the blessed rewards of a life of faith, in heaven.
In the word of the truth of the gospel - In the true word of the gospel.
Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:Which is come unto you - It has not been confined to the Jews, or limited to the narrow country where it was first preached, but has been sent abroad to the Gentile world. The object of the apostle here seems to be, to excite in them a sense of gratitude that the gospel had been sent to them. It was owing entirely to the goodness of God in sending them the gospel, that they had this hope of eternal life.
As it is in all the world - It is confined to no place or people, but is designed to be a universal religion. It offers the same blessedness in heaven to all; compare the notes at Colossians 1:23.
And bringing forth fruit - The fruits of righteousness or good living; see the notes at 2 Corinthians 9:10. The meaning is, that the gospel was not without effect wherever it was preached. The same results were observable everywhere else as in Colossae, that it produced most salutary influences on the hearts and lives of those who received it. On the nature of the "fruits" of religion, see the notes at Galatians 5:22-23.
Since the day ye heard of it - It has constantly been producing these fruits since you first heard it preached.
And knew the grace of God in truth - Since the time ye knew the true grace of God; since you became acquainted with the real benevolence which God has manifested in the gospel. The meaning is, that ever since they had heard the gospel it had been producing among them abundantly its appropriate fruit, and that the same thing had also characterized it wherever it had been dispensed.
As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;As ye also learned of Epaphras - Epaphras was then with Paul. Plm 1:23. He had probably been sent to him by the church at Colossae to consult him in reference to some matters pertaining to the church there. It is evident from this, that Epaphras was a minister of the church at Colossae, though there is no evidence, as has been often supposed, that he was the founder of the church. The apostle here says, that they had learned from Epaphras the true nature of the gospel, and he designs undoubtedly to confirm what he had taught them in opposition to the teachings of errorists; see the Introduction, Section 4. He had doubtless conferred with Epaphras respecting the doctrines which he had taught there.
Our dear fellow-servant - This shows that Paul had contracted a strong friendship for Epaphras. There is no reason to believe that he had known him before, but his acquaintance with him now had served to attach him strongly to him. It is possible, as has been conjectured (see the Introduction), that there was a party in the church at Colossae opposed to Epaphras and to the doctrines which he preached, and if this were so, Paul's strong expression of attachment for him would do much to silence the opposition.
Who is for you a faithful minister of Christ - "For you," when he is with you, and in managing your interests here.
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit - The love wrought in you by the Holy Spirit. It was not mere natural affection, but love worked in their hearts by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;Do not cease to pray for you - Colossians 1:3. The progress which they had already made, and the love which they had shown, constituted an encouragement for prayer, and a reason why higher blessings still should be sought. We always feel stimulated and encouraged to pray for those who are doing well.
That ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will - They had shown by their faith and love that they were disposed to do his will, and the apostle now prays that they might be fully acquainted with what he would have them do. He offered a similar prayer in behalf of the Ephesians; see the parallel place in Ephesians 1:17-19, and the notes at those verses.
In all wisdom - That you may be truly wise in all things; Ephesians 1:17.
And spiritual understanding - In understanding those things that pertain to the "Spirit;" that is, those things taught by the Holy Spirit, and those which he produces in the work of salvation; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; compare 1 John 2:20; 1 John 5:20.
That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;That ye might walk worthy of the Lord - That you may live as becomes the followers of the Lord. How this was to be done he states in this and the following verses.
Unto all pleasing - So as to please him in all things; compare Hebrews 11:5.
Being fruitful in every good work - This is one way in which we are to walk worthy of the Lord, and so as to please him; see the notes at John 15:8.
And increasing in the knowledge of God - This is another way in which we may walk worthy of the Lord, and so as to please him. It is by endeavoring to become better acquainted with his true character. God is pleased with those who desire to understand what he is; what he does; what he purposes; what he commands. Hence he not only commands us to study his works (compare Psalm 111:2), but he has made a world so beautiful as to invite us to contemplate his perfections as reflected in that world. All good beings desire that others should understand their character, and God delights in those who are sincerely desirous of knowing what he is, and who inquire with humility and reverence into his counsels and his will. People are often displeased when others attempt to look into their plans, for they are sensible they will not bear the light of investigation. God has no plans which would not be seen to be, in the highest degree, glorious to him.
Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;Strengthened with all might - This was also an object of Paul's earnest prayer. He desired that they might be strengthened for the performance of duty; to meet temptations; and to bear up under the various trials of life.
According to his glorious power - Not by any human means, but by the power of God. There is a manifestation of power in the spirit with which Christians are enabled to bear up under trials, which shows that it is not of human origin. It is the power which God gives them in the day of trial. This power is "glorious," or, as it is in the Greek, it is the "power of his glory." It is manifestly the power of the great and glorious God, and it tends to promote his glory, and to show forth his praise.
Unto all patience - So that you may be enabled to bear all your trials without complaining. It is only the power of God that can enable us to do that.
And long-suffering - Notes, 1 Corinthians 13:4.
With joyfulness - Romans 5:3, note; 2 Corinthians 7:4, note. The Syriac version, Chrysostom, and a few manuscripts attach this to the following verse, and read it: "With joyfulness giving thanks to the Father," etc. The only difference is in the pointing, and either reading makes good sense.
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:Giving thanks to the Father - This is another mode by which we may "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" Colossians 1:10; to wit, by rendering appropriate thanks to God for his mercy. The particular point which the apostle here says demanded thanksgiving was, that they had been called from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. This had been done by the special mercy of the Father who had provided the plan of salvation, and had sent his Son to redeem them. The connection shows that the word "Father" refers, in this place, not to God as the Father of his creatures, but to the Father as distinguished from the Son. It is the "Father" who has translated us into the kingdom of the "Son." Our special thanks are due to the "Father" in this, as he is represented as the great Author of the whole plan of salvation - as he who sent his Son to redeem us.
Who hath made us meet - The word used here - ἱκανόω hikanoō - means properly to make sufficient, from ἱκανός hikanos - sufficient, abundant, much. The word conveys the idea of having sufficient or enough to accomplish anything; see it explained in the notes at 2 Corinthians 3:6. The verb is not elsewhere used in the New Testament. In its use here, there seems to be implied the idea of conferring the privilege or the ability to be thus made the partakers of the kingdom, and the idea also of rendering us fit for it. The sense is, he has conferred on us grace sufficient to make it proper that we should partake of the blessings of his kingdom. In regard to this "fitness" or "meetness" for that kingdom, we may remark:
(1) that it does not mean that we are rendered fit by our own merits, or by anything which we have done; for it is expressly said that it is God who has thus rendered us "meet" for it. No one, by his own merits, even made himself fit for heaven. His good works cannot be an equivalent for the eternal rewards of heaven; nor is the heart when unrenewed, even in the best state, fit for the society and the employments of heaven. There is no adaptedness of such a heart, however amiable and however refined, to the pure spiritual joys of the upper world. Those joys are the joys of religion, of the love of God, of pleasure in holiness; and the unrenewed heart can never be wrought up to a fitness to enter into those joys. Yet.
(2) there is a fitness or meetness which Christians possess for heaven. It consists in two things. First, in their having complied with the conditions on which God promises heaven, so that, although they have no merit in themselves, and no fitness by their own works, they have that meetness which results from having complied with the terms of favor. They have truly repented of their sins, and believed in the Redeemer; and they are thus in the proper state of mind to receive the mercy of God; for, according to the terms of mercy, there is a propriety that pardon should be bestowed on the penitent, and peace on the believing. A child that is truly brokenhearted for a fault, is in a fit state of mind to be forgiven; a proud, and obstinate, and rebellious child, is not. Secondly, there is, in fact, a fitness in the Christian for the participation of the inheritance of the saints in light. He has a state of feeling that is adapted to that. There is a congruity between his feelings and heaven - a state of mind that can be satisfied with nothing but heaven. He has in his heart substantially the same principles which reign in heaven; and he is suited to find happiness only in the same objects in which the inhabitants of heaven do, He loves the same God and Saviour; has pleasure in the same truths; prefers, as they do, holiness to sin; and, like the inhabitants of heaven, he would choose to seek his pleasure in holy living, rather than in the ways of vanity. His preferences are all on the side of holiness and virtue; and, with such preferences, he is fitted for the enjoyments of heaven. In character, views, feelings, and preferences, therefore, the Christian is made suitable to participate in the employments and joys of the saints in light.
To be partakers of the inheritance - The privileges of religion are often represented as an heirship, or an inheritance; see the notes at Romans 8:17.
Of the saints in light - Called in Colossians 1:13, "the kingdom of his dear Son." This is a kingdom of light, as opposed to the kingdom of darkness in which they formerly were. In the East, and particularly in Persia, there prevailed early the belief that there were two great kingdoms in the universe - that of light, and that of darkness. We find traces of this opinion in the Scriptures, where the kingdom of God is called "light," and that of Satan is called "darkness." These are, of course, figurative expressions; but they convoy important truth. Light, in the Scriptures, is the emblem of holiness, knowledge, happiness; and all these are found in the kingdom over which God presides, and of which Christians are the heirs. Accordingly, we find the word "light" often used to describe this kingdom. Thus, it is said of God, who presides over it, that he "is light, and in him is no darkness at all," 1 John 1:5; of Christ, that he is "the light of man," John 1:4; that he is "the true light," John 1:9; that he is "the light of the world," John 8:12; compare John 12:35; Luke 2:32. The angels of that kingdom are "angels of light," 2 Corinthians 11:14. Those who compose that kingdom on earth are "the children of light," Luke 16:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5. And all the descriptions of that kingdom in heaven represent it as filled with light and glory, Isaiah 60:19; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5.
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness - The power exerted over us in that dark kingdom to which we formerly belonged - the kingdom of Satan. The characteristic of this empire is darkness - the emblem of:
(3) misery and death.
Over us, by nature, these things had uncontrollable power; but now we are delivered from them, and brought to the enjoyment of the privileges of those who are connected with the kingdom of light. Darkness is often used to represent the state in which men are by nature; compare Luke 1:79; Acts 26:18; Romans 13:12; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 2:8.
And hath translated us - The word rendered here "translated" is often used in the sense of removing a people from one country to another; see Josephus, Ant. ix. 11. 1. It means, here, that they who are Christians have been transferred from one kingdom to another, as if a people were thus removed. They become subjects of a new kingdom, are under different laws, and belong to a different community. This change is made in regeneration, by which we pass from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light; from the empire of sin, ignorance, and misery, to one of holiness, knowledge, and happiness. No change, therefore, in a man's life is so important as this; and no words can suitably express the gratitude which they should feel who are thus transferred from the empire of darkness to that of light.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:In whom we have redemption; - See this explained in the notes at Ephesians 1:7. The passage here proves that we obtain forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ; but it does not prove that this is all that we obtain through that blood.
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:Who is the image of the invisible God - εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου eikōn tou Theou tou aoratou. The objects. here, as it is in the parallel place in Ephesians 1:20-23, is to give a just view of the exaltation of the Redeemer. It is probable that, in both cases, the design is to meet some erroneous opinion on this subject that prevailed in those churches, or among those that claimed to be teachers there. See the Introduction to this Epistle, and compare the notes at Ephesians 1:20-23. For the meaning of the phrase occurring here, "the image of the invisible God," see the Hebrews 1:3, note, and 2 Corinthians 4:4, note. The meaning is, that he represents to mankind the perfections of God, as an image, figure, or drawing does the object which it is made to resemble. See the word "image" - εἰκὼν eikōn - explained in the notes at Hebrews 10:1. It properly denotes that which is a copy or delineation of a thing; which accurately and fully represents it, in contradistinction from a rough sketch, or outline; compare Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Corinthians 15:49.
The meaning here is, that the being and perfections of God are accurately and fully represented by Christ. In what respects particularly he was thus a representative of God, the apostle proceeds to state in the following verses, to wit, in his creative power, in his eternal existence, in his heirship over the universe, in the fulness that dwelt in him. This cannot refer to him merely as incarnate, for some of the things affirmed of him pertained to him before his incarnation; and the idea is, that in all things Christ fairly represents to us the divine nature and perfections. God is manifest to us through him; 1 Timothy 3:16. We see God in him as we see an object in that which is in all respects an exact copy of it. God is invisible. No eye has seen him, or can see him; but in what Christ is, and has done in the works of creation and redemption, we have a fair and full representation of what God is; see the notes at John 1:18; John 14:9, note.
The first-born of every creature - Among all the creatures of God, or over all his creation, occupying the rank and pro-eminence of the first-born. The first-born, or the oldest son, among the Hebrews as elsewhere, had special privileges. He was entitled to a double portion of the inheritance. It has been, also, and especially in oriental countries, a common thing for the oldest son to succeed to the estate and the title of his father. In early times, the first-born son was the officiating priest in the family, in the absence or on the death of the father. There can be no doubt that the apostle here has reference to the usual distinctions and honors conferred on the first-born, and means to say that, among all the creatures of God, Christ occupied a pre-eminence similar to that. He does not say that, in all respects, he resembled the first-born in a family; nor does he say that he himself was a creature, for the point of his comparison does not turn on these things, and what he proceeds to affirm respecting him is inconsistent with the idea of his being a created being himself.
He that "created all things that are in heaven and that are in earth," was not himself created. That the apostle did not mean to represent him as a creature, is also manifest from the reason which he assigns why he is called the first-born. "He is the image of God, and the first-born of every creature, for - ὅτι hoti - by him were all things created." That is, he sustains the elevated rank of the first-born, or a high eminence over the creation, because by him "all things were created in heaven and in earth." The language used here, also, does not fairly imply that he was a creature, or that he was in nature and rank one of those in relation to whom it is said he was the first-born. It is true that the word "first-born" - πρωτότοκος prōtotokos - properly means the first-born child of a father or mother, Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7; or the first-born of animals. But two things are also to be remarked in regard to the use of the word:
(1) It does not necessarily imply that anyone is born afterward in the family, for it would be used of the first-born, though an only child; and,
(2) it is used to denote one who is chief, or who is highly distinguished and pre-eminent. Thus, it is employed in Romans 8:29, "That he might be the first-born among many brethren." So, in Colossians 1:18, it is said that he was "the first-born from the dead;" not that he was literally the first that was raised from the dead, which was not the fact, but that he might be pre-eminent among those that are raised; compare Exodus 4:22. The meaning, then, is, that Christ sustains the most exalted rank in the universe; he is pre-eminent above all others; he is at the head of all things. The expression does not mean that he was "begotten before all creatures," as it is often explained, but refers to the simple fact that he sustains the highest rank over the creation. He is the Son of God. He is the heir of all things. All other creatures are also the "offspring of God;" but he is exalted as the Son of God above all.
(This clause has been variously explained. The most commonly received, and, as we think, best supported opinion, is that which renders πρωτοτοκος πασης κτισεως prōtotokos pasēs ktiseōs; "begotten before all creation." This most natural and obvious sense would have been more readily admitted, had it not been supposed hostile to certain views on the sonship of Christ. Some explain πρωτότοκος prōtotokos actively, and render "first begetter or producer of all things," which gives, at all events, a sense consistent with truth and with the context, which immediately assigns as the reason of Christ being styled πρωτότοκος prōtotokos, the clause beginning ὁτι εν αυτω εκτισθη hoti en autō ektisthē, "For by him were all things created." Others, with the author explain the word figuratively, of pre-eminence or lordship. To this view however, there are serious objections.
It seems not supported by sufficient evidence. No argument can be drawn from Colossians 1:18 until it is proved that "firstborn from the dead," does not mean the first that was raised to die no more, which Doddridge affirms to be "the easiest, surest, most natural sense, in which the best commentators are agreed." Nor is the argument from Romans 8:29 satisfactory. "Πρωτότοκος Prōtotokos," says Bloomfield, at the close of an admirable note on this verse, "is not well taken by Whitby and others, in a figurative sense, to denote 'Lord of all things, since the word is never so used, except in reference to primogeniture. And although, in Romans 8:29, we have τον ρωτοτοκος εν πολλοις αδελφοις ton prōtotokos en pollois adelphois, yet there his followers are represented not as his creatures, but as his brethren. On which, and other accounts, the interpretation, according to which we have here a strong testimony to the eternal filiation of our Saviour is greatly preferable; and it is clear that Colossians 1:15, Colossians 1:18 are illustrative of the nature, as Colossians 1:16-17 are an evidence of the pre-existence and divinity of Christ.")
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:For by him were all things created - This is one of the reasons why he is called "the image of God," and the "first-born." He makes God known to us by his creative power, and by the same power in creation shows that he is exalted over all things as the Son of God. The phrase which is used here by the apostle is universal. He does not declare that he created all things in the spiritual kingdom of God, or that he arranged the events of the gospel dispensation, as Socinians suppose (see Crellius); but that every thing was created by him. A similar form of expression occurs in John 1:3; see the notes at that verse. There could not possibly be a more explicit declaration that the universe was created by Christ, than this. As if the simple declaration in the most comprehensive terms were not enough, the apostle goes into a specification of things existing in heaven and earth, and so varies the statement as if to prevent the possibility of mistake.
That are in heaven - The division of the universe into "heaven and earth" is natural and obvious, for it is the one that is apparent; see Genesis 1:1. Heaven, then, according to this division, will embrace all the universe, except the earth; and will include the heavenly bodies and their inhabitants, the distant worlds, as well as heaven, more strictly so called, where God resides. The declaration, then, is, that all things that were in the worlds above us were the work of his creative power.
And that are in earth - All the animals, plants, minerals, waters, hidden fires, etc. Everything which the earth contains.
Visible and invisible - We see but a small part of the universe. The angels we cannot see. The inhabitants of distant worlds we cannot see. Nay, there are multitudes of worlds which, even with the best instruments, we cannot see. Yet all these things are said to have been created by Christ.
Whether they be thrones - Whether those invisible things be thrones. The reference is to the ranks of angels, called here thrones, dominions, etc.; see the notes at Ephesians 1:21. The word "thrones" does not occur in the parallel place in Ephesians; but there can be no doubt that the reference is to an order of angelic beings, as those to whom dominion and power were intrusted. The other orders enumerated here are also mentioned in Ephesians 1:21.
All things were created by him - The repetition, and the varied statement here, are designed to express the truth with emphasis, and so that there could not be the possibility of mistake or misapprehension; compare the notes at John 1:1-3. The importance of the doctrine, and the fact that it was probably denied by false teachers, or that they held philosophical opinions that tended to its practical denial, are the reasons why the apostle dwells so particularly on this point.
And for him - For his glory; for such purposes as he designed. There was a reference to himself in the work of creation, just as, when a man builds a house, it is with reference to some important purposes which he contemplates, pertaining to himself. The universe was built by the Greater to be his own property; to be the theater on which he would accomplish his purposes, and display his perfections. Particularly the earth was made by the Son of God to be the place where he would become incarnate, and exhibit the wonders of redeeming love. There could not be a more positive declaration than this, that the universe was created by Christ; and, if so, he is divine. The work of creation is the exertion of the highest power of which we can form a conception, and is often appealed to in the Scriptures by God to prove that he is divine, in contradistinction from idols. If, therefore, this passage be understood literally, it settles the question about the divinity of Christ. Accordingly, Unitarians have endeavored to show that the creation here referred to is a moral creation; that it refers to the arrangement of affairs in the Christian church, or to the kingdom of God on earth, and not to the creation of the material universe. This interpretation has been adopted even by Grotius, who supposes that it refers to the arrangement by which all things are fitted up in the new creation, and by which angels and men are reconciled. By "the things in heaven and in earth," some Unitarian expositors have understood the Jews and the Gentiles, who are reconciled by the gospel; others, by the things in heaven, understand the angels, and, by the things on earth, men, who are brought into harmony by the gospel plan of salvation. But the objections to this interpretation are insuperable:
(1) The word "created" is not used in this sense properly, and cannot be. That it may mean to arrange, to order, is true; but it is not used in the sense of reconciling, or of bringing discordant things into harmony. To the great mass of men, who have no theory to support, it would be understood in its natural and obvious sense, as denoting the literal creation.
(2) the assertion is, that the "creative" power of Christ was exerted on "all things." It is not in reference to angels only, or to men, or to Jews, or to Gentiles; it is in relation to "everything in heaven and in earth;" that is, to the whole universe. Why should so universal a declaration be supposed to denote merely the intelligent creation?
(3) with what propriety, or in what tolerable sense, can the expression "things in heaven and things in earth" be applied to the Jews and Gentiles? In what sense can it be said that they are "visible and invisible?" And, if the language could be thus used, how can the fact that Christ is the means of reconciling them be a reason why he should be called "the image of the invisible God?"
(4) if it be understood of a moral creation, of a renovation of things, of a change of nature, how can this be applied to the angels? Has Christ created them anew? Has he changed their nature and character? Good angels cannot need a spiritual renovation; and Christ did not come to convert fallen angels, and to bring them into harmony with the rest of the universe.
(5) the phrase here employed, of "creating all things in heaven and on earth," is never used elsewhere to denote a moral or spiritual creation. It appropriately expresses the creation of the universe. It is language strikingly similar to that used by Moses, Genesis 1:1; and it would be so understood by the great mass of mankind. If this be so, then Christ is divine, and we can see in this great work a good reason why he is called "the image of the invisible God," and why he is at the head of the universe - the first-born of the creation. It is because, through him, God is made known to us in the work of creation; and because, being the great agent in that work, there is a propriety that he should occupy this position at the head of all things.
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.And he is before all things - As he must be, if he created all things. Those who regard this as referring to a moral creation, interpret it as meaning that he has the pre-eminence over all things; not as referring to his pre-existence. But the fair and proper meaning of the word "before" (πρὸ pro) is, that he was before all things in the order of existence; compare Matthew 8:29; John 11:55; John 13:1; Acts 5:36; Acts 21:38; 2 Corinthians 12:2. It is equivalent to saying that he was eternal - for he that had an existence before any thing was created, must be eternal. Thus, it is equivalent to the phrase, "In the beginning;" Genesis 1:1; compare the notes at John 1:1.
And by him all things subsist - Or are sustained; see the notes at Hebrews 1:3. The meaning is, that they are kept in the present state; their existence, order, and arrangement are continued by his power. If unsupported by him, they would fall into disorder, or sink back to nothing. If this be the proper interpretation, then it is the ascription to Christ of infinite power - for nothing less could be sufficient to uphold the universe; and of infinite wisdom - for this is needed to preserve the harmonious action of the suns and systems of which it is composed. None could do this but one who is divine; and hence we see the reason why he is represented as the image of the invisible God. He is the great and glorious and everactive agent by whom the perfections of God are made known.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.And he is the head of the body, the church - Notes Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:23, note.
Who is the beginning - In all things - alike in the work of creation and in the church. He is the fountain of authority and power, and commences everything that is designed to uphold the order of the universe, and to save the world.
The first-born from the dead - At the head of those who rise from their graves. This does not mean literally that he was the first who rose from the dead for he himself raised up Lazarus and others, and the bodies of saints arose at his crucifixion; but it means that he had the pre-eminence among them all; he was the most illustrious of those who will be raised from the dead, and is the head over them all. Especially, he had this pre-eminence in the resurrection in this respect, that he was the first who rose from death to immortality. Others who were raised undoubtedly died again. Christ rose to die no more; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:20.
That in all things - Margin, "among all." The Greek will bear either construction, and either will accord with the scope of the apostle's remarks. If the former, it means that he is at the head of all things - the universe; if the latter, that he is chief among those who rose from the dead. Each of these is true, but the scope of the passage seems rather to require us to understand this of everything, and to mean that all the arrangements respecting him were such as to give him supremacy over the universe.
He might have the pre-eminence - Greek, "might be first" - πρωτεύων prōteuōn. That is, might be first in rank, dignity, honor, power. He has the pre-eminence:
(1) as over the universe which he has formed - as its Creator and Proprietor;
(2) as chief among those who shall rise from the dead - since he first rose to die no more, and their resurrection depends on him;
(3) as head of the church - all synods, councils, and governments being subject to him, and he alone having a right to give law to his people; and,
(4) in the affections of his friends - being in their affections and confidence superior to all others.
For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;For it pleased the Father - The words "the Father" are not in the original, but they are not improperly supplied. Some word must be understood, and as the apostle in Colossians 1:12 referred to "the Father" as having a claim to the thanks of his people for what he had done, and as the great favor for which they ought to be thankful is that which he immediately specifies - the exaltation of Christ, it is not improper to suppose that this is the word to be understood here. The meaning is, that he chose to confer on his Son such a rank, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence, and that there might be in him "all fulness." Hence, by his appointment, he was the agent in creation, and hence he is placed over all things as the head of the church.
That in him should all fulness dwell - That in him there should be such dignity, authority, power, and moral excellence as to be fitted to the work of creating the world, redeeming his people, and supplying everything needful for their salvation. On the word "fullness," see John 1:14, note, 16, note; compare Romans 11:12, Romans 11:25; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 2:9. This is to us a most precious truth. We have a Saviour who is in no respect deficient in wisdom, power, and grace to redeem and save us. There is nothing necessary to be done in our salvation which he is not qualified to do; there is nothing which we need to enable us to perform our duties, to meet temptation, and to bear trial, which he is not able to impart. In no situation of trouble and danger will the church find that there is a deficiency in him; in no enterprise to which she can put her hands will there be a lack of power in her great Head to enable her to accomplish what he calls her to. We may go to him in all our troubles, weaknesses temptations, and needs, and may be supplied from his fullness - just as, if we were thirsty, we might go to an ocean of pure water and drink.
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.And having made peace - Margin, "making." The Greek will bear either. The meaning is, that by his atonement he produces reconciliation between those who were alienated from each other; see the notes at Ephesians 2:14. It does not mean here that he had actually effected peace by his death, but that he had laid the foundation for it; he had done that which would secure it.
By the blood of his cross - By his blood shed on the cross. That blood, making atonement for sin, was the means of making reconciliation between God and man. On the meaning of the word "blood," as used in this connection, see the notes at Romans 3:25.
By him to reconcile all things to himself - On the meaning of the word reconcile, see the Matthew 5:24, note; Romans 5:10, note, and 2 Corinthians 5:18, note. When it is said that "it pleased the Father by Christ to reconcile all things to himself," the declaration must be understood with some limitation.
(1) it relates only to those things which are in heaven and earth - for those only are specified. Nothing is said of the inhabitants of hell, whether fallen angels, or the spirits of wicked men who are there.
(2) it cannot mean that all things are actually reconciled - for that never has been true. Multitudes on earth have remained alienated from God, and have lived and died his enemies.
(3) it can mean then, only, that he had executed a plan that was adapted to this; that if fairly and properly applied, the blood of the cross was fitted to secure entire reconciliation between heaven and earth. There was no enemy which it was not fitted to reconcile to God; there was no guilt, now producing alienation, which it could not wash away.
Whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven - That is, to produce harmony between the things in heaven and in earth; so that all things shall be reconciled to him, or so that there shalt be harmony between heaven and earth. The meaning is not, that "the things in heaven" were alienated from God, but that there was alienation in the universe which affected heaven, and the object was to produce again universal concord and love. Substantially the same sentiment is found in Ephesians 1:10; see the notes at that verse. Much has been written on the meaning of this expression, and a great variety of opinions have been entertained of it. It is best, always, unless necessity require a different interpretation, to take words in their usual signification. If that rule be adopted here," things in heaven" will refer to God and the angels, and perhaps may include the principles of the divine government, "Things on earth," will embrace men, and the various things on earth which are now at variance with God and with heaven. Between these, it is designed to produce harmony by the blood of the cross, or by the atonement. As in heaven nothing is wrong; as it is not desirable that anything should he changed there, all the change that is to take place in order to produce reconciliation, is to be on the part of men and the things of this world. The only effect of the blood of the atonement on the "things" of heaven in effecting the reconciliation is, to render it consistent for God to be at peace with sinners. The effect on earth is, to dispose the sinner to a willingness to be reconciled; to lead him to lay aside his enmity; to change his heart, and to effect a change in the views and principles prevailing on earth which are now at variance with God and his government. When this shall be done there will be harmony between heaven and earth, and an alienated world will be brought into conformity with the laws and government of the Creator.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciledAnd you, that were sometime alienated - In this work of reconciling heaven and earth, you at Colossae, who were once enemies of God, have been reached. The benefit of that great plan has been extended to you, and it has accomplished in you what it is designed to effect everywhere - to reconcile enemies to God. The word "sometime" here - ποτε pote - means "formerly." In common with all other men they were, by nature, in a state of enmity against God; compare the notes at Ephesians 2:1-3.
In your mind - It was not merely by wicked works, or by an evil life; it was alienation seated in the mind, and leading to wicked works. It was deliberate and purposed enmity. It was not the result of passion and excitement; it had a deeper seat, and took hold of the intellectual powers The understanding was perverse and alienated from God, and all the powers of the soul were enlisted against him. It is this fact which renders reconciliation with God so difficult. Sin has corrupted and perverted alike the moral and the intellectual powers, and thus the whole man is arrayed against his Creator; compare the notes at Ephesians 4:18.
By wicked works - The alienation of the mind showed itself by wicked works, and those works were the public evidence of the alienation; compare Ephesians 2:1-2.
Yet now hath he reconciled - Harmony has been secured between you and God, and you are brought to friendship and love. Such a change has been produced in you as to bring your minds into friendship with that of God. All the change in producing this is on the part of man, for God cannot change, and there is no reason why he should, if he could. In the work of reconciliation man lays aside his hostility to his Maker, and thus becomes his friend; see the notes at 2 Corinthians 5:18.
In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:In the body of his flesh through death - The death of his body, or his death in making an atonement, has been the means of producing this reconciliation. It:
(1) removed the obstacles to reconciliation on the part of God - vindicating his truth and justice, and maintaining the principles of his government as much as if the sinner had himself suffered the penalty of the law - thus rendering it consistent for God to indulge the benevolence of his nature in pardoning sinners; and,
(2) it was the means of bringing the sinner himself to a willingness to be reconciled - furnishing the strongest possible appeal to him; leading him to reflect on the love of his Creator, and showing him his own guilt and danger. No means ever used to produce reconciliation between two alienated parties has had so much tenderness and power as those which God has adopted in the plan of salvation; and if the dying love of the Son of God fails to lead the sinner back to God, everything else will fail. The phrase "the body of his flesh" means, the body of flesh which he assumed in order to suffer in making an atonement. The reconciliation could not have been effected but by his assuming such a body, for his divine nature could not so suffer as to make atonement for sins.
To present you - That is, before God. The object of the atonement was to enable him to present the redeemed to God freed from sin, and made holy in his sight. The whole work had reference to the glories of that day when the Redeemer and the redeemed will stand before God, and he shall present them to his Father as completely recovered from the ruins of the fall.
Holy - Made holy, or made free from sin; compare Luke 20:36.
And unblameable - Not that in themselves they will not be deserving of blame, or will not be unworthy, but that they will be purified from their sins. The word used here - ἄμωμος amōmos - means, properly "spotless, without blemish;" see Ephesians 1:4, note; Ephesians 5:27, note; Hebrews 9:4, note. It is applied to a lamb, 1 Peter 1:19; to the Savior, Hebrews 9:14, and to the church, Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:27; Jde 1:24; Revelation 14:5. It does not elsewhere occur. When the redeemed enter heaven, all their sins will have been taken away; not a spot of the deep dye of inquiry will remain on their souls; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14.
And unreproveable in his sight - There will be none to accuse them before God; or they will be free from all accusation. The law will not accuse them - for the death of their Redeemer has done as much to honor it as their own punishment would have done; God will not accuse them - for he has freely forgiven them; their consciences will not accuse them - for their sins will all have been taken away, and they will enjoy the favor of God as if they had not sinned; holy angels will not accuse them - for they will welcome them to their society; and even Satan will not accuse them, for he will have seen that their piety is sincere, and that they are truly what they profess to be; compare the notes at Romans 8:33-34.
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;If ye continue in the faith - In the belief of the gospel, and in holy living. If this were done, they would be presented unblameable be fore God; if not, they would not be. The meaning is, that it will be impossible to be saved unless we continue to lead lives becoming the gospel.
Grounded - On a firm foundation; see the notes at Ephesians 3:17, where the same word occurs.
And settled - Greek, "firm;" as a building is that is founded on a rock; compare Matthew 7:25.
And be not moved away from the hope of the gospel - By the arts of philosophy, and the allurements of sin.
Which was preached to every creature which is under heaven - It cannot be supposed that it was literally true that every creature under heaven had actually heard the gospel. But this may mean:
(1) That it was designed to be preached to every creature, or that the commission to make it known embraced everyone, and that, so far as the provisions of the gospel are concerned, it may be said that it was a system proclaimed to all mankind; see Mark 16:15. If a vast army, or the inhabitants of a distant province, were in rebellion against a government, and a proclamation of pardon were issued, it would not be improper to say that it was made to every one of them, though, as a matter of fact, it might not be true that everyone in the remote parts of the army or province had actually heard of it.
(2) the gospel in the time of Paul seems to have been so extensively preached, that it might be said that it was proclaimed to everybody. All known countries appear to have been visited; and so zealous and laborious had been the heralds of salvation, that it might be said that the message had been proclaimed to all the world; see Colossians 1:6; compare the notes at Matthew 24:14.
Whereof I Paul am made a minister - See the notes at Ephesians 3:1-7. Paul here pursues the same train of thought which he does in the Epistle to the Ephesians, where, having shown the exalted nature of the Redeemer, and the design of the gospel, he adverts to his own labors and sufferings in making it known. The object seems to be to show that he regarded it as the highest honor to be thus intrusted with the message of mercy to mankind, and considered it as a privilege to suffer in that cause.
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you - For you as a part of the Gentile world. It was not for the Colossians alone, but he regarded himself as suffering on account of his labors in preaching to the pagan at large. His trials at Rome had come upon him because he had maintained that the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was broken down, and that the gospel was to be preached indiscriminately to all mankind; see this illustrated in the introduction, Section 5.
And fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ - That which I lack of coming up to the sufferings which Christ endured in the cause of the church. The apostle seems to mean:
(1) that be suffered in the same cause as that for which Christ suffered;
(2) that he endured the same kind of sufferings, to some extent, in reproaches, persecutions, and opposition from the world;
(3) that he had not yet suffered as much as Christ did in this cause, and, though be had suffered greatly, yet there was much that was lacking to make him equal in this respect to the Saviour; and,
(4) that he felt that it was an object to be earnestly desired to be made in all respects just like Christ, and that in his present circumstances he was fast filling up that which was lacking, so that he would have a more complete resemblance to him.
What he says here is based on the leading desire of his soul - the great principle of his life - to be just like Christ; alike in moral character, in suffering, and in destiny; see the notes at Philippians 3:10. Having this strong wish, he had been led to pursue a course of life which conducted him through trials strongly resembling those which Christ himself endured; and, as fast as possible, he was filling up that in which he now fell short. He does not mean that there was anything lacking or deficient in the sufferings which Christ endured in making an atonement which was to be supplied by his followers, so that their merits might be added to his in order to secure the salvation of men, as the Romanists seem to suppose; but that there was still much lacking on his part before he should be entirely conformed to the Saviour in his sufferings, and that his present condition was such as rapidly to fill that up. This seems to me to be the fair meaning of this expressions though not the one commonly given. The usual interpretation is, "that which remains to me of affliction to be endured in the cause of Christ." But this seems to me to be cold and tame, and not to suit the genius of Paul.
In my flesh - In bodily sufferings.
For his body's sake, which is the church - See the notes at Ephesians 1:23.
Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;According to the dispensation of God - The arrangement which God has made. That is, he designed that the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, and, in accordance with that arrangement, he has called me to be a minister. Notes, Ephesians 3:2.
To fulfil the word of God - Margin, "fully to preach." The Greek is, "to fill up the word of God;" the meaning is, "fully to teach and promulgate the gospel;" compare the notes at Romans 15:19.
Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:Even the mystery - To make that mystery fully known. See this explained in the notes at Ephesians 3:2-9. The great doctrine that salvation was to be proclaimed to all mankind, Paul says, had been concealed for many generations. Hence, it was called a mystery, or a hidden truth.
But now is made manifest to his saints - It was communicated especially to the apostles who were appointed to proclaim it, and through them to all the saints. Paul says that he regarded himself as specially called to make this truth known, as far as possible, to mankind.
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:To whom - To the saints.
God would make known - "Willed (Greek) to make known;" that is, he was pleased to make this known. It was concealed in his bosom until he chose to reveal it to his apostles. It was a doctrine which the Jewish people did not understand; Ephesians 3:5-6.
What is the riches of the glory of this mystery - The rich glory of this great, long-concealed truth. On the use of the word "riches," see the notes at Romans 2:4. It is a favorite word with the apostle Paul to denote that which is valuable, or that which abounds. The meaning here is, that the truth that the gospel was to be preached to all mankind, was a truth abounding in glory.
Among the Gentiles - That is, the glory of this truth is manifested by the effects which it has produced among the Gentiles.
Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory - Or, Christ among you. Margin. The meaning is, that the whole of that truth, so full of glory, and so rich and elevated in its effect, is summed up in this - that Christ is revealed among you as the source of the hope of glory in a better world. This was the great truth which so animated the heart and fired the zeal of the apostle Paul. The wonderful announcement had burst on his mind like a flood of day, that the offer of salvation was not to be confined, as he had once supposed, to the Jewish people, but that all men were now placed on a level; that they had a common Saviour; that the same heaven was now opened for all, and that there were none so degraded and vile that they might not have the offer of life as well as others. This great truth Paul burned to communicate to the whole world; and for holding it, and in making it known, he had involved himself in all the difficulties which he had with his own countrymen; had suffered from want, and peril, and toil; and had finally been made a captive, and was expecting to be put to death. It was just such a truth as was fitted to fire such a mind as that of Paul, and to make it; known as worth all the sacrifices and toils which he endured. Life is well sacrificed in making known such a doctrine to the world.
Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:Whom we preach, warning every man - This does not mean warning of danger, but "admonishing all of the claims of the gospel to attention." Our word warn is commonly used in the sense of cautioning against danger. The Greek word here means to put in mind; to admonish; to exhort. The idea of the apostle is, that he made it his great business to bring the offers of the gospel fairly before the mind of every man. As it had the same claims on all; as it might be freely offered to all, and as it furnished the only hope of glory, he made it the object of his life to apprize every man of it, as far as he could.
And teaching every man - Paul made it his business to instruct men, as well as to exhort them. Exhortation and warning are of little use where there is not sound instruction and a careful inculcation of the truth. It is one of the duties of the ministry to instruct men in those truths of which they were before ignorant; see Matthew 28:19; 2 Timothy 2:25.
That we may present every man - When we come to appear before God; Notes, 2 Corinthians 11:2. Paul was anxious that no one to whom this gospel was preached should be lost. He believed it to be adapted to save every man; and as he expected to meet all his hearers at the bar of God, his aim was to present them made perfect by means of that gospel which he preached.
Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.Whereunto I also labour - See the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:10.
Striving - Greek agonizing. He taxed all his energies to accomplish this, as the wrestlers strove for the mastery in the Grecian games.
According to his working - Not by my own strength, but by the power which God alone can give; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:10.
Remarks On Colossians 1
Among the truths of practical importance taught by this chapter are the following:
1. We should rejoice in the piety of others; Colossians 1:2-8. It should be to us a subject of unfeigned gratitude to God; when others are faithful to their high calling, and when they so live as to adorn the blessed gospel. In all their faith, and love, and joy, we should find occasion for thankfulness to God. We should not envy it, or be disposed to charge it to wrong motives, or suspect it of insincerity or hypocrisy; but should welcome every account of the zeal and faithfulness of those who bear the Christian name - no matter who the persons are, or with what denomination of Christians they may be connected. Especially is this true in relation to our friends, or to those for whose salvation we have labored. The source of high, est gratitude to a Christian, in relation to his friends, should be, that they act as becomes the friends of God; the purest joy that can swell the bosom of a minister of Christ, is produced by the evidence that they to whom he has ministered are advancing in knowledge and love.
2. We should earnestly pray that they who have been much favored should be prospered more and more; Colossians 1:9-11.
3. It is a good time to pray for Christians when they are already prosperous, and are distinguished for zeal and love; Colossians 1:9-11. We have then encouragement to do it. We feel that our prayers will not be in vain. For a man that is doing well, we feel encouraged to pray that he may do still better. For a Christian who has true spiritual joy, we are encouraged to pray that he may have more joy. For one who is aiming to make advances in the knowledge of God, we are encouraged to pray that he may make still higher advances; and if, therefore; we wish others to pray for us, we should, show them by our efforts that there is some encouragement for them to do it.
4. Let us cherish with suitable gratitude the remembrance of the goodness of God, who has translated us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son; Colossians 1:12-13. By nature we, like others, were under the power of darkness. In that kingdom of sin, and error, and misery, we were born and reared, until God, in great compassion, brought us out from it, and made us heirs of light. Now, if we are true Christians, we belong to a kingdom of holiness, and knowledge, and happiness. No words can express appropriately the goodness of God in thus making us heirs of light; and not an hour of our lives should pass without a thoughtful remembrance of his mercy.
5. In the affections of our hearts let the Saviour in all things have the pre-eminence; Colossians 1:15-18. He is the image of God; and when we think of him, we see what God is - how holy, pure, benevolent. He is the first-born of all things; the Son of God; exalted to the highest seat in the universe. When we look on the sun, moon, and stars, let us remember that he created them all. When we think of the angels, let us remember that they are the workmanship of his hands. When we look on the earth - the floods, the rivers, the hills, let us remember that all these were made by his power. The vast universe is still sustained by him. Its beautiful order and harmony are preserved by him; and all its movements are under his control. So the church is under him. It is subject to his command; receives its laws from his lips, and is bound to do his will. Over all councils and synods; over all rule and authority in the church, Christ is the Head; and whatever may be ordained by man, his will is to be obeyed. So, when we think of the resurrection, Christ is chief. He first rose to return to death no more; he rose as the pledge that his people should also rise. As Christ is thus head over all things, so let him be first in the affections of our hearts; as it is designed that in every thing he shall have the pre-eminence, so let him have the pre-eminence in the affections of our souls. None should be loved by us as Christ is loved; and no friend, however dear, should be allowed to displace him from the supremacy in our affections.
6. In all our wants let us go to Christ; Colossians 1:19, "It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell." We do not have a need which he cannot supply; there is not a sorrow of our lives in which he cannot comfort us; not a temptation from which he cannot deliver us; not a pain which he cannot relieve, or enable us to hear. Every necessity of body or mind he can supply; and we never can go to him, in any circumstance of life in which we can possibly be placed, where we shall fail of consolation and support because Christ is not able to help us. True piety learns day by day to live more by simple dependence on the Saviour. As we advance in holiness, we become more and more sensible of our weakness and insufficiency, and more and more disposed to live by the faith of the Son of God."
7. By religion we become united with the angels; Colossians 1:20. Harmony is produced between heaven and earth. Alienated worlds are reconciled again, and from jarring elements there is rearing one great and harmonious empire. The work of the atonement is designed to remove what separated earth from heaven; men from angels; man from God. The redeemed have substantially the same feelings now, which they have who are around the throne of God; and though we are far inferior to them in rank, yet we shall be united with them in affection and purpose, for ever and ever. What a glorious work is that of the gospel! It reconciles and harmonizes distant worlds, and produces concord and love in millions of hearts which but for that would have been alienated forever.
8. By religion we become fitted for heaven; Colossians 1:12, Colossians 1:22. We are made "meet" to enter there; we shall be presented there unblamable and unreprovable. No one will accuse us before the throne of God. Nor Satan, nor our own consciences nor our fellowmen will then urge that we ought not to be admitted to heaven. Redeemed and pardoned, renewed and sanctified, the universe will be satisfied that we ought to be saved, and will rejoice. Satan will no longer charge the friends of Jesus with insincerity and hypocrisy; our own minds will be no longer troubled with doubts and fears; and holy angels will welcome us to their presence. Not a voice will be lifted up in reproach or condemnation, and the Universal Father will stretch out his arms and press to his bosom the returning prodigals. Clothed in the white robes of salvation, we shall be welcome even in heaven, and the universe will rejoice that we are there.
9. It is a privilege to suffer for the welfare of the church; Colossians 1:24. Paul regarded it as such and rejoiced in the trials which came upon him in the cause of religion. The Saviour so, regarded it, and shrank not from the great sorrows involved in the work of saving his people. We may suffer much in promoting the same object. We may be exposed to persecution and death. We may be called to part with all we have - to leave country and friends and home, to go and preach the gospel to benighted people. On a foreign shore, far from all that we hold dear on earth, we may lie down and die, and our grave, unmarked by sculptured marble, may be soon forgotten. But to do good; to defend truth; to promote virtue; to save the souls of the perishing, is worth all which it costs, and he who accomplishes these things by exchanging for them earthly comforts, and even life, has made a wise exchange. The universe gains by it in happiness; and the benevolent heart should rejoice that there is such a gain, though attended with our individual and personal suffering.
10. Ministers ave a noble office Colossians 1:24-29. It is their privilege to make known to men the most glorious truths that can come before the human mind; truths which were hidden from ages and generations, but which are now revealed by the gospel. These great truths are intrusted to the ministry to explain and defend, and are by them to be carried around the world. The ministers of religion strive not for gold and honor and worldly pleasures; they strive in the noble effort to show to every man that he has a Saviour; that there is a heaven to which he may come; and to present everyone perfect before God. With all its sacrifices and self-denials, therefore, it is an inestimable privilege to he a minister of the gospel - for there is no man who diffuses through a community so much solid happiness; there is no one, the result of whose labors reaches so far into future ages. To a benevolent heart there is no higher privilege than to be permitted to go to every man - to the poor, the tempted, the oppressed, the slave, the penitent, and the dying sinner, and to say to him that he has a Saviour, that Christ died for him, and that, if he will have it so, he may have a home in heaven.
No matter whom he meets; no matter how debased and degraded he may be to whom he ministers, no matter though it be the poor slave, or the lonely wanderer on pathless sands, or the orphan, or the outcast, the herald of salvation may tell him that there is a heaven for him - a Saviour who died for him - a God who is ready to pardon and save his soul. In such a work it is a privilege to exhaust our strength; in the performance of the duties of such an office, it is an honor to be permitted to wear out life itself. Doing this, a man when he comes to die will feel that he has not lived in vain; and whatever self-denial he may practice in it; however much comfort, or however many friends he may forsake, all these things will give him no pang of regret when from a bed of death he looks out on the eternal world.