Colossians 1:1-13: Verse by verse discussion

The Colossian deception taught that Christians are incomplete without the higher level knowledge and wisdom available from supernatural sources. Paul responds by saying that Christians are already complete in Christ.

Summary

Paul in chainsPaul wrote the letter to the faithful believers, with Timothy’s assistance, from prison in Rome around AD 60-63.  This was about 30 years after Christ’s death.  Paul was sent by Christ by the will of God our Father.  He therefore had the authority to write this letter.

Paul himself never worked in Colossae. While Paul was in a Roman prison, the gospel traveled through the earth and has reached Colossae via Epaphras; one of Paul’s faithful co-workers and a native of the city.

The gospel is the message of God’s merciful kindness; His free gift, particularly through the Person and teachings of Christ, as recorded in the four gospels.  The gospel includes the promise of the eternal inheritance which believers will receive from God when Christ is revealed.  Paul added clarity with respect to the relevance of the Jews and their Law, but Christ and His teachings are the core of the Christian message.

Epaphras, when he visited Paul in prison in Rome, informed Paul of the Colossians’ faith, but also of the Colossian deception that was threatening his church.  The letter does not describe the Colossian deception fully.  We only have Paul’s rebuttal of the deception.  From that we have to infer what the Colossian deception was.

Paul in prayerPaul was a man of prayer.  Through prayer he was in constant contact with God.  He assures the Colossians that he is continually praying for them, asking that they may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a key theme in the letter to the Colossians, from which we conclude that the Colossian deception claimed to have special knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  This commentary assumes that the points which Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, are in response to the Colossian deception, and therefore indicate the nature there-of.

Verses 1 to 3 and verses 12 and 13 focus on God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the Father who qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints, through Jesus Christ. It is the Father who rescued us from the domain of darkness (supernatural beings hostile to God) and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  Christ is the Means, but it is the Father that accomplishes all these things.

The Colossians deception judged the Christians “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16) and told them that they are incomplete, and that they will only become spiritually complete if they submit their teachings, such as “decrees, such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  Paul responds with a three-fold message:

  1. In Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (2:9).
  2. Therefore Christians, since they are “in Christ” are already complete (2:10-15).
  3. Therefore they do not have to submit to the demands of the Colossian deception (2:16-23) to become complete.

These are the three main points of the entire letter.  They are particularly clear from chapter two, but chapter one contains aspects there-of.  In 1:12-13 we see that the believers are already qualified, already rescued and already transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  This is the second of the three points above.

Verse by Verse Discussion

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother

Paul: According to the custom of the day of writing letters, the author’s name is given first. Paul wrote the letter probably from Rome at around AD 63, which was about 30 years after Christ’s death.

An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God: Paul was qualified to write this letter of instruction to the Colossians because he was an apostle.  Literally apostolos means ‘one sent’.  At its deepest level it denotes an authorized spokesman for God; one commissioned and empowered to act as His representative.  Paul is an “apostle of Jesus Christ”, which means he is sent by Christ, but it is “by the will of God”.

And Timothy our brother: Timothy was an honored companion of Paul, but he was not an apostle because he did not receive a direct instruction from Christ.

1:2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: grace to you and peace from God our Father.

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ:Saints and faithful brethren” are the same people; not two different classes of Christians.  Every true Christian is a saint. It is possible that Paul adds “and faithful brethren” to contrast the saints with those who embraced the false teaching that concerned Paul so much in this letter.

Who are at Colossae: The city of Colossae is not mentioned in the Book of Acts. All our Biblical information about the church there comes from this letter and a few allusions in the letter to Philemon.  Historically, Colossae was a prosperous city, yet by Paul’s time the glory it had as a city was on the decline.  The city of Colossae was probably the smallest and least important city that Paul ever wrote to.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father: Grace is God’s unconditioned goodwill and mercy.

1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

We give thanks to God: We receive grace and peace from “God our Father” (1:2), and in return we thank “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).  That is the true circle of life: He gives us everything we need and we love and praise Him.

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: The focus in verses 1 to 3 is on the Father, not on Christ.  For instance, Paul was an apostle “by the will of God” (1:1) who is identified as the “Father” in verses 2 and 3.  As in the prayer which we received from our Lord, God is “our Father” (1:2), which means that He cares for us deeply and continually protects us.  The Father is the active Force behind Paul’s work (1:1) and behind Christ’s sacrifice (1:12; 2:13, 15).  God is also “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  As Jesus said, “‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17).  See the article Jesus is the Son of God, but is He in all respects equal to God? 

Praying always for you: Although he probably had never met them, the Christians of Colossae were on Paul’s prayer list. He prayed for them not only often, but always.

1:4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints:

Genuine faith in Jesus will always have a true love for God’s people as a companion.

1:5 Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

The hope laid up for you in heaven:Christ in you” is “the hope of glory” (1:27), namely the hope for “the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:3-4).  These were not merely theological ideas for Paul; but dominated his thinking as a Christian.  It is also our privilege to have this hope.

In verses 4 and 5 we notice the familiar triad of faith, hope, and love:  “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel: The four gospels were written decades after the Cross as tools to teach the believers what Christ taught.  The gospel of John was one of the last books of the Bible to be written; about 50 years after the Cross.  To teach Jesus means to teach what He taught, as recorded in the gospels.  Some people today hold the letters of the New Testament up high, but the basic teaching in the first century was what Jesus preached.  Paul added clarity with respect to aspects such as the relevance of the Law of Moses and the relationship between Jew and Gentile, but his teachings are not core; what Christ taught is the core of the Christian message.

Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians to oppose a specific distortion of the truth (2:4, 8, 16, 18).  Perhaps for that reason we find early on in this letter an emphasis on “truth” (1:5, 6).  Because we do not live in that time and place, we do not know what the Colossian deception specifically was.  Paul, in his letter, only gives us one side of the story; we only have his rebuttal of the deceptions.  From this we have to infer what the Colossian deception was.

1:6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it: and understood the grace of God in truth:

The Gospel is represented as a traveler, whose object it is to visit the whole earth.  So rapid is this traveler in his course, that he had already gone nearly through the whole of the countries under the Roman dominion, and will travel on until he has proclaimed his message to every people, and kindred, and nation, and tongue (Rev. 14:6).  The phrase “in all the world” was a legitimate hyperbole, for the gospel was spreading all over the Roman Empire.

Grace is God’s merciful kindness; His free gift.  Everything we receive from Him is His free gift.  The kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).  We are saved by His merciful kindness; we can never earn it as a wage.

1:7 Just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf:

Learned it from Epaphras: Paul himself had not worked in the area of Colossae (1:4, 7-9; 2:1).  Apparently, Epaphras, one of his helpers, and a native of the city (4:12), established a group of believers there (1:7; 4:12, 13).

Who is a faithful servant (KJV – minister): The word “minister doesn’t mean that Epaphras was superior to the other Christians in Colossae. The word minister means servant.  Paul probably wrote the letter because of a visit of Epaphras from Colossae.

1:8 and he also informed us of your love in the spirit:

It seems as if, while Paul was in prison in Rome, Epaphras visited him, and informed him of the spiritual growth of the Colossian church (see also 2:5), but also of the “deception” (2:8) troubling his church.

1:9 for this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you:  and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding:

Paul in prayerNot ceased to pray for you: Paul was a man of prayer (1:3, 9).  Through prayer he was in constant contact with God (1:9).  “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

Knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding: Knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a key theme in the letter to the Colossians.  It is important to note that Paul wrote that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (2:3) “so that no one will delude you” (2:4).  This is understood to mean that some people in Colossae were trying to delude the believers, claiming that they have special knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  The interpretation in this commentary is based on the assumption that the points which Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, indicate the nature of the Colossian deception (2:8).

1:10 So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord: to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Paul also prayed that they would walk (live) according to the knowledge which they received.  Our life is based on our knowledge of God and our understanding of His will.

1:11 Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously:

His strength is there to help us meet all of life’s challenges, and to endure and overcome problems with patience and joy.  God is the source of all power.  Whatever power we have, or hope to have, we only have because He gave it to us.

1:12 Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light:

The Father is mentioned as the active Force of redemption. He initiated the plan of the ages.  It is the Father who qualifies us, through Jesus Christ.  The ESV and other translations render 2:18 as “Let no one disqualify you”.  It is there quite possible that Paul, in 1:12, is contradicting the Colossian deception.

1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son

He rescued us from the domain of darkness: The domain of darkness is Satan’s domain.  Jesus referred to “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53) that led to His arrest, suffering and death.  The power of darkness are the supernatural beings marshaled against God and His followers for combat in the spiritual realm.  “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).  These “rulers and authorities are a particular emphasis in the letter to the Colossians (1:15; 2:15, 18), implying that the Colossian deception involved such supernatural beings.

Note the contrast between the light in verse 12 and the darkness in verse 13.  Light allows us to see; to receive “knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9).

And transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son: According to Barclay, the word translated “transferred” had a special significance in the ancient world. When one empire conquered another, the custom was to transfer the entire population of the defeated empire to the conqueror’s land. It is in this sense that Paul says we have been transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

His” in these verses (1:9, 11, 13) consistently refers to “the Father” (1:3):

Verse 9, for instance, refers to “knowledge of His will”, which is explained by verse 1 as “the will of God”, who is “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).

His glorious might” (1:11) refers back to “God” in 1:10, who is identified in verse 3 as “the Father”.

Verses 12 and 13 therefore continue the focus of verses 2 and 3 on the Father. Some Christians think of Christ as their Savior, but these verses inform us, as already indicated by 1:2-3, that the Father is the Active Force that “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  The kingdom belongs to “His beloved Son” (1:13), but it is the Father that “rescued us from the domain of darkness”.  In Christ “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14), but it is the Father that “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).

Note Christians are already rescued and already transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  This is another emphasis in the letter to the Colossians.  It is again emphasized in 2:10, where Paul states that Christians are complete in Christ.  The Colossian deception judged the Christians “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16) and told them that they are incomplete, and that they will only become spiritually complete when they submit to “decrees, such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  In response Paul wrote that they are already qualified (1:12), already rescued and already transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Colossians 1:1-8

In summary, these verses introduce the letter and identify:

  • Paul as sent by Christ and the author of this letter;
  • The church in Colossae as the addressees of the letter;
  • The Father as the One Who willed Paul’s apostleship (1:1), and the One Who we must thank (1:3);

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

Paul always starts his letters with his own name.

Apostle – An apostle is somebody sent.  Paul is an “apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1), which means he is sent by Christ.  The implication of this verse is that Timothy was not an apostle.  He did not receive a direct instruction from Christ (1:1).

1:2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 1:4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;

Father (1:2, 3) – The focus in these verses is on the Father, not on Christ.  “God” in verse 1 is identified as the “Father” in verses 2 and 3.  As in the prayer which we received from our Lord, God is “our Father” (1:2), which means that He deeply cares for us and continually protects us.  He is the active Force behind Paul’s work (1:1) and behind what Christ did (1:12; 2:13, 15).

Give thanks (1:3) – We receive grace and peace from “God our Father” (1:2), and in return we thank “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).  That is the true circle of life: He gives us everything we need and we honour Him for that.

1:5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 1:6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; 1:7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 1:8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

Hope (1:5) – “Christ in you” is “the hope of glory” (1:27), namely the hope for “the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:3-4).

Truth (1:5, 6) – In this letter, as in many of his other letters, Paul had to oppose a distortion of the truth.  For that reason we find early on in this letter an emphasis on “truth” (1:5, 6).

This letter, being a letter, is addressed to a specific audience to address specific issues.  To some extent Paul’s letters only give us 50% of the story.  We read his rebuttal of deceptions, but we only indirectly read about the deceptions itself.

Grace (1:6) is God’s merciful kindness; His free gift.  Everything we receive from Him is His free gift.  The kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).  We are saved by His merciful kindness.

Epaphras (1:7) – Paul himself had not worked in the area of Colossae (1:4, 7-9; 2:1). Apparently, Epaphras, one of his helpers, established a group of believers there (1:7; 4:12, 13).  It seems as if, while Paul was in prison in Rome, Epaphras visited him, informing him of the spiritual growth of the Colossian church (1:8; 2:5), but also of the “deception” (2:8) troubling his church.  In Philemon 1:23 Paul mentions a Epaphras that is “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus”.

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