Colossians 1:21-2:5 (Week 4)
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the Word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. To them, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him, we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this, I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.“
Wow, there are so many things to cover in this passage that we will not be able to do it justice in this 12-week study.
In this section, we get the most common reference to Paul talking about the mystery of God (he actually uses the term “mystery” three times in this section). As we work through the passage, it will become clear to you that when Paul uses the term “mystery,” he is not saying that there is still some hidden truth that you need to find out through a mystical experience. He will clearly articulate that when he is referencing the mystery of God, it is a mystery that has been revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Now, does that mean that we know everything there is to know about God? Of course not. But it does mean that everything we need to know regarding salvation and growth in Christ has been revealed to us in the pages of Scripture.
In addition to this, Paul is going to let us know the reason why he is writing to the Colossians. This is very important because as we desire to have our understanding shaped by God’s Word, it is necessary that we are driven by the text. And if Paul says, “this is why I’m writing,” then we should pay attention. Specifically, in this case, since we know that the young Colossian Church is in the middle of having false teaching proposed to them and Paul is writing to help them be grounded in the Word of God and not be drawn away by false teachers. This is especially pertinent to us today since we also want to be grounded in truth, so we do not go astray or pervert the Gospel of Christ.
WHAT IS THE TEXT SAYING?
YOU WERE RECONCILED
Scripture is explicitly clear that before we came to Christ, we were separated from God. Paul spells that out here by saying that we were formerly alienated from God, not just neutral, but hostile to God (both in our minds with how we think and with our actions characterized here by “evil deeds”). However, Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God. Notice that Jesus is the active agent here. You were reconciled to God by Jesus. This rules out any kind of “works-based” salvation.
But how was this accomplished? Jesus reconciled us to God by His death on the cross. The purpose behind this is so He could take our sin to the cross with Him and kill it there so that we can have His righteousness. Paul makes this clear when he says that Jesus did this for the purpose of presenting us before the presence of God the Father as those who have been made: holy, spotless, and blameless.
What is really interesting here is that when we follow Paul’s train of thought, we know that it is God that saves us, not our own good works. But what happens after that? Are we saved by grace, but have to keep our Salvation by works? No, of course not. Then why the “if”? If we are in Christ, then this is a work that has been established by God (notice again, this is passive, God is the one who established us). If God has established us in Him, then we will continue in Him. We will be steadfast. We will not shift from the Gospel. Our perseverance in Christ shows that we truly belong to Him, as we continue in the faith.
HOPE OF THE GOSPEL
This is the second time that Paul uses the word “hope” in this letter. And remember this isn’t a far off wishy kind of hope. We can have rock-solid confidence in the Gospel. This Gospel has been proclaimed all over creation, he says that it has gone out everywhere that is under the heavens. If the Colossians can have confidence in the Gospel (a message roughly 30 years old at the time), how much more can we? We have seen that this Gospel is continuing to cycle around the globe and is growing more now than any other time in the history of the Church.
One last interesting point here. Paul calls himself a servant of the Gospel. This is interesting because he uses the word from which we get the English word “deacon.” To be clear, Paul is not claiming to have the office of a “deacon.” He is telling us that he is a servant of the Gospel.
REJOICING IN SUFFERING
(Filling Up What is Lacking)
This follows right after Paul’s claim that he is a servant of the Gospel. If you don’t take the time to look at the surrounding context of these couple sentences, you can be extremely confused. And, to be honest, even when you do so, it can still be confusing.
First, what Paul is not saying is that Christ’s atoning work on the cross was somehow incomplete and that he is supplementing that. Let’s be clear about that. Christ completed the work of redemption in a way that only He was capable of fulfilling as God incarnate. Paul is completing the work to which Jesus has called us to. Jesus told us that if we followed Him, we would be persecuted (Matthew 5; Mark 10; Luke 6; John 15). Peter tells us that persecution is coming (all over 1 Peter). And Paul has written about this elsewhere (Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 3:12). Paul is in prison for the Gospel, which is part of what it means to be a servant of the Gospel. This is what we should expect. For this reason, he can rejoice.
And there is something about the fact that he is doing this for the Church. He mentioned that he was a servant of the Gospel. Now he says that he is a servant of the Church. And in a cool play on words, he says that he is experiencing this suffering in his body for Christ’s “body.” We are the body of Christ. Just like Jesus suffered in His body, so we as His physical body (still on earth) will experience suffering.
Paul is doing this because God has given him unique stewardship over the Church. This unique “office” that he has as an apostle of Jesus. He has the authority of an apostle but also suffers on behalf of the Church.
But why would he rejoice in this? First, because he is following in the steps of Jesus, but also because this is serving to advance the Gospel. His testimony is a part of fulfilling the Word of God. He sees himself as an integral part of the spread of the Gospel to the most remote places on earth.
THE MYSTERY PT. 1 – THE WORD OF GOD
Here we see a special grammatical relationship called “apposition.” Paul is saying that the “Word of God” that he is preaching is the “mystery” (think of an equals sign in between the two sayings “Word of God” = “mystery”). See the importance of this? The “mystery” isn’t some super-secret hidden knowledge. It is, in fact, the opposite. The “mystery” is what Paul has already been preaching. He describes it more by saying, it used to be hidden (for ages of time, and from generations of people), but it is a mystery no longer. It has been revealed to the saints of God. It is the very Gospel that has been preached all over the world. God chose to reveal this Gospel to everyone, including the Gentiles, in all nations. This is the riches of His glory to them.
So why use the term “mystery” here? What was mysterious about it? Remember that Paul is writing during a transitional period for the Gospel. For millennia God spoke, almost exclusively, to the Hebrew people, and salvation was found through the Jews. This is why Paul would say that it was hidden for years and peoples. However, now through Christ, God has opened the door to salvation to all people (Jews and non-Jews) all over the whole world. (This is very similar to what Paul says in Ephesians 3.)
THE MYSTERY PT. 2 – CHRIST IN YOU
Then Paul takes it a step farther. Now he tells us the specific content of this revealed mystery. It is Christ in you, which is our only hope of glory. How does God save sinful human beings? How does He reconcile us to Himself? By declaring us innocent? Yes, but even more, by fulfilling righteousness inside us by taking up residence (somehow) inside us. This is our only hope. If only God is fit for heaven, how can we be there unless God resides inside us? And this is exactly what He does when He saves us. He makes us holy. What an amazing revealed mystery!
THIS WE PROCLAIM
This is the Gospel that Paul proclaims. There are two aspects to this. First, he mentions the negative aspect-warning of all people. This carries with it the idea of admonishing or calling people to repent of sinful activity. Second, the positive aspect-teaching of all people. This means that he is teaching, preaching, and discipling all men. The goal of all of this is to present all people to God as mature and complete in Christ.
To do this has been a huge struggle for Paul. Let’s not forget he is writing this from a Roman jail, and the road there was paved with cursing, beatings, and all other kinds of persecutions. He uses two different words from that family, which we get our English word “agony” from. However, he is not dissuaded by this because He knows that the energy that he has in order to endure has been given to him by God. He has a never-ending surplus of power by which to endure. Plus, he is focused on the goal to which he is working.
HEARTS ENCOURAGED AND JOINED TOGETHER
This is his stated goal. That everyone who he hasn’t met face to face will be equipped and encouraged. I love this word picture: that their hearts will be comforted by being knit together with love. Wow. And this isn’t just so we would have a “lovey-dovey” feeling inside, but so that we will be united, possessing together the riches of the full assurance of certainty in Christ that is found in the knowledge of this revealed mystery.
THE MYSTERY PT. 3 – CHRIST
This time he simplifies the mystery completely for us. The mystery is Christ. Jesus is the Messiah that was promised. He is the perfect Adam that fulfilled all righteousness. He is the One by which God is reconciling the world to Himself. It is in Jesus Christ that all the treasuries of wisdom and knowledge exist.
I’M TELLING YOU THIS SO YOU WON’T BE DECEIVED.
So how is this going to help us? We need to truly believe that the Gospel is sufficient. We do not need anything else for our salvation. All we need is Christ. This isn’t “minimizing” anything… if anything, it is maximizing the truth that if you have Christ, you have everything. This will safeguard us from believing all manner of false teaching.
We have already mentioned that the young Church in Colossae is in danger of giving in to false teaching. This is not something unique to their context. The Church has always had false teachers and has always needed affirmation in the truth. Paul is writing this to them so that no one will deceive them with persuasive speech. The best defense of false teaching is good teaching. And even though he isn’t there in person, he is with them in spirit in hopes that his words will continue to ground them in the Gospel that they have received. A Gospel that is grounded 100% in Jesus.
What Does This Mean for Me?
- Regarding your identity: do you see yourself as reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? How often are you humbled by your former alienation and rebellion and given yourself to worship God for His Grace?
- Do you see yourself as holy, spotless, and blameless? God does.
- Is your hope in the Gospel? If not, where is your hope? If it is in anything but the Gospel (church, pastor, family, ministry), it will fail you?
- Paul owned his stewardship of the Gospel and fearlessly proclaimed it throughout the world. Do you have the same confidence? If so, are you proclaiming it? If not, what is holding you back?
- If you are a Christian, then Christ is in you. Whoa. Take some time and reflect on that and think through what that means not just for your eternal hope, but in your daily struggle with sin.
- Is there any extra-biblical teaching that has been really attractive to you? Do you see areas where you think you could be easily drawn away from Scripture? You need to submit these to the Lord and put your trust in His Word.
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