The Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians
The Epistle's Sections
1. Apostolic greetings. (1:24 - 2:3)
2. Thanksgiving for the Colossian Christians' love and faith, and for evangelism's fruition at the hands of Epaphras. (1:3 - 8)
3. A prayer for being filled with wisdom, spiritual understanding, good works, and growth in the knowledge of God. (1:9 - 11)
4. Thanksgiving for our deliverance from the power of darkness, and for our being transported to the kingdom of the Son of His love, Who forgave us our sins with His blood. (1:12 - 14)
5. The glory and greatness of Christ, "the image of the invisible God," through Whom was all creation, the Head of the body, which is the Church, and Who reconciled us all unto Himself. (1:15 - 23)
6. The struggle and ministry of St. Paul the apostle in spreading knowledge concerning the mystery of Christ "in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (1:24 - 2:3)
7. A warning against false teachings, and the transcendence of what we acquired in Christ. (2:4 - 15)
8. Rejecting the impositions of the law. (2:16 - 23)
9. The new life which we acquired through our death and resurrection with Christ, manifested by our putting off the old man and putting on the new man - in other words, by being adorned with the virtues of holiness. (3:1 - 17)
10. The new life's commandments for women, men, children, parents, slaves and masters. (3:18 - 4:1)
11. Exhortation to prayer and to entreating God for his ministry, as well as to wise dealings with non-believers for evangelism's sake. (4:2 - 6)
12. Concluding salutations and peace from St. Paul and each of his fellow servants by name, to the Colossians and those whom they serve, in addition to specific instructions to some, and prayers for all. (4:7 - 18)
Interpretation of the Epistle
1. Introduction: Apostolic greetings and thanksgiving for the Colossians' faith (1:1-8)
St. Paul founds his epistle to the Colossians (whom he had never met) on the simple truth that he was "an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God" (meaning chosen By God through grace). He thus did not impose himself onto this service, rather, as the Lord said, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you...." (John 15:16) In presenting his greetings and message, Paul is joined by Timothy, whom he considered to be his beloved son (1 Tim. 1:2 & 18 and 2 Tim. 1:2 & 2:1). In this epistle, though, St. Paul refers to Timothy as a "brother" sharing the service (see also Philemon 1). He uses the same title when referring to several others who served with him: Quartus (Rom. 16:23), Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1), Apollos (1 Cor. 16:12), and Philemon (Philemon 7 & 20). When love prevails among Christ's servants, all barriers vanish, and they all become brothers in Christ.
The Colossian Church members were the target audience of this epistle: "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse...." (Col. 1:2) He refers to them as "saints," since he assigns this title to all who are sanctified in Christ (Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:1, Eph. 1:1, Phil. 1:1 and Heb. 3:1). He prays that they be filled with the grace and peace of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
He rejoices in what he learned about them through Epaphras, their faithful servant in Christ, and "our dear fellow servant." He gives thanks concerning the good news of their faith in Christ, and the love which prevailed among them. Finally, he prays, alongside his brethren, for their unwavering faith in the hope laid up for them in heaven, which was preached to them, and to the entire world, in the gospel - the hope which bore in their spirits the fruit of faith and love for God and the brethren. This is the very hope which supports us in our struggle, helps us in our temptations and hardships, and carries us through the current age, until we dwell with the Lord.
2. Prayer: ... that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of God's will, be fruitful in every good work, and be thankful to God for His deliverance (1:9-14)
All believers are in need of such a prayer:
+ that we be filled with the knowledge of the will of God: we achieve this through prayers aiming to fathom the will of God, rather than to communicate to God what we need from Him. God's will is also revealed to us through our keeping and obeying His word. "Wisdom (sophia)" is the initial knowledge of the commandments; "spiritual understanding", on the other hand, is the zealous application of the commandments, through the grace of God, and transforming them into behavioral traits in accordance with the Divine truth expounded in the Bible, and which bears the fruit of good works and growth in the knowledge of God. Works, which go hand-in-hand with faith ("... faith working through love ..." (Gal. 5:6)), are those "... which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10) In no way does faith represent frozen statements or traditions solely for reciting; rather, faith is life, love of God and our neighbor, evangelization, serving God, and serving the needy as we would serve Christ: "... I (Christ) was hungry and you gave me food ..." (Mat. 25:35)
+ that we be "strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;" (Col. 1:11) Indeed, patience is a prerequisite for faith (James 1:3), for awaiting fruit (Luke 8:15), and for reaping the soul (Luke 19:21). Furthermore, patience accompanies hope (1 Thes. 1:3) and endurance (Heb. 12:1). Throughout his ministry, St. Paul learned to be patient under all circumstances (2 Tim. 2:10). It is written, concerning God, that He is "... the God of patience and comfort ..." (Rom. 15:5, 2 Thes. 3:5)
"Patience" should not be taken to mean supine endurance; rather, it is the staunch steadfastness which aspires to the triumph we are confident to achieve in the fullness of time. "Longsuffering" is the patience which extends to dealing with others, not being quick to judge, and tolerating others' weakness, evil, hatred and shortcomings, while appealing to their inherent good to manifest itself at the end of the day. We cannot acquire those virtues and have them shine throughout our lives, without strength from on high. The implication of "joy" accompanying patience and longsuffering is that these are not the defeatists' tricks of impotence shrouded in dejection and despondence; rather, through the God-given strength "according to His glorious power," they become Divine gifts for dealing with life's various challenges which God permits us to encounter. Yielding to God's guidance imparts to us the peace and joy that we are carrying out "... what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Rom. 12:2)
St. Paul concludes this introduction by "giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light." (Col. 1:12) Hence, God granted us the heavenly inheritance prepared for His saints and, after having been dead in trespasses and sins as the children of wrath (Eph. 2:1 & 3), enslaved under "the power of darkness," He "conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love [like captives led away from their land to the victor's kingdom]." (Col. 1:13) This is the extent of forgiveness we acquired through the blood of His Cross. In this way, the Colossians, the strangers, received an equivalent share with the saints (Acts 26:18). This transposition means exiting darkness and entering light, going from bondage to freedom, from being judged under condemnation to forgiveness, and from Satan's dominance to God's sovereignty.
3. The Glory and Grandeur of Christ, the Head of the Body - the Church (1:15-23)
Christ "... is the image [icon] of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15); this is contrary to the Gnostics' assertion that Christ was one of the mediators or divine emanations. Put differently, we have seen God, Whom no one has ever seen, in the incarnate Christ. (John 1:14 & 18, 10:30 and 14:10 & 11) Christ was not a spirit with an imaginary body; rather, "... in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Col. 2:9) He reconciled us with God the Father "... in the body of His flesh....." (Col. 1:22) If matter, and consequently the body, were evil, as the Gnostics claim, then Christ's incarnation rectifies this line of thought, since God really came in a human body. He is eternal before all creation, "... the firstborn over all creation. [Also "I will make Him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth." (Psalm 89:27)] For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers [ranks of angels]. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things..." (Col. 1:15, 16 & 17) "And He ... is the beginning." (Col. 1:18) He is "... (all) holy, harmless (or innocent), undefiled, separate from sinners, ..." (Hebrews 7:26) Finally, He is the Judge (John 15:22 and Rom. 2:16)
Here, St. Paul rebuffs the Gnostics, with respect to their exaltation of the angels and their powers, emphasizing that our Lord is not equal to the angels in rank; rather, He is the Creator of angels and all their hierarchy. He is greater than them in stature, and they minister unto Him in heaven: "All things were created through Him and for Him." He is the only begotten Son, of one essence with the Father: "I and My Father are one." (John 10:30) He is the eternal "... He is before all things ...," He is the aim of all creation "... and in Him all things consist." (Col. 1:17) He is the omnipotent Maker of all the laws of existence, and Organizer of the universe.
For the Church:
+ He is Head of the body: The Church - the believers' congregation - is united in Christ, in a body traversing the ages; she faithfully realizes the will of Christ - Who is the head of the body and the source of its power. Not only does He lead, move, and guide the body, but He also harmonizes its members' functions: "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all." (Eph. 1:22 & 23) "... for in Him we live and move and have our being ..." (Acts 17:28)
+ He is the Church's Founder (the beginning): Through His incarnation, Christ shared humans in their nature, and reconciled them unto Himself and unto the Father through the Cross, since He gave Himself up to redeem the human race - "... and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His Cross [The Lord melded with the Cross as though they became one - the blood is thus directly attributed to the Cross]." (Col. 1:20) He rose, conquering death, fulfilling salvation, and granting us resurrection through His resurrection: "... the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Cor. 15:20) He is "... alive forevermore." (Rev. 1:18) Christ, therefore, did not simply found the Church and leave; rather, He is alive, and dwells, in the Church forevermore, and He will glorify His Church at His second coming.
+ Reconciliation: St. Paul's statement that the reconciliation extended to "... things on earth or things in heaven," means that peace, which had been absent, is restored between heaven and earth. Incarnation has sanctified man's body and spirit, and Christ's life on earth has sanctified the earth and all that is therein. In the Divine Liturgy we use bread and wine, and in the various other sacraments water, oil, etc are blessed; hence, the Cross eliminated the old enmity which prevailed between heaven and earth: "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, ..." (Col. 1:21 & 22) The result of this reconciliation is "... to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight." In other words, all accusations and attending punishment, were dropped. There is, nevertheless, a condition for maintaining holiness and blamelessness; namely, "... if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard ... [in other words, without reverting to the past]" (Col. 1:23) In this regard, our endeavors are in Christ Who replaces the self, and our reliance is on the work of the Holy Spirit that supports our struggle, rather than on our own efforts to control lusts. This is precisely the opposite of the Gnostic approach.
(To be contd.)