SECTION I. INTRODUCTION . The Epistle commences, in St. Paul's manner, with a salutation ( Colossians 1:1 , Colossians 1:2 ), followed by thanksgiving ( Colossians 1:3-8 ) and prayer ( Colossians 1:9-14 ). Only in 2 Thessalonians, however, outside of the Epistles of this group, do we find a formal opening prayer. The salutation agrees closely with that of Ephesians.
The opening thanksgiving is full and appropriate. Its content is determined by the state of this Church, and by the apostle's relation to it through Epaphras, and his own present position.
(We give thanks) because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens ( Colossians 3:4 ; Ephesians 1:12-14 ; Philippians 3:20 , Philippians 3:21 ; Romans 8:18-25 ; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 ; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 ; 1 Peter 1:3-5 ; Matthew 6:20 ; Matthew 19:21 ; Luke 12:33 ; John 14:2 , John 14:3 ). "Hope" is objective—matter of hope, as in Galatians 5:5 ; Titus 2:13 ; Hebrews 6:18 . St. Paul speaks most of heaven and heavenly things in the letters of this period. Hebrews 6:4 gives the nearest grammatical connection for this clause; and many recent commentators, following Greek interpreters, accordingly find here that which "evokes and conditions" the Colossians' "love" (Meyer, Ellicott) or "faith and love" (De Wette, Lightfoot). But this construction we reject. For it makes the heavenly reward the reason of the Colossians' present (faith and) love, reversing the true and Pauline order of thought; while, on the other hand, the heavenly hope is the last and highest ground of the apostle's thanksgivings and encouragements, and the forfeiture or impairing of it the chief matter of his fears and warnings throughout the Epistles of this group. It is better, therefore, with Bengel, Hofmann, Klopper, Conybeare, Eadie, and others, from Athanasius downwards, to refer verse 5 as well as verse 4 to the principal verb, "we give thanks" (verse 3). What the apostle hears of "the faith and love" of the Colossian brethren moves him to give thanks for "the hope which is in store for them in heaven." Of that hope this faith and love are to him a pledge and an earnest, even as the "seal of the Spirit" ( Ephesians 1:14 ) and the "peace of Christ in their hearts" ( Colossians 3:15 ; see note) are to themselves. Similarly, in Philippians 1:27 , Philippians 1:28 and 2 Thessalonians 1:4 , 2 Thessalonians 1:5 , from the present faith and patience of the saints the certainty of their future blessedness is argued. By singling out this hope as chief matter of thanksgiving here, the apostle enhances its certainty and its value in his readers' eyes. From the general occasion and ground of his thanksgiving in the Christian state and prospects of his readers, St. Paul proceeds to dwell on certain special circumstances which enhanced his gratitude to God (verses 56-8). Which (hope) ye heard of before, in the word of the truth of the gospel; or, good tidings ( 2 Thessalonians 1:7 , 23; Colossians 2:7 ; Ephesians 1:13 ; Ephesians 4:15 , Ephesians 4:21 ; Galatians 1:6-9 ; Galatians 3:1-4 ; Galatians 4:9 ; Galatians 5:7 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:5 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:1 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 ; 1 Peter 5:12 ). There is a veiled polemic reference in "the word of the truth of the gospel". The word "before" ( aforetime ) "contrasts their earlier with their later lessons, the true gospel of Epaphras with the false gospel of recent teachers" (Lightfoot). Others interpret, less suitably: heard already ( before my writing ) , or heard beforehand ( before the fulfilment of the hope ) . It is in St. Paul's manner to refer his readers at the outset to their conversion and first Christian experiences (see parallel passages). Their hope was directly at stake in the controversy with Colossian error. Here we meet the first of those cumulative combinations of nouns, so marked a feature of the style of Colossians and Ephesians, which are made a reproach against these Epistles by some critics; but each is appropriate in its place.
I. THE SALUTATION .
1. Paul and Timothy.
2. Saints and faithful brethren.
3. Grace and peace.
II. THE THANKSGIVING .
1. The essentials of the Christian life. ( Colossians 1:3-5 .) "Fides, amor, spes: summa Christianismi" (Bengel). Compare the order and relation of the three graces here and in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ; Ephesians 1:15-18 ; with 1 Corinthians 13:13 ; also Hebrews 10:22-25 , Revised Version.
2. The progress of the gospel. ( Hebrews 10:6-8 .)
III. THE OPENING PRAYER .
1. Christian knowledge. (Verses 9, 10.)
2. Christian conduct. ( Philippians 1:10-12 .)
3. The nature of salvation. ( Philippians 1:12-14 , Philippians 1:21 , Philippians 1:22 .) For that inheritance for which the Christian praises God he was "made meet," and he is grateful for the means, as well as for the end, of his salvation. He holds the title deeds of his heritage in certain acts and transactions on the part of God which make him meet for it, and make it meet for the Divine Father to invest him with it.
He is "a just God and a Saviour." His power works on the lines laid down by his righteousness. He would have destroyed rather than saved us, would have violated the human conscience, had he (conceivably) saved us without forgiveness; or without a forgiveness rationally grounded on some act of propitiation that should make amends for the guilty past. This propitiation, as it frees us kern the power of Satan and of death, is our ransom. The Son of God's love, if he would redeem us, must pay the price. What that price should be, Divine justice determines, while Divine love provides it. He bought us with "his own blood" ( Galatians 3:13 ; Acts 20:28 ; 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:19 ); "gave his life a ransom" ( Matthew 20:28 ; Titus 2:14 ).
Colossians 1:15-23 .—Sect. 2
The redeeming Son and his kingdom.
I. CHRIST THE LORD OF UNIVERSAL NATURE . ( Colossians 1:15-17 .) Colossian error was undermining the Christian system by introducing into it a false, dualistic theory of nature, then widely prevalent in other quarters. And the leaders of Christian thought can never afford to be indifferent to the current philosophic views of their day. Indeed, in the contact of Christian teaching with philosophy, and in the reflection of thoughtful men at all times, the question was sure to arise and must constantly recur in new forms, "What is the relation of Christ to the universe? At what point does he enter the scheme of things? He who died on Calvary, who claims to save the souls of men, what has he to do with nature and the common world?" If this question could not be answered, or if any inferior and limited position in the world of being must be assigned to him, then, as the Colossian heresy shows, his spiritual authority and the efficacy of his redemption become, in the same degree, limited and uncertain. Hence the teaching of the Epistles of this group (Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians) respecting the Person of Christ is the logical and theological sequel of that of the second (Galatians, Romans, I and 2 Corinthians), respecting our salvation through him. We gather from the apostle's teaching hero:
1. That in Christ God becomes visible, and nature becomes intelligible. To earnest philosophic thought, as to sound religious instinct, it has always been evident that "what is seen hath not been made out of things which do appear" ( Hebrews 11:3 ). An "everlasting power and divinity are clearly seen from the creation of the world"—but as "invisible things" ( Romans 1:20 ). Our latest Agnosticism is but a despairing echo of the cry of Job: "I go towards the east, but he is not there; and westward, but I cannot perceive him; toward the north, where he is working, but I cannot see him; where he veileth himself in the south, but I cannot find him" ( Job 28:8 , Job 28:9 ). God effectually hides himself behind his works. All visible point to invisible causes, all finite things lead up to the Infinite, all phenomena to the noumenal; but whither they point we cannot follow. Some of the most profound and minute of modern scientific inquirers testify most strongly to this. From that invisible. Christ comes forth to testify of him whom "no man hath seen nor can see" ( John 1:14 , John 1:18 ; John 14:9 ). We know now what the Maker of the universe is like. The world is no longer orphaned. The unknown God proves to be its Father, and his Son its older Brother. Human thought has a visible centre around which to move, a sun which sheds light and warmth over all its speculations. The incarnation and resurrection of Christ, with the whole course of his miracles (his signs ) , assure us that natural law is, and must prove itself ultimately to be, subservient to spiritual law, the lower to the higher order, the material world to the moral being of man. His miracles and parables and his general teaching furnish many fruitful hints, some that lie on the surface, others that await our deeper searching or future need, respecting the meaning and use of the natural world. He is, after all, its chief Interpreter, the Master of poets and philosophers of nature who often owe most to him when they are least aware of it, as well as of religious thinkers and social reformers. While we hold fast this faith in the "Image of God the invisible," the "Firstborn of all creation," we may witness science and philosophy pursuing their inquiries without misgiving, and we may follow them, warily indeed, but without mistrust; for they can discover no truth which will not in the end support the "truth as it is in Jesus," and they labour, though they know it not, only to add their own to the "many crowns" that are preparing for the head of our Immanuel.
2. All the relations which nature holds to God centre in Christ.
II. CHRIST THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH . (Verses 18-23.)
1. Into the world created to be "the kingdom of the Son of God's love," "sin entered, and death through sin;" and death became king, sin in death ( Romans 5:12 , Romans 5:13 , Romans 5:21 ), instead of "the Prince of life." Hatred was planted in the human breast, and with it came a darkness that "apprehended not the light of life" (verses 13, 21; John 1:4 , John 1:5 ; 1 John 3:8 , 1 John 3:11 , 1 John 3:12 ); and men fell under "the dominion of Satan" ( Acts 26:18 ; Ephesians 2:2 , Ephesians 2:3 ; Luke 4:6 ; 1 John 5:19 ), the "murderer," the "father of lies;" till it came to pass that, though Christ ever "was in the world, the world knew him not" ( John 1:10 ). Men were everywhere "cut off from Christ," "alienated,' "children of wrath" (verse 21; Ephesians 2:3 , Ephesians 2:12 ); how rebellious against him, his advent proved. Then, in their "wicked works," they not only denied the Son his pre-eminence, but even said, "Come, let us kill him" ( Matthew 21:38 ; Luke 19:14 ; Psalms 2:1-12 .).
2. And he submits to die, that he may "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The Firstborn of all creation becomes Firstborn out of the dead. So high he was in his Divine, eternal birth, so low he steeped—to the Virgin's womb, to "a servant's form," and "unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (verses 18, 20; Philippians 2:7 , Philippians 2:8 ; Romans 1:3 ; Romans 9:5 ; 2 Corinthians 8:9 ; Galatians 4:4 ; Hebrews 2:5-18 ), to restore his human brethren, to recover his alienated kingdom, "to reconcile all things unto himself" (verses 18, 20; Romans 14:9 ; Philippians 2:10 , Philippians 2:11 ; Revelation 1:5 , Revelation 1:6 , Revised Text).
3. So dying, he lives again that he may give its life ( Romans 6:4-11 ); descending, in turn he ascends and lifts us with him ( Ephesians 4:8-10 ; Ephesians 2:5 , Ephesians 2:6 ; John 12:32 ); emptying himself, he gains a new sovereign fulness (verse 19; Philippians 2:8 ; Ephesians 4:10 ; Ephesians 1:20-23 ) of all that the dark, exiled, broken, miserable world needs to restore it and build it up again ( Colossians 2:9 , Colossians 2:10 ; Philippians 4:19 ).
4. Round himself as the living Centre, he gathers a new humanity and forms a new world, which is his body, the Church (verses 18, 24; Colossians 2:19 ; Ephesians 4:16 ; Ephesians 5:23 ; John 15:1-8 )—a body wider, and yet narrower, than the visible ( Matthew 13:24-30 ; John 10:16 ); "a spiritual house," built of those united as "living stones" to the "living Stone" ( 1 Peter 2:4 , 1 Peter 2:5 ), which "groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord" ( Ephesians 2:21 ). So he is the Beginning (verse 18) of an agelong, world wide process of resurrection and reconstruction. The life that is in him is an organic, formative, spiritual enemy, with a "mighty working" in it that is "able to subdue all things unto itself" ( Philippians 3:21 ; Romans 8:2-11 ); a leaven destined to leaven the whole lump ( Matthew 13:31-33 ). "The kingdom of this world" must "become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ" ( Revelation 11:15 ; 1 Corinthians 15:25 ; Daniel 2:34 , Daniel 2:35 ; Daniel 7:13 , Daniel 7:14 ); "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" must penetrate, transform, and dominate every sphere of human thought and activity; "the works of the devil" everywhere, and in every form and shape, must be "destroyed" ( 1 John 3:8 ). Then only will he have "reconciled all things on the earth to himself."
5. For ourselves, as individuals, the design of Christ's reconciliation is the perfection of our personal character as approved by himself at the day of judgment (verses 22, 28). This is true also of the Church collectively ( Ephesians 5:27 ). He is Judge as well as Saviour; and his justice is as inflexible as his mercy is compassionate. "The King," for as King he will then appear, desires to be able to say to each of us, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you;" "sit with me in my throne" ( Matthew 25:34 ; Revelation 3:21 ); but he will only say it to those who are worthy ( Revelation 3:4 , Revelation 3:5 ). To this end he redeemed us by his blood, bestowed on us Ms Spirit, brought us into his kingdom, subjects us to its discipline, employs us in its service, instructs us in its wisdom, enriches us with all its spiritual blessings—"to present us (on that day) holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him" (Jud 1:24, 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 , 1 Thessalonians 3:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , 1 Thessalonians 5:24 ).
6. How far the influence of this reconciliation extends beyond the things upon the earth; and, if it does so extend, in what direction; whether or how it touches "the principalities and powers in heavenly places,"—we cannot tell, and dare not attempt to guess. Origen, on the warrant of this passage (verse 20), fondly thought that even Satan himself would be ultimately reconciled to God. At any rate, when he "through whom and unto whom all things have been created" is the sacrifice, and when the evil of this world is but a part of the realm of evil above and around us, we may not deny the possibility of others sharing with us, somehow, in the atoning virtue of his death.
7. But all this is so far stated from the Divine side, as matter of God's general purpose and plain in Christ ( Ephesians 1:10 ; 1 Timothy 2:4 ; 2 Timothy 1:9 ; Acts 3:21 ); and this plan will certainly be carried out; "all things," as a whole, will certainly be reconciled. But there is nothing here to contradict the possibility of a self-exclusion of individuals, belonging to this world or to other worlds, from the benefits of the Divine amnesty, and of their expulsion from a reconciled universe ( 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ; Matthew 25:41 ; Luke 13:25 ; John 15:6 ; Revelation 22:15 ). Verse 23 intimates as much as this. "All this is yours," the ,apostle virtually says, "if ye continue in the faith, not being moved away from the hope of the gospel;" but if not, what then? Contrast 2 Corinthians 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:20 ; John 10:10 and John 5:40 . Still the distressing question, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" presses on us, and our Lord's reply speaks in the same tones of stern and solemn warning ( Luke 13:23-30 ). For us to whom the message of reconciliation is now addressed, it is clear that " now is the day of salvation" ( 2 Corinthians 6:2 ). To be a minister of this reconciliation, and so a minister of the Church, a builder of the house of God, the Body of Christ, how high and responsible the office ( John 5:23-26 ; 1 Corinthians 4:1 , 1 Corinthians 4:2 ; 2Co 5:11-6:10)!
Colossians 1:24-29 .—Sect. 3
The apostle and his mission.
I. PAUL A MINISTER OF CHRIST . ( Colossians 1:24 , Colossians 1:25 , Colossians 1:28 , Colossians 1:29 .) In this passage the apostle draws a picture of himself which, taken with the delineations furnished by him elsewhere, stands before the Church for all time as the ideal portrait of the "faithful minister" and the "good soldier of Christ Jesus," The account he gives of himself here concerns his calling, his aim, his work, and his experience.
1. The apostle styles himself
2. The aim of his ministry is twofold.
3. His work is
4. In this work:
II. CHRIST THE MYSTERY OF GOD . ( Colossians 1:26 , Colossians 1:27 .) This is the glorious theme of St. Paul's ministry.
1. It is the burden of the old revelation, the secret of ancient history. The great heroes of the Old Testament—patriarchs, lawgivers, prophets, kings—were fragmentary types of him, in their character, achievements, or sufferings ( Hebrews 5:10 ; Acts 7:37 , etc.). The highest aspirations and anticipations of "holy men of old, moved by the Holy Ghost," were directed mysteriously all along to him, to his birth, teaching, sufferings, resurrection, to "the glory that should follow," to "the preaching of repentance and remission of sins to all nations in his name" ( Luke 24:26 , Luke 24:27 , Luke 24:44-47 ). The Jewish system of worship and discipline, in its construction and design, prefigured and prepared for his advent, who was himself meanwhile secretly acting in it and speaking through it to his people ( John 1:10 , John 1:11 ; 1 Corinthians 10:4 , 1 Corinthians 10:9 ; Hebrews 2:10-12 ; Hebrews 11:26 ). The whole history of Israel and the development of the Old Testament system unerringly pointed to this goal, where it met the blindly groping, half articulate desire of all nations. In Christ the lines of promise and of preparation, converging from the most distant ages and widely separated peoples, meet and are focussed, in this "fulness of the times."
2. But the goal was hidden, from the ages and from the generations, who stood with straining sight seeking to pierce the darkness of the future ( 1 Peter 1:10-12 ; Matthew 13:17 ). Seeing but a part of the promise, "afar off," and "at sundry times and in divers manners," they could not forecast its issue, nor piece together its scattered intimations. The Gentiles knew that they needed a Divine Saviour, and their need had become consciously extreme and desperate ( 1 Corinthians 1:19-21 ; Ephesians 2:12 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ; Acts 17:23 , Acts 17:27 ). The Jews knew that he would come, but little suspected in what guise. They knew not how great and inward was their own need of him. Least of all did they expect or wish that he should be for "a light of the Gentiles, and for salvation unto the ends of the earth" ( Acts 13:47 ). those who knew most of his coming were least prepared to believe this. It is, alas! still a mystery to them ( Ephesians 3:4-6 ; Romans 11:1-36 .; 2 Corinthians 3:12-16 ).
3. This mystery brings to God's saints, not only a Christ revealed to them, the open secret of the Old Testament, but a Christ manifested in them ( Colossians 1:27 ; Galatians 1:16 ), Gentiles and Jews alike ( Acts 11:17 ), which is a deeper secret still. How "rich" is the Divine "glory" displayed in this! With what "might" do our weak hearts need to be "strengthened that Christ may dwell through faith" therein, that so we may be "filled with all this fulness of God" ( Ephesians 3:16-19 )!
4. And therefore this mystery of God is not finished yet. ( Revelation 10:7 ; Revelation 21:1-8 .) "Christ in you is the hope of glory" ( Colossians 1:27 ). Every saint of God is a new mystery to the world, and even to himself ( Colossians 3:3 ; 1 John 3:1 , 1 John 3:2 ). "The manifestation of the sons of God "( Romans 8:19 ) has still to come, when their hidden life will be made visible. The soul united to Christ and like to him will be mated with "a spiritual body" ( 1 Corinthians 15:44 ), a "body of glory" ( Philippians 3:21 ). Then at last the inward and the outward, character and condition, will harmonize and be fitly matched, and "we shall be manifested with him in glory" ( Colossians 3:3 , Colossians 3:4 ). This is the Christian hope, of which "Christ in you" is the abiding pledge ( Colossians 3:15 , note; Ephesians 1:13 , Ephesians 1:14 ; Romans 8:11 ).
The apostle's thanksgiving for the spiritual progress of the Colossians.
Notwithstanding the dangerous speculations of a Judaeo-Gnostic philosophy which had sprung up at Colossi, threatening the integrity of their faith, the apostle is yet able to express his thankfulness for the faith and love which animated the Christian brotherhood in the valley of Lycus. He is thankful for their continued allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the one satisfaction of all their yearnings, the one solution both of their speculative questionings and of their religious wants.
I. THANKSGIVING IS A CONSTANT EXERCISE OF THE CHRISTIAN HEART , AS IT IS ALSO A TRUE PART OF PRAYER . "We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you."
1. It ought to mingle with every prayer. We never pray but we have cause for thankfulness, and we never give thanks but we have cause to pray. And whatever may be the subject of our rejoicing ought to be matter for thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving was the apostle's constant recommendation ( Philippians 4:6 ).
2. It is to be addressed to God the Father in Christ.
3. Reasons for thanksgiving.
4. We ought to be thankful as well as prayerful for others as well as ourselves. ( Ephesians 6:18 ; 1 Timothy 2:1 .) What a treasury of prayers belongs to the saints!
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THE APOSTLE 'S THANKSGIVING — THE FAITH AND LOVE OF THE COLOSSIANS . "Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which ye have toward all the saints." It is interesting to remark that the apostle, in the two Epistles written at the same time as this to Colossae, expresses thankfulness for similar blessings ( Ephesians 1:15 ; Philemon 1:5 ).
1. Their faith in Christ Jesus.
2. . Their love to all the sabots.
(a) "Doing good to all, especially to those of the household of faith" ( Galatians 6:10 ), and "distributing to the necessity of saints" ( Romans 12:13 ).
(b) Loving fellowship ( Acts 2:42 ). "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" ( Hebrews 10:25 ).
(c) Bearing with their infirmities. "Love covereth the multitude of sins" ( 1 Peter 4:8 ). We are not to grieve our brother with our meat, else "we walk not charitably" ( Romans 14:15 ).
(d) Cherishing a forgiving spirit ( Ephesians 4:31 ).
(a) It is to be brotherly. We are "to love the brotherhood" ( 1 Peter 2:22 ).
(b) It is to be sincere. "Without dissimulation" ( Romans 12:9 ); "Not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth" ( 1 John 3:18 ).
(c) It is to be from "a pure heart" ( 1 Timothy 1:5 ).
(d) It is to be fervent. "Have fervent charity among yourselves" ( 1 Peter 4:8 ).
(e) It is to be full of labours ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ).
(f) It is above all to be catholic. "All the saints," without distinction.
(a) Christ's example and command ( John 13:34 ).
(b) It is a sign of grace. It is a token that "we are translated from death to life" ( 1 John 3:14 ). David's delight was "in the saints" ( Psalms 16:3 ).
(c) It is the "fulfilling of the Law" ( Romans 13:10 ).
(d) There is comfort in it ( Philippians 2:1 ).
(e) It commends the gospel to the world. We ought, therefore, to be "sound in love" ( Titus 2:2 ), and "to provoke one another to love and good works" ( Hebrews 10:24 ).
3. The relation between faith and love. They are necessarily joined together; for:
4. The graces of the saints are easily known and heard of. The apostle heard of the faith and love of the Colossians. "Since the day we heard of them." They ought, therefore, to be bright in their heavenly lustre.
III. THE MOTIVE OR IMPULSIVE CAUSE OF THESE GRACES . "Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens."
1. The nature of this hope.
2. The security of this hope. "Which is laid up for you in the heavens." It is secure because:
3. The quickening power of this hope. It has great influence upon our faith and love. God makes one grace cause another. "It is hope that plucks up the heart of man to a constant desire of union with God by faith, and of communion with man by love." Moses had respect to the recompense of the reward ( Hebrews 11:25 , Hebrews 11:26 ). The saints will find that it is not in vain to serve the Almighty. They ought, therefore, to remember
4. How is this hope to be increased? Though it cannot be made more secure, it may be more fully realized. To this end, we need
IV. THE SOURCE OF OUR DIVINE HOPE . "Whereof ye heard before in the Word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you."
1. It is by the hearing of the Word we learn of our hope. There is no other way of learning it. The Lord has sent us the news of salvation. Nature tells us nothing of a Divine hope. The importance of this hearing is manifest, because:
2. The preciousness of the Word. It is "the Word of the truth of the gospel." As if to signify the contrast between the simple truth taught them by Epaphras and the errors of the false teachers. Its preciousness lies in its truth.
(a) the power of God to salvation ( Romans 1:16 ).
(b) It brings life and immortality to light ( 2 Timothy 1:10 ).
(c) It brings abundance of blessings ( Romans 15:14 ).
(d) It is a witness to all nations ( Matthew 24:14 ).
3. The accessibility of the Word. It is "come unto you." It came without their seeking it or sending for it. The Colossians sat in darkness and the shadow of death, estranged "from the life of God through ignorance," till God caused the light to shine into their hearts. We ought, therefore,
V. THE FRUIT BEARING POWER AND EXPANSIVENESS OF THE GOSPEL . "Even as it is also in all the world, bearing fruit and increasing." These words set forth at once the efficacy and the rapid growth of the gospel, its inner working and its outward expansion.
1. . Its fruit bearing power.
2. Its expansiveness. Its rapid progress in the days of the apostles is one of the wonders of history; for "the Word of God grew and multiplied" in the face of the opposition of magistrates, the persecution of Jewish zealots, the perversions of false teachers, and the inconsistencies of Christian professors themselves. Though the Word was not yet announced to all nations, the whole world was the area of its increasing power.
VI. THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL , PARTICULARLY AT COLOSSAE . "As it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth."
1. The hearing is necessary to the knowledge of the grace of God, yet there is a hearing that is resultless of all good. To hear with profit, we must
2. The true knowledge of the grace of God is fruitful in all the growths of righteousness.
(a) not to receive the grace of God in vain ( 2 Corinthians 6:1 );
(b) to appreciate "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" ( 2 Corinthians 8:9 );
(c) to avoid those who would "make void the grace of God" ( Galatians 2:21 );
(d) to find our constant standing in this grace ( 1 Peter 5:2 ).
(a) This love is a chief gift of the Spirit ( Galatians 5:22 ; Romans 15:30 ).
(b) It is of necessity sincere ( Romans 12:13 ), the outcome of a pure heart ( 1 Timothy 1:5 ), and practical in its scope ( 1 John 3:18 ).
(c) It is inconsistent with the idea of working evil to a neighbour ( Romans 13:10 ) or of offending a brother in a thing indifferent ( Romans 14:15 ).
3. The early and continuous experience of this grace is a good sign of spiritual growth. "Since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth." This language implies that the work of God wrought speedily upon the Colossians, and that it continued to work. Their goodness was not as the morning dew.
VII. THE FOUNDER OF COLOSSIAN CHRISTIANITY — EPAPHRAS . "As ye learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit."
1. His character and position as a minister.
(a) To the apostle himself,
( α ) as "our beloved fellow servant," working in the service of the same Master and in loving relationship to all his servants;
( β ) as the representative particularly of the apostle himself, being "a minister of Christ on our behalf," preaching at Colossae instead of the apostle, and, therefore, not to be displaced by the new school of Judaeo-Gnostic sectaries;
( γ ) perhaps, also, as "a fellow prisoner," for Epaphras appears in this light in the contemporary Epistle ( Philemon 1:23 ).
(b) To the Colossian Church. "Who is a faithful minister of Christ."
( α ) He was called a minister of the Colossians; for Christ is our true Master, and Epaphras is his minister. It is by his authority ministers act in the people's service.
( β ) His faithfulness is to be specially noted, he was faithful to Christ, to the truth, to the souls of men. It is "faithful men" who will be "able to teach others also" ( 2 Timothy 2:2 ). It is necessary for "a steward of the mysteries" to be "found" faithful.
2. His continued interest in their welfare.
The hope laid up in heaven.
This Epistle, written from Rome to meet and overmaster the "Colossian heresy," begins with a salutation somewhat similar to those at the beginning of other Epistles. There is the assertion of Paul's apostleship as direct from Christ; there is the statement of the brotherhood of Timothy, and the desire that grace and peace may be the constant portion of the saints and faithful brethren at Colossal. But, having thus started, Paul immediately passes to an account of their character as he had got it from Epaphras, and how this character had been produced. He is thankful for it, and he wishes them to remember how it had been formed within them. And here we have to notice that—
I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE OBJECT OF THE COLOSSIANS ' FAITH . ( Colossians 1:4 .) They had happily been led to this—to trust in the personal Saviour. It is not the promises, but the Promiser; not the proposition, but the Person pledging himself to the fulfilment of the proposition, in whom we believe. Now, the heresy, which will appear more clearly afterwards, made a good deal of angelic and intermediate personages; there was, in fact, a tendency to a mystic peopling of the unseen with needless, forms, explanatory, as the Colossians supposed, of the mysteries of creation. It was important in these circumstances to state with precision that Jesus Christ is the great Object of faith. Faith in such a Being becomes a glorious simplicity. It is a simple extension of that trust to him which we extend to our fellow men. But his glorious personality, embracing a Divine as well as human nature, makes all the difference between faith in men and faith in him. The latter is true saving faith.
II. THE SAINTS WERE THE SPECIAL OBJECTS OF THE COLOSSIANS ' LOVE . (Verse 4.) While faith goes out to a personal Saviour, it worketh by love towards all the saints. For it cannot but be that, in trusting and loving the perfect Saviour, we learn almost instinctively to love those in his image. The saints, all the saints, are seen to have their claim upon the believer's love. The love of good men is the note of a true Christian.
III. HEAVEN WAS INDISPENSABLE TO THE CONSUMMATION OF THEIR HOPE . (Verse 5.) It is the characteristic of the Christian system to relegate a goodly portion of its promise to the world to come. It has certainly a promise for the life that now is, but chiefly has it a promise for that which is to come. In heaven the hope is laid up. And into this hope the Colossians heartily entered. They looked for more to follow—for a purity, for a power, for a perfection impossible in the present life. There is thus a faith, a love, and a hope characteristic of the saints at Colossae as well as elsewhere.
IV. THIS HOPE HAD BEEN COMMUNICATED THROUGH THE PREACHED GOSPEL . (Verses 5-8.) Had the Colossians not had the gospel preached to them, they would never have entered into such glorious, heavenly hopes. The word of the gospel is fruit-bearing. It kindles the hopes of men. Everywhere it has the same blessed effects in lifting men's hearts to heaven. It would seem that Epaphras had been the instrument in the Lord's hand in evangelizing the Colossians. He had, as a faithful minister of Christ, preached the Word to them, and they had received it and become the loving disciples he represented them to be in his report to Paul. "Love in the Spirit" was the leading idea in their lives. All this was matter for profound gratitude to God, and so the apostle pours out his thanksgiving to God the Father (verse 3) because of it. In such circumstances it surely becomes us to see that we rise on the wings of hope to heaven and appreciate the glorious consummation which there awaits us. We need such a hope to complete the demands of our immortal being. We cannot be satisfied with the seen, with the present life, with the present world; we must have more. And this the gospel gives us in that hope which is laid up for us in heaven.—R.M.E.
I. THANKSGIVING . This forms a suitable introduction (in Ephesians the apostle starts with a sublime but less personal doxology).
1. The facts of thanksgiving. There may be said to be two facts, but the other is subordinated to this (which accordingly is assigned the first place), "We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." In this exercise Timothy was conjoined with Paul. Being a thing about which they were agreed, they could thank God, not only separately, but unitedly. This is a holy partnership on which God looks down with special pleasure. Where did they go to with their thanksgivings? It was to the First Source, through the Second Source. Our Lord as the Saviour anointed ( Jesus Christ ) dispenses blessings; but he has got them from the Father ("He has received gifts for men"), and therefore we trace them up, in others as well as in ourselves, through Christ to his Father. "Praying always for you." This is stated to show the abundance of his opportunity for thanksgiving. He was always praying for the Colossian Church as for other Churches. This was one form which his care for all the Churches (a daily care) took. And Timothy, it seems, was not behindhand, but was copying the comprehehsiveness of his instructor. And as, in their like mindedness, they had daily prayers together, when they came to thanksgiving Colossae was never forgotten.
2. On what their thanksgiving was founded. "Having heard." He (Paul) was not (never had been) an eyewitness of the Church at Colossae, but his ear was open to all information from that quarter, by Colossian visitors, or by special deputy (from himself), or through less direct channels. Timothy had probably been at Colossae, but his knowledge, too, had been added to by hearing. And, as the two talked over matters, they found subject for thanksgiving It is one reason for our extending our knowledge of missionary operations (not confining them to one society or field) that, by doing so, we get a multiplicity of subjects for thanksgiving.
3. For what specially they thanked God.
II. THE LOVE ( WHICH FORMED MATTER OF THANKSGIVING ) WAS CAUSED BY HOPE . "Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens." This hope had a certain objective character. It was something outside of them which was safely laid past for their future enjoyment. At the same time, it had a certain subjective character. It was something operating within their own breasts. They were kind to the saints of their day (without exception). Why? Because they looked beyond the present. The time would come when (removed from under earthly conditions) they would meet them in the heavens. They might get no reward here (their catholicity might bring them persecution), but it would be reward enough to see there those whom they had done their duty by, and to receive from Christ words of approval It was because of this hope, then (so sure), that their love flourished.
III. THE HOPE WAS COMMUNICATED IN THE GOSPEL . "Whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel." We owe it to God that he has given us "the truth" (and the gifts of God are without repentance). We may well prize this gift of God when we think of the erroneous ideas which men (unaided by revelation) have entertained. This is the Promethean fire, not stolen, but, in infinite love, sent down from heaven. God has placed us under additional obligation by giving us the truth in the form of "the Word." Considering the conditions of language and our earthly necessities, this form is perfect. "The Law of the Lord is perfect." It is an abiding form. There may be movements of thought away from "the Law and the testimony," but here always is the truth in the form in which God wishes us to have it, if only we can bring our minds up to it. The whole Word of truth is precious; but there is that which is to be regarded as singularly precious (being singled out here), viz. the gospel, or the good message, God's special message (of a glad nature), to sinners in need of salvation. It was this gospel that the Colossians at a former period had heard. By this the burden of their sin had been removed, and the hope of immortality enkindled within them.
IV. HOW THE GOSPEL ( THROUGH WHICH THE HOPE WAS COMMUNICATED ) WAS PRESENTED .
1. There was a general gospel movement. "Which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing." The parting command of the Master was, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation [every creature]." And the command had been carried out (as time allowed) in its wideness. The gospel-trumpet had been heard, not merely in Palestine, but had sounded out to all lands. And everywhere an efficacy had attended the preaching of the gospel. False forms of religion are limited by certain climatic conditions, by certain temperaments. What would do in Phrygia might not do in Rome. But the gospel (unmodified) had been proved to be worldwide in its adaptation, adapted for Jew and Gentile, for Eastern and Western alike. As the apostle represents it here, in all the world the gospel tree had been bearing fruit and increasing, in a healthy fruit tree there is a double effort going on. There is an effort after fruit producing, which is crowned when in autumn there are seen the ripe apples or rich clusters of grapes. But at the same time, there is an effort after the producing of more wood, which has a view to future fruit producing. And so with regard to the gospel in the Church; if it is vital, then there will be produced the fruits of righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit (a rich cluster) which is described in Galatians. And not only so, but there will at the same time be produced an increased sphere of fruit producing. And the two processes can go on without their interfering with each other. The gospel in the Church may be producing its rich clusters, and at the same time enlarging the sphere where such clusters may grow.
2. The movement in Colossae partook of the characteristics of the general movement. "As it doth in you also." The gospel was as a tree (on a small scale) in Colossae. And there, as in all the world, it was bearing fruit and increasing. Three fruits have already been mentioned, these the three Christian graces—faith, hope, and charity. And we may gather from the second word that the numbers of Christian converts were increasing at Colossae. And also Christians may have gone forth from Colossae to spread the gospel in other places.
3. This was to be accounted for by two circumstances.
V. EPAPHRAS CONVEYED TO ROME THE TIDINGS OF THEIR LOVE ( FOR WHICH GOD WAS THANKED ). "Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit." He not only had conveyed the gospel from them to the Colossians, but had also conveyed to them now at Rome the tidings of their love. It was the love for which God was thanked, and it is here characterized as "in the Spirit" (one of the two references to the Spirit in an Epistle which is largely taken up with the Person of Christ). It was a love within that sphere in which the Spirit works (and wide as it), and sustained by the Spirit. Epaphras had acted a kindly part toward them. In giving an account of matters relating to the Colossian Church, he had not concealed what was to their credit. The whole of the allusion to Epaphras (so honourable to him) was fitted and intended to establish his influence at Colossae, which may have been shaken by false teachers. This paragraph, so remarkable, bears a resemblance in form to the Sorites in logic. It is a series of propositions, in which the predicate of one becomes the subject of the next, and in which in the last there is a reference back to the first. The propositions are these:
1. We thank God especially for your love.
2. Your love, for which we thank God, was caused by hope.
3. The hope, which caused your love, was communicated in the gospel.
4. The gospel, which communicated the hope, was rightly presented by Epaphras.
5. Epaphras, who rightly presented the gospel, gave us tidings of your love (for which we thank God). These propositions (if with some loss of clearness, yet with gain of force) are (with considerable detail) all compacted by the apostle into one unbroken paragraph.—R. F.
The apostolic thanksgiving.
We notice here—
I. THE SPIRIT OF THIS THANKSGIVING . Whatever is in it is so beautiful that we may well imitate it. Observe:
1. It is unselfish. We hear the prisoner praise, the chained captive exult, for the joys of others. Arthur Helps says, "That man is very strong and powerful, who has no more hopes for himself, who looks not to be loved any more, to be admired any more, to have any more honour and dignity, but whose sole thought is for others, and who only lives for them." That is what you have before you here.
2. It is ungrudging. Paul is about to deal with their errors, but nevertheless how willing and, indeed, eager he is first to recognize what is good and laudable in this Colossian Church! There are two sets of men with regard to art, scenery, and society: those who first see the blemish, then the beauty; and those who flint of all rejoice in the admirable, if afterwards they have to criticise any drawback. To the second of these Paul belonged.
3. It is constant. Like a perennial fountain, his praise and prayer for them shall be poured forth.
II. THE SUBJECT OF THIS THANKSGIVING . He thanks God:
1. For the spiritual possessions of the Church. Here is the familiar triad of his thought and description—faith, love, hope. Sometimes he views faith and love as leading up to hope; here he depicts hope as kindling faith and love.
2. For the means by which these possessions had been obtained. For:
3. For the source and sphere of their possession. "Love is its spirit." Love is the life of the saints.—U. R.T.
Good news from Colossae had been brought to Paul at Rome by Epaphras. This devoted servant of Christ ( Colossians 4:12 ) had probably been the first evangelist sent by Paul to Colossal, and the founder of the Church there ( Colossians 1:7 , Revised Version). He brought also news which caused the apostle much anxiety ( Colossians 2:1 , Colossians 2:2 , Colossians 2:8 , etc.). But before he utters cautions he pours forth thanksgivings. We are thus reminded of two things.
1. Paul's largeness of heart. Love "rejoiceth in the truth" and "envieth not" those who have either more spiritual gifts or more temporal blessings ( Romans 12:15 ). The fruit of Epaphras' ministry was a source of joy to him. He felt grateful for the gifts in money from the Philippians brought by Epaphroditus ( Philippians 4:17 , Philippians 4:18 ), but more for "the love in the Spirit" of the Colossians reported by Epaphras.
2. Paul's sympathy with the mind of his Master. Christ also dictated Epistles. Wherever there is anything to commend in the Churches of Asia, the Lord mentions this before he utters a word of censure. The apostle, writing earlier, but taught by the same Spirit of Christ, pursues a similar course in nearly all his Epistles ( Romans 1:8 ; 1 Corinthians 1:4 ; Ephesians 1:16 ; Philippians 1:3 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:2 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:3 ). "The meekness and gentleness of Christ" enable him to praise and congratulate even the disorderly Church at Corinth. The apostle blends thanksgivings with his prayers, especially on account of that triad of graces, faith, love, hope, which elsewhere he rejoices in ( 1 Corinthians 13:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ). Their faith worked by love and was sustained by hope. Their permanent fruitfulness proved the reality of their spiritual life. We must, however, observe that the term "hope" is used here in a sense somewhat different to that in the other passages quoted above. It is the object of hope (as in Galatians 5:5 ; Titus 2:13 ; Hebrews 6:18 ), implying subjective hope. That "hope set before us" "we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil." Following the suggestions of this figure, we may notice some of the links of the chain of spiritual blessings by which the souls of converts are connected with that anchor, and on account of which ministers may give thanks on behalf of Christians who in these respects resemble the Colossians.
I. WE HAVE HEARD " THE WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL ." No gospel, no hope ( Ephesians 2:12 ). We did not come to the gospel; it "is come unto" us. The Physician sought the patient, the Saviour the sinner ( Isaiah 65:1 ; Luke 19:10 ). The gospel in its triumphant progress throughout all the world reached Great Britain, an Ultima Thule, brought by unknown missionaries who "for his Name's sake went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles." We ourselves have heard "the joyful sound," the genuine gospel, "the grace of God in truth" ( Galatians 2:5 ; 1 Peter 5:12 ), the gospel of Christ which alone is "the power of God unto salvation."
II. WE . HAVE TRUSTED OURSELVES TO CHRIST . "Your faith in Christ Jesus;" We have not only heard, but we know," the grace of God in truth." We know it because we have had a Divine Teacher. "In coelo cathedram habet qui corda docet". Our faith is the gift of God; it rests not "in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." Thus we "know whom we have believed," etc. ( 2 Timothy 1:12 ; 1 John 5:13 , 1 John 5:19 , 1 John 5:20 ). Belief conducts to knowledge ( John 6:69 ).
III. WE ARE BRINGING FORTH FRUIT . Wherever the gospel comes, i.e. comes home to men's consciences and hearts, it must be a fructifying power. "Even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit," etc. Ours is not a faith which "is dead in itself because it has not works." "Can that faith save" us ( James 2:17 , James 2:14 )? Ours is a "faith working through love." The quickening Spirit within us will bring forth "fruit after his kind" ( Galatians 5:22 , Galatians 5:23 ). One of the most characteristic fruits is love. "The love which ye have toward all the saints." We cherish love toward them because, in spite of all their failings, they are beloved children of our Father God ( 1 John 4:7 ; 1 John 5:1 ).
IV. OUR FRUITS ARE VISIBLE AND PERMANENT . They are such as an Epaphras could discern and report. Our lights shine; our good works are seen (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9 ; 3 John 1:6 ). This fruit bearing is prompt. "Since the day," etc. The fruit itself multiplies; the gospel is "bearing fruit and increasing." Side by side with the outward growth of the gospel, there is the ripening of Christian character ( 2 Thessalonians 1:3 ; Hebrews 6:10 ) and the leavening influence of the gospel on modern society. For all these things we thank God, but especially if our fruit is permanent. The gospel still is bearing fruit in us ( Psalms 1:3 ). Our hearts are not the stony or thorny ground. Christ's object is being fulfilled ( John 15:16 ). We have not forgotten our first love; our last works are more than our first. "The past things perish if those things which were begun cease to go on to perfection" (Cyprian). Growth and persistence are causes for sincerest thanks.
V. " THE HOPE WHICH IS LAID UP IN THE HEAVENS " SUSTAINS OUR FAITH AND LOVE . "Faith... and love... because of the hope." This hope laid up is itself one of the things "hoped for." It is a reserved blessing, part of that great goodness of God "laid up for them that fear thee" ( Psalms 31:19 ; 1 Peter 1:4 , 1 Peter 1:5 ). But the links in the chain of spiritual blessings we have examined unite our souls here to the inheritance yonder ( Romans 8:24 , Romans 8:25 ). Such hope maketh not ashamed ( Romans 5:5 ; Jud Romans 1:20 , Romans 1:21 ). If our souls are not firmly moored to that object of hope "laid up for us in the heavens," let us ask—Which is the missing link?—E.S.P.