I. Doctrinal: The Person and Work of Christ (1:1-2:3)
B. The Supremacy of the Person of Christ (1:15-18)
C. The Supremacy of the Work of Christ (1:19–2:3)
1. The Plenitude and Description of His Work (1:19-20)
a. In Relation to God (1:19)
b. In Relation to all Creation (1:20)
2. The Purpose and Application of His Work (1:21-23)
a. The Past Alienation Described (1:21)
b. The Present Reconciliation Accomplished (1:22a)
c. The Purpose and Obligation of Reconciliation Described (1:22b)
d. The Cautionary Condition Disclosed (1:23)
3. The Proclamation of His Work (1:24–2:3)
e. The Mental Attitude Needed: Rejoicing in Suffering (1:24)
f. The Mission or Mandate Given: a Servant to Fully Proclaim the Gospel (1:25)
g. The Make-up of the Message Proclaimed: the Unveiled Mystery—Christ in you, the hope of Glory (1:26-27)
h. The Method of Proclamation: Admonishing and Teaching Every Person (1:28a)
i. The Motive in Proclamation: to Present Every Person Mature in Christ (1:28b)
j. The Means of Proclamation: God’s Enablement Working Through Believers (1:29)
k. The Model for Proclamation: Strengthened Hearts Instructed in Love Unto the Full Assurance That Understanding Brings (2:1-3)
This lesson will deal only with the Proclamation of Christ’s Work, or the Gospel, but as in the previous lessons, an outline review is given to show the literary relationship of all the verses of this section, 1:19–2:3. The apostle has discussed the supremacy of Christ’s person as the sovereign creator and head of the church and the supremacy of His work in reconciliation both universally and locally as with the Colossians. The gospel message, which centers in the awesome nature of the person and work of Christ, is a universal message that must be proclaimed far and wide because it is God’s only plan of salvation for the entire world, Jew and Gentile alike. This passage is somewhat parallel to Ephesians 3:1ff.
The concluding verse of the previous section, “This gospel has also been preached in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become its servant,” now becomes the focus of the next section, 1:24-2:3. In these verses, the apostle sets forth his part in this ministry of proclamation. In doing so, Paul serves as a model for all believers to follow by laying down a number of vital principles that are needed in proclaiming the good news of the Savior. Here we get a short glimpse of the ministry of Paul that can be divided into three parts: it is a ministry of painful suffering (1:24), a ministry of proclamation (1:25-29), and a ministry of prayer (2:1-3). At the heart of this entire section is the great focus on proclaiming the gospel message to people far and wide. As an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul assures the Colossians that he had a legitimate reason for being concerned about the Colossians even though he had never seen them personally. Here Paul gives us an intimate disclosure of his personal purpose in and power for ministry.
In Elisha’s day King Ben-hadad of Syria gathered his great host of men together and besieged Samaria. The famine became so desperate that an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver. The prophet of God, however, untroubled in the midst of it all, calmly promised the king of Israel a bountiful deliverance: “Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria” (2 Kings 7:1). Four leprous men at the entering in of the gate, ignorant or unmindful of the prophecy, determined to fling themselves upon the mercy of the Syrians. After all, if they were to enter the city, it would simply be to encounter the famine, and if they remained at the gate death faced them there also. What could they lose? So, they rose up and made their way to the camp of the Syrians. Arriving in the camp they were startled to discover that the Syrians, panicking over the noise of chariots and horses of a great host which the Lord had caused them to hear, had fled for their lives and abandoned their supplies. Wasting no time, the leprous men began to stuff themselves with the Syrians’ rations, washing the food down with greedy swigs of wine. Clothing and silver were hidden for later recovery until suddenly their consciences awoke, and they remembered the starving, desperately needy inhabitants of the city. “We do not well,” they said, “this day is a day of good tidings [a gospel day], and we hold our peace” (7:9). Mildred Cable, a great missionary, once said, “The greatest crime of the desert was to know where water was and not to tell it.”173
To the woman at the well, Jesus gave the following revelation about Himself as the water of life that was free and without charge (cf. Rev. 22:17). If the greatest crime of the desert was to know where water was and not to tell it, how much greater a crime is it to fail to tell others about Jesus as the water of life, water that is free and that springs up to eternal life.
John 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 4:11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? 4:12 Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.”
4:13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water (the water of Jacob’s well) will be thirsty again. 4:14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”
Since actions are so closely related to attitudes, and since the world stands opposed to the message of God’s grace and often persecutes the messenger, the apostle begins with an attitude that is fundamental if we are to be faithful to fully proclaim the message of the cross. The attitude so needed is one in which we learn to rejoice in suffering. The simple truth, however, is that we can only rejoice as we focus on the eternal goals that produce for us an eternal weight of glory that should cause the light afflictions of this life to pale in significance if we will stay focused on the eternal rather than the temporal (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17).
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you and I fill up—for the sake of his body, the church—what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.
Three things characterized Paul’s suffering: (1) they were a source of joy, (2) they were for others—for the Colossians, for the sake of the body of Christ, the church, and (3) they were related to the sufferings or afflictions of Christ. Paul begins this section with “now,” which may be both temporal (in my present circumstances of suffering), and transitional showing that the present paragraph is a continuation of the preceding section where Christ’s supremacy, the universality of the gospel, and Paul’s ministry as a servant of the gospel has been stressed.
The false teachers in Colossae may have ridiculed Paul to the Colossians over the fact that the great apostle was a prisoner in Rome. They undoubtedly were claiming that his suffering was a sign of something awry in his ministry and that the Colossians should not listen to Him. You know the old argument, “All suffering is a product of sin. When one truly walks with God, there is only blessing, not suffering.” But Christians are in a life and death struggle with Satan, the god of this world, and with his world system of demons and people who not only stand opposed to the light of the gospel, but who often engage in direct persecution against the messengers of the gospel. Believers, then, should never be surprised by suffering (1 Pet. 4:12); they have been appointed not only to believe in Christ, but to suffer for His sake (Phil. 1:29). In fact, suffering is often an evidence of God’s righteous judgment to help prepare us for glory and eternal rewards (2 Thess. 1:5). It is a means that God uses to enable us to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:5-6), and a tool that God often uses to advance the gospel message (cf. Phil. 1:12-18). As Peter declares in 1 Peter 4:13, it is an honor to suffer for Christ and we are to rejoice and be glad in such suffering:
But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad (1 Pet. 4:13).
Of course, a Christian should never suffer as “a thief or evil doer” (1 Pet. 4:15), but because Paul’s suffering was for Christ’s sake and for the Colossians as a ministry to the gentiles, Paul was not ashamed of his suffering nor was it a sign that something was wrong in his ministry. The apostle rejoiced in his suffering by recognizing the value and purposes of suffering for righteous reasons. He was never afraid of suffering, but as he told Timothy, he took his share of suffering as part of being a good soldier of Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). To shrink back from suffering for Christ’s sake or because of persecution will always hinder the proclamation of the gospel.
But what does Paul mean when he speaks of “my sufferings for you, …for the sake of his body, the church”?
“For you” means “in the interest of” and not “in the place of.” He suffered for their benefit so that they might have the gospel message and be reconciled to God. Christ, on the other hand, suffered in our place, as our substitute for our sin. Paul’s sufferings occurred because he had brought the gospel to the Gentiles, and a good illustration of this can be seen in Acts 13:44-14:20. The message that this apostle to the Gentiles preached declared that both Jew and Gentile would be co-equal heirs in the body of Christ through faith apart from works of the law; together Jew and Gentile believers would constitute one new man in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6). It was this message of grace and co-equality that stirred up the Jews and angered them to relentlessly persecute the apostle and his co-workers.
“For the sake of His body, the church” shows Paul’s sufferings were not just for the Colossians, or even just for the Gentiles, but for the entire body of Christ, the church. We have the awesome truths of the prison epistles and their message to the body of Christ, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, because of Paul’s sufferings.
… The second phrase affirms that the benefit of Paul’s sufferings extends not simply to the Colossians, nor to the Gentile portion of the church only; they in some sense have a bearing on the whole body of Christ. Indeed, the apostle’s sufferings contribute even to our well-being, for had he not suffered imprisonment, this letter might never have been written, and we would have been deprived of its message… ,174
and I fill up … what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.
This has been a source of controversy with varied opinions as to its meaning.
… These words have evoked a great amount of discussion. Many Roman Catholics, for instance, interpreting the “afflictions” of Christ as Christ’s redemptive sufferings, have used this verse as grounds for asserting that Christ’s atonement is defective and that the sufferings of the saints are needed to supplement his work on our behalf. But whatever is meant by “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions,” we may be sure that Paul did not regard the death of Jesus as lacking in efficacy (cf. Col 2:11-15). That death was complete, once for all, and wholly adequate to meet man’s need. The Roman doctrine, as Lightfoot says, can be imported into this passage only “at the cost of a contradiction to the Pauline doctrine” of the satisfaction of Christ’s sacrifice (p. 167).175
Johnson adds these helpful comments:
We may introduce the problem of the text by rejecting any suggestion to the effect that Paul implies there is any lack in the atonement of Christ. The gospel has an element of finality in it, if it has any element at all. It was the apostle himself who reminded the Corinthians of this when he said, “Paul was not crucified for you, was he?” (1 Cor 1:13). A Simon of Cyrene may carry the cross, but only Jesus of Nazareth may be nailed to it and victoriously cry, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Furthermore, the word thlipsis (AV, “afflictions”) is never used in the New Testament of the atoning sufferings of Christ. We, therefore, must reject any conception of a treasury of merit, such as Roman Catholics allow, composed of Christ’s sufferings plus the sufferings of the saints and dispensed as indulgences.176
The simplest and most logical explanation stems from the mystical union that exists between Christ and that of His people in the body of Christ, the church. When believers suffer, Christ suffers with them. Christ’s substitutionary sufferings are finished, complete, but His sufferings in and through His people continue. This concept is expressed in several other passages of the New Testament (cf. Matt. 25:34-40; 2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10; Acts 9:4-5). Paul never directly persecuted the Lord Jesus, nevertheless, when on the Damascus road, Paul heard these words from Christ,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” So he said, “Who are you, Lord?” He replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts. 9:4-5).
… Soon afterwards he heard of further words spoken by Him, “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (9:16). Paul had come to understand that everything done in and for the body of Christ was done in and for Christ Himself. He and the body were one. Thus, the sufferings of Paul were the afflictions of Christ, because He suffered in and with Paul (cf. 2 Cor 1:5–7; 4:10–12). Lightfoot’s idea of continuity between His afflictions and the church’s is valid, too. In fact, the sufferings of Paul, which arose out of persecution, were simply the continuation of the world’s quarrel with Jesus Christ (cf. John 15:18–21). It is a very immature theology, then, which claims that all suffering is alien to the will of God, and it reaches its ultimate expression in the blind and foolish request, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt 27:40), and its shattering repudiation in the shout of suffering dereliction, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (27:46).
It is no wonder, then, that Paul rejoiced in his sufferings. Seen in the light of his union with Christ, they were transfigured and made an occasion for fellowship with Him, as well as a benefit to the body, the church.177
I became a servant of the church according to the stewardship from God—given to me for you—in order to complete the word of God,
Regarding “the church, which is His body,” the apostle quickly and literally added, “of which I Paul became a servant according to the stewardship from God that was given to me to fulfill the word of God.” The preaching of God’s message was both the mission and mandate for the apostle’s life. Four things about Paul’s ministry should catch our attention here: (1) he was appointed to a ministry of preaching (vs. 25), (2) the nature of the message he preached (vss. 25-28), (3) the method he employed (vs. 28b), and (4) his purpose in preaching (vs. 29).
An important question that every believer in Christ might ask is simply, “Is there any one thing that captivates and directs my life, or am I like the man at a Christian conference who said, “I’m interested a little in a lot of things, but nothing has ever really captivated me.” When asked to doodle on a piece of paper and draw a picture to portray his life as he saw it, he drew a pie with many lines through it that showed his multiplicity of interests, but no one driving force. Such, however, was not the case with the apostle Paul. Paul was a man directed by God’s mission and mandate on his life. “… He had both purpose and power. Beneath the rivers of wisdom and creativity of his amazing life was the mainstream of clear conviction of the reason for his being and the resources to accomplish it.”178 The truth of Christ’s reconciliation or His sacrificial death for our sin was both the means of his salvation and the mandate for his ministry, and the same should be the case for every Christian.
Preaching was not an honor and duty that he took upon himself, one that he could either take or leave. Rather it was an appointment that came directly from God. Two things about his appointment are to be noted: First, it was ministry of service for others. “Servant” is diakonos, “servant of someone, a helper.” It was used of Epaphras in 1:7, and Paul used it of himself as a servant of the gospel (1:23), of the church (1:25), and of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6). The focus on the word diakonos is that of ministry to others as a servant who comes alongside to help. Second, it was a ministry that was according to the “stewardship that was given” to him. “Stewardship” is oikonomia, “the work or office of a steward to manage a household,” “arrangement, order, plan.” The key idea here is that of a divine appointment, a stewardship bestowed on the apostle. Paul saw his call as a divine appointment, a high calling from God. On the one hand, he was a servant of the church, but more importantly, he was a steward of God and accountable to Him first and foremost. It was a stewardship that was given to him—he did not earn it or deserve it; it was a grace gift and privilege given to Paul from God. But just what does God want from his stewards?
1 Cor. 4:1-2 People should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. (emphasis mine)
The nature of this stewardship is also seen in the words, “for you.” The apostle was not in the ministry for selfish reasons of personal agendas like personal power to control others, prestige, or praise. He was there for the blessing and benefit of others like the Colossians and all believers everywhere. A good illustration of the kind of servant attitude needed for others can be seen in Paul’s defense of his ministry to the Thessalonians as he wrote to give answers against his Jewish opponents in Thessalonica.
2:3 For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts. 2:5 For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is our witness— 2:6 nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others, 2:7 although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ. But we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, 2:8 with such affection for you, we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 2:9 For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: by working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God (1 Thess. 2:3-9).
Finally, the purpose of this stewardship is seen in the words, “in order to complete the word of God.” “Complete” is the verb pleroo, (1) “to fill, make full, fill to the full,” (2) “to complete, fulfill, to execute, accomplish, carry out to the full.” “To complete the word of God” may refer: (1) to the extension of the gospel around the world to as wide an audience as possible, (2) to fulfill the ministry given to him to the Gentiles, or (3) to fully proclaim the true nature of the gospel message, a message to Jew and Gentile alike in the full sufficiency of the person and work of Christ. Perhaps all three elements are included.
. . . the word of God, that is, the mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations, but has now been revealed to his saints. God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
The make up of the message proclaimed is described as: (1) the word of God, (2) the mystery that has been kept hidden, but has now been revealed, and (3) as Christ in you, the hope of glory.
“The word of God” points us to the general nature of the message. It is the Word of God, God’s word to man. This description lays stress on the divine source and nature of this message (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).
The message Paul preached is further explained as “the mystery.” This is musterion, which, as used by Paul, is not something mysterious, but refers to a divine truth that is unknowable apart from special revelation. However, as the apostle explains, it is a message that has been hidden in the past (unknown in the Old Testament), but now revealed in Christ through the stewardship given to Paul and other New Testament apostles and prophets (cf. Eph. 3:2-5). This new element is a primary emphasis of the term “mystery,” but there are various aspects of this mystery depending on the context where the term is used. The following is a synopsis of the various aspects of this mystery as it is revealed in the New Testament.
The Mysteries of the New Testament
1. The mystery of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13). The mystery of the interim program of God between Christ’s first and second advents.
2. The mystery of the blindness of Israel and God’s purpose with Israel’s blindness (Rom. 11:1-25).
3. The mystery of the rapture, the departure of the church at the end of this age (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Thess. 4:13f).
4. The mystery of the church as the body of Christ where Jew and Gentile become one new man in Christ where Jews and Gentiles would be equal heirs in the one body of Christ (Eph. 3:1-11; 2:11f).
5. The mystery of the church as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-32).
6. The mystery of the indwelling of Christ as the hope of glory or spiritual deliverance by the power of the indwelling Christ (Col. 1:26-27; 2:2).
7. The mystery of lawlessness—the continuation and gradual build up of the state of lawlessness that will culminate in the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7-8). Lawlessness is not necessarily confusion and disorder or even the absence of law, but rather the presence of rebellion against God’s established rule and purposes. It speaks of the aim of Satan and his hosts of wickedness to overthrow the divine government and established ordinances of God as He designed them.
8. The mystery of godliness, or the process by which man becomes God-like in character through the person, work, and life of Jesus Christ as He is faithfully proclaimed and defended by the church of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:16).
9. The mystery of the church as the seven stars (Rev. 1:20).
10. The mystery of God, the answer to the age-old question, why has God allowed Satan and evil to continue to exist (Rev. 10:7). Please note that the answer to this is found in Scripture, it was revealed to God’s New Testament prophets. There are two key parts to this answer: (a) To resolve the angelic warfare—to answer and demonstrate that Satan, the accuser and slanderer of God’s character, is wrong in his accusations and that he is worthy of God’s judgment for his sin. (b) To demonstrate God’s patience and love and to provide ample opportunity for men to come to Christ (2 Pet. 3:9). So when the angel of Revelation 10:7 says “the mystery of God is completed” he means that once the seventh trumpet is sounded, this time of demonstrating God’s character and of demonstrating man and Satan for what they are, this time of allowing Satan and rebellion to continue, will be over; God will act swiftly now to establish His rule of righteousness on earth. This period of the patience of God will be over.
11. The mystery of Babylon, the truth regarding the source of the ancient and godless mother-child cult (Rev. 17:5, 7).
Here in Colossians 1:26-27, the mystery is further defined as “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” but this “… mystery is so rich with glory that God desired to make it known to the saints. The word ethelesen (1:27 ; AV, “would”) appears to have here the force of resolved, or willed, and, thus, stresses God’s purpose in this revelation, as well as His initiative in it. The saints were helpless to discover the secret; He opened their hearts to see it …”179 Actually, all the terms used by Paul to describe his message, the message of the person and work of Christ, stress God’s initiative in revealing the message and man’s complete helplessness at deriving and understanding the message apart from God’s initiative and grace. It’s a message that man could never arrive at on his own or would arrive at if he wanted to. As a message of God’s complete and finished work of Grace in Christ, it is completely foreign to man’s fallen mind. Always, man seeks to either subtract from or add to the gospel of grace in Christ.
The glory of this message for Gentiles is found in the nature of their blessings now in Christ. In the Old Testament, they were promised blessing. The promised blessing of the Gentiles in the Old Testament was nothing new, but never in a way that made them co-equal with the Jews. In Ephesians 2:11-22, the apostle contrasts their past with their new and glorious position as follow:
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh—who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed in the body by hands—2:12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 2:14 For he is our peace, the one who turned both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, in his flesh, 2:15 when he nullified the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 2:16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 2:17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 2:18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 2:19 So then you are no longer foreigners and non-citizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 2:20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 2:21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 2:22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Whereas they were without Christ, now they are in Christ and Christ is in them; they were without hope, but now they have Him who is “the hope of glory;” they were without peace and alienated from God, but now they have Him who is our peace and our means of bold access to God.
Finally, we should note that the content of this mystery, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” is centered in a person and not some theological system or in a denomination or a particular church. The center of this mystery is the pre-eminent Christ, who is not only now among the Gentiles, but also in them. As members of His body, they had the very life of the living Savior dwelling within them as the source and means of their new life.
The post-resurrection home of the living Lord Jesus Christ is in the mind and heart of the believer. Therefore the challenge of loving, forgiving, reconciling and caring is not our responsibility for Christ, but His through us. We are channels through whom He moves to the estranged, sick and suffering world. We don’t have to do it on our own. We are to allow Him to flow through our countenance, touch, words, expressions, compassionate acts and empathetical identification.180
This indwelling of Christ means “the hope of glory.” But what exactly does the apostle mean by “the hope of glory?” Is it primarily future as O’Brien suggests, “They therefore had a sure hope that they would share in that fullness of glory yet to be displayed on the day of “the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19; cf. 5:2; Col 3:4; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:14).”?181 Or is there a more immediate meaning and application of this phrase? As Paul stresses in 1:5, the confident expectation of the blessings laid up for us in Christ for the heavenly future is a great source of motivation to faith and love expressed in the Christian community (cf. 2 Cor. 4:11-18), but there is surely a more immediate focus in the light of the problem facing the Colossians and Paul’s emphasis on spiritual maturity and the transformed life in the here and now (cf. 2:6-23; 3:5-25). The glorious rewards of the future are certainly part of our motivation for this (cf. 3:1-4, 23-25), but in view of the immediate goal of proclaiming Christ through warning and teaching every person to see them advance in spiritual maturity (1:28-29), “the hope of glory” may well involve the confident expectation of experiencing the character of Christ reproduced by the Spirit in the life of every believer. A similar thrust is found in Galatians 4:19 where Paul compared himself to a mother in the throes of birth pangs, “My children—I am again undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you!” He had experienced this once when he was in travail for their salvation, but now he was in travail again for their deliverance from the legalism of the false teachers. The goal was the formation of Christ in their lives by means of the Holy Spirit rather than by the legalism being promoted by the Judaistic teachers who were seeking to put them back under the law. Thus,
… a change in metaphors occurred with the expression until Christ is formed in you. Paul longed for these believers to be transformed into (morphe lit., “take on the form of”; cf. morphe in Phil. 2:6-7) the image of Christ. This expression describes the Christian life as a kind of reincarnation of Christ in a believer’s life. This is in fact God’s ideal and purpose—for Christ to live His life in and then through each believer (cf. Gal. 2:20).182
As the apostle was concerned for the Galatians because their spiritual development was being arrested by the legalism of the false teachers, so he was concerned for the Colossians. In both epistles (Galatians and Colossians), the apostle was dealing with false teachers who were seeking to yoke believers again to the Law, a matter that nullified the power of the gospel message on their lives (cf. Gal. 3:1-10 with 5:1-6). Thus, “the hope of glory” is the confident expectation of the formation of Christ in His character and life in and through the life of all believers. Glory is the manifestation of the Lord Jesus in us so that we experience Him in attitude, faith, action, and reaction. Ogilvie writes:
This experience of the indwelling Christ has transformed both my personal life and my ministry. When I was gripped by this liberating experience it set me free from compulsive efforts to earn my status with God by being good enough. It replenished the parched places of my soul that kept my Christian life a constant dry spell. The indwelling Christ gave me all that I had previously worked to achieve, studied to understand, struggled to accomplish.183
We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all people
Speaking of Christ as the hope of glory, the text literally reads, “whom we proclaim by admonishing every person and teaching every person in all wisdom.” Again, the focus is on the proclamation of a person, not a theological persuasion, not a hierarchy of angelic powers, and certainly not a compilation of rules and regulations, but a living person who is the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies of the Old Testament. He who is proclaimed is the Christ.
“Proclaim” (katangello, “proclaim, announce,”) has a note of solemnity about it; it became almost a technical term for missionary activity of announcing the good news about Christ “since it was normally used of the gospel itself or some element in it. So the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), the testimony of God (1 Cor. 2:1), and the Word of God (Acts 13:5; 17:13; cf. 15:36) are “proclaimed,” while sometimes Christ (Phil 1:17, 18), his death (1 Cor. 11:26) and resurrection (Acts 4:2), as well as the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38), were the significant elements in the apostolic announcement.184 In the New Testament, it occurs only in Paul (6 times) and in Acts (eleven times).
The method by which this is done is spelled out with two participles of means, “instructing (or admonishing) and teaching.” “Instructing” is noutheteo, “to admonish, warn, instruct.” Since it is derived from nous, “mind” and tithemi, “to place, set,” the basic idea is that of putting sense into the mind through warning, counsel, or admonishment. Noutheteo is the negative side of proclamation and carries a moral appeal to the volition to straighten out something that is out of order or contrary to the will and purpose of God. “Teaching” (didasko, “to teach, instruct”) is the positive side of proclamation and involves the impartation of biblical truth to lay the needed foundation for biblical wisdom or understanding. In “admonishment” there is a moral appeal for spiritual change, and with “teaching” there is a doctrinal emphasis that forms the means and basis for change through the power of God’s gracious work in Christ.
with all wisdom that we may present every person mature in Christ
“With all wisdom” may look at the manner, “wisely,” but it is better to understand it to refer to the content—the whole range of biblical truth that is to be the sphere in which the teacher operates. The words “with all wisdom” and “every person” (repeated three times in 1:28) are aimed against the Colossian heretics because they claimed to have a superior wisdom that contained a form of speculative knowledge of the higher worlds, but it was only for a limited elite few. By contrast the proclamation of the cosmic Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3), brings all wisdom within the reach of all who hear and believe in the gospel. No one is excluded.
Whom we proclaim by admonishing every person and teaching every person with all wisdom, so that we may present every person mature in Christ (my translation).
The apostle’s goal was to present every believer mature in Christ. Since Paul’s focus is on the present experience of the Colossians, the term “mature” is a better translation of the Greek teleion than “perfect.” The latter implies a future, eschatological focus of ultimate sanctification. The simple truth is that every church with their leadership should be committed to building all believers of the flock into mature, Christ-like Christians. Too often churches resemble a hospital ward where believers are coddled and pampered rather than a training camp where they are being trained to become Spirit controlled ministering servants who reproduce themselves in the lives of others. Our task in ministry is never over with the conversion of men and women. That’s only the beginning. The objective of the church is to see all believers grow from one stage of maturity to another, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).
… The word perfect was a favorite word with the gnostic teachers. It described the disciple who was no longer a novice, but who had matured and was fully instructed in the secrets of the religion. Paul used it to mean “complete, mature in Christ.” This is the goal of all preaching, warning, and teaching.185
Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me.
“Toward this goal” represents the Greek phrase eis ho, “toward which,” and expresses movement toward a goal or a purpose. Paul’s desire and the biblical objective of seeing all believers grow and mature in Christ was certainly a captivating force that directed his life as his mission and mandate, but to accomplish such a goal requires nothing less than God’s supernatural power. Seeing people move forward from babes in Christ to full grown Christians is a difficult task that requires God’s power at work in us. In 2 Corinthians 2:16 the apostle asks, “who is adequate for these things?” Certainly we are not, but he goes on to show that our adequacy is from God:
Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:4-6). (emphasis mine)
“Labor” is kopiao, “to labor to the point of weariness, to tire, to wear oneself out.” Regarding this Greek term, Kittle points out:
A distinctive NT use is for Christian work in and for the community. Paul has it for his own work in 1 Cor. 15:10 etc. It describes his manual work in 1 Cor. 4:12, but, since he is not under obligation to do this, it forms part of the work that he does for Christ (1 Th. 2:9; 1 Cor. 9: 15ff.). All his service for Christ may indeed be regarded as strenuous work, though it is also his pride and joy (2 Cor. 11:23). His aim is to present mature Christians to Christ (Col. 1:29). He shows concern for the success of this work (Gal. 4:9) and aims at an eschatological reward (1 Th. 3:5; Phil. 2:16).186
“Struggling” further defines the nature of his labor and shows the degree to which he labored. It’s the Greek term agonizomai, “to struggle, fight, strive, engage in an athletic contest.” Our term agony comes from the noun form, agona that Paul uses in 2:1, “struggle.” But the key here is the means he depended on for both his motivation and strength to continue. The apostle labored, struggling hard in the task God had given him, but not in his own strength. He labored and struggled only in the strength that God abundantly supplies to all His people if they will just draw upon His supernatural resources—the Word, the Holy Spirit, and prayer. Interestingly, agonizomai is used in 4:12 of Epaphras who wrestled in prayer for the Colossians that they might mature and stand fully assured in all the will of God. And like the apostle who was his mentor, he worked hard at this task (4:13).
The key to Paul’s labor is seen in the words, “according to his power that powerfully works in me.” Paul labored, but so did God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God with me (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10).
It was mentioned earlier that a responsibility for stewards is faithfulness, but in the emphasis here we see another. It is relinquishment. Until we have learned to relinquish control to the indwelling Christ, our hope of glory, we will never experience God’s grace truly at work in us.
His success was due to the energy of the eternal God. The present participle energoumenen (AV, “worketh”) may be passive rather than middle and, if so, we might render the clause, striving according to his working which is produced in me mightily. The root generally refers to supernatural power, whether God’s or Satan’s. This, then, is the secret of the apostle’s remarkably successful ministry. It was not his education, considerable though it may have been, nor his culture, deeply rooted in the life and literature of God’s ancient people, nor his shrewd methodology—and he was a master of missionary strategy—nor was it simply hard work. His secret lay in his Companion …187
“Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.”
We can only be truly successful when we learn to live and minister by the unseen presence of the risen Christ and allow Him to work in, through, and with us as the source and power for our ministries. So often, however, I see preachers, even with good motives, seek to manipulate, coerce, and force people into spiritual change or Christian service. That may get some results, but that’s not God’s method or means. The Lord Jesus, as the unseen power of our lives, works when we relinquish control and draw upon Him through prayer, faith in the truth of Christ, and by means of the control of the Spirit. Again, we can learn not only from Paul, but from his disciple, Epaphras:
4:2 Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. 4:3 At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4:4 Pray that I may make it known as I should. 4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.
4:13 Epaphras, who is one of you and a slave of Christ, greets you. He is always struggling in prayer on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God
2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for those who have not met me face to face. 2:2 My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches that assurance brings in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
As the overall guiding force of his ministry, the apostle declared his struggle in 1:28-29 to see the Gentiles come to know and grow to maturity in Christ, but here in 2:1-3 he makes it personal to the Colossians, to the Laodiceans, and to others to show his personal interest in them. In other words, Paul’s struggle was not limited only to those he knew. Rather, it extended to those who had never met him personally. “This is a clear indication that Paul had not started this or other churches in the Lycus Valley. The mention of Laodicea (cf. 4:16) indicates that the heresy had spread there too, though it was probably centered in Colosse.”188
“Struggle” is agona, the noun form of, “ to struggle, strive.” Agona was an athletic term that was often used of a track contest as in Hebrews 12:1, but also of a wrestling match, which here could easily be a figure of speech that forms a graphic picture of wrestling with the Lord in prayer for others (cf. the use of the verb form, agonizomai, in 4:12).
Thus, in keeping with Paul’s goal of maturity for his readers, there was another goal or purpose connected with his struggle for them. That goal was strengthened hearts that had been instructed in the sphere of love and unto a full assurance that would result in a clear understanding in the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely Christ.
There is some debate regarding how we should translate and understand “encouraged” (NET Bible) or “comforted” (NASB) and “knit together.” “Encouraged” or “comforted” is parakaleo, (1) to call to one’s side for aid, summons for help, (2) appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage, (3) comfort, encourage.189 While “comfort” is a legitimate translation, it is too weak here for this context (cf. vs. 4). There is no mention of, or allusion to distresses or persecutions among the Colossians, but they were under the threat of being led astray by the false teaching. Thus, “confirmed” or “strengthened” would be a better translation.
The means by which this strengthening occurs is found in the words, “knit together in love … “Knit together” is sumbibazo, (1) bring together, unite, (2) to instruct, teach (3) demonstrate, prove, (4) conclude, infer.190 In this passage, most commentators and translation take it to mean “knit together” or “united” in love. However, in the Septuagint, this verb always means “to instruct.” O’Brien makes a good argument contextually for “instruct, teach.”
A good case has been made for rendering this phrase as “being instructed in love,” so referring to the loving admonition given to the community. Several commentators (including Dibelius-Greeven, 25, 26, Scott, 36, and Montague, Growth in Christ, 82) have adopted this line. The verb sumbibazo does, on occasion, carry this didactic meaning outside the Bible (for examples in Aristotle, Philo, etc see Delling, TDNT 7, 763) while all ten LXX instances mean “instruct,” “make known,” “teach,” and refer exclusively to authoritative direction (cf. Exod 4:12, 15; 18:16; Lev 10:11; Deut 4:9; Judg 13:8; etc Isa 40:13 is cited by Paul with the meaning “instruct” at 1 Cor 2:16). The same connotation occurs at Acts 9:22 and 19:33. Further, Scott observed that Paul’s preoccupation in Colossians was less the issue of unity than that his readers be enlightened in their faith over against heretical teachings and practices (the Vulgate seems to have caught this point with its rendering “instructi in caritate”). Also this interpretation suits the immediate context with its strong emphasis on “knowledge,” “understanding” and “wisdom.” En agape then refers less to Paul’s love for the readers—as though they were “charitably instructed”—than to love in its full breadth of meaning, as the foundation of the Christian life (cf. Eph 3:17) …
The issue is a finely balanced one and while most argue that the translation “being knit together” is preferable in the light of the later verses in Colossians, our inclination, because of the immediate context, is in favor of the sense “taught,” “instructed.”191
“Being instructed” is a participle of means and explains how the strengthening occurs, by instruction in the sphere of Christian love. A further result of that instruction is a wealth of assurance that brings a clear understanding in the knowledge of the mystery, even Christ. “Wealth” is ploutos, “wealth, abundance, riches” implying not only abundance, but great value. The world offers all kinds of substitutes for happiness and security, but in the final analysis, they simply cannot deliver what is promised. The greatest wealth a person can possess is the knowledge of Christ and the assurance it gives regarding eternal life and how to live in the power of His exchanged life. People look in all sorts of places for meaning, significance, and happiness, but they are looking in all the wrong places unless it is sought in Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Paul says that they are hidden in Christ, hidden not in the sense that they are kept concealed, but that they are stored up in one place only, and that is in Christ. So the apostle calls upon the Colossians and us to look to Jesus Christ as the one and only place where we can find wisdom and knowledge. Johnson has an excellent word here:
Paul concludes with a final thrust at the gnostic Judaizers. Were they offering a deeper knowledge of spiritual things? Did they possess the secret of truth in their systems? In Him, in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden away. The word apokruphoi (AV, “hidden”) is emphatic by position, and in the light of this it is just possible that Paul may have in mind something similar to the mystery religions. In them the initiate, after a long period of training and instruction, was allowed to be present at a performance similar to a passion play. By means of the performance the initiate was to have an experience of identification with his god. The instruction given previously enabled the initiate to understand the play. To outsiders the ritual would have been a mystery.
Paul meets the heretics on their own ground. He has a secret, too. It also is unknowable, except to the initiated. To understand the secrets of the pagan religions, one must enter the temples. Likewise, the only way to understand the treasures of God’s wisdom and understanding is to enter Christ by faith. They are stored away in Him. He is God’s great secret; leave the mysteries of men and come to Him who is the way, the truth, and the life is the apostle’s conviction.192
With this in mind, the apostle will next (2:4-5), for the first time, directly address the dangerous heresy facing the Colossians.
For years as a young man and a believer, as one who had trusted in Christ at an early age, I was still without assurance of my salvation, constantly wondering if I was really saved, or if I could loose my salvation. I was ever examining my life for evidence or proof and wondering, “If I’m really saved, then why do I have these thoughts,” or “why am I tempted in this area or that one?” I was one who surely lacked the full assurance that a clear understanding in the knowledge of Christ brings to the heart. Rather than looking to Christ and the Word as the source of my assurance, I looked to my own record and myself. No wonder I was so unsettled and unsure. I went to several pastors for help, but ironically, they were of no help. It was not until I got into a Bible teaching ministry that was devoted to an in depth study of the Word that I began to truly learn about the fullness of wisdom and God’s salvation in the person and work of Christ, and about all that I had in Him as the source of my life. Suddenly the constant introspection left, I gained assurance, and I began to grow and mature in the Savior. As long as I continued to look to myself there was not only no assurance, but no growth or victory over the sinful nature and its lust patterns. But once I began to look away from myself to the matchless life of Christ and His finished work for salvation, that all changed.
The changes that occurred in my life not only impacted my character and patterns of behavior, but knowing Christ more intimately and deeply gave me a new mission that became the mandate for my life as well. Seeing what the Word or the message of Christ had done in and for me, caused me to want to share that with others. One thing led to another (teaching Sunday school, Bible classes, etc.) but eventually the Lord led me to Dallas Theological Seminary where I could be prepared to more effectively know and teach God’s truth and be engaged in building others toward spiritual maturity.
With the word “struggle” as a figure of speech for wrestling with God for others in prayer, we are reminded that prayer is a wonderful means for liberating others from the false views so prevalent in society and into the life-changing power of the gospel. Paul wrestled for these believers that they might be strengthened and have greater insight into the knowledge of Christ. Such was a persistent theme of Paul’s prayer life as is so evident in the prison epistles (cf. Eph. 1:15-19; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-14).
173 S. Lewis Johnson, “Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians, Part V, The Minister of the Mystery,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary, # 119:475), 227.
174 Curtis Vaughan, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976-1992), electronic media.
175 Vaughan, electronic media
176 Johnson, 229
177 Johnson, 231.
178 Lloyd John Ogilvie, You Are Loved & Forgiven, Paul’s Letter of Hope to the Colossians (Regal Books, Ventura, CA, 1977), 62
179 Johnson, 232.
180 Ogilvie, 72.
181 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), electronic edition.
182 Walvoord, J. F. (1983-c1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Ga 4:19). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books), electronic media.
183 Ogilvie, 72-73.
184 O’Brien, electronic edition.
185 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: An Exposition of The New Testament Comprising the Entire "BE" Series, electronic ed. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996).
186 Kittel, G. (1985; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed.) (Page 453). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.
187 Johnson, 234-235.
188 Walvoord, J. F. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Col 2:1-2). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
189 Bauer, Arndth, Gingrich, electronic edition.
190 BAG, electronic edition.
191 O’Brien, electronic edition.
192 Johnson, 236-237