A Short Summary of the Epistle to the Colossians

By A. P. Cecil.

The Epistle to the Colossians is a kind of link in the chain between the truth brought out in the Epistle to the Romans and that to the Ephesians. There are two positions in which man in the flesh may be looked at, namely, alive to sin and dead to God. The Epistle to the Romans takes him up in the former view, and brings in the death of Christ; firstly, to justify him before a holy God, and secondly, to give him deliverance from his old master, sin, and out of his state as a child of Adam, Christ risen being his new standing before God. The Epistle to the Ephesians takes him up in the latter view, not alive to sin and under responsibility in that condition, but dead in trespasses and sin. God who is rich in mercy by the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, quickens him together with Christ, outside the dead condition of the world and unites him with Christ in glory and all the other members of Christ on earth. Thus the body of Christ was formed and exists now in union with the Head, seated in heavenly places in Him.*

{*This is the Assembly, and with the other aspect of it, which is the House, is the only Church mentioned in Scripture. There is no such thing in Scripture as the Church of England, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. The word for Church is "ecklesia", which signifies "Assembly" - see Eph. 1:22; 1 Tim. 3:15). A.P.C.}

The Epistle to the Colossians unites these two aspects of truth in chapter 2:11. Verses 11, 12 take the former aspect, that of Romans; verse 13, the latter, that of Ephesians, though it stops short of the position in heavenly places. The former view we have put off the body of the flesh, or old man, in Christ's death. We have been buried with Him in baptism, in who* also we are risen together through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised Him from the dead. Thus far though the Christian is brought into perfect liberty, standing in life in a risen Christ, and having the Holy Ghost as the power of life, he is now seen as baptised by the Holy Ghost into one body. In other words, he is now united to Christ in this corporate position. Baptism by water is thus the sign of identification with Christ in His death and burial; Christ coming up out of death, giving him, the believer, a perfect standing in life. Verse 13 carries on into Ephesian truth - that is, we are not only raised together out of death in Christ, but quickened together with Him in union, God having forgiven us all trespasses. The difference between the Epistle to the Ephesians and that of Colossians is, that in the former Epistle the body is seen seated in heavenly places in the Head, the body being the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. In the latter the body is seen on earth, full of the life of the Head (see Col. 1:29) but in danger of letting go the Head. The whole truth consequently is to show that in Christ up in heaven dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and to press upon the believers at Colosse the necessity of holding the Head. The Person of Christ consequently is largely dwelt on, that in Him were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, in order that they might be guarded on the one hand from Gentile philosophy, and on the other hand from Judaizing ritualism, the Rationalism and Ritualism of the day. Thus whilst the unity of the body must remain under all circumstances, yet the responsibility of the members to hold the Head is clearly brought out. Every true assembly is thus exhibited as hanging on the Head, as dependently as an individual Christian is hanging every day upon Christ. When this is the case, no man is seen but Christ only, and the body receives nourishment from the Head.

{*I might read, "Wherein also ye are risen with Him." - "Wherein" in that case would refer to baptism. The former, however, seems most natural. Verse 11: "In whom ye are circumcised"; verse 12: In whom ye are risen together". A.P.C.}

The Epistle

Colossians 1.

But now as to the Epistle itself. After thanking God for the hope laid up in heaven for them, and mentioning their faith and love, he prays up to verse 11 in reference to their walk, after that, exhorting them to give thanks to the Father for their perfect standing (verses 12-15). The Person of the Son is then dwelt on, His work, and the ministry both of the Gospel and the Church, which brings the saints into a place where it is said of them, "Christ in you the hope of glory." After praying that they might acknowledge this mystery, he points them to the Person of Christ, in whom was hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and exhorts them as they had received Christ Jesus the Lord, so to walk in Him. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead in a body. He then brings out their full position as complete in Him, to guard them from Jewish ordinances on the one hand, and Gentile philosophy on the other. They are seen in this perfect position on earth, and waiting for their life in heaven to appear (see chapter 2, 3:1-4).

From chapter 3, verse 5 to the end, the truth is applied to their walk and practice, ending up with various salutations from various servants of the Lord. The epistle was to be read in the assembly of the Laodiceans, thus bringing out their danger likewise of not holding the Head, being satisfied with knowledge without Christ.

But now as to closer details. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus joins with him in addressing the saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus which were at Colosse, giving the usual salutation to the assemblies of grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(v.3) They give thanks to God and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, always praying for them, (v.4) since they heard of their faith in Christ Jesus, and their love to all the saints, (v.5) for the hope that was laid up for them in heaven. The word of the truth of the gospel was the means of their hearing it, (v.6) and this gospel had come unto them, causing fruit to abound since the first day they heard it, and knew the grace of God in truth. This hope mentioned by Paul in these opening verses gives the character to the epistle which that to the Ephesians does not get.

The Ephesians epistle looks at the saints as already seated in Christ in heavenly places in Christ. If they are in such a position they are above hope, they are already there in Christ. He is only waiting until the time when all things are put under His feet; and we are waiting in this aspect for the same thing (see Eph. 1:10, 18).

Here the saints have a perfect earthly standing but looking up to heaven where Christ their life is looking forward to the time when He should personally appear (see Col. 3:1-3). Thus it was a hope laid up in heaven, for Christ was there and He is our hope (1 Tim. 1:1). Whilst in Ephesians it is the body of Christ who is in heaven; here it is Christ in you the hope of glory. Thus all earthly hopes (whether as to a glorious kingdom on earth being set up, as a Jew might dream of, or of the conversion of the world to Christ, with all its learning and philosophy) are entirely cut away. Christ is rejected of earth and accepted of heaven. The only hope for them was a heavenly hope. (vv. 4, 5) Faith, hope, and love are all brought forward in beautiful proximity, and love to all saints regulated (in verse 8) by the character of the Spirit of God. It is love in the Spirit. (v. 9) Love begets love, and causes the apostle to pray for them that they might be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Philosophy and human wisdom were doing their utmost to hurt them. They needed the wisdom of God as opposed to this. (v. 10) Knowing God's will they would walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; (v. 11) for this they needed strength, according to the power of His glory (for they were in a world of enmity) and patience, and longsuffering and joyfulness would be the result. I cannot walk worthy of the Lord unless I first know His will. The result of this walk is both fruitfulness in good works, and increasing in the knowledge of God; for this I need daily strength by the way, and in doing so I learn patience and longsuffering; rejoicing in tribulation, too (v. 12) and thanking the Father all the way (for what precedes is the walk), that He hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (v. 13) that he hath delivered me from the power of darkness and hath translated me into the kingdom of the Son of His love, (v. 14) in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Before ever the Christian begins to walk he is put into this perfect place which is unalterable. (v. 12) He is a new creation in Christ; Christ is his meetness; (v. 13) Satan no longer reigns over him, for he is taken out of his old Adam condition and standing, as relating to the world, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of Gods love; (v.14) besides this he has redemption, the forgiveness of sins; Christ outside him, Christ inside him, and sin condemned.* What a portion!

{*Compare Col. 1:12-14 with Eph. 1:4-7. There is a great similarity between these two passages, though the former comes short of the fullness and distinctness of the latter. We are there set in a holy nature in the presence of God in light. We are adopted as children and graced in the Beloved. We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. A.P.C.}

For their walk, prayer is needed; for their standing and position he urges them to praise (see verses 9, 12). But all is worthless for both without the Person in whom they have everything. (v. 15) He is the image of the invisible God. No one hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. Still God's Being is true, though no one hath seen Him, or can see Him, for Christ is the express image of His Person (Heb. 1:3). But this as shown forth in Man, He is the Firstborn of every creature, not in time, indeed, but in dignity, (v. 16) for by Him were all things created. In time He was born in the virgin's womb as a creature, holy and without spot; but He existed as Son before, for He created all things whether in heaven or earth; whether, thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers all things were created by Him as well as for Him; for as Man He will be the Centre of the new creation.

 (v. 17) He is before all things on earth, He is before all created angels in heaven, and He upholds all things by the word of His power. (v. 18) But besides this, He is the Head of the body, the Church, and this is connected with resurrection. God's elect, who were born again and justified, lived in all ages, and Christ will bring them into blessing by His power. But as to a body, a bride, the last Adam stood alone, in the midst of a ruined creation, till the cross. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). The Lord was this Corn of Wheat. Instead of gazing on a beautiful creation lately formed by the hands of the Creator, like the first Adam, He gazed upon a wilderness, the fruit of man's sin. He was surrounded by wild beasts, led on by Satan to crucify Him. But after having been fully tested and tried, and found perfect He slept, and from His body, through His death, was formed in resurrection a second Eve who was to be for His praise and glory throughout the ages of eternity (compare Gen. 2:7-25 with Eph. 5:25-32).

He is the beginning, the First-born from among the dead; the church is united to Him as come out from the dead and sat down in heaven, so that in all things He has the pre-eminence. Thus He is the Divine Son, the First-born of every creature, born in time indeed, but in dignity, having the priority as Creator; He is before all things and He is the Head of the body. (v. 19) All fullness dwells in Him. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

So much as to His Person, now as to His work. (v. 20) He has made peace for enemies by the blood of His cross; He was the divine Peace-Offering, perfect, so that God could accept Him as a sweet savour (see Lev. 3), and the fruit is that all things, whether in heaven or earth, not only the new creation in the Church, but all Old Testament saints that have died, as well as those who shall be saved after the Church is gone, with all the millennial saints, as well as all other things.* (v. 21) But not only will all creation be reconciled to God by Him who is the Firstborn of every creature on the ground of His work, but also you Colossians the representatives of the Church, once alienated and enemies in mind by wicked works, already path He reconciled. But what is the only way for an enemy to be reconciled? (v. 22) He can only be presented through death, the divine peace offering having died. Thus enmity by wicked works is at an end and we enter into peace and acceptance, in Him who is a sweet savour, and finally shall be presented holy, unblamable, and unreprovable in His sight, (v. 23) if we continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (It is believers that enter into God's rest - Heb. 4:3, we are made partakers of Christ if we hold on the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end (Heb. 3:14). Our position in the heavenlies as united to Christ by the Holy Ghost is not entered into here. We know from other passages that the believer as united to Christ, is safe for ever.) (v. 23) The gospel on the ground of the Son's Person, the Firstborn of every creature, and on the ground of all His reconciliation of all things, goes out to every creature, and Paul was the minister of it. (v. 23) The effect of receiving this gospel was to make them a new creation, and to introduce them as baptized by the Holy Ghost into the body of Christ. (v. 25) Paul is also a minister of the Church, and as such suffers for the saints, and fills up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ in His flesh for His body's sake, which is the assembly. This ministry was a dispensation of God for the completion of the Word of God. (v. 26) The Church was a mystery hid from the ages and generations, and only now made manifest to the saints (compare Eph. 3:4-9). God would make known to them what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which was Christ in them the hope of glory. This was the mystery of Christ, a body, a new creation formed out of Jew and Gentile on earth, outside the flesh entirely, for the cross had put an end to it. Being on earth there was the hope of glory in front. (v. 27) This Christ Paul preached, warning and teaching every man in all wisdom, so that each might be presented perfect in Christ Jesus.

{*Things under the earth, namely the fallen angels, and the damned are here left out. When the subject is subjection to Jesus as Lord, they are added. (compare Phil. 2:10-11.)}

Thus in this chapter we have two aspects of the Person of Christ dwelt on. (v. 15) 1st, He is the First-born of every creature; 2ndly, (v.18) He is the Head of the body, the Church. We have two reconciliations, two aspects of His work (v. 20) 1st, the reconciliation of all things to Himself, that is, things in heaven and earth, and 2ndly, (vv. 21, 22) you Colossians representatives of the Assembly of God. We have lastly two aspects of ministry, 1st (v. 23) the ministry of the Gospel which goes out to very creature, and 2ndly, (v. 25) the ministry of the Assembly or Body, which only includes the saints. The aspect of the Assembly in Colossians is - Christ in you; the aspect of the Assembly in Ephesians is - in Christ. The apostle is satisfied with nothing less than the presenting every man perfect in Christ.

Colossians 2.

He labours for this, and with regard to those especially at Colosse and Laodicea, who had not seen his face, he has great conflict (v. 2) that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of God the Father of Christ. He was not at all satisfied with a sinner being simply saved and reconciled. Such might have full assurance of faith, like the Thessalonians (see ch. 1:5), having received the gospel, not in word only, but in power; or like the Hebrews having a purged conscience, and so having boldness to enter into the holiest (see chap. 10:22). Others like the Hebrews, too, might have the full assurance of hope. Knowing that Christ their Forerunner, was entered within the veil, and that one day He should come out again (see Heb. 6:19-20); but with regard to the Colossians, he would have them filled with the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God. Nothing less than this would keep them going forward regardless of the hindrances of human wisdom, and philosophy, and tradition. The cross was the leveller of all such ideas. A new man formed in resurrection of whom they were a part, was no formed. This was the body of Christ, the mystery, which had been hid from ages and generations, but now made manifest.

(v. 3) But what was the Body apart from the Head? It was true the life filled the Body of which they were members, and so it was Christ in them the hope of glory, but this life was the life of the Head. In Him were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Without the Head where was the Body? Human philosophy and wisdom had no place in Christ. He was all to them. (v. 4) There was great jealousy manifested by the apostle as to this, for men with enticing words were trying to put human wisdom between them and Christ. (v. 5) His spirit was present with them, and thus he could joy in all He saw of their order and faith. His practised eye could, however, discern something wanting. A Christian might say, Why do you want more? See what perfect order there is, and what faith. Ah, but they were in danger of letting go the Head; and so he exhorts them that (v. 6) as they had received Christ Jesus the Lord so to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him established in the faith, as they had been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. That Christ in whom were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge they had received. Thus they had all these treasures. Christ was in them. Walk flows from this. A baby is born, receives life, and then learns to walk, but he walks as it were in the life which he has received. (v.7) This Christ they had received was a Christ that died; they were to be rooted, as it were, deeply in Him, bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, and so they would be built up in Him. A root is planted underneath the ground and that was where Christ was laid, and He still has the marks in His body in heaven. He is the propitiation. A building is built up above ground. This is Christ in resurrection. (Compare Rom. 6:4, 1 Cor. 3:9). His life was to be manifested in their mortal bodies. So would they be established in that faith which they had been taught, and abound in thanksgiving. (v.8) The philosophy and vain deceit of the Gentiles, and the tradition of Judaism, which had now become the rudiments of the world, were all antagonistic to the development of this life. It was not a heavenly Christ, but life in the flesh. (v. 9) In Christ dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, (v.10) and they were complete in Him. The wisdom and power of the princes of this world only crucified the Lord of glory, so their wisdom ran parallel with a dead Christ. But the Colossians' Christ was a living heavenly Christ. (v. 9) God's fullness was in Him, dwelt in Him bodily. What did they want with human philosophy. He was the Head of all principalities and power, having a right and title to it as the First-born of every creature, and they are complete in Him who was the Head of the body. (v. 11) There was a better circumcision than Israel's circumcision in the circumcision of Christ. It was a circumcision made without hands, putting off the body of the flesh by it. What was this but the cross. (v. 12) Then they had been buried with Christ in baptism, the outward sign of identification with Christ under the dark waters of death, in whom also they had risen together through the faith of the operation of God who had raised Him from the dead. This was as to life in the flesh. Death and burial was applied to it. (v. 13) But as before God they had been dead in their sins, but now they not only had a position before God in Christ raised out of the dead, but God had quickened them out of death together with Him; God having forgiven all trespasses. (v. 14) All ordinances now that were against them, and contrary to them, Christ had taken out of the way, nailing them to His cross. (v. 15) And as to all principalities and powers, infernal or human, He had triumphed over them at that very same cross. For He had taken away all claims these powers had over man, and rose triumphant over them all.

(v. 16) Thus about questions of meats and drinks, holy days, the Sabbath and new moons, no one had a right to judge them. (v. 17) they were the shadows which ended when the substance came. When I am standing at the corner of a street waiting for a friend to come, and the sun is shining behind him as he comes to the corner, the first thing I see is his shadow. I have the body, the Person and I am occupied with Him. Oh, what a Person! Where is room for meats and drinks, and the Sabbath, etc.? Christ lay in the sepulchre on the Sabbath day. All life and power is in Him, not in the shadow, and our Lord's day shows forth this. (v. 18) Besides their danger from Jewish rites and ceremonies, there was a gnostic philosophy mixed up with it, which pretended to be humble and worshipped angels, intruding into those things which they had not seen, vainly puffed up in their fleshly mind, and not holding the Head. (v. 19) They were in danger from all these things, for if anything came between them and the Head, it was like a bough falling over a telegraph wire, it hindered communication between them and the Head. The Head was the Source of all nourishment to the body; the joints and bands were the channels and knitted together the whole body, so if communion was uninterrupted, it increased with the increase of God. Ala& if the Colossians felt the loss of communion in their day, what must it be now the devil has come and divided the people of God from one another; when the truth of the one body is denied , and so many children of God are standing up for division instead of unity? What hindrance there must be to communion when the people of God are joined to the world, and when they prefer a combination of world and Church to the acknowledgment of the membership of the body of Christ, however few may own this ground? The most holy and separate feel it most, and bear the sin on their own hearts before God. No one in however right a position he may stand, has any right to boast; the sin is his own, however individually he may be clear from it, for he is a member of the body. Will not my foot feel it if my hand is paralysed? Will not the true-hearted children in a house feel it if the house of their father is put in disorder by intruders? So it is with the Church of God. Still those who are pure in heart will take heed that nothing comes between them individually and the Head; they will walk also and hold communion with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart; why? (v. 20) because as to all those things other professors are delighting in, they see they are dead to them. They have died with Christ from the rudiments of the world. How then, as though living in the world, can they be subject to its customs and ordinances? (v. 21) Touch not, taste not, handle not (v. 22) after the commandments and doctrines of men. All that man commanded ended in the crucifixion of God's Son, according to the will of God. Now the Christian has taken sides in favour of His Christ who has died. He has died therefore to faith out of the world. (v. 23) There is indeed a show of will worship in these things. There was apparent humility and neglecting the body, not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. The cross of Christ thus ends all philosophy and wisdom of men as well as all ordinances and Judaising ritualism. All will worship is here forbidden as of the flesh. Christians have no right to worship God as they like. The Word of God is the sufficient rule as to this.

Colossians 3.

A risen Christ is all that remains, risen out of death and sat down on high, and they risen with Him. If that was their position, Paul besought them to seek those things which were above where Christ sat at the right hand of God: (v. 2) they were to set their affections on things above, where Christ sat at the right hand of God, not on the things on the earth, (v. 3) for they had died and their life was hid with Christ' in God, He was their life. (v. 4) He would soon appear, and when He should appear they would appear with Him in glory. How secure is the Christian! as to death and judgment, it is behind him; he has died with Christ. As to his life it is hid with Christ in God. No one therefore can pluck them out of God's hands. As to the future, it is certain glory. When He shall appear they shall appear with Him in glory. In the first chapter their hope was laid up in heaven. Here it is their life. Thus, as to their standing, all was perfect, they were now waiting for the glory - they were not in the flesh at all. As to that they were dead with Christ. Christ was their life, outside flesh. (v. 5) Nevertheless the flesh was in them, so they were to put to death its members. Notice not the members of the body, they were to be yielded to God (see Rom. 6:13). Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and ye are not your own (1 Cor. 6:15, 19, 20). It is here the members of the flesh. What are they? Fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil lusts and covetousness, which is idolatry. Everything which man covets is an idol. I have died with Christ and risen with Him in order that I may put it to death. To put to death" is a very different thing than from to die". The one is done once and for ever, the former is a daily thing. The children of Israel did not cross the Red Sea or the Jordan twice. Nevertheless they had to learn themselves afterwards and had great struggles and conflicts. These members of the flesh in activity cause the wrath of God to come on the children of unbelief. These Colossians had also formerly lived in them. But now are not only the outward gross sins to be put off, but also anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy speaking, and lying. All these things belong to the old man which they had put off. Now they had put on the new man which was daily renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that had created him. In this new creation there is neither Greek nor Jew, uncircumcision or circumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ all, and in all. They had put off the old man, and they were daily called to put off his deeds; they had put on the new man, once and for all, and now they are called to put on his fruits, there are bowels of mercy, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance towards one another, if any had a quarrel against any, as - Christ forgave them. But love was the chief thing. It was the bond of perfection. Gifts might abound (see 1 Cor. 12), but without love they were worth nothing (ch. 13). The peace of Christ, too, should rule in their hearts; whereunto they were called in one body; outside in the world was enmity and hatred - inside was peace and love. The word of Christ too, shall dwell in them and whatever they did in word and deed, they were to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. What precious thoughts of God! The forgiveness of Christ is our model. The peace of Christ is to rule our hearts. The word of Christ is to dwell in us rightly. Singing and joy is the result. The three first fruits of the Spirit come out here - love, joy, and peace; but it is the love of Christ, the joy of Christ, and the peace of Christ.

All the relationships of life remain, and the Lord's name introduced to sanction them all.* If it were wives, they were to submit themselves to their own husbands, if it were husbands, they were to love their wives; if it were children, they were to obey their parents - it was well pleasing to the Lord. If it were fathers, they were not to provoke their children; if it were servants, they were to obey, not looking to men for their approbation, but as fearing God. All these duties towards one another were seen and noticed by the Lord, and He would give the reward. There is no respect of persons with the Lord.

{*Jesus is connected with salvation; Christ with union in the body. Lord is responsibility.}

Colossians 4.

Lords were to give their servants what was just and equal for they had a Lord in heaven. They were to walk in wisdom redeeming the time towards those without in the world. Their speech always with grace, seasoned with salt, so as to know how to answer every man. Different servants of the Lord are mentioned at the end. There are commendations to each, except Demas, who afterwards forsook Paul. Tychicus was a beloved brother and faithful fellow servant; Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother; Aristarchus, his fellow-prisoner; Marcus was to be received (Act 12:35; 13:13; 15:37-39). Justus also was mentioned. All had been a comfort to Paul. Epaphras was a valued servant who had laboured much for them in prayer that they might stand perfect and complete in the will of God. Archippus was to take heed to the ministry he had received from the Lord and fulfil it. etc.