Colossians 1:1-9

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014

Colossians 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God

In his opening greetings in most of his letters Paul affirms his divine appointment as an apostle:

Romans 1:1: ‘Paul … called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God’
1Corinthians 1:1: ‘Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’
2Corinthians 1:2: ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’
Galatians 1:2: ‘Paul, an apostle – sent not from man, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father …’
Ephesians 1:1: ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’
Colossians 1:1: ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’
1Timothy 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope’.
2Timothy 1:1: ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’
Titus 1:1: ‘Paul … an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect …’

‘an apostle’ – The Greek word for ‘apostle’ is apostolos.  The literal meaning is ‘one who is sent’.  It refers to a person who has been delegated or commissioned to go, speak and act on behalf of another, as representative of the other.

Within the New Testament we find two kinds of ‘apostles’: [1] those comprising the eleven faithful disciples, plus Matthias [Acts 1:12-26] and Paul, who were witness of the risen Christ, and who with their message and ministry were the foundation on which the church was built [Ephesians 2:20], and [2] those who were parallel to those servants of God whom we now term ‘missionaries’ [for example, Andronicus and Junias, Romans 16:7].

‘of Christ Jesus’ – There are a number of layers of meaning in this phrase. [1] Paul was commissioned by Jesus Christ: it was Jesus Christ who sent him out to preach to the Gentiles. [2] Paul’s mandate was to proclaim Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ was the content of his message. [3] Paul spoke as the emissary, representative or ambassador, of Jesus Christ: he spoke to people on Christ’s behalf [see 2Corinthians 5:20].  

‘Christ’ – the English ‘Christ’ translates the Greek ‘christos’, which equates with the Hebrew ‘Messiah’. It refers to the Anointed One long promised in the Old Testament, and long awaited by the Jews. [The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah; they deny that Jesus is the Christ.] In the Gospels people referred to the Messiah as ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ [Matthew 16:16]; ‘the Christ, the Son of God’ [John 11:27]; ‘the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One’ [Mark 14:61]. Each of these attribute deity to the Messiah.

‘Jesus’ – this is the name the angel instructed Joseph to call Mary’s baby. It means ‘the LORD saves’. This is his human name, but it points to both his deity and to the fact that he, as a human being, will die the substitutionary death necessary for our salvation.

‘by the will of God’ -  Some contemporaries of Paul denied his right to be called an ‘apostle’, and questioned both his authority and his message. For this reason he is very careful to indicate that his appointment as an apostle was neither from himself or from other humans; it was from God.

The record of Paul’s commissioning by Jesus Christ is included a number of times in the New Testament. Paul, then ‘Saul’, was totally opposed to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. His will, his choice was to discredit and destroy both. Indeed he believed that he was doing the will of God and upholding God’s truth and God’s honour by his determined opposition to the name of Jesus Christ. His confrontation by Jesus Christ on the Damascus road, and his commissioning by Jesus Christ as an apostle to the Gentiles, was totally unsought by him and totally unexpected.

God, in the person of his risen and exalted Son, intervened. He had a purpose for this man, Saul of Tarsus, a purpose that was in his mind right from Saul’s conception [see Galatians 1:15, (NIV 1984 footnote)]. This apostleship, this commission, came from God’s purpose and God’s initiative, not from Saul. Nor did it come from any of the original apostles: they were afraid of him, doubting the integrity of his conversion.

Perceptions about ‘the will of God’ today.
Some Christians today have a very limited and rather dangerous perception of the ‘will of God’, in which they believe that it is necessary for them to personally ‘find God’s will for their lives’, with the very heavy fear that if they do not find it, or if they mistake it, they will ‘miss out on God’s best’ or on ‘God’s blessing’. The implications of this belief are quite undesirable, and interfere with the believer’s joy and peace, insulting the character of God and undermining the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.

For an article on ‘finding the will of God’ go here: http://www.godswordforyou.com/individual-studies/208-finding-the-will-of-god

For a study on ‘your will be done’ in the Lord’s Prayer go here: http://www.godswordforyou.com/bible-studies/lords-prayer/146-study-five-your-will-be-done

‘and Timothy our brother’ – In several places Paul calls Timothy his ‘son’ – because of his relation to Timothy as an older believer ‘fathering’ this younger believer:

1Timothy 1:2: ‘To Timothy my true son in the faith’
1Timothy 1:18: ‘Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction …’
2Timothy 1:2: ‘To Timothy, my dear son …’

Yet here in Colossians, and elsewhere, he calls him ‘our brother’.

In doing so Paul does three things:

From his own perspective he recognized Timothy as his own brother in the Lord, on an even par with himself, even though in terms of age and spiritual maturity he, Paul, was the older, the teacher, the mentor.

In the broader sense, he identifies Timothy as ‘brother’ both to Paul’s other co-workers, and to the recipients of the letter.

He makes it clear that the concerns expressed in this letter are not his alone; Timothy joins with him in those concerns, and in the affirmations of truth and the warning and instructions contained in the letter.


Colossians 1:2:

The recipients of the letter are addressed as ‘the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse’.

‘holy’ -  The Greek word translated ‘holy’ or ‘saints’ is the adjective hagios.  Its core objective meaning is ‘set apart. In biblical context it means anything or anyone who is set apart by God as God’s special possession for God’s special use. It is no longer common, no longer ordinary. It, or he/she, belongs to God. It is this objective meaning that Paul employs in Colossians 1:2.

In a secondary sense the above objective meaning has subjective ramifications: because all Christians are ‘set apart’ by God for God, there is an expectation, a responsibility, to live set apart [holy] lives – no longer reflecting or squashed into conformity to the unbelieving world [Romans 12:2], but reflecting the nature and character of God. It is towards this subjective holiness that Paul urges his readers in the latter half of this letter.

‘faithful’ –  from the Greek pistos – faithful, believing.  It is a way of referring to genuine believers. Paul is addressing his letter to those in Colosse who are ‘holy and faithful brothers in Christ’, not to those who are not ‘in Christ’ because they do not believe in him.

‘brothers in Christ’ -  a reference to the solidarity of all genuine believers. This is a unity that transcends the divisions caused by location, time and gender, and also those divisions caused by non-critical doctrinal questions. [Note the footnote in the 2011 NIV: ‘The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers both men and women, as part of God’s family.’] Note the one thing that holds believers together as ‘brothers’ is the fact that they are ‘in Christ’. Go here http://www.godswordforyou.com/bible-studies/salvation-and-the-work-of-christ/824-study-16-union-with-christ  for an in-depth look at what it means to be ‘in Christ’.

Colosse - a city in the Roman province of Galatia, roughly midway between Ephesus to the west and Psidian Antioch to the east. It appears that Paul had not visited this city, but had had some contact with them, perhaps during his time in Ephesus, and/or through Epaphras, Philemon and Onesimus.

‘grace and peace to you’‘grace’ is the operating principle of the kingdom of God for all who are in Christ: it means that those who are in Christ no longer have to relate to God on the basis of their religious performance [obedience to law, performance of ritual, etc] but always, ever and only on the basis of the totally free, unmerited, unearned, undeserved gift of complete salvation in Jesus Christ. ‘peace’ is the double-barrelled impact of this grace-based salvation: the objective peace that has been permanently established between God and believer through the death of Jesus Christ [the removal of all impediments, all barriers, all enmity, all judgement, all wrath, all guilt], and the subjective experience of the resultant feeling of peace in the presence of God that is generated by the assurance of the objective peace [freedom from guilt, freedom from fear of God’s judgement, freedom from fear of rejection by God, etc].

‘from God our Father’ [some manuscripts add ‘and the Lord Jesus Christ’] – The grace and peace with which Paul greets his readers has its source in ‘God our Father’. This immediately assures us of two very important perspectives

[1] that God is ‘our’ Father – the Father of all who are ‘holy and faithful … in Christ’. He is not simply ‘the’ Father, but, personally, individually and corporately ‘our’ Father. From Ephesians we learn that this is by adoption [Ephesians 1:5].  And,

[2] that there is no tension, no dichotomy, between Jesus Christ, the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us, and God the Father. The salvation purchased for us by the death of the Son comes to us from God our Father. God the Father is not against us. Rather he is for us.


Colossians 1:3

‘we always …’
The first thing Paul says to the Colossians is to mention his prayers and thanksgiving for the Colossian believers. In this he uses the plural ‘we’, including at least Timothy (mentioned in verse 1 as one of the senders of the letter). Others mentioned as sending greetings in 4:7-14 may also be among those who prayed for the Colossians.

It is clear that Paul and his associates regularly prayed for the Colossian believers: ‘always’ [verse 3] and ‘we have not stopped praying for you’ [verse 9]. This continuity of both the thanking God for and the praying for is also indicated by Paul’s use of present tense for both the verb (we thank) and the participle (praying).

‘God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ – the Colossian culture was filled with many gods. As a Roman city it was exposed to Roman gods, including emperor worship. It would also have known of the Greek gods, as the whole Middle Eastern region had been immersed in Greek culture following the victories of Alexander the Great. For example, nearby Ephesus was a key centre for the worship of Diana [also known as Artemis]. In addition, migrant Jews had brought Judaism with them as they spread throughout the Mediterranean area. The word ‘god’ was thus subject to many differing interpretations. So Paul is very careful to identify the God whom he thanked for the Colossian believers and to whom he prayed for them.

The God he addressed in thanksgiving and prayer is ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. This is not a meaningless, throw-away title. It is an extremely important fact. The God to whom Paul prayed is the God identified by Jesus Christ:

‘I and the Father are one’ – John 10:30.
‘If you knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him’ – John 14:7.
‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?’ – John 14:9.

When Paul prayed, this is the God he addressed: not any god, nor one god among many, nor even the concept of ‘God’ held by his Jewish contemporaries, but the God revealed in Jesus Christ his Son, who made exclusive claims that ruled out the validity of all other ‘god’ claims, and that exposed the contemporary Jewish understanding of ‘God’ as distorted. The God whom Paul addresses in prayer is precisely ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ – a God who is unique, a God whose identity excludes the possibility of any other real God.

But this uniqueness, this exclusiveness, is not the only truth indicated by Paul’s reference to God as ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. A second, and equally important, truth is, as mentioned previously, that God is for us. Jesus Christ is for us, that is evident in his incarnation and his substitutionary death for us. But what about God? Is God  for us? The God to whom we pray is the Father of Jesus, the God who loved us so much that he gave his only Son [John 3:16] for our salvation, and who demonstrated the greatness of his love for us by sending his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins that we might live through him [1John 4:9-10]. Everything Jesus said and did he said and did because that was what the Father told him to say and to do. Indeed his words and his works were the words and the works of his Father [John 10:37,38; 14:10; 17:8]. He came, not as a renegade, not to twist the Father’s arm, but precisely to do the will of his Father [John 6:38]. Because God is the Father of Jesus there is not one question left about whether or not God loves us, not one question left about whether or not he is for those who believe in his Son. [For further biblical affirmation read Romans 8:28-39.]


Colossians 1:4

‘we have heard (Greek text is literally ‘having heard’) of your faith in Christ Jesus’ – Although Paul, when he wrote this letter, had never met the Colossian believers, he had heard reports of their faith in Christ. Verse 7 indicates that Epaphras was the source of Paul’s information. The literal ‘having heard’ indicates that this thanksgiving and prayer for the Colossians began when Paul first heard of the conversion of these Colossians to belief in Christ. [As we read through this letter it is clear that he had also heard reports of the false teaching that was making inroads into the church and corrupting their faith.]

‘of your faith in Christ Jesus’ – regardless of their religious or philosophical backgrounds Paul has heard that the Colossians to whom he addresses his letter have ‘faith in Christ Jesus’. They have changed their religious allegiance, they have changed the ‘god’ in whom they believe: that is, they have repented of their prior belief and religious allegiance whatever it previously was. Their belief, their faith, is now ‘in Christ Jesus’. They have acknowledged him as their God. For each one of them this meant a radical, and even dangerous, change:

For the Jews among them it meant discarding their unitarian understanding of God and accepting that the one God in whom they believed existed in three persons - Father, Son and Spirit. It meant accepting the real and full deity of the man official Judaism had identified as a blasphemer, worthy of death. It also meant discarding the legalism and ritualism into which Judaism had descended and embracing grace.

For the Romans it meant turning their backs on physical idols, and on emperor worship, and embracing an invisible God. Christianity drew from the unbelieving Romans the accusation of ‘atheism’ because it had no visible gods, and the threat of official persecution, including death, because of its refusal to engage in emperor worship.

For the Greeks also it meant replacing idols with the invisible God. In addition, it meant a radical reorientation of their philosophical thinking: to the Greeks ‘matter’ was evil, and ‘spirit’ was good. This made the very idea of God-in-human-flesh exceedingly foolish, and salvation through the crucifixion repulsive. Yet belief in Jesus Christ includes belief in a real incarnation and a real crucifixion.

From the central fact of this faith in Christ Jesus the whole of their lives and relationships now take their significance. It is in the context of this faith that they now live.

‘and the love you have for all the saints’ – the Colossians’ radical change of belief has bonded them together with a noticeable love for each other.  This love transcended the boundaries which had previously separated them – religion, race, gender, social status, culture.  Paul chose to use the word ‘agape’. This is a word that was present in secular usage, meaning something like ‘prefer’, but was hijacked by the New Testament writers who gave it a peculiarly Christian meaning. It refers primarily to the love of God for the unlovable – that undeserved, unmerited, unearned love that is characterised by grace and is not conditioned by anything in the person loved. God loved us because he chose to love us, not because anything in us attracted him to us, not because anything in us met some need in him, and not because he felt some affinity with us. In those who are the objects of this divine love the Spirit of God generates a similar love [Galatians 5:22] that reflects and expresses this love of God for them [1John 3:14]. Indeed, Jesus commands this same kind of love in his disciples [John 15:12]. Paul had heard reports that the Colossian Christians demonstrated this love.

‘saints’ -  the same word translated ‘holy’ in verse 2. Note that the Colossians love is for ‘all’ the saints. It embraces every genuine believer.

Colossians 1:5

Paul acknowledges that the faith and love observable in the Colossian believers has a specific foundation: the ‘hope’ stored up for them in heaven.’ Where the NIV repeats ‘the faith and love’ and adds ‘that spring from’, the Greek text simply has ‘because of’. Their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all the saints, is simply ‘because of the hope stored up for you in heaven …’

‘because of’ – what motivates, enables, empowers their faith in Christ and their love for each other? Where does this faith and love come from? It is ‘because of …’ that is, the reason they have this faith and this love …

‘the hope that is stored up for you in heaven’

‘hope’ in the New Testament is not the weak and uncertain wishing that we understand by the word in everyday usage. It is, rather, something that is sure: a grand certainty, a great confidence, a solid expectation, that is coloured with a degree of pleasure. There is no element of uncertainty involved. It is this grand certainty that is the basis of and reason for the Colossian believers’ faith and love.

‘stored up for you’apokeimai – laid up, preserved, reserved, appointed, from apo – away, plus keimai – to lay, to have been laid down, to be in store. It refers to something that has been specifically set aside and kept in safe storage for a particular purpose. Thus this ‘hope’ to which Paul refers is not the Colossians’ action of hoping, or even their action of being confident, but to the content of that hope: the salvation that they (and we) have in Christ Jesus. This salvation has been set aside, preserved, reserved, in safe keeping, for them, and for us. A similar thought is found in 1Peter 1:3,4, where Peter speaks of ‘a living hope’ and of an inheritance ‘kept in heaven for you’, where the ‘kept’ means ‘reserved’, ‘kept safe’, ‘guarded’. This ‘hope’ stored up for us in heaven is impregnable – even if our subjective ‘hope’ sometimes grows dim, this ‘hope’ is unchangeable. The salvation we have in Christ is kept safe for us, it cannot be diminished, it cannot be removed, it cannot be taken away.

‘in heaven’ – Paul does not mean that we have to wait until we are ‘in heaven’ before we can get this ‘hope’. Rather he is identifying where this hope is kept safe and secure for us: it is kept secure for us ‘in heaven’. It is not secured by the quality or size of our own faith, or by the level of our personal devotedness to Christ. It is kept safe ‘in heaven’. That is where Jesus is – it is there that he entered as our great High Priest with his own blood to secure our complete and guaranteed salvation [Hebrews 4:14-16; 9:11-12,24]; it is there that Jesus, who is ‘our hope’ [1Timothy 1:1], sits at the right hand of God, and we in him [Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:3].

This ‘hope that is stored up for you in heaven’ is the salvation that is already ours in Christ. It cannot be taken away from us. It is set aside for us – kept safe ‘in heaven’. In terms of its spiritual impact, we are already enjoying it – the grace, the forgiveness, the reconciliation with God, the redemption, the adoption as God’s children, the justification by faith. It is primarily this realised spiritual salvation that Paul is referring to in verse 5. It is the sure certainty of this that produces the faith and the love to which he referred to in verse 4.

Regarding ‘hope’ as it relates to the future: Until we die or Christ returns there are two factors from which we, and the whole of creation, are still waiting for deliverance: [1] the presence of sin in us and around us, and [2] the presence of suffering. Our final deliverance from both of these when Christ returns is just as certain as the salvation we already possess in Christ.

‘and that you have already heard about in the word of truth the gospel … ’ Here Paul identifies the gospel as ‘the word of truth’. Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 1:13: ‘… you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation’. And James does it in 1:18: ‘He chose to give us birth through the word of truth’.  The Gospel is ‘the word of truth’. It is God’s truth. It is the truth about Jesus Christ. Because it is the truth it demands our belief and our obedience. Because it is the truth it is not on a par with any other message that might vie for our attention and our faith. The Colossians ‘have already heard’ this gospel, this word of truth. Paul is not referring to physical ‘hearing’, but to their critical, decisive ‘hearing’ – the Greek is in the Aorist tense. The have really heard the message as the truth of God, and in that hearing have responded appropriately. God himself, by his Spirit, has opened their deaf spiritual ears, and they have really ‘heard’.

Colossians 1:6

‘that has come to you’ – the Greek is literally ‘that is present among you’. The verb is in the present tense, and it means ‘to be present’.

‘All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing …’ Paul takes his attention off the Colossians for a moment to comment that that gospel they have decisively heard is producing the same kind of ‘fruit’  all over the world.  This ‘fruit’ is the fruit of people really hearing and believing, and the outworking of that belief in trust and obedience in their lives as increasingly they live to the glory of God. The gospel itself does not ‘grow’, but the number of those who really ‘hear’ it does grow, and its impact does increase. [The word translated ‘growing’ means ‘increasing’.] Paul is referring to the growth of the kingdom of God people respond with faith and obedience wherever the gospel is preached. This growth or increase of the gospel is numeric [as more people believe], geographical [as the gospel spreads to more and more tribes and nations], and personal [as the power of the gospel increasingly and continually transforms individual lives]. This ‘fruit’ and this ‘growth’ of the gospel continues to this day. [Note that some older English translations, based on the ‘received text’, do not contain the words ‘and growing’.]

‘just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it …’ Paul returns to his focus on the Colossians and states that this fruitfulness and increase of the gospel has been occurring in them. It started when they first ‘heard’ [same verb and tense as in verse 5] it.

‘and understood God’s grace in all its truth.’ The day they really ‘heard’ the gospel was the day they also ‘understood God’s grace’. Grace, although extremely simple, is actually very difficult for the human heart to grasp. Our human hearts are preconditioned to a works-based, or law-based, perspective. That is our default perspective. We automatically believe that we have to perform in order to be accepted, we have to meet certain standards, conform to certain rituals, and so on. We have learned this from our families, from our national and social laws, from our work situations, and from our man-made religions. Grace does not sit well with us. In our independence, egoism and pride we want to take credit for what we receive. The gospel cuts right across this default human mindset. It reduces our personal résumé to zero. It demolishes all of our perceived goodness and calls it worthless. It offends us with its affirmation of our inability and powerlessness. We do not like it. As Karl Barth has stated: ‘We would rather not live by grace. Something within us energetically rebels against it’ [p20, Dogmatics in Outline].

The Colossian believers, when they really ‘heard’ the gospel, the word of truth, also understood God’s grace. From this point on they knew, and they knew with deep personal realisation and appreciation, that their only entry into God’s presence was by grace alone, not by any merit or worthiness of their own, and they identified themselves with that grace and participated in it. The verb translated ‘understood’ is epiginosko – to become fully acquainted with, to know with appreciation. It is a knowing/understanding that unites the person with what the person knows/understands. It is an entering into what is known/understood, in contrast with a knowing/understanding that is purely objective and apart from the object known.

‘in all its truth’ - Where the NIV has ‘God’s grace in all its truth’, the Greek simply has ‘God’s grace in truth’. They understood God’s grace in its purity – unmixed, untarnished and unimpeded by the addition of perceived human merit.

This reminder in Paul’s initial remarks is important in the context of this letter, where he is about to address, among other things, aspects of false teaching that denied and undermined the grace nature of the gospel.

Colossians 1:7,8

Epaphras – Paul states that the Colossians learned the truth of the gospel and of grace from Epaphras. He describes him as ‘our dear fellow servant’ [‘dear’ = agapetos – beloved; ‘fellow servant’ = sundolos – slave or servant of the same master], a ‘faithful minister of Christ on our behalf’ [‘faithful’ = pistos – same word as in verse 2; ‘minister’ = diakonos – deacon, minister, servant].

‘on our behalf’huper hemon [some manuscripts and translations read ‘on your behalf’ – huper humon.] The preferred reading is ‘on our behalf’ – largely because the preposition huper means ‘on behalf of’ or ‘instead of’. Epaphras went to Colosse to preach the gospel on behalf of, or instead of, Paul.

‘and who also told us of your love in the Spirit’ – This is that same love that he has already mentioned in verses 4 and 5. So far he has told us three things about the Colossians’ love: it is ‘for all the saints’, it springs from the certain hope they have because of the gospel, and it is ‘in the Spirit’ – it is not a normal or natural human love, it is a love generated by the indwelling Spirit of God.

Colossians 1:9

Paul now returns to his on-going prayers for the Colossian believers.

‘For this reason, since the day we heard about you’ – Paul prays for them because he has heard about their genuine faith in Christ, and he has prayed for them ever since the day he heard.

‘we have not stopped praying for you’ – the constancy of his praying demonstrates two things: [1] the strength of his concern for all who belong to Christ, and [2] his awareness of the difficulties and pitfalls that threaten to unsettle believers. He knows that the Christian life is a struggle, a race, a fight, in which we will not survive without God’s help.

‘and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will’ . We must be careful here not to load twenty-first century western perceptions of God’s ‘will’ onto this verse. In Colossians 4:12 Paul reports the Epaphras was ‘always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured’. When we study the intervening content of this letter between these two references to Paul and Epaphras’ prayers we will realize how necessary this prayer was. There was a false teaching present that was trying to lure the Christians away from the knowledge of the ‘will’ and purpose of God revealed in Jesus Christ and into supposedly superior ‘knowledge’ of God available from additional sources.

About this ‘knowledge of his will’ the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown commentary states:

‘of his will — … chiefly that “mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself; that in the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ” [Ephesians 1:9,10] God’s “will,” whereby He eternally purposed to reconcile to Himself, and save men by Christ, not by angels, as the false teachers in some degree taught [Colossians 2:18]. There seems to have been a want of knowledge among the Colossians; notwithstanding their general excellencies; hence he so often dwells on this subject [Colossians 1:28; 2:2,3; 3:10,13; 4:5,6].’

This prayer for ‘knowledge’ of God’s will is intensified by Paul’s addition of –

‘through all spiritual wisdom and understanding’. The false teachers were offering ‘wisdom’ that came from ‘hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human traditions and the basic principles of this world’ [Colossians 2:8]. In contrast Paul and Epaphras taught the Colossians, and prayed that they would know, real spiritual wisdom – ‘namely, Jesus Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ [Colossians 2:2,3]. We will find as we go through this letter that Paul repeatedly focuses on this question of true knowledge, wisdom and understanding versus false wisdom. Their understanding ‘of God’s grace in all its truth’ to which he referred in verse 6 is under attack by the false teachers. In this context, in this fight for the truth, Paul and Epaphras pray that God will fill them with this knowledge of his will, [as distinct to the false teaching], through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Paul’s letter to them has the same purpose as these prayers.

We have in this verse three words all relating to what is going on in our minds:

‘knowledge’ = epignosis – full and accurate appreciative knowledge, related to the verb translated ‘understood’ in verse 6. [See above.]

‘wisdom’ = sophia – this word is used to refer to both the human wisdom of the false teaching [see 2:8 and 2:23] and spiritual wisdom [here and in 2:3]. Wisdom is key focus of this letter. Paul prays that they will have ‘spiritual’ wisdom.

‘understanding’ – sunesis –  the understanding, mind, intelligence. This word infers the use of one’s mind/intelligence to put things together. Paul prays that they will have ‘spiritual’ understanding.

All of this is necessary if they are to be able to put God’s truth and the false teaching side by side, recognize the difference, and hold firmly to the truth.