Meditation on Colossians 1:1-16
: We had before us in the epistle to the Hebrews how the Spirit of God was leading Jewish saints out of everything connected in a religious way with earth, building up their souls in the knowledge of Christ in heaven, and thus disentangling them from the system of things which they had been connected with, even by the ordinance of God.
Hebrews 13:12-14 : « Wherefore also Jesus, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate, therefore let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach, for we have not here an abiding city, but we seek the coming one »
He was bringing them to find such completeness and satisfaction in Christ that they might be prepared to leave even the best things on earth and
go forth to him without the camp
The object of the Spirit of God in the epistle to the Colossians is very similar, only that gentiles are in view
Paul is seeking in this epistle to disentangle a gentile company from every subtle snare which would connect them in mind and affection with earth. He is seeking to set them free by the ministry of Christ and to lead them in to the blessedness of being risen with Christ, so that they might be
: Were the gentiles in advance of the Jews ?
: The Hebrews addressed in their epistle had received Jesus as the Messiah, and what they needed was to be enlarged and confirmed in the knowledge of Christ. They had received Him, but they needed to be rooted and built up in Him. These gentile Colossians had also received the Christ.
It is one thing to receive the Christ, and another so to know the Person we have received that we are independent of every other man and free from every influence that does not emanate from Christ. We should be wonderful people if we really got the good of this epistle in our souls.
Col 1:1-2 : « Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. »
: Paul writes here as an apostle and connects with himself Timothy as a brother (Colossians 1:1).
Gal 1:1-2 : « Paul, apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from among the dead, and all the brethren with me, to the assemblies of Galatia »
1 Tim 1:1-2 : « Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the command of God our Saviour, and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timotheus, my true child in faith: grace, mercy, peace, from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord »
: I think the apostle had peculiar pleasure in linking others with himself. In writing to the Galatians He brings in
all the brethren
(Galatians 1:2). He seemed to take the opportunity when ever he could of linking brethren with himself. This suggests that we get not only what is apostolic, which is in a sense official, but also the thought of brethren brought in.
Paul says of Timothy,
my true child
(1 Tim 1:2): it means he was a true descendant of Paul morally; he took character from him. He was not converted by Paul’s ministry. It is our privilege to be children of Paul -- to be conscious of a direct link with the apostle.
Eph 2:19-21 : « So then ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but ye are fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner-stone, in whom all the building fitted together increases to a holy temple in the Lord »
We are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20); it is our privilege to be directly linked with the men who were the vessels of ministry in christianity. We have their teaching; we are put into contact with Paul as we read this epistle; and as we come under the moral impress of it we take character from him and the light God gave to him.
2 Tim 2:1-2 : « Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also »
Paul committed things to Timothy the brother, and Timothy was told to commit them to faithful men who were able to teach others (2 Tim 2:2). That is not connected with gift but with
Col 1:6-7 : « For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth: As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ »
Col 4:12 : « Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God »
There is an originality about gift, but you are not to be original on this line. You are to cherish what is passed on to you, and to pass it on faithfully. It is not gift but fidelity; and that is the true apostolic succession. It is a question of faithful men now, and it is a wonderful thing to have been connected with them.
We have to hold things not only as doctrine but as vital things and to be able to pass them on to others. Epaphras was a faithful man (Colossians 1:7), I suppose; the Colossians had been converted through his labours; he was a man of prayer (Colossians 4:12).
: Why is the epistle addressed to
the saints and faithful brethren
? (Colossians 1:2)
: Paul recognises their state: they were not only believers but holy and faithful brethren. This whole epistle supposes a certain state in saints.
Romans 1:8 : « First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world »
When Paul was writing to the Romans he did not know much about them, except that it was notorious in the world that there was a company of believers in Rome (Romans 1:8). In writing to them he took the ground that they had the Spirit; there is much about the Spirit in the epistle (Romans 8). We can normally take that ground with saints; if they have received the Spirit they have spiritual capabilities in having the Spirit.
Col 1:7-8 : « As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit »
Col 2:1 : « For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh »
But in writing to the Colossians he could take the ground of what the saints had become by the Spirit’s work -- that is greater than having the Spirit. The Spirit is mentioned only once in this epistle. In verse 8 where
love in the Spirit
is spoken of, it means they had never seen Paul; it is in contrast to having known him by seeing his face in the flesh (Colossians 2:1).
: It is remarkable that
Christ in you
should be said of a gentile company (Colossians 1:27).
Col 1:27 : « To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory »
: Christ was in their affections; that was the Spirit’s work; it was through His work that Christ had a place in their affections.
It is a pleasure to God when He can see the effect of the Spirit’s presence; we see it here, so Paul does not need to dwell on the Spirit being there; the evidence of it was in the effect produced. Glory was in hope; the fact that Christ was in their affections was
the hope of glory
Col 1:3-4 : « We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints »
: They had faith in Christ and love to the saints (Colossians 1:4).
: Yes. They were right at the centre and right at the circumference. They had God’s anointed Man as the Object of faith and they took in all the saints in their affections.
1 John 3:14 : « We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death »
It is a great thing to join the brethren in your affections; people who love all the saints have joined the brethren. It is evidence that we have passed from death unto life if we have the brethren in our affections (1 John 3:14).
By this shall all know that ye are disciples of mine if ye have love amongst yourselves
. There is a brotherhood here.
In the world a brotherhood signifies those who have a common bond and affinity, but the christian brotherhood is the only true one.
: How would you show your love for all saints ?
: The apostle showed his love by praying for them. That is open to us; we are not straitened in prayer though we are straitened in almost every other way. There are many saints even in this town that we do not know and never have shaken hands with. It is a sad witness to the failure of the church.
Col 1:3-5 : « We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth »
Epaphras rendered a beautiful service. I suppose he felt he could not help the saints further; he knew the point they had reached and he realised their danger, and, feeling his inability to help them, he went off and told Paul about them, and Paul wrote this epistle. While Paul wrote, Epaphras prayed (Colossians 4:12); he agonised in prayer as Paul did also. Paul says in chapter 2,
I would have you know what combat I have for you ... and as many as have not seen my face in flesh
-- that takes us in, too.
Faith, hope and love have a great place with the saints; Christ the object of faith
; the saints the object of love
; and heaven in hope
: What is the hope laid up ? (Colossians 1:5)
Acts 16:27-34 : « And the jailor being awakened out of his sleep, and seeing the doors of the prison opened, having drawn a sword was going to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had fled. But Paul called out with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm, for we are all here. And having asked for lights, he rushed in, and, trembling, fell down before Paul and Silas. And leading them out said, Sirs, what must I do that I may be saved ? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. And they spoke to him the word of the Lord, with all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed them from their stripes; and was baptised, he and all his straightway. And having brought them into his house he laid the table for them , and rejoiced with all his house, having believed in God »
: All that is connected with the heavenly calling, sonship, what they had heard of in the gospel; that they had a place in heaven and were going to be there in sonship for the pleasure of God. The gospel confers everything: it had brought to them the light of the heavenly relationship and position.
The glad tidings, which are come to you ... and are bearing fruit and growing
(Colossians 1:6). That is the proper order. The glad tidings come, and when they are received in faith they begin to produce fruit.
The Philippian jailor is an illustration when converted he
took them that same hour ... and washed them from their stripes
(Acts 16:33); that was the gospel producing fruit. If it does not produce fruit it has not come in faith; we should not accept that a person was converted if we did not see fruit. The gospel makes a brutal man a kind man; the man who had been beating the apostles now washes their stripes.
But that is not the end; the gospel goes on expanding in the soul; it grows. We do not at first receive a big gospel; it is big on the divine side but not on the side of our apprehension -- it grows and expands in the soul.
: Is that like the light that came to Saul ? Each time he speaks of it, it is greater.
Luke 7:33-35 : « For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children »
: Yes, the sense of what he got at the beginning was continually expanding in his soul.
Every year we live the gospel should be bigger with us; there should be a larger apprehension of God’s grace, and of what He has given to us in Christ. If the saints would allow the gospel to give them character, to put its own blessed impress on them, wisdom would be justified of her children (Luke 7:35).
The gospel is the greatest thing. The remark was made many years ago: the ministry of the assembly
unfolds what the ministry of the gospel
confers. The ministry of the gospel
shows all that God is for man, all that Christ is for man, and, in a sense, all that the Spirit is for man; all that is included in the glad tidings. The ministry of the assembly
unfolds what is effected in man for the pleasure of divine Persons; that is the other side. But then after all, what there is in divine Persons is the greatest, so there is nothing like the gospel !
: Are we defective in the gospel ?
: We have not taken it all in. Sometimes when a brother preaches on Lord’s day evening, he gets discouraged if he does not see a lot of unconverted people. I wish we did see them; but the preacher may always have the comfort that there is not a person sitting there who knows the gospel in its fulness. He may think they do, but they do not ! Even the preacher does not, but if he has the desire to know it better, he may be helped to get a fresh sense of the grace of God, and an expansion in his own soul as he speaks. Many a man has actually been converted while preaching; the truth he was telling out has been brought home to his soul.
One would like to get a more adequate sense of the greatness of the gospel; what it presents is infinite -- divine Persons, love, wisdom, power -- everything that is infinitely great and will fill eternity with its blessedness. The one amongst us who has the greatest apprehension of the gospel falls far short of the fulness of Christ: we can never say the time has come when the glad tidings cannot grow any more in our souls.
Gal 1:11-12 : « But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ »
Generally speaking people are indebted to others; the Colossians had heard the gospel from Epaphras. But Paul’s was a special case; the Lord dealt with him directly; he tells the Galatians that his gospel was not of man and he did not receive it through man (Galatians 1:12).
: What is loving in the Spirit ? (Colossians 1:8)
: It is in contrast to knowing a person in the flesh (Colossians 2:1).
The Colossians had great affection for Paul because they had benefited by his ministry; a brother whose ministry has helped you, but whom you have never seen, you love in the Spirit. If you have known him personally it is not quite the same. It means that they were greatly attached to Paul as the vessel of divine ministry.
Epaphras had enjoyed Paul’s ministry himself, and he gave his converts a sense of the preciousness of Paul’s ministry, so they all loved him, though they had never seen him (Colossians 2:1).
It is a great thing to love the vessels of ministry. The Lord puts the ministry into certain vessels, and it is a great proof of spiritual health if we love the vessels of spiritual ministry; it is not what the men are in themselves.