questionbox02Colossians 1 Part 7

New King James Version 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.

The Resultant Version 23. If you persist in the faith grounded and settled, and are not removed from the expectation of the gospel which you have heard, which is being proclaimed in every creation which is under heaven, of which I, Paul, have become a dispenser.

This metamorphosis is predicated on them persisting in the faith grounded and settled. If instead they are removed from the expectation set forth to them in the gospel which they had heard, then no such metamorphosis is likely to take place. As strange as it might seem for us to curtail God’s work, we can do this in our lives if we do not continue in the belief we started out in and remain firm in the expectation the Word of God holds out to us.

Paul then speaks of this gospel being proclaimed in every creation which is under heaven. This is the correct translation. The Greek word ktisis means “creation,” not “creature,” as the New King James Version has it. “Every creature” would take in things like birds and squirrels, and we do not believe the gospel has ever been proclaimed to these, nor was it ever meant to be. What it speaks of is “every creation,” not “every creature.”

There are several important things about this statement. The first is to notice the idea of “every creation.” We argued back in verse 15 that this word “creation” means things like kings, governors, and other rulers. In this case, it cannot mean this, as one cannot proclaim “in” every ruler. Yet the same basic idea applies. In the case of kings and other rulers, a normal person who is just like every other person is taken and made into a ruler. Yet in this case, we are speaking of things like countries, counties, or other territories. When these are created, people take two pieces of land bordering on each other and draw an invisible boundary between them, making one belong to one country and one to another. Things like city limits or county limits or the borders of countries are nothing inherent in the way the earth is made. Instead, these things are distinctions created by men. As such, all counties, countries, cities, and territories are human creations.

Now when we learn that the gospel was being proclaimed in every creation which is under heaven, what we are learning is that the gospel is being proclaimed in many different countries, cities, territories, and lands. However, this statement does not just say it is being proclaimed in many places, but that it is being proclaimed “in every creation which is under heaven.” If this means every land under the sky, then we would have to conclude that the gospel had already reached places like China and India, places like South Africa or Siberia, and even the native dwellers who lived in the Americas at that time. This would be a radical assumption, and would proclaim something was going on far greater than what the book of Acts would lead us to believe.

Yet ultimately I do not think that this is so, for the word “heaven” here does not mean the sky. The word in this place is singular, “the heaven,” or the Greek ton ouranon. The word “heaven” means “that which is over and above.” As we argued back in verse 5, while it can be used for exalted places, it can also be used for exalted beings. It is used this way multiple times in the Old Testament. One example is in Psalm 89:5.

5. And the heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD;
Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints.

The heavens which are heavenly bodies cannot praise the LORD, as they are not sentient in order to do so. However, the exalted rulers who are in the “assembly of the saints” can praise the LORD. We can see that this is who is referred to in the next verse.

6. For who in the heavens can be compared to the LORD?
Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the LORD?

Notice this mentions “who” in the heavens. This could as easily be translated “who among the heavens.” Then, a parallel statement is made in the next phrase, “Who among the sons of the mighty.” The sons of the mighty ARE the heavens here. Heavens are exalted beings in this context, as can clearly be seen if we look at this carefully.

Now in the context of Colossians 1:23, the word “heaven” is singular, and here I believe it means one exalted being, or “the exalted one.” If this was a reference to God, we would have no less a problem than if it meant the sky, since that would still include places far remote from where we believe the gospel had spread. Since the man who was exalted over the world the Jews lived in at that time was Caesar, I believe this is a reference to him. Paul means that the gospel has spread to every place in the Roman Empire, every place under Caesar. That is what it had done. It had not spread to every place in the world, but it had spread to just about every place in the world they were familiar with. And since the gospel was “to the Jew first” in the Acts period, it would seem that this meant every place where the Jews had scattered in the dispersion.

Now this is not the only place this is stated. In Romans 10:18, Paul declares that the gospel message had reached out to all Israel around the world.

18. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed:
“Their sound has gone out to all the earth,
And their words to the ends of the world.”
19. But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says:
“I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation,
I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.”

Earlier in Colossians, we read the same thing of the gospel in 1:6.

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;

So the gospel had reached out to all the world, at least, the world as they knew it at that time. Yet this brings up another important truth that we can learn from this verse. Let us compare this verse with Mark 16:15-18.

15. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18. they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Here, the Lord Jesus Christ commands His disciples to go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. This is to be their part, and God’s part, as it is given in verses 17-18, is to provide them with powerful signs to back up the proclamation. Those who believe will cast out demons, speak with new languages, receive protection from wild animals like serpents, be immune to poison their enemies might try to assassinate them with, and heal the sick whom they come upon. Throughout the book of Acts, we see this very thing happening. We see these men going out, and we see the signs following believers and backing up the word as it is proclaimed. Yet if we try to apply these words to today, we encounter a puzzle. There are still those who take the gospel out to all the world, so men are still doing their part. Yet the odd thing is that God no longer seems to be doing His part, for no signs seem to follow these proclaimers of the gospel. Some seek to add these signs to their ministries, but we would have to admit that at best they follow these signs, and the signs do not follow them. This has caused many to wonder what the problem is, and why God does not appear to be fulfilling His part of the bargain and providing the signs that are supposed to follow them that believe.

Now if we will examine this command closely, we will see that the critical command on their part is to carry the gospel “to every creature.” In Greek, this is pase te ktisei, or “to all the creation.” If we compare this now to Colossians 1:23, we will find that the same phrase is used here, this time with en or “in” in front of it, en pase te ktisei. It is said here that the gospel “was proclaimed in every creation under the heaven.” The words “was preached” are the Greek word keruchthentos, which is the aorist passive participle neuter singular genitive. It corresponds here to the word “gospel,” which is also neuter genitive singular. Literally, the idea is “the having-been-proclaimed in every creation gospel.” The aorist tense is a past tense, and so this is telling us that this gospel was proclaimed in the past in every creation under heaven. In other words, the commission Christ gave His disciples in Mark 16:15-18 is not still waiting to be fulfilled. Rather, that commission has been fulfilled already!

The fact is that this verse is not the only evidence we have for that. In fact, Mark tells us the same thing before even finishing his gospel. For in Mark 16:20, we read:

20. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

So this confirms what Colossians 1:23 tells us. Before Mark wrote his gospel and before Paul wrote Colossians, Christ’s command in Mark 16:15-18 had already been fulfilled. The gospel went out to every creation under heaven, and so was heard in every place under heaven. The commission of Mark 16 has been fulfilled, therefore. Though men still proclaim the gospel, it is not under the Mark 16 commission, and so the Lord has no obligation to fulfill His part of that bargain by producing signs among the believers. This commission was fulfilled, and so is no longer in effect. When we proclaim the gospel, it is not because of this commission.

Then Paul goes on to point out that he, Paul, had become a dispenser of this gospel. He had done this in the Acts period, when he went around the world carrying the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Now, he was a prisoner in Rome, yet he could still dispense the gospel to all who came to him in his own hired house, as we read he did in Acts 28:31. He was a servant, a dispenser, of this gospel.

New King James Version 24. I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

The Resultant Version 24. I am at the present time rejoicing in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh that lack of the afflictions of Christ in behalf of His body, which is the outcalled,

Paul proclaims that he is currently rejoicing in the sufferings he is enduring on their behalf. Paul has been given the task of revealing God’s new truth for the present dispensation. This was causing him to suffer many things, first of all from the Roman Empire, who must hardly have liked the thought of Gentiles as well as Jews now becoming equally a part of this new movement that was so different from the way of life they promoted in the Empire; and secondly from his fellow Jewish believers of the Acts period, who must not have been overly fond of the idea of Gentiles sharing equally in the privileges that formerly had been theirs alone. Facing the wrath of either of these groups must not have been fun, yet Paul was willing to do it for the sake of these new believers in Colosse, as well as those in other places around the world.

Now we come upon a statement that seems odd and quite mysterious. Paul proclaims that he fills up in his flesh what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ. This would seem at first glance to be telling us that something was missing from the afflictions that Christ suffered on the cross when He died for our sins and took our penalty upon Himself in the sight of God. Paul seems to be saying that what Christ did was not good enough, and so he, Paul, was completing it. Yet that could not possibly be. Christ declared Himself on the cross, “It is finished,” (John 19:30,) and it was. There was nothing left to do when Christ died on the cross. He completed the afflictions He needed to accomplish. There was nothing left for Paul to fill in and complete. Yet what, then, is Paul talking about here?

If we would look carefully at the Biblical record we have of this amazing man Paul, we would discover that Paul learned, before he ever set out on his great mission for Christ, exactly what sufferings that mission would entail. We learn of this in Acts 9:15-16 in the Lord’s words to Ananias when He was sending him to heal Paul of his blindness.

15. But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

I believe therefore that Paul had been shown in advance, before he ever started on his difficult road of labor and suffering, exactly what things he was to suffer as a result of his service for Christ. Each time Paul was beaten, this was no surprise. Rather, he could just count another beating off the list of beatings he already knew he would undergo. It was not a surprise to him when he was stoned, for he had already been shown that he would be stoned and then raised back to life to continue his mission. Every whipping, every shipwreck, every time he was betrayed by a friend did not come as a complete surprise to him, for he knew these things were coming, though he did not know just when. Paul had a list of sufferings he knew he had to undergo, and this list was not completed when the Acts period ended. Paul knows that some of these sufferings are still lacking, so he is still counting down the things he must suffer for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. As he suffered each of these things, he knew he was filling up what was lacking in the sufferings it was given him to endure.

Now what gets some off track here, I think, is the fact that Paul calls these the “afflictions of Christ.” Yet the word “of” here is the genitive form in Greek, and here I believe it is the genitive of relation. That is, Paul is speaking of the afflictions that are related to Christ, and not Christ’s personal afflictions. The Lord Himself referred to this as “many things he must suffer for My name’s sake,” which is saying the same thing. These afflictions were related to Paul’s stand for Christ’s name. If he had not stood for His name, he would not have suffered these things. Yet he did stand, and he gladly suffered on behalf of his Lord and Savior. In fact, he says here that he actually rejoiced in these sufferings he was enduring. What an amazing attitude Paul had!

Now Paul declares that his sufferings are on behalf of His body, which is the outcalled. We discussed what this is back in verse 18, and saw that these are those who are an out-positioned company who partake of the substance of which Christ is the source, and therefore become in a measure what He is. We who are “in Christ” today are predestined to become part of this body of His outcalled in time to come, and so Paul’s sufferings on our behalf were also on behalf of that great body that Christ will form in His kingdom to come.

New King James Version 25. of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

The Resultant Version 25. Of which I became a dispenser, in accord with the administration of God which is granted to me for you, to complete the word of God,

Paul became a dispenser of truth to the then-present-day members of this ekklesia. Of course, this was not because he wanted to be this or decided to be this, but because God chose him to be this. The choice of Paul as dispenser was in accord with the administration of God which was granted to him for them.

Now this word for “administration” or “stewardship” is the Greek word oikonomia. It comes from two Greek words, oikos, which means “house,” and nomos, which means “law.” Therefore, it means “house-law.” Yet this word expanded from just speaking of a house, and could speak of the rule over a city, a country, or even of God’s rule over all men on earth. Oikonomia is the word sometimes translated “dispensation.” It does mean an administration, but it speaks more of the working out of an administration in its particular policy than it does of the administration itself.

This does not mean that God passed control over his current administration over to Paul. If so, to whom did it pass when Paul died? No, we learn from Ephesians that this administration is one of total grace, and one that is done in accord with the secret and in secret. In I Timothy, we learn that this administration works through faith, and does not make use of any human mediators. The administration being granted to Paul, then, would be completely contrary to what this administration is all about. What this means is that the revelation of God’s current administration or policy had been handed over to Paul on behalf of current-day believers, so that they might know it and understand God’s work today in truth.

Paul says this administration had been granted to him to fulfill the word of God. Yet this word “fulfill” means more accurately “to fill full” or “to complete.” Yet how is it that this revelation completed the word of God? I believe it did this because it was the last major topic Paul wrote about in his final books, and I believe Paul wrote the last book completed of Scripture. While some modern scholars might disagree, after Paul put down his pen from writing II Timothy, the word of God was complete, and has not been added to since that time. The books of John were not written after this time, much later than those written by the other apostles. No, Paul was the one who completed the word of God by writing the last book, and the revelation in his last books was that granted to him by God, as spoken of in this verse.

New King James Version 26. the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

The Resultant Version 26. The secret which has been concealed from the eons and from the generations, but now is made manifest to His hallowed ones,

Paul now reveals what it is that he has been made a dispenser of: the truth of the secret. This word “secret” is the Greek word musterion, and is often translated “mystery.” However, that is just a transliteration of the Greek word, and not a real translation. The word means a secret, but it speaks of something that had been a secret in the past, but now has been revealed and made plain. That is clear from this passage, in which we can see that Paul uses it just that way.

This secret Paul is speaking of had been hidden from ages. Yet what exactly does that mean? How can something be hidden from an age? Of course, we would assume this means it was hidden from all the people who lived during that age. But that is not really what the Greek is saying here. The Greek word is aionon, pronounced with two long “o”s. The Resultant Version makes this English by using the word eons. This can best be understood when we realize that the “aion” has to do with that which flows, either flowing out or flowing down. What this refers to are all the previous times when God had flowed out in revelation and truth. Through the authors of the Bible and through His prophets, God revealed many truths to His people. Yet in all these prior flows of truth, nothing had been revealed of this secret that had now been revealed. You will not find hints of it here and there. You will not find it concealed behind some parable or in some metaphor. No, this secret had been hidden in all prior flows. Only now was God revealing it and making it plain.

Then we read that it was hidden from generations. Most would instantly assume that this refers to all the people of a certain age living on earth at the same time, which is what we call a “generation.” Yet we seem to easily forget that the word “generation” is part of a family of words that comes from the verb “to generate.” We will readily speak of generating power or of generating excitement, yet we are reluctant to call these things “generations” when they are thus generated, and yet they must be. If they were not generations, then they could not be generated. Just because we have specialized this word “generation” to almost exclusively refer to people, this does not mean that the Bible necessarily does the same thing. In this case, it seems clear that, just as the “eons” are the times God has flowed out to His people in revelations of truth, so the “generations” are generations of truth that God had revealed in times past. For example, the book of Isaiah was a divine generation. The books of Moses were divine generations. The psalms were divinely generated poetry set to divinely generated music. These things were generations of God, yet in all the past generations, this truth of the secret had never been revealed.

Yet now, this was no longer true. Now, the truth that had not been revealed to past eons and generations is being revealed in God’s most recent eons and generations, like right here in the book of Colossians. Now, God is shining forth this secret to His saints, His set-apart ones, for their learning and instruction.

New King James Version 27. 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.

The Resultant Version 27. To whom God wills to make known what are the glorious riches of this secret among the nations: which is Christ among you, the expectation of the glory.

It is to these set apart, hallowed ones that God wills to make known the glorious riches of this secret among the nations. This is correct, for this word ethnesin means “nations,” not “Gentiles.” What was this secret whose glorious riches God wishes to make known among the nations? It is stated in these words: “Christ among you.” That is, Christ is now among the nations. This might not seem strange to us, for we are used to the idea that Christ is now working among all nations, calling people from every nation and people to Himself through faith in His Son. Yet this has not always been the case, and certainly was not always the case in New Testament times. For example, Christ was not working among all nations when the Holy Spirit through Peter said this in Acts 3:25-26.

25. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26. To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”

Neither was this true when Paul said this in Acts 13:26:

26. “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.

These verses make it plain that, at this time, Christ was among the Israelites, those descended from the man Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, and He was not among all nations. Yet now, this secret reveals that this is no longer true. Christ is now no longer sent only to the descendants of Abraham. He is no longer only offering salvation to that people. Instead, He is now among all nations equally, and the word of salvation is sent to all. Now, not only Israelites, but those from all nations who believe have a glorious expectation. Now, we all look forward to future blessings in Christ’s kingdom. That is the glorious truth of this secret, now revealed.

There are several things we should note about this secret. First of all, this secret is not just that the Gentiles will be blessed. This was always part of God’s revelation from the very first, for He told Abraham in Genesis 22:18, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Yet the blessing was always supposed to be through Israel, with Israel at the head and the other nations receiving their blessings afterwards. Yet in this formerly secret time, Christ is now equally among all nations, dispensing the blessings of His grace to all. As Ephesians 3:6 says, “In Spirit the nations are to be joint-enjoyers of a portion, joint-bodies, and joint-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the good message.” (The Resultant Version) All nations are now equal, all nations are now joint, because Christ is among them all. This is what was secret, not simply that the nations were to be blessed.

Secondly, we should realize that this change took place at Acts 28:28. Until that time, Israel was still in the primary position, as the Holy Spirit makes clear in Romans, “for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16,) “of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (Romans 2:9,) and “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 2:10.) Yet at Acts 28:28, the salvation-bringing message was made freely available to all nations, and from that time on Christ has been among us all, working with every nation equally, and not the Jew first. Colossians was one of the books written during the two years Paul was in his own, hired house in Acts 28:31. Therefore, the truths it is teaching are the truths based on the revelation of Acts 28:28. This is truth for today.

How we who are not Jews can praise God that Christ is now among us! We can be sure that our salvation is based on our faith in Him alone, and not on our national background. This is the secret now revealed that gives us the expectation of the glory we will someday receive from our Savior. Praise God for this wonderful truth!

New King James Version 28. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

The Resultant Version 28. It is this Christ that we are declaring, and we are admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we should present every man mature in Christ Jesus.

It is the Christ Who is now among all nations that Paul and his helpers are declaring as they spread His message to all whom they come in contact with. Moreover, they do not just declare Christ to them and then, if they believe in Him, leave them then to fend for themselves. Rather, those who listen they then admonish, no doubt regarding the old life they are to leave behind. Then, they are also teaching every man in all wisdom, no doubt regarding the new life in Christ they are now to start living. The Lord will do that same thing later on in this same book of Colossians. The goal of this is so that they may present every man mature in Christ Jesus. Neither the Lord nor Paul wants to produce a lot of immature and ungodly believers in Christ. Rather, he wants to produce ones who are set apart in their actions and behaviors, mature in the Lord they have chosen to follow.

New King James Version 29. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

The Resultant Version 29. It is for this that I am toiling also, contending according to the working, which is working in me with power.

It is for this result, the production of mature believers in Christ Jesus, that Paul is currently toiling. He is contending. This can mean fighting, laboring hard, or competing. We do strive, fight, and compete with the world, which tries to draw the believer into a pattern of compromise and immaturity. The forces arrayed behind this are strong, and it would seem nearly a fruitless exercise were it not for the energeia, the supernatural working of God that lends us aid. That energizing of God was working in Paul with dunamis, the inherent power of God behind it. Praise God that His power is with us, even in our struggle to produce mature believers and aid our fellow believers to find and hold the truth! May He continue to help us to this end. And may He help me to the same end, as I strive to help my readers to a better understanding of our Lord and His Word through my writings on the book of Colossians.