Colossians 1:23-28 – The mystery that was hidden

Paul in chains
Paul in Prison

SUMMARY: As prisoner, Paul rejoices in his suffering because it was “the stewardship from God bestowed on” him for our benefit (Col 1:25).  God gave Paul the task to proclaim a mystery that has been hidden in past ages, namely that believing Gentiles are also descendants of Abraham—and share in the glory of the age to come. 

Col 1:23

If indeed you continue in the faith
firmly established and steadfast,
and not moved away from the hope of the gospel
that you have heard,
which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven,
and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

Moved away – Some teach that God decides who should live eternally and who should go to hell, irrespective of what they are or do.  Such teachers consequently have to promote the ‘once saved, always saved’ concept, but the current verse implies that people are able to move away from God.  God does keep people.  Romans 14:4 says “and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand”, but people are able to resist God’s keeping power and move away “from the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:23).

Warning – Against the background of the deception threatening the Colossians (Col 2:8), Paul here warns the predominantly Gentile Colossian Christians (Col 1:27, 21) to remain on the firm and sure foundation of the message preached to them (Col 1:23).  This warning will be repeated four times in chapter 2 with growing seriousness.

HopeHope of the gospel – This is the “inheritance of the saints” (Col 1:12), “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col 1:5), and “the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).  “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” (Col 3:3-4).

Col 1:24

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body,
which is the church,
in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Sacrificed Himself

My sufferings – Paul wrote this letter from prison (Col 4:3).  When Paul served, being in ministry was the greatest sacrifice that one could make.  The Lord said to Ananias:

Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

Paul’s message also reflects the greatest sacrifice that was ever made—the cross.  For that reason, God gave him strength, and Paul could claim that he labored, “striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col 1:29).

Today, however, being in ministry, in general, no longer requires that level of sacrifice. But the lack of sacrifice is also reflected in our lives.  Most of our own decisions are based mainly on what would get us further, not on a consideration of the will of the Lord. This even includes the decision to enter God’s kingdom. Even in our desire to allow God to show us our own faults, we are motivated by what would help us to victory without suffering loss. We are still living for ourselves, not for Him. We are walking much more in self-centeredness than in Christ-centeredness.

This is also reflected in our message. We today have so little power to transform the minds and hearts of people because we do not live, and do not preach the immense sacrifice of the cross. Consequently, it is difficult today to see much difference between church and non-church people. Although it is many, many times larger, the church is now but a phantom of what it was even in Paul’s time,

The cross is the power of God, and it is the center of all we are called to live by. The cross is the gospel and the salvation with which the church was entrusted.  We must return to the cross.

Col 1:25-29

Col 1:25 Of this church I was made a minister
according to the stewardship from God
bestowed on me for your benefit,
so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
1:26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden
from the past ages and generations,
but has now been manifested to His saints,
1:27 to whom God willed to make known
what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles,
which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
1:28 We proclaim Him,
admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom,
so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
1:29 For this purpose also I labor,
striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

These verses may be analyzed into two concepts:

The first “the stewardship from God bestowed on” Paul (1:25), “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom” (Col 1:28), “striving according to His power, which mightily works within” Paul (Col 1:29).

The second is the purpose of his ministry, which is “for your benefit” (Col 1:25), to establish “Christ in you” (Col 1:27), “that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col 1:28).

Christ in you (Col 1:27) – This indicates the close relationship between Christ and the believer.  We must be “complete in Christ” (Col 1:28) but the mystery among the Gentiles isChrist in you” (Col 1:27).   Christ explained that everyone is in everyone; “the Spirit of truth … abides with you and will be in you”, “I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:16-20).

Mystery Fellow HeirsMystery – The “mystery … has been hidden from the past ages and generations” – In Ephesians 3:1-6 Paul similarly wrote:

… by revelation there was made known to me the mystery … which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel …

Mystery GentilesWhat this mystery is, is clearly stated in Ephesians and less clearly so in Colossians, but it does seem clear that it is the same mystery, because Colossians also relates the mystery to the Gentiles, and indicates that the mystery is “Christ in you” (Col 1:27), which means to be a child of God.  The mystery that is now revealed is therefore that non-Jews believers “are fellow heirs” (Eph 3:6) of the promises made to Abraham (Gal 3:29; Rom 4:13).  Today this principle is generally accepted, but in Paul’s day, it was a novel idea and a new message that God gave Paul to preach, resulting in severe controversy in the church. For the Jewish Christians, who were, in the beginning, the majority of the church, this was contrary to everything they were told as Jews.  In their view, to be saved, one had to become a Jew through circumcision.

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: Col 2:1-4

 

Colossians 1:15-19 – The image of the invisible God

Summary: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  Christ created the heavens and the earth and everything in them and He continues to hold all things together. Christ is the answer to the Colossian deception:

The deception claimed to have special knowledge, but “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” abide in Christ.

The deception claimed to have received special guidance from supernatural rulers or authorities, but Christ created all “rulers or authorities”.

Col. 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
1:16 For by Him all things were created,
both in the heavens and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
1:17 He is before all things,
and in Him all things hold together.
1:18 He is also head of the body, the church;
and He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
1:19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure
for all the fullness to dwell in Him,

In the previous verses, the focus was on the Father, but verses 13 and 14 shifted the focus to Christ as God’s Means of redemption. The current verses continue to focus on Christ, explaining Who He is.

Image of the invisible God (Col 1:15)

God is invisible. Unless God reveals Himself in some way, our senses do not allow us to perceive Him. But Christ is the Father’s visible image (Col 1:15). Christ is God’s visible face and God’s audible voice: He is the Word of God (John 1:1).

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)

Firstborn of all creation For by Him all things were created (1:15-16)

It is impossible for man to understand God. God is infinite, and infinity is something that man cannot comprehend.  God has no beginning and no end.  God is not subject to time because He created time.  One cannot say that God existed before time because there is no such thing as time before time.  This physical universe is also infinite.  We can travel in any direction and will never find an end.  Scientists estimate the age of the universe as 15 thousand million years, but the Energy which was converted into this physical universe must have existed already (E=MC2). These are things we simply do not understand.  It would be inappropriate for us to speculate about these things. Let as rather focus on what we can understand, namely that “by him all things were created” (Col 1:15, 16), which requires that “He is before all things” (Col 1:17).  That is the meaning of the word “For” with which 1:16 starts.  Christ was that beginning (Col 1:18) of the universe:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev 22:13).

Some understand from the phrase “firstborn of all creation” that Christ is a created being.  It is preferred to say here that Christ was the first to appear in this physical universe.  He was that immense energy that shocked this entire universe into existence.  We cannot say that He existed before that time because there was no time before that moment.  Time only started at that moment. What we can say is that that Energy did exist at that moment. More than that is impossible for the human mind to comprehend.

An alternative is to understand the word “firstborn” not as the first in time, but the first in importance.  The Old Testament does use the word in that sense as well.  For instance, talking about David, it is said:

I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27).

All things have been created through Him (1:16)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1).

God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen 1:26).

The word “us” is consistent with the idea that everything is created by the power of the Father but through Christ.  Man, as the highest creation on this planet, has been made in God’s likeness. That is a wonderful privilege; and what tragedy it is what we have become.

All things have been created … for Him (Col 1:16)

He will always be part and King of this physical universe.  The Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).  His “kingdom … will never be destroyed” (Dan 2:44).

Rulers or authorities” (Col 1:16)

Even “invisible” (1:16) rulers or authorities are a particular emphasis in the letter to the Colossians (Col 2:15), which implies that “rulers or authorities” are an important part of the deception in Colossae.

In Him, all things hold together (Col 1:17)

All things hold together
All things hold together

He is the Power that holds atoms together.  All things will disintegrate should He withdraw His protective power for a moment.

The wrath of God is not that He would punish sinners; He simply discontinues His loving protection.  Three times in Romans 1 it is said that the “wrath of God” on all “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18) is to give them over.  They are given over “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24), “to  degrading passions” (Rom 1:26), and “to a depraved mind” (Rom 1:28)

Firstborn from the dead (1:18)

Firstborn from the dead
Firstborn from the dead

He is the “firstborn” “of all creation” (Col 1:15) as well as the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18).  He was not the first to be raised from death, but the first in importance. Other people were raised from death before Him, but their resurrection from death would have been in vain if He was not raised from death (Rom 3:25).  The church today emphasizes Christ’s death, but the Bible emphasizes His resurrection even more.

All the fullness to dwell in Him (Col 1:19)

Many other wonderful things are said here about Christ; things we only dimly understand, because God is infinite. Even after living hundreds of thousands of millions of years in His kingdom, there will always be an infinite difference between God and us. But what we can clearly understand is that God loves us; so much that He was willing to die for sinners. We must cling to the evidence of His love so that we may place our faith and trust fully in Him.

Deception (Col 2:8)

The emphasis placed on Christ in these verses is unique in Paul’s letters. Colossians contains Paul’s strongest emphasis on the person of the Redeemer. As already mentioned, the interpretation in this commentary is based on the assumption that the points that Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, are indications of the nature of the “deception” (Col 2:8) in Colossae.  Therefore, the emphasis on the person of Christ is taken to indicate that He is the answer to the .  The Colossian deception claimed to have special knowledge (Col 1:9-10; 2:3), but “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” abides in Christ (Col 2:3). The Colossian deception claimed to have received special guidance from supernatural rulers or authorities (Col 1:16), but Christ created all “rulers or authorities” (1:16).

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