Colossians Anne O’BrieN
A phrase-by-phrase Bible Study in the book of Colossians. We encourage you to pray before you begin reading that the Lord would open your heart and mind to be receptive and responsive to God’s message contained within this study. There may be times when you find it difficult to reconcile God’s truth to your own opinion or worldview, God’s truth is eternal, it does not change, our understanding of the truth does change as we allow God to work in our hearts and minds. 1
The Epistle to the Colossians – phrase by phrase
This letter was written by Paul – probably when he was in prison in Rome between 60-64 AD – specifically to teach doctrine, to glorify Christ and to encourage the church. It appears that the church was founded by Epaphras, one of Paul’s converts. The letter is full of theological truth, because it would seem that wrong teaching was creeping into the church. Paul constantly emphasises the centrality and pre-eminence of Jesus.
Chapter 1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (v1)
Both Paul and Peter call themselves apostles at the beginning of their letters. What is an apostle? The word “apostle” literally means one who is sent out, but in the Biblical sense it is greater than this as can be seen in the following verses: Hebrews 3v1; 2 Corinthians 12v12; Acts 2v43; Acts 4v2; Acts 5v12; Luke 6v13 Paul, therefore fulfilled all the requirements for apostleship: o The apostles were like Jesus – they had a servant heart and a love for people o They performed signs, wonders and miracles under the authority of Jesus o They were chosen by Jesus (not self-appointed) o They taught the people – they were evangelists, preachers and teachers o They founded churches o It was a lifetime appointment, by the will of God o Apostles are people who lead. Disciples are people who follow
“By the will of God” (v1)
Although Paul had been especially chosen, he isn’t boasting. He is a servant of Christ obedient to his will. He always refers to himself as “sent by/or of Jesus Christ”. Both his mission and his words are from Christ, spoken to him when he encountered Jesus in Damascas. Q. How important is it for us to know that we are in God’s will, and that we are doing what he has called us to do?
“And Timothy our brother” (v1)
So, the letter is from Paul and Timothy. Paul was under house arrest in Rome, where his life ended. He was in his sixties; he was frail from beatings etc; he had his thorn in the flesh (possibly bad eyesight) and consequently had to rely on others. We know that many Christian brothers and sisters visited him whilst he was there. But Paul had a special relationship with Timothy – he often referred to him as like a son. But the word used here for brother is the Greek word adelphos (v1), and adelphoi (v2). It means brothers and sisters – although most versions of the Bible translate it as brothers or brethren, but it definitely includes females too!
“To God’s holy people in Colossae” (v2)
So Paul is writing from prison in Rome to the church in Colossae, which is situated in what is now south-west Turkey. And he refers to them as God’s holy people. What does holy mean in this sense? Other versions use the phrase “to the saints”. Strong’s concordance suggests the meaning is “blameless ones” – in other words all who have been forgiven through the redeeming work of Christ. Saints aren’t perfect people, but they are blameless. Praise God! Holy means separated from the world. Sanctified (i.e.saints) means dedicated to God
“The faithful brothers and sisters in Christ” (v2)
Saints are expected to be faithful! Christians who keep on keeping on, no matter what. Family, illness, financial worries, persecution and busy lives are all some of the things which can weaken our faith, but the secret is to remain “in Christ”. 2
“Grace and peace to you” (v2)
The Hebrew greeting is Shalom – peace. The Christian greeting is grace and peace – a constant reminder that we are only found in Christ because of his grace. The Greek word for grace is charis which means: God’s influence on our heart; a gift which causes us to be favoured, joyful and thankful. (Same base word as charisma, meaning a spiritual endowment.) Our word gratitude comes from the word grace. This is why we say “grace” before a meal. Grace is when God forgives us time after time after time. The Greek word for peace is Eirene, which means: unity, peace quietness and rest; a people who are peaceable and harmonize; people who are peacemakers. The understanding is that we can all exhibit these qualities as they are given to us by God. Therefore the salutation “grace and peace” means: joy and thanks in knowing God’s favour, and living with each other in harmony.
“From God our Father” (v2)
God is our Father, but only when we know him through Jesus Christ. Did you know the Jews could not call God Father (God is not once called Father in the Old Testament), but we can when we are born again into the family of God. That is why it is so important, not just to believe in Jesus, but to be born again. Paul says that when we know Jesus we can call God “Abba” (Greek for Father) – See Galatians 4v6&7 No other religion offers this relationship with God. Q. Do we fully realise what a privilege this is?
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v3)
Paul begins to say he is thankful, but brings in some teaching about God the Father. God is a God of order and authority – and perhaps the world would be a better place if we were all like that! We know that God is three persons in one – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – The Trinity. They are all equal, and yet the Son and the Spirit defer to the Father. For there to be order there needs to be hierarchy and this is often mistaken for inequality. But both can be in operation without conflict. God has ordained Kings/Queens, Governors and Rulers (Romans 13v1) just as he has ordained a family unit where (ideally) the Father loves and leads his family in the same way that Christ is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5v21-24). So, when we pray or give thanks, we do it to God the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has made us brothers and sisters by adoption (Ephesians 1v5). That is, he has made it possible for us to call God Father.
“We always thank God … When we pray for you” (3)
Paul began prayer with thanks. How often do we launch into our shopping list of prayer requests without pausing to rest in God’s presence and give him thanks, and without looking for the positives in the situations we are praying for? If we follow Paul’s example we will get things in perspective. So that even on the darkest days we may feel God’s presence causing us to praise Him. Q. How do you feel if you give someone a gift and they don’t acknowledge it or thank you for it? Q. How do you feel when people take you for granted and never say thank you? Our human instinct is to say “O, well I won’t bother next time” because we feel wounded in our Spirit. Praise God he doesn’t have that attitude with us! But surely we must wound God when we don’t show our appreciation and thanks.
“Always … when we pray for you” (v3)
Here is a challenge. Paul had never met the people in the Colossian church – and yet he and Timothy prayed for them regularly. The leaders in our church pray for us regularly, too. And there is an onus on us to pray for each other regularly too. Our prayer shouldn’t just be for ourselves and our friends and family, but for those in our fellowship, those in Christian work in our country and those who are serving God abroad too. 3
Challenge: Commit to pray for certain people on certain days of the week and see what a difference it makes! “Because we have heard of your faith in Jesus Christ”… (v4)
This is interesting because the reason Paul is writing to the Colossians is to correct their theology. But, he doesn’t use criticism; he praises them for their faith. He affirmed what was good. By doing this he also showed that faith in Jesus is the most important thing – the basic requirement for salvation. We can be the perfect example of a churchgoer, but if we don’t have faith in Christ we are lost.
“… and of the love you have for all God’s people” (v4)
Jesus made it clear that the fundamental condition for all believers is that they love The Lord and they love one another. (Mark 12v29-31) Even piety and deep devotion to God are not genuine unless they result in real love for one another. Strong’s concordance tells us that the Greek word for love here is agape – not just brother or sisterly love, but Godly love; loving with the love that God has given us. And at times, agape love is sacrificial love towards others (the love found in Jesus). It is love which gives more than it can afford, love which goes the extra mile, love which keep loving even when there is little or no return. Another challenge!! Paul goes on to explain why we can have this kind of faith and love.
“… the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in Heaven. (V5)
“The hope that we have in Heaven” is our final reward and resting place. What would be the point if we didn’t have that? The Greek word for hope is elpius which means anticipation with pleasure and confidence. The Christian hope is not a vague possibility, but a certainty that we can base our lives on with confidence. Our faith and love should be based on our sure hope in heaven, promised by Jesus (John 14) who has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. Ours is a hope which transcends the grave, but it is also a factor should underpin our way of life. Jesus himself was the greatest example of this. See Hebrews 12v2.
“ … about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you” (v5) The Greek word for gospel is euaggelion which means a good and true message. The good news of Jesus Christ came to the people in Colossae. Only the gospel of Jesus can lead to faith which then resulted in love. Only the gospel can change lives. The gospel of Jesus changed the lives of the Colossians, and of Paul and Timothy; and it changed my life, when I responded to a call to repent and follow Jesus when I was 7 Q. When and how did the gospel impact your life? (If you are reading this and have never responded to the call of Jesus why not do it now? He is waiting and wanting to include you in the family of God so that you can have that Father/child relationship with God, and know that you are loved unconditionally by him. We can only come to God through Jesus because only Jesus can make us good enough to be accepted in his presence. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, gave his life as a sacrifice for us. He took upon himself all our wrong deeds and thoughts (we call it sin) to the Cross and payed the penalty on our behalf, thus making us right with God. See John 3v16. Salvation is a free gift from God. But we have to receive it with a humble, repentant heart. You could say a prayer, something like the following: Dear God, I am sorry for all my sin. I repent of the wrong things I have done. I thank you that Jesus paid the price for the penalty of my sins by his death on the Cross of Calvary. Please come into my life today and fill me with faith, love, joy and hope as I learn to trust in you. Amen. If you have prayed this prayer you will find it helpful to share what you have done with another Christian who would be able to support you and pray with you. And it will also consolidate what you have done if you share it with someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus (if it is safe to do so). 4
“In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit …” (v.6)
The gospel is like a self-perpetuating seed. It can be planted anywhere in the world in anyone’s heart (For God so loved the whole world John 3v16) where, given the right conditions, it will not only grow but bear fruit which will contain more seeds. One seed grows into a plant which bears seeds, which fall to the ground and grows and bears more seeds etc. etc. And we are the people who God has called to sow the seeds. There is great life and power in a seed. Q. Consider an acorn. How does that demonstrate life and power?
“… and growing throughout the whole world” (v.6)
God’s timing in sending Jesus was absolutely perfect. If Jesus had come a hundred years earlier, before the Romans, there would have been little opportunity to take the good news of the Gospel into the whole world. But under Roman rule, roads had been constructed right across Europe (including Britain), to Asia (at least as far as India) and to the content of Africa. This meant that missionaries could easily travel and there was an excellent mail service, too. And the Gospel was indeed growing throughout the whole known world.
“… just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it …” (v.6)
And this verse still applies today – the Gospel is still going into the whole world. The exciting thing is that the new technological age has had as great an impact as the Roman roads did in Paul’s time (or more so). The gospel can now literally reach anyone around the world who is connected to the Internet. Q. How can we be like the early disciples in this technological age?
“… and truly understood God’s grace.” (v.6)
We looked earlier at the meaning of grace, but do we truly understand it? Under the Law, God finds us guilty of sin (because no-one is perfect). Under the Law we would be required to make amends (atonement) for our sin. Under the Jewish laws it would be by way of a blood sacrifice. God would see the sacrifice and he would forgive. That is justice, but not grace. But God stepped in and sent his own perfect Son to be the sacrifice for our sins (surely the most unjust act in history!) so that we can walk free. That is not justice, that is mercy. So what is the difference between mercy and grace? Mercy – God does not give me the punishment that I deserve. Grace – God gives me blessing and forgiveness I do not deserve. (And he expects us to show grace to one another.)
“You learned it from Epaphras, our dear faithful servant …” (v.7)
Here we can infer that Epaphras was the person who brought the Gospel to Colossae and founded the church. Epaphras had most likely heard the Gospel when Paul preached at Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Although Epaphras is only mentioned 3 times in the Bible, we can see that he founded both the church in Colossae, and very likely, the church that met in the house of Philemon. We also know that he visited Paul when he was in prison in Rome. We can see why Paul called him a fellow servant. The Greek word used here is related to the word for disciple. Whilst all servants are not disciples, the opposite should be true. All disciples should be servants.
“… who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” (v.7-8)
At a time when false teachers were present in the church, Epaphras was a disciple they could trust to teach them the truth. He had a great love for the church, through the Spirit. The fact that there was false teaching creeping into the church was probably the reason for Epaphras’ visit to Paul. He was willing to travel a thousand miles by land and sea to seek good advice. And so this appears to be what prompted Paul to write this letter to the Colossian church.
Q. How can we be more like Epaphras? Do we realise that we have a responsibility for the Spiritual well being of those we care for?
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you” (v9) We have already discussed (v3) the importance of following Paul’s example to pray regularly for each other and for all Christians – especially those we don’t know who need upholding in prayer. Being a part of the Prayer Chain is one way of doing this. But, how often do we pray the next phrase:
“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will” (v9)
We tend to pray for “things”, for healing, provision, protection etc. both for ourselves and for others. Is it possible that we pray for things that aren’t particularly God’s will in a given situation? Perhaps we just want God to take the problems away, rather than seeking what we can learn from them, or how God could use us in them. God wants us to know his will and to understand it. Then we can know peace in any situation, we can see God’s timing and we can see his hand at work. This is a prayer we probably need to pray for ourselves as much as for others. Paul goes on to tell us how.
“… through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” (v9)
The understanding of God’s will comes from being filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled by the Spirit. The wisdom and understanding of God’s will is given to us by the Holy Spirit. It has nothing to do with how clever we are or how much we have read, although a knowledge of the Bible will guide us in the right direction. Even a child can have spiritual understanding and a desire to be in God’s will.
“… so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way” (v10)
Spiritual intelligence pleases God, especially when it goes hand in hand with obedience. True wisdom affects our daily Christian walk. As we grow in Spiritual understanding we should also grow in grace. And it’s important that we get the sequence correct: Wisdom; Walk; Work (W W Wiersbe) What we do (work) should stem from our Christian walk with God; which should stem from our right Spiritual relationship with him (wisdom). If we concentrate on our relationship with God, spending time in praise and prayer, then the rest should follow naturally.
“… bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (v10)
How can we bear Godly fruit? From our natural selves we can only generate natural fruit. But when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, spiritual fruit will grow in us: Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5v22,23) Which of us can say we have all of those in abundance in our lives? That is why need to pray continually for the Holy Spirit’s infilling for ourselves and our fellow Christians. Only by abiding in Christ can we achieve this (John 15 – The Vine).
“… being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (v11)
The result of being close to God is that he will help us to have patience in the testing times. Patience is endurance in action; the kind of quality that helps a soldier on the battlefield or a runner in the race. It’s the ability to keep on keeping on, whatever life throws at you. Paul writes in Romans 5v3: Suffering produces patience, which produces character. When we understand verse 9 of Colossians 1, we also understand verse 11.
“… and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” (v12)
We are to exercise patience and be joyful about it! Our joy is different from happiness (think happenness) which depends on what is currently happening. But joy, as a gift of the Spirit, is not rooted in our surroundings, but in our relationship with God. Our joy should therefore be independent of both 6
circumstances and people. If we give in to the problems around us, which we all do at times, it is easy to lose our joy. But note – our joy also comes from the fact that we know that we qualify for a place in heaven. (A qualification worth much more than A levels or a Degree!) No wonder Paul talks about joyful thanks!
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption – the forgiveness of sins” (v13,14) God has · Rescued us from a sinful world that doesn’t know God · Bought us with a ransom (the blood of Jesus) to fulfil the OT law and reconcile us to himself · Forgiven us and filled us with his Spirit to enable us to live a life that will please him · Given us an inheritance, a new address, no longer of the world but in his kingdom Paul concludes this first part of the argument he started in verse 3 where he said “we always thank God”. It’s like he’s saying, “Of course we always thank God – look at what he has done for us!” Paul now turns his attention from the Holy Spirit and onto Jesus as he comes to the crux of his message – the supremacy of Jesus. False teachers were saying that Jesus was a prophet, a good man. They were preaching that Jesus was not divine or equal with God. Sadly, many religions and sects still promote that teaching today. Paul wrote these things to counteract that thinking.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God …” (v15)
In other words – Jesus is exactly the same as God, like a mirror image. He is a bodily representation to us of what God is like. Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (Read John 14v9-11). He bore the family likeness and traits (rather like an identical twin to its sibling). Jesus came not just to set us a good example, but to show us what God is like (John 1v18) and to complete his plan for salvation. Jesus is God, he is divine and he is an equal part of the triune Godhead (which we call the Holy Trinity). Q. So, in terms of what you know about Jesus, how would you describe God the Father?
“… the firstborn over all creation”. (v15)
Jesus was the firstborn in status (not the first to be born) – which means he was God’s Son and heir. Jesus was not created as he is part of the eternal Godhead and existed before all things. And he is over all creation. We often sing this, but we look around us and see that mankind is spoiling creation with pollution. But Jesus IS LORD over all creation. He literally has “got the whole wide world in his hands”. Q. How should Christians view the beauty of creation on the one hand, and the destructive forces of nature on the other?
“For in him all things were created …” (v16)
Jesus was no mere prophet or good example, he (as the Son) was no less than God – he was the creator of the whole universe. WOW! The God of creation in Genesis chapter 1 is referred to in the plural (Genesis 1v26 – “let us make”). It is apparent from the text that there is One who says, “let there be”, One who creates, and One who breathes life into creation; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because Jesus created all things he is master of all things.
“… things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” (v16)
Paul couldn’t make it any clearer if he tried! Jesus created all things and is above all things; things spiritual and things worldly. Jesus even has power and control over Satan. Satan can only do what God allows him to do (See Job) and he is already a defeated foe because of the resurrection. All of creation suffers because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, but Jesus came to release us from the bondage of sin. He is supreme. 7
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (v17)
How do all things hold together? I suppose the answer is by the laws of physics and chemistry. These laws were discovered by various scientists, but it was Jesus who created gravity and the movements of the planets around the sun and the orbits of the moons around the planets. Jesus created magnetism and atoms and genetic codes etc. etc. He created them to be constant and he sustains them. Paul’s point is: if this isn’t the Jesus that we believe in then we are in effect dethroning him who is Lord of all. And by doing so we give Satan more credit than he deserves!
“And he is the head of the Body, the church …” (v18)
The Body of Christ is made up of all believers. We become part of his body when we are born again by the Spirit of God. It is a spiritual body, part of a spiritual kingdom – the Kingdom of Heaven. The word “head” is used in the sense of being the one in control. Jesus is both the face of the church and the brains behind the church. He stands for us and he is in control. As parts of his body we are here to obey him and serve him. No Pope or Bishop or Apostle; or founder of a Sect (such as Joseph Rutherford/Jehovah’s Witnesses or Joseph Smith/Mormons); or creator of any new religion (such as Muhammad/Islam or Buddha) is the head of the church – only Christ. Jesus Christ is supreme over all, and over his church.
“… he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead” (v18)
Jesus is the beginning, the founder of the only true church. He created his church at Calvary when he conquered death. He was the first to be resurrected and without his resurrection there could be no resurrection for others. No other religious leader can make that claim which is why Paul goes on to write:
“… so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (v18). “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him..” (v19)
Paul has come full circle in this part of his argument. All of the fullness of God is in Christ – he is exactly like God. He is the image of God. Hebrews 1v3 says: Jesus is the express image of God. He is an expression of God’s image. What we see in Jesus we see in God. All God’s fullness – the sum total of all God’s attributes are in Jesus.
“… and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the Cross.” (v20)
All other religions, including New Age mysticism (which isn’t actually new at all, because it was the problem being faced by the Colossian church!) can suggest ways that people can get closer to the God of the universe. But none of them offer complete reconciliation. Reconciliation is more than just calling a truce. It involves forgiveness and a new way forward. Reconciliation, by definition, requires mutual action by both parties. Jesus: who had done no wrong, began the process of reconciliation by taking our sins upon himself, he (as the perfect Lamb of God) paid the price for our sins by shedding his blood in atonement. The human race: who are born into a sinful world can be reconciled to God because of Jesus’ shed blood – but only by way of accepting that they are sinners, and repenting, and asking for forgiveness, which is then freely given. The Fall of Adam and Eve brought separation from God; but the sacrificial act of Christ brought us reconciliation and restores us to right relationship with him.
“Once you were alienated from God …” (v.21)
The opposite of reconciliation is alienation – that is, not being in a relationship with God; a state that God seeks to change. Worshipping a general “god of the universe” is not sufficient to put us right with God. In fact, it can lead us away from God. Rejecting God and his Son Jesus is a sin, because it goes on to say: 8
“… you were enemies in your minds because of your sinful behaviour” (v21)
Even if we have never done a thing wrong, we are still sinners if we are opposing God. And Paul says: when our minds are not in the right place our actions are wrong too. This is something we find difficult to grasp, until the Holy Spirit enlightens us and convicts us of our sinful position before God. And it’s then that we have the opportunity to choose to turn our back on sin and turn to God. That is what we call repentance. And then the miracle happens …
“He (God) has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight.” (v.22) We looked at reconciliation earlier, but here we see the purpose. Jesus died so that he can present us as holy in God’s sight … whatever sins we may have committed (deady, carnal sins; sins of attitude; rebellion against God etc.). We all sin to different degrees, but we all share the same title and position before God of “sinner”. And yet, when we believe and trust in the sacrificial blood of Jesus, God sees us as holy – perfect!
“… without blemish and free from accusation” (v22)
God sees us as spotless – no blemishes or stains on our character – amazing! The KJV translation says we are without blame. We are no longer held to be guilty, there is nothing for us to be accused of – all our sins are forgiven and paid for. If we don’t accept this we are denying the work that Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Q. Why then do we have trouble letting go of past guilt? Why do we still dredge up the past? Are we right or wrong to do this? (Think about Satan the Accuser)
“ – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” (v23)
Although this phrase begins with “if” it is not meant to imply that the previous statement is conditional. It should perhaps read, “as you continue in the faith”. If we think our forgiveness is dependent on us in any way we are wrong. But it is as we live in the truth and the sure hope (see commentary on verse 5) of the gospel that we have the assurance of these things. Q. We may not be guilty before God, but we often feel guilt. Is this a good or bad thing? Do guilt and shame have a constructive purpose?
“This is the gospel that has been heard and proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I Paul have become a servant.” (v23)
The gospel is for all, it is not selective, it is not exclusive, it is inclusive of all men and women everywhere throughout all time. Paul saw himself as a servant whose job it was to proclaim the gospel to all. All our ministers and department leaders are servants of the gospel of Christ. They are not called to leadership but to servanthood. They are not called to status but to humility. They are not called to an easy life, and may even have to walk the path of suffering. Because Paul goes on to say:
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you …” (v24) We know that Paul had known much suffering during his service for God. Read 2 Corinthians 11v23b-28. And now he is still suffering because he is in prison in Rome. And yet he says, “I rejoice in it!” Why? It would seem that this is a response to his enemies – the false teachers in the Colossian church - who ridiculed Paul (who believed in miracles) for being in prison. “Who would want to follow a God who allows suffering?” But Paul was not ashamed, he saw it as sharing in the sufferings of Jesus.
“… and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions ..” (v24)
Paul saw suffering as identifying with the sufferings of Christ. When we suffer it helps us to enter into the suffering that Jesus knew, it helps us to appreciate what he went through on our behalf. Many people (persecuted Christians around the world) who suffer for the gospel regard it as a privilege to be counted worthy of suffering. Jesus praised such people in the Beatitudes (see Matthew 5v10-12) 9
But suffering should be seen as having a purpose and a goal. It should not be seen as punishment. Paul explains the reason for his suffering-
“… for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (v24)
The Israelites were God’s house. They were never his body. Paul’s mission was specifically to preach the gospel to both the gentiles and the Jews, so that together they would form the church, the body of Christ. God sought to unite Jews and gentiles through the preaching of the gospel and the believers at Colossae were a mixture of Jews and gentiles. Paul is glad to have suffered so that he could bring this about. Q. What do you make of the old saying: There’s no gain without pain?
“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present the word of God in its fullness –“ (v25)
Paul – the servant of the church – saw this as his responsibility. He had to be faithful to his calling. Until the coming of Jesus the word of God had only been given in part (The Old Testament). Jesus is the ultimate Word (John 1v1) and the centre of all that is in the Bible. The Scriptures are incomplete without the New Testament account of all that Jesus said and did and imparted to the world through his disciples and apostles. Paul and Luke (who wrote about Jesus and Paul) wrote over half of the New Testament (in volume) between them. All of the New Testament shows us the fulfilment of all the prophecies in the Old Testament and together they show us God’s plan for ALL mankind. Paul saw this as his calling and responsibility to explain these things which he calls a mystery.
“ – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.” (v.26)
The mystery of the gospel was hidden in the Old Testament in the representation of the Tabernacle and in many prophecies and in types depicting Jesus (e.g Joseph and David). The old phrase, “in the Old concealed, but in the New revealed” is quite apt. When we read the New Testament the Old Testament makes sense. The whole Bible is not about the Israelites. They actually had the same function as Paul. They were there to point us to Jesus. The irony is that the gentiles have accepted the gospel of salvation whilst the Jews are reluctant to do so.
“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory”. (v27)
The riches, the reward of understanding this mystery, is that we can know Christ living in us giving us hope; the hope of forgiveness and salvation; the hope of eternal life with him; the hope of Glory – knowing God’s presence with us all the time, and experiencing relationship with him. To bring us this news is what made suffering worthwhile for Paul.
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom …” (v. 28)
With all the false teaching in the church Paul makes it clear that Jesus is the one we are to follow and to proclaim to others. If a minister of the Word of God uses the word “I” too much there could be a problem. Jesus should always be the focus and centre. It is important that teachers should admonish or warn their flock if there is wrong teaching – the preacher of the Word has a responsibility to teach with all wisdom, as led by the Holy Spirit. Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a minister of the Word speaking either with notes or without notes?
“.. so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” (v28)
The preacher/speaker has to get it right because it is his or her responsibility before Christ to help Christians to grow in the faith. It’s not a job that should be taken lightly. Paul felt the burden of this as do all conscientious ministers, because he goes on to say: 10
“To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” (v.29) Paul couldn’t have used stronger language. “Strenuously contend” – in other words he fought with all his being to bring others to Christ and to teach them. He just “kept on keeping on”. Paul was certainly someone who practised what he preached. So much so that he goes on to elaborate on this.
Chapter 2 “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (v.1)
Paul was finding life a struggle and it was for Christians whom he had never met but still loved in Christ. (Laodicea was just north of Colossae. This letter would have been read by all the churches in the area.) Remember, Paul was in prison and probably his struggle was one of prayer. He couldn’t talk to those early Christians, but he could write to them and pray for them. Paul’s ministry had changed – perhaps something he found difficult to accept. Having walked thousands of miles to share the gospel and establish many churches it must have been very hard to spend the last couple of years of his life in prison with all the associated restrictions. Q. In what ways can we serve Christ when we are no longer physically fit?
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart …” (v2)
Paul is here using the word encouraged in the sense of being courageous. On the Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the Battle of Hastings there is a scene where King Harold encourages the troops. And he is not drawing them aside to comfort them, rather he is with the men and holding his sword. He is in the fight with them. Paul’s goal in prayer was to come alongside the Christians to spur them on, to encourage them to continue in the faith.
“ … and united in love …” (v.2)
United … knit together … working for a common goal … serving one another as well as Christ. If we don’t have love in our heart we can suffer physically and mentally. So it is with the Body of Christ. Love for God and for each other should be an underpinning force.
“… so that they may have the full riches of understanding the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (v.2) In Christ alone is found true wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is the ability to see and understand the truth. Wisdom is the ability to apply the truth in different situations. Paul’s prayer is that we will be able to discern true teaching and then be able to tell others in an appropriate manner. It is only as we trust in Jesus and rely on the Holy Spirit that we can make these judgments. (Wisdom, knowledge and discernment are three of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Cor. Chapter 12) The Holy Spirit (and the gifts he bestows) is essential for our Christian walk. Q. Can you think of a time when you were able to discern when something was not of God?
“I tell you this so that no-one may deceive you by fine sounding arguments.” (v.4)
Sadly, there were people around who added to the gospel or twisted it, and who managed to sway some Christians with their rhetoric. And sadly, today there are still those people dressing up the same arguments and misguiding people so that they don’t hear the complete gospel of freedom. 11
So Paul’s message is just as apt for today. The Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Scientologists, the Spiritualists etc. etc. all have “fine sounding” arguments. But, they do away with the centrality of Christ and the necessity of believing in Christ for free salvation, for admission into God’s family and for eternal life. We have to be aware of this. Q. Have you ever been swayed by any of these groups? What changed your mind?
“For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in Spirit …” (v.5)
It is a wonderful thing that we can join with each other in Spirit, even when distance separates us. We can pray for folk on the other side of the world and know that God is with them just as he is with us. Paul was appreciative of the gift of prayer. People love their mobile phones! But God made it possible for us to connect with him and with others thousands of years ago!! Prayer is a wonderful gift and privilege. And prayer changes things.
“ … and I delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith is.” (V.5)
Paul set out to encourage the Colossians but it is he who is encouraged to hear that they are disciplined and steadfast in their faith. When we pray for people it is so encouraging to hear when our prayers have been answered, isn’t it? Someone feels better, someone feels stronger, someone is growing in the faith etc. All these things are answers to prayer and rewarding, not just for the person prayed for, but for us also. Q. Have you had an answer to prayer this week that you could share as an encouragement?
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him … (v6)”
The fact that we are “in Christ” is a wonderful theme in both Colossians and Ephesians. We are not just friends or family of Jesus, and although he is in us there is more. We are in him. We are to live our lives in him because we are no longer separate entities. We are enveloped in him, in his love and care, surrounded by his presence. We received Christ as Lord in faith, and so we continue to live our lives in this same faith.
“… rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (7)
Just like the seed is rooted in the ground we are rooted in Jesus, every part of our senses taking in nourishment from him. Surrounded by Jesus we are protected from the storms of life just like the deep root of a plant. The deeper the plant roots, the stronger the plant. Consider dandelions. They get trodden on, they get all kinds of weather conditions, they get eaten by animals, they get pulled up by gardeners – and yet, because they have a deep tap root hidden in the ground, they survive and regenerate and flourish. This is how Jesus wants us to be hidden in him. And the result should be a stronger faith which causes us to praise God all the more.
“See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy …” (v8) Philosophies and religions abounded amongst the Greeks. And the culture of the day was similar to ours where you were considered narrow minded if you didn’t accept and embrace other philosophical and theological ideas. Their ideas may have had different names, but the teaching was no different to many of the religions and sects which compete for attention today. Take a look at a review of beliefs and decide: What is missing – why is the belief incomplete? What has been added – any unscriptural additions? What has been made up – any man made elements? What is the teaching on the afterlife? What is the status of Jesus and therefore ours? Q. How do the other religions or sects compare to Christianity? 12
“…which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world – rather than on Christ.” (v8)
If you considered the other religions and belief systems you will see why Paul talked about traditions and other spiritual forces corrupting God’s truth. The Bible makes it more than clear that we are to be watchful for any watering down, or alteration, or addition to the gospel of Jesus Christ, as in the following references: Romans 16v17: I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 2 Peter 2:1: But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 : For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form …” (v9)
Paul is stressing this point again and again: Because Jesus came to the earth in human flesh it makes him no less divine. He is one hundred per cent Deity, i.e. God. He is above all and the centre of all and the Lord of all and, in Him, are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Paul is cautioning his readers to beware of anyone who would tell them otherwise. This letter is our most valuable tool in arguing our case for the deity of Christ.
“ … and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” (v.10)
Here’s the climax of the argument: IN CHRIST we can know fullness too. We needn’t feel empty or unloved or untaught or unblessed or cut off from God. The presence of Christ in us, in the person of the Holy Spirit, fills us to overflowing with God’s presence; teaches and guides us in all things; and brings us blessing no matter what our circumstances are. And Jesus is in charge – he is the head.
“In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands.” (v11) Christ and Christ alone is sufficient for our every need. Under the Law, in the Old Testament/Old Covenant, circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with the Israelite people. It was a physical operation with a spiritual significance. It was meant to represent or symbolise a spiritual circumcision of the heart. It was a sign of being a part of God’s promises and a sign of being dedicated to God. Mostly it was done on infants by a priest in the Temple or synagogue. In the Colossian church some Judaisers were insisting on Christians being circumcised unto salvation. But Paul is pointing out that IN CHRIST this was totally unnecessary because the terms of the New Covenant were all fulfilled by Jesus in his death and resurrection. Our personal dedication to God is our spiritual circumcision. Paul explains this by saying:
“Your whole self, ruled by the flesh, was put off when you were circumcised in Christ …” (v.11)
“ … having been buried with him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (v.12) Paul explains the meaning of Baptism more clearly in Romans 6v3-10. Just as circumcision was a picture of the Jew’s identification with God’s (Old) Covenant, so Baptism by immersion (upon the confession of our sins) is a picture of our spiritual experience of the New Covenant. Baptism cannot save us – it is a symbol and picture of our salvation. It demonstrates that we died (to sin) with Christ; we were raised to new life with Christ; and have the expectation of resurrection – with Christ. So that Paul says:
“When you were dead in your sins in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.” (v. 13) In other words, we don’t need to add anything. We are saved through faith and faith alone. Because Jesus has done it all. Q. What will be your answer to God when you die and he asks the question, “Why should I let you into heaven?” The answer lies in the following verse:
“He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (v.13b-14) Paul’s point is that Jesus has freed us from the Old Testament Law which shows us that we are sinners. The Law condemns us but Jesus sets us free! By his death and victory over Satan Jesus cancelled the charge of our debts – after all it is Satan who accuses us; but Jesus is our great defender in the courts of justice. He has paid the price – the debt that we owed – so that we are no longer under any charge or condemnation. Paul says he nailed it to the cross – forgiven and forgotten and done with – so that we get a fresh new start, praise God! The Law is still there to guide us, but not to condemn us. We are now part of the New Covenant, based on love and grace. This is fundamental stuff – but so exciting!
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (v.15
We could get side-tracked into considering the “powers and authorities” mentioned here. Suffice to say that the reference is talking about Satan and his demons. These are very real enemies of a) The Jewish race and b) Christians; in other words all those whom God has called his own. Plus they do have limited authority over people and events on the earth. BUT, Jesus disarmed Satan when he was crucified and overcame death (John 12v31). At the cross Satan’s claim to authority was invalidated because Jesus had the victory over him. Satan and death could not hold Jesus. Jesus stripped Satan of his “robes of office” taking away his authority. IN CHRIST we also know freedom and protection from any Satanic influence. But Satan – defeated and wounded - still prowls the earth (1 Peter 5v8 and Job 1v7), deceiving and influencing people who do not know the truth. As I have mentioned before, the Colossian church was affected by teachers who sought to impose legalism. A result of legalism can be spiritual snobbery. In these next verses Paul helps us to understand why we can know freedom from rules imposed by humans. Q. Should Christians abstain from alcohol? Is it important to observe Lent? Is Sunday a special day of the week? Is it wrong to not go to church on Sunday?
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (v.16) So Paul is going to expound on: eating, the church calendar, and the Sabbath. These were things the early Christians were uncertain about. There were instructions on what you should or should not eat in the Law of Moses; and there were instructions about the festivals and the Sabbath – also laid down in the Law. But 14
Paul has already declared that Christians are not under Law but under Grace. And he goes on to explain why there is no longer any need for these observances.
“These are a shadow of the things that were to come, the reality however is found in Christ.” (v.17) In other words, the Law was symbolic of the work of Christ. The laws on eating and drinking were established for health reasons – they were imposed for the good and well-being of the people. As the Word of God they represent Christ who is our Bread of Life. Jesus is now our source of well-being. Physically speaking, it is still sensible to eat and drink in moderation, but food cannot bring us nearer to God. Spiritually – Christ is sufficient – what we eat and drink can make no difference. The Laws on religious festivals. The Jewish nation had seven major feasts they were expected to participate in. Each festival was a symbol of the work of Jesus. The following descriptions are taken from gotquestions.org – a Christian website - and illustrate perfectly what Paul is saying in this verse. (See separate sheet on Jewish Festivals in the Appendix) The Laws on the Sabbath Day Jews were commanded to keep the Sabbath – the seventh day of the week. Sunday is not the Sabbath, it is “The Lord’s Day”, the first day of the week commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. We are encouraged in the Bible to meet together on the Lord’s Day, but none other of the Old Testament rules apply. In fact, every day should be spent in the Lord’s presence, but it is generally only practical for Christians to meet together on one day of the week.
“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you.” (v.18) False humility, pseudo spirituality, spiritual snobbishness – We can be made to feel “not good enough” because we don’t come up to another’s spiritual standards. But Paul is saying that if anyone makes you feel like that, it is they who are not good enough – not you. If you trust in Jesus Christ for full salvation that is all that is required. Anyone who sees themselves as ‘better’ because they have seen an angel or a vision is deceiving themselves.
“Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.” (v.18) False humility is nothing more than pride. Pride is idolising oneself – a sin. True spirituality and worship should result in humility and service to others. It should make us feel unworthy at the same time as building others up in the Lord. Q. Why do people get deceived by other sects and religions? Or why do they become “holier than thou” in their attitude?
“They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” (v.19) Jesus Christ is the head of his church – the Body of Christ. Jesus should be the centre of our focus. Just as a body cannot function without the head, so it is with the church. If we put anything else in the place of Jesus, whether it be other ideas and beliefs or whether it be our own pride then we disconnect ourselves from the head. Interestingly, in Paul’s mention of the body here he talks about connecting tissues: ligaments and sinews (tendons). These unseen parts of the body attach every part to another – bone to bone, muscle to 15
muscle and muscle to bone. Without them we would collapse and not be able to function at all. They are absolutely vital to the functioning and structure of our body. Our lips could not speak, our hands could not give and our feet could not walk without them. And they all work because of constant messages from the brain telling them what to do. The spiritual parallel is obvious. We need to stay connected to the Head – Jesus.
“Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”? (Verses 20, 21) In our Baptism by immersion we announce to the world that we have died with Christ and risen to new life in Him. We are a new creation no longer subject to the old influences of the “flesh”, no longer under the Law, but with a renewed mindset and understanding of the gospel of Grace. But it is true that so often we allow our culture and our upbringing and “what society expects of us” to influence our thinking. But Paul says:
“These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.” (v.22) Spiritual things and the Word of God will endure forever. Anything man-made will perish including all his laws and cultures and religions; all his advice and predictions and knowledge. Q. Have you ever read a magazine or a newspaper and seen the number of pages of advice on diet; selffulfilment; relationship counselling; astrology/stars; fashion advice etc. etc.? Do these things influence us?
“Such regulations have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (v.23) Rules and laws fail. They can instruct us in the right way of living. They can guide us and show us penalties for what is wrong. We can try and adhere to them. BUT, they are not able to change us, they are not able to purify our hearts. Only Jesus can do this. Consequently we sometimes see leading figures falling from grace – because they have lost connection with Jesus and the body, and have resorted to following rules. They are not guided by grace and love but by false humility, pride and reliance on laws (often accusing others of small sins when they are themselves committing larger, more serious sins).
Chapter 3 “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above …” (v.1)
Our goal, our end-aim, our reasoning and purpose should all be seen in the light of eternity. If we are blessed with good health we could live for up to around a hundred years on this earth. But that is absolutely nothing compared with the time we will spend in eternity – so small it is virtually un-measurable. As we get older we begin to see just how quickly our time on earth has gone by. Praise God – it is not the end. When we have been raised with Christ and set our heart on things above it is only the beginning!
“… where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (v.1)
A person of high rank who puts someone at their right hand gives them equal honour with themself. Paul says in Ephesians 1v19-21 that God exalted Jesus by seating him at the right hand of the Father. The term “God’s right hand” in prophecy refers to the Messiah (see Psalm 110v1 and 118v16). And because Jesus is at the Father’s right hand he is able to make intercession for us. Read Romans 8v34. And the fact that Jesus Christ is seated refers to the fact that his work of redemption is finished. 16
“Set your mind on things above – not on earthly things.” (v.2)
It has been said that we should not be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good! And actually there is some wisdom in the statement. But if we have our hearts and minds fixed on Jesus it will be much easier for us to act as Jesus would act and to say what Jesus would say. Jesus was the supreme example of someone who walked with and helped sinners, but was still always in touch with his Father in heaven.
“For you died, and your life is now hidden, with God, in Christ.” (v.3)
There is a song which goes, “It is no longer I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me” – a bit old fashioned in its wording but it says what Paul is saying. Our old self died. We have Christ in us and we are in Him and cannot be separated. This is an amazing verse to remember and always know the truth of. Just as Christ is in God, so we are in Christ. What a tremendous help in times of trouble!
“When Christ, who is our life, appears, then we also will appear with him in glory.” (v.4)
Where Christ will be, we will be. We are one together and one with him. Spiritually speaking, we are in him. But at the Second Coming we will be transported to join him in the sky with millions who have gone before and the millions on earth who have put their trust in him. We will be united with Christ physically (with our new bodies) forever. We will be with him in glory. Praise God! Q. What is glory? (See Hebrews 1v3)
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature …” (v.5)
Paul has already established in the previous few verses that we died with Christ, we live in Christ, we are raised with Christ, we are hidden in Christ and will be glorified with Christ. How can we put our earthly nature to death? – By trusting in the work of Jesus Christ; we can do it no other way. It is Christ who gives us the power for victory over our earthly nature. It is the Holy Spirit who changes us and gives us the power to resist sin. The Law requires acts of our will – very hard if we are not a strong-willed person. Grace requires a reliance on God to help us. Praise God we are under Grace and not under the Law.
“… sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming.” (v 5,6)
Do Christians commit these sins? We would hope not, but sadly we know there are cases when they do. And there is more opportunity than ever to commit these sins in secret now that people are connected to the internet. Can they be forgiven? – Only if they repent and sin no more. Here it makes it quite clear that those who continue to sin in this way will know the wrath of God. And ultimately, those who do not know God will suffer God’s wrath too. Greed (“thou shalt not covet”) is the thing that drives us to sin more and has to be conquered, because it causes us to look for other things to satisfy us in place of Jesus.
“You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” (v.7)
Perhaps we are feeling a bit smug – we used to be like that, but we’re not now. But Paul goes on to say to the Church – us:
“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other …” (v.8,9)
Do we never get cross about something? Do we never say something hurtful or gossip about someone? Do we watch what we are saying? Do we never occasionally mislead someone with a lie? Sadly, our tongue runs ahead of us sometimes – speaking for myself, I know I am guilty of these things if I get upset or stressed out or feel under attack. Paul’s point is that sin is sin and, as Christians we need to be doing something about it! So he goes on to tell us how …
“… you have taken off your old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (v.9,10) God is not trying to spoil our fun! His aim is to renew us so that we become more like Jesus, the one who made us in his own image and expects us to conform to that image. We have to grasp the fact that we 17
died to our old life (put it off, did away with it) and rose to a new life in Christ (put on our new clothes of salvation). That stage has been completed. And now we are in the process of change, renewal, growth – as the fruits of the Holy Spirit grow in us making us more like Jesus. Q. What does Paul mean by us being renewed in knowledge? It’s all about us getting to know Jesus better; spending time in his presence; talking to him in prayer, reading about him in his Word; giving ourselves to him daily. So the knowledge Paul is talking about is the knowledge we have about someone when we have spent a long time with them. A devoted husband and wife will often know what the other will choose, what they are thinking, how they are feeling etc. etc. because they have spent so much time with them. And the more time we spend with Jesus the more we will be renewed in knowledge.
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (v11) To those who choose to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation: · Previous religion makes no difference (Circumcised Jewish believers; or uncircumcised Gentiles) · Culture makes no difference (Barbarian - meaning untaught; and Scythian – a nomadic ancient people group ) · Economic status or caste makes no difference (Bond slaves or servants; or free men and women). · Male or female (added in Galatians 3v28) and Children · We could add to the list: unemployed, addicts, street dwellers and street workers; ex-forces – army, navy and air force; people with mental health problems; people with learning difficulties; people with physical illness; immigrants, refugees, resettled people.
God was the inventor of “equal opportunities”! To all who believe, Paul says, Christ is all, and is in all. Before we are saved we often have the above labels attached to us. But when we know Jesus we all have the likeness of Christ in us and we are all growing into his likeness; no-one of us any better or worse than another.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved ..” (v12)
The word therefore means we have to think about the consequences of what Paul just said. But before he goes on to encourage us he reminds us that we are all individually chosen by God, that we are set apart for him (holy) and that he loves us so dearly. In other words we have been blessed so surely we should want to bless others.
“Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (v.12)
What a difference between these qualities and the list in verse 8! Take off your old clothes of anger etc. and put on new clothes of compassion which come from the same (free) shop as our garments of salvation! We are not to be judgmental, but compassionate; not grudging but kind; not “holier than thou” but humble; not forceful and imposing our ideas but gentle; not irritated by people but patient. It’s quite a tall order, but we don’t have to do it of ourselves. As we know Jesus more these qualities grow naturally in us. Paul’s list continues:
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”(v13)
God shows forbearance and forgiveness to sinners – he gives them time to respond to him, waiting patiently like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Forgiving others is sometimes the hardest thing to conquer. And yet the teaching of Jesus is absolutely clear. If we expect to be forgiven them we must be willing to forgive. Read Luke 6v37. Unforgiveness in our heart will only grow into the sins mentioned in verse 8 of our study chapter. But forgiveness will open our heart to the love of God. 18
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (v.14)
All of the qualities Paul has mentioned, all of the fruits of the Holy Spirit are aspects and expressions of God’s love. The love of God helps us to live out our Christian lives. Some find it harder to love than others. The answer? Spend time receiving the love of Jesus. You cannot give out what you haven’t got!
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (v.15)
Your first reaction might be, “That’s easier said than done!” When our thoughts are in a turmoil it is hard to let go of them and let Christ replace them with his peace. But the secret is in the verse: Let Christ rule in your hearts. The word rule in Greek literally means to govern or to preside over; we are to submit to God’s government, his will over our lives. Only when our will is truly aligned with his will can we know his peace. How often do we not let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts? How often do we refuse to submit to his will? Q. Can we be given a false peace by reliance on ourselves or on other things?
“… since as members of one body …” (v.15)
There is a connection between us as individuals and us as a part of the Body of Christ, his church. The peace of Christ should rule in us personally, but also there should be unity in the church as a whole too. Discord and trouble within churches can stem from an absence of Christ’s peace. It can be the result of a person (people) following their own ideas and ambitions rather than submitting to the rule of Christ.
“… you were called to peace.” (v.15)
Just as we are called to love and serve Christ, we are equally called to peace. It’s expected of us that we should have peace, be peaceable and be peacemakers. Peace starts in our own heart and overflows to others. “Blessed are the peacemakers …” There are over 80 references in the New Testament relating to peace – it’s something we cannot function without!
“And be thankful.” (v.15)
It’s easy to miss these short sentences in God’s Word. When we have Christ’s peace it should follow that we will thank him and voice our praise. If we find it hard to give thanks to God, it may be that we need to examine ourselves – are we allowing him to rule in our heart?
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly …” (v.16)
We are to let/allow/permit God’s message to dwell/live/abide in us. Conversely we should not let other teachings and philosophies fill our minds and influence our way of thinking. The gospel of Christ can transform our lives if we allow it to. And it’s paramount that The Word is preached when we meet together. We should read it alone, but it should also be a joint exercise! Singing and fun have a part in our services, but the Word should always be central. Sharing the word enables us to accomplish Paul’s next phrase:
“as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom …”(v.16)
The “all wisdom” bit is essential. We can understand why we might need to teach one another, by why admonish? The best example of someone who needs to admonish (reprove, reprimand) is a parent. If we don’t teach and admonish our children they won’t learn right from wrong and we fail in our job. Teaching alone is not always sufficient. Sometimes correction is needed too. It’s hard and often we don’t want to do it, but we do it because we love them and ultimately want the best for them. Q. How might it be possible to bring teaching and correction to a fellow-Christian? Would we be right to do so? What or who could help us? Paul suggests ways of getting the truth of the gospel across:
“.. through Psalms and hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (v.16) 19
We have to remember that the ‘ordinary’ people didn’t have the Scriptures as we do. Those who could read, who knew the Old Testament Scriptures, who had access to Paul’s letters which had been copied, would have been accountable for relating God’s truth to the church. But the truth of the gospel is also in Psalms and hymns and even in songs which were anointed by the Spirit.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (v.17)
In other words, our whole life can be a witness and an example to others, a positive lesson in the right and wrong ways to do ‘church’ and be ‘church’. Paul has already stated that we are in Christ and all God’s fullness is in Christ. Therefore … it follows that it should begin to show in us. And not just when we are in church, but when we are at home too! N.B. Paul’s following statements are for Christian households. This is God’s ideal. There are circumstances when it’s not always possible to follow these guidelines, but when we can, it will bring blessing to our household.
“Wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (v.18)
This is not about equality but about responsibility. A man is responsible to God for his family. Sometimes the second part of this sentence is omitted. If a husband is of a different faith, or no faith, he cannot always be obeyed. If a husband expects his wife to do things which are wrong or which she cannot endure, that would not be fitting in the Lord. If he does not take his responsibility seriously the model falls down. But where he takes responsibility before God, he is to be deferred to. But Paul has something to say to husbands as well.
“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (v19)
These guidelines are actually harder on husbands than wives. In fact in Ephesians 5v23 Paul says that husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loves the church. Paul is talking about all their actions being motivated by love. A tall order!!
“Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases God.” (v.20)
Children are blessed if they have been born into a Christian home where parents submit to one another and to Christ. Christian children who do not have Christian parents may experience conflict, but they should still do their best to honour and obey their parents. Sadly, most children in our country today are not born into a Christian family. Sometimes this results in a defiance of parents, teachers, police, employers etc. The breakdown of authority in our society today reflects the breakdown of authority in the home.
“Fathers (parents) do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (v21) How hard it is to be a parent!! Again it is all about responsibility, and loving and training our children as Christ has loved us. When personalities clash often both parents and children get discouraged. It’s so important to keep verse 17 in mind. It is God’s love in us that enables us to overcome difficulties. Sadly, our love can wear thin at times. But God’s love in us can be consistent if we let it be. Q. What is the role of Christian grandparents?
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything ..” (v22)
(See appendix 2 for information about Roman slaves) Paul’s view was that a Christian slave owed complete obedience to his master as a way of serving the Lord. Slaves were often part of a household and are therefore included in these instructions to secure an orderly and peaceful existence under God’s guidance. Q. We shouldn’t have slaves today – although in reality they still exist (even in our own country). Who else could we apply these instructions to?
“… (obey) not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (v22) 20
We can apply these words to ourselves in all kinds of situations. Paul challenges us to examine our motives. What is our motivation for helping someone/visiting someone/supporting someone? Is it to “curry favour”, to make us look good, to make us feel good? Do we feel the need to let people know about our good deeds so that we gain respect in their eyes? Or are we simply serving one another out of our love for them and for Christ Jesus?
“Whatever you do work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for human masters … “ (v23)
This is the key. And it’s worth the effort! One day we will be rewarded for our actions and our motives and the way we respond to people. Paul goes on to say:
“… since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (v23,24) In all things it is the Lord we are serving. In our housework; our driving; babysitting; jobs; schoolwork; leisure; letter writing (including texts and emails) friendships and relationships – in everything that we do, we are called to do it as if we are doing it for Christ Jesus. We don’t work for our salvation and our place in heaven, but, we will be rewarded according to our actions. We may not be slaves, in fact we might be the head of a school or business or large concern, but we are all servants of Christ Jesus.
“Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favouritism.” (v25)
In families and work situations there is often unfairness, but with God we are all treated equally. It is important that we show the love of Christ in our actions rather than striving for fairness when things are not right in the workplace or in the family.
“Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Father in Heaven.” (4v1) Just as with husbands and wives, and parents and children, there must be a mutual respect between masters and slaves. This would be a new idea to Roman masters who treated their slaves as things. And in today’s society it would be scorned. But Paul advocates this rather than social reform. 1 Corinthians 7v22 points out the anomaly that in the Lord, slaves are free and masters are slaves to Christ! These verses to households are a practical application of verse 17: “Whatever you do … do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus”.
Chapter 4 Note: Verse 1 belongs at the end of chapter 3.
“Devote yourselves to prayer …” (v.2)
The Greek word for devote is proskartereo. It carries the meaning of continuing and persevering in prayer. It also means being like a good servant, waiting on the Lord. So it’s more than just bringing requests to God. It’s being in a place of waiting on God where we can hear his voice and get to know his will – as any devoted servant would desire to do. Just as a servant has to learn how to please his master we need to learn how to please God when we pray. Q. What are some of the ways we can accomplish this?
“ … being watchful and thankful” (v.2)
In other words – we should be alert and stay awake when we pray! This is what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples, “Watch and pray”. It’s all too easy to fall asleep, so a certain amount of discipline is needed. 21
If we have a tendency to succumb to tiredness it’s probably better to pray with a pen and paper in hand and with our eyes open. The Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharistia. Eucharist is an act of worship, an act of thanksgiving and should play an equal part in our prayer life. Note: if we use a pen and paper during our prayer time it is much easier to look back and be reminded of all the prayers God has answered. Write P.T.L (Praise the Lord) next to your answered prayers and you will be reminded to give thanks!
“And pray for us too …” (v.3)
Pastors and leaders need prayer too – if anything, moreso than others, because they are in the frontline of battle. They need prayer for good health and strength and they need prayer for God’s hand to be upon their families, especially in countries where Christians are persecuted. They need prayer for wisdom when there is conflict. Paul asked for one kind of prayer specifically:
“… that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” (v.3)
Ever the most important thing for Paul was to carry out the commission that God had given him to take the message of the gospel of salvation to the gentiles. Although in chains in Rome and waiting to appear before Caesar (who at that time was the Emperor Nero); although he was getting older and weaker, Paul was still hoping for more opportunities to travel and spread the gospel still further. Sadly this never happened as Nero had Paul put to death. But Paul proclaimed Christ right up to the moment of his death – he had spoken the truth of the gospel to other leading Romans so there is no reason to suppose he didn’t preach to Nero also. But Nero was known as the Ruler of the World (he was also a megalomaniac) and he could not accept a God who was greater than himself.
“Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (v.5) Non-believers don’t understand where we are coming from. Paul is advising that we never miss an opportunity to tell them BUT, he also says that we should practice wisdom. Q. What did Paul mean and how can we be wise?
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (v.6)
Here’s our answer: Gracious words, pure words (salt is a purifier), words which help people rather than harm them, words which convey the love of Jesus. Throughout his letters Paul mentions about 100 different Christians, (mostly by name, but some were unnamed) and 10 of them are mentioned here in his final greetings to the church at Colossae.
He was called brother. He was a minister and fellow servant – a dependable helper. See also Titus 3v12 and 2 Timothy 4v12.
Philemon’s slave, Paul called him brother, he was saved under Paul. His name means useful. He carried letters to Philemon for Paul who trusted him. (See Philemon v8-16)
Paul’s fellow-worker, who encountered many dangers with Paul and now (apparently) voluntarily is with him in prison. See Acts 19v29 (riot) and Acts 27v2 (shipwreck). Aristarchus was a stayer!
John Mark (v10)
A ‘failure’ on Paul’s first missionary journey; was encouraged by Barnabas; became a close worker with Paul; ultimately wrote the Gospel of mark. See 2 Timothy 4v11 22
Jesus Justus (v11)
John Mark and Jesus Justus were the only two of Paul’s close friends in prison who were Jews (hence the double name, Jewish followed by Roman). Both faithful believers and a comfort to Paul.
Probably founded the Colossian/Laodicean/Hieropolis churches.See Col 1v7-8. He was probably the overseer (or Bishop). He was a man of prayer.
A learned man, a physician, wrote the Gospel of Luke and accompanied Paul on many of his travels. He was Greek, and very likely the only gentile writer of a book of the Bible. He was very skilled and a very useful and dear friend of Paul’s.
Although included in the list there is no accolade. He later became a backslider. See 2 Timothy 4v9-10a;
… and the brothers and sisters in her house church in Laodicea. As yet there were no church buildings. Nympha was very likely a rich Roman lady who came to salvation and offered her home as a place for the church to meet.
Possibly Philemon’s son (Philemon 2) – a young man whom Paul was seeking to encourage. Paul’s list includes Greeks, Romans and Jews; men and women; rich and poor; slaves and owners; strong Christians and a backslider; new Christians and old Christians. They are all ordinary people like us! Paul acknowledged that they all had a part to play in spreading the gospel and supporting him in his work – and also at the end when he was in prison. We are all called to be like these men and women, using the gifts and talents that God has given us to help accomplish God’s work. If nothing else we can all encourage people and pray for them. Paul finishes the letter by reminding his friends of his situation and pronouncing God’s grace upon them.
APPENDIX 1 The Christian significance of Jewish Festivals: Passover reminds us of redemption from sin. It was the time when Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was offered as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. It is on that basis alone that God can justify the ungodly sinner. Just as the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the doorpost of Jewish homes caused the Spirit of the Lord to pass over those homes during the last plague on Egypt (Ex 12), so those covered by the blood of the Lamb will escape the spiritual death and judgment God will visit upon all who reject Him. Of all the Jewish festivals, Passover is of the greatest importance because the Lord’s Supper was a Passover meal (Matt 26:17–27). In passing the elements and telling the disciples to eat of His body, Jesus was presenting Himself as the ultimate Passover Lamb. The Feast of Unleavened Bread followed immediately after Passover and lasted one week, during which time the Israelites ate no bread with yeast in remembrance of their haste in preparing for their exodus from Egypt. In the New Testament, yeast is often associated with evil (1 Cor 5:6–8; Gal 5:9), and, just as Israel was to remove yeast from their bread, so are Christians to purge evil from their lives and live a new life in godliness and righteousness. Christ as our Passover Lamb cleanses us from sin and evil, and by His power and that of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are freed from sin to leave our old lives behind, just as the Israelites did. 23
The Feast of Firstfruits took place at the beginning of the harvest and signified Israel’s gratitude to and dependence upon God. According to Lev 23:9–14, an Israelite would bring a sheaf of the first grain of the harvest to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord as an offering. Deut 26:1– 11 states that, when the Israelites brought the firstfuits of their harvest before the priest, they were to acknowledge that God had delivered them from Egypt and had given them the Promised Land. This reminds us of Christ’s resurrection as He was the “firstfuits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). Just as Christ was the first to rise from the dead and receive a glorified body, so shall all those who are born again follow Him, being resurrected to inherit an “incorruptible body” (1 Cor. 15:35–49). The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) occurred 50 days after the Firstfruits festival and celebrated the end of the grain harvest (the Greek word Pentecost means “fiftieth”). The primary focus of the festival was gratitude to God for the harvest. This feast reminds us of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send “another helper” (John 14:16) who would indwell believers and empower them for ministry. The coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection was the guarantee (Eph 1:13–14) that the promise of salvation and future resurrection will come to pass. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in every born-again believer is what seals us in Christ and bears witness with our spirit that we are indeed “joint heirs with Christ”. After the spring feasts conclude with the Feast of Weeks, there is a period of time before the fall feasts begin. This time is spiritually symbolic of the church age in which we live today. Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection are past, we have received the promised Holy Spirit, and now we await His second coming. The Feast of Trumpets was commanded to be held on the first day of the seventh month and was to be a “day of trumpet blast” (Num 29:1) to commemorate the end of the agricultural and festival year. The trumpet blasts were meant to signal to Israel that they were entering a sacred season. The agricultural year was coming to a close; there was to be a reckoning with the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement. The Feast of Trumpets signifies Christ’s second coming. We see trumpets associated with the second coming in verses like 1 Thess 4:16, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Of course, the sounding of the trumpet also indicates the pouring out of God’s wrath on the earth in the book of Revelation. Certainly, this feast points toward the coming Day of the Lord. The Day of Atonement occurs just ten days after the Feast of Trumpets. The Day of Atonement was the day the high priest went into the Holy of Holies each year to make an offering for the sins of Israel. This feast is symbolic of the time when God will again turn His attention back to the nation of Israel after “the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and . . . all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25– 26). The Jewish remnant who survive the Great Tribulation will recognize Jesus as their Messiah as God releases them from their spiritual blindness and they come to faith in Christ. The Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) is the seventh and final feast of the Lord and took place five days after the Day of Atonement. For seven days, the Israelites presented offerings to the Lord, during which time they lived in huts made from palm branches. Living in the booths recalled the sojourn of the Israelites prior to their taking the land of Canaan (Lev 23:43). This feast signifies the future time when Christ rules and reigns on earth. For the rest of eternity, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will “tabernacle” or dwell with Christ in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:9–27). While the four spring feasts look back at what Christ accomplished at His first coming, the three fall (Autumn) feasts point us toward the glory of His second coming.
Slaves (Excerpt from Wikipedia)
Slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the economy. Besides manual labour, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions. Accountants, and physicians were often slaves. Greek slaves in particular might be highly educated. Unskilled slaves, or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were brutal, and their lives short. Slaves were considered property under Roman law and had no legal personhood. Unlike Roman citizens, they could be subjected to corporal punishment, sexual exploitation (prostitutes were often slaves), torture, and summary execution. The testimony of a slave could not be accepted in a court of law unless the slave was tortured—a practice based on the belief that slaves in a position to be privy to their masters’ affairs would be too virtuously loyal to reveal damaging evidence unless coerced. Excerpt from W.W.Wiersbe: Slavery was an established institution in a world government. Paul was careful to instruct Christian slaves to secure their freedom if they could, but he did not advocate rebellion or the overthrow of the existing order. In fact, Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, was instructed to return to his master – and was also one of the men who carried this letter to Colossae (Col. 4v9).
The Estuary Elim Group of Churches are three Essex based Elim Pentecostal Churches in Ashingdon, Rayleigh and Southend on Sea with a shared Leadership team. We are a group of people responding to the love of God and the life changing message of Jesus Christ. Our services are lively with contemporary music, worship and preaching and teaching relevant to the 21st Century. To find out more about us visit www.estuaryelim.church Whether you are new to church, someone with questions or a committed Christian, we want to serve you and help you discover and fulfil Godâ€™s purpose for your life. If you would like an opportunity to email or talk to one of the team email your contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you. The Ashingdon, Rayleigh and Southend Elim Pentecostal Churches are branches of The Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance (Registered Charity No. 251549) 26