Friday, September 13
Colossians 1:1-18: Timothy, listed as a co-author of this epistle, was with Paul at Caesarea at the time of its composition (verse 1; Philemon 1). He had accompanied the Apostle to Jerusalem in May of A.D. 57, assisting in the transport of the collection made for the saints in the mother church (Acts 20:4). Timothy did not accompany Paul on his subsequent journey to Rome in the autumn of 59 (cf. 2 Timothy 4:21).
The problems at Colossae, addressed in this epistle, had to do with Jewish syncretistic theories popular in the religious circles of Phrygia and Lydia. These speculations, which evidently came from the Jews whom Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.) had transported from Babylon to this region (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 12.3.4 §149), included reverence for angelic powers (2:8,10) that functioned as mediators in Creation. Such theories, Paul could see, would undermine the Christological principle of Creation.
Paul evidently learned of these heresies from Epaphras (verses 7-8), a Colossian Christian who had somehow gotten himself arrested and was in prison with Paul at Caesarea (4:12; Philemon 23). Because of this condition, this epistle will be borne to Colossae by Tychicus (4:7; Ephesians 6:21), who had also accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, bearing the offering for the mother church (Acts 20:4).
Paul tells the Colossians that he prays for them always (verse 8), and in this chapter he provides an example of such prayer. Its basic form is thanksgiving (verses 3,12), and its outline is structured on the triad of faith, hope, and charity (verses 4-5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:13).
Paul prays that the Colossians will be filled with spiritual “understanding” (epignosis—verses 9-10; 2:2; 3:13), which will enable then to escape—and perhaps also to refute—the early Gnostic speculations to which the churches of Asia Minor had been exposed. Such “understanding” included a personal knowledge of God (verse 10) and the perception of His design to save the human race in Christ (2:2). This understanding is identical with “wisdom” (Sophia—verses 9,28; 2:2,23;3:16;4:5).
Paul’s “understanding” does not refer to a speculative knowledge but involves the transformation of the moral life by the sustained effort to please God (verse 10). The believer grows in spiritual understanding by how he lives.
Saturday, September 14
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross: The Cross, according to the cartoonist Charles Schulz, is the kite-eating tree; it devours all the purely human hopes of Charlie Brown, all his human efforts. The kite-eating tree is the Holy Cross. This is why Charlie Brown is portrayed as leaning his head in sorrow against the kite-eating tree and saying, “good grief.” The Cross of our Savior is, indeed, the place of “good grief.” That is to say, it is the proper place to express sorrow for our sins, our attempts at self-sufficiency, and our pride.
In this respect we bear in mind the image that Jesus gave us of the Cross—namely, the brazen serpent: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
And from what were the people in the desert healed? From unbelief and murmuring, from pride and rebellion. Let us recall the scene:
And the people spoke against God and against Moses: ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’ So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
Now the people looked to this “sign of the Cross” in their trouble, and their trouble came upon them by reason of their own fault. The Cross is a remedy for those who flee to it in repentance. The Cross is not a source of spiritual healing except to the repentant. The foot of the Cross is the place of repentance. Therefore, the foot of the Cross is the place of sorrow. This is very important, because there is no healing without sorrow. Sorrow is an essential component of the Christian life, because it is only in sorrow that we are healed.
We think of sorrow as a bad thing, but sorrow is not always a bad thing. Holy Scripture makes an important distinction. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9).
The people in the desert were sorry, and this is why they repented. The brazen serpent, which was the image of their sin, became the focal symbol of their salvation. And we, following their example, turn our eyes to Christ who hung on this kite-eating tree for our Redemption.
Sunday, September 15
Colossians 1:19-29: The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (e.g. Wisdom 1:7) teaches that God’s Wisdom permeates the entire created order. This total permeation, this “fullness” (pleroma), says St. Paul abides in (katoikesa) Christ (verse 19). The redemptive work of Jesus Christ, including the shedding of His blood (verse 20) and His Resurrection from the dead (verse 18), affects the entire cosmos. He alone is the world’s mediating link with God; there are no other intermediaries.
Because man’s fall alienated the full created order from God (verse 20; Romans 8:19-23), the reconciliation wrought by Christ pertains to that entire order of Creation.
All of us, prior to our coming to Christ, were alienated from God, and this alienation included not only our ontological state, but also the sinful nature of our actual deeds (verse 21).
“Yet now” we have been reconciled and are presented to God, “holy and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” The basis for this reconciliation is the death of Jesus on the Cross, the sacrifice of His very body (verse 22; cf. Ephesians 1:4).
There is nothing automatic or predetermined about this reconciliation, nonetheless. It demands of believers that they “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (verse 23). Indeed, it was in the hope of preventing such a defection among the Colossians that Paul wrote this epistle. If real defection from the Christian faith were intrinsically impossible, there was no need for Paul to write any of his epistles!
Paul’s entire ministry was devoted, in fact, to this proclamation of what God has wrought in Christ. And, if Paul suffered as a result of this ministry, his sufferings took their place with the sufferings of Christ Himself, because he suffered for the sake of the Church, as did Jesus (verse 24).
Thus, “to fulfill (plerosai) the word of God” (verse 25) means “to fill up (antanaplero) . . . what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” If this is something Paul experiences in his own flesh, it is for the sake of Christ’s body, “which is the church” (verse 24). It was for the sake of this latter body that Christ died “in the body of His flesh” (verse 22).
The “mystery” proclaimed by Paul is the destiny of the world itself, unknown until revealed to the Church. This hidden mystery is the calling of the nations (ethnesin) to share in the glory of God (verse 26).
This glory is already present in hope, because the risen Christ abides in His saints. The final revelation will be the unveiling of this hidden presence (verse 27).
This mystery is not secret in the sense of being reserved for a few chosen initiates. It is, rather, the common doctrine handed down in the Church as a public record, available to “every man” (three times in verse 28).
Paul’s struggle (agonizomenos in verse 29; agoni in 2:1) for this cause involves more than his human effort. He is sustained, rather, by God’s “energy energizing” him “in might” (energeian . . . energoumenen . . . en dynamei).
Monday, September 16
Colossians 2:1-10: Christ’s headship over Creation is radical and total. The human race has no other mediation with God. This is Paul’s answer to those who teach of the veneration of the angels as cosmic intermediaries.
This is the argument that Paul makes, after he brings the strictly doctrinal opening of this epistle to an end with verse 3. In this verse he speaks of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (cf. also 1:27; 1 Corinthians1:24,30), an expression perhaps derived from Isaiah 45:3 (“I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name”) and Proverbs 2:3-5 (“if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God”).
When the Church’s earliest creedal formulas interpreted the saving work of Jesus Christ “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), this expression was understood to embrace all of the Old Testament, including the Ketubim, or “Writings,” that third part of the Hebrew Scriptures in which we find the Wisdom books. The doctrinal challenge facing the Church at Colossae furnished the providential occasion for the Apostle Paul to explore the relationship of Christ to the Bible’s Wisdom literature.
Much of the apostolic writings (another name for the New Testament) is devoted to Christ as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Epistle to the Colossians is one of those places more dominantly preoccupied by the theme of Christ as the fulfillment of the Bible’s Wisdom books.
Having established the doctrinal basis for doing so, Paul now directs his attention to the heretical teaching to which the believers at Colossae had been exposed (2:4—3:4).
The worst feature of these heresies, says he, is that they sound attractive (pithanologia —verse 4). Long ago, immediately following his failure to reach most of the philosophers who heard him in Athens (cf. Acts 17:22-34), Paul had resolved not to engage in fine-sounding rhetoric in the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20—2:5). Paul yet adheres to that policy. Otherwise there is simply too much danger of a deceptive message that merely sounds erudite (verse 8).
The Colossians, in order to avoid the false teachings prevalent in their area, must steadfastly adhere to what they have “received” (parelabete —verse 6; cf. Galatians 1:9; Philippians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 11:23) and “learned” (edidachthete —verse 7). We observe in this admonition that the proper safeguard against heresy is the inherited tradition of the apostolic teaching mission. The Christ that the Colossians have already “received” is the Christ to whom they must adhere.
This traditional teaching of the Church is contrasted with the mere traditions of men, which Paul describes as “philosophy” (verse 8, the only occasion on which that word occurs in the New Testament).
The “fullness of the Godhead” dwells in Christ in a bodily way, which is to say that God’s eternal Wisdom is identical with the person of Jesus Christ (verse 9), the literal embodiment of God’s Word.
The Christian’s adherence to Christ is to be accomplished with “thanksgiving” (eucharistia —verse 7), which is a virtual sub-theme of this epistle (cf. 1:12; 3:15,17; 4:2).
Tuesday, September 17
Colossians 2:11-23: The realm of angelic beings, “all principality and power,” is subject to Christ, who is the Head of the Church (verses 10,15).
Paul now goes on to discuss our communion with Christ, initiated through Baptism, the sacrament that fulfills and replaces the Old Testament initiatory rite of circumcision (verse 11). Although Baptism is a bodily thing, it does not, like circumcision, leave a bodily mark. The “mark” of Baptism is visible only to God. The flesh of the baptized Christian looks exactly like all other flesh. His real life is “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).
Yet, Baptism does involve a definite “putting off” (apekdysis, a word found only here in the New Testament) of “the body of the flesh.” This latter expression, as is indicated by the (textually unreliable, alas) reading “sins of the flesh” found in the King James Version, means the ascetical life of the believer, who lives no longer under the dominance of the fleshly passions.
Paul’s point here, then, is a contrast between circumcision, whereby the initiate lose only part of his flesh, and Baptism, by which the believer completely abandons a fleshly way of life.
This latter way of life is a spiritual circumcision (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3), here called “the circumcision of Christ.” The following chapter will spell out what this spiritual circumcision means in practice.
Baptism is no mere ritual (much less, merely a symbol), because through it the believing initiate is mystically united to the burial and resurrection of Christ Himself (verse 12; cf. Romans 6:1-11). To be baptized, therefore, is a supreme act of faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. (Baptism actually accomplishes that which it symbolizes, which is the definition of a sacrament. It is not a “work” performed by the believer. It is a work of the living Christ Himself. No matter who the minister of Baptism is, it is always Christ who baptizes.)
This union with Christ in Baptism is indicated by the preposition and prefix “syn-,” meaning “with.” Thus, we believers died “with Christ” (syn Christo—verse 20), were buried “with Him” (syntaphentes avto), were raised “with Him (synegerthete—verse 12), and were “made alive with Him” (synezoopoisen . . . syn avto—verse 13, cf. Ephesians 2:5).
Unlike the Baptismal imagery of dying and rising in Romans 6, where the Christian’s resurrection is described in terms of the end of history, the accent here in Colossians is on union with Christ in the here and now. (Indeed, this difference of perspectives, from the future to the present, is in general one of the chief ways in which Colossians and Ephesians differ from Romans.) Even now this union with Christ is accomplished by the divine energy (energia tou Theou) at work in us. Paul has ready recourse to this word energia in Colossians (here and 1:29) and Ephesians (1:19; 3:7; 4:16).
The “handwriting of requirements that was against us”—or, more literally, “the bond written against us in decrees”—refers to the burden of the Mosaic Law, particularly those parts of the Torah threatening punishment to those who fail to observe its precepts (verse 14; Ephesians 2:15; cf. Deuteronomy 30:19). Christ assumed this burden and debt upon Himself, when He was nailed to the Cross, laying down His life in atoning sacrifice on our behalf (cf. Isaiah 53:4-5).
At this point in Colossians the expression “principalities and powers” does not refer to angelic beings in general, but to those demonic forces — fallen angels — by whom humanity without Christ is held in bondage (verse 15).
The “in it” of verse 15 should more properly read “on it” (exactly the same preposition in Greek), referring to the Lord’s Cross. It was on that Cross that Jesus was victorious over the demons by His blood-bought abolition of our sins. The death of Christ not only altered our relationship to God; it altered our condition with respect to the demons. That is to say, the Cross of Christ was not only expiatory, but it was also triumphant.
Knowing all these things, Christians must avoid any avenue leading them back to subjugation to angelic spirits that would again enslave them (verse 18). Such an avenue would be a return to the observance of the Mosaic rituals (verse 16) and dietary laws (verse 21).
In speaking of Christian liberation from the Mosaic Law, Paul seems especially to have in mind the rabbinical interpretation of that Law, which he calls “the commandments and doctrines of men” (verse 22). Here we observe a resemblance to the view of Jesus, who quoted Isaiah in condemnation of those who taught “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:23). The weakness of those observances was that they were of “no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (verse 23).
Christians have been set free from the Mosaic regulations that served only as a “shadow of things to come” (verse 17). Indeed, those ordinances were but the early shadow cast ahead of time by “the body of Christ.”
This body of Christ is at once the flesh he assumed in the Incarnation and the visible, social, institutional body of the Church, of which Christ is the Head (verse 19). The “joints and ligaments” of this body are those myriad and structured ways through which the Church is joined together, one part to another. Paul knows nothing of an invisible, non-institutional church. He has in mind here the concrete, definable congregations to whom he ministers and for whom he writes these epistles. These congregations do not exist in social isolation; they are concretely united by certain “joints and ligaments,” of which the present epistle, carried by Tychicus and destined to be shared with other churches (cf. 4:16) is itself an example.
Wednesday, September 18
Colossians 3:1-17: We come now to the more exhortatory second half of this epistle, characterized by the more frequent use of imperative (“Seek”—verse 1; “Set”—verse 2; “Put on”—verses 12,14; “Do”—verse 17) and optative verbs (“Let the peace of God’—verse 15; “Let the word of Christ”—verse 16).
The Christian’s new state, his being already raised with Christ, is the basis for his striving to be likewise ascended with Christ, seeking and savoring the things above (verses 1,2). These two verbs, seeking (zeteite) and savoring (phroneite), indicate the two temporal aspects of our possession of God, the “not yet” (seeking) and the “already” (savoring). As long as we are on this earth, the life in Christ involves both.
And just where, while all this is going on, is Christ to be found? “Sitting at the right hand of God,” says Paul. The Christian sense of the presence of Christ does not bring Christ to the earth again, as it were. Rather, it raises the believer up to the throne room of God (Hebrews 12:22-24; Acts 7:55-56; Revelation 5:6). The real life of the believer remains, therefore, “hidden” (verse 3).
Our present state, containing both the already and the not yet, both the seeking and the savoring, is not our final state. Indeed, our final state is not even the entrance of our souls into heaven at death. Our final state arrives, rather, when“Christ who is our life appears,” for then we too “will appear with Him in glory” (verse 4). In the Epistle to the Colossians, as in the Epistle to the Romans, full salvation is attained only when Christ returns to raise our mortal bodies from corruption.
In the mind of Paul, the believer’s dying with Christ in baptism (verse 3; 2:12) is not a passive state. It is the basis, rather, of a continual striving: “You have died . . . Therefore, put to death . . . (verse 5). That is to say, Baptism is the introduction to Christian discipline. In this respect, Paul’s teaching is identical to the following of Christ taught in the Gospels (cf. Mark 8:34-38).
In practice, this “putting to death” is directed to certain sinful dispositions and activities that Paul proceeds to list (verse 5-9). He speaks of these vicious tendencies and activities as “your members,” because each of them is identified with some part of our constitution. This metaphor is also found in Romans 6:6,19; 7:5,23 (cf. Mark 9:45-47). These things pertain to the “old man” inherited from Adam.
In contrast thereto, we are to put on the “new man” that is Christ, who is the very image (eikon) of God (verse 10; 1:15). The goal of all Christian striving is Christ’s complete takeover of our being and our destiny.
Christian striving is not only negative, because there are positive qualities that the believer is called to cultivate, qualities having to do chiefly with his social relationships (verses 12-14). When he was baptized, after all, the believer entered into a social body—the Church, the extension of Christ’s own body (verses 15-16). Especially important is forgiveness (verse 13; cf. Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 6:12).
None of this is possible, says Paul, without the joy of music (verse 16). A congregation that does not, on all possible occasions, sing hymns and psalms can make no convincing claim to being a Christian congregation (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26). All this singing and praying, however, must be done in Jesus’ name (verse 17; Ephesians 5:19-20).
Thursday, September 19
Colossians 3:18—4:6: The practical points of the Christian moral life, partly enumerated in 3:5-14, must now be applied to concrete situations, first within the home (3:18—4:1) and then outside (4:5).
The home is the first place to be transformed “in the Lord” (verse 18). Indeed, the “Lord” (Kyrios) is explicitly spoken of six times in this section on the Christian home (3:18,20,23, 24 twice; 4:1), indicating that the Lordship of Jesus is to dominate all of the relationships in the home. Surely, if Jesus is not the Lord of a believer’s home, it is not likely that He will be the Lord of any other part of his life.
In this respect, we may note that in this section on the Christian home, everything is regarded under the aspect of duty, not of rights. Rights have to do with the political order. The home, however, is the true pre-political institution.
The first relationship in the home is that between husband and wife. Paul views the wife’s self-subjugation to the husband as a matter of decency, order, and propriety—“as is fitting” (aneken—3:18). Her relationship to her husband, on the other hand, is to be rendered easy by the latter’s love and gentleness toward her (verse 19). The verb Paul uses for “love” in this instance is agapan, the highest and most spiritual kind of love (cf. Ephesians 6:21-33).
From the home all bitterness is to be excluded, and the husband/father is to provide the example in this (3:19,21).
In this section on the home, the relationship receiving the most attention is that between master and servant, a fact suggesting that among all domestic relationships, this may present the most problems (3:22—4:1). Indeed, within the home this is the only relationship that is not “natural,” not biological. It is purely economic and most related to the political order. To this extent, it is also somewhat artificial, unlike other domestic relationships, which are pre-political and rooted in nature itself. Paul’s own reflections here tend to mitigate the inequality inherent in this relationship (3:25; 4:1).
From within the Christian home, the believer relates to “those outside” (tous exso—4:5). These relationships chiefly require the Christian governance of the tongue (4:6).
Friday, September 20
Colossians 4:7-18: As usual at the end of his epistles (and many of the letters that we ourselves send even today), Paul finishes with a series of greetings.
We now learn that this epistle is borne to Colossae by Tychicus, an Asian Christian who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem to carry thither the offering taken up for the relief of the poor in that city (Acts 20:4). Tychicus has apparently been in Paul’s entourage ever since and is now dispatched back to Asia to bear this epistle (verses 7-8), a second to the congregation at Laodicaea (Ephesians 6:21), and evidently a third to Philemon, a Colossian Christian.
This last epistle concerns the runaway Colossian slave, Onesimus, who will accompany Tychicus back to Asia (verse 9). These two will bring to Colossae the latest news concerning Paul.
Other companions, who will remain at Caesarea with Paul, also send greetings to the congregation at Colossae. These include Aristarchus (verse 10), a Macedonian Christian from Thessaloniki (Acts 19:29), who had also accompanied Paul in his final trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), was with him still at Caesarea (Philemon 24), and would soon travel with him to Rome (Acts 27:2).
Mark sends greetings as well. Since he had been directly involved in a sharp altercation between Paul and Barnabas some twelve years earlier (Acts 13:13; 15:36-40), Paul mentions Mark especially, making sure that the Colossians are aware that there was no longer bad blood between them (verse 10). We know that Mark is with Paul at Caesarea (cf. Philemon 24), but we lose track of him briefly after this. Shortly before Paul’s death, however, the Apostle instructed Timothy to bring Mark to Rome (2 Timothy 4:11), where we find him as an associate of Simon Peter (1 Peter 5:13). It was in Rome that Mark wrote his Gospel (Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses 3.1.2; Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 3.39.15), before going on to found the Christian church at Alexandria in Egypt (Eusebius, ibid. 2.16.1).
Greetings are also sent from Epaphras, himself an Asian (verse 12), to whose zeal for his countrymen Paul here bears witness (verse 13). One is disposed to think that it was Epaphras who brought to Paul’s attention the concerns that prompted the writing of this epistle.
Greetings are likewise sent from Luke (verse 14), who has been with Paul since the two joined company at Philippi for the final trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:6) He will be with Paul till the end (Acts 27:2; 2 Timothy 4:11), though Demas, also mentioned here (cf. Philemon 24), will not (2 Timothy 4:10).
It is worth remarking that this presence of Mark and Luke at Caesarea at the same time seems to be the only recorded instance of two Gospel writers being together in one place simultaneously. It is not difficult to imagine what they may have talked about!
The Archippus in verse 17 is known to us from Philemon 2. The cryptic message in this verse was doubtless clearer to the Colossians than it is to us.
The Colossians are to exchange epistles with the congregation at Laodicea, which is also receiving an epistle in this mailing (verse 16). This latter work is most likely to be identified with the epistle handed down to us as Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.