Gordon E. Johnson



Panoramic View


Paul's Prayer

Walk but Beware

Life in Union with a Risen Christ

Freedom In Christ

Victory: Real or Counterfeit

The Christ Life in an Alienated World

Holiness in the Home

Holiness in Our World at Large

Paul's Greetings to Fellow Workers


A Panoramic Review of Colossians 1:1-3:4

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

As the reader approaches the doctrinal summit of Colossians 1:1-3:4, he contemplates the magnificence of the preeminence of Christ in life and service. Paul has expounded that supremacy in a masterful presentation to the Gentile church in Colosse. Paul has enriched forever the church at large with the four Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon.

As a sidebar to God's gracious providence, He appears to have given to the Apostle Paul an extension of ministry and travel, even after his appeal to Caesar and arrival in Rome as a prisoner. Doctor Luke, the Gentile historian, ends the Acts of the Apostles abruptly (59 AD): "Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, none forbidding him" (Acts 28:30,31). 

The best assumptions are that Paul was acquitted of the first charge and was freed to travel once again. Clement, Paul's disciple (Philippians 4:3), wrote from Rome that Paul had preached the Gospel "in the east and in the west that he had instructed the whole world  in righteousness . . . and had gone to the extremity of the West [Spain] before his martyrdom" [1] If this is so, Paul did realize his God-given desire to reach Spain (Romans 15.24).

Within this interval of approximately three years, Paul could have traveled extensively; the Prison Epistles were most likely written before or in the second imprisonment along with the epistles to Timothy and Titus.  If such assumptions were so ordered, God triumphed over Nero's earlier attempts to silence Paul who was martyred in 64 AD.[2]

The depth of Paul's teaching in these first two chapters of Colossians is more than we can grasp at first glance; hence a brief overview is offered to appreciate truly our essential oneness in a Crucified and Risen Savior. 

The depth of these truths will enable us to evaluate more fully the spiritual atmosphere in which Paul later applies these crucial truths: to wives (4:18), to husbands (v.19), to children (v.20), to fathers (v. 21) and to the public market place (vv.22-25). These practical injunctions are the quintessence of living out the Christ-life in a sinful and corrupt world. They form the basis of the Christian witness to family and all relationships; they are still as relevant today as ever.

Too often these practical injunctions are laid on us, and we strive to obey them without the understanding that these vital truths are grounded in the Indwelling Christ. They are never our best efforts but rather the expressions of out true identity "in Christ," Paul's favorite phrase found some 40 times in his writings.  

Just here we should take note of the close affinity between Ephesians and Colossians;

In the former Paul wrote in staccato-like rapidity: 1) "made us alive together with Christ

(by grace you have been saved), and 2) raised up to together, and 3) made us to sit

together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . For by grace you have been saved 

through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone

should boast" (Ephesians 2:5-9).  Later Paul addresses more fully these basic truths of

our relationships grounded in our oneness "In Christ " in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, thus

lending depth and background to the Colossian injunctions.

Paul's Prayer for the Knowledge of God


As is Paul's custom, he begins each letter with a fervent prayer, unless a crisis demands his immediate attention (Galatians). How significant it is that prayer always launches Paul's gratitude and teaching! We can do no better than pray through for our own needs in such inspired prayers.

The thrust of Paul's prayer is a deeper personal knowledge of the preeminent Christ who fills our lives. Prayer grants that access: " . . .[we] do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that  you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may have a walk  worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1: 9,10).

Take special note of the repetition of the word "knowledge" [epignosis]. His prayer is centered in a deep personal and practical heart knowledge of God, not a theory, an intellectual grasp of doctrine however true it may be but rather a life changing personal encounter with the Crucified.

Bishop Moule adds this comment with regard to the word "knowledge" [epignosis]. "Almost always, by usage and connexion the word in the New Testament means knowledge which goes deeper than the surface of facts; and so, continually, it is to be explained as the spiritual knowledge which sees the truth in the fact and finds the experience in the truth"[3] [emphasis his]. Do contemplate again that profound statement.

The Essence of Paul's Burden for the Colossians

Then Paul moves seamlessly from prayer into the contemplation of the Incomparable Christ. Paul gives us this premier presentation of Christ as God's Son, Creator, Redeemer and Head of the Church (1:13-23). Here is the New Testament's foremost presentation of Christ's deity and His full range of authority overall things in heaven, on earth and under the earth. Paul is indirectly addressing the subtle innuendos of the false teaching that the Colossians are facing; offense is the best defense. To devalue Christ's person is the acid test of any heresy.

If Christ is preeminent in His person, He is invariably preeminent in God's redemptive plan. "He made peace by the blood of His cross and you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked work yet now He has reconciled . . . to present you holy  and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight" (vv.20-22).

Such a glorious message brought suffering to Paul, its principal exponent, but he revels in that suffering "for the sake of His body" (v.24) and his ministry in their behalf (vv: 24-29). In this section the multifaceted diamond of truth is openly revealed. "To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (v.27).

Paul Confronts the Range of Errors Faced by the Church   Colossian 2: 1-8

Paul is a true leader and senses the Colossian's imminent dangers (vv.1-7). He enjoins them to Walk but Beware of false teaching and philosophies. With true pastoral love he lays himself out before God in their behalf: "For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you . . . that your hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in the full assurance and understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God . . . in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (vv.1-3).

In the simplicity of their having received Christ, they are so to walk in him (vv. 8-10). Paul stresses a New Point of Departure, a circumcision, a cutting off, a radical severance, a detachment from the old to be joined to a risen Christ. In the parallel passage in Romans 6, Paul uses the figure of speech of a death/resurrection. Here he addresses the same truth under the figure of a circumcision.

The Old Testament throws light on this rite so greatly misunderstood by the Jewish people. Abram at 75 left Ur and received the promise of a land and a son. God challenged Abram to believe when Abram according to the culture of the day had suggested any son born in his household might suffice (Genesis 15:1-6). Abram did respond in faith: "And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6; and verbatim  in Romans 4: 3). At age 87 Abram succumbed to Sarai's suggestion and Ishmael was born.

But to Abram at age 99, God gave him a new name, an expanded promise and the rite of circumcision as proof of  faith  after 25 years of waiting, failure and faith - a miracle son, Isaac. Moses challenged Israel: "And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendents, to love your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:6).  One hears the echo of Jesus and the greatest commandment.

This new reality, a circumcision and a death, is the dynamic of a new life (vv.11-15). The risen life of Christ follows by faith. What results is a Freedom in Union with Christ from the old nature and the reality of a valid victory over sin and Satan (vv.16-23).

Paul cuts to the heart of the Christian walk: His death, our death; His resurrection, our resurrection with a new mind set, "hidden with Christ in God" (3:1-4). Then in the midst of the alienation of a lost world, the believer "puts to death" the old, accomplished once and for all by Christ for us on the Cross and rises to walk in newness of His life (vv.5-11).

There is victory over the sins of the tongue and temper; here is the risen life at the Cross. Upon this foundation the believer on the sole basis of his new identity puts on "tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness longsuffering" (v.12). He forgives, he is grateful, God's peace governs life, and the Word of Christ dwells richly in him/her. This is not theory but practice in faith (vv.12-17).

All of these truths are centered in the work of Christ at the Cross: Christ for us in forgiveness and justification and now our identification in His death to sin and our participation in His risen life.  It was His doing and now it is our present believing.

The believer is now prepared for the practical injunctions of marriage, home and relationships. None of these demands can we ever handle ourselves. Apart from His indwelling, we can do nothing. The Cross transforms every area of life. Now we are prepared for the challenges of living a victorious life where it is most needed-- in our home and before our children and fellow believers.

[1] W. J. Conybeare & J. S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, (Grand Rapids, MI Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1949, p.748, Clement’s statement cited.

[2] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction ,The Pauline Epistle, (London, Tyndale Press)1961, pp. 276-278.

[3] H.C. G. Moule, Colossian and Philemon Studies, Lessons in Faith and Holiness, (London, Pickering & Inglis Ltd.), no date, p.32, note at bottom of page.