1:1 Paul designated himself as an apostle. Paul had never personally been to Colossae. Epaphras (v.7) founded the church at Colossae. Colossae was a city in the region of Phrygia (in Asia Minor) and was located east of Ephesus. Paul wrote this epistle while he was in prison in Rome, about 62 A.D. It was delivered by Tychius, as was another letter to Laodicea (4:16). (See also Eph. 6:21,22).
Colossians is a sister epistle to Ephesians. The central theme of Colossians is Christ, while the theme of Ephesians is the church.
- Paul writes this epistle because of heresy and false teaching that was increasing in Colossae. The heresy was comprised of philosophy, astral powers, angelic worship, food restrictions, and behavioral restrictions that had Judaistic implications or origins (2:8-23).
- Paul refers to worship of the angels (2:18), undue attention to feasts and fasts, new moons and Sabbaths (2:16), and to circumcision (2:11).
- The people at Colossae viewed these things as the true way of worship and discipline (2:20 ff).
- Colossians were also plagued by gnosticism (which affected the early church for the first 200 years of its existence). Gnostics separated matter from thought. They considered matter as evil and thought or knowledge as the ultimate for salvation. For this reason, Gnostics did not attribute humanity to Jesus Christ since humanity, being material, was evil to them. An extension of this was the docetic heresy, which believed that the body of Christ was not real, but rather, was something that appeared to be real. Gnosticism ultimately leads to an immoral life, since the spirit was complete absent from the body, they were not responsible for any acts of the body. Paul counters this in 2:9 by stressing the bodily existence and reality of Christ and His relationship with the Godhead. Hence Paul explains that Christ was indeed God in the flesh. Gnostics ignored the historic facts of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. To them, all the secrets of God existed in the mind. The result was two types of Gnostic practice: one being complete denial of sexual and other bodily appetites; the other being totally unrestrained indulgence of the body.
- Paul teaches against the belief that the way of holiness is through spiritual selfishness. He stresses that spirituality is not achieved by self-centered efforts to control human passions, but by putting on Christ, setting one’s affections on Him and so eliminating that which is not His will.
- Paul also stresses that true wisdom is not manmade philosophy, but the mystery of God in Christ, who indwells in all who receive Him (1:27) without distinction of individuals (3:10).
- This letter was written as Paul was sending a messenger to Philemon in Colossae in connection with his runaway slave (who was newly converted). The slave, Onesimus, is the same one referred to in the book of Philemon. It was Epaphras who had brought Paul (who was in prison) the report of the church in Colossae which included many encouraging things (1:4-8) as well as the news of false teaching that threatened to lead them away from the truth of Christ (1:25).
- Timothy was also with Paul as this epistle was written.
1:2 Paul addresses the Colossians as holy and faithful brothers in Christ. Clearly this defines the Colossians as born again believers, and we have Paul’s statement of how he views them as one as himself. This introduction parallels that as in Ephesians (Eph. 1:1).
1:3 Paul states that “we” give thanks and pray for the Colossians. Once again, Paul emphasizes that his concern for the Colossians is not solitary. He is probably referring again to Timothy, although he could be referring to others as well.
1:4-5 Paul affirms his knowledge of the Colossians foundational basis for believers in Christ: Faith, love and hope. Paul mentions their faith in Christ Jesus because he will later define life under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
- Note that faith and love in v. 4 are based on the hope in v.5 that is laid up in heaven.
- Hope was part of the basic gospel message they had previously heard in truth.
- Paul has gone out of his way to emphasize hope. Why? Most likely it is because of the false teaching that had taken place at Colossae. Perhaps, this false teaching was shattering their hope.
Note that in order for Paul to combat the false teaching, he uses Christian basic principles in truth in order to mentally bring the Colossians back to the point they were when they first believed.
1:6 Several features of the gospel are now set forth:
1. Its triumphal progress at Colossae was part of a greater triumph in the rest of the world.
2. Bearing fruit and increasing -- similar to the phrase used in Mark 4 in the parable of the sower -- the seed.
3. In truth – they heard the gospel as Epaphras properly presented it. Paul stresses their personal involvement with the truth of the gospel and how that truth was the foundation for growth.
1:7 Usually Paul describes the gospel as being accepted as believing, hearing or obeying rather than learning as in this verse. Its possible that Paul used the word “learn” to endorse the teaching of Epaphras, as opposed to the newer, corrupt teaching that the Colossians were now being subject to.
Epaphras (short for Epaphroditus) was a common name. He is mentioned again
in Chapter 4 and also in Phil. 2:3, where he is described as Paul’s fellow-captive, possibly at Ephesus. (This is not necessarily the same Epaphras of Phil. 2:25; 4:18).
- Epaphras was a native of Colossae. He had been the evangelist of the Lycus Valley where there were now flourishing churches in Hieropolis and Laodicea, as well as Colossae.
- Paul also notes that Epaphras is Paul’s representative in Colossae who has worked and will continue to work in his place within the congregation.
1:8 More recently, Epaphras had visited Paul in Rome and reported the status
of the churches of the Lycus Valley. Epaphras reported some good news and indicated their life was filled with a love generated by the Holy Spirit. This indicates the likelihood of a mutual caring relationship between the believers at Colossae and Paul, even though he had never personally visited there. This relationship would enable Paul to exhort them (in love) about the dangers of the false teaching.
1:9 Once again, Paul stresses the “we” who are praying for the Colossians. He implies that they are part of his daily prayers.
- Paul’s petition is that they might be (properly) filled with the knowledge of His will. His will consists of an understanding of what is spiritually important, which will result in good conduct that is pleasing to the Lord.
- We should note that the idea of fullness recurs frequently in this epistle (1:19, 24, 25; 2:2, 3, 9, 10; 4:12). It may have been that the false teachers boasted they offered the fullness of truth and spiritual maturity, while Epaphras had only instructed them in the first steps. But, on the contrary, Epaphras had taught them the word of truth (v.5) in harmony with Paul’s prayers for them.
- Knowledge occurs here and in v. 10. It is used elsewhere in Paul’s epistles, especially to indicate a relationship to the mystery, which was Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles. Here, Paul is likely using knowledge (gnosis) to contrast the false teaching, which was only philosophy.
1:10 Here Paul (as part of his prayer) presents the fruit of the goal established in verse 9. That is, to attain the knowledge of Gods will, will result in a walk (lifestyle) in a manner worthy of the Lord, which would please Him in “all respects.” This, in turn, would bear good fruit in “every good work” which would then continue to allow the believer to “increase in the knowledge of God.” See also 1Thess 5:17.
Knowledge of the truth would enable the Colossians to properly battle the erroneous teachings they were encountering.
1:11 Here the conduct worthy of the Lord will result in providing the believers with power. The standards set before the Colossians was far greater than those of the false teachers. Nothing short of Gods almighty power at work within them would enable them to live so as to please Him in all things.
- God’s mighty power will strengthen the community for all endurance and long-suffering in the face of trials and opposition.
- This is a “power” verse. The word dunamis (Strong’s #1411) is used and is immediately followed by dunamo (Strong’s #1412). These two words are both from the root power. This signifies the kind of perseverance, which enables one to hold the position already taken in battle against the enemy attacks. By this “endurance”, the Colossian community will stand firm in every respect -- especially by holding out against the pressure of evil forces in the Lycus Valley that would lead them astray as well as make them dispirited. This kind of endurance is not one that is derived on a self-fulfilling basis. Rather, it can only be attained from God, who is its source. Thus, Paul may pray to God for it on their behalf.
Long-suffering (makrothumia) refers to Gods patience with His people. See Ex. 34:6 where God is slow to anger but abounding in love. It is used in I Thess. 5:14 as well as Gal. 5:22 (fruit of the spirit).
1:12 Note that verse 12 begins with “giving thanks” and our translations break this phrase from v. 11. However, they should be read and understood as one continuous thought. More properly, we should read this as joyfully giving thanks and combine the end of v. 11 with the beginning of v. 12. This phrase is stressing the Father, as is the same point in 1:3 and 3:17.
- God has already qualified the Colossians to share in the inheritance. He already delivered them from this alien power and has already transcended them to His Sons kingdom.
- “To share in the inheritance of the saints” echoes the promise given to Abram (Gen. 13:14-17) and subsequently renewed to Israel (Num. 26:52-56; 34:2, 13, John 19:9) that they would possess their inheritance as the tribes were apportioned the land of Canaan by Lot. Here, Paul refers to an eternal inheritance much greater than any here on earth. The reference to light appears to be a reference to God’s presence where believers live (i.e. Holy ones).
1:13 It is born again believers who are transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His Son. Once again, this verse emphasizes how much God has to do with our conversion and how very little we affect it. The Lord had rescued the Jews from Egypt and from many of Israel’s enemies (Judges 8:34). The Psalms mention frequently being delivered from danger, sickness, death, enemies, etc. Note that this verse focuses on the word “transferred.” It is the same verb used in 1 Cor. 13:2 referring to transferring mountains.
1:14 We have redemption in the Lord’s Kingdom, which is the forgiveness of sins. We speculate that the reason Paul equates redemption with the forgiveness of sins is the possibility that the false teachers in Colossae distinguished between the remission of sins as the first stage received in baptism and redemption as the final stage coming from Christ. This would explain why Paul would show that both were present realities experienced in Jesus Christ, Gods Son.
1:15 Christ is proclaimed as the image of God. Image is the Greek word icone (Strongs #1504) which means likeness, representation, a statue, profile or resemblance. We get our English word icon from this. The very nature of God has been perfectly revealed in Christ. John 1:18 tells us the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made Him known. Paul tells us in II Cor.4:4 that Jesus is the light of the gospel, who is the image of God. And Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ is the radiance of Gods glory and the very impression of His being. Also, we must note that man is made in Gods image (Gen. 1:26, 27) and for Gods glory (Is. 43:7). The term “firstborn of all creation” designates His relationship to the creation. This term is commonly used in genealogies and historical narratives to indicate priority and sovereignty of rank. Frequently, “firstborn” was used to denote one who had a special place in the Fathers love. In Psalm 89:27, the term is used to refer to David. However, many claim that this title belongs to Jesus Christ as the Messiah of David’s line, but also as the wisdom of God. The term “firstborn” comes from the Greek word prototokus (Strong’s # 4416) which means firstborn or first begotten.
1:16 Verse 16 elaborates on the qualifications of the assertion made in v. 15 that Christ is the firstborn over all creation.
- Christ has been stated to be the creator, which is a cornerstone in the proof that Jesus was God made flesh. Here, Paul is stating factually to the Colossians that Jesus Christ, although known on earth as a man, has dominion over all that man knows. This includes the heavens and the earth without limit.
- Paul even goes on to declare that Christ has dominion over much more than is known or understood by man when he states “visible and invisible.” Paul leaves nothing out when he uses the words “all things.” Paul notes that even the cosmic powers and principalities (which apparently received some prominence in the Colossian heresy that prompted Paul to write this epistle) were created in Christ. Good or bad, all are subject to Him as creator.
1:17 This verse is simply a restatement of the concepts presented in verses 15 and 16. Paul restates these in order to provide emphasis of the facts in view. “He was before all things” clearly places Christ as being prior to the creation. It points to the fact that Christ always existed eternally. He has no beginning and, therefore, no end. The second phrase “in Him all things endure” refers to the fact that Christ is the sustainer of the universe and the unifying principle of its life. Without Christ’s sustainment, the entire universe would cease to exist. (See Heb. 1:2-3).
1:18 In earlier letters, Paul used the body to illustrate the mutually equal relationship the individual members of the church have with one another. In these examples, the “head” had no special relationship over the rest: it counted as an ordinary member (I Cor. 12:21). However, in Colossians (and in Ephesians), is another view of Paul’s such that the church, as the body of Christ, relates to Christ as the head of the body. Some attempt to use this as an argument against the identity of Paul’s authorship. Note that Paul repeatedly refers to the church as the body of Christ. Christ’s headship over the church is one in which he exercises control over his people as the head of the body exercises control over the various parts. The living relationship between the members discussed in 1 Cor. and Romans is still applicable, yet the members still depend on Christ for life and power. In stating this, Paul reiterates Christ’s supremacy against the heresy of the Colossians. And He is the beginning, the firstborn -- the Greek word for firstborn here is prototokos which is derived from the word prototype, meaning first of. It is also used in verses 15 and 18. Verse 17 uses the phrase He is before all things and we find a similar reference here in verse 18 with in everything. Because Christ is the beginning and the firstborn in resurrection as well as creation, He has, therefore, become preeminent in all things.
The term church comes from the Greek word Eklesia (Strongs # 1577). It basically means assembly or called out (from the verb to call out). In the Greek City-State Church (assembly) is derived from call out, a verb used for the summons of an army to assemble. In Greek culture, it denoted the popular assembly of the full citizens of the polis or Greek City-State. From the 5th century B.C. onward, it met at regular intervals. The term was also used to describe emergency meetings.
Every citizen had the right to speak and to propose matters for discussion. In the centuries prior to the translation of the Old Testament and the time of the New Testament, the term eklesia was clearly a reference to a political activity. It was the assembly of full citizens, adopted in Greek democracy, an assembly in which political and judicial decisions were taken. Eklesia was only regarded as existing when it was actually assembled.
Greek Writers Josephus and Philo and the Septuagint
Josephus used the word eklesia some 48 times, always of a gathering. The character of the gathering varied (i.e. religious, political and spontaneous assemblies). Philo uses the term some 30 times. The Septuagint (the translation of the Old Testament into Greek) The Greek word eklesia occurs about 100 times. It represents the Hebrew qahal (assembly) about 73 times (but never edah which is congregation). The Hebrew term qahal and its Greek equivalent eklesia could describe assemblies of a less specifically religious or non-religious kind. For example, gahal is used in the gathering of an army in preparation for war (1 Sam. 17:47; II Cron. 28:14) or the coming together of an unruly and potentially dangerous crown (Ps. 26:5; Eccls. 26:5). However, most significant are those instances of eklesia (from qahal), which denote the congregation of Israel when it assembled to hear the word of God on Mt. Sinai, or later on Mt. Zion where all of Israel was required to assemble 3 times a year. Sometimes, the whole nation appears to be involved (Deut. 4:10). Therefore, we can see that the term eklesia in Greek and Jewish culture prior to Paul meant an assembly or gathering of people. It did not designate an organization or society. Although it did not have a particularly religious meaning, it could refer to meetings that were quite secular (re: those meetings of Israel before
The New Testament
Eklesia is used 114 times in the New Testament and Paul uses over half of them. We are not sure whether the Christian use of the word was first adopted from Jewish or Gentile usage, although it appears most logical that it was derived from the Septuagint use. One may wonder why the Christians did not use the term synagogue as was widely used by the Jews. It is speculated that the reason may lie in the common association of a building with Synagogue.
Paul’s Use of Eklesia
Paul uses it to greet the Thessalonians in 1 Thess.1:1 and II Thess.1:1. With it, he associates the term in God the Father and Jesus Christ, which certainly distinguishes it from the former political meaning. By adding the words “in the Lord Jesus Christ”, Paul clearly distinguishes eklesia from synagogue meetings. Paul uses the term churches in Galatians, Romans and the two Corinthian letters. We see phrases such as churches in Galatia, churches in Asia, churches in Macedonia and churches in Judea. This suggests that the term was only applied to an actual gathering of people, or to a group that gathers regularly. It is doubtful that Paul used eklesia to refer to a collective group of congregations (as in a denomination). The notion of a unified, regional or provincial church was foreign to Paul’s thinking. The primary thinking of Paul comes from 1 Cor.11:18 where he states when you assemble as a church, and to speak in church (1 Cor.14:35). Paul further defines the church as having been created divinely by God in the beginning of the two Corinthian letters, so as to be certain that it could never be a human association or religious club. Paul’s reference in Galatians 1:13 to his original persecution of the church of God further strengthens this interpretation. This reference may in fact by of the church at Jerusalem before it was distributed into a number of smaller assemblies in various parts of Judea.
Eklesia in Colossians, Philemon and other letters
Eklesia turns up 5 times in Colossians and Philemon. It is used in three separate ways. In Col. 4:16, it is used in the customary sense of assembly at Laodicea. Here an actual gathering is in view. In two references, it designates a house-church. In Col. 4:15, reference is made to Nymphas and the church that is in her house. Similarly in Philemon 2, it is clear that Philemon’s house was used as the meeting place in Colossae (“the church that meets in your house”). Other similarities used are in Rom. 16:5, 1 Cor.16:19. There are two significant instances in Colossians 1 in which eklesia has a wider reference than either the local congregation or the house-church.
1. In Col. 1:18, Paul states that Christ is the head of the body, that is, the church.
2. In 1:24, a similar expression is used about Paul’s sufferings. We can understand this wider meaning if we recognize that the context of these usages is one in which Paul is referring to our heavenly citizenship. Note the example in Galatians in which Paul refers to the distinction between the children of the present Jerusalem and the Jerusalem above.
Likewise, in Philippians, Paul refers to their heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:19-20). In Eph. 1:22, Christ is referred to as the head of the church. If the term eklesia is to be understood here as church, taking place in heaven, then this would mean that Christians participate in it as they go about their ordinary daily tasks. They’re already gathered around Christ, which is another way of saying that they now enjoy the fellowship with Him. If the term eklesia does point on some occasions at least, to a heavenly entity, then one may well ask what is its relationship to the local congregations (or even house-churches), which are styled eklesia? Certainly, local gatherings are not part of the heavenly church any more than they are part of an alleged universal church. Even when there are several gatherings in a single city (as in Corinth), the
individual assemblies are not understood as part of the church in that place, but rather as one of the churches that meet there. This suggests that each of the various local churches are manifestations of the heavenly church, tangible expressions in time and space of what is heavenly and eternal.
1:19 The reason for Christ’s preeminence over all things is now given herein verse 19: It was the Father’s pleasure. The literal words translate as: “Because in Him was pleased all the fullness to dwell.” What does all the fullness mean? It is certainly a question of much debate for this verse. There is a Gnostic technical term, which uses this same Greek word for fullness, pleroma. The Gnostics referred to pleroma as the fullness of emanations that came forth from God. It signified the uppermost world in closest proximity to God, which was separated by a boundary from the cosmos. But, according to this Gnostic teaching, God Himself was distinguished from the heavenly fullness of emanations. Note, however, that Paul writes in order to equate Jesus with the pleroma of God and not the separate distinction taught in the Gnostic heresy. Here it is quite possible that Paul intelligently uses this type of language in order to undermine a cardinal point in the Colossian heresy, which considered supernatural powers to be intermediaries between God and the world. Hence, Paul explains that Christ was indeed God in the flesh. Gnostics ignored the historic facts of Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection. To them, all the secrets of God existed in the mind. The result was two types of Gnostic practice: One being complete denial of sexual and other bodily appetites; the other being totally unrestrained indulgence of the body. Paul teaches against the belief that the way of holiness is through spiritual selfishness. He stresses that spirituality is not achieved by self-centered efforts to control human passions, but by putting on Christ, setting ones affections on Him, and so eliminating that which is not His will. Paul also stresses that true wisdom is not manmade philosophy, but the mystery of God in Christ, who indwells in all who receive Him (1:27) without distinction of individuals (3:10). This letter was written as Paul was sending a messenger to Philemon in Colossae in connection with his runaway slave (who was newly converted). The slave, Onesimus, is the same one referred to in the Book of Philemon. It was Epaphras who had brought Paul (who was in prison) the report of the church in Colossae that included many encouraging things (1:4-8) as well as the news of false teaching that threatened to lead them away from the truth of Christ (1:25). Timothy was also with Paul as this epistle was written.
Similar uses of pleroma exist in the Old Testament (Septuagint):
The sea and its fullness (I. Chron. 16:32)
The earth and everything in it (Ps. 24:1; Jer. 8:16)
The world and all it contains (Ps. 50:12; 89:11)
God Himself or His glory, fills the whole universe (Jer. 23:24; Ps. 72:19)
Note that these references to the immanence of God and His personal involvement in the world are certainly not supportive of the Gnostic view of pleroma.
The pleasure of God is also a theme often described in the Old Testament. Ps. 44:3; 147:11; 149:4 designate divine election.
Take special note to God’s
choosing and His dwelling place. In Deuteronomy, this theme is repeated where God wants His name to dwell (Deut. 12:5, 11: 14:23; 16:2, 6, 11; 26:2, etc.). All of these concepts come together here in Coll. 1:19 in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is the place where God in all His fullness was pleased to take up His residence. All attributes of God -- His spirit, word, wisdom and glory -- are perfectly displayed in Christ. he is the one mediator between God and
the world of mankind. The Colossian Christians didn’t need to fear these supposed supernatural powers who controlled men’s lives.