There were four epistles or letters written by Paul during his imprisonment in house arrest between 60-62 AD. This study documents three of the four letters with Ephesians being the absent one. It was the subject of an earlier study. Paul's preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ could not be stopped.
Paul wrote these four letters between 60 and 62 AD while awaiting the opportunity to defend himself before the Roman Caesar. While some evidence points to Paul making one more missionary trip to include contacts as far west as Spain, that information is not currently available.
These are top-level outlines for three of Paul's four letters written during his imprisonment. Philippians will be presented first with Colossians and Philemon to follow.
Philippians is presented in September and October 2021 as shown here. These six studies all begin with the word "Joy." That is the tenor of the letter from Paul to be read to the church.
The singular focus of the six studies in Colossians is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our last study of the quarter is from Philemon to discuss Restoration.
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Historic Background for the Church at Philippi
Paul had three missionary journeys as documented in the last few chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. The second of these took place in AD 51 (Acts 15:36). The map to the right shows the path of that journey. Paul originated the trip from Damascus and departed for Cilicia from Syrian Antioch.
One of the key elements of this journey was "Paul's Macedonian Vision" (Acts 16:6-10). The vision briefly instructed Paul not to preach in Asia but go directly to Macedonia. So, notice on the map that Paul left Antioch of Galatia and skipped all of Asia except for the port of departure on the west coast of Asia in Troas.
Historic Background for the Church at Philippi (Cont.)
Once the ship from Troas arrived at the Macedonian mainland, the real work of Paul's 2nd Missionary Journey began. Paul and his team visited six cities including Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea.
From Macedonia, the team would go south into Achaia where they would visit the cities of Athens and Corinth. On the return trip;, the team would stop a Asia to visit Ephesus before returning home to Israel.
Understand the Context (Phil 1:1-11)
The Book of Acts, or the Acts of the Apostles, documents the three missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. His presence and work with the Church at Philippi is documented at Acts 16:6-10. This was the founding of the Church at Philippi and was completed during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey. The founding of the Church at Philippi established a gateway for the future European ministry and included the missionary work already begun within Greece. Philippi was only Paul’s first stop in the Macedonian ministry. The city was named for Philip of Macedon, the father of the well-known Alexander the Great.
When the sabbath day came, we see that a band of people gathered by a river outside of town for prayer (Acts 16:13). By implication, the Jewish community must have been too small to have set up a synagogue for regular worship. Paul’s company was talking with the women who met there. The first European convert to Christianity came from the band. Her name was Lydia, the seller of purple from Thyatira (Acts 16:14). When she was baptized, she was able to bring her whole household with her. Afterward, she insisted that Paul and his company stay with her at her home.
Two other notable happenings at Philippi were the testimony of the Philippian Jailer and the apology of the magistrates to Paul and his missionary team. The stories begin with a lady who was used by her owners for fortune telling. She was following Paul and his associates, making a loud distraction about them being servants of the Most High God. After a couple days of this, Paul turned and commanded the spirit of divination to depart from her. When her owners discovered she had lost the capability to tell fortunes, they brought charges against Paul and the team for negating their income. As part of the arrest, Paul and Silas were flogged and put in chains in the lowest part of the prison even after they announced they were Roman citizens.
Understand the Context (Phil 1:1-11, Cont.)
As they began to pray and sing hymns sometime after midnight, an earthquake caused all prisoners’ chains to be broken and their cell doors opened (Acts16:26). The Philippian Jailor seeing this feared all the prisoners in his charge would escape and he would be killed by his authorities. Verse 27 says he would have committed suicide had Paul not cried out that the prisoners were all still there. Briefly, the jailor and his entire family confessed Christ and were baptized (Acts 16;33).
The next day the magistrates told the sergeants to release Paul and Silas privately and dismiss their charges. Paul reacted by saying it would not be that easy for them. They had arrested them, flogged them and imprisoned them publicly even after they knew they were Roman citizens, and now they wished to release them secretly (Acts 16:35-38). The sergeants told the magistrates what Paul said and they feared they would be accountable to the senior Romans.
They went to Paul and apologized. Paul and the team went their way quietly (Acts 16:40). But after Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote this letter to the Church at Philippi and sent Epaphroditus to deliver it. Paul used the letter to teach on suffering, unity and contentment, but Paul believed the letter also served as a thank you note from him for their personal financial support during his imprisonment.
Joy in Prayer (Phil 1:1-2)
Paul was likely the most formally educated of all the writers or participants in the Scriptures. Further, Paul (as Saul of Tarsus) was also the most powerful and highly respected member of the formal Jewish leadership (Sanhedrin) as he carried papers to Damascus to expand his reign of terror against the Way – the Church that Jesus founded.
This letter starts as many of his letters in a very formal and structured way. While serving in the military, letters were always begun: “From, To, Subject, Date.” Paul’s letters began “From and To.” This letter is from Paul and Timothy who are servants (slaves) of Jesus, the Christ; to the saints of Jesus Christ which are at Philippi, and the bishops (pastors) and deacons (Acts 6:1-6 kind of deacons). Notice that the titles of the senders and the receivers are both fully grounded in Jesus Christ. When it comes to the many identities we might have separate from those in Christ, they just do not compare. I have been a location rug installer, butcher, shoe salesman, student, chemical laboratory technician, airman, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander, task lead, project manager, program manager, company founder, vice president, chief operations officer, president, chief executive officer, managing partner, deacon, minister of outreach and evangelism, pastor and many more, but none of these are worthy of mention compared to being a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. The rest will all fade away quickly as my Master says, “Well done, My good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things; I will make you master over many. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” Paul’s letter came from “the servants of Jesus Christ” to “the saints in Jesus Christ.” Perfect identities and totally unambiguous!
Now that we know who the senders and receivers were, what was the message? Spoken simply, it was and is, “Grace and peace from the Father and His Son.” More lengthy from the Amplified Version, “Grace to you and peace [inner calm and spiritual well-being] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek for God here is theos, the supreme deity. There are none higher than He. It is the Father, the Creator. Lord is Greek, kyrios: the supreme, supreme in authority, master, sir. Jesus is His name, but that name was somewhat common then as it is today. But this Jesus is not just Jesus; He is Jesus, the Messiah, Savior, Greek: Christos. Paul offers grace, an unmerited gift of forgiveness and favor, and peace, the peace of God that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7) to the recipients of this message. The message is that this is not a simple letter but one that has brought the sender great joy.
Thankful Faith (Phil 1:3-8)
Paul is not expressing simple gratitude for what they have done, but rather, gratitude for every thought he has of them. He does not say He prays for them often, but that he prays for them always, every minute. When he makes requests in prayer for those called Philippian believers, Paul finds joy in simply making the requests for them. Paul recalls the beginning of their relationship. He thanks God, prays all the time and experiences joy while making requests to God for them. He remembers their fellowship in the Gospel from the very beginning until now. We get to feel some small part of what Paul feels as we think of those who join us in delivering the Gospel Christ gave him responsibility for, especially the Gentiles.
The primary thought of fellowship in the Gospel triggers my mind of those who led others to faith in Jesus Christ together with us. It is important to acknowledge that there are no small roles in the work of the Gospel. My memory celebrates a lady whose body was so broken that she did most of her service while confined to her bed. Her body was seldom allowed outside her small room. But she had a telephone, and she had the role of making evangelistic appointments for all our evangelism classes; sometimes as many as eight classes running at a time. And her phone voice was so soothing and captivating. She personally led dozens of prospects to Jesus Christ while making our appointments. She did not have a life many of us would envy, but in that day that she arrived in Heaven, there were dozens, maybe hundreds or more who met her at the gate to say some of the same weighty words Paul was saying here. We understand that God does the calling of every person to Himself, but there are those who have the words that make that call so much more understandable. I look forward to that day when I can sit again with Ms. Pearl and the many who made it to Heaven through her ministry as the Appointments Secretary for the Evangelism Classes at First Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, CO.
Now, Paul makes a statement that requires a little interpretation. Verse 8 speaks of how aware God is of how deeply Paul longs to be a part of the work that church is doing for the ministry of Jesus Christ. In these words, Paul is talking about being a part of the core of the Christian ministry for bringing people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Words like these spoken by Paul to the people in the pews illustrate the absolute necessity for encouragement to keep them going. The empathy and sincerity of the warrior-minister helps the great army of workers continue to press forward regardless of what Satan throws at them. People search for leaders who have a heart for the work of those who work for Christ through them.
Growing Faith (Phil 1:9-11)
So, Paul adds to the prayers as he mentioned early. Here, he prays for growth in love (I read this as empathy) for workers as they take what they have learned (knowledge) and the skill in applying that knowledge (judgment) appropriately. This is an issue that needs prayer more than anyone can imagine. We can teach knowledge and suggest judgment but the empathy required to “feel out” the right way to apply that knowledge in the dynamic of evangelistic discussion is hard to teach. We taught it through one-on-one practice in class using actual scenarios from previous visits. After each practice, we would critique the discussion to apply the lessons we learned on previous applications
Recall that knowledge can never be an end to itself. Paul exhorts that we, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). So, we must study to show ourselves approved by God because God is the only being who knows the future assignments He has in mind for us. God will steer our desires and drive our questions in the direction to deliver what is needed for the lost person in front of us when that meeting takes place. Dependence on Him is the only winning game in town. Verse 10 finishes Paul’s thought. His prayer is for us to grow in knowledge and judgment, so that we may listen intently to the prospect to see how far God has taken him or her, and thereby through judgment, select the next step to meet the needs of that prospect.
In verse 11, Paul is depending on our reliance on the fruits of righteousness. Our righteousness comes from our salvation in Jesus Christ. The fruit of our salvation is the down payment of the Holy Spirit that God gives us at that instant (2 Cor 5:5; 7:7). If you can imagine for a moment, the scenario of the typical evangelistic discussion. There are three major players in that discussion: you, the prospect and the Lord. You (as the evangelist) are the only one who does not know what the prospect’s next step is. So, it is absolutely incumbent on the part of the evangelist to listen to the leadership of God, through the Holy Spirit who is inside you. And that is the key to being without offense in witnessing until the Lord returns. Those who keep this requirement will be very successful in evangelism, and they will, in fact, “be filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:11).
Understand the Context (Phil 1:12-18)
Our previous study completed Paul’s greetings and descriptions of his special memories of Philippi as he remains in Roman House Arrest. Now he wishes to go further: he wants to dig down to his calling by the Lord into ministry, “for he is a chosen vessel unto me [Jesus], to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15, author’s brackets). Paul wanted to share the latest news of what had happened and is happening in the context of that calling with them. He writes of his excitement about the progress of the Gospel message in the city of Rome. Even the elite guard is responding to his message of the good news of Jesus Christ. So many of the elite guard were converted to Christ that they were now leading others in their number to Christ on their own. The other people see the guards finding Christ, and they begin sharing the Gospel of Christ with great power and conviction, as well.
Paul’s research into the motivations for sharing the Gospel was both positive and negative. While the training for presenting the Gospel stressed maintaining purity in heart, he found that it was not universally held. Most of the people were sincerely sharing the Good News of Christ for the purposes of being faithful to the calling and keeping a pure heart. But there were some who were sharing in hope of bringing harm to Paul. Whatever the motives for sharing, Paul was contented knowing that the sharing of Christ was still taking place and people were being won for Jesus Christ all across Rome (Phil 1:15-18).
Understand the Context (Phil 1:19-26)
But Paul was also dealing with the realities of his imprisonment under house arrest in Rome. He felt the prayers of the people at Philippi and the influence of the Holy Spirit to get the Gospel out to the people regardless of the opposition from any source. And he prayed those things as the opposition was defeated and the Gospel spreading like wildfire.
Paul’s attitude regarding the threats and the naysayers was “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). So, Paul’s rejoicing in the successful spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the highest blessing whether he was alive to lead it, or dead to enjoy it with the Lord Jesus, watching the progress together.
Open Doors (Phil 1:12-14)
Paul looks at the events led by the opposition are backfiring on them. He sees every action they are taking to shut him down become primary motivations for even more zeal in the Christ followers. And this is a standard across the world. For example, recall that the Communist Manifesto states that the only church under communism is the Communist Party; that no other church is allowed exist. Several years ago (roughly 2005), Baptists all over the United States donated funding for founding the First Baptist Church of Moscow, Russia against all directions not to do so. We were careful not to build the church building too large because of fear that the opening services might look too small. So, the church was built for maximum attendance of about 300 people. The actual attendance was so large that loud speakers were set up in the windows to allow the crowd outside to hear the services. The following week, the church offered three service times to accommodate the crowds. As of the 2020 census done by the Union of the Evangelical Christians - Baptists (UECB) in Russia, there were 1,674 churches in Russia serving 68,166 openly worshipping members. So, adding to Paul’s confidence, we can say that denying permission for God’s people to worship Him is like throwing gasoline on a bonfire.
Paul continues in Verse 13 that his bonds in Christ are so widely known that everyone in Rome was hearing the Gospel including the entire palace guard. Further, the believers who heard about his situation waxed even more courageous and showed more confidence in speaking the word of the Gospel fearlessly. Again, any attempt to keep believers down will only intensify their zeal for teaching and hearing the Bible.
Mission Accomplished (Phil 1:15-18)
In Philippians 1:15, Paul continues the same line of thought by acknowledging to the church that there are some people preaching the Gospel out of jealousy and/or rivalry, while others were preaching Christ out of pure motives. Paul felt the latter group of Christians preached out of love for him and knowledge that he was called to preach the Word unselfishly (1:16).
While the first group did not display pure motives, he continues in Verse 17, they still preached about Jesus Christ. So, Paul feels that even with their bad attitudes and selfish motives, the Gospel of Christ is preached all the more. While intending to make Paul’s prison stay even more painful, they were accomplishing Jesus’ call on Paul’s life even more quickly than any of those ministering to Paul thought possible. Once again, they were proving that God had more control on the spread of the Gospel than any other force, positive or negative, on this planet.
Paul says in Verse 18, that it really does not matter, whether they preach out of misguided motives or they preach with all sincerity, they are still preaching the Gospel of Christ and His message is being proclaimed either way. Paul’s feeling is that he is rejoicing in the results and will continue to do so. Jesus Christ called him to preach His Gospel to the Gentiles, to the kings and to the people of Israel. Here is Paul under house arrest in Rome where his audiences are mostly Gentile. The letter he is writing is a letter to a Gentile Church in Philippi. Timothy, who is with him, will very soon become the Pastor of the Church at Ephesus. Countless other churches are reaching Jews and Gentiles, alike. Paul is under house arrest awaiting an appointment to speak to yet another king. His entire calling, all three elements as documented in Acts 9:15, is being fulfilled while he is bound behind sealed walls. How great is our God to accomplish all that He called Paul to do while Paul is locked away by foolish people who think they can stop the Gospel of Christ? Again, Paul says he is rejoicing in this and will continue to do so (vs. 18).
God Honored (Phil 1:19-21)
Paul acknowledges in verse 19 that he has known all along that this situation would turn out to be for his advantage. He knew the prayers of the church in Philippi and the awesome power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ were a power that could not be constrained.
John states in his first epistle, “14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: 15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15). Jesus says simply, “Ask and ye shall receive” (Matt 21:22 & John 16:24). Paul was called, the church at Philippi prayed, the Spirit of God was present, what more was needed to bring about what was prayed for? Paul goes on to say that it was always his expectation and his hope that as he worked in accordance with God’s will (the call of Jesus Christ), he would never experience shame or disgrace. Rather, Paul could speak in all boldness that Christ would always be magnified, established and proven through his being, whether it be in his life or in his death (vs. 19). Paul acknowledges that it is always Christ’s decision whether He accomplishes His will for our lives through us as we live our lives, or through our legacies, after we die.
Paul completes this thought with one of his infamous statements, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (vs. 21). While he is here, he can live for Christ and try to accomplish what he knows is God’s will for him. But, if he dies, God will still accomplish what He intended through his legacy. Meantime, Paul would be rejoined in physical presence of the Jesus he loved and served throughout his entire life. So, in death, Paul is multiplied in personal nearness with the Lord. Further, his earthly struggles will then be completed: no more prison, no more floggings, no more shipwrecks, no more snake bites, no more persecution by the Sanhedrin. He would certainly be welcomed by the same words we all long to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things, I will make you ruler over many. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt 25:21, 23). I cannot think of any sweeter words to hear after a lifetime of service down here!
Christ Alone (Phil 1:22-26)
Paul finds himself in the same dilemma as I hinted above. He begins with the premise, if he continues to live in his physical body, what he sees around him is all he has; it is the result of his labors (vs. 22). Yet, if offered the choice to leave, he is not sure if he would choose to live and finish his ministry here or accept death in order to be in the physical present of Jesus Christ. Certainly, being with Jesus Christ in eternity would be more personally attractive than staying here under any circumstances. But Paul’s next thought was of the great value he could have for the church at Philippi if he were to remain here and serve the church. Verse 24 expresses Paul’s realization of the Philippian need rather than his own desire.
Verses 25 and 26 show Paul’s final decision for what would be best for the Kingdom and the Church. He expresses his confidence that he will remain serving on earth and serving the church of Philippi (and all the other churches) to advance their faith and help the Christians realize the great joy they have in it. By doing that, Paul realizes they would express their joy more completely in the direction of Jesus Christ.
Understand the Context (Phil 1:27-2:30)
As we transitioned from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2, Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi left two very strong comments: “Live worthy of the Gospel and Suffer for Christ’s sake” (Phil 1:27, 29). He asked the church members to serve one another, place the interests of others ahead of their own and to generally consider others more worthy than themselves (Phil 2:1-4). When it came to an example of how that kind of humility looked when lived out, Paul referenced the life of Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5).
Paul went on to encourage all believers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:11-13). Not only did Paul want them to work out their own salvation but to do it without making a public display of any complaining or arguing (Phil 2:13-14). More later on meaning of “working out one’s own salvation. We learn later in this chapter that Paul was praying that the Lord would send his son in the faith, Timothy to them for service and feedback to him on how the church was doing. (2:19).
In Relationships (Phil 2:1-4)
Verse 2:1 could be written as a series of four rhetorical questions: “If there is any encouragement from belonging to Christ, any comfort from His love, any fellowship together in the Spirit, or any tenderness and compassion in your hearts? And those four questions could be the conditional part of a sentence joining with verse 2. So, if any of those things are true, then Paul says the Church at Philippi could make him very happy by agreeing with one another to love one another (Greek agape) and work together in singleness of mind and purpose.
Verses 3 and 4 are a pair of couplets; the first part of each verse shows what not to do, while the second half shows what to do. Combining, Paul warns the Church not to be self-obsessed to impress others nor to look out for their own interests only, but rather, be humble, thinking of others better or more often than themselves and taking an interest in them, as well (2:3-4).
So, verses 2:1-4 drive home a point to ease some of Paul’s potential concerns over these attitudes. The message itself is not uncommon. If we look throughout the New Testament, we find the term “as Christ” signifying how we should act, how we should live, how we should behave, how we should pray and so on. We who are Christians are clearly those who are as Christ was (Rom 6:4 15:7; Gal 4:14; Eph 5:2, 23, 25; Col 3:13; 1 and Pet 4:1). In Romans 8:29, Paul drives the point home by saying that God predetermined that all of us who know Jesus are to be conformed to His image. In other words, the reborn are supposed to be like Christ. I often use John’s first epistle when teaching the basics of Christianity. John says, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” In today’s language that verse says “Those who call themselves Christians ought to walk like Christ walked.” The New Living Translation says, “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” Makes understanding Christianity pretty simple.
By Example (Phil 2:5-11)
Paul continues the same basic context by speaking of Jesus as our example. Verses 5 – 8 make the simple statement for all of us to follow, “5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” These four verses make up a single sentence to review.
First, Paul mentions that we should try to fashion our mind (thoughts, mental images, ideas, etc.) after the mind of Christ; that is, think like Jesus thinks. The first breakout of that statement says, that Jesus took on the form of God but never considered it robbery to be equal with God. In simple Christian theology, Christ knew exactly where He stood as a person but took great care to maintain both images for humankind. The first image was to be totally obedient to the Father. Obedience is the only way to find peace with God. In Jesus’ most trying time, He still said, “Not My will but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus asked the Father to take that cup from Him but offered obediently to do whatever the Father willed. That is the first example Christ gave to us, but the second is just as strong. Jesus was the Son, the second member of the Godhead. He was God in the flesh. In this manifestation, Jesus was (and is) God, Himself – 100 percent God, yet 100 percent man. Jesus had no inferiority complex or problem knowing who He was and what His mission was. He told the great legal minds of the scribes and pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 5:58). Jesus did not think being equal with God to be robbery because Jesus WAS and IS equal with God.
So, while Jesus knew exactly Who He was, He gave up all the rank and privileges in order to fulfill the ministry of introducing the world to God through Him. He gave up all the power to rotate the earth, to make it spin backwards to relive a day. He had the impossible mission to be 100 percent man and 100 percent God at the same time. Jesus made Himself of no significant reputation. He limited Himself to the image of the man within which He came. He became like a servant in order to live His comment, “The greatest among you shall be the servant of you all” (Matt 20:27, 23:11; Mark 9:35, 10:44). Jesus was humbled and became obedient to His death; even the death of the cross. If only the ranting men gathered at the crucifixion could have realized when they challenged Him to come off the cross, that HE could done exactly that. However, obedience dictated that Jesus had to endure the cross knowing that He could escape it anytime He wished.
Verses 9-11 switches to the Fathers commendation of the Son. Paul says that God exalted Him and gave Him a name greater than all names. Verses 10 and 11 say that at the name of Jesus, every knee shalt bow and every tongue will confess; the knee shall bow of those in Heaven, on earth and under the earth. Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father. Try to image a greater exaltation than these.
In Lifestyle (Phil 2:12-15)
Last, we look at Joy Through Humility In Lifestyle (Philippians 2:12-15). When Paul thinks of the people of the Philippian Church, he recalls how perfectly obedient they have been. Paul testifies that they have not only been fully obedient while he was there with them, but when he was not with them, as well. The end of verse 12 says in the KJV that they should “work out their own salvation.” Of course, those who believe that there is some human works that you must do to be saved (born again), will look at this verse as evidence and justification of their beliefs. The same people will fail to remember that this same Paul made the opposite abundantly clear when he said, “8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
Most of us learned very early in our studies of the faith about of the three tenses of salvation: We are saved from the penalty of sin, saved from the power of sin, and saved from the presence of sin. The big words are justification, sanctification and glorification. All three can be seen at Romans 5:1-5. Justification is the event of receiving Christ as Savior and having all your sins taken away (Rom 8:1, 10:9-10). Sanctification is the process of becoming like Jesus (as in this verse) and Glorification is the event of departing this world to be with Jesus in His kingdom as in John 14: 1-6. Note that in all three of the tenses in Verse 12, the meaning of “working out your own salvation” means to allow people to see how the sanctification process is making you more like Jesus every day.
The secret or mystery of sanctification is that neither we nor our personal wills cause us to change. Rather, it is the power of the Holy Spirit who works within us. God works on us through the trials and tribulation He permits to enter our lives. They transition us into obedient followers who desire to do His will and His good pleasure (vs. 13). Further, we do these things not under the firm hand of God as a despot, but rather, under the loving hand of the Father through the Spirit He deposited inside us at the instant we recognized Him as Savior and Lord (vs. 14 & 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5, 7:7, 8:16; Eph 1:14).
So, we submit to the teaching and discipline of God through the Spirit without murmurings or disputing. And that is what compels us forward in Christ as blameless and without charge, as the sons and daughters of God, without any rebuke while continuing to dwell in this land along side the crooked and perverse, and truly become the lights of this world to so them the salvation that awaits them when they believe (Vs. 15).
Understand the Context (Phil 3:1-21)
Just as Paul left his introductory comments in Chapter 1 with the strong reminders that we are to “Live worthy of the Gospel” and “Suffer for Christ’s sake,” he leaves Chapter 2 with the reminder that we must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 1:27, 29 & 2:12). Each of these three very heavy topics deal with establishing a lifestyle of following Christ that does not stop with our initial salvation (justification) experience which cleanses us from all sin, nor will we spend our lives only looking forward to the day when we experience our final salvation (glorification) as we move from this life to eternity with Christ in His Kingdom. Rather, we are to “work out our own salvation” in between the time we are saved from the penalty of sin (justified) and we are saved from the presence of sin (glorified). The Greek word for “work out” here is katergázomai (kat-er-gad' - zom-ahee) which means to make our walk in Christ more excellent or complete or perfect each day. In the context under discussion, it means the process of moving from our salvation from the penalty of sin (justification) to your salvation from the presence of sin (glorification). The big word for being saved from the power of sin is sanctification. In other words, we develop a lifestyle learning to be more perfect or complete in Christ by reacting positively to the stimuli Jesus places in our lives.
In Romans 5:1-5, Paul captures the ideas of justification and glorification saying, “1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” It is in verses 3-5 that Paul tells the Roman Church about sanctification. He says, “3 And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” James captures the same sense of joy in the sanctification process in James 1:2-4 saying, “2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing [this], that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have [her] perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Both writers celebrate the lifestyle of living in Jesus’ sanctification process as He makes us holy, complete and perfect in Himself. It becomes second nature to follow John’s teaching that “if we call ourselves Christians, we ought to walk as Christ walked” (1 John 2:6).
Understand the Context (Phil 3:1-21, Cont.)
So now, with those foundational concepts established, we move into the context of today’s study in Philippians 3:1-21. Recall at the conclusion of Chapter 2 that Paul had sent Timothy and Epaphroditus from serving him in Roman house arrest to Philippi to help them. Timothy would get a report on the Church to return to Paul while Epaphroditus would be returning home to serve the Church at Philippi. We know Timothy through his travel with Paul on his Second Missionary Journey after he met Timothy in Derbe and Lystra. Timothy was the son of a Greek father and Hebrew mother. Paul, while rejecting the teaching of the Judaizers that Christians must endorse Jewish Law and rituals, had Timothy circumcised to quiet those distractions. Timothy would serve as Pastor to the Church at Ephesus and become the subject of two of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, 1 and 2 Timothy.
We will learn more of Epaphroditus as he was an escaped slave belonging to Philemon, the addressee of a Pauline letter, as well. Paul would be requesting Philemon to forgive Epaphroditus of his crimes when he ran away and release him from bondage as a slave and receive him instead, as a brother in Christ.
So, Paul warns the Church at Philippi about the doctrine of the Judaizers and the completely unnecessary doctrines of following Jewish Law and rituals to become a Christian. (Seems ironic that Paul would send Timothy with that message after having him submit to circumcision on that Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:1-3).) Paul goes on to testify that he also once believed as the Judaizers before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. But now he understands that the only source of joy in the Lord is through Jesus Christ, and not of works (Eph 2:8-9). So, the Church at Philippi must reject those teachings as false and move on in the liberty of Christ. Paul stated that his personal history of sanctification only started when he received Christ, not when he was a leader of the Hebrew faith and led the persecution of Christians. Paul emphasizes his focus on growth in Jesus Christ above all and the rejection of any of these distracting documents or rituals (by grace, through faith in Christ only).
Paul completes this set of teachings by reassuring the Philippian believers concerning the promise return of Jesus (Phil 3:20-21). Paul correctly reminds the Philippian believers that, while we still reside here, our citizenship is in Heaven with the Lord who paid the price of our redemption on the cross of Calvary. There is no further condemnation of any of us who are inside Jesus’ sin payment (Rom 8:1). All that remains is to make sure we understand which return of Christ Paul is referencing here. His description of that coming in verse 21 is insufficient to determine whether Paul is talking about His coming for us in the Rapture of the Saints, or if Paul means Jesus’ return at His Second Coming (1 Thes 4:18ff or Rev 19:1ff)
Righteousness Gained (Phil 3:8-11)
Verses 3:1-7 are not a part of the focal verses for this study, but they help us understand the discussion starting in 3:8. Paul reveals to the Philippians that they (and we) have good reason to rejoice in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Paul is excited about the subject and wants the Church at Philippi to understand it is not just their salvation from condemnation, but it is also their safety and security. At the same time, he warns them again about false teachers. Here, he specifically mentions those who teach one must be circumcised for belief in Jesus to be saved. Paul not only describes them as dogs and evil workers but goes on to list his credentials in the Hebrew faith. He was more of a Hebrew zealot than any of those gathered against the Philippian Church. Paul, in his role as chief persecutor and prosecutor of Christian believers, demonstrated more Hebrew orthodoxy than anyone could claim. Yet, he says in Verse 8, he counts all those things as lost now that he has discovered the excellency of Christ Jesus. He admits that he has lost everything that matters here on earth, but he could count them as having less value biological waste compared to his discovery of Jesus Christ.
Starting at verse 9, Paul explains why he is so excited about having found Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. His first thought is of the required righteousness to be counted worthy of standing with Jesus. Paul says he has no righteousness of his own regardless of the earthly works of his life before meeting Christ. And this grace that God gave him came through faith in Christ Jesus. He explains in Verse 10 that his righteousness is not his own but through Christ is of God by faith. Simply put, Paul is fully dependent on his faith in Jesus Christ to provide a superior righteousness to anything he could gain in any other way. Through this faith, Paul also knows Jesus, of the power of His resurrection, of the fellowship he has in Jesus’ sufferings resulting in His death. This faith Paul experiences is the access he has to the resurrection from the dead (vs. 11). That righteousness is imputed to Paul through faith and is all that is required.
Sanctification Begun (Phil 2:12-14)
Paul reminds us, however, that the acquisition of this saving grace through faith in Jesus Christ is just the beginning of his walk in Him (vs. 12). Therefore, Paul had not already achieved all there was to have through Jesus Crist. While he had been saved from the penalty of sin through his faith, he had not completed the course of had become perfect in it. Paul realized that being saved from the penalty of sin, was not sufficient for day that day of living in Christ. After this justification or saving from the penalty of sin, Paul must acquire the lifelong goal of becoming holy and acceptable God in Christ. Sanctification is salvation from the power of sin and does not end until we are taken home by Jesus Christ. While Paul was attempting to achieve this Christlikeness, he was convinced that Christ was also apprehending himself to give him that Christlikeness. God’s toolkit for causing humankind to grow are the trials and tribulation we are to joyously respond to in order to achieve such growth.
Verse 14 reveals a major stumbling block for Christians attempting to live for Christ and grow through His stimuli. Somehow, while Christ is placing growth stimuli in front of us, we decide to focus on what has happened in our past. We recall mistakes we made or pain we have caused to others and allow the guilt, shame and sorrow fill our entire existence. This is a typical tool Satan uses to distract Christians from achieving the growth God has planned for them, substituting instead guilt, shame and sorrow for things that have long since been forgiven by God through Jesus Christ. We easily forget that when Jesus spoke the words “It is finished” from the cross (Greek: tetelestai), it meant He had paid for all sin; past, present and future. Paul reinforces that up by saying “There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Nevertheless, we will sometimes allow ourselves to look back instead of ahead. Ask a runner what happens when he looks behind instead of ahead.
Warning Issued (Phil 3:15-19)
Paul uses Philippians 3:15-17 to encourage us to press on toward the goals that God has placed in front of us. When he mentions “the perfect,” he is speaking of those who are spiritually mature; not people who stand without daily error before the Lord – there is no one possessing that level of perfection. Paul encourages us to be like-minded, or in agreement with one another. He states that whenever we find ourselves thinking otherwise, God will reveal the disagreement and the truth. Therefore (verse 17), let us be followers of Christ in unity making note of those who are examples for us. When we feel challenged in things that lead to disunity, we can meet with one or more of those examples for us to resolve issues quickly to restore such unity. However, be careful not to allow the zeal for unity to provide an entryway for false doctrine.
Paul formalizes his warning against the people who purposely seek out disunity (vss. 18-19). Here, Paul describes those he sadly warned of earlier. They are described as being enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is in destruction, their god is in the lust of the flesh, and they seem to get glory out of the shameful things they have done – earthly things. People who have a habit of yielding to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are yielded to Satan as he tries to destroy the unity of the faith (I John 2:16). These three areas of attack are typical of Satan, and he even used them to tempt Christ at the end of His 30-day fast in the wilderness (Matt 4:2, Mark 1:13 & Luke 4:2). The lust of the flesh: Jesus was hungry, and Satan tempted Him to turn rocks into bread. The lust of the eyes: Satan took Jesus to high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world saying he would give all to Him if he would worship him. The pride of life: Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and tempted Him to jump off to prove He was the Son of God. If Satan thought he could successfully tempt the Son of God with these things, what makes us feel exempt for a moment?
Citizenship Assured (Phil 3:20-21)
Last, we look at Paul’s words to encourage believers to keep watching for Jesus as He fulfills His promise to return on a cloud to take us to where He is (Acts 1). Recall that Jesus walked among men for forty days after His resurrection but before His ascension. During this time, He showed that He was not a ghost. He ate and drank with the people. He let them touch Him and see His wounds. Jesus reminded them of many of His teachings and of how He would return in like manner as He left and take them to be where He was. He assured us that He was going to prepare a place for us, and He would return to take us to where He is to live in one of the dwelling places He has prepared.
And in verse 21, He promised to change this body, old, tired, diseased and turn it into a perfect body like His new and glorious one. It was made to look like man but was more than just a man. Jesus was 100 percent man while being 100 percent God. He became an example to us. The One we were able to use as an example who would never let us down. The One Paul kept speaking of as he said, “If any man will follow after me, let him deny himself and take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). He is the One God spoken of when He said, “Behold my Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17, 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22 & 2 Pet 1:17). He was the One when grilled by the lawyers of the scribes, pharisees and sadducees about Him saying He saw Abraham, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Yes, this One will subdue all things to Himself to the glory of His Father and our God.
Understand the Context (Phil 4:1-9)
The study of Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi is a study of Christian joy in the Lord. Our weekly studies have been dubbed “Joy in Prayer” (Chap 1a), “Joy of Adversity” (Chap 1b), “Joy Through Humility” (Chap 2), and “Joy in Knowing Jesus” (Chap 3). During last week’s study, we looked at the joy related to trials and tribulations during our service for the Lord. Philippians 3 began with Paul’s exhortation, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil 3:1). Paul then described how he was motivated before his Christian conversion by the laws and rituals of the Jewish faith just as the Judaizers practiced. This week in Chapter 4, he warns the Philippians to disregard the doctrines of the Judaizers.
The joy Paul advertised was experienced in the midst of trials and tribulations. He described those tests in Romans 5:3-5 saying, “3 And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Likewise, James, our Lord’s half-brother, wrote about trials and tribulations this way, “2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing [this], that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have [her] perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4). At least some of his joy was brought about by knowing that the trials and tribulations he described were evils brought upon him (and us) to hinder our ministries. The question frequently asked by those unfamiliar with the supernatural battles between good and evil is how one could ever be glad for enduring such tests. In fact, the tests become badges of honor awarded only to those leading successful ministries. This defines real joy for us!
Paul continues the discussion of joy in Chapter 4 while adding the topic of peace found in having a personal relationship with Christ. The combination of joy and peace found there still inspires us even when the external character of life is in turmoil. Paul exhorts us to “stand fast in the Lord” knowing that our fellow believers are in the same holy and loving relationship with Christ as we are. The fact that our loved ones are in the same body of believers brings a sense of peace, knowing that we are not alone in the testing.
It brings to Paul’s mind a couple disgruntled members of the congregation who need to be reminded that unity in the fellowship of believers requires that they find a way to jointly put aside their differences and reunite with the rest of that body. In a wider application, Paul gives the same advice to the congregation in general. That is, they should unite under Christ for the sake of God’s truth, moral excellence and praise.
Stand (Phil 4:1)
Paul opens his discussion of joy through peace by saying that because of our sure salvation in Christ, as presented at the end of Chapter 3 (therefore), those who are of that intensity of faith in Christ, ought to stand or persevere firmly in the Lord. Notice how succinctly and carefully he addresses the intended recipients of the command. First, he calls them “My brethren” indicating that are fellow believers with him in Jesus Christ. This salutation is especially needful because Paul was a noted leader of Jews and this church is mainly Gentile, nevertheless, they are his brothers. Then he calls them “dearly beloved and longed for.” So, they are dearly loved by him and the Lord, and they have a great and joint desire to be where they are, to be with them.
Further note that after Paul states the message of his thought (stand fast in the Lord), he finishes addressing them by repeating that they are his dearly beloved. Paul shows how important it is to him that this body of believers know that they are affectionately loved and cared for. He wanted them to know that even ten years after he founded the church, he still cares deeply for them and is sincerely grateful for their support to him during his house arrest in Rome. In short, he knows who they are, he loves them dearly and he is aware of and grateful for the support they have been sending.
Unite (Phil 4:2-3)
This passage begins with Paul issuing both a direct and a combined exhortation to two ladies in the Philippian church. First, recall that the establishment of the Church at Philippi was begun by Paul and Silas going down to the river side on the Sabbath Day and meeting with a group of women who came there for prayer (Acts 16:13). We saw that Lydia, who was a seller of purple, was the first Christian convert there and established the first Christian church in Europe. Lydia’s entire house accepted Christ and were baptized there. Lydia was from the area of Thyatira and Lydia (also a name of a city) that was noted for their making of dyes, hence, “seller of purple” could be a seller of dyes of various colors. The next member of the church seems to be a converted diviner who was a slave and made her owners a considerable amount of money through her demon possession. When Paul casted the demon out, she lost her gift, her owners brought charges on Paul and Silas, and they ended up beaten and jailed. So, women played a major role in the founding of the Church at Philippi.
Fast forward ten years, and we find Paul opening his address to two ladies within the church who also worked with Paul on the mission field at an earlier date. Paul admonishes these ladies singularly and jointly in verse 2, to start thinking in one mind, focused on the Lord. We know these are ladies first by seeing that the Greek language specifies their names as female nouns. Second, we see in the next verse that Paul refers to them as “those women which laboured with me in the gospel.” The fact that Paul insists that they be of one mind in the Lord, implies that they were not of one mind, currently. As stated, it sounds like they disagree with each other, but because they worked closely with Paul, Clement and other fellow labourers, they may have been part of the leadership of the Philippian Church. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s ’s Commentary goes so far as to suggest they may have been deaconesses. I agree with them if for no other reason than they commanded such attention in Paul’s letter. For those in leadership in the Church, like-mindedness is essential. Satan will exploit any disagreement in leadership to cause disunity and eventual church splitting. It must be cured or one (or both) of those in disagreement must go to another church. The church is certainly more important than either of the leaders in contention. True leaders will recognize the fact of disunity and solve the disagreement without intervention.
Notice that Paul draws attention to the fact that all the people involved in this problem are born-again believers in Jesus Christ (they are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, vs. 3). Paul’s list of the “fruits of the spirit” dictates that those of us who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh and walk in the spirit. Paul says, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal 5:22-26, KJV).
Pray (Phil 4:4-7)
In these four verses, Paul lists several exhortations for those leading the church (Bishops and Deacons – vs. 1:1). It should not come as a surprise that the first on Paul’s heart is that we “Rejoice in the Lord; and again I say, Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Paul claims the idea of joy throughout this letter and multiplies its importance by listing it first in his exhortations.
Instead, do not care unreasonably for anything you have or see others have (vs. 6). Rather, for everything we have, by prayer and thanksgiving interface with the Lord for what you have, do not have, or want to have. For those who have been blessed with abundance, look around to see who or what cause might be helped through an anonymous gift. For those in need, let your need be known to your Deacon. He will understand how to deal with it discretely to prevent any embarrassment or exploitation of the same. The Lord has ways to have us experience a peace that is absolutely impossible for those outside of the faith to understand. We have that peace with God through Jesus and are commanded to share it (Matt 28:18-20).
Dwell (Phil 4:8-9)
So, given all the things we should not be thinking about, what things should we concentrate on, instead? Paul says we should “think on these things: Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, of virtue, or of praise (v4:8). Filling our hearts and minds with these things will fill our lives with praise and peace in Christ as we watch Him do the miracles all around us. I realize that the challenges of this world try to infiltrate the thought processes of the Christian and steer us in the direction despair, disunity and gloom, but it need not be so! We can see the workings of God all around us; is that not what Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-20? If we can focus our minds to dwell on the works of God, we can enjoy God’s promised peace that passes all understanding.
In Verse 4:9, Paul tells the Saints, Bishops and Deacons at Philippi, they can use him as an example. They can look at the things they have learned, received, heard, and seen him do, do those things, and the God of peace shall be with us. Again, what we allow our heads and hearts to be filled with is what we become. I like the passages of Scripture where Jesus tells His Apostles to follow Him, and He will make them to become fishers of men! (Matt 4:19 & Mark 1:17).
Understand the Context (Phil 4:10-23)
This is our last study in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. The church was founded by Paul on his second missionary journey about 51 AD. The letter, or epistle as it is more formally known, was written by Paul about 60 AD. At its writing, Paul was under house arrest by Rome pending his defense at the highest levels. The Philippian Church was sending support to Paul during the house arrest, and part of this letter was to express his sincere gratitude for that support. He also had doctrinal issues to discuss because of outside influences introducing false teaching of the Judaizers trying to force inclusion of Jewish legalism, rituals and interpretation of the Law. Paul provides much more details about the issues of false teaching later in the book.
Paul provides a little more insight into his personal walk by testifying that he has learned to be content with whatever states he finds himself, whether he is in plenty or is need (4:10-14). He returns to the theme of joy as he sees the end of delays he was experiencing in support; delays ended by the arrival of Epaphroditus. He called his offering a “fragrant offering” bringing to mind the writings of Moses and how he described God’s feeling about the sweet-smelling sacrifices offered by His people (Phil 4:15-18 & Gen 8:20-21). The Lord not only commanded the sacrifices but rejoiced in the obedience of His people to make the sacrifices. Their generosity could not equal God’s sacrifice of His only begotten Son for the sins of all humankind (John 3:16). Then Paul brings an appropriate end to the chapter and the letter with greeting to the entire church, but especially those who worked with him to bring it back from potential harm.
In All Situations (Phil 4:10-14)
Paul was careful in his selection of words to describe two emotions at the same time. First, Paul wanted to recognize the fact of his personal concern regarding the regular support he received from the Church at Philippi. Because of persecution and dealing with local problems, the support payments were not reaching Paul in a timely manner. Second, he specifically mentioned his knowledge of the senders’ sincere caring about supporting Paul, but their lack of opportunity, through no fault of their own, has prevented that support from arriving at Paul’s location (Phil 4:10-11).
An interesting aside from verse 11, when I was completing my undergraduate degree, I was overly verbal in expressing my dislike for the state of New Mexico where I was attending the university. I do not recall what the issues were with the state or if it was just because I disliked school and was anxious to see it end. But the person who was the bus captain for the church bus I drove was a New Mexico resident and took exception to my dislike for his state. He quoted Philippians 4:11 to me as, “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” and told me that the Lord insists that I learn to be satisfied with wherever He sends me. I chuckled together with him because we both knew Paul was not talking about his sadness with being n Rome or in prison or the state where the prison was situated. Rather, he was saying that whether he was rich or poor (a state of being or financial statis), he was happy to be serving the Lord. No reference to a place or providence or geographic state at all. It struck us as humorous after we thought about what he said, that he was stretching the meaning of the verse to fit his own purposes.
Paul continues with the same idea of being content regardless of his situation in verses 12 – 14. He was trying to ease any guilt for pain or inconvenience caused for Paul because they were unable to deliver the intended support when expected. He begins by sharing that he has experience with both extremes; that is, he knows what it is like to be abased and to abound. The Greek word for abased is tapeinoo or to be brought low or humbled. In contrast, Paul says he know what it is like to abound. The Greek word for abound is perisseúō or to have great abundance, be more abundant, be the better, enough and to spare, exceed, excel, increase, be left, redound, remain over and above. So, Paul knows wealth and poverty, satisfaction and hunger, and abasement and abundance. He has learned to make due in all conditions. As a matter of fact, he says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Knowing that everything taking place was not all about him, he tells them that they have done very well in trying to address his afflictions (Phil 4:14). Here is an example that Paul is showing us; regardless of his own personal pain and anguish, we who know and love the Lord ought to take time to show love to those who are in similar circumstances but are trying to ease ours. A contribution of appreciation is always in order.
Through Other Believers (Phil 4:15-18)
In verses 15 – 18, Paul makes a local application of what he and they have learned through this situation. Paul says that when this all began, when he was leaving Macedonia, not a single church took interest in his situation and tried to help him except the Philippian church. Paul remembers that even when he was at Thessalonica, you (the Philippians) sent support for him to complete his ministry there, not just once but several times (vs. 16). Paul stressed that they did not sent gifts to him because he tried to raise money there, nor that he even mentioned having need at that time, but they sent support because of the fruits of the Spirit that were stirred in them that they should give to support the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But now, Paul stresses, I have all I need, and much more beyond that need. He says, “I am full, not just in reference to plenty of food; I am full of the blessings your church has levied on me through the gift delivered by Epaphroditus.” Paul thought it was as if the sweet smell God experienced when the proper sacrifices were offered to Him accompanied this gift from the Philippian church. It was the sweet smelling savor that accompanied a proper gift, given by the proper person, at the proper time, with the proper intent. This gift to him was well pleasing to God and to him. Paul’s words not only showed his sincerer appreciation of the gift, but genuine hearts of those who gave it. This is, in fact, a gift that pleased God and God’s minister.
For His Glory (Phil 4:19-20)
In closing, Paul delivers a bit of a eulogy stating the fact that God will certainly supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. It was not an attempt by Paul to be overly thankful, or super religious, but rather, to describe what he had learned time and time again; that God will always provide as He had done in the funding of Paul’s ministry. God has an over abundance of resources available to support the ministries of all who have need. Paul had learned this lesson previously and was stating it for the benefit of the representatives of the Philippian church as they brought gifts to Paul. He was tired from the physical work, but the lifting of his spirit through the sacrificial giving of these brothers and sisters lifted up his countenance so that we could almost hear his shouts of joy in the Lord.
And now, now that the letter is completed, and the elations of another labor for the Lord (a timely and very much needed letter for the Church) is finished, we must all agree in its dedication to the only true God and our Heavenly Father, and that it will bring glory to Him forever and ever, “let it be so.”
Historic Background for the Church at Colossae
Colossae (as spelled in the better manuscripts) and two of its neighboring cities, Laodicea and Hieropolis, were never visited by Paul, and therefore he was not its direct founder as he was in founding of Philippians. Paul’s associate, Epaphras, was the apparent founder and likely did so under the leadership of Paul. He worked with Paul during his house arrest just as Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul called Epaphras his faithful servant in his letter to Colosse when he carried Paul’s letter to them (Col 1:1-8). Some are tempted to draw an association between Epaphras and Epaphroditus because of the similarities in their names. Bible scholar, John MaKenzie does so in the “Dictionary of the Bible” (p. 239). The name, Epaphras is a shortened form of the more formal Greek name Epaphroditus, but that seems to be the end of their commonality. While their missions for their churches was similar in that both carried one of Paul’s letters, they were certainly not the same person. Epaphras carried the letter of Colossians while Epaphroditus caried the letter to the Philippians, and both letters dealt with doctrinal issues. The letter to the Philippians dealt with the Judaizers while the letter to the Colossians delt with a form of false doctrine combining Jewish ritual and pagan worship.
While that letter to the church at Philippi was full of Paul’s reasons for great joy followed by the business of healing relationships in the church and dealing with the Judaizer’s false doctrine, the letter to the Colossians showed Paul as emphasizing the joys of the correct doctrine to combat the false dogma. He set straight the powerful standing of the saints at Colosse in Christ alone.
Historic Background for the Church at Colossae (Cont.)
There were no discussions of added doctrine or mixtures of various religious ideas to formulate Christianity. The church was to hold fast to the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, alone. Paul talked of the majesty of Jesus Christ’s person and the full and complete redemption offered by God through Him alone. The focus on Christ offers a singularity of faith and associated justification, sanctification and glorification based on that faith, alone. Anything else brings confusion and uncertainty, and is correctly labelled heresy.
So, the emphasis was and is to be dedicated and conformed to Jesus Christ and none other. Further, the actions of the saints at Colosse were not to be limited to behavior within the worship services only. Rather, their actions and beliefs were to follow the believers no matter where they were or what activity in which they were participating. In contrast, the false doctrines being offered them were comprised of worshipping new moons and sabbath days. This is in reference to Judaizer teaching to return to rules and rituals involved with the Jewish traditions. Christ had set us free from those things. We were no longer involved with those religious practices, but an individual relationship with the Divine Father through Jesus Christ. The false teachers wanted to confuse the saints by combining aspects of the formal Jewish faith and practice (Judaizers). Others wanted to add to that worship elements of oriental practices and angel worship. Plus, they taught the religion of asceticism where a person finds a walk with God by practicing severe self-denial and withholding any kind of personal indulgence. All these efforts, while offered as religions, were nothing more than selling oneself back into the very slavery to sin they just recently escaped.
The letter to the Church at Colosse was written by Paul while in house arrest in Rome about 61 AD.
Understand the Context (Col 1:1-23)
This is our first study in Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse. The church was not founded by Paul, directly but rather, by Epaphras after Paul’s second missionary journey about 51 AD. The letter, or epistle as it is more formally known, was written by Paul about 60 AD. If later, the massive earthquake in 61 AD would have been mentioned, but it goes unmentioned here. At the writing of the letter, Paul was under house arrest in Rome pending his defense at the highest levels.
Paul mentions Timothy as a trusted associate but not a coauthor. Paul addresses the recipients as saints, brothers and sisters just as in Philippians. They are called “Saints” in the context of those set aside for God in a special way, in this case, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, not just the local body of believers at Colosse. As such, all born-again believers in Christ are Saints of God. Here, Paul also calls them “Brothers and Sisters” as he did in Philippians. Recall that John said of Jesus, “11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13). In that sense, all believers are our brothers and sisters regardless of denominational affiliations. The relationship is due to where we stand with Christ, the Church, with a capital “C” as opposed to the church build of bricks, mortar and stained glass.
Understand the Context (Col 1:1-23, Cont.)
Now, Paul drills down on the purpose of this particular letter. Of course, he begins with gratitude and prayer for those faithful in the work and worship of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He wanted to assure them of his prayers, especially as he received such great reports of their faithfulness to every aspect of service for the Lord. He mentioned faith, hope and fruitfulness in his letter to them. Fruitfulness was especially dear to Paul because of his specific call from Jesus and the fact that only growing churches are lasting churches. He wanted every church to succeed but certainly all that he had directly or indirectly founded.
Paul referenced Epaphras as a faithful servant and founder of the Church at Colosse (Col 1:7-8 & 4:12). He was there at the beginning of the church and now reports the good news of the church flourishing there. Paul again assures them of his prayers for their ministries and praises the Lord for their growth in the Him and acknowledges their special state in Him. They have been redeemed from the state of lostness they once endured as their penalty for sin. They now enjoy a state of forgiveness from all sin and no longer have any condemnation due them because are under the blood of the Risen Savior. Paul shows no hesitation in reminding them that the same Jesus Christ who saved them is the Supreme Creator of the entire universe and head of all that was, is and will forever exist. His domain is infinite. He completely satisfied the guilt of all mankind forever by His blood of the cross. Hebrews says, “11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11-12). So, Jesus offered one sacrifice that ended all sacrifice. The Resurrection is the evidence of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice. So, through the cross of Jesus, we are forgiven of all sin, saved from the punishment of that sin and reconciled the God through His Son.
Just a quick note that individuals are born again to Jesus Christ. Churches are comprised of those born agins believers in Christ. Membership in a church or any other religious organization does not cause a person to be born again. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish religion and leader in their chief council, the Sandhedrin, “Do not be surprised when I say you must be born again” (John 3:7).
Set Free (Col 1:9-14)
Now, into the Scriptures to support the context above. Set Free is the title of the first set of Scripture, Colossians 1:9-14. It begins, “For this cause also” which requires us to go back and find out what the cause was that should sharpen our focus. Verses 4-6 provide the emphasis upon which we can focus our attention and understanding. First, the Good News (or Gospel) of Jesus Christ provides the hope we have laid up for us in Heaven. We also know that it is in complete truth that we have heard it (vs. 5). The Gospel we received is also in the whole world, and it started bearing fruit the first day we heard it because we knew it was the truth of God’s grace to us (vs. 6). Paul says he has not stopped praying for the Colossians that they are filled with the knowledge God’s will, wisdom and spiritual understanding (vs. 9). Further, that this new understanding will cause them to live in such a way that honors and pleases the Lord, and their lives will produce nothing but good fruit (vs. 10). The process of getting the new knowledge, understanding and wisdom will allow them, and us, to continuously grow in knowledge and understanding of God. In simple terms, Paul is praying for the sanctification (becoming holy) of the Colossians.
Is this not exactly how sanctification works? (vss, 9-11). First, we experience sufficient stimuli that drives us to learn what it means to be born again (Rom 1:18-20). At the instant of discovering this truth, we surrender to Jesus Christ, and He fills us with the Spirit of God in the form of His Holy Spirit. Then that same Spirit drives us to learn more about the Gospel of Christ, so we can explain what happened to us in the most understandable terms possible. So, the sanctification cycle is initiated in all those who have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ (for by grace ye are saved through faith, it is the gift of God, lest any of us boast – Ephesians 2:8). Once we have been saved from the penalty of sin (justified), we automatically yearn for deeper knowledge, understanding and wisdom as motivated by the Holy Spirit from within us (sanctification). We strive to better explain what happened to change us, so we can lead others to that same saving grace. Then as we teach others, we continue learning more and more to better reach others (vs. 11a). It is not forced or threatened; it just happens as naturally as the sun rises on another day. Notice that he does not want us to be frustrated or tempted to resign from delivering the Gospel, rather, he wants us to be “filled with joy and always thanking the Father” (vs. 11b-12a). God has enabled us to become part of the promised inheritance that once belonged only to His people (Jewish believers). We have become a part of those who live in the light of the Gospel.
So, you might ask why has God been so generous to us? He did it to rescue those who were held captive by the kingdom of darkness (Satan’s kingdom) and allow them to be transitioned from condemnation in the kingdom of darkness, to the Kingdom of His own Dear Son – the Kingdom of Light! It was the Son who purchased our redemption with His blood, causing all our sin to be forgiven and moved as far from us as the east is from the west. Paul writes to the Church at Rome that there is now, therefore, no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). And that is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
By Christ (Col 1:15-20)
Paul continues that it is in Him, Jesus Christ, who is in the image of the invisible God (because God is Spirit – John 4:24). When spoken of by Paul, the pre-existent Son of God was already manifested as the Messiah (Hebrew) and Christ (Greek). Prior to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son had existed as the second person of the Trinity from the beginning of everything. “In the beginning, God (Hebrew; Elohim) created the heaven and the earth” (Gen 1:1). The word Elohim is a plural of three or more of the plural Eloah which is a plural of the singular El. This is important because if El was used here, it would have meant an individual, if Eloah was used, it would have meant a duality, but Elohim was used signifying a plural of three or more. But, Elohim can only mean more than three when accompanied by the number. Without number, Elohim means specifically three. So, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit existed before the beginning took place; they existed in infinity before anything existed. Verse 15a tells us that the Son was the exact reflection of the Father; everything that the Father was, was in the Son. Not only is Jesus the Son, but He is the same as the Father in every detail. Jesus asked Philip, “…Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9).
The second half of verse 15 tells us that the Son, the exact image of the Father, was the firstborn of every creature. In other words, there were none before the Son; no other people, animals, fish or anything else. So the Son, just like the Father and the Holy Spirit, were in the beginning and were the beginning. Nothing came before. Genesis 1:2 says, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
So, the slate was blank before the Creation. Out of that void, Paul tells us the pre-existent Jesus “created all things that are in heaven” (the skies and beyond, not the dwelling place of God), and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col 1:16-17). The universally inclusive words chosen by Paul are selected purposefully to drive home two points: First, there is nothing that exists or ever had existed that was not created by God’s hand, and Second, the Son, who is in the exact image of the Father, did the creating. Just to explain the terms, our God (Elohim, Jehovah, Yahweh) is one being who has chosen to reveal or show Himself in three ways: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Either or each of the three manifestations (revelations) of God is the same as the others. That is, Jehovah is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Neither is less than or greater than the other. Just as Jesus asked Philip if they had been together so long and yet he still did not know that if he had seen Jesus, he had seen the Father; Jesus said to the Scribes and Pharisees “Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am!” (John 8:58). Jesus claimed to have pre-existed Abraham. It is understandable that they wanted to stone Him; He used the same words Moses quoted as God’s words of introduction of Himself to the Pharaoh. They saw that Jesus was unapologetically identifying Himself as God.
Further, Paul continues, this Jesus “is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have preeminence (vs. 18). Jesus is the head of the church, and the church is His bride (Rev 21:2, 9). Paul provides a more detailed description of Jesus being the firstborn of the dead in his letter to the Church at Corinth saying, “20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor 15:20-24). So, Christ is the first part of the First Resurrection, believers in Christ shall be taken up at the Rapture of the Saints as the second part of the First Resurrection and “then cometh the end” when Jesus shall return at His Second Coming and take all Christians on Earth to Heaven in the third part of the First Resurrection (Rev 20:5-6). The word “permanence” in verse 18 is the Greek proteuo which means “the first” or “the top of the choices.” Jesus is the first in rank, privilege and authority. Verse 20 shows that God decided that Jesus shall have the fullness of the Godhead indwelling Him (Col 2:9).
Verse 20 presents the crowning topic for all of us, the reconciliation between the Creator and the created. Paul says the instrument of that reconciliation was “the blood of his cross.” He speaks of “making peace through that blood” and “reconciling all things unto Himself.” In other words, God used the crucifixion of Jesus as the instrument of reconciliation between Him and all creation. “Reconciliation” means to bring things back together; to make things right. While our sin has destroyed the relationship between us and our Creator, the perfect and sinless blood of Jesus Christ has erased that destruction in favor of a “clean rap sheet” without a need for any further charges against us forever. Paul says it like this, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom 8:1). Reconciliation in God’s eyes means no accusations, no condemnation, no guilt forever. We have been freed from the bondage of sin and its consequences. Doctor Martin Luther King used to quote the old spiritual song as, “Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Notice also that God inspires Paul to write “to reconcile all things to Himself; by Him. I say, whether they be things in earth, or thing in heaven” (vs. 20). This reconciliation with God which we have received is universal!
Through His Death (Col 1:21-23)
In verses 1:21-23, Paul gets very specific about how and by what instrument this colossal reconciliation takes place. In verse 21, Paul uses the word “you,” and it is that all-encompassing pronoun meaning every one of us. It eliminates any person out there who believes he or she might not have need of this kind of reconciliation. We have all been alienated from God and must receive reconciliation or face eternal condemnation. Notice there are no second or third options here. Reconciliation with God through the blood of the cross of Jesus Christ is the only way. Doctor Luke writes “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Verse 22 gets specific regarding the details of this substitutionary righteousness. Instead of having us stand helpless and alone in our sin for judgement, God stands us up “in the body of His flesh through death, to present us holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight.” So, instead of having to stand judgement, the view any judge has of us shows the body and blood of the Son of God in our places. The view anyone gets of us under that cover gets to see the crucified Christ in our places and that settles the charges against us.
It seems strange that Paul would drive home the positive points of all we receive because of our relationship to Jesus Christ only to assure us that we can only get it if we do not move away from our faith. Darby’s Commentary mentions three reasons why it is unlikely that we would move away from the Gospel. First, it is because we have heard it. Second is because of the simple universality of the message. Third is because of Paul’s involvement in it. I would mention at least two more. The first is because the real Christian faith tends to be self-propitiating. That is, once a person has a conversion experience, several life-changing processes begin working. The act of accepting the truth of the Gospel causes a person to want to know how to get that Gospel for oneself. Once the prayer of acceptance is spoken, the heart develops a need to know more. The motivator for learning more and growing closer to Christ is no longer an individual choice. God causes the Holy Spirit to move into the convert’s heart as the down payment of his salvation. The Holy Spirit begins to work from the inside of the believer to move closer and closer to being like Christ. One does not simply discharge the Holy Spirit from his life, so the drive or determination to be like Christ is no longer an individual’s choice. So, this moves a person from the act of justification into a lifestyle of sanctification. Justification is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus Christ every day. The more one learns of Christ and turns more of his or her life over to Him, the less likely it is that one would turn from Him.
The second reason one is unlikely to leave his relationship with Jesus Christ, if it were possible, is that we know that once we leave, there is no longer a way to return again (Heb 6:4-8). Of course, scholars have discussed these verses for millennia regarding the security of the believer. One side emphasizes the word “impossible” saying that a person who is once enlightened in Jesus Christ cannot leave the faith, that is, cannot lose his salvation. Others disagree and say that a person can move in and out of a relationship with Christ at will. I am one of the former belief; I believe a person who is once in the hand of God cannot be taken out by any force including his own will. John quotes the words of Jesus saying, “27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father's hand. 30 I and [my] Father are one” (John 10:27-30, KJV).
Examining the Greek-to-English interpretation of Colossians 1:23 sees the word “If” leading off the verse as a conditional statement regarding the maintenance of this reconciliation. In other words, it might sound like Paul is saying that we can have this substitutional righteousness as long as we stay inside the constraints of the Gospel. The word used for “if” here is the Greek word eige. It is a small word but comprised of two smaller words. The first word is ei and stands as an article of conditionality; the way we would normally see the English word “if.” But the second part of the word is the Greek word ge which sets the qualification “indeed, if that then, besides.” Together, the “if” sounds more like, “because of that. or given that is true.” So, the beginning of verse 23 would be more like, “Because ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.” So, the difference could be whether we see this statement as a condition for continuing to follow Christ or see it as an effect of having never made a decision for another choice.
Understand the Context (Col 1:24-2:3)
Paul opens the letter to the church at Colosse with standard introductory material stating whom the letter is from, whom the letter is being sent to, the subject of the letter to follow and a few sentences to establish rapport with the addressees. This was accomplished in the Bible verses selected for the previous study, so picking up from there, Paul switches the topic to spiritual transformation of converts in Colosse and establishes that topic as a near-term goal. He starts with describing the details of his calling into the ministry of the Gospel and his full dedication to any personal sacrifices required to accomplish that calling. He mentioned his specific commitment to the Gentiles in the community to which he is serving. After all, this was Jesus’ specific call to the then, Saul of Tarsus as explained to Ananias by the Lord, Himself (Acts 9:15).
Paul also explained his commitment to teaching with all wisdom and doing all in his power to advance their state of knowledge toward spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ. He wanted all believers to be fully united in love for one another and totally encouraged in their knowledge, relationship and growth in Jesus Christ.
Committed as a Messenger (Col 1:24-27)
The word “now” announces a transition between what was and what is. “What was” was documented in verse 21 where Paul told us told us that the church at Colosse was sometimes alienated and enemies in their minds by wicked works. “What is” is that they were reconciled through the blood of Jesus Christ, and now are grounded and settled. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary catches the connection between the issue of wicked works and the doctrine of angel worship some were caught up in at Colosse. So, while it might seem strange to read of a person “rejoicing in sufferings” as Paul writes in Colossians 1:24, his sufferings describe the time and meditation in prayer regarding the challenges facing this body of Christ’s believers. Paul believes that the prayers have resulted in this transition reported to him but is also wise enough to know the battle is not over. The enemy will continue to tempt the Colossians with angel worship, asceticism, oriental deviations off pure Christianity and the insistence of past practices through the Judaizers. Any departure from “Christ-alone, faith alone and the Bible alone” will take their focus away from Christ and the afflictions of Christ which Paul faced for the sake of this body of believers into false teaching and opposition to the Gospel Paul preached. Paul reminds them in verse 25 that God made him a minister to this body as a part of his specific calling as Christ’s missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).
The mystery of verse 26 is that fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant that Abraham’s faith in God was accounted unto him for righteousness and that would be the deciding factor for all nations; the Jews first but then the Gentiles (Gen 15:6 ff). The mystery was hidden for generations but is now revealed to the saints at Colosse. And through that revelation would come the knowledge of the riches of the glory among the Gentiles which is Christ in them, the hope of glory. Recall that Jesus promised at the Last Supper that He would send a comforter to them that was once alongside them but would now be inside them; that is, the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:17). It was in the same talk with the Apostles that Jesus said, “12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12).
Focused on Maturity (Col 1:28-29)
The words “Whom we preach” is another transitional comment requiring a look back to see “Whom we preach.” And, of course, we find Paul preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the fact that God has now delivered that Gospel to the Jews first and then the Gentiles. The members of this body of believers were heavily Gentile, so the news that this Gospel was always intended for them was good news, indeed. The word “preaching” in the King James Version is more like announcing or proclaiming the Gospel for all to hear. (Greek: katangello). The “warning” and “teaching” end up expressing the two heads of the evangelistic teaching spear. “Warning” (Greek: nouthetéō) speaks as the gentle urging of the heart toward repentance or a change of heart impacting behavior. “Teaching” (Greek: didáskō) speaks as the faith and is more doctrinal appealing to the intellect impacting the belief. Paul says he will reach for every person in all wisdom (Greek: sophia) which couple knowledge and application; that is, wisdom is knowledge applied. So, Paul preaches to deliver the knowledge but explains the knowledge to result in wisdom for the hearers. Paul’s objective is to present every person as perfect (Greek: téleios), that is completed in Jesus Christ.
Paul serves as the evangelist here. He focuses on the idea of getting the Gospel to every person. The purpose of the Gospel is to enlighten the spirit of a person to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all humankind, and that a person can be justified in God’s eye by accepting that fact. Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome that is a person believes in their heart and says so with their mouth, they shall be saved (Rom 10:9-10). Once a person is born again by believing and confessing Christ, they enter a life-long period or process of being sanctified or made holy. This period is where the born-again person profits most from Paul’s objective of teaching in all wisdom. It delivers the teaching with much-needed applications leading to growth of the believer from being justified to being sanctified. The sanctified person is fully capable of repeating the Gospel and having the depth of knowledge to lead more people through justification by Jesus’ blood to growth in becoming more like Christ. John says if you call yourself a Christian, you ought to walk like Jesus walks (1 John 2:6). So, Paul’s objective to focus on maturity in Christ is accomplished by accepting the teachings of Jesus Christ, i.e., believing that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and telling someone publicly of that belief (believe in your heart that Jesus is raised from the dead and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord). Maturity in Jesus comes from hearing the applications of knowledge about him and striving to be more like He was (is). In verse 29, Paul acknowledges that determining what teach or preach must come from the influence of the Holy Spirit in his life. Yielding to the leadership of the Holy Spirit is part of spiritual maturity.
Concerned for the Faithful (Col 2:1-3)
These three verses are knit together with the previous chapter because of the introductory word “for.” Recall that Paul confessed that he “laboured striving according to his (the Holy Spirit’s) working in me mightily” (author’s parentheses). Paul is concerned (or worried) about all the people in Colosse, Laodicea and other places where he has not been able to preach in person. Paul knows that his history and supernatural conversion to the faith has a tremendous enfluence on people as they hear his testimony. As he sits under house arrest in Rome, he is heavily conflicted between all he wants to get done, but how little he can actually do while stuck under arrest in Rome. He gets reports from his ministers, like Epaphras, Epaphroditus, Timothy, Silas, and many others. He knows and understands those problems and wishes he could be there to comfort them in the love of God through Jesus Christ. While reading letters and hearing others preach the Gospel can work mighty miracles, Paul yearns to be present with them to present the Gospel and experience their great joy first hand.
He wants to watch their faces as they hear and react to the comforting of their hearts from the teaching of the Gospel of Christ. People hurt so needlessly as they live rejecting Jesus Christ. The denial of the most important relationship for all humankind is very destructive to the human basic needs (spirit). It even transcends the love we have for our mothers and fathers; the rejection of God or Jesus Christ is rejection of the simple existence of the One Who created us. He is Father indeed, and in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The word “mystery” in verse 2:2 is the Greek word mystḗrion which means; a secret or "mystery" (through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites): mystery: literally “to shut my mouth”. The secrets of the faith are not secrets because someone wants to keep them unknown, but they are secrets because the enemy does not want them revealed and will confuse or distract the mind and heart of humankind to prevent them from being heard and explained. Paul knows this more than any person. Read of what the enemy has done to him in order to keep him from presenting the Gospel openly: “21 I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. 22 Are they Hebrews? so [am] I. Are they Israelites? so [am] I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so [am] I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I [am] more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty [stripes] save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 [In] journeyings often, [in] perils of waters, [in] perils of robbers, [in] perils by [mine own] countrymen, [in] perils by the heathen, [in] perils in the city, [in] perils in the wilderness, [in] perils in the sea, [in] perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Co 11:21-28, KJV).
Understand the Context (Col 2:4-15)
After Paul paid attention to the customary revelation of the author of the letter, its intended audience and the basics of why he wrote the letter, he had to recall various relationships and his love for the people identifying themselves as the church at Colosse. In Chapter 2, Paul starts to identify his concerns for the church. First, he wants them to know he identifies with their struggles and the anguish of dealing with them contrasted with the joyful knowledge of being centered in Christ and the Christian movement. Second, He is not only aware of these difficulties but is in deep and ongoing prayer for the people involved. He spends considerable time in deep prayer for these specific issues and the strength and perseverance of the people associated with them. Third and at the same time, he wants to encourage them in Christ and stress the importance of their unity during these times of testing and their foundational knowledge of Jesus Christ. When faced with false teaching, the best and most important tool for successful battle is a full and complete knowledge and understanding of the authentic beliefs in Christ. He understood the attempted substitution of reasoning and rhetoric for the basics of Christ’s personal love for them, and the full proof of His works and His person. Last, he has faced these issues before and is prepared to assist in these battles for this church now and again.
Faithfulness to the Gospel, or Good News, of Jesus Christ and a spirit of gratitude for the forgiveness of sin and the reconciliation with God through Him result in Jesus’ blessings and strengthening for those accepting His teachings. In other words, the power to win this battle is only available through the power of God and His Holy Spirit. Paul believed the people of the church could experience the full dignity of the faith through their belief in the combination of Jesus’ love and strength. The false teachers were attempting to have the Colossian believers try to earn these blessings through works of rituals and appealing rhetoric.
There were no real alternatives here. The foundational beliefs in Christ offered salvation from the penalty of sin by God’s grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9). There was no way to earn this gift from God; it came only through acceptance of Jesus’ teachings as Paul presented them. The ideas of believing that Jesus died. was buried and raised from the dead exactly as He said He would be guarantee that salvation. The new believer would announce his belief in Jesus Christ and follow His example of being baptized by emersion. Then they could learn of Him and be made more holy as they practiced His teachings and lived more like He lived. The natural spirit of gratitude for the new life they received would result in Christians following through to learn more and teach others. It was only the blood of Jesus’ cross that had the power to eliminate sin and its guilt. That blood removed the just punishment for those sins and established an indelible relationship between God, the Creator of the universe, and those accepting and following His Son. John said, “11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13). The acceptance of substitution of guilt and alienation from God by love, acceptance and sonship seem to be easy decisions to make.
Continue (Col 2:4-7)
So, Paul begins his encouragement of this church by recognizing the possibility that there would be deceiving and enticing words spoken to move them away from their current faith in Jesus Christ. His starting point was to assure them that while he was not physically there with them, he was certainly there in his spirit. He is walking with them every bit as close as if he was there in the flesh (vss. 4-5). He has witnessed and fully acknowledges their continued joy, their order in Christian practice and their firm expression of their faith in Jesus Christ.
His admonition for them follows in verse 6 by stating simply, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:” Put in simple words, if you call yourself a Christian, you ought to walk like Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
Paul follows his basic Christian admonition with a few words on “HOW” one accomplishes “walking the way Christ walked.” A believer in Christ must be “rooted and built up in Him” (vs. 7). That is, the foundational grounding and source of nourishment for a believer’s faith is in Jesus, Himself. It seems obvious that if one is to walk like Christ walked, he or she must first know how Christ walked. If Jesus is to be our model, we must learn the characteristics of that model. Paul follows the word “rooted” with the words “built up” (vs. 7). The Greek word here is epoikodoméō. It means to build upon or grow out of. So, believers not only find their foundational establishment and nourishment from being planted in Christ but they also build upon that foundation, through its nourishment to build beyond that starting point. In the word we easily recognize, we are to follow our justification through Christ by our sanctification in Christ. That is, our faith is birthed in Jesus and continues to grow through the teachings of Jesus, i.e., walk like He walked. (Have you noticed that the initial reference here and the reference in 1 John are both at verse 2:6?) Paul explains here that our faith is established in Christ and continues through practicing “as we have been taught.” He suggests that we not only practice these ideas, but we “abound therein with thanksgiving.” The word for abounding here suggests a super application of the quality and the quantity of thanksgiving. So, we are taught that we find our roots, nourishment, continued growth and model for life in our Savior.
Be Careful (Col 2:8-10)
Now Paul comes to the first of his strong warnings. The issue for all of us, whether we are in Colosse or in any other church, is whether we are following Christ or following a person who we think is following Christ. There are no second level relationships in Jesus Christ (John 1:12).
It is very easy to hear the enticing words of a person we respect and/or enjoy hearing and make the mistake of becoming a disciple of that person or pastor instead of a direct disciple of Jesus Christ. Many people, even teachers and preachers, will not help us make that distinction; we have the responsibility to answer the question for ourselves. Paul’s warning is to be careful not to be distracted by empty philosophical discussions or impressive deception based on human thinking or imitations of spiritual powers rather than the solid teachings of Jesus Christ. This is a mistake because it is in Christ that the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily. We are completed as His disciples in Him because He is the head or authority over all principalities and powers (Col 2:10). So, whether it is attractive philosophy, wasted deception or any other invention of man’s creativity, there is only one Jesus Christ, and He is the ruler of all and is to be our sole focus.
I once took a trip to the government’s mint in Washington, DC. While the guide was showing the freshly printed $20 bills to us, I asked him how they dealt with the thousands of counterfeit bills that seem to com out almost monthly. I expected a lengthy dissertation of legal preventative measures or some technical explanation. Instead, the guide said simply, “We make our people experts on the real bills.” There is a very appropriate application here to help with our current study. The best defense against being led into false faith is to know and become expert on the real one. Paul told his protégé, Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Simply explained, that means we need to learn as much as we can about the real Jesus Christ. There are thousands of false stories about Him that could mislead a new Christian, and some are even preached as truth in our churches, so the best place to begin is to study the four Gospels, Matthew, March, Luke and John. Do not let anyone give you books ABOUT the Gospels, study them directly.
Remember (Col 2:11-15)
For those familiar with Jewish Law, the idea of male circumcision is the ceremonial mark that separated Jews from all others. It was directed to be done on the eight day of life and even Jesus received that mark at the appointed time (Gen 17:12, Luke 2:21). But as time went by, people began to see the ritual of circumcision as the setting aside of the man to God. Paul spent nearly an entire chapter in his letter to the believers at Rome that circumcision of the flesh is not the thing that makes a man a Jew. Rather it is that circumcision that is made without the hands that makes a man a Jew, indeed. Paul called this the circumcision of the heart, that is, a real Jew is one that is a Jew inwardly by the circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:29). In Colossians 2:11, Paul speaks of the circumcision made without hands, the circumcision of the heart that made a person a real Jew – a part of God’s chosen people. It was not the circumcision of the flesh but the one of the heart; the circumcision offered through Jesus Christ.
Paul taught that God was not looking for Jews because of their circumcision of the flesh, but the real Jews who had the circumcision of the heart. He continues contrasting rituals between those of the flesh and those of the spirit by switching to baptism. Baptism in the Old Testament times was discussed as a cleansing ceremony (Lev 13-14). It was done in a Mikvah pool in the Temple or synagogue and became a ritual of conversion of “the stranger among us” (Gentiles) into Jews. Once the candidate for conversion into the Jewish faith had completed all the indications of living as a Jew, the sponsoring family would present the converting family to the Rabbi at the Mikvah pool. Each candidate would take the steps down into the pool where the Rabbi awaited him or her. After providing the evidence required and the statement of the sponsoring family or person, the Rabbi would lay the candidate completely down into the Mikvah pool signifying the death and burial of the Gentile. Then he would raise the candidate up from the water signifying his rebirth and new life as a Jew and having a full part of the Covenant of Abraham. This is the meaning of Paul’s reference of being buried with him in Baptism and risen with Him through faith in the operation of God, who has raised Him (Jesus) from the dead (vss. 12-13). Paul as a devout member of the Jewish faith and leader in the Sanhedrin (ruling body of the Jewish religion) who had become a born-again believer in Jesus Christ was able to tie together the deeper meanings of the Jewish rituals and their applications to the Christian faith.
Moving from Colossians 2:14-15 in the KJV to a modern translation (NLT) will save a lot of English-Greek translation. Those verses say, “14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross´(Col 2:14-15, NLT). When Jesus spoke the words “It is finished” (Greek: tetelestai), he meant the debt had been completely discharged (telos) in the past, present, future and forever (tetelestai). The verb tenses added to the foundational word adds the meaning of the discharged debt across all time and eternity (see Rom 8:1 along with Col 2:14-15).
Understand the Context (Col 2:16-23)
This second study in Colossians Chapter 2 gets into Paul’s specific issues with unauthorized supplements to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It seemed that every set of false teachings offered the temptation to take away from the unquestioned freedom given to us through the Gospel. Paul systematically added each of these in his letter to the Church at Colosse. His opening is more general speaking to the believers and warning against allowing any person to judge (or critically examine) you when it comes to the meat you eat, or the drink you consume, or in respect of a holy day, or a new moon, or the sabbath days: which are a shadow or image of things which are still to come, but in the body (or the reality of), which is Christ (Col 2:16-17). They study of the words and their applications will be completed below, but the context of the thoughts is what is important here. The core of the Protestant Reformation and Paul’s orthodox teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ fulfill the loud claims of Sola Scriptura (Latin for “by Scripture Alone”), Sola Gratia (by Grace Alone), Sola Fide (by Faith Alone) Sola Deo Gloria (by God’s Glory Alone). Paul taught them, Martine Luther revived them and we accept them as standards.
The second part of Chapter 2 lists the several attacks to which the false teachers are subjecting the Church at Colosse, and for that matter, all churches of all times. It is standard human behavior for a repentant believer to think he has not done enough to deserve the complete and entire forgiveness that Christ purchased through His blood on the cross. For centuries monks have entered monasteries where they could “beat their bodies into submission” or deny themselves of basic human needs to better deserve Christ’s forgiveness. In many ways, we have the same feelings and in just as many ways, we try to earn that forgiveness which was already purchased for us.
Listed in Colossians 2:16-23 are several of the devil’s standard distractions from the freedom Christ has purchased for us through His cross. The area of erroneous reasoning tempts us to reject the truth of God’s complete and total forgiveness when we confess those sins to Christ (1 John 1:9). Some Christian faiths teach that we much repeat certain prayers or pay some amount of penance for the small or large sins we have committed. But somehow, whatever that number or amount, it will never purge our hearts and minds for recalling that sin and trying to pay for it again and again. Personal feelings of guilt will not let us believe that simple forgiveness of that sin is possible. So, we continue to recall the sin, and through sincere guilt, try to pay and repay for it, not realizing that refusing God’s forgiveness is a sin within itself. It is denying God’s Word and His desire to use us for future assignments. This is faulty reasoning.
Hidden Treasures in Christ is when the deceiver tempts us to believe there are new words or beliefs hidden in the Word that have advanced requirements. They teach is the practice of these new requirements that give us access to the “Hidden Treasures of God.” The next one is similar in that it starts with the Word of God but adds and/or changes what the Word says we must do. Again, we deny Christ’s forgiveness by entering into acts that supposedly earn our freedom over again. Some false teachers will claim special wisdom or understanding that came from some strange or mystical encounter with God. These teachings are false and those claiming them are guilty of “adding to or taking away from the words of this book” (Rev 22:18-19). Legalistic limits talk of establishing more or less stringent requirements of people than the Scripture requires. All of these teachings are variations of the same thing; as long as the deceiver can keep our minds on the bondage of one or more of these, we deny Christ and place roadblocks in the way of full faith and its accompanying blessing in the Lord.
Freedom in Worship (Col 2:16-17)
Notice that Paul specifically forbids any person from judging or condemning another child of God in meat, or drink, or holydays, or new moons, or the sabbath (Col 2:16). These teachings usually set up more stringent requirements than the Bible sets. This is forbidden and promises condemnation for those who do it (Rev 22:18-19). Paul says strongly, “6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:6-9. KJV). This (teaching another Gospel) is also an attempt of the false teacher to bring their students under their specific control. Sola Scriptura demands that we base our understandings and teachings on the Scripture alone.
Paul explains the folly of dietary restrictions in Romans 14:3, “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.” Simply stated, Paul says no one has the right to judge another in eating or drinking. Some of the issues in that day were driven ny whether it was acceptable to eat meat that had been offered to idols. It is noteworthy to read Paul’s contextual connection in Romans 14. He says, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” (Rom 14:1). So. We are to accept people who might be weak in the faith, but not for the purposes of arguing with them about things that are in doubt. He uses an example in verse 14:2 about one believer who believes he can eat anything but another who believes he should eat only vegetables. Verse 3 says it not right for either person to look down on the other because God has accepted both.
Now the rest of Colossians 2:16 centers on religious preferences. While Paul’s first discussion in Romans 14 has to do with things in doubt or undefined, religious preferences are specifically addressed in the documentation of each practitioners’ faiths. Paul seems to have in mind people who are worshiping the same God in different ways (Rom 14:6). Romans 14:9 specifically mentions Christ as the One whose death and resurrection we are studying.
In Colossians 2:17, Paul states that all these different attributes for which we are told not to judge, are only shadows or images of real things and that the only real thing is Christ Jesus. Freedom in worship suggests that we are to allow some freedom in worshipping Him, but this permission seems to be tightly limited because much of Christian worship is documented and honored as such.
Freedom from Falsehoods (Col 3:5-11)
In the transition to Colossians 2:18, Paul also transitions in teaching from how we should behave toward others to how we should allow others to behave toward us. Just as we are not to judge or condemn others, we should not allow others to judge or condemn us by yielding to certain behaviors they want to see in how we worship. He mentions them specifically as insisting on certain religious behaviors because they say they had visions or dreams from the Lord giving them the authority to teach new doctrine beyond what is taught in the Word of God. This should be recognized as highly suspect from its outset. As quoted above. “As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:6-9). In modern words, reject such teachings and disallow any further teaching of this type, especially when based on such false premises among you.
Paul continues his very strongly worded warnings by saying that we should not let any person come among us and trick us into losing our reward for voluntary humility (service) or convince us to worship angels based on their visions or dreams they claimed to receive. The English Standard Version uses words more directly linked to the study underway. It states, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Col 2:18). It is a proper caution that we could lose our qualifications for teaching God’s Word by teaching things based on visions and dreams of others instead of Sola Scriptura (the Scriptures alone).
It is exceedingly important that we make sure of the source of our teaching and learning in terms of the authority used as the basis to present it or to listen to it. This is even more important today than it was in Paul’s time. Today, we have thousands of radio and television stations through which we can hear the teaching of the Bible. No matter how smooth the teaching or effective the preaching might be, we are personally responsible for validating anything we hear or speak. Remember to, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8). The devil is a master at teaching false doctrine to born-again believers by speaking in near truths or almost accurate information. Recall the story I told the last time I was in class: When I was a much younger man, I visited the Washington Mint for a tour. As the guide showed us a sheet of new twenty-dollar bills coming off the press, I asked him how they kept up with all the counterfeit bills to warn businesses and banks. He said, “We do not warn our people about counterfeit money. We make them experts on the real thing.” In short, the workers at our mints are trained on the details of the money they print. They know the paper type, the ink colors and the water marks included on the bills. They know the frequencies and details of changes in the money. To the point here, they cannot be fooled into accepting counterfeit money because they are experts on the real thing. Are we experts on the Real Scriptures? Are we so closely studied on the actual Scriptures that we can easily spot a fake teaching? This is the crux of Paul’s warning not to let any person rob us of our voluntary humility (service) or trick us into worshiping angels because of that person’s visions and dreams. I was asked recently to pick a favorite verse from the Bible. There were so many going through my mind that I could not answer immediately. But then I thought about the exhortation Paul gave his protégé Timothy as he served as Pastor, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). That verse completes the warning here. Briefly “Study to be acceptable to God; correctly teaching His Word to avoid the embarrassment of error.” As listeners to Gospel messages, we have a like responsibility to listen closely and verify what we hear.
The Holy Spirit of God helps us in this regard. As the “inside One” He is always with us to encourage us to do things correctly, or to warn when we do or hear things that are incorrect. When we feel His warning, either when hearing or when teaching, we respond by going back to verify what we said, read or heard. Often the warning comes when false or incorrect teaching has occurred. If I was teaching or preaching and found an error, I would retract and correct the material immediately. If another was teaching or preaching, I would tell them at the first opportunity, so they could make corrections according to their normal process.
Paul finishes this warning by identifying the real source of the teaching, Sola Scriptura - Sola Christus – Soli Deo Gloria (Scripture alone through Christ alone for God’s Glory alone). Jesus (called the Head here) is Whom Paul talks about in Colossians 2:19. He joins the entire body together by joints and tendons, ministering nourishments to the entire body, promoting unity and increasing the body through the work of God. Partakers indeed lose their independent minds in favor of allowing God to influence all they do for Him.
Freedom to Live (Col 2:20-23)
So, Paul’s question for us through the Church at Colosse is simply this, “If you are truly dead in Christ and removed from the influence of this world’s control. Are you still subject to the ordinances, commandments and doctrines of men?” I think Paul’s question might be rhetoric at this point. The “Wherefore if ye be dead’ in the King James might better be understood as “Since you have died with Christ” in Colossians 2:20. Paul sets up the obvious separation between things of this world and things of God. Verses 22:20 -22 provide the predicate for the sentence, “do you still subject yourselves to rules of men like touch not, taste not, handle not?” These are commandments and doctrines of men which all dissipate or pass away as they are used. They are simply of no lasting value to the man or woman of God.
In closing, Paul provides the summary sentence about the entire matter (Col 2:23). He says, “These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline, but they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires (Col 2:23, NLT). Often, the temptations of the devil seem right because he decorates them with requirements that sound like great things to have. I mean, it seems reasonable that knowing Christ would come with rules like taste not, touch not, handle not; but is that not why He provided the New Comforter, the One who was alongside but now would be inside you? (John 14:17). In truth, the required strong devotion (forced acts of worship), pious self-devotion and severe bodily discipline (asceticism) are no help for us in conquering our evil desires. It is the power of God through His Holy Spirit (the Comforter) that God provides the power to overcome the evil in daily life and living.
This is what sanctification is all about. Those who have been reborn have been saved from the penalty of sin (justified). We know there is now no condemnation to those in Christ (Rom 8:1). But now, there is a need to live life and become more like Jesus every day. This is sanctification and is summarized by John by saying, “If you call yourself a Christian, you ought to walk like He walked” (1 John 2:6). Our salvation is bought and paid for through the cross of Jesus Christ. We cannot redo it or improve upon it. We are born-again believers in Jesus Christ and on our way to Heaven as justified beings under Christ. But now, day-by-day we must learn to be more like Him. It is not found in what we eat or drink, feast days, sabbaths, legalism or asceticism. Rather, it is found in God’s grace through faith; yielding to Him in all we do. We know when we are finished because sanctification ends in glorification; i.e., being taken up to be with Him forever.
Understand the Context (Col 3:1-17)
At this point, Paul’s letter to the saints at Colosse is more easily described relative to all four chapters than in pieces. Chapter 1 presented the power of the Gospel to emancipate and transform repentant sinners. The word “emancipate” leans toward freeing those held in bondage; i.e., President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is that document freeing those in slavery in the early history of our country. Colossians refers to those caught in bondage or slavery to sin. But here, setting us slaves free from sin is not enough in itself. There must be some tool or power that takes us from the freedom from the penalty of sin to some new existence which prevents us from falling back into that slavery. That is where the word “transformation” plays a role. Paul makes it easily understood in his letter to the believers at Rome when he says, “1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom 12:1-2). As we turn from conforming to this world by continuing in servitude to the sin habits, we experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit by His new presence and power inside of us. So, we can be freed from sin to be transformed by renewing our minds in Jesus Christ.
Chapter 2 fills in the blanks of the function of setting us free and transforming us. Forgiveness of sin is the action of God to take this barrier to our relationship to Him out of the way by nailing the charges against us to His own cross. Our debts were deep and very wide, and God fully knew there was no way we could get to the other side of dealing with them unless He intervened. So, in an earth-shaking movement to become man, live a sinless life and offer Himself as the only qualifying sacrifice for all sin, forever; Jesus took the punishment we deserved, taking it out of the by nailing it to His cross (Col 2:14). So, this not only ended our bondage to sin, it also freed us to focus on serving God through Jesus Christ without concern for what terrible payment we owed but could never pay. The chains of sins were destroyed by the only One who was qualified giving us the freedom to serve Him in the innocence of our new birth “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13)
So, Chapters 3 and 4 take the massive leap from establishing the doctrine to understanding the operation within us. Put another way, Chapters 3 and 4 move to the living out of what we learned in Chapters 1 and 2. The false teachers and historic legalists were trying to move us from the bondage we just defeated through Jesus Christ into a new slavery to salvation by works, salvation through rituals of the past and/or salvation through new rituals from the Orient or other pagan faiths. Paul teaches that our relationship with Christ cannot be earned through the self-denial or self-disciplining of asceticism. Paul describes an operation that solves sinful desire by focusing on the changed heart God gave us when He removed our sin debt and deposited the Holy Spirit (the Helper/Comforter) inside us to work with us day in and day out to keep our hearts changed for God. The idea God offered us was that He caused the death to sin for anyone who would come to Him. With those chains behind us, we were free to focus on a new life for Christ. These two thoughts or operations form the crux of Christianity and the dominant structure to guarantee the gift of God is delivered and effective in our lives.
A New Life (Col 3:1-4)
Colossians 2:20-23 finish up a description of our lives as a part of those who are “dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world.” Paul asks the question then, “Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances” like taste not and touch not? In Colossians 3, the contrast is shown that not only have we died in Christ, along with any necessity of bondage to those kinds of ordinances, but we are now “risen with Christ” (vs. 1).
Therefore, we need to “chase after those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.” In other words, since our existence has changed, our mindset ought to change along with it. Stop paying attention to those things that focus on obedience to the ordinances of man and start paying attention to those things that focus on Christ where He is, that is, concentrate on heavenly things. He says specifically, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (vs. 2). That is not to say that we should become hard or callused or less sensitive to the happenings around us, but rather, that we no longer find our joy, satisfaction or completion in the things of this world.
Think about the picture our baptism painted: After we declared our personal belief in Jesus Christ, the minister said (as he laid us down in the water) “Buried with Him in the likeness of His death” (Rom 6:3-4). Then the minister raised us up out of the water and said, “Raised again unto the newness of His life.” Paul finishes his description of that event by saying “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom 6:5)’ He speaks of the detail of it again in 2 Corinthians 5:17 saying, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” In our rebirth, we focus on living a life for Christ and leave the living of life for self behind.
Paul says here that since we are dead with Christ, our life has been buried with Christ in God (vs. 3). And, he closes this set of verses saying that when Christ (who is our life) shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory. If we die physically before Christ returns in His rapture of the saints, we shall be in that number that Christ brings with Him when He comes for those believers who are still alive (1 Thes 4:14). Paul continues in verse 16 that the dead in Christ shall rise first. If we are still alive when He returns, we will be a part of those in verse 17, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4:17). Either way, we shall be a part of the glory of Christ (Col 3:4). And again, in Revelation 19:11-21, when Jesus returns to the earth in His Second Coming to defeat the armies of Satan, put him in chains and consign the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet to the Lake of Fire forever. With these glorious thoughts ahead of us, why should we even be tempted to let our minds dwell on things down here?
Put Off (Col 3:5-9)
Because we are dead in Christ and alive in His Resurrection, we ought to let the members of our body die to things of the earth and live to newness in Christ. The word “mortify” here is the Greek word nekróōwhich is where we get our English words that use the root word “necro,” like necromancy or things dealing with the dead or a corpse. It drives home the point that we should let the members of our bodies die with Christ; not literally but in terms of having them dead to focus on things of this world. The list of things Paul suggests our members ought to be dead to are fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3:5). Paul continues that these are things that caused the wrath of God to come to the children of disobedience (vs. 6). And he reminds us that we also walked in these things when we were alive to them (vs. 7).
But now, Paul says in contrast, we have put those things off plus anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy and filthy communication out of our mouths (vs. 8). In verse 9, he sets off lying to one another separately as if to emphasize that sin to a level higher than the others. He not only says “we should not lie to each other”, he also provides a reminder of the reason we should not lie. He says it is because “ye have put off the old man with his deeds.”
Put Off (Col 3:10-11)
This is even more support for the idea of letting the “old man” die and the “new man” come alive, and with that idea, Paul transitions into verse 3:10. This “new man” that we are putting on is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.
So, the knowledge that guides the “New Man” is the knowledge of the One who has died to the flesh on the cross and was resurrected to a new life when He returned from the dead. Also notice that in this new creation, many of the old prejudices disappear as well. One of the most severe in the context of the time of Paul’s writing this letter would be the prejudices between the Jew and the Greek or the circumcision and the uncircumcision. The church of Colosse was almost entirely Gentile, so these feelings would run very deep before the conversion to Christianity. Gentiles who were not converts to the Hebrew or Jewish faith were considered a different breed of humankind. They were substandard, incomplete, unworthy and frequently treated with disrespect in Jewish circles. God (through Paul) is communicating a different level of consideration for those of different religions, different nationalities (barbarians vs. uncivilized Scythians) and even different parts of the social structure (slaves and free). (Recall the latter as we soon study the letter from Paul to Philemon concerning Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus. Paul would ask that Philemon forgive and free Onesimus as a new brother in Jesus Christ.) Here Paul suggests that we consider the measuring stick should be Jesus Christ. In other words, we need to consider every person in the light of Jesus. We are all one in our need for Christ, and we have equal needs of placing ourselves under Christ for saving us from the penalty of sin which is eternal condemnation and separation from God.
Put On (Col 3:12-17)
After considering all these things, the need for the spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be obvious. So, we need to trade in these old prejudices for the updated love for all humankind in light of our common need to find the Savior. So, Paul says, “12 By all means, we must put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye” (Col 3:12-13).
First, Paul identifies us as “the elect of God, holy and beloved.” The first term, the Elect of God, has grown in complexity over the years because of redefinition based on what people wished it meant. The Elect is that group of all the people who are saved and ever will be saved. The word “elect” simply means “The Chosen.” Examples are replete in the Scriptures that those chosen were chosen from the foundation of the earth, or beginning of time. No one agues about that because it is too difficult to rewrite the Bible. But others will introduce “predestination” to say that the elect were comprised of those people God decided would be saved from the beginning regardless of themselves. Others (like myself) will say that the way of salvation was chosen from the beginning of time by God, and His will is that no one should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God states that He will have all mankind to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). “God so loved the world (kosmos) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believed on Him shall not parish but have eternal life (John 3:16). So, God wants everyone to be saved. He will reveal Himself to everyone but not everyone will accept and they will be without excuse for rejecting Him (Rom 1:18-20). The Greek word kosmos is italicized because the meaning of that word is the entire set of all mankind; i.e., the Gospel is not presented to a privileged subset of humans, but to all of them. What they chose to do with the Gospel determines the Gospel impact on them. God has included all mankind in His outreach, but many will refuse to accept the message. “For many are called but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14, 1 Cor 1:26 & 8:5).
The next 2 words are holy and beloved. Because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and because there is none righteous, no not one, there are no righteous people on earth. So, the only way for God to have a holy person is for Him to declare that person holy, and that is exactly what He did. The writer of Hebrews asked, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb 9:14). So, we are made holy by the blood of Christ which is acceptable to God; not our holiness but the holiness of God through Jesus Christ.
And last, the word beloved. As stated earlier, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). We are the elect of God, holy and beloved. We have put on the bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as God has forgiven us. These are the gifts of the Spirit that have been given to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Gal 5:22-24).
Paul continues the list of characteristics of those born-again believers in Jesus Christ. But note that Colossians 3:17 says that we do these things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him. It is through His power that we can claim these things, not our own, but “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8:26).
Understand the Context (Col 3:18-4:6)
The final and summary study of Paul’s letter to the Church at Colosse brings together the ideas of a changed heart and mind resulting from the new birth, and the direct applications of those changes to the people with whom we deal most often in our families, in our work and in our interactions. Paul seems to set up a figure of the changed life by discussing the taking off of the dirty. old clothes and the putting on of the clean, new clothes. What we believe, the people we have become, will certainly show up in how we handle interpersonal relationships. Past behaviors will be replaced by newer ones driven by the changed life and the Holy Spirit of God.
The Scripture reference for this study is Colossians 3:18-4:6. That Scripture, and its longer version given at Ephesians 5:22-6:9, are clearly the most detailed and most often controversial of Paul’s teachings on interpersonal relationships among the reborn. The presumption, of course, is that the character of the reborn members of the interaction would be significantly different than those without a relationship with Christ. As we have studied in the past, John teaches that those who call themselves Christians, ought to walk like Christ walked (1 John 2:6). The correlation between belief and outward behavior seems obvious.
In Our Families (Col 3:18-21)
The references beginning at Colossians 3:18-21, does not include the beginning of Paul’s discussion of the family interactions. The message from Paul is much better understood when the entirety of his point is a part of the study. So, let us back up and recall last’s week’s study on the changes that took place in the individual believer’s behavior because of their rebirth in Jesus Christ. Paul summarized, “12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye. 14 And above all these things [put on] charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col 3:12-14). Paul continues the thought saying, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21, NIV). In both references, the discussion finds its beginning in the idea that because we have changed, we ought to apply those changes as Christians and submit or yield ourselves one to another out of our respect for and honor of our Lord.
So, given these changes have taken place in us and that we now have submitted ourselves to the Lord and have submitted ourselves one to another, how shall each of the referenced members of the family submit to each other. In the marital relationship, Paul writes that the wife ought to submit her will to the husband’s out of respect for the Lord, and the husband ought to love his own wife more dearly than he loves himself. I believe Paul addressed the relationships this way because these are the most difficult attitudes to have for each member; the husband, the wife and the children.
For example, when I go to the gym to work out, I find mirrors on every wall and at every work out station. Most of the men gathered there study their personal form throughout the entire exercise. This is a great illustration as to why Paul needs to tell men to love their wives more than they love themselves, even to the point of self-sacrifice. Paul tells the wives to let their wills be bent in the direction of the husband God has provided for them. In my experience, I know of no successful marriage that could be characterized as an autocracy, rather, both members bring and use whatever expertise (gifts) God has given them to benefit the marriage to make it work uniquely. It is not only the man or only the woman who holds the responsibility for making the marriage successful, rather, it is the responsibility of both parties. Notice how briefly marriages last once either party makes a decision against it.
For children in the family, Paul references the basic instruction of the Lord through His Ten Commandment. “1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “2 ‘Honor your father and mother’--which is the first commandment with a promise-- 3 "so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" (Eph 6:1-3 NIV). Each of us who have had children, know there are more than one type of child. It might be closer to say that there may be as many different types of children as there are children! Paul acknowledges here, that two major factors describe how we are told to raise the children. First, “Children obey your parents” and, second “Fathers, provoke not your children unto wrath (Col 3:20-21 & Eph 6:1-4). The two statements almost rise up out of each other. Children will not generally obey their parents, so, there will always be the challenges of dealing with children who tend to be disobedient rather than obedient. Nor will fathers generally refrain from frustrating their children. Rather, as the child grows closer to adolescence, the occasions of child frustration will tend to increase. Yielding some authority to the child as he matures and demonstrates personal responsibility will support the transition of the child into adulthood and into their own home.
In Our Work (Col 3:22-4;1)
In verses 3:22 to 4:1, Paul describes the kinds of behaviors he thinks would be common to born-again believers as they interact in the workplace environment. The people Paul first introduces in these verses are called servants. The literal meaning of “servants” is in the Greek word, doûlos which means slaves. The definition is sufficiently wide to mean “slave” literally or figuratively. It could also include people who are in some kind of formal subjection or submissive role relative to a master or owner, as mentioned in verse 3:22.
Notice further, that there are qualitative and quantitative aspects associated with providing services. The submission, for example, must not be provided with eyeservice as people who only serve others for what they can gain. Rather, the quality of this submission must be at the heart level (in singleness of heart and in the fear of the Lord) and not the fleshly level, alone. Paul continues in verses 3:23 & 24 saying that regardless of what it is that we do, it must be done through the heart, serving others as if we were serving the Lord, Himself. Our responses through attitudes and work ethic must set higher standards for service as we labor for the Lord and not just mere men, as it is with those who have no Savior. After all, it will be through the Lord that we receive our reward of inheritance, and it is Jesus Christ who is the focus of our labors. That’s why His name is used so frequently as the focus of our hearts and minds. Being renewed of the heart and transformed of the mind, we find our motivation in Christ, and not in the trinkets of mankind. We should know that the Lord is the recipient of the inheritance and that our actual service is to and through Jesus Christ (Col 3:24). Paul finishes his description of how and with which attitudes we shall serve in Colossians 3:25. Anything less will result in swift repayment for the wrong done, regardless of whom that person might be. Paul says the Lord is no respecter of status among people. We might say, He has no favorites in this matter.
Paul provides the master’s or owner’s perspective of the workplace in the first verse of Chapter 4 (Col 4:1). The attitude of the born-again master or owner should be to repay for the service of the employee or servant with wages which are just and fair regardless of who measures. In other words, the master must have the same encouragement toward the servant as the servant has toward the master; that is, the master must not treat his servants with eyeservice or like pleasers of men, rather, the Christian master must be completely fair, honest, kind, gentle and generous to those in his employ. Paul continues that a part of the motivation for the masters to have these attitudes is that they have masters in heaven Whom has their reward stored up. Matthew 7:1-2 documents that standard, “1 Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged “ (Matt 7:1-2, NLT). I think if we understand that the severity or standard of how we measure others will be used by God as our judgement or severity of judgement, we will have a whole, new attitude toward the standards we use.
In Our Interactions (Col 4:2-6)
Now, Paul turns to the interactions outside the family and the workplace in Colossians 4:2-6. This passage begins with Paul’s focus on needed prayer for his ministries and those of the many others serving with him. The grammar of the Greek language in verse 4:2 drives a continuous response to Paul’s prayer request. “Continue in prayer” might be written “Pray without ceasing” or “Never stop praying for us.” His next few words are interesting as he says, “And watch the same with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2). Paul was a man of great faith. He suffered far longer and more severely than anyone in the Scriptures, save the Master, Himself (2 Cor 11:22-28). He had the experiences of watching answered prayer in his ministries come through time after time. He saw the miracles people had prayed for delivered by God on a regular basis.
But his prayer of Colossians 4:3-4 takes on an unusual context. He says, “3 Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: 4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak” (Col 4:3-4). Paul’s request that “God would open unto us a door of utterance” cannot be confused with his request in Ephesians 6:19, where he is asking for the “power of utterance.” First of all, the Greek word used for utterance is simply the word Logos or The Word. It is typically used as we speak of the “Word of God” who became flesh for us (John 1:1). So, in Ephesians 6:19, Paul is asking for the gift of being able to speak the Logos in power rather than Colossians 4:3 where Paul is requesting prayers for open doors for the Logos. Here, Paul is asking that the Colossian saints pray that he and his ministries might receive open doors for the Logos (God’s Word). We already understand the great persecution of the Church during these times and that Paul is under house arrest even while writing these letters to Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse and Philemon. Paul’s comment that it is the Word “for which he is in bonds” has two meanings. The primary meaning is the most obvious, he is speaking of the bonds of his house arrest under Rome. But, when Paul speaks of the need for open doors for the speaking of the Word, Paul is asking for prayer to accomplish his call in Jesus Christ to carry the Gospel all nations.
Paul’s closing prayer request continues that he needs to be sure he can show (make manifest) the truth of the Gospel in a way that the Gospel ought to be preached. This request might be more understandable if we recall that Paul’s ministry in the Colossian context is speaking to a church that is primarily Gentile. The Hebrews already had a religious starting point in the Old Testament as they studied and looked for the Messiah of Israel. The Gospel, for them of course, is that Jesus Christ is that Promised Messiah.
Verses 5 and 6 contain Paul’s additional requests in that while he is totally focused on presenting an obvious and clear picture of Jesus Christ, he needs prayer that he walk in wisdom (complete understanding) of the needs of those people who are not in the Christian Church (those who are without}. As I teach evangelism, I try to establish the fact that God is actively trying to reach every person on earth. “God has given His only Son, that whosoever would believe on Him would not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God is not willing that any of them should perish but all come to knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:9). God prefers that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Paul knows God’s will and he knows God’s Word. But he also recognizes his absolute need to use every second and every resource to reach people for Jesus Christ. To that end, he closes this passage of Scripture with an exhortation for Christians who call Jesus their Savior and want to lead others to Him. Paul says, “Speak with grace and maintain your saltiness, so that we are able to answer every person’s curiosity toward the Gospel of Christ.”
Paul’s Letter to Philemon (Philemon 1-25)
At the onset, Philemon is nothing more than a personal note (epistle) written from a church leader (the Apostle Paul) to a local church leader (Philemon at Colosse). It is noteworthy because it is one of those short epistles that was published a single chapter rather than the more typical several chapter letters. It joins letters like Titus, Jude, and 3 John in that model. During the time of its writing, Paul was confined to house arrest in Rome and Timothy served as one of his almost constant companions and assistants in publishing his works and communications. Verse 1 tells us very simply that the primary addressee of the letter was Philemon, the namesake of the letter in its entirety. Paul hints at a personal relationship with him as he calls him, “Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer” (Plm 1).
There are three other addressees mentioned: Apphia, Archippus and “the church in thy house.” Apphia is mentioned as either the wife of a church member couple with Archippus or as Philemon’s wife with Archippus being their son. Jamison, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary states that Apphia is Philemon’s wife, but Archippus is a minister at the church at Colosse. Matthew Henry withholds judgement on the topic. The primary subject of the letter is Philemon’s run-away slave, Onesimus.
Most references fix the date of Philemon to Paul’s house arrest around 61-62 AD, and therefore the place of writing is fixed at the house arrest location in Rome. For such a small book, it has a long history of internal and external references and mentions here. I will mention only a few.
Paul’s Letter to Philemon (Philemon 1-25, Cont.)
The testimonies to its authenticity are--Origen [Homily 19, on Jeremiah, vol. 1., p. 185, Edition Huetius], cites it as the letter of Paul to Philemon concerning Onesimus; Tertullian [Against Marcion, 5.21]: "The brevity of this Epistle is the sole cause of its escaping the falsifying hands of Marcion." Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 3.25], mentions it among "the universally acknowledged Epistles of the canon"; Jerome [Commentary on Philemon, vol. iv., p. 442], argues for it against those who objected to its canonicity on the ground of its subject being beneath an apostle to write about. Ignatios [Epistle to the Ephesians, 2; Epistle to the Magnesians, 12], seems to allude to Phm 20. Compare Epistle to Polycarp [1 and 6]. Its brevity is the cause of its not being often quoted by the Fathers. PALEY [Horæ Paulinæ], has shown striking proofs of its authenticity in the undesigned coincidences between it and the Epistle to the Colossians..
Paul reveals a small insight into his personal feelings about his call to the minister as he reminds Philemon that he is both a bound prisoner of Jesus Christ (Plm 1) and a prisoner of the Gospel (Plm 13). The person of Jesus Christ called Saul of Tarsus into the ministry and birthed Paul, the Apostle (Acts 9). But His specific calling of Paul as His missionary to the Gentiles tethered him unbreakably to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The letter specifically mentions the three components of its message as: Thanksgiving for Philemon’s love and faith, Intercession for Onesimus and a few final requests and salutations.
Understand the Context (Plm 1-25)
Philemon is one of those short but strong letters of the New Testament. There is little doubt about the author of the letter being Paul. And little controversy over the place or date of its writing during Paul’s house arrest in Rome between 61-62 AD. The controversy about the relationships between Philemon, Apphia and Archippus have little to do with understanding the message of the book for us. The known information regarding the members of this house church provide assurance that Paul loved the leaders of this church and provided the leadership needed to cause them to be a flourishing church over the following decades.
What we can look for in the next several paragraphs on Philemon and his house church is Paul’s elaboration of his strong feelings for Philemon and his church. We will see the strong love Paul has for presenting the Gospel and helping those, like Onesimus, to get the support they need for growing in the Lord as equal members in a society of believers in Jesus Christ. And last, we will see Paul’s letter address several final thoughts and mentions of people who have helped Philemon and his house church and/or Paul reach more people for Jesus Christ.
Sent (Plm 8-12)
Paul gets directly to the point here; he is ready to boldly ask Philemon for a favor. He says he believes he could direct the favor to be done but would rather ask than command. In verse 9, Paul says it is because of the mutual love they have for each other that he can ask this favor. Paul reminds Philemon that he is an old man and a prisoner for the sake of the Lord.
So, verse 10 contains the actual request. Paul appeals to Philemon to show kindness to his SON. Onesimus. The words Paul used to share this opening statement with Philemon reveals there has been a change in the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Philemon, Onesimus and himself. Because of that change, Paul can refer to Onesimus as “his child.” Before this time, Onesimus was a thief and runaway slave. But instead of referring to him as the criminal he once was, Paul referred to him as the son he had become. (How’s that for “all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17)?)
In verse 11, Paul acknowledges that Onesimus has been of very little value to Philemon or anyone else because of his attitudes and his performance history. He adds that Onesimus’ new birth has given to them a person of great value to Philemon and Paul, as well. In verse 12, Paul sacrifices his need to have Onesimus work for him by returning him to his rightful owner, Philemon. Paul has to admit, however, that Onesimus is no longer an ordinary slave in Paul’s mind. In fact, as he turns Onesimus over to Philemon, he is also sending his own heart
As A Brother (Plm 13-16)
Paul is clear with Philemon from the onset that he would much rather have kept Onesimus with him than to return him. Nevertheless, Paul knows that there are accounts to be made right before Onesimus could be released to work for him again. Onesimus had an owner he had wronged, money he had stolen and relationships he had not honored. These things had to be reconciled.
So, Paul correctly tells Philemon that he would do nothing more with Onesimus until Philemon decided what was right from his perspective. Onesimus belonged to Philemon, and Paul could not bring himself to take him from Philemon without Philemon deciding on that action for himself. In fact, it seemed to Paul, it might be that Philemon had lost Onesimus for a short period to get him back as a much improved person (product) forever.
Paul added, this Onesimus that he was now sending to Philemon is not the man he once was. He is no longer the worthless heather he once was, but now he is a brother in the faith and especially to Paul as his spiritual father. So, the man Paul returned to Philemon may be much more than the slave Philemon lost. “This man who belongs to you, Philemon, is far beyond that; he is now our brother under the blood of Jesus Christ. This man who left as worthless as he could possibly be has returned as your brother in the faith and mine” (Plm 16).
So Welcome Him (Plm 17-21)
Paul continues that, if Philemon feels any value to the relationship he had with Paul, would he welcome Onesimus back as a brother. That is, would you welcome him back as if you were welcoming me? (Plm 17). Further, Paul writes to Philemon, “If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me” (Plm 18, NLT).
Now, verse 19 is a very interesting verse! In the New Living Translation, it comes out with the whole verse being uppercase; attesting to its intended power. Paul repeats that if Onesimus owes Philemon anything, he has written in his own hand that he will repay it. But then Paul brings forward a reminder from the past. He says, “And, I won’t even mention that you owe me your very soul!” (Plm 19).
With these words, Paul changes his request of Philemon into an opportunity for Philemon to repay Paul for a past favor that may have involved Philemon’s own soul. Knowing the impact of these words, Paul assures Philemon that he heard him correctly. “Yes, my brother, please do me this favor for the Lord’s sake. Give me this encouragement in Christ” (Plm 20). In the closing verse (Plm 21), Paul assures Philemon of his every confidence as he writes to him that he will grant Paul’s request and go even further. It almost sounds like one of “offers one cannot refuse.’
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