Grace to You – Colossians 1:1-2

Colossians 1:1-2 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Colossians 2:1 seems to indicate that the apostle Paul wrote this letter to a church he had never been to.  Epaphras, “our beloved fellow worker (1:7),” had taught the Colossians and had told the Apostle of their faith and good fruits.  This epistle addresses those who would syncretize human philosophy and baseless rationalism with Christianity.  To them, Paul points out that Christians already have Christ, who is God (2:9).  Therefore, sound philosophical reasoning must begin with Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3).” It also addresses those who would conjoin traditions, Sabbaths, and festivals (2:16) and those who would add asceticism, severity to the body, angel worship, and visions to the Christian life (2:18-23).  Again, Paul points to the all sufficiency of the message of Christ.  Therefore John Calvin notes:

“This, therefore, is the principal object at which he aims — to teach that all things are in Christ, and that he alone ought to be reckoned amply sufficient by the Colossians.”[1] 

Paul argues that the true Christ should replace both human philosophy and false conceptions of Christ.  Since Christ is the Wisdom of God, Christ is the Truth, and Christ is the Logos of God, He is everything that vain human philosophies are attempting to obtain – if, indeed, these philosophers are wisdom-lovers (philosophy literally means “love of wisdom”).  All the wisdom we could ever want is in the omniscient Son, and more wisdom than we can know in this life is contained in the Scriptures.  Sound philosophy is based on the Word of God.

Paul, an Apostle…

Paul had to extensively defend his apostleship in his letters to Galatia and Corinth.  Here, the motive for identifying himself as an apostle may have been that he had never met the Colossians (2:1).

Note also that he separates himself from Timothy (see also the salutation in Romans, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus).  The apostles did not transfer apostleship from themselves to the next generation.  Paul includes Timothy using “we” in verse 3, but he uses “I” when he speaks about his special stewardship starting in verse 23 and then as he proceeds to give binding obligations in chapter 2.

To the Saints…

What comes to mind when you hear the word “saint”?  Are you a saint?  John MacArthur said:

Most people, I suppose, would assess a saint as a sort of angular figure long dead, a sort of ecclesiastical relic crystallized in stained glass or in a statue form in some Catholic Church someplace. And since we are neither ecclesiastical relics or long dead and certainly not worthy of stained glass windows, nor desirous of being turned into statues, we’re a bit reluctant. Maybe we think of a saint like the little boy who said they are multi-colored people who block out the sunlight, and we really don’t care to be a multi-colored person who blocks out the sunlight.[2]

In Romanism, saints are not merely those who believe, but they are those who possess an exceptional degree of morality.  These connotations are not at all what the apostle Paul meant in calling the Colossian brothers saints.  Rather, a saint is one who is set apart, one who is sanctified, consecrated, or devoted to God.  Through belief in the gospel, all Christians are set apart.  In the sense that Paul is using the word, you and I are both saints if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit is in us.

Brothers at Colossae

Who were these brothers at Colossae?  As was mentioned previously, they were taught by Epaphras not Paul.  What can we learn about Paul’s audience from the following passages from Colossians 2?

Col 2:8-19 – 8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority….16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Paul wrote to brothers and sisters who might be taken with by human philosophies; reminding them that they had Christ.  He also wrote to brothers and sisters who might be taken in by traditionalism; even by following rituals that had to do with Christ; but he reminded them that Christ Himself had replaced the old symbolic traditions.  The brothers would be dealing with teachings of asceticism, angel worship, visions, and a number of other things.  All of these things boil down to a denial of the sufficiency of Christ.  Paul admits that they sometimes appear wise, yet they are of no value.  Rather, we have Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3).

Do we deny Christ’s sufficiency in the same ways today?  Sometimes we are dissatisfied with God’s revelation and we pursue visions.  Today, it is boring to say “I think the Scripture means so and so” and it is more exciting to say “God told me so and so.”  Even today, there are groups who would have us return to Sabbaths and Old Testament traditions.  Many legalisms arise with respect to what is allowed to be consumed.  It can be tempting to make dietary restrictions such as caffeine or alcohol abstinence central to our religion.

In modern times, more than a few additional ways to deny the sufficiency of Christ have come into the picture.  Advertisements are literally in our face; commanding us to adopt a materialistic mindset.  Churches are adopting business growth principles that go against Biblical teaching.  Sometimes, religion seems to be more about making people feel welcome than serving the God of the Universe.  How about keeping folks awake in church?  To my knowledge, no manuscripts have been found that indicate that Paul released the Colossians from the obligation to provide coffee at Bible Study, but if one is uncovered, I won’t be surprised.  Do we sync modern psychology, self-esteem teaching, prosperity teaching, positive thinking, post-modernism, or any other philosophies with the doctrines of God’s Word?  Do we really believe that in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge?  Paul’s message in this book is just as applicable to us today as is was to Colossae.

Grace to You

The salutation, “Grace to you and peace…,” is similar to the salutation in all of Paul’s Epistles.  The meaning is pretty straightforward.  However, Gordon Clark makes an interesting point:

“At various times in church history and in some localities, a subjective type of mind has claimed to be superior in spirituality.  This “pietism” has found representatives in the late twentieth century.  They put emphasis on the intensity of believing and minimize the object of belief.  In some cases, the object virtually disappears.  “Guilt-feelings” are a cause of concern, while guilt is rather ignored.  The New Testament is more objective.  Just as grace is the favor bestowed by God on his people, so too peace is not any subjective “peace of mind” but an objective peace with God.  We were once his enemies; now God has established peace.”[3]

 

[1] Calvin, John (2013-12-12). Calvin’s Complete Commentaries (Kindle Locations 538051-538052). E4 Group. Kindle Edition.

 

[2] MacArthur, John.  The Saints of God. Dec 3, 1989

[3] Clark, Gordon. Commentary on Paul’s Epistles. Page 155.

 

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