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?
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?
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?
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?
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.