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Colossians 1:24 – 2:5

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014

Colossians 1:24

This verse is one of those puzzling verses that it is far easier to skip over than to explain. Here are some comments:

[1] Obviously Paul is not claiming that his suffering makes up for something that is lacking in the suffering of Christ on the cross as a atoning sacrifice for our sins. Paul understood clearly that the death of Christ, and only the death of Christ, achieved our salvation, and achieved it completely. The vicarious, substitutionary, sufferings of Christ have been completed ‘once for all’, according to Hebrews, so that there is no further offering for sin required [Hebrews 10:12,18]. So we can, and must, leave that interpretation of this verse aside.

[2] Jesus warned his followers that they would suffer at the hands of men just as he himself suffered:

John 15:18: ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’
John 15:20: ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’.

And taught that this persecution was a cause to rejoice [even as Paul rejoiced - Colossians 1:24]:

‘Matthew 5:11,12: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad …’

[3] The proclamation of the gospel exposes the messenger to attack. The messenger is the target of the world’s hatred of and rejection of God. So long as the gospel is preached, that long there will be opposition. The messenger is also exposed to attack by those wolves in sheep’s clothing who masquerade as preachers of the gospel but who are really false teachers or false prophets. Until the gospel is proclaimed in every tribe and language and people, until Christ returns, the messengers and teachers of the true gospel will suffer at the hands of religious people who hold false views, just as Christ suffered during the days of his earthly ministry.

Paul rejoices in this. Because this struggle means that the gospel is being preached, the church is being built up both numerically and in maturity. So for this reason he continues to struggle [see 1:29, and 2:1,2]. His constant praying [1:3,9] and his writing of this letter are part of that struggle, in which he engages for the sake of Christ’s body, the church [1:24].

Colossians 1:25 to 2:4:

Paul now begins to directly address the situation in Colosse where false teaching was unsettling the Christians and trying to entice them away from pure faith in Jesus Christ. In the next few verses his aim is to reassure the Christians that in Jesus Christ they have all the knowledge of God. It is not necessary, as proposed by the false teachers, that they have to leave Christ behind as an inferior first step and move on to additional revelation of God from other, including angelic, sources. Christ is enough. Indeed Christ is all. He gives them one fact after another leading up to his bold and exclusive statement in 2:3 and his repudiation of the false teaching in 2:4.

Colossians 1:25

As he begins his defence of Jesus Christ, he first of all reaffirms his own commission. God commissioned him. God gave him a specific task. This was

‘to present to you the word of God in its fullness’ – and that is what he is endeavouring to do in this letter. He has heard of the corruption of the word of God being presented by the false teachers, he has heard how it diminished Jesus Christ and diminished the power and impact of the cross of Christ. He knows that it is his responsibility, given to him by God, to make sure these Colossian believers, of whom he has heard from Epaphras, understand God’s truth in its fullness. In this brief letter he includes more aspects of the true identity of Christ, and more aspects of the salvation obtained through the death of Christ than in any other letter. This is his burden, this is his commission from God. He will not, he cannot, allow the word of God to be diminished.

Colossians 1:26

Paul explains what he means by ‘the word of god in its fullness’. It is:

‘the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations’ – First of all, it is ‘the mystery’. Something that people knew was there, but which they did not understand. We see evidence of this mentioned in other Scriptures:

Luke 10:21-24: Here Jesus, speaking to the disciples, said: ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it’. In seeing and hearing Jesus Christ, the disciples are seeing and hearing that hidden mystery which the Old Testament prophets and kings knew was there, but also knew that they did not know or understand it. The form of the Greek verbs used in Luke indicate that those old prophets and kings would have loved to catch just a glimpse of what the disciples were seeing continually, and to hear just the littlest bit of what the disciples were hearing continually. Because in Jesus Christ, that which was hidden is now in the open.

In 1Peter 1:10-12 Peter repeats the truth that the old prophets knew there was hidden truth in the messages they spoke and wrote. They wished they knew what it was. They wished they could understand it. But they couldn’t. It remained hidden. [Peter also adds that ‘the angels’ also wanted to understand it.]

‘but is now disclosed to the saints’ – That which was hidden for ages and generations, is now revealed. It is no longer hidden. But this is true only for ‘the saints’ – that is, those whom God has regenerated and made his own in Christ Jesus. It is only these for whom God’s truth is no longer a mystery. Their eyes have been opened so that they now see.

It is this mystery, once hidden, but now disclosed, that Paul was commissioned by God to preach in its fullness. It is not simply that he preached Jesus Christ, but that he preached Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of the Old Testament, as the mystery that was hidden in it. Paul preached Jesus Christ as the goal, content and meaning of all God’s previous revelation. The Old Testament was written in anticipation of Jesus Christ; from Genesis to Malachi, it speaks of Jesus Christ. This is not only in words of straight predictive prophecy, but in history, in people, in ritual, in law. As Jesus said: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me...' (John 5:39).

All of the Old Testament, of which Christ was the hidden mystery’, has its purpose, its goal, its fulfilment, in Jesus Christ. The false teaching that enticed people beyond Christ to further revelation had not understood this reality. All of God’s previous revelation was leading up to, preparing the way for, speaking in advance of, the incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is its complete fulfilment. He is its complete meaning. There is nothing more.

The saints, those who are saved by Christ, know this.

Thus Paul, in 1Corinthians 2:6-10, speaks of this hidden mystery:

‘… we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” - ‘but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.’

God’s word in its fullness, this mystery, existed before time began. The whole incarnation-salvation package was in God’s mind even before he created the world:

‘This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time’ [2Timothy 1:9].
‘… the hope of eternal life, which God promised before the beginning of time’ [Titus 1:2].

From Genesis onwards God spoke of it in many and varied ways moving towards his final revelation in Jesus Christ. The whole Old Testament thus speaks of Christ, anticipating and predicting his coming and his sin-bearing, substitutionary death. Thus it has been said of the two testaments of the Bible: The New is in the Old concealed: the Old is in the New revealed.

Colossians 1:27

‘To them God has chosen to make known …’ That is, to ‘the saints’ [verse 26]. The Greek reads ‘To them God has willed to make known’. God’s choice, God’s will, was to make this known to those who believe in him. It is not something anyone and everyone can understand. It can only be understood if God opens our eyes. This ignorance and inability is mentioned elsewhere:

‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’ [Matthew 16:17].

‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ [Matthew 11:27].

‘If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ [2Corinthians 4:3,4].

Even the Psalm writer understood this inability when he prayed: ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law’ [Psalm 119:18].

‘among the Gentiles’ – the anticipatory, hidden revelation in the preparatory, predictive Old Testament was known by very few who were not Israelites [although the Israelites were supposed to reveal God to the nations]. But now that the truth is revealed in Christ in all its fullness, now that the mystery is no longer hidden, God willed to make it known among the Gentiles also. Christ’s final command was that his followers make disciples of all nations. But there is more to it than that. Paul does not expand this here, but in Ephesians he makes it quite clear that the incorporation of the Gentiles into the people of God was always his plan. He describes this inclusion of the Gentiles quite fully in Ephesians 2:11-22. He then goes on to say that this eternal purpose of God to include Gentiles and Jews together in Christ constitutes part of the ‘mystery’:

‘Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace … the mystery made known to me by revelation … you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus’ [Ephesians 3:2-6].

This is a critical point in respect to the Colossian false teachers: some of them were requiring the Gentiles to conform to Jewish rituals and observances in order to be acceptable to God. In other words, they were unacceptable while they remained Gentiles in terms of religious practice. But the glorious riches of the gospel means that Gentiles are incorporated into Christ apart from any performance or adherence to the rituals of Israel.

‘the glorious riches of this mystery’ -  The Greek reads ‘the riches of the glory of this mystery’. Either way, Paul is extolling the gospel. It is characterised by glory. It is characterised by riches. It is not cheap. It is not small. It is not mundane. It is not common. It is not something to throw away because you have found something better. There is nothing better. There is nothing that can compare – nothing of the same kind that can be placed along side as an equally attractive option. The New Testament uses other similarly superlative concepts:

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a filed. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field’ [Matthew 13:44].

‘… his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in Christ [Ephesians 1:6].

‘… the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus’ [Ephesians 2:7].

‘… to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ’ [Ephesians 3:8].

‘… that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you …’ [Ephesians 3:16].

To know Jesus Christ and his salvation is to have received from God the most incredible gift, the ultimate treasure.

‘which is Christ in you, the hope of glory’ – in contrast to the false teaching and its ritual and legalistic requirements, Paul here states firmly a central aspect of this gospel mystery: that Christ in you is the hope of glory. Not your ritual performance. Not your conformity to any legalistic or mystical expectations. Not any of those things that he will warn against in Colossians 2.

Christ in you’ – Paul says a lot about the believer being ‘in Christ’. Indeed some people believe that this ‘in Christ’ concept is the key factor in Paul’s understanding of salvation. But here he looks at an opposite fact: ‘Christ in you’. This is not something he mentions at all frequently. At least not in those terms.

When Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come and indwell those who believed in him, he defined this as he himself coming and living in the believer. In the context of promising the Spirit he said:

‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you’ [John 14:18]
‘On that day you will know that … I am in you’ [John 14:20]
‘… we will come to him and make our home with him’ [John 14:23]
‘I am coming back to you’ [John 14:28].

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus [Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19; 1Peter 1:11]. Jesus, by his Spirit, dwells in every believer. The Spirit of Christ within us:

Testifies that we are God’s children [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6]
Seals us as God’s possession [2Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13]
Guarantees our inheritance [2Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14],

‘the hope’ – The indwelling Christ is thus the believer’s sure and certain confidence that all that God has promised to do in and through Christ he will do. Hope, as we have already seen in 1:5, is not an uncertain wishing. It is a confident assurance, a knowing. The certainty, the assurance is not something conjured up by positive thinking, but is grounded in the very person of Christ. Because he can be trusted, we can be totally confident. For this reason Paul states:

‘I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day’ [2Timothy 1:12].

And the writer to the Hebrews urges us:

‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful’ [Hebrews 10:23].

As the Scripture testifies: Christ himself is our hope [1Timothy 1:1].

‘of glory’ – There are over-lapping and interweaving aspects to this glory.

[1] There is the ultimate destination to which believers are moving, commonly called ‘heaven’. There we will be present with God, seeing and surrounded by his absolute glory. Sin will not be there. Evil will not be there. All will be praise and worship and glory.

[2] There is our personal perfection in that eschatological ‘day’. We will be as glorious as God created us to be. Just as there is no sin in heaven, so there will be no sin in us.

[3] There is, while we are waiting for that, an ever-increasing ‘glory’ [an increasing likeness to God] being gradually wrought in us as the indwelling Holy Spirit gradually transforms us more and more into the image of Jesus.

About this multi-dimensional glory the Scriptures state:

‘… we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ [Romans 5:2]
‘… our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us’ [Romans 8:18]
‘ … the glorious freedom of the children of God’ [Romans 8:21]
‘And we, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ [2Corinthians 3:18, footnote]
‘… the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints’ [Ephesians 1:18]
‘When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory’ [Colossians 3:4]
‘… we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’ [Titus 2:13].

For all of this Christ is our hope – our sure, certain confidence. Not just for Jews, but for Gentiles also. This outcome, this confidence that transcends all other considerations, this ‘Christ in you’ guaranteeing salvation, is the hidden mystery unveiled in the gospel.

Colossians 1:28

‘We proclaim him …’ – Here in one small word Paul gives us the complete content of his gospel, the complete content of the ‘mystery’ – ‘him’. Jesus Christ. That is all anyone needs to know: Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ – the one who reveals God. Jesus Christ – the one who saves us. But the false teachers were adding extra information, both to the knowledge of God and to the way of salvation.

The Gospel, the hidden mystery now made known, centres on Jesus Christ. Not on my need for fulfilment or whatever. Not on my need to escape from hell and judgement. Not on whether I am good enough or spiritual enough or worthy enough. Not on rules or regulations or rituals. Not on my mystical or subjective human experiences. Not on my commitment or my sincerity. Not on my veneration of tradition. Not on my ancestors or my history. Not on my ability to repeat creeds or confessions.

The Gospel is one thing: Jesus Christ. Paul proclaimed him.

‘admonishing and teaching’ – Commentators suggest that ‘admonishing’ [= warning] is with a view to bringing people to repentance, and ‘teaching’ [= instructing] is with a view to bringing people to, or increasing their, faith. As they proclaimed Jesus Christ, Paul, and the other apostles and teachers, were warning their hearers to repent of their existing beliefs, to put aside the ‘god’ they had believed in, and to embrace Jesus Christ as their God. At the same time they were instructing them about who Jesus is and what he did to save them.

‘everyone’ – for yet another time Paul mentions the fact that the gospel is for everyone – not just the Jews, but ‘everyone’, Jew and Gentile alike. [Refer to 1:6,23, 27.] It is not an add-on Jewish thing. It is for the whole world.

‘with all wisdom’ – Commentators discuss whether this refers to how Paul taught everyone, or to what Paul taught everyone. In favour of the latter are [1] Paul’s prayer in 1:9 and his instruction in 3:16, both of which point to the importance of believers having ‘all’ knowledge or understanding or wisdom; and [2] the concept being taught by the false teachers that there was advanced knowledge which only the spiritual elite could attain.

‘so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ’ – the word translated ‘perfect’ is teleion. With only two exceptions this word is translated ‘perfect’ by the King James Version. However in the NIV it is translated variously – perfect, mature, perfection, adults, finish. The key concept embedded in the word is that of something being brought to or achieving its intended goal. Something has been brought to completion. Paul has already told us in 1:22 that God ‘presents’ us ‘holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation’ in Christ. This is what happens when a person is united to Christ by faith. Now Paul states that the purpose of his preaching ‘everyone’ is to ‘present’ [same word as in 1:22] everyone ‘perfect in Christ’. In other words, the reason he proclaims Christ, the reason he admonishes and teaches, is to bring people to this point of faith where they are united to Christ, and, being united to Christ, are, in Christ, ‘perfect.’

There is another line of interpretation that understands this verse to mean that Paul’s purpose in proclaiming Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone is to bring about changed lives, to make people ‘perfect’ in the way they live. This, however, is contradicted by his addition of the words ‘in Christ’. His goal is not to make people perfect in themselves, but to present people perfect in Christ.

Colossians 1:29; 2:1

‘To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me’ – [We have already noted Paul’s struggle in verse 24.] He uses two words: ‘labour’ translates kopiao, which literally refers to feeling fatigued, and by inference to hard work; ‘striving’ translates the verb agonizomai, which has an interesting derivation: The noun agon refers to a place of contest – an arena, a stadium, a racecourse – where combatants strive [agonizomai] to win, and figuratively to the contest itself. There is another related noun, agonia, which refers to the actual contest or struggle, and has also the meaning of violent struggle and agony. This is the kind of struggle that Paul is involved in in proclaiming Christ, in making known the mystery of God. And it is more than a human can sustain. It takes ‘all his (God’s) energy’ – that is, the strong and powerful operation of God working for, in and through him, to enable him to engage, and to keep on engaging, in this task.

‘I want you to know how much I am struggling for you …’ Here Paul uses the noun agon, not a verb. He wants them to know how great the struggle, the contest, is. As he indicates in Ephesians 6:12, the struggle is ‘not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’. Yes, he is verbally fighting the false teachers. Yes, he is addressing human beings and trying to get them to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But behind the false teachers, behind the blind unbelief of men, are Satan and the forces of evil, who have deceived the nations and seek to hold them in that deception.

Colossians 2:2

Here Paul states the fourfold purpose of his continuing struggle to make Christ known in all his fullness:

‘that they may be encouraged in heart’ – The gospel is not just for the unconverted. It is not just about ‘getting people saved’. The gospel, the truth of God in all its fullness, the mystery that was hidden for ages but is nor revealed – this is what Paul proclaims with such struggling. And it is this that he still proclaims to those who have already believed. It is this that will result in their being ‘encouraged in heart’. The word translated ‘encouraged’ is ‘parakaleo’ – to comfort. But it does not mean to comfort in a soothing, sedative kind of way, but in a bracing way. Hence, ‘encourage’. The truth about Jesus Christ and about his cross encourages those who believe. False teaching lures us away from focus on Christ to focus on ourselves, and away from focus on the completed work of Christ for us to focus on our own imperfect works. It dissolves assurance. It discourages all but the proud. But the message of Christ strengthens and encourages.

‘and united in love’ – ‘united in love’ translates sumbibazo. The sum is a prefix meaning ‘together’. The bibazo means to ‘force’. Thus – forced together, knit together. Because of and on the basis of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul and the apostles proclaimed, these Colossians – whether they are Jewish, or Gentile, or Roman, or whatever – are welded together. And they are welded together ‘in love’ – the same love of God that has broken down the barriers between them and him, has also broken down the barriers that separated them from each other, as he will tell them later in this letter. But the false teaching was re-erecting barriers, dissolving the unity, creating divisions and hierarchies, dispensing with the love of God that saved them.

‘that they may have the full riches of complete understanding’ – The Greek actually reads ‘all riches of full assurance of understanding’. Paul here returns to a point he has been emphasising repeatedly: the riches of God’s truth, the importance of understanding that truth, and the sure and certain confidence that accompanies knowing the truth of the gospel. Again, the false teaching undermined assurance because it minimized Jesus Christ and minimized the impact of his death. It impoverished those who embraced it.

‘in order that they may know the mystery of God’ – so Paul continues to struggle to get these Colossian [and Laodicean] believers to really know this ‘mystery’ of God that he proclaims. He will not give in; he will not give up and let the heresy have full sway. He will not stand by and see the Colossians robbed of their assurance of salvation, he will not stand by and see Jesus Christ robbed of his identity and power to save.

‘namely, Christ’ – again Paul gives us a one word summary of all the truth of God. Christ himself is the ‘mystery’ of God. He himself is the truth that was hidden for ages and is now revealed. He himself is the word of God in all its fullness of which Paul previously wrote. He himself is the ‘glorious riches’.

Colossians 2:3

‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ – Just in case we have not noticed it already from all that he has been saying,  Paul comes straight out and puts it in unmistakable words: in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  This consolidates what Paul has already emphasised: everything there is to know about God is known in and through Jesus Christ.

Note again the high value Paul gives to the knowledge of God in Christ: he calls it ‘all the treasures’. This is not something that one would become bored with, or dissatisfied with. This is the ultimate, the absolute. So valuable, so great, so powerful, so precious is Jesus Christ that to discard him and move on to something or someone else is to have never really known him, to expose one’s ignorance of him.

In reference to the false teaching this fact sounds a strong warning: that any knowledge of God that comes from any other source than Jesus Christ is not to be trusted. At worst it is a lie; at best diluted and/or distorted. Because it will always contain some element of error it can never be true truth. The element of error, even if it is only the error of omission, inevitably adulterates the whole body of truth. Jesus Christ alone contains, and reveals to us, the true knowledge of God. To search beside or beyond Jesus Christ, as the false teachers advocated, is to move into darkness.

Colossians 2:4

‘I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine sounding arguments’ – Here is the reason for Paul’s strong affirmation of Jesus Christ as the one place were the truth about God can be found. It is urgent for his readers to know this because of the presence of false teaching. That false teaching was deceptive – it ‘lead people astray by false reasoning’ [Lightfoot]. That false teaching used ‘fine sounding arguments’ – that is, persuasive words. It sounded good, and its proponents knew how to promote it to ensure that it sounded good. Such is the nature of any false teaching that succeeds to entrap people. Only the real, deep conviction that Christ is who and what he is will ensure these believers are not led astray.

Colossians 2:5

‘For though I am absent … I am present with you in spirit’ - Paul may be absent physically, but he considers himself to be ‘with’ them in spirit. The ‘with’ is not the with of sharing a physical location, but the with of sharing together with. He identifies with them in their faith. He identifies with them in their struggle to resist the false teaching. And, he says –

‘I … delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is’ – such order and such solidity will protect them against the errors being promoted among them.