1 Paul (apostle of Jesus Christ by God’s will) and brother Timothy,
Paul writes in his function as apostle, not from a superior position, so this is a personal letter to friends.
2 to the saints at Colossae. Faithful brethren in Christ: grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is not implying two types of people at Colossae, nor is he defining those he’s addressing: he’s simply greeting the saints normally.
3 In our constant prayers concerning you, we thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
4 having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints.
He and Timothy have been thanking the Lord for the Colossian’s faith and the proof of that in its natural outworking in their obvious “love for all the saints.”
5 These are built on the hope reserved for you in heaven that you formerly heard about in the gospel’s word of truth,
Their faith and love are built on the hope which we each have saved in heaven for us.
6 which came to you just as it did to all the world, and is bearing fruit as it does in you too, since the day you heard and truly recognised God’s grace.
The gospel came to all the world (ie, to all ungodly men) as soon as the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension were successfully completed. In other words, the kingdom of God had become available to all men. Most newer translations get tied up “bearing fruit in all the world” and miss this point entirely (the King James version and most of the older translations include it correctly). Examination of the Greek shows that Paul is using rhetoric, echoing the first part of the sentence with the second, while reversing the subject for effect. This still works quite nicely in English.
When we truly recognise God’s grace and come to faith, we will naturally bear fruit… unless we are hijacked by the “church” system, which attempts to replace our personal contact with the Holy Spirit with a weekly sermon presented by a self-appointed pastor, vicar or church leader. This is the core of the church error: substituting a person for Christ, whether they be vicar or bishop, “apostle” or Pope.
7 Also, you learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave, who is for you a faithful servant of Christ,
Here many translations, accidentally or deliberately, stress the governmental structure of the “church” by putting “faithful minister of Christ” which implies that Epaphras was a church minister, not just a servant of Christ, even though Paul has just described him as a “fellow slave.” Epaphras was simply a fellow believer who faithfully shared the good news with the folks in Colossae as the Holy Spirit led him to.
8 and who also revealed to us your love in the Spirit.
Whether their love was for Christ, each other, all the saints, or for Paul and Timothy we are not told: I suspect we are safe to assume that all are true as what Paul is so pleased about is the evidence of the indwelling Christ in them.
9 As a result, we’ve not stopped praying for you since we heard, asking for you to be filled with complete discernment of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,
Since they heard about the Colossian’s faith and love. Paul knows that the next thing true believers are going to need is full revelation of the will of God, so he immediately starts to petition the Lord on their behalf.
10 enabling you to live worthy of the Lord: pleasing him fully, bearing fruit in every good work and growing into the knowledge of God;
The important thing here, I think, is the last part where they (and we) are to “grow into the knowledge of God.” Almost every translation I could find missed this. They mostly change the word “into” to “in,” and many change “growing” to “increasing.” As a result they imply that we are to learn more and more information about God in our heads, while we get on with trying to live the life we are called to.
The idea Paul is actually proposing is that knowledge of God is not an intellectual knowing, it is an experience gained, in that we come to know God in our hearts through our trust and obedience, and, as we become more holy through our behaviour rather than our intellectual understanding, we become more mature concurrently with knowing Him better and better. It’s knowing Him as a Person, not knowing about Him as the subject of our studies.
I suspect this misunderstanding is the legacy of the “church” practice of presenting sermons week by week, addressed to our intellects, instead of practically demonstrating obedience and trust to the disciples in our assemblies. It leads to people learning much about God and always wondering why it doesn’t help them to live the holy life they long for, or to others becoming impressively knowledgeable theologians without even needing to become Christians! Either way it negates the power of the kingdom of God in the believers’ lives, so they cannot “bear fruit in every good work” and thus “live worthy of the Lord.”
11 being invested with all power in line with his glorious strength, for all patience and long-suffering with joy;
These are the effects of growing into the knowledge of God, not a specific part of Paul’s prayer. The result of living this life as God intended is our empowering with the strength of God Himself for whatever comes our way. Remember, all our trials are challenges to the Christ within, not sufferings for our flesh to deal with, so we can respond to persecution and unjust affliction not only with Christ’s patient endurance, but also with His indomitable joy in the face of all tribulation.
12 giving thanks to the Father, who qualified us to partake of the saints’ inheritance in the light.
Not only that, but we even thank God for the trials themselves as they allow us to draw upon our inheritance in the light to endure and overcome. It is called our “inheritance in the light” because it comes from “the Father of lights” and includes a number of things, all of which can be described as light: the gospel dispensation, the kingdom of light, the gospel itself, the truth, the word, personal holiness, knowledge, purity, love, joy, revelation by the Holy Spirit, day-to-day guidance for living, eternal life in God’s presence, Christ Himself “the true light” and, ultimately, the glory and happiness of heaven. All this we inherit thanks to the Father’s gracious provision for us in Christ.
13 He has rescued us from the jurisdiction of the darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love,
The light also stands in stark opposition and contrast to the surrounding darkness of the unconverted state: sin, the flesh, idolatry, sickness and death. It says “the darkness” because it is a single entity—the ‘kosmos,’ or world system, under Satan. The “Son of his love” is a unique title for Christ, meaning that He is, in His physical incarnation, the product of the love of the Father. God chose, through love for us, to come to earth as a man, to suffer and die for us, and then take the throne of His kingdom. All out of God’s love for us. So, while Christ existed eternally with the Father in His pre-incarnate form, His physical form is the expression of God’s love.
14 in whom we have redemption: the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus paid the price for our sins demanded by the perfect justice of God to satisfy the perfect mercy of God. His sacrifice on the cross ‘bought us’ out of the control of the darkness: this is redemption. Once the price had been paid, God was free to forgive us all our sins. Thus he provided the escape from being ‘sinners’ which was demanded by His moral position, since He had created us knowing that we would fall, leaving everyone to be born a sinner without any choice in the matter. His moral responsibility as holy creator therefore demanded that He rescue us.
15 He is the image of God the invisible, and the firstborn of all creation,
God, who is utterly undetectable by physical means, is rendered tangible and visible in Christ. Now we can interact with Him through Christ. Putting “the invisible God” as some translations do, implies that there are also visible gods, which is ridiculous: “God the invisible” is the structure in the Greek. “The firstborn of all creation” is primarily a reference to His inheritance, which is “all creation,” though His body was incarnate ‘prior’ to the births of Cain and Abel, in the same sense that His crucifixion was “eternal.” This is how He could “walk in the cool of the evening” in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.
16 for in him everything in the heavens and on the earth were created, things seen and those unseen (whether seats of judgment or dominions, principalities or powers), all things were created through him and for him,
In most translations, the part I have put in parentheses is used to explain “all creation,” which seems to be unlikely; far better to restrict it to the unseen part, as these are all invisible things. Seen things don’t need to be listed as we can categorise them for ourselves by checking if they are physical in any sense. I have put “seats of judgment” rather than “thrones” because the meaning is related to the authority vested in the “throne,” rather than the seat itself. None of these is necessarily a supernatural aspect of dominion, as all are also references to earthly powers. There may or may not be links between supernatural dominions and earthly ones.
The important thing to note is that all powers and dominions, whether among angels or among men, were created by Christ and are there to serve Him in complete obedience, thereby governing His creation perfectly. Any power in rebellion, then, is part of the problem.
17 and he is before all and in him everything comes together.
He is “before all,” both in the sense that He was there eternally before anything was created, and also in the sense that He is above or superior to all creation. Once included “in him,” everything functions as it was designed to, particularly, in this context, the functions of rule and power. So when a king or president comes to faith, the operation of his authority comes under the rule of Christ and therefore begins to work properly, in step with everything else which is subservient to Christ.
18 He is head of the body, the assembly of believers; the original firstborn from the dead, that he should hold first place among all.
The “assembly of believers” is the body of Christ, not the “church,” which has all sorts of inappropriate connotations such as buildings, clergy, liturgy, festivals, salaries, sermons, authoritarianism, etc. Christ is the “original firstborn” to show that the first place among the assembly belongs to Him alone.
19 For it delighted All Completeness to reside in him,
This is a title for God the Father which also reveals the nature of His indwelling of Christ: that Christ is exactly as ‘complete’ as the Father, that the Father dwells in Him in fullness. So Christ and the Father are one.
20 and, through him, having made peace through the blood of the cross, to reconcile by it everything to himself, whether on earth or in the heavens.
Here God, in His incarnation as Christ, shed His blood on the cross to reconcile all people (and creation) to Himself. On the face of it, only the inhabitants of earth need to be reconciled since nothing in heaven (apart from demons who are not reconciled), lost fellowship with God. However, the Bible refers to the atmosphere and space as ‘the heavens’ as well as the spiritual realms, so anyone in flight or in space is also included.
21 And you who once were alienated, hostile in your thoughts, wicked in your deeds,
Everyone is an enemy of the gospel whose thoughts are corrupt and whose deeds are evil, until he comes to faith.
22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh through death, to present you holy, without fault and blameless in his sight,
God wanted us in perfect relationship with Himself so our guilt had to be dealt with. The main reason Christ had a body of flesh was in order that He could take the punishment for all our sin by dying as our representative.
23 if, of course, you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded and not drawn away from the hope of the gospel you heard, as it was preached to all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a servant.
God has done His bit by providing our redemption, but we cannot receive it until we come to faith, and we cannot hold on to it unless we persevere, clinging to the hope of the gospel. ‘Once saved, always saved,’ is simply a myth.
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, as I contribute in my flesh, my part of what remains—after the sufferings of Christ—of the afflictions required by his body, the assembly.
What Paul is doing here is contributing his share of suffering on behalf of the body of Christ—the suffering which was, and is, still required by the body beyond what Christ contributed on the cross. Many translations state that Paul, himself, made up all the lack, thereby implying that no more suffering on behalf of the body is necessary, though clearly that is not the case. No translations show that Paul’s contribution is simply his share, thereby showing that we each have a part to play and a reason for our suffering—which Jesus Himself told us would be our inheritance as disciples.
Jesus couldn’t take all the sufferings required for the body when He suffered and died, because the ongoing battle against Satan, sin and deception, requires disciples on the ground throughout history, who will shoulder the persecutions and sufferings in order to win the victories.
25 I became a servant of the body, by the commission God gave me, to fully expound the word of God for you:
Paul is claiming additional revelation, beyond that which was available in the Torah to the scribes and Pharisees. It is this commission which qualifies Paul to define the doctrines and practices of discipleship. Notice he claims no position of authority beyond the weight of the word itself, his role is simply to serve.
26 the mystery which was hidden from the ages and generations, but is now revealed to his saints,
Despite being included in the Torah, the plan of redemption, the gospel of truth, was concealed and so it was not understood until God revealed it to Paul and called him to teach the saints.
27 to whom God wished to reveal the glorious riches for all peoples of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
This is brilliant: God’s plan of redemption is to put Christ within each believer so that He will have the victory in them and for them—“glorious riches” indeed!
28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and training everyone in all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ,
Paul and Timothy are “warning” those who are unbelievers that they need to repent, and those who believe not to foolishly gamble with their salvation by not taking it seriously. They use “all wisdom,” provided by the Holy Spirit (including words of knowledge) in their training, but they are also training the disciples to live and follow Christ wisely. They are looking to deliver to God all their charges fully trained, without weakness or blemish, “in Christ.”
29 to which end I am working, striving through his strength acting powerfully in me.
If we are properly trained, everything we have to do will be done in His strength, and the more holy we are, the more powerfully it will work.
1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and those at Laodicea and for all who’ve never met me,
Paul wants them to realise that prayer, to be effective, is a contest: against the evil spirits, against the general corruption of the world, and, most importantly, against one’s own flesh, with its susceptibility to distraction and temptation.
2 that your hearts may be comforted by being joined together in love, having all the riches of confident knowledge of the mystery of God, who is Christ,
As always, his concerns for them are for growth to spiritual perfection, so he is praying for deep revelation of the indwelling Christ—the “confident knowledge” of whom is real riches in itself—and their resultant unity with each other.
3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.
Which is one reason why knowing Him as the indwelling Christ is so valuable.
4 I say this so that no one may delude you with persuasive words,
It’s important to realise that, for everyone, Christian or otherwise, grace and truth and wisdom and knowledge can only come through Christ, and they are then simply confirmed by scripture. If we start to look at words, particularly from other people but even the words of scripture, without reference to Christ dwelling within, we are going to be deceived and led astray. This is why so many people are totally committed to the Bible but display nothing of the values of Christ and are even legalistic in their dealings with others.
5 for though I am apart from you in the body, in the spirit I am with you, and delight to see the discipline and stability of your faith in Christ.
Obviously Paul is keen to know how they are doing in terms of their growth in Christ; the strange thing here is that he seems to be able to actually “see” them in the spirit, sufficiently clearly that he can tell how they’re getting on. Don’t ask me.
6 Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, go on in him;
We receive Christ by faith in repentance, so this is how we are supposed to continue to live in Him. This means always looking to Christ for the grace and truth and wisdom and knowledge which He provides and we need for every aspect of daily life, and trusting Him to do that providing—it does not just mean continuing to “believe in Jesus.”
7 having your roots in him, build on him; and being established in faith as you were taught, increase in it by your gratitude.
Most translations have verse 7 as an extended description following on from verse 6. I think it works much better, and is much easier to understand and obey, if both verses together form this three-part instruction.
Since our roots, or foundations, are “in Him,” we can “build on Him,” – a clear echo of Jesus’ teachings referencing building; and since we are “established in faith,” our thankfulness for that, and for everything else God sends or allows to come to us, will build our faith to powerful levels, enabling Jesus to do all He wants in us and through us.
8 Be careful that no one captures you through the sophistries and vain seductions of the traditions of men and the principles of the world, and not in the way of Christ,
“The world” in scripture means the entire system by which the world operates without Christ. It is a system devised and implemented by Satan and is intended to fool us into living our lives without God’s input or lordship. The “traditions of men” in this context means the love of philosophies which are not built on God’s truth but are based on the “principles of the world,” so they take the form of seductions and temptations which are ultimately empty of any value in giving life.
If we are alert to the fact that some people will deliberately attempt to deceive us and others will try to convince us because they are already deceived, we will be much safer from being captured. The way of Christ is through self denial, faith and obedience: the opposites of pride, unbelief and rebellion, so we will recognise the traps because they will encourage pride, unbelief or independence.
9 for the completeness of the godhead is embodied in him,
“The completeness of the godhead”: His perfect morality and judgment; His limitless power, wisdom and creativity; His endless resources; His absolute sanity and understanding; His unending love and grace… all these take physical form in Jesus Christ. He is the living God as a man. Adam was “created in the image of God” so, when it was time for God to reveal Himself in the physical realm, a man was the inevitable form of the incarnation. Or is it the other way round?
10 and you are complete in him who is head of every rule and power.
In the same way that God is personified and revealed in Christ, He is also revealed in us because we are also “complete in Him.” As we live and ‘walk’ in Christ, His resources become ours, so we can do all that God requires of us. Not only that, but we also inherit His authority over “every rule and power,” so we can command spiritual forces we cannot see and they have to obey! It also means that the principles of the world which attempt to beguile us are subservient to us. I wonder if we have the same sway over governments and local authorities.
11 You were also circumcised in him, with a circumcision not done with hands, involving putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ.
Circumcision in the Old Testament was not just the sign of the consecration of His chosen people, but also contained the spiritual idea of purity. It was the seal of God’s covenant of grace, promised to Abraham, and so included the promise of redemption.
So the circumcision mentioned here is not, as many translations have it, a circumcision performed by Christ, but the circumcision experienced by Christ and inherited by us all through faith—Christ’s circumcision being the only one ever performed which truly fulfilled all that was signified by the rite—so we inherit the perfect circumcision of Christ, which signifies His purity and applies it to our hearts—and it applies to believing ladies too.
The body of the flesh is that part of us which is irredeemably corrupt, so in Christ it is spiritually ‘cut away’ since we can no longer use it as a source of power.
12 Having been buried with him in baptism, you are also raised with him, through the transcendent power of the faith of God, who raised him up from the dead;
Most translations either transliterate to “faith of the working of God,” retaining the sequence of the Greek wording and so leave it unclear, or worse, they ‘correct’ it to mean “your faith in the working of God” which is not at all what the Greek says.
God does not raise us together with Christ by our faith, any more than he raised Christ Himself by our faith; both acts were performed by God’s own faith which is a transcendent supernatural power in itself. Our faith in “the working of God” is not required here: we are automatically raised with Christ because we accept His lordship in our lives, whether or not we even know it involved God’s working.
13 and though you were dead in the sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him, graciously forgiving all your sins.
All the translations miss the fact that it is our flesh which is responsible for all our sins through its uncircumcision or corruption: both the sins and the state of uncircumcision ‘belong’ to the flesh, which is why we were dead. Without the flesh we would not sin.
This is not to say they weren’t our sins, as Paul covers that by the end of the verse, just that the point he is making here is more specific. The conclusion of which is that our ongoing sin problem is fully solved by God’s provision of our spiritual circumcision, rendering our flesh ‘cut away,’ and therefore unavailable. At the same time He expunges our record so we can make a fresh start.
14 He obliterated the written law which ruled against us as it was opposed to us, removing it from our midst and nailing it to the cross:
Here we see that the Law of Moses was opposed to us because our fallen nature meant that no one ever, until Jesus, managed to keep it. As a result, it ruled against everyone who ever tried to obey it. Jesus, through His perfect sacrifice on the cross, fulfilled the law, removing it from jurisdiction over us. It says “nailing it to the cross” because the cross was the instrument used to cancel it, because Jesus took the punishment due to everyone for their sins, leaving the law with nothing to do for, and no jurisdiction over, those who received God’s redemption. The cross answered all the objections of the law.
15 he stripped the rulers and the powers, exposing them to open disgrace, triumphing over them by the cross.
When kings were victorious over their enemies, they would literally strip the rulers, officials and officers naked, and lead them through the city in chains so the people could celebrate their king’s victory with him. The captives were thus thoroughly disgraced. The principle here is just the same, though these are spiritual rulers and powers, so they were paraded before the heavenly throngs. As a result, since they were vanquished, we no longer need to be dominated or enslaved by them.
Many translations expand the Greek “in it” at the end to “in him” or “in himself” or “in Christ,” which is not at all the meaning. It means “by the cross,” so I have written it out in full.
16 Let no one, then, judge you about eating or drinking, or regarding participation in festivals, new moons or Sabbaths;
This is a general instruction to the assembly, that they should refrain from applying the mosaic laws to each other, in respect of eating ‘forbidden’ foods (like ‘leaven’ before Passover, pork, shellfish, etc) or drink. Paul is not suggesting that the legalists will be concerned that believers will participate in the festivals etc, but because they won’t be participating any more.
17 these are but shadows of things which were intended—they are embodied in Christ.
The incarnation of Christ cast many shadows back into the Old Testament: the laws, festivals, Sabbaths, prophecies, and so on. All the aspects of Christ were the “things which were intended” by God. Once He had appeared, however, as “the substance of things hoped for,” there was no longer any need for the shadows, so they were supposed to be respectfully consigned to history by the disciples, as they turned their full attention on to Christ.
18 Let no one defraud you of your reward by insisting on asceticism in the worship of angels, as he goes into great details of his false visions. He is puffed up without cause in his carnal mind,
This is a very tricky verse and the translations vary widely in exactly what this means and how the parts relate. This is my best guess as it has to tie loss of reward to actually worshipping angels since no one will lose their reward simply because someone else worships angels.
The (false) idea is that the angels, being God’s messengers, would act as intermediaries between God and men, and so abasing oneself to the angels (or in fact, demons) would be a way to get what you wanted from God! To deceive people, these men make up angelic visions in great detail and, when they are believed, are filled with pride. Real angels, of course, totally repudiate this behaviour. People who teach this are still around today (see current books on angels).
19 and has lost connection with the head, from whom the entire body is nourished, and, held together by its joints and ligaments, matures with the growth that is from God.
The only way we can grow to proper maturity in Christ is to hold fast to Him for our spiritual nourishment because the growth comes from God. All who do so automatically form one body.
20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of the world, why, as if still alive to the world, do you follow its rules:
Some of the more modern translations, fooled by today’s use of ‘elemental’ to mean ‘supernatural’ have assumed that Paul is talking about spiritual forces or powers, but he is simply referring to the way the world, as Satan’s system, functions ‘without’ God. Clearly nothing actually works without God in any real sense, but Satan’s suggestion is that we can get along just fine without Him by ignoring Him, and pretending He doesn’t exist.
The point of dying with Christ, in this context, is in order that the world’s useless methods are no longer remotely applicable. We don’t live as the world lives so the world’s methods no longer apply to us.
21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Don’t even touch!”?
These rules are developed by fallen human beings as God-free workarounds, attempting to improve themselves by ‘tugging on their own bootstraps’ to lift themselves off the floor. In particular, this refers to the principle of having no fellowship with heathen practices. Things included would be both sexual practices, often in a religious context, and certain kinds of ‘forbidden’ foods, so abstinence and the avoidance of certain foods and drinks were targeted.
22 Use of these will lead to moral decay, just like all man’s tenets and teachings.
All the translations miss this. They are fooled by the word order in the Greek and assume that either the ‘rules’ will perish from use, or that they refer to ‘things’ which perish from use. Neither idea makes any sense at all.
Paul’s point is that relying on these fallen directives will actively corrupt us, and that all worldly principles and learning designed to ‘improve’ the sinful man, to remove our corruption, will have the same effect. “Everything which is not of faith is sin,” and therefore corrupts.
23 Such maxims may indeed seem wise, with their contrived religious practices and humility, and their brutality to the body, but they have no value against the indulgences of the flesh.
Using the power of the flesh, as we have here, to combat the power of the flesh, is ultimately doomed to failure: the more we use the flesh for anything, the stronger it gets. What we are trying to do is consign the flesh to death, so we must turn to the Lord’s provision by faith and allow our flesh to simply die by denying it. We accept our death with Christ by getting baptised, ie, buried with Him, and thus, since death could not hold Him and we are in Him, we are automatically raised with Him.
1 If then you are risen with Christ, pursue the higher things, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand;
Since we are “risen with Christ” we are fully in Christ, so we are also “seated at God’s right hand.” Therefore, we must live our lives “pursuing the higher things” as that is now our natural habitat. This will also prepare us to live in heaven as our spirits will be acclimatised to all things holy.
2 turn your thoughts to things above, not things on earth,
We have no place in our lives for the things of earth or the flesh since they “war against our spirits,” making us unholy, and unfit for our place in heaven.
3 for you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Being dead in Christ means we can no longer draw on our flesh to live even our daily life, let alone our obedience to God. The strength by which we do anything is His strength, made available by the Holy Spirit and drawn upon, by us, through faith. Not everything is concealed however: our God-given personality or character—our individuality—is still ours so we can still express ourselves.
4 When Christ our life appears, then you too will be revealed with him in honour,
5 so count all parts of your earthly body as dead; to sexual immorality, depraved lusting, evil cravings, and greed; all of which are idolatry.
Because we will be revealed in this manner we have to shun sin with all our freedom of choice and all His strength.
All the translations I could find assume that only the greed is idolatry, but the Greek does not differentiate, so it is better far to include all these related sins under the one heading. Most of them also attempt to “put to death your members” which makes no sense in English, even if the Greek is clear: the point is to regard them and treat them as though they are dead, or paralysed, in respect of sin.
Also we are well aware that sins do not originate in the ‘member’ we use to commit them, but in our minds and hearts: we cannot ‘put to death’ an arm or leg (or any other member) in any real sense without damaging the body God gave us—which we are not permitted to do.
6 Because of these things the anger of God is coming on the sons of unbelief,
Sin against God always goes hand in hand with unbelief.
7 and these you too once practiced when you lived with them.
Everyone is an unbeliever first, before they become a disciple, and unbelievers are trapped in sin so they will, as a group, practice all these sins and more.
8 But now remove from your mouth all these as well: anger, wicked fury, slanderous abuse and foul language,
Most translations tie the “from your mouth” just to the “foul language” but Paul has grouped these all together because they are all sins which are expressed by means of our speech. James also warns us about the evil associated with our tongues.
9 and don’t lie to each other. Put off the old man with its practices
“The old man” is Paul’s phrase for the old self or flesh by which we used to live. We are to discard it by denying it and, instead, choose to live by faith.
10 and put on the new; be made new through true knowledge into the likeness of its creator,
In Christ we are new creations; this is what this means. Most translations suggest that the new creation itself is being renewed, but that clearly makes no sense. Paul’s instruction applies to our mindset: the mind will be renewed as it gains true knowledge of Christ (not primarily about Him) through fellowship with Him, in obedience, prayer and meditation on the word, and so we will reveal Him more and more in our lives.
11 in which state there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian or Scythian, slave or freeborn, but Christ is the totality, and is in each one.
Every member of Christ’s body is equal before God and each other: undifferentiated by any earthly considerations. This confirms that nobody is above anyone else, in any sense, so authority structures with ranks are out of the question—Christ is the head, no one else. We don’t need anyone else since Christ is in each one: just as the head of a person commands their every limb, so Christ commands each believer directly. When it says “Christ is the totality,” it means He is the entire body of believers in Himself, because He is in each person individually, and they in Him.
Having priests etc, is like using a prototype exoskeleton to walk – if you are normal and healthy, an experimental exoskeleton is terribly inefficient and clumsy, slowing you down and making life very difficult, and is not the way God designed us to function. The reasons we set up these governmental or management structures are: that we don’t actually trust Jesus to be in control; that many people like to have power over others; and that we haven’t worked out how to live by faith in the power of the indwelling Christ applied by the Holy Spirit. Whichever way, it boils down to a lack of faith, which is sin.
12 As God’s chosen then, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with merciful hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and toleration,
Now we get on to how to live together. Paul is well aware that people rub each other up the wrong way so he lists the attributes we will need to make it work. It all comes down to “deny yourself,” renouncing all our rights and looking out for the interests of those around us. It also helps if we accept every offence as allowed by God to stretch us, remembering that every test is a test of our faith not of our tolerance, believing that we can actually trust the Holy Spirit to provide the tolerance or mercy, etc, of the indwelling Christ.
13 bearing with one another, and if one is offended by another, forgiving each other. Just as Christ forgave you, so too should you.
When we think of the appalling sins we have committed which Christ has forgiven, then we owe it to Him to forgive those who upset us, however badly, however viciously, thoughtlessly or unreasonably. If we don’t, we tie God’s hands so He cannot forgive us. It also helps if we pray for those who hurt us, seeking to find ways to bless them and to enrol God to bless them too. We are also not to dodge the issue by pretending that there is nothing to forgive.
14 Over all these add love, which is the binding agent of perfection,
Many of the newer translations assume that love is the bond facilitating the unity of believers but, though it will ultimately have that effect, here Paul is directing us to spiritual perfection: love holding together all the virtues of Christ within the individual believer, particularly those virtues he’s just mentioned. I have elaborated slightly on “bond” as the word has so many meanings in English and therefore so many ways it could be misunderstood.
15 and let the peace of God be your heart’s arbiter, for to this way of life you were called as one body, and grow in gratitude.
What Paul means here is that we are to live by the peace of God, ie, to attend to the ‘check or the peace in the spirit,’ and to stop or move based on our awareness of God’s peace regarding a particular action or direction. It doesn’t mean to allow God’s peace to make you feel relaxed and at peace in every situation, which is what many translations imply.
Most newer translations assume that Paul is saying we were ‘called to peace,’ and while I wouldn’t disagree in principle it is rather vague: I feel sure he actually means we are called to the practice of letting “the peace of God be [our] heart’s arbiter,” because we are His body on earth and this is the only way it will work. If we allow the Holy Spirit to direct our steps, then we are “sons of God” and thus His body. Simply trying to be filled with God’s peace is not going to achieve that.
And finally, because, when we live this way it will work and we will bear fruit for Christ, this will cause us to become more and more grateful to Christ for calling, purifying and enabling us.
16 Let the word of Christ reside in you richly, so you may teach and exhort one another with all wisdom, and sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord with gratitude in your hearts.
The reason for saturating ourselves in God’s word is to equip us so that we can teach or exhort when the Holy Spirit calls us to: when we are called to be “teachers” for a period (“teacher” is a function, not a position). “With all wisdom” means with the wisdom and grace that the Lord provides for that moment; it particularly doesn’t mean with human wisdom or ‘common sense’ which cannot be delivered with the essential components of the grace and love of God. Teaching or exhorting in the word by the flesh is fruitless and almost always leads to glib and hurtful religiousness or legalism.
Most translations link letting “the word of Christ reside in you richly” with singing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” as if the two were some kind of single instruction, but I don’t think they are so I have kept them separated by reducing it to a simple ‘and.’
17 Do all that you ever do, in word or action, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him:
This is all encompassing—nothing is left out, which radically redefines the shape and flavour of discipleship for most of us: our lives are to be utterly Christ centred.
18 wives, take the place of subjection to your husband as is proper in the Lord;
These are not separate points, though all other translations guess that they are: he is just listing six example situations to illustrate the point he’s just presented. These are what it means to do all in the name of Jesus. They go right through to Chapter 4, verse 1.
Wives, though equal with their husbands before God, take the subordinate place to confirm that God’s authority structure is accepted by the couple, the man being the image of Christ while the woman is the image of His body, the bride. Christ is the head of the body so the man is the ‘head’ of the woman. This is entirely about the couple’s decision to accept God’s format—nothing to do with controlling behaviour.
19 husbands, love your wives and don’t be harsh with them;
The love here is not that he must be infatuated with her, but that he must choose to put her first, always. It’s about caring for her and being a righteous example for her to follow in her own discipleship. Being harsh with one’s wife is an expression of the flesh and, as such, is an utter failure to love her correctly. Also, being harsh or embittering one’s wife is a good recipe for giving yourself a miserable marriage.
20 children, obey your parents in all things as this pleases the Lord;
This assumes that the parental instructions are righteous and therefore reasonable. If children are considered responsible to obey holy demands they are clearly also responsible to refuse to obey unholy demands, though this might prove to be tricky in practice—all they can do is submit the situation to the Lord for His help.
21 fathers, don’t be brutal with your children or their spirits may be broken;
The father’s responsibility towards his children is to bring them up to fear the Lord and follow Christ, though, of course, there can be no guarantees. If the father bullies them, or if his punishments are overly harsh, they may give up learning to live a holy life in the spirit and be lost. Again, he must choose to love them in much the same way that we all must choose to love one another, so our concern for our children is to let them know they are loved and respected and to model Jesus for them to help them to grow closer to Him.
22 slaves, obey your earthly masters in all things, not just while you’re being watched, to keep them happy, but with sincere hearts, fearing God,
If slaves (or servants or employees) are living by the grace and power of the indwelling Christ, they will not reserve their efforts for when they are observed, slacking off whenever they get the chance; their behaviour will always bring honour to Christ.
23 and let your hearts be in all that you do, as working to the Lord and not for men,
We need not be slaves to follow this—this is how we all must do everything, whoever will immediately benefit; our earthly employer or master and his attitude are of no concern.
24 knowing that you will receive the reward of your inheritance from the Lord Christ, for it is he you serve,
We don’t receive our inheritance because we work for the Lord, we work for the Lord because we know He has reserved our inheritance for us, based on the work of Jesus on the cross. Having said that, if we live wicked lives we can lose it.
25 but whoever does evil will be repaid for the wrong he has done—there will be no favouritism;
It is clearly in our interest to avoid all sin at all costs.
1 masters, be just and fair with your slaves, aware that you too have a master in heaven.
This is so Christ will be seen to be just and fair, even by slaves who are not necessarily believers. Since God is just and fair we owe it to Him to behave in exactly the same way towards everyone, especially those over whom we have power, otherwise we might reasonably expect God to behave badly towards us.
2 Persevere in prayer, staying alert and thankful;
Here Paul reverts to the flow of his discussion from Chapter 3, verse 17, following his set of examples for different types of people and situations. Again he is stressing the practical importance of prayer, watchfulness and gratitude, much as someone going orienteering would be well advised to equip himself with sensible clothing, a decent map and a drink.
3 praying at the same time for us, that God would open for us a door for speaking, to tell the mystery of Christ (to whom I am also captive),
I doubt he is making a joke here about his imprisonment but it’s not impossible. I do think he is making the point that he is not only locked up for Christ, but that he is also captive of Christ.
4 that I might make it plain, which it is my obligation to do.
He goes far beyond looking for chances to preach: he is feeling it as an obligation, an obligation to those who haven’t yet heard “the mystery of Christ.”
5 Conduct yourselves wisely among those outside, seizing every opportunity;
Technically, the Greek refers to “redeeming every opportunity,” but I felt that “seizing” would state the meaning more clearly in English, and either is correct.
The wisdom he alludes to here is both the “seizing” of “every opportunity,” and the way we are to tackle each conversation, as follows in verse 6.
6 your words always seasoned with the salt of grace, discerning how you are to respond to each one.
None of the translations I could find seem to realise that the salt is not just to “season” their speech (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but is the equivalent of the salt applied to the OT sacrifices; in other words, the graciousness of our words is a necessarily sacrificial aspect of our witnessing in order to have the desired effect on the hearts of the listeners—those “outside” the body of believers.
They also imply that having gracious and seasoned speech will cause us to know how to answer everyone, which it clearly won’t: we are to discern, by listening to the Holy Spirit, how to answer each person; it’s simply in addition to the previous part. Once we have discerned the mind of the Spirit, it is then essential that we speak as we have been led.
7 Tychicus: beloved brother, faithful servant and fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all my news,
Many translations like to imply that Tychicus was a clergyman by putting ‘minister’ or similar instead of “servant,” but, to honour our Lord’s authority structure for the Body, he could not have been.
8 and I send him to you for the same purpose, that he might learn how you are too; that he might encourage your hearts,
Almost all the newer translations try to make sense of this verse by reversing the meaning so it echoes, rather than mirroring, the previous verse because they miss the word “same” and so lose the point. Paul sent him as reporter, and expected him to return in the same role.
9 and, together with Onesimus, faithful and beloved brother (and one of your own), will tell you everything that’s happened here.
10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus greets you, as does Barnabas’ nephew Marcus (whom you have directions to receive if he ever visits you),
Many translations replace “nephew” here with ‘cousin,’ though the Greek word means ‘sister-son’ (which can also, in other places, be used for ‘niece’).
11 and Jesus, who is called Justus. They are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have become a real encouragement for me.
This refers to Aristarchus, Marcus and Justus as the only Jews in Paul’s outreach team. Some translations state that they are the only ones who have been a comfort to him, which is very unlikely; some, taking their cue from the KJV, that they are the only people who are working with him for the kingdom of God, which would ignore Tychicus and Onesimus whom he has just mentioned, and the rest whom he is just about to mention; and almost all translations end on a very sad note implying that he needed comfort but got very little. I think Paul’s letter is actually very upbeat and encouraging so I have translated it more carefully.
The point about his co-workers’ Jewishness being encouraging, refers to their gradually increasing grasp and agreement of his teaching on Christ’s death being the perfect fulfilment of the laws of Moses, and how Jewish believers are therefore truly free in Christ, so Gentile believers are too.
12 Epaphras, one of your people and a slave of Christ, sends his best wishes. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may be firmly established, perfected and fulfilled in all the will of God,
What he is praying for them is the ultimate aim of our faith: that we should be “firmly established, perfected and fulfilled” in Christ, knowing and operating in “all the will of God.”
13 for I can testify to his tremendous zeal for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Epaphras’ zeal is in relation to his prayers for them, not his work, as some translations put it, as he is not working for them: we have just been told it’s prayer.
14 Luke, the dear doctor, and Demas greet you.
15 Pass on my greetings to the brethren in Laodicea: to Nymphas and the assembly meeting at his home,
Many translations refer to Nymphas as a woman, but I think it is pretty unlikely as, it means ‘bridegroom’ and there is also a feminine form: ‘Nympha.’ However, it could be read either way, so I have had to make a choice.
16 and when this letter has been read among you, make sure that it is also read in the Laodicean assembly, and that you also read their letter.
Paul apparently wrote another letter to Laodicea at around the same time, which he seemed to feel was of equal importance. Unfortunately it has been lost so we’ll never know.
17 Say to Archippus, “Make sure that you fulfill the ministry you received in the Lord.”
This is pretty good advice to all who receive a specific calling: “fulfill it!”
18 I, Paul, add my best wishes with my own hand. Keep my bonds in mind. Grace be with you. Amen.