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 – Exhortations about Prayer and Outsiders

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
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life
Exhortations about family relationships

In this post, I’m going to look at the last part of the long teaching / paraenesis section that runs from Colossians 2:6-23. The passage I’m examining this time is Colossians 4:2-6:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:2-6)

This passage can be divided into two parts: 1) exhortations concerning prayer and 2) exhortations concerning outsiders. Remember with that these instructions, Paul continues to describe what it means to walk in Christ (or to live in him).

In the first part, Paul begins his exhortations concerning prayer by instructing the Colossians to be steadfast (persist in or be busily engaged in) (Colossians 4:2). His encouragements to “be watchful” is reminiscent of Jesus’ teachings concerning the destruction of the temple. But Paul adds that the Colossians should be thankful while they are alert in prayer. He also asks that the Colossians include himself and his team while they are praying (Colossians 4:3). Specifically, Paul wants them to pray that God would give them opportunities to present Christ clearly (Colossians 4:4). (As an aside, it is always comforting to me when I see Paul asking for prayer for opportunities or boldness to present Christ, and that he would do so clearly. Paul was more human than we often make him out to be.)

Next, Paul tells the Colossians to “walk in wisdom” (live wisely) among those who are “outside” (Colossians 4:5). “Outsiders” certainly refers to those who are not followers of Jesus Christ. The Colossians are to make the most of the time that they have when with nonbelievers. Paul tells them that when they are speaking with “outsiders,” the Colossians should always speak with grace and, and their words should be “seasoned with salt.” While most scholars would probably disagree with me, I think “seasoned with salt” is a reference back to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13).

The reason for the grace and “salt” is so that they will be able to answer each person. The assumption is the when the Colossians “walk with Christ,” the “outsiders” will notice and will ask about it.

While we read Paul instructions and exhortations for the Colossians (beginning in Colossians 2:6), we should never forget that Paul begins by reminding them they have already received Christ; they are holy. Now, he tells them what it should look like when they actually live in the new life they have in Christ. These instructions are not to teach them how to become holy or how to receive Christ or how to be a Christian. Instead, the instructions are to help them compare their own lives with what a new life in Christ would look like.

Furthermore, all of these exhortations are given as commands. Just as Paul recognized that he had to work hard in his service of the gospel, the Colossians also must work hard in living in their new life in Christ. But, also, just as Paul recognized that his service was only possible by the the power that God supplied, he wanted the Colossians to understand that God would provide the power they needed to live in Christ. (See Colossians 1:29.)

What would you add to this study of Colossians 4:2-6?


Colossians – Exhortations about Family Relationships

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
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life

This next passage continues from – and is part of – Paul’s previous exhortations to “put on” Christ as a new way of life. Furthermore, this is all part of a teaching / paraenesis passage in Colossians 2:6-23. Here is the passage for this post:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:18-25)

In this passage, Paul deals specifically with familial relationships (physical family) among those who are believers. Just as the person’s personal characteristics and relationships among the body of Christ will change, their relationships with their spouses, children, parents, masters, and/or slaves will also change when they “put on” Christ.

These three relationship pairs (husband/wife, parent/children, master/slave) are common delineations of family relationships in the ancient world. In fact, one ancient philosopher once argued that these people/relationships make up the family, but that the family did not include property and possessions (which tells us something about what the ancient world thought of slaves).

Paul begins by saying that wives should submit themselves to their husbands in whatever way that is proper in the Lord (Colossians 3:18). Similarly, and perhaps more strongly, husbands are commanded to love their wives and to not make them bitter or angry (Colossians 3:19). Interestingly, both commands call for actions from one part to the other (i.e., wives to husbands, or husbands to wives); however, only the husbands are called to be responsible for provoking the actions and attitudes of the others (wives).

Unlike wives to husbands, children are told to obey everything that their parents tell them. Paul says that this kind of obedience by children pleases the Lord (Colossians 3:20). Paul exhorts fathers (or perhaps parents) not to irritate or provoke their children so that they are not discouraged (Colossians 3:21). In context, he probably means discouraged against the Lord.

Paul covers the master/slave relationships in more detail. Perhaps, in the new life in Christ, this relationship requires the most care (i.e., is the most different from societal norms). As with children, he tells slaves to obey earthly masters in everything (Colossians 3:22). The slaves are not to obey simply to attract attention to themselves or even to please other people (masters), but they are to obey out of the sincerity of their heart because of their fear of God. Paul emphasizes this point by instructing slaves to work hard for their earthly masters as if they were working for God (because they are!), knowing that God himself would reward them for their hard work (Colossians 3:23-24).

The final statement to slaves is probably meant as a warning to both slaves and masters, and connects the two instructions together (Colossians 3:25). Paul says that whoever does wrong will be punished (presumably by God), and God punishes without partiality (i.e., slaves and masters).

Finally, Paul directly addresses earthly masters (slave owners) and tells them treat their slaves with justice and fairness (equality) (Colossians 4:1). He says that the masters are to remember that they are also slaves and that they serve a heavenly master. This could be a warning (like Colossians 3:25), or it could be an exhortation to be the kind of master that God is.

What would you like to add to my discussion of Colossians 3:18-25?


Colossians – Exhortation to Put on Christ as a New Way of Life

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
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life

In the previous passage, Paul exhorted the Colossians to put off their old way of life (Colossians 3:5-11). (Remember, that passage and the following are part of a longer teaching / paraenesis section in Colossians 2:6-23.) However, it is not enough to simply stop doing the things of the earth. Instead, Paul says the Colossians should now live in a completely new and different way – in the way of Christ.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

Paul reminds them that they are God’s chosen people, they are holy (separate), and they are loved. Because of this, he says that should “put on” certain characteristics (using the metaphor of getting dressed – in fact, it could even be translated “Clothe yourselves with...” [Colossians 3:12]) Again, we should not take these characteristics (“compassion, kindness, humility…”) as exhaustive. Instead, they are representative of the kind of life that a person lives in Christ. Paul pauses momentarily on the importance of forgiveness and patience when dealing with one another (Colossians 3:13). Of course, the impetus for forgiving one another is the fact that they have all been forgiven in Christ (Colossians 3:14).

But, as much emphasis as Paul puts on forgiveness, he emphasizes love even more (Colossians 3:15). He says that above everything else, they should be clothed in love. Love, Paul says, binds everything together in perfect unity. Without love, the other characteristics fall apart. This is similar to what he tells the Corinthians about spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 13).

But living this new way of life – living life in Christ – does not just affect personal characteristics. A person’s relationships with others is also changed. The first exhortation appears to be personal also: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” (Colossians 3:15). But, Paul says they were called into “one body” for this very peace. So, the peace of Christ affects them individually, but it also affects them as a community, and leads to thankfulness.

Similarly, Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell (live) among your richly (abundantly)” (Colossians 3:16). Previously, I noted that Paul says the “word” is Christ himself. So, this may better be translated as “Let the word – which is Christ…” or “Let the message about Christ….” What happens when Christ (or the gospel) lives among them? They teach and admonish one another, and they sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in their hearts to the Lord (Jesus). Remember that “teaching and admonishing” was part of Paul’s on ministry of the gospel on behalf of the church (Colossians 1:28). So, Paul is saying that when Christ dwells among the Colossians, they will teach and admonish one another, just as Paul teaches and admonishes others.

Paul wraps up this section with a general exhortation (Colossians 3:17): Speak every word and do every deed in the name (authority and character and presence) of Jesus Christ. And in everything, be thankful to God. Of course, this command covers both putting to death the things of the earth and the worldly lifestyle as well as dressing in the things of Christ.

What would you add to my study of this passage in Colossians?


Colossians – Exhortation to Put off an Earthly Way of Life

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
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4

As I am studying through Colossians, I am in the middle of a long teaching (paraenesis) in Colossians 2:6-23.

In this next section, Paul builds on his previous exhortations. Remember that he has been encouraging his readers to trust Christ alone so that they are not deceived into following human wisdom, philosophies, traditions, rationalizations, rules and regulations, etc. (Colossians 2:6-23). In this passage, Paul begins some general exhortations about what is means to walk (live) in a manner that is worthy of Christ and the gospel:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:5-11)

At first glance, this passage seems to contradict an earlier statement where Paul said that rules and regulations (“Do not handle; do not taste; do not touch”) are of no value to the one who is in Christ (Colossians 2:20-23). The difference, however, is in the purpose and motivations. In the previous passage, Paul said that these rules and regulations are of no benefit toward making someone holy (in Christ) or in helping someone deny the flesh (avoid temptations). In this passage, Paul starts with the fact that the person is already in Christ, and is answering the question, “So how do we live now that we are in Christ?”

Paul had written previously that the Colossians had died to their old way of life, and here he continues that theme by saying that should then put to death the things that were part of their old life (Colossians 3:5). While Paul lists a few things that belong to the old way of life, the list should not be taken as exhaustive. Instead, these are examples of “earthly” living and follows from “earthly” thinking.

Paul reminds them of two things related to these “old” ways of living: 1) these are the things that deserve and that provoke the wrath of God, and 2) they have already participated in these things in the past (Colossians 3:6-7). These reminders should lead toward praise and thanksgiving, and away from pride.

Paul again lists a few “vices” of the old life and focuses on lying as an example (Colossians 3:8-9). For the person who has laid aside (or “put to death”) the old way of living and has been raised with Christ into a new life and new way of living; lying to brothers and sisters should be a completely foreign concept. Instead, the new way of living flows from “the new” (the new self, the new life) which is constantly being renewed by Jesus Christ, the one who created the new life in the first place (Colossians 3:10).

To whom is this new life available (and who should be able to put away the old way of life)? Any who are in Christ. This applies to all nationalities, genders, ethnicities, social statuses, etc. (Colossians 3:11). Why? Because in Christ, all are now new people. They are not defined in the way the world defines them (based on nationality, gender, ethnicity, social status, etc.), but they are not identified with and defined by Christ. He is all, and he is in all.

This new way of life – the manner of living in Christ – is not dependent upon culture. Regardless of what society or culture deems acceptable or good, the one who is in Christ lives as Christ would, not as culture dictates.

What would you add to my study of this passage in Colossians?


Colossians – Contrasting Christ with Human Wisdom, Part 4

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
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3

I’ve been studying through the section of Colossians in which Paul exhorts his readers to trust Christ and not human wisdom, philosophy, traditions, etc (Colossians 2:6-23). This is the last part of this section. (As a reminder, this section is part of a larger exhortation/paraenesis (teaching) section that runs from Colossians 2:6 through Colossians 4:6.)

Here is the final passage in this section:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Once again, Paul returns to the baptism imagery (which points to the actual death and resurrection of Christ) to remind his readers of their position in Christ. He expects that a reminder of their relationship to God through Christ will help them stay away from human wisdom, philosophy, traditions, rules and regulations, etc.

Paul begins by reminding them that they were raised when Christ was raised (resurrected) (“Therefore, since you were raised together with Christ…”) (Colossians 3:1). While the English translation “if” above suggests that “raised together” may not have happened, a better translation of “since” puts Paul’s later exhortation in the proper perspective. Paul has already recognized their relationship with God through Christ, so he is not calling that into question now. Instead, he is using that relationship (which does exist) to punctuate and highlight what follows.

Since the Colossians were raised together with Christ, Paul exhorts them to both seek and to think about “the things that are above.” He explains that “the things that are above” are the things of Christ who is presently positioned at “the right hand of God,” which is a indication of power and authority, not necessarily of location (since Paul has already stated that Christ is present with the Colossians).

“The things that are above” – that is, the things related to Christ – are contrasted to “the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:2). In this section, it seems that Paul specifically has in mind the philosophies, traditions, logic, and rationalization (way of thinking) related to the world and its systems and rulers. Using “the mind of Christ” (as Paul would say to other readers) could appear contradictory and irrational and even unwise when viewed from a human perspective. But, Paul says, the Colossians are not supposed to view things from a human perspective, but from Christ’s perspective.

Paul again reminds the Colossians that they died together with Christ and are raised to new life – a new life that is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). (Even if there was some question as to whether Colossians 3:1should be translated, “If you were raised,” or “Since you were raised,” this sentence makes it clear that Paul believes the Colossians both died with Christ and now live in him.) But to whom or to what have the lives of the Colossians been hidden? Obviously, their lives have not been hidden from Christ or from God, since they are hidden with Christ in God. In context, their life (or perhaps “way of life”) has been hidden from those who continue to use human wisdom and who attempt to “capture” them using human philosophies, logic, traditions, rules and regulations, etc.

This will certainly lead to conflict with the Colossians who walk with Christ and others who walk in human wisdom. This conflict may also lead to pain and suffering on the part of the Colossian believers. What is the solution? When Christ is finally revealed as Lord, the Colossian Christians will also be revealed in his glory (Colossians 3:4). At the time, the truth will be obvious: Christ was life (and way of life) for the Colossians.

In this last statement, Paul goes beyond the baptism imagery that we’ve seen previously. Before, Paul pointed back to their baptism as a reminder of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, in this last sentence, he includes the Colossians in the second coming of Christ. When Christ is revealed (appears), they will also be revealed (appear) together with him.

As a reminder, in this section of Colossians (Colossians 2:6-23) Paul has alternated between exhorting the Colossians to trust only Christ and warning them against being tricked into living according to human wisdom and traditions. He began with a reminder that they received Christ and must therefore live as Christ would live, being completely dependent on him (Colossians 2:6). He also ends by reminding the Colossians that they died with Christ and now live in Christ, and that they should continue in the way of Christ until both Jesus and they are revealed in truth and glory.

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


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?