This letter comes from one who has been sent by Jesus Christ, moved according to the very desires of God. For I am Paul, and I am here with Timothy our brother.
Even though I have not personally met you all face to face,1 I already know who you are. For you are those who have been made God’s possession, you are those who have been made brothers of faith in Christ. We send this to you in the grace and peace of God our father.
We find ourselves giving thanks to God, the father of Jesus Christ our Lord. For ever since the news of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love we have been continually speaking to him about you ever since the news reached our ears, which is the reality of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that is in you for all those who are in Christ. This faith in you has been made true because of the unseen joy secured for you in the unseen realm of God. The good news of Christ that has come to you is the word of truth, the word that made this invisible reality known to you. Know this: The good news has been continuously bearing fruit in you as it also does throughout the world. And this work of God has been increasing in you ever since the day you heard it from our beloved fellow-servant Epaphras, that day when the truth of the grace of God was known within you.
Do you know what it is that Timothy and I constantly speak to the Father of concerning you? That he would fill you with insight as to what he is really doing in you, for it is only seen through the mind of the Spirit. It is this miraculous understanding that teaches you what it is to live in this world as one who stands worthy before God himself. His pleasure in doing this touches everything that you are and everything that you do. He works in you to produce his fruit as you grow in the knowledge of him. The power that operates within you corresponds exactly with his own amazing power, and it is enabling you to stand fast and to endure all with an underriding sense of joy as you give thanks to the father who has made us worthy to share in the inheritance of all who are in his Light.
Don’t you know that he rescued us out of the domain of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves? For it is in Christ that we have been purchased. In him, no sins can be held against us. Who is he? He is the exact reflection of the invisible God, the firstborn, that is, the sire and heir of all creation. And how does he hold this position? Because it was by him that all things were created — things in the heavens and things on the Earth — the stuff you can see and the stuff you cannot see. It makes no difference as to the position these things have been achieved, for kings and their kingdoms, rulers or authorities; all things have been created not only by him, but also for him! This not only places him as the progenitor of everything, but it also explains how every thing is being held together by him. This is not all! He also occupies the position of being head of the body, which is the called-out new creation. For Christ is the beginning of this new thing, for he is the firstborn from the dead, which makes him the one and only big brother.
Everything has unfolded for the purpose of putting him in first place in absolutely everything, for it is God’s own good pleasure for him to be the substance and meaning of everything, and also for him to be the reconciliation, the one who restores the harmony of all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross. And through him, the father has brought everything back into harmony with himself, things on earth as well as things in heaven. And even though you had once lived as strangers to him who is the very substance of life — you, who operated from a hostile mind that revealed itself through evil deeds — in spite of that, he has now removed everything pertaining to your former separation, and he has brought you into perfect harmony in his own fleshly body through death. He did this so that he could present you before his father as a new creation, one that belongs to him. Through his death, he separated you from your former bondage, and having done so, he left no possible cause by which you might be blamed. What I’m telling you is that he has established your deliverance so securely that you can no longer be called into account for any reason whatsoever.
And yet despite all this, something has intruded so as to disturb your confidence. 2 For there are philosophers among you who would have you see it otherwise. Oh, they want you to believe they are building upon the good news that came from me, but their reasonable-sounding logic only perverts the very basis of everything I, Paul, have declared. While their reasoning might seem to make good sense, it establishes an empty foundation on which to stand and upon which to continue. What they don’t want you to realize is that their version of the good news removes the expectation of the message God made me a servant of.
Now because of the hope that is in you, an extra measure of abuse has been heaped upon me3, and yet I receive it gladly. For in his workings, God has chosen to use me as the one who stands between that which has been called out of darkness4 — which is Christ’s body — and those who seek to destroy it. In their ignorance, the workers of darkness assume they can stop the power of the good news by destroying the one they imagine as being its source. 5 And so I receive a large portion of the abuse which would otherwise have come upon the ones who have found their hope in Christ. This is what God has enabled me to do. The high privilege of declaring God’s mystery, which is the word that has been hidden from past ages and generations, has fallen upon me! And this mystery has now been made known to those who belong to him, for he desired to reveal the riches of the glory of this previously hidden treasure of his wisdom among the outsiders. And that mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory. And he is the one we declare, reminding all men and teaching all men in all wisdom, in order to present all men complete in Christ. So I push myself to the extreme because it is the very power of his life that keeps me going.
- 1. I’ve made some changes to the opening remarks, for I thought it advantageous to bring in something Paul mentions in chapter 2, which is the fact that Paul had not met these people at the time he wrote the letter (for the most part, at least). Why add it here instead of waiting until the place Paul wrote it? Simply to give us the background which they already knew. For example, even though I was already aware of Paul’s statement “and for all those who have not personally seen my face,” it still caught me somewhat by surprise after having spent so much time in chapter 1. You see, we shouldn’t purposely be left unaware of something everybody knew at the time just because it had been written that way to those who didn’t need to be told that they hadn’t met Paul. Right? It can be helpful to realize the impact that would have come to the Colossians when they got a personal letter from the man whose message of grace brought them new life and hope, It also helps to set the stage for Paul’s emphatic references to the gospel they had heard, that is, the one that HE had preached that had gotten passed on to them.
- 2. Regarding Colossians 1:23, I suspect that a natural-minded fear drives many people to focus upon the IF Paul used in such a way that the very confidence of the gospel he preached becomes mired in doubt and confusion. I don’t object to the conditional suggestion created by Paul’s use of the word “if,” but I do object to the misguided attempts of the religious mind that keeps believers constantly wondering if they will be able to “endure to the end.” You see, when someone examines everything but the one and only real condition Paul referred to — and then try to pass those beliefs off as coming from the Bible — that is a problem.
Look, maybe you can tell me what Colossians 1:23 DOESN’T mean, and then you might even be able to tell me how the Greek word for “if” sometimes means “since” … even though it really does mean if in this verse. You might even offer some really great verses that speak of the assurance of salvation in Christ. Hey, that’s all fine and good, but you still might not have a clue as to the reason Paul stuck it in there like that. I’m telling you, he didn’t do it because he wanted to bolster his reputation as one who was “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). My own experience has taught me that it’s all very straight forward, and it had been staring me in the face the whole time. I just had to get past the idea that it was just one of those difficult or problem passages that required some kind of theological degree. No, my friend, if anything, it has been those with theological degrees that have helped to make it seem difficult…
- 3. “Now I rejoice in the sufferings for your sake,” (NASB) This should clue us in regarding the urgency with which Paul wrote. No, he wasn’t looking for their sympathy, he was emphasizing the need for awareness. We should ask the simple questions: Why and how was Paul suffering for their sake? Consider how Paul addressed the Galatian believers concerning those who had slipped in among them for evil: “But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.” Galatians 2:4 (NASB). From the Galatians perspective, it may not have seemed such a big deal, and they apparently did not seem to make the connections to the problems that were growing among them. In this letter to the Colossians, Paul wants them to wake up and realize that their own growing lack of confidence is directly tied to why Paul was being persecuted.
- 4. It is important to recognize that the Colossians would have never imagined “church” as having been a reference to any religious institution that could be contained in buildings made by man. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia” and it means called out. In view of all that Paul wrote, there is only one consistent reality that was connected to the meaning of this word, and it has to do with that which has been called out of darkness and into the light, that which has been called out of the world and into Christ.
- 5. I include references to the deceivers at this point because I suspect many who read this letter might not catch the connection that the Colossians would not have missed. What I’m suggesting is that they would have already known that Paul had suffered at the hands of those who hated what he was doing and would have read that into his mention of suffering. Without this basic assumption, most modern Bible teachers have no clue as to why Paul referred to “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” and they often end up trying to explain it by what it can’t mean. I am certain the Colossians would have seen it as a smooth transition.