Studies in Colossians
NOTE: The first article in this series appeared in the September issue.
IV. The Reconciliation - 1:20-23
It is revealed that Christ is “to reconcile all things unto Himself.’“ From Philippians 2:10, we learn that there are three spheres to creation: “things” in heaven, in earth, and under the earth. Here it is a question of homage, and so, “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Included in this are “things under the earth,” a reference to the infernal realm. In Colossians where reconciliation is the theme, hell is not included. That will be God’s eternal “Bunker Hill Monument” of His righteous indignation against sin.
The work of reconciliation has already commenced. There are those who have embraced the gospel in truth. Of such we read — “Now hath He reconciled.” Through His death, believers are immediately made “holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight.” The rest of creation will not be brought back unto harmony with God until the return of our Lord to establish His Kingdom (Romans 8:22; Ephesians 1:10).
This is one of the particular hopes of the gospel. A gospel into which by faith they were to be “grounded” — a good foundation — “settled,” established, no settling cracks; “not moved” because of an experimental and mental grasp of the truth. The “if” in verse 23 expresses Paul’s apprehension of some in Colosse who had not really, after all, exercised saving faith; otherwise, they would be more stable.
V. Paul’s Stewardship
Paul tells us he had been made a minister of the gospel as well as a minister of “the mystery.” By that he means he had been given a special “stewardship” (dispensation). As the Apostle to the Gentiles, he was the repository of new revelations (Ephesians 3; Galatians 1:1; Corinthians 11:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:15). In this way, he was “a minister,” and hardly in the sense we have become accustomed to using the word.
It would appear that Paul’s Church ministry was particularly provocative of suffering. He speaks of suffering “the afflictions of Christ.” No doubt this is a reference to his “great conflict” for them (2:1) and his present imprisonment (4:3). The devil will persecute a gospel witness, but appears to show added vehemence against all that is involved in practising Church truth. For further proof of this, outside of one’s own experience, Broadbent’s “Pilgrim Church” should be read. The witness to the all sufficiency of Christ given by a local church so wilts every added scheme of man that the opposition to it generally arises from churches whose defections are being exposed. However, this ministry was to “fulfill the Word of God.” To complete, finish or round it out. To limit one’s self to labour in the gospel and ignore “the mystery” would be leaving a convert, like Ephraim, “a cake not turned.” To the chagrin of the first century Jew, “the mystery” put the Gentile on an equal privilege entirely apart from the law and ordinances. Paul teaches and warns that only as every man follows the full implications of “the mystery” will he become a “perfect” man “in Christ Jesus;” that is, fully matured, a spiritual adult. We can look around and see those who have faithfully stuck to the local assembly. Their trials, problems, and upsets have been great, but all this has tremendously added to their spiritual calibre. So we are to strive, and strive on behalf of others for “the full assurance and understanding” of these things. Christ is the reservoir of all the necessary wisdom and strength for this understanding.
VI. Warnings (2:4-23)
Satan knows how to sap away the vitality of the truth of the mystery. The four things here warned against are often found highly esteemed among men, especially religious men. Only the inspired wisdom and spiritual understanding of Paul could detect them as subversive to the truth.
1. The Warning Against Philosophy (vs. 8).
This was being dished up with “enticing words.” Paul refers to it as ‘‘after the rudiments of the world.” It was the working of the human mind in the realm of things that could only be learned through a divine revelation. Before that revelation came to the Gentiles, it was fitting that they should make an attempt to unravel the mysteries of our existence, origin, and destiny, “if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him” (Acts 14:16; 17:16). The ancient philosophers tried and failed. Now all the treasures of wisdom are to be found in Christ. It was like putting a candle against the sundial to get a useless shadow. The sun was shining! Before Christ, philosophy was a necessary phase in Gentile development (elementary or rudimentary). Now that experiment is all over, and men are to listen to the truth of the gospel. To engage in philosophy as a source of truth was to virtually say Christ, too, was limited and still the last word had not been said. Therefore, Paul describes it as “vain deceit.” Modernism is the present-day version of this error. It is still the human mind and not Christ that is made paramount. Paul says it will “beguile” (delude R.S.V.) and “spoil” (“make a prey of,” R.S.V.) you from being “rooted and built up” in Christ. How many have been exposed to the rationalism, or the evolution theory, and consequently been “robbed” of their” faith!
2. The Law Blotted Out (2:14-17).
Appreciating the fact that the Law could not save the Gentiles, there was, however, a wide-spread movement in the infant Church by law-minded Jews to make the Law a rule of life after conversion. This, too, struck at the sufficiency of Christ. The Law had been given a fair chance to prove itself. In fact, two experiments with the human race were in operation in the Old Testament. Could a man by searching find out God? Philosophy, as we have seen, was the noblest attempt. The second trial was — could man obey God’s will after it had been revealed to him? This was the Jews’ responsibility. Both Gentile and Jew failed alike in their respective tests. Hence, in every way, the Old Testament was a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. Now that these two principles have been eclipsed by Christ, they are not to be reintroduced into the Christian economy. Believers are complete in Christ! (2:10). Hence, Christianity is not a showy religion taken up with “meats” and “holy days.” It is significant that when true spirituality wanes, externals again come into prominence. We are not disciplined by a church calendar, but by a living union with the Church’s Head. The Jewish rituals were but “shadows” of Christ; now, He has come and given substance to “the shadows.”