The profound character of this epistle consists in its being, in the first chapter, a concentration of the epistles to the Thessalonians, Ephesians, and Philippians, presenting the person of Christ substantially, to faith, in relation to the subjects of all these three epistles. The second chapter is to teach us the exclusiveness of Christ. The third is the highest practice of the condition brought in by this. The fourth contains some practical exhortations. The current of it is full and highly practical.
It has been a question among critics, whether this epistle preceded or followed those to the Ephesians and Philippians. Those to the Thessalonians are acknowledged to be prior. This, and the two former, were written during Paul's first captivity. The difference would be, that, if written first, the former epistles (with the introduction of the subject of those to the Thessalonians) would be a development of these; or, if written after, a throwing of their subjects together, with Christ more distinctly introduced. But, whether written before or after, we see the goodness of God, showing us very emphatically, that holding the Head in all things, and for all ends, will ever be the sum of blessing to the Church.
Colossians 1:1 and 2. As there is something peculiar in the opening address of every epistle, so there is in this - an apostle, by the sovereign will of God. Timothy is "the brother." They might have stood together as "servants" (or slaves) of Jesus Christ, as in the epistle to the Philippians; but not as apostles. But Timothy here is (implying special designation to the Colossians) "the brother."
The diversity in the method of addressing them from that in the other epistles is manifest, and in all, with definite purpose, in the spirit, is most generally taken, in the writings of Paul, substantively, as saints. It is used alone in the epistle to the Philippians, with bishops and deacons, manifesting the subjection to order, and consistency of the whole body as such.
In the Ephesians, it is to the saints at Ephesus, having the distinctive character of the word, and believers in general; but this is (i.e. the address to all believers) not as manifest as in Corinthians. We have in the epistle before us the separation of saints, and separation confessed; and also believing brethren, as in the epistle to the Ephesians. In the Philippians, the saints, and none other; and the subjection of the body and its order. We see this distinctly, from the first action of the gospel, by the hands of the apostles. After the death of Ananias and Sapphira, the people greatly magnified them, but no man durst join themselves to them; but, at the same time, multitudes, both of men and women, believed. They wondered at the power. They acknowledged the righteous exercise of discipline, and rejoiced in the grace proclaimed; but kept aloof in fear, and thus were not subject to the rule which God vouchsafed, nor to one another in the fear of God. Among those with the apostles, there was fellowship under their teaching, prayer, breaking of bread, and confession of the Lord. The others are mentioned as believers, but aloof in some degree or measure, suffering assuredly loss, by missing all that the Lord intended in blessing, by their being together under Him; and peculiarly as the object of His care as representing His body, and in faith of the Spirit (not only as in individuals, but) as in the body of Christ. The table expressed all. The epistle to the Thessalonians is addressed to the Church, or assembly, in that fullest corporate character and confession. And in what blessing! "In God the Father," as said to none else - "knowing, beloved of God, your election." The apostle seems more warmed to them than to any other body (except though, in another way, the Colossians). He addresses them, joying in the manner of their reception of the word of God, sympathising with them in the righteous judgment that should place them both in the rest of glory. The salutation of the epistle we are considering is the usual one - "Grace and peace."
Colossians 1:3-5. "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" is the Church-name of Christ. Subject as the obedient man to God. The Son of the Father. Bringing the children of the Father in Him into the obedience of God. All is fulness in this epistle.
Thanksgiving is offered by the apostle (since he heard of the faith and love to saints, or the saints at Colosse) for the hope laid up for them in heaven.
We have again here the peculiar fulness of this epistle; the hope which they had heard in the word of the truth of the Gospel from Epaphras, who was a minister of this fulness, and though the gospel of grace was much; this was the "grace of God" in truth, embracing all that grace which was in Christ. And it is said that they had acquaintance with it. No wonder that he to whom it was committed, to make the fulness known, should have his heart drawn out to the Colossian assembly, bearing as it did its excellent fruit, and increasing continually.
Colossians 1:6-11. For this cause, and on this ground, he prayed and made petition to God, that, in order that they might walk worthy of the LORD, they might be filled with the knowledge of the will of God, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; bearing fruit, and increasing in acquaintance with God.
The result of what they should receive on his petition to God, was acquaintance with God. Experimental knowledge of God, through intelligent fulfilment of his mind under Christ. An habituation of walk and service in subjection to Christ and His word, was to work this. This order is deeply to be observed. In Ephesians, the knowledge of the Son of God comes through the unity of the faith wrought through a true course of church action in the Spirit; and so in the epistle of Peter, "growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." But this goes beyond them all. IT IS ACQUAINTANCE WITH GOD: first came knowledge of God's will in spiritual understanding; then practice, and thereby true acquaintance.
What a solemn occupation for the soul!, But in this walk, what practical proof and experience was required. The walk here contemplated is in face of the enemy; and the power of the glory to which suffering was attached was to sustain it in all patience and long-suffering, with joyfulness. The confession of the Lord was the confession of the supremacy of God in the world, in the kingdom of the Son till He come, in all virtue and grace, according to the heavenly calling of the saints.
Thus far is the subject of the Thessalonians, where, as in this portion of this epistle, all are regarded as members of the rejected kingdom.
Colossians 1:12-14. Our present ground of thanksgiving to the Father is, that He made us meet to share the inheritance of the saints in light, who saved us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption, even the remission of sins. The depth of this epistle cannot be plainer seen than in the following verses. Christ is presented in all His eminence. Let us collect a few of the expressions, and we shall see how our redemption, and the reconciliation of all things, is connected with this eminence. He, by whom is our redemption, even the forgiveness of sins, is the image of the invisible God, and the Head of all creation (what a new Adam is granted unto us!) because He was Creator, and being before all, sustains all. Heaven and earth, and powers, are all of Him and by Him.
Colossians 1:18-22. We now come to the Church as offered to us in the epistle to the Ephesians (in its part in this epistle) which He had purchased with His own blood. The charge of this epistle being here to declare Christ as the Head of it. What would be attached to the church, as found in the Ephesians, is not mentioned till later (2:19), where that is reproved which rejects both the head, the joints, and bands, by which the members of the body are kept united together. Christ had this headship, who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that thus He might be the first in all things; because in Him, by divine counsels, all fulness should dwell, that having made peace by the blood of the cross, He might reconcile all things to Himself, and ourselves who were estranged by wicked works, BY THE BODY OF His FLESH THROUGH DEATH (oh, the wonder of the work of Him - the Word made flesh - to the sinner brought into the light of God!) that He might present us holy, unblameable, and without charge before Him.
Here are the two stages of His dealings - our redemption, even the forgiveness of sins, and the work of presenting us holy, unblameable, and without charge before Him, as the wife in the epistle to the Ephesians, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.
Nothing may be less than fulness in the way of grace in the word of the truth of the good tidings laid before us in this epistle.
Colossians 1:23. "If ye continue in the faith." Faith is confidence and assurance in the word of God and in His faithfulness. This may apply to many things. It is not "abide in faith" simply; but the expression is, "the faith," and in the fulness of the things here presented, grounded and settled in them. We have a marked instance of this sense in Jude. The expression, "the faith once delivered to the saints," in relation to the subject of that epistle, subjection to Christ (4); for He had purchased the slaves of Satan out of his hand, but who now walked after Cain, Korah, and Balaam. So, all of which Paul was made a minister manifested in this epistle is "the faith," the circle of all the revelations from the first to last revealed to him, whether common to the other apostles or peculiar to himself. The faith of the kingdom, of the Church in heavenly places, and the union of Christ with His members, fulfilling (making up the fulness of) the word of God; and, it is added, are not moved from the hope attached to the good tidings, which is, of being with Christ when He comes.
Colossians 1:24-29. But we have not done yet. The apostle rejoices in sufferings, and he fills up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh for His body, which is the Church.
How many think it a satisfaction to gather saints for some body to which they are attached; but if it be carried on in the Spirit, and according to the purpose and ways of God in Christ, this would bring in many afflictions here spoken of. This was the complement of the afflictions of Him who bought them; and this was the work of Paul, here mentioned as a commission from the Lord towards those for whom Christ had died, in order to separate them out of the evil age, according to the will of God and their Father. Paul was the minister of the body according to the dispensation which was given towards them, to fill up the measure of the revelation of God - the mystery which had been hid for ages and generations, and was now made manifest among the saints, to whom God willed to make known what was the riches of the glory of it among the Gentiles. "Christ is thus the hope of glory."
In the epistle to the Ephesians, it was given to him to make known the mystery of the Church in Christ. Here it is Christ in them. There they got spiritual blessings; here the hope of glory.
In the epistle to the Philippians it was the inward life, and reaching to its fulness. In this epistle it is characteristically Christ, the substance of that life by the Spirit, whom (i.e. Christ) we preach, warning every man and teaching every man, that I (says Paul) may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, he labouring in the power of God to this end which worked in him in divine energy.
Colossians 2:1-7. The apostle would not have the depths of the dispensations of the grace of God remain unknown to any, not even to those that had never seen him. He declares that he has earnestly pleaded with God that the blessings of that grace which he had committed to him to make known might be vouchsafed to them; that their hearts might be comforted (having been), knit together in love, and unto the full assurance of understanding unto acquaintance with the mystery of God, of the Father, and of Christ. The saints, strangers in the world, bound together in the same hope, are comforted, having been knit together in love, and being knit in the gospel, have reached an apprehension unto the full assurance of understanding, even unto the acquaintance with the nature of the mystery of God. It is to guard them from everything that would be presented to them in the place of Christ.
He rejoices at their firmness and order. As they had received Christ Jesus the Lord, so let them continue to walk, rooted and built up in Him, confirmed in the faith we have before heard of, abounding in it with thanksgiving.
Colossians 2:8-10. To the believing soul, every word is in these words a volume. Christ in whom dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily being He in whom the saints are completed - faith in Him, in all we have in Him, faith in our place in him; faith working by love.
Colossians 2:11, 12. From this verse onward, we find the moral and practical and formal application of the truth set out in this epistle. Still, however, it is "in whom" all is found. To think to find it elsewhere is Antichrist. "In whom" ye are circumcised - the end of the flesh and its power on the eighth day (ever the token of resurrection), makes a dead body of it by the Spirit - the good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ raised by the glory of the Father, and dwelling in the newness of "this life." By faith we see the old man, and everything that could apply to him, buried by baptism in the grave of Christ, "in whom" we are risen through faith of the operation of God that raised up Jesus. Our business is with life - His life, and we ascend with Him.
Colossians 2:13. To you hath He forgiven all trespasses who were dead in them, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, and quickened you in His risen life. What have ordinances to say to you? Ordinances which were ordained for the flesh and for trespasses and sins. Ordinances are the dead works under the law, from which your conscience is purged by the blood of Christ. They no longer serve any purpose. But we here come to a more obscure expression, evident however in considering the nature and order of the dispensation now laid aside. There are special warnings against two evils - re-introduction of ordinances as a principle of religion, and adopting the patronage of angels. Both of these had place from God in the dispensation that had vanished away.
The Jewish people received the law by the dispensation of angels. (Acts 7:53.) It had been committed to them in this prior order of things. The world to come, of which Israel will be the head, will not be subject to them, but to the Son.
This inferior agency, and all that was subject to it by the will of God, had never any place to the Church, save, as angels are to minister to the heirs of salvation, a place of service instead of superiority. Ordinances take altogether a secondary place to the Church, they being in the kingdom. They were once the connecting link with God. Christ is so now. When, therefore, God in His wisdom sent Christ the Son into the world, it was to take all things to Himself, and bring the world back to God under Himself. He now sits at the right hand of power. All handwriting of ordinances which was against us was nailed to His cross, and all authority overthrown but His. These things were thrown out into the world, the place of the excommunicate. And they become rudiments of the world, beggarly elements. Satan has taken advantage of the honour in which they once stood by the divine appointment, and has corrupted the souls which he could not overthrow by violence, by the re-introduction of those things which render the faith of Christ of no effect. Angels too were applied to as mediators, all which things so easily in false humility lay hold of the fleshly mind, which looks into things it has not seen, and judges of God by it.
It is most needful to see that God, in the spiritual institution of the Church, had provided helps and the joints and bands under the Head, thus showing the guard which the institution of the body of Christ in its character in the Church and administration was against this dangerous relapse; and in its positive force, when held to, in having nourishment ministered, and knit together, and increasing with the increase of God (see Greek).
If ye are then dead in Christ to the elements of that which is of this world, why do ye found your ways upon ordinances? And what did the rules of the law do but prohibit things which God hath given to be received with thanksgiving for our needs, and which perish with the using, distorting thus the gracious purposes of God.
All variety of argument is answered by the single word, "It is not the way of God in Christ." He that is dead hath been justified from sin. (Rom. 6; see margin.) Risen, ascended, glorified in Him. Presented thus in His life, ascension, and glory. We ourselves are within reach of all things in Him.
Colossians 3:1-11. The beginning of this chapter lays the foundation of heavenly and divine practice.
Every believer by grace, risen in Christ and before God in Him - in the perfectness of His risen life and Christ in them, is called (faith working by love) to be exercised - to walk in the way of this divine life, to bring by Him all that was contrary to that life into death, to make a dead body of it, so that life should find place. "If (or since) ye are risen in Him, set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth."
It is said to believers (in Col. 2:20), ye are dead from the rudiments of the world (whatever virtue these may pretend to), and are risen in Him, and, risen in Him, are now in the condition of receiving a. real and effective grace. Few feel the enemy to God which the mere flesh (and its motions) is, - its contrariety to Him, its judgment, its doom. As the deeper evil of the sins of the flesh, with covetousness, which is the worship of another god, came first in the list of all that was in the body of sin on the cross (and for such the wrath of God cometh on the children of unbelief), but mortified in the risen life that is in God.
These also must follow their communications among the saints about these things, and the mischiefs of the spirit of man, under the power of the flesh, and might even find occasion and do show themselves in the human spirit about the things of God.
The fulness and closeness of the word in some places is so great that it is by nothing but dwelling long on it by the Spirit, and believing the words as they stand, that will lead us to a just apprehension of the gracious purposes of God in them. And such a dwelling on them must be by the soul going back to those original deep actings of God, on which the call to holiness and the ways of, life are founded.
To what power in the soul in the power of God would you say - "Mortify therefore"?
The conflict on the old ground is displaced. It is no double or separate power, it is the power of God in the soul in connection with Himself before whom in Christ, in the fulness of Christ for us, we stand, being presented before God in Him risen, and not only risen but ascended, by which is access, and also for every occasion that the soul in faith can be exposed to, and therefore glorified,
This is the only moral standing of the Christian, or the way of it, "Mortify therefore."
We now advance to the relationship one with another, the fellowship being so put before us that the reality can only be in the fulness of that fellowship, can only be perfect in the fulness of condition in God. (1 John 1:7.) "Lie not one to another, for ye are members one of another." Put off the old man, put on the new man; and in the measure of acquaintance with it, after the image of Him that created him - Christ.
In this character of the new man, there can be none of the difference that exists from race and circumstances among men. Every member is a member of Christ Himself, and in obligation of conformity to this character. There can be no distinction in this; Christ is the whole, and in all diversities in those that are His alike.
Colossians 3:12, 13. We now get a further exhortation on the ground of this portion in Christ. Put on as holy and beloved, the bowels of the compassion of Christ, and lowliness, meekness, long-suffering. The ground of mutual forgiveness and forbearing one another is on the ground of the standing of the settled forgiveness of the believer, not as in the prayers given to the apostles before the grace of the death of Christ was known to them; the motive proposed in the one being the previous forgiveness of trespasses by themselves, the other looked for on the ground of an acceptance by grace already existing.
Colossians 3:14. We are now introduced to the highest step- over all these superinduce CHARITY.
Charity is the quality of God Himself, in divine grace (1 John 4), or rather God Himself.
In the first measure of charity we love God, because He first loved us. Every motive as to another has self in it; but the full measure is love perfected in us (not to us, as the received translation). It would mean God's condition in the soul, the bond of perfectness to all and upon all occasions. And we are told it is the capacity to testify that God so loved the world that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. The former measures the qualities of the new man in Christ, and the measure of Christ in Him. He that abideth in this, abideth in God, and God in him. Therefore, said the apostle, "superinduce charity, which is the bond of perfectness."
Colossians 3:15. How well can the apostle now exhort them with the words, "Let the peace of Christ" (which is the better reading) "rule in your hearts; for now it is in the perfectness of church-condition, for it is in this you are called in one body; and be ye thankful." This is a peace that may grow. I know that my Father loveth me, because I do those things that please Him. Let no man deceive you; he that worketh righteousness is righteous, as (after the same manner) Christ is righteous.
The degree is the degree of being like Him. So will your fellowship too be perfected, which can alone be by a walk in the light, as God is in the light. (1 John 2:5.)
Colossians 3:16, 17. We have in these two verses the blessed character of the intercourse for the growth of the saints, and the soul's worship with the perfectness of conscience in word and deed, giving thanks to God who is our Father by Christ. What are the disjecta membra by the side of this? Surely it is a device of Satan that they melt away again and be lost in the world.
Colossians 3:18. Colossians 4:1. At this place in the epistle we enter on the exercise of common life in the body; viz., among those who are the subjects of all this blessing. One has but to say, "Let men try." Let such as know the Lord put themselves under the word of the Lord, in obedience to the Lord. It is to walk by faith; for He is not here, but seen in faith over those that walk on earth and in the midst of earthly things and in the relationships of nature under Him. Those relationships are not left to the best care which men are used to give to them, for their own objects in some measure, sometimes of the fear of God, but in ignorance of the ways of God; but there is a way under the Lord, with reward in the kingdom in which these are, when it is manifested in power, as is expressly said at the end of this chapter; viz., that such as do these things to the Lord shall of the Lord receive the reward of the inheritance.
It is the authority of the Lord they obey, and therefore to be done to Him as in the person of those to whom they obey in their respective duties. Masters are cautioned.
Colossians 4:2. Nothing should be left behind us in the word; God is to be waited for, as well as to be waited on, for the teaching we are to receive.
We shall ever be vouchsafed more light and understanding of the things of the Lord by the Spirit in the measure in which we are in subjection to His authority. For it was always in the measure of this that He revealed the hidden things of His teaching, and will still by the Spirit, as He gave the Holy Ghost at first to them that obeyed Him.
It would seem very simple to say or to hear, "Continue (constant) in prayer, and watching in the same with thanksgiving." In hearing it, how often our souls would fail in the thought of what we should pray for in such a manner. It is not merely the praying of individuals, as necessity or difficulty arises to themselves. There must always be felt the need of getting something from God, on whom we are depending as the giver, and that need, felt in the soul, making all our requests known to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving; i.e. in blessing God for the way made for us to His presence, and the love that has embraced us. But as God acquaints us with His counsels for the Church, the need of the saints is the truth twice set before us in this epistle; so also twice in different degrees in the Ephesians. Surely the value of the prize, and the way to it, would, to the conscious soul, be ever suggestive of entreaty.
In the Corinthians it was on the subject of that epistle.
In the epistle to the Thessalonians it is that they may be found worthy by the confession of their calling - individual prayer (i.e. for ourselves). Besides, we may say the requests for all we are charged with will be for ourselves in that dependence that brings forth God to help; and this will be greatly, in the knowledge of the grace of God in truth, confession, till we reach the needed revelation of recovery and power, and also for our usefulness in service.
Watching in prayer seems an extension of the thought of perseverance; watching unto it would be to turn every occasion into a position of dependence on God. The apostle suggests a subject to their petition for himself in his service to the Lord.
In conclusion of the spiritual portion of the epistle, the apostle charges them to walk wisely to them that are without, commending Christ by their walk; they have to learn wisdom for the practice of their position as confessing the Lord in the world which knows Him not. As to "redeeming the time" (Eph. 5:16), it is added, "because the days are evil," it would be saving the time to good ends, which in the world is used to evil. He closes with a charge that their words should not be idle, but in love, and seasoned with that salt that must be in themselves.
Epaphras is again mentioned with the character we find given him by the apostle in the former part of the epistle, and we have what his prayer is for the Colossians, that they may stand of full age and fulfilled in all the will of God.
It is exceedingly to be remarked, that the apostle is anxious to keep up fellowship in the confession of the UNITY OF THE BODY, by engaging the interest of the several assemblies, one in another, desiring that the epistles to those two churches should be mutually communicated.
In the circumstance of his being a prisoner, and his work suspended, they had much to remember him about. He concludes with "Grace (favour and the free mercies of God) be with you. Amen."