The letter begins as usual, but there is a small omission. Grace and peace comes only from God, our Father. Christ is not mentioned like for example in Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2.
1:3–8 - Thanksgiving prayer for the Colossians
God is called Father of our Lord Jesus. In the Old Testament, we have God’s name as the God of “our fathers” and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 3:13.15). Here, the patriarchs are replaced by Jesus and Jesus is described as “our Lord”.
Paul’s prayer goes to the Father. The object of thanksgiving is:
For the connection between faith and love see Gal 5:6. It is clear that love is the fruit of genuine faith.
Why do they believe and love? The motivation is the hope of the heavenly inheritance. This inheritance is “laid up for them” and it was the object of preaching of Epaphras. Thus, the kerygmatic preaching of the first Church included a proclamation about the heavenly inheritance.
Note. It is said that today, Christianity is often confined to the way of life in this world. There is very little preaching about the realities of heaven. Yet, this was the main object of preaching in the apostolic letters of Paul and among the first Christians.
The word of truth of the Gospel bears fruit and grows not only among the Colossians but also “in all the world”. Here, we can see the parable of Christ about the seeds (see Mark 4:26:32).
Hearing the Gospel brings with itself the realization of God’s grace. Everything is God’s grace. The fact that Epaphras came to them and preached them the Gospel. The fact that they accepted it in faith, the fact that they bear fruit in love. All of these points to God’s grace working in them.
Epaphras is described as “our beloved fellow-slave” and “faithful minister of Christ”. Epaphras faithfully worked for the sake of the Gospel among them. From him, they learned about God’s grace and from him Paul learned about Colossians’ love in the Spirit.
1:9–11 - Prayer on behalf of the Colossians
Paul began his continuous prayer for the Colossians. The first object of this prayer (1:9–10) is to know fully God’s will. How important is the knowledge of God’s will, we see in Matt 7:21. They already know God’s grace, but they need go deeper. It is connected with the problems present in their communities. The knowledge of God’s will comes in wisdom and spiritual understanding. This will be related to grasping the centrality of Christ and the quality of new life in Christ elaborated later in the letter.
Full knowledge of God’s will is manifested in a life style worthy of the Lord. A Christian lifestyle is compared to a “walk” through life that (1) pleases Christ, (2) bears fruits of good works (see Matt 7:17–20), and (3) deepens the knowledge of God, the Father.
The second object of this prayer (1:11) is a request for being strengthened by God. This empowerment comes from the might of God’s glory. It creates endurance/patience and long-suffering. This empowerment is necessary to face different challenges of Christian life - and at that time to be a Christian was extremely risky.
1:12–14 - A call to thanksgiving for the grace of salvation
Here, we again realize the power of God’s grace. The Colossians are called to thank God with joy for making them fit to join the community of the saints in light. The metaphor of light for Christians is used in Matt 5:14. For Christ is the light see John 1:4–5; 8:12.
In 1:12, Paul uses the pronoun “you”, but in 1:13 the pronoun changes to “us”. Paul also once was under the power of darkness, but God the Father has transferred him - in the same way He transferred the Colossians - into the kingdom of His beloved Son.
Notice, two things:
The transfer from darkness to light was done by Christ and is described as redemption and forgiveness of sins. Thus, life in darkness is a life of slave. The term redemption refers to a transaction in which someone pays a ransom for a prisoner or slave to be free. In OT, God redeemed Israel from Egypt: the ransom was the blood of the lamb. In our case, the ransom is the blood of Christ.
Darkness is also connected with a life without forgiveness. Thus, slavery to sin characterizes a life in darkness. No redemption, no forgiveness - what a sorry state of life. In Christ, we have the forgiveness (see Eph 1:7).
1:15–20 - Divine dignity of Christ and His act of redemption
The original hymn speaks about mediation of Christ, first in creation and then in reconciliation. The term image can refer to Gen 1:26–27. In 1 Cor 11:7, man is the image and glory of God. In 2 Cor 4:4 - Christ is the image of God. Thus, again we have the typology Adam and Christ known from the letter to the Romans (Rom 5:12–21), 1 Cor 15:45–59, and Philippians (Phil 2:5–11). But, the image can also refer to the book of Wisdom (7:26).
The second term that is used here is ‘first-born of all creation’. The term “firstborn” in OT contains a great prerogatives (see Gen 27:29.37 - the blessing of a firstborn by the father; Gen 49:3). Moreover, the firstborn belonged to God (Ex 13:2l; Luke 2:23). The title firstborn was also given to the whole people of Israel (Ex 4:22), and to the king of Israel (Ps 89:28). “The firstborn of all creation” can also draw from Proverbs (Prov 8:22).
1:16 - explain the term “the firstborn of creation”.
The three words described the incredible position of Christ vis-à-vis the entire creation: “in”, “through”, and “for” everything was created (see John 1:3.10).
The creation embraces not only the visible but also the invisible reality. It also embraces the cosmic or angelic powers - even those hostile to God (see Eph 1:10.21, compare Haggai 2:22, Wis 5:23; Sir 10:14, Luke 1:52). Some of this angelic powers captured the imagination of the Colossians.
1:17 - this verse stresses the centrality of Christ. The preposition “before” can have double meaning. It can refer to time - thus it would point to the same reality expressed in John 1:1 - pre-existence of Christ. It can also refer to the primacy over everything - above everything that is - a kingly position. The present form of the verb “be” can be connected with Ex 3:14. What is interesting here is the fact that Christ sustains everything in being. Thus, if He would decide not to do it, everything would go into no-existence again. That is indeed an amazing thought.
1:18 - From the primacy in creation, we move to the primacy in the Church. Only Christ is the head of the Church - the ruler and protector.
“Arche” - the beginning. The one who is the head of the body is also the beginning. Christ is the beginning of old creation and He is also the beginning of the new creation - resurrection.
“The firstborn from the dead” - the first in line, which indicates that the others will follow. This term is amazing. Death that is associated with the end of life and existence, is connected in this phrase with birth - the beginning of life. It brings to mind the beautiful expression of Paul: “ O death, where thy sting? O grave, where thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:55).
Thus, Christ’s primacy is clearly established.
1:19 - The new creation in Christ (the fullness) was the will of the Father. The fullness means the entire visible and invisible creation.
1:20 - The will of the Father was also the reconciliation of everything in Christ. Notice that the verb reconcile (1:20.22) - apokatallaso - means: 1) to reconcile completely 2) to reconcile back again 3) bring back a former state of harmony. Thus, there was before a former state of harmony, which was destroyed. Christ’s death on the Cross makes that brings back that state of harmony again. Enmity becomes friendship.
Reconciliation embraces not just humans, but the entire creation (see Rom 8:19–22). Its effect is peace. For the theology of the Cross see 1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 5:19.
1:21 - from the cosmic aspect of reconciliation, the author moves to the concrete example of reconciliation - namely the Colossians.
Their state before reconciliation is described by two words: alienated and enemies. Alienated from God and probably also from the chosen people of God. The enmity with God is expressed by the mode of thinking that leads to wicked works.
1:22 - As the representative of humanity that was once in harmony with God and lost that harmony, the Colossians are now brought back to that harmony. There are many in the word who are still alienated and at enmity with God, but not the Colossians. They are now reconciled with God and part of the family of God. Again the reconciliation took place by the blood of the cross of Christ.
The aim of the reconciliation in this case is to present them before God as (1) holy; (2) blameless; and (3) irreproachable. That is the effect of rite of baptism - see Rom 6:3–11.
1:23 - Yet, there is a requirement to the aim of reconciliation - the Colossians have to persevere in faith. This faith need to be grounded and steadfast. They also should hold on to the hope that the Gospel brings.
This Gospel is preached “in all creation under the heaven”. So, it is not announced secretly to special groups (Col 2:18), and of course Paul is its servant.
1:24–29 - How does Paul participate in the mystery of Christ?
1:24 - two ideas. (1) sufferings for the Colossians gives him joy. (2) Completing - filling up - the things lacking of the afflictions of Christ.
(1) - Paul seems to see his imprisonment us beneficial for the Colossians.
(2) - The most difficult sentence in the letter. There is nothing lacking in the affection of Christ. His suffering was more than sufficient to save humanity and the entire creation. So, how to understand this passage?
If we connect this verse with Paul’s mysticism - that the Lord lives in His Church and in every believer (see Gal 2:20) - so maybe we can find the clue to its understanding. Paul personally thinks he has not completed the sufferings of Christ within his life - in his life. All his life was for Christ but this service was rendered to the Church. Nothing in this life is accomplished without suffering - sacrifice. So, is with the apostolic ministry.
1:25 - Paul is (1) the servant of the Gospel; (2) the servant of the Gospel; (3) and now the servant of the Church. Moreover, the Church is localized in the Colossians. God’s economy - governance - decided for Paul to serve the Colossians. His task? To fulfill the word of God.
1:26–27 - Now, the word of God that Paul preaches contains the mystery that was hidden for ages. God hid it from past generations. (Beautiful). Now the time has come to reveal it to the saints (the Church - believers). What is that mystery? Christ!!! Another shocking things for Paul - as a Jew - is the fact that mystery is proclaimed among the Gentiles.
Christ is this mystery hidden by God from previous generation. Now, Christ is present among the Colossians;
Christ is also the hope of glory - what Christ has achieved, the believers will also.
1:28 - Christ is preached, not something or someone else. How does the preaching proceed? (1) warning - a call to conversion; (2) teaching - deepening one’s faith. The aim of this Christian formation is perfection of every person in Christ.
1:29 - the preaching of the Gospel is not actually only a human activity. All the strength to complete this task comes from God, and any success is due to God’s mighty support.