COLOSSIANS 1:1-2; 4:10-18

by A.E. Knoch

PAUL - what a wealth of grace and overwhelming glory fills our hearts at the very mention of his name! He was the erstwhile enemy of Christ and rabid persecutor of His people, who hunted them down even in distant Damascus. In an instant the glory of Christ stops him in his mad career, and wins his heart, henceforth to worship and work for Him alone. Can grace ever gain a more splendid trophy than Saul of Tarsus, the chief of sinners, yet supreme among the saints? But how much greater was the grace that still awaited him! From glory to glory God led him on, until he reaches the highest honor ever accorded a mortal, for he is the vessel chosen to fill up God's Word and to reveal God's latest secrets, the fruit of His highest thoughts and His deepest love.

Paul presents himself in this epistle as an apostle, for he has been commissioned, and has authority to write and set forth the truths and reveal the secrets which it contains. Apostles are in the foundation (Eph.2:20). These were needed to form a solid substratum for God's operations among mankind. Paul appears alone as apostle in his salutations, especially in those in which his authority is necessary to certify to his words. Yet he sometimes associates others with him, in other capacities. In Colossians, as in second Corinthians, "brother" Timothy joins in the salutation. He is not seen as an apostle, but simply as a brother in the faith.

CHRIST JESUS and Jesus Christ - what a vast difference between these two titles, though one is merely a transposition of the other! Jesus Christ is the humble, despised, rejected, crucified Messiah. His glories wait until the future, at the time of His return to earth. At present He has no place down here. But Christ Jesus! Already He is highest in the heavens. Seated at the right hand of God, there is no dignity to equal His. All might and power, all sovereignty and authority among the celestials is centered in Him. There He is not humbled, but honored! There He is not despised, but praised! There He is not rejected, but acclaimed! There He is not crucified, but glorified! We hail Him, not only as the coming King upon the earth, but as the present Head of all celestial might and majesty! Hail! Christ Jesus!


The will of God is the positive pole of the divine intention. God is carrying out His great purpose of revealing His heart by means of two contrary currents during the eons. The mutual reaction of these upon each other accomplish His purpose. One current coincides with His will. The other goes counter to it. One movement is headed by Christ. The other is led on by Satan. Saul of Tarsus, before he met the Lord, was fulfilling the divine intention, for he was preparing the black background on which alone the high lights of God's grace could be displayed. But he was going counter to God's will. After his call, Ananias said to him, "the God of our fathers selects yon to know His will" (Acts 22:14).

A true apostle must come through the will of God and conform to that will in his words and works. Thus all is traced back to the divine volition. The source of all is found in God's love and its determination to win a response through its activity on, our behalf. God wants our love, hence wishes us, to know His will. The apostle's first prayer opens with this petition: That you may be filled with the realization of His Will (1:9). This is a root which bears much fruit. Without it our walk will lack those qualities which are dear to God's heart. Wisdom and understanding, as well as a fruitful walk, must grow out of an apprehension of God's will.


The epistle is addressed, in the first place, to Colosse. Yet it was also sent to Laodicea, and, indeed, is especially meant for all who had not seen Paul's face in the flesh (4:16; 2:1). Like its companion epistles, Ephesians and Philippians, the very mode of communication is in accord with its contents. Flesh has no place. Paul is bound (4:18). He could not go to Colosse in order to tell them these transcendent truths by word of mouth, but is compelled to have his words committed to writing, so that they will be seen rather than heard, and not only can be transported vast distances, far beyond the reach of his voice, but may be imperishably preserved for the future. And so they have come to us.

The recipients of this epistle are distinguished by two tokens - holiness and faith. On God's side they were saints, hallowed by contact with Him. On the human side they had believed in Christ. The title here may be Christ Jesus, as in Alexandrinus, to accord with Ephesians. As the apostle has connected, his apostleship with this title, this must be the same in shortened form. This epistle was not sent to all saints without discrimination. In those days there were still some of the Circumcision, as we shall see, to whom Paul was not sent, whose faith did not lay hold of Christ as at present: exalted, but who looked forward to His future rule upon the earth. The faith of the Colossians is expressly said to be in Christ Jesus (1:4).

Faithfulness and trust are the accompaniments of belief. In the original there are no distinct terms for them. By the figure of association the Greek uses believing for faithful throughout. Thus, in this very epistle, Paul refers to Tychicus as "a beloved brother and believing servant" (4:7). Because belief produces fidelity it is used for it in a figure. English itself has this figure, though it is faded. What is faithful if not full of faith, or belief? Yet it has come to mean trustworthy, dependable, and the word believing is reserved for its literal sense. As we have seen, we must use faithful with service, yet when this is not clearly in view it may be better to use believing. In connection with brethren,
believing is probably better, inasmuch as this epistle is not especially devoted to service.


The invocations in Paul's three prison epistles are identical. Just as the body of the epistles commence with blessing or thanking, so the first wish of the apostle's heart for his readers is grace. Divine favor lavished upon those who deserve God's indignation will yet be the most precious gem in the crown of His glory. His creatures will be awed by His infinite might. They will be amazed by the wonders of His works. They will marvel at His wisdom. Their hearts will swell with thankfulness for His kindness. Far more precious will be the praise and worship which His mercy will call forth. Yet the highest adoration and the deepest affection will come to Him from those who realize the depths of their deserts and the corresponding heights to which His grace has exalted them.

We should make more of His grace. Not only should it warm our own hearts at all times, but it should pervade our walk and our service. Oh, how great a transformation would it work in the heralding of the evangel, if it were presented in its purity and power! Grace that Saul encountered on the Damascus road. Grace that Paul received to serve the saints. Grace that enabled him to suffer for Christ's sake. Let us not confine it to the past, to our call, when we first believed. This invocation is not for unbelievers, but for us. Our salvation is not only by but to or in grace (Eph.2:5). Not only did it begin with grace, but it continues so, and will finish with the greatest display of all, when our bodies will be transfigured and glorified.

First grace, then peace. First justification, then reconciliation. Were God not gracious, what could there be but indignation and enmity? But now that His favor hovers over us as a benediction, we may have peace with Him, peace in our spirits, peace with our fellow-saints and the world, yea we may enter into the peace of God, and enjoy some measure of the calm with which He is filled, Who knows the end from the beginning, and Whose great aim is to overcome all enmity with love, and clasp His whole creation to His heart in the bonds of perfect and perpetual peace.

These blessings can come from one source alone - from God, Who now looks upon us as His children, and through our Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator between us, our Saviour and Lord. We are no longer merely creatures of the great Creator. We have entered the circle of His family and now are children of an affectionate Father. He will be gracious to us and give us peace, through the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Indeed, He is our Peace, for He not only reconciles us to God through the blood of His cross, but removes the barriers between the saints, and makes the despised Uncircumcision one with the privileged Circumcision.


The conclusion of Colossians (4:10-18) consists of greetings whose range corresponds to that of the epistle, as well as Paul's special greetings and directions. The greetings of the group from the Circumcision come first.

Christ's headship over the earth is a part of the secret of Christ, and was first revealed, hence it is in keeping with this epistle to bring in three who are associated with Him in this phase of the kingdom. The transition from the heralding of His earthly kingdom to the present is an interesting yet intricate subject. Perhaps there are a few indications here which may help us to understand the place of the believing Circumcisionists when the nation becomes calloused (Rom.11:25) and the heart of the people is made stout (Acts 28:27).

At first glance there seems to be no particular reason for bringing in the characters here presented. Yet one cannot help being struck with their diversity. First we have Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus, who are definitely said to be of the
Circumcision. Then there is Epaphras, out and out of the nations Then there is Luke, who supposedly was closely associated with the Circumcision before the secret of Christ's heavenly headship was made known. May not these be representative of the classes to which they belong? What is said of them is worth the closest attention. And what is not said of them, but of the others, is equally striking.


Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus are said to be ek peritomees OUT OF-Circumcision. Does this mean that they had come out from the Circumcision, as Paul had, or were still of the, Circumcision? The English might easily suggest the former. This can best be settled by studying the same expression elsewhere. The following passages will show that it clearly denotes those who are still of the Circumcision. This is very striking in view of the injunction of the apostle in this very epistle to strip off the old humanity and to put on the young, wherein there is no circumcision (3:9-11). It seems that we must take these Circumcisionists as such.

ek peritomees, OUT OF-Circumcision
Acts 10:45 the believers of the Circumcision...with Peter

11: 2

 those of the Circumcision doubted [Peter]
Rom. 4:12 not to those of the Circumcision only
Gal.   2:12 fearing those of the Circumcision
Titus. 1:10 especially those of the Circumcision

The Circumcisionists connected with Peter had certainly not come out of the Circumcision, but were insistent on the rite, not only for themselves, but for the nations also. Their charge against Peter was, "You came in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!" So that there is a strong presumption that here, in this universal epistle, we have a group of men representative of the kingdom. And, indeed, does not the apostle actually connect them with the kingdom, using the very terms with which the book of Acts describes this ministry (Acts 28:31)?

The more we consider these three Circumcisionists, who are honored with a place in this epistle, the more we are impressed with the fact that they were not taken at random, but specially chosen to represent the Circumcision as a whole, that is, the believers among them, for whom the epistle to the Hebrews was  especially written. The mention of Barnabas suggests the gradual introduction and exemplification of the truth through him and Paul and Timothy and Titus and Onesimus, as has already been set forth in the study "From the Levite to the Slave." May not these men be chosen to set forth the opposite, the declension of the Circumcision, and their state, now that the nation is callous?


Aristarchus, if, indeed, it is the same man, was a Macedonian of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2; 20:4; 19:29). But, as this is mentioned expressly elsewhere, and not brought in here, we should leave it out of consideration. There could easily be several men of the same name. The point to press is his Greek name and its meaning. He must have belonged to the dispersion. His name signifies "best-chief," a title well suited to the Circumcision among the nations, for, in the kingdom, they will rule among them. But, alas, he is in prison! He is a captive! Politically, he has no authority whatever. Is not this a realistic picture of the kingdom at present, politically?


Mark brings before us quite a different picture. His name is not Greek, but Roman. He is especially related to Barnabas, the Levite. He does not represent the place of the Circumcision over the nations, but as serving the nations. In this they failed utterly. They opposed Peter as well as Paul in every attempt to bring salvation to the aliens. Mark, indeed, was not so bad as that. He left Jerusalem and went with Barnabas and Saul to Antioch, and started with them on their first missionary journey. Yet "John," as Mark is called, left them at Perga, Pamphylia, and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Paul and Barnabas had been chosen by the spirit (Acts 13:2), while Mark had been chosen because he was related to Barnabas in the flesh. He is representative of the Circumcision in their failure to serve the nations.

It would appear that he was not very welcome in Colosse, and would not have been received by them without special directions from the apostle. Surely we can understand this sentiment among the ecclesias which had received the truth of the present secret administration through Paul. Mark would have much to give concerning the life of Christ in the past and His glories in the future, but evidently did not go along with Paul, either literally or figuratively, while they had gone on to maturity. There is a strong inclination, in such a case, to break off all fellowship, just as there is a tendency to cut all connection between this administration and the past on the part of those who first begin to grasp its glories. But let us remember that, in the secret of Christ, the terrestrial as well as the celestial is needed, and they have Him as their common Head.

Let us then, in spirit, receive Mark, that is accept his ministry, as, indeed, we may by using his account of our Lord's life, if, indeed, the tradition is correct that he wrote it. But let us note, at the same time, that the Circumcision, who should have been the teachers of the nations, were not welcome in the early ecclesias, and almost lost their place of service.

At the present time, it would probably be quite otherwise. Mark would be received with open arms. Was he not an inspired penman? No need to write ahead lest he be not received. Cloudy conceptions of Circumcision truth, with a dash of heaven to flavor it, is the staple diet of most of Christendom.

In Mark we see the Circumcision serving us. Although they belong to a different administration and have another destiny, we cannot get along without their help. Paul's epistles need all the other writings as a background. Do they not give us the details of God's dealings with the earth and Israel? Without these even the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus could not be fully apprehended. This aspect corresponds closely to the figure of the olive tree, in which the wild boughs are partakers of the root and fatness of the tree. As a light producer, Israel continues to function, through the oracles committed to them, although it comes through the nations who temporarily displace them in the olive tree.


The third in the group of the Circumcisionists has a purely Jewish name; indeed, it is the name above every name, the personal name of their Messiah. Probably "Jesus" was deemed too sacred to be commonly used, so he was given another, and called Justus. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, Jehovah the Saviour. This is the name by which Israel will be saved, for Jehovah alone can save them. But, alas! even believers in Israel did not trust wholly in Him, but in the law and their physical rights as members of the chosen nation. And what better name for this than the Latin Justus, from jus, law, right, justice? Therefore salvation was taken from the nation and is heralded to the nations (Acts 28:28). They must learn God's righteousness now, before they experience His salvation.

These only of Paul's fellow workers for the kingdom of God became a solace to Paul. Many others of Paul's fellow workers were far more than a comfort to him, so we must restrict this to the Circumcision and the kingdom. No doubt there were many of the Circumcision who had heralded the kingdom, but nearly all seemed to oppose Paul and his ministry, and were a menace to the ecclesias among the nations, with their insistence on law-keeping and religious rites. How much there may lie behind that word "solace!" The Jews had done much to distort the evangel of Christ, and caused Paul much misery. But these three seem to have been of a different spirit, so that he could cooperate with them in those things which they had in common.

I take this as a little foretaste of the time to come, when the terrestrial and celestial will be in fullest harmony under their mutual Head. For the present, however, I take it that this delightful miniature portrays to us the fortunes of the Circumcision in the present administration. Politically they are captives, not rulers. The kingdom cannot be heralded. In service their testimony is to be received. But they have lost their salvation. And is not this the exact counterpart of what we have at the close of Acts?

There seems to be a general impression that any gospel may be preached at any time. Not so! Even the present evangel of God's grace would work havoc if heralded among the nations in the thousand years. Nor can the evangel of the kingdom be heralded today. First of all it must go to the people of the covenant first, apart from whom there can be no kingdom. And the last words to this people put them into a condition where they can neither hear nor see, lest God be healing them. God has given them a spirit of stupor. For nearly two thousand years they have been this way, and they are even more callous than they were. Herald the kingdom to them, and there would be no response. No one
has any commission to herald it until this ban is removed.

Of course the church talks about "the kingdom" and appropriates quite a little of its setting in order to produce the grotesque caricatures which parade as churches in the world today. But few, if any, really herald the political side of the kingdom, and seek to open the eyes of the sons of Israel, so that they may accept its message, and so that the nations also may rejoice with His people. This would be the real kingdom evangel. Repentance and baptism are preached for the remission of sins, but how many consider this a passport into the millennium? Tatters are taken from the gospel of the kingdom and patched on to a self-made story, of many kinds and differing qualities, but nearly all land their devotees in heaven, notion earth. The gospel of the kingdom is not heralded today and no one believes it, hence, no one is won for the kingdom in this era of God's grace.

But this does not cut us off from everything connected with the kingdom. Politically - and in this lies the essence of a kingdom - it is futile and false to herald the kingdom evangel. The Circumcision cannot hear, and there can be no blessing except as they are the channel of it. Now there can be blessing apart from them, yet not in their kingdom. But, in other spheres, we have much in common. The One Who will be Head in the kingdom is already the Head in the empyrean. He Who will save Israel is already our Saviour.

A genuine kingdom evangel to the nations would insist on our subjection to the holy nation. It would promise no blessing except through and with them. So few have such an evangel that we may be sure that the kingdom evangel is as little preached today as the true one for this era. And if the destiny of the saints were dependent on the gospel they hear, almost all of them would need to be divided into several parts to match the fragments of evangels they have patched together. Since even the Ephesians needed Paul's prayer that they might perceive the prospect of their calling, so it is quite possible to have a calling and yet be in ignorance concerning its riches.

The evangel of the kingdom is not the fact that Christ will take over the rule of the earth with Israel as the leading nation, but that this is near. John the Baptist did not repeat what is written in the prophets, but prefixed his heralding with the time of its appearance. As it is in the Greek this has the emphasis: "Near has come the kingdom of the heavens!" (Matt.3:2). Our Lord repeated this with the same stress on the word near (Matt.4:17). The apostles had the same message at the beginning of Acts. "Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins, so that the seasons of refreshing should be coming..." (Acts 3:19). This nearness recedes throughout the book, until, at the end, it is gone. Meanwhile Paul reveals a new secret, that it is not near, but must wait until the complement of the nations may enter (Rom.11:25).


Epaphras is in striking contrast to the Circumcision. He was a Colossian, hence of the Uncircumcision, and is called a slave of Christ Jesus. Though without any physical advantages, how high is his spiritual stature! He is called a faithful dispenser of Christ (1:7). Through him it was that the Colossians had heard the evangel, and now that he cannot serve them by his presence, he agonizes in prayer during his absence. Note the subject matter of his petitions. This shows how fully he was in line with God's thoughts and desires at the time. He wished them to stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God (4:12). It is for this that the gifts are given (Eph.4:11-14). Evangelists, pastors, and teachers should lead the saints from minority to maturity. Paul himself had prayed that they be filled with a realization of God's will (1:9).

Epaphras is a model for those whose hearts have been turned to the service of the saints. He did not say his prayers. How much of our praying is mere talk! Possibly he could not even put his petitions into words. To him it was a struggle, a contending. And he was in misery concerning those on Whom his heart was set. Is seems strange, at first, that he should be miserable. But those who have been in a similar position will not fail to understand and sympathize with him, especially in these days of declension and apostasy. It is heartbreaking to hear that those who once reveled in God's grace have been led aside and give place to human merit. It is bitter to hear of pride, dissension, division, where once the peace of God presided. Perhaps Epaphras had no such experiences, yet even in those days it meant much misery to bear a company of saints upon one's heart.


We are so accustomed to the idea that Luke is the writer of the account which bears his name, as well as the Acts, that we are tempted to connect these with him at all times. But it is a fact that the Scriptures themselves do not mention his name in that connection. Hence we will not bring this in here. He was the most constant of all Paul's friends, for he remained when all others had left (2 Tim.4:11). No doubt, as a physician, he was helpful to Paul and others, for he seems to have been beloved as such. This is in contrast to the Circumcision evangel, and shows that it is no longer in force. It includes miraculous healing for the body, so that there was no place for a physician.

Demas is in direct contrast to Luke, for he abandoned Paul out of love for the current eon (2 Tim.4:11). Perhaps his name means popular, as demos is populace. May he not represent that vast company of believers who are so concerned not to go contrary to the good opinion of this eon that they cannot remain with Paul's teaching, if, indeed, they have ever known it? All Asia seems to have turned away from him during his imprisonment. Conformity to the times will surely separate from Paul. The whole history of Christendom shows that this became chronic, and only occasionally has there been a return to some of his teaching. And when a little is recovered it is soon abandoned once again. Let us all take this to heart. The danger of abandoning Paul is always present, and is usually popular, and we should guard against it.


Because of the character of the message sent to the ecclesia in Laodicea (Rev.3:14) in the day of the Lord, the name has become a synonym for apostasy. But this should not be applied to the ecclesia of Paul's day. Nothing is said to indicate a low spiritual condition at that time. It seems to be brought in here in order to show the general character of this epistle. It could be read to them as well as to the Colossians.

Of the Laodicean letter from Paul we have no hint elsewhere in the Scriptures, so that some have supposed that it was lost. But there are good grounds for the opinion that the epistle to the Ephesians is in view, for that, according to the best readings, has no definite address, and must have been put before all the saints in Christ Jesus, either by sending a copy direct, as to Laodicea, or by loaning, as in Colosse. As we have already seen, the epistles are complementary, and both are needed in order to bring the saints to maturity.


Paul calls Archippus a fellow soldier when writing to Philemon (2). But here he appears in the character of servant. He seems to have undertaken some special service, but was lax in carrying it out. Hence the gentle admonition of the apostle, which many of us may well take to ourselves. Has the Lord laid any special task on our heart? Sometimes it comes with irresistible force. There is an unshakable conviction that a certain work must be done and we must do it. It may be accompanied with a painful and humiliating consciousness of our own unfitness and inadequacy, and a foreboding of suffering and scorn, but it is evidently of the Lord, and such things characterize His service. But they dishearten and discourage. There is a continual temptation to leave the task undone, and escape the consequences. Nothing that we do is as well done as we would wish, so the only relief seems to be to drop it all. Perhaps it was so with Archippus. May the Lord give each one of us grace to fulfill the service which He has assigned to us!


To this day much of the writing in the orient is done by professional scribes. While waiting in the post office of Smyrna, not so very far from Colosse, I saw a scribe write a letter for a woman, which she dictated. There is no doubt that Paul could write, for he makes a point of doing so at the close of some of his epistles, in order to certify to their genuineness (2 Thess.3:17,18), for it seems that some had produced forgeries. Possibly he penned the whole of Galatians (Gal.6:11). It has been suggested that an eye infirmity made it difficult for him to write small enough. Be that as it may, Colossians has Paul's sign manual to show that it is genuine.

But he does not close with his signature. His heart is too full to refrain from a few more outbursts. And so he unburdens himself by adding "Remember my bonds! Grace be with you!" Great was his desire for sympathy in his sufferings, and that these should be understood in their relation to the truth. Paul's bonds are not merely an incident in his personal career. They became the standing symbol of God's relation to the world and of the place of the flesh in God's present work of grace, in contrast to the kingdom that is to come. Spiritual blessings among the  celestials are ours, coupled with no special physical blessings among the terrestrials. And, as we thankfully accept Paul's wish that grace be with us, let us remember that it was with him in a superlative degree even in his imprisonment. Grace now, but glory in the future!

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