The Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians
Interpretation of the Epistle
1. Introduction: (1:1-8)
2. Prayer: ... that they may be filled with the knowledge of God's will and be thankful (1:9-14)
3. The Glory and Grandeur of Christ, the Head of the Body - the Church (1:15-23)
(1-3 were published in Part 2)
4. St. Paul's service, and his fight for the Gentiles' evangelization's sake (1:24-2:3):
St. Paul takes pride in having become the "minister" of the gospel, that was preached to the Colossians and "to every creature under heaven." He also has no qualms concerning his ministry's hardships; rather, these are cause for his rejoicing, since he sees them as an extension of Christ's suffering(1) This is as though the Lord set aside some of His "afflictions," to be completed by His servants in their bodies, "for the sake of His body, which is the Church" for which also he "became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God ..." (Col. 1:24, 25) St. Paul goes on to say that, through his ministry, God revealed His mystery: "the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints." Thus, God desired that they know "what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles" namely, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Concerning "the mystery which has been hidden from ages," St. Paul conveyed a similar message to the Ephesians, "that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel." (Eph. 3:6, 9) Hence, Christ is for everyone.
Being an apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul preaches Christ, exhorting every Gentile to claim the full rights acquired through Christ: "that we may present every man perfect [in other words, mature] in Christ Jesus." It is for this goal that he labors also struggling "according to His [God's] workings which works in me [Paul] mightily", which also strengthens him despite imprisonment, chains and the ruling that await him. He knows his responsibility for the churches to which he preached the Gospel, and cannot abandon his mission.
St. Paul addresses this epistle to believers whom he had not seen, and whose evangelization he supported by sending ministers to serve them; he takes care to make known to them his struggle for their sake (as well as for Laodicea(2) in the neighborhood of Colosse) to comfort their hearts and to augment their understanding of "the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Col. 2:2, 3) To the Gnostics who preach that knowledge and hidden wisdom are prerequisites for salvation, he says that true wisdom and perfect knowledge reside in Christ, but are available to everyone.
5. Warning against false instruction - exaltation of that which we acquired through Christ (2:4-15):
+ St. Paul warns against false teachings insidiously promoted by those who advocate the wisdom of mankind - thereby distorting the Faith, and confusing the simple-minded; he mentions that "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hidden in Christ - this being the wisdom and knowledge to which all the Gnostics' delusions and persuasive arguments cannot even get close.
He encourages the Colossians to remain steadfast in Christ, assuring them of his ever presence with them in spirit, despite his physical absence. St. Paul also tells them that he rejoices to see their "good discipline" and the stability of their faith in Christ, urging them to apply their faith practically: "as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him [in Christ]." Christ is the Cornerstone, and the pillar of life in its entirety; we thus remain steadfastly united with Him, firmly rooting ourselves in Him, just as roots extend deeply into the earth - hence, we are edified in Him, or built on His foundation: "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." (Ps. 127:1) Consequently, our faith in Him, as we learned it from the Gospel, is enhanced; above all, we constantly thank Him, praising Him for the abundance of His bounties.
As opposed to what Christ offers, the world tries to enthrall and control us through intellectual philosophies (meaning human wisdom, and vain pride relying on the human mind and fully independent of the Holy Spirit - in other words "according to the tradition of men" and "according to the basic principles of the world(3), and not according to Christ.")
+ But the gifts of Christ are different, first, because although He is the son of man, He is also whom "in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily", and He is "the head of all principality and power." Christian faith is sufficient to fill man's life, without need for mixing with philosophy to appeal to the Gnostics.
The second point is that the Colossians' acceptance of Christ represents a different kind of circumcision, not performed, as was the case for Jewish circumcision, by human hands; rather, it is "the circumcision of Christ" whereby we put off "the body of the sins of the flesh" (which corresponds to the foreskin in the Jewish circumcision). This is realized through the baptism by complete immersion which, as we believe, buries and raises us with Christ (Rom. 6:3-5 & 1 Peter 3:21) according to our belief that God raised Christ from the dead (there is no need then for bodily circumcision - which the Jews require as a condition for accepting Christ, since it signaled man's covenant with God - Gen. 17:10(4)). Therefore, after you have been "dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made (you) alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses."
At some point we were all subject to O.T. legalistic practices, which were inept at changing life. We thus stood indebted before God, holding our debt "handwriting" listing our trespasses, incapable of finding a means of payment of that debt. Hence, our Savior who "was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15), came and snatched from our hands the handwriting of our transgressions, holding it in His hand on the Cross, and openly liberating us from it; He thus freed us from its yoke, tore it by the nail which pierced His hand and, with His blood, obliterated its contents - as though it had never existed. In this way, the precious blood granted us forgiveness, justified us, and cleansed us from our iniquities. Consequently, we were transferred from the age of the Law and its dictates to the era of forgiving grace. Through His Cross, Christ vanquished our enemies, however mighty they may have been, and regardless of their stature of dominion or power with which they subjugated humanity. He stripped them of their weapons, crushed them, and "He made a public spectacle of them" - like the Roman generals who, when returning triumphantly from battles, marched at the head of their triumphant army's procession, and paraded at the rear their subdued prisoners, crowned with shame and dejection. The forces of evil have thus been crushed and shackled forever.
6. Christ liberated us from carnal impositions (2:16-23):
+ Christ did not free us solely from the bondage of Satan and his hosts, rather, from all the different kinds of carnal dictates. As mentioned previously, the Gnostics perceived matter, and consequently the body, as being evil - with no difference between immersing oneself in lusts and permissiveness on the one hand, and subjugating the body and suppressing its desires on the other. In some respects their views approach the scriptural restrictions which defined the body's purity or uncleanness in terms of the food and drink consumed. This is precisely what the New Testament's principles addressed:
The Lord said: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.......whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated.....But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man." (Mat. 15:11, 17, 18 and Mark 7:15, 16, 20) Furthermore, St. Peter heard in his trance, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." (Acts 10:15) St. Paul echoes this very sentiment In his instructions to the Colossians: "So let no one judge you in food or in drink ... which all concern things which perish with the using ..." (2:16-22) Furthermore, he exhorts them to get rid of superficial practices pertaining to feasts, Sabbaths or lunar phases, since all of those things "are a shadow of things to come (i.e. true and eternal things), but the substance (literally body) is of Christ." It is therefore improper to despise the body, to have it dominated by corruption, or to subjugate it through extreme austerity which leads to being "vainly puffed up" by the "fleshly mind;" rather, the body should be guided "in spirit and truth." (John 4:24)
+ St. Paul subsequently cautions the Colossians against losing their eternal reward, by following false and contrary teachings, circulated by anyone "taking delight in false humility and worship of angels," as intermediaries, as they think that God is lofty, unreachable, and impossible to worship - despite the fact that the simplest of people have easy access to God through Christ. He sees in this deficient line of thinking a false pretense, and an intrusion into the unknown and unfathomed - caused by vain pride due to the erroneous belief that they have attained the truth while, in reality, the opposite is true: this misleading way of thought does not adhere to the Person of Christ, Who is the "Head" - meaning the Head of the Church and her Savior. Hence, we should "hold fast to the Head, from Whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God" rather than from humans.
+ He blames them, reproaching them gently, while questioning the sincerity of their faith; if they had indeed died with Christ when they believed and received baptism, and consequently separated themselves from the world and its principles, why then, were they behaving as though they were still "living in the world", attached to regulations of the type "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" pertaining to food, drink, certain superficial rites, and other considerations related to uncleanness and such - all of which were in accordance with "the commandments and doctrine of men" - regardless of whether these regulations originated in Gnostic or Jewish thought? All such considerations are destined to perdition. He therefore emphasizes "These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against (i.e. in checking) the indulgence of the flesh."
(To be contd.)
(1) Christ's atoning Passion, however, was perfect and in no need of participation by anyone else. Here, St. Paul is referring to the suffering associated with evangelization and preaching salvation - calling it "Christ's suffering" and attributing it to the Lord: "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ." (2 Cor. 1:5)
(2) St. John, later, had to rebuke the church of Laodicea for her lukewarm love to Christ (Rev. 3:14-22). St. Paul asked that this epistle be read also in Laodicea (Col. 4:16), indicating that these false teachings did reach her too. He encourages the cooperation of both churches in fighting these false teachings.
(3) Here, St. Paul is likely referring to the stars and constellations, and their effects on man, and to the Gnostics' claim that Christ is powerless before the stars' dominion over man. St. Paul rebuffs this argument by offering Christ "the head of all principality and power," in Whom there is sufficiency for liberation from all adversarial, evil, powers.
(4) Many of Israel's prophets and spiritual leaders realized that circumcision, by itself, is insufficient to please God. Despite its being a sign of a covenant, it does not change a person's life; it must, therefore, be accompanied by spiritual circumcision, which entails obeying God's commandments, reforming the heart, and adhering to repentance. Consequently, they spoke of circumcision of the heart and the senses, differentiating between a circumcised and uncircumcised heart (Lev. 26:11, Deut. 30:6 and Ezek. 44:7, 9), and referring to the uncircumcised lips (Ex. 6:12) and ears (Jer. 6:10).