30 March 2010

Colossians studies 11: Greetings 3 (1:1-2) — holy, faithful, brothers

by Dan Phillips

Before we pick up speed, I think it worth a leisurely look at the recipients (1:2) — "to the holy  and faithful  brothers in Christ at Colosse: grace to you, and peace, from God our Father."

Note first what Paul called them (1:2a): holy, and faithful.

It is pretty remarkable that Paul would call this largely-Gentile church "holy...brothers in Christ." What is the root idea of holiness? The root idea of creaturely holiness is not primarily behavior. Rather, the root idea of creaturely holiness is being set apart to God's ownership and His service. To be holy is to belong to God, to be uniquely set apart to Him.

This is a pretty remarkable assertion. What had Adam made us? Unholy! Sinners, by nature and by choice. As Romans 5:12 says, "For this reason, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death came through to all men, because all sinned──..."

But then see what God declares us: positionally holy, by virtue of the person and work of Christ. Hebrews 10:10 says, "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." The Greek wording is hard to capture without an over-long paraphrase. The idea is something like "we are currently people who have been abidingly sanctified by means of the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all." The latter is a time-note: it was a final, definitive act, neither permitting nor requiring repetition.

So we believers have been set apart for God's ownership and service, not by virtue of one thing we have ever done, but by virtue of the one thing Jesus Christ did. In fact, it was quite in the face of everything we had done, in spite of our many crimes against God and man. The cure could not be found in us, for we were the source of the problem. The cure came from without, by the intervention of Christ.

And then, having declared us positionally holy, God makes us personally holy. We read it in Hebrews 12:10 — "For, on the one hand, [our earthly fathers] were disciplining us for a few days in accord with what seemed best to them; on the other hand, He disciplines us for our common good, that we might be sharing His holiness." This aspect of holiness is a matter of progressively becoming in practice what we already are in Christ.

The aspect Paul had in mind here is positional holiness. It is an assertion he can make about every genuine Christian there, regardless of how they're doing that particular day. All of the other five uses in Colossians are positional (1:4, 12, 22, 26; 3:12). So Paul is addressing them first by what they all are: holy brothers in Christ.

Now, it is doubtless true that some have only claimed faith and are not holy in Christ. But Paul makes the judgment of Christian charity, and addresses himself to them as a church of professed believers in Christ who have indeed shown signs of genuine faith.

We should think that, too, of ourselves. If we are in Christ by faith, we are set apart to God, and we are therefore a saint, a holy person. Therefore, regardless of what other relationships we might have ── marriage, relatives, jobs, organizations ── our deepest and most fundamental relationship is that with God. This is why we must allow no idol to break our relationship with God; and also why, specifically speaking, we should not accept false teaching over the true Gospel.

Then Paul calls them "Faithful brothers in Christ."  The word pistos means "reliable, trustworthy." It is used of good pastor Epaphras in 1:7. But how could Paul say this, when some were not being faithful?

First, Paul could say it because they were still showing good life-signs in important areas (cf. vv. 3-4). Second, he could say it because of tact. Although Paul is intending to correct them quite sharply, he shows wisdom (cf. Proverbs 15:2a──"The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable" [NASB]).

Paul is not saying that every individual Colossian church attender was flawlessly faithful. Rather, he is addressing them with tact and charity, giving them the benefit of a doubt, speaking with them in accord with the best view he can take of them: personally faithful individuals who are being troubled by false teaching. Until driven to conclude otherwise, it is wise to try to hold the best possible view of a person, giving him the most credit we can, giving him the benefit of a doubt.

In other words, Paul is calling them by what they have been, what they should be — and what they still can be, by repentance and doing the word of God!

So Paul starts out with tact and charity, calling them by what they all are, if they are Christians at all (holy). Then he calls them by what they should be, because of their relationship to Christ (faithful). In this way, he gives the real brothers encouragement and something to aim for...and tacitly shames the phony defectors.

Finally, Paul calls them "brothers." Again, think of it. This is a Jew calling Goys "brothers." In Paul's day, one common nick-name by Jews for Gentiles is found in Ephesians 2:11, where "uncircumcision" is literally foreskin. Crude, and far from nice. In fact, it was said that God created the Gentiles simply as fuel for Hell.

So, we shouldn't gloss too fast over this pure-bred pedal-to-the-metal Jew calling this church-full of Gentiles "brothers"; how can he? He can do it because they are "brothers in Christ." (Read 1:26-27, then read 3:11.) Although the Jews still have a distinct future in the plan of God, and still have a covenant with God, in Christ we are all on equal footing: all equally redeemed, forgiven, regenerate, and loved by God.

Having laid this foundation, I'll aim at picking up speed in future studies.

Dan Phillips's signature


NoLongerBlind said...

This is really awesome, Dan; feels like I'm reading a brand new commentary as it's being crafted.

Kudos, brother!

Penn Tomassetti said...

Dan, this is an edifying commentary. Thanks.

David Regier said...

Love the series, and I really appreciate your study.

But I'm going to gnaw at the bone you're throwing in the last paragraph, because it's the thing that I don't understand about dispensationalism.

What's Paul's place in the distinct plan? Jew-in-Christ? Jew? In Christ?

DJP said...


David Regier said...


DJP said...

Breaking News.


donsands said...

"For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.."

My business partner is a Sabra, and loves Jesus. He often quotes these words. He loves the fact that the Gentiles and Jews are one people from two by the blood of the Lamb, who has set us free and apart.

Good study.

Rachael Starke said...
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Rachael Starke said...

LOL @ David. I'd say I can't believe you decided to go there, but that wouldn't be true.

I'd also say that I can't believe anyone else didn't go there, and that would be true!

This was great. I get such a thrill after having studied a passage many times myself, and then having someone wiser bring out still more insights that make a passage seem new and even more important than before.

And I particularly appreciated the snippet about the, ahem, well, y'know. With my three girls sitting with us in church each week and paying more and more attention, we've already had more than one cringe-worthy moment about uncomfortable topics courtesy of our dear pastor who just preaches it like Paul says it. Learning something like that in a blog rather than in a Sunday morning service is just a little more, well, comfortable isn't the right word for a variety of reasons. But definitely helpful. Who knew? Not me until now.

philness said...

David, perhaps to the Jew first. Dispensation fulfilled.

philness said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jazzycat said...

"Although the Jews still have a distinct future in the plan of God."

In light of Eph. 2:11-22, I see the same plan for all who are in Christ.....

DJP said...

"I see the same plan for all who are in Christ"

If by "same" you mean "completely indistinguishable," and by "all" you mean men, women, Jew and Gentile -- then you see it differently than Paul, John and the prophets, for starters. And that is about as far as we'll pursue that topic.