Colossians 1:9-23

I. Based on his knowledge of their faith, their observable love for other gospel believers, their status as heirs of the blessed hope, and their mental and spiritual consent to the objective truths of the gospel (1:4-6) Paul prays for them, continuing the thought he began in verse 3, “praying always for you.” He prays for their continued conformity to Gospel Truth.

A. Notice the intensity of Paul’s prayer for these things. Although the gospel came to them by Epaphras and Paul had not been there, nevertheless he saw them as his responsibility. He was not present to preach or give instruction, but he could bring them before the throne of God. Praying is as effectual a means of ministering as is preaching. Preaching, in fact, would be lifeless without praying. Paul, therefore, does the thing that shows the apostle’s, and the present day gospel minister’s, submission to the truth that the work is God’s. This truth prompted Paul to begin the prayer ministry immediately upon hearing of their reception of the truth from Epaphras– “since the day we heard of it.” Early and always prayer is within the arsenal of divinely-appointed means for the advancement of Christ’s reign—“we have not ceased to pray for you.”

B. Paul’s first petition is for their thinking, for the renewed mind becoming saturated with the priority of divine revelation. Philosophical sophistry, so appealing in the ears of the world (see 2:8), is mere foolishness if embraced to the contradiction or alteration of God’s heavenly instruction. His first petition for them, therefore, is their being “filled with a knowledge of his will” in all wisdom and understanding as revealed and taught by the Spirit of God. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote that the Spirit revealed the truth about the things freely given to us by God in words. In addition, he opens the mind and heart to give spiritual discernment to accept these things and to judge the world and its thoughts by such Spirit-revealed truth. In this revelation, now inscripturated in the New Testament, we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). By this Christians walk their earthly pilgrimage in the constant dynamic of being renewed in their minds (Ephesian 4:23; Romans 12:2). Transformation according to the will of God comes through the word of God embedded in the heart by the Spirit of God. We expect the wrong things and create disappointment for ourselves and others when we have a misdirected understanding of His will.

C. The result of this spiritually discerned understanding of God’s will is a walk “worthy of the Lord.’ This is not a worthiness that means meritorious of eternal life, but consistent with the purpose of God to have a holy people zealous of good works (Titus 2:14). Three specific ideas help us understand this worthy walk.

  1. Believers will seek to “please him in all respects.” The Lord has made known his will in the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments. Jesus set forth the broader and the internal implications of that in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the apostles applied it in the ethical instructions in their letters to the churches (Colossians3:5-11, 18-25). Paul instructed the recipients of Ephesians “to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (5:10) and “understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:17) and peppered the epistle with application from the moral law (4:19, 20, 25, 28, 31; 5:3-5; 6:1-3). God has removed from us the curse and condemnation of sin and is releasing us from its corruption and power. The moral law no longer represses, convicts, and condemns our conscience but informs our affections as to how to please the Lord.
  2. When so motivated in heart, the believers will bear fruit in every good work. Those things that please the Lord will please us and those actions that conform to his righteousness will woo our wills. Because we are saved by grace, unfettered and irresistible, we are his workmanship not only in regeneration and justification but in “good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
  3. In such a pilgrimage, believers will increase in the knowledge of God. Knowledge begets faithful labor and conduct which begets increase of knowledge. The reciprocity of knowledge and holiness establishes an increasingly sturdy Christian character and transforming depth of experiential holiness. It is by this knowledge that we walk worthily and understand the character and desirability of good works.

D. Strengthened with strength we are, empowered with power, not from ourselves but according to the glory of God’s might. The glory of God’s might includes his omnipotence without doubt, but this glory extends also into his holiness, righteousness, wisdom, mercy, grace and longsuffering. In 3:12, Paul looks at election as prompting the saints to “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” In this fallen world, if we are to be Godlike, then we will seek to interact with others the way that God has pursued us. His grace was invincible and his power was like that that raised Christ from the dead, but his posture toward us also was filled with compassion, kindness, humility in Christ, gentleness, and patience. His power, therefore, in us will make us steadfast and patient. Those words mean that we will be eager to bear a load for a long time in order to gain a hearing for the gospel and that we will be long-fused in our interaction with people. When Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return but committed himself to the one who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).

E. “Joyously, or “with joy” can be connected either with the previous words or with those that follow. Either way, it means that our life in Christ, even in trials that demand long-term bearing of a load, evokes joy in our gratitude to the Father. We are led immediately to admire the unchangeable, transcendent, eternal blessings that make the testing of this life as nothing. What has he done?

  1. Qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (12). If I were in the presence of Epaphras, Epaphroditus, Timothy, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Anselm, Calvin, Whitefield, Spurgeon I would want to shrink from view. The glorious achievements of such saints seem far beyond the pale of my company. God, however, in Christ has qualified all believers to share a common inheritance. He has drawn all of us from darkness to light. He has not only bestowed a title to heaven, thus qualifying us in that way, but has given us all the gifts to fit us for it so that its atmosphere will not embarrass us but will be precisely congenial to the direction of our minds and affections. We participate in the same body and are members thereof. I cannot say, since I am not the eye, I am not of the body. All saints are born again, justified, on the path to holiness, adopted, indwelt by the Spirit, and have an inheritance “incorruptible, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven” (1Peter 1:4).
  2. He rescued us. Formerly believers were under the “power (or domain) of darkness.” The realm of darkness exerted in power over us legitimately for our very hearts were darkness, and loved darkness, and practiced dark things. But when God, in his rescuing power said, “Let there be light,” he shone in our hearts the light of Christ so that now we are children of light (2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 5:8).
  3. He did not rescue us to put us back on our own but has given us a Savior-King who rules us with redeeming and transforming power. We have been transferred into the kingdom of the Son of His love. He has given us an exalted state, for he gives us to be ruled by the one in whom we have all spiritual blessings in heavenly places and the one in whom we “have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (14). In writing to the Ephesians Paul added, “through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:3, 7). How this single person could be the source of such an eternally significant and infinitely glorious achievement constitutes the concern of Paul’s following paragraphs.


II. The qualifications of the King-Redeemer. As the “Beloved Son” (13) he has been generated by the Father from all eternity. The Son, therefore, has the distinctive personal properties of Son and also manifests in himself, as his own eternal nature, the essential nature of the Father (See Genesis 5:3 for the paradigm of begetting.)

A. As Son, Jesus is the perfect manifestation of the divine image (icon). As begotten, not created, he is in the position of “firstborn” in relation to creation; that is, to him has been granted all the power and authority to execute the divine decrees within the created order. “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth”—so Jesus assured his band of followers prior to his ascension (Matthew 28:18).

B. Not only does he possess the rights of the “firstborn” but he himself is the one through whom creation occurred. I confess a mystery here, for every person in the triune God participated fittingly in the creation. Hebrews 1:2 says, “God [the Father] . . . has spoken to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things [“firstborn”], through whom also he made the world.” The Father made the world “through” the Son. John words it accordingly, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Clearly there is a necessary distinction between the Son’s “begottenness” and the creation’s “madeness.” The creed of Nicea 325 included this vital distinction, “begotten, not made,” in its statement concerning the Son. Probably the Son’s being the agent of creation is directly consistent with, perhaps determined by, his relation to the Father as being eternally generated. He constitutes the Father’s eternal love and is therefore the One through whom all the Father’s desire (19) comes into being.

C. Paul emphasized the comprehensive reality of the Son as the agent of creation by universalizing the language so as to exclude nothing outside of God himself—“by him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him” (16). Again, Paul let the Colossians know that the Son is not in any sense a diminished god but all the attributes of God, both of eternity and power reside in him for “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (17).

D. The God of creation also is the God of redemption. The God who brought into being the world and all its elements and environs, visible and invisible, determined eternally to have a people for himself to dwell with him eternally. Just as Christ is the “first born of all creation,” so does he create the church and manifest authority over it. He is the “head of the body, the church,” and thus governs all of its movements and determines the function of each part. Though death has passed over all men through the sin of the one man Adam, life has come through the righteousness of the one man, Christ (Romans 5:12, 16-19). By his righteousness and substitutionary death, Christ absorbed all the penalty of sin and thus eliminated the consequence of eternal death for those for whom he died. Because he is the “first born from the dead,” he is the head of the body. If he is the firstborn of creation as well as the firstborn from the dead, then he certainly will come to “have first place [preeminence] in everything” (18). To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. . . . Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:25, 26, 54, 55).

E. Verses 19 and 20 summarize why Christ is preeminent in everything. His person and his offices arise from the Father’s good pleasure. “All fullness” is not a redundancy but means that every aspect of the redeeming person fulfils every need of those to be redeemed. Nothing is lacking in any constituent element of the demands of redeeming sinners to be God’s own possession.

  1. Eternally the Son is beloved, and the good pleasure of God is the eternal delight that the Father has in the Son as the bearer of, the radiance of, the glory of God. This good pleasure also constituted the Father’s delight to make the Son the Savior of a people, a redemptive covenant to which the Son was party in eternity: “having predestined us unto adoption to himself through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will, unto the praise of his glory and grace with which he freely gifted us in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:5, 6).
  2. In time, God’s good pleasure constituted the Son as the one whose person would embrace the fullness of human nature in the womb of Mary when the Holy spirit came upon her. In the mystery of that person, Son of God and Son of Man, we find one who is qualified to be prophet, priest, and king so that fullness of salvation also resides in him. In his work in time and space on the cross, in the tomb, in the resurrection body, and presently in his intercession we find redemption through his blood.
  3. Through him, therefore, the bearer of all fullness eternally and all things necessary temporally, God reconciles all things to himself. The entire created order ceases its groaning in the new heavens and the new earth; The fullness of God’s justice finds expression in the final consignment to eternal punishment in body and soul of those who remained as unrepentant rebels; fallen angels are consigned finally to the place perfectly fit for them so that God’s righteous reign is consummated with no inconsistencies; the full display of his patience, mercy, eternal lovingkindness, and grace are manifest in the righteous clothing of the elect as well as their love for and perfection in holiness. All of this came to maturity “through the blood of his cross.” All is reconciled to God.


III. God give a particular saving reconciliation to those who (1:6) “understand the grace of God in truth.” (21-23)

A. The original state of the believers is one of darkness and cursedness. Paul gives two aspects of the Colossians’ condition of lostness. The first has to do with their being Gentiles and the second with their being children of Adam, manifest in two ways.

  1. Because they are Gentiles, they were (being in time past) alienated. Back then, they were not a part of the covenant people, the sons of Israel, who were “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), to whom belonged “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises, . . . the patriarchs and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:4, 5). Instead, back then, they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). The Jews caressed a hope for the Messiah; The Gentiles did not have a clue.
  2. Their lostness was the result of their common origin within fallen and corrupted humanity.
  • They were “hostile in mind.” “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21, 22). Their entire apparatus of soul—affections, thinking, motivation,–was in a state of hostility to the all-pervasive evidence that they lived in God’s world, were created by him, and were designed to worship him.
  • This hostility led them to a course of “evil deeds.” Peter described the Gentile world: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3).

B. In spite of damnable attitudes and actions, “but right now” instead of back then—Paul uses a phrase to show a startling contrast. Whereas they were enemies by being Gentiles and by being Adam’s children, God reconciled them to himself. The means of reconciliation is a sacrificial death.

  1. This reconciliation was done “in his fleshly body,” that is a real human body, sharing our humanity (sin only excepted) and sharing our temptations (sin only excepted). Compare Hebrews 2:14 and 4:15. Had the reconciliation not been accomplished with a true human as party to the transaction, there would be no reconciliation.
  2. “Through death” means that death was the due for fallen humanity and Jesus experienced the death that was due. He has, therefore, taken away the payment of death for those who hear and believe the word of truth, the gospel.
  3. This reconciliation pursued the purpose to take sinners like these Gentiles and, instead of hostile and evil, present them as “holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” He explains this further in 2:13, 14: “He made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” By Christ’s death, God has forgiven us; by his obedient life, we are pronounced justified in him; and by his Spirit we are being made holy; by the reconciling work of Christ, set forth by the Father, and vindicated by the Spirit sinners are presented “holy and blameless, and beyond reproach.”

C. The condition is persevering belief. This work of reconciliation will have an immediate and an enduring effect in the thoughts and conduct of those who believe it in truth.

  1. True faith is a continuing faith, not moved by the opposition and pressures of worldly philosophy and enticements to immediate but passing pleasure. This trait of true faith does nor arise from the spiritual capacities of fallen humanity, but from the transforming power of the Spirit’s work in the new birth. Spirit-wrought faith will be “firmly established and steadfast.” “The faith” involves both the body of revealed truth and the grace of personal trust. When we hear what God says about what he has done, we will believe it and cast ourselves on it as our only hope in time and in eternity.
  2. “Not moved away from the hope of the gospel you have heard” – The gospel includes the promise of the return of the Savior who bled and died in an appearance of glory to bring with him an eternal future of pure joy in the presence of the triune God and the holy angels that praise him without ceasing. This blessed hope includes the transformation of the sinner finally and completely so that all the holy blessings of heaven constitute the purest and highest pleasure, unceasing and changing only in their increase. The believers are not moved from that hope to exchange it for the fake and passing comfort of this present age.
  3. The faith was proclaimed. It is a message based on real historical events, with real recitation of the events and authoritative interpretation of those events. They had heard it from Epaphras, other people had heard in an ever-expanding extension into the whole world, and Paul himself was called as an apostle, a preacher, and a teacher of this faith. Having begun only three decades before in one city, given to a small group of despised and persecuted non-descript persons now was expanding beyond Jerusalem, to Samaria, all Judea, north Africa, Asia, Europe and beyond. Paul had aspirations yet to go west. The Colossian Christians would be presented before God in the eternal kingdom as blameless and beyond reproach if their faith was indeed settled in both the historical and eternal certainties of the go
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts