Colossians 1:21-29


In verses 15-21 Paul speaks about the incarnate Christ Who holds the preeminence both in creation and redemption. He is Creator of all and Redeemer of all. He reconciled all men to Himself. Thus Paul speaks about Christ's Work in general. And now, in our text for this day, Paul speaks about what Christ did for the Colossian Christians in particular.

In verses 21-23 Paul speaks about what Christ did for the Colossian Christians.

In verses 24-29 he speaks about the part which Paul plays in all of this.

Colossians 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.

Lenski: From objective statement Paul turns to subjective experience.
Kretzmann: All the blessed truths which he has discussed in the previous paragraph the apostle wants to apply to the Colossians, his aim being to make them conscious of the unspeakable glories which are the lot of the believers here and in the world to come. . . . They had been His outspoken and inveterate enemies in their own nature, look at Ephesians 2:1; 2:12; 4:18.

"Once" denotes the time before conversion. This time was brought to an end by Christ.

Bruce: People, estranged from the One in who alone true peace is to be found, are estranged also from one another, and lead lonely lives in a universe which is felt to be unfriendly. The barrier which sin sets up between men and God is also a barrier set up between men and their fellows.

This is one side of the fallen condition of people. The other is introduced here being personal enemies of God. Not only is natural men dead to God, he actively opposes God.

"In your minds" denotes the center of man's personality, his mind. Look at Ephesians 2:1-3. Paul says in Romans 7:18: "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing." Unconverted man's deeds may appear to be good, but Paul says they are evil.

Colossians 1:22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation --

"But now" is the time since conversion. "Reconciled" denotes the personal reconciliation of the individual at the time of conversion. The same truth is taught in Romans 5:10-11.

We insist that Paul is speaking of Christ's presentation before the Father now and not only at the final judgment. So complete is the atoning work of Christ for the individual that Christ presents him now already as "holy, faultless and blameless." Look at Ephesians 5:27.

Holy in the sense of covered with the righteousness of Christ. Faultless in the sense that the blood of Jesus Christ covers all blemishes. And blameless in the sense that no one, not even Satan, can bring a charge against the individual. Read Romans 8:31-39.

Bengel: Holy towards God. Unblamable as respects to yourselves. Unreprovable as respects your neighbor.
Lenski: 'Holy' means separate unto God and Christ; 'blemishless' means without spot or wrinkle in yourselves; 'unreproved' means so that no one can accuse you in any way.

Look at the first stanza of  The Lutheran Hymnal  # 370 or  Lutheran Worship  # 362.

It is truly amazing that Scripture never calls mere man, not even a Christian, "good." Jesus says that only God is good, Matthew 19:16-22, and that, of course, includes Christ. The works of the Christian are called good. But never is the Christian called good. He is declared holy, blameless, and irreproachable which reminds us constantly of what Christ did for him. And he is such in the very presence of God now already.

Non-Lutheran commentators want to limit this verse to the final judgment because evidently they understand verse 23 as a sort of proving ground for the Christian in which he somehow gets better and better. But that is not what verse 23 is saying.

Colossians 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Perhaps Paul is almost apologizing for reminding them of something which they already know.

Bruce: The apostle's language may suggest that his readers' first enthusiasm was being dimmed, that they were in danger of shifting from the fixed ground of the Christian hope.

"If" does not denote uncertainty but is evidently used for self-examination. Jesus constantly reminds us that we must abide in Him, John 15:1-7; 17:23. What Jesus did for us in no way depends on what we do but if we reject it, once we have learned of it, what He did cannot help us.

Kretzmann: Faith is a condition of salvation inasmuch as it is the instrument and means by which salvation is accepted.
Lenski: Here Paul has most objectively presented this faith on which our subjective confidence rests.
Kretzmann takes "faith" as saving faith, worked by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. Lenski takes "faith" as the body of doctrine which is believed, the doctrine which engenders faith. Either way.
Carson: They have been established upon an unshakable foundation, the rock Christ Jesus; and so, being securely grounded, they have spiritual stability to enable them to remain steadfast (settled) in the face of every blast of temptation or of adversity.

"Hope" is translated in the objective sense. And the "Gospel" is that which causes the hope.

Lenski: 'Every creature' is not hyperbole as so many say; compare 'all nations' in Matthew 28:19; 'all the world, to every creature' in Mark 16:15, 'unto the uttermost part of the earth' in Acts 1:8. It seems Paul is using the language of Jesus.

Perhaps Paul is contrasting the universal preaching of the Gospel with the false teaching taking place in just one community, Colosse. That false teaching becomes apparent in chapter 2.

Paul is saying: "I serve the Gospel." That hardly needs comment but it needs to be stressed. False teachers are self-appointed guides.

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

The editors of the latest edition of the Greek text have placed a gap after verse 23, and another after 2:5 because in this section Paul tells the Colossians about his sufferings and labors in their behalf. In verse 23 Paul called himself a servant of the Gospel. In verse 25 he calls himself a servant of the Church. The suffering lies between these two ideas.

Carson: Paul emphasizes his reason for rejoicing over his sufferings in words that have probably exercised commentators more than any other passage in this Epistle.

Paul cannot be speaking about Christ's vicarious sufferings for the sins of people. Nor can he be touching on the false teaching of Rome which claims a treasury of good works caused by saints and very meritorious people in the church.

Carson: We may take these sufferings as being those which Christ suffers in Paul because of the mystical union of the apostle with his Savior.
Robertson: Paul uses the verb in the sense of 'in his turn' (answering over to Christ). As Christ, so Paul fills up the measure of suffering.
BAG: Paul is glad, by means of the suffering which he vicariously endures for the church, to unite the latter for its own benefit with Christ; he supplies whatever lack may still exist in its proper share of suffering.
Lenski: A certain amount of suffering falls to the lot of the Church because of its connection with Christ. A large part of it has to be borne by the leaders of the Church, among whom God has placed Paul as the foremost. Thus he gets to bear the heaviest load of these sufferings . . . . These sufferings are 'the left over parts of the afflictions of Christ' . . . . All of these left-overs result from the hatred of the world toward the great Substitute and Expiator.
Bruce: In my own person, he says, I am filling up those afflictions of Christ which have yet to be endured on behalf of His body, the church . . . . The sense in which the suffering and death of Christ have won justification and reconciliation for men is unique, unrepeatable. . . . But in the sense which Paul intends here, Christ continues to suffer in His members, and not least in Paul himself. . . . There may be the further thought here that Paul's own endurance of hardship in the cause of Christ may relieve his converts and other members of the body of Christ of part of the suffering what would otherwise fall to their lot.
Thomas: The afflictions of every saint and martyr may rightly be said to supplement the afflictions of Christ, and the Christian Church is built up by acts of self-denial that continue those begun by Him.
Luther: It refers in general to all the afflictions of all the faithful, whose sufferings are the sufferings of Christ.

All Christians who are in a position of responsibility suffer in behalf of those under them. Pastors, teachers and parents experience this. They must realize this lest they become despondent. Their suffering is to the advantage of those under them.

"Sufferings which are beneficial for you." "In my body." "For the benefit of His body." Christ is the head. The Church is His body. In other words, Paul is saying in this verse that he suffers in behalf of the Colossians in particular and he fills up what lacks in the suffering of Christ for the sake of the whole Church. The Lord told Ananias to inform Paul in Acts 9:16 about the things which he would suffer for Jesus' sake. Paul suffered uniquely.

Colossians 1:25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness --

Thus far in this Epistle Paul has called himself an Apostle of Christ Jesus and a servant of the Gospel. Now he adds that he is a servant of the Church. He became that when God gave Him the task of fully preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. We note several translations: RSV "the divine office. . . . to make the word of God fully know." NEB: "The task . . . to deliver his message in full." AAT: "This work among you in order to do everything God meant to do by His Word." NASB: "The stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God.

Paul is saying that God honored him with preaching the final and full revelation of God to the Gentiles.

Colossians 1:26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.

This full preaching of the Word of God is now explained in verses 26-27.

Thomas: 'The mystery' is found some twenty times in the New Testament, more than half of which instances are in St. Paul's Epistles, and invariably it means, as here, something wonderful that was once hidden 'but now' though not generally recognized, is revealed to those who will accept it by faith.

The "mystery" in this case is not that Gentiles would become children of God but rather that absolutely no distinction would be made between Jew and Gentile with reference to salvation. Look at Acts 10, 11 and 15. Peter and Paul would not have known this unless God had revealed it to them. The hiddenness came to an end.

They are "saints", they are holy in His sight because of the blood of Jesus.

Carson: About 'mystery.' In Daniel 2:19,28,29 the term is used to describe a secret which is hidden in the counsels of God and is revealed only by His servants.
Lenski: Ephesians 3:10 shows that even the angels did not know.
Formula of Concord, Tappert 609: Since the Holy Scriptures call Christ a mystery over which all heretics break their heads, we admonish all Christians not to pry presumptuously into this mystery with their reason, but with the holy Apostles simply to believe, close the eyes of reason, take their intellect captive to obey Christ, comfort themselves therewith, and rejoice constantly that our flesh and blood have in Christ been made to sit so high at the right hand of the majesty and almighty power of God. In this way they will be certain to find abiding comfort in all adversities and will be well protected against pernicious errors.

Colossians 1:27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

"To them" includes both Jewish and Gentile Christians. God willed to make known the glorious wealth of this mystery to Gentiles.

Carson: God's purpose has flamed forth in a blaze of light among the Gentiles who formerly walked in darkness. . . That the Messiah of Israel should dwell among the Gentiles was an entirely new revelation of the purposes of God.

"Christ in you, the hope of glory." This is a great mystery. The phrase denotes not a mystical but a faith relationship.

Bengel: Christ in us is most delightful in itself, but much more delightful in respect of those things which shall be revealed.

TEV: Christ in you, which means that you will share the glory of God." NEB: "Christ in you, the hope of a glory to come."

Lenski: Once Judaism was solid in the opinion that no Gentile could possibly be saved except by becoming a Jew. . . Everywhere Jews were outraged when Gentiles were admitted into the kingdom by faith in Christ alone. This clash with the Judaizers in Colosse seems to be the last that occurred during Paul's apostleship.
Bruce: In the present passage the emphasis is not just Christ's indwelling in His people, but more particularly His indwelling in GENTILE believers . . . 'Christ is in YOU' he assures his Colossian readers; 'Christ is in you , even in you Gentiles, as the hope of glory.
Thomas: 'Hope of glory:' If there is one thing that makes the future uncertain for us in relation to peace of mind and happiness of heart, it is sin. When that is put away through the acceptance of Christ, all fear of the future life goes with it, for He is the Savior of all who believe.

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

"We" is Paul, Timothy, and Epaphras. Paul sets himself and his helpers in opposition to the false teachers in Colosse whose insidious teaching evidently was robbing the Colossian Christians of their Christian comfort and hope.

"Everyone" is repeated. Every soul was precious to Paul and his helpers. They gave people individual attention. Look at the verbs. They warned the individual, they taught the individual, they presented the individual.

Thomas: Inasmuch as each individual has his own peculiar characteristics, it was the apostle's aim to deal with him wisely.

But, others are of the opinion that "wisdom" here does not denote the manner in which they taught but the substance of what they taught: "This is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone." We prefer Thomas' explanation.

Paul is not speaking eschatologically, about some future event. He is speaking of presenting every hearer to Christ now.

"Perfect" does not heaven "sinless" or "morally perfect." Literally it means "having reached the goal." The careful preacher makes the individual mature in the faith in Christ. Ephesians 4:13-14 is the best commentary on this passage. It is the careful preaching and teaching of Law and Gospel which makes a person "perfect" in the sight of God. The false teachers at Colosse taught a subtle exclusiveness which left the individual unforgiven in their sins.

Bruce: There is no part of Christian teaching that is to be reserved for a spiritual elite. All the truth of God is for all the people of God.

Colossians 1:29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

"Labor" denotes strenuous toil. The words are derived from an athletic metaphor.

"His energy" is Christ's divine strength or power. Although Paul was a very energetic man, see 1 Corinthians 15:10, he always gave God credit for the good which God worked in him. Christianity is not for lazy people. Again and again Scripture urges God's children to be faithful, Revelation 2:10. And, again and again Scripture warns against sloth.

Lenski: Paul is only God's instrument; he toils and strains, but not with power of his own, the power comes from God.
Thomas: Paul's position as an apostle of Christ involved far more than a mere proclamation of the gospel; it included effort and fatigue. Like an athlete in a contest, of whom both Greek words here are used, the apostle strove with all his might. Yet there was also the inspiring realization that, whilst he worked, Christ was working too, and that in proportion as Paul labored Christ strove mightily in him to accomplish this great purpose.

A study of the remainder of this Epistle shows that Paul and Epaphras were battling an insidious heresy of pious work righteousness in Colosse. The only way to combat heresy is the proper and diligent use of the Word of God. This must be done with an attitude of hard, strenuous work. Laziness and lethargy will only bring disaster and loss of souls.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 44-48. Used with permission.

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