Alan Knox

Alan Knox

Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.

He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.

Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.

Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 3

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2

As I continue studying through this section of Colossians, in this post I will focus on this passage:

Therefore 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. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let 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, and 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. If 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 – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” ( referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These 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. (Colossians 2:16-23)

In this passage, Paul again warns the Colossians against trusting human traditions, even those that appear to promote some type of wisdom. In our terms, this human wisdom and philosophy would seem to be rational and logical and even religious. However, Paul says to stay away from these things and only trust Christ.

Paul begins by warning that some would attempt to “pass judgment” on the Colossians based upon whether or not they kept certain rules and regulations related to food, drink, or special days (Colossians 2:16). He immediately jumps to the problem with these kinds of rules and regulations. While they may have had a good purpose in the past, they were only a shadow of the reality that the Colossians now have in Christ himself (Colossians 2:17).

While the previous warnings may have been against practices related to Judaism, the next warnings are broader, and perhaps dip into some pagan practices. Paul says that some will judge the Colossians based on their views of asceticism, the worship of angels, or following dreams and visions (Colossians 2:18). Again, the problem with these practices is that growth does not come from them. Instead, Paul says, growth comes only by holding fast to the head (previously identified as Jesus Christ – Colossians 1:18) and being joined together in community with one another (Colossians 2:19). This is the growth that comes from God.

Paul exhorts his readers based on their new life in Christ. He reminds them that together with Christ they have died to their old life (“Since you died with Christ…”), so they should no longer follow the basic principles that guide this world (Colossians 2:20). Paul says that the world’s wisdom teaches, “Do not handle; do not taste; do not touch” (and other such prohibitions), but that these kinds of rules and regulations have no power to break the tempations that lead to sin (Colossians 2:21-23). To the world (and obviously to many Christians today), prohibitions such as these are the basis of following God. But, for the one who is in Christ, they have no value against temptation and sin.

Now, one question we must consider is this: Were the Colossians currently falling for these kinds of human rules and regulations, thinking that they were living godly lives by obeying them? It’s possible. However, it is also possible that Paul was teaching in general. Usually, when Paul is dealing with current problems among the believers of a city, he would say something like, “It has been reported to me…” (1 Corinthians 1:11), or “I am astonished that you…” (Galatians 1:6), and then he would identify the particular problem that exists.

Next, there is a clear warning here for modern churches. Many seem to define themselves based on what they are against or what they do not allow “their members” to do. Paul would teaching against this, saying their is no value for growth in this kind of teaching. Instead, he would exhort them to trust Christ alone, not those rules and regulations of human invention (even those that seem to produce godliness).

What would add to my discussion of this passage?

Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 2

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1

In my previous post, I began the section of Colossians (Colossians 2:6-23) while Paul alternates between exhortations to trust Christ (alone) and warnings against following human wisdom. This section is introduced in Colossians 2:6-10.

In the next few posts, I am going to continue studying this section verse by verse. However, it is helpful to notice that Paul jumps back and forth between these two contrasts. The whole section should be studied and understood together.

I will begin by looking at the first exhortations to trust only Christ, since this is where Paul begins:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

Paul begins by using circumcision as a metaphor. (Colossians 2:11) The metaphor demonstrates the “putting off” of the “body of flesh.” (Later we see that Paul says the “uncircumcision of the flesh” is related to being “dead in trespasses.” It is clear that Paul has a metaphorical circumcision in view because he specifically says it is a “circumcision made without hands” and a “circumcision of Christ.”

The circumcision metaphor is intertwined with another metaphor: baptism. Immersion into water in baptism (No, I don’t want to start a theological debate here, but “baptism” means “immersion” and the imagery uses that meaning.) represents being buried with Christ. And being raised back out of the water in baptism represents being resurrected with Christ (Colossians 2:12).

Continuing with the interwoven metaphors of circumcision and baptism, Paul wants his readers to see that their sins have been “cut off” (much like in circumcision) and that they are now alive in Christ (much like they were raised out of the water in baptism) (Colossians 2:13). While he uses metaphors to get his point across, to Paul the forgiveness of sin and the new life in Christ is very real. In fact, he says that our sin debt has been paid in full (“nailed to the cross”) by the death of Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:14)

But Christ’s death did more than cancel all records of our sins. Paul also says that, through his death, Christ removed all rights that others might have on the children of God (Colossians 2:15). He “disarmed” them, stripping off all power that they may have had to control those who are now risen with him.

This last point becomes very important as Paul continues his argument. These rulers and authorities (whether earthly or heavenly) might make claims on or offer philosophical arguments against God’s children. These claims and arguments might sound good, and even be rational and believable. But Paul says those rulers and authorities have been stripped of all power of those who are in Christ.

In this passage, it is clear that the historical death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is extremely important for Paul and his readers. While he uses metaphorical language of circumcision and baptism, the metaphors point to the reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In that event, God canceled the sin debt for all those who are in Christ and removed them from power and authority of earthly or spiritual rulers.

What would you add to my study of this section of Colossians?

Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 1

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel

The next section of the letter to the Colossians covers almost the remainder of the book. This section (Colossians 2:6-23) includes instructions for the Colossians concerning how to live in a manner worthy of their God and Savior. It is important to remember that Paul has already stated that his readers are “saints” (or holy ones) and “brothers and sisters.” In other words, they are God’s children. He now wants to help them live in a way that demonstrates their relationship to God.

The first part of this long teaching passage is found in Colossians 2:6-23. It is composed of alternating reminders of the promises in Christ and warnings against living according to human wisdom. In the first few sentences, we see both the purpose for this section and the first contrast between Christ and human arguments and philosophy:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See 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. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:6-10)

Paul begins with the assumption that the Colossian readers have received the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the basis of the remainder of his exhortation and teaching. Jesus Christ, who Paul has just described as being preeminent over all things (creation and especially the church) and for whom Paul was in service, is their Lord. Therefore, they should seek to him “walk” in him, with “walk” being a metaphor used to describe their way of life. Their entire way of life should be defined and submitted to Jesus Christ. (Paul uses the “walk” metaphor three times within this longer section: Colossians 2:6, Colossians 3:7, and Colossians 4:5.)

They begin walking in Jesus Christ by having been rooted in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7). While I don’t want to get too technical here, this participle is in the perfect tense, pointing to something that happened in the past but has ongoing repercussions. They were rooted in Christ in the past (when they received him), and they are still rooted in him. They are also helped to walk in him when they are being built up in him and being strengthened (“established”) in faith. These two participles are in the present tense, showing the ongoing work of both being built up and being strengthened. (The ongoing sense of the verb is the reason that I prefer the translation “strengthened” instead of “established.”) Finally, they walk in Christ when they are abounding (“increasing”) in thankfulness to God. These descriptions of what it means to “walk in him” sound very similar to previous phrases that Paul has used. For example, see Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:10, Colossians 1:11-12, Colossians 1:28, and Colossians 2:2.

Why is it so important that the Colossians (and us too?) continue to be built up in Christ and strengthened in the faith? Because human philosophy and wisdom often work contrary to the ways of Christ. For this reason, Paul warns them that if they are not careful (“Watch out!”), human philosophy and empty deception and traditions can captivate them and carry them off of the path that Jesus wants them to walk. Paul says that these things are based on the principles of this world and they are not based on Christ (Colossians 2:8).

Paul reminds that the full divinity of God was in Christ, and he is the head of all things, even human or heavenly rulers or authorities (Colossians 2:9-10). The Colossians have been filled with Christ, and thus do not have to submit to human wisdom. There is a play on words here: The fullness of God dwells in Christ, and Christ fills you. Paul reminds them that the presence of Christ in them gives them both the godly wisdom to deny human philosophy and it also gives them the authority to refuse to submit to human wisdom and traditions.

In the next few sentences, Paul weaves together passages that remind the Colossians who they are and what they have in Christ with warnings against being “captured” by human wisdom. But, all of these reminders and warnings follow from this introduction by Paul. The Colossians have received Christ and are filled with Christ. Therefore, they should walk in him. Part of walking in him includes continuously being built up and strengthened. But it also includes not being pulled away from Christ by attractive philosophies or arguments from human or worldly principles.

What would you like to add to this study?

Colossians – Paul’s Service for the Gospel

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church

In the next section of the letter (Colossians 1:24-29) to the Colossians, Paul (specifically) transitions from the prayer into his own example of service for the gospel:

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. (Colossians 1:24-29)

Paul recognizes (and rejoices!) that his sufferings (probably directly referring to his imprisonment, although general sufferings and persecutions could be in view also) serves a purpose in the kingdom of God. Specifically, in this letter, he says that his sufferings benefit the Colossians because he is providing a physical example and thus making up what is lacking in Christ’s own sufferings. So, Paul sees his own sufferings and persecutions as being on behalf of the church (even for those who he has not met personally).

Paul sees himself as a servant of the church (Colossians 1:25) according to the stewardship of God (previously called “the will of God”). He describes his service as “to make the word of God fully known.” In the next few phrases, we learn more about what Paul means by “word of God.” He says “the word of God” is the mystery that had been hidden, but had now been revealed to God’s people (his saints, Colossians 1:26) To the saints (his children) God has revealed this mystery – the word of God. Here, Paul tells us that the mystery – the word of God – is “Christ among you – the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Christ – the word of God – is the one that Paul proclaims (Colossians 1:28). Interestingly, Paul says that “we” (meaning himself and those with him) proclaim Christ through “admonishing” and “teaching.” He will use these same verbs later when he instructs the Colossians to “let the word of God dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another…” (Colossians 3:16). His purpose in proclaiming, admonishing, and teaching is to present everyone as mature in Christ. He does this by working hard with all the energy that God provides for him. (Notice the combination of Paul’s efforts and God’s provision of ability and power in Colossians 1:29.)

Again, Paul makes this part of his letter very personal (Colossians 2:1). He says that he works hard (“toils”) even on behalf of the Colossians, and Laodiceans, and others who have never met him personally. (So, from this, we see that up until this point Paul had never visited Colossae or Laodicea.) Why does Paul work so hard for them? Previously he said it was to present them “mature in Christ.” Here, he describes this maturity as being encouraged. He says that are encouraged when they are knit together in love and in the assurance of the mystery – which he again describes as being Christ himself (Colossians 2:2). Why does Paul want them knit together in the assurance that comes from Christ? Because he holds all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

The fact that Christ can give them wisdom and knowledge becomes very important in the next section where Paul warns the Colossians against following human wisdom. Paul begins this warning by explaining the reason he wrote this: so that the Colossians would not be deceived by human wisdom (Colossians 2:4). Then, Paul encourages them again saying that he is with them in spirit, even if he cannot be present in person (Colossians 2:5).

In this section, we begin to see part of the reason that Paul wrote this letter. He provides himself as an example of someone who is steadfastly following Christ. Because of his trust in Christ, he is serving him by being a servant and messenger of the gospel. For Paul, sufferings and persecutions are not a deterrent to his service, but the very channel through which his service flows. This is a direct challenge to the Colossians (and to all readers) that they must continue to serve Christ and the gospel in spite of any persecutions or sufferings that they may face.

Similarly, we see that Paul’s service to the gospel includes exhortation through admonishment and teaching. As I mentioned earlier, he will later instruct the Colossians to carry on this same type of service. They are just as responsible for living according to the word of Christ and admonishing and teaching one another.

Finally, in this section, Paul begins to warn his readers again turning toward human wisdom, even when that wisdom is backed up by persuasive arguments. Instead, he says to trust Jesus Christ, who alone holds and provides true wisdom and understanding.

What would you like to add to my study of this section of Colossians?

Colossians – Preeminence of Christ over the Church

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. I discussed the letter’s salutation, which identified the author and the recipients and included a greeting, as well as Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians (see Part 1 and Part 2). At the end of the prayer, the authors transition into a description of Jesus Christ’s preeminence. I’ve already discussed the passage about Jesus’ preeminence over creation, and this post is about Jesus’ preeminence over the church.

Here is the second part of the passage in which the authors describe Jesus’ preeminence:

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 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. (Colossians 1:18-23)

There are two parts to this section. The first part (Colossians 1:18-20) describes Jesus’ preeminence over the church in general. In the second part (Colossians 1:21-23), the authors make it personal by referring directly to the Colossians.

Jesus’ preeminence over the church is described as the relationship between the head and the body. This is a common metaphor in Paul’s writings. While earlier Jesus was described as the firstborn of creation, here he is described as the firstborn from among those who have died. This is a reference to the resurrection. The authors remind their readers that the fullness of God dwelled approvingly (pleasingly?). This is a step beyond the previous statement that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).

Because of Jesus’ headship and because the fullness of God dwelled in him, he was able to reconcile all things to God. He accomplished this through his death. Again, the authors use all encompassing language to describe what was reconciled by the death of Jesus Christ.

Next, the authors turn directly to the Colossians. While everything previously applied to the Colossians (and everything in this section applies to all believers), by using second person pronouns (you), the authors remind their readers that this applies to them. Again, the authors use the language of reconciliation to describe what Jesus accomplished for the Colossians through his death. Their previous state is described as alienated, hostile, and full of evil deeds, while their new state as set apart (holy), blameless, and above reproach. The change in states in reminiscent of this previous statement from the prayer: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13)

Interestingly, Paul continues his description by saying that reconciliation is for those who “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). Again, we see the emphasis on continuing to live by trusting Jesus. Previously, the authors called this faithfulness (Colossians 1:2) and endurance (Colossians 1:11).

Paul (specifically) ends this section of the letter by referring to his own service on behalf of Jesus Christ. In view of Jesus’ preeminence over creation and headship over the church, Paul exhorts his readers to remain faithful (trusting in Jesus Christ) to the gospel. This the gospel that Paul proclaims as part of his service to God.

Again, we see that Paul’s (and Timothy’s) discussion of the preeminence and headship of Christ are not for the purpose of extending information only. Instead, he expects that proper understanding of Jesus’ relationship to creation and to the church will cause the believers in Colossae to respond in a certain way. Here, he expects them to continue trusting Jesus without wavering from the gospel in spite of what may be happening around them. (Previously, he called it “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord” in Colossians 1:10, and later, he will call it “walking in Jesus Christ” in Colossians 2:6.)

What would you add to my study so far?

Colossians – Preeminence of Christ over Creation

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. Then I discussed the letter’s salutation which identified the author and the recipients, and included a greeting. I’ve also examined Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians (see Part 1 and Part 2).

At the end of the second sentence in Paul and Timothy’s prayer, they say that one of the reasons that the Colossians should joyfully give thanks to God (and thus live in a manner worthy of God) is because God has moved them from the authority of darkness into the kingdom of God – which is described as the kingdom of his Son. This then leads into a discussion of the Son of God, and specifically, the preeminence of the Son of God over both creation and the church (with the church in general and the church in Colossae specifically in view).

Now, in reality, this section begins (in Colossians 1:15) with the relative pronoun “who,” not with the personal pronoun “he.” Thus, this description of Jesus Christ as preeminent over creation and the church is part of the prayer. It continues from and is attached to the end of the prayer. (I will need to decide if I’m going to change this in my outline or not. Right now, I could go either way.)

Here is the first part of this section:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

The authors begin with adjective after adjective and phrase after phrase describing the extent to which Jesus is preeminent over creation. He is 1) the image/form of the invisible God, 2) the firstborn of all creation, 3) the one by who all things were created (this is further explained as all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, thrones and dominions/lordships and rulers and authorities – thus, all encompassing), 4) before/in front of/more important than all things, and 5) the one that holds all things together.

This part is pretty straightforward. The authors not only set Jesus as preeminent over all creation, but somehow also different than all creation. In fact, they say that everything else depends on the Son for its beginning and its continued existence. And, furthermore, they make it clear that they mean everything, including the word all five times in this short section, even spelling out several different kinds of spiritual or human kings and rulers and governments.

While there are many things that we can learn from this declaration, don’t forget how Paul and Timothy are using it. They are declaring that Jesus is preeminent over creation (and the church) both as a reason for thanking God (the passage before this) and as a reason for Paul’s service (the passage after this).

What would you add to my discussion of these three verses?

Colossians - Prayer Part 2

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. I also discussed the letter’s salutation which identified the author and the recipients, and included a greeting.

The next part of the letter consists of the prayer. The prayer easily divides into two parts: Part 1 (Colossians 1:3-8) and Part 2 (Colossians 1:9-14). I’ve already discussed the first part of the prayer, so this post concerns the second part:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14)

While the first prayer (Colossians 1:3-8) was a prayer of thanksgiving to God because of the Colossians, the second prayer is a request made to God on behalf of the Colossians. Interestingly, this request is made from Paul and Timothy because of the example of Epaphras’ consistent praying. As with the first part of the prayer, this part is also one long sentence, even though it is conveniently separated in the translation above for easier reading.

The authors begin by asking God to fill the Colossians with the knowledge of his will. “Filled with the knowledge” is probably figurative language for making his will clearly known. His desires will be made known in spiritual wisdom and understanding. However, Paul and Timothy do not want the Colossians to only know God’s will, but instead they want them to act on God’s will.

They say that they want the Colossians to clearly know God’s will so that the believers in Colossae will live accordingly (“so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”). Again, “walk” is used figuratively in the sense of living in a certain way. It can be assumed here that knowing God’s will lead to doing God’s will.

“To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” is further described by four participles: 1) producing fruit, 2) growing/increasing, 3) being strengthened/empowered, and 4) giving thanks. The first two (“producing fruit” and “growing/increasing”) have been mentioned previously, and are closely connected in the sentence. Here, we see that “producing fruit” is associated with good works, and “growing/increasing” is associated with knowing God.

Furthermore, walking in a worthy manner is described as being strengthened by the power that God provides. In this description, the authors pile on the verbs and nouns for power/might/glory to emphasize the extent of God’s power which is able to work through the Colossians.

Finally, Paul and Timothy say that the Colossians will be grateful to God when living in a manner worthy of the Lord. We see that the believers in Colossae will joyfully thank God when they realize what God has done for them through his Son: 1) he made them sufficient to be part of God’s children, 2) he moved them out from under the authority of “darkness” and into the kingdom of the Son, and 3) he has redeemed them by forgiving them of their sins.

Here are a few points concerning this prayer:

First, this is primarily a prayer for the spiritual growth of the Colossians. Paul and Timothy have already heard about their faith and love, and they have thanks God for what they heard. But they desire even more for the believers in Colossae: they desire for even more faith and more love.

Second, knowledge of God’s will, wisdom, and spiritual understanding never remain in the mental realm. Instead, they result in action on the part of the person/group who knows God’s will and has wisdom and spiritual understanding. The purpose of knowing God’s will is so that we will live according to it.

Third, the first aspect of living according to God’s will listed by Paul and Timothy is producing fruit through good works. Similarly, knowing God is closely related to bearing fruit through good works. We would do well to remember this. Again, these concepts will continue to be brought up in this letter.

Fourth, the power to live according to God will is supplied by God alone. We work from the power that God provides. We will see this again when Paul discusses his own service in Colossians 1:29.

Fifth, the proper response to the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf is joyful thanksgiving to God. In this prayer, Paul and Timothy lists three of the benefits that are ours through Jesus. We could list many, many others. But, all of them should lead us to joy and thanksgiving.

What would you add to my study of this second part of the prayer for the Colossians?

Colossians – Prayer Part 1

I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. I also discussed the letter’s salutation, which identified the author and the recipients, and included a greeting.

In the next two posts, I’m going to briefly discuss the final part of the salutation: the prayer. The prayer easily divides into two parts: Part 1 (Colossians 1:3-8) and Part 2 (Colossians 1:9-14). This post concerns the first part of the prayer:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:3-8)

While it makes sense to divide the prayer up into several sentences in English, it is actually one long sentence. The prayer (both parts actually) is presented as from both Paul and Timothy (“we”), while a later part of the letter shifts the first person (“I”) and is probably specifically from Paul (see Colossians 1:24 for an example).

While praying for the Colossians, Paul and Timothy thank God because they have heard two things about them: 1) They heard about their faith (trust) in Jesus Christ, and 2) they heard about their love for all of God’s children (“saints,” “holy ones,” “those set apart by God”). This is the second time (of many) that the authors mention the faith of the recipients, and the first time (of many) that they mention their love.

Paul and Timothy state that the Colossian’s faith and love are a result of the hope that they now have after hearing the gospel. However, we should probably understand this is more than just hearing (“you have heard before”), because the gospel is producing fruit and increasing among the Colossians just as it is around the world. Once again, the authors’ mention of producing fruit and increasing/growing is the first of several instances in this letter.

Why did the gospel give them hope and why is it producing fruit and increasing among the Colossians? Paul and Timothy say that this is happening among the believers in Colossae because when they heard the gospel, they also understood the grace of God.

The Colossians heard the gospel and began to understand the grace of God from Epaphras, one of Paul’s co-workers (“fellow servant” or “slave together”). This same Epaphras told Paul and Timothy about the Colossians’ response to the gospel and the grace of God.

Here are a few points to consider when thinking about this part of Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians:

First, Paul and Timothy were prompted to pray for the Colossians because of their faith and love. Although they had never been to Colossae, they had heard about them from Epaphras, and had probably witnessed how much Epaphras prayed for the Colossians as well (see Colossians 4:12). They were not prompted to pray because of problems in Colossae, but because the Colossians were growing in faith and love.

Second, the term “gospel” is used interchangeably (in apposition) with the phrase “word of truth” or “message of truth.” This may help us understand what Paul means when he uses “word/message,” “truth,” or “word/message of truth” later in this letter and in other letters.

Third, Paul and Timothy assume that understanding the gospel and the grace of God will produce fruit. I think we will see what they mean by “fruit” as we continue to read the letter. Further, they also expect that those who understand the gospel and the grace of God will work toward increasing the spread of the gospel.

Finally, Epaphras is a very important figure in this letter, even though he is not one of the authors. Epaphras shows up in Colossians and Philemon (Philemon 1:23). It is also possible that Epaphras is the same person who is called Epaphroditus in Philippians (Philippians 2:25 and Philippians 4:18). The Colossians, at least, must have thought very highly of Epaphras.

Do you have anything to add to my study?

Colossians – Author, Recipients, and Greeting

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). The teaching will primarily be discussion (which I’ve found requires more preparation than lecture style, but that’s another post for another day).

I’ve already written about the beginning of my study, and I’ve presented a preliminary outline along with the reasoning behind that outline. In this post, I want to talk about the first part of the letter, which I called the salutation in my outline. This part identifies the author, the recipients, and includes a greeting.

Here is the salutation of Colossians:

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 1:1-2)

This is fairly straightforwards, especially if you’ve read much of the New Testament.

The text indicates that Paul is the author, along with Timothy. We don’t know exactly how the authorship process worked, but somehow the letter is from both of them.

Later in the letter, we’ll see that Paul specifically talks about his ministry on behalf of the gospel in Colossians 1:23, and that he specifically signs the letter by writing the final greeting himself in Colossians 4:18. This probably indicates that Paul is the primary author, but that Timothy is there with him in some capacity, although Timothy is not mentioned again in the letter.

Paul specifically identifies himself as an apostle (representative, emissary, ambassador, messenger) of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he admits that he is an apostle only because God desired for him to be an apostle. Paul includes the idea that he was an apostle by the will of God in the opening of several of his letters (see 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, and 2 Timothy 1:1). It is most explicit in Galatians 1:1.

Timothy is called “the brother” (or perhaps “our brother” or “his brother” in context). Paul is not slighting Timothy. In other places, Timothy is recognized as an apostle. As we will see in this letter (and in fact in all his letters), Paul considers the familial relationship to be very important.

Again, according to the text, Paul (and Timothy) are sending this letter to Chrisitans who are living in Collosae. Paul identifies them as “saints” (or “holy ones” or “those set apart”) and as “faithful brothers and sisters.” This idea of continued faithfulness will continue to be very important in this letter.

Collosae was located in Phrygia (part of modern day Turkey) near Laodicea and near a major road that ran from Ephesus to the Euphrates River. As we will learn later in the letter, Paul had never visited Collosae.

Finally, Paul offers his standard greeting: Grace and peace to you. This is a slight variation of the standard greeting of that time, which is typically translated, “Greetings.”

It is interesting and worthwhile to note the references to God the Father and Jesus Christ in these two short verses. Paul is not just any messenger/apostle, but a messenger of/from Jesus Christ. He is an apostle by the will of God. The Collosians are saints and faithful brothers and sisters “in Christ,” and Paul wishes them grace and peace from God our Father.

In fact, of the 28 words in these two verses, nine of them (almost 1/3) are used to refer to God the Father or Jesus Christ (and that doesn’t include the words “apostle,” “by the will,” “saints,” “faithful,” “brothers/sisters,” “grace,” or “peace,” all of which relate to God and/or Jesus in this passage).

Do you have anything to add?

Colossians – Preliminary Outline

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am beginning a study of the Book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book in a few weeks. I began by reading through the book in several different translations so that I could get a good “feel” for how Paul arranged his material.

The next step in the process is to develop a preliminary outline. I try to put together a preliminary outline based on my reading. Now, you may wonder why I don’t consult commentaries for an outline. That might be the expedient step, but I typically don’t consult commentaries until the very end of the study. I want to understand the text as much as I can before I consult commentaries.

(By the way, I should pause here for a moment. While I try to consult only the text, this is very difficult to do. Almost all English Bible translations and even edited Greek texts include some type of outline. Of course, translations are also interpretations. So, I can’t actually separate myself from this scholarship, and I don’t attempt to. But, I do try to recognize and admit those influences.)

To begin with, Colossians is a letter. So, there is a basic outline for letters written during this time period. (Of course, letters do not always fall perfectly within this pattern.)

The salutation of Colossians is found in Colossians 1:1-2, which includes the sender, the recipients, and the initial greeting. Also, the prayer/thanksgiving/blessing for the recipients of the letter is found in Colossians 1:3-14.

The closing of the letter is found in Colossians 4:7-18, which includes both travel plans and greetings.

So, the body of Colossians is found in Colossians 1:15-29. The body of the letter is fairly easy to outline because of the transitions and connections that Paul uses. For example, at the end of his prayer for the Colossians, Paul says, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14) This immediately transitions into a discussion of the Son, Jesus Christ, which begins in Colossians 1:15.

So, the first section of the body of the letter is about Jesus. There appear to be two subsections here: 1) Jesus’ preeminence over creation (beginning in Colossians 1:15) and 2) Jesus’ preeminence over the church (beginning in Colossians 1:18). Now, it could be that Jesus’ preeminence over the church is actually within his preeminence over creation, not a separation subsection. But, since it seems that Paul uses Jesus’ preeminence over the church to transition into the next section of the letter, I want to include that as a separate subsection.

As I mentioned, at the end of the subsection on Jesus’ preeminence over the church, Paul begins another transition by mentioning his own ministry to the church. This leads to a longer discussion about Paul’s service on behalf of Jesus Christ. This is another section within the letter than runs from Colossians 1:24through Colossians 2:5. Importantly, Paul not only describes his own ministry of the Gospel, he explains his understanding of the mystery of the Gospel, which is Christ himself.

Next, Paul again uses the end of the previous section as a transition. Paul says that his ministry includes rejoicing in the firmness of the Colossians’ faith (Colossians 2:5). This leads directly into the final (long) section in which Paul exhorts his readers to “walk in Christ, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

The completion of this exhortation is not found until near the end of the letter when Paul says, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders,” or literally “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders.” (Colossians 4:5) This verse forms an inclusio (book ends) with the simiar exhortation in Colossians 2:6-7. Thus, these two passages (Colossians 2:6-7 and Colossians 4:5) frame this section of Paul’s letter.

Within this section, there appear to be two subsections. In the first, Paul uses the imagery of circumcision and baptism (death, burial, and resurrection) to exhort his readers against trusting human wisdom and toward only trusting Christ. This section begins in Colossians 2:8 and ends in Colossians 3:4. The final subsection contains various exhortations toward living in Christ (especially living in Christ together). This subsection runs from Colossians 3:5 through Colossians 4:5.

So, putting this all together, I end up with this preliminary outline:

  1. Salutation
    1. Sender (Colossians 1:1)
    2. Recipients (Colossians 1:2)
    3. Greeting (Colossians 1:2)
    4. Prayer/Thanksgiving/Blessing (Colossians 1:3-14)
  2. Body (Colossians 1:15-29)
    1. The Preeminence of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-23)
      1. The Preeminence of Jesus over Creation (Colossians 1:15-17)
      2. The Preeminence of Jesus over the Church (Colossians 1:18-23)
    2. The Example of Paul’s Service (Colossians 1:24-29)
    3. Practical Exhortations to the Colossians (Colossians 2:6-23)
      1. Negative Exhortations against trusting human wisdom (Colossians 2:6-23)
      2. Positive Exhortations toward living for Christ (Colossians 3:5-25)
  3. Travel Plans, Final Greetings, and Closing (Colossians 4:6-18)

Obviously, there is more work to be done here. That’s why this is a preliminary outline. As I continue to study and work through the details of the passage, I will probably modify the outline.

Colossians – Beginning a Study

Typically, when we meet together as the church, we study through Scripture. For example, back at the end of October, we completed a long study of the Book of Genesis. Before that, we studied the Gospel of Matthew together.

Between long studies of specific books of the Bible, we often take breaks for topical or shorter studies. This is what we’ve been doing since November. March is the last month for one of these shorter studies, and I’ve been asked to plan our study for that month.

For several reasons that aren’t really important here, I’ve chosen the book of Colossians for our study. So, beginning the first Sunday in March, we will read through Colossians each week. Then, we’ll study one section of the book each week.

Typically, when I teach, I use a combination of lecture and discussion styles. The study of Colossians will follow the same patterns with one slight modification. Each week I’m planning to ask one person in particular to teach a part of that week’s passage. (Of course, each week, everyone will be encouraged to read and study the passage and to take part in the teaching session.)

I’m hoping that by asking someone to help me teach each week that I will be helping that person learn to study and prepare to teach. I’ll also be available during the week before to talk with that person about their passage and to help in their study and preparation.

I thought that I would also use this as an opportunity to share my own study and preparation methods on my blog. As far as I can remember, I have never shared this before. Now, before you get too excited – or too bored – this series, if you can call it a series, will be very casual and perhaps a bit random. I do not necessarily have a set study pattern and methodology that I use. I mean, I don’t have fourteen steps or seven objectives or ten whatevers. In fact, I typically allow the text itself guide my study.

What do I mean? Well, I always begin the same way: reading the text… the whole text… over and over again in different translations (and in Greek of course). In a book like Colossians, I read it the whole book in one sitting as many times as I can.

Once I begin to understand the flow of the text, I let the text choose how I proceed. For example, originally I had planned to teach Colossians in four weeks. However, after reading through Colossians several times, I realized that the flow of the text naturally led to five divisions (more actually, but I’m planning to combine a couple of divisions). So, I’ve decided to teach the book in five weeks now. If I had not taken the time to read through the text, I would not have realized the need for an additional week until it was too late.

Now that I understand the general flow of the letter, I will next attempt an outline. Of course, this will be a preliminary outline. I will not try to create a complete outline until I have had more time to study the details. In other words, I am starting with the big picture before I move to the details. Then, I allow the details to fill in or modify the big picture slightly if necessary.

In the last few years I have begun to understand how important the big picture is for exegesis of the biblical text. Sometimes this “big picture” is called “context,” and that’s a good word for it too. Before I begin to understand what exactly an author means by a particular word, phrase, or sentence, I have to try to figure out the purpose and context of the entire letter.

So, I’m going to give my readers (at least the ones who decide to continue reading) a glimpse into my study of Colossians.

In the next post of this series, I plan to share my preliminary outline as well as an explanation of why I divided Paul’s letter like I did.

Just like during my teaching sessions on Sundays, I encourage my readers to comment on this study at any time during the process.

The Disciples, the Apostles, and the Twelve

When I was growing up, I thought that the terms “disciples,” “apostles,” and “the Twelve” all referred to the same group of twelve men who followed Jesus around between his baptism and his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In fact, I often heard the terms combined as in “the twelve disciples” or “the twelve apostles,” and I rarely heard the terms “disciples” or “apostles” used to refer to anyone other than “the Twelve.”

Now, I understand that “the Twelve” were “apostles,” but other people were apostles as well. I also understand that “the Twelve” and the “apostles” were “disciples,” but other people were disciples as well.

Believe it or not, Matthew only uses the term “apostle” once. He uses the term “twelve” eight times. But he uses the term “disciple” over 30 times. A few times, Matthew combines the terms: “twelve apostles” or “twelve disciples.” That clarification (i.e., the fact that Matthew occasionally says “the twelve disciples”) indicates that at times Matthew is using the term “disciple” to refer to a group that does not include ONLY the Twelve.

It’s clear from reading the Gospels and Acts that many people – not just the Twelve – followed Jesus as his disciples. In fact, we learn in Acts 1, that at least 2 people – but probably more – followed Jesus from the time of his baptism by John and were still with the 120 when they were gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. (See Acts 1:21-23.)

Here’s a passage from Matthew, for example, that indicates that the term “disicples” was used to refer to more than just the Twelve:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:47-50 ESV)

Why is this important? Well, think about these questions:

Who was in the boat with Jesus when he calmed the storm? (“And when he [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him…” Matthew 8:23 ESV)

Who did Jesus teach privately? (“Then he [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’” Matthew 13:36 ESV)

Who did Jesus eat ‘the Last Supper’ with? (“He [Jesus] said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”‘” Matthew 26:18 ESV)

In the same way, we know that other people (besides the Twelve) were referred to as “apostles,” especially in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Therefore, when we read that apostles said or did something, we cannot assume that the author was referring to the Twelve. (However, as an interesting aside, perhaps Matthais was chosen to replace Judas as one of “the Twelve” in Acts 1:15-26.)

This passage by Paul specifically points out this difference:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV)

Did you notice that Paul makes a distinction between “the Twelve” and “the apostles”? Notice that we see that Jesus also appears to “more than five hundred brothers (and sisters).”

So, we should be careful when we read these terms in Scripture. Otherwise, we might limit the scope and reference more narrowly than the authors intended.