Expressing the Truth
Explore the Bible Series
May 1, 2011
Background Passage: Colossians 1:21-2:7
Lesson Passage: Colossians 1:21-2:7
Some years ago I recognized a serious deficiency in my understanding of the Bible. Without going into detail, I realized a need to read with “new eyes”, as much as possible, without preconceived ideas about the meaning of the various documents that make up the New Testament. One area needing attention was (is) the doctrine of reconciliation.
The Apostle Paul wrote several critical passages about this essential element of Christianity: Romans 5:10; II Corinthians 5:19, Ephesians 2:15-16, and Colossians 1:21-22. Reconciliation is closely related to Paul’s emphasis on justification. In justification God, through Christ, declares the sinner righteous, thus removing the impediment of guilt before the righteous law of God. Reconciliation, it seems, completes justification. For the estranged sinner, justification eliminates the sinner’s detrimental status as a lawbreaker; then, reconciliation restores the sinner’s relationship with his Creator. Paul discussed briefly several critical elements of reconciliation, in Colossians 1:21-22.
First, he made clear the need for settling a long-standing dispute between God and man. The Colossians were, at one time, enemies of God, a fellowship ruptured by a fallen mind and ungodly deeds. Note both the internal and external dimensions of this estrangement: “hostile in mind” and “doing evil deeds.” The sinner’s mind is set against God, and this ungodly mindset invariably leads to aberrant behavior.
Second, the text indicates that God must act to reconcile sinners, and he did so in the physical death (“in his body of flesh by his death”) of Jesus. If I understand this passage properly, this aspect of salvation does not reconcile God to man; rather, it reconciles man to God.
Third, at the initiation of the Father, the Son died to affect the reconciliation of sinners to God. We must avoid seeing the Father and Son at opposite ends of this redemptive work. It is the Father who acts, in the Son, reconciling the world to himself. Paul, in this passage, did not provide an extensive theory of the atonement; rather, he states simply that, in some way, Jesus’ death brought reconciliation.
Fourth, the text implies that sinners must receive reconciliation, by a stable and persistent faith in the gospel of Christ. God took the initiative, but the sinner must appropriate, through faith, the Lord’s gracious provision.
Two writers have provided invaluable insight into this passage: George Eldon Ladd (A Theology of the New Testament) and Curtis Vaughan (Colossians: A Study Guide Commentary).
I. The Reconciling Work of Christ (1:21-23): In this paragraph Paul continued his reflections on one aspect of Christ’s redemptive work, reconciliation.
A. The former alienation of the Colossians (v. 21): Before they embraced the gospel, sin alienated the Colossians from God. This estrangement included the internal workings of the mind and outward actions. Prior to conversion the Colossians lived in a settled state of hostility to God, a hostility born of a rebellious mind—a disposition in total enmity against the Lord. This mental disposition issued in evil deeds.
B. Christ’s reconciliation (v. 22): The cross affected a real, substantial change in these believers. Paul said the Lord died in order to transform these former aliens and rebels, a transformation that rendered them holy (consecrated, set aside for holy purposes), blameless (term taken from the Jewish sacrificial system—has the idea of suitability for sacrifice, unblemished), and above reproach (above charge or indictment). New Testament scholars differ somewhat on the nature of these qualities. Some think these terms refer to the believer’s current status; that is, God has declared them holy, blameless, and above reproach. Others see these descriptions in light of eschatology, the future status of believers.
C. An essential condition of reconciliation (v. 23): Those truly transformed by the gospel must continue steadfast in the faith; that is, true transformation issues in continuance in the faith, steadfast and unwavering. The false teachers troubling the Colossian church would find no audience with those truly reconciled to God, through Christ. Paul ended this paragraph with a reminder that he had devoted his life to the ministry of reconciliation.
II. The Nature of Paul’s Ministry (1:24-2:7)
A. Suffering for the sake of the gospel (vv. 24-26): Admittedly, this is a difficult passage. What did Paul mean by “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”? The context precludes any notions of deficiencies in the redemptive death of the Savior. Whatever Paul meant, it seems evident that Paul thought suffering was the norm for the Christian life. He made three observations about suffering (Vaughan helped me here).
1. Paul suffered for the sake of others: Persecution, like his Roman imprisonment, was the price paid for preaching the gospel. In Paul’s mind, preaching and persecution were attendant experiences.
2. Paul’s sufferings identified the apostle with the Lord Jesus: I readily acknowledge the profound mystery of this phrase; however, it seems clear Paul believed his suffering promoted his union with Christ.
3. Paul’s suffering were a source of joy: The apostle believed his hardships enhanced his ministry as a missionary and preacher.
B. The revelation of a mystery (vv. 27-29): Paul referred to the gospel as a mystery, truths hidden from the Gentiles for generations. His appointed task was to reveal these mysteries to the Gentile nations—and what is this mystery? “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ dwells in and among his people, and the future glory of the saints rests on this mysterious and wonderful truth—the truth of the indwelling Christ. Paul exerted all of his energies to teach (admonishing and warning) this wisdom to all who would hear, and he relied in the power of the indwelling Savior to empower his missionary labors.
C. Great concern for the Colossians (2:1-7): Paul, in this paragraph, raised concern about the threat of false teachers (See v. 4). He feared that these persuasive heretics might delude the church; therefore, he struggled in prayer that they might resist the eloquent arguments of his adversaries. He struggled for the Christians in Colossae and Laodicea. His prayers centered on three petitions.
1. “that your hearts may be encouraged”: The presence of these false teachers, no doubt, discouraged these faithful people.
2. “being knit together in love”: False teachers often foster factionalism in the church.
3. “to reach all the riches of full assurance and understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery”: