Colossians 1 Part 2
New King James Version 5. because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,
The Resultant Version 5. This faith and love is through the expectation that is reserved for you among the exalted ones. Of this you have heard before in the declaration of the truth of the gospel.
The faith and love that they have, we learn, is through the hope which is laid up for them in heaven. Yet we need to have a better understanding of this word “hope.” When we use this word in modern English, we use it for some wish we have that may or may not come true. For example, we might speak of someone buying a lottery ticket, hoping to win big. Yet this hope is really in vain, for the odds are astronomically against such a win. Yet this is the way we use the word “hope.” But the idea of the Greek word elpis is of expectation, not of hope. In other words, what you are “hoping” for in Scripture is not some possible chance, but rather is what you are truly expecting to happen. Therefore, The Resultant Version has translated this “expectation,” and that is the truth of it. They are not just wishing that maybe they will attain good things from God, but rather they have a glorious expectation which they are waiting to receive.
This expectation of theirs is laid up for them in heaven. Yet this is really translated according to the wishes of the translators. They wanted it to be that you are going to go to heaven when you die to receive this hope, and so they translated it this way. Yet that is not at all the thought here. And even if this translation were correct, it would not prove that believers will ever go to heaven. For example, I have money reserved for me in the bank. Yet this does not mean I will ever have to go to the bank to receive it, or that I will only be able to spend or enjoy it there. An expectation reserved for us in heaven is reserved for us with God, and He can give it to us wherever He likes.
Now the words “in heaven” here are in Greek “en tois ouranois.” “Ouranois” is the plural form, and when “en” is used with the plural, it often means “among,” so this should read “among the heavens.” Now if we were to study the word “heaven” out, we would learn that it basically means “that which is over and above.” This even appears to be inherent in our English word, for that which is “heaven” would appear to be that which is “heaved up,” or lifted up and exalted.
If we would study out the word “heaven,” we would also find that it applies not just to a place, but also to beings who are exalted. For example, God is called “Heaven” multiple times in Scripture. This should not be a surprise to us, for we use the word “heaven” the same way in English. For example, we have the expression, “Heaven help us.” What do we want when we say this? Do we want heavenly dirt, whatever that might look like, to form some kind of giant hand and swoop down from the sky to help us? Of course not! When we say this, we mean, “God help us.” We use the word “heaven” for “God.” The same is true in the phrase, “Heaven only knows.” Heaven is a place, and places do not know anything. But of course, we are referring to the inhabitants of heaven, and probably especially God, so we mean, “God only knows.” So we do this in English, and the same is true in the Bible. The word “Heaven” is used for “God,” and we can see this clearly in a place like Daniel 4:25-26.
25. “They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
26. “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules.”
In verse 25 here, we see Daniel assure Nebuchadnezzar that “the Most High rules.” Yet in the very next verse, he tells him, “Heaven rules.” It is clear here that “the Most High” and “Heaven” are one and the same, and the word “Heaven” is used for God, just like the phrase, “the Most High.”
Yet the word “heaven” can also be used for other beings who are lifted up or exalted. For example, consider the phrase “under heaven” in Acts 2:5.
5. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.
The first thought that might enter our heads here is that “under heaven” means “under the sky.” The Greek phrase is hupo ton ouranon, meaning that “heaven” is singular here, as it often would be when it means “sky.” Yet if this means “under the sky,” then the description of the nations in verses 9 through 11 makes little sense, for it actually draws a kind of circle radiating out from Israel from which all these Jews had come up to the feast. Even at the time they would have known of other nations outside of this circle. So how can they speak of “every nation under the sky”?
Now one explanation would be that this statement is hyperbolic, and uses exaggeration to emphasize how many different nations were represented. No, it may not have been every nation under the sky, but there were so many nations represented that it might have been. While this explanation seems plausible, I would suggest that an equally good explanation is that “the heaven” here is actually “the exalted one,” and refers to the emperor of the world at that time, Caesar. If this meant “every nation under the exalted one,” this statement would make good sense. The same is true of the phrase in Colossians 1:23.
23. if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
If “under heaven” here means under the sky, the statement would appear to be exaggerated, for surely the gospel was not proclaimed in nations where the Jews had never gone, like the nations that were living in America at the time. Yet the gospel had been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, that is, under the exalted one or Caesar. We will examine this verse further to see what it means when we get to it, but for now notice that “heaven” here seems to mean the exalted man Caesar.
So returning to Colossians 1:5, this seems to be telling us that the expectation of the Colossians is reserved for them among the exalted ones. What does this mean? I believe that this is telling us a most glorious truth about the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ today. One who is “in Christ” today has an expectation laid up for him among the expectation of others of God’s exalted ones. For example, the Scriptures tell us of the expectation of some of God’s most exalted people. David, for example, will be Prince over Israel in the Kingdom of God, as we read in Ezekiel 34:24.
24. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
Since this was written long after David’s death, we can see that this is referring to David’s future. David had this expectation, as we can see from his closing words in Psalm 23, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” From this, we can see that David knew what Ezekiel 45 reveals to us: that he will have a portion in the temple in the kingdom. A similar expectation was given to the twelve disciples in Matthew 19:28.
28. So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
They like David will also dwell in the temple, as we read in John 14:2.
2. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
These are just two examples of the glorious things that God has in store for His most exalted followers in the life to come. Yet Colossians 1:5 assures the Colossians that their expectation is reserved among the expectations of God’s most exalted followers. Is David promised a glorious future? Are the twelve promised an exalted place? Then the Colossians should not feel left out, for their expectation is similar, and is reserved for them even among God’s most exalted followers. And what is true of the Colossians is really true of all believers who are “in Christ” today. We all have an expectation that is among God’s most exalted. We will not come behind them in reward. We will not come behind them in blessing. As hard as it may seem to believe, we have an expectation reserved for us, and it is so great that we need not hold down our heads, even among these most exalted of God’s followers of the past. What a staggering thing this is to contemplate!
The concept of having such an exalted expectation might be a new one to some of us, but it seems that it was not at all new to the Colossians. Paul is assured that they had heard about this hope before, and that it was included in the word of the truth of the gospel that they had heard and believed. Well, they might have heard it, but I very much doubt that many today hear any such thing when they hear the right message about Jesus Christ. They may hear some vague idea of going to heaven someday, but very few would have heard a word as marvelous as this!
This word “gospel” is one that is worth considering here, the first time we have come upon it in Colossians. In Greek this is euangelion, composed of “eu,” which means “good,” and “angelion,” which is derived from the word “angel” and means “a message.” So an euangelion is a good message. Yet we have taken this word and attached to it the theological meaning of the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This message is certainly a good message, but there is nothing inherent in the word that would so limit it. This word can refer to any good message. Moreover, the reason a message is “good” is not necessarily because it is good news, but because it is right, and because it is the message you need to hear.
I think an excellent example of the word “gospel” that I find it hard to improve upon is the cry that awakes you in the middle of the night, “Fire! Get out!” This can hardly be called good news, since no one would like to wake up in the middle of the night to learn the place you are sleeping in is on fire, and you need to get out of it quickly to be saved. Yet if that is really true, and the place you are sleeping is really on fire, then that is a message that you desperately need to hear. This message is definitely a good one if it is true, because you need to leave the building in order to be saved. Moreover, it fits the word “gospel” in other ways as well. A “gospel” needs to be spoken in view of a need. In the case of the fire, you need to know about it in order to get up and get out of the building to be saved. It needs to contain an element of promise. In the case of the burning building, if you get out of the building your life will be spared from the fire. Therefore, a gospel can be any right message that is spoken in view of a need, and that contains an element of promise.
Now the gospel that the Colossians had heard had included the right message that they had an expectation laid up for them among the exalted ones. This message might not have been included in the message you heard when you believed, but it was part of what the Colossians heard. What else this right message included, we can see as we continue on in the chapter.
New King James Version 6. which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;
The Resultant Version 6. It is present with you, even as in all the world also, and it brings forth fruit and is growing, as it does also in you since the day you heard it and you realized the grace of God in truth;
The truth of the gospel had come to the Colossians. This is clear. We learn from the next verse that it was through a man named Epaphras that they had learned it. In the Acts period, this Epaphras would have had to have been a God-commissioned person, since no one could proclaim the word of Christ unless he was sent with a commission to carry that word from God Himself. Yet in Acts 28:28, the salvation-bringing message itself had become the apostle, and so now anyone could pick it up and proclaim it, and anyone could hear it and believe it. Therefore, this Epaphras was not an apostle, but he carried the apostled gospel to the Colossians so they could hear it and believe it.
Now this gospel, this right message, had come to them. Yet it had not come to them alone. In all the world, this same gospel was present and being proclaimed. The word for “world” here is the Greek word kosmos, which has to do with a system, order, or arrangement. In this case, it has to do with the system, order, or arrangement of mankind on earth. Everywhere in the known world this message from God had gone forth. Moreover, God’s promise in Acts 28:28, “they will hear it,” or, as I would suggest, “it will get through to them,” had been fulfilled. The gospel was bearing fruit everywhere it went. That fruit, of course, was people believing the truth and placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, receiving Him as their Savior. This fruit continued in them to produce a changed life that was conformed to the pattern of Christ.
Paul knew that that gospel was bearing fruit among the Colossians as well, and had been bearing fruit since the day they first heard it and knew the grace of God in truth. This involved the personal grace of God in offering them salvation through faith in Christ, as well as His grace toward the world manifested in His dispensation of grace. They had not known of this grace before, but when they heard the right message, they heard of it and realized the truth of it. Oh, that more who called themselves “Christians” knew the truth of the grace of God today!
New King James Version 7. as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,
The Resultant Version 7. As you also learned from Epaphras, a beloved fellowservant, who is for you a faithful dispenser of Christ,
The Colossians had learned this gospel from Epaphras. This man’s name means “Lovely.” In Colossians 4:12, Paul has this to say of him:
12. Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
So Paul calls him one of the Colossians, a bondservant of Christ. Yet this last word is doulos, the word that means “slave,” not “bondservant.” Paul considers Epaphras to be like himself a slave of Christ. Besides here and in chapter 4, he is only mentioned elsewhere in Philemon 23, wherein he salutes Philemon.
23. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you,
Here, Paul calls Epaphras his “fellow prisoner.” “Fellow” is the Greek prefix “sun-,” which means “joint” or “equal.” It is the same prefix that is used here in Colossians 1:7, when Paul calls Epaphras his joint or equal slave. It is clear from these references, therefore, that Paul considers Epaphras to be a partner with him in his work.
Now here in chapter 1, we learn that Epaphras was the one who had first brought the gospel to these believers in Colosse after the beginning of the dispensation of grace. Colosse was his hometown, and as soon as he knew that he could freely carry the gospel to wherever he saw fit, he brought it there and proclaimed it to the people of his own city. This was just the sort of thing Paul was always eager to do, so no wonder he calls Epaphras a “dear” fellowservant. The word “dear” here is agapetos, the adjective that is related to the noun “agape,” signifying the highest form of self-sacrificing love. Epaphras was loved by Paul and Timothy, and no doubt by the grateful Colossian believers as well.
Epaphras is then described by Paul as a “faithful dispenser of Christ.” The word is the Greek diakonos, from which we get our English word “deacon.” Yet diakonos just means a dispenser. It can mean one who dispenses things like money, or it can refer to one like a waiter who dispenses food and drink, as it does in John 2:9. In this case, Epaphras was a dispenser of the gospel, but this should not surprise us, for information too can be dispensed and distributed.
New King James Version 8. who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.
The Resultant Version 8. Who also declared unto us your great love in the Spirit.
Epaphras, once he had dispensed the gospel to these Colossians, did not continue to remain among them, it seems, but had returned to Paul with a glowing report of the new, Colossian believers. It seems that what had most impressed Epaphras about these new believers was the great, agape love that had been produced in these Colossians by the Spirit of God. Indeed, of all the blessed results of the new life in Christ that is produced in those who believe, certainly their ability to love as that agape love of God is generated in them has to be one of the most noteworthy. No doubt this report had so excited Paul that he, at the Spirit’s prompting, had decided to write this letter to them to speak to these new believers who demonstrated such God-inspired love in their lives.
New King James Version 9. For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, 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;
The Resultant Version 9. For this cause we also, since the day we heard of you, do not cease to pray for you, and to request that you may be filled with the realization of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
Because of this encouraging report that Paul has heard of the Colossians, he assures them that he and Timothy have not ceased to pray for them ever since. Of course, this does not mean that they were praying constantly twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Rather, the idea is that every time they pray, they are constantly remembering the Colossians in those prayers.
Notice that in spite of all the encouraging things they learned about the Colossians, Paul and Timothy, as well as the Spirit writing through them, do not consider the Colossians to be finished works and not in need of anything more. Rather, they pray and request for them that they might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Yet this word “knowledge” is the Greek epignosis. The word for knowledge is gnosis, and epi is a prefix that accelerates, like our English word “super.” The idea seems to be of taking the next step with knowledge, which is the acknowledging of it as being true. One can know something, yet until one has truly acknowledged the truth of it and incorporated that truth into one’s life, then that knowledge has not really had its true effect. The Resultant Version translates this “realization,” and that too carries the idea of a response to knowledge, not just knowing.
Now that the Colossians would be filled with the realization of His will is not at all considered a given. They will have to be filled with such knowledge. Today, if we seek to know God’s will for our own time, we must seek that will in the Bible. It is that greatest of all Books that will allow us to realize what His will is. When we come to this realization, moreover, that is not all of it either. He wants us to realize these things in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. One might factually know the truth, but if there is no wisdom to accompany that knowledge and no God-given understanding to help one know how to respond it, then that knowledge will do little good. We need the wisdom and understanding to know what to do with the truths of God that He gives to us.
The word “spiritual” here means, as I defined it above, God-given. The word “spiritual” in Greek is pneumatikos, related to pneuma, the word for “spirit.” I believe as a result of my studies that the word “spiritual,” when used in Scripture, means something that is produced directly by God, and not by the usual, natural means by which such a thing typically comes about. In this case, the understanding the Colossians need is a God-given one. We can see that only understanding from Him can illuminate the truth for us so that we know what it is we should do in relationship to it.