Studies in Colossians
These studies form the first articles by our brother Fesche to appear in Food for the Flock. They are the result of his own personal research; moreover, they have provided the basis of some of his ministry to the people of God. We appreciate this concise exposition of a very important Epistle.—Ed,
This Epistle was written along with the letters to the Ephesians and Philippians; also Philemon. They were dispatched during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, during which time he enjoyed considerable liberty although still a prisoner (Acts 28:30). There are several resemblances between Ephesians and Colossians; yet, on closer examination, there is no mere repetition. Each Epistle has its dominant theme. In Ephesians the emphasis is on the Church, while Colossians deals principally with the Church’s Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. When reading the Song of Solomon, it is often hard to decide whether the groom or bride is being described. In this there may be a purpose as the bride becomes the necessary part of the groom — “bone of his bone.” When this viewpoint is taken, both are alike. So in Ephesians the Church is “His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” In Colossians, the Head, Christ is “the fulness of the Godhead.”
There is reason to believe that Paul had not been in Colosse; he speaks of the Church as having not seen his face (Colossians 2:1). The Church was the outcome of the labours of Epaphras (1:7) who was now a prisoner with the Apostle (Philemon 23). It is not hard to conjecture that Epaphras had recounted to Paul a faithful history of the work in Colosse (1:4; 8). During the course of the narrative, Epaphras must have revealed certain tendencies at work which were dimming the otherwise brilliant faith and love of the Colossian Christians. To expose these errors and present the glorious remedy was the immediate occasion of the Epistle. It has been said that “The bird that cannot be shot can be snared.” If we are not the kind that Satan can entice into the sins of the flesh, he will seek to snare us with his subtleties. In Corinth we see Satan using “the gun”, here in Colosse it is “the snare.” Leprosy can manifest itself either in the head or the body (Leviticus 13:42). Immorality or doctrinal error can alike cripple our communion and usefulness; worse still, damage the Lord’s work. The doctrinal errors that threatened the Colossians were “philosophy” or rationalism (2:8), legality (2:14-17), and indirect approach to God through angels (2:18), and ritualism (2:20-23). Because these are ever-present perils, the Church needs to be constantly on its guard against them. In Christendom, there are great segments of the professing Church that are completely leavened by one or more of the dangers that threatened the Colossian Church. These errors assume different garbs to suit the age, but in essence, they are still the same.
I. Paul Greets The Colossians - 1:1-8
The Epistle opens with an appropriate apostolic salutation which continues to verse 8. The Apostle is alert to recognize all that is praiseworthy about these believers. Their faith was in “the word of the truth of the gospel” (v.6). As Tertullian said, “Truth is proved by what it produces.” The Lord said, “Men do not gather figs of thistles.” A gospel that makes men truthful and holy must be truth. How important it is to explain our gospel by our lives! We are also told that this gospel had gone into “all the world” (v.16). In a matter of thirty years, it had spread through the ancient world, just as it has gone generally to the ends of the earth today. A Chinese once asked an American why he had the effrontery to bring his religion to China. The apt reply was, “The right to give to others something that is too good to keep.”
II. The Apostolic Prayer - 1:19-14
Here is a splendid example of prayer for other believers. It was short, to the point, and intensely spiritual. The Apostle desired that they might “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.” In other words, that they might have an understanding of God’s purpose in this age of amazing grace and the formation of the Church. Then with spiritual appraisal of themselves, work out their lives within the framework of God’s world-wide plan. In this way, they would be walking “worthy of the Lord,” be pleasing to God, and fruitful. At the same time, such a path would be educational in “the knowledge of God.”
The manifold experiences and oft discouragements that are common to a perseverance in assembly life are the necessary textbooks to a wisdom that excells all schools. For such a path, one must be “strengthened with all might” (vs. 11). In connection with this prayer, Paul has not overlooked the fact that “it is a good thing to give thanks.” Yes, he gives thanks for those things that many in their ignorance of God’s free gift never cease to ask of God in this life. Notice the present possessions of believers.
In verses 12-14 which reach us through faith, not asking. We have already been made fit for our future inheritance; we are delivered from Satan’s power and have a redemption which spells out the forgiveness of all our sins. Only as we are personally assured of these blessings will there be the kind of praise and thanks that becomes our God.
III. The Twofold Headship Of Christ - 1:15-19
In verses 15-17, we see our Lord’s relationship to creation. “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” Furthermore, all things were created by Him and for Him. All emanated from Him and are to eventually accomplish His express purposes. This blessed One has been seen in His creation. To faith He is observed as the “image of the invisible God.” What God essentially is, His character, has been told out “in the body of His flesh” (vs. 22). God, in the Person of His Son, came into His own creation in perfect Manhood (Hebrews 10:5), and as such He was “the Firstborn.” This is a title of dignity, see Deuteronomy 21:16; Psalm 89:27. Christ is greater than creation, not part of it, as Arius taught, and now revived by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians. As Athanasius reasoned against Arius, “If Christ was a created being, what is to stop more Christs from being created?” “No,” says Paul, “Christ is all.”
In creation, He is alone “the corn of wheat …abideth alone” (John 12:24), as sinless, doing the works of the Father, The Light of the world! The Head and Centre of creation! Again, “He is the Head of the body, the Church.” As such, there has been another Genesis, so to speak. “The Beginning” of a new creation comprised of those who are indeed to be raised from the dead. Among such Christ is seen to be “the Firstborn.” He is now the seed wheat “that bringeth forth much fruit,” a spiritual creation headed up in Him, that last Adam. No more probation, never another fall!
“The body” refers to the Church. It is one of the several figures used of the Church suggesting it as the vehicle and servant of the Head; the present channel of expression of the Head in heaven. Hence, we read of “holding The Head” — receiving His mind and sustenance through the local ministers. “All fulness” dwells in Him; which in turn reaches down to the body (Ephesians 1:23). In both creations, Jesus Christ enjoys the preeminence. The Church is seen as “the bride” in Ephesians 5:23. As such, the Church is the necessary completion of the Head and the object of affection.
* * *
The day when Jesus stood alone, And felt the hearts of men like stone, And knew He came but to atone; That day, “He held His peace.”
* * *
The shuttles of His purpose move
To carry out His own design;
Seek not too soon to disapprove
His work, nor yet assign
Dark motives, when, with fear and dread
You view some sombre fold;
For lo, within each darker thread
There twines a thread of gold.