Col. 1:1-141Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, 2To 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. 3We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, 5For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; 6Which 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: 7As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; 8Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. 9For 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; 10That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; 12Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: (Colossians 1:1‑14).
The introductory verses of the epistle open with the salutation of the apostle (vv. 1, 2). This is followed by his thanksgiving for the fruits of grace seen in the Colossian saints (vv. 3-8), and finally the prayer on their behalf (vv. 9-14).
Vv. 1, 2. The epistle opens with a beautiful salutation in which Paul speaks of himself as an apostle sent with all the authority of Jesus Christ. AH that is said in the epistle can be read, therefore, as a message from Jesus Christ and in accord with the will of God. As so often in the epistles of Paul, Timothy is associated with the apostle.
The Colossian believers are viewed as "in Christ," and addressed as "holy," involving separation from the world; as "faithful," and therefore true to God and the position in which God has set them; and as "brethren," forming a circle of brotherly communion amongst themselves on earth. As such the apostle desires for them the supply of grace and peace which the saints continually need, and which is ever available from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Vv. 3, 4. Following upon the salutation we have the thanksgiving which continually arose from the apostle's heart when praying for these believers. The apostle speaks first of the Christian qualities in these saints that called forth his thanks. They were marked by faith in Christ Jesus and love to all the saints. Not only had they been drawn in faith to the Lord Jesus as needy sinners, but they walked by faith as dependent saints. The reality of their faith in Christ was proved by their love to the saints. Nor was their love after a human sort which might have attached them simply to certain individuals; it was divine love that went out to "all saints" because they were such.
V. 5. Having set forth the ground on which he can give thanks, the apostle proceeds to state what it is he gives thanks for. He thanks God for the glorious prospect that lies before believers-the hope laid up for them in heaven. He is not thinking of what they are delivered from or the scene they are passing through. He holds out no bright hopes in this world, but he sees in the Colossian saints a company of people who are linked with heaven. The epistle indicates that, at the moment, they were in danger of having their minds drawn from things above by "the things on the earth" (Col. 3:22Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:2)). Nevertheless, the danger of defection in no wise alters the fact that God has laid up a blessed prospect for His people in heaven, and for this the apostle can give thanks.
It is surely of the deepest importance to keep this blessed hope steadily before our souls. Rightly we rejoice in the knowledge that we have been delivered from judgment. But if this is all, when the first joy of relief wanes, we may turn back to the things of earth. Even so the children of Israel sang for joy when they were delivered from Pharaoh, and yet, only too soon, turned back in heart to Egypt. Caleb and Joshua, who did not turn back, were men who had before them the land of Canaan. So with Christians, it is only as our hearts enter into the blessedness of the hope that God has laid up for us in heaven that we shall escape the snares that the devil lays for our feet on earth. Only as we walk in the light of heaven shall we be lifted above this present evil world and sustained in our wilderness journey.
Thus these opening verses present the beautiful picture of a company of saints who are the objects of the present favor of the Father, with His unfailing supplies of grace (vv. 2); who have the marks which accompany salvation "faith" and "love" (vv. 4); and who have a glorious "hope" laid up for them in heaven (vv. 5).
Vv. 6-8. The apostle passes on to remind these saints of the means by which they had heard of this blessed hope. This leads him to speak of the gospel for, as one has said, "The good tidings of grace had wrapped up in it also good tidings of glory." So we learn in the Epistle of Paul to Titus, the appearing of the grace of God leads to the appearing of glory (Titus 2:11-1311For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:11‑13)). The apostle speaks of this gospel as "the word of the truth" in contrast to the "enticing words" of men by which they were in danger of being beguiled (Col. 2:44And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. (Colossians 2:4)). There were those in that day, as in this, who would seek to draw the saints back on to Jewish ground; therefore the apostle reminds them of the universality of the gospel. The grace of God cannot be confined to the Jew; it is for "all the world.”
Moreover, in that day, the gospel was "bearing fruit and growing" (N. Tn.). Later we shall learn that the saints are to bring forth fruit and grow (Col. 1:1010That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10), N. Tn.); here it is the gospel that brings forth fruit and grows. The saints themselves are the fruit of the gospel; the character of Christ in the saints is the fruit that is to be borne by believers.
The gospel of the grace of God had reached the Colossians through Epaphras, the beloved fellow-bondman of Paul and Timothy, and "a faithful minister of Christ" to the Colossian saints. He had brought to the apostle the tidings of the genuine work of God that had been wrought in their midst as manifested by their "love in the Spirit.”
It is of significance that this is the only reference to the Spirit in the epistle. As these saints were in danger of being drawn from Christ as their one Object, the special purpose of the Spirit in the epistle is to exalt Christ before them. For this reason, it may be, the apostle is led to keep Christ before these saints, and to say little of the Spirit-the One who is here to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us.
The apostle has thanked God for the hope laid up for believers in heaven. The certainty of the end of the journey is not a matter for prayer, but rather a subject for praise. We are, however, still in the world, though not of it, and there is a path to be trodden on our way to heaven. This path, by reason of its difficulties and dangers, draws forth the apostle's prayer.
V. 9. He unceasingly prayed that these believers might be filled with "the full knowledge" of God's will "in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.”
In many passages the will of God has reference to the eternal counsels of God, as we read, "Who worketh things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:1111In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: (Ephesians 1:11)). In other passages the reference is to God's will for His people in their daily path (1 Thess. 4:33For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: (1 Thessalonians 4:3); 1 Peter 2:1515For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: (1 Peter 2:15), etc.). It is so in this passage where the will of God evidently refers to our practical walk. The discernment of God's will for our path, while calling for a knowledge of God's mind as revealed in the Word, is made to depend upon the spiritual state of the soul, implied in the words "wisdom and spiritual understanding." The apostle does not suggest that the full knowledge of His will can be gained by an intellectual knowledge of the express commands of God, as under law. Still less can it be gained by the advice of others, though brotherly counsel is not to be despised. "Wisdom and spiritual understanding" would rather imply, as one has said, "a perception of what is good and wise in God's sight, apart from its being His express command." "Wisdom" is acquaintance with truth in contrast to the lack of wisdom or intelligence (see Rom. 1:1414I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. (Romans 1:14)). "Spiritual understanding" is rather the discernment or spiritual insight that makes a right application of the truth to the particular circumstances.
In the path of God's will mere human wisdom and understanding will not avail. It is "a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: the lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it" (Job 28:7, 87There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: 8The lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it. (Job 28:7‑8)). No eye so keen in nature as the vultures; no animal so bold as the lion. But the boldness and long-sightedness of nature are not equal for the path of faith. Singleness of eye that has Christ for its only Object will alone give spiritual understanding.
The Colossian saints knew the grace of God that had secured for them a blessed prospect in heaven; but, as they were in danger of being turned aside by the "enticing words" of men, by philosophy and "vain deceit," it would seem they lacked the full knowledge of God's will.
V. 10. Now we learn that this divine wisdom has in view a threefold end: firstly, that we might "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing"; secondly, that we might bear fruit; and thirdly, that we might make spiritual growth in the knowledge of God.
It is noticeable that in this passage the fullness of wisdom and spiritual understanding is not that we might do great things for the Lord or that we might teach and preach the truth about the Lord, but that, above all other considerations, we might walk worthy of the Lord. How far more important than all our service and activities is our spiritual condition and practical walk in the everyday life. It is, therefore, for these things that the apostle prays.
Moreover, the apostle does not pray that we may so walk as merely to avoid wickedness, which a natural man might do, but that our walk may be worthy of the Lord. The Lord is the standard for our walk. We are not simply to have before us a walk worthy of our own reputation or position or of our family or nation or even of the saints, but a walk worthy of the Lord.
Again the walk is not only to be worthy of the Lord; it is to be "unto all pleasing." It is not simply a walk that is pleasing and agreeable to ourselves or to our brethren, but pleasing to the Lord. Of the Lord it is written, "Even Christ pleased not Himself"; on the contrary, He could say, "I do always those things that please Him" [The Father] (Rom. 15:33For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. (Romans 15:3); John 8:2929And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29)).
How much that we often say and do would never be said or done if we stopped to ask ourselves, "Is this worthy of the Lord?" and "Is this pleasing to the Lord?" We do well then to set out, day by day, with the prayer that we may "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.”
Then the apostle desires that we should be "bearing fruit in every good work" (N. Tn.). Fruit in the believer is always the expression of the character of Christ. The man of the world can do many good works; but he cannot bear fruit to God in his good works. The believer alone can express something of Christ in his good works, so that, in the good works that benefit man, there will be fruit for God.
Lastly, the apostle desires that we may be "growing by the true knowledge of God" (N. Tn.). The path that is worthy of the Lord, and in which there is fruit for God, will surely be one which leads to spiritual growth by gaining an increased acquaintance with God. This surely is a knowledge of God gained by experience, rather than doctrine, though such knowledge will certainly be in accord with the truth.
It becomes evident from this and other passages of Scripture that believers are not left in this world to find their way to heaven as best they can or to walk according to their own ideas of what is pleasing to God. The pathway that God has marked out for His people is one in which His will is paramount, and not theirs. Clearly, this tenth verse shows that His will is that His people should walk worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit-that is displaying the character of Christ-and growing by the knowledge of God. A walk worthy of the Lord can only be as we "follow His steps." Of Him we read, "Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:2323Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: (1 Peter 2:23)). In the presence of wrongs and the hard, unkind and malicious speeches that may be uttered against us, our concern should be, not to defend ourselves and maintain our rights, but to express Christ; and in respect of any wrongs, to commit ourselves to Him that judgeth righteously. If we make Christ's interest our great concern, we can trust God to make our concerns His interest. Thus exhibiting Christ we shall bear fruit, and grow in the true knowledge of God. One has said, "We adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour by manifesting in this world of sin, and in the trying circumstances of daily life, not what flesh is, but what Christ is: our hearts feeding upon His love whilst we lean upon His arm and are guided by His eye.... Will He fail us in the hour of need? He Jets us come into it just that we may prove how abundant are His resources to make us victors over the power of the enemy" (J. N. D.).
V. 11. We have already seen that to take a path that is worthy of the Lord, in which we bear fruit and grow in the knowledge of God will require divine wisdom and spiritual understanding. Now we learn the further truth that it will call for divine power. Such a path is far beyond any strength that nature possesses. Therefore, the apostle prays that we may be "strengthened with MI power according to the might of His glory" (N. Tn.). The more exalted a Person the greater his power. Who then can estimate the might of the glory of Christ who is at the right hand of power? In the Epistle to the Ephesians we learn "the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward." It has been seen in setting Christ at the right hand of God, above every power that is against us whether in this world or the world to come (Eph. 1:19-2119And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: (Ephesians 1:19‑21)). If Christ in His path is our pattern, the living Christ in the glory is our strength. This mighty power is at our disposal, not here to make us great preachers or teachers or prominent as leaders amongst the people of God, but to enable us, not only to take the path of well pleasing to the Lord, but also to endure in the path with longsuffering and joyfulness. We consider Him in His perfect pathway for our pattern: we look to Him in the glory for power to walk according to the pattern. Thus, in another epistle the apostle can say, "We all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:1818But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)).
The apostle does not ask for strength to do some great deed or make some great sacrifice on some special occasion. He asks for strength to be in a condition that is worthy of the Lord in the quiet of the everyday life. How well we know that it is the daily round that is the real test of the Christian life. There it is we need "all patience and longsuffering," combined with "joyfulness." "Long-suffering" can indeed at times be exhibited by the unconverted man; who but the Christian can combine "longsuffering" with "joyfulness"?
These terms describe what we are, rather than what we do. Patience has reference more to circumstances, long-suffering to our brethren, and joyfulness to God. Such is the path the apostle desires for believers; a path that has been marked out for us by Christ, for we read, "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." In His path through this world everything was against Him. At every step He had to meet the contradiction of sinners, the opposition of the religious world, and the weakness and ignorant of his own. Yet in the presence of every kind of trial He never did a single thing for Himself, but only the Father's will, showing perfect goodness, and all patience, with longsuffering. Looking on His path we see that which will not be found even in heaven a perfect path in the midst of evil. Such is the perfect pattern for the believer's path.
To tread in any measure the path which has Christ for its pattern will call for the single eye which has Christ for its object.
V. 12. The apostle proceeds to tell us the secret of joyfulness when in circumstances that call for patience and longsuffering. It lies in the knowledge of what the Father has done for us. Firstly, the Father has made us meet to be partakers of the portion of the saints in light. Not only is there a portion laid up for us in heaven, but we are made meet for the portion. We are not only made meet to partake of the privileges of the saints down here, but also to share in their portion in light. So absolute is the efficacy of God's work through Christ that it makes His people meet to stand "in light" where God dwells in the full light of His unsullied holiness.
The Father has taken us up in all our sins and vileness and made us meet for the light. Self-righteousness may say, "I am not fit;" but faith looking at Christ risen can say, "I am made what He is, and therefore I am meet for the saints in light." There may be deep exercises in learning this. Endless and tormenting questions may arise, if the heart turns in upon itself, but all these questions will be settled when the soul looks away to Christ risen. Christ is risen and there can be no question as to the risen Christ. He is beyond the sins, beyond the judgment, beyond the death, and beyond the power of Satan that He bore upon the Cross. What is true of Christ is true of the believer for whom Christ died. If actually risen we could not have a question about being meet for the light. But God tells us that Christ Who died for us, is actually risen; and what is true of Him is true of the believer before God. Is Christ meet for the light? So are we. The thief was made meet to be with Christ the day he was converted. Paul, at the end of his devoted life, was not more meet for heaven than the thief who went to Paradise the day he was converted; though, indeed, he was a great deal more meet to live for Christ in this World of evil.
Secondly, not only are we made meet for the portion of the saints in light, but the Father has delivered us from the authority of darkness. Satan and his emissaries are "the rulers of the darkness of this world." Blinded by Satan, the world, in spite of all its civilization, discoveries, and inventions, is in "darkness" or ignorance of God. The Christian has been delivered from the authority of darkness and brought under another authority, even One who has the great and glorious place and relationship to God as "the Son of His love" (N. Tn.).
Hereafter Christ will be manifested on earth in His Kingdom as the Son of Man. But this glorious Person under whose sway we are brought is One of Whom the Father can say, "This is My beloved Son: hear Him." In coming under the sway of "the Son of His love" we come under One Who, not only can shelter us from every harm, and provide for every need, but Who can satisfy the heart with His unfailing love. Not only are we made meet for light-the light of God-but we come under the sway of love-the love of the Father revealed in the Son.
Thirdly we are reminded of the righteous ground on which we have been made meet for light, and translated into the kingdom of love. By Christ's work on the Cross, everything has been cleared away that stood between us and the blessing, so that we can say, "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
In these verses, 12-14, the apostle is no longer giving thanks for qualities found in the Colossian saints, as in verses 4 and 5, but rather expresses thankfulness to the Father for the blessings which are the common portion of all believers. Thus he says, "made us meet," "delivered us," "translated us"; and again, "we have redemption." We have had the apostle's prayer to the Father for our walk, and spiritual growth; here he gives thanks for blessings in which we are set by grace. These blessings are not a matter for prayer but a theme for praise, and set forth the position and relationships in which the believer is set by the Father's grace through the work of Christ. The position and relationships being the result of Christ's work must be as perfect as that work. We may grow in the apprehension of them, but in the blessings themselves there can be no growth.
To apprehend this is of the deepest importance, for all proper Christian walk, all service, all testimony to the world, flows from the true knowledge of our settled relationships with God. If this is not firmly held the earnest soul will seek to walk well to secure the relationship, thus falling into legality. Christ's work secures the blessing, though the enjoyment of the blessing will largely depend upon our walk.