New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God- Paul often begins his letters by saying this. But "the will of God" should not be understood by us as it is by Islam, where the will of God is understood as fulfilling anyway in a deterministic sense. The word carries the idea of the intention, the wish or pleasure of God. Paul could have turned down the call to be an apostle. He was not forced into obedience by an omnipotent Divine manipulator. All things were created for God's "pleasure" or will [s.w. Rev. 4:11], but clearly enough "all things" do not all perform God's wish. We pray for the Kingdom age when God's will shall be done on earth- for it is now generally not done. We are best therefore to understood the idea of God's wish, His desire, which of course He labours to see fulfilled. But He does not force or impose; He too deeply respects the freewill of His creatures. The art of Christian life is to willingly align ourselves with His will.

And Timothy our brother- The "our" connects Paul with the Colossians. The rather unusual grammar suggests Paul is identifying himself with his audience. This identity is a vital part of all preaching and pastoral work.

1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ that are at Colosse- This doesn't refer to two tiers of believers in Colosse but rather reminds them that every believer is a saint. In both Judaism and paganism there was a tendency to consider some believers to be in a 'super' category. Paul carefully debunks that concept.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ- This is no mere standard literary introduction. God's grace and subsequent peace was willed and prayed for by Paul to come upon his audience, and prayer for third parties indeed makes a difference.

1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you- Paul tells so many that he is "always" praying for them. His life was a life of prayer for others.

1:4 Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus- Perhaps Paul had never visited them nor knew them personally. 2:1 suggests they had never seen his face. But his warmth towards them is remarkable. We must ask what emotions and feelings are called forth in us by news of believers we have never met. The same connection between faith in Christ and love for the others in Christ is made in 1 Jn. 3:23. We cannot therefore profess faith in Christ personally and remain in splendid isolation from others in Him. For we are baptized into the body of Christ, which is the church. There are many parallels between the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, and the parallel here is in Eph. 1:15, where Paul says again that he has heard of both their faith in Christ and their love to the other believers.

And of the love which you have toward all the saints- Loving other believers is part and parcel of accepting the faith in Christ; this love is the intended outcome of it, the fruit of the Gospel (:6), which can be powerful enough to convert the world by its display.

We thank God because of the hope- Paul has spoken of faith and love in :4. The Greek suggests that the love of :4 was elicited by their hope. Faith, hope and love are so often spoken of by Paul together. If we really believe in the Gospel of salvation then we have a sure hope, and the certainty of that hope results in love for others.

Which is laid up for you in the heavens- A specific reward is prepared for each of us, s.w. 2 Tim. 4:8 a crown of righteousness is laid up for Paul. The nature of each of our battles is unique, and therefore our crowns or rewards / signs of victory are going to differ. In the parable, we will each have different towns we rule over. It's an upward spiral. We have "love toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you" (Col. 1:5 RV). If we doubt the hope, thinking we don't know if we will be accepted or not… there isn't much inspiration to love our brethren with the similar senseless grace which we have experienced. Note that the hope was 'laid up' in Heaven in the sense of being stored safely there- rather than the hope consisting of being one day in Heaven. For the Kingdom of God shall come on earth. Although Paul had never met these brethren, he strongly assumed they would be saved; this is an assumption which we must make about all believers in Christ. For it is not for us to condemn.

Of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel- The parallel Eph. 1:13 says that the word of truth is the good news of salvation. The ultimate truth is that we shall be saved. This is the good news of the Gospel- no reference is in view to some set of theological propositions which are logically true. The truth is that we shall be saved, not that we have figured out a true set of interconnecting theological explanations which ring 'true' to our own minds- at this point in our lives. We should be able to positively answer the question 'Will I at this point in my life be saved if I die?'. This is the final, ultimate and only truth. We may at some future point change our interpretations of some Bible passages and themes, but the ultimate truth is that we shall be saved. And if we lose that confidence, and only then, we will have 'left the truth'. Departure from some particular interpretation is not necessarily the same as 'leaving the truth', neither should 'the truth' be used as a kind of code word summarizing our association with a particular church or denomination.

1:6 That Gospel is come to you, even as it has also come to all the world- This is not to be read as a statement that the Gospel had been spread into all the world let alone the entire kosmos- for it had not been. The idea may be that there is something universal about the Gospel, in contrast with the various false religions and gospels of paganism, which tended to have mere local appeal. They offered good news for the local people of a certain city or area, whereas the true Gospel of Christ has universal appeal and relevance and is addressed to all people equally. Colossians appears directed against a particular false 'gospel' which was circulating in Colosse and surrounds.

Bearing fruit and increasing, as it does in you also, since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth- Paul enthuses that the Colossians were in the good ground category of the sower parable: the Gospel “bringeth forth fruit... in you, since the day ye heard” (AV). The important doctrines of the basic Gospel bring forth the fruit of spirituality in the converts (Col. 1:6). The euangelion is pictured in Colossians 1 as a mighty, personal force working powerfully in the lives of men and women. It produced fruit, i.e. concrete actions (Philemon 11). The Gospel gives "understanding that ye might walk worthy" (Col. 1:9,10). We bear fruit and increase in this "by the [increasing] knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10 RVmg.). Thus we are to be renewed in knowledge, finding full assurance of our salvation in understanding (Col. 2:2; 3:10). The Hebrew word for “understanding” is also that for “certainty”- e.g. Josh. 23:13 “Know for a certainty…” [s.w. “understanding”]. To understand is to be sure, in God’s language. Understanding, "being filled with the knowledge of his will", does have a place in determining our daily walk in Christ. What and how we understand, and thereby what we believe, does therefore matter.

1:7 Even as you learned it of Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf- The same as Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25; 4:18; Philemon 23, which mentions he was a prisoner in Rome at some stage). He was a local Colossian, "one of you" (Col. 4:12).

1:8 Who also declared to us your love in the Spirit- Perhaps the Spirit inspired Epaphras to give Paul an inspired account of how they were doing. Or maybe the idea is that their love had been brought forth as a result of the function of the Spirit in their hearts; for love is a fruit brought forth by the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). This would be the "love of the Spirit", the love brought forth as a fruit of the Spirit, which Rom. 15:30 refers to. God's love is poured out in our hearts through the function of the Spirit within us (Rom. 5:5).

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding- Paul wishes that the Colossians would be “filled with the knowledge of his will”, just as at his conversion he had been chosen so “that thou shouldest know his will” (Acts 22:14). He wanted them to share the radical nature of conversion which he had gone through; the sense of life turned around; of new direction… See on Acts 13:11. He clearly believed, as we should, that our prayers can affect the internal spiritual condition of others; and that the Lord is willing to fill believing minds. The parallel in Eph. 1:22,23 is that the church, the individuals within the body of Christ, is filled with the fullness of Him who fills all in all. This filling can be complete- insofar as we allow it and are open to it. There's nothing more wonderful to behold than the life and heartbeat of a secular man or woman being taken over by the things of the Spirit.

1:10- see on Col. 2:1.

To walk worthily in the Lord fully pleasing him, bearing fruit in every good work; increasing in the knowledge of God- This is wonderful encouragement when we as sinners wonder how we could ever please the Lord Jesus. We can, according to these words, fully please Him. This doubtless is a function of His way of imputing righteousness to us, and the way love has of being thrilled at the slightest move of the beloved towards the lover. This is why Paul goes on to say that we are "suitable" for immortality (:12), and are spotless before Him (see on :22). We are "filled" (:9) so that we might "fully" please Him. The fruit which pleases Him is empowered by the Spirit He grants which brings forth that fruit if we allow it. In this sense we are "strengthened" by Him (:11). "Fully" translates pas, "all", and we find the word again in :11 speaking of the "all" power which strengthens us to be fruitful. We too easily assume that it is circumstance or environment which enables our pleasing of Him; and too many have sold their souls to create wealth, believing that this will enable them to somehow purchase a situation in which they can more fully please their Lord. But here we are told that it is His will that we please Him, and He gives us "all" that is necessary in terms of internal strengthening and attitude. If we are honest, we all know that it is those internal attitudes which are most important, and they are a gift which cannot be bought with wealth or situation.


1:11 Strengthened with all power- See on :10 Fully pleasing him. A play on words, ‘made able with all ability’. It’s the same word as found in Mt. 25:15, where we read that talents are given to each one “according to his personal ability”; but kata (“according to”) needn’t be translated like this at all, and could mean that the talents given are [what results in] the personal abilities. This connects with a major theme of Paul’s- that we are made able, rather than having existing abilities which God asks us to use. The parallel Eph. 3:16-20 speaks of “the power that works in us” as being far above all we ask or think; and it is exercised within our minds (“strengthened with might by His spirit in the inner man”, Eph. 3:16). We are given psychological power, strength within, to do what would have been impossible otherwise. Constantly we’re faced with mental situations we feel we can’t endure- the need for continued patience with a difficult person, to keep on keeping on forgiving and showing grace... The strengthening which Paul has in mind is exactly what we need. It is internal, “in the inner man”. And this is the same context in which Paul speaks here in Col. 1; for the mighty strengthening we receive enables the mental, internal attributes of patience and joyful endurance (:11). We who were once alienated “in your mind” (:21) are now changed; the Christ formed “in you”, the mind of Christ within, is the basis for our “hope of glory” (:27). 2:2 continues this theme when Paul speaks of his urgent concern for the state of the believers’ hearts. Indeed the whole hymn of praise to Christ in :15-18 is in this context; Paul is emphasizing the utter supremacy of Christ because this should lead to Him dominating our thinking. Appreciating the height of His exaltation will lead to Christ mindedness. “He is the head of the body” in the sense that He is the mind of it, the thinking of it. Members of Christ’s body are shown to be in the same body by the fact that they are Christ-minded, they have Him as their “head”. Christ-mindedness is therefore the basis upon which we feel that someone is also in the body of Christ rather than membership of the same denomination, fellowship, church etc. But note that the idea of the Greek word translated "strengthened" is essentially ability, and therefore potential. Nobody is forced against their will. We are given the potential ability, and must use it.

According to the might of his glory, to all patience and endurance, with joy- This appears to be a reference to the immense and total power which the Lord Jesus now enjoys, as King of the cosmos and prince of the kings of the earth. The idea is that the internal strengthening of the believer is performed by He whose power is unbounded throughout the cosmos. This is encouragement indeed, when we wonder how ever we might be able to change, or rather, be changed.

1:12 Giving thanks to the Father- This is a function of the work of the Spirit in us, which Paul has introduced in :9.

Who made us suitable- See on :22. The Greek is clear that the idea is not that we are in process of being made qualified, as if 'making us suitable'. We have been made suitable, in that we attained this new status at baptism into Christ. This is indeed the breathtaking good news of the Gospel.

To be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light- Paul may well have Angels in mind- we shall become like the Angels (Lk. 20:35,36), who are "Angel[s] of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). But he has defined the "saints" in :2 as the believers. We walk now "in light"; insofar as we do, we are experiencing the essence of the future inheritance. The parallel idea in Ephesians is that "You were once darkness, but now are you light in the Lord" (Eph. 5:8). Our future and present hope is expressed in terms of partaking in something collective, the inheritance of all the saints; no man can therefore be an island in this life.

1:13 Who delivered us out of the power of darkness- "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness (cp. Egypt, 1 Pet. 2:9,10), and hath translated us into the Kingdom of His dear son; in whom we have (now) redemption through His blood... for by Him were all things created (the new, spiritual creation of believers is finished in prospect) ... you... now hath he reconciled... if ye continue in the faith... whereunto I also labour, striving..." (Col. 1:13,14,16,21,23,29). This shows how our comprising the Kingdom in prospect is dependent upon our continued personal effort. The contention is sometimes made in discussion with those who wrongly believe that the Kingdom in its full sense is the church of today that "into" in Col.1:13 can mean 'for'. However, the Greek preposition eis means 'in the interior, into, indicating the point reached or entered' (Strong). Thus Phillip and the Eunuch "went down both into (Gk: eis) the water" (Acts 8:38)- from which we correctly argue that baptism is by full immersion into water. However, it is true that at times 'eis' is translated with the idea of 'towards', although this is not its primary meaning. The rest of the quotation from Col. 1 made above would suggest that we should understand 'eis' here in its normal meaning.

And translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love- Used of the removing of people from one nation to another, as in the exile of the Jews to Babylon and thence back to Judah. The language of Judah's restoration is so often applied to what has happened to the believers. But the idea presented in :12 is of us receiving the lot or inheritance of the saints- suggesting the allusion is at least equally to the bringing of Israel out of Egypt through baptism, to receive an inheritance in Canaan.

1:14 In whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins- The Greek for "redemption" definitely refers to a ransom payment. In Christ- through baptism into that "in Christ" status- we were bought out of slavery. This metaphor [with all the limitations of any metaphor] was used of Israel's redemption from slavery in Egypt, and on :13 Translated us I have noted that this image is in view in this chapter. The ransom payment is in that we have been forgiven our sins- which continues the slavery metaphor with the suggestion that we were in slavery because we were hopeless debtors. The Lord Himself used that idea in framing the parable of the unmerciful debtor. It's highly likely that the language and metaphors chosen by Paul here were aimed at deconstructing the heresies about 'redemption' and ransom which were common amongst the incipient Gnosticism of that time and area. But that notwithstanding, the truths he elicits are for all time.

1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation- This interprets the creation of a man in God's image as a reference to the resurrection and glorification of the Lord Jesus. This was what the Angels had worked for millennia for, in order to fulfil the original fiat concerning the creation of man in God's image. Even now, we see not yet all things subdued under Him (Heb. 2:8); the intention that the man should have dominion over all creation as uttered and apparently fulfilled on the sixth day has yet to materially come to pass. The Angels are still working- with us. For 1 Cor. 15:49 teaches that we do not now fully have God's image, but we will receive it at the resurrection. Therefore we are driven to the conclusion that the outworking of the creation directives regarding man in God's image was not only in the 24 hours after it was given, but is still working itself out now. The new creation is therefore a continuation of and an essential part of the natural creation; not just a mirror of the natural in spiritual terms.  See on 2 Cor. 4:6.

The idea of a new creation is well explained in Gal. 6:15: "For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. What counts is being a new creation". This seems to parallel Gal. 5:6 "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love". Paul's argument so far has been: Faith rather than works results in an identification with the Lord Jesus as the seed of Abraham; for to him were the promises of salvation made, and not through the Law. That faith and identification with Christ is confirmed by the Spirit being sent forth into our hearts (Gal. 4:5), which results in love as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). In that way, faith works through love. The parallel to that is that "what counts is being a new creation"; in other words, being created as Christ, being created as a Son of God as Jesus was, with His spirit whereby we also cry out "Abba, Father" just as He did. So the new creation in view is that we are created to be as Christ. Hence if any man is in Christ he is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The language of "new creation" need not call up ideas of planets and a new cosmos. The new person created is Christ. Hence "the rule" of the new creation (Gal. 6:16) is another way of saying "the law of Christ". The Lord Jesus is "the image of every [new] creation" (Col. 1:15); we are made / created like Him, by the agency of the Spirit. He is thus "the beginning of the creation of God" (Rev. 3:14). Hence the Gospel was preached to "every creation" (Col. 1:23), i.e. every convert. No "creation" is not open to the scrutiny of God's Word in Christ (Heb. 4:13). Clearly, "creation" was a title for believers in the early church, so common was this idea.

The creation record in Genesis 2 is not about a different creation from that in Genesis 1; it is a more detailed account of how the Angels went about fulfilling the command they were given on the sixth day. The process of bringing all the animals to Adam, him naming them, becoming disappointed with them, wishing for a true partner need not therefore be compressed into 24 hours. It could have taken a period of time. Yet the command to make man, male and female, was given on the sixth day. However, this may have taken far longer than 24 hours to complete. Indeed, the real intention of God to create man in His image was not finished even then; for as Paul shows here, the creation of man in God's image ultimately was fulfilled in the resurrection of God's Son.

Col. 1:15-20 is another poetic fragment which is misunderstood by those seeking to justify the false idea of a personal pre-existence of the Lord; it has been identified as a Jewish hymn which Paul modified (see on Phil. 2:6). We must remember that Paul was inspired by God to answer the claims of false teachers; and he was doing so by using and re-interpreting the terms which they used. This is typical of those passages which can give the impression that Jesus actually created the earth.

If this were true, then so many other passages are contradicted which teach that Jesus did not exist before his birth. The record in Genesis clearly teaches that God was the creator. Either Jesus or God were the creator; if we say that Jesus was the creator while Genesis says that God was, we are saying that Jesus was directly equal to God. In this case it is impossible to explain the many verses which show the differences between God and Jesus (see Bible Basics Study 8.2 for examples of these).

The Lord Jesus was the “firstborn”, which implies a beginning. There is no proof that Jesus was God’s “firstborn” before the creation of the literal earth. Passages like 2 Sam. 7:14 and Ps. 89:27 predicted that a literal descendant of David would become God’s firstborn. He was clearly not in existence at the time those passages were written, and therefore not at the time of the Genesis creation either. Jesus became “the Son of God with power” by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). God “has raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, You are My Son, this day have I begotten you” (Acts 13:32,33). Thus Jesus became God’s firstborn by his resurrection. Note too that a son standing at his father’s right hand is associated with being the firstborn (Gen. 48:13-16), and Christ was exalted to God’s right hand after his resurrection (Acts 2:32; Heb. 1:3).

It is in this sense that the Lord Jesus is described as the firstborn from the dead (Col. 1:18), a phrase which is parallel to “the firstborn of every creature” or creation (Col. 1:15 R.V.). He therefore speaks of himself as “the first begotten of the dead... the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 1:5; 3:14). Jesus was the first of a new creation of immortal men and women, whose resurrection and full birth as the immortal sons of God has been made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus (Eph. 2:10; 4:23,24; 2 Cor. 5:17). “In Christ shall all (true believers) be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:22,23). This is just the same idea as in Col. 1. Jesus was the first person to rise from the dead and be given immortality, he was the first of the new creation, and the true believers will follow his pattern at his return.

The creation spoken about in Col. 1 therefore refers to the new creation, rather than that of Genesis. Through the work of Jesus “were all things created...thrones...dominions” etc. Paul does not say that Jesus created all things and then give examples of rivers, mountains, birds etc. The elements of this new creation refer to those rewards which we will have in God’s Kingdom. “Thrones... dominions” etc. refer to how the raised believers will be “kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). These things were made possible by the work of Jesus. “In him were all things created in the heavens” (Col. 1:16 R.V.). In Eph. 2:6 we read of the believers who are in Christ as sitting in “heavenly places”. If any man is in Christ by baptism, he is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). By being in Christ we are saved by His death (Col. 1:22). The literal planet could not be created by being in Christ. Thus these verses are teaching that the exalted spiritual position which we can now have, as well as that which we will experience in the future, has all been made possible by Christ. The “heavens and earth” contain “all things that needed reconciliation by the blood of (Christ’s) cross” (Col. 1:16,20), showing that the “all heaven” refer to the believers who now sit in “heavenly Christ Jesus”, rather than to all physical things around us.

If Jesus were the creator of the universe, it is strange how He should say: “…from the beginning of the creation God made them…” (Mk. 10:6). This surely sounds as if He understood God to be the creator, not He Himself. And if He literally created everything in Heaven, this would include God.

That "by him" is a poor translation is readily testified by reliable scholars. Take J.H. Moulton: "for because of him [Jesus]..." (1); or the Expositor's Greek Commentary: "en auto: This does not mean "by Him"" (2).

Many of Paul's more difficult passages are understandable once it is appreciated that he is alluding to existing Jewish and Gentile literature which was familiar to his readers. He does this in order to deconstruct it and give the Lord Jesus His rightful place of exaltation. There are a number of connections between Col. 1:15-20 and Jewish Wisdom theology concerning Adam and the mystical "heavenly man". The terms "image of God" and "firstborn" refer to Adam; it's as if Paul is showing that Jesus should be afforded the place of all exaltation, and not the mystical "Adam" or "Heavenly Adam" which Judaism then believed in (3). Another possibility, not necessarily mutually exclusive, is that Paul is alluding to and even quoting a "pre-Christian Gnostic redeemer hymn" (4)- and seeking to demonstrate that Jesus is the true redeemer. We may apply the words of a well known song or character to someone we know, in order to show the similarities and bring out the contrasts; but the correspondence isn't 100%. And so with the manner in which Paul quotes Gentile or Jewish literature and terminology about Jesus- not every word must be literalistically pressed into relevance to Him. It's like the idea of types- Joseph was a type of Christ, but not everything about Joseph was true of Christ. We need to be aware that Paul didn't sit down to right theology sitting in an ivory tower university, or because he just felt like delving into these matters for the pure intellectual buzz of it. His letters are all missionary documents, born out of real life situations in his work of preaching and then pastorally caring for his immature converts. He was dealing with attacks upon his tender babes in Christ by Jewish and Gentile false teachers; there was no written New Testament, and the Christian message was in competition with the 'scriptures' of the surrounding religions. So it's hardly surprising that Paul so often alludes to their terminology and literature in order to deconstruct it.

It should be noted, as a general point, that God the Father alone, exclusively, is described as the creator in many passages (e.g. Is. 44:24; Is. 45:12; Is. 48:13; Is. 66:2). These passages simply leave no room for the Son to have also created the literal planet.

It could also be argued that the hymn to Jesus here in Colossians 1 is speaking of how God views Jesus. “He is “firstborn of all creation”-  not in time, but in the Father’s mind” (5). To God, Jesus was the beginning, in everything He was en pasin autos proteuon- in all things He held first place (Col. 1:18). But where and how? In the Father’s mind. It was God who created the world. But for God, in the context of creation, Jesus His Son was pre-eminent.
James Dunn comments on Col. 1:20: “Christ is being identified here not with a pre-existent being but with the creative power and action of God…There is no indication that Jesus thought or spoke of himself as having pre-existed with God prior to his birth" (6).

(1) J.H. Moulton, Grammar Of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963) Vol. 3 p. 253.
(2) W.R. Nicoll, ed., Expositor's Greek Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967) p. 504.
(3) This case is made at length in H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) pp. 78-86.
(4) See E. Käsemann, "A Primitive Christian Baptismal Liturgy" in Essays On New Testament Themes (London: S.C.M. Press, 1964) pp. 149-168.
(5) Thomas Weinandy, In the Likeness of Sinful Flesh (Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1993) p. 138.
(6) James Dunn, Christology In The Making (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980) p. 254.



1:16 For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible- See on :15. The theme of the believers being "in Christ" is so major in Colossians and Paul generally that we should have no problem in seeing here a reference to the new creation. But all this has meaning in practice- we who are in Christ are to have Him [and not mere abstract ideas] as the whole basis of our existence.

Whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things have been created on account of him and for him- “Thrones… powers” is a Jewish rabbinic term which expressed their idea of “the various gradations of angelic spirits”. But it’s doubtful he believed in this himself. Paul at times quotes from or alludes to popular Jewish ideas with which he may not have necessarily agreed. The lack of quotation marks in New Testament Greek means that it’s hard for us at this distance to discern when he does this – but it seems to me that it’s going on a lot in his writings. Thus he uses the phrase “your whole spirit, soul and body” (1 Thess. 5:23), a popular Jewish expression for ‘the whole person’ – but it’s clear from the rest of Paul’s writings that he didn’t see the body and soul as so separate.

1:17 And he is superior to all things, and in him all things consist- See on :15. The "all things" are those reconciled to God in Christ (:20), and therefore refer to persons rather than the physical creation, which is not morally alienated nor in need of reconciliation with God.

1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead- See on :11,15. A phrase which is parallel to “the firstborn of every creature” or creation (Col. 1:15 R.V.). He therefore speaks of himself as “the first begotten of the dead... the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 1:5; 3:14). Jesus was the first of a new creation of immortal men and women, whose resurrection and full birth as the immortal sons of God has been made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus (Eph. 2:10; 4:23,24; 2 Cor. 5:17). “In Christ shall all (true believers) be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:22,23). This is just the same idea as in Col. 1. Jesus was the first person to rise from the dead and be given immortality, he was the first of the new creation, and the true believers will follow his pattern at his return.

So that in all things he might have the pre-eminence- The concept of being "in" Christ is so frequent here in Colossians 1 that we must surely interpret the "all things" as a reference to the believers; because of His work, we are to give Him the pre-eminence in our thinking and hearts. And a real person, the Lord Jesus, can more meaningfully have such pre-eminence far more than abstract ideas or even theology as theology.

1:19 For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell- All the fullness of God dwelt in Christ (Col. 1:19; 2:9); "and of his fullness have all we received" (Jn. 1:16). God's fullness, the full extent of His character, dwelt in Christ, and through His Name which speaks fully of that character, that fullness of Christ is reckoned to us. And so, in line with all this, Eph. 3:19 makes the amazing statement. And it is amazing. We can now “be filled with all the fullness of God". Let's underline that, really underline it, in our hearts. We can be filled with all the fullness of God. Filled with all the fullness of God's character. See on Eph. 1:23. We are counted righteous, counted as if we have the Lord's moral perfection; but as Romans 8 explains, the Spirit is given in order to help us become in reality what we are counted as being by status. The language of 'filling' is used about being filled with the Spirit in our inner person (Acts 13:52; Rom. 15:13; Eph. 4:10; 5:18). It is the filling by the Spirit which reveals to us the fullness of God.

1:20 And through him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross- yes, to reconcile all things through him, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens- God has reconciled all of us into Himself through the work of Jesus; reconciliation with God is therefore related, inextricably, to reconciliation with each other. The fact that believers in Christ remain so bitterly unreconciled is a sober, sober issue. For it would appear that without reconciliation to each other, we are not reconciled to God. All we can do is to ensure that any unreconciled issues between us and our brethren are not ultimately our fault.

1:21 And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works- Note how the “works” were done “in your mind”; a similar parallel is in Tit. 1:15,16. Paul had fully absorbed the Lord’s teaching that the thought is the action. We live in a virtual world, lived looking at screens. At no other time in history has this perspective been more vital; that sin is in the mind, the thoughts are the works. The parallel Eph. 4:18 speaks of being alienated “from the life of God”. His Spirit, His living, His life and personality, can be given into our minds through the receipt of the Holy Spirit. Refusing that is to be alienated from God. The work of reconciling us with God is therefore fundamentally performed in the mind; for that is where the essential alienation is located. Our thought processes and worldviews are alien from Him; and the work of reconciling that alienation in our minds, in our evil spirit, is performed by the holy spirit of God.

1:22 Yet now has he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish- Yet by our preaching we “may present every man perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:22,28). The connection is clear: because we are being presented perfect in Christ through belief and baptism, we preach the opportunity of this experience to others. Likewise the Law often stressed that on account of Israel’s experience of being redeemed from Egypt, they were to witness a similar grace to their neighbours and to their brethren. See on Jude 24.

And unreproveable before Him- AV “in His sight”. In His view, the way He looks upon us, we will be without sin, faultless before the presence of His glory at the last day (Jude 24); we will be “made meet” or appropriate to receive the inheritance of the saints (:12). We will be “made” like this. It will be the result of imputed righteousness. Thus the Lord will praise the faithful for all the good deeds they did, which they will be ignorant of (Mt. 25:37). But there is also a mechanism through which the Lord works to achieve this; for we will be “made” like this (:12). Thus :28 speaks in very similar terms of how at that last day, Paul hoped to “present every man perfect in Christ”. How Christ counts us in status- as complete because we are “in Him”- He also tries to work out in reality by actually changing our minds and hearts through His work. And one of the ways he chooses to do that is through people like Paul. Our efforts for others’ spiritual development will have His every blessing and enablement. Hence Paul moves forward to describe in :24,25 how he suffers with Christ in order to build up the body of believers into the body and person of Christ in actuality.

1:23- see on Lk. 6:48; Acts 2:9.

If indeed you continue in the faith- We are to continue in the doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16), continue in grace (Acts 13:43), rather than continuing in sin (Rom. 6:1). The idea is not simply that we shall doggedly hold to a set of theology we accepted at baptism; but more essentially, that we shall continue in faith in the wonderful grace those teachings reflect, that little me, I myself… shall really and truly live for ever in God’s Kingdom. For the immediate context here is about being presented faultless in His eyes at the last day (:22); and we are to continue believing that wonderful truth.

Grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to all creation under heaven. Of which I Paul was made a servant- Paul says that the certain hope of salvation is what must ground us in life. “Hope” means a certain assurance. The fact it had been preached to all creation doesn’t mean that it is no more to be preached. And “all creation” in the context of this chapter refers to every member of the new creation; for not all of the natural creation had heard the Gospel. And “all creation” is a strange way to refer to “all people”. The idea is that all the current believers at the time of writing, those in whom the work of the new creation had happened, were in that status because of having heard the very same gospel which Paul was preaching. The Colossians had also heard it- they too needed to allow the work of the new creation through that gospel to work in them.

1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh- It has been perceptively commented: “The work of Christ in one sense is complete, but in another sense it is not complete until all men have known it and been reconciled to God by it. He is dependent on men and women to take it out and to make it known. He who accepts this task of bringing the message of the work of Christ to men may well be said to complete the sufferings of Christ”. Every leaflet we distribute, every conversation we start, every banknote we put to the Lord’s work... through all this we are extending the victory of the Lord in ways which would otherwise never occur. Thus Paul can say that in his work of preaching and upbuilding, he was filling up the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24). By the cross, all things were reconciled, but this is only made operative in practice if men “continue in the faith”, which Paul suffered in order to enable (Col. 1:20-23). This is the context in which Paul speaks of fulfilling the cross. Thus Paul speaks of filling up “the afflictions of Christ” in his life (Col. 1:24), but uses the very same word to describe the “afflictions” [s.w.] which he suffered for his brethren (Eph. 3:13). The sufferings of the Lord become powerful and continue to bring forth fruit in human lives- through our response to them.

We too are asked to fill up the Lord’s sufferings in our lives. The idea is that by the end of our lives, we have fellowshipped His sufferings, and finally our death becomes His death, so that His resurrection shall become ours. This perhaps is why old age for believers often entails particular physical or mental affliction which enables us to fellowship aspects of His sufferings which previously we had not fellowshipped. This imparts meaning to the final part of our lives, whereas in secular terms we would be viewed as having daily experiences which have little significance attached to them.

For His body's sake, which is the church- The way in practice we fellowship the Lord’s personal sufferings is through our engagement with the sufferings of others in the church. Paul saw himself as filling up what was lacking in his share in the sufferings of Christ’s body. He uses the idea of Christ’s body in a double sense- the sufferings of Christ’s body on the cross are being replicated in him in the course of his ministry to the body of Christ in the sense of the church. It could also be that Paul has the idea that Christ is suffering now, the cross is in a sense ongoing, and he is suffering with Christ right now for our redemption. All we suffer for the sake of the believers and the preaching of the Gospel in order to develop the body of Christ is in fact a sharing in the crucifixion sufferings of Jesus. The “afflictions” of Christ are inevitable. We were “appointed” to such afflictions (1 Thess. 3:3). The parable of the sower suggests that tribulation [s.w. “afflictions”] come inevitably to the believer in Christ (Mt. 13:21). We must pass through much affliction or tribulation [s.w.] to enter the Kingdom (Acts 14:22). We can therefore glory in such tribulation (Rom. 5:3). We experience “affliction” as Paul did in concern for our brethren (2 Cor. 2:4), in ostracism (Heb. 10:33) as well as physical deprivation in the generosity of spirit required in the preaching of the Gospel and care for the body of Christ, in which context Paul uses the word many times. There’s a logic to all this, as the same word is used about the “afflictions” to be suffered by the rejected at the judgment seat (Rom. 2:9; Rev. 2:22). 2 Thess. 1:4,6 speaks of our afflictions now and then uses the same word to describe the afflictions of the rejected in that day. We must suffer- one way or another. Paul consciously sought to experience what Christ did on the cross. He was warned by the Holy Spirit that “afflictions” awaited him if he went up to Jerusalem (Acts 20:23), but he chose to go up there, he made a determined decision within his own spirit to do so (Acts 19). High challenge as this is, we too should seek to consciously experience the sufferings of Jesus.

Of which I was made a servant, according to the plan of God which was given me concerning you, to fulfil the word of God- Knowing the Gospel somehow compels us to testify of it. “The word (logos) of God", a phrase which the NT mainly uses with reference to the Gospel rather than the whole Bible, is sometimes used as parallel to the idea of preaching the Gospel (Rev. 1:9; 6:9; 20:4 and especially here in Col. 1:25).

1:26 The mystery of which has been hid for ages and generations; but now has it been manifested to His saints- Paul is answering the incipient Gnostic claims to hold 'mysteries'. The idea that 'I know something you don't' is very attractive, and is surely one of the reasons why the likes of JWs and other small time Protestant sects with unusual interpretations are at least initially attractive to many simple folks. They claim, as did the Gnostics, that the true mysteries are only to be found within their private meetings. Paul is saying that the mystery is now openly revealed and being shouted from the housetops- quite simply, any who believe in Christ shall be saved.

1:27 T
o whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles- which is Christ in you, the hope of glory- At baptism, the “new man” was created within us; the man Christ Jesus was formed in us, a new birth occurred, the real, essential Duncan or Dave or Deirdre or Danuta became [potentially at least] ‘Jesus Christ’, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). This is how important this matter is. Perceiving the Christ-man within yourself is related to your “hope of glory”; this is the assurance of our future salvation, through which we can have all joy and peace through believing.

We proclaim him, encouraging every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ- As Christ will "present (us) holy and unblameable" (Col. 1:22), as a spotless bride (Eph. 5:27). The relationship between Christ and the ecclesia is to be mirrored within the ecclesia.  See on Eph. 5:31.

1:29- see on Lk. 13:24.

For this purpose I labour, striving according to his power, which works in me mightily- As explained on :11, this power is boundless. And it works through us if we seek to save others and bring them within God's saving purpose. Never therefore need we fear lack of power, resources etc. in performing His mission. Paul can say that he has not yet become complete (Phil. 3:10-14) and yet he seeks to present each of his converts “complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28). He recognized that he too hadn’t got to where he was seeking to take his converts.