Chapter OneColossians 1:1-8
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Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and
Timothy our brother,
2 To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your
faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the
saints-5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is
stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard
about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you.
All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it
and understood God's grace in all its truth. 7 You learned it
from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister
of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your
love in the Spirit.
The first two sections of Paul's letter to the
Colossians consist of his customary salutation
(1:1-2) and the prayer of thanksgiving that he
offers to God on behalf of the believers in the
churches (1:3-23). These sections help set the agenda for the rest of the
The Salutation (1:1-2)
Paul begins his salutation identifying himself as "an apostle of Christ Jesus
by the will of God." He does not write as a private interested party but as
Christ's apostle who speaks with authority. By identifying himself in this way
Paul is not trying to establish his badge of rank or to put his readers under
his thumb. His authority is not increased by the use of the title apostle, just
as it is not reduced when he omits it (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1) or substitutes
"servant" (Phil. 1:1) or "prisoner" (Philem. 1). Being an apostle is simply
what he is.
We therefore should not assume, as some do, that when Paul refers to himself
as an apostle, he is defending his calling against bitter opposition. Not
everyone to whom Paul wrote was suspicious of his eligibility or adequacy
as an apostle, and he was not always on the defensive. He praises the Colossians
as a loving, supportive community, not a bickering, backbiting, spiteful
group (1:8; Philem. 5). Though many in the Colossian church have not
met Paul personally, the letter gives the impression that they esteemed both
him and his coworker Epaphras, their evangelist. Paul writes to them because
they already accept his authority, which derives from the gospel he has been
called to preach, a gospel they have learned from Epaphras.
When Paul says that his calling as an apostle came "by the will of God,"
it reflects his basic conviction that Christ called and empowered him to carry
on a divine task that was entrusted to only a few. In the Old Testament, God
appeared to prophets and sent them forth to proclaim the word. In Paul's
case, Christ appeared to him and sent him out to proclaim a particular gospel
(Gal. 1:12, 16; 1 Cor. 15:8-10). He did not decide to go into the apostolic
ministry but understood himself to have been set apart by God from his
mother's womb to carry the gospel to the nations (Gal. 1:15-16). His authority
was unique since it derived directly from Christ, but Paul did not see himself
as set apart for high office from which he could rule the roost and issue
divine directives (see 1 Cor. 4:9). God assigned him a task, not a status.
As Christ's apostle Paul is not tied to any one congregation but is obligated
to all, particularly the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13; Gal. 2:7; Eph. 3:1-2). The
world is his mission field. All he does as Christ's apostle involves Christ's
church. Therefore, his charge to preach the gospel and build up the body of
Christ by helping believers with their struggles in obedience leads him to
intervene in the Colossian controversy.
Paul includes Timothy, "our brother," as a cosender of the letter. Timothy
appears as the cosender in five other letters: 2 Corinthians, Philippians, and
Philemon, and with Silvanus in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. According to Acts
16:1-2, Paul met this young man during his ministry in Derbe or Lystra. Because
Timothy's mother was Jewish, Paul made his status as a Jew official by circumcising
him (Acts 16:3). Timothy joined Paul on his missionary travels, and
Paul extolled him as a devoted son (1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:22) and trusted him as
a faithful emissary, sending him to various churches to help assuage anxious converts
or to put out fires of conflict (1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:19; 1 Thess. 3:2, 6).
Although Timothy was not an apostle, Paul affirms him as one who carries on
the same work (1 Cor. 16:10) and the same preaching task (2 Cor. 1:19).
We have no record of Timothy's direct connection to the Colossians.
Possibly his name appears in the salutation because he composed the letter
from Paul's dictation or at his direction. His inclusion also makes clear that
what follows is not Paul's peculiar opinion. Paul is no maverick and does not
stand alone on these issues. He works with a team of ministers, and this letter
reflects the consensus of those who are with him (see 4:10-14).
Paul greets the church as "holy and faithful brothers in Christ." Holiness
has to do with being set apart from the world unto God and does not imply
that these believers belong to some exalted echelon of saints. As God has
made Paul his own as Christ's apostle, so God has made the Colossians as his
covenant people in Colosse. The word "holy" (or "saints") was applied to
Israel in the Old Testament, and Paul intentionally includes Gentile Christians
under this category. It means that they also belong to the eschatological
people for whom all the promises apply.
Paul customarily identifies the recipients of his letters as "saints," but he
does not usually address them as "faithful." This expression most likely refers
to their steadfastness under pressure. Some commentators take it to mean
exactly the opposite of what it says. They suggest that Paul subtly hauls over
the coals those in the church who have been unfaithful by forsaking the true
gospel for the so-called "philosophy." This reading assumes that Paul is
being disingenuous. His praise becomes a backhanded compliment with a
warning: "I am not fully convinced that you are faithful, so you better watch
out." Commentators have unduly read the threat from the "philosophy" into
every phrase of Colossians. But Paul's statements do not all contain some
hidden nuance. If the Colossians were not faithful or were verging on abandoning
their faith, Paul is perfectly capable of warning them forthrightly. He
does not use "faithful" in Ephesians 1:1 in a reproving way, nor does it have
any hidden meaning when he uses it to describe his coworkers Epaphras,
Tychicus, and Onesimus (Col. 1:7; 4:7, 9; see also Eph. 6:21).
We should therefore accept the plain meaning of the text: The Colossians
are genuinely "faithful," which is the reason for his thanksgiving. Their faith
is not teetering on the brink of extinction, trapped in error, or at the mercy
of those hawking false teachings. They are holding fast to the head (2:19),
and Paul only warns them about others who do not. Their faith is not perfected,
however, and Paul wants to buttress it further and revitalize their
growth. In this greeting, he establishes their common commitments so that
he can move on to instruct and warn them. His goal is to ensure that they
remain securely established in their faith (1:23) and growing in their knowledge
The NIV chooses not to retain the parallelism in the Greek text by translating
1:2, "To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse." Literally,
the Greek reads: "in Colosse . in Christ." The parallelism implies that the
recipients may reside in Colosse, but more importantly they live in the sphere
of Christ. "In Christ" and related phrases appear frequently in Paul's writings,
and the concept is central to his understanding of our salvation.
(1) To be in Christ means to be incorporated in him so that he encompasses
the entire life of the believer. The recipients may be Colossians, but
the only identity that matters to God is that they are Christians. That means
that Christ determines everything in their lives. Paul will later make clear in
the letter that his death becomes their death, his burial their burial, his resurrection
their resurrection, his victory their victory (2:6-23).
(2) To be in Christ means that the Colossians are exclusively joined to him
and to no other. One cannot be "in Isis," "in Artemis," or in any other god or
goddess and also be in Christ.
(3) To be in Christ means that he determines the behavior of believers. One
cannot be "in the world" or "into magic or drugs," for example, and be "in
Christ." Elsewhere Paul uses this basic idea to denounce immorality: "Do you
not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take
the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!" (1 Cor. 6:15).
(4) To be in Christ means that believers are inseparably joined to him. Paul
expresses this powerfully in Romans 8:38-39: "Neither death nor life, neither
angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate
us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(5) To be in Christ means that believers are also joined to a new family
where the dividing lines that separate and categorize persons have been
erased (see Rom. 12:5). Their mutual faith in Christ has created a spiritual kinship
that supersedes blood ties.
Being in Christ gives Christians their true identity beyond their race, nationality,
or clan. Paul therefore calls the Colossians "brothers." Jews addressed fellow
Jews as brothers (Acts 2:29, 37; 3:17; 7:2, 26; 13:15; Rom. 9:3), but for a
devout Jew to call Gentiles brothers, many of whom he has never met, reveals
the radical consequences of a gospel that swept away all racial prejudices isolating
people from one another (see Col. 3:11; cf. Gal. 3:28; Philem. 16).
As many have noted, the customary greeting of letters, chairein ("greetings,"
Acts 15:23; 23:26; James 1:1), is transformed into a promise of "grace" (charis).
The letter itself is intended to be a means of grace, and the word reappears
in the concluding wish in Colossians 4:18. "Peace" was the traditional greeting
in Hebrew (salom). The peace Paul has in view is peace that only God's
salvation brings-harmony, wholeness, and serenity. These are things that
human force or a balance of terror cannot establish. Paul shows an ardent concern
that the effects of this peace from God be obvious in the life of Christian
communities. "Peace" becomes a key component of his moral
exhortation and appears in his appeal to the Colossians in 3:15.
Paul confesses that both grace and peace come "from God our Father." The
thanksgiving that follows is based on all that God has done and will continue
to do (1:7, 12-13). The image of father conveyed power, authority, and loving
care. The nearness and love of God as Father was something particularly
esteemed by Christians, and Paul usually identifies God as the Father of Jesus
Christ, as he does in 1:3. For Christians, God is our Father because he is the
Father of Jesus Christ, to whom we belong. The Father is not an impenetrable
and invisible God but one who makes himself known through his Son
(see Matt. 11:27). Both Father and Son can be known even by those disdained
as "babes" by the so-called "wise and learned" (Matt. 11:25).
The Structure of the Thanksgiving (1:3-23)
Paul adopted the custom in ancient letter writing of offering a prayer of
thanks to the gods and transformed this convention by expanding it and
filling it with Christian meaning. His thanksgiving is not some perfunctory
nod to various divinities for blessings received and misfortunes averted. It
is a prayer to be read aloud in Christian worship and thereby becomes a
witness of Christian faith and a means of Christian instruction. Paul never
trots out some stock, all-purpose prayer but carefully tailors it to the situation
of the church he is addressing. He sensitively weaves together the
church's progress in the faith, their needs, and his hopes for them into a
beautiful tapestry of praise and thanks to God. One should not ignore the
thanksgiving proems in Paul's letters as unimportant devotional meditations
unrelated to the key themes of the letter. They lay the groundwork
for what follows in the letter, previewing its major themes and setting the
tone of the letter.
The thanksgiving section in Colossians extends from 1:3 through 1:23 and
includes the Christological prose hymn in 1:15-20. The key ideas of "faith,"
"hope," and "hearing" in the opening (1:4-6) are repeated in 1:23 to form an
inclusio-a rhetorical device in which the beginning of a unit is repeated in
its ending. The thanksgiving divides into two parts, 1:3-8 and 1:9-23. The
first part focuses on the effects of the gospel in Colosse and the whole world,
the second on Paul's intercession for the Colossians and his celebration of the
salvation accomplished by Christ.
In 1:3-5, Paul tells the Colossians that he always thanks God for them
because of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for all the saints. The focus
on the community suddenly shifts in 1:6 to the whole world as he exults
over the universal effects of the gospel. In 1:7-8 he returns to how the gospel
took root in Colosse through Epaphras's ministry. This first section of the
thanksgiving forms a chiasm, a literary pattern in which two or more terms,
phrases, or ideas are stated and then repeated in reverse order (ab ba):
A v. 4: We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have
for all the saints
B v. 5: the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you
in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel
C v. 6a: that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is
bearing fruit and growing,
B' v. 6b: just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.
A' vv. 7-8: You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is
a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
From this structure we see that the heart of the first part of the prayer is
verse 6a, in which Paul gives thanks for how the gospel has spread throughout
The second section of the thanksgiving consists of Paul's intercession for
the Colossians (1:9-14). Paul restates that he does not cease praying for
them (1:9; cf. 1:3), and in 1:9-11 he reiterates in reverse order the key
phrases in 1:3-6.