I. Doctrinal: The Person and Work of Christ (1:1-23)
A. Introduction (1:1-14)
1. Paul’s Greeting to the Colossians (1:1-2)
The apostle Paul regularly followed the customary form of greeting of first century letters. He first identified himself as the author with his associate Timothy and then identified his recipients followed by a brief greeting. However, he seasoned the greeting with terms that focus on the letter’s distinctively Christian character. As such, these first fourteen verses prepare the Colossian believers psychologically and spiritually for the words of warning and the exhortations that would follow. The greeting contains a biblical tone that identifies both the writer and recipients in keeping with God’s saving grace (1:1-2). This is then followed by a prayer of thanksgiving (1:3-8) and petition (1:9-14). At the same time, these introductory words (verses 1-14) provide us with insight into the church at Colossae as to their conversion and growth in Christ.
1:1 From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy my brother.
As S. Lewis Johnson so aptly put it,
Paul associates young Timothy with himself in the salutation, but the accompanying designations distinguish the men with crystal clarity. Timothy is a Christian brother, but Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus. Paul’s description of himself as apostolos Christou Iesou (AV, “an apostle of Jesus Christ”) is rooted in his arresting encounter with the risen Messiah. The marks of the Damascus Road experience are impressed indelibly upon his apostolic and theological consciousness.27
But the apostle first identified himself by the name that is specifically connected with his ministry and calling to the Gentiles. In his letters, the apostle always identified himself as Paul rather than by his Hebrew name, Saul, which means “asked for.” Paul, which comes from the Greek Paulos, means “little” and was his Roman or Gentile name. How he came to have this name is uncertain. Some think it refers to his small stature (2 Cor. 10:1, 10), but it was common practice among the Hebrews to give their children a Gentile name in addition to the Jewish one. Others think he may have taken it from Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul whom he met at Paphos (Acts 13:4-12). It is in this context that the name Paul first occurs, but it may be that Paul chose a name that closely approximated the sound of his Hebrew name, Saul. “Jews in the Greek-speaking areas took names which closely approximated to the sound of their Hebrew and Aramaic names, e.g. Silas:Silvanus; Jesus:Jason (cf. Deissmann, Bible Studies, 314, 315, and Lohse, 6).”28
Regardless, his use of the name Paul certainly illustrated how he viewed himself as a man and as a servant of the Savior and marked him out as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17; Rom. 1:5; Eph. 3:1-2, 8, 13; Col. 1:24-27. Certainly, in the sovereignty of God, the name Paul (the little one) portrayed the way the apostle saw himself by the grace of God (see 1 Cor. 15:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:15). That this is so is also suggested by the way he further identified himself as “an apostle through the will of God.”
The term “apostle” is a transliteration in a shortened form rather than an actual translation of the Greek apostolos. Apostolos means “a sent one,” but it came to be used in an official sense of one who was commissioned by another as his representative. This included special credentials and the responsibility to carry out the orders of the one who sent him. Our term “ambassador” adequately gives the basic meaning.
Such is the meaning of the word when applied to the Twelve (e.g., Luke 6:13), to Barnabas (Acts 14:14), and to Paul. The word is occasionally used in the NT in the weakened sense of “messenger” (e.g., John 13:16; 2Cor 8:23; Philippians 2:25). Here, however, the term is used to designate Paul as a commissioned ambassador for Christ.29
Others see a third or “…semitechnical sense, of a Christian with a particular commission (Acts 14:14, Barnabas; Rom. 16:7, Adronicus and Junias).”30 The nature and source of Paul’s apostleship is brought out by the words, “of Christ Jesus through the will of God.” By identifying himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God,” Paul was setting forth both his authority for writing to the Colossians and their responsibility to give heed to his encouragement and exhortations as an apostle. Paul does not use the term apostle of either Timothy or Epaphras because he was using the term in its more technical sense. We might also note that apostolos is without the Greek article. He did not view himself as “the apostle,” but only as “an apostle.”
…in the Septuagint the emphasis rests upon the sender rather than on the ones sent. Christ’s apostle, not the church’s, sent forth from Him on special divine assignment, is the thought, a thought which our Lord Himself had already expressed in His high priestly prayer regarding the Eleven, “As thou hast sent (apesteilas, same root as that of apostle) me into the world, I too have sent (apesteila) them into the world” (John 17:18).31
“Of Christ Jesus” means either, “belonging to” (possessive genitive) or “sent by” (genitive of source or subject). One is reminded of the appearance of Christ to Paul and his conversion and call on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). “Through the will of God” further stresses that His position and function as an apostle with the gifts and authority that came with this responsibility and privilege was not something he had either sought or earned. It was a calling and ministry strictly through the will and instrumentality of God (see also 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1, 11ff; 2 Tim. 1:1). So, why even mention that he was an apostle? Probably because Paul had never been to Colossae and though the Colossians may have known of him though Epaphras, he introduced himself as an apostle to remind them that he had both the right and responsibility to write to encourage and exhort them in matters of their beliefs and practice.
Paul describes himself as an “apostle of Christ Jesus” in this introduction, not because there had been attacks made on his apostleship in Colossae, as there had been at Galatia and Corinth (cf. Gal 1:1, 10–12; 1 Cor 9:1–3; 2 Cor 10–13), but since he wished to establish his credentials at the outset. He will expose and refute the false teaching (cf. 2:4, 8) that had intruded into the life of the congregation, and underscore the rightness of Epaphras’ instruction, given to this infant Christian community.…32
Because of its general use in other places, the word “apostle” should call our attention to our own responsibility as believers in Christ, which is also through the will of God. While we are not apostles in this technical and limited sense as was Paul, all believers in Christ are to live and function as ambassadors of Christ, as those sent out into the world with the good news of the saving life of Jesus Christ.
By mentioning “and Timothy my brother,” the apostle demonstrated his consideration of others and the fact he recognized the vital place his fellow workers played in the ministry of reaching and building people in Christ. Paul was a team player who promoted the gifts and abilities of others.
With these words, the apostle describes the recipients in terms that identify them spiritually and physically in relation to two spheres of life. They are identified spiritually in relation to their position in Christ and physically in relation to their geographical location, at Colossae, a reminder of the two spheres in which believers live. “Utter secularism (in Colosse only) or complete monasticism (in Christ) are not the only alternatives.”35
Literally, by way of emphasis, the Greek text reads, “to the in Colossae saints and (or “even”) believers (or faithful) brethren in Christ.” As elsewhere (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Cor. 1:1), the apostle first mentions their physical location, but then hurries on to remind them of their spiritual position and relationship to Christ. Who a believer is in Christ must take priority and become the source of the Christian’s life wherever he may find himself in the world. Barclay accurately describes what at least ought to be the experience of all believers when they are living out of their new life and resources in Christ.
The opening greeting closes with a most significant placing of two things side by side. He writes to the Christians who are in Colosse and who are in Christ. A Christian always moves in two spheres. He is in a certain place in this world; but he is also in Christ. He lives in two dimensions. He lives in this world whose duties he does not treat lightly; but above and beyond that he lives in Christ. In this world he may move from place to place; but wherever he is, he is in Christ. That is why outward circumstances make little difference to the Christian; his peace and his joy are not dependent on them. That is why he will do any job with all his heart. It may be menial, unpleasant, painful, it may be far less distinguished than he might expect to have; its rewards may be small and its praise non-existent; nevertheless the Christian will do it diligently, uncomplainingly and cheerfully, for he is in Christ and does all things as to the Lord. We are all in our own Colosse, but we are all in Christ, and it is Christ who sets the tone of our living.36
Paul addresses his readers as “saints (NET, NASB, KJV, RSV) or “holy” (NIV). “Saints” is the plural of hagios, which literally means “consecrated, set apart ones.” It is from hagiazo, which means (1) “to dedicate, separate, set apart for God,” and then (2) “to purify” in the sense of make conformable in character to such dedication.”37 Hagios is an adjective and may be used to describe the ethical condition of something as “holy, dedicated to God, sacred, or pure,” i.e., of what is reserved for God and His service or of what is set apart from sin, pure. Some examples are “the holy city” (Matt. 4:5), “the holy place” (Matt. 24:15), “the holy child” (Acts 4:27, 30), “Holy Father (John 17:11), “the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18), “holy angels” (Mark 8:38). However, it may also be used as a pure noun or substantive to refer to a particular person, place, or thing. Hagios is used of the Holy Spirit as “the Holy One” (1 John 2:20), of Christ as “the Holy One” (Rev. 3:7), of the angels as “the holy ones” (Ps. 89:5, literally, “the assembly of the holy ones”), and of Christians as “saints” or “those who have been set apart to God by God.” The main idea as used of Christians is not excellence of character, but spiritual position as set apart to God through the work of the Holy Spirit on the basis of the redemptive work of Christ.
In the Pauline epistles those who name Jesus as their Lord are called hoi hagioi, the saints. This was primarily not an ethical expression but a parallel to concepts like “called” (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1), “elect” (Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12) and “faithful” (Col 1:2). It implies association with the Holy Spirit. Christ is their sanctification as well as their righteousness and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30), and thus the One in whom they become holy to the true God. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11; cf. 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:1 f.).38
When Paul speaks of the “saints” or “holy ones,” he is not speaking of a special class of Christians who have achieved a certain level of holiness. According to the use of hoi hagioi in the New Testament, the saints are not a special class established by some church body or ecclesiastical authority as in Roman Catholicism. By contrast, this is a term used for all believers regardless of their spiritual condition whether carnal or spiritual (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2 with 3:3-5). Interestingly, I know of no place where the singular is used of just one person in the body of Christ as Saint Paul or Peter or Jude. The singular is found in Philippians 4:21, but even then it is used of those who have been made the people of God. Believers are saints not because of their conduct, but because of their relationship to Christ. Being saintly in character or living a holy life (sanctification) is one of the results of the work of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy spirit, who joins believers into union with the Savior (see 1 Cor. 12:13), is God’s special gift and enablement who is present to lead and enable Christians to live holy lives. Thus, as a term for all believers, the term saint both describes them (tells who they are) and calls them to holiness (tells them what they are to become) because of who they are in Christ.
In ancient times, hagios was used of that which was taken out of secular use and put into some kind of religious service to be devoted to the gods. In Scripture, it came to mean “set apart from the secular world to God alone as His special people for His use or purposes.”
2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 2:10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy but now you have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
It is because we are now His special people, a holy nation, that Peter earlier exhorts the people of God to live holy, set apart lives.
1:14 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, 1:15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 1:16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
Paul next identifies his readers as “faithful brothers and sisters (lit. brethren) in Christ.” “Faithful” is the plural of the adjective pistos, which may mean either “faithful” or “believing.” Commentators are fairly well divided over whether it means “faithful” or “believing” in this passage. Whether pistos means “faithful” or “believing,” because of the use of one article with the two nominatives (adjectives used as nouns) connected by “and” (kai), it is a further description of “the saints” (tois … hagiois) (see the discussion in the note on verse 2, “to the saints, the faithful…”). As I read the comments of some on this simple term, I am reminded of how a theological position can color even one’s understanding of such a term. Lightfoot was a great scholar and exegete, but his comments seem to be colored by what appears to be his belief in the perseverance of the saints versus simply the security of the saints. He writes:
This unusual addition is full of meaning. Some members of the Colossian Church were shaken in their allegiance, even if they had not fallen from it. The Apostle therefore wishes it to be understood that, when he speaks of the saints, he means the true and steadfast members of the brotherhood. In this way he obliquely hints at the defection.…39
But even if it means faithful rather than believing, Carson is correct when he writes:
…Lightfoot suggests that Paul is here hinting indirectly at the defection in the Colossian church by addressing himself specifically to the brethren who have remained faithful. While this is attractive, it hardly seems possible in view of the similar opening in the Epistle to the Ephesians. In that letter Paul is not going to develop a controversial theme, and yet he writes ‘to the faithful.’ It would seem best to regard the phrase as a stimulus and an encouragement. It simulates them by calling those who are set apart for God to be faithful to their high calling. It encourages them by reminding them that they are not alone in Colossae. As saints unto God they are also brethren of all the people of God…40
But it is not at all certain that “faithful” is what Paul intended. It could very well be that Paul is defining who saints are from the standpoint of faith. They are “believing brethren in Christ.” Christ is thus both the object of their faith and the point of spiritual union where all believers are brought together as spiritual brethren in Christ. As believing saints in Christ, they are brethren of all the people of God.
The Colossians have placed their wholehearted trust in Jesus as Son of God, Lord and Savior. The expression “in Christ,” however, does not point to him as the one in whom they have believed so much as the one in whom they, as brothers, have been brought together into a living fellowship (on the theme of incorporation in Christ see on 2:6–15).41
“In Christ” or the believer’s co-union in and with Christ is an important theme of the apostle Paul occurring close to ninety times in the New Testament. This is the theme or subject of positional truth, the biblical truth of who believers are in Christ in view of our so great salvation (the finished work of our Lord). Christians desperately need to understand that the first key to true spirituality and effective growth and fruitfulness is to grasp what God has accomplished for them in Christ.
Begin to show [people] what they are in Christ and all that the Great Physician is and they will apply it to their own life.… That is why preaching positional truth always proceeds in point of importance to life truth. In the great epistles, the doctrinal epistles like Romans and Ephesians, you have this order. Take Ephesians and its six chapters. The first three chapters tell you what Christ has done for you and then the next three chapters tell you what you can do for Him.42
The Colossians were faced with false teachers who were seeking to destroy this confidence by adding human works of one sort or another to the finished and complete salvation Christians have in Christ (see Col. 2:10).
This form of greeting or salutation is found in all of Paul’s epistles with the exception of 1 and 2 Timothy, which has “grace, mercy, and peace.” This greeting is generally viewed as a blending of both Greek and Hebrew greetings. The normal Greek greeting was chairein (the present infinitive form of chairo, “welcome, good day, greetings”). The Hebrew form was shalom, “peace.” But the use of charis in place of chairein denotes a significant Christian shift that is biblically significant. As William Barclay put it, “When Paul took and put together these two great words, grace and peace, charis and eirene, he was doing something very wonderful. He was taking the normal greeting phrases of two great nations and molding them into one.”43
These two words were taken by the Holy Spirit into the service of God and greatly enlarged and deepened in their meaning. Alone, each was missing something. May we not lose sight of the fact that it is only in Christ that both grace and peace are brought together into the biblical order of divine blessings.
The Purpose of the Greeting: This is seen in the translation, “to you.” This is derived from what is called in Greek grammar, the dative of advantage. Paul’s use of grace and peace in his greetings indicates a prayerful concern and desire for his readers because all men are in desperate need of God’s grace and its fruit, peace, as Isaiah 57:20-21 makes so clear:
But the wicked are like a surging sea that is unable to be quiet; its waves toss up mud and sand. There will be no prosperity (or peace, shalom),” says my God, “for the wicked.”
There is, then, an element of prayerful intercession in these greetings. Why? Because the Apostle desires his readers to fully comprehend God’s grace that they might also experience the various aspects of peace, which only God can give through Christ. It is the Lord Jesus who is Himself the manifestation of God’s grace as the Peacemaker and our Peace.
At the same time, Paul is challenging his readers (us included) to a renewed commitment to know, comprehend, and live by the grace of God, which gives God’s peace. We all face a grave danger of either failing or falling away from God’s grace. Either occurs when we seek to live by our own abilities or works and strategies for life (see Jer. 2:12-13; 17:5; Gal. 5:4; Heb. 12:15).
This couplet of blessing is essential, an absolute necessity for life and ministry. Grace and peace compose the stuff out of which strength, capacity, and encouragement are made.
The Order of the Divine Blessings: Biblically speaking, peace is always the product of knowing and appropriating the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This order can never be reversed. If we ignore the grace of God, we will forfeit the peace of God. Peace is the product of grace (cf. 2 Pet. 1:2-4). So, Peter exhorts us, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). The more we grasp and experience the grace of God, the more capacity we have to experience the many wonderful aspects of God’s peace whether peace with God, the peace of God, or peace with one another.
The Nature of the Divine Blessings: Since both of these words are at the heart of the gospel message and the life of sanctification, understanding the nature of God’s grace and peace in all their elements and aspects is tremendously important. Grace is a central concept in the message of the gospel, so much so that Paul referred to this message as the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; contrast with Gal. 1:6). “Peace” (eirene') occurs ninety-one times in the New Testament with fifty-four of those occurrences found in Paul’s writings. Rather than give space to a study of these terms within this commentary, please see the studies entitled, “Grace and Peace” and “Grace: Why It’s So Amazing and Awesome” at the Biblical Studies Foundation web site ( www.bible.org ).
The Source of the Divine Blessings: This is seen in the words, “from God our Father.”44 Though the apostle usually includes “and from Christ Jesus our Lord,” the absence of these words in no way minimizes the importance and place Christ Jesus plays in salvation or in the experience of God’s grace and peace as this book so clearly testifies. No book exalts the person and work of Jesus Christ more than does this epistle. It is only through faith in Christ that people are brought into a relationship with God as their heavenly Father.
Thus, “from God our Father” not only points us to the source, but to the nature and value of this grace and peace since the power and character of the giver determines the value of the gift. If one wants to experience God’s grace and peace, then he must become related to God as his or her Father through faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13; 14:6; Acts 4:12).
We should also note that Paul’s says “our Father.” The pronoun “our” expresses the unity and family relationship we have together with one another as believers in Christ. “Instead of the inner discord which is an inevitable result of sin, the recipient of the free grace of God enjoys an inner harmony, even in the midst of the spiritual conflict which the Christian constantly wages.”45
27 S. Lewis Johnson, “Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians, Part II,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary, vol. 118, #472, Oct. 1961), 336.
28 Peter T. O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, Colossians, Philemon, gen. ed., Glenn W. Barker, NT., ed., Ralph P. Martin (Word Books, Publisher, Waco, TX, vol. 44), 2.
29 Curtis Vaughan, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976-1992), electronic media.
30 Murray J. Harris, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Colossians & Philemon (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1991), 7.
31 Johnson, 336.
32 Peter T. O’Brien, 2.
33 Grk “and faithful.” The construction in Greek (as well as Paul’s style) suggests that the saints are identical to the faithful; hence, the kaiv (kai) is best left untranslated (cf. Eph 1:1). See D. B. Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 281–2. Taken from the translator’s notes in the NET Bible, the Biblical Studies Foundation ( www.bible.org ).
34 Grk “brothers,” but the Greek word may be used for “brothers and sisters” or “fellow Christians” as here (cf. BAGD 16 s.v. ajdelfov" 1, where considerable nonbiblical evidence for the plural ajdelfoiv [adelphoi] meaning “brothers and sisters” is cited). Taken from the translator’s notes in the NET Bible, the Biblical Studies Foundation ( www.bible.org ).
35 Johnson, 337.
36 William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters to the Philippiaans, Colossians, and Thessalonia (Revised Edition), (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000, c. 1975), electronic media.
37 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1973), 5.
38 Colin Brown, gen. ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1975), electronic media.
39 J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1879 reprint, 1961), 132.
40 Herbert M. Carson, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon, An Introduction and Commentary (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1960), 28.
41 Peter T. O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, Colossians, Philemon, gen. ed., Glenn W. Barker, NT., ed., Ralph P. Martin (Word Books, Publisher, Waco, TX, vol. 44), 4.
42 Lewis Sperry Chafer, “The Believer’s Responsibility,” transcription of a class lecture, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1948, taken from class notes by William D. Lawrence, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1993, p. 13-3.
43 William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Revised Edition), (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000, c. 1975), electronic media.
44 Some mss. (a A C G I Byz Lect al) add kaiV kurivou ‘Ihsou Cristou after hJmwn. This addition is clearly a secondary variant, since (1) it conforms to normal Pauline usage (e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2); (2) it would be difficult to account for its intentional or accidental omission if this longer reading were original.… (Murray J. Harris, Exegetical Guide to the Greek NewTestament, Colossians & Philemon [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1991], 10.
45 Herbert M. Carson, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon, An Introduction and Commentary (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1960), 29.