Colossians is the complement of the doctrinal section of Ephesians. Two mysteries dominate both. Ephesians elaborates the present Secret Economy, which concerns the members of the body of Christ: Colossians dwells upon the secret of Christ, Who is the Head of that body. Ephesians, however, teaches the truth, while Colossians corrects departure from it.
The literary framework gives us a clear clue to its contents. Within the Salutations and Mutual Reports, the whole body of the epistle deals with the details of the Secret of Christ. First the apostle, in one of the most sublime passages in Holy Writ, sets forth the secret glories of Christ as the Son of God.
At the close of the epistle, he speaks of this again, desiring to make it known.
The bulk of this letter deals with correction in doctrine and deportment necessitated by departure from the Secret of Christ. A knowledge of this secret is vital to the spiritual welfare of all who know God.
Rationalism and ritual, the philosophy of the nations and the religion of Israel, are the two great enemies to the truth which find correction in Colossians.
Every false theology or philosophy which places anything of human origin between God and man, is set aside by the great truth that Christ is God's Complement. As our Complement, He displaces all the decrees and rites of Judaism. In Christ, we are complete and need naught else to fit us for the Father's presence.
The secret of Christ is presented in its future aspect in Ephesians. There is to be a harvest era in which Christ is to be supreme, not only on earth, but in the heavens also. His sway will be universal (Eph.1:10, 3:3). In Colossians, however, the emphasis is placed on His past headship in creation and His present headship in redemption with a view to a future reconciliation of the universe. The unity of creation has led philosophers to trace it back to a common origin, by some called a "primordial germ." This first element in creation, however simple it may be said to be, must possess within itself a potential universe. The Son of God, the Firstborn of Creation, is the satisfactory solution to all questions which concern creation. Creation did not begin in chaos but in Christ. It will not end in ruin wrought by man but in universal reconciliation wrought by the blood of His cross.
1 "Paul, a commissioner of Christ Jesus," introduces us to a glorified Christ in heaven and invokes the authority vested in Paul as His legate. Contrast the character assumed by Paul in Philippians.
4 Their faith in Christ Jesus and their heavenly hope reminds us of the opening words of Ephesians. Before these letters were written the saints among the nations had no clear indications of a celestial destiny This is practically unknown outside Paul's epistles, and even in them it is gradually approached. The Thessalonians are taught the Lord's descent from heaven to meet them in the air (1Thess.4:16). The secret of the resurrection is made known to the Corinthians (l Cor.15:51), showing that our bodies will be changed to fit the celestial spheres. But not until the prison epistles were penned are we given definite assurance that the saints are destined to enjoy a celestial allotment.
6 A true realization of God's grace is the accomplishment most to be desired of all things, for it is impossible to please God without faith and an intelligent grasp of His gracious purpose. Zeal must be directed by knowledge.
THE SECRET OF CHRIST
9 Here we have a prayer which is well worthy of our imitation.
13 The kingdom of His Son is a figurative allusion to the kingdom of Christ. Messiah's kingdom is literal and future and destroys and displaces earth's kingdoms (Dan.2:44). The kingdom of the Son here spoken of is a present spiritual power. We are not rescued from earth's governments but from the powers of Darkness which direct and dominate them. The term "pardon" is borrowed from the kingdom phraseology to accord with this figure.
15 God is an invisible Spirit (John 4:24; 1 Ti.6:16). The Son of God is the visible, tangible embodiment of Deity. Only in Him can we see God. All other images are condemned because they are false and dishonor God (Deut.5:8). All creation was in Him, as the tree and its fruits are found in the seed. In Him, God created all else, for the whole universe was created in Him. This includes the celestial as well as the terrestrial spheres and every form of spiritual power and dignity. These exist through Him and for Him and He makes all a unit for the accomplishment of God's purpose.
18 As God's Complement, His supremacy becomes pre-eminent in reconciliation as well as creation. Their relation may be shown as follows:
The two paramount points in universal history are the creation and the resurrection of the Son of God. Through His death and vivification, He will yet more than restore the lost creation to the Father. The cross, which speaks of His estrangement from God, is the basis on which reconciliation is built. The benefits it brings are not confined to earth or mankind, but include the celestial realms as well.
20 Just as His glories in creation take us back to the very beginning, so the greater glories of reconciliation take us to the very consummation. The universal reconciliation cannot be fully accomplished until the close of the eonian times, when all sovereignty and authority and power and even death are rendered inoperative (lCor.15:24-27) and when all mankind are saved (l Tim.4:10) and justified (Rom.5:18). This takes us far beyond the new earth portrayed at the end of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, for there He still reigns, many of mankind are still lost, and death is not yet abolished.
21 At present reconciliation includes only those who, like the Colossians, believe in Him and have not lost their hold on this great truth (or indeed, have never heard of it). Salvation depends only on the work of Christ and is not affected by our moods: reconciliation depends, on our side, upon our enjoyment of His favor.
The Secret of Christ
23 The scope of reconciliation is not confined to mankind: it is as broad as creation. Its proclamation was made to every creature under heaven. It is God's loving purpose to bind all His creatures to Him with the cords of affection. To accomplish this purpose demands suffering–not only the essential suffering of Christ on the cross, but those of His afflictions which He endures in His members in the course of its dispensation.
25 This epistle may not have been the very last of the Greek Scriptures to be penned. The Revelation of Jesus Christ and John's writings might have been written, as we are told, long afterward. Paul completed or filled up the word of God in another sense. All the other Scriptures were limited in their scope to the terrestrial, as to space, and to the eons, as to time. They were concerned with a fragment of the universe. In them, the nations could have only a subordinate place and portion. As the secret of Christ breaks beyond the barriers of Judaism, these restrictions vanish. On earth, Messiah never left the land of Israel. Now, in spirit, He walks among the nations, dispensing blessing as He did in the days of His earthly sojourn. Christ, Who never went among the nations before His ascension, met Paul outside the land, on the Damascus road, not as the lowly Jesus, but as the glorified Son of God. Gradually, in spirit, through the apostle's ministries, He unfolds His secret purpose to be to the nations, in spirit, all that He had been to Israel in flesh, and far more. This is the secret: Christ among the nations, a glorious expectation. Not a subordinate place in the earthly kingdom, but a pre-eminent place in His celestial domains.
Let us, too, note the tremendous importance which he attaches to an appreciation of this most marvelous mystery or secret. It satisfies both the heart and the head. It reveals depths of affection in which we may revel. It discloses the treasures of wisdom and knowledge for which earth's sages and philosophers have been groping without avail. It solves the riddle of the universe–its beginning and its end, its creation and its reconciliation.
8 It is difficult to discern that the divine religion given to Israel in the flesh may be one of the greatest hindrances toward an appreciation of the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus. Hence the Spirit of God forces it down to the same level with human philosophy and tradition by alternating them in this passage. The empty seduction and rudiments, the circumcision, baptism, and shadows refer to the rites and ritual Jehovah gave His earthly people. Yet they are interspersed with references to the authority and teachings of men. Ritual is just as dangerous an enemy as rationalism. As God's Complement, Christ is the answer to philosophy: as our Complement, He is the end of religion.
8 By a striking figure the apostle warns us lest we lose all our possessions in Christ by a legal process, such as is served when property is seized for debt. Legality levies an attachment on us so that we lose the enjoyment of our possessions and philosophy interferes in the same way.
11 The spiritual history of those who know Christ as their Complement may be summarized in three words: death, and burial and resurrection. Not, of course, literally, but in Him. Two rites, in Israel, set this forth in figure. Circumcision is the cutting off of the flesh. It signifies death. Baptism pictures both burial and resurrection. Now, the believer need not be circumcised, for Christ, his Complement, descended into death itself. In Christ's burial, he has been baptized. In His resurrection, he has been raised from the dead. Faith in God's operation is all the ceremony needed to place the believer beyond the tomb in full possession of every privilege ever procured by the rites of religion. Christ, our Complement, makes full provision for our approach into the divine presence, just as the brazen altar and the laver provided for the approach of the priest in the tabernacle (Ex.27:1, 30:17).
14 The decrees issued by the apostles from Jerusalem (Acts15:23-29) were a standing symbol of the subjection of the nations to the Circumcision even though they absolved them from observing all the rudimentary rites, especially circumcision.
15 Not only is the believer exempt from the authority of the apostles of the Circumcision, but, in spirit, he is beyond the reach of all human jurisdiction. Even before His resurrection, our Lord reminded Pilate that he had no authority whatever in His case except what had been granted him from above (John 19:10-11). By His rising, He reversed the sentence of death pronounced against Him by the Sanhedrin and the Roman governor.
16 The prohibition of certain foods under the law, the observance of festivals and fasts, and rest days, all foreshadowed the rest and joy and plenty of that future kingdom on the earth, in which the body of Christ has no part. The divine picture of our portion is the physical body of Christ, risen and ascended and seated at God's right hand in the celestial spheres. As the physical members are to this body, so we, His spiritual members, are to Him. We, too, are roused and seated there, and are the instruments through which He will effect His Father's will in the empyrean.
19 "Holding the Head" is a succinct expression of our duty as members of the body of Christ. A conscious connection and subjection to Him as our Head will sever us from the things of the world, whether it be its religion (however divine its origin) or its philosophy. Any attempt to improve our position before God by physical means, whether it be an appeal to the senses or a curbing of its normal needs, denies our completeness in Christ.
The secret of pleasing God is a conduct conformed to our spiritual position. The key to this position is the great truth that we have not only died and have been roused with Christ, but have ascended with Him into celestial spheres. Our interests, our expectations, are no longer on earth at all, but among the celestials. Let this great and glorious truth be behind our motives and guide us into the path that pleases Him.
5 We are exhorted to transform faith into fact. Are we dead to the world? Then let us live as those who are past the practices which pollute it. How can we keep on in the course which will draw down God's indignation not upon us–but upon those who do not trust Him?
9 The old humaniity, with its diversity and division, no longer reflects the Image of its Creator. In the new, or fresh, humanity, in which Christ displaces Adam, these divisions disappear. The religion of the Jew and the philosophy of the Greek, the privileges of the Circumcision and the proscription of the Uncircumcision, the subjection of the slave and the superiority of the freeman–all these find no place in the young humanity of which Christ is the Head. We should so behave that it will be recognized as created in His image.
12 The greater our appreciation of our Lord's grace toward us, the greater grace will we show towards all who belong to Him. Without this compelling power, we shall be able only to exercise our natural, ungracious dispositions.
14 Love, the greatest of the abiding trinity (l Cor.13:13), is the tie which binds us to the Lord and should be the tie which unites us to our fellow saints. Before maturity, in the preparatory era preceding the present economy, the saints were united (or rather divided) by a common rite, as Circumcision, or a common ancestor, as Israel. Now that these are abolished there is a spiritual unity unmarred by any division (Eph.4:3-6). Love is the tie that makes us one, peace is the tie that keeps us one.
15 All difficulties should be submitted to the arbitration of the peace of Christ.
16 The sincerest source of song is a heart full of grace. It should be the overflow of a heart surcharged with an appreciation of God's love. All other motives are a mockery, and discordant to His ears.
17 God is jealous that His Son be duly honored in all we do or say. Even our thanksgiving must be accompanied by the incense of His name.
17 We should always distinguish between our place "in Christ" and "in the Lord". "In Christ" physical distinctions vanish, even the distinction between the sexes is gone. There is neither male nor female ( Gal. 3:28 ). But "in the Lord" these are all recognized and regulated. Let us never base conduct on our place in Christ, it is in the Lord. Service is to the Lord, not to Christ. In the Lord, woman is subject, in Christ, she is the equal of the man.
18 The ideal family is characterized by love on the part of the husband, which smoothes the way for subjection on the part of the wife and obedience on the part of the children. It is a sign of the last days that children no longer heed this injunction (2 Tim.3:2).
22 As slavery is almost a thing of the past, these injunctions may well be the guide of those whose service is voluntary rather than compulsory. It is a marvelous help to look beyond all earthly masters and work for One above. Our employer may be hard to please, or unjust, or harsh, not giving proper compensation, but if we become the slave of Christ our work will be sincerely done and we will look to Him for appreciation and due deserts. On the other hand, we will be restrained from injurious acts by the fear of Him in that day.
1 Masters, too, by remembering that they are His slaves, will deal justly with those who serve them.
THE SECRET OF CHRIST
2 The great burden on the apostle's heart at this time was the transcendent revelation of Christ and His secret glories, which had been committed to him. Why did he publish his message when he was a prisoner at the court of Rome? God's ways are not our ways. If the apostle had been free he would probably have proclaimed Christ's universal dignities by word of mouth. Being bound, he committed his message to writing, a method which has been immeasurably more effective.
7 Tychicus is well named, for whoever had a better "chance" than the bearer of this epistle as well as the letter to the Ephesians? (Eph.6:21). The spiritual wealth with which he was entrusted passes our utmost comprehension.
10 The mention of Mark is another affectionate touch. Barnabas and Saul brought him from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts12:25) and took him with them on their first missionary journey, but he forsook them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts13:13). For this Paul refused to take him the next time, causing the separation of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:37-40). But Mark has been drinking deeply of grace. He no longer is prejudiced against the uncircumcision. Paul tells Timothy "he is useful for the service" (2 Ti.-4:11). Now he makes sure that his friends receive him. And this man, whose service was so unsatisfactory, is the one chosen by God to write the account of the perfect Servant!
10 Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus were once members of the circumcision body who are now joined to the uncircumcision. They had proclaimed the kingdom. Here we have the point of contact between these two companies. The course of the Circumcision is traced in the epistle to the Hebrews.
12 Epaphras seems to have been the principal teacher in the Colossian ecclesia (1:7) through whom they learned the grace of God. How effectively that grace wrought in his own heart is evident by his prayers and anguish while absent from them. His great concern was that they should be mature and complete in all the will of God. How rare are such saints in these days!
16 It is likely that the Laodicean epistle here referred to is the same as that now called the epistle to the Ephesians. It has the character of a circular letter, copies of which were sent to various ecclesias.
18 The epistle was probably penned by a professional scribe, but the apostle appended the greeting with his own hand.