PAUL - what a wealth of grace and overwhelming glory
fills our hearts at the very mention of his name! He was the erstwhile
enemy of Christ and rabid persecutor of His people, who hunted them down
even in distant Damascus. In an instant the glory of Christ stops him in
his mad career, and wins his heart, henceforth to worship and work for Him
alone. Can grace ever gain a more splendid trophy than Saul of Tarsus, the
chief of sinners, yet supreme among the saints? But how much greater was
the grace that still awaited him! From glory to glory God led him on,
until he reaches the highest honor ever accorded a mortal, for he is the
vessel chosen to fill up God's Word and to reveal God's latest secrets,
the fruit of His highest thoughts and His deepest love.
Paul presents himself in this epistle as an apostle,
for he has been commissioned, and has authority to write and set forth the
truths and reveal the secrets which it contains. Apostles are in the
foundation (Eph.2:20). These were needed to form a solid substratum for
God's operations among mankind. Paul appears alone as apostle in his
salutations, especially in those in which his authority is necessary to
certify to his words. Yet he sometimes associates others with him, in
other capacities. In Colossians, as in second Corinthians, "brother"
Timothy joins in the salutation. He is not seen as an apostle, but simply
as a brother in the faith.
CHRIST JESUS and Jesus Christ - what a vast difference
between these two titles, though one is merely a transposition of the
other! Jesus Christ is the humble, despised, rejected, crucified Messiah.
His glories wait until the future, at the time of His return to earth. At
present He has no place down here. But Christ Jesus! Already He is highest
in the heavens. Seated at the right hand of God, there is no dignity to
equal His. All might and power, all sovereignty and authority among the
celestials is centered in Him. There He is not humbled, but honored! There
He is not despised, but praised! There He is not rejected, but acclaimed!
There He is not crucified, but glorified! We hail Him, not only as the
coming King upon the earth, but as the present Head of all celestial might
and majesty! Hail! Christ Jesus!
THROUGH THE WILL OF GOD
The will of God is the positive pole of the divine
intention. God is carrying out His great purpose of revealing His heart by
means of two contrary currents during the eons. The mutual reaction of
these upon each other accomplish His purpose. One current coincides with
His will. The other goes counter to it. One movement is headed by Christ.
The other is led on by Satan. Saul of Tarsus, before he met the Lord, was
fulfilling the divine intention, for he was preparing the black background
on which alone the high lights of God's grace could be displayed. But he
was going counter to God's will. After his call, Ananias said to him, "the
God of our fathers selects yon to know His will" (Acts 22:14).
A true apostle must come through the will of God and
conform to that will in his words and works. Thus all is traced back to
the divine volition. The source of all is found in God's love and its
determination to win a response through its activity on, our behalf. God
wants our love, hence wishes us, to know His will. The apostle's first
prayer opens with this petition: That you may be filled with the
realization of His Will (1:9). This is a root which bears much fruit.
Without it our walk will lack those qualities which are dear to God's
heart. Wisdom and understanding, as well as a fruitful walk, must grow out
of an apprehension of God's will.
TO THE BRETHREN IN COLOSSE
The epistle is addressed, in the first place, to
Colosse. Yet it was also sent to Laodicea, and, indeed, is especially
meant for all who had not seen Paul's face in the flesh (4:16; 2:1). Like
its companion epistles, Ephesians and Philippians, the very mode of
communication is in accord with its contents. Flesh has no place. Paul is
bound (4:18). He could not go to Colosse in order to tell them these
transcendent truths by word of mouth, but is compelled to have his words
committed to writing, so that they will be seen rather than heard, and not
only can be transported vast distances, far beyond the reach of his voice,
but may be imperishably preserved for the future. And so they have come to
The recipients of this epistle are distinguished by two
tokens - holiness and faith. On God's side they were saints, hallowed by
contact with Him. On the human side they had believed in Christ. The title
here may be Christ Jesus, as in Alexandrinus, to accord with Ephesians. As
the apostle has connected, his apostleship with this title, this must be
the same in shortened form. This epistle was not sent to all saints
without discrimination. In those days there were still some of the
Circumcision, as we shall see, to whom Paul was not sent, whose faith did
not lay hold of Christ as at present: exalted, but who looked forward to
His future rule upon the earth. The faith of the Colossians is expressly
said to be in Christ Jesus (1:4).
Faithfulness and trust are the accompaniments of
belief. In the original there are no distinct terms for them. By the
figure of association the Greek uses believing for faithful
throughout. Thus, in this very epistle, Paul refers to Tychicus as "a
beloved brother and believing servant" (4:7). Because belief produces
fidelity it is used for it in a figure. English itself has this figure,
though it is faded. What is faithful if not full of faith, or belief?
Yet it has come to mean trustworthy, dependable, and the word
believing is reserved for its literal sense. As we have seen, we must
use faithful with service, yet when this is not clearly in view it may
be better to use believing. In connection with brethren,
believing is probably better, inasmuch as this epistle is not especially
devoted to service.
The invocations in Paul's three prison epistles are
identical. Just as the body of the epistles commence with blessing or
thanking, so the first wish of the apostle's heart for his readers is
grace. Divine favor lavished upon those who deserve God's indignation
will yet be the most precious gem in the crown of His glory. His creatures
will be awed by His infinite might. They will be amazed by the wonders of
His works. They will marvel at His wisdom. Their hearts will swell with
thankfulness for His kindness. Far more precious will be the praise and
worship which His mercy will call forth. Yet the highest adoration and the
deepest affection will come to Him from those who realize the depths of
their deserts and the corresponding heights to which His grace has exalted
We should make more of His grace. Not only should it
warm our own hearts at all times, but it should pervade our walk and our
service. Oh, how great a transformation would it work in the heralding of
the evangel, if it were presented in its purity and power! Grace that Saul
encountered on the Damascus road. Grace that Paul received to serve the
saints. Grace that enabled him to suffer for Christ's sake. Let us not
confine it to the past, to our call, when we first believed. This
invocation is not for unbelievers, but for us. Our salvation is not only
by but to or in grace (Eph.2:5). Not only did it begin with grace,
but it continues so, and will finish with the greatest display of all,
when our bodies will be transfigured and glorified.
First grace, then peace. First justification, then
reconciliation. Were God not gracious, what could there be but indignation
and enmity? But now that His favor hovers over us as a benediction, we may
have peace with Him, peace in our spirits, peace with our fellow-saints
and the world, yea we may enter into the peace of God, and enjoy some
measure of the calm with which He is filled, Who knows the end from the
beginning, and Whose great aim is to overcome all enmity with love, and
clasp His whole creation to His heart in the bonds of perfect and
These blessings can come from one source alone - from
God, Who now looks upon us as His children, and through our Lord Jesus
Christ, the Mediator between us, our Saviour and Lord. We are no longer
merely creatures of the great Creator. We have entered the circle of His
family and now are children of an affectionate Father. He will be gracious
to us and give us peace, through the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Indeed, He is our Peace, for He not only reconciles us to God through the
blood of His cross, but removes the barriers between the saints, and makes
the despised Uncircumcision one with the privileged Circumcision.
The conclusion of Colossians (4:10-18) consists of
greetings whose range corresponds to that of the epistle, as well as
Paul's special greetings and directions. The greetings of the group from
the Circumcision come first.
Christ's headship over the earth is a part of the secret of Christ, and
was first revealed, hence it is in keeping with this epistle to bring in
three who are associated with Him in this phase of the kingdom. The
transition from the heralding of His earthly kingdom to the present is an
interesting yet intricate subject. Perhaps there are a few indications
here which may help us to understand the place of the believing
Circumcisionists when the nation becomes calloused (Rom.11:25) and the
heart of the people is made stout (Acts 28:27).
At first glance there seems to be no particular reason
for bringing in the characters here presented. Yet one cannot help being
struck with their diversity. First we have Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus,
who are definitely said to be of the
Circumcision. Then there is Epaphras, out and out of the nations Then
there is Luke, who supposedly was closely associated with the Circumcision
before the secret of Christ's heavenly headship was made known. May not
these be representative of the classes to which they belong? What is said
of them is worth the closest attention. And what is not said of them, but
of the others, is equally striking.
Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus are said to be ek
peritomees OUT OF-Circumcision. Does this mean that they had come out
from the Circumcision, as Paul had, or were still of the, Circumcision?
The English might easily suggest the former. This can best be settled by
studying the same expression elsewhere. The following passages will show
that it clearly denotes those who are still of the Circumcision. This is
very striking in view of the injunction of the apostle in this very
epistle to strip off the old humanity and to put on the young, wherein
there is no circumcision (3:9-11). It seems that we must take these
Circumcisionists as such.
|ek peritomees, OUT
||the believers of the
| those of the Circumcision
||not to those of the Circumcision
||fearing those of the Circumcision
||especially those of the
The Circumcisionists connected with Peter had certainly
not come out of the Circumcision, but were insistent on the rite, not
only for themselves, but for the nations also. Their charge against Peter
was, "You came in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!" So that there
is a strong presumption that here, in this universal epistle, we have a
group of men representative of the kingdom. And, indeed, does not the
apostle actually connect them with the kingdom, using the very terms with
which the book of Acts describes this ministry (Acts 28:31)?
The more we consider these three Circumcisionists, who
are honored with a place in this epistle, the more we are impressed with
the fact that they were not taken at random, but specially chosen to
represent the Circumcision as a whole, that is, the believers among them,
for whom the epistle to the Hebrews was especially written. The
mention of Barnabas suggests the gradual introduction and exemplification
of the truth through him and Paul and Timothy and Titus and Onesimus, as
has already been set forth in the study "From the Levite to the Slave."
May not these men be chosen to set forth the opposite, the declension of
the Circumcision, and their state, now that the nation is callous?
Aristarchus, if, indeed, it is the same man, was a
Macedonian of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2; 20:4; 19:29). But, as this is
mentioned expressly elsewhere, and not brought in here, we should leave it
out of consideration. There could easily be several men of the same name.
The point to press is his Greek name and its meaning. He must have
belonged to the dispersion. His name signifies "best-chief," a title well
suited to the Circumcision among the nations, for, in the kingdom, they
will rule among them. But, alas, he is in prison! He is a captive!
Politically, he has no authority whatever. Is not this a realistic picture
of the kingdom at present, politically?
Mark brings before us quite a different picture. His
name is not Greek, but Roman. He is especially related to Barnabas, the
Levite. He does not represent the place of the Circumcision over the
nations, but as serving the nations. In this they failed utterly. They
opposed Peter as well as Paul in every attempt to bring salvation to the
aliens. Mark, indeed, was not so bad as that. He left Jerusalem and went
with Barnabas and Saul to Antioch, and started with them on their first
missionary journey. Yet "John," as Mark is called, left them at Perga,
Pamphylia, and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Paul and Barnabas had
been chosen by the spirit (Acts 13:2), while Mark had been chosen
because he was related to Barnabas in the flesh. He is representative of
the Circumcision in their failure to serve the nations.
It would appear that he was not very welcome in Colosse,
and would not have been received by them without special directions from
the apostle. Surely we can understand this sentiment among the ecclesias
which had received the truth of the present secret administration through
Paul. Mark would have much to give concerning the life of Christ in the
past and His glories in the future, but evidently did not go along with
Paul, either literally or figuratively, while they had gone on to
maturity. There is a strong inclination, in such a case, to break off all
fellowship, just as there is a tendency to cut all connection between this
administration and the past on the part of those who first begin to grasp
its glories. But let us remember that, in the secret of Christ, the
terrestrial as well as the celestial is needed, and they have Him as their
Let us then, in spirit, receive Mark, that is accept
his ministry, as, indeed, we may by using his account of our Lord's life,
if, indeed, the tradition is correct that he wrote it. But let us note, at
the same time, that the Circumcision, who should have been the teachers of
the nations, were not welcome in the early ecclesias, and almost lost
their place of service.
At the present time, it would probably be quite
otherwise. Mark would be received with open arms. Was he not an inspired
penman? No need to write ahead lest he be not received. Cloudy conceptions
of Circumcision truth, with a dash of heaven to flavor it, is the staple
diet of most of Christendom.
In Mark we see the Circumcision serving us. Although
they belong to a different administration and have another destiny, we
cannot get along without their help. Paul's epistles need all the other
writings as a background. Do they not give us the details of God's
dealings with the earth and Israel? Without these even the grace which is
ours in Christ Jesus could not be fully apprehended. This aspect
corresponds closely to the figure of the olive tree, in which the wild
boughs are partakers of the root and fatness of the tree. As a light
producer, Israel continues to function, through the oracles committed to
them, although it comes through the nations who temporarily displace them
in the olive tree.
JESUS, TERMED JUSTUS
The third in the group of the Circumcisionists has a
purely Jewish name; indeed, it is the name above every name, the personal
name of their Messiah. Probably "Jesus" was deemed too sacred to be
commonly used, so he was given another, and called Justus. The name Jesus
is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, Jehovah the Saviour. This is the
name by which Israel will be saved, for Jehovah alone can save them. But,
alas! even believers in Israel did not trust wholly in Him, but in the law
and their physical rights as members of the chosen nation. And what better
name for this than the Latin Justus, from jus, law, right, justice?
Therefore salvation was taken from the nation and is heralded to the
nations (Acts 28:28). They must learn God's righteousness now, before
they experience His salvation.
These only of Paul's fellow workers for the kingdom of
God became a solace to Paul. Many others of Paul's fellow workers were far
more than a comfort to him, so we must restrict this to the Circumcision
and the kingdom. No doubt there were many of the Circumcision who had
heralded the kingdom, but nearly all seemed to oppose Paul and his
ministry, and were a menace to the ecclesias among the nations, with their
insistence on law-keeping and religious rites. How much there may lie
behind that word "solace!" The Jews had done much to distort the evangel
of Christ, and caused Paul much misery. But these three seem to have been
of a different spirit, so that he could cooperate with them in those
things which they had in common.
I take this as a little foretaste of the time to come,
when the terrestrial and celestial will be in fullest harmony under their
mutual Head. For the present, however, I take it that this delightful
miniature portrays to us the fortunes of the Circumcision in the present
administration. Politically they are captives, not rulers. The kingdom
cannot be heralded. In service their testimony is to be received. But they
have lost their salvation. And is not this the exact counterpart of what
we have at the close of Acts?
There seems to be a general impression that any gospel
may be preached at any time. Not so! Even the present evangel of God's
grace would work havoc if heralded among the nations in the thousand
years. Nor can the evangel of the kingdom be heralded today. First of all
it must go to the people of the covenant first, apart from whom there can
be no kingdom. And the last words to this people put them into a condition
where they can neither hear nor see, lest God be healing them. God has
given them a spirit of stupor. For nearly two thousand years they have
been this way, and they are even more callous than they were. Herald the
kingdom to them, and there would be no response. No one
has any commission to herald it until this ban is removed.
Of course the church talks about "the kingdom" and
appropriates quite a little of its setting in order to produce the
grotesque caricatures which parade as churches in the world today. But
few, if any, really herald the political side of the kingdom, and seek to
open the eyes of the sons of Israel, so that they may accept its message,
and so that the nations also may rejoice with His people. This would be
the real kingdom evangel. Repentance and baptism are preached for the
remission of sins, but how many consider this a passport into the
millennium? Tatters are taken from the gospel of the kingdom and patched
on to a self-made story, of many kinds and differing qualities, but nearly
their devotees in heaven, notion earth. The gospel of the kingdom is not
heralded today and no one believes it, hence, no one is won for the
kingdom in this era of God's grace.
But this does not cut us off from everything connected
with the kingdom. Politically - and in this lies the essence of a
kingdom - it is futile and false to herald the kingdom evangel. The
Circumcision cannot hear, and there can be no blessing except as they are
the channel of it. Now there can be blessing apart from them, yet not in
their kingdom. But, in other spheres, we have much in common. The One Who
will be Head in the kingdom is already the Head in the empyrean. He Who
will save Israel is already our Saviour.
A genuine kingdom evangel to the nations would insist
on our subjection to the holy nation. It would promise no blessing except
through and with them. So few have such an evangel that we may be sure
that the kingdom evangel is as little preached today as the true one for
this era. And if the destiny of the saints were dependent on the gospel
they hear, almost all of them would need to be divided into several parts
to match the fragments of evangels they have patched together. Since even
the Ephesians needed Paul's prayer that they might perceive the prospect
of their calling, so it is quite possible to have a calling and yet be in
ignorance concerning its riches.
The evangel of the kingdom is not the fact that Christ
will take over the rule of the earth with Israel as the leading nation,
but that this is near. John the Baptist did not repeat what is written
in the prophets, but prefixed his heralding with the time of its
appearance. As it is in the Greek this has the emphasis: "Near has come
the kingdom of the heavens!" (Matt.3:2). Our Lord repeated this with the
same stress on the word near (Matt.4:17). The apostles had the same
message at the beginning of Acts. "Repent, then, and turn about for the
erasure of your sins, so that the seasons of refreshing should be
coming..." (Acts 3:19). This nearness recedes throughout the book, until,
at the end, it is gone. Meanwhile Paul reveals a new secret, that it is
not near, but must wait until the complement of the nations may enter
Epaphras is in striking contrast to the Circumcision.
He was a Colossian, hence of the Uncircumcision, and is called a slave
of Christ Jesus. Though without any physical advantages, how high is his
spiritual stature! He is called a faithful dispenser of Christ (1:7).
Through him it was that the Colossians had heard the evangel, and now that
he cannot serve them by his presence, he agonizes in prayer during his
absence. Note the subject matter of his petitions. This shows how fully he
was in line with God's thoughts and desires at the time. He wished them to
stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God (4:12). It is
for this that the gifts are given (Eph.4:11-14). Evangelists, pastors,
and teachers should lead the saints from minority to maturity. Paul
himself had prayed that they be filled with a realization of God's will
Epaphras is a model for those whose hearts have been
turned to the service of the saints. He did not say his prayers. How much
of our praying is mere talk! Possibly he could not even put his petitions
into words. To him it was a struggle, a contending. And he was in misery
concerning those on Whom his heart was set. Is seems strange, at first,
that he should be miserable. But those who have been in a similar position
will not fail to understand and sympathize with him, especially in these
days of declension and apostasy. It is heartbreaking to hear that those
who once reveled in God's grace have been led aside and give place to
human merit. It is bitter to hear of pride, dissension, division, where
once the peace of God presided. Perhaps Epaphras had no such experiences,
yet even in those days it meant much misery to bear a company of saints
upon one's heart.
LUKE AND DEMAS
We are so accustomed to the idea that Luke is the
writer of the account which bears his name, as well as the Acts, that we
are tempted to connect these with him at all times. But it is a fact that
the Scriptures themselves do not mention his name in that connection.
Hence we will not bring this in here. He was the most constant of all
Paul's friends, for he remained when all others had left (2 Tim.4:11). No
doubt, as a physician, he was helpful to Paul and others, for he seems to
have been beloved as such. This is in contrast to the Circumcision
evangel, and shows that it is no longer in force. It includes miraculous
healing for the body, so that there was no place for a physician.
Demas is in direct contrast to Luke, for he abandoned
Paul out of love for the current eon (2 Tim.4:11). Perhaps his name means
popular, as demos is populace. May he not represent that vast company
of believers who are so concerned not to go contrary to the good opinion
of this eon that they cannot remain with Paul's teaching, if, indeed, they
have ever known it? All Asia seems to have turned away from him during his
imprisonment. Conformity to the times will surely separate from Paul. The
whole history of Christendom shows that this became chronic, and only
occasionally has there been a return to some of his teaching. And when a
little is recovered it is soon abandoned once again. Let us all take this
to heart. The danger of abandoning Paul is always present, and is usually
popular, and we should guard against it.
Because of the character of the message sent to the
ecclesia in Laodicea (Rev.3:14) in the day of the Lord, the name has
become a synonym for apostasy. But this should not be applied to the
ecclesia of Paul's day. Nothing is said to indicate a low spiritual
condition at that time. It seems to be brought in here in order to show
the general character of this epistle. It could be read to them as well as
to the Colossians.
Of the Laodicean letter from Paul we have no hint
elsewhere in the Scriptures, so that some have supposed that it was lost.
But there are good grounds for the opinion that the epistle to the
Ephesians is in view, for that, according to the best readings, has no
definite address, and must have been put before all the saints in Christ
Jesus, either by sending a copy direct, as to Laodicea, or by loaning, as
in Colosse. As we have already seen, the epistles are complementary, and
both are needed in order to bring the saints to maturity.
Paul calls Archippus a fellow soldier when writing to
Philemon (2). But here he appears in the character of servant. He seems
to have undertaken some special service, but was lax in carrying it out.
Hence the gentle admonition of the apostle, which many of us may well take
to ourselves. Has the Lord laid any special task on our heart? Sometimes
it comes with irresistible force. There is an unshakable conviction that a
certain work must be done and we must do it. It may be accompanied with a
painful and humiliating consciousness of our own unfitness and inadequacy,
and a foreboding of suffering and scorn, but it is evidently of the Lord,
and such things characterize His service. But they dishearten and
discourage. There is a continual temptation to leave the task undone, and
escape the consequences. Nothing that we do is as well done as we would
wish, so the only relief seems to be to drop it all. Perhaps it was so
with Archippus. May the Lord give each one of us grace to fulfill the
service which He has assigned to us!
THE SELF-WRITTEN SALUTATION
To this day much of the writing in the orient is done
by professional scribes. While waiting in the post office of Smyrna, not
so very far from Colosse, I saw a scribe write a letter for a woman, which
she dictated. There is no doubt that Paul could write, for he makes a
point of doing so at the close of some of his epistles, in order to
certify to their genuineness (2 Thess.3:17,18), for it seems that some
had produced forgeries. Possibly he penned the whole of Galatians
(Gal.6:11). It has been suggested that an eye infirmity made it difficult
for him to write small enough. Be that as it may, Colossians has Paul's
sign manual to show that it is genuine.
But he does not close with his signature. His heart is
too full to refrain from a few more outbursts. And so he unburdens himself
by adding "Remember my bonds! Grace be with you!" Great was his desire for
sympathy in his sufferings, and that these should be understood in their
relation to the truth. Paul's bonds are not merely an incident in his
personal career. They became the standing symbol of God's relation to the
world and of the place of the flesh in God's present work of grace, in
contrast to the kingdom that is to come. Spiritual blessings among the
celestials are ours, coupled with no special physical blessings among the
terrestrials. And, as we thankfully accept Paul's wish that grace be with
us, let us remember that it was with him in a superlative degree even in
his imprisonment. Grace now, but glory in the future!