These studies in Colossians are being placed after Ephesians because the two Books complete each other. Ephesians is about the body of Christ, and Colossians is about the Head of the church - which is Christ. Studying them in sequence will give you new understanding into the Word of God for our day.
Collossians was written by Paul during his second imprisonment when Epaphras, the one said to be the pastor at Colosse, sought Paul's wisdom in how to deal with the false teachers and cults that had gotten into the church. These people were pagan occultist, Jewish legalist, and Gnostics. They were speaking heresy and Epaphras didn't know how to lead them to conversion, or be rid of them.
BIBLE STUDY: PART 1
The first thing we notice is that Paul set himself up as the authority for this church. To be "an apostle of Christ by the will of God" is a pretty high recommendation. (He must have been sure of his position because only in the Thessalonians books does he not claim any title, and in Philippians he calls himself a bond-servant.)
Although not one of the original 12 apostles who walked the streets with Jesus, he did see Jesus. He is considered an "authentic" apostle because he was given the same miraculous powers as the original twelve (II Corinthians 12:11,12).
In Paul's greeting, he calls the people at the church of Colossae "saints and faithful brethren." This implies that he considered them holy, chosen, and set apart for God. This greeting is similar to the one in Ephesians which reads, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1)..
It must have been pretty encouraging to have someone of Paul's stature praying for them. Part of the report that Paul received from Epaphras had commended them on their growth in faith. He told Paul that they were truly in Christ, growing daily. Paul gave a prayer of thanks for them. This prayer was the deep worshipful prayer of thanksgiving and intercession. Pastors nowadays should take a note from that Scripture and begin to pray for their congregation daily. They are not only shepherds, they are responsible for the people’s spiritual growth as well, and prayer goes a long way in helping them develop.
Something that Paul preached about often is the three elements of faith, love, and hope. They mean:
1. Faith is looking upward to God.
2. Love looks outward to others.
3. Hope looks forward to the future.
In the church at Colossae, these elements, faith, hope, and love, were practiced. That's because the congregation had faith in Christ, and their souls faced upward, and they had hope for a future eternity with God in heaven. With the faith that built their hope, they could show love, and the gospel of salvation was reaching into the world. The number of saved kept increasing.
As Epaphras ministered to his church, he began to fear the power of the Gnostics, so went to someone of great wisdom to learn how to deal with it. Paul, I believe, was his mentor, and Epaphras trusted him to know how to make this go away. Epaphras left Colossae and traveled to Rome to bring this report to Paul in person while he sat in his prison cell.
When Paul received the report that the Gnostics were working in the church at Colossae, his response to Epaphras was that he had never ceased to pray for the congregation there. What we must understand from this is the meaning of unceasing prayer. This does not mean that Paul never stopped praying for them, but that he never forgot to include them in his prayer times.
The prayers Paul said for that congregation are something important for us to look at and understand. These were not the typical prayers like we pray for each other. These were deep prayers for the mature in Christ. These prayers were a request that each person in Colossae be filled with the knowledge of God's will for them, and that they could comprehend what that will was. When we pray for others, we might ask the Lord to teach them how to live according to His will for them. Paul's prayer went beyond that to seeking spiritual knowledge of God's will in them. He desired that they not only know God's will for their lives, but that they would have this revealed to them by the Holy Spirit of God. That's what spiritual knowledge and understanding are: A revelation for the Spirit.
BIBLE STUDY: PART 2
I recently read a fine article on pluralism and syncretism in the church at ApologeticsPress.org titled Pluralism, Multiculturalism, Syncretism, and America by Dave Miller, Ph.D. Before you go further with these Colossians studies, I would strongly suggest you read it. It explains much of what Epaphras was dealing with in the church at Colossae.
We ended the last study at Colossians 1:9 where we learned that Paul never ceased to pray for the people in the church at Colossae. This prayer was that the individuals in the church would be so into the Lord that they would have the knowledge of God's will for their lives revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, and that they would understand what that will was, and how it would be used in their lives. This is a prayer every pastor should cry out to God in behalf of his/her congregation members.
This is a cause and effect portion of Scripture. In verse 9, Paul's cause was to get the people at Colossae to know and understand the Lord's will for their lives. In verse 10, we are told that the effect he was seeking was that, by knowing these things, the people would be able to walk worthy of the Lord. They would become good Christian laborers who would see many others saved. They would love the Lord and take time to study His Word in order to acquire more depth of knowledge. Knowledge leads to strength in Spirit power. This strength would allow the people to be more patient with God, other people, and themselves.
V.11-Spiritual strength also made it possible for them to accept and cope with difficulties in their lives with joy. "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:2-4).
What would it take for them to accomplish all that Paul prayed for? It would take a total commitment of their will. They would have to love Jesus with all their being - and desire nothing more than to please Him.
This message from Paul is still real for us today. As we study the Word and receive wisdom and knowledge, we are able to accept what comes, and to work our way through it with hope and joy. As we draw closer to God, and as the Spirit allows us to understand what God did for us, we bubble up with praise and worship, and we share with others the things we are learning.
V.11 has two parts:
1. God gave us Jesus as our Redeemer, which makes us the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, and co-heirs of the kingdom.
2. By Jesus we are signified and qualified. To be qualified is to be made competent so sufficient. This means we are entitled to, and authorized to receive all that belongs to Jesus.
V.13,14- Another result of knowing and understanding God's will for our lives, and doing it is, we are delivered from darkness. This means we are taken from the kingdom of darkness (sin) to the kingdom of Light (Jesus). Let's read Exodus 6:6,7, "Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." Just as Israel was delivered from the oppressive slavery in Egypt into the promised land, so are we conveyed from darkeners to light.
Conveyed means to be transported. In this case, it means that, at our death, we will be removed from the world, and transported to "the kingdom of the Son of His love" (verse 13). This kingdom belongs to the one, Jesus, who redeemed us by His blood: The blood that cleanses, purifies, and heals us.
Look at what Psalm 33:18,19 has to say. "Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine."
V.15 - says that Jesus is the "image of the invisible God." The Greek word for image is i-kone; it means a representation or image, or resemblance. So Jesus is the representation of God's image to us. Let's read Hebrews 1:1-4, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they."
V.16 - tells us that Jesus is co-creator with God. As the first born Son, not by time of birth, but by position of birthright, Jesus has power over all that is. Good and evil, principalities and powers, all things visible and invisible are subject to Him. Even the angels of heaven and the angels of hell answer to Jesus. Jesus (God) created all tings for His own purpose and pleasure. He has authority over everything, even the demons and satan. That's why when we pray, we need to pray in Jesus' name. It calls down His power to cover our needs.
V.17- Jesus is the sustainer of everything. It is His hands that hold this world together. He was before all things. "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5).
V.18- declares Jesus as head of the church. Look at Ephesians 1:22,23, "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all." The "Head" of the church refers to the global body of believers, not only individual congregations or denominations. So many denominations tout themselves as "the only way to heaven" when in reality, Jesus is the only way. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
"Firstborn of the dead" denotes the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is the first one ever to be raised into an immortal body that will never perish of see decay. Jesus is the first man to die and raise Himself from the dead by His own power. Jesus, "Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life," is now indestructible. And when we are raised in our immortal, eternal bodies to be like Him, we will also be indestructible.
BIBLE STUDY: PART 3
V19. God wanted everything to be in Christ, His mercy, grace, love, patience, holiness, etc... All of God's attributes were to be in Jesus. God's desire was that Jesus would be preeminent. Another way to state that is, Jesus would be Supreme above all, because Jesus is fully God.
What we can understand from this is that Jesus was lacking nothing. Since Jesus is full, and we are trusting in Him as our Savior and Deliverer, all His attributes benefit us.
Read verse 19 again, carefully. What word stands out more than the others? "For it pleased the Father that in Him (Jesus) all the fullness should dwell." The word fullness shouts out to me. This word means that Jesus is full of all the excellencies of God. He truly is the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8), and the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). It is through this fullness that Israel will be converted and restored to God, and Gentiles are saved.
Jesus is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal. He is always with us, and has complete knowledge of us: Jesus has the power of God to see us through all trials and tribulations: Jesus gives us eternal life.
V20- When Jesus died on the tree, He atoned for our sins, and that allows us to be reconciled to the Father through Him. To be reconciled means to be restored. We are reconciled TO God, not God to us. So, when we ask God to forgive our myriad sins, we come to Him through Jesus' atonement, and we are restored to fellowship with God. We are the Prodigal returned.
What's referred to here as, "...things on earth, or things in heaven," are the human creation and the angels of God in heaven. There is no mention here of those under the earth, so we are led to assume that satan and his demon angels will not be saved. And know this, it's by their own choice.
V21- We were "alienated" from God because of the choices we made. Yes, Adam's sin played a part in our separation from God, but we continued to walk in that sin until the day we allowed our eyes to see the truth of the Savior. Look at Titus 1:15 to see this more clearly what we were really like before salvation. "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled." We had nothing good about us before we came through Jesus to God. We were God's enemies. The dictionary defines defiled this way: To make foul, dirty, or unclean. In Vine's dictionary, he tells us that defiled is to stain, tinge, or dye another color. Before Jesus, we were much to soiled to be able to stand in the presence of the holiness of God. Jesus washed that dirt from our spirits and souls, and now we can gladly come to the throne anytime we like, if we keep ourselves clean in God's eyes.
V22- Now we are forgiven and have made peace with God, but it took Jesus' flesh and blood body being tormented and crucified to make this salvation available to us. We are now seen by God as holy, blameless, and sin-free.
The Gnostics we learned about in the beginning of this study did not believe Jesus was fully God, or truly human. But - since God is eternal, and cannot die, Jesus had to become fully human to accomplish salvation. Remember, only through blood sacrifices are sins cleansed in the Bible. Every covenant God ever made, from the Garden of Eden, to His own Son, was made in blood. Without the shed blood of Jesus there would be no redemption or reconciliation. Only through the death of Jesus the Christ are we able to be presented to God as washed white as snow from all our sin. We have been justified, and sanctified, and will soon be glorified.
V23- To enjoy the blessings listed above, we must remain true to Jesus. We need to work out our salvation daily (Philippians 2:12), and keep pressing in to Him. To press in to Jesus means that we get closer to Him each day. The dictionary says that to press is to hold closely as in an embrace, to clasp. This can be likened to any human relationship, parent to child, husband to wife, good friend to good friend. It's that desire to hold that person close and feel their love for us. That's what we should feel for Jesus. We should never feel that time in prayer and Scripture reading and studying is taking away from something else, but that it's allowing us to hold fast to the One we love.
We must also stand fast in our faith, and be so established in it that we can't be moved. Jesus is the Son of man. We must mimic His love for others. He came to save all people, not just a few as some would have you understand. Wherever the gospel is preached, people are saved, and a foundation laid, which is Jesus Christ our Lord. Let's be like the man in Luke 6:48, "He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. "
BIBLE STUDY: PART 4
V24- Paul was delighted to suffer on account of the saints. In doing so, he fulfilled James 1:2-4, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." He was not suggesting that the sufferings of Jesus failed to accomplish anything. Jesus' suffering made salvation possible. Without that, we'd have no need of pastors or anyone Christian.
What suffering is Paul is talking about? It is the suffering Jesus endured and it is the suffering that those working in the five-fold ministries endure (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, teacher) for the sake of their sheep. They are the sufferings that church leaders endure for the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. All Christians are warned about persecution, but those in authoritative positions are continually beset. In the short time Jesus had for ministry, His suffering was long. Any pastor doing the work Jesus appointed him/her to do is going to suffer in some way.
Affliction means "distress," "pressure," or "trouble." You know the saying, "Into every life some rain must fall." We know this is true of the Christian walk. Matthew 5:45 tells us plainly what Christians can expect, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." Paul knew exactly what Matthew 5:11 meant, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake," because he lived it. Having Jesus doesn't make us immune to suffering, it guarantees it. Remember, Paul wasn't in jail for his moral wrongs, but for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, yet he continued to preach it all the time, anytime. Many pastors have been imprisoned for this very thing, especially in communist countries, or in the middle east, and come out even stronger for Jesus.
(If you ever have the opportunity, read Against The Tide, a biography of Watchmen Nee, and see what he was willing to suffer for the sake of the kingdom. It might be available in local libraries.)
The responsibility of a pastor is to make himself available to the flock. If that requires suffering in the process, so be it. Jesus suffered willingly for His sheep, as did Paul and many other church leaders. Please remember this. Your pastor doesn't have it easier than you. It may seem he/she is having the good life, but I assure you, it comes at a price.
V25- Paul was called to be a minister. Just in case you think this is a glamorous position, let me give you an idea of what it's like to be a minister . He/she is a servant, an attendant, one who serves the public, often at his/her own expense. He/she is one who is always on call. Jesus washed His Apostle's feet. Paul, as with many pastors today, was bi-vocational. He was a tent maker, and from his profits, supported his ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He graciously received what others were willing to give toward his support, but he did not rely on them. He counted on God, and the work of his own hands to keep him going until his imprisonments.
V26- Although the prophets had testified of Jesus and what He would do - it remained a mystery behind the veil to both Jew and Gentile. When Jesus was crucified, the veil was rent (torn from top to bottom) and the truth of who Jesus is was revealed to all those who believed. Into the church that was built on the "Chief Corner Stone" (I Peter 2:6) came Jew and Greek alike. Gentiles were now considered to be on the same level as the Jews by the precious blood of Jesus. We, the Gentiles, are now joint heirs with Jesus to the kingdom He is building.
Let's see this for ourselves in Ephesians 3:1-13. "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. "
The revelation given to Paul about our status in Christ is also found in Galatians 3:28,29. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
V27- God wants every Christian to know that Jesus brings fullness to us of all that is available to Him by God's Riches in Glory. Everything that is of God is promised to those who are indwelled by Christ and His Holy Spirit. Jesus now no longer has to speak to us in parables (Matthew 13:10,11) because the mystery that is Himself has been uncovered. The truths of the God-head, the Gospels, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Lamb brought to the slaughter for redemption, His resurrection, the fact that Jesus was completely God and completely man, and many other nuggets of wisdom are now ours for the reading. Repenting, accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, giving our wills over to Him, and being filled by His Spirit and Power are marvelous things which God reveals in His Word that "none should perish" (John 3:1-17; II Peter 3:9).
V.V28,29- Paul counseled and instructed the Christians at Colossae about the truths of Christ and all that had been revealed about Him so that they would not fall into the trap of the false teachings of Gnosticism. [Gnosticism was, and is, a religion that teaches matter is evil and spirit is good. They believe that God (Jesus) could not have been born a man as that would make Him evil. They believed He only inhabited the body to accomplish what He wanted for that particular time and place, then left the body. They say that when Jesus died on the cross, He only appeared to suffer. Gnostics believe they are the only ones who know the truth about God, that they are superior to Christians in their knowledge of Him. They don't believe Christ is superior, or that He is our salvation.] Paul wanted the Christians to grow in wisdom so that they would all become complete in Christ. For the most part, the people at Colossae had received Jesus as Lord and Paul wanted them to receive and enjoy the benefits of salvation. He warned them in I Timothy 6:20,21, to guard what they had been given from the insurgence of the evil one through Gnosticism. "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen."
Paul labored diligently to raise the people up in the faith. He seems to have worked harder than any other Apostle because he felt as though he had so much to make up to God and the Christians for. Please read I Corinthians 15:1-11, especially 15:9. "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. "