The message of Colossians
The doctrine of Christ is of crucial importance in all matters concerning our faith, spiritual character, and practical daily conduct. Error here can rightly lead to loss of Christian fellowship, as 2 John indicates. Our Lords own question, "What think ye of Christ?" (Mt 22.42), remains the most important test in every situation. And unless we acknowledge practically the true doctrine of Christ, as it concerns both His person and work, nothing will really be right in our lives.
Now the scope of the true doctrine of Christ must surely include at least the following aspects of His person and work: namely, His absolute deity, His eternal pre-existence as God the Son, His virgin birth, His real humanity in incarnation, His absolute moral perfection and sinlessness, His vicarious and sacrificial death, His literal bodily resurrection and ascension, His Saviourhood as the sole mediator with God, His present high priestly ministry in heaven, His second coming in power and glory, His future and literal millennial reign as the messianic King, and His absolute right and authority to be the judge of all. Those who deny any of these fundamental tenets of the Christian faith are false teachers and are to be shunned.
The Apostle Paul, then, wrote the Epistle to the Colossians to correct various errors concerning Christs relationship to God His Father, to creation, to His New Testament people, the church, and to their daily conduct in this world, which certain false teachers had sought to bring into the assembly at Colosse. In particular, he stressed the absolute pre-eminence and all-sufficiency of Christ in answer to the false teaching of the Gnostics that He was only one of many mediators between God and man. Paul deliberately takes up one of their favourite words, "fulness", and asserts that Christ is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. As such, Christ is all the believer needs for salvation and the Christian life, and is pre-eminent in every sphere of creation and the church, which is His body. We shall see that the thought of being filled, completeness, fullness, and fulfilment pervades the whole letter from start to finish. Also, the words "all", or "every" occur frequently; in fact, the phrase "Christ is all, and in all" (3.11) is perhaps the keynote of the letter. It emphasises the fact that Christ is all-important and all we need in every way. So that, if we will give Christ His rightful place in our lives, namely, the pre-eminent place, then all will be well; if not, nothing will be.
The aim of these articles is to present the salient points in each successive chapter of the epistle concerning Christ and His relationship to creation and present-day believers in Him, with a view to exalting Him in our worship and conduct.
Chapter 1: Christ All-Pre-eminent
First, in relation to the gospel message (vv.3-11)
The false teaching of the Gnostics had no power to transform lives, unlike the true gospel of Christ. The true gospel, which had evidently been brought to them by their fellow-citizen, Epaphras, rather than the Apostle himself, had borne abundant fruit in the Colossian believers lives, producing the godly characteristics of faith, love, and hope. For this fact Paul gives thanks to God, but he proceeds to say that he is praying for them, that they may be filled with, and so controlled by, the full knowledge of Gods will and, in His strength, live worthily of the Lord who had saved them. For there was probably some doubt that they would continue to do so if they listened to the false teachers.
Second, in relation to the truths of redemption (vv.12-14)
God the Father had, in Christ, set the Colossian believers free from the bondage of sin and Satan, and brought them into a new spiritual inheritance of blessing and spiritual light, in a way similar to that in which He had brought His Old Testament people, Israel, out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Believers are now under the gracious rule of the Son of Gods love, redeemed by His precious blood shed for us on the cross, and enjoying complete forgiveness of all our sins. Let us not, therefore, go back into spiritual bondage and darkness by listening to false teaching.
Third, in relation to creation (vv.15-17)
Christ is the "image of the invisible God", that is, the exact representation of God to men as God incarnate. His title, "firstborn of all creation" (JND), means that He is pre-eminent over all creation, not that He is a created being Himself. In Israel the firstborn was not always the first son to be born, but rather the son who had the rights and privileges of the firstborn, as did Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh. Christ is the creator and architect of all things, the One for whom the universe was created, and the upholder of creation. In fact, Christ is everything in relation to creation, not just a minor part of the great work, as the Gnostics claimed.
Fourth, in relation to the church (vv.18-23)
Christ is the "head of the church", pre-eminent over it like the head over the body. He is its source of spiritual life (the meaning of "the beginning"), pre-eminent over it in His resurrection, as the first to rise from among the dead. This gives Christ His special place of pre-eminence in all things, creatorial and spiritual. It was Gods good will that all His own fullness, all His attributes and essential characteristics, should come to live permanently in the person of His Son incarnate in perfect human bodily form. The incarnation had the object of achieving reconciliation between God and the whole universe by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which is the only basis of true peace. We, like the Colossians, have also been reconciled to God on this basis, with the object of our entire sanctification. Continuance in the faith is proof of the reality of our profession of conversion. So Christ is everything in relation to redemption and the church, not just one of the mediators.
Finally, in relation to Pauls ministry (vv.24-29)
How foolish it would have been for Paul to suffer for a Christ who was not pre-eminent in every way. But Paul rejoiced to suffer for such a wonderful Lord. Pauls sufferings continued Christs sufferings, or rather "afflictions" in His earthly life, not His atoning sufferings on the cross for sin. Paul was suffering as he helped to build up the church, Christs body. Paul had a unique ministry, to complete the revelation of God in the Scriptures. This was the truth of the New Testament church, which had not been revealed before the New Testament period. This is one of three New Testament mysteries spoken about in Colossians. The mystery doctrines of the New Testament are truths which had been hidden in Old Testament days in Gods sovereign purposes, but which have now been revealed to believers in Christ. The church as the body and bride of Christ is called a "great mystery" (Eph 5.32), but is very much the subject of Colossians too. Also, in Colossians 2.2 the probably preferable manuscript reading of the text, namely, "the mystery of God, even Christ" (RV), which is followed in other reputable recent versions, indicates that the unique Person of Christ as God incarnate, the fullness of God in bodily form, is also a revealed New Testament mystery. Here in Colossians 1.27 the revealed mystery truth of Christ now actually indwelling the bodies of all the believers in the Colossian assembly is presented as their and our certain hope of future glory like His at His coming for us. Pauls whole object in preaching, teaching, and warning the Colossians against the errors that they were facing from the Gnostics and other false teachers was the growth of every believer to maturity in Christ. For Christ is all we need, and apart from Christ we are nothing and have nothing worthwhile at all.
To be continued.